Wednesday 31 March 2010

Fun and Games with BT

More to come on my Samantha portrait very soon.  I've been having such a traumatic time back and forth on the phone with that wonderful (not) company British Telecom that I just have to write it down somewhere - so if you don't like my rantings please click off now!

BT (British Telecom), in my humble opinion, is the most incompetent, inefficient, inept, unwieldy and thoroughly useless company I have ever dealt with as a humble customer of internet service provision.  Yes, I am now looking into other options, such as cable/ satellite, which do not have to rely on our ancient landline system for good, reliable broadband speeds.  I realise that our landline system is now groaning under the strain of the ever increasing demand for high speed broadband and that fibre optics (like I know what they are!) are the way to go for the future.  However there is absolutely NO excuse for BT's shambolic customer service system.  Anybody who has had the misfortune to have contacted this will know what I mean.

About a month ago, a workman, working on road repairs, accidentally cut through a cable which effectively disabled the internet service to 46,000 homes and businesses around my home town area for 48 hours or so.  Ok, accidents happen, and I appreciate this was going to take a while to sort out and we have to be patient.  We eventually got our internet connection back but Broadband speeds have been very erratic, too low for downloads, video streaming and so on, ever since.  

For the past three weeks I have been 'liaising' with BT customer advisers.  Each time I phone, or they phone me, we have to run through a gamut of routine questions, always with a different 'adviser', always without reference to any calls I've made previously.  If I have to tell one more BT person that I have a wireless router and that its green lights ARE all flashing I will most definitely throw the d**n thing out of the window!!  I have had around 25 robotic conversations with BT personnel in the past week or so and I'm now slowly, but surely, heading for the van with the men in white coats.

During some of our conversations, I've chilled out a bit, realising that they are only doing their job, working from a script and it's no use trying to cut to the chase - just go with the flow, we'll get there in the end.  Even if it does take about an hour and a half to do so.  Other times, I demand to speak to the Manager, whose name I am careful to write down, but he turns out to be equally robotic, unhelpful and ineffective - just with a slightly better command of English!  

The last Manager I spoke to told me, and I quote :  "Mrs Pantry, I'm sorry but my tool isn't working properly so I cannot check your connection..."   I commiserated with him, saying I hoped he could get his tool up and running again soon and laughed.  Bad move.  There was a long silence.  I've made several attempts at some humour during these conversations, vainly trying to retain some of my sanity, but they have all wooshed over the automaton on the other end of the line like water off a duck's back.  These people are not human.  Seriously, they are not - they read their instructions from a script and if you, the customer, dare to deviate from this and venture a few suggestions of your own, you will be ignored and the script gets repeated again.

One thing that does make me laugh is the message you get, when you call the service line, which says  "please be aware that some calls may be recorded for training purposes".  Who is BT kidding here?  If that were true then how come the company hasn't learnt anything from these calls?  The conversations I, and many others, have had with BT customer service lines recently are as innane, unproductive, frustrating and pointless as they always were.  So BT, you are being, at best, disingenuous in trying to suggest that you care a jot about the effectiveness of your customer service lines.  In a word, they are c**p.  Oh, and by the way, BT Yahoo, a pathetic offshoot of the BT brand, is also complete rubbish as well, but that's a whole other story!

End of rant.

Monday 29 March 2010

Samantha Portrait WIP 2

I did a few more hours work on this today and then some more joyous time trying to get an accurate image of it to upload here!  There is a slight cast shadow across the top from the scan and the highlights aren't quite as blobby as they look here, apart from that it's about right.

I re-adjusted the patterning on the hat and it looks more accurate now.  I spent quite some time on her hair, using Light Yellow Ochre, Ivory, Cinnamon, Burnt Ochre, Bistre, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna.  Haven't quite finished the right side of the hair yet, my eyes were starting to cross so I had to stop for today!  I also did some more on the skin tones using Light Flesh, Medium Flesh and Prismacolor Rosy Beige, Peach Beige and Peach too as the Polychromos range is a bit short on these lighter shades. 

