The end is in sight!

I’m glad I’ve had a struggle with this painting because it stops  it becoming slick and mannered.   I think I’ve found the right colour for the path but the tonal balance is still not there yet.   To disappear from the conscious view, the path and grass need to be about the same tone, so that is still to do.

On the positive side, the bridge and tower are singing – from the same hymn sheet too! – and the sun-kissed leaves on the trees and bushes are joining in the chorus.  Some brights have been suggested in the reeds, and the finials on the tower have reappeared.  The top of the hedge on the right had been straight  and at the same level as the roof of the church nave (very peculiar), so I’ve varied that a little using the dark trees behind to make the brighter green stand forward.

I spent an hour and a half doing all this, most of it fighting the path, blue to creamy brown, to red brown, to orangy brown to raw sienna.  I think this is right.

There is the path to finish, some palette knife reeds to insert, some weeds to grow in the path, maybe some “proper” grass – maybe not.


Bangor Bridge progresses

I am enjoying this painting, especially as I have found my “wrestling place”.  It’s the path.  Before we go there, I want to relate what else I have been doing.

The bridge itself is coming to life, as is the tower.  It’s the introduction of the yellow sandstone which has done the trick – it’s a brighter colour and is very much the signature of these buildings.  The grass is cheerful though still a bit uncertain as to intensity.  The dark bush on the left has more variation, showing the sunlight catching the dark foliage and the deeper darks characteristic of shadows in strong light.  The bushes on the bank have come and gone and come again as I work on the dry reeds and the lush grass.

However, I changed the colour of the path, and I think I got it wrong!  My thinking was that this is Wales not the Mediterranean so my favourite creamy ground with purple shadows would be too hot.  This is a typical breezy, sunny day in North Wales, so blue grey should work with the sky and the water.  But the painting died a little, so how about a different grey, or going back to what I had before? – no decision yet.

Moving on, in the hope that things will resolve themselves as I work up the rest of the painting, I looked at the margins of the water.  The reeds had practically crossed the river so I reined them in, improving the water while I was at it. The two bushes  now look the same size and shape – not good – but the extra work on the far bank and the bridge is opening up the view.   I still don’t like the path.

Bangor Bridge again

It doesn’t look as though a lot has changed, does it?  This time I’ve modified the hedge and path, so the scene has more depth.  For instance the trees on the far right of the painting now sit behind the hedge rather than being part of an amorphous mass of green, and the hedge itself there overhangs its base which in turn defines the edge of the ground.  I’ve used variations of the greens first applied to give form to the hedge trying to “grey off” the tones  as they  near the church.  Conversely I have sort to brighten and deepen the tones in the foreground – not too much as I don’t want them to take over the painting.

The same technique works on the path, too.  By intensifying the tones in the path in the foreground, I have made it “lie down”.  My photo tells me that there are flattened patches of grass down the middle, so painting these  (next time) will both vary the surface and add to the recession.

Next the river bank has  had some attention.  There’s a nice clump of bushes (or brambles ?) hiding the end of the bridge near the church, and the bank slopes sharply too.  Directional brush strokes help the illusion.  Then the  ground flattens as it nears the river, called to a halt by a beautiful dark bush which has Alizarin undertones.  That’s a piece of serendipity, as I can introduce the same undertones ( at some time in the future!) in the large dark area to the left of the picture.  I don’t really need an excuse to do that, but it’s nice to have one.

My classes have ended for the summer, but I am hoping to work on this painting at home and to post regularly about it, and about other paintings shouting for attention.  But “don’t cry for me, Argentina,”  I’ll probably be in the garden!

Bangor Bridge 2

This second pass has started to suggest the details in the painting.  The sky has lost some of its energy, but perhaps it was too dominating to be a secondary player in the scene.  I used a slightly smaller brush to calm it down, not changing the tones and colours just repeating some of them with smaller strokes.

Turning my attention to the trees beyond the bridge, I sought to differentiate them from each other.  After all, they are just beyond, not in the far distance.  Again, I didn’t want them to dominate, just to be there.  Natural progression then led me to the bridge itself.  Here big changes have be made.  I was looking for a good basic colour and tone for the red sandstone used in its construction, (there is yellow sandstone in there too, but that colour  is easier to find).  Red is a misnomer – it’s more brown than red – so I started with Burnt Sienna and added a touch of Alizarin and a touch of Raw Sienna.  Alizarin is fierce.  I usually tell my students to show the brush where the Alizarin is on the palette, and that is as close as you should get.  An exaggeration , true, but not far from the truth even so.  A small addition of white and we have success.  A tiny sweep of dark on the underside of the arch, and behold! the bridge appears.  Isn’t painting wonderful.  I have done a little bit on the church tower, given the church itself a roof and played with the adjacent bushes.

This second pass is when painting becomes the relaxing pastime the uninitiated think it is.  The first pass laid out the structure of the painting, so now I consult my reference photo less and less, and engage with the painting in front of me more and more.  I can stand back, using my arm and shoulder, holding the long handle of the brush near the end, gradually  developing my initial  inspiration.  It puts me in a happy place.  I know that somewhere in the painting will be a knotty problem that will have me in thrall – there always is –  but right now all is serene.

The old bridge, Bangor

Now you can see where I’m going.  Completing the first pass of painting is always satisfying.  The painting appears almost magically and since everything is approximate, there is nothing to irritate.   You can see how freely I have painted.  I like to stand back and use the arm and shoulder at this stage.  If the overall composition doesn’t work, now is the time to put it right.  However, I’m happy with this.  It works in monochrome too so I know that the tonal balance is sound.  Taking a black and white image is a good way of assessing tone – it is so easy to be seduced by colour, especially if colour is as important to you as it is to me.

