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, if you’d like to see more frequent updates, please head on over and like my FaceBook page.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
Ever since I was sent samples last year, I’ve been meaning to give Jackson’s Eco watercolour paper a proper trial. The textures are lovely, and I was really attracted by the heaviest extra rough paper. So I ordered a 22″ by 30″ sheet.
Before getting onto the paper, a word about the packaging. My lonely, solitary sheet came flat in a polythene bag in a huge box which was then stuffed with bubble packs. Honestly, it was a shame to unwrap it. Well done Jacksons.
When I eventually reached the paper it felt exciting in the hand; so tactile. I could imagine it would work really well as a base for a super large, rough water seascape, especially with the decal edge and warping preserved. Sadly, my watercolour confidence doesn’t stretch quite that far!
Physically, this has to be the thickest ‘paper’ I’ve ever come across. It came out fairly consistently between 2.5mm and 3mm thick. To be honest, at 560lb weight, calling it a paper is stretching the description a bit. To my thinking you should be able to fold a piece of paper with ease. That’s really not going to happen with this product. I think it would be fairer to call it a textured watercolour board. Semantics aside, for me the fact that it is so very solid appeals. It should be ideal to take out a set of small boards on a painting trip with no need to stretch or mount.
On delivery the paper is in a naturally ‘wibbly-wobbly’ state. Whether you paint straight onto it and allow the paint run as dictated by the random undulating troughs and peaks, or whether you flatten it is entirely a matter for personal preference. I prefer a flatter surface. So I sprayed both sides of the paper with water until just damp, sandwiched it between paper towels and laid a heavy slab of granite (a kitchen cutting board) on top. After a couple of days it had set nice and flat without altering the texture.
According to Jackson’s description the paper is handmade in India, and looking at it, I’m pretty sure it’s unbleached. Comparing it with my favourite watercolour paper, Saunders Waterford, it seems ‘greyer’, a little darker and cooler in tint. I did wonder how any highlights might play out.
It’s not immediately obvious whether the paper is sized both internally and externally. Washes seem to rest on the surface for a while before sinking, and I’m guessing that it is surface sized.
I often use low tack masking tape around my watercolour sketches to leave a clean white border, but I thought the surface of the Eco watercolour paper felt a little soft. Ignoring the obvious difficulty of defining any sort of clean edge over such a heavy texture, I tested it anyway. Sure enough, the paper stuck firmly to the tape and the surface tore free as the tape was removed. Not sure whether the same would be true of masking fluid. As I seldom use it, I didn’t try it here.
For my first painting I recreated an acrylic painting of Chun Quoit in Cornwall which I’d donated to #twitterartexhibit. After an initial coat of orange (Quinacridone Red and Cadmium Yellow) I worked the painting by scumbling undiluted paint across the surface, catching the highlights and sometimes working the paint deeper into the cracks and crevices. I really, really loved the paper for this way of working. So rich and vibrant, I got lost in the process. You can watch a time lapse video of the two hours it took to complete the painting.
For my second painting, I made this quick sketch of one of my cats in pure watercolour. I’ll be honest, I didn’t find it as easy as my acrylic effort. At room temperature (18-20C) heavy washes took a good 20 minutes to dry, and often remained damp beyond this. And, as the painting progressed, I think the sheer thickness of paper acted like a reservoir. If you want to work onto a dry surface this may be worth bearing in mind. Ironically, the texture which so attracted me when using acrylics, proved a little intimidating when I switched to watercolour.
For me, the bare paper highlights appeared rather muted, giving the whole a quiet aspect. Whether you prefer your whites whiter than white, or a tad more dialled down and subtle, is a matter for personal taste and your subject matter.
What I did like was the reaction of granulating colours like Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber. The deep texture encouraged separation of the pigments, leading to interesting passages.
My final painting was of a Cornish landscape, the Lizard peninsular as seen across Housel Bay. Again I worked it in pure watercolour, with no attempt to preserve the white surface by masking. Once again, the separation of pigment on this very rough paper was interesting.
I wanted to indicate white water and decided to scratch sections away using a scalpel. Personally, I don’t think think this was very effective on this paper. The surface tore away unpredictably under the knife leaving large gouges of fibre exposed.
