Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sketchbook peek

Since Christmas I have filled a whole sketchbook with portrait and figure drawings, and I'm not going to stop yet. These are some of my favourites from the book. Some days I only spend five minutes, others half an hour or more. Sometimes a linear drawing, most often I draw in tonal values with shading because I think that gives me more help for my paintings. I've been using soft pencil, charcoal or graphite sticks and I'm enjoying the subtleties possible after years of shunning the simple pencil in favour of bold pen marks.

How do I find my subjects? Well some days I can sketch from life and that's preferable. Otherwise I sketch from photos that I've snapped on my phone during the previous week, or from paintings or photos I've seen online (Pinterest is a good source) or I pause a video on my iPad and sketch from that. That's a great way to sketch groups of figures in conversation, and I particularly like regency costumes so I tend to go for a Jane Austen TV/film adaptation! To be honest I'm not too fussy about the source for the sketch, and it's better to just get on and do it than to hunt around for ages for something special. The sketch always has its own life and takes on its own importance. 

By the way, they don't all work out and sometimes I have to break off when I'd like to have gone further. But I know there'll be another chance tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Snow glow

Snow glow

This is a study for a future studio painting, another in my favourite series of the snowy allotments. Is there anything better, I ask you, than when the sun glows through a greenhouse and lights it up like a jewel? I'm very excited about the abstract possibilities of this subject. 

By the way, blogger can't cope with the blues again! The shadow areas of snow are so much softer and more subtle in hue than they appear on the screen. Sigh.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Turkey at the allotments

The pens
Oils 12" x 16"

It's been a week off school and a week of birthdays and celebrations at our house. I've had little time for anything else, but it's been good fun. Great to get back to a working routine today though!

The week before I had a most enjoyable afternoon at the allotments with my friend artist Mo Teeuw. I mostly talked while she painted the view behind me and at some point in the proceedings I managed to paint this fabulous shed with the corrugated metal fencing that has seen better days. 
The turkey was a little further away and was making a big show of his feathers every time I walked near to warn me off. I thought he would make a great subject but there was nothing of interest to me in his environs. I did however like this shed, and it came with the added bonus of being within talking distance of Mo. And this was the outcome.

By the way you might like to look at Mo's blog - in January she managed to get out and paint every single day, which is no mean feat in the UK! Well done Mo x

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Notan principle

After the rain
Acrylics 10" x 12"

I just wanted to let you know of a new article that I've written for The Artist magazine. It's all about designing your paintings using the notan principle or quite simply, shapes of dark and light. This isn't necessarily a tonal value study, but a way of creating a pleasing composition or backbone for your painting and then keeping that all the way through the painting process so that the work ends up with a clear strong design.
If you'd like to get a copy for yourself it's in the March issue of the magazine which is out in UK stores now, and is full of lots of other interesting features as always.
I've been getting some very nice feedback from people who have found the article helpful.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A cold corner

Sleeping awhile
Oils 14" x 18"

My big painting from the allotments last week in the snow. I really am pleased and excited with this. I feel as though there is a real breakthrough going on for me at the moment, and that the recent studio work I've been doing with the Christmas market scenes is now impacting on my plein air work. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what's going on but it's all very exciting. It's all to do with being able to say it more succinctly - "marked by compact precise expression without wasted words".

Incidentally I should tell you that it doesn't always go swimmingly and sometimes progress seems just beyond reach but I always know that it will come. When I'm going through a period of self doubt I just believe that it means a change is coming. I had this belief strongly in November and December last year and now I'm starting to see why. I just tell you that in case it's any use to you, to encourage you to develop that belief for yourself and carry on when it feels like you're dragging your feet through mud!

In situ
So for now I'm very happy to see where it takes me!

A detail showing brushmarks
I love the interesting marks and edges in this painting and I'm going to hang on to it for a while here in the studio. It's leading the way for now...

Monday, February 9, 2015

View with a room

View with a room
Oils 8" x 16"

We were blessed with a covering of snow again last week! It arrived overnight and by three o clock the next day it was all but gone. Luckily I had the chance to make the most of it and was able to get out early with all my paints and equipment in the car. After dropping the children off at school I was ready to go and I managed to find an allotments which I knew existed but I'd never been able to find before.
Everything there was covered in a blanket of snow, and my excitement level was at about fever pitch!

