Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Red Highland

Pastel on Pastel Card, 15 x 19 inches

This Pastel is a commissioned painting, not dissimilar to a much larger one I did a few years ago that a client had seen.

Highland have a gentle, benign look to them, but you wouldn't want to feel the sharp end of those magnificent horns!

These upward-facing horns present a bit of a compositional problem - obviously, you want to include all the horns, right up to the tip to show up the majesty of the animal, but this means there will be a considerable vacant space from the top of the painting to the top of the head and back. There's no real solution to this conundrum, apart from letting the horns reach almost right to the top of the frame. This applies to all portraits - if more than the minimum is included above the top of the head, the portrait loses its power and majesty. I learned this by trial and error. Now here I am passing this on for free - my generosity knows no bounds...

As ever, I worked up the background with equal importance as the animal itself. I have a pretty clear idea of where I want the darks and lights to accentuate the same in the animal, and decide what tones and colours to use as I procede, hoping that it will all look right in the final analysis. I stand when I'm painting and step right back frequently to assess how the painting is progressing until I'm happy with the result - just hope the customer is! 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Autumn Orange

Oil on Board, 9 x 12 inches

Autumn can be a colourful time of year, but often the trees and grassbanks can look tired, with quite muted tones. However, if the winds haven't been too strong, and there is plenty of suger in the leaves and the sun shines, it can be a glorious sight.

This spot is just on the approach to Lyndon again, with an avenue of Oaks - always the last to hang on to their leaves. Along with the hedgerow greens and yellows, what a riotous patchwork of colour!

I loved the damp road surface, reflecting the warm orange of the Oaks down the lane. The greater majority of the painting was done with my big household decorators' paintbrush, save for the road and gate and network of branches.

this is the very last painting for my Beer exhibition, so now I can catch up with my other commitments and also do some new work for Peter Barker Fine Art, that fine, established mecca for fine art in Rutland!

Allotment Bonfire, from Beer Head

Oil on Board, 7.5 x 10 inches

The last but one painting for my Beer exhibition in November this, with an angle I've not tackled before. It's a great view from Common Lane on Beer Head, with the allotments all along the road, but of course I had to get that smashing bonfire in, just lit by one of the residents, burning some cardboard in an incinerator barrel. I spent a fair bit of time painting the chalk cliff and distant cliffs at Seaton, and all those beach huts down below, but I couldn't wait to paint the fire itself, with that glorious flash of orange and attendant thin pall of blue smoke...ooh la la!

Parsley Sidings

 Oil on Board, 10 x 14 inches

This was another demo painting I did a while back, finally finishing it off in the studio.

Spring greens are tough to paint and can look very acidic if you're not careful. I rarely paint such harsh colours, but Bluebell woods and roadsides adorned with Cow Parsley are hard to resist.

This is a road near me which I've painted numerous times, down from the village of Lyndon. Cow Parsley, or Ladies Lace, so-named for its delicate, lace-like appearance, is such a welcome sight after a long Winter - I always love to see it and it gladdens the heart. As country kids we always called it ceck.

I've called this painting 'Parsley Sidings' after the radio serial from the early '70s, starring Arthur Lowe and Ian Lavender, playing father and son in a sleepy, out-of-the-way railway station. There's no station, but I liked the word sidings - a good term for roadsides, don't you think?

As Happy As...

Pastel on Sennelier Pastelcard, 23 x 19 inches

I just love painting pigs, mainly because of their gorgeous, pink noses! This chap, a Gloucester Old Spot, was a wonderful subject with his coarse hair and the black and white markings. 

I like to employ as much counterchange as I can with my portraits - dark against light and light against dark - it just gives the subject a three dimensional quality. I think it gives the animal or human more energy somehow, rather than appearing like a cardboard cut-out on a plain background. And it serves another purpose - it doesn't matter about getting marks on the background, because you can cover them up! I get plastered in Pastel when I use the medium, so it's much easier to paint the background as well, and I think it is just as important as the subject, giving it more life. 