I think I have her expression about right so I don't want to do too much more on her face, just slight tweaking and blending in.  Did I hear someone say 'what about the background'?  Er.....nope, must be hearing things!   Haven't messed up yet but that could change.  No.....come on, stay positive Janet! 

Sunday 28 March 2010

Samantha Portrait WIP 1

10 x 8" Polychromos Pencils on Colourfix sanded paper (Rich Beige)

This drawing is based on a photograph by Kelly Herdrich who kindly gave it on loan to Peter Weatherill, a fellow artist and tutor.  So, my thanks go to Kelly and Peter.

Yes it's true, I am a glutton for punishment - another portrait.  Normally, I work from my own photos and it's a little tricky drawing someone whom I've not met since I know nothing about the person and have not seen them 'in the flesh' as it were.  On the other hand, not knowing the subject means you're not going to bring your own preconceptions to the drawing, as mentioned in my previous post.
 The little girl's dress was originally pink and white but I've changed that to blue to give a better balance to the picture and lessen the impact of that hat (I think!).  I'm using some Turquoise Blues and Prussian Blue for the hat and dress.  For the hat, I laid down some Bluish Turquoise and Cobalt Green first and then smoothed it out with some cotton buds. Then I've gone back in with Prussian Blue to model some of the stitching.  It's a fine balance, I think, between not making the stitching too detailed and artificially regular and yet making sure that it reads as a knitted hat.  There's still work to do on the hat so we'll see.

Samantha's expression looks almost like a sneer so it'll be tricky to capture that without overdoing it and doing her an injustice!  She's quite young so I'm guessing she might be a little shy about having her photo taken.  I need to keep her skin tones quite light and also not age her too much.  Haven't decided about the background yet, hmmmm.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Update on "Little Man", the portrait

Well, I've received back some feedback on the portrait I did of Ben, my 11 year old nephew (see previous two posts).  Both Karen, my sister, and Ben himself both prefer the earlier version which they feel is most like him.  Karen said she thinks it has "a certain something about it" which is not there in the finished version.  She agrees that the final picture portrays him as older than he actually looks but the hair and eyes are very accurate.  Ben thinks his nose is too big in the final version (!), the earlier one is just right and he wants to thank me for making him look good!  A young diplomat in the making I think!

I've learnt a lot from doing this portrait.  Here are some of my conclusions.

1. Drawing a member of your own family is especially challenging because you cannot help but be influenced, consciously and unconsciously, by your own knowledge and perceptions of that person.  I often see Ben as a very wise head on young shoulders, he astounds me sometimes with his mature and thoughtful comments - perhaps that's why I ended up drawing him looking older than his years.

2.  Drawing from a photograph is most definitely not an easy option, as some people would have us believe.  It does, however, require a lot of careful consideration and skill if we want to end up with a drawing that projects an impression of freshness and vibrancy, alongside accuracy and realism.  I know this is possible.  I'm working on it!

3.  The early stages of my portraits, and other subjects too, almost always look fresher, more vibrant and more accurate than the finished versions.  I find it very difficult to determine that nebulous point of no return, you know, when the picture is done and it's either good or it's bad.  I'll say things like "if I just make that a bit darker" or "that eye isn't quite right" or "it looks too insipid!" when I know I should be saying "it's good enough now, doing more on it won't improve it"!  Would that I had the wisdom to be able to say the latter a lot more often!

4.  I love doing portraits just because they are so difficult to do well and I really want to do them well.  Do you detect a whiff of masochism in there?!

And finally...... Ben (of portrait fame) is running the Sport Relief Mile tomorrow to raise lots of money for this great cause. GO BEN and no slacking or you won't get my money!! (Just joshing, hehe).  

Friday 19 March 2010

"Little Man" Portrait - Finished

Another 5 hours or so of work done on this and I think I'm calling it done now.   I've used Polychromos throughout, except for a layer of Blackberry (Derwent Coloursoft) on the background to get it darker.  I had great fun (er...not really!) trying to get an accurate digi image of my drawing.  After much cussing and blaming the software, I finally arrived at a pretty faithful representation.

