Thursday, 20 March 2008

So what is Art about?

"Hot Stuff", Bob Ebdon

The new rules proposed by the UKCPS for their Exhibitions in 2009 onwards have caused a lot of discussion, most of which seems to have been very useful to many artists in helping them define what they are doing, and what this "art" stuff is really all about. This post tries to bring some of that discussion together and answer some questions that have been frequently asked in private e-mails. We are sure many others have the same questions but have not spoken up!

So why are the UKCPS stopping us copy photos?
We are not. How you do your art is entirely up to you. What we are trying to do is have competitive exhibitions that are on a level field. The field is not level if some players are copying and others are not.

Is there anything wrong with copying?
That's up to you to decide. For us it comes down to this fundamental question - what is art? We like the answer that splits any work of art up into three areas. The most important one is the CONCEPT - the idea, what the picture is about. This might be something as deep as how Brand loyalty has taken over from Patriotism in the age of the multi-nationals (Banksy's latest graffiti), or something as simple as "Isn't this flower beautiful?". Then would come the DESIGN - how would you compose your picture to get that concept across, what compositional devices - if any- would you use to make sure the viewer understands what you are trying to say, where would you put elements within your picture, what colours would you use, and so on. Then comes the EXECUTION - the technical skill with your medium that you use in constructing the picture.

Now suppose we tell judges in an exhibition to mark each of those elements of the art. If you have used someone elses photograph, how many marks do you think the judge should award for Concept? And if you have copied that picture exactly, how much of the Design is yours? You might get a high score for Execution, but you should not be a prizewinner.
The other strand to any use of photos is the copyright one. It is in most circumstances illegal to copy someone elses photo without their permission and then exhibit the work. What this new rule does is to extend the idea of what is legal into what is right.

Does this mean we can't use any photos at all?
Again, what you do with your own work is up to you. But you cannot copy someone elses photo exactly and then try to win a prize in a UKCPS Exhibition with that. The key words here though are "someone elses". If you take the photo, there is no problem - it is your concept, and your design.

There is obviously a continuum here between total exact copying, through partial rough copying to no copying at all, and where the line should come that stops work being exhibited is hard to define. So we don't. We say to anyone wishing to exhibit in our exhibitions "Is this work ESSENTIALLY yours in concept, design and execution?" and we leave it up to the artist to decide that for themselves. If you have copied something exactly you should answer "No". If you have used reference photos that you did not take, it would depend on how many and how you have used them, and it would be up to you to say whether the "line" has been crossed or not. It is entirely possible, for example, for you to have a concept, and have to use several different photos as references to show you how elements of your composition should look, without copying those elements exactly. This is how the image at the top of the post was constructed. I did not have two trained salamanders that I could photograph, nor did I have photos of salamanders in exactly the positions that I wanted. I still got a - to me - pleasing work of art that was essentially mine in concept, design and execution.

But this makes it very hard for me now as I work from photos all the time!
It makes it just as hard for everyone else - and that is the point. It is fairer this way. We also think that working to these restrictions will make you a better artist - you may of course disagree. We do not believe that we are being unfair to one particular group of artists - specifically wildlife artists who work a lot from photographs. We believe that we are being fairer to everyone. We hope that you will agree.

What if I have had some help with the picture - how do I decide if the Execution element is still essentially mine?
Again we leave this to your judgement. We make a firm decision with regard to any work conducted under the supervision of a teacher and say this calls into question the execution element, so such work is disallowed. But as always it is hard to be specific. If you take your work along to show some friends in an art group meeting and they comment on it, have they helped you? Possibly. Have they helped you enough so that the execution is no longer essentially yours? You tell us. Of course, in the internet age, the meetings do not have to be physical, and there was a lot of discussion on Wet Canvas and Scribbletalk about posting work for criticism on these sites. Again, you decide whether such criticism has invalidated the work or not. If a lot of people have just said "Wow!", there is no problem. If someone has taken your work into Photoshop, played around with it, suggested some changes and you have acted on those suggestions - then there could be a problem. Is it still essentially yours?

Many other artists have blogged along similar lines to what is discussed here, and I am particularly greatful to Maggie Stiefvater, Nicole Caulfield, Gayle Mason and Katherine Tyrrell for very helpful posts that have helped us clarify what we want to achieve enormously. Gayle in particular has posted some really useful blogs recently about how to take your own wildlife photos in this country. As always, questions adressed to or to other members of the executive will be answered as fully as we can.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

6th Annual "World of Coloured Pencil" Exhibition - call for entries

"Watching and Waiting", Eric Armstrong
Best in Show and Derwent Award, 2007

Apologies for the lateness of this post - Blogger has had problems today. This is to announce that entries are now open to our members for the 6th Annual "World of Coloured Pencil" Exhibition, held each year at the Cumberland Pencil Museum, Keswick, the home of Derwent pencils.

This is an exhibition designed to show the wide range of abilities and ways of using coloured pencils that exist within the Society, so is open to UKCPS members only. It is not a juried exhibition, and, due to the size of the Gallery, it is limited to 24 pictures. The first 24 entries received with postmarks after today's date, March 8th, will be hung, provided they do not exceed 70cm in any direction measured to the outside of the frame. Only one entry is allowed per member, and pictures previously shown in any other UKCPS exhibition are ineligible. All members have received entry forms with their edition of Talking Point, and should remember that they are to disregard Condition 1 on this form as stated in yesterdays blog. Other media may be used with coloured pencil, as long as coloured pencils form the main medium.

