Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bohemian Anniversary - tweaked

There are only two medium sized changes. The first change is to the trees and church tower that sit behind the bridge. I scraped out these areas as much as I could and then added back in a better range of greens for the trees and reworked the church tower adding some detail. The second change is to the reflection of the bridge gatehouse. This started to get scary with lots of wet colour around so I decided to leave this as soon as it resembled the reference photo a little more.

There are a number of minor sized changes. I tried to adjust the colour of the building on the far right back to white but this proved difficult so I left it as a paler pink. I tried to suggest the river cruiser a little more and then just flicked highlights here and there. I added some missing statues to the bridge, adjusted the existing ones and suggested the side buttresses that provide support for the statues. I made a slight mess in a small part of the sky so I reworked this by adding some high wispy cirrus clouds! Finally, I added a few random blobs of colour to suggest the people walking over the bridge.

The secret of course is knowing when to stop. I could carry on tweaking this until Kingdom Come but I won't. I'm much happier with it ... so that's it - done. Move on to the next one!

Charles Bridge, Prague, oil on paper, 9" x 12"

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Bohemian Anniversary

It's still not that BIG painting I promised you all, but nethertheless it is just a little bit more adventurous for me, even if that is only due to the significant increase in the amount of paint that I used! This is based on a photograph I took of the wonderfully gothic Charles Bridge in Prague whilst on a scenic river cruise with my wife during a wonderful anniversary trip to the Czech Republic in 2009.

The bridge is quite a complex shape  so this time I decided to do an initial drawing of it, and with helpful suggestions from my wife I managed to get the gate tower in proportion with the rest of the structure. I applied paint initially with hog bristle brushes and then used mixed sable/synthetic brushes to blend and establish detail. I added a little oil painting medium to my mixtures for detail work or when the paint started to feel a bit too viscous. I'm still using short-handled brushes (a couple of which have been sawn to fit better in my pochade box) but I guess that will allow me to get used to working with them before I venture out for some much desired plein aire work - which should be very soon I hope! I will probably let this dry a little now and twiddle with some of the values and details a little later - but I'm happy enough to post it as it is now :)

Charles Bridge, Prague, oil on paper, 9" x 12"

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Distant lands

 For today, I offer you a glimpse of what to me is another land; a distant land, almost another planet ! Last October, we went to the Azores, way out in the middle of the Atlantic. It's the most beautful place I've ever been, with Capri and Venice an equal second. The islands sit on the junction of the African, American and Eurasian tectonic plates and so are of geologically recent volcanic origin. We travelled to two towns on the main island of Sao Miguel, built in two of the three main volcanoes: one is still active and the other contains two adjoining lakes which appear to be eerily different in colour: one green, one blue. Absolutely stunning.

So the place is very special to me and I wanted to try to capture some of my memories of that beautiful place in oils. On our last full day, we took a whale and dolphin watching trip with a lovely skipper who spoke almost fluent English. This painting is based on a photograph, from the many I took on that trip, taken as we were arriving back into the main harbour of the island's capital, Ponta Delgada. The mountainous backdrop is full of calderas, some  small and cone shaped, some flatter and more vast; quite a contrast between the humble modern concrete towers of man's creation and the massive ancient mountains of nature's creation.

The food and local wine was absolutely gorgeous by the way ! Hopefully off to the coast with sketchbook and beach-hating Louie the Beagle today so no more blogging for me for a while ;). Have a happy Sunday :)

Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, The Azores - oil on paper, 7" x 10"

And finally, Louie wanted to say 'Hi' in his inimitable way!

I ain't going to no stupid beach today!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Cooking with ... oils

I'm getting to really like oils now. Despite the fact that watercolour is my first and true love, I like the fact that you can take your time with oils. There's no stress and you can correct mistakes as you go along. This one is done in  a different style to my last post. Rather than bold impasto strokes with hog brushes on primed board, I used softer acrylic and watercolour brushes on W&N oil paper and added Liquin to Artisan water soluble paints to get a better flow and a (hopefully) faster drying time. I took my time with this and I think it shows :)

I used a reference photograph taken one evening at sunset last winter as I was on the way home from work. The mist was rolling across the flood meadows and the dark low skyline of the neighbouring Roman town of Godmanchester just looked too good to miss. I thought at the time that it would make a good subject and so it was nice to finally get around to painting it.