In trying to render the values correctly in this I think I probably overdid it a bit with the reds.  This brown paper does not take as much punishment as my usual sanded papers and you cannot put light colours over dark quite so readily.  I'm quite pleased with it though and I want to use it as a kind of prototype for a larger portrait of the same pose which I'll do on sanded paper.

There is something weird about this drawing.  Having finished it, I've noticed that Ben seems to look about five years older than he did in the earlier version of the drawing!!  Maybe my brain's addled or something but I think I've aged him unintentionally.  Is it just me or does anyone else see this too?  I'm not sure now which version is the more authentic in terms of how Ben actually looks.  To resolve this I'm going to email copies of both the earlier draft and the finished drawing to Ben and his mum (my sister) and ask for their views.  It'll be interesting to hear what they think.  I'll report back.

Monday 15 March 2010

Some New Art! Little Man WIP 1

"Little Man" 6" x 8" FC Polychromos Pencils in Brown Sketchbook

Here's another attempt at a portrait, about 6 or 7 hours' work so far.  It's a picture of my nephew, Ben, who is 11 years old, caught in a rare quiet moment!  Ben is a lovely boy, full of beans and very bright.  I want to try and capture his likeness in this thoughtful mode.  I recently bought a new printer/scanner but I don't think it scans as well as my old one, deep joy.  This scan of the drawing so far was the best I could get but I think the colours are pretty close anyway.

I really like the Polychromos pencil range for portraits, there are some nice subtle browns and reds like Nougat, Bistre, Van Dyck Brown, Caput Mortuum, Dark Sepia, Raw Umber, Burnt Ochre, Terracotta, Venetian Red.  I've used all these and more on this.  I'm trying to get a dark, moody look on the drawing (what's new?!) so I've used layers of Caput Mortuum Violet and Dark Sepia on the background and it will get darker still. 

I think I must be a bit of a masochist because this is so hard.....just look at that hand position....good grief!  I really like the pose though and wanted to try something a bit more challenging.  I've spent a while getting the basic colours in and trying to establish a likeness.  From now on it's a question of adjusting the values, blending colours and hoping I don't overdo it.  Fingers crossed!  

Friday 5 March 2010

No art, just reflections and some trivia

Artistic inspiration has deserted me just now and I have no artwork to show.  I have, however, been thinking long and hard about where I want to go with my art, why I'm doing it and trying to get some sort of planning for the future in place.  Until now I've just been 'going with the flow', so to speak, but I think it's time to get myself organised, establish some goals, like.... to sell my art or not to sell?  If so, sell what, how, where?  If not to sell, then I could continue drawing for pleasure only.  I think I've reached a crossroads now and I need to make some concrete decisions and then move on down my chosen path.  I suspect this angst is why the drawing is not happening for me at the moment.  I'll work it out.

On a lighter note, dare I say it....could it be that weather-wise we have turned a corner and Spring is on its way?  Or are these a mirage!

Crocuses are erupting in my garden!  Now I could say that we have purposefully decided to allow our garden to return to a natural 'meadow-like' state but that would be such a bare-faced lie!  The truth is we are too darned lazy to get out there and look after it know, with carefully planned planting, weeding and the like.  I have to admit that although I do appreciate gorgeous flowers and plants and love to draw them, I really cannot muster up an ounce of enthusiasm for gardening.  My most hated BBC radio programme is "Gardener's Question Time" - I find it crushingly boring!  Hence the wilderness that you see here - pretty though, isn't it?

Now here's something closer to my heart! 

This is Bobby, brother to Keith and brother (once removed) to Barley whom you may remember from previous posts on this blog.  Do not be fooled by that nonchalant look, Bobby is King Pin, the Top Cat of this family.  He positions himself in front of my computer screen at key times during the day, if that is where I am, of course, and does not budge.  Who needs language when you can communicate your needs as effectively as this!   This posturing translates as "it's time you quit staring at that thing and started preparing a meal for myself, my brothers and other feline relatives!" 

And finally, there's this......


I am one of a dwindling number of people who actually still like my tea brewed properly in a teapot - remember those?  I spotted this tea cosy in town recently and had to buy it.   Need I say more?!     


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