I also like to blurr the edges of the painting to focus the eye on the eyes and head. I don't like to see sharp cut-offs on some otherwise brilliant portraits of animals, because there is always the danger of them appearing like portraits of severed heads, rather than living characters, full of joie de vivre

Colours of Winter

Pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, 19 x 27 inches

I've painted this tree in various guises before and especially in the snow, often looking straight into the sun, but here I'm looking up river, with strong winter sunshine from stage left. 

I know some folks find it interesting to see how a painting is built up, so I took a few photos of the stages:
The composition is sketched out in charcoal and the first dark strokes of the main tree are placed in.
More dark tones and a few broad suggestions of the backdrop of trees are suggested.
The sky is next to be placed, without which it is very difficult to see whether the tree tones and colours are anything like correct. The blue tones of the far
distant trees are adjusted accordingly.
More work is done on the bank of middle distance trees, together with the sunlit and shaded snow colours - no pure white is yet used. Some of the main tree branches are also drawn in, scrubbing out the underpigment where needed with an old oil painting hog brush. The river is also suggested with a few purple/grey/brown downward strokes.
More work is done on the shaded far riverbank, river and near bank, and much more branch-work.
With the 'easy' bit out the way, now I could concentrate on the foreground, which, as I suspected, proved to be the most challenging, with all the lumpy snow and strong cast shadows. I blocked in the rough tones with broad slabs of Pastel to delineate where the shadows stripes were.
I've deliberately repeated the photo of the finished painting above so that you can see the final stage without scrolling to the top again.

I have literally dozens of pinks, blues, greys and mauves in my tray of Pastels laid out all around my easel, but do you think there are any that are the right tone or colour? You're right, there aren't, so I had to layer and rub just about every one of those pinks, blues, greys and mauves over each other to get what I wanted, and when I had finished, my camera failed to pick up the subtleties, so, as ever, the painting looks far better than the photo. 

I worked all over the painting, refining here and there, with a special emphasis on the tree branches growing towards us, appearing light against the dark trunk. To complete the painting, I srubbed out pigment all around the tree and squashed in some lovely warm russet tones of the Oak leaves, still hanging on from autumn, which provided a nice foil to the inevitably cool overall feel to the piece. Orange and blue are complementary colours, so they always sing well together in a painting.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Bad Hair Day

Pastel on Sennelier Pastelcard, 23 x 19 inches

I haven't done an animal study for a goodly while, so it was nice to paint this sheep, which I think is a Black Lincoln, though my knowledge of sheep is very limited compared to that of wildlife.

Soft Pastel is a lovely medium to use for animal fur, although I find Pastelcard rather coarse with its surface of compressed cork particles. To alleviate this far too abrasive problem for me, I rub the surface quite hard with a very fine grade wet or dry paper, which removes a lot of the cork particles and leaves the paper with a much smoother feel, yet still able to grab plenty of pigment, without the need for fixative.

Gentle Swell, Beer

 Pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, 19 x 27 inches

This one I did as a demo to the Horncastle Art Group a few weeks back, finally getting around to finishing it in the studio.

The reel hook for this was the gorgeous reflections of the sunlit chalk cliff on the almost calm sea. Water remains a constant inspiration, and I wanted to depict that gentle swell as the tide lifts up, almost sucking the shingle from the shoreline, before flattening again against the beach. Hopefully I've caught that feeling, using a darker grey/purple as the wave surface tilts towards us rather than remaining flat, reflecting the blue sky.

Shingle is a pain to paint, but from this distance, it was much more simple to paint, especially in the Pastel medium, using several layers of similar colours and tones. In an otherwise fairly bland-coloured backdrop, the rich crimsons and blues of the boats provided lovely splashes of colour to the composition.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Last Leaves

Oil on Canvas, 16 x 22 inches

Well, yes, it's a bit early for that, but I had to do a wintry one for my exhibition. Personally, I love all the seasons in our country and its mixed weather, and much as I like the sun on my back, I look forward to the frosts and crisp days of Autumn and Winter - rich fodder for us artists!

