Saturday, 10 December 2011

A wander through the heart of the artist... Entry for the Oriel Davies open 2012

"Functional Pumping Heart Model" : 71 x 52 cm : Ink, pencil, gouache, egg-tempera & transfer print on handmade paper :
Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert
New drawing I've entered for the Oriel Davies open exhibition for 2012 - a good show to enter work for in that the first prize is not only £1500, but also a one-man show in 2013.  Now that would be useful!  Vivi-Mari has entered as well ... fingers crossed.

Title - "Functional Pumping Heart Model".  Original drawing in sepia ink and clay pencil on handmade khadi paper, with transfer printed elements including a photo by Vivi-Mari (which is why it's only 'sort of' a self-portrait - I did lots of things to it, but the original photo is hers - I guess that really makes it our first collaboration - another one coming soon!).  A symbolic journey through the many byways of the heart.  I thought of the old idea of phrenology, assigning mental functions to different areas of the head, and transferred the idea to the assigning emotional functions (and dysfunctions) to areas of the heart.  Not for sale online yet, until I hear whether it's been selected for the show (mid Feb), but I'm always willing to entertain offers.  Now.. on with the next piece, in between decorating the house ready for Christmas, etc. etc.....
"Functional Pumping Heart Model2 (detail) : Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert
 I'm really into the Indian khadi handmade paper at the moment - it's 100% recycled cotton rag (made of offcuts from the t-shirt industry), completely non-acidic (i.e. archive quality), and has a superb heavy textured surface for the drawing techniques I'm using.  This is the first piece where I've used transfer printing, which I think looks great for including what are essentially collaged elements - Vivi-Mari's photo portrait, and the text captions I made up to add to the heart.  The heart drawing itself is based on an anatomical engraving from the original edition of 'Gray's Anatomy'.
"Functional Pumping Heart Model" (detail) : Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Asus ea800 Eee Note - Review from the artist's perspective

Update: 10th Jan 2013: The notepad I reviewed here is now up for sale on eBay at:

I'm sitting writing this review on a peculiar small A5 not-a-tablet-PC which I'm starting to use more and more as my general all-purpose notebook.  How did such a thing come about?  Dear reader, read on .....

I've been using an HP Tx2500 series tablet PC for some years, both for drawing and writing.  Writing, because I prefer to write longhand, whether it be creative writing (very seldom!) or simply writing an occasional journal - the 'morning pages' which I got into the habit of writing as a result of working my way through Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way", and am still sometimes keeping up today.  For me, writing longhand has the distinct advantage of giving me time to think - it stops my mind rushing ahead as it is wont to do when typing.

Drawing works well for me on a tablet because of three things - firstly because of the excellent software available which emulates the traditional media I prefer to use. (Yes, I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me!). my favorite program at the moment is ArtRage but I've tried other similar packages, and they're all pretty good.  The second two reasons are linked  - one, I can try out a multitude of different experiments without feeling guilty about wasting reams of paper, and two, I can endlessly correct, refine, and revise whatever it is I'm working on until I'm happy with it.  For both writing and drawing, the main advantage of digital over paper is the knowledge that everything is backed up, and all in one easily accessible place, not in a box full of random papers in a cupboard somewhere.

So, why am I writing a review of a little machine which is decidedly NOT a tablet PC? Well, despite all the advantages of the tablet PC hard- and software noted above, there are also distinct dis-advantages. Firstly, size and weight - the 'first generation' HP tablet I'm using is not by any stretch of the imagination light or slim. It generates a fair amount of heat, and most of all, the battery life is at best a couple of hours. Lastly, the backlit LCD screen is more or less invisible in daylight, so I can say goodbye to any thought of sitting sketching away outside my favorite cafe.

So, in the ideal world, someone would invent a thin, lightweight, A4 sized 'notepad' with a nice colour screen and decent battery life which runs my favorite art software.  Oh, but wait, there's this thing called the 'iPad', right?  That would be ideal, especially as the makers of ArtRage have already ported their software to it....  Well, as it turns out, no.  Major problem - the iPad does NOT have a pressure-sensitive touch screen with a stylus.  Your bad, Apple. The one thing you can't do, as an artist, on their wonderful tablet, is draw on it, unless you're into finger painting, or using a third-party stylus with a tip like a kid's crayon.  (OK, David Hockney has turned out some credible art on an iPad, but his style is not mine - I want a pencil stroke which gets broader and darker when I press harder - it doesn't seem too much to ask).  So yes, the iPad looks great, but I want it with a proper Wacom digitising screen & penabled pen, and a display that works under any lighting conditions.  Apple, please take note.

