One more coat of varnish and the first large painting (100x100cm) I’ve done in my new studio will be on its way to Skyeworks Gallery in Portree. It’s certainly a joy being able to leave a freshly varnished painting flat on the studio floor and close the door without concerns about pawprints or donations of fur happening overnight.
This is also the first large painting since I was on a Colour and the Figure workshop, where I spent four days mixing “interesting greys” and using complementaries to desaturate colour (with varying degrees of success). It has strong blue/orange complementaries, fulfilling my desire for some strong colour, but in the tree trunks and shadows I found myself thinking far more deliberately about what was going into mixes, trying to venture into “interesting greys” and “colour-filled shadows” and “building a bridge between orange and blue”.
For once the dominant blue isn’t my favourite Prussian, but ultramarine. Colours used: lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, cadmium orange hue, permanent rose, perelyne green, Prussian blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine and titanium white.
“The secret to continued improvement, it turns out, isn’t the amount of time invested but the quality of that time.
“… the main predictor of success is deliberate practice — persistent training to which you give your full concentration rather than just your time, often guided by a skilled expert, coach, or mentor. It’s a qualitative difference in how you pay attention, not a quantitative measure of clocking in the hours.
“… If you’re going for genius, you need to continually shift away from autopilot and back into active, corrective attention…”
Maria Popova, Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule: What It Actually Takes to Reach Genius-Level Excellence, on BrainPickings
I apply the same principle to chocolate: quality not quantity.
After four days’ life painting in Edinburgh in a workshop by Alan McGowan I found myself repeating “build a bridge between the orange and the blue, build a bridge between the orange and the blue“. Or more fully, create a colour link across the figure between the orange-warms bits and blue-colds parts through desaturated mixes of these.
“Build a bridge between the warm and cool…”
It had been a rewarding follow-up to last November’s Life Drawing into Painting Workshop. As always on a workshop, I learnt a lot and met interesting people who I wish I’d talked to more (my head is often so full during a workshop I find it hard to chat). My thanks to Alan, who is a generous, patient, encouraging, and understanding tutor. Thanks also to models Topaz, Nicky, and Alistair.
I feel I’ve made progress mixing “interesting greys”, and (finally!) created a figure painting where I didn’t inadvertently put a “warm” mixed colour onto a “cool” part of the figure (and vice versa).
A few of the notes to myself*:
- Saturation as purity rather than intensity of a colour.
- Create light by darkening other areas; dim the lights elsewhere.
- Strongly found vs lost edges.
- Don’t start dark and definite. Work from the middle outwards.
- Avoid using white in shadow colour mixes. Don’t block in with white (or mix with white) early on.
- Relate shadow to shadow to judge the tone, not shadow to light (e.g. shadow beneath arm to shadow beneath chin not to light on top of arm).
- Don’t paint reflective light as bright as direct light; if it’s equally bright it’ll flatten the figure.
- A small colour shift has great impact amidst desaturated colours.
- Add white to a background colour to make it opaque; it’ll demand less attention than transparent colour.
- The face colours on Whistler’s Mother are cold; it’s the rest of the painting’s greys that make it seem warm.
- Coolness of Ken Currie’s The Three Oncologists
- Used caput mortem (very opaque oxide violet red) for drawing into a work in progress; sits strongly on top of wet oils paint. Isolate it on palette so don’t accidentally include it in other mixes.
- Colours I used: Prussian blue, cerulean blue, Payne’s grey (Sennelier’s, which is very blue), vermillion, alizarin crimson, magenta, primary yellow, yellow ochre, burnt umber, raw and burnt sienna, titanium and zinc white. On Alan’s workshop colour list that I didn’t use: ultramarine, viridian.
*Written in a pocket sketchbook during the workshop, because I know I’ll forget too much otherwise.
The “easiest and most ubiquitous way to get stuff out of your head is pen and paper.”
“… A paper notebook… is a walled garden, free from detours (except doodling), and requiring no learning curve.
“A growing body of research supports the idea that taking notes works better on paper than on laptops, in terms of comprehension, memorization, and other cognitive benefits.
Source: Why Startups Love Moleskines, New Yorker
Or put another way, sketch and make notes in your sketchbook, don’t only take reference photos.
Now it’s arrived safely at its home in the States, here’s a photo of my latest commissioned sheep painting. The request was for a long, winding road, a bit of sea and some black-faced sheep. The title comes from whereabouts she’d stayed on Skye. (Yes, indeed, there are addresses on Skye that are “half of [name]”. To make things even more confusing, particularly to online forms, you also get addresses such as “Half of One [croft name]” or “Half of Two [croft name]”.)
“Heading to Half of Heaste”
I enjoy watching oystercatchers, and have often see them on Staffin beach: walking, hopping, pecking, then flying away when you take that one step too close. Their skinny red legs and long red beaks, the weirdly red eye. An on-going contemplation of how orange-red or pink-red that red is.
Now, finally, I’ve started working on a large painting featuring them. It’s had two rounds of “stop and leave to dry” then reassess and rework, and needs more. This photo was taken at the first “leave to dry overnight” stage, and first thing I did the next day was make the heads smaller by “adding sea”. I want to both delineate the birds more and keep a sense of movement. Whether I’ll get it working to my satisfaction I don’t know. But it’s pleasing to be trying.
Painting in Progress: Oyster Catchers
It all began with the thought: “what if I were to use some of that fluorescent Sennelier orange as a coloured ground?”
First I created “tree trunks” with texture paste, left this overnight to dry completely. (It’s incredibly annoying to flatten a still-wet spot with a brush, but ever so tempting to be getting on with the painting!) Next came the fluorescent orange, plus fluorescent pink (well, you know, it was just sitting there feeling lonely) as well as some red (leftover sample of Liquitex artist’s spraypaint). I worked wet on wet and sprayed additional water to encourage the paint to spread. The result was certainly, urm, colourful. And intense. And bright.
Once this was fairly dry I laid the canvas flat and applied some fluid sepia and pearlescent white. I encouraged it to spread by spraying some water over it, then left it do meander its way around the texture. Left to dry, and repeated, and tweaked, and repeated, and pondered, and tweaked.
The final result is, to my eye, an interesting result of intense colour peering through intriguing darks. The in-house art critic, running his fingers across the surface, said it felt and looked like dragon skin. Take a look at the detail photos below, then share your thoughts in the comments section. (Click on the photos to see larger versions.)
“Listening to the Sun Rise”
Inspired by this winter’s storms and the non-arrival of spring. The paint is still drying in places where it’s particularly thick, so to remove the temptation of poking at it (“Are you dry yet…?!“) it’s now propped on the bookshelves in the in-house art critic’s office.
Acrylic on canvas