Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Whirling Dervish

Pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, 19x13 inches

This was an appealing subject for Soft Pastel on Pastelmat.  People were feeding the ducks in Stamford last summer and they were all whirling around trying to grab bits of bread.  Looking directly into the sunlight, this created beautiful patterns on the water surface, with little jewels of pure light flashing intermittently.

Unless you're a genius, with the speed the Mallards dart about, it's impossible to capture this without the aid of a photograph, so I waited about until I got just the pose I wanted.  The drake's head has just the most superb, rich purples and greens, silhouetted against the light, with a shadow over it's breast.  The painting was all about the whole - not just the portrait of the Mallard, but the water itself with all it's marbled patterns.  It's easy to get bogged down concentrating on the individual marks and stabs of colour depicting the water, and lose the bigger picture, and I very nearly did.  Just about got away with it I think.  Don't forget that you can click on this and any other image to view it fullscreen.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pastel Society Exhibition and Peter Brown's Exhibition

Yesterday, I had a day out in London to see the Pastel Society Annual Show at the Mall Galleries and the Peter Brown One-Man-Show at Messum's in Cork Street.

The Pastel Society exhibition was, overall, predictably poor in my humble opinion, considering this is supposed to be the finest Pastel work in the country.  There was some excellent work, notably by June Arnold, Ken Paine, Roger Dellar and Valeriy Gridnev, in very contrasting styles, but there really was a load of classic 'Emperor's New Clothes' too.  I used to submit work to the Pastel Society, but having not had anything accepted since 2008, I didn't bother this year.  I had one accepted in 2006 which won an award - not given by the selection committee I might add, but by the various sponsors who support the exhibition.

What constitutes good art is subjective of course, but the foundations of draughtsmanship, composition, colour rendering and tonal balance should, in my eyes, be evident in all work, be it abstract or figurative.  You would be hard-pressed to see more than one of those constituents in a fair percentage of the work offered up in this show, masquerading as art.  You can make your own mind up by looking at some of the work at http://www.thepastelsociety.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=74&Itemid=60

I long for the day when rubbish is consigned to the bin it belongs in, rather than put in a frame and hailed as high art by the deluded hierarchy and glitterati.

By contrast, the exhibition of Peter 'Pete the Street' Brown's paintings at Messum's, was an absolute delight for the eye.  I cannot recommend a trip to see this show more highly. Pete's exhibition entitled 'Brown's Oil Sketches', comprises 133 of the very finest painterly masterpieces you are ever likely to feast your eyes upon. 

Don't be put off by the title of 'Sketches' - rather a misnomer in my view - for there is a wonderful mix of small and fully rendered large paintings, each executed en plein air with the utmost skill of an artist at the peak of his powers.  If he isn't at the peak of his powers, then god help the rest of us jobbing artists - we may as well pack up and go home!  I can't even pick out one or two favourites - they are all simply superb examples of utter oil-painting genius, with figures flicked in at speed, but not just methodically daubed on, all looking the same, but each pose perfectly captured, very believable and enchanting.  Equally, Pete's draughtsmanship, composition, colour rendering and tonal balance are simply perfect, all delivered in his trademark painterly style.  The brushstrokes are bally delicious!  He is truly a painter's painter.

When I see exhibitions, various artists catch my eye, but I generally feel I'm more or less 'up there' with them, but, along with David Curtis, Pete Brown's work has the effect of making me feel that I'm barely on the first rung of the ladder of learning how to paint and I have to 're-group'.  I cannot imagine ANYONE not liking his work, so, if you find yourself with time on your hands, or going to London anyway, you MUST go and see this show!  You can see the work online at http://www.messums.com/inventory.php?project_id=319 

English Longhorn

Soft Pastel on Pastelboard, 18.5 x 24.5 inches

Here's another painting that will be going to the Affordable Art Fair next month, the first of some Pastels after weeks of doing Oils.

It makes a nice change to do an animal portrait after my default landscapes.  Cattle always make good subject matter, and this rare breed English Longhorn was great fun to paint, especially the horns themselves.  With close observation of the way light falls on the right-hand horn, I was able to make it appear to be coming out towards the viewer - always a neat trick!  I also loved the shadow of the same horn thrown over the face, describing its contours beautifully. I changed the pose for the sake of the composition, in that the cow's body was facing out to the right of the painting, so I turned her round the other way for better balance.

Two of the cardinal sins I see on some very well painted animals, which lets them down, are a) no thought given to the background and b) the neck of the subject sharply cut across, so that the portrait appears to be that of a decapitated head!   