As far as I know, at the time of writing, there is one product which comes close - the Asus EP121 Eee Slate, a fully fledged Windows 7 tablet with a penabled display.  OK, it's not a 'view-anywhere' screen, and the battery life isn't anything to write home about, but I could compromise a bit, apart from one small detail - it costs close to £1000 in the UK, and I'm your average starving artist, so until Asus kindly send me a review unit (hint), or I manage to raise some serious money to support my next project (watch this space!), I'll be doing without.

Given all the above, it is natural that I should cast about the far reaches in the internet occasionally, looking for an alternative, and so it was that I happened on this strange beast, the ea800 Eee Note, also made by Asus. (I also happened across the fabled NoteSlate, but it appears to be exactly that - fabled).

The Eee Note is well, basically, a notepad.  Imagine an A5 paper pad and a pen that just happens to be electonic, and you're getting the idea. No fancy colour screen - greyscale only. No media consumption (apart from e-books) though it does have a rear-facing camera and an MP3 player. No Flash video or Java, though it does have a rudimentary web-browser (and WiFi, not 3G).  Did i say, it is basically for taking notes?  You can write on it, and draw on it, and send the results via WiFi to the Evernote cloud application, and that's basically it. Oh, wait, no it's not - it's also an e-book reader (PDF and ePub format).  Others have written at length about the functionality, hardware and software (see below for links), so I'm not going into massive detail - what I'm interested in is whether it's a useful tool for artists...

At this point I can hear you asking "Why would I buy such a limited device, when the iPad and the Slate both have so much more functionality?"  The answers are two-fold and simple:  One, the A5 sized greyscale screen is a 512-level Wacom digitizer and the notepad function has two pressure-sensitive tools - pencil and fountain pen - see below for examples.  Two, the price - around £150 in the UK.  That's right - £150 for a pressure-sensitive electronic notebook.  Any questions?  Oh, by the way, don't expect to pick one up at PC-World. At the time of writing it appears to be available in Asus' native Taiwan only, though there are rumours of a launch in Italy - a bit of European test marketing perhaps?  Fortunately if you're dead set on aquiring one, enterprising distributors in Taiwan are selling them on ebay, which is where I got mine, with a (mostly) English firmware version. They even threw in a UK power adapter for the little USB charger.

So, where were we? Ah yes, questions. So here we go on the useful bit, useability for artists.  The general verdict is, could be better, as it definitely feels like a work in progress, but on the other hand, it is useable.

So that's pretty much it for writing. The last firmware upgrade added on a select/copy/paste function, so it seems they are still actively working on the functionality, which is great.

And so to drawing.  The notepad app. gives you 34 different background templates, but at the moment, the useful headings on a lot of them are still in Mandarin, which makes them pretty useless for gaijin. The writing examples above are on a standard ruled background, but for free drawng you can make the background blank. You can also change it at any time afterwards, though no way to upload your own.  Here we go....

So - even using the 'pencil' tool, it's pretty much like drawing with a ball-pen. If that suits your drawing style, great, but it's not what I'm used to. I find I'm using the Eee Note (after a few weeks of ownership) quite a lot for writing - day-to-day note-taking etc. - not so much for drawing.

So I have a wishlist for Asus. I'd really like to use the Eee note as a general purpose notebook and sketchpad, but the sketchbook bit isn't quite there yet. For me, what it needs is:
1. A better contrast screen with 64 grey levels ( or colour, of course, but that takes us into a whole new price bracket, and the point is, this thing is affordable). At the moment , with the present LCD, black on white is really grey on grey - it reminds me of the Apple Newton I had 15 years (or whatever) ago. Surely display technology has moved on since then?
2. A more 'natural' pencil tool. Vary both colour and stroke width with pressure, and add 'paper texture'. Make the variation much more continuously sensitive, and get it tested by lots of artists.
3. Give the eraser 'soft edges' and make it pressure sensitive in both size and opacity so it can be used as a drawing tool.
4. ... or just get the ArtRage folks to port their app to Linux!
5. ... and ... well, that's pretty much it, really. The rest is just bells and whistles. What counts for me is whether it works as a notebook, pure and simple.

Conclusion - the Asus Eee Note is good at what it does, and it only needs a couple of improvements to be great, from an artist's point of view. I will certainly continue to use it, and report back later. In the meantime, if Asus would like a working artist to beta-test the next generation version, I'm your man....

Other reviews:
(Many links to other 'unboxing' videos on the right)
(Doesn't seem to have been updated for a while)

There is an SDK, and various people are working on new apps etc.  Google for Eee Note SDK and see what comes up, if you're technically minded.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Today's "Stream of Consciousness" Drawing

This week's new drawing - now up for sale on

"Finally Say cherish the Present Life" (detail) : Original drawing in sepia ink and clay pencil on handmade Khadi paper : 27" x 20.5" (69 x 52 cm) : Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

"Finally Say Cherish the Present Life"

A unique original drawing in sepia ink and clay pencil with white gouache highlights, on handmade Khadi paper.

