The abandoned cottage is a common sight in Ireland. Many are the result of the Great Famine (1846-52) when starvation and emigration devastated a quarter of the population. 1 million people died from starvation and another million emigrated. When we think of famine we picture arid, parched landscapes as we see in Africa today. This is a rich, lush land and these cottages are a reminder of what can happen as a consequence political mismanagement.
In the final painting there is very little red but its there as part of each of the mixes. The blues are made more purple and the yellows are more orange. The result is a vibrant clash of colour. Notice also the use of diagonals in the basic structure in the composition. There is feverous activity in preparation for the harvest – not a quiet time in the fields.
The colours used are Cadmium Yellow, Permanent Rose, Raw Umber, French Ultramarine plus black and white. All colours, except Cadmium Yellow, are Alkyd fast drying oils. At this time of year they are a little too fast and parts of the sky had begun to ‘set’ before I was finished. Not good for the sky part but great for overpainting the trees onto the wet sky.
Here’s the video of the painting process. See you soon.
The history of the demise of this tree can be seen in its contorted shape. A long time ago, possibly 80 years, the stream undermined this ash tree and it fell. However it survived and continued to grow, changing its direction of growth to vertical. At the same time a previously minor lower branch became the dominant trunk and as most of the effort of growth was directed into this branch the original tree died. What I liked about this scene was the reflections of the unusual shapes produced by this little drama of life and death.
I haven’t painted a vertical shaped painting in a while as the landscape shape suits the shape of the video screen. This arrangement worked out well as most of what was happening on the palette could be seen as the painting progressed. As I have said before I like to let colours evolve from one into the next in a progression. In actual fact the entire painting is painted from the same ‘pool’ of colour. I say ‘pool’ because of the amount of solvent I’m using.
Not all the paint mixes are this wet. Sometimes the initial very wet solvent layers are allowed to evaporate before completely dry paint is brushed on top. This is how I paint the sky or any part of the painting needing a soft treatment (the under colour of the river was also solvent rich). When it comes to details as in branches or grasses the paint flows like watercolour (with solvent of course). As I said in the last post this is not the traditional method of oil painting and is only safe (from later cracking or flaking) if applied as a single wet layer, ‘alla prima’ as its called.
For beginners this is difficult as there are no ways of covering up or wiping off mistakes. You get one shot at painting that tree into the wet sky so it has to be left as you put it down, warts and all. But isn’t this how watercolour artists work, so its not an impossible skill to master with practice.
The colours are Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Umber and French Ultramarine Blue plus black and white. I’m not using any medium at all, only solvent.
On these dry, cold and windy days we get a flashback of the past winter. In recent paintings I began to use colours like Cadmium Yellow to express the colourful growth of Spring. Here I used ‘Winter’ colours to paint the brightness and promise, hopefully, of finer days to come.
The 3 colours I used here were, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and Cerulean Blue. This blue is a mild warm colour, not good in mixes to produce green or purples so the overall end result is blues and browns, ideal for this subject. As you probably know I use Alkyd fast drying oil colours. Some colours, like Cerulean, are not available in the Alkyd range. The Cerulean is a ‘hue’ for some reason. Maybe its OK but in these cases I use the traditional oil colour. Alkyd and and ordinary oils are compatible when mixed but should not painted in distinct layers (each dry before the next is applied) with the Alkyd as the final. Alkyd dries so fast it would retard the final drying of under layers of ordinary oils. As my method is ‘alls prima’ the paint get well mixed before they are applied as a single layer.
The Alkyd colours tend to be more transparent than their equivalent oil colours. This was noticeable when painting the blue of the sky. The white, which was Alkyd Titanium, added a transparency to the blue mix which is not usual for the very opaque Cerulean Blue. It looks more like the Cobalt or Ultramarine blues in terms of transparency, very nice for this sky.
After a relatively mild and wet winter the blossoms are early this year. The May Bush, or Hawthorn, is in bloom. As the name suggests this normally flowers in the month of May.
