Friday, 28 November 2008

Plush



I have some paintings on display at the local Art @ Plush show, which will be raising money for breast cancer charities.

Click on the picture above to enlarge it, or click here to download a copy of the above invite in printable pdf format.

The show runs from 29 November - 14 December. Opening days and times are on the invite above.

Among the paintings on display will be a number of the flower still-lifes which are shown in progress on this blog in my posts during November, October and August.

UPDATE: A slideshow of my paintings at Plush can be seen here.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Three Blind Mice






I'm really pleased with my latest studio painting (the smaller one, on the right in the first photograph).

It was interesting to work in a wider, landscape format. And I revelled in the task of painting some heads and cloves of garlic - which share some of the delicacy of colour and paleness of the roses I paired them with.

The set-ups for these paintings are very much influenced by my experience of painting similar still lifes at the Slade. Yet they are also strongly reminiscent of the very first paintings I ever produced as a teenager at home in Dorset - which were of similar subject matter.

The only drawback of painting the garlic was that it seemed to attract some country mice from outside. They were very bold and nearly blind. I kept having to push them away gently with my paintbrush.

I couldn't have left this set-up in the studio overnight otherwise they would have had it for supper, so it was good that I finished the painting yesterday evening.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Cold








These photographs show how I usually start a painting by 'blocking in' the shapes; defining shapes and their relationships to each other.

Next, the palette is just about to be wiped clean as I had filled it, and needed more mixing area.

The final two photographs show the painting as I finished it. Today was very dark throughout, and the cameraphone I'm using here isn't great quality, so I've taken one with the available light - and the last one with the lighting on in the studio.

All of the pictures capture the coldness of my studio today I think.

My recent output has been strongly biased towards flowers. I'm fascinated by them - and by roses in particular. They combine strength and delicacy - both in their colours and the structure. A rare combination, and a challenge for any painter.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Getting Through Paint







In the studio today continuing with yesterday's painting, I got through a lot of paint.

This was because I was discarding  a lot of colour in the process of mixing and re-mixing until I got it exactly right.

I'm pleased with the painting, which I finished today. The next step is to get it framed ready for the Art @ Plush show next month.

Studio Work





Yesterday I made a start on a painting intended for the forthcoming Art @ Plush exhibition in late November - raising money for breast cancer charities.

Here you see local seasonal dahlias and roses from the village - escapees our first frost which arrived this morning.

I'll be going back to the studio later today to continue with this painting.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Problem With Light





I went back to the studio today to finish my latest flower painting.

The battle I had today was with the very strong directional sunlight, streaming through the windows - and onto the canvas, palette and the still-life setup.

This was very different from yesterday, when what little sun there was arrived filtered through thick layers of cloud, and appeared much flatter and more even.

The top photograph above shows some of the sharp shadows cast among my brushes, and white spirit container.

Such conditions can make it tricky to compare colours as the sunlight was in my eyes.

Today's task was to concentrate on the pinks of the roses, and the middle photograph shows my palette as I prepared to work on this.

The last photograph shows the painting as I finished it.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Less Is More





While winter arrived outside my studio this morning, I was inside - quiet and cosy in my new legwarmers.

Instead of painting a large arrangement of flowers, with lots of structure, volume and complexity - I decided to work on something simpler and calmer.

It is good to get back to essentials sometimes, and really concentrate my attention on a smaller arrangement. This particular one is reminiscent of those we sometimes used in the Slade - which were sometimes single flowers in a small vase. It was at that time that I produced a number of paintings of, for example, garlic, onions or eggs.

I will resume work on this unfinished painting tomorrow.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blooming Marvellous




I had a very intense day in the studio today - working without a break from 10.00am until 6.30pm, keeping myself going with green tea and a big bag of monkey nuts.

The day ended with a finished painting, with which I'm very pleased.

I've kept the colours strong, and the lines I set out when I started it still flow.

The pictures above show the progression from morning until evening.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Autumn Roses




For the last few weeks I've concentrated on drawing in my sketchbook.

But today I decided to set up a still-life in the studio.

It was a real treat choosing, picking and arranging a collection of autumn roses.

Before anyone accuses me of chocolate-box tendencies let's look at some of the complexities and challenges that such a subject presents.

The first of these challenges is capturing the astonishingly rich and deep colours of the blooms - in this case reds, pinks and oranges.