I had a go at scanning this in using a pair of bulldog clips to hold the wet painting about 10mm above the bed of the scanner but it was so badly out of focus that I had to resort to using my camera. The rain is clearing and the heatwave approacheth .. off to the East Anglian coast tomorrow with my bucket, spade and a sketchbook ... with a bit of luck :)

Misty meadows, oil on paper, 7" x 10"

Friday, 24 June 2011

... and now for something completely different!

All this activity in oil painting by a couple of my lovely blogging friends (who shall rename nameless) has made me a tad hungry so I took out my 6x8 pochade box and had a go at converting one of my earlier charcoal sketches into oils. The whole piece took about 2 hours, much longer than a pochade is supposed to take I guess, but I learnt quite a bit more about mixing and brush techniques and I really enjoyed doing it. I'm now considering finding the space to take my oils with me on our holiday in a few weeks time!
Hartford flood meadows, oil on primed board, 6" x 8"

For anyone that's interested, the pochade box was handmade by Rowley Abbey at Abbey Easels here in the UK. They are really nice to use and made to a very high quality although nothing like as expensive as some others. I will be doing a review of the box (and brushes I use with it) in a later post.

It's Friday again - yeah! Have a lovely weekend everyone :)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Dark Light

I took the dog for a long walk around the local meadows tonight and the warm but fading light was just so beautiful against the cold blue greens in the trees but the fields were still bathed in that same eery light. We do get some wonderful sunsets and sunrises here in Cambridgeshire and, though I often moan about the lack of hills, I know I would definitely miss the vast stunning skies. I made a quick pastel sketch of the colours I had seen when I got home. The composition is part visual memory, part imagination. When I get my pastel box, I can take them all out with me and do some more like this - I can't wait. One day I'll get to Stonehenge to see the Summer Solstice sunrise.. Oh well, maybe I'll be there next year. Now, where did I put that druid  gown :)

And finally, Renske asked to see a picture of my Loxley four tray pastel box. Here it is with two of the four trays taken out. I don't have a lot of pastels at the moment, and they are so expensive, so it will be a long time before I fill this up! My lovely wise old cat Tom is being his usual self  and trying to look cute by posing for the photo !

Monday, 20 June 2011

Negative space

Now this was a real challenge to me but shouldn't have been. I should explain. As a software engineer, I have to think in a binary world of true and false, hence the background for my blog. Often I have to think in a logically negative way where true is false and false is true. So, using a black pad and a white gel pen (thank you to Lisa Le Quelenec for inspiring me to get one), I attempted to sketch people and buildings in a totally different way, using a negative pencil on negative paper, white on black, a sort of latter day scraper board. Confusing to say the very least :)

Buildings were reasonably straightforward but people, especially faces were more of a challenge. This is just a single page of quick sketches but nethertheless  I thought it was an interesting 'seeing' exercise. I also thought that it would be much easier with a more painterly media that can produce variable tones such as white pastel or coloured pencil rather than a linear media such as pen. All part of the journey :)

Saturday, 18 June 2011

What's in your (sketching) bag?

I was hoping to put this and similar information in the future on a separate page but I have failed miserably with my blogger skills so I'll just have to post this here as normal :(.

In this first post I wanted to show you my basic watercolour sketching kit which I generally take out with me on full day trips or just shorter walks in the local countryside with my dog. I do change it or add to it occasionally but this really is the bare minimum.

The kit comprises an A6 Winsor and Newton heavyweight sketch book, a tiny 5x7 watercolour pad, a few graphite pencils for outline drawing and quick pencil sketches, a small W&N watercolour box with its own water supply and water cup, a water bottle and a few travelling brushes. The brushes in the case are both Escoda Kolinskys which are absolutely gorgeous brass brushes. They are exremely comfortable to hold and they keep their points even when completely dry. I also sometimes take the little wallet shown here which contains some lovely old W&N Sceptre brushes. These are a sable/synthetic blend and also brass. I found these in the bargain box at the local art supplies! The whole kit fits in a Cotman Sketcher's Case which is a lovely set just to start with, even if you don't later swap out the student watercolours for an artists quality set as I have done with mine. I also take a few sheets of kitchen roll and some anti-bacterial hand spray or gel - very useful for when you need to clean paint or animal by-products from your hands! The heavy oak gate leaf table, which has been in my family for well over a hundred years now, stays at home in my 'studio' you'll be glad to know!

