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!