In conclusion, I absolutely love this paper for acrylic and I’ll definitely be using it again, but I’m not so sure about for watercolour. However, I appreciate that this has far more to do with my watercolour ability and working style rather than the paper which is excellent. If you fancy trying something a little chunkier than normal I’d definitely recommend giving it a go, and at such a reasonable price what have you got to lose?
Boy, I’m so easily side-tracked. I’d originally planned that this post would be a review of Jackson’s Eco 560lb watercolour paper. It isn’t. I had good intentions, but while trialling the paper, I somehow got side-tracked and tried out time lapse photography. Now I’m hooked, and thought I’d share my experience.
Painters often document their work in a sequence of photos. Time lapse photography is just an extension of this. It’s achieved by setting up a static camera to automatically take a sequence of photos at short intervals, typically around a second or two. When played back as a video, time is apparently compressed and a long painting session can be condensed into a watchable minute or two. The results are always compelling and a lot of fun.
Fancy trying it? If you already own a smartphone you need surprisingly little to get started:
1) A smart phone
The cameras on any smartphone are very capable. I use an iPhone 4 (and yes, that is a Spider-man case …)
2) Time lapse App
I used an App called Lapse it, and can highly recommend it. Costs about £3, and is worth every penny. It’s also available for Android phones.
There are all sorts of settings to tinker with including frame rate, resolution, render quality, interval between shots, a filming timer, and more to play around with.
3) Video editing App
Once you’ve recorded your film you will need to press the ‘render’ button within Lapse it. This converts the footage into a format (mp4) you can watch or upload to YouTube etc.
If it turns out well, you can use this rendered file without any further editing. You’ll only need a video editor if you want to ‘weld’ various clips together. I use iMovie.
4) A support for your phone
The success of your time lapse will depend on how steady you can support your camera. Propping it up somewhere convenient, a passing table or chair, will work, and you might be able to hold it steady with books or BluTak. Unfortunately, this gives you little control to frame your shots, and with nothing very much holding your phone, you are risking an expensive tumble.
For me, a tripod is the only sensible option. I’m fortunate as I have several left over from a foray into photography back in the early nineties. My favourites are both made by Benbo: the lightweight Trekker and their back-breaking, but extremely sturdy Benbo One. These particular tripods have an astonishing range of movement and flexibility; you can adapt them to almost any situation.
A heavy tripod will be more stable than a lightweight.
5) A phone adaptor
You’ll need an adaptor to secure your phone to the tripod. These are readily available, and several types are available on Amazon.
I chose this one at around £12. It seems well made and grips the phone gently but securely in landscape format.
The rubber jaws isolate the phone from the tripod and absorb any wee wobbles. This evens out any visual jarring caused by minor knocks. Be aware, in portrait mode the phone can slowly slide out of this mount…
6) A ball joint
Not essential, but you may find a joint like this between the tripod and the phone adaptor will give you more flexibility when positioning your phone. Again, search for one on Amazon or online photography store.
Working the math
Once you have your kit set up you can just plunge in and tinker randomly with Lapse it until you get a result you like; fun, but time consuming. Or you can be more methodical and plan your timings.
You’ll need to calculate how fast your phone’s camera needs to take individual photos/frames when it’s filming. For a mathematical bone-head like me this made my eye twitch a bit, but it is straightforward.
For the following I’ve assumed I want to compress 1 hour of real time video into 30s of time lapse (good length for Twitter):
Decide how long you want your final time lapse clip to last e.g. 30s.
Decide how many frames per second (fps) you want your final clip to run at. 30fps is a good default if you want to edit your clip into real time video at a later date. Plug this figure into Lapse it.
Calculate how many frames you’ll need to take to make up your final clip e.g. 30s x 30fps = 900 frames.
Decide how long you will need to film your ‘real life’ event e.g. 1h, and pop this into Lapse it in the settings menu under ‘Limit value’ as 60m.
Calculate how many seconds are in your event e.g. 1h equates to 60m x 60s = 3,600s
Calculate the interval in seconds you’ll need to leave between taking frames. e.g. 3,600s/900 frames = 4 seconds in between frames. Plug this figure into Lapse it’s interval settings.
If you set up Lapse it with the numbers above, your smartphone will take 1 frame every four seconds for an hour. There will be a certain amount of ‘fudging’ depending on the speed of your smartphone meaning your final video might lose a second two overall. Don’t worry if this happens, it will still look great.
