Friday, 7 August 2015

Back to the Airing Cupboard, Oil on board

It is a good idea for artists to meet other artists from time to time, to appreciate each others work and talk about our different approaches. Artists spend a lot of time working alone, so this sharing of experiences ignites new and varied enthusiasm and stops us going... nutty. It's always interesting to see how other people work - from the state of their studio space, to the music they lisen to, the lighting they prefer, their favourite brushes and of course the process they use to create their paintings. 

From time to time I visit my friend the artist Ian McAllister. His paintings are beautifully crafted, delicious mysteries. I took along a painting-to-be, of some little pumpkins that I'd arranged in my airing-cupboard-of-controlled-lighting, which I'd drawn and transferred in line to an art board. 
Ian's 'Dark Start' on the left and my 'Pale-but-interesting' on the right..
It's wonderful to see the very beginnings of another artist's process. As you can see from the two 'beginnings' above, we took the opposite aproach. Ian starts in fuzzy darkness (left), working with a really long brush and adding lights to the dense background. I (right), with my water colour and drawing history, am champion for wanting to preserve my drawing, lest I fall off the edge of the world or something..  So, lets mix it up, we thought... and slathered darks dollops of thinned down paint all over my drawing... 

Big broad strokes, but the comfort-blanket of drawing is still visible. 

Above - we managed a good bit of darker tones on top of the 'slather' until the surface was too sticky to take any more, and I took my painting home to see how I'd get on.. 

Dried, lighter
The image above shows how it dried - the tones had sunk in much more than I expected. The idea was for me to try building up colour using glazes. 

I made lots of mistakes. Grr.. I did many layers, which at first were streaky and transparent and unsatisfying. I  did LOTS of layers, in colour, then wiped over it with black to keep it soft and fuzzy. This was verging on the traumatic at times, but I soldiered on...

The set-up 
My goal was to get real depth into the warm orange colours on the pumpkin, and eventually the richness I was after began to emerge, with the colours making the objects look solid yet velevety. Then I had a little accident.. 


Yes, I'd not lowered the top block of the easel to secure the board, which was thin and lightweight. So, JUST when I was happy with a days work, and moments before I had to go out to a meeting, the board tipped over and landed in my palette. The dollops were impressive! 

Clipped on! 

Of course, I wiped it off, along with the areas around the dollops which were still wet, and laughed at myself... I worked a while more on the painting, but evenually was fed up looking at it so I ceased. I learnt a great deal from this little painting - some of what To Do and lots of what Not To Do. When I put it away, I really didn't like it, but now, some months later, I dont mind it so much and appreciate having taken the time to struggle with it. Often, what we learn is invisible, but we use it in the next painting and the one after that and the one after that..

Monday, 3 August 2015

Portrait drawing and painting in oil (work in progress)

A note from my drawing board, to your Inner Voice (you know the one, that keeps saying you can’t do, it blah blah…)

Did you know that artists are Human too? It appears that many students think that artists are some sort of Other Species who get things right first time, all the time. Well, if only that were the case, perhaps artists would be less frustrated.. 

Even when we have been using a particular process for a long time, we can still make mistakes. But this isn't a bad thing necessarily. It just means we have to work out a solution and try again. 

Recently I began working on a portrait - it was to be in Oils, but I always start with a drawing.

Drawing study, pencil 
After working on it for a few days,  I transferred it onto canvas to do an oil painting of it. This is a relatively simple procedure which I have done MANY times, which involves tracing over my original drawing, providing a rough line drawing on the canvas as a guide to paint from. But this time.. Well, what a palaver.

Firstly, I couldn’t believe how PALE the pencil was as it went onto canvas - I could hardly see it at all. So I tried again, using a much softer pencil, with little or no improvement. After almost an HOUR I realised that I’m not supposed to use pencil at all, but paint… What was I THINKING??! So I started again, again. And it was a gloopy, lumpy MESS. This is the point that many folks just give up. But giving up isn't part of the painting process, so I wiped the canvas and traced it yet again. Still gloopy, but slightly less so than previously. Here it is...

Gloopy mess - if you can't see much, rest assured, I couldn't either... 
It didn’t look inviting as a surface to paint on, I can assure you. But I painted on it nonetheless. it's up to me to make it work. 

slowly working on top of the underlayer
Inching along
The colour isn't great in these photos, but it gives you an idea. 

This is where it is so far, with another layer to go on everywhere. 

Why am I telling you this?

So that you understand that even when you’ve been doing this for a long time, there are always times which hurt more than others. And the only thing to do is carry on, anyway.

There are a few more hours left to go in this painting, I just wanted to share the process. 

Upcoming workshop: portrait workshop, children's classes, Location Drawing and four day drawing and oils workshop with PJ Lynch. For info please email

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Mark of Summer..! (student work)

It's been lovely getting back into teaching after a break away. This week its been busy in the studio, with a couple of childrens classes as well as my Thursday bunch. One of the adult students, Mark,  decided to try his hand at the grissaile method of painting, which is a black and white underpainting in oils, followed by the colour layers on top.

Day 1, the grissaile underpainting, completed
The first stage after setting up the objects, was a tonal drawing, which was then transferred onto the canvas board. Mark spent the rest of the day carefully using the black and white to turn form on the apples, with the gray scale beside him to remind him... 

Day 2, colour layering over the dry grissaile
One week later, the underlayer was dry, and he put the colour on top. It is hard to feel the benefit of the underpainting when laying down strong colour (ie the reds), but he soldiered on - blind faith goes a long way. And to quote Mark himself, 'sure, what could possibly go wrong..?' 

End of day 2 - first colour layer completed. 

The underpainting really came into its own on the chopping-board - Mark painted over the chopping-board with a thin (fairly transparent) layer of yellow ochre, and same on the shadows of the apples. The whole thing was unified, with very little work. Win win! A great exercise, very well executed. (Though maybe one more layer will be needed to finish it off. But I won't tell Mark yet...)

Up-coming courses - landscape in water colour, portrait drawing and four day oils workshop with PJ Lynch. Enail for info