Thursday, 30 June 2011

The parliament paintings - bottle dresses

It's been a very productive day for me as work on the dancers painting stepped up a notch. I realised today that it takes me about an hour to get into happy painting mode, even if I just sit and look at the painting for most of that. Today's session started off with some work on the highlights around the top half of the figures, with white and cadmium yellow. I also restated some dark areas with cobalt blue and made some marks on the faces to establish expression. The first dancer seems a bit constipated at the moment...not quite what I am going for!

The main thrust of this session however was to work on the bottle skirts. To do this I first created the shadows with the cobalt blue, then mixing burnt sienna with varying degrees of cadmium yellow and white I applied wet-on-wet paint carefully to define the bottles (using my reference material as a guide). It's quite rough work and each brush stroke is loosely painted (the focus here is to keep things free and loose), then a new colour is overlapped or painted adjacent. I absolutely love to paint this way, mixing colours straight on the canvas with thick, juicy, undiluted paint. Once all the main details were added I took white straight from the tube and added the lightest highlights plus the cement between the bottles (still working wet-on-wet). Et voila! Completed skirts! The last dancer will have green bottles so these will be done in another session.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Reworking an old painting

When I arrived in the UK last week I took out a painting I started last year and never finished. It's the kind of painting I used to do very often - a medieval romantic depiction of loneliness and longing. It suddenly felt like I should work on it, so I grabbed the paints and got started. When I last worked on this, the image was very flat and there was no colour balance overall, so I adjusted this by mixing up my now favourite shadow purple (cadmium red and cobalt blue) and liberally applied to all the dark areas on the painting. I also added some red to the water to suggest the fabric of the dress showing through the waves and made some minor changes to the rest of the painting. It's almost complete now except for her skin and face which needs some definition, and her hair which needs to be finished.

The parliament paintings - adding midtones and highlights

I must admit that I haven't been painting as much as I would like recently as life has been getting in the way. Every day I feel the urge to paint...it's constantly in the back of my head and I have this feeling of 'if only I could nip out to the studio and paint a bit' - unfortunately that's not always possible and hasn't been for a few days. But today I managed to make some time and made the 30 second trek to my studio in the garden to set up my kit for a session. It's been raining today as well, so on top of the blissful joy of painting I had the lovely treat of doing it in a warm, dry studio while the beautiful sound of rain hitting the wooden roof kept me company.

I started on the dancers and added some cadmium yellow midtones. It's a pity you can't see the radiance on this photo, but the yellow is really very yellow. The skirts of the dancers are something I'm puzzling over and am toying with the idea of painting the bottles that appear on the real statues. I thought I would leave this out but as I looked more and more at the painting I realised that there wasn't enough detail to make it interesting.

I also tried out a cool skin tone on the faces (and red eyes!) but this doesn't work very well. The problem is that I used a totally different colour palette for the skin, adding naples yellow to cadmium red and white. I will have to work over this and stick to my palette this time.

I also did some work on the water carrier painting, adding highlights to the figures and pillar supporting the bendy person. I'm finding it quite strange to work on the cerulean blue wash as it seems not to have dried properly or is too oily or something. I can't put my finger on it but it's not taking new layers of paint very well. As you can see I've had to paint over my pencil lines (the white lines in the background) as these are showing up very clearly - not good obviously!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The parliament paintings - shadows

Settling in today was hard work, but I managed to get all the darkest shadows completed for the 'dancers' and the 'water carrier'. I used straight cobalt blue on the dancers. This mixed with the wet layer of cadmium yellow and made a groovy green. I'll need to wait for this to dry now. I actually really like how the dancers are coming along. There's something quite spooky about them. I like their empty eyes - haunting, isn't it? The background was fun to do as well. I used brush strokes to accentuate the movement in the painting and am quite pleased with the results.


The water carrier's shadows were painted with a purple mix from cadmium red and cerulean blue. I struggled a bit as the wash already on the canvas was still a bit wet and I kept painting away the colour, leaving white marks. Note to self - wait for wash to dry.


The parliament paintings - transferring the image to canvas

I've been giving a lot of thought to which painting want to start with for the last few weeks. I finally decided to start with the dancers as I quite like the colour scheme I've chosen (yellow, green and blue) and the image appeals to me right now. I arrived in the UK a few days ago and haven't actually painted for about a week or so...so after running out yesterday to buy some canvas I found myself quite ready to begin painting again.

Using a thin cadmium yellow wash I covered the canvas. Once mostly dry I sketched out the main lines of the image using a grid to get the negative spaces and positioning correct. The drawing is far from perfect and there are a few correction lines, but that's ok because the lines are really just guidelines. I made a bit of a boo boo when I tried to erase some pencil lines with a putty eraser - because the paint was still a bit wet, it literally smudged the putty onto the canvas and it is impossible to get off! So now I have some unlovely grey sticky smudges on my canvas. Ah well, I'm sure I'll be able to paint over them.


I've also applied a thin cerulean blue wash to the canvas that will become the painting of the water carrier. I'm toying with the idea of working on multiple paintings at once...both to try and keep the series 'together' in terms of style and also to try and save time while waiting for layers to dry. It might turn out to be too overwhelming though; I generally feel like I need to get lost in one image/emotion/cathartic experience at a time.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The parliament paintings - sketches and colour studies

After identifying the 5 images I want to paint I did some very rough sketches, adjusting each one for composition. There were two images that were particularly irksome...the shepherd and the pointing mermaids. I managed to fix the composition problems with the shepherd but I might throw out the pointing mermaids entirely and replace it with something else (there is just no unity there).