For consistency, your camera and work position need to remain absolutely fixed throughout filming. This is particularly important if you intend to work over several sessions. Worth marking your set positions in case something gets nudged. I used masking tape.
Make sure your camera has a clear shot of your work. Take time to have a dry run, rehearse your movements and think: where will you put your palette, your brushes, your paints, your mediums? Are you likely to obscure or knock the camera when painting?
When I set up for my video of ‘Chun Quoit Glow 2’ I made the mistake of setting the phone up too close to my right shoulder. The result was a very awkward painting position, which made me conscious of the presence of the camera and literally gave me a stiff neck.
You will need to control your lighting too. Wild swings in brightness and colour temperature will be very distracting. I set up on a uniformly dull day with white window blinds drawn and an Ottlite daylight lamp pointed at the painting.
Once you’re ready and the camera is rolling, try to forget about it. I was concerned whether quiet times where I had to mix new colours would be noticed in the final film. However, they aren’t noticeable, so don’t worry about this.
Don’t be disappointed should things not work out right away; the best laid plans and all that. I had many false starts. Above all else, enjoy yourself!
I originally posted this review on Jackson’s Art Supplies web site nearly a year ago in March 2014. With Jackson’s currently offering Liquitex acrylics at reduced prices, I think it bears repeating here.
The viscosity of both seems very similar as does their open time, and I’ve comfortably worked with both makes for around 30 minutes in a warmish room.
One of the reasons I’d been using W&N is their lack of colour shift from wet to dry. I was pleasantly surprised to find Liquitex give them a good run for their money. To my eyes any colour/tonal shift was minimal.
So how does the Liquitex’s Cobalt Blue ‘hue’ compare up to W&N’s real thing? Extremely well. It was maybe very slightly warmer and a tad darker, but really very little in it. Given that this ‘hue’ version is substantially cheaper, a difference so slight is forgivable.
Finally, the plastic tube makes dispensing the paint very easy – a small point maybe, but very welcome.
Verdict? I’m a convert, and after comparable experiences over the past two months with other colours in their range I’m inclined to switch Liquitex.
Over the past year I’ve been using Liquitex almost exclusively and remain very impressed with most of their range. I have to say though that I still find a place for W&N Artist’s acrylics. It’s an extremely fine range with some gorgeous colours and winning colour stability wet to dry. And, on balance, I believe they also have the edge on quality, ‘feel’ and density of colour, but it’s still difficult to argue with the sheer value Liquitex has to offer.
As I mentioned using the New Wave Easy Lift Palette in my previous post I thought I’d repeat my full review which I posted on Jackson’s Art Supplies web site.
After years of working in oils and alkyds over the past year I’ve made the transition to acrylics. This change of medium has meant a change in work practice.
With oils I was used to working off a wooden palette and cleaning it at the end of a session. However the ‘stick and stay put’ nature of acrylics soon put paid to this.
After experimenting, unsuccessfully, with various palette surfaces I switched exclusively to the disposable varieties. But then I saw this New Wave palette at Jackson’s Art Supplies which, to be honest, sounded too good to be true. Disposable palettes are good, but I prefer to work off a solid surface, so I had to give it a shot.
Visually the New Wave’s signature shape is interesting, offering three points of support. However having played around with the recommended position, perversely I found it more comfortable to hold the palette lengthways. I have to say though that this is a personal preference and not down to any design flaw.
As expected wet paint wipes very easily from the palette, so for a sterner trial I deliberately allowed my acrylics to dry solid for a over a week. Previous experience with other plastic palettes suggested this might render the paint completely immovable.
Picking at the larger blobs resulted in sheets of paint being lifted off, which was an encouraging start. Things became more awkward as the chunks gave way to thin glazes of paint. With my short nails I found it difficult to get things started; some aid was required. I knew that anything metal would scratch the surface and first tried a plastic scraper (pinched from our freezer). This worked, but left scuff marks on the palette surface.
By trial and error I found stiff card worked very well without leaving any obvious marks. An off cut from a pack of batteries held at a shallow angle quickly cleared half of the palette. For the remaining paint I wanted to test whether water would make things easier. As I used fairly hot water I was relieved when the palette didn’t show any signs of bowing or distortion.
With a little detergent the hardened paint film sloughed cleanly away from the surface, encouraged by a soft nailbrush as a gentle ‘persuader’. Besides being relatively easy to remove hardened paint, it was also interesting to see that the white plastic hadn’t been stained, remaining bright white.
