Martin Studios: Paul and Vivien Martin
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We hope that you will find this part of the website not only useful in giving insights into the way we work and the media that we use but also broadly informative about the creative art process.

We use a wide range of different materials and processes ranging from pencil, graphite sticks, Indian ink and charcoal to watercolour, oil painting and etching.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each medium and our choice may vary depending on the appropriateness for expressing or developing an idea and the practicalities when working outside or traveling. There are advantages and disadvantages to each medium and sometimes a particular idea fits a particular medium.

Colours in all media are made up of similar pigments. These can be made from a variety of different sources, including rocks (for example, the ‘earth’ colours of sienna, ochre and umber and emerald green made from arsenic), heavy metals (red and yellow cadmium and flake white from oxidised lead) and plants (rose madder from the roots of the madder plant).

Hence the word ‘medium’ in art refers to these pigments bound or suspended in a medium that might be gum arabic or oil or acrylic. Pigments are bound or suspended in a medium that might be gum arabic or oil or acrylic. For example, ultramarine blue in watercolour can go very grainy when thinned, whereas in oil it produces a very fine glaze. Therefore artists tend to develop their personal palette of favourite colours in each of the media they use.

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Creative process: Martin Studios

Creative process: Martin Studios, Worthing

Watercolour

Viv often chooses to make watercolour studies ‘on the spot’ because images can be created quite quickly and can catch much of the atmosphere and colour of a fleeting moment. These watercolour studies are often used to inform studio work, which might include oil and acrylic paintings or larger watercolours.

Viv’s large watercolours usually develop ideas and themes that draw from experiences and stories related to a particular place. An example of this is the watercolour of the ‘Merry Maidens’, a stone circle with a story. A group of maidens were forbidden to dance on the sabbath but formed a circle and were turned to stone when they danced. Viv did a pencil drawing in a large sketch book on the spot and then worked on several images that linked the story with the stone circle as you see it today. For example, there is an etching and also an acrylic painting.

Etching Merry Maidens
Etching Merry Maidens
Merry Maidens
Merry Maidens


Watercolour is quite a demanding medium to use because of the interplay with water and the transparency of the paint. As its name suggests, watercolour is soluble in water and the pigments are suspended in gum Arabic and commercially available in small tubes or pans (small blocks). People often think it is an easy medium because the use of water, speed of drying and easily portable paints makes it seem attractive. It is, however, one of the most difficult media to master. Viv uses high quality artists colours, sable brushes and 100% cotton fibre acid-free and chlorine-free paper to help to keep the paintings bright, as most of the light in a watercolour comes from the paper. The texture and finish of the paper also affects it’s absorbency and the way it behaves in different degrees of humidity. High quality colours, paper and brushes enable better control in handling the paint and give the best light fastness possible for the life of the painting.

Study Ancient Stones
Study for Ancient Stones
Study Floating Island
Study for Floating Island
Study Bay Rocks
Study for Bay Rocks


As these examples show, watercolour can be used to make quick sketches but also to develop quite complex ideas.



Oil painting

Oil paint is Paul’s favourite medium. He was introduced to it by his art teacher at school, at the age of 13, and it is still his first choice. Oil paint is basically pigment mixed with linseed oil and dryers and is commercially available in tubes, but, as with watercolour, you can buy the pigments and mix your own if you wish. Oil paint is very versatile and can be used thinned down in glazes, spread thickly with brushes or palette knives or in thick swirls straight from the tube as Van Gogh often did. As oil paint is relatively slow drying you can work wet in wet for several days and if all goes wrong wipe off the offending patch with a rag and rework it or start again. This freedom is great for Paul because when he does larger studio works he usually does not have a clear idea of how the finished paintings will look. Paintings are for him a voyage of discovery, often going through radical change as they develop. He values the versatility of the medium and its ability to mix colours accurately but also achieve strong or subtle colour combinations.

Study Red Rock
Study for Red Rock
Red Rock
Red Rock


Paul often uses oil paint for ‘on the spot’ observed studies, as in the study for ‘Study for Red Rock’, because he can catch the range of colours more accurately than in other media, although oil is not the most convenient medium to carry around. We might also mention that wet oil paintings can get everywhere on their journey back to the studio! Sometimes these ‘on the spot’ studies translate into a larger and more complex studio painting in oils, as in ‘Red Rock’. Studio work allows you to explore and develop ideas and themes, whereas ‘on the spot’ studies are more about catching the moment and the colours observed. Studio painting is usually more ideas driven.


We paint oils on stretched canvas, working on a fairly heavy primed linen weave or a strong cotton canvas.  We also sometimes use canvas glued onto hardboard to make small easily portable boards for painting outdoors.

Paul’s usual palette includes titanium white, yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, alizarin, viridian green, ultramarine blue and ceruleum blue. He sometimes uses additional colours for particular purposes but mixes a wide range of colours from this basic palette.


