Thursday, 9 April 2015

Where I am now - an inside look.

In the classroom at Oyston Mill, with the essential colour wheel.
It’s a great mystery to me that so many lovely people are interested in my art and life. I have a reluctance to share details which seem to me so mundane. Then I think of Ben Aronson. An amazing painter, I find myself regularly checking his facebook page to see if there is anything new.
So the following are five questions I would like to ask Ben, turned on myself!

Home Studio

Age, children, family

I will be 39 in 8 days time. There is a quote somewhere about how commonplace it is to see promising young artists, but “show me one at 40.” I do feel that this is a whole new challenging stage for me. Art takes energy, self examination and lots of time.
I have a fabulous American wife, Lindsey, who is an artist as well as an amazing Mom to Boston (2) and Jasper (3 months). When I paint at home, Boston sits next to me and fills pages of his big sketchbook with the most mysterious drawings ever.

Brushes at the Mill studio

Teachers, where you studied and main influences

Blackpool and Fylde College was my first experience of full immersion in Art. I still love the objective drawing style taught by Norman Travis. At Newcastle University, Alan Turnbull nurtured my desire towards representational painting in an environment where this was not greatly encouraged.
Meeting George Nick at the Vermont Studio Center in 2006 was a career changer. His work and influence opened up to me the powerful tradition of representation painting in the US. His suggestion led to me spending a year at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, where Scott Noel was a generous and most supportive teacher.

Rembrandt started it for me and remains so important for his technical skill coupled with human feeling. Degas is amazing for his restless experimentation. I feel much closer to him than to artists who seem to have an unchanging method.

Current Cafe drawings

What are you working on NOW?

It was a very difficult transition period, finishing the works for the London show and searching for a new project. I wrote, sketched, looked at artwork online and made a few copies of paintings by other artists.
One of my favourite things is to spend an afternoon drawing in Caffe Nero. I feel it’s a subject with a lot of mileage. It has human interest and the figures are lit by both exterior and interior light.
So that’s what I’m on with. It’s very slow, starting. Lots of drawing. Lots of erasing. But I’ve started a couple of small oil studies, so that makes me feel better.

Cafe Drawings-  ink and pencil

Works in progress, Home studio

Who are your art friends and what do you talk about?

Most recently, I went to the opening of a MAFA exhibition with Michael Ashcroft, Ian Norris and Steve Smith. Prior to that, it was Indian night organized by Chris McLoughlin. We always say how isolated it is in the studio and how refreshing it is to get together and grumble about galleries or share opinions on artists.
I often bring questions to the table. Like “How do you know when a painting should be large, medium or small?”

Being with artists, it’s nice to be able to get openly excited about a subject, such as the light and space in a location, and not get blank looks.

Sorting through paintings at the Mill studio

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Making of "The Bench"

The Bench is a 12 foot painting inspired by a trip to Barcelona, where tourists were lounging on the bench in Gaudi’s Park Guell. You may notice that I ignored the elaborate mosaic on the actual bench.

Rejected from one exhibition, "The Bench" later won the top prize in the Artist and Illustrators Artist of the Year Competition.

For details of where and when it is being exhibited, see

Norman Long  "The Bench"  16 x 144 inches
The composition was partly inspired by Vincent Desiderio’s “Sleep”, which I saw at the artists talk in New York. (Vincent studied at and teaches workshops at PAFA, where I studied in Philadelphia)

Vincent Desiderio  "Sleep"
I initially used photoshop to join images together. Then, thinking about the abstract rhythms and symmetry of the composition along with the psychological relationships between the characters, I did drawings of figures on tracing paper, allowing me to move them and play with the distances between figures. I tried to arrange the diagonals (invented shadows are useful) to move the eye up and down the composition rather like a bouncing ball.