Despite the fact that I invest in very good quality paints, even these will not match the luminosity and resonance of nature's petals without some effort on the palette.

And when I arrive at a colour with which I am happy, I still have to make some bold and difficult decisions about how the colours work in relation to each other. Just imitating the colour is never enough - you have to go further.

Here it is important to remember that I'm painting real, living flowers - under real, shifting, daylight... not working from a static, frozen, unchanging photograph.

By no means are these roses still. Throughout the day they change, slowly, subtly, but certainly. Blooms open, stems droop, the sun moves across the room. And when I return to the studio tomorrow to continue the painting, they will have changed yet more.

My main challenge tomorrow is to retain the freshness and immediacy of the paint I've already applied. This can be difficult when you begin to really labour on particular parts of the painting. And then I've got to know when to stop!

The photographs above show the painting more-or-less as I started it, along with the progress I had made by the end of the day.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Right Angle



Someone recently asked me about positioning of the easel in relation to the model.

Seeing the photographs above had got them thinking about whether what they were doing was right.

In the F Studio at the Slade we used plumb-lines to give you a constant, unchanging reference point for the position of your head again a particular part of the subject. A mark would usually also be made on a solid, unmoving object such as the backdrop or a wall.

I no longer use a plumb-line, but I am fastidious about posititioning myself in such a way that I am limiting the amount I have to move my head throughout the painting process. If I can set things up in such a way that I can simply glance at the model, then at the canvas without turning my head I find this ideal.

Examples of this are given in the pictures above.

With larger canvases however such an approach is sometimes not possible. I then spend time before I start moving and tilting the canvas to ensure that it doesn't obscure my subject, but is also not turned so much that I have to move or turn excessively away from the model to make marks.

In addition I mark the position of the model, the easel, and my painting stool on the floor using paint or chalk to ensure I can return to exactly the same position as far as possible.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Brush Envy



I really look after my brushes.

In the same way that I have a 'thing' about buying quality brushes, I am also almost obsessive about making sure that they are maintained properly.

I recently received a comment from someone who envied my brushes, and declared that they could often not find their brushes - or that they were clogged in dried paint.

On the few occasions where I've forgotten a brush, hidden among all my other bits and pieces, I've had to bin it when I found it. You see, unless you clean and maintain your brushes immediately after finishing each session they are as good as gone.

This is another aspect of my work which requires discipline and organisation. There is nothing I feel like doing less when I've finished a session than standing in front of a sink covered in oil paint, soap and washing-up liquid.

I go through this routine during a day's painting in the studio as well as at the end. So if there's a break - for the model, for lunch etc - I'll always clean those brushes I've used up to that point.

The way I clean is to use ordinary cheap bars of household soap, and washing-up liquid. I ensure that I'm washing in the direction of the bristles. I'm careful about this, and consequently my brushes do not splay, not matter how long I've had them. For this reason I have a well-maintained collection of brushes old and new.

I also use these breaks to change my white spirit, and to clean and reorganise my palette ready for the next session.

For me there's nothing as satisfying as starting or resuming a session with clean brushes, clean white spirit, a clean area for mixing on the palette and clean rags.

Clearly when painting outside in the landscape all day this discipline has to be modified. There I use plenty of white spirit and vast quantities of rag to clean the brushes, and equally frequent changes of white spirit. This all gets carried home at the end of the day, and sorted out for the next session.


Thursday, 10 July 2008

Organisation





I want to explain a little about how I manage my palette.

In my previous post I said that my focus when painting is on the subject, then the palette - and then, a long way after those two, my canvas.

Looking when painting is vital. Second only to this is organisation of the palette, and of your 'set-up'.

Those who know me, or who have seen me paint may be rather bemused by the apparent irony of this assertion. To an outside observer I probably appear to be really messy. Paint seems to get everywhere, including on me, the landscape and the model.

The reason for this is that my level of concentration while I am painting is such that I am entirely focussed on the few things that are vital to what I am doing at that moment.

The process tends to work like this:

Look at subject...

Mix on palette...

Look again at subject...

Mix on palette...

Look again...

Place mark on canvas....

Look at subject...

Re-mix and adjust colour...

Wipe mark off canvas with rag...

Look at subject...

Place new mark on canvas...

Look at subject...

etc etc.

