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!
I worked on her face first in more detail. If you remember the mouth was very loosely indicated, her nose was twisted, and her hair was a rather dull brown, so plenty to do.
I think I’ve done reasonable well here – she looks altogether more human. Although I have made corrections, I haven’t lost the vigour of the brush strokes, and have achieved more successful tones. The upper lip is still too light, and I would like a more nuanced tonal balance around the eyes.
Then, I tackled her hair which is more auburn than brown or red. A touch of alizarin in the mix seemed to do the trick. I know the hair is a bit dome-like, but that was how it was done in those days – I know, I had one too! Even so the carefully sculpted side curl is too thick. It needs to be more airy.
I turned to him – at least he now has a nose and mouth, and they are believable. His eyes are still too narrow and almond shaped. The modelling on the face is not that strange colour in actuality ( I haven’t worked out the vagaries of my camera yet). Both faces are still rather flat, so I need to attend to the shading again. Then there is the matter of making sure they both have space in the painting to be more than cardboard cutouts. Still progress has been made.
Things started well. I began by painting the darker areas using Sepia and Chrome Green to give some variation and depth, suggesting shadows where one figure overlapped the other as well as the facial ones already indicated. A few marks represented folds in clothing, etc. By working over the whole painting in this way, I am able to maintain the integrity of a joint portrait. I was enjoying the process and happy with the result.
The next visit was a mistake – hurried and thoughtless, more interested in moving the painting on than in doing so successfully! and this is the result. I could have wept. They look as if they have a serious skin complaint! On the up side, his jacket looks the right colour, and I haven’t obliterated all the careful drawing, but that was a definite lesson in not trying to hurry because there is only a short time available at this moment. Better to leave it and tackle it when things are more serene. So that is what I did – and was rewarded by an altogether kinder painting.
I started by painting the background, partly to paint myself in and partly to reduce the amount of white canvas glaring at me. I may have used too bright a colour, but I can adjust that in time, and it does the job right now. The painting looks better even without working on the faces, so it has encouraged me to continue. Indeed, I rarely bin anything until it’s finished – sometimes you can surprise yourself!
Then I tried again on the faces and hair. I feel much happier now. They are still a bit spotty but altogether warmer, more friendly. The shading is better balanced and the eyes of both are good for this stage. Her nose is twisted! and both mouths sulky, so more work there. Her muted green dress fits the colour scheme, his shirt less inclined to dominate the picture. Progress.
You may remember these two photos in my New Year post. They are of my friends when young! At the time, they didn’t know each other and even if they had, I don’t think they would have thought of a painted portrait. However shortly after, they met and married, and are still joyfully and happily married.
So my idea was to paint a joint portrait to celebrate that splendid day (and all the intervening years) by putting the two together. There are some concerns – the photos are not the same scale, and I needed to find a way of stitching the two photos together. I have chosen a conventional pose. As they are both facing the same way it seemed the best answer, and he really is taller than her even allowing for the bouffant hairdo!
I then marked a vertical line for the centre of each face about 10 inches long and drew the outline of the head and shoulders, so as to equalise the scale, in using sepia paint and a small thin brush. A quick scrub of dilute paint marked in the main shadows – I’m using the lighting on her photo as his is pretty washed out – and I think I have made a good start .
I had been wondering what to do about the floor. The pale colour made the picture top heavy so I searched around for something darker (richer?). The original photo of the robed figures had a dark crimson carpet, highly patterned, which might fit the bill. Certainly, the colour anchors the picture effectively.
I have moved things around too. The soup plate reel has gone but what should I use to fill the space? Much cogitation had led me to realise that I had no fruit in the picture: glass, silver, fur, cloth, flowers, rubber, velvet, silk ribbon, wood a-plenty, but no fruit. So, I added some grapes – they have relevance in making wine which both my gentlemen like. and they help the eye to move around the picture.
The noisy exciting colours of “Fanatic” in full sail are counter-balanced by the quieter, darker gleams of polished wood, though the colour of two of the glasses echoes more deeply the scurrying waves. The chair is more substantial now, walnut perhaps, with a velvety cushion bearing the score, and the silver rose of “Der Rosenkavelier”. The wellies are shorter, and the robes more detailed, though in the heat of the moment, the Master lost his Chain of Office. I am delighted with the ribbon on Brian’s robe while the fur is asking to be stroked. Even the fishing rod is now slender, ready for the lake.