One of the most challenging parts of a portrait, is to paint the background in harmony with the subject.  No background at all makes the animal appear to be floating ethereally, too much detailed background detracts from the subject, and a plain monochrome backdrop does nothing to lift the colours of the subject and is not part of the painting.  

I always paint the subject and the background together, so that they are linked.  I believe it is folly to either paint the background in first, to get it over with and concentrate on the animal, or equally, to put it in afterwards as an afterthought.  You will see that I have varied the colours and tones of the background here throughout, to give added interest, and to 'lift' the animal from the surface, giving the illusion of three dimensions.  The trick with varying tones in the backdrop is not just to use darker and lighter passages randomly with no thought, just for the sake of variation, but to place darker tones next to lighter parts, and lighter tones next to darker parts.  You can see this throughout the painting if you look closely - click on the photo to blow it up full screen.

Why I tell you lot all these secrets I'll never know - if you all start doing it, I'll never make a living, so you carry on doing dull, lifeless backgrounds around decapitated heads, please - they look delightful, honestly!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Footprints in the Snow

Oil on Board, 9x12 inches

I did this painting as a demonstration for the Boston Art Group last week (no, not Boston, Mass. - we named our Boston first for all my millions of fans reading this across the pond).  As I always say, it's so difficult to achieve the same brightness of an early morning sky with the paint available to the artist.  As in 'After the Snowfall' in the previous post, there is no pure Titanium White in the snow at all, but I used some in the tiny highlights of twinkling light on the water where the reeds are disturbing the surface, that's all.  

To get this view, I stood on top of the hill looking down, so that all the footprints from the previous day's walkers were very evident, thrown into shadow with the strong sunlight.  It's a very different feel to this painting compared with 'After the Snowfall', with this one singing with light - lots of contrast with the sunlit snow and beautiful blues and mauves of the shadows.  I only used three colours - my 'primaries', Cad. Yellow Light, Permanent Rose and Cobalt Blue, with Titanium White of course.  I love the simplicity and discipline of mixing any colour required with those three colours, and it saves carrying extra weight when you're painting on site.

The demo was only just under two hours and this is how far I got in the time, before finishing it off back in the studio:

This is the last Oil for a while.  The next few paintings I shall post will be Pastels, the first being a portrait of a Longhorn Cow, so brace yourselves.  I haven't painted a Pastel for a while, so the change of medium will be challenging, before I get my eye in.

After the Snowfall

Oil on Board, 6x8 inches

For us here in England, or at least in middle England, a heavy snowfall with the snow hanging heavily on every branch is usually very transient and so it was this time, lasting only a day or so.

Snow is very interesting to paint - a classic case of painting what you see, in terms of colour and most especially, tone.  This was later in the day, and the tones were muted, and in fact no pure white was used in the painting, as you can see if you compare the snow colour with the white border.  Why paint it when it's dull you may ask, or perhaps let's have a cup of tea if you're bored stiff reading this drivel.  Assuming you are still reading and you're mildly interested in why I bothered, I was actually taken with that lovely bit of yellowy cloud contrasting with the mauvey snow.

Balsam Shallows

 Oil on board, 6x8 inches

I did this little painting again for the AAF at Battersea Park next month.  Painting deep, still water reflections is the most simple thing for the artist (keep that to yourself, though), but this was a more tricky passage, because the water is very shallow here, only a foot or so, with weed growing close to the surface and visible through the water.  This introduces two more challenges to overcome - seeing what is under the water as well as the reflections of the trees and banks above, together with the resultant breaking up of the surface as the water ripples over the stones and weed on the bottom.
This a very colourful, Summery picture, with all the showy pink Himalayan Balsam in full bloom, with a buzzful (new word) of bees.

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Winding Welland

Oil on board, 7x10 inches

Continuing on the Summery feel (in the middle of the coldest part of the winter) for the AAF show at Battersea Park next month, I painted this one to give us all a lift out of the gloom of the cold, ashen-skied days of this week. What a load of smug tosh!  Of course I didn't - it's just that some Summer pictures are required.  Go on, get out there in this weather and have a walk by your local river, fill your lungs with the biting air and feel glad to be alive.