Long term it will be interesting to see if accumulated scuffs in the surface will lead to a stronger bond with the paint, but so far I’m very pleased; the palette lives up to it’s description and is a welcome addition to my acrylic kit.
Finally I’ve crawled out from under that duvet! Been a while though hasn’t it? Well, after a very emotionally charged and challenging year I did promise myself a break. Problem is it now feels like I’ve been asleep pretty much through the whole of Christmas and New Year…
In truth, I haven’t been completely idle. I did a half-hearted acrylic sketch some gorgeous Narcissi from the Isles of Scilly. It coincided with #stilldecember on Twitter so at least I had one contribution to make.
Testing the New Wave ‘Easy Lift’ palette
For a while I’d been meaning to test the New Wave ‘Easy Lift’ plastic palette, and the festive break seemed the ideal time. This is designed with acrylics in mind although at first I was fairly sceptical. I like to work off a clean palette, but all previous plastic palettes I’ve owned have become caked very quickly with immovable dried paint. Determined to give this a tough trial, I let the paint dry on it for a week before trying to clean it. Have to say I was very impressed with the result. You can read my full review here on Jackson’s Blog.
I also tried out their ‘Grey Pad’, a large disposable palette comprising mid-grey sheets rather than the usual white to help with tonal judgement. To be honest I found it’s most useful attribute was its larger size. Its very generous dimensions allow lots of room for mixing. The grey tint is an interesting idea, but for me it needs to slightly darker. Other than that in use it functions no better or worse than similar disposables.
And two new acrylic paintings
And while I was testing the palettes I did stray from my original intention not to be creative and accidentally squeezed out a couple of new acrylic paintings. The first, on 14″ by 10″ canvas board, was inspired by an old photo of a snowy lane at Northycote Farm and Country Park. I was careful not to be too influenced by the photo. Like many snaps of snow it was fairly flat, blue and bland. You’ll see that I spiced it up a little with a new wintry sky and some warmer reflections. I’m pleased to say that this sold very quickly at its first public airing last week.
My second painting is on a 20cm by 40cm linen canvas. I’d had this hanging round for a couple of months. So I dug out my Devon and Dorset sketch book and chose a misty, autumnal view of Golden Cap looking east down the beach from Charmouth. Although I also had a photo I didn’t refer to it, taking all my information from my watercolour sketch. Without the photo I felt a lot more freedom to ‘make things up’. I’m sure I’ve remodelled the cliffs but, shhh, don’t tell anybody! This will be available for sale shortly, unframed, through my Twitter feed, but if you are interested do email me. For the moment I only ship to UK addresses.
So my New Year has started well, hope yours has too.
So, #portraitnovember the Twitter challenge has wrapped up for another year. And my approach, to concentrate on completing a single acrylic portrait through the month, almost worked. Almost.
Inevitably the constraints arising from choosing to paint the portrait in my workplace have played their part. Ben has been a very willing sitter, but with both of us leading very busy work lives finding time when we’ve both been free has proved tricky.
We have managed to grab 30 to 45 minutes during our lunch breaks a couple of times each week which has added up to around four and a half hours painting time. Mind you, some of this has been absorbed by chatting to interested passers-by…
The amount of positive interest has taken me aback a little. It can’t be often you see someone painting at an easel in a professional, corporate environment, and I did wonder whether I might attract any negative views. But I was wrong; everyone has been very supportive and encouraging.
The last couple of sittings have seen small refinements around the eyes and specs with a little work to define the shirt and jacket. I’m keen not to overwork the outlying areas so as to maintain focus on the face. I really don’t want to over finish it, I’m keen that it should remain loose. Another couple of sessions should see it off, and I may make any final tweaks at home when I’m not quite so wired! I may glaze over the background to even out the tonal changes a little.
My palette throughout has been my standard mix of warm and cool: Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Red, Cadmium Yellow, Hansa Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine blue, Titanium White ad Mixing White. Mostly Liquitex heavy body acrylics with a few Winsor and Newton Artist’s acrylics.
I recently bought a luscious looking Liquitex Van Dyke Red which may get a look in, but I’ll proceed with caution. Chucking new colours into an existing mix is not always beneficial.
Be sure to pop back is a week or two when the portrait should be finished.