Painting flowers requires a paint colour appropriate to the particular flower. The richness cannot be suggested by the ‘dull’ colours I normally use. In this painting, the pink of the apple blossom was achieved by using Alizarin Crimson. The other colours in the painting were Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine.
There are a few very strong colours which can dominate a painting and upset the harmony of colour. Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow or Viridian Green are three that come to mind. In the natural world there is a natural harmony of colour. I have found that in a painting just matching what I think I’m seeing and throwing in an array of colour never creates a natural landscape painting. It must be something to do with the fact we are conscious we are not looking at the real thing but an interpretation. We are viewing a rectangle of various pigments playing at being a real world.
The crimson in the middle of a area of green would be a jarring combination of colour. To lessen this unpleasant combination I made the overall colour slightly purple by using French Ultramarine (a purple blue) and spread the crimson as much as possible throughout the entire painting. Viewed on its own its not noticeably purple and the crimson of the blossoms are not out of place or alien to the general scene, but viewed beside the last painting the difference in the overall colouring is very noticeable.
Apple Blossom Days
I’ve included two thumbnail photos of this painting and the last one to show the overall colours relative to each other. In the previous painting the use of Cadmium Yellow was the issue. In today’s painting, although Cadmium Yellow was also used, its the crimson that would have unhinged the harmony more than the yellow.
This little boathouse is on the grounds of the De Vesci Estate, Abbeyleix. The house, a four storey mansion, was built in 1774 by James Wyatt. The boathouse was probably built some time after this date. Although its overgrown and in need of restoration, it still retains the essence of 18th century estate life. As you can see from the photos I took when I visited the estate, I used a little bit of ‘artistic licence’ to convey how it might have looked in former times.
This is another ‘green’ painting. As you probably know I’m using Alkyd oil colours at the moment. Unfortunately the range of colours are not as extensive as standard oils. So I used a standard Cadmium Yellow with the other Alkyd colours (Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Viridian Green and Prussian Blue). They are compatible if a few rules are observed. The greens are warm and rich and quite different from the last painting (here).
I am staying with the ‘green’ theme, in celebration of the arrival of summer, but I intend to try and vary the colours as much as I can. Unlike the last painting this took nearly 3 hours to complete because of the details in the foliage. As you will see in the video (in the next few days) the colours were built up with the lightest colours first, with progressively darker colour overlaid. This is one of the advantages of Alkyd, the under colours begin to dry before the next layers are overpainted. Almost impossible to do with standard oils.
I will have the video in a day or two, see you then.
The problem with this time of year, for landscape artists in Ireland, is the overabundance of green. The monotony of green. Its a real challenge to produce variety from one painting to the next. Green is a difficult colour at the best of times. The standard greens like Viridian, Chrome Green or Sap Green straight from the tube have to be conditioned with a red colour to have a natural look. In fact the most natural greens are usually those made from mixing yellow and blue. The colour will vary infinitely between the yellow and blue so its easier not to have a uniform boring colour.
My next painting is also a green Summer landscape and I made a big effort to be different.
In the meantime have a look at the painting of this one See you tomorrow.
If you visited Ross Castle at Killarney, you probably passed this scene. I thought as a subject for a painting this was more interesting than the usual ‘tourist’ scene of the castle and lakes. The circular shape of the bridge and its reflection has a surreal appearance in this ‘jungle’ like setting. I painted the bridge and boats as smooth regular shapes and everything else as chaotic blobs of paint.
I’m still using the Alkyd fast drying paints and these are way more flexible in a single session painting. Another characteristic of Alkyd is the ability to paint on more absorbent surfaces than you would do with standard oils. This painting is on Daler Oil Painting Paper. I’ve had this for years but found it way too absorbent for oils. The only disadvantage is its mechanical weave not like the organic texture of canvas. The paint layer is thick so very little of the weave is evident in the final painting.
The painting was completed in under 2 hours and I will have the video of the process in a day or two. See you then.
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.