The Versatile Blogger

Thank you Elenacaravela for nominating me for ‘The Versatile Blogger’ award. I was hoping, when I started this blog, to be more versatile than I actually am. Its all a question of time, or the lack of it. I’ve linked the production of paintings with the production of the posts for the blog. How long I can keep this up I don’t know. In actual fact, I spend more time  on the blog than I do on the paintings. Sometimes I don’t get round to answering the encouraging comments you’ve made (apologies).

The long and the short of it is, I really don’t have time to do a good job, especially deciding 15 blogs deserving of the award. But I would like to say a little about the blogger who nominated me. Most of her posts are short, sometimes just a photo of her very interesting art, but this one I really liked. Oil Painting Tutorial is a post almost in the form of a personal instruction on the production of an absolutely brilliant portrait. I found it most informative and helpful and I really appreciate the amount of effort it took to produce this wonderful post.

Thank you again Elenacaravela.

YouTube and Safari browsers

There seems to be a problem with YouTube videos playing on the Safari (Apple) browsers since YouTube changed their website. Embedded videos on WordPress pages are also affected. An alternative browser, called Firefox, can be used on Apple machines. Its free to download and works like Safari.

Outlines in paintings

Cezanne, The Bathers

Monet, Impression, Sunrise

A recent post, on the subject of outlines in paintings by my friend Alissa, got me to thinking   about lines. I would regard a line in my painting the same way a carpenter does a line on a piece of wood, before he applies the saw – it defines a boundary which is destroyed in the subsequent process.

But this is not the form of the line Alissa is talking about. Its the outline which some artists have on objects in representational paintings. The paintings of Monet and Cezanne illustrates the difference, even though they were both members of the same Impressionist movement in art. Alissa was disturbed by the lack of lines in a drawing which was created by form only. I strive to remove lines from paintings and would never be happy with a sketch composed of outlines, although I appreciate this in other artists work. To me, a line defines the difference between what we see (no outlines) as opposed to what we know to be there. Think of Google Maps – the Satellite view as opposed to the Map view. You choose what you are comfortable with. The presence of an outline in a painting immediately defines the ‘type’ of representational art it is. Are you happy to be told what this shape is or do you want to guess at it and form your own conclusions.

There are probably deep physiological reasons why we chose one form or the other. My personal view is that representational  painting occupies a position on the artistic spectrum, somewhere between poetry and music. A painting with lines and defined objects is poetic, it has definite statements. A painting, especially an impressionist work, is like music. Individual notes of colour, when heard (or seen) are just blobs but heard (or seen) together form a melody. The melody does not make statements it evokes memories, emotions – its liked or disliked, we can’t say why.

OK, enough talk, back to the painting!

Backup? What’s that

The Wreck of the Plassey

My computer is important to me. Photos, videos, all sorts of things are accumulating in the computer at a steady pace. The hard drive (500GB) of my new laptop (5 months old) filled up and I was reminded of this, by the system. So I bought a new backup drive, the old one was not big enough for the new computer. As I was preparing to backup (Time Machine on my Mac) I noticed a little warning in the disk utility that the ‘S.M.A.R.T. status’ reported the disk was failing. 5 months old and failing? Couldn’t be.

To make a long story short, I did the backup yesterday and the computer collapsed today. The hard drive has a terminal failure, that means completely dead and the data practically unrecoverable. I think that is what you call ‘dodging the bullet’. A computer ‘nerd’ friend said ‘its not will your hard drive fail, its when’. Ahh!

I am now using my ‘old laptop’ again (commandeered from my son) and missing all the cool stuff the new one could do. I’ve no access to my picture collection so I included one of his, ‘The Wreck of the Plassey on Inis Oirr‘. Appropriate? Yes.

The moral of the story is this – backup your computer. Luckily, Apple Macs have a very user friendly way of doing it (mentioned above) and I got it done without much hassle. I would have lost everything I accumulated over the last 5 months. I know people who have a computer for years and have never backed it up.

