Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Heart of It

Now that I was getting a little experience I began to think about what it was I wanted to make the core of my work. In one respect it was not a difficult question to answer. I have always loved the outdoors and many of the pursuits that I've followed have been in the country or on the coast. This made it easy to decide that whatever else I did, working en plein air would be at the heart of it and that a core of that would be spending some time along the wonderful NE coast which is where I live. Within a few miles of home there are some fascinating sea stacks left by cliff erosion and they make interesting subject material. The following images are all 12" x 10" Oil sketches that were completed on site within seven miles from home.

Whitburn Rocks

Lizard Point


Friday, 27 February 2009

The Next Big One

Taking to heart some of the lessons learned by posting work on Wet Canvas, I thought it a good idea to post a piece as a Work In Progress hoping to get advice on some of the more subtle ideas that contributors have about acceptable work. The first image is the one that I posted. It is a view taken on a trip along the Madison River in Montana. The purpose of the trip was catching trout and what a day it was, brown trout, rainbow trout and whitefish rising to the fly all day. However, back to painting. I thought the piece was nearing completion and already had some ideas about work that needed to be done. The response on WC was really helpful and lots of the adjustments suggested were indeed more subtle than major surgery.

The second image shows the painting after adjustments and they do make a difference. Notice the differerence in the collar of cloud around the mountain, value changes in the mid ground and more work in the foreground. The clouds now look a little more like clouds rather than the balls of cotton wool on the first picture. This exercise certainly emphasised for me the benefit of other eyes viewing our work. It always prompts further thought on our part. Learning occurs.

Madison View - Oil on canvas board 20" x 16"

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Going Larger

Bamburgh Dawn - Oil on Canvas Board 20" x 16"

Heading for the holiday season with the inevitable change in diet to high fat, cholesterol, salt, additives, protein, chocolate, wine, whisky and grandchildren's leftovers. The title of this post is not meant to reflect the annual binge but a shift to try and incorporate some of what I had been learning into a larger piece.

Sheila, my wife, has a love for a photograph that I took on one of our many trips to the Northumberland coast. The photograph is of the sun rising near Bamburgh Castle and the challenge I set myself was to try to produce some of the feeling of the photograph in paint. The result is the picture above.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Total Immersion

The time had come to put myself in front of some real painting so I headed for London to spend three days 'doing' the galleries, but not in the usual cursory way. The particular galleries and indeed paintings were planned before going. I was delighted to have guidance for the trip from Martin Kinnear.

On the first day I spent the day doing the special Rothko and Bacon exhibitions, both of which blew me away and left me with intense feelings about some of the more negative aspects of the human condition. However, both exhibit wonderful mastery of the medium. Rothko - glowing glimpses of colour that are not immediate. Even his black compositions take on a colourful life of their own as you view them. Bacon - with meticulous preparation of grounds, thin stains of colour on unprimed canvas on which he builds effects with various densities of pain, followed by the tension and violence that his drawing and brushwork evoke. Whilst this work would not represent styles that I would wish to emulate, the beautiful application of paint, colour control and glazing certainly would be. Both exhibit that quality that seems to elude most of us, the ability to create fascinating brushstrokes full of texture, colour and light.

Second day - to the National Gallery and a langorous journey along a path suggested by Martin. On arrival I noticed that there was a special exhibition of Sisley paintings so I made a small diversion to investigate. What I found was inspirational for plein air working. Bold brushstrokes, impressionistic highlighting of colour, strong underpainting - lots of food for thought there for me.

On to my intended starting point. The wonderful arrangement of canvases, specified by Turner in his will. Two of his flanking one of Claude's - Bliss. Turner and his sun and vapour, layer upon layer of delicate colour in his sky. Claude, contre jour in differing glows that infuse the rest of the painting with light coloured in pink, yellow, red and orange. It would be possible to spend most of a day with this glorious trio. Dragging myself away to luxuriate in more Claude - feel the glow.

Then off to the Dutch, that I have woefully neglected in the past, Cuyp, Dubbels, Hobbema, Van Goyen, Van Ruysdael, Van Ruisdael and Van der Poel. Skies that go on for ever. The impact that their wonderful landscapes have had on generations of painters is clearly evident when one places them into historical context. For me the two most impressive are Meindert Hobbema ....

and Jacob van Ruisdael.

A weary walk to the hotel and dinner punctuated by a continuous parade of mental images inspired by the day's viewing.
Last day and another store of visual treats. To Tate Britain for Turner, light, and more light as well as an enjoyable colour experiment exhibit. The exhibit gives a great insight into Turner's technique and the colour theory that informed it. On leaving I had a much clearer understanding of the reasoning behind things I had heard and read about complementary colour and shadow colour. Then on to the list of English notables, Constable and others. I couldn't resist an interesting diversion to enjoy the Pre Raphaelites, a bit of a weakness of mine. A piece of Millais eye candy to close this post. One guy I picked up on that hadn't crossed the radar before was Francis Danby - one picture of a Norwegian fjord that had a big impact on me, mostly because of the beautiful highlights on cloud and rocks with lovely detailed shadows.

