Friday, 31 March 2017

Horse study in gold

oil study of a horse
This was an exercise to see what would happen if I used the smallest number of colours and the smallest number of brushstrokes possible. Could I model form without fussing over detail? Could I make something striking with 3 or 4 colours not including white?
I'll leave you to decide. 
Colours used were Rembrandt Cadmium Orange and Cadmium Yellow Deep and Winsor & Newton Cadmium Yellow Medium and Raw Umber.  The depth of darkness in the raw umber was achieved by applying two or three layers of colour, allowing each to dry in between. 
For brush work, I used a small soft angled shader for the fiddly bits (legs, face, ears, whiskers) but for mostly everything else, I used my fingers or a cotton bud/Q-tip.
I did not use white, realising that white is a false friend and often kills the effect I am trying to achieve. 
Like most people, I tend to assume white is the lightest and thus the brightest colour on my palette. In fact, the illusion of brilliance can also be achieved by careful contrast and using high chroma pigments. Adding white to any colour automatically cools and dulls it, which is often the opposite effect to the one you are trying to achieve.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

David Hockney on "Splash"

David Hockney and Splash - a piece of fan art
Here is a portrait of Hockney emerging from a vague copy of one of his more famous paintings from his early Los Angeles period, "Splash". 
There is a large retrospective on at the Tate just now in London of Hockney's work which I should love to see but it isn't really practical or feasible at the moment (train services to London from where I live being poor, lengthy and very expensive). Feeling a bit put out about this, I painted myself a Hockney instead. I enjoyed making this painting hugely.
I learnt how much he worked at this period with flat, pure colours and found this very difficult. I think he painted "Splash" in acrylics and that would have made it a bit easier due to the super-fast drying time. I was working in oils of course and to colour-match Hockney's blue I found I had to use a Pthalo Blue. Pthalo Blue is to a painting what red dye is a to a load of white laundry. I had blue finger-nails as well as fetching strands of blue hair in my fringe. It is a fabulous colour but a pig to work with.
For the vivid peach/pink/orange Hockney used, I struggled to achieve a match. In the end, I used lavish amounts of Portrait Pink - a quite dreadful dolly-mixture pink that I don't normally use - and added some cadmium orange. In real life, these colours are quite eye-ball rotting. Love 'em.

Hockney is my hero among contemporary artists. He follows no fads, he takes no crap from anyone - he just does his own thing and always has. He can also speak fluently about his work and every word is interesting, of value and never, ever pretentious. I love the honesty of his work.

Friday, 24 March 2017


oil portrait of Mahatma Gandhi
Well, I bet this one surprised you. It certainly surprised me.

It started off life as a 10"x8" gessoed MDF board. I laid in a dark background of black, Paynes grey, blue and white and started to add in sheep in lambing pens etc. Unsure how it was going, I left it for a few hours, by which time the alkyd oil paint had partially tacked up. On checking it, I hated it, so wiped off as much of the paint as possible to begin again and left the board - a nasty bruised mess - to dry up in hopes of recycling it.

For some reason, I decided to have a go at doing the sheep again, but this time pretending there was sunshine in the lambing pens, and I wiped over the "bruised" surface a goodly coating of Indian Yellow, a rather transparent and rich yellow paint.

Immediately, it didn't look like the interior of a Devon lambing pen at all, but something else entirely.

I sat there, brooding on whether to toss the entire board into the bin, and reflecting on the mystery of Indian Yellow. It is a strangely beautiful colour, but very hard to work with, as it dislikes being mixed with most other colours. 

Nowadays, it is a chemically created colour. Its name is said to come from its original formulation: the urine of Indian cows fed entirely on mangoes. No idea if that is actually true.

Reflecting on this story, however, I thought of India. Meanwhile, various news outlets were reporting the phrase "an eye for an eye" in various contexts both political and religious.

Mahatma Gandhi said
         an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind

and suddenly his face seemed to appear faintly in the colours on the board. So I painted him. 

The colours used, apart from Indian Yellow (and a disastrous prior attempt at sheep pens in blue and black) were: Burnt Umber (the Michael Harding one) and Lead White substitute, also by Michael Harding. This latter is a new one to me: the only downside is it takes forever to dry. Otherwise it is my new favourite tube of paint. Love it.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Wedding photos

An oil painting of Wedding photos or an Interior with a Jack Russell

An oil painting of wedding photos, other wise known as "Interior with a Jack Russell". The interior is real enough - it is part of a room in my house - but the Jack Russell is imaginary. 
My little dog would not be best-pleased with a JRT. Too feisty for him - he is a famous wimp.
I painted this set-up as part of my continuing attempt to practise more complex settings. 
In terms of method, I constructed the composition using both pencil and paper and a computer. I have simplified it somewhat in the rendering as there are a lot of edges to cope with here and a lot of different shades of brown. 
It was important to pull the dog "out" of his background, but not so far out that he didn't look part of the scene. 
That was the main challenge, in fact - and not over-fussing it. I think have just about pulled it off, but it is a near thing. I needed someone to slap my hand and order me to stop twiddling.

