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.
For all my apprehension at creating a portrait of one of my colleagues, Ben, in a series of short, live and public sittings I have to say I’m really enjoying myself.
Frankly there was always much which might have conspired to derail the process. Not least I expected my decision to try and paint at my workplace to raise a few quizzical eyebrows. From the point of view of our facilities management team mine must have counted as one of the oddest requests they’ve received. And I’d no idea what my managers and colleagues might think…
I have to say that so far my efforts have been met with nothing but interest, and I’ve had some very lovely comments from all quarters. So far, so good. Everyone has been so gracious and accepting of this lunatic who brought his paints and easel to work. Far from being off putting, I’ve found the attention has been very encouraging, spurring me on to give of my best.
Even switching rapidly from my ‘work’ head to my ‘painting’ head hasn’t been as problematic as I thought it might. The shortness of time available to me during breaks is forcing me to make rapid decisions and I’m making sure that every minute available for painting counts.
Our first session was about 40 minutes of painting time (I’m not including any prep and clean up time). I wanted to complete a tonal under-painting as quickly as possible so over an initial red chalk drawing I used a 1″ brush and Burnt Umber darkened with Mars Black or lightened with Titanium White. Ben sat against a neutral coloured blind with a very strong, sunlit, backlight shining through.
The second session was completed in 20 minutes without Ben present. I wanted to establish the under-painting for the background. I chose to work this in a pale violet to act as a compliment for what is likely to be a cool yellow ochre final colour.
Then, darkness… On the third session the clouds and rain rolled in, and the wonderful light we once had was sucked into a growing grey grimness. With a yellowy artificial light coming from many directions, I relied on both observation and memory to inform where I should lay the first colour blocks. I’ve mostly used Liquitex Heavy Body acrylics supplemented with a few Winsor and Newton Artists acrylics. For speed I worked with colour straight from the tube without any added medium other than a wee spot of plain water to increase fluidity.
I particularly relish the cool mixes arising from the cobalt blue and yellow ochre. Lighter tints were made by adding a combination of Mixing White and Titanium White. Titanium White on its own can be very harsh, I like the softer effect of adding Mixing White. A single half inch flat brush was used throughout.
While progress on this session was rapid, about 25 to 30 minutes, I can already see I’m actively avoiding three areas: the eyes, mouth and nose. Got to get a grip on these next time while also working more broadly across the rest of the painting. More sessions are planned for next week when I’ll try and bring the weaker areas up to scratch. Watch this space.
First of all ‘Thanks’ to everyone who visited ‘Closer to the Art’ last Saturday in Stone, Staffordshire and came up to say ‘Hi’. So many lovely people and a great atmosphere, with four of my fourteen paintings finding new homes with a positive option on a fifth. I’ll be honest, I thought my lowest priced paintings would have been the first to go; shows what I know doesn’t it?
Oddly, even for such a modest show, I found fitting the preparation in between work and home unexpectedly tiring; I’ve been a positively bleary eyed this week – and a little listless too. So, now that ‘Closer to the Art’ is out of the way, I think a change of pace is in order.
I’ve decided I’m going to do two things. In the evenings I’m going to set about my Hulk vs Spider-man sculpture again. Bit of a long running fan-boy project this which seems to emerge when the nights get darker (its been safely tucked up in a cosy box over the summer). I find this sort of sculpt proceeds very slowly, so don’t expect any major new reveals immediately. More over the coming weeks.
During the daylight hours, when I’ve got more chance of actually being awake, I’m going to take part in the #PortraitNovember Twitter challenge. For this I’m going to build on the work I did during #DrawingAugust where I produced pen portraits of my work colleagues every day for the whole month.
One of my colleagues (pictured) has very kindly (foolishly?) offered to sit for me throughout #PortraitNovember. This time I want to use acrylics, and work larger than my original sketches. I’m hoping to paint during break times at work, and my employer has kindly given permission for me to set up easel and paints in our offices for the month. Guess I know who’ll be providing the lunchtime entertainment over the next few weeks…
My intention is to make only a quick preparatory sketch, then get straight into making a single painting. In reality I’m only going to be able to spare a couple of hours a week at most.
