For everyone who spends time drawing, painting or sculpting, being creative in this way has a particular place and meaning in their life. Sometimes it’s just a pleasurable hobby for relaxing; sometimes it is life’s sole purpose. And sometimes painting can be a way to claw back life with all its joys.
Graham Ivor Lock MA HS ARMS is at the time of writing (January 2021) the President of the Weald of Kent Art Society. He has drawn and painted as long as he can remember – one such first memory is that of copying out cowboys and Indians from comics as a young boy aged 7. At school Graham took GCE A Level Art but then, rather than go to Art College, he decided to pursue a career in teaching. It was a decision he never regretted. Teaching mainly English and Drama in schools in Cumbria, Essex and Kent, his choice of subjects allowed him scope to be creative in the performing arts while “playing” with art in his spare time.
Then a major operation was proposed after a series of illnesses – all resulting from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident Graham had at the age of 17. This moved his life onto an unexpected trajectory. While recuperating, Graham started painting more seriously. Painting was, he says, a way of visualising things – immensely important for his process of healing in that phase of his life. He went back to school in his capacity as Deputy Head but realising he wasn’t really meeting the demands of the job in 2001 took early retirement on health grounds. Talking to Graham, you sense he does not want to make much of his health issues. As if to draw a line under the subject, Graham sums it up by saying he feels “very fortunate to be here”. But of course, everything that has happened to him has clearly shaped him and made him the man he is today.
So what of Graham the man? When you talk to his friends in the bowling club – bowling is Graham’s other love – you realize how popular he is: he gets on with everybody, never moans, never complains, is open, kind and caring. When you talk to his fellow artists, they are equally full of praise. Easy-going, supportive, enthusiastic, productive, energetic, organised, willing to step into the breach if need be – these are the words you’ll hear. And one adjective above all: determined. It all adds up to a potent combination of attributes.
“You don’t have to paint a finished picture every time”
AWARDS AND REWARDS
And what of Graham the painter? Without the health scares, art would perhaps have remained just a hobby, admits Graham. As it was, they were the impetus to throw himself into painting – and he gradually “got better at it”, as he says modestly. He concentrated on watercolours, set up his stall at craft fairs, sent his work to exhibitions and galleries, began to hold painting demonstrations and workshops for art groups.
Quite soon after he retired in 2001 and began painting more seriously, he won ‘Best Seascape’ at the Society for All Artists International Art Event. This award, the first in a string of many, is still very special to him. Highlights of the following years were the invitations to become a member of the United Society of Artists and to join the London Sketch Club, as well as winning an award from Winsor & Newton for best watercolour painting at an exhibition at the Coningsby Gallery in London. Graham has also been elected to other respected art groups like the Hilliard Society and the Royal Society of Miniature Painters.
His work has attracted admirers and buyers at a great number of group or solo exhibitions in Kent, London and other parts of the UK. His paintings are also to be found in collections in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. How does that make him feel? Graham recounts with pride how some of his marine paintings that were on show in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich caught the eye of an American curator and were duly bought and transported to the USA – finding a new home in the Maritime Museum of a US State.
“Working with other artists is pure joy”
Graham loves the seaside which is clearly reflected in his body of work. He has produced a great number of marine paintings – for example of Whitstable and of Thames barges. As a side note, he says that when his work was accepted to be exhibited with the Royal Society of Marine Artists he felt he had truly “arrived”. As a rule, he is happy to use a photograph as a motif but ideally prefers to work from a sketch. Often he will take a photo and convert this into a sketch that he paints from. More recently, he has worked on portraits, landscapes and still life. When you look at the range of paintings Graham has produced you are struck by his ability to switch to different styles. While his watercolours are usually finished in a few hours, oils can take weeks. Graham’s miniature paintings are often the most time-consuming.
While feeling most proficient in watercolour, Graham thoroughly enjoys using oils. There is still scope for improvement, he says, to perfect the effective use of brush strokes and texturing of the paint. He admits that finishing a good oil painting does give him a special buzz. When he is working with oils, he uses a studio at the bottom of the garden. A separate room in the house that is dedicated to other media and framing allows him complete flexibility.
ARRIVING AT TENTERDEN
The watercolour painting ‘Arriving at Tenterden’ came into life during an open-air painting day at Tenterden Railway station. Graham was trying to convey the image of the train emerging through the smoke – the train in focus, with the sides of the painting more diffuse, wet-in-wet. There is a clear sense of the train moving forward, of the power of the engine. Graham says the most important elements here are the strong, dark colours applied to the engine and the rendering of the smoke. One might be forgiven for thinking at first glance that this is an oil rather than a watercolour.
Graham likes to spend time mixing colours to see what hues he can create. He mentions Quinacridone Rose (which he uses in preference to Alizarin Crimson) and Aureolin Yellow, a cool, transparent colour. He is also keen on Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and Azo Yellow. A recent addition is Cobalt Turquoise Light which is very opaque. The only green in his palette is likely to be Sap Green.