Time to go home. Spent a fortune on books, wore out my knackered knees and got on the train exhausted but content that I had had a deep immersion in some of the finest picture making that was available in our country.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

November paintings

Brushes in hand and easel at the ready, along with a litany of advice, tips and things to think about I headed out into the wide world and produced my next oils en plein air. Again a mixture of aspects that I found pleasing and things that were little short of embarrassing. The first image is my first attempt at limiting my palette - raw sienna, burnt sienna, paynes grey and white and I almost succeeded in the self discipline until the very final stage when I cheated a little with a touch of cad yellow to warm some of the green. The limited palette approach is advocated in many of the books that I've been reading and certainly makes you think. I resolved to adopt a version of this approach in an attempt to develop my sensitivity to colours and their production on the canvas.

Little stream - Plein Air Oil Sketch, canvas board 12" x 10"

Another trip out along the coast to a well known landmark, the St. Mary's Island Lighthouse resulted in the next painting. As my friends in Wet Canvas tell me I don't pick easy subjects and there are distinct signs of my lack of mastery in all of these images, but there are also signs of heeding some of the lessons picked up along the way. Complex scenes like this, with conditions changing as the incoming tide alters the scene before you, make it difficult to be accurate in drawing and I will return to this site and select a viewpoint that will ease some of those problems and hopefully improve the perspective.

St. Mary's Island - Plein Air Oil Sketch, canvas board 12" x 10"

Even though splashing oil was becoming my disease, the watercolour kit usually accompanies me on trips out. A last visit of the year to the Lake District gave me the opportunity to produce a painting of one of our favourite watering holes.

The Swan at Grasmere - Watercolour 14" x 10"

Various other exercises filled my other painting hours and the painting below is taken from a photograph that I had taken on a holiday in the US during the previous year.

Yellowstone - Oil, canvas board 12" x 10"

All of the outings and exercises were building up experience and posting the paintings on Wet Canvas began to get me both encouragement and invaluable advice. I would put that advice to use in attempting a larger piece of work. It was also about time for me to spend some time in front of some real art and I began planning a number of visits to see the best that the country has to offer in the wonderful galleries that are scattered around. They will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Swimming in Oil

Home from Norfolk and into the catalogues, I was about to embark on the slippery slope. Decision 1, get some decent paint in colours that I had some little familiarity with in my watercolour work. Artist quality paint would be the name of the game, Michael Harding the supplier. A stock of canvas boards made up the initial purchases. Now for subject matter, the landscape it would be and best of all the decision to work in it as opposed to the studio, an easy decision as I have limited space in the house that is suitable for splashing turps and paint around.

So, out along the coast to capture the magnificence of the local cliffs. Result above, disappointment. Devoid of the subtleties that I was used to in watercolour, my crude technique producing horrors as well as a couple of small passages that looked alright, but I was on my way. Okay, paint on canvas, not good but where do I go for help - time to get a look at Wet Canvas. What an impressive concept, peopled by artists of undoubted quality it was with some trepidation that I decide to expose myself to the scrutiny available there. To my delight my first effort received some encouragement and some intelligent advice. To anyone with fears about letting your work out into the public gaze, I say put it up on WC. The community is full of people with the same fears, have had the same experiences and have found their own way through to greater levels of confidence and competence. I have decided that Wet Canvas will be my college for the next few years, every assignment gives access to a high level of expertise and assistance.
November was to be the month when I spent a bit more time putting paint down and the results will appear in the next post.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Striking oil

Determined to sample painting in a medium other than watercolour I began to look at acrylics and oils. Cost convinced me to give acrylics a try first but I wasn't too happy with my initial attempts largely due to my own ignorance and impatience. I found it difficult to come to terms with the way that they dried. I wasn't seeing that flexibility that I had seen with the users on the life course in summer.

So oils were next on the agenda. Luckily I spotted an advert for a course in oils where all the materials would be provided and the web site of the provider convinced me that the artist teaching the course was someone from whom I could learn a lot. His landscapes are stunning. The worst I could look forward to would be first hand access to his work and his methods as well as some initial experience of using a medium that was totally unfamiliar.

October arrived and I headed off to Norfolk. The course was a revelation. Beautiful facilities, wonderful hospitality and first rate tuition from a man who really understands the technique and subtleties of fine oil painting. His name, Martin Kinnear and his atelier is called Norfolk Painting School. Martin produces his work building layers of glazed colour that are luminous in their intensity and his aim is to share those methods with his students. Each student left the course with a 40" x 30" canvas on which they had had the opportunity to realise some of the techniques that they had been taught.