Acrylic painting


Acrylic paints come in different grades, but we use artists colours which are made from the same pigments as artists oil colours but are mixed with an acrylic medium instead of oil. It is sometimes an advantage that these paints dry much more quickly than oils, but that can also be a hazard that needs to be managed.

Viv often chooses acrylic paints because she usually begins to lay out a painting by marking particular points, junctions and focal areas. The speed of drying allows her to work over this to build the image fairly quickly. She used to find that acrylics sometimes failed to have the depth and richness of colour that oil paints have, but with modern acrylic paint there is very little difference in the final appearance. We usually paint on linen or cotton canvas, primed with acrylic primer.



Sketchbooks

We both carry and use small sketchbooks on a regular basis. They are a form of visual memory and are used to record ideas, make observations, notes even shopping lists and are an important tool to help keep our visual inquiry processes active and available. A small sketchbook can be carried everywhere with you and can therefore both encourage use and become an eclectic record of ones observations, thoughts and ideas.

Paul's sketchbook
Paul's Sketchbook
Viv's sketchbook
Viv's sketchbook



We find it interesting to look at the sketches and observed studies of artists throughout history, from cave painting through the Renaissance to the present day as there is so much in common with how we observe and note immediate reactions to the world around us. The differences in styles through the ages show much more in the studio work that artists complete than in their initial sketches.


Source books

Viv has recently begun to keep a source book as a resource of ideas for a body of work around one particular project, subject or set of ideas. This is different from a sketchbook that might reflect things that have caught her attention on a day to day basis, because a source book is a place to collect the ideas together that might contribute to developing a body of work. For example, in developing the Blossom project, an initial source book was made very quickly, within a week, but followed by one that continued the thinking but was continually added to as the project developed over most of a year. She has several other source books that will become essential source books for other main project areas, for example, Ancient Stones and Shorelines.

Pages from the Blossom source book Pages from the Blossom source book
Pages from the Blossom source book




Drawing Media

We use larger sketchbooks or separate sheets of cartridge paper to make longer and more detailed drawings that are usually careful observations ‘on the spot’. These often inform development of paintings or may be translated into etchings, dry points or relief prints.

We both use a wide variety of drawing media which are sometimes determined by choice and sometimes by what we have available at the time. Paul’s favourite is a 2b to 4b graphite stick which is hard enough to give a black fine line, soft enough to do soft rangy lines and does not have to be sharpened too often. Viv prefers 4b to 6b for their broad expressive range. We both use fine roller ball pens which are ideal for drawing in galleries, on trains etc., and we like using ink with glass pens (but this can be really messy!). We sometimes use coloured pencils to catch colour notes quickly.

Oil Pastel study of Stones
Oil Pastel study of Stones


As an alternative to oil paint Paul often uses Sennelier oil pastels for working outside. They are soft and versatile and come in very strong colours so allow for the speedy creation of bold images. Their only drawback is that they get all over your hands and you tend to end up with an immoveable green stain under your finger nails!



Printmaking

Many artists make prints by hand, enjoying the visual possibilities of printmaking and also the potential to make small editions. We use a number of different printmaking techniques, particularly etching, drypoint and relief printing, each of which has its particular characteristics.

These are not reproductions, which are mechanical copies of an artwork. Artists who are also printmakers conceive and develop an image as a print because the medium enables the idea to be expressed in that particular way. Sometimes an idea that is developed into an etching or a relief print might also be developed as a painting – but these images have very different characteristics and each is suited to its medium.



Etching

Etching is a traditional process which until very recently was unchanged since Rembrandt did it in the 1600’s. The artist first coats a copper or steel plate with a wax resist. He or she then draws their required image through the wax with a sharp point to expose the metal. The back of the plate is sealed with varnish and the whole plate submerged into a vat of strong acid such as Nitric. The acid bites the exposed lines on the plate and the longer the plate is in the acid the deeper the lines will be bitten and the darker the grooves will print. To get lines of different thickness or density fine lines are stopped out with vanish early in the biting process. The plate is finally taken from the acid bath and thoroughly cleaned. Ink is then dabbed into the bitten lines on the plate and the surface of the plate wiped clear with scrim, newsprint and the palm of your hand. Finally the plate is placed on the etching press bed, a sheet of damp paper is positioned on it, felt blankets placed on that then the plate is passed through the press under great pressure and the image is both transferred and embossed onto the paper and a print is made.

Etching Eclipsicles
Etching Eclipsicles


Viv learnt to etch at college in the 1960s and revived her interest in it in the 1980s. She uses mainly copper plate but sometimes zinc and still uses nitric acid although she’s now much more aware of the health risks in some of the traditional etching techniques and has replaced some of the traditional materials with safer products. A copper plate may make as many as 200 prints before it wears but the actual inking, cleaning and embossing process takes place for every print – they are all individually hand made and vary slightly in the process.

Viv mostly uses copper sulphate now to bite zinc plate – not only is the bath a beautiful colour but it is much safer to use and makes a clean, sharp bite.

