The Art Inquirer is your source of news for the artist and the Art appreciator
Established in 2008

Friday, November 13, 2009

Interview with British Artist Paul Coventry-Brown

Originaly from Liverpool (UK), Paul Coventry-Brown is a mostly self-taught full-time artist.
Having spent seventeen years in Japan, he now resides in the South West of France.

TAI - You use belgian linen. What characteristics make you want to work on it ?
Do you use a certain weave according to the subject ?
Paul - I use hardboard/masonite a lot because of the smoothness of the surface.
As for the linen panels, I use Claessens #13 which is their finest weave. It is still quite a rough weave compared to a fine detail cotton canvas but the first coat/layer fills most of it in and by the second coat the paint goes on very smoothly and very fine unbroken lines are possible.
It come the nearest to being able to replicate some of the techniques and feel that I have observed in the old masters.
The reason I like it so much is the way the paint goes onto the surface, it's very hard to explain, it is just a joy to paint on and I would recommend it to everyone to give it a try.
After the first coat it becomes very smooth but still has a slight texture and the paint does not 'sink in' (become dull) like it seems to do on normal acrylic primed cotton (this is usually because they don't put enough coats of gesso on to save money).
TAI - Do you prepare your owns canvases with primer ?
If so, do you prefer the acrylic or the oil one ?
Do you use hide glue or PVA resin/glue, if prepared with an oil primer ?
Paul - On hardboard I use about four coats of acrylic gesso (usually lightly sanding the last coat).
If I ever use cotton canvas I always give that two extra coats of gesso too.
I never need to prime a canvas as I never buy any that have not first been primed.
The Belgian linen needs no extra gesso at all:
Starting with the finest unprimed surface, the canvas is inspected, smoothed with a pumice, cleaned, and sized. It is then oil-primed with linseed oil and zinc white and allowed to dry for 3 days in a dry air oven before the final coat of titanium white is applied.
TAI - Which brushes do you prefer, taking into account : shape of the brush, quality/kind and subject being painted ?
Paul - use a mix of brushes, long/short handled and mostly synthetic ones, very rarely do I use bristle brushes.
I use the same brushes for all subjects, still life or portrait.
Winsor & Newton - Cotman watercolour brushes
Robert Simmons - White Sable
I use only flats and brights (the round 'pointy' ones).
TAI - Differences between student/beginner quality paints and artist quality ones ?
Namely in terms of final results i.e. the aspect of the painting.
Paul - would always advise everyone to use artist quality paints, even for beginners as they are loaded with more pigment and some of the student ones have too much oil in them so they are a bit thin and don't cover well.
I know that some artists use cheap oils because they put them on very thick so there's no worry about covering power. But for my kind of work I found the artist quality to be better suited ... I don't know about vibrancy as you can probably get the same effect with the student ones but you would need more coats and more paint. When you put a lighter colour on top of a darker one, it's harder to cover if the light colour is thinner on pigment.
TAI - What acccessories do you find essential ?
Paul - A sheet of glass with white paper underneath for my palette, it's so easy to clean each night.
Winsor & Newton Liquin Original medium. I have tried every type of medium (including lead based ones) and always come back to this.
I always paint using an 85W, 5,600K daylight, energy saving bulb, this duplicates the light of the sun at midday and seems to give the best results when the paintings are moved to different lighting conditions when they are finished.
A 'mahl stick'. This is a 1cm diameter, round piece of dowel that is one meter long. This is to rest my hand on as I paint.
I rest one end on the top of my easel and the other end I hold in my left hand (I never rest it on the painting itself).
TAI - How important to you find draughtsmanship ?
Paul - It is not so important to me as I work from photos to set up the composition and lighting and then mostly 'square them up'. That is, I make small squares on the photo and the same number of bigger squares on the canvas (like a grid) and then just copy; it's been done for hundreds of years, why change it ;-)
With the less complicated compositions I just go straight onto the canvas with a brush and draw the outlines very freely with a very thin burnt umber. I much prefer this to pencil of charcoal. Even beginners can do this, as I proved at a class I taught in the Spring (see the May posting on my blog).
