It’s been seven weeks now since my dad died. Funny, it seems much longer somehow. Those weeks have been both awful and hectic.
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.
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!
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.
I’m a hedgehog. Or a bear perhaps. Either way I’m really feeling the urge to hibernate right now. Dark mornings and even darker nights drive me into torpor and I’ve slowed right down.
The portrait of Ben, once going so well, has just been mothballed. Keen to press on after a short, forced gap brought on by a rasping winter cough I did pick it up again, but in the wrong frame of mind. Now I’ve successfully improved it worse.
The looseness for which I strove has been lost, and Ben’s features are now smoothed out to the point where he resembles the polished plastic face of a TV anchor. Where did the form sneak off to? He also has more than a touch of the livid beetroot about him – damn you Alizarin Crimson! *falls to knees, shakes fist at sky*
Try as I might I simply haven’t been able to rescue it. I know will of course, but now is not the time. Pressing on will just reinforce my depression and knock my confidence which will feed into a negative cycle. Best leave it to ‘rest’ and divert my mind to other things.
The Hulk-Spidey sculpture is on the bench (again) and ready to be tinkered with. That’s different. But it’s also slow and intense work; not sure that’s quite what I need right now.
I do have a notion to paint a seascape, and I’ve been hitting my sketch books for inspiration. I have a nice tight linen canvas I’ve been meaning to christen. It would be rough, wild and magnificent (just like me…) with mist and spray and looming cliffs, towering sea and flying spume (a little less like me…)
Or there’s December’s Twitter challenge: still life under the tag #stilldecember. Have to admit that still life’s never really pushed my buttons, although I can appreciate brilliant examples of the genre by other artists. If I do eventually contribute it may contain fossil or two.
Finally, of course, I could just surrender to all the Christmas ‘busyness’ going on. Not sure I’m ‘with the programme’ at this time of year. To be clear, it’s not Christmas, the holy day, I have an issue with; in fact I rather enjoy Christmas. I find I’m increasingly irritated by the excruciatingly forced, pre-digested bonhomie which schmoozes relentlessly from TV’s and shops from October onwards. Give that a miss then.
So, what to do? What to do…? Hmm. Maybe I’ll just hide under the duvet with a sherry…
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…