Monday, 24 August 2009

Sea Stack

The coast round these parts has a lot of stacks that stand like sentinels facing the North Sea. They have all sorts of interesting shapes and this one has a hole right through it creating an arch. As regular followers will have noticed, it is to the coast that I go most often when I get time to paint and I am very fortunate that there is such good subject material close at hand. The challenge, of course, is doing the wonderful sights some sort of painterly justice. Once again the visit coincided with dull, flat light, for me a painter's nightmare as I try to develop my work on colour, values and knife technique.

I am discovering that the knife is a great tool for rendering rocks and am delighted that it is starting to fit with one of my favourite subjects. Don't know if I'll get out again this week, but I'm going to have to get my watercolour kit in shape as I've got a place on a course starting on September 6th, but more of that in a later post.

Sea Stack - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Taking a Knife to it

Continuing with my knife practice has become the latest mission and so out again at the first opportunity to try it at one of my favourite locations. The stretch of cliffs near Souter lighthouse has all sorts of interesting shapes, but as can be seeen from the photograph taken on the day we can't guarantee decent light. It was windy, so a sheltered cove it had to be, and the light conditions were flat and dull, never the best conditions for me, particularly at the moment when I'm trying to improve colour work and knife technique. The knife lends itself to making bold statements, ideal when the light provides clear tonal demarcations and easily differentiated colour. I think that my hesitancy is evident in some of the passages in this piece. It took longer than usual to paint this, over three hours, and only rarely did any light get through. The thing that takes the time is the decision making and subsequent restating of areas that need adjustment. There is a serious amount of paint on this canvas. Maybe the lesson lies in choosing subject matter more appropriate to the technique in the prevailing conditions, so for instance this subject might have better been rendered in watercolour or pen and wash. Never mind another day another lesson, but the knife felt a little more comfortable in this session. The next trip here will have to wait till there is a coincidence between domestic duties and the appearance of the sun, when hopefully the palette will shift towards a brighter range of colour.

Souter Cliffs - Photograph

Souter Cliffs - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Friday, 14 August 2009

Still carrying a Knife

The last post had me wielding a painting knife for the first time in anger, trying out block exercises in the hope of improving my colour seeing. However the real test for me is applying new techniques to my usual subject matter, that is the landscape. So I would have a go at a small piece at one of my favourite little spots, a quarry not far from home.

This was a very testing exercise, trying to remember a whole new set of processes (outlined in the last post) and at the same time practising my full colour seeing and remembering to balance my values. As you can imagine I feel that the result is something of a curate's egg, good in places and weaker in others. What is not a disappointment is the vibrancy of colour that this approach creates. There are passages that shout light in a way that much of my work does not. This gives me great encouragement to persist with the approach and continue to work at my skill level with the knife. Do you think I'm right?

I've posted a photograph of the scene that is painted.

Wingate Quarry - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Mick the Knife

As threatened over a month ago, I had decided to attempt using the principles advocated by Susan Sarback to make some paintings. On the advice of Wet Canvas regular, Michael McGuire, I had decided to look at her work. She is a teacher in the tradition of Henry Hensche and Charles Hawthorne. Her main messages relate to 'full colour seeing' and using a staged process to build the painting. It makes so much sense to me that I am about to follow some of the exercises, particularly the block exercises advocated in the book, 'Capturing Radiant Light and Colour'. The process consists of four stages.

Steps are:
1) Establish the masses;
2) Refine the masses;
3) Establish variation in the masses;
4) Add more variation in the masses.

The following three shots show my first attempt at trying the block exercises.

In this shot the masses are established and warm colours are used to show lit areas whilst cool colours are used for shadow areas.

Here the masses are beginning to be refined and the appropriate colour notes applied.

In the last shot I have established variation in the masses and at this point I've decided to give some thought to what further refinement might be required.
This exercise has given me a great deal of pleasure from a number of points of view. First of all it is my initial attempt at completing a whole piece with a painting knife as opposed to brushes. whilst awkward to use, as the work has gone on I have begun to feel a little more comfortable with these tools. Secondly, I have experienced a degree of freedom throughout the making of this picture that is different to the tightening up that often occurs when using brushes. The knife will certainly play a part in my armoury from now on. Lastly, the use of pure colour, as opposed to lots of mixing, imbues the work with a greater feeling of light. This is a lesson that I hope not to forget.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Long trip - little paint

There's a lot happened since my last post. Plenty of travel, lots of fun, interesting sights, great museums, lovely family occasions but little painting. Lets start by mentioning the annual trip to the opening of the Lake Artists Society Annual Exhibition. This takes place in late July each year and runs through to the start of September. It is held in the Village Hall, Grasmere and whilst it may not sound as the grandest of venues, the material on display is never less than interesting to visit and most of it is of a very high quality. There are a mixture of works in all sorts of different media. The Society maintains its standards by controlling the membership, who have to fulfill a residency criterion as well as being subject to election. If you are in the Lake District and fail to go and see the exhibition you will deny yourself a real treat.

Lake Artists Catalogue 2009
Home from the Lakes in time to pack a bag for two weeks away, London, Vienna and Slovakia.
We began with a few days in London, visiting family and crashing the galleries. First visit was to the National Portait Gallery to view the Annual BP Portrait Award Exhibition, always an interesting view. The selection of pictures below are drawn from the exhibition. The exhibition contains a wide variety of styles but each piece exhibited has a real impact, whether it be because of the stunning technique or the painterly impression. The whole of the exhibition is available to view on the NPG website. Changeling 2 was the first prize winner.
Changeling 2 - Peter Monkman, Oil on canvas 48" x 35"

Robert - Mark Clay, Oil on board 16" x 11"

Tom - Peter Holt, Oil on canvas 18" x 14"

Hats and Scarves - Tim Okamura, Oil on canvas 80" x 88"

John Anthony Portsmouth Football Club Westwood - Karl Rudziak, Oil on canvas 47" x 79"

My song - Jung-Im Song, Oil on canvas 24" x 18"

And so to Vienna and the amazing architechture, galleries, palaces and cafes of this wonderful city so dominated by the rule of the Hapsburgs. On this trip we were stopping off for a few days en route to Slovakia, so it was a case of cramming in as much we could. Three foot weary days later we had done a whistle stop tour of some of the attractions of this fascinating place. It would take too long to itemise all the highlights but I will leave you with two, Schloss Schonbrunn, summer palace of the Hapsburgs and one of the great masterpieces from the Kunsthistorisches collection. Leaving Vienna was done with a firm commitment to a prompt return.

Schloss Schonbrunn

Art of Painting - Vermeer

Last of all was our move across the border into Slovakia. This was in fact the main prompt for the trip in the first place. We had a family wedding to attend. Jane had become engaged to a Slovakian young man and for a variety of reasons they had decided to hold their wedding in his home village, Lesna. What a treat, hospitality, food and drink of the highest standard. People who were an absolute pleasure to be amongst and great fun and rejoicing as we acquainted ourselves with the customs and rituals around a Slovak wedding. I can thoroughly recommend the experience. All in all a great trip. We covered a lot of miles, saw a lot of sights and met a lot of wonderful people. My only regret was the fact that I only had one small opportunity, for about half an hour, when it was feasible for me to unearth the paint box. The small watercolour sketch below was the result. The plan, now that I'm home, is to start on those block exercises advocated by Susan Sarback and have my first experience of painting with nothing more than a knife.

Church Oravska Lesna - 12" x 10" Watercolour sketch on Not paper