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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
We left my black and white drawing with a mauve sky, you may remember. It was an improvement on the disaster which ensued when I tried to “wash” the sky with my watercolour pencils. That idea would have worked except for the fact that the paper was not suitable for watercolour and I hadn’t the patience to solemnly shade with the pencil. Moral: use the correct paper – or even acquire some patience!
Although the watercolour pencil did rub out to some extent it didn’t move entirely, leaving an intermittent waxy surface which didn’t take pastel. (Something tells me I should stop digging this hole.) So the patchy mauve sky was pretty awful, too.
Plan C (D? E?) I would dust off the mauve and save the situation using grey and white pastel. I think it’s better because the white residue of the watercolour pencils is less evident- while I also think I was right that the sky needed something. It’s a cautionary tale nonetheless.
I often post about the work I am doing in class, so in future I am planning on posting on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays. My Wednesday students will have a reference on progress so far. That’s not to say I wont be wandering down other byways as the fancy takes me!
I found this quite difficult to do as I felt a need to respect the lines. It was quite inhibiting. So there are areas where I should have taken more care and didn’t because I was fighting to paint loosely. Conversely, there are areas where I could have taken more liberties and didn’t because I was constrained by the lines. Sigh.
When I remembered how to paint, the picture came alive – the door for instance. What I was doing including the narrow white pipe at the corner near the door, I don’t know, while the wall to the left of it should be a bit darker to mark the return. I like the brickwork , just enough to show that the wall is brick built but not too much so as to overwhelm with detail. The Ruabon bricks and mouldings are a good colour, too.
Somehow, the painting doesn’t yet say why I wanted to paint it – more work this week. But seeing a photo of it has given me clues on what needs correction.
This is where a new found interest in drawing gets you! I have done line and wash before – in fact there is one in my book “Bridges of Dee” – but such paintings have always been more wash than line as I had no confidence in my line. There are lots of ways of using this method – I have opted for doing all the line in ink before adding the wash, diving in the deep end, so to speak.
You may remember my recent watercolour of Farndon in which this window appears. After all the years of living in the village (38 years to be precise), I became very interested in the window. It’s quite an expensive window, Victorian, red Ruabon brick, if I’m not mistaken, and built around a corner. There are lots of textures and shapes. I think the detail responds well to line, the moulding around the panes of glass, different sorts of brick and paving, the adverts. The drawing is not a howling success, but it’s far better than I could have achieve two months ago. Let’s see what colour does for it.
When I finished the garden, I felt I had to do something to the sky. The grey sky and the grey house next to it looked unfinished to me, but it’s a large area to fill with pencil. At least it seemed so to me. So I tried a cloud. Well, that looked pretty awful. It certainly differentiated the house and sky, but the execution of same cloud is very amateur! No shading – I didn’t have a reference – and I don’t think clouds do that.
In a bit of a panic – I’ve ruined it! – I tried shading the whole sky in white pencil but a blank white sky was even worse. I even contemplated running a wet brush over the area in an attempt to unify it but this is pastel paper and it would cockle.
Then I found I could rub out the white pencil to some extent, though not enough to remove it completely. Something would have to be done. Pastel paper equals pastels? And I different medium may mean adding colour. So I tried a soft graduated mauve. I’m still in two minds about this. I think it’s an improvement on the last two efforts but maybe I should have kept to grey and white.
In the throes of recounting these disasters, I have overlooked the finished garden, and I have to say I am pleased with the way that part has gone. But I am still hovering over changing the sky yet again.
I was looking through my portfolio, searching for paintings I might want to frame, when I came across this unfinished pastel of Carrog Bridge. It was begun as a demonstration piece on using pastels, done about the time I was painting all those bridges of the Dee. This is not the view which made it into the book, but it’s still a good composition.
The tonal blocks were laid in a pleasing (to me!) chunky manner, so that the scene was revealed in its essentials within an hour or so. There is rich colouring in the stonework of the bridge itself, while the pattern of darks and lights in the trees is lively, invigorating even. A sweep of a pastel announced the reflections. With all that in place, I had then started on the details on the houses. I must suppose that time had run out then, but I think there is a good basis for further work should time allow. It will be a new experience to paint a Dee bridge as a stand alone image, and it has encouraged me to re-visit my photographic archive to see what other treasures I can find.