Zinc plate biting in copper sulphate bath
Zinc plate biting in copper sulphate bath

 


 

Drypoint

For drypoint you draw directly onto a copper or zinc plate with a steel or diamond point to create a groove and slight burr that holds the ink. This is punishing on the drawing hand but the effects are very immediate. The plate is then printed in the same way as an etching but you only get 10 to 20 prints off the plate as the grooves are not as deep as with the acid bite and the burr is gradually squashed under the huge pressures of the press. Again, each print is slightly different and sometimes the later ones in an edition can be a little paler.

Suk, Luxor Dry Point
Suk, Luxor Dry Point
Sky, sea and sand Dry Point
Sky, sea and sand Dry Point

 



Relief printing

Many people are familiar with relief printing from making lino prints at school. Artists still use lino for relief printing, but also use a variety of other materials with a similar texture. A printing block is made by cutting into the flat surface with tools like woodcutting tools and sometimes by using other materials to change the texture of the original flat surface. The print is made by rolling ink onto the block – this means that the inked surface is only that left as the highest level of the block – and then a sheet of paper is placed on the block (or the block is placed face down on the paper) and pressure is applied to transfer the ink onto the surface of the paper.

Relief prints can be much more complicated. To print in more than one colour requires several blocks that have to be carefully keyed to work together, or the more hazardous approach of making several stages of the print from the one block, gradually reducing the area of the surface that prints.

Viv has made several lino prints recently, using high quality inks and paper, and usually using a wooden spoon to apply pressure to make the print rather than using a press. She likes to feel the development of the image and sometimes to modify the pressure applied. She also sometimes applies hand colouring to areas of a print. Viv uses Japanese plywood to make woodcuts, but also uses vinyl and rubber when she needs the block to be more flexible.

Sometimes the printing surface is built up like a collage, using cardboard, metals fabrics and other materials. This approach can add texture to the image and enables inks to be applied to more areas of the relief. This is printed like a relief print and is called a collagraph.

Poppy Hill Print
Poppy Hill Print (collagraph)
Carnac
Carnac (woodcut)

Screenprinting

Viv first made screenprints in the 1960s when the inks and cleaning fluids were rather dangerous and nasty to use. Now we use water-soluble inks and cleaning fluids, so it is a much more pleasant process. In screenprinting you make a stencil and push the ink through with a squeegee to make a print. The stencil is supported on a fine mesh screen which used to be made of silk (and the process was called silkscreen). Although prints can be made using a simple table-mounted frame, it is easier to use a vacuum bed that holds the paper firmly in place while the print is made. Viv belongs to Inkspot Press which is an open access workshop well equipped for screenprinting.

Screenprint on a vacuum bed
Screenprint on a vacuum bed
(image from Stefan Hoffman's collaborative project)




Sculpture

We both make sculpture sometimes. We usually make a small maquette to work out an idea before making a larger version. The sculpture illustrated is in plaster – the figure and the cockerel are Viv’s and the flying horse is Paul’s. These maquettes were built up directly in plaster. The head was modelled in clay and cast into plaster and is one of Paul’s Beethoven series.

Sculpture: Maquettes
Maquettes
Sculpture: Beethoven
Beethoven

Mixed Media


Viv has been using fragments of prints to build up larger work that often includes collage, drawing and painting and so is more rightly called mixed media. Traditionally the size of prints is limited by the size of a press, so use of prints to build up collaged work allows the development of pieces of any size and shape. Also, different types of printmaking allow print to be made on different media, for example, paper, canvas and wood. Viv has used mixed media techniques extensively in her Flower Power and Blossom series.

Flower Power Cluster (collaged screenprint on canvas with some added painting)

Flower Power Cluster (collaged screenprint on canvas with some added painting)

Vignettes (collaged relief print on paper, relief print on MDF board and paint)

Vignettes (collaged relief print on paper, relief print on MDF board and paint)





Reflective inquiry


Although most of our work is based on direct experience and studies from observation, we have both studied history of art and have particular favourites who have influenced our own work. We travel frequently, both to find new inspiration and to visit exhibitions and art collections all over the world. We have both been artist/educators for many years, working with adult learners to develop creative practice in their different contexts.

Our own creative practice draws from this wide range of knowledge and experience. A painting usually starts with an idea, often something noticed as interesting or unusual. We will often make a number of studies and maybe do some research to find out more. There is usually a period of reflection before we start to paint – and we may make more studies at this stage.

Once we’ve started on larger paintings there is typically a period of intense work that may be followed, once again, by a long period of reflection and sometimes many revisions until the image has developed. We try to capture an idea, a feeling, the energy of the original idea – to say something about what we’ve seen and experienced rather than illustrating only how it looked.


Workshops

We occasionally run workshops in our own studio space, either tutoring these ourselves or with our guest tutors.

We also work with individuals to support them to develop their creative projects.

If you would like further information, please contact us to ask for details.

 


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