All set for watercolour

Annual holidays eh? Such a treat! For me they are increasingly a chance to get some mental breathing room to rein back my long-standing depression and let me paint for a while. Change of location I guess, away from everything. Lovely.

So, in a couple of weeks I’ll be off again to my all-time favourite destination, the Lizard Peninsular in Cornwall.

I love working plein air, usually with a pochade box, a tripod and oils or acrylics. This year however I’m leaving all that malarkey at home so I can concentrate on watercolour.

Must say I’m nervous. I’m far more comfortable painting in oils or acrylics, but on the plus side this is an opportunity to practice. And, as a bonus, the switch will make my kit considerably lighter. My back’s going to thank me for that!

Personally I’ve always found pure watercolour particularly difficult. I really love the luminosity to be had, but struggle so much to keep things clean and ‘pure’. The very act of mentally deconstructing a scene to paint from light to dark makes my brain bend like a banana in a yoga class…

But, when I work on holiday my paintings are usually only intended to be sketches for pleasure, not finished pieces. Does it really matter how I resolve an image as long as it works for me? I guess not. Big plan then: loosen up and to hell with that transparency gig. I’m taking gouache. And pastel pencils too. I can hear the purists screaming; I feel your pain.

In terms of kit, I plan to take:

  • My trusty Frank Herring Dorchester watercolour palette. I’ve tried many through the years and always come back to this one. Lightweight and with plenty of mixing room. And as I’ve had it since the early ‘90s, I guess it’s pretty robust too!
  • W&N and Holbein artists’ gouache, although I’m not too certain about the latter. Probably my lack of experience, but I find the Holbein extremely strongly tinted and difficult to handle.
  • A self-sealing palette specifically for the gouache. Not tried this one before, (pinched it from Carole…), so let’s see if it really does keep the paint moist without an unholy mixture of runny Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson dribbling into my rucksac… Colourful, but it makes a real mess of your butties. Palette for gouache
  • A plastic rosette palette for mixing gouache – I don’t want to mix it with my watercolours, well, not off the page anyway…
  • Da Vinci sable travelling brushes 3, 6 and 10.
  • A selection of synthetic brushes for the gouache.
  • Pastel pencils. Looks like I’m taking a lot, but will edit down each day depending on what I’m doing. Pastel pencil roll
  • Various graphite and carbon pencils for sketching. There’re a few spares in there so again I’ll edit down to essentials once I arrive.
  • Masking tape (broad and narrow). I like to divide my pages, and a white border always looks so good.

As usual I’m going to keep my colour palette simple with warm and cool variants of the primaries: 2 reds, 2 blues and 2 yellows. I’ll supplement these with a few earth colours and darker variants to create denser areas of tone.

For paper I’ll be using my favourite: Saunders Waterford both in a large hard bound book (my Cornwall book) and in a few pads.

Cornish sketchbook

I’ll also take my Stillman and Birn sketch pad and a Moleskine watercolour journal for ‘light’ days.

And that’s it. Hopefully, Wi-Fi willing, I’ll be able to post more when I get down there. In the meantime remember I’m often more active on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts so please check me out there too.

Cornwall in September

I always look forward to my visits to Cornwall, it really feels like a second home now. This time we’re celebrating my wife’s ‘big’ birthday, so we’re here for three whole weeks. We’re about to go into our third week.

It’s not meant to be a painting holiday, but I’ve brought my plein air kit anyway! Oils this time rather than my usual acrylics.

To be honest, since we arrived on the Lizard Peninsular from our first week on the Isles of Scilly the weather hasn’t been exactly clement. A succession of storms have passed through, including a spectacular one at three in the morning which was more than biblical in proportion. Thunder and lightning accompanied by the most severe torrential rain I can recall seeing. Not good.

So in between relaxing as a family and dodging the weather, times to set up and concentrate on painting have been relatively few. I have sketched a little, but not very much.

The paintings

Here are my three 8” by 10” efforts in oils to date. The first is a view from our cottage garden.  I’ve moved a few things round, but I’m still not that happy with the composition. The second is in one of my favourite spots on the Lizard, Poltesco a long abandoned serpentine works. And the third is a roundhouse from the 16th century on the road to Church Cove.

