Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Sketching in Durham

Doesn't life get in the way of painting? Snatching a little time with the paints can often be a luxury. I'm coming to the conclusion that the car should always contain the wherewithal to grasp any available opportunity. Found myself in one of my favourite places yesterday with an hour to spare and fortunately in possession of a watercolour sketchbook and some paints. So I dropped down to the riverside and put the time to some use. Clearly the sketch isn't detailed but it serves well as a basis for further development. An enjoyable hour and a pleasant memory.

Durham - watercolour 10" x 8" on RWS Not paper

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Back to Cullercoats

The weather is good and after returning from the Lake District I caught up with my old friend, Jed, and we set out for an afternoon painting. Jed lives on the coast north of the Tyne and there are lots of fine locations to inspire the painter. Cullercoats is such a spot and is well known amongst artists as it once had a thriving artistic community with luminaries like Winslow Homer working there.

Whilst Jed got out the watercolours and pastels, I decided to work in oil as there are a number of ideas I'm trying to drum into myself, not least depicting credible recession in my pictures. The biggest problem I have is producing the correct mix of paints to apply without lots of post hoc adjustment. As usual the viewers will be the judge of how successful this attempt has been.

Cullercoats Bay - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Monday, 21 June 2010

Back to Watercolour

My friend Peter, a prolific watercolour artist in the South West, has been engaged in a project depicting Native Americans. He recently sent me one of his source photographs and having not had the watercolour box out for a few weeks I decided to use it as the basis of a picture using the sables and watercolours.

The result shows my lack of fluency and my forgetfulness about some of the sensible ways to make a picture coherent. The main flaw is one of ignoring connections of areas with similar value and the second failing to vary the edge relationships between hard and soft thereby making links and allowing the eye the opportunity to roam. Maybe another attempt is required to reinforce these ideas?

Peter's work can be found at , give it a visit.

Acoma Woman - watercolour on Not paper 12" x 10"

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.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Canyon Light - slight adjustment

After feedback from friends on this blog and also Wet Canvas, I made some tentative adjustments to the picture. I've tried to make the water striations read in a more horizontal way, added a little warmth to the shadow side and increased small amounts of detail and texture on the right hand side. A very subtle toning down of the largest orange mass near the centre completed the adjustments.

The issue of water striations and how they read is a difficult area, particularly when the source material gives information that suggests something different. When translated into paint it is easy to give the impression that there is a slope that doesn't exist.

I've added the postcard that I used as reference for this picture to illustrate the potential problem. My first pass at representing the water was influenced by the striations in the photograph and didn't read properly, hence the adjustment in the latest effort.

By the way, this is the first time that I have worked on stretched linen and find it very responsive as a support. I'm considering buying a roll of linen and stretching it myself as well as preparing boards with it as well. Linen mounted on boards isn't available in England so if I want to use it, I'll have to make my own.

Canyon Light - Oil on stretched linen 16" x 12"


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Canyon Light

The latest piece is an attempt to put some recent lessons into practice. Creating recession in pictures is not as easy as it might seem, particularly where there are a number of planes to represent. Ensuring that each plane is distinct is something that requires planning from the outset. Natural enthusiasm can be a barrier to the appropriate planning and is a frequent fault of mine. I chose this subject because it had a wide value range and would require the depiction of multiple planes and the extremities of the value range. The picture is based on a postcard that I acquired whilst visiting the Grand Canyon. The picture probably needs some refinement but I'll sit on it for a few days before visiting it again. Any suggestions?

Canyon Light - Oil on stretched linen 16" x 12"