This is really an exercise in the observation of the subtleties of greens in the landscape. This is what sorts out an interesting painting from a dull, soulless one.  The brush must be constantly dipped into varying mixes of greens, rather than an overall single hue which is where many amateur painters fall down.  Don't forget you can click on the image and see it full screen to really see the subtle changes of hue that have been employed.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Silent Sunset Hunter

Oil on Linen Canvas, 19.75 x 27.5 inches

I had to do a big canvas for the Affordable Art Fair in London next month, so I produced this one  after I got an idea in my head and employed my usual fleet of underlings to do it for me, as it's far too beneath me to daub it on myself (yeah, right - a nod to Damien H)

This was a bit of a hand-brake turn for me, using such vivid colours after my more subtle, quieter tones of late. When I took a reference photo of the fireball sunset last June from my village, an amazing mist had settled in the valley and produced this ethereal effect of just the tops of the trees poking above the ectoplasm. The trickiest thing about doing justice to a sunset is to paint the sun itself with sufficient brightness to appear convincing.  As I've said before, the brightest paint in the artist's arsenal is totally inadequate to portray the intense, pure light of the setting sun.  The fireball was just that, a fierce orange.  I put down strong orange, but it looked dull compared to the lemon yellow of the underlit clouds above, so that didn't give the effect, so I had to compromise, using a strong yellow, with a halo of orange.  I could have stayed with the orange sun, but that would have necessitated toning down the rest of the painting, and the foreground would have to have been too dark and the hanging mist would have been lost.  

So, this was quite a struggle with tones and colour - probably even more so than my usual, more subtle paintings.  When I took the photo, the wheat was still green and that's how I painted it.  Sitting back, I felt it lacked what I wanted - the near harvest time of high Summer, so I grabbed the palette knife and scraped it all off, moved the time on a month and painted it in its more ripened golden hue with a smattering of crimson poppies (good job it wasn't a watercolour!).

By the way, have you spotted the silent hunter of the title?  This wasn't a hopelessly romantic addition - a ghostly Barn Owl with its lopping flight can often be seen in just this spot, quartering along the hedgerows of his territory, so I felt he deserved his place in the composition to give it a bit of life.  I tried a few different places, using a cut-out scrap of paper before finally settling on the best spot so as not to be too insistent.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Bright, Freezing morning

 Oil on board, 6 x 8 inches

I painted this one en plein air (outside, on site) this morning. I'm painting more and more on site these days, but this sort of scene is very difficult, or at least I find it so, to capture in the time available. Looking straight into the sun by a river, there is a twinkling sparkle on the water, which I adore to paint, but because our star moves so quickly, especially at this time of year being so low in the sky, you really have to get a move on and get the drawing and main elements down quickly - a demanding, but rewarding discipline if it comes off. 

As in 'Winter Sunlight' posted yesterday, it was absolutely freezing after a light dusting of snow, but my glued on fingers worked surprisingly well.  After an hour-and-a-half, the light had changed so much and gangrene had reset in my three previously amputated digits, that it was pointless carrying on.  I took a photo of the scene half-way through the painting process and completed it back in the studio. 

This is how far I got before packing up:
 and here's a view of the scene and my plein air setup:

Friday, 3 February 2012

April Woollies

 Oil on board, 6 x 8 inches
Yes, I know this is a spring painting and we're in the middle of an icy grip, but necessity cries out.  I have to do some paintings for the Affordable Art Fair next month in Battersea Park, and my Gallery doesn't want all winter pictures, so I've gone green, rather than the gangrene of yesterday.

It's lambing time with little jumpers springing about (it won't be long now).  I'm never that fond of the bright, fresh greens of Spring, so tend not to paint many such paintings, but with my low viewpoint, I got a nice view of the distant bank of trees and the middle distant Willows, punctuated by the ewes and their nippers.  It would have been a fairly boring painting without the river slicing diagonally across the lower half of the picture plain, but with its calm reflections and the Willow poking its branched fingers down from the upper left to stop the eye flying out of the picture, it's turned out okay, I think......

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Winter Sunlight

Oil on Board, 6 x8 inches

I painted this little guy yesterday morning, standing on a very sloping bank of the River Welland, having traipsed for about a mile with by tripod and pochade box.   I was looking straight into the sun which provided gorgeous dazzling diamonds of light dancing on the water, but it's never easy to see the colours you put on the painting in these circumstances.  The sun was shining, but it was freezing cold (about -60C) and I had to abandon it after an hour-and-a-half, with frostbite set in in three fingers in the right hand necessitating amputation with the palette knife.  And now I'm left with one leg six inches shorter than the other, not from amputation, but from the 45deg angled slope.  The things I do for you people.

I finished it off in the sanctuary of the studio, having put the three fingers back on with Super Glue.  Amazing what it can do.