TAI - Do you find that a good knowledge of colour plays an important role in your paintings and in art visual arts in general ?
Paul - This is something I am not sure about. Colour theory can be taught and it can also be instinctive. My theory is very weak and I just work from a subconscious level.
A basic understanding of mixing colours is valuable and so is experimentation.
TAI - Share with us a little about your technique for painting core and cast shadows.
Paul - Sometimes I paint cast shadows as near to the colour and darkness I need and other times I paint them lighter and then glaze them darker, I use both just as much.
I will always make sure to paint the shadow and the surface it is cast onto at the same time so I can blend the edges into each other, I don't want hard edges shadows.
I usually work from dark to light.
TAI - Are the techniques that you use to paint a certain theme, influenced by those that you use on others ? i.e. when you are painting a portrait, do you feel that sometimes you are applying the techniques that you use on still lifes and vice-versa, even if sometimes without noticing ?
If so, what are the pros and cons ?
Paul - always apply the same technique to whatever I am painting and this is generally dark to light. That is to say, I put the darker areas in first, then the middle tones and then the lights, with the highlights at the very end.
TAI - Why trompe l'oeil ?
Paul - don't always paint 'trompes' but I do love the challenge of making something look as though it is 3D and fooling people into thinking that a flat surface of a panel has real depth. This is easier to achieve on hardboard rather than canvas.
TAI - Tell us about your comissions for Winsor & Newton and Blick Art Materials.
Paul - Well, Winsor & Newton picked me up as a featured artist on their UK web site and, apparently, the office staff there liked my work, so when they were looking for a painting to feature on the label of their new range of fine detail canvas the office staff recommended me to the marketing division. Of course, I was delighted and so surprised when I received a phone call from them. I haven't seen the design yet but I will put it up on the blog once I get a copy (if it isn't a total disappointment that is ;-). The canvas should be going out in December I think.
The work for Blick will go out on the cover of their Winter flyer and apparently goes out to 350,000 people! Again, I don't have a sample yet but keep your eye on the blog.
TAI - What marketing strategies do you think work best into getting customers ?
Paul - My secret weapon is my sister in law, Sheila, in Bermuda who worked really hard to help get me started and has built up an amazing client base for me out there. I don't really know of a surefire strategy, but a blog is essential I think.
I have been lucky in that many people have seen my paintings that other people have bought and then bought some themselves.
I don't have any gallery representation but I would like to try that one day.
TAI - To which countries do you sell more ?
Paul - Mostly the USA and Bermuda with the UK next.
TAI - Is there's a social level that is more interested in your works, namely according to subject ?
Paul - No, I don't think so. My work seems to appeal to a broad spectrum of ages and social levels.
TAI - Do you have future exhibitions happening soon ?
When and where ?
Paul - I don't exhibit. No one has asked me to and I don't have any unsold work to show.
I have a regular client base and, luckily for me, most of the paintings are sold by my mailing list and sometimes through my blog.
Sometimes I sell some on eBay that I don't manage to sell privately, but only a few.
TAI - What about your projects for the future ?
Paul - Just to get better and better. Like most artists I never feel that I have done well enough and that I should be better; I find fault in everything I do and want to move on and try and learn from my mistakes.
I would love to do some really good original 'trompes' but they take so long to do as you have to be a lot more careful.
TAI - Thank you for the interview to The Art Inquirer, would you like to add anything else ?
Paul - If anyone has any questions at all about painting (beginners or advanced) or my work I will be delighted to reply to any queries. We should pass on what we learn to help each other.

You can see the paintings of Paul Coventry-Brown and contact him at his website.
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Anonymous said...

i enjoyed reading this and liked Paul's straightforward talking about his work and techniques. good interview:) r.

L.Holm said...

Great interview! Super informative, and Paul's work is amazing.