The latest in a series of symbolic 'stream of consciousness' drawings. I'm never sure what they mean until they're finished and titled. Sometimes, as in this case, the title comes before the meaning. The message here is "Use your heart now - we are all connected with the tree of life, and our physical bodies will return to the earth and nourish new growth, but learn to embrace the physical reality we are in now and use this life to its greatest potential".

Khadi paper is handmade sheet by sheet in India from 100% recycled cotton rag (they use offcuts from the T-shirt industry). It is acid-free (pH-neutral) and therefore of archive quality. I think it has a superb rough texture for this kind of Renaissance-inspired drawing. I painted a sheet with a wash of English Red egg-tempera, which I prepare myself by making the egg-based medium and grinding it with dry powdered pigment. The drawing is done with sepia ink, Derwent clay-based drawing pencils, and white gouache. I used a vintage anatomical engraving as reference for the heart - the rest is made up as I go along.... It's about as handmade as I can make it, short of making the paper myself (guess that will be coming sooner or later!)

For more photos and full details, click here.

"Finally Say cherish the Present Life" : Original drawing in sepia ink and clay pencil on handmade Khadi paper : 27" x 20.5" (69 x 52 cm) : Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

Thursday, 3 November 2011

This week's new drawing - "Third Eye Test"

I really should have had this ready before Halloween / Samhain, but didn't quite finish it in time... Well, it's never too late to buy your loved one a suitable seasonal gift...

"Third Eye Test" : Sepia ink and clay pencil on handmade Khadi paper :  30" x 22"
Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

The Alphabet of the Magi was invented by Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (also known as Paracelsus) in the 16th century. He used it to engrave the names of angels on talismans which he claimed could treat illnesses and provide protection. Now - apply that to a standard optometrist's eye-test chart and you have ..... a Third Eye Test!! Well, that's my theory.

Now for sale in my shop, where you can see larger photos and full details...
"Third Eye Test" - detail
Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

Now - really must try to find time to do some proper blog updates....

Saturday, 22 October 2011

A new drawing just completed ...

"Order & Chaos" : Original drawing in sepia ink and terracotta pencil on handmade paper : 28 x 22 inches
Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert
Hi all,

Just finished a new drawing which I've had in my head for some time.  it's now available for sale on

The perfection of the Fibonacci spiral, based on the golden mean, contrasted with the representation of mortality, decay, and devolvement into chaos. Entropy rules! The skull image may be a complete contrast with the perfect mathematical fluidity of the spiral - however the spiral form is appropriated by nature for the horns - all things are linked. The mathematical expression used in the background is the equation for the spiral itself.

Finally got around to making it, so here we go....

It's a unique original drawing in the most traditional media I can muster - similar to what my hero Leonardo Da Vinci would have used; sepia ink and terracotta (clay) pencil with white highlights, on rough 'deckle-edge' handmade paper prepared with a red earth egg-tempera wash. Overall size of the paper is 28.5 x 22 inches (72 x 55 cm).

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Tracey Emin says my art looks like a plane crash

As some people will know, one of our cats, Marius, got hit a by a car a couple of weeks or so, which has left us running round like headless chickens getting him operated on at the vet (he now has a pin holding his leg together and is really going to have problems going through airport security from now on), sorting out his palatial accommodation for the prescribed 8 weeks cage-rest, and trying to get money together to pay the vet bill. (Many thanks to Powys Animal Welfare, the RSPCA, and Tailwaggers Club Trust for helping out!).

The patient, prior to losing an argument about right of way with a 4WD
We now have some time, finally, to continue preparations for the Open Studio which starts next Saturday (eek!), but I thought I'd just chip in a little bit about the finale to the British Airways Gret Britons competition. Having got through to the finalists' short-list of 10 candidates, you'll recall I went down to London for interview with the distinguished panel, and in the light of having no updates to the contrary, you've probably gathered that I didn't win (obligatory frowny face). Well, technically speaking there was only a 10% chance, but of course it's disappointing to have gone through a lot of hard work, time, effort and indeed money to no avail. Everyone's standard response is, of course, "Well, at least it's something good to put on the CV", but it remains to be seen whether that actually sways anyone's opinion when I'm applying for other projects...

So now, at least I can show a couple of the designs which got me onto the shortlist.....
The all-over option. Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

Tail only ....  Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert
The contest was eventually won by Pascal Anson, a designer based in Brighton who went to the Royal College of Art (same as Tracey Emin ... hmm... ) and has already represented Britain in various overseas exhibitions/events. It seems the selection panel might have been playing a bit safe in picking someone who already has a track-record, but I'm sure his designs are well worthy of the prize. We won't be able to see for ourselves, unfortunately, until the newly decorated planes actually roll out onto the tarmac in March 2012.