Regular readers of my Blog will know how much I love painting into the sun, especially when it's partially hidden by a tree, as here. I just loved that shadow of the beech tree on the right, with the duller coloured russet leaves in its wake and the bright orange leaves each side of it, picked out by the low Winter sun.

On another note, back into the present mid-September, I was thrilled skinny to see another fairly uncommon, beautiful moth - one of the day-flying species, a Hummingbird Hawk Moth:
It rested briefly on one of the garden chairs before jetting off like a rocket to find some more early Autumn flowers, hovering, as its name might suggest, like a Hummingbird, using its incredibly long proboscis to sip the nectar - a beautiful sight, so rarely seen. Often people have mistaken it for an actual Hummingbird, because the body of the moth is big, with black and white markings and it has orange underwings. The photo above is one I took myself a few years ago when I last saw one in the garden, but the one below shows the moth in flight, hovering over a Buddleia flower:

Cold Start

Oil on Canvas, 16 x 22 inches

An even more Wintry painting this time, with two of my favourite subjects in one - a sharp, silvery frost and fog. My pallette is the same as almost all my other paintings, but a lot more Titanium White in the mixes.

The red bobble hat of the angler provided just a little bit of primary colour in an otherwise silver/grey landscape - put your thumb over the figure and see how much it improves the composition - bit boring without him innit?

On another wildlife note, when I'd finished this painting in the early hours two nights ago, I noticed what I first thought was a big slug on the ground outside the studio, but on further inspection, I realised it was a Common Newt, a good 40 yards away from the nearest pond, so I took a photo of the beasty:

I've noticed before that Newts 'play dead' when you touch them - must be a good defence mechanism, whereas Common Lizards (used to see them a lot by the compost heap) scuttle away at lightning speed.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Towering Clouds over the Nene

     Oil on Canvas 16 x 22 ins
I just loved those dark towering clouds, with the band of white clouds behind them, so I opted for a low horizon, making the focal points the clouds themselves, rather than the secondary water and cattle. 

Using variable mixes of my three primaries, Cadmium Yellow Light, Permanent Rose and Cobalt Blue, mixed with more or less Titanium White, I love painting these Cumulus clouds.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

September Dawn, Beer

Oil on Canvas, 24 x 30 inches

Sometimes you paint a picture and ask yourself "why did I take on this?", and this was one of those occasions. At the time I thought all those gorgeous primary colours of the deck chairs flapping about, set against a big, towering sky with the dawn sun silhouetting the clouds would make a great painting....and I hope it has, but boy, I wouldn't want to paint deck chairs for a living, especially 30-40 of them! 

That aside, I think it's captured that early morning feel of the beach at Beer on the South Devon coast, with the fishermen about to depart for the day before all the holidaymakers come onto the beach and look out to sea. Probably going to be the biggest painting for my exhibition in November.

I finished this one at 2 o'clock this morning, and when I switched off the studio lights and was about to walk back to the house, I noticed a very large moth on the window, attracted to the lights. Not being able to see what it was, I tried to coax it onto my finger to have a look under the floodlight that comes on when I walk down the path, but it flew off. When the floodlight came on, I saw that the moth was on my sweatshirt and to my delight as it flew off a few feet I instantly recognised that it was a Red Underwing, one our most beautiful and rarely seen moths. Most people think that moths are those little brown jobs, but this species is spectacularly big and colourful with its radiant black and crimson bands on its hind wings - what a treat before bed!


Monday, 31 August 2015

River Derwent in Borrowdale

Oil on Board, 18.5 x 27 inches

Phew, finished this one at last...I submitted it to the ROI after working on it until 3am on Friday morning!  Didn't finish it, but felt it was far enough along for the committee to judge whether they want to see it in the flesh for the final selection.