Photoshopped photos of people sat on Gaudi's bench, Barcelona

Some earlier paintings enabled me to try out aspects of the painting.  “Watching Time Go By” included a couple from “The Bench” and a child walking in the foreground (the man sadly lost his companion as the painting progressed)

Norman Long "Watching Time Go By"  24 x 12 ins  £995

Small studies for the two side panels

Norman Long "Bench Study - Observed"  7 x 14 ins   £450

Norman Long "Bench Study- Proximity" 7 x 14 ins  £450

The composition was roughed in on the final boards using black and white acrylic, then colour acrylic and finally oil. New figures were introduced to help the narrative (my wife and the local PC guy were models)

The Bench - Black and White acrylic stage

The Bench section 1 -  Colour acrylic stage
The Bench section 1 - Finished stage
Only later did I realize that I had imposed such a deliberate structure upon the groupings of the figures. Even the positioning of the red sweaters is symmetrical.

Part of the challenge was to maintain a satisfying degree of finish across the piece. At times, some figures got too finished and I had to mess them up a bit. To keep me from getting too fiddly, I worked often with extended paintbrushes. 

The Bench section 2 - Colour acrylic stage
The Bench section 2 - Finished stage
Because it wasn’t possible to have the painting flat against the wall in my studio and it was hard to get back from it to see it as a whole, I used mirrors to view the painting in progress. Towards the end, I took it outside and viewed it from cross the car park to make sure it held together as a whole.

The Bench section 3 - Colour acrylic stage
The Bench section 3 - Finished stage

I don’t see it as a true triptych, but one painting which travels in three parts. When I have painted large works in the past, I have found them inconvenient and expensive to transport, so being in three 4 ft panels makes it much easier. I enjoyed trying to incorporate the joins within the composition without ignoring the fact that they are there.

I consider myself lucky to be able to embark upon challenging, personal painting projects such as The Bench. The support of students and collectors gives me the freedom to push my art in new directions, follow my instinct and engage in a visual dialogue with great art.

  Tel: 07979 59 60 62

An article about The Bench appeared in the December edition of Artists and Illustrators magazine.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Boston US tour

On a trip which took us from Buffalo in Northern New York down as far as Charleston in South Carolina, we took our son like a new royal prince. Some paintings were left with friends and relatives in thanks for hospitality. These are the ones that made it home.

Boston's First Swim  12 x 10 ins  Oil on prepared card   NFS

Garlic on stripes 12 x 10 ins  Oil on board  £545 framed

Lemonade  12 x 12 ins   Oil on board  SOLD

Party Popsicle 12 x 10ins  Oil on board  £495 framed

Plymouth Harbor  12 x 12ins  Oil on board  £545 framed

Plymouth Pier  12 x 10 ins  Oil on board  £495 framed 

Tel: 07979 59 60 62

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Boston Bean

So many people have asked if I have painted Boston yet. Last week when Lindsey was at work I had a try. I realised as I was painting the wee fella that it's going to get even trickier when he starts to crawl!

Boston Bean,  10 x 12 ins,  Oil on canvas board

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Preston Painters

For two weeks, my faithful oil painting students are following my example by drawing and painting on site in Preston. Many have never worked on site before and were somewhat sheepish, but they return stimulated by the experience.

Here is Adam, bravely painting on the flag market in Preston. 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Three Things you need to be an Artist

As a former student at Blackpool and the Fylde College, I was invited to be guest speaker at the Young Artist of the Year Award 2013.

This is what I said.......

Since leaving Blackpool and the Fylde college 17 years ago, I consider myself very lucky in having been able to continue exploring my art.

Tonight I would like to tell you of the three things that have made that possible, the same three things I believe you will need if you want to be an artist.

Firstly, you need passion. By passion, I mean a love to make art. Regardless of if anyone likes it or whether it sells. Just a love to spend time doing art. Passion.

Secondly, you need support. The idea of the artist as some sort of hermit genius is rubbish. You won’t last long as an artist without the support of your family and fellow artists.

Finally, I will talk about a dirty word in art school. The “M” word. Money. You need it to do art.