This process involves the use of white spirit, rag, a palette knife for mixing colour, various brushes, the palette itself, and the canvas.

While I am painting it is only these elements which are important to me. I need to have each immediately to hand to ensure that I do not lose the thought behind the decision I have just made, and which I am about to represent on the canvas.

This is why 'organisation' is crucial. It may not be your idea of organisation, but it works for me.

There are some principles or disciplines to which I always adhere. Many of these originate in the training I received from tutors at the Slade.

At Manchester I used to mix on the palette with a brush. On arriving at the Slade I was advised that I should slow down this rather slap-dash mixing process. An effective way of achieving this was to use a palette knife. I use this only for mixing, and for scraping paint away from the canvas where necessary. I don't really place marks on the canvas with it.

Use of a palette knife forces me to give greater consideration to colour mixing on the palette. 'Arriving' at a colour with a brush is a quicker, more intuitive process, and this has its place on occasion. It can however lead to colours becoming muddy. And the 'quick-mix' approach can mean less considered mixing.

Of course organisation of the palette means far more than simply 'mixing' colours. It is not a matter of red and white makes pink.

I am attempting to represent much more with colour alone. When I look at a landscape, at a river, at the model's skin, I don't only see colour - hue and tone. I have to achieve depth, luminosity, resonance, brightness, saturation, warmth or coolness. And so many other intangible things.

And even if I can produce on the palette what I believe I have seen with my eyes, it may well be altered in character once it is placed on the canvas, particularly in relation to other existing marks.

While painting I have to regularly scrape my colours to the side of the palette, as it can become very crowded. I use the palette knife for this, and a white spirit-soaked rag to clean and re-clean the mixing area.

As a painting progresses I can make colour comparisons on the palette by referring to those previously mixed colours which I have scraped to the side.

Finally, good brushes are essential to an organised set-up. They carry a good quantity of paint, retain their shape and firmness, and enable consistency.

The top photograph above shows a recent order I made from Bird & Davis, including a bundle of new brushes.

On my first day at the Slade, Euan Uglow examined the equipment I had brought with me. He immediately banished me from the studio, saying that I shouldn't return until I had a long-handled round sable Kolinsky number 4 brush. Of course I bought one straight away, and found that I could now actually produce a thin line!

Having spent the previous three years almost entirely untutored in painting, at Manchester, I was aware that such good quality brushes and paint were available but I had avoided them because of the cost. The enormous difference that such materials make had never been explained or demonstrated to me until my first day at the Slade. Since then, every time I place an order for artist's materials I include one of those brushes - and I never use anything but artist's quality paint. My recent order of paint and brushes, pictured above, cost over £1,000. The best materials do not come cheap.



Monday, 23 June 2008

Look!





I want to talk about 'style'. As in painting styles.

This is a big subject, and is going to take more than one post.

A recent correspondent asked me to explain how I achieve my 'loose' style.

When painting I don't think about my 'style' at any stage. I think about colour, about placing, about what I'm painting. I try and achieve the same resonance on the canvas that I'm seeing with my eyes.

For example, if the horizon is shimmering, then I'll try and capture that. If it changes while I'm painting it then I'll try and capture that too. Then I'll make a decision about whether to change it at that stage, or to leave it as it is, with the possibility of changing it later. I explain a little about this thought process in the post immediately below this one.

The key to all of this is to actually look.

Looking is an active thing, something you have to do very deliberately and consciously. It doesn't mean glancing at the landscape, then painting what you think you might be seeing in a way that fits in with what is already on the canvas.

I spend very little time looking at the canvas.

For the vast majority of the time that I'm working I am looking at the subject, then at the palette, then back at the subject.

I'll then look at the canvas t0 place the marks on it, but it is definitely not the focus of my attention.

The making of each mark on the canvas is the culmination of deep observation, consideration and understanding; the making of the right colour and resonance on the palette. And then finally placing the mark on the canvas.

Then you have to look back at the subject to see whether you've got that mark right.

I'm not precious about my marks. They are so frequently re-evaluated, re-considered, re-painted that I cannot be so.

If you are not prepared to change, even obliterate, marks you have made however beautiful and effective they may look - it means that you are not going to push yourself and develop as a painter.