One thing I did get out of the whole experience was being forced to actually sit down for the best part of three weeks and really think about where my art is going, what I want to say, etc. etc. I suspect that may prove, in the long run, to be the real gain. Oh, and one other thing - that title to this post? Well, it was worth going through the whole show just for one quote - when I'd finished my presentation and it was question and answer time, Tracey Emin picked out one of my designs and said (more or less) "Well, if I saw a plane sitting on the tarmac with that painted on it, I wouldn't want to get on it, 'cos it already looks like a plane crash....!"
The offending article - Would you get on this plane?
Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert
Fortunately there were other designs she liked a lot better. The following day, we managed to get to see her retrospective "Love is what you want" at the Hayward Gallery - seeing a lot of her work in context, with the accompanying texts, we both felt we have a much better understanding of it. It's easy to dismiss if you've never seen it close up and in depth, and a lot of people do. (One reaction from an artist friend when I told them I'd entered a contest in which part of the prize was mentoring from Tracey Emin was "Are you sure it shouldn't be the other way round?"). I think maybe that understanding was another good thing I gained from the process. Vivi-Mari wrote a great review of the exhibition and Tracey's work here - well worth a read.

So it's on to new projects - I've entered a piece for the National Open Art Competition, and the Open Studio starts next week. By the end of October I hope to be ready to announce a new project which will be a taking up a lot of my time and energy for the next few months .... until then, if anyone wants a painting of a plane crash .....

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Announcement: Powys Arts Month: Open Studio

Vivi-Mari's studio ... looking veeeery tidy and supremely organised.

A quick update to say we're having an open studio in Llanidloes during Powys Arts Month (Oct 2011).  We're very busy getting ready - hanging everything we can think of all over the house, so visitors will be able to see three floors of art!  We will both be working in our studios during most of the open days, and a wide variety of paintings, collages, prints and cards will be on sale, with prices from just £1.25 to over £5,000!

Beatrice the studio cat can hardly wait to completely ignore you...
There are 3 floors of art on display - everyone is welcome.  Please note access is via narrow stairs and there is no wheelchair entry.  In case of allergies, please be aware there are 3 studio cats in permanent residence.

We can get more in than that ....!
Powys Arts Month features over 70 open studios, exhibitions, performances and other events throughout the county during the whole of October, starting in the North at the beginning of the month and gradually spreading southwards.  Look out for the distinctive posters etc. with the brightly coloured PAM logo....

There is also an exhibition of Powys Arts Engine members work at the Radnorshire Museum and the Beaufort Gallery in Llandrindod Wells during the whole of Sept. and Oct. Vivi-Mari and I both have works on display there - see here for details.

We will be opening at 14 Short Bridge Street, Llanidloes, SY18 6AD from Sat 1st Oct to Sun 16th Oct.  Open days are Thurs, Fri, Sat, and Sun (closed Mon to Weds), from 1PM to 4PM, with late evenings to 7PM on Fri 7th and 14th.  For further details, directions, parking info, public transport, etc. please see our entry on the Arts Month website.  We look forward to showing you around!

Beatrice the studio cat doubles as a very useful pencil sharpener....

Monday, 22 August 2011

Great Britons: No news is ....

Well, another quick update - can't say much, but apparently The Committee [TM] will be continuing their deliberations for a few more days .....
How am I going to be painting their aeroplane with my fingernails bitten to the elbow, huh?  Meanwhile - trying to get some work done on the new project (which is really really top secret until I can get it together to write abut it).

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Phew! Interview done ....

Well, just a brief note to say I had the BA Great Britons interview before the selection panel in London, and it seemed to go pretty well - plenty of interest in my ideas from the jurors and some useful discussion on how things might work.  They interviewed about 8 people yesterday - a couple more this morning, then I guess they retire to deliberate...  Winner will notified at the weekend, but if you win you can't say anything until after the press conference later next week - how frustrating is that!!  If you see me in the Co-op buying champagne, draw your own conclusions.  So ... continue wishing me luck, and all that, and many thanks for everyone's support.  See you later...

Monday, 8 August 2011

I've been short-listed for BA Great Britons!!

Eeeeek!  Just had a phone call from a very nice young lady at British Airways to inform me that I have been short-listed as a finalist for the art section of the Great Britons contest!!  I have an interview in London at the Royal Academy of Arts next Monday in front of a panel including Tracey Emin.  They are only interviewing 10 candidates. Double eeeek!  Now - apparently we need somewhere to stay in London on Sunday night ..... anyone?  (They aren't paying interview expenses - slight problem for starving artists with no money in Wales).

More details are supposed to be forthcoming on the FaceBook page:

I would post one of the example designs I used for the entry here, but I'm told there will be a non-disclosure agreement to sign so best not at the moment, eh?  You can see my dorky entry video here though.
Watch this space ....!!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

I made a new thing !

I just made a thing here - why not click this link to go take a look!

