Odds and orphans

Lantern on the beach. Oil, 6×6″

I’m quite excited about this even though it’s not finished and I didn’t finish it, ha. But thickness and striking intensity of the lights is something I’d like to carry through to other projects.

Seascape. Oil, 6×6″

I quit working on this in disgust, but I can’t throw it away and it sits on my kitchen workbench, looking at me, looking at it. Even though it’s unresolved there is something about the light in it which has a truth, so whilst I struggled with the brushstrokes (and gave up) it was a valuable exercise and reminder of the effective use of greys in depicting white.


Skills, components and successful paintings

A successful painting (not just a “picture” mind you) requires attention to the following elements:

  • Drawing (shape, proportion, perspective)
  • Value and value range (lights and darks that read correctly, as in a black and white photograph for example.)
  • Temperature (hue, varies independently of value)
  • Saturation (intensity of hue)
  • Brushwork (strokes and how they read, giving more information about the object or space or light)
  • Edges (leading the eye to focus points and allowing it to pass over others)
  • And energy/lightness of touch.

This last characteristic is one that conveys confidence, and can be likened to making pastry- the less you touch it, the better it is.

So in sum the amount of decisions implicit in each mark is intimidating to say the least-! One or more of these parts can be right while the rest is wrong and the thing can still work, but there is a hierarchy of importance which can’t really be overcome.

For instance your hues can be all to shit, as long as your values hold true. Same with the drawing.

#4: From Armstrong Bridge

Oil on canvas board, 6×8″

From the same trip I took a picture of the view back up the road off Armstrong Bridge. There were leaves yellowing on the ground, lit up by the sun, and the road was damp so it reflected the bright blue sky. I really enjoyed this one, though I think the values are slightly too compressed and the lights aren’t punchy enough. It’s more toward a colourist approach than a tonalist one, not entirely on purpose. Enjoyed using those reddy oranges though and they really sing against other colours!

One thing this is definitely teaching me is to accept when things are looking grim and to keep going:

This was stage one and actually I think it’s already overworked. But I was excited and I wanted to save it.

The impression of warmth at this stage was encouraging and I liked the sky holes; two things which on reflection I lost along the way. Interpreting the lights and darks was challenging due to the intensity of the colours, and I find I’m too frequently tricked into making a value too light or too dark.

This is something I can address by doing tonal studies (like, I really need to do that) and also painting from life since photographs distort the value range of an image.

I feel this one has not pushed further than the last but I’m happy to have repeated the successes and to know I have established a baseline of skill.

Skills are an important point and I’ll address them in the next post!

What I want to change next time is to use more subtlety, this is far too much and I’d prefer a range of muted colours with a pop of pure colour here and there.

#3: Heaton Park in Autumn

Oil on canvas board, 6×8″

Ok so now we’re cooking with gas!

A little trip out with my camera on a bright autumn evening to the local park provided some great practice material.

Whilst I appreciate the skill in replicating photographs, the thing that grabs me and makes me excited is creating the impression of a time and place, or object.

I’ve seen a painting of a mug that had more mug-ness than a mug, I’d say it was “hyperreal,” but that usually means ultra-photographic in artistic terms. What I mean is that the painter captured the sense of seeing the mug- and it’s the sense of seeing I want to understand and convey.

It’s an *experience* committed to canvas, and I’m a long way off- but I know where I’m going.

Another useful analogy I found for how I intend to approach a subject was the difference between a technical manual and a piece of poetry. Both are descriptive but the manual is factual, straightforward and dry. The poetry dances around the subject, but in a way that describes it much more fully and with emotional resonance.

I have a lot to do-!

Here are the first three stages before the final, above:

#2: King Edward’s Bay

Oil on board, 6×6″

So undeterred I pushed on and had a crack at another scene from the coast up here: King Edward’s Bay at Tynemouth. At this point I’m still working from photographs, though I recognise the challenge of painting from life and the added benefits of it. Since I’m still getting my bearings with the medium I want to simplify where I can. I enjoyed this and began to get a feel for how to push around the paint. Also the blending in the sea area was a delight!

The objects that meet the sky are still a trouble, painting one thing into another is challenging as I’ve not yet worked out the best way to go about it. But after wrestling and scraping and rehashing I got as close as I could. What pleased me most was using dark blues for the shadows on the hillside, and the reflection of the cliffs in the water.

I didn’t paint the people as there were millions and they made a mess of a very calm scene!

A few failures on…

It’s November, and I’ve failed quite a bit since I last posted in May.

Not half as much as I’d have liked but enough to see definite progress.

Making the move over to oil incurred a significant penalty; a lot of the ground I’d gained in acrylic was lost. But I’ve recovered it and am now at the point of pushing my limits in terms of visual language again, as opposed to just struggling with the medium itself. Although there’s still loads of that.

Previous failures in acrylic will have to be negative numbers because I’m starting the count again, from the changeover.

Failure #1, then:

St Mary’s. Oil on canvas board, 8×8″

I loved the smooth feel of the paint but found the weight of the oil and the brush cleaning process scuppered my flow, and while the extra working time was welcome it also made mistakes difficult to hide. Where before I’d just paint over, oil requires a much more sensitive handling to get it right in the first place, or to fix it. Usually now just scrape off the lot and have another go- but without disturbing the surrounding passages this can be difficult. I also found I was clumsy- much more clumsy than I’d thought, and edges were challenging when they were thick and still wet.

Failure #1

There were quite a few failures before this one but there has to be a defined beginning so this is it!

What I found. I say found as “learnt” implies something truly assimilated, not just something noted. And since my practice feels much like throwing tracks down in front of a runaway train, that then disintegrate in it’s wake, the word “found” seems more appropriate – !

In this instance I found that each attempt had strengths the other lacked, probably due to trying to address the issues of the first in the second. So the shapes in B are more accurate, but the integrity of colour and value was less accomplished compared to A.

One thing I’ve definitely learnt is that mixing the right colour is probably the most mentally demanding part of the painting process! The concentration required to discover and translate the correct relationships is intense, and is what takes the most energy. This makes sense, as through studying I’ve found that if those things are correct, the rest is secondary.

On the road

Word is, the more times you fail the closer to succeeding you come, which is a good perspective to have since it makes failure part of success. It’s also a reminder that each time you fail you learn something.

So I’m putting all my failures here with notes in order to keep track of the things I learn and also to give a clear overview of development.

Rather than just being dazzled by good work, I always find it more interesting to see the journey to mastery since that’s where we can relate to the maker and feel closer to them – and in turn the outcomes are more compelling.