It’s been very restful using oils again. So much more time to think about colour mixes. Acrylics are very unforgiving. Turn your back and they turn into an immovable solid lump of plastic on the palette and brush. It’s nice to be able to take the generous time which oils allow.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance paint some more in the last week of our holiday. If I can, great, if not, oh well, the holiday comes first.

Remember, my FaceBook page is often updated first with snippets and odds and ends.

Of pets and sketches and being unbusy

With my studio still stuffed full with boxes of stuff from my late Dad’s estate, apart from making occasional sketches I’ve not been at all productive over the past 18 months. I completely underestimated the sheer physical amount of personal material I’d have to pick through and the ongoing, negative emotional impact that would have.  In truth, I’ve had neither the time nor inclination to get stuck into anything very much.

A new pet portrait commission…

Before I completely filled the studio, early in the year I started a new commission in alkyds, a pet portrait of a gorgeous Italian Spinone dog. As I needed to work from photos I’ve found my iPadPro remarkably useful, being able to zoom in and adjust the lighting to reveal structural detail at will.

At the moment this is on hold with my client’s blessing, but it is close to completion. Unfortunately at 70cm by 100cm it is rather large, and I’ll only be able to finish it once my studio’s clear again.

…and a Cornish break

At least my June holiday gave me time to settle and sketch. Here are a few 6″ by 8″ acrylic sketches from my visit to the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall.

And I’m off again in September. First to the Isles of Scilly for 1 week and then the lizard again for 2 weeks. A three week holiday! I won’t want to come back! My plein air kit will go with me of course.

I’m still undecided whether to take oils instead of my usual acrylics. So many advantages including extended drying time and retention of brush strokes. But after a few trial runs in the garden I really need to brush up. I seem to be very good at making panels of mud!

With things as they are at the moment it’s a lot less of a faff for me to upload a post to Facebook and Instagram than this blog as I can easily do it on the fly from my phone. So, i
f you’d like to see more frequent updates, please head on over and like my FaceBook page. 

Dinosaur dabblings…

Over Christmas I had the urge to do something creative, but a little less demanding. Back in February 2014 I wrote about a small sculpture I’d created of Allosaurus fragilis, a Jurassic Theropod dinosaur. Frankly this had been lurking in a box ever since I made it, so I decided it was high time to get it out, dust it off, give it a decent paint job and finish it.

I tackle painting a sculpture like this with some of the same sensibilities reserved for making a traditional painting on canvas. The tools and paints may differ, but there are parallels, with careful control of hue and tone used to suggest texture, form and distance. However, I have to say I find this sort of task easier than painting because in some ways it feels a little like 3D colouring-in with clearly defined areas to tackle, the mouth, teeth, hands etc.

I’d spent a lot of time trying to ensure the sculpt was as accurate as I could achieve, and I also wanted to make sure my colour scheme was plausible. Allosaurus was a hunter, and as a rule of thumb standing out from your surroundings really isn’t helpful when stalking prey. So I decided on a muted palette with soft stripes and a counter change of lightish undersides and darker upper body to break up the dinosaur’s profile against the tree line. I originally intended to go quite light and sandy for the main colourway, but it evolved into what became a pleasant dusty, warm green.

Allosaurus left profile dinosaurAllosaurus right profile dinosaur

I used Tamiya liquid acrylic paints in an Iwata Eclipse airbrush for the bulk of the work. Detail was added over the top using Liquitex Heavy Body acrylics and tiny brushes; my poor eyes! This dinosaur is at 1/30th scale, less than 12” from snout to tail, and in common with other small models or sculpts I started by applying a dark purple pre-shading layer over the primer. This informed both the position of the stripes, and helped to define shadowed areas under its limbs. This pre-shading is needed because the effect of ‘real’ light on something so small simply doesn’t always give a convincing ‘weight’ and presence.

Colour too has to be modified. When you view a 12” sculpt of a dinosaur from three or four feet away, it’s the equivalent of looking at the real thing at a considerable distance. At full size the atmosphere between the viewer and subject reduces contrast and makes things appear lighter and bluer. To replicate this in miniature the colours I used were deliberately lightened and toned down to achieve a more convincing reconstruction.