(PS: You have to click when you get there too .... and again .... )

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Some new art!

Well, today is a bit of a red-letter day as I've been so busy trying to earn a crust that I haven't had time to actually finish any art for quite a while.  Here's a little drawing I've been working on for the last few days - a character study for an exciting new project I'm working on (more about that soon).  I think it came out quite well - all 'out of my head' - I just used a photo reference for the eye.
"Study for Aengus Óg" : ArtRage drawing on tablet PC : Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

Painting sold

Sold a little painting at the 'Retrospectives' show in Newtown (which is still running, by the way, as is the 'Dragons' show at the Great Oak Cafe in Llanidloes...
This little 'Buddha' went straight away...  (it's actually of a Cambodian king, from Angkor Wat).

"Serenity" : Oils & tempera on canvas : 5" x 5" : Copyright © 2009 by Martin Herbert

Not sure how to get decent pictures of oils like this without the reflections on the canvas ... I'm going to try photographing it again before the exhibition finishes, as people have expressed an interest in prints.  I'm likely to be painting some Buddha paintings of similar size in the near future, if anyone is interested....

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Great Britons - News

Well, just a brief update - latest news on the Great Britons selection process is that "the task of selecting a shortlist of candidates has been so hard for our judging panel, which includes Tracey Emin herself, that we have had to delay the decision until Friday 5th August".

I can't stand the suspense.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Entry to BA Great Britons competition .... artist on video shock horror!

Latest news!  My entry to the BA Great Britons competition has been accepted, just before the deadline ....
You can read all about the competition here: BA Great Britons.  Basically the premise is that the winner gets to design a new paint job for 12 of BA's aircraft to be used during the Olympics - the project runs from August to February.  The short-list is announced on August 2nd, interviews at the Royal Academy on the 15th/16th, and the winner is announced on the 21st ....

Is there any likelihood I'll get short-listed?...  Dunno - watch this space.  In the meantime, you can amuse yourself with the promo video I had to make for the entry ....  (at the moment BA have it on YouTube - if the link gets broken I'll upload it here instead).

Monday, 18 July 2011

On Artistic Practice - an essay

Well, my first pass at an 'Artist Statement' having produced predictable pretentious waffle (see here), I have unavoidably been forced to think more about art and, basically, What It's All About.  The result is the following essay on artistic practice, goals and technique, and hopefully I will get enough from it to construct a more digestible and concise definition of what it is I do......

On Artistic Practice.

My goal as an artist is to make pictures which capture people's attention - something which when they see it from across the room or out of the corner of their eye will make them say "Hey, what was that?" and go back for a closer look.  Something which gives them a feeling that something has changed in their lives, although they may not be able to formulate exactly what. Something, in other words, which makes people think.

Why do this?  Because, as artists, we can.  In the same way in which a great writer can change people's lives, if we are serious about our art, we should also be able to catalyze change.  When we sit down in front of a blank canvas (or a wall, a lump of clay, a raw stone, or a computer screen) we are God.  We can create whatever we want, and if we are good enough; 'in the zone' or 'in flow', we can make people believe in our creation.  If we have the ability to do it, then perhaps we also have the obligation to do it.

In my own case, I try to create something which will make a change in people, to 'make my mark' (for that, of course, is what artists do), by searching for combinations of shape, colour, form and texture which evoke a subliminal emotional response in the viewer. My goal is for someone to look a picture and feel that it 'resonates', that it 'strikes a chord' (note how we use expressions for visual art which echo the impressions we get from music - both are visceral experiences).  They need not understand exactly why it gives them that feeling - my goal is to work on the archetypal level, so that the viewer cannot help but respond in a certain way to what they are seeing.

The content of my art sometimes incorporates symbols which are widely recognisable (and therefore likely to be reacted to) by the majority of people.  Clouds symbolise flights of the imagination and dreams.  Flowers are for springtime and rebirth. Baroque carving evokes a feeling of luxury, exclusivity - even spirituality, and archaic lettering for nostalgia and a sense of the presence of the past.  More than this, though, I try to allow my own intuition to select shapes, forms and colour combinations which resonate on a more subtle level - that which gives me a particular feeling, evokes a particular emotion, I hope will have the same effect on someone viewing the picture. Often the meaning of an image only becomes apparent to me well after I have created it - at the time of creation it is simply in the process of becoming, and the act of facilitating that process can be conscious, unconscious and subconscious, in any combination.