I’m not at all sure how well this is going to go. During #DrawingAugust the thing I found most challenging was snapping out of my analytical ‘work’ mind-set and straight into a creative state of mind. Some days were very obviously better than others! Combine that with the fact that portraiture in general is so far out of my comfort zone, this could prove interesting. Watch this space.
After what seems to have been a long run up, yesterday, October 25th, finally marked the arrival of the Closer to the Art exhibition and fair in Stone, Staffordshire. It was the second such exhibition organised by renowned dragon sculptor Andy Bill.
I’m no stranger to craft and country fairs. A long time ago in a previous life I both organised the former and represented my employer at the latter. So I already had a good idea how much work was involved.
However, this was the first exhibition where I’ve represented myself, and the butterflies were fluttering in abundance in the hour or so before the doors opened. Together with Carole, my wife, we set up on two tables right next to the main entrance.
Once the doors opened the show became very busy, very quickly; there was lots of local support. I had no real expectation of whether or not we would make any sales, but by the end of the show Carole had sold a needlecraft brooch and a beautiful beaded needlecase, and I sold three paintings, all of local landscapes.
All told it was an enjoyable and successful day. Would we do it again? We’d certainly consider it. I think we both learned a lot, although I might take a slightly different tack next time. I’d definitely consider offering more paintings with local interest, and possibly back them up with prints and cards to appeal to all pockets. Buying an original painting at a fairly small show doesn’t really strike me as an impulse buy.
And now it’s all over, I think I’m going to chill for a bit – it’s all been a bit intense. Besides something I have in mind for the Twitter challenge #portraitnovember, I’m going to revisit my Spider-man and Hulk sculpture as a bit of light relief. Heck, it’s about time I finished it…
Time seems to have gone by so quickly this year. It’s now only just over a week until the Closer to the Art show at Stone Railway Station in Stone, Staffordshire on 25th October. Around ten artists from various disciplines will be exhibiting including sculpture painting, illustration, photography and ceramics. A great opportunity to pick up a unique Christmas gift.
And over the past weeks I’ve been busy painting, framing and generally getting everything ready. That’s me over there, posing for a publicity photo and frankly feeling a little uncomfortable – physically and psychologically! My wife too has been working on some beading and needlecrafts, but more of those in a future post.
This is my first show as an exhibitor, so with no previous experience to fall back on I’m going to be relying on educated guesswork. How much packing do I need? How do I display the work to best advantage? What is the worst thing I could forget to take on the day?
It’s all very exciting, and as with anything new, just a little scary too.
So, here we’re back in what always feels like our second home, Seaton in East Devon and about to start the second week of our holiday.
Sadly, this year, we’re here following a very recent and very close family bereavement. Needless to say our thoughts have been mixed, and of all things our minds haven’t been focussed on making paintings.
However, there have been opportunities to sketch, and I think making the effort has been mentally beneficial for both of us. The weather has been very kind too. So here is a collection of my plein air sketches in watercolour, gouache and pencil. Hope you like them. I’ll update this post with any new sketches after next week.
Plein air sketches from East Devon and Dorset
A series of plein air sketches in pencil, watercolour and gouache from Devon and Dorset.
During the last week of our June holiday the weather settled down, becoming bright, sunny and pleasantly warm. On one gorgeous early evening, the light was magical over the cliffs of Housel Bay looking west towards the Lizard lighthouse in Cornwall. I had to paint it.
Back home I decided to take my watercolour sketch and work it up into a finished painting. While I am pleased with the original, I don’t think it really captured the quality of the light. However just sitting in front of it, painting it en plein air, the scene etched into my mind, and if I shut my eyes I can still take myself back there.
Besides the sketch I also took a photo the next day for reference. For me it felt important to get the proportions within the painting correct. My original sketch made the cliffs a little too deep.