Passion comes from you. You need passion.
Support comes from those around you. You need support.
Money. Well, of course, money grows on trees.


How did I become an artist?

It wasn’t like I met a great artist and thought “How cool – I’ll be an artist!”
I just loved to draw and paint.
And, just like you, because you spend time doing something you like to do, you get a little bit better at it than those who don’t. And then it gets recognised. “Oh, Norman can draw.”
“Wow, that’s a great drawing.” That makes you feel good, so you do more.

And then people might even PAY you to do art! By high school I was doing the drawings for my brother’s geography coursework. I was painting schoolfriends’ neighbour’s dogs and cats and hamsters for a few pounds.

Passion. A love to do art. Not “I’m going to be a great artist” but “I love to do art.”


But don’t artists need talent? Aren’t artists BORN talented? Isn’t it in their genes?

My Dad was a farmer and then worked at Leyland Motors. My Mum worked at Damps, an old hardware store in Leyland. Then she raised three boys and then she milked cows for 15 years. I have two older brothers, both engineers. As far as I know, none of my family are remotely artistic. If I was a born artist, there was some sort of flukey genetics going on.

Everyone is born talented. Some people can do mental arithmetic, others can remember names. Some people can see when someone is upset and say just the right words to comfort them. Everyone has talents. The trick is matching your talents to what you want to do.

You want to know my talent?

I’ll tell you what was written on my junior school report. I quote “Norman is painfully slow and deliberate in all he does.”

“That’s a talent?” You say

Yes, that’s my talent. I wasn’t a born artist, but I was born with the love of spending time on things, of being completely absorbed in a task and doing it to the best of my ability. As a child, I would spend hours drawing pictures of footballers, completely engrossed.

Every young person with work in this exhibition has enough talent to be an artist. But not all of you will, or would even want to, become artists. Let me tell you why.
Talent is only the beginning. What you need more than talent is passion – A love to do art.

Passion develops as you grow as an artist. It wasn’t until I was at University in Newcastle that I really realised how much of an artistic temperament I have.

Artists tend to be deep thinkers. They are sensitive to life, they feel things deeply. They can be melancholic and moody (even beyond teenage years.) They don’t want to just go the way everyone else is going. You know why? Because they have a passion. They are not satisfied with life the way it is and they won’t just sit there and take it, they feel it deeply and they must express it somehow.

It’s like a volcano. More than a few days without creating and the pressure builds. I get quiet and grumpy. I know that these ideas, this feeling, will never come back if I don’t express it now.

So you hold it in until you get to the studio. You have no idea what you’re going to make, but you need to make something. The volcano erupts, as it were, and artwork is created, forever the moment of creation preserved in paint or clay like the magma which sets as it cools.

That’s passion. It becomes part of your identity.

You already have the talent. What you need is passion. And that starts with a love to do art.


Don’t you need to find a style before you can be an artist?

No, you already have a style, it’s already in you. It’s in making art that we bring it out.

Style is not something you choose or do consciously. It is the result of the unique combination of your background, your talents, your interests and your influences. Style comes from inside you and can’t really be controlled.

A class of students can be painting the same model, with the same instructions and the same materials. Yet every painting turns out utterly different. You are unique. You have your style already within you.

The worst thing you can do is say “Right, this is my style and I’m sticking to it.” Style is a lifelong discovery.
Degas said “I’m glad to say I haven’t found my style yet. I’d be bored to death.”

The only way to bring out your style is to do lots of artwork and find out what you like to do and what you do best. You might look at your artwork and think that every piece is different. But other people will recognise your style in them all.

Your style is what you do most naturally when you’re not thinking about style. Make every effort to get away from your natural strengths, to learn new things. Your style will still be there.

So don’t worry about finding a style. You already have the one you need, so get to work.

You have the talent, you have your style already in you. You just need the passion.

If you have passion, you won’t wait until you have the perfect place to work, the right weather, the right materials.