"Me da la Cabeza de Juan Bautista" : Oils & egg-tempera on canvas : 97 x 55 cm
Copyright © 2010 by Martin Herbert
Technique is an important part of my practice.  When trying to evoke an emotional response, the response is unavoidably affected by the medium and execution of the painting.  There are many traditional ways in which the viewer is affected indirectly by the technique and materials used.  As an art-viewing collective we may react differently to a painting in acrylics to one in oils (the medium is more modern and plastic, so the piece may not be as worthy).  We react differently to a drawing in pencil to one in a child's crayons.  We certainly react differently to a painting done on a computer than we do to one done entirely in traditional media.  In general, if the art is representational, we react 'better' to a piece which is painted with a high degree of technical skill than we do to one which is 'messy', regardless of the message.  If the art is more 'emotional' in content, then we may consider a loose ('messy'!) expressionist style a good thing as a painstaking meticulous technique might smack of emotional detachment.  If the piece is 'industrial' in character, then digital art is no bad thing.

"A Thing of Hair and Feathers" : Ink & sanguine pencil on tempera-washed paper :
11" x 14" : Copyright © 2010 by Martin Herbert
One thing I try to do in painting is to mix the techniques - to use media which are unexpected and unpredictable for the particular subject in question.  I use digital, computer-generated, mathematically based shapes to make metamorphosing organic objects reminiscent of plants, seeds and microscopic sea creatures.  I use traditional 'old-master' oil and tempera media to make paintings which also contain whimsical references in archaic typefaces.  Meticulous representational work is used to portray the fantastic in the manner of the Visionary and Symbolist schools, reminiscent of Ernst Fuch´s 'Fantastic Realism'.  Bringing an ironic, fantastical or mythical (or archetypal) element into a superficially realistic painting, or using a computer to generate something which looks like an 18th century engraving, but one so complex it could not have been traced by hand, provides that slightly unsettling element which (see above) makes the viewer say "Hey, what was that?", and go back for another look.

"The Last Rabbit" : Oil on canvas, 2000 : Mark Ryden
Please visit the artist's website for more
It is that process of unsettling the viewer, as well, which provides the element of emotional connection which may help to change the viewer's thought processes more profoundly in the moment off viewing.  If we link the act of 'unsettling' with a subject which is in itself emotionally engaging then the connection felt by the viewer becomes deeper.  It is for this reason that 'lowbrow' art, a recent growing art movement, is so successful.  It uses realistic depictions of 'cute' cartoon-like characters (fluffy bunnies, big-eyed innocent looking Bambi creatures, and equally big-eyed, small-breasted and innocent 'Lolita' figures) in worrying and unsettling situations and with worrying and unsettling facial expressions to provoke an instant response in the viewer of "Er..... something wrong here....!"  My hope is that my paintings effect similar responses, though on a less obvious and superficial level.  The cartoon figures are not for me, but the juxtaposition of the familiar and comforting with elements which seem out of place is one of which I wholeheartedly approve.

"My Dishonest Heart" :Mixed Media on Wood : 2008 :
: Audrey Kawasaki :
Please visit the artist's website for more. 
An underlying theme in my paintings is that of physicality versus abstraction and intuition.  We live in a society which increasingly values the mental process over the physical, the intuituve approach to the pragmatic, and the generalisation to the specific definition.  We, as humans with (allegedly) highly evolved mental processes unavoidably live in a state of tension between the sheer physicality of bodies which contact the world in a myriad of sensory impressions and concrete connections, and the lofty thought processes to which we would often rather devote ourselves.  It seems sometimes all too easy to view the necessity of maintaining our physical presence here on this planet as an irritating distraction from more important things.  I like to use the lines and forms of my compositions to highlight, and hopefully help to resolve, this tension - in my ideal drawing, the beauty of line and curve contrasts with the solidity of form, expressing both aesthetics and grounded physicality in a single artistic expression.  My goal is to remind the viewer that yes, we are humans capable of high thought, but we should also be grounded in physical reality, knowing ourselves to be an integral part of the natural world, the Earth, the forest, the rock and the mountain.  All contain some expression of spirit, and therefore all are inextricably tied to our spiritual and physical selves.  We are the brain cells; the cognitive thought processes, of the body that is Gaia - however detached and lofty those thoughts, when removed from the body we die as surely as any other sloughed-off cell.

This then, is the conclusion when considering how my own artistic process manifests itself: that it should remind the viewer of the necessity to reconcile our physical and mental states of being, by using all the techniques available to the artist - shape, colour, texture, perfection of technique, to arrest their attention.  To make them stop and look again, to think and say to themselves not "Er... something is wrong here...", but "Wow! Something is very right here".  It is that striving towards wholeness which distinguishes my art and, I hope, makes it unique.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Pieces accepted for MOMA Wales!

Well ... some good news...  Both Vivi-Mari and I submitted pieces for the 2011 Tabernacl Open Exhibition at MOMA Wales, and both have been accepted.  I am especially pleased, having been turned down the last time I submitted a painting. (Ironically, the painting this year was unframed, and it turned out the only frame I had which fitted was the one I used for the piece that got rejected a few years ago!  Doubly pleasing since I had it especially made for the exhibition!).