At first the sky was quite brooding and overcast while I had a good look around taking lots of photos, but by the time I was back where I started the sun was shining and things really started to warm up.
This is the second painting I did there, which took less than an hour and a half. You can see how rapidly the snow was melting by looking at this photo taken after I'd finished. It went from everything blanketed in snow at 9am to mostly mud and greenery by 2.00pm. The plus side to this rapid thaw was that I was lovely and warm standing in the sun, and of course I love the chance to paint strong clear shadows on snow which I wouldn't have had if the sun had stayed hidden.

The thing that really grabbed me here was the table and stack of chairs which looked kind of inviting in the sun there, although covered in a fine coat of snow. I also loved the light valued canes against the dark trees behind.
I must confess I was really pleased with the economy of my mark making on this one, was able to describe effectively what was happening with just a minimum of shapes and colour.

A detail

On my screen the shadow area of this picture looks a ghastly blue, which it isn't in real life. It really is a lovely subtle violet. Hope it looks ok on yours!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hot roasted chestnuts

Hot roast chestnuts, Christmas market no 7

Another beauty was the very Victorian chestnut stall, complete with vendor wearing a top hat and waistcoat. Again the red, and the dark mauve sky - a killer combination. There were also coloured lights around the top of the stall and in the trees which were a detail too far for this little study but would definitely have a part to play in any future large studio painting. I am such a sucker for coloured fairy lights - especially the ordinary lightbulb sized ones, strung up in trees. Maybe I should go to Blackpool? Or... the Christmas lights at Mousehole, that's probably more my scene!

I did intend to take photos throughout the painting process but only managed two and then forgot. It gives you a good idea of the goings on though, and it's the way I've tackled all of these market paintings.
I start with a warm mid grey and do a general block in of mid-toned neutral areas. You'll notice I'm not doing any kind of drawing of shapes, just dealing in broad masses.

I then work in the darkest darks, again it's masses that I'm looking for here. You can't really tell with the photo but this is not a general black, but subtly different colours - some cooler, some warmer, some reddish, some more violet. 

From here I paint in the yellow and red colour group and then the blues and then the lightest highlights. 

Squinting all the while, I'm aiming for the structure or skeleton of the scene. The viewer can put the meat on the bones.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Magic and bubbles

Bubble stall, Christmas market no 6

Back to the Christmas market theme, which I can't get enough of at the moment, my favourite part was the bubble stall.  I will definitely be painting a studio version of this subject because it was a 'coup de coeur' moment, I knew it instantly. The red and white of the awnings against the dark stonework and dusking sky, the life and movement provided by the figures and the fun - oh the FUN - given by the vapour and bubbles moving upwards and out towards the sky!

So what I'm really enjoying at the moment is working these small (around 10" x 12") studies on Arches 'huile' paper. It's like a very lovely watercolour paper but it's oil primed and I love using it. The paintings can still be framed without glass, you just attach the paper to a board and varnish as usual.
Anyway, I will perhaps work on half a dozen small studies of this very subject, while exploring ideas about colour and composition for the larger painting. I find it very freeing, this way of working. The big challenge will be retaining the freshness on a larger scale. We'll worry about that later though :-)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Across the snowy fields

Across the fields

We haven't had lots of snow this winter, but more than last year anyway which was none at all! In the couple of days of snow we had in January I had a drive around the local villages and found this wonderful view, looking across the fields outside Londonthorpe. I was particularly struck by the shape of that lovely tree halfway down the hill, and the gorgeous light effect giving warmth to its higher branches. Also how that warmth contrasted with the cool violet shadows falling across the foreground field. Gorgeous!
While I was there I saw a villager pouring salt on the icy road, another clearing a driveway with a shovel and one struggling to get his car out of a side road because of the depth of snow there. An awful lot of disruption and then within two days, there was no snow to be seen except for a frosting of ice here and there. This tends to be the way of things when snow falls in England, absolute pandemonium and then it's gone :-) 

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