The painting below is the canvas that I produced on this course. I left Norfolk decided upon the investment in all of the paraphernalia to commence working in oil in the landscape.

Martin also made the suggestion that a web site called Wet Canvas was worth visiting and could be a good source of feedback on any paintings that we made. So the next steps were mapped out, a move to oils and a search for developmental criticism.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Next Stage

Whilst the landscape is my main interest, I quickly became aware of the importance of figure drawing in the training of most artists and decided to find a class so that I could try it for myself. So, last summer I registered with the local university extra mural programme where I found a week long course to introduce artists to figure drawing and painting. The course was an interesting mix of theory and practice. We attempted drawing in a variety of media and styles, discussed colour theory and looked at the techniques used by a number of different artists. The course was intense as we spent a significant part of our time drawing short and medium duration poses as well as more extended time allotted to producing larger colour works. This is where I got my next revelation.

I had never worked in anything but watercolour and everyone else on the course was equipped with oils or acrylics. It quickly became apparent to me that there were distinct advantages to using these media when it came to rendering the subtleties of flesh. At this point I knew that my next stage would involve trying to become familiar with using one of these media.

The painting below is one of my watercolours from that course.

The other commitment I made to myself was that I would try to find a regular life class so that I could continue with the challenge that life work represents. Luckily on the same course as myself was someone who organised regular life classes at a place about ten miles from home and it is now part of my routine to travel on Tuesday evenings to Life Class. I believe this to be important as it gives me the opportunity to challenge myself with different techniques and approaches as well as share thinking about these matters with other artists.

The painting below is a 12"x10" oil sketch produced in one sitting at a recent class. Yes, I did say oil, that was to be the next step on my journey, more of which later.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Still Life

This is becoming a potted history of where I have been in my search for style and at the moment we seem to be stuck at the stage where I discovered Charles Reid. Having convinced me that I was just commencing my journey, his work prompted me to try other subjects for image making and I embarked on a series of still life pictures. One of the better ones is shown below. It wasn't long before I had acquired a DVD of Charles at work and that got me thinking about my brushes and paint supply as well as how to apply the paint to the paper. I am now settled with the range of brushes that he uses (Da Vinci) and use artist quality paint in tubes by Winsor and Newton and Holbein. Most of my work is done on Saunders Waterford paper, Rough or Not.

Subject matter became an interesting challenge and I decided that if I was to progress then I would have to widen my horizons and that led to the next stage of my voyage, of which more next time.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Discovering new heroes

The local family run book shop closed when the final member of the owners decided to retire. The final clearance sale was a treasure trove as there were numbers of interesting books being sold off at ridiculously low prices. Amongst them I discovered an artist that had never crossed my conscientiousness before, in fact I had never seen anything like it before. The book was the Watercolour Secrets of Charles Reid. The illustrations fascinated me, produced in a style that defied any description for me. I couldn't relate to all of them immediately but those that hit me did so like a steam train. I had to find out more. The book became a daily companion as I tried to come to terms with a new language, hard, soft, values, complementary colours, lost, found, contour drawing, warm, cool etc. Another job, trying out some of the techniques used by Charles - below is an early attempt at copying one of his images.

Trying things out

The next stages in learning for me involved reading hobbyist magazines and acquiring a small library of instructional books and a couple of DVDs. Trying out exercises from them increased confidence. An example of this is a painting done from a Ray Campbell Smith demonstration ( below).
I would describe this stage in my development as being one of coming to terms with the materials. It also began to open my eyes to the long road ahead, so much to learn, a road with no end but hopefully some staging posts.

Looking for help

Pen and watercolour sketch

Portrait of Charles Evans

Embarking on a search for help wasn't as straightforward as I first imagined, largely because of the huge number of books, DVDs and tutors offering their services. There was one person who came to my attention quite early who seemed to teach at a level where I wouldn't feel overstretched. He had a series of programmes on television where he painted at a variety of locations around my native NE England. That attracted me, but what was more impressive was his obvious enthusiasm and evident delight in trying to break through the mystique and difficulties to make his viewers confident to attempt subject matter that might frighten them. His name - Charles Evans. I visited his studio and managed to enrol on one of his courses. It lived up to expectations and I returned with a confidence and determination to give it a go.

Above is a portrait that I produced from a photograph of Charles.

From that point on a box of watercolours would accompany me on any trip I made and on those days that I was able to get out and spend time in the outdoors. The image of Romaldkirk above is from one of those sketchbooks.

First Entry

Like many bloggers out there I've had so much pleasure from the entries that people make I've decided to take the plunge and begin this blog. Hopefully, there will be people who share the struggle that I am having in developing a painting style.

I embarked on my current journey a couple of years ago when I began to translate the images I was making in drawings or photographs into simple paintings using watercolour as the medium. That's when I discovered that there was much to learn about controlling this very sophisticated medium. Solution - seek help.