Usually, I say to any audience when I'm giving a demo, that the water in any painting is the simplest passage to paint, but in this case, it entailed an intense period of concentration, with three elements to intertwine - shadows across the water, reflections and the stones on the riverbed. Whilst very tricky, it was an enjoyable battle royal to try to give the illusion of the transparency of the water. 

The fastest passage of the painting was the bank on the left foreground with all those tufty, lumpy tussocks of grass, depicted with my 1" decorator's brush - yummy! 

A painting like this, looking into the sun, with a lot of darks in it in the form of shadows under the far bank and dark, silhoetted rocks, can look very contrasty if you don't pay attention to the colours and tones within the darks - there is no black in the darks, and I don't possess a black in my armoury. All the darks in this painting are mixed from Cobalt Blue with Permanent Rose and Cadmium Yellow - at the risk of being repetitive, the same three colours I use for all my paintings. I used a tiny bit of Burnt Sienna in the mix for the darks on the nearer right-hand bank and the left bank and the rocks, but really the use of the thre primaries gives a lovely range of cool purpley darks to warmer browny darks.

There's such a lot going on in this painting, and there may be too much depicted for some people, but it's the way it comes out for me, regardless of whether I paint in the studio from reference photos and memory, or en plein air. I adore the economical looseness that so many of my friends and revered colleagues employ, but as my friend and fantastic wildlife painter David Cowdry said the other day in a comment on my Facebook page, " Its often all those little details that we love about the landscapes we live in, and to put them in, I think, is to show just how much we love all those intricacies of the natural world. I'd love to paint looser too but I just can't help myself." That encapsulates it in a nutshell - I love all those little bits of detail in nature and to put them in is a joy and a celebration.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Winter Woollies

Oil on Canvas, 20 x 27.5 inches

This one isn't for my Devon exhibition, yet, but for submission to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI) annual exhibition. The ROI is a very tough nut to crack and my tight work is generally not in favour among the powers that be, so I'm not expecting anything, but I like to keep trying. Bouquets from the public and buyers is wonderful, and a validation of what you're doing is right, but it's always an ego boost when your respected peers recognise you.

Anyway, I enjoyed painting this one from reference photos taken back in January this year. Snow transforms the landscape and seems a million miles from the verdant greens of late summer - especially after the downpours of late. An awful lot of my 1" decorator's brush was used on this painting, especially on the trees and hedgerow. I like dragging the well-loaded brush over a sticky underpainting to give that broken effect of disappearing snow.

Painting sheep in their sunlit Winter garb is a joyful challenge too - there are SO many subtle warm and cool colours in their woolly coats. I also liked the touch of warm orange in the last leaves in the scrubbery on the right amidst a sea of predominantly cool blues.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Axmouth Harbour

Oil on Board, 14 x 20 inches

This was yet another demo painting I did for Sundon Park Art Group in Bedfordshire last week, duly tidied up and finished back in the studio. It will be another one for my Devon Solo Exhibition in November.

What really tickled my fancy was the brilliant, pure sunlight bouncing off the water, with the stark silhouette of the building and harbour walls. To achieve the illusion of pure sunlight, with Titanium White being the lightest, brightest pigment in the artist's arsenal, I had to play close attention to the tones of the bright, sunlit clouds, none of which were as bright as the light on the water. If you squint at the painting (which is what you should do when you're out painting to see the tones), you can see that the sky is creamier and peachier in colour, and a touch darker than the reflected sunlight on the water. 

I always say in my demos that the water is the easiest part of the painting - not so in this case, with the surface very much wind-ruffled. Much layering and close-tones were added with a brush, with some dragging of pigment across with a palette knife. The sunlit highlights were also placed in mostly with the knife, using the drying, sticky underpaint to grab the Titanium White. The masts of the boats were placed in carefully using the edge of an old credit card. I also enjoyed placing in the red buoy in the foreground, with the sunlight piercing through it, making it appear translucent - lush!