I used to paint in my bedroom but I must have started to make a mess because soon enough I was banished to the garden shed. That was my first studio. My first easel was a stepladder.

You have to be stubborn, fiercely protective of your creative time.

Passion is the only thing that will keep you creating when you feel pressures of money, guilt and indifference. The only guaranteed job perk of being an artist is that you get to spend time making art, so you’d better LOVE making art.


No matter how passionate you are, you won’t be an artist for long without support.


When it came to doing a Foundation course, I got places at a couple of colleges closer to home, but knew that Blackpool was where I wanted to come. So Mum and Dad paid the extra travel costs out of their own pocket and I took the one and a half hour bus ride morning and night.

I could never have been an artist without my parents’ support. I don’t mean they paid for everything- they didn’t. I think they still find it a bit strange what I do for a living. But I never heard those words “Why don’t you get a proper job?”


Encouragement is essential. Art is very personal and we take criticism of our art personally. These days I teach people in their 60s who remember word for word the thing their art teacher said that stopped them from pursuing their passion. Art teachers – remember – art is personal. We take criticism personally.


If all you need is passion, support and money to be an artist, why do people bother going to art school? Or even PAYING to go to art school.
Because art school is the most supportive environment there is in which to find yourself as an artist. And artists need support.

In the real world, if you say “I was thinking of wrapping a bridge in plastic.” You will hear “Are you mad?” “Where will you get the money?” In art school, you may hear “That’s an interesting idea. What colour plastic might you use?”

My advice to you is this; If you go to art school, go to one that will support what you want to do with your art, not one that will try to make you into someone else. Look at the art that the teachers do. Every piece of advice they give you will be to make your art more like theirs.

The tutors you work with are far more important than the name of the institution or the qualification you receive. Good teachers are those that inspire you with a passion for art by their own enthusiasm and belief. 

Remember- the art school is there to help you do what you want to do.

In art school your teachers will contradict each other. That is healthy. It means that you need to find the right answer for yourself and develop a strong personal viewpoint.

However, I hear too many times “I did my degree and got a First (class Honours). But I was persuaded to do this kind of art and I didn’t do what I really wanted to.” That is tragic.

A good art school is worth it. Nine years after graduating, I had artist’s block. I was isolated. There were no artists around me who could challenge me. So I took my life savings and ploughed them into a year at an American art school. Thankfully, I got two scholarships for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. I remember, having been given a tour of the Academy, America’s oldest art school with its huge cast hall and mind blowing facilities, standing on the sidewalk with the absolute conviction “I HAVE to come here.” It was worth every penny of the $22000.

I came home broke and utterly inspired. A good art school will leave you with challenges and inspiration which will feed you for years. It’s no wonder that even the most successful artists teach part time. There is no more stimulating environment than a good art school.


When you graduate, you leave that supportive environment. You walk off the end of a plank. All that wonderful support disappears beneath your feet and you have to swim. You need new support, or your artist self will drown in the sea of responsibilities and apathy.

The year I graduated, Norman Travis, my teacher at Blackpool, made the trip up to see my degree show. He told me of an Artist in Residence job at King Edward VII and Queen Mary School, Lytham. It was a fabulous year.

Buoyed by the experience, I became self employed as an artist in 2001 and rented my studio, Unit 113 Oyston Mill. I was proud to be, as I believed, the only artist in Preston.

I soon realised that the romantic ideal of the isolated genius is not much fun. In fact, no artist can get by without the support of fellow artists. It is no coincidence that throughout art history, artists have hung out together. There are photos of Lucien Freud, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews and Francis Bacon having a meal together. Degas, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh etc – they were all friends. This was their support network. Luckily, it didn’t take long to discover my network in Preston, literally hundreds of artists, as there must be in every city.

This might sound strange, but you also need the help of artists who are no longer with us. You will only be as good as the artists you surround yourself with, but we can go to museums and spend time with the greatest artists that ever lived.