Once each sketch was done, I photocopied them and used the ol' colouring pencils to create 3 colour studies for each sketch - typically 1 cool, 1 warm and 1 complimentary. I want to create a similar feel for the range but don't want to be burdened with using the same colour pallet so experimenting has been useful.


By now I have a good idea of how each painting will be composed and styled, although new ideas keep popping in my head....like adding borders. I saw a really amazing painting recently where a border was actually painted on the canvas and it looked quite cool, so on some of the sketches I experimented with different border styles. The jury is still out on that one - I think a bit more experimentation is in order!

The next step is to create proper drawings of each image and transfer these onto canvas.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The parliament paintings - preparation

I'm very excited to be starting a brand new project which takes me on a journey to my past and into some interesting mental landscapes. A 'parliament' is the collective noun for a group of owls; which is what I'm calling this collection of paintings. The idea comes from some black and white photos I took about 8 or 9 years ago at a small and very unusual house-turned-into-museum called 'the owl house' in Nieu Bethesda. The house is situated in the starkly beautiful and lonely Karoo desert in South Africa on the outskirts of a tiny, dusty town. The house and garden are filled with these haunting cement statues in various poses; each one with eyes made from the bottoms of glass bottles. Some are decorated with mosaics, others with fine ground glass or sand. I was instantly enchanted by the place and took masses of photos (at the time I was hooked on black and white photography).

Finding these old photos in a box recently (rescued from languishing in dusty storage) brought back all those memories and gave me the idea to transform some of these images into modern and personally meaningful paintings.

I've started by deciding a format for the collection and general outlines of each painting (based on the photos). I've decided on 5 paintings, although I'm sure I could do many more! I think as I go along, my vision will become a little clearer...at the moment I just have a vague idea of what I'd like to achieve :)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Sentinel - finishing off

The last part of this painting was trying to get the colours correct on the rocky outcrops and sand in the sunlit area. I spent some time trying to get the correct mix of cadmium red, cadmium yellow and alternating with naples yellow and white to get lighter shades. I played around with the rocky outcrops several times, scraping off paint that was too dark or too blue. Eventually I mixed the right colour! Using this I painted the rocky areas and finally used a purple-grey for the shadows.


I finished off by darkening any areas in the shade to focus the viewer's attention on the lit area.

For a better image - and to buy a print - see my website.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sentinel - creating detail

When I look at my painting right now I have to laugh. I've never done a landscape before but it instantly looks like it comes out of a fairy tale or fantasy illustration. I guess my brain is just wired that way and no matter how hard I try I can't change my style to something more 'real-life'-ish. I'm not complaining of course, but it's funny to experiment with your paintings and realising that your concious mind might be pretty marginal when it comes to deciding your style. Maybe it's something to do with technique. I love to mix wet paints on a canvas...in fact I find it very frustrating to wait for layers to dry before painting over them. I think this creates a certain 'look' that might be part of my 'style'.

I eavesdropped on an interesting conversation last week where a South African artist was instructing a prospective artist for their gallery and said that they 'should focus on their style rather than their technique as this was very important. A person coming to the gallery to buy art would want to see the artist's style throughout each painting...'. It made me wonder how you go about working on your style, if not through the techniques that you use to paint? I don't know if style is something that happens without your input or if it's something you actively have to practise by changing your techniques.


Anyhow, back to the painting at hand. This session was mainly to define in more detail the trees in the foreground and along the slope of the mountain. Some lines were added here and there to represent the trunks of the trees and some more detail was added to the mountain (rocks, etc).

Monday, 6 June 2011

Sentinel - fiddling around a bit

I managed to get a nice autumn colour for my mountain so I added bits here and there to deepen the colours...I feel like the painting is starting to get a little juicy! The background was finished off by softening the harsh lines of the distant mountain.


 The shape of the lightest mountain area is still not correct, and I've added some more of the deep purple hue to try to discover that shape. I've added some suggestions of trees to the slopes but will work these in a bit more detail later on. I still feel like there's a lot of work to be done on this painting and I've been flagging a bit. Need to focus this week and try to pull it together.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Sentinel - light areas and establishing tree line

There's something lovely about a rugged mountainside bathed in light...damn difficult to paint though! I started this session putting in some tree shapes in the foreground, although these will be much less defined once this area is finished. The tree line on the slope of the mountain has been defined. I'm not particularly happy with the very green green and will have to mute this down somewhat.


Next was the challenge of getting the correct colour for the lightest area of the painting. I started here by mixing small amounts of cadmium red and blue to naples yellow and white. The resulting peach colour was pleasing, but I feel that I'm missing a more visceral red-orange. I'm going to revise my orange mix slightly to get a darker colour, more reminiscent of autumn. To finish I started to map out the general details of the rocky outcrop in the focal area.

This painting seems to be more challenging, not only in the subject matter but as it was started smack bang in the middle of a recent computer game addiction. I've been slaughtering Lizardmen instead of staring for hours at my source picture and working out the shapes of the shadows or pondering over the exact shade of purple I want mix for a particular area. Naughty me.