Monday, 14 June 2010

Of Donkeys and Migrating Body Hair (or Turner and Constable at the Norfolk Painting School)

Last week presented me with the marvellous opportunity to head south and spend a few intensive days studying at the Norfolk Painting School with inspirational artist Martin Kinnear.
When I first decided to take up oils, twenty months ago, it was to the Norfolk Painting School I headed to learn the basics of an oil painting technique. I have returned since to improve my skills but this week was to be special as there were to be two days study of Constable and two days of Turner.

As with all courses at the School the diet was one of theory, exercises in lessons learned and the application of techniques to the preparation of more considered pieces.

For me the first course was one devoted to the work of Turner, in particular the late period of his career when he moved even further away from the classical tradition that informed his earlier work. We did detailed work on the differences in palette selection and were given the task of creating quick oil sketches in Dutch and Italianate palettes. After this we spent some time investigating the process that went into the production of Turner's Burning of the Houses of Parliament prior to applying the same process and techniques to a large painting based on the picture.

A coloured beginning to the main picture - Burning of the Houses of Parliament

Panels prepared in different palette styles

After planning a coloured beginning we then built up thin layers of paint to create the effects that we wanted. The final stages were carried out using paint thickened with megilp and cold wax and applied with the palette knife, an exciting technique with many lovely random consequences - not for the faint hearted. A key element in the underlying psychology of this process was getting us to free ourselves from the tight techniques that may of us have difficulty with and encouraging a much greater spontaneity in our practice.

Spontaneity remained an underlying theme when I moved on to two days with Constable. Again it was not the whole or even the best known of Constable's work that we concentrated on, although we did look carefully at the principles underpinning the well known pieces, but the wonderful free oil sketches that developed his practice. After making sky studies and practising the representation of the landscape in very free and spontaneous style we moved on to the main task, a work based on an oil of Weymouth Bay.

Coloured beginning for a Constable

All it needs is a donkey ( Thanks Mary)

Ah, yes the donkey. As often happens little themes emerge to create a thread of humour running through group activity. After some banter about the number of donkeys appearing in paintings of a certain era and Constable being an offender in this regard, a common question around the course became, 'Where's the donkey?' Mary obliged and posted her donkey to enhance the Dorset countryside.

The two paintings below are the canvases I produced during the courses and though both need extra glazing and finishing (two days is a short period to work on complex pieces) they do give a flavour of the type of work undertaken on courses at the Norfolk Painting School. For the time being I need to wait till they dry off a little before moving into the final stages of finishing.

Weymouth Bay ( after Constable) Oil on stretched canvas 40" x 30"

Burning of the Houses of Parliament (after Turner) Oil on stretched canvas 40" x 30"

Just a word about Martin Kinnear. Martin is the founder of the School and is a fount of wisdom in relation to the techniques of the Masters, but more importantly for those of us who study with him he is not only accomplished as an artist but he is a fine teacher. All of his courses contain important theory sections, skilful demonstrations and then individual dialogue structured to stimulate the thinking and decision making of the student. Any one interested in oil painting could gain something from having a look at his web sites, one for the School and one that is a gallery of his work. You will find them through

The inspirational Martin Kinnear

You think I've forgotten the Migrating Body Hair in the title, well I haven't but now that I get here I think a greater sense of decorum tells me to save it for another day or occasion. Watch this space.

1 comment:

Peter Ward said...

Sounds like you had a great week Mick. I looked up this guy after you said you were going to study with him and he looks the goods as far as oil painting is concerned. Not for me though I'll stick to trying to master - what a hope! - watercolours.