Allosaurus front dinosaur

Dinosaurs, and all manner of prehistoric life, have been a constant passion of mine since I was a very wee person, and now as I plod merrily out of middle age, my interest still shows no signs of dwindling. While I’ll be getting back to painting with a new commission very soon, don’t be surprised if I start work on yet another dinosaur sculpture. Watch this space…

 

Oil paints are calling again…

Well, here we are on Christmas Eve. You know, it really doesn’t feel like two months have gone by since my last post. These long gaps are getting to be a bit of a habit. I was really on a high when I returned, but once the initial post-holiday buzz wore off and the nights drew in everything’s become, well, bloody depressing again if I’m honest.

That said, I have made a start on my ‘View to Charmouth’ seascape. And one thing I discovered is how much I’ve missed working with oil paints (well, alkyds). Two things above all have struck a chord. First the texture, lovely and buttery with every brush mark preserved. So nice to push it around safe in the knowledge that the brush isn’t going to immediately congeal into an unforgiving, insoluble lump. I do like acrylics but…

Second, and I know it’s not a good thing to be breathing it in, I do so love the smell of turps! They reckon smells are strongly linked to memories and that’s what I’m finding. The warm and heavy resin scent takes me back to when Mum and Dad bought my first set of oil paints when I was about 11; a Christmas present I think. It made me feel dead grown up – a real oil painting set, just like what ‘proper’ artists use! I was really made up, and somewhere my first efforts are still waiting to be discovered round at Dad’s house.

Of course I had absolutely no idea how to use them. My only painting experience was with the hard, gritty slabs of school poster paint. So, I used lots and lots of turps to thin them to within an inch of their life; nice and sloppy. And then I’d mix them; all of them. Whatever I mixed, it usually came out as a bluey shade of brown. Well, I was only 11. Any understanding of colour and tone was still a far distant star… But it was such a joyful experience rubbing my ridiculously dribbly oil paints over tiny rectangles of oil paper. Without the gift of that experience and Mum’s constant encouragement, “never let your painting go”, I probably wouldn’t be painting now.

So I set out an 80cm by 20cm canvas, squared up the drawing and thinly washed in the keynotes before working over in thicker paint.

View to Charmouth gridded up

View to Charmouth underpainting

At this end of the year I tend only work at weekends when I can make use of the daylight. I have some very good Ottlite daylight lamps, which I find great for small scale work, but I don’t find them comfortable for sustained working over a largisih painting.

View to Charmouth underpainting 2View to Charmouth 5

So now the winter weather has turned day into fifty shades of grim and gloomy grey, I’ve stopped painting for the moment.

Fingers crossed though, over the Christmas break, I’m hoping we might get some clear bright weather so I can tinker once more. In the meantime here’s hoping you and yours have a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year.

See you all on the other side!

Refreshed and buzzing

Hello everyone. I’ve recently returned refreshed from a brilliant two week holiday in East Devon. The weather was phenomenal, sunny and dry with only one day being washed out. And we watched Bottlenose Dolphins for a whole 20 minutes as they swam in the looking- glass sea!! Sorry, just had to get that out now because, well, because… DOLPHINS! YAY!!

It’s been over six months now since my dad died, and given how I’ve been feeling I’d reined back any artistic expectations for the holiday. My life approach at the moment is to take each day as it comes. If I feel like painting or drawing I will, if I don’t, then I won’t. The muse will come back when it’s ready, and judging by this holiday that’s not going to be long.

Thumbox2
Guerrilla pochade box

To keep things simple I just took my 6” by 8” Guerrilla pochade box with a few basic acrylics and my trusty Saunders Waterford watercolour sketchbook and Herring compact palette. I surprised myself by how soon into the holiday I actually wanted to paint – I was positively itching on some days. By the end of the fortnight I’d knocked out four acrylics and a few watercolour sketches. Doesn’t sound like much, but believe me this has been a big step forward.

Carole painting
Carole painting on Monmouth beach

I’m most pleased with a couple of the watercolour sketches. My wife Carole was painting fossils on Monmouth beach in Lyme Regis in Dorset. The light around her head was wonderful, and I worked quickly to establish her in as few brushstrokes as possible. I think the sense of strong sunlight really comes through don’t you?

