Thursday, 30 October 2014

Yellow Rose

palette knife painting of a yellow rose
Another palette knife rose. I chose a yellow one because yellow is both my favourite colour but also the colour I probably find hardest to work with. Achieving a luminous glow is one difficulty - although I have discovered that forking out for a tube of a pure cadmium helps - but the principle one is mixing shadow colour. Using the complementary of a reddish-violet is not always the solution as the result can be too grey. Darkening the shade of yellow with the addition of red, even a lovely transparent red, can produce a result which is too orange. 
This rose is an intermediate step in my journey to 'getting it right'.
Thank you for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Raven

Oil painting with palette knife of a raven, trying to capture the spirit of the bird
Another palette knife experiment. I only used a brush for his eye.
I have tried to paint birds before, specifically, black birds, and really struggled because I ended up bogged down in feathery detail. It is a conundrum for me because I want to be a realistic painter. But I do not want to be a photocopying machine. Hyper-realism is very clever but it is not for me: I sort of can't be bothered. I've got a good camera - why not use that? Trouble is, if you are not going to go down the hyper-realism route, then where are you going to go?
I spotted this quote one day from Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957, a Romanian sculptor who worked in France. He said:
When you see a fish you don't think of its scales, do you? You think of its speed, its floating, flashing body seen through the water... If I made fins and eyes and scales, I would arrest its movement, give a pattern or shape of reality. I want just the flash of its spirit.
So here is my attempt to capture the spirit of a raven, even if not every strand of every feather. The beauty of the palette knife is that it makes hyper-realism - or the constant fiddling for every detail - impossible. For me, this is a good thing.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Of knives and roses

oil painting, pink rose, palette knife painting
For this week, I have been practising painting with a palette knife. The only time I had used one before was recently on Dan Edmondson's landscape course to paint rocks and it was great fun. I thought it would be useful to get more adept and there is only one way to do this - actually do it. Dan Edmondson is very clear that there is no right way to use a palette knife, there is no secret "trick" that will suddenly enable you to pull off masterful strokes. You just have to practice.
As I also had a bit of a mental block about flower painting (my attempts to date being less than satisfactory), and my mood was somewhat devil-may-care, I thought I would go for it and try to crack two problems at once.
It is surprisingly liberating to launch into something like this; I had no fear of failure because I expected to fail: there was nothing to fear because it was a certainty. I have no idea what the psychology of that is, but it was so. It implies that fear is largely to do with the unknown. 
Anyway, palette knife painting, if you haven't tried it, is fab. If it goes wrong you just scrape it off or slap a bit more on top. It uses fearsome amounts of paint. 
So here is a pink rose. I think it is quite nice.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Red Collie

oil painting of a red collie in bright sunlight. A pet portrait by Karen
A day of numbers today. This is my 300th blog post  since I decided on 1 January 2013 that I would paint every day in an effort to improve.
During the 22 months since, I have painted 272 "daily" paintings (not including "wipers" or any others that were not wiped but did end up with their faces to the wall in the cupboard of shame).
I have also completed 92 other paintings including commissions. 
Hopefully I am improving.
Certainly I can safely observe that I barely own a single item of clothing any more that is not embellished with at least one paint splodge.
Perhaps I should post some shots of my clothing in the manner of Tracy Emin and her unmade bed? No?? 
Ok, perhaps not.
No more posts until next week now. Thank you for looking at my paintings.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Autumn triptych

a triptych of Autumnal paintings of peppers and squash. a still life painting by Karen Robinson
Three little paintings that I painted from life. The squash, for anyone who doesn't know - I didn't - is a baby Harlequin squash. There was a big heap of them in the farm shop and I was enchanted having never seen one before. Quite expensive, too, hence I bought the smallest one on the heap.

Usually, I paint from reference photos. It is not practical to paint people's pets from life, even assuming we live on the same continent. There is a big part of me that feels this practice is not "proper" and that to be a "proper" artist you should paint from life. It is going to take some practice, though, because all the little tips and tricks I use to get the drawing right are much harder when working from life. 
For example, I depend heavily on the negative shapes.

For anyone unsure what I am on about - sorry if this is too basic - here are the negative shapes marked out on a b&w copy of the first painting, to show where the veggies should be placed on the canvas and in relation to each other:
still life painting with negative shapes marked in red
Basically, a series of squidged triangles. The trouble is, every time you move your head even a tiny bit those 'triangles' of negative shape - change shape!!
It drove me nuts but then I had this thought: I wonder if that is what Picasso and the other cubists were on about: every time you move your head a fraction, the "reality" in front of you changes. So how can you ever capture it in 2D?
Picasso, Still life with fruit, 1930
I do realise that this is likely a statement of the bloomin' obvious, but it came as something of a revelation to me.

