“When [Monet] reduced his compositions to horizontal bands or combinations of simple shapes, he relied on colour and brushwork to bring the painting to life.
“…every area of the painting is enlivened in some way… a sense of space and recession is created entirely by nuances of colour and inflections of the brush.
“…thick strokes of paint which were allowed to dry before surface colours where added
“…skip strokes, where a loaded brush is drawn very lightly across the canvas so that it skips, depositing paint where it touches, allowing the colours below to show clearly through these superimposed accents, and thus creating an active interplay between the success paint layers”
The way we apply colour, which colours we use and how many are in a particular painting, all form part of our individual painting style. I was talking to an artist over the weekend who’d been working with some new colours, getting to know which had the degree of opacity she was wanting and which were too translucent. Adding titanium white came up; being so strongly opaque it can shift a transparent colour into translucent, but with the problem that it also lightens a colour.
Might this be counteracted by subsequently glazing over with the transluscent colour to enrich it? But that would add another round to the creation of the painting. More work and more time, as well as a delay in getting where you want to be. Ultimately the answer lies in trying each, in painting up a colour chart, in getting first-hand knowledge of the properties of individual pigments.
If you’re feeling jaded [colour pun intended], have a rethink about the colours on your palette. Do you use mainly transparent or opaque? Are there any you’re no longer using? When last did you try a new one? Do you layer it or physically mix? Are you using too many? In some of my seascapes I’ve used only titanium white, Prussian blue, and raw umber over a cadmium orange ground, though generally there are a few more colours involved, especially when it comes to mixing interesting darks.
I’ve had quite a few rounds with a second version of Listening to Earthworms over the last few days — layering, glazing, blocking out with opaque, wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry — but never getting it working satisfactorily enough. Looking at it today I reminded myself: if it’s not working, don’t tweak but do something drastic. So I took a colour I don’t usually use, black, and ended up with a painting I like.
The change from the beginning to end of today’s session with this painting is shown in the two photos below. I used Golden’s High Flow acrylic (Buy Direct: UK and USA), letting it run and encouraging it to spread by spraying water on it. Previous layers had some flow medium in it, which helps fluid paint spread too. Colours: carbon black, titanium white, quinacridone gold and a grey I’d mixed. Scroll down for four detail photos and one showing the texture in the bottom half of the painting, the first two slightly larger than life. I’ve called it “Rooted“.
Before and After. Numbers relate to the detail photos below.
This possibly the most abstract of my paintings since Seeing Red. It came out of the pondering of my tree paintings I’ve been doing, and a title that popped into my head: “Listening to Earthworms”. It’s now at the leave-it-alone-for-a-while-and-don’t-fiddle-with-it stage. I’ve got another canvas out to pursue some of the ideas that doing this has generated (such as silver birch tree trunks rather than oak browns, stronger contrasts between light and dark in the band of trees, more muted colour overall).
“One of [English landscape painter]Constable’s ‘secrets,’ not lost on Delacroix and other artists, was his method of creating rich, vibrant greens in foliage and grass… by dabs and strokes of several greens. …
“The variations produce scintillation and ‘depth’ because of a certain amount of fusion in the eye of the observer.”
Cloud studies by Constable, in the V&A Museum, London
Or in Delacroix’s own words, the secret of Constable’s green:
“… lies in the fact that it is composed of a multitude of different greens. The lack of life and intensity in the greenery of the common landscape painters is caused by the fact they usually paint it in a uniform green.”
(Source: Delacroix’s Journal I, 5 March 1847, p281, quoted in Art in Theory 1815-1900, edited by Harrison, Wood, and Gaiger, p980).
Think of hatching for a pencil drawing, where you use tiny lines to build up an area, rather than a solid line or area of blended tone. To do it in paint, use various hues and tones of green overlapping and layered, with specks of what’s below showing through, rather than one ‘perfect green’ only.
If you zoom in on one of the photos of Constable’s paintings on the London National Gallery website, for instance Stratford Mill, you can see how much variation there is in a small area (and not only in the greens!).