With his paintings, Graham tries to achieve a figurative rendering of the subject imbued with his own interpretation. He wants to communicate what his artist eye sees as ‘special’ in the motif in front of him. When Graham paints to commission this artistic desire to achieve an individualist interpretation of the subject can prove challenging. It means marrying the client’s desire to see something that they can recognise with the artist’s need to produce something that they are happy with – happy enough to put their signature to the work. Graham tells the story of getting the commission to paint a pair of deceased parrots that looked peculiarly dishevelled. Luckily, their owner liked the quirky result. However, if you are commissioned to paint children and grandchildren, do you paint them warts and all? Sometimes the task requires artistic compromise.
Graham says that looking back at his paintings, he sometimes wonders how he did a particular piece. Nowadays he has a good idea of how to achieve a particular effect – that he feels is progress made over time through practising “honest skills”, as he calls it. He is currently experimenting more, trying new and different things.
Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci are the two great role models, with Rembrandt Graham’s all-time favourite artist. Graham likes his paintings to be figurative but not to the point of being photo-realistic. He doesn’t use perspective consciously but when things don’t look right on the board he usually steps back to check his lines. Drawing skills are the foundation of everything, and for Graham, there is no better way of honing one’s drawing skills than life drawing.
Over the years, Graham has attended a number of short courses with various artists, among them Hash Akib. The most important thing about going on courses is simply the opportunity to work with other artists – it’s a joy, it’s “like a shot in the arm”, says Graham. Then you just can’t wait to get back to the easel at home.
One influence of course is right by Graham’s side: his partner Pat who is an artist in her own right. So is there much cross-fertilisation? Not really, says Graham. Although Pat is both his fiercest critic and biggest fan, their artistic spheres don’t overlap as Pat’s interests lie with abstract art, icon painting and printing.
“Drawing skills are the foundation of everything”
With his teaching background, Graham has a clear advantage when it comes to giving painting demos and teaching fine art workshops. He laughs when he says that adults are easy to teach – they have good attention spans and say nice things about you. So rather than finding the process daunting, Graham considers these demos a bit of an ego-booster.
Similarly, selling a painting is good for the ego. It validates what you are doing and creates a legacy. When people are prepared to spend a few hundred pounds on a work of art – your art – you feel quite humbled. Graham’s works started selling fairly quickly once he started painting seriously. However, selling has never been a priority and there has never been that pressure to make sales at all costs.
When Graham joined WOKAG, as it was then called, he was impressed by the standard of work at exhibitions. He soon slipped into the role of Winter Programme Organiser to arrange workshops and demonstrations with visiting artists. In 2009 Graham was elected Chairman, serving two terms. In 2019 he took over the role of President which he holds to this day.
When you ask Graham what he thinks the benefits of belonging to an artists’ society are, the answers come thick and fast. It’s a platform for the sharing of ideas, sparking off each other. It provides motivation and the opportunity to talk to others with similar interests. It enables you to paint together and see how other artists, individually, tackle the same subject.
PAST AND FUTURE
Graham is a man happy with his own company, and painting has given him both satisfaction and enjoyment. The process of creating a piece is totally engaging, totally absorbing – you forget everything around you. More recently, during the Coronavirus lockdowns, art has provided a powerful coping mechanism. The parameters of lockdown have also meant that he has been winding down in recent months, no exhibitions but just doing what he feels like doing: mixing colours, looking at art on YouTube, reading art books. The aim at present is to get as competent with oils as with watercolour.
In the course of the conversation, Graham mentions that a particular highlight of his career was sitting in the Mall Galleries in London (the national focal point for contemporary figurative art and home to the Federation of British Artists) and doing painting demonstrations for the visitors there. Yes, one can imagine that the adrenaline will have been surging. Graham muses on what it means to be a ‘great’ artist. You have to be someone really special and he doesn’t think for one moment the epithet applies to him. These days, he adds, to confuse matters, becoming a ‘great’ artist is very commercially driven.
“Art provides a powerful coping mechanism”
If there is anything that Graham feels is worthy of passing on to up-and-coming artists it’s this advice: “You don’t have to paint a finished picture every time. The important thing is to pick up a pencil or paintbrush regularly. Hone your skills, mix colours, paint a tree in 20 different ways. You don’t expect anyone to pick up a guitar and be able to play a song straight away – you have to practise scales first.” Knowing Graham, he keeps doing just that.
Graham Lock is based in Chatham.
Click on images to enlarge
Graham Lock, January 2021
Still life with tankard and orange – oil
Self-portrait - oil
Oyster House moorings - watercolour
Arriving at Tenterden
Mayor of Maidstone - oil
Nothing to complain about, I suppose – watercolour
Lynmouth at low tide - watercolour
Graham in his studio - 2021