Almost like getting into the Royal Academy ....
The exhibition starts on Monday, but there is a private view and awards presentation tomorrow at midday. No idea whether we're in the running for prizes of course (the money would certainly be handy - 1st prize is £1200) but we'll be along to see what happens anyway.  I think my painting is probably a bit lightweight for the judges, but who knows what sort of madness they may be struck with on the day?

"The Sea of Longing" : Oils & tempera on prepared canvas : Copyright © 2008 by Martin Herbert
The exhibition ( theme is 'Feeling', which leaves things fairly open to interpretation.  It comes from a quote by Leo Tolstoy from "What is Art" - "Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced". My entry is a portrait of the lovely Semele Xerri of Triple Moon in Builth Wells.  I entitled the piece "The Sea of Longing" to fit the theme.  It's in oils and egg-tempera (Mische Technique) over a pre-prepared canvas giclée-printed with a 3D 'fossil-scape' which I constructed for the purpose.

"Some Things Should Never be Forgotten" : Handmade paper collage : Copyright © 2008 by Vivi-Mari Carpelan
Vivi-Mari's entry is one of her symbolic hand-made collages entitled "Some Things Should Never be Forgotten".  (See more at

The exhibition, at Y Tabernacl, Heol Penrallt. Machynlleth, Powys, SY20 8AJ, runs from 18th July to 3rd September and is open Mon-Sat, 10-4.  Go take a look!  Report on the private view coming soon.

PS:  Well, apparently the prizewinners are already up on the website, so no luck there!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Last Month in the Arts: Part 2

So - the second exhibition opening in June was a 'retrospective' (sounds grand, huh?) at Pam Jefferies' 'PH Salon & Gallery' (formerly Pamperhouse Salon) in Newtown, Powys, about 15 miles away.  (Yes, 15 miles (24km) away is our nearest town - that's how far from civilization we are...).

"Aurora, Goddess of the Dawn" : Digital Painting 29 x 11in : Copyright © 2005 by Martin Herbert
Print available from PH Salon & Gallery, Newtown
PH Salon and Gallery is our friend Pam's hairdressing business in Newtown, and she had the great idea of turning it into an art gallery, mainly for her clients - she has a lot of people visiting every month, and she gets to have some great art on the walls to give the ladies something to talk about while they're waiting for their highlights to cook, while artists get to display their work to a discerning clientelle of potential art buyers.  It seems to work quite well. We held a private view on 24th June which was reasonably well attended and there were a few sales on the night.

Me, with Pam Jefferies (right) and Val Howard, mayor of Newtown, who officially opened the exhibition.
The show is a retrospective as it features all the framed prints which I had in stock after the gallery in Llanidloes closed when I went off to Spain. When I came back, I realised i had quite a lot of prints and greetings cards left and figured there must be a few hundred pounds worth which I could sell off.  I did an inventory and came up with over £11,000 worth, so I figured I can afford to have a bit of a sale - all this stuff is doing no good lying around in my studio, and I need to get get rid of it to make room for new work.  So - all the work at Pam's (1-2 Park Street, Newtown, Powys, SY16 1EE) is pretty much half price, as is much of the work on the website (  I've also reduced the abstract work on the 'unlikely realms' website.  The main website will be redesigned soon as a showcase for new paintings, and more or less replaced by this blog, so now is the time to order prints!

"I'm for the Hare that Runs by Night" : Digital Painting, 36" x 24" : Copyright © 2003 by Martin Herbert
Full sized framed print for sale at the PH Salon & Gallery, Newtown
On the subject of private views, despite the evening at Pam's  being a success, both myself and my wife Vivi-Mari (go look at her art at have had opening evenings for exhibitions since setting up home again here  in Wales last year, and the experience has not generally been good. We've ended up spending time and money on wine and food etc. for a lot of people who just don't turn up - I figure there is no money about and people are embarrassed to come along knowing they aren't going to purchase anything. Actually we'd rather have the people there having a good time - at least it makes it look worthwhile!  However, we've pretty much decided not to do it any more - we need to find other ways of selling.  I read a piece by someone recently who was lecturing at Berkeley and was asked "what is the secret of selling your art?". His answer (paraphrased) was "You only have to do two things: do some great art, and get it in front of people".  All suggestions on how to get art in front of people will be gratefully received!