Meanwhile, for a complete contrast, here is a painting by a still life artist whose work never ceases to amaze me, Frans Snyders (Dutch, 1579-1657). 

Frans Snyder, Still life with food
Frans Snyders (1579-1657) Still life with food

How did he paint this from life, do you suppose? Believe me when I say it would have taken a very long time.The grapes would have shrivelled up, the game rotted away and that lobster would have become very, very stinky. I have no idea. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A little slide show for today

This is my first go at putting anything on YouTube. It is very simple, but you have to start somewhere.  

PS. Sunday 19th Oct: thanks to readers for telling me this video won't work in the USA. It is because the music - supplied by Apple (!) - is copyrighted. I am in the process of figuring out how to edit the video with different music that is acceptable in the US. Apologies: this is a bit of a learning experience for me.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Working dog, on a golden day

oil painting of a German Shepherd on a golden background. A pet portrait by Karen
This handsome chap belongs to Maria, who kindly permitted the use of her photo. In real life he lives in Russia, but in my painting I have placed him on the top of a Tor on Dartmoor. He struck me as being master of all he surveyed, so I painted him high up. The background is largely imaginary although I based it on my own photos taken from the top of Brentor. Interestingly, the photos show a sort of whited-out, bleached light - although my memory of the day is that the light was gold. So I painted my memory of the light.
Here are some WiP photos. I drew the doggy out first on 10x8 board that I had gessoed the day before
drawing of German Shepherd, first stage of a pet painting by Karen

The horizontal line on the right of the board just below his neck, was an accidental stroke and doesn't mean anything. I try not to use too many lines, but equally this is one of my daily paintings and if I am to complete 3 per week alongside larger pieces and commissions, I feel I can't afford to have the drawing go off. There are plenty of other things that can go off, let's face it. I decided to use my favourite start as per Richard Schmid: the selective start. As I have explained before, it means: select a place and start there and proceed accurately and in one pass, one brush stroke at a time. In theory, anyway. I started with his right eye:
2nd work in progress photo of a German Shepherd, painting the eye. A pet portrait by Karen.
In reality, I did fiddle a bit to get the direction of the fur right. I also put some extra fur on top later. But mostly, I tried to get it right first time. The benefits of this selective start approach for me are: 
(1) it is clear how to begin. I don't have to sit there looking at a blank canvas thinking - yikes! Just pick a point and start 
(2) for subjects like this with two colours in their coat which can create difficulties together (orange and black will make cow pat green if mixed), it reduces the risk of this happening  
(3) I can get up and potter off for a coffee anytime and I will know exactly where to pick up again when I get back.
Richard Schmidt explains all this better than me in his book Alla Prima - Everything I know About Painting. The book is available on his website. It is expensive but worth every penny. No, I am not on commission!
oil painting of a German Shepherd: work-in-progress stage 3. A pet painting by Karen.
It was at this point that I felt him come to life under the brush and I was on a roll. So only one more photo of the process, I'm afraid, as I forgot to take any more after this:
oil painting of a German Shepherd, 4th progress shot, a pet portrait by Karen
Anyway, I just carried on until the dog was complete. Then I waited about 5 hours for the paint to tack up a little bit so I could better control how much of his coat went into the background: I wanted to lose the edges a bit on his right hand side but I did not want black fur merging into my sky and making mud, so that was the trickiest bit. The fields I re-did a couple of times to make them go back sufficiently: if the chroma is too high they come forward and it doesn't look like the dog is high up. The rock I painted with a palette knife. And voilĂ :
Oil painting of a German Shepherd on a golden background, a pet portrait by Karen

Hope you like him!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Working dog (on a grey day)

oil painting of a working dog, weimaraner, painted on a grey day on Dartmoor. A pet painting by Karen.

