The pressures of work have kept me from posting in the last few days. I include here the video of this painting and will see you soon.
Between storms the sun’s heat is driving the midges and Mayflies into a frenzy. The natural world is, at last, waking up to the possibilities of May. I was thinking of how I would manage a painting with swarming insects to suggest this intense explosion of life. I tried to find a painting with swarming insects to see how other artists would approach this subject. I couldn’t find any. Plenty of drawings and painting of individual insects, but none as an element in a landscape. I took a photograph of one such buzzing swarm. To represent this image in a painting as it appears in the photograph would amount to a splatter of dots. Very acceptable in a photograph, but looking like a mould growth on a painting.
I haven’t given up on painting this subject yet. It means working out a setting and context to portray this overlooked natural process.
With this ‘coming to life’ in mind I created this painting. No insects, just the possibility of a swarm, and the beginning of the cycle of life and death. I felt that sombre contrasting colour and an obvious repeating pattern of verticals would create an ‘edgy’ mood of expectation.
Again I used only 3 colours. Windsor Lemon, Burnt Umber and French Ultramarine Blue. I’m still using Alkyd fast drying oil paints and like the speed at which I can overpaint without a ‘greasy’ build-up of paint.
I will post the video of the painting process in a few days. See you then.
In the last posting I mentioned a little about the construction or composition of this painting. Its a subject I’m the most uncomfortable with because its that which starts as a vague idea and grows into a form continually changing. The inspiration driving us to attempt a particular painting, decides the shape and direction the painting will follow. So its difficult to quantify and put into words.
In traditional landscape painting there are simple guidelines like placing objects off centre and balancing the the whole arrangement. In reality I find it much more complicated than this but I like having a framework or guide to follow. Its difficult to create in a vacuum.
All painting is ultimately abstract. The apparent balance, colour harmony and recognisable scene, etc., collectively are like the cover of a book – an invitation to read the contents. Unlike a book the contents are not literal, more like a piece of music, you like it or you don’t and you can’t say why.
I learn a lot from watching other artists work. As the saying goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and a moving picture is worth even more. Here is the video of this painting. See you soon.
‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May’ (Sonnet 18, W. Shakespeare), and we are getting our fair share of rough winds at the moment.
I started this painting with 3 colours only, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue, and decided after a few minutes to add Viridian Green. I was interested in producing a natural landscape of a typical May day and the greens produced by mixing Yellow Ochre and Prussian Blue when placed in situ just didn’t look rich enough. At this early stage in the painting I was able to add green to the sky to spread the strong green around a bit. A strong colour can look unnatural if it is confined to a small area as it was going to be in the left foreground of this painting.
The composition is a little odd. Diagonal lines can suggest movement, so the sky was composed in this way. Its diagonal is strengthened by connecting to the solid left lower corner. This is a hidden structure to help the feeling of movement conveyed by the trees and vegetation in the scene. The vertical line of the lake, lower centre, could have continued the diagonal line and moved to the left but I think as a strong vertical it draws attention to the trees and grasses and how strong the wind is.
I will post the video in a few days. See you then.
I liked the mechanical lines and confusion of ropes and cables in this scene. These are working boats, as the pungent stench of fish, nets and various implements testify. I’m not knowledgeable in these matters so I just painted what I saw, lines and angular shapes. How different from natural shapes and growing things like trees. A fine brush can trace the lines of growth and the shapes almost flow off the brush. These lines are harsh and straight.
I used a few painting knives to paint these lines. The knife was used in a few other places to induce a uniformity of texture. I used 3 colours in this painting, Windsor Lemon, Permanent Rose and Prussian Blue. More or less the same as I have been using in the landscape paintings, but there is no ‘earth’ colours used. These are the Ochres, Siennas and Umbers and produce natural colours found in nature. I was hoping to convey a sense of industrial activity and a scent of fish as a bonus.
The painting is 16″ x 12″ and took under 2 hours to complete, which was fast compared to recent paintings so I have the video ready to post now. See you soon.
I think its important to have the horizon level in a landscape painting. I will always draw this important line first before the sketch is started. On bigger paintings I will measure the distance to be absolutely sure its correct.
Its not so noticeable on standard landscape because of distant hills or mountains but when the flat line of the sea is included in a painting its critical its completely level. Its all about the illusion of reality I continuously try and achieve.
I have a steel ruler I use to help me in this endeavour. By lying it flat on the surface of the painting and using it like a stencil to brush flat the lowest sky colours I get a final paint layer completely straight and level. Its amazing how crooked this line can be when painted by hand alone. Only when the ruler is employed can you see how wobbly this horizon line can be. If the ruler causes a few smudges on the lower part, usually the sea, that’s OK as these are going to be overpainted later on.
Here is the video of the painting. See you soon.
I went for a long walk along the beach at Courtown, Co. Wexford as part of my recuperation following a week of sneezing, coughing and everything else that goes with the common cold.
This painting is a bit bigger than my usual, measuring 16″ x 20″ and also took a bit longer than my usual 2 hours, 4 hours in fact. From the outset, the large featureless areas, like the calm sea, the flat beach, would need to be a complex series of colours and shapes to weave an interesting surface. This is a personal preference, I cannot tolerate the monotony of a single layer of colour. By applying layers and not completely covering the previous layer adds this complexity. It means a particular area of the painting must be built up relative to other areas. The clouds were finished relative to the final shape and colours of the waves. As there are only 3 colours used, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue, the process is a bit tedious but the final harmony is worth it.