The starting point for these three studies was quinacridone gold, a transparent pigment. Spread thinly over white it’s got a rich inner glow. Used thickly it’s surprisingly dark, and mixed with titanium white you’ve got an opaque earthy-red gold. It’s been a while since I’ve used it, and wanted to get familiar with it again. Other colours I used include perelyne black, magenta, ultramarine blue, and burnt umber. Here are the studies side by side for easy comparison:
Letting the quinacridone gold do its thing. Working wet-on-wet using the edge of a palette knife to add dark and lights for tree trunks. Scratching into the paint for light lines. Only a little blue added as a top layer for sky at the top,
More blue in the sky, and redder browns at base, creating more of a band in the centre where the quinacridone gold dominates..
Encouraging the sky blue to run down by spraying on some water, increasing the white in the tree trunks. I think there’s a greater sense of depth in the golden glow, as if there’s a low sun shining through a woodland you can’t see through.
These three small studies of the colours of the Minch, looking cross towards Harris, were done on 300gsm rough watercolour paper, three sheets placed alongside one another on a large board on my easel. The differences between them aren’t dramatic, but rather they’re studies focusing on the effect of small things, changes made after the initial laying in of colours of possibilities I want to consider. Here they are side by side for easy comparison:
I don’t have a favourite overall, there are pieces from each I will use in a larger painting at some point.
Using the long edge of a palette knife to spread and mix still-wet sections of separate colour in the sea, with the thought that it could convey a sense of a moving swell. Sea gets darker overall into the distance.
Light blue on the horizon line and additional light blues over the dark blue sea in the distance. I think the light horizon line could’ve been thinner, or possibly an even-lighter line added. I feel the lighter blues in the distant sea enhance the feeling of depth.
Very dark horizon line, with blues gradually getting lighter towards the foreground. Knife-spread swells in the distance. Softer edges on the tops of the hills of Harris, suggesting moving clouds.
“The Impressionists made the bold statement that line does not exist. For people whose culture is held together with writing…this is a very hard fact to accept…. We take line so much for granted that we all think line is a basic part of the structure of the universe.”
The inventor of Conté crayons, a form of hard pastel that’s square not round and pencils made with a core of graphite between wood, Nicolas-Jacques Conté, was born on today (4 August) in Normandy in 1755. Faced with a pastel we all too easily only use the point to draw with lines instead of also using it on its side to draw with blocks of colour (without line). The angular edges to Conté (Buy Direct) are great for both types of markmaking without changing what you’re using.
“I am thinking about sketching/painting/photographing Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk as I go along but it may prove problematic as I am walking with two friends and I don’t want to hold them up so any tips you may have would be gratefully received.” — Gordon
A great walk to do, that will provide lots of inspiration. I’d focus on building overall visual memories and a few special moments as you encounter them, and don’t stress trying to get everything because it’s impossible.
Camera: Have it accessible in an instant, in a trouser pocket or a pouch around your waist at the front. Take reference snapshots as you’re walking, saving more considered shots for when you’re all having a break or stopped for lunch. Use a high resolution, then you can always crop the photo for a better composition. Make a note of spots you particularly liked — write the location in your sketchbook or mark the map — and then back home use Geograph to find more photos you could use as reference for painting.
Sketching: Take propelling pencils, which eliminates need for a sharpener and the mark making won’t dissolve if it rains and the paper gets wet. You can get 2B and 4B leads at good art supplies stores, or a packet with HB from a supermarket. Write notes about colours and then paint it later, whether in the evening or back home. A small pocket sketchbook that’s easily accessible makes it more likely you’ll get it out when you’ve stopped for a break. It’s worth making the time to sketch as it slows you down for a considered look; a photo can be a matter of seconds.
Painting: Use a waterbrush with a small watercolour sketchbook and dab only a little colour as a reminder rather than painting everything, whether doing it on location or at the end of the day, or over breakfast before starting out again.
Postcards: Divert to the occasional village post office and send yourself some postcards surface mail. Not only will you have the perfect postcard shots but it’ll bring back moments when you’re back home, reinforcing your memories. Or carry a few, sketch in permanent pen en route, and post another day.
The sale of “Listening to Leaves Falling” at Skyeworks to a family from Germany means I’ve only one large forest painting at the moment: Wodeland. (No, that’s not a typo, it’s related to the painting being dominated by blue.) Definitely time to translate another of various woodland images bouncing around my mind onto canvas and to finish Tartan trees. Maybe start with the latter so it’ll be ready for the Lochalsh Art Fair towards the end of August.
Listening to Leaves Falling 100x100cm Acrylic on canvas Sold