So having pondered my old croft house for a bit (aka procrastinated), I felt up to attempting a fix.First step was to get he-for-whom-perspective-is-easy (aka the in-house art critic) into the studio to put strips of masking tape on the painting to give me the angles of the walls and roof. Second step was to paint these lines (in blue and white respectively), remove tape, and have it checked by he-for-whom-perspective-is-easy (aka “using the resources available to me” not “cheating”).
Third step was to re-establish dark as base of roof, then extend the roof’s lower edge. Which meant repainting the whole roof so it didn’t look extended. This is where using a limited number of colours is useful as it’s easy to colour match, to make a “fixed bit