I used the Ultramarine Blue in the sky to make my greens and darks in the rest of the painting thereby achieving colour harmony more easily.  So I’ve added Raw Sienna and Chrome Yellow to that blue, Raw Sienna and Burnt Umber for the reeds, and added the blue to my favourite dark green mix of Viridian and Burnt Umber for the darker bushes.  There is even a touch of the blue in the sandstone mix of Umber, Alizarin Crimson and Raw Sienna.  Vertical strokes for the reflective water and “shimmering” strokes for the reflecting sky complete this pass.  Now I can enjoy refining the image.





Oil painting again

Oil painting has always been my first love.  This time I’ve decided to do a big canvas, 24 inches by 36 inches, to be filled with exuberant brush strokes and lots of colour.  I tasked my students to paint a bridge, largely because I had been looking through my references for paintings in my book, “The Bridges of Dee”, and found some photos that I felt had potential.

The subject gives plenty of options for texture with stone or brickwork, water either still or flowing, greenery perhaps.  In the book, I showed the old bridge at Bangor looking up stream and against the sun.  This gave a lovely pearly quality to the appearance of the stonework and allowed the light reflecting off the water to illuminate the underside of the bridge – great fun!

This new painting is of the same bridge but painted from the other side with the sun is full on the face of the bridge and the Church Tower adjacent to it.  The sky is bright blue with fluffy clouds. In fact it’s a very traditional landscape and none the worse for that.

Before you ask, I often paint my canvas bright orange before I start the picture.  It is so invigorating! and a great foil for the blue of the sky.  As you can see, I’ve really enjoyed myself with the brush.

Pastel Post Office 4

I used a T square to straighten the door frame!  Of course I worked over the guide line afterwards – after all my strictures on the use of rulers in drawings that are going to be painted, I couldn’t let it stand.  Indeed,  the frame is already too dominant.

My good intentions to do work on this painting during the week remained just that.  The beautiful light we get in Summer encourages painting but the garden doesn’t stop growing,  It is enjoying the light too.

So we have the pastel, completed, and I’m reasonably happy with it,






then the long view in watercolour, which I also like,  and finally,





the line and wash which was less successful.  Indeed, I think I prefer it as line only!









Who would think that I would ever prefer one of my drawings to a painting!

Pastel Post Office 3

This time I tackled the door.  I should have done the other window first, as leaping around a painting when making the second pass produces “currants in a bun” of detail – not the most encouraging vision of work in progress.  Indeed, I had intended to work on the window in my studio prior to demonstrating in class.   That’s good intentions for you!  However, for my class  I wanted to move on to the brick arch and the little wall, so I will try to fulfil my good intentions this week, ready for finishing off next lesson.

I’m delighted with the pavement edge, just one of those things that pastels do so well,  using a slightly dirty pastel on its edge and making small downward stroke instantly creates the grain and varied surface of the kerb.  A few judiciously placed joins and a sprinkle of the remains of autumn leaves, and there you have it.  The wall above is working  nicely.  One has to put a few bricks in at this definition.  They may all come out of the kiln the same shape, but they are all differently heat marked, and time has added its mite.

The arch of the door also has interesting bricks around it and is a feature worth noting.  It can be difficult to vary such small shapes as there is a tendency in all of us to make patterns even where there are none.  The beauty of pastel is that one can work on top of previous strokes and frequently the meld of colours and shades gives the desired effect.  However, the door frame is leaning over at an angle, and the little wall is going uphill instead of down, things I need to correct before next week!

Pastel Post Office 2

It’s detail time.  Since it’s the window itself which sparked my interest, I’m starting there.  I noticed as I went through the village that the reference photo I have is too red, both the bricks, and the window.  One of the advantages for working on site is that the vagaries of the printer don’t distort colour, but that is not an option I have.  In truth, I rarely pay much attention to the colouring in a photo.  Usually it’s too dull.  This time I had just renewed the colour cassette and the red was feeling its oats.

A quick pass of a browny orange over the brickwork proved useful in adjusting that.  The bright scarlet I had used on the window was easily reduced by brushing it off.  That didn’t move it all , but enough to restore the tooth to the paper.  Indeed, I had used it hurriedly towards the end of the demonstration to stress that light and shade give the same colour different tones, sometimes amounting to different colours entirely, especially if the light is bright.

Working more carefully I tried to delineate the intricacies of the moulded bricks, showing where they caught the light, almost pale blue on a reflective surface, and where recesses were enveloped in deep shadow.  There is a bit of exaggeration here  – I like that.  The windows themselves were reflecting the sky and the surrounding trees, which is great because that varies each pane, and there were notices attached to the panes too; all grist to the mill.  This is about half an hour’s painting, so there is a long way to go.

Pastel Post Office 1

Here is the first of my Thursday Blogs.

It looks like I’m a bit fixated on this Post Office window, but I know that different media do show different interpretations and I was not happy with my watercolour.  I felt it didn’t show why I was interested in the window (almost uniquely, I’m intending to try again in watercolour – it’s vanishingly rare for me to make a second attempt in the same media.  Perhaps I am fixated!)

This is the first pass.  I looked for all the colours I could see in the brickwork then, using the side of the pastel lightly overlaid them so that they blurred and melded.  You can use bright, intense colours this way as long as you don’t overdo it and use all the “tooth” in the paper (Canson Moonstone).  then I darked in return of the wall , using a darker red for the window, while my brightest red stood for the brighter part.  The pavement and road are too bright. I think that you can more easily tone things down that brighten them so I’m fairly sanguine about that.  It took about quarter of an hour to get this far – I do like pastel!