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Still life paintings by Simon Birtall

DAG Stories #1: Simon Birtall

Posted: 7 October 2014

"I grew up in West Kirby, within an impressive stone's throw from Westbourne Hall, home of DAG's annual exhibition. The first time I entered work into the summer exhibition was I think around 1993. Two pieces were submitted for consideration, one of which I remember as being a painting of Hadlow Road railway station. One of the two pieces were selected, the other rejected. I think this may have been the first exhibition I had submitted work to; I was therefore unused to the concept of having work rejected. Young and naive, I remember feeling distinctly peeved that a piece had been turned down. Being an artist requires thick skin - mine had yet to develop. Having said that, it's still annoying to have work rejected from any selection process over twenty years later!

"The first piece I exhibited with DAG was sold to an anonymous buyer. I found out before too long that it was actually bought by my Grandad for my Gran. I think after the exhibition ended I also gave them the 'rejected' piece to accompany the bought painting. I moved to Cornwall within a year or so of my first DAG exhibition and didn't submit work again until I returned to the Wirral over a decade later. I was finally invited to join DAG after participating in the 2011 show. It felt (and still feels) good to be a member of DAG. We have a proud past and it is a privilege for my name to be in such esteemed company. I've been awarded a 'highly recommended' once or twice during my brief time with DAG, though I've yet to win a prize. Perhaps next year might be my year..."

Art by Simon Birtall (click on images to zoom)

Ashton Park painting by Simon Birtall
Chinese Lantern Husks drawing by Simon Birtall
Flowers (for Kath) painting by Simon Birtall
Liverpool drawing by Simon Birtall

"The mounting of the summer exhibition is always an exciting time. I've catalogued the submissions for the past 3 shows and it's a wonderful experience to see all the new art work being brought in on the Saturday morning. The sense of excitement builds during the putting up of the screens and the hanging of the artwork - members muck in and it's a warming, communal experience – a chance to share something special with like-minded, fellow creatives. The opening evening is always the highlight of the year - a chance to catch up with fellow members and to see the exhibition at its best.

"Since 2012 I've served on the DAG committee. I see my principal role as integrating modern means of communication into the successful, established DAG makeup. To this end I set up the DAG website a couple of years ago (www.deesideartgroup.org.uk), which I continue to edit. I have also established an online presence for DAG on Facebook (www.facebook.com/deesideartgroup) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/deesideartgroup). In doing so I hope to encourage both members and non-members to attend and participate in our events (our annual exhibition, our demonstration evenings), to connect to, and encourage, the next generation of DAG artists, and to imbue and encourage a sense of community amongst our existing membership.

"I have also served on the committee of Wirral Open Studio Tour since around 2010, during which time I have set up and run the tour's website (www.wirralart.com). I am also a member of the Wirral Society of Arts.

"I have been painting for around 25 years now, since I was in my late teens. Following school, I undertook an art and design foundation course with Wirral Metropolitan College, at their Withens Lane campus in Liscard, before moving on to study Illustration at Falmouth School of Art in Cornwall. My painting technique is largely self-taught, having studied in some depth the painting methods of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Engaging with paintings in national collections has been an important means of development.

"My preferred medium today is either traditional oils or alkyds (quick drying oils) on canvas or linen, but I also enjoy working in acrylics, gouache, watercolour, pen and mixed media on a variety of surfaces. It's fun to chop and change, and it's important to keep fresh. I feel my work is constantly evolving. The first pieces I exhibited with DAG were painted on unstretched canvas with a limited palette in a dry-brush technique utilising fairly controlled brushwork. I now prefer to use paint more opaquely and expressively on stretched canvas or canvas board.

"After having worked from photographs for most of my career, today I am increasingly enjoying producing still life paintings and landscape sketches from life. Whatever subject I choose to depict, I prefer to paint something to which I feel a personal connection, and for which I have a sense of enthusiasm. I find the more enthusiastic I am about a subject, the better the painting will generally turn out. I tend to favour subjects with marked contrasts of light and shadow, and a range of colours, which offers me the opportunity to play with colour. I continue to paint landscapes and portraits from photographs.

"The main influences on my work have been painters from the latter half of the nineteenth century - Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat and the like - particularly in the early stages of my painting development. Today I find I can find inspiration in any work from any era, be it a colour scheme, a compositional device or a particular application of paint to a surface.

"My website (www.birtall.co.uk) features extensive examples of my work - landscape and still life paintings, portrait paintings and drawings, illustration work and more. My blog - www.drawinguponlife.com - is updated on a regular basis with my latest work, often pieces produced on the day. I also offer art workshops.

"Next year's DAG exhibition seems a long way off, but it comes around quickly and I'm already thinking of what I might like to enter - perhaps a couple of still life paintings alongside a landscape study. I've never entered any work into the 'unframed' section of the exhibition, so perhaps it's time I thought about that too."