Martin Herbert: Retrospective continues at the PH Salon & Gallery, 1-2 Park Street, Newtown, Powys, SY16 1EE, UK for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Artist Statement

This is the artist statement I prepared for the Great Britons competition entry (more details coming soon).  Can you believe I did this entirely without  the aid of the Arty Bollocks Generator!?

martin herbert

artist statement

i am an artist
i receive impressions.
i mirror them back, sometimes simplified, sometimes quite the opposite
i mix them
i synthesize
i argue my case, quietly
i expect no one to be impressed, but i suffer from a compulsion to make my mark
as all artists do - we make marks - it is our job to make the marks that make people think

as humans, when we see images, we think - we can’t help it - our brains are hard-wired to receive visual impressions and integrate them into our personal space - into the entire sphere of our lives’ experience
the way in which we integrate the images we see inescapably alters our thinking
the way in which artists construct the images we see alters the impressions we receive
the way in which artists construct the images we see therefore alters our thinking

all art makes us think - highbrow or lowbrow, profound or trivial, disney or degas
the difference lies in what it makes us think
the craft of the artist reaches its highest form when it makes us think profoundly
this is my goal
i am an artist
i receive impressions
i mirror them back

Last month in the arts ... dragons at the Oak

Well – a lot going on in June, and continuing into July – two exhibitions opening, submissions to be made for others – trying to find time for some grant applications, and in between all the marketing stuff, trying to actually do some art!

June's first exhibition started at the Great Oak café in our home town of Llanidloes, at the beginning of the month, and is under way there until the end of July.

In 2008 I was commissioned by LLANI Ltd. and the Town Council to design a set of 10 plaques to form a “town trail” around Llanidloes.  Ten of the drawings on show at the café are the original designs for the plaques, which were then made by local sculptor Sue Thornton and can now be seen on various buildings around the town centre.

The trail is meant to be followed by solving the riddle poems written in Welsh by children from Llanidloes High School, and these are displayed next to the pictures. Don't panic – there are English translations there as well! A leaflet containing all of them can be obtained from the Visitor Centre on Longbridge Street.  The names of the 10 dragons were also chosen by local schoolchildren

One of the original designs was never used and there is therefore an elusive eleventh dragon.  Visitors to the café can suggest a name - the winner will receive a signed fine-art print of the original eleventh dragon drawing.

"The 11th dragon" : Sanguine pencil on prepared paper : Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

The drawings are done using some of the oldest drawing techniques used by masters such as Da Vinci and Rafael.   The paper is prepared using a diluted wash of red egg-tempera which I make by hand, by grinding red iron oxide pigment with a medium composed of Dammar varnish, beaten egg and water.  The drawing is done with red and sepia earth-colour based pencil and highlighted with white chalk pencil and white egg-tempera or gouache.  Sepia ink is also used on some of the drawings.

All the original drawings are for sale, and open edition fine-art prints are available to order at £75 (unframed).

At least our local news photographer was there to record the occasion...

A private view was held on the 11th of June and unfortunately coincided with someone's birthday party, which is a sure recipe for disaster in a town with only 2,500 people.  It's at times like this that you find out who your firends are - well, apparently I don't have many, that's for sure.  A grand total of several people attended - no sales.  Not the most uplifting start to the month, but we soldier on ....

The exhibition, “Dragons at the Oak” continues at the Great Oak café, 12 Great Oak Street, Llanidloes, Powys, until the end of July –  I hope you'll find time to visit.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Distraction-free blogging

OK - well, time to start finding time, so to speak.  I really need to write some entries, as I would like these pages to become my 'main' website, while I remodel to be more of a showcase for the oil paintings. So i've decided to try writing entries using DarkRoom (from  It's a bare-bones word processor - the idea being that all you have is a blank screen with your writing on - no bells and whistles to distract you - no worrying about format ting or how pretty it looks.  By default it comes up full screen with a black background and green type similar to an old ASCII terminal - the sort of thing I used for writing 'C' code twenty years ago.  I've changed my settings to a nice amber colour text with a clear proportional font, similar to my beloved DEC VT220 terminal from so long ago!  From what I can tell so far (this being the first thing I've typed on it), it works just fine.  Just me and the text... maybe all aspiring writers whould get a copy.  I tried changing the screen background to something a little lighter and found even that was a bit of a distraction.

The psychology is interesting - maybe if we are presented with a whole lot of choices about how our working environment looks and feels, we have some pre-programming which means we are constantly checking that everything is OK.  As soon as the choices are limited, we are more able to focus on the task in hand.  A case in point - my dear wife is doing a lot of blogging at the moment ( and when making entries dfirectly into blogger, seems to get sidetracked into worrying about whether the header looks good enough, whether the colours are right, etc.  I am sure (previous experience) that I am exactly the same - we're artists - we can't help getting stressed about how things look all the time!  Remove the distractions and the choices and it's not a problem any more.  Well... it's a theory - I'm planning to carry on using Dark Room to edit texts and add the bells and whistles later... we'll see how it goes - maybe an update in a couple of months?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Under way ...

Well, a long wait since I declared my intention of starting up here on blogger, but finally found the time to reformat everything and get up and running.  Two international moves and a marriage in between, but hey, here we are. Some real content coming soon - until then you may bask in the glory that is my new template .....