There is going to be a catastrophic loss of personal data over the coming years, especially photos. There are plans, ‘in the pipeline’, to offer computer users an ‘online’ backup service, if you happen to be ‘online’. There are expensive and limited systems available at the moment (Flickr for photos, for example).

Be warned!

Prints from your artwork

Original Sketch

Magnified image after reduction in size for printing

While I wait for the initial stage of my oil painting to dry I will say a little about printing your artwork. Not the art forms of printing like etching or lino block but reproducing a painting or sketch as, for example, greeting cards or notepaper.

As the proprietor of a graphic design and printing business I would like to share the advise I would give an artist wishing to have their artwork reproduced as prints or incorporated into a printed item. The printing industry has undergone a huge change in the last 10 years mostly due to new technology, in particular digital printing. This means it is economical to produce small quantities of high quality prints.

There are 2 forms of printing here. Firstly, reproducing an artwork which will be a picture to be framed for example, and secondly, using an artwork as a stationery item. The former requires a little more effort as accuracy is required in producing a print which will be viewed more critically, especially if it hangs on your living room wall as opposed to a greeting card. I am not talking about ‘high end’ commercial printing, which is an involved process, but an amateur artist wishing to have personalised notepaper, greeting or Christmas cards etc. This is not for the neurotic perfectionist unless the budget is unlimited.

If the artwork is too large to be scanned, or the surface textured, photograph it. Use a digital camera. Lie the artwork flat on the ground outdoors, not in full sunlight. Adjust the quality to the maximum, and adjust the White Balance appropriately. Make sure the camera is ‘square on’ the artwork (the edges of the artwork are parallel to the edges of the camera viewfinder. There are several sites online on this subject. The finished photos, take several, can be checked and the best selected.

This is the tricky bit. Continuous tone and single colour artworks are treated differently. Continuous tone (usually paintings) are better if the photo is reduced in size for printing. The problems are usually in the colours. Your printer hopefully will produce a ‘proof’ or one-off print for checking colours and if the colour balance is way-off adjustments can be made. Although the photo supplied should be a guide for the printer. These prints are produced by mixing millions of dots of colours of basic inks. When you consider that the photographs are produced by mixing red, green and blue and the prints by mixing cyan, yellow, magenta and black no wonder colour balance is problematic.

Single colour work, as in the sketch above, are better made at the size they will be printed. As in the sketch, the thickness of the lines are critical. Obviously, enlarging the sketch makes the fine lines look more like brush strokes than pen lines. Reducing the sketch size reduces the thickness of the lines and below a certain threshold these lines don’t print (the second image above).

There are printers online specialising in this kind of work but the format is rigid and picked from a menu. Finding a sympathetic printing house can, by making minor adjustments, produce an unique printed item. For example, if the artwork is not a regular shape the online printer would just crop the image whereas your local printer could change the shape of the print to accommodate the artwork or fit a particular envelope size.

N.B.: Now is the time to think about Christmas cards and calendars for next year. Tempus fugit.

A country for old men

Brownshill Dolmen

I live in an old country! Wherever I go I’m reminded of this. This ‘piece of sculpture’ is a few miles from my home. That piece of rock on top is estimated to weigh about 150 tons and possibly the largest capstone on this type of monument in Europe. Those smaller supporting stones are about 6 feet tall. The sheer size of this is work is astounding.

Sitting on the side of a hill and visible for miles, it faces east, towards the rising sun. The return of the sun, after night or winter, must have been an important occasion as ‘east’ is a common alignment in monuments of this age. Like all great works of art we are left wondering, how did they do it?

It was placed here by a farming community who lived in this area 5000 years ago and it still speaks to their descendants today. The archaeologists say its a religious monument but I suppose future archaeologists will say the same about the Pieta.

And what was the greatest achievement here? Its not its physical presence of this great work. Its the satisfaction the creators must have felt when it was finally completed all those years ago. I think the act of creating a work of art is more important than the finished piece. Enjoy your art!

