Sunday, 31 May 2009

Week away worrying about values

Another escape to the Lake District where we have a static van that provides a great bolt hole. Another bonus this week, a sight of the sun, in fact at times too hot to be out in it too long. Regular readers will know that the last couple of weeks have been a struggle (the blog is appropriately named) with colour and values. At the first opportunity I headed out and set up near a stream below Aira Force with occasional flashes of light getting through the canopy. Worry about values had me over working my paint supply to the detriment of the final value range. This board set me down another route of concern, how to get a wide range of variation of greens with the current limited palette. Another area to work on.

Aira stream - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Reflecting on this first painting I decided that I should set myself a few exercises in value variation. I acquired a set of pens in five different grey tones and set about some sketches in one of my constant companions, a Moleskine sketchbook. The picture below is one of the pages from my sketch book.

Value sketch - Marker pens on paper
Another regular companion with me when out walking is a watercolour book and a small set of paints and it came in useful as an excuse to rest one day on a ramble on the fells. The next picture is a page from my watercolour sketch book.

Ennerdale - Watercolour on Not paper

The last picture of the week came from a stroll down to the lake from the caravan site. It was warm and it was good to get out of the direct sun and look out. When I look at the result I don't get the feeling of light that the conditions warranted and the major cause seems to be a lack of really strong darks. However, there is a sense of aerial recession and that has been a recent problem. So the week ends with limited progress but maybe clearer ideas of how to rectify matters.

Boathouse - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Confusion Reigns

Haven't been able to get out this week, that is until today. I'm posting this largely as a way of venting my frustration with the day's effort. Went up the coast to my usual stretch of cliff and set up. The cloud cover was already in and I decided on an approach that would push the colour and attempt to make the foreground jump with colour as a means of creating recession. You can probably guess that the lack of painting time this week has meant an excess of thinking time and that I've built up a little checklist of the things I intended to achieve on this, my next outing. I'm afraid that it turned out formulaic but not just one formula in play. The lack of light had me struggling to give appropriate form to the cliffs and I got hung up on introducing each and every colour that I convinced myself I could see, then decided to tone some of them down. Just goes to show that the thinking and planning is best done with the subject in front of you and being able to make choices in light of the prevailing conditions.

Desperate to get a positive out of proceedings, I lighted on the fact that I was able to produce a real range of colour from my limited palette of Indanthrone Blue, Naples Yellow, Venetian Red and Titanium White. I'll keep plugging with it for a while longer.

Souter Cove - Oil sketch on canvas board 12" x 10"

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Pushing Chroma with limited palette

This week has been given over to reflection on my attempts to use and extremely limited palette as outlined in previous posts. Two comments by other artists got me thinking as to how I might improve my technique. They related to recession and intensity of chroma. This piece was done as a study to attempt to address those issues.

I decided to continue working with a limited palette and 'mud', but changed the palette colours. For this painting the palette was made up of Indanthrone Blue, Naples Yellow and Venetian Red with Titanium White. I selected these colours as they have greater chroma potential than the previous choice. My thinking as I look at this piece is that I have made a little progress. There is greater recession in this picture than in the last couple and there is greater evidence of chroma in the foreground. I'm still unsure about the production of colour for foreground highlight as pure colour often does not appear to produce the necessary value shift without addition of white. It seems to me that the answer to this might lie in adjusting the palette selection till there is a balance between choice for colour intensity and value. Colour choice where hues are adjacent to one another is another area for experimentation.

Subject is a favourite spot in the West of Ireland at the end of the Dingle peninsula. The source is a holiday photograph of mine.

Coumeenoole - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Nose's Point

Managed to get out today, once again down the coast near home. One day I'm determined to do it justice. Today's effort was a continuation of the limited palette approach with the addition of the previous day's mud. I found it testing to get the appropriate variety of colour for the piece but felt that the effort was more than helpful in developing my appreciation of colour mixing. I envisage being able to rid my box of a number of tubes as I gain more experience in the use of limited palettes and am looking forward to experimenting with further combinations.

Nose's Point - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Limited Palette

As promised last week I had decided that I needed to give some thought to a number of issues relating to my plein air practice. Preparing properly ensuring that I had enough paint mixed needed to be addressed as well as the sequence of applying paint. Having made up my mind to do it I selected a demonstration piece from a Kevin MacPherson book as the vehicle to pull some of these ideas together.

The approach adopted required a number of things: limited palette, definite sequence of activity and gradual refinement.

The palette advised consisted of Chromatic Black, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White. Prior to starting I prepared my palette by creating a whole series of secondaries and adding varying amounts of white to them so that I produced the best greens, oranges and purples that were possible. Having laid these out it became easier to see where the painting might go. After toning the canvas and sketching the outline I blocked in the shadows and put in the darkest dark and lightest light. These were the values against which all other tones would be judged. After that it was a case of putting in the main colour notes. Then, working all over the canvas, the colours and shapes were refined and adjusted.