I have not suggested the scale within this landscape. The trees on the cliff top are no help – they could be any size. I was going to put the usual couple walking at the waters edge in the middle distance, but I thought I could get it to work without this visual cliché. So now the viewer could be standing on the cliff overlooking the panoramic view or standing on the beach about to walk into the sunlight.
I will post the video, possibly in 2 parts, in a few days. See you then.
Just a word of advice, regarding brushes, if you are intending to use Alkyd colours as I am doing now. The paint dries fast, very fast. This means you cannot afford to leave a brush with paint on it for even an hour. I’ve noticed a build-up of hardened paint on the brushes in spite of my thorough attention to cleaning. I now keep the brushes I’m using in contact with White Spirits in a shallow dish if they are to be left for even a few minutes.
At the end of the painting session, after normal rinsing with White Spirits and before washing in soap and water, I massage some ‘baby oil’ into the bristles. This is a mixture of non-drying vegetable oils like coconut oil. I can’t remember where I heard this tip but it would make sense as contact with White Spirits does make the bristles brittle and now I have prolonged contact with this solvent. There is also the advantage of this non-drying oil soaking up into the ferrule and making it more difficult for the Alkyd paint to get in here and harden. Make sure to do the usual soap and water wash afterwards.
I know brushes are expendable items and easily replaced. But I have to say I cringe sometimes when I see how some painters use their brushes. A DIY person doing a bit of house painting knows how this ancient piece of technology works. The angle of the brush leans in the direction of the brushstroke. With a left to right stroke, the brush leans to the right and the paint is drawn off the brush. Going back from right to left and the brush is angled to the left – simples! Not using a brush like this breaks the bristles and the bits that don’t fall off and stick to the surface of the wall/ceiling/painting end up making the brush looking like a bottle brush.
I’m not getting picky for the sake of it. But you can do a multitude things with a cared-for brush and do very little with a bottle brush, except wash bottles. A correctly used brush looks the same after use as it did before. By using the same brush with the same characteristics over a long time you learn and know what it can do. Its the same as what I was saying in a previous post about getting familiar with a particular painting method. “The painting is constructed, based on what you know you can do” applies to brushes as well as to paint and media.
Here is the video of the above painting. See you soon.
Situated just north of the Curragh of Kildare, Pollardstown Fen is an internationally important fen ecosystem. It is home to an unique range of rare and in some cases endangered plant species. Fens are rare in Ireland as they are a transitional stage in the growth of bogland. Because of a series of geological factors, over the last 13,000 years since the last Ice Age, this fen was halted in its progression to bogland and this has allowed the evolution of its unique flora. Most noticeable are the orchids and insect-eating plants. A rare and beautiful place.
As a change from recent paintings and their vivid colours I’ve reverted back to my favourite colours and the muted shades they produce. These are Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine. These 3 and, of course black and white, are the only colours used. Adjusting to the Alkyd colours took a bit of time but I think I’m there now as this painting is similar to the paintings I was producing with standard oils (examples here and here).
I will post the video in a few days. See you then.
For this alla prima painting to work the shafts of light had to be placed deftly and in a radiating way – not parallel lines. The path of the light must be smooth and uninterrupted. Its easier said than done.
If the painting is not alla prima, the dry layer of the background can be glazed with a lighter tone to represent the shafts of light. It needs to be brushed in and made smooth as possible. Its OK but does not have the same vivid effect as wet on wet.
Planning is important. Like the last painting, this is a fleeting moment and not a scene you can study and record at your leisure. Which means its mostly from the imagination / memory. Constructed layer by layer, and like a game of chess, what you do early on will have a bearing on what will happen a few moves later.
The video will illustrate the process and seeing it done is far more instructive than a written description. There are a few issues which will not be apparent in the video. I will briefly mention them.
The sky is simple and flat with a few clouds for variety. The cloud on the left was placed as a reservoir of white paint for the shafts of light later on. What’s not used to drag down as light shafts will be left as a distant cloud. Immediately after smearing the paint for the light shafts the trees are painted in. The trees which will intersect the shafts are painted onto the smeared paint and because the paint is wet it will blend with the tree colour, lightening it. The trees behind the shafts are painted above and below, not intersecting the shafts. All this is to create the effect of distance. Some trees are beyond the shafts of light, some are intersecting, and later I place the trees in front.
The nature of the wet paint is used to create the tones needed and it can be done quickly with the result fluid and dynamic. The alternative method of letting each layer dry, then mixing a range of lighter tones to represent the trees in their various states of concealment, is tedious and the result can be stiff.
The most critical factor was the drying time of the paint. Standard oils would have to be left for a day or two between layers, not to dry, but to become tacky. I’m using Alkyd fast drying paint and this painting was completed in under 3 hours. Much of that time is waiting for the paint to partially dry. Its very manageable compared to checking the paint for drying after days, as with standard oils.
You must understand the nature of the paint and how it behaves when manipulated on the canvas. Its craftwork requiring practise and patience. The painting is constructed, based on what you know you can do. There are accidents and calamities every step of the way and you must be able to incorporate these and change course continually.
Here is the video. See you soon.