I am going to have to think about the challenge of flowers. I have read a couple of artists who describe painting them as "easy". Or even "real easy".  Humph.

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

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Still life with elephant

oil painting of embroidered indian fabric and an elephant

This still life with elephant was painted solely to provide an excuse for breaking out the cadmiums - orange, red and deep red. Such fun! MY goal whilst painting was to keep the colours pure and luminous whilst still creating the illusion of fabric folds.
 Painted about 85% with a palette knife - the hints at embroidery and sequins are added with a liner brush after the paint had about 24 hours to tack up. 
It was still very squidgy in parts and I deliberately did not wait longer because I thought it would stop me fiddling and faffing about: I told myself to HINT at the embroidery, not attempt to re-sew it with a brush...
The elephant is carved from an African hardwood - acacia, we think. His tusks are not ivory. He is quite large: about a foot tall and slightly more on the length. He weighs 5 kg (11 lbs). He was my mother-in-law's elephant and this is his new home since she passed away. The fabric is a huge piece of embroidered Indian quilt I bought a few years ago. 
Indian, African, whatever - the elephant didn't mind.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Stormy Eagle

painting of a bald eagle in a stormy sky
An American Bald Eagle in a stormy sky. Looking mad as hell. Interpret that however you will.

Worked almost entirely with a palette knife. Attempts to paint the picture I had in my head with a brush all failed. The picture was not a tidy picture, it was wild and ragged and brilliantly coloured. I found it impossible to create with a brush because a brush was simply too tidy.

This was good fun: I am always thrilled to find a reason to break out the Cadmium Orange. Just love that colour.

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Skye, walking

This painting of a foxhound was one I first tried last year. There have been three versions, all consigned to the Galerie Flambeau (...bonfire). This one was all that was left of those attempts: it began life as a sepia and white study on a 14"x6" piece of canvas off-cut.
I tidied up the off-cut edge and mounted the whole piece on to a primed 16" x 8" board, hoping that the layering would add depth. And then I painted over the initial sepia study, using a limited palette of black, transparent oxide red, cobalt blue and white with a touch of cad yellow.
The composition is an imaginative construct. I took the photograph of my friend's foxhound and a photograph of my kitchen doorway and superimposed the two. To achieve the correct scale and proportion, I asked my friend to measure the dog's height in inches from the tip of her paw to the top of her head whilst standing in this upright position (I used a separate measurement for the tail).
Happily, the height of my kitchen chair + its back was the same as the dog's height so I used that to scale the proportions of the dog in the doorway. 
Unfortunately the kitchen floor tiling is also imagined and getting the perspective distortion of the floor tiles correct was the single biggest challenge in drawing out the composition. 
I always admired Salvador Dali's chequered floors and those of other surrealists - it is a common motif in surrealism - and wanted to do it myself. It is ever so difficult.
In the end, I positioned a black and white chequered table cloth on a board to create a scaled down construct of the floor and then drew it out and scaled it up in the tedious, old-fashioned way with ruler, protractor etc. 
I am not doing another chequerboard floor in a hurry.

Most of these ideas for building a painting from imaginary or partly imaginary subjects and settings I got from James Gurney's book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist which is absolutely fabulous and I recommend it totally. Full of good ideas, even if you don't want to paint dinosaurs or fantasy creatures like he does.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Winter walk

Winter walk, a Bernese Mountain dog, oil painting
A Bernese Mountain Dog, painted in the forest, using a very limited selection of colours. It was important to get the values right on this one and also to work quickly and with the minimum of fuss, in order to avoid my black and white and ochre pooling into mud. 
I used a No 6 and No 4 ivory flat (apart from the eye) and did my level best to put a bit of paint down of the right colour and right value in the right place and to then leave it alone.
I used to have a postcard pinned up on the wall beside me saying "are your darks dark enough?". I took it down and replaced it with a handwritten note: "Darken all the darks!!".
The darks are never dark enough. Perhaps one day I will get there.
This was an experiment on placing a portrait in a more complicated setting. I felt I needed to push back at that boundary. So this one is an exterior setting. Tomorrow I will post an interior setting. It is difficult to get the composition right, I find. Avoiding too artificial a composition is the difficulty I have.
There are lots of inspirational examples from art history. Here is one by John Emms (1844-1912, British). He has used a not-too-specific setting - it is obviously a barn or stable, but it isn't over-elaborate - and he has very cleverly used props which are the right size relative to the animals. I will try and learn from this.
John Emms, dogs in the barn