I gridded up the photo and transferred the basic outline in pencil onto a piece of 60cm by 20 cm MDF. I primed this with Golden 100 acrylic resin to prevent any potential staining from the board seeping up into the paint layer over time. Over this I painted three coats of Winsor and Newton’s white acrylic gesso primer. I didn’t sand this as I wanted the brush marks to contribute to the finished painting.
Once the pencil drawing was complete I reinforced the line using Ultramarine Blue. If any portion of the line remained visible in the finished painting it would sink back and not jar.
For the under painting I wanted to intensify the warmth. As you can see from the foreground this bordered on cadmium orange in places.
The background cliffs, sea and sky fell into place quite quickly, which is more than can be said for the foreground… Unfortunately I went a bit OTT with the ‘grassiness’. I knew it was both too busy and too light in tone, so I decided to completely over paint it.
This was the right decision. I worked with broader strokes from a flat brush to establish the form and the general run of the grasses. Once dry I darkened and unified the foreground using several alternating glazes of Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue. This intensified the brightness of the evening light. For me this highlights one of the real advantages of acrylic over oils. In a warm room I managed to lay down several layers of glaze all in the space of an hour. This could have taken days or weeks if I’d been working in oils.
Very pleased with the final result. The exciting thing for me is that this is one of the first paintings I’ve produced ready for Andy Bill’s ‘Closer to the Art 2’ event on October 25th in Stone in Staffordshire. It will be framed and up for sale with several other works. This will be my first appearance at any show. Ooh, scary! Watch this space.
You know, I didn’t realise it had been so long since my last post. Rather been letting things slip a bit haven’t I? I had intended to blog during my last week of holiday but, well, you know what it’s like…
To be honest, between getting back to work and navigating some rather challenging bits of ‘real’ life lately I’ve been feeling a bit drained, like my rubber band’s broke. And sadly I don’t always have the luxury of time to devote myself completely to my art.
The holiday was wonderful, such gorgeous weather. The Lizard Peninsular is one of my favourite places in Cornwall and really feels like a second home. It’s unfairly picturesque with a potential painting around each corner and over every rise. I really had to resist the temptation to paint all the time though; it was meant to be a family holiday after all…
Even so, I’ve still managed to bring back a fair bit of reference material, both sketches and paintings which will no doubt will appear on here in due course. And I’ve taken loads of photos too which I intend to use through the year, but with the usual caveat against becoming slavishly fixated. Photos can be a mixed blessing. Great for prodding the memory where it’s lacking, but they can also be flat and deceiving in so many ways, and they sucker you into the details.
Nothing beats sitting outdoors in front of a subject and letting it fill your mind. Observation always pays dividends. Not only does it reflect in the work created on site, regardless of its perceived quality, more importantly it reinforces the memory of a place and time for future reference.
In the week which followed my last post about painting at Church Cove I started to relax and find my feet. By the end of that week I was pretty pleased with my efforts. Besides working up some plein air sketches in both watercolour and acrylic, I also took the plunge and tried gouache.
I’d previously only used gouache in black and white many years ago for some professional illustration work. To keep things simple I decided to use just a handful of colours from Winsor and Newton’s Designer’s Gouache range: Primary Blue, Red and Yellow along with Ivory Black and Permanent White.
For my first attempt I painted a section of a Cornish ‘hedge’ covered in wildflowers including Thrift. It took a bit of experimenting – too much water at first, then too little – but after a while I started to get the hang of it. Working light over dark, letting each layer dry thoroughly before working quickly and lightly over the top. I was impressed by the covering power. While the sketch may have many problems, it was a useful exercise.
For my second attempt I sat in our cottage and quickly sketched the view over the back garden. I kept the paint creamier than my first attempt and started to get the knack of laying paint without disturbing the underlying layer. This contributed towards a more graphic feel to the sketch, and a particular flatness. Although I have to admit that I quite like the poster-like effect, I can see why some artists don’t and avoid gouache. because it can appear ‘dead’ and chalky.