View toward Charmouth
View toward Charmouth

My second is a view from Lyme over the bay towards Charmouth, an iconic spot for wonderful Jurassic fossils. I’ve not got the tonal depth quite right to big up the sunlight falling on the cliffs, but it’s sparked a desire to work this into a larger piece. Fortunately I bought a bunch of panoramic canvases while I was in Sidmouth. My thought is to work it completely in oils or alykds. It’s been a while, but I do miss using them and want to start the switch back, at least for some paintings.

So, rather unexpectedly, I seem to have come back with my head full of ideas and with a generally creative buzz. All manner of projects and fancies are popping into my head, and not all are painting related. There’s the painting above of course, but I also rather fancy having a crack at making a moody painting of The Batman. I’m sure some people might raise an eyebrow or two – surely not a ‘proper’ subject for a painter? ‘Tish’ and ‘Phooey’ I say to that – in the nicest possible way of course. It’s the scope for creating a dark brooding atmosphere by playing with the light that attracts – so many levels of black; besides he’s such an iconic character.

I also fancy breaking out the Sculpey this winter to reconstruct another dinosaur, possibly a Scelidosaurus. I sculpted an Allosaurus fragilis a few years ago, something else which I’m determined to paint and finish it in the next month or two. Scelidosaurus is very much a ‘British’ dinosaur with many of its remains being found at Charmouth –now there’s a happy coincidence J

But above all these I’ve just accepted a commission! It’s going to be in alkyds, it will be big at 40″ by 30″ and will feature an Italian Spinone called Jo-Jo – a gorgeous, slobbery hairball of a dog; she’s so lovely.

My immediate issue with all this returning enthusiasm is limited time. I know I can only do so much, and I’ve been putting off clearing my dad’s house for sale, a huge, emotionally draining job. It contains the sole remaining physical traces of the lives of my dad, my mum, nan and grandad. Everything I throw away, recycle or sell dismantles a little more of the fabric of their lives, fraying their memory. It’s truly heart rending.

So, watch keep watching this space, ‘Follow’ me on Twitter or ‘Like’ my Facebook page. Progress may be sporadic, but bear with me.

Categorically Acrylic Painting Competition

Gnarled trees on Colmers Hill
Gnarled trees on Colmers Hill

Hello. Well, it’s been a while since my last post. Although I’m still not really painting at the moment, one of my acrylics from earlier in the year has been ticking along nicely, and has now popped up in a county open exhibition and been short listed in a national competition.

In April my 14″ by 10″ ‘Gnarled trees on Colmers Hill’ was accepted for this year’s Staffordshire Open Arts. It was exhibited from May to July at the Shire Hall Gallery in Stafford alongside very stiff competition. The standard, as usual, was high and unfortunately, I didn’t win anything, but having the painting accepted was a very welcome boost.

Ade at Staffordshire Open Arts
Ade at Staffordshire Open Arts

A couple of weeks ago I also entered it into Jackson’s Art Supplies ‘Categorically Acrylic Painting Competition‘. I was chuffed when I found out it has been shortlisted.

In addition to the chance of it being judged by a panel within it’s category (landscape), it’s also open to a public vote. My fingers are well and truly crossed. Do visit the page and check out all the wonderful entries (mine is on page 2).

Gnarled trees on Colmers Hill framed
Gnarled trees on Colmers Hill framed

And if you fancy it for your wall it’s framed and for sale at £140 to UK addresses only (sorry rest of world). See my notes on sales and email me if you’re interested.

Creativity Crash

Kennack sands acrylic painting
Kennack Sands 10″ by 8″ acrylic

Well, that’s it then, I’ve definitely had a big creativity crash. I find it difficult to understand how I can go on holiday to the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall with great weather, drop-dead gorgeous coastline, and so much to inspire and enthuse and come back with virtually nothing; just a couple of ill-judged watercolour sketches and a forced plein air beachscape.