Looking for inspiration for this, my 99th doggy painting this year (not counting commissions, wipers etc) I thought I would paint some working dogs. 
There are plenty here. Backgrounds are required and I have many photos taken of the countryside and moors round where I live. I was struck by how many of them had lowering, gun metal grey skies. Weimaraner grey. It must be a feature of the moor. 
This painting was therefore a challenge in differentiating grey. I mixed the majority from base colours of cobalt blue and cadmium yellow which I then greyed using Transparent Oxide Red (warm greys) or Permanent Rose (cool greys) and some violet for a little extra kick now and then. It was fun to do and was one of those rare paintings that seemed to paint itself. 
The foreground was arrived at by experiment and repeated failure. I did it last and was determined not to lose my doggy so ultimately I felt I had to make it work. I slapped on olive green, naples yellow, some yellow ochre - all liberally cut with white - and got a perfect boggy colour. 
Perfectly disgusting, in fact. 
I thought: but this IS the colour of the moor so why does it look so foul? I know - it needs highlights. Rather than add more white I scratched off some paint to create highlights using a metal skewer. Then some more. Then yet more - until I ended up with this. I like it.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Border collie 2

oil painting of a border collie, a pet portrait by karen
A beautiful long coated border collie for you to round off this week's blogging. This painting was created  in two steps: step one, paint the whole thing in one sitting then stop. It kind of looked finished but, but... Wait for the paint to dry. Step two: paint the entire coat again on the dog from the neck down. This method seems to work best for me to achieve the depth needed for long, fluffy coats.

If you are reading this post today because you might want to buy a pet painting for someone for Christmas, then - hello! and YES, you have come to the right place, and NO it is not too late - but please get in touch as soon as you can, especially if you live outside the UK, when longer shipping times need to be taken into account. 

Have a great weekend everyone and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Green Pasture 2

oil painting of cows in a field, pet paintings by karen
Here is the larger version - this is 20" x 16" - following on from the smaller study that I posted yesterday. There are one or two small compositional differences: I added the cow, top right-ish, which is turning and licking his leg as a device to try and turn the eye of the viewer back into the painting. I also added an additional log (or rock) in the foreground as it was rather a large amount of space to fill with grasses and shrubs. 
I still painted this using "big bang" - I started top left and moved right and down one brush stroke at a time until it was all complete. The only bit I revisited was the modelling on the animal in the foreground, which needed considerably more work at this scale than it did in yesterday's study.
This was one of the technically more difficult pieces I have painted and I feel like I have learned lot. Apart from composition, the other tricky bit was colour mixing, because such a vast expanse of green needs thinking about. For reasons that I don't fully understand, if you look at a vast expanse of green, rolling fields in real life it looks perfectly alright - charming - beautiful, even. But if you paint a vast expanse of rolling green it is liable to look horribly artificial and phoney. I have no idea why, but it is so.
The colours on my palette for grassy pasture were: cadmium green pale (W&N artists oils), transparent oxide red (to grey it down), Michael Harding's yellow ochre deep (other brands don't seem to hit the spot), titanium white and ultramarine. One thing I have learnt is that the result is always better if I keep yellow off the palette. Any proper yellow seems to make a green that on the canvas is very garish.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Green Pasture

oil painting Green Pasture, landscape, cows, pet portraits by karen
This little painting is a study for a larger piece that I am painting as part of an on-line course I am currently doing with Daniel Edmondson.
My first attempt at Green Pasture was on a large canvas, as per Dan's instructions, but within about 6 hours I had lost the will to live as I could not make it work. So I stuck that canvas in the cupboard with its face to the wall. 
My next attempt was small (10"x8") and this is the result; I am pleased with it. Instead of doing a block-in of the main shapes and/or the main darks and shadows, I decided to do the Richard Schmid selective start or big bang approach that I have mentioned on this blog a number of times. 
I started in the top left hand corner of the canvas and worked across and down until the whole thing was completed, one brush stroke at a time. The only exception was the foreground which I left until last. 
I put that in using a palette loaded with big lumps of paint and a small palette knife (no 2).
Tomorrow I will post the large version because as soon as I had completed this small study I went on to do the big piece for the 2nd time (on a fresh canvas; the disastrous one remains in the cupboard with its face to the wall of shame). I used exactly the same approach as in this study, but with bigger brushes. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Border Collie Stare

oil painting of a border collie - his distinctive stare. A pet portrait by Karen.
I was following on behind a slow-moving land rover the other day with three of these doggies staring at me from out the back. They were all looking at me like this. The message seemed to be: "One false move, sunshine - and we'll round you up". 
This was a fast daily painting, oil on board, and the aim was to capture the stare. Last blog post for this week. Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Autumn colours

Oil painting of autumn trees, river and landscape
Something different for the 1st October, a date that for some arbitrary reason I consider to be the first proper day of Autumn. This painting was created as part of an on-line landscape course I am doing with Daniel Edmondson.
I can thoroughly recommend this if, like me, you need a bit of push to get outside of your comfort zone.  For myself, I would like to move more towards painting animals in their environments, so help with constructing believable landscapes for my animals is very welcome.