At the Slade we were taught to initially block in the main shapes first, squinting while doing so in order to obscure the fussy detail of a scene and to allow yourself to focus on the tonal qualities. At this stage I am painting in flat colour, and in basic planes - rather than 'modelling'.

There then follows a process of refinement, of building up the surface - and really looking to bring out more elements of the picture which were perhaps obliterated by squinting harshly.

Then as the picture becomes more complex I will occasionally return to the main shapes, and how they relate to each other - right through until the painting is completed.

In summary, you are not properly looking at your subject if your expectation is to get it right first time. It is vital to continue to look at what you are painting right up until the moment that you stop painting. And you should be prepared to make dramatic changes right up until that moment.

After all, painting is a destructive process in my opinion.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Sorting The Sheep From The Cows




The photographs above show recent progress on the large landscape that I started here in late spring.

I had hoped to bring it to a conclusion before now, but a variety of circumstances and other projects got in the way. This meant that the time between painting sessions was longer than I would have liked.

As a result the landscape has changed enormously. When I started this painting the top field was intensely-yellow flowering rape, and the field in the foreground had sheep and new-born lambs grazing in it. They kept the grass short, and the colours were paler as the new grass emerged.

Now the view is very different.

The field in the foreground has great patches of nettles which have grown rather high, obscuring some of the previous view. The flowering rape is now over, and has turned green. The hedgerows are blossoming white. And the sheep and lambs have moved to fresh pastures to be replaced with a herd of Holstein bullocks. The scene has the lush, deeper colours of early summer.

The top photograph was taken today, and the lower one on Monday.

As you can see I have had to take a positive decision to lose the sheep from the painting. I was sad to see them go, as they were part of the inspiration for starting it. I am also not ashamed to say that the lambs were very cute and full of personality.

Looking at the lower photograph you can see that the loss of the sheep was not a snap decision. On Monday I cautiously began to add the cows, leaving the sheep present in case they returned as they sometimes do.

During today's session the angular black-and-white bovines began to dominate. And although I have 'lost my sheep', they have not disappeared entirely from the painting. In places I have deliberately left ghostly echoes of their presence.

This is because such a painting is not a photograph. It does not capture and freeze a single moment in time. It is rather a record of the time I spent intensely observing and absorbing the ever-changing, living, evolving scene in front of me. And this is naturally reflected in the painting.

That is not to say that the sheep will necessarily still be there in any form when the painting is completed. But that their presence for a time has influenced what I have painted in some way.


Friday, 30 May 2008

Huge & Lucious




Having recently finished my nude, I'm currently working on my large landscape.

But on days like today, where the rain has stopped me from working outside - I take advantage of my studio.

Painting still lifes of flowers may seem to some rather pedestrian, but I see it completely differently.

The challenge of capturing the complex variety of structures and delicate forms of garden flowers, whilst showing their freshness and luciously rich colours, is one that excites and inspires me.

In addition to their individual shapes, a vase or jug stuffed full of mixed garden flowers also has its own character as an 'arrangement', and it is this that I am trying to capture.

I almost always use only flowers from my own garden. This results in widely differing colours and varieties depending on the season.

It was when I moved to this area two years ago, inheriting a beautifully stocked garden from the previous owner (to which I added Cosmos, a gift from my stepfather), that I started painting garden flowers on large canvases.

The photographs above show the painting as it progressed throughout the day. I will continue with it tomorrow - and post the results here.


Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Finished




Yesterday I finished the nude that I've been working on with my model for the last month.

You have no idea how difficult I found it to type the word 'finished'.

My paintings change and develop in such a way that marks are added and taken away all the time. This means that in moving a painting forward towards completion I have to take risks.

Sometimes I lose aspects of a painting which I really like. So the process of creation also involves destruction. This can mean being ruthless. If you insist on retaining marks, aspects and features that you like and feel comfortable with, your painting will never improve and develop.

Here I wanted to keep the painting loose in style, as I felt the pose suggested some movement, although the model actually held her pose beautifully still.

The paradox is that I'm really pleased with this finished painting, but at the same time I know I lost great elements within it during the process of painting it. Equally, I could be tempted to continue with it for another session or two - but my judgement is that where it is now is 'finished'. Deciding when that moment has arrived is one of the most difficult decisions I have to make as an artist, and I am often wracked with doubt.

