My students have been working on tonal value this term. We started with a grey scale and a black and white print of a still life.
As you can see, there is a pleasing collection of simple shapes. All were white, but the varying depths of shadow gave a variety of tones. These we checked against the grey scale to assess just how dark a white surface can be! And painting the image wasn’t too easy either. It’s so hard to believe that “white” can be that dark.
The next part of the exercise was to reinterpret the image in any way possible. some turned the shapes into buildings, some selected one or two shapes to create their own design in colour, one even found ballerinas in the upper outline! I decided to cut the whole shape into “tiles”, rearrange them, and use colour to paint the tones on each segment. This gives you some idea of the guidelines I used. I had seen an image of an entirely white set of tiles mounted in sunlight, the varying raised lines on each tile caught the light, and the whole image changed as the sun passed over it. I was hoping to achieve something as interesting using colour. The lines you see show the top of the little box and the curve of the drum.
The pockets in the book are very small by my standards, so I thought I’d try portraits in watercolour. They are largely foreground making such detail as I could manage contribute usefully to the finished painting. That sounds like a piece of woolly thinking, and it is! I don’t know where I’m going with this.
The lady is my first attempt. She graced the front cover of a book I am reading at the moment, and I loved her headdress. My new-found courage to pick up a pencil and draw helped me here – none of my usual “crutches” would have worked at this size anyway. I sketched her out with surprising ease, certainly enough to encourage me to introduce paint. I enjoyed the delicacy and lightness of touch demanded by working so small. (Sorry to be going on about “Small”, but it really is new ground for me). She looks younger, pert even, in comparison with the original image.
Faces, then are possible. I own a book of self-portraits, “A Face to the World” by Laura Cumming, a great study if you are interested in painting and paintings, which fell open at Jan van Eych wearing his trademark red turban. This is turning into a “hats” project! He is contemporary with my lady and very striking. I really enjoyed his many folded turban.
My second painting is a painter, and my favourite of all time is Turner. I discovered him in the Lady Lever Art Gallery aged about 15, and thought I found an unrecognised genius! His self-portrait is of his young self and he isn’t wearing a hat. It’s a very direct stare and as it has good strong shapes making it smaller will be possible. It’s interesting how dark the darks are in these portraits, even on faces.
Well, that looks better! Altogether more cheerful! which is what I had in mind. The painting is not longer influenced by the original one – the lighting has changed. The picture is no longer brooding, mysterious perhaps, with a storm brewing. In fact the storm had passed leaving an immense amount of flood water, but nothing unusual to residents, as the flood plain of the Dee is still used to manage the river. Winter floods are part of scene most years.
I’m still learning about my camera and what happens when I move a photo on to the blog. The colours in the painting are brighter than my first pass but not as glowing as they appear in this photo. The apparent florescent pink is more brown so does not dominate. The high water level and the reflected light under the bridge arches give an altogether lighter feel to the piece. It Seems to me that blogs are more about photography than I thought.
You may remember I made a New Year’s resolution to draw every day. The not unexpected news is that I haven’t done that, but I have done some drawing.
I thought that the best way of ensuring that at least some was done, was to start my classes by arranging that my students, (and therefore me!) did a ten minute sketch at the beginning of each session. We would work in biro so that we were not distracted by rubbing out, and no one need show their work to me or anyone else unless they wanted to. There is a lot of apprehension for many people when drawing is mentioned and I wanted to make the whole practice as pleasant as possible.
Here are some of the things we drew. The Class are enjoying their mini drawing sessions, and we all find that we are looking more analytically as we draw. I don’t think my drawing as improved yet, it’s early days after all, but I do find I have more willingness to draw for painting without employing any of the “crutches” I have used in the past.
Recently, a new Gallery has opened in Farndon, which is great news for local artists. The owner, Ian Walton, who is also an artist- www.ian-walton.com – is punctuating the regular display with themed exhibitions, his first on being “Capturing Spring”. I am delighted that he has accepted two of my own paintings for display in this exhibition, which is running from the 25th of this month to mid-April.
The first of these paintings I want to share with you is this little waterfall.
It’s quite a big painting, 23 inches by 34 inches, but the waterfall itself was not much bigger. I came across it on a Lakeland holiday. It is such a delight -the first long fall then the tumbling splashing escape to the water below, the brave little sapling just showing its leaves, the russets of grass and bush, and what about those rocks! Even in the little places they create the landscape. Deep darks counter-change the light catching the water, rocks and leaves just so.
In contrast, the other painting is light and open, typical of the gentle landscape of parts of Cheshire and Shropshire. This is not a very good reproduction – one of my many future tasks is to get to grips with my camera. The road plunges down the slope, turning at the bottom to climb the hill on the other side. In reality, this is not a road to be walking on. It’s very busy, a fast road with double yellow lines on each side. You would be taking your life in your hands to venture on it. But I have always loved this view which opens before you as you breast the hill. I have made it people-friendly so I can share my pleasure.
Do go to the Exhibition if you live nearby – there is lots to see.