I was determined to push things a bit for my third outing and at Chun Quoit, a stunning Megalithic tomb, I deliberately painted both looser and on a larger scale, 60cm wide, on the ever excellent Saunders Waterford watercolour paper. This time I used a mixture of thick and thin washes. Sometimes I’d let the washes dry, other times I blended and pushed the paint about before scumbling drier paint over the top to catch on the texture of the paper. I was very pleased with the result. Sadly the limitations of the photo don’t reveal the more subtle colour modulations or hue the juicy intensity of the stronger passages, but trust me they are in there.
After making this painting I seriously started to reconsider my plein air approach. I use both watercolours and acrylics, but gouache seems to offer a great, easily portable halfway house without the irreversible drying qualities of acrylics. And, while I can make pure watercolours which use and reserve the white paper, gouache fits more easily with the way I like to work; it still feels a bit like cheating though.
For one more test I added French Ultramarine Blue, Lemon Yellow and Flame Red to my limited palette and spent about three quarters of an hour making this painting from my studio window. I think my gamble might be paying off. I’m going to chuck a few earth colours into the kit and see what happens. Watch this space…
Well, after a wobbly start I think I’m starting to settle back into painting en plein air. I really am out of practice.
With me, much depends on being in the right frame of mind. So I took the opportunity to go AWOL and snuck off painting this evening. It was calm, warm and overcast, and I walked down to Church Cove to set up on the wee spit of land overlooking the inlet.
I was determined to work more loosely today and I gave myself an hour limit. I’ve found that having a limited time focusses the mind and, for me, drives better results. I also resolved to use only a couple of flat brushes, 1.5cm and 1cm (ignore the fan in the photo, I didn’t use it).
Once I’d set up my pochade box I laid out my basic acrylic palette:
Yellow Light Hansa
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
In addition I added a couple of cooler blues and three earth colours:
On my 20cm by 30cm linen covered mdf panel from Jacksons I drew out the basic shapes and quickly blocked in all the features roughly before more carefully noting the passages of light and dark.
As usual I kept the acrylics open by occasionally spraying the palette with water – not too much though, I didn’t want to make colourful puddles!
I’m pretty pleased with the result, but what do you think? Why not leave me a message?
Well we’ve now been on the Lizard Peninsular in Cornwall since Saturday, and as usual, it’s great to be here. This really is a special place.
Sure, the area around the Point itself can be busy during the day. However my experience is that the visitors generally stay fairly localised, preferring to drive up, park, peer, visit the café then depart leaving the wider area relatively quiet. And from around 5:00pm everywhere becomes still. Suits me down to the ground.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is first and foremost a family holiday and not purely a painting trip, otherwise left to my own devices I’d keep sneaking off…
That said I have had some opportunities to paint en plein air. Have to say though I’m feeling very out of practice, and the results have been mixed.
This is a quick watercolour from Sunday overlooking Housel Bay from rocks near Bass Point. The light was striking, fleeting sunlit patches over the cliffs, but not sure I’ve captured it here.
Today I dragged out my pochade box stuffed with acrylics and wandered down to Church Cove. I really do like the Mabef system. It provides a solid work platform, and it’s usually a comfortable platform too unless you set it too high as I did (see photo) – oopsy. I know I could’ve adjusted the height easily enough but heck, I’m not that bright!
I’d prepared a panoramic board as I wanted to take in the wider view down the coast east of Church Cove looking towards Kennack Sands. The light was very flat today and I had difficulty from the get go determining tone and depth.
Any confidence I originally felt when I set up sort of melted away. Still, I laid it out and pressed on. And by midway it was not going well at all. In truth I almost had a ‘Fast Show’ moment when I developed a steely determination to pitch it over the cliff – but I resisted.
I often find I’ll hit a low point mid-way through almost every painting. There’s frequently a disjuncture between what I see, what’s in my head and what’s actually coming out of my brush. In this case I think I turned it around sufficiently for me to want to complete it at a later date. But for now it’s going into a box for a while.
Let’s see what opportunities the rest of the week brings.