It’s a day late for Valentine’s Day but here is my latest “grownup steampunk” piece comprising a heart shaped labradorite in gorgeous striped bronze and green, set in silver oxidised to echo the colours of the stone. Suspended underneath is a beautifully tactile Victorian cabinet key. The idea of this series is that over time they gain character as they are worn and the patina changes and adapts to the wearer.
I don’t remember when I first came across the works of Tamara de Lempicka but a visit to the Lempicka cafe in Beverley, North of Hull, made me decide to give one a go.
Her works are very decorative but that, along with her struggle to evolve as an artist, has meant that she is not highly respected by the art establishment, though she has a slew of celebrity fans – Madonna among them.
If one was being critical, one might even consider her work to be a little kitsch – so, given that I have done pastiches of Jack Vetriano and Margaret Keane (who have also been thus accused), I decided to try something in her style.
The fact that this time I didn’t include a joke perhaps betrays how much I do like Lempicka’s paintings though her style was not subtle.
Her figures are solid, geometric, colours restrained and her use of oil paints merely takes advantage of their blendability and ignores their other benefits, such as varied opacity. She used soft, rounded brushes on either canvas or board, giving her paintings a silky finish and eschewed any variation in the expressiveness of her strokes.
So here is my take on a Tamara de Lempicka.
One evening before Christmas I was sitting at the kitchen table listening to my neighbours scream at each other while Coronation Street played in the background. I was painting a small rat skull with a thick layer of black conductive paint when I realised that while they would think me odd, I would never trade places with them.
I have friends and family who prepared to boil up pigeon skulls and post me weird insects and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Which brings me to electroforming – the reason I was happily playing with vermin bones.
The idea to try electroforming came to me at work after someone had shared a picture of a snapdragon pod which, upside down, looks like a little skull. 10 minutes of googling later and I knew I wanted to give electroforming a go. 30 minutes of googling later I realised I wanted nothing to do with silver electroforming as this would involve the use of Potassium cyanide and possibly result in hydrocyanic gas and explosive deposits. I can be cavalier with chemicals but even I balk at using cyanide in the kitchen!
So copper it was, as it uses relatively benign mixture of sulphuric acid and copper sulphate, some copper wire and a bench power supply. There are good instructibles online or I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in giving it a go.
I clearly have a lot to learn but I shall leave you with my first attempts at copper plating.
On a whim I bought a set of Victorian Carte de Visite from E-bay with an idea about doing something steampunk with them. It didn’t happen. I kept looking into the eyes of the subjects and wondering if these pictures might be the last records of those individuals. Perhaps somewhere they appear in a family album with their names faithfully recorded but then again, they came from France which has experienced at least three invasions since they were taken so anything could have happened.
My solution was give them some friends and paint around them. I have a friend who makes steampunk jewellery so I may try printing these out and sealing them behind glass cabochons. It would be a nice way of combining art and jewellery.
After months of concentrating on the copper smithing I am desperate to return to painting and have found myself inspired for the first time to try out some landscapes.
This winter I am going to walk and photograph every edge in the Peak District in search of source materials and then I am shamelessly going to tweak their composition because there is really no point in painting, (rather than photographing) something if you are not going to improve on nature if you can.
I will show you what comes of that but in the mean time, I shall include here some of my favourite photographs.
There’s a magic to old things dug out of the earth, having been lost for centuries.
The volunteers who spend their holidays up at Vindolanda fort on Hadrian’s Wall must all hope that they will be the one to discover something new and precious.
The rest of us must be content with the museums and it was at Vindolanda’s museum that we spotted this wonderful hair pin. https://beesfirstappearance.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/dscn1495.jpg (Thank heaven for other wordpress users because this is the only image of this pin that I have been able to find!)
My version is in a bronze alloy and I have added an “ethnic cut” cabochon garnet to the “mirror” on the chain. This means the stone is slightly wonky, not calibrated, and so is closer to the garnets one can see in Roman, Celtic and Saxon jewellery.
The maker of the Roman original would have started out with a thicker piece of metal and then, possibly, hammered the end flatter before cutting out the hand. As I started with a piece of 2mm Victorian door plate, I opted instead to anneal, twist and hammer the pin to give it strength. It will also have the benefit of catching in the hair better.
A Google search for “Roman hand hair pins” shows this was a very popular design so my version is decent recreation of a Roman hair pin without infringing any nasty copyrights.
I do hope she wears it!
Every year one of Europe’s biggest steampunk events takes place in Lincoln, bringing together over 30,000 steampunks from across the world to enjoy four days of music, art, costume, gin, tea and silliness.
One of the many events is the Great Exhibition, a chance for those taking part to share, if they dare, their creations with an admittedly sympathetic audience. Unfortunately, I suspect that steampunks are mostly shy and strangely introverted for a bunch of friendly and weirdly dressed people!
This year’s great exhibition contained just four paintings with the result that I won again. I win something every year and I say that with no sense of pride as I am often the only 2d artist to take part! This year, in a bid to save my blushes and perhaps encourage someone, anyone! else to enter next year, I did four paintings in three different styles.
So The Ruskin prize went to a Bob Ross parody (he of the bouffant hair and softly spoken utterances about happy clouds and squirrel friends), entitled “Happy Little Accidents” from his quote; “Remember, we don’t make mistakes, we have happy little accidents.”
I know his art is kitsch but he was very good at it indeed and he inspired so many thousands of people to pick up a paintbrush that it is rude to dwell too long on any failings his art might have. As with all art, try copying a piece and you will learn something!
That’s why I painted my second piece: Sanctuary. There is no pun involved, I just wanted to draw a Bob Ross wave, do it a little bigger and throw in a lighthouse and giant octopus. I think it would look rather good as a steampunk book cover, don’t you?
My Netflix addiction was also responsible for “Big Goggles”, a pastiche of Margaret Keane’s work which was recently given a boost from the film Big Eyes starring Amy Adams. My write up (steampunk has a strong basis in literature so I think the write up can be as important as the image) was as follows:
Title: Big Goggles
Medium: Oil on Board
Artist: Maggie Keen (1926 to present)
Margaret Olive Catherine Keen has become known for her pictures of big eyed waifs. In the 1960s the paintings , often derided as kitsch by art critics, were attributed to her husband, Phil Estein but following a bitter separation in 1970 she accepted the blame as part of a wide ranging divorce settlement. In return for taking responsibility for the art, she walked away with the house, car, narrow boat and the couple’s beloved pet cephalopod . This painting is thought to date from the early 1970s and could be an attempt by Maggie to explain away the ridiculously big eyes by the addition of goggles. No explanation has yet been found for the goggles.
Yes, I find it easy to mock but once again I would like to add the caveat that every artist has something to teach and she did well for herself in the end so If you like her art just go ahead and say so and ignore all those sneery critics!
Both the winning piece and Big Goggles went into a charity auction at the end of the event and raised £95 for charity so I sincerely hope the buyers did like the paintings and will enjoy them.
The final piece was simply a little cartoony picture of steep hill in Lincoln with a backdrop of air balloons. I had thought to make it into postcards to sell but I ran out of time so it just went in to make up the numbers. It is a scene I want to return to at some point though, perhaps in a more serious style.
I am rubbish at promoting this blog so this probably won’t reach the people it needs to reach but if there are any steampunks out there who go to Lincoln and who also do art; please think about entering the exhibition next year. It is very difficult at first to put your art out there (and that’s probably why i paint jokes, so that i can laugh them off and not expect people to take them seriously) but really, nothing bad will come of it and it may even encourage you to do more, get better, stretch yourselves and that has got to be better for all of us.