Never be afraid to steal ideas from other artists, living or dead. Nobody is original. American painter Wayne Thiebaud said to his students “Everything I do I stole from someone else, and if you’re not careful I’ll steal from you.”

Another thing – share your ideas. “Artists aren’t magicians; there’s no penalty for revealing your secrets.” (Austin Kleon)

I must mention in concluding this section the incredible support I’ve received from people who collect my art. Without them, and the people who pay for my art courses, I wouldn’t be able to continue. They have invested in me and in return for their support I try to be the best artist and teacher I can be. But that leads us into the final thing that an artist needs, and that is money.


If it’s money you’re after, there are lots of easier ways of getting it than by making art.

Let’s deal with the old cliche. Artists starve in a garret.

At some point, every artist has to answer this question; how do I arrange my life so that I can do my art and make enough money? There are as many answers as there are artists.

It is one of the reasons many artists, even successful artist, still teach. A small regular income takes the pressure off working in the studio.

I know an artist who makes £100,000 a year doing artwork he knows is not the truest thing he can do. I know artists who barely scrape by but get to do the artwork they really believe in. Those are just two answers to the question of money.  

There is a nice idea that if you hide away in your studio and make incredibly sincere artwork, galleries will come knocking on your door. The fact is, to be a successful gallery artist, you might need to spend as much as half of your time marketing and running your business.

The key is; do great work and put it where people can see it. (Austin Kleon)

When I do the artwork I believe in and somebody responds to it in a way which shows it has spoken to them, that is success. When they also buy it, that’s even better. 


You only need three things to be an artist; passion, support and money.

I will finish by sharing what I have found to be the most useful piece of art advice I have ever received. Given by Scott Noel, my teacher in America.

Your artwork is never as good or as bad as you think it is.
Let me say that again.Your work is never as good or as bad as you think it is.

You do a new piece and you think “This is amazing – I’m going to be recognised as the great artist I am…I can just picture my work in the Tate Gallery, a huge banner….”STOP! Your work is not as good as you think it is. Keep working, carry on, it will get better.

On another day, you think your work is terrible- you might as well give up –NO! It’s not as bad as you think it is – carry on. It’s worth finishing. You will look at it in a month or a year and realise “Actually, it’s pretty good.”

Either way, the outcome of the advice is this; “Carry On”. And that’s all you need to do.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Best Art Advice Ever - part 2

Following on from the popular Best Art Advice Ever, these are a few offerings from my Developing in Oils class which has just finished. 

The final critique brought out some fabulous work and I'm excited to get cracking with my new classes starting next Monday and Friday. 

Sue Johnson: "Painting is 75% looking and 25% painting." (Val Taylor Ward)

Yvonne Yeats: "Paint what you see, not what you think you see." (Anon)

Marjorie Owen: "Paint not the thing itself but the effect it produces." (Stephane Mallarme)

Richard Treuherz: "Drawing makes you see things clearer and clearer and clearer still."    (David Hockney)

John McCloskey: "You may have decided you want to make great art. You are afraid that your art won't turn out that great so you find yourself not making any art at all and you hate it.
Stop thinking. Stop worrying. Stop doubting. 
Just do something. Do anything. 
Don't worry about trying to do good work. Do bad work.
Just relax and enjoy.
Don't think your work has to conform to anyone else's ideas or standards. 
Just do something.
Do anything."  (Sol Le Witt)

Jill Hands: "It's only a piece of paper"  (Alan Owen)

Don Bates: "Squint."

Brian Thomas: "Don't let figure or still life drawings frighten you. Think of them as blocks or shapes, not arms, legs, teapots or cups." (Cerys Jones)

Nancy Blackburn: You don't always need outlines - you can create a painting just using blocks of tone. Ask yourself "How much can I leave out?"

Margaret Baugh: "A painting isn't finished until the viewer finishes it." 

Judith Swarbrick: "Colour and I are one; I am a painter." (Paul Klee)

Peter Maylor: "Try Acrylics." (David Jaundrell)