The colours in the box are Winsor Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Perylene Maroon, Permanent Mauve, French Ultramarine, Cerulean Blue, Winsor Green Blue Shade, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna and Venetian Red. The palette is a hybrid of a conventional split-primary and earth colours set with green and violet secondaries to give a better gamut of mixes around the colour wheel.

With the exception of Burnt Sienna, these are all single pigment colours so there's less chance of me making mud when I mix them! I generally don't use black and prefer to mix my own although I'm not a purist about it. I only use white when I work with opaque media i.e. oils, acrylics, pencils, pastels and gouache. I have these same colours in both half and whole pan sets as well as 14ml tubes. I use W&N for most of my work but I do have a handful of other colours and sets from other manufacturers like Schmincke and Maimeri but these are my favourites and my workhorses ... at the moment anyway :)

I hope you're all having better weather than we are here in the East of England. (Il pleut, es regnet, it's chucking it down). That's it for now. Back to the DIY again very soon - Have a lovely weekend everyone :)

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Going for the one

I'm getting myself psyched up ready to have a go at doing a big painting. I have painted big before - well up to quarter imperial anyway, so it's not going to be such a big deal. I even got my oils out of storage to remind myself of the colours I have and to make sure I had everything I might need if and when the inspiration and time arrives! I'm still undecided about whether or not it's going to be an oil, a pastel or a watercolour. I may even go for gouache. I'm thinking of doing something based on the charcoal drawing in my earlier post, New Horizons, which seemed to get a very good reaction from all of you lovely people out there. It was done from imagination so I have no colour references to help me to take it from the value study I had done but I had a little play with my Inktense pencils just to get a feel for how I could approach a colour version of the scene. I expect I will do a few of these sketches before I'm happy enough to do a full painting.

PS Most pencil manufacturers will tell you not to dip their products directly into water but if you sharpen Inktense pencils properly - with a craft knife or similar, not a conventional sharpener - and expose enough of the core, you can then dip the leads directly into water and then you get fantastic effects almost like painting with mini oilbars! The slight caveat is that continuous dipping of the pencils, as is the case with other water soluble media, does tend to soften the core a little so just be aware of this.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Never give in too easily

"Down in the meadow where the wind blows free in the middle of a field stands a lightning tree.
Its limbs all torn from the day it was born for the tree was born in a thunderstorm.
Grow, grow, the lightning tree, it's never too late for you and me;
Grow, grow, the lightning tree; never give in too easily."

Ah, to be so very young again. Are you singing along or have I lost you completely now? The words are the opening lines of the theme tune to a children's program called Follyfoot which was shown here in the UK way, way back in the early 70s when it was cool to wear flares and tank tops and you spent all your pocket money on the latest single by grown men who wore even more ridiculous flares and garish coloured tank tops! I was a big fan of the programme, loved the song, and was always fascinated by the lightning tree.So I couldn't resist sketching this very special tree on the saturday dog walk. It doesn't stand in the middle of a field but it is down in the meadow. Despite appearing to have taken the full force of nature, noticeable in its shortened and blackened upper branches, it hasn't given in too easily and has still managed to produce some new growth on a few of its lower branches.

The original sketch was done in pencil in a small moleskine and, despite the problems of moleskines and wet paint, I decided to add some watercolour, Inktense pencil and a few scribbles with a pigment liner later at home.

The Lightning Tree, Hartford

Friday, 10 June 2011

The devil's in the detail

It's Friday ... Yeh! That means I get to spend a little time on my art after a fairly busy week at work :) I took the intrepid Louie the Beagle for a nice stroll along the riverbank - no sign of Rattie or Mole this time but there were lots of Canada Geese and Mallards, waddling around by the village church and waiting longingly for some bread. Sorry guys (and gals), I'm going sketching.

This is a view across the River Great Ouse which meanders its way through much of the old county of Huntingdonshire. I say old county because it was absorbed into Cambridgeshire a few decades ago,  although the local council has maintained the signs at the county boundaries - good for them I say!