I wrote about how much I was looking forward to this holiday in my last post, and I’d packed loads of plein air gear and panels along with high hopes of knocking out a painting or six. The reality is, once I was there, I simply couldn’t get enthused. I tried to force myself, thinking that simply pitching in would break the deadlock, but no. Don’t get me wrong, the holiday itself was a very welcome break away from everything, and yes I did enjoy the time with my wife Carole, all the walking, the wildlife and in particular the long periods of staring aimlessly out to sea on my evening walks. I got quite good at that.

Alice Hole and Ade Turner
Great to meet talented painter Alice Hole

There was one special highlight too: meeting talented Helston based artist Alice Hole. I’ve known Alice as a digital friend on Twitter for quite some time, and it was so nice to actually meet up over a real life coffee. You can visit Alice’s Facebook page here. Besides reinforcing my long held desire to move to Cornwall, Alice also encouraged me to start actively using my dormant Facebook account. She told me that as a professional artist she finds Facebook a very useful tool, and more effective than Twitter for encouraging sales.

Although I’m very familiar with Twitter, this was new territory for me. So, over one rainy day in our cottage I did my research and went live. You can see, and ‘Like’, my ‘Ade Turner: Artist’ page here. I have to say, Facebook really isn’t as intuitive as it could be, and there are many areas of confusion and potential for privacy slips.

For me, the main difficulty was getting my head around the relationship and differences between my personal account, and my artist ‘Page’. Naturally I would like to encourage people to ‘Follow’ my page, but you can only add a ‘Follow’ button onto your personal page.

Now, my personal timeline is filling up with the usual banter between friends, which will be of little interest to anyone looking for my artwork. So I thought, not unreasonably, I’d start a new Facebook account specifically for Ade the artist. Nope, can’t do that. Apparently it’s a big Facebook no-no, and they will challenge and close multiple accounts held by one person. That is so dumb.

The ‘business me’ is a very different entity to the ‘private me’ with distinct needs and expectations. Why shouldn’t I be able to separate and manage both while retaining useful Facebook functions across both? As long as I can prove I’m a genuine individual responsible for the content of each account, where’s the problem? I can run as many Twitter accounts as I like. Facebook really needs to sort this, as it sounds like it’s a common gripe on forums.

Thumbox2
Thumbox2 open for business

While I’m talking of online things, I succumbed to a spot of art-based retail therapy while I was away and bought this Guerrilla Thumbox2 pochade from Dick Blick art supplies. There’s nothing like the anticipation of new kit to cheer me up, and I’d had my eye on one of these for a while.

The American art market seems spoiled for choice when it comes to plein air gear, and their service was brilliant. We ordered on a Sunday, had an email to confirm the shipping cost was OK on the Thursday and it arrived on the following Monday morning. Just over a week from order to delivery. I’ve had longer waits from some UK suppliers!

Guerrilla packaging
Pristine in packaging

It arrived well packed, and the quality is what you’d expect of a mass produced item. The finish is a little rough here and there, and I’ve a few little gripes like the palette extension doesn’t sit flat at 90 degrees as described and the nuts holding the tripod plate are a little intrusive in the box cavity, but these really are minor things and I love it.

Of course, now it’s arrived, I can’t summon up the enthusiasm to get out and use it…

You know, I’m pretty sure this creativity crash is all part of my grieving. It’s only just been over a couple of months since my dad died. Odd thing is, if you ask me how I’m coping I’ll probably say OK. In truth, deep down, all is not as well as it would seem on the surface. There’s an underlying numbness and disassociation which I just can’t shake. Some days even getting out of bed is a struggle.

And now here I am, back home, trying to reignite the spark. These pages may be painting free for a while, please bear with me.

Back to Cornwall

It’s been seven weeks now since my dad died. Funny, it seems much longer somehow. Those weeks have been both awful and hectic.

All packed
All packed

Not surprisingly, my creativity has taken a huge hit. I just can’t get interested in anything much, let alone enthused. Hopefully, that’s about to change. This weekend we’re off to the gorgeous Lizard peninsular in Cornwall for a two week holiday, and I’m packing my plein air gear along with a big parcel of good intentions.

I’m looking forward so much to getting time away from the house and work.  It’s surely going to be therapeutic just being able to have a break to reset my mind, whether or not I actually get round to painting.