One of the really positive aspects of finishing a painting like this is that it has really inspired me to leap straight into the next nude. It has been such an stimulating process, from which I've learned so much, that I'm really eager to consolidate this by moving on to the next canvas and pose.

So, sometimes my sense of achievement is not only about having a 'finished' painting, but about what I am taking from that painting into the next one.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Progression



Over the last few weeks I've been painting from the model in the studio.

This has been a very welcome return to a discipline that I consider vital as a painter.

It is also a fascinating and challenging process, which I aim to persist with.

The photographs above show the painting I've been working on as it developed from the start (top picture) to the finish (lower picture) of the session on a particular day.

They illustrate the difficulty of working on something which can appear very simple, but is in fact rather complex.

Some of what I liked about my painting at the start of the session has been lost by the end, but the painting is not yet finished - and my aim is to bring this back without losing the qualities I like in the later, lower picture.

It is a fine balancing act.

You can see in an earlier post here that the pose has changed somewhat. When we first started this painting the model's body was much more turned towards me. As that turned out to be an uncomfortable pose for the model we adapted it so that she was more turned towards the pillow. This meant that she could pose more comfortably, and for longer.

Each week the model re-adopts the pose. There will of course be subtle differences. These may be, for example, the elements of the model's body - the placing of the knee, the tilt of the head etc.

This is no reflection on the professionalism of my excellent model - but there are so many variables that such differences are inevitable.

Light will also be different, as will the placing of the material and backdrop. I make strenuous efforts to mark places and positions, such as drawing marks on the sofa on which the model is posing, in order to get the pose as accurate as I can each week.

I'm looking forward to our next session, when I intend to bring this painting to completion.


Thursday, 1 May 2008

Progress


Following on from the previous post, I started working in oils on the large canvas.

I'm still at the stage of working out where everything goes, which is why there isn't much detail yet. When I'm happy with the placing of everying in relation to each other - then I can begin to work with more intensity on each area of the canvas.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Charcoal On Canvas




The weather has been unpredictable here in Dorset over the last few weeks.

Readers of my earlier posts here will know that I am not put off by 'bad' weather. But when conditions are so changeable that painting becomes impossible with little warning, then the effort of getting to an isolated spot can be wasted. It is disheartening to have to just turn round and come back because of, for example, torrential rain.

So earlier this week I identified a spot very near my home where I could easily manage a large canvas. I am out of the wind, and there is shelter nearby if I need it. This view of the fields of sheep is one which I've been wanting to paint since I moved here. It's years since I last painted sheep.

Painting on this scale is something I really enjoy. In fact I feel that I need to do it. A canvas of this size seems to suit the scale of my marks. It seems natural to me that a big landscape should be painted on a big canvas. It is only the practicalities that stop me from painting even larger - but I'm determined to find ways around this in the future.

My friend Ben took these photographs of me starting work on this canvas.

I began to explain to him what I intended to do. I picked up a stick on the ground, from the remnants of a bonfire, using it to demonstrate how useful it would be to me to have a paintbrush with a  l o n g  handle so that I could stand back and make marks at arms length.

I didn't mean to start drawing on the canvas at that moment. But once I realised that the burnt wood provided me with a piece of superb quality charcoal it was too good an opportunity to waste. I continued to work out my placing while Ben took more photos.

Normally I don't use charcoal or pencil in the preliminary stages of a painting. I do the sketching using paint, brush and rag.

I'll post more later this week to show how the painting progresses.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Challenging Pose


This week I've been painting from the model in the studio.

We started a new pose, which I could tell from the outset was going to be challenging for the model. So, we discussed this at the start - and made plans to ensure that she would be comfortable. It is easy to forget that weight placement (for example, having one leg resting on the other) can quickly cause discomfort, pins-and-needles, cramps and aches.

The pose was a really good one, which inspired me. But we had to face the reality of more regular breaks to ensure we avoided the above maladies.

My model is very professional, and keen to work to the limit of her abilities. I wouldn't quite go along with Euan Uglow's rather extreme categorisation of life models in this article from the Telegraph.

It may be the case that we decide to work on two poses during the same session. The more challenging one in the morning - and a different one in the afternoon.

I've made a promising start, and am looking forward to our next session. The top photograph here shows the painting at the end of the first session.

Following my last post, my order for new paint arrived, and in the second photograph above you can see my freshly-opened large tube of cadmium yellow.