I found the instructions for this delightful little book with pockets on youtube (here), and as I was painting small for the SAA Wall, saw a place to hold my own small treasures. Then I saw that the construction would allow me to design a Dragon to guard them. He would wind round the meandering strip nicely – but I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s a future project. So here is my first attempt.
I used a sheet of marbled paper I had made eons ago on cartridge paper so it’s quite stout and will hold its shape easily. Folding the paper correctly was easy, but working out which edges to stick to make the little pockets was a little more complicated. I have a little tool which cuts the half moons in the top of each of the seven pockets neatly, if not always in the right place. Book cloth from the same era as the marbled paper covered the outside (strengthened by card) which I decorated with circles cut from the paper offcuts. It’s a nice little tool and I was enjoying it.
Now I need to paint seven small treasures – a good discipline as I usually paint big. Seven is a number to conjure with- seven days in a week, seventh month of the year (July holds my birthday), the seven stars, or making it easy, seven small paintings I’m pleased with.
Details, details – but important ones, like getting the lighting on all objects from the same place. My reference material had lighting from which ever place created the best image, and it is sometimes difficult in the throes of painting, to retain your own light source. The silver Cup was particularly bothersome, so much so that I took my camera to Chester searching for big Cups with sideways lighting, collecting some funny looks at the same time.
Then there was the cane medallion in the chair. If I painted it meticulously, it would look “tight” and anxious – overdone, careful. But I couldn’t leave it as a blur, since the rest of the painting was more defined. Moreover, the weave was interesting, hexagonal, though not clear from the small pencil drawing I used as reference. Even the World Wide Web was unable in my inexpert hands to provide me with a usable reference. Then I remembered a cane table basket. I studied it carefully, put it away, very nearly closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and “went for it” – mission complete.
I finished the painting of St James’ Garlickhyde, making Martin’s arm the right length in the process. In the beginning it was too long, his fingers would have reached his knees if it had been straightened; then I overcompensated. Finally I got my husband to pose with an appropriate scarf draped to represent the robe. Thereafter I added some lettering to the Cup and tufting to the carpet. Only the hands and faces to complete now. This was a matter of inching up to the desired effect, a dab of paint, followed by a lot of thought. then another dab.
Well, neither Holbein nor Alma-Tadema need to lose much sleep over me, but I have so enjoyed the effort and have learnt so much about composition, colour, relative size, lighting, reflections, faces – eight months of rare delight.
I’m rather pleased with this watercolour especially as I have not used the medium for a while. But being able to paint more regularly at the moment has paid dividends. For once, I’ve taken it slowly, working forward layer by layer using increased detail to enhance the perspective. Watercolour can be such a quick medium that I sometimes feel that if the painting is not completed in half an hour or less, and at one sitting, then it isn’t a proper watercolour. Where I picked up this misconception, I have no idea.
This painting is loose as well as detailed. The cool blues and lemons of the distant hillside give way the the shadowed slope of the valley and the great shout of colour in the foreground. The dark evergreens on either side are a good foil for the sunlit tree trunks. I like the zigzag tracing the land forward through the scene.
Incidentally, the painting reads well even in monochrome, so the tonal values must be right!
What to put on the floor was a real headache. The original pale colour left the images floating, lacking gravitas as well as gravity! I tried the rich crimson of the carpet in the photos of the liverymen, but while the background colour worked all right, the gold patterning made the floor take over the picture. In any case it had little real connection with the boys, their belongings, or my original idea for the painting. In desperation I turned to Holbein again, and found my deliverance. I would keep the tiles already under Martin’s dresser, and add the “turkey rug” that Holbein had draped over his dresser. Thus is the circle completed.
Both figures have had a lot of work done – Martin has his chain back, and his posy has flowers; Brian’s rod has a cork handle and carriers for the line, while his fly box, a more reasonable size now, hold some of the flies he marked as being to his liking. His wellies are standing on the tiles (altogether more appropriate than on carpet) and the perspective lines of the grouting help to give a little depth to the picture. “Vanity Fair” has its classic full leather binding, sitting on top of Brian’s “Ascent of Man”, an accident of size and colour, not a wry comment on Human Progress! The score on the chair is closed – I would have liked to show it open showing the music but the silver rose would not have shown up against the white paper. Martin’s left arm is still too short!
Well, here it is. I am almost sure I have finished. I will put it up in the studio for a week or two before I sign it in case something jumps out at me. I have to say his eyes look very strange in the photo, but not in the painting itself. A critique from a friend would be useful!
However – there is always an however – I am dissatisfied that I couldn’t make more of it. It’s OK as far as it goes, not without input from me, especially in the colour sense, but I would like to try again and make it less representational. I think I will try mixed media, using “Collage, Colour and Texture in Painting” by Mike Bernard and Robin Capon, mentioned in my New Year post, as my guide. I am hoping to make something with more atmosphere, more mystery, something less obvious. This will not be a quick exercise as I will be well into personally uncharted territory. Wish me luck!