If any overseas members have not yet received a form and wish to enter, please contact our Secretary urgently and she will e-mail you one to be e-mailed back.

Closing date for entries is 16th April 2008. The exhibition will be shown from 1st to 28th June, and a range of prizes will be available, up to the £150 Best in Show. Leisure Painter magazine have again generously agreed to sponsor a "Best Newcomer" award, with a two year subscription to Leisure Painter magazine. There will also be a "Peoples Vote" prize. Previous prizewinners and entries can be seen on the UKCPS Exhibition pages.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Revisions to Rules for UKCPS Exhibitions.

Many of you will be aware of the debate that has gone on recently about the rules for the 2008 UKCPS Exhibitions, in Scribbletalk, Wet Canvas, and various artists blogs, as well as in our own discussion group.

First let me personally apologise for any distress caused to members, and say that I totally accept that the Executive could have handled this better. We have learned a lot from this, and I hope that you will accept my apology and let us move forward. We had the best of intentions, but we have had no training for the job of leading a large Art organisation, so please do not be surprised if we sometimes get it wrong. What matters is that we listen and get it right eventually.

I am not going to go through all of the reasons for changes, all of the long discussions we had about the rules, and all of the concerns we heard in the various groups. There has been 48 hours of turmoil, and all of the arguments can be read at your leisure. Yesterday evening Pat Heffer, Exhibitions Director made this announcement to the Yahoo UKCPS Group:

Dear All,

I am writing in my role as the UKCPS Exhibition Director. The past 48 hours have been fraught to say the least, but I feel that a lot of good has come out of the many discussions.We have decided to amend the rules as follows:-


The Society wishes to see work submitted that is essentially the original work of the submitting artist from concept through design to completion. The exhibition should show the compositional and drawing skills of the artists, as well as their ability to use colour from a pencil source. For this reason, submitted work must meet a number of conditions:

1. The concept design and execution of the artwork should be that of the artist, who will be asked to assert this. The artist must have taken any photograph used in its entirety for the whole work, but reference materials which contribute to the final composition can be obtained from any source, copyright laws permitting. Work cannot be submitted which has been executed in any teaching situation. No parts of work may be copied from copyrighted or published materials, without permission from the copyright holder and no images may be submitted which have been produced by drawing over a digital reproduction. Any reference material can be sourced to build up a composition, but producing an identical copy of someone else's composition regardless of whether the artist has permission or not, is not acceptable.

These rules will not come into effect until 2009, giving all of our members a chance to comply.We have considered all of your comments and feel that this is the way forward. I do hope you agree.

Tomorrow Bob and I will start writing to all of our members explaining our decisions and including a revised entry form for Bristol. Entries for Keswick can be made on the new form sending in anything you would have sent in last year, the deadline being too close for us to be able to send out new entry forms. Emails will be sent whenever possible to save on postage. Please bear with us as this is going to take a bit of time to do!

The last thing we want to do is to upset our members, after all the society exists for all of you. Please do not think that the exec has become remote and out of touch. We all work very hard to promote and encourage cp work and personally my greatest reward comes from contact with members.I look forward to hearing your comments,

Thanking you all for your input,

Pat Heffer

For the moment that is all that I have to say. We will notify all members either by e-mail or in writing, and that is a big job. We will also arrange that, from later today, non-members will be able to download an entry form from the UKCPS site for the Open Exhibition.

Just to summarise then:

  • For 2008 exhibitions, 2007 rules will apply
  • Members will be sent a new entry form for the Open Exhibition, either in the post or as an e-mail attachment
  • Non-members will be able to download a correct entry form from the UKCPS site
  • For this years Keswick Exhibition for members only, please use the form you have already, but ignore Condition 1
  • New rules as specified above will apply to Exhibitions in 2009

This blog may be followed later with one outlining our reasons for change, but for now it is important to get the details out there. Any questions or comments from members, please address to the Yahoo group.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Stonehenge paper

It is starting to look as though our long wait in the wilderness is over, and Stonehenge paper is now available in this country. Legion Paper has done a deal with Global Art to stock Stonehenge in the UK, and one of their biggest customers is the Jackson's Art catalogue.

Now hold on! It doesn't mean they have any yet! I have been keeping an eye on both the Global Art and the Jacksons websites, and see no signs of Stonehenge yet. This might mean they have not got around to updating their websites - shame on them! - or it might mean they are waiting for supplies to arrive. Either way, I think that if enough people pester them , they might be persuaded to pull their fingers out!

Meanwhile, one of our members, the celebrated artist Tim Fisher, well to know to many of us for his articles in Leisure Painter magazine, has managed to get his hands on some, and is offering Stonehenge at a very good price direct from his art materials site. So head over there if you are in desperate need.

And watch out for the next issue of Talking point, which should contain a couple of sheets of some other papers for your your consideration, that are available now in this country, from RK Burts, some Fabriano 5, and Canaletto papers. Enjoy!


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