The snow has not arrived yet, so I used a photo I took two years ago as the reference for this painting. Mullaghcreelan is a huge earthwork, close to where I live, which was the fort of the O’Toole clan in former times. Its structure is still very much in evidence with the ditches and ramparts surviving to this day. When the Normans invaded Ireland and passed this way in about 1180ad, Walter de Riddlesford decided to build a castle at the foot of this fort. There may have been an alliance between them and the O’Tooles but it seems more likely that the building of Kilkea Castle, so close to the fort, was an act of subjugation. Saint Laurence O’Toole was born here in 1128ad. and ironically died in France (home of the Normans) the year the castle was completed, in 1180ad.
The entire earthwork is now covered in trees. Its a great place for a walk. The sense of history is enormous. You can’t help but think about the lives of the people who dug those ditches more than a thousand years ago.
This painting is specifically related to the Christmas season. I will use it for Christmas cards or a calendar. I will do a few more in the next few days. I’ll have to get more into the Christmas spirit, in spite of the un-Christmaslike weather we are having at the moment.
The colours used were: Burnt Sienna (red), Raw Sienna (yellow) and Cobalt Blue. No medium, solvent only. I’ll have the video in a day or two, see you then.
When you view the video you will see 2 interesting procedures that are indirectly connected.
The first is the painting of the canvas with a flood of colour diluted with white spirits. This is allowed to stand as long as possible for the white spirits to evaporate. But sometimes the process has to be helped with a hair dryer and the excess wiped with a dry tissue. Because different coloured paint is applied relative to the final content of the painting, this is called underpainting by some painters, as opposed to staining of the canvas. Underpainting usually refers to layers built up, before the final skin is applied as in the multi-stage painting process of letting the initial paint layers dry before proceeding with the next. ‘Alla prima’ (as this painting is), or one session, wet on wet painting can’t really have an underpainting, because its all wet, and mixes together into a single homogenous layer. So its not, strictly speaking, underpainting.
The purpose of this layer of dilute paint is to modify the subsequent colours applied. As there was going to be a lot of white colour applied, for the snow, the paint underneath interacted with the white and produced a range of hues and tones impossible to produce by mixing on the palette and applying individually. Another incidental advantage is that the final paint can be applied without trying to completely cover the canvas. If there are ‘gaps’, the under layer eliminates the stark white of the blank canvas. This brings us to the second procedure – scratching or scraping the wet paint to reveal whats underneath. As mentioned in the previous post, painting the fine lines of the trees, on the left, into the thick wet layer of sky colour was going to cause problems. By scratching the fine lines and filling them with the dark colour of the trees was fine for the thicker branches, but some scratch marks were not painted into. These were OK as the under-layer of the dark colour was uncovered. There were also a few scratches made here and there to help integrate the ‘scratch’ texture across the entire surface.
Hopefully the following video will explain the process a little better.
Regular readers of this blog must be tired of the same old, same old colours – Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and Prussian Blue . Well, sorry to dash your expectations of excitement, its the same old colours again. Well thats not quite true, the yellow in the cottage windows is a tiny bit of Cadmium Yellow plus white. As in previous paintings, whenever I need a colour which is not part of the natural spectrum (the red tractor, the people going to church), I use a colour out of the normal harmonious range. This colour does two things, it says man-made and it stands out from the other colours.
I was planning to put a ribbon of smoke coming from the cottage. As the sky progressed I changed the plan, smoke would not be visible on the irregular pattern of bright colours which is what the sky turned out to be. The sky changed from what I intended. It was to be flat and brooding with wisps of white cloud scurrying across a cold blue sky. A more solid structure presented itself, and being an opportunist, that’s the way it went. The ‘knock on effect’ was that the fine lines of the beech trees on the left would be impossible to paint onto the thick layer of sky colour. If the painting, at this stage, was allowed to dry, there would be no problem. I could paint on top and even make corrections by wiping of the fresh paint with a tissue soaked in a little white spirits. But as this was to be a single session painting the solution was to ‘draw’ the trees with a palette knife into the wet layer of paint. Into these ‘channels’ the darker colour of the trees was placed. The paint was very liquid, with loads of white spirits, and ‘flooded’ the channels producing a clean sharp line. Any of the ‘scratches’ not painted in looked OK as well. As usual I’ve videoed the process for a future post, so check back in a few days.
Too cold, see you later!
P.S. I took this photo last Christmas Eve. I was photographing a rare occurrence, a ‘white Christmas’ (very rare in Ireland). The little dog is Zuppy, our old Jack Russel terrier. It was so cold on that day, he just stopped walking and gave me the ‘slow look’. He then headed back to the bed. The silhouette of the dog against the snow was an image looking for a painting, and this painting was built around it. The fox, being careful to avoid the cottage, was caught ‘off guard’ by the viewer.
In this painting the placing of the figure was important for two reasons. Firstly, the figure is central to the message and therefore should be ‘centre stage’. Secondly, the human figure within a landscape painting is a ‘heavyweight’ in terms of balance. So after everything else is in place, the figure is positioned, bearing in mind these two considerations.
At the planning stage I use charcoal to map out the structure. This sometimes requires correcting by rubbing out the previous drawing, or parts of, to make corrections. Charcoal leaves a ‘ghost image’ after its rubbed out, which is good, as each correction is made you can see where the error was.
However, all this planning and drafting will be covered up by the initial painting. Near the end of painting, the figure has to be placed. The position dictates the scale or size of the figure, i.e. nearer, the figure is bigger and visa versa. The painting is ‘alla prima‘ which means placing wet paint onto wet paint. There is no room for errors, you get one shot at it. If the placing is wrong the cleanup operation is a ‘nightmare’. The best recovery method would be to let the painting dry, after the offending paint is scraped off, then repaint the background and try again. But when you get it right – phew, the satisfaction. A trick I employ which gives a little help to this critical operation is to ‘scratch’ the figure onto the wet paint using the blunt point on the handle of the brush (see video). If corrections need to be made the scratch marks on the wet paint can be repaired easily.