I used vine charcoal and compressed charcoal and laid down a 'wash' of a light tone all over the paper to begin with to establish the average sky colour and to give a harmonious tone to the whole drawing. I was rushed a little towards the end as it started to get quite popular and it also started to spot a little as heavy rain clouds moved overhead. I would have liked to have had  a little more time to add some detail and to push and pull some of the values but after scanning it in I thought it looked quite fine as it was. Have a great weekend everyone :)

Hartford Flood Meadows

Thursday, 9 June 2011

New horizons

I'm  a great lover of art in all its forms but I truly admire the work of the landscape painters. I'm not attracted to realism but instead seek out those artists that capture the beauty of those wonderful places with the apparent minimum of  effort where the human mind completes the detail. I'm a long way from achieving a style I can be proud of yet, but I think I'm getting there :)

For this piece I used a process kindly given to me by my lovely fellow blogger, Anita Murphy. I think Anita's charcoal work is fabulous and indeed all her work is a real inspiration to me. I'm not a huge fan of coloured papers like Ingres and prefer instead to use white paper but Anita's suggestion was to cover the white paper with a layer of charcoal and then to blend this with a paper towel to produce a mid-tone on which to work. You can then build the piece bit by bit by adding darks in charcoal and lifting out lights with an eraser and continue to push and pull the tones to get things just right.

I loved using this method, although you have to take extra care with lifting out since the charcoal sometimes lodges itself in the grain and can smudge rather than give a clean edge. I am very pleased with the result overall.

Imagination lakeland landscape

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

I'm loving it!

I try to leave early in the morning to cycle to work but sometimes (and I do mean sometimes, honest)  I stop off at McD's for a cooked breakfast! After munching my way through my McMuffin and hash brown, and whilst slurping a nice hot milky coffee, I took out my sketchbook and a very black 8B pencil and quickly sketched the rather uninspiring view through the window. I added the colour and a few pen strokes later this evening.

Outside, beyond the car park and the giant advertising hoarding, loom the shiny metal silos of the local plastic cup factory which seem to be in some strange harmony with the straw dispensers on the waste bin and tray storage unit inside. I just liked the composition with the counterplay of all the different vertical structures close by and far away and the shadows cast by the slotted window shutters across the side of the unit.

Did I learn anything from this little exercise? Well, yes. Sketching in public isn't really so scary after all .. Oh, and next time I'll only pour myself a half portion of tomato sauce to dip the hash brown in:) Happy Tuesday!

Huntingdon, View through McDonalds window

Saturday, 4 June 2011

A longing for colour

Fresh with all the practice with mark-making and the blending skills that I've started to acquire from using monochrome media like graphite and charcoal, I started to look longingly at my pastels and all those yummy colours that seemed to be looking all forlorn in their boxes. This was painted in about an hour using Sennelier soft pastels - I make no apologies for using the word painted: no brushes were used but applying raw pigment with painterly strokes is painting after all ... isn't it?

We're off to London (or The Smoke as we Northeners like to refer to it)  to see a few ageing AOR bands at Wembley Arena soon. Anyone want to show their age and remember Styx, Foreigner or Journey, LOL? I was hoping to perhaps do a little sketching or even stop off at the Tate to see the big watercolour exhibition but it looks like we won't have enough time:) Oh well, there's always next weekend.  Have a good one!

PS. The Wembley Arena gig was absolutely awesome. Despite getting to London early, and finding a really nice place to eat near Covent Garden before we made our way to Wembley, we still managed to fall foul of the engineering works on the tube and miss the first few minutes of the opening band.  It was a hot day in London outside and absolutely baking inside the arena but certainly well worth it :)

Imagination wood

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Back to basics

I have been neglecting my watercolour painting a little recently but I have been using the time wisely. I know that I need to hone my observation and drawing skills before I can truly develop as a watercolour painter. Every accomplished artist will tell you that being able to see and record values is extremely important and will serve you well whatever your chosen medium. Only once you have that skill can you then develop your compositional skills, colour theory and painting techniques. That's how I see it anyway :)

To help me along the way towards becoming a better painter I've invested in what must be the cheapest of all art supplies - charcoal. I picked up a nice little boxed set of pencils, compressed and natural willow charcoal pieces for less than I normally spend on a single sketchbook:) I've been practicing with charcoal in all the different forms just to get to know how it behaves and so far I absolutely love it.

Just to take it a bit further I managed to do a little sketch on the way home from my work. I love to sit by the river but often find it difficult to pick a subject - there are so many I am spoiled for choice. This particular view of the house surrounded by willows and other trees by the river has often attracted me so with 30 mins to spare I sat down and drew it.

House by the willows

Finally, a big welcome to my latest follower Lucia B who has been one of my contacts on Flickr for quite a while. If you haven't already seen her lovely paintings of her home city of Firenze (Florence), then go take a look.  She always adds a little bit of historic background about each of the paintings that she posts. Thanks for following my blog, Lucia :)