Scraperboard sketch

Kilmoroney House circa 1975

I am currently painting an oil painting which includes the above building, or what remains of the above building. The last 36 years has not been kind and very little now remains. The above sketch is a ‘Scraperboard’. This panel starts as black layer of dry Indian Ink on a white chalky layer. The picture is created by scraping off the black with a sharp point. The shades of grey and different textures are produced by a series of fine lines. Its a tedious and time consuming process and because you are working in reverse, black to white, it makes it all the more difficult.

Woodland Stream – speed drying

Woodland Stream

Its not unusual to see a watercolour painter using a hair dryer to speed up the drying of background washes before the final details are added on top. This ensures that the details are sharp and not blended into the wet surface. The initial dark colours in oil painting are sometimes mixed with a solvent only which will evaporate quickly and not interact too much with the final colours. In this painting I needed to evaporate the solvent quickly as I wanted to finish the painting in about 1 hour. So I used the hair dryer. The downside of this is that these colours will become lighter in colour and affect the apparent tonal range within the painting. You must ignore these parts and press on with the painting. If you paint a picture over several sessions allowing the previous layers to dry the usual practise is to ‘wet out’ the painting with something like ‘Liquin’ and the painting looks as if it is freshly painted without the problems associated with painting into wet paint. For example, suppose you are painting a landscape which has a tree in front of a sky. You have painted the sky which is now dry and you you now want to paint the tree. You ‘wet’ the sky with a thin layer of ‘Liquin’. As you are putting in the details of the tree the lighter colours of the sky are not contaminating the darker colours of the tree. It feels like you are painting onto wet paint with the advantage that if you need to make a correction the offending piece can be removed easily with a tissue paper dampened with solvent. It allows you to have several attempts at painting the tree as in our imaginary landscape above.

Check out the video in previous post.

Art Materials – from where?

When I decided to start this blog I decided only to make contributions which are of interest or value to anyone who bothers to read it. I will resist the urge to outpour details of the trivia of my life and times and keep the format simple and straightforward. This post, I think, will be of interest to Irish readers living in relatively remote areas, of which there are many in Ireland. Where I live there are no art supplies outlets. There are, of course, suppliers of craft products and stationery items but not the ‘artists’ grade or range of materials. I needed some paints and Liquin and would have to order ‘on line’. This normally means a UK based company which means an extended wait for the materials to arrive. I discovered ‘CorkArtSupplies’ an Irish based ‘on line supplier. I ordered 5x37ml tubes of Winsor & Newton paints, 500ml of Liquin and a small brush on Sunday night (after midnight, so actually Monday morning) and received the package today (Tuesday morning) by post. The prices were not significantly different from what I would have paid elsewhere and the range of materials is good. Check it out!

Outdoor sketch, Church Ruins, Inis Oir

Summer is slowly arriving and I am looking forward to getting out and painting a few ‘bright, green landscapes’. I intend to video some of these painting sessions but will have to reduce the size of the paintings. A 1 hour painting compresses nicely into a 10 minute ‘time lapse’ YouTube video and is not too compressed. I personally enjoy watching these type of painting videos. Not too long to be boring and as they say ‘a picture is worth a 1000 words’, especially a moving picture.

On left, an ‘on the spot’ sketch, a possible painting in the future.

Still Life, direction change

Latest version

I’ve been busy working on this painting. The original plan was to have a screen of some type resting on the table behind the objects. This looked odd so a change had to be made. I hate when I have to do this. Painting behind foreground objects is difficult. The edges always get ‘damaged’ and have to be repaired later. I removed the screen and extended the tabletop. The addition of the green curtain adds more colour. Now what to do with the right hand side??

This illustrates one of the great features of oil painting – you can make changes as you go along. I will publish a time lapse video in 2 parts because the 10 minute limit is too short for the full painting.

Point of interest: Working out the shape of the rectangular tabletop! Of course you can do it ‘by eye’. But there s a simpler way. At the drawing stage the horizon line has to be established first. As you will see in the video the horizon line is very high up – about a quarter of the way down from the top of the painting. The opposite sides of the table top, if extended, have to converge and meet on this line to have correct perspective. These meeting points may, or may not be within the area of the painting. In the above painting the right and left sides converge in the upper right corner of the painting. I will do a more precise explanation at some point in the future, whenever I finish the above project.