Spurred on by my wife’s holiday picks, alongside my standard acrylics and watercolours I’ve also thrown in my Unison pastels. I’ve only ever played about with them, never anything serious, but I do enjoy the colours and feel. Unison pastels are so velvety; from what I remember, using them is a seriously sensuous experience.

So, keep a lookout on my Twitter feed for updates. I know I’m starting to feel better, and this trip should prove just the boost I need.

Goodbye Dad

This post isn’t going to be about my art. You see, a couple of weeks back on the 13th April my dad, William James, died. Although he’d been frail for a very long time it was still a huge shock. It was all over in one awful morning.

At eighty nine he’d been plagued by a raft of medical problems. He had many bouts of illness, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentally prepared to say my goodbyes. But each time he rallied, recovered, smiled and stoically pressed forward, rarely complaining. Latterly we joked that we should call him Lazarus, and he told me he’d promised his mum he’d keep going until he was a hundred. I believed him.

What I have learned is that, no matter what you believe, you are never truly prepared for the loss of a parent. I wasn’t with my mum, and I’ve not been with dad.

I’ve looked after him since the first of the mini-strokes which started his slow decline in 2001. We lived a few doors apart on the same road, so it was natural to check up pretty much every day. I think it’s true to say that there hasn’t been a week gone by where I’ve not seen him or at least spoken him on the phone.

Prior to getting married, I’d lived together with dad, mum and, in the sixties and seventies, both maternal grandparents too. Sounds like a bit of a crush, but when I was growing up it all seemed very normal to me, and it’s definitely left a mark; a very good mark. As an extended family we were always close, loving and inseparable.

Sketches of my Dad from drawingaugust
Sketches of my Dad from #drawingaugust

Dad was a very straightforward bloke with simple tastes and outlook. The things which gave him greatest pleasure included visiting steam railways and family holidays in Seaton in East Devon.  He loved comedy, Tommy Cooper and Morecombe and Wise made him cry with laughter. I need to mention drink here too. He loved his real ale, whisky and port, sometimes all in the same glass, and all at the same time – I kid you not! That’s my dad.

Most of his working life he maintained aircraft, steam and diesel locos and other clanking things. I’ll never know whether he was ever disappointed I didn’t follow in his engineering footsteps, but he was always very supportive. In any event, I’d have been a rubbish engineer, but to this day I too love the sight, sound and smells of steam engines; I get that from him.

Despite money always being tight, he didn’t think twice about helping to fund me through three years of Polytechnic to get my biology degree, and then my post grad teacher training. I do remember he was mystified when I decided not to become a teacher having spent a year getting qualified, but there was never any fuss or reproach. He was only ever a low paid man, and I shudder to think how much in real terms he spent to support me.

Like many dads, he spent a lot of his time ferrying the younger me about to and from friends and such like. And do you know what? I don’t ever recall him complaining about being ‘dad’s taxi service’. When you’re younger you seldom appreciate how much your parents do for you. I know I probably didn’t at the time. Maybe it’s the role of teenagers not to notice such things.

Like all families, we weren’t always cheery and smiling. When I was a younger man dad and I had our share of animated spats, like most sons and fathers the world over I guess, but there was never anything serious or long lasting. Whenever I was in trouble or need he was always there for me, even when I was doing things he didn’t agree with or simply didn’t ‘get’. I hope over the past years I’ve been there for him too whenever it counted.

I think everyone who knew dad well would probably agree he had a couple of stand-out character traits: a gentle curmudgeonliness tempered with a daft sense of humour sometimes so dry it would wither a desert. I’m so proud to have inherited both, and in my later years I intend to become a fully paid up ‘grumpy old man’.  Who am I kidding? Heck, I’m starting right now; dad would be so proud.

There’s so much more to my dad of course than this quick jumble of words, but this is at least a quick snapshot with which I can both remember and honour him.

I buried my dad on Thursday 23rd April and now, so suddenly, he’s dead and gone forever. I’ll never again see his face or hear his voice, or be able to give him a big sloppy man-hug and kiss. For me this is the end of an era, my closest blood-family is now all gone. I have a very large, very raw, dad shaped hole in my life.

Goodbye dad. ‘Best Dad Ever’ doesn’t even come close.

Love you xxx

Ade