Artist on File: Stuart Grieve

Stuart Grieve (Self portrait)

Interview with Stuart Grieve, Digital Artist & Photographer, HVA Member by Jenny Timms.

I am not usually one for writing for the HVA newsletter, but Editor Linda Warminger invited me to interview digital artist/photographer and HVA member Stuart Grieve. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Stuart and count him and his wife Margaret as close friends.

This year Stuart and I will be exhibiting at his home in Potten End for Herts Open Studios 2012 for the second consecutive year.

Before becoming an artist Stuart had a very interesting career as a pilot, both in the RAF and in Civil Aviation. It was whilst he was training with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1954 that Stuart purchased his first camera. For those of you that know anything about cameras, Stuart tells me it was a Braun Paxette.

“I experienced an urge to take photographs, the scenery in Canada is something to behold. Since that moment photography has always been a strong interest. It was only in 1994, when I finally retired from flying that it became a commercial interest, as well as an artistic challenge”, says Stuart.

Captain Stuart Grieve

RAF Days - SG in Hunter F6, over Cyprus

JT - So Stuart - tell me, these days everyone has a digital camera; what do you think the difference is between a snapshot and art?

SG - “There is nothing wrong with a snapshot. Some of the most memorable images of all time were acquired that way (The work of Henri Cartier-Bresson is a fine example). However, the Digital Age in my view can breed laziness; it is all too easy to click away in the hope that the odd shot has merit. The element of luck will need to have played a part.
What thinking photographers will do is to decide what they want to achieve beforehand and actively seek to accomplish this on location. A process of visualisation is used in which the “mind’s expectation” of the end result is the goal. When the desired goal is achieved it must display a clever use of light, be it natural or artificial. Appropriate light is usually the difference between an ill-considered snapshot and a final picture that can be classified as art (with a small “a” of course) that looks special and holds the viewer’s interest.

JT - If you were to advise someone who is interested in art photography would you recommend they join a photographic club, or go on a training course to get started?

SG - “I am biased because that is exactly the path I took. I gained a Distinction from a City and Guilds Course and I was a member of the Hemel Hempstead Photographic Society for 5 years. There is no doubt that a formal training course which reinforces the fundamentals is very beneficial indeed. Everyone benefits from training and education. It is no less true in photography than in any other discipline.  The benefit that clubs provide is to demonstrate a standard, through the many competitions held, that will improve the individual’s standards and show what is required. One learns from one’s peers, sharing ideas and of course taking on board the comments received from the visiting judges during the competition evenings.

JT - When we have exhibited during Open Studios together I have heard you talking to visitors about using a computer to help create your art. Is it still necessary to get a good shot to begin with or can it be ‘fixed in the mix’?

SG - “Considering “identifiable” photography, it should be the photographer’s aim to get things right at the taking stage, leaving as little as possible to be done in post processing. Some small adjustments to enhance the original shot, to create a picture from a photograph, should be all that is required.

Lewesdon Hill

Lewesdon Hill - "identifiable"

SG - However, if it is the intention of the photographer to create a level of “abstraction” from the original image then much “midnight oil” may be burned sat at the computer. There is no harm in this and it is no less creative just because you are using a computer to create your final piece of work. Using a computer is just another tool, it is no different from you taking a sheet of art glass, which in its own right is beautiful, and creating a final piece of stained glass art using the tools of your craft to add artistic value. We both achieve a final piece of artwork.

Temple Carp - "abstraction"

JT - At Christmas you sent me a very beautiful Christmas card. I believe it was created using a method known as infrared photography – the effect is very unusual, can you explain how that works?

SG - “Two of my cameras have been modified to enable them to record “near infrared.” This is a band of radiation close to the visible spectrum that the human eye cannot see. In this band green foliage as we see it is recorded as whitish-pink and blue skies show as a dirty brown. The idea is then to mix the Blue and Red Channels using the computer to give the classic infrared result where green foliage shows white and blue skies really do look blue. It is in fact possible to achieve many subtle combinations of colouring depending upon the relationship and degree of the Blue/Red channel-mix.” This resultant colour is termed “false colour” and is a by-product of the near-infrared band.

Potten End, Village Green - "infrared false colour"

JT - I know you have run workshop sessions for Herts Visual Arts members to help them get good shots of their work.  Have you any advice for artists wanting to take good photographs of their work, as a record, or to use in marketing and website promotions?

SG - A few simple rules to follow are:
•   It is not necessary to spend lots of money on loads of special expensive equipment
•   Aim to use natural light that flows across your object to show its form
•   Position subject slightly off-centre when viewed through the viewfinder
•   Fill in any unacceptable shadow areas using kitchen foil as a reflector
•   Keep the background simple and sympathetic with your subject, go for something plain that contrasts with your subject
•   Use a tripod if you have one or something to rest the camera on if you don’t, use a remote shutter release or the camera’s timer to prevent shake
•   Use the smallest ‘f’ stop of your particular lens and lowest ISO to give best quality
•   Move as close as you can to create a large image in the viewfinder, but don’t fill the frame completely
•   Take lots of shots while changing the lighting angle
•   Select the shot you prefer for the purpose intended

JT - You’ve exhibited during Open Studios before. What do you think the main benefits of taking part are for artists?

SG – “There is no substitute for coming face to face with your potential customers and Open Studios enables this very well indeed. It is great to be exhibited in galleries, but even better to be able to speak directly with your customers. No one is ever as passionate about your art as you are, so who better to explain the craft?  Open Studios is a very important activity for any budding artist to be involved in. It is great to receive positive feedback and to sell your work. But sometimes you will receive what you might think as negative comments and this can be rather sobering. The point is that without this type of experience artists will remain in their “comfort zone” and never grow. Negative and constructive criticisms (no matter how difficult to hear) will usually make an artist push themselves that bit further. Throughout my time with OS, I believe I have improved as a photographer directly as a result.”

JT - What would you say are the key elements of a good photograph?

SG -
•   A captivating  original image
•   Excellent  composition that flows and draws in the viewer
•   Excellent technical skills
•   Excellent use of Lighting, natural or artificial
•   Excellent presentation

JT: I was out for dinner the other evening at Martin’s Pond in Potten End, a very nice village pub and if I may say, providing excellent food. While there I noticed that you have work on display. I took the liberty of having a quick chat with the landlady, Mel Hemmings. She was happy to tell me that she actually purchased these images from you. When I asked why, she explained: “We try and source our food as locally as we can and when I heard we had a very talented photographer here in the village I took a look at Stuart’s work.  As you will see the photographs we chose are all local scenes. We liked the idea of local images by a local artist. The feedback we have received from our customers has been very positive. It was extremely difficult to narrow down the choice of photos as we wanted all of them, but it is wonderful to be able to have local pictures of such character.”

Martin's Pond Public House - Feb 2012 "Infrared Mono"

JT - So finally Stuart, if people aren’t able to make it to Martin’s Pond where else can they see your work, either in person or online?

SG - Without spending too much money, I like to keep my work in public view. And to this end you can currently see examples in the following locations:
•   Open Studios annually at my residence, Potten End / Sept 2012, further details can be found at
•   By appointment at my residence
•   And of course not forgetting Martin’s Pond, Potten End, Nr Berkhamsted

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and for sharing your story, I look forward to exhibiting with you again in Open Studios this year.

Interview by JENNY TIMMS