Start: Oils with Jake Spicer

by Cass Art

Author of Draw Faces in 15 Minutes and dedicated campaigner for the practice of art among everyone, Jake Spicer is a name to remember! Jake is based in Brighton and as well as a practicing artist is also the director of Draw, a programme running adult drawing classes, in particular life drawing, all over the South East of England. Cass Art is more than happy to host Jake in our Islington flagship store on 25th March for a specialist workshop inspired by his book, focusing on portraiture and the human form and suitable for all ages and levels, this is an event not to miss.

Undoubtedly an expert with pencil and paper, we spoke to Jake about his practice with oil paints and how to get started with what can easily be considered one of the most daunting materials on offer...

How were you first introduced to the world of creativity? What was it that kept you interested in drawing and in painting?

I had a very creative childhood, as kids we were encouraged to draw and make things. I didn’t come from a wealthy family but paper was always abundant supply; my parents were very encouraging and creativity is free!

Since then I’ve had several inspiring teachers who have kept me engaged, provided support and advice and pushed me when I’ve needed it. I didn’t do an art degree, but instead sought out artists whose work I admired for advice and put in the hours to make the most of that advice. Now it is my students and colleagues who provide me with constant inspiration.

You have a keen focus on drawing as well as working in oils – how does one inform the other?

When I get stuck with my paintings, switching back to drawing helps get me out of a rut, and vice versa.  For me, drawing is a fundamental artistic practice whereas painting is concerned heavily with material of paint but both have their roots in observation of the world. Each require me to look at my subject in a different way and so revelations in one medium provide a fresh perspective on visual problems in the other.

What are the essential materials for both practices? What couldn’t you live with out?

I mostly draw with pencil (2H-4B, often Derwent pencils) on very smooth off white paper. I’ve recently fallen in love with Moleksine sketchbooks; the paper takes hard pencil marks particularly well and allows me to get a subtle tonal range while maintaining the integrity of each individual mark.

I’m currently working with Michael Harding paints on oil-primed plywood, using lots of medium (refined linseed oil and a stand oil/turpentine mix) and a conventional flesh tone palette of yellow ochre, cadmium red, ivory black and zinc white, throwing in a bit of ultramarine blue when needed. 

I first started oil painting when I was staying in London in 2007 and I visited the Cass Art in Kensington High Street to buy my first paints; a basic set of the Winsor and Newton ‘Winton’ range, a BIG canvas and an A-frame easel. I made my first big oil painting, ‘Portrait with sewing machine’ in a flat in Fulham and it became the centerpiece for my first exhibition in Brighton.  I recently opened a second studio for teaching painting here in Brighton and ordered the easels from the Cass Art website so Cass Art has remained my go-to place for my materials!

Where do you go to seek out inspiration? What is your working process like?

Life classes are always the place I return to for inspiration, as human beings I think we are fundamentally fascinated with other human beings. I’ve been life drawing several times a week for the past five years and it amazes me that after all that time I can still find something unique and exciting in every pose. I have drawn enough now that no single drawing matters as much as the lessons that I learn from making many drawings.

My process always begins with looking, taking in as much from what is in front of me before making a mark, and then making marks with clarity of intention. I find that if a drawing or a painting doesn’t have a clear intention behind it, it will rarely be resolved satisfactorily.

Could you share expert tips on how to achieve amazing technique and finish for a final painting?

Painting is a material practice; you’ve got to love using the paint and you’ve got to learn how it behaves. A lot of problems in paintings come from poor set up, erratic processes and a poor knowledge of materials. It’s not about expensive kit, its about knowing how to use what you do have. Have a reason to make a painting, and once you’re painting take intelligent risks; make many, many bad paintings and learn from them. Techniques are systems other people have developed for solving certain problems and making certain pictures. By all means learn techniques but don’t learn them to paint like somebody else; learn to paint like yourself, but better.

What advice would you give a budding artist interested in this practice?

Don’t be afraid to spend time learning. As you get better at drawing, your taste improves; your end goal recedes from you as you move towards it. Finding a balance between confidence in your own practice and acceptance that there is always room to learn more can be one of the hardest lessons. You don’t reach a point where you finish learning; as you make your best work you’ll be learning, when you teach other people to paint or draw you should still be learning. Learn through your mistakes, learn through your successes and enjoy the process of discovery.

Feeling inspired? We are pleased to welcome Jake Spicer, to our Islington flagship on 25th March from 7.30-9.30pm. Jake's bestselling book Draw Faces in 15 Minutes will form the basis of this portraiture workshop. Book your place now to learn from the artist himself. 

Cass Art stocks a vast range of materials ready for you to get creating, pick up some Derwent pencils and a Moleskine sketchbook to get started. Shop online and follow Cass Art on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with the latest interviews, exhibitions and exclusive workshops. 

For more words of wisdom check out Jake's TedTalk and visit his website to see his full range of artworks. If you're based in the South East head to Draw's website to see a local class near you or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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