Whilst not totally successful in terms if the finished piece I found this to be a real learning experience that will inform my future practice. Following the whole sequence made it easier to make judgements during painting, in particular having created the palette of colours in sufficient quantities prior to starting. My next project will involve using the 'mud' left on the palette to underpin the creation of the palette that I use.

MacPherson Demonstration - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Turner and Italy

The name Turner inspires all sorts of feelings amongst those of us who take pleasure in painting and it came up as it often does in a recent conversation with one of my gurus, Martin Kinnear. "Have you been up to Edinburgh recently? Turners galore". This was how he introduced the subject. In fact he was letting me know about the exhibition currently running at the National Gallery of Scotland, 'Turner and Italy'. With little further ado the web site was checked, the partners in crime contacted and the date was set for the day's excursion to Edinburgh. Fortunately for us Edinburgh is a shortish train ride away from home and Jed, Pat and myself met up early to take the rail up to Scotland's capital.

To say that the rest of the day was a feast illuminated by the glow from the gallery walls would be to undersell the wonders on display. The exhibition covered the whole of Turner's career and would be a wonderful introduction for anyone wishing to trace his development and growth into the marvel responsible for his transcendent later works. The early works, prior to his first trip to Italy were fine pieces of their time, as exemplified by the painting below.

Dolbadern Castle - J.M.W. Turner
Royal Academy of Arts

Examples then followed of a number of landscape styles, echoing some of the great names of European art like Claude. Watercolours, sketch books fleshed out the understanding of how Turner developed and prepared for his painting. Fascinating, but not as revelatory as the clear shift in how he interpreted his preparatory work into worked up paintings. Maybe the next two paintings give some feeling of that when we see similar landscapes in dramatically different treatments.

The Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore - J.M.W. Turner
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute - J.M.W. Turner
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The shift in style that takes place from the first of these to the second is dramatic and presages the mighty works that were to follow. There is another view exhibited, that I've not been able to get a satisfactory image of, that is mind blowing. At first glance the canvas looks almost white, but emerging from the brilliance is the most subtle rendition of the view that is depicted above. Whilst I haven't tried it you could probably get an approximation by photoshopping the above image and then removing colour and contrast. Somewhere in there might be a hint as to what Turner achieved. Jed christened this painting the 'White Album', yes he's a musician. Pat is also full of musical allusions and his comment about the style shift was 'Turner's Crossroads' moment.

The extreme example referred to clearly informs much of the later work exhibited. The next painting does away with much detail yet still communicates detail in the sensual textures and brushwork.

Landscape with River and Bay in the distance - J.M.W. Turner
Musee de Louvre

Another interesting factor in viewing a collection of Turner paintings is the way in which he often shifts the focus of the composition towards the centre. I have posted examples of this before where the clear vortex design dominates the painting. Often the centre of his work is the quietest passage rendered in soft tones whilst there is great activity around the edges.

The next picture is one that is used in the catalogue to exemplify the way that Turner would rework older paintings to reflect different taste as his work grew and developed.

Wreck Buoy - J.M.W. Turner
Sudley House

Finally the last picture in the exhibition titled after a place where Turner had sketched and painted on all of his trips to the continent. It was on his way across land to Italy. It epitomises the facility that he had to depict both climactic conditions but the truth of landscape as a funciton of the light.

Having spent the morning in the exhibition and then taken lunch there was nothing else to do but spend the rest of the day back with JMW before heading back for the last train.

Val d'Aosta - J.M.W. Turner
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Disappointing Day

I set out yesterday morning to my favourite stretch of coast and decided upon painting a scene that I had tackled before. I was intent upon trying to improve on my last effort at this spot - result - disappointment as the finished piece does not have the same life or vibrancy of the previous attempt. Why? Well I think that my preparation was poor, in the sense that I did not do enough to prepare my palette of colours prior to starting the main painting process and as I worked I was trying to adjust and alter what was on the palette board with a lot of frustration. Hopefully lesson learned - a more disciplined preparation and a delay to the main painting until I'm happy that I have the correct colour range in sufficient quantities before me, that way I might develop better fluency and get enough paint onto the canvas. There's nothing worse than trying to eke out what you have to save mixing up more pigment.

Moral of this tale is telling in that it has made me think about what my next project will be. The next week will have me trying one or two demonstration pieces from books in my ever expanding library. There is a piece in a Kevin MacPherson book that might make a good starting point. If I manage to get it done I'll post it next week along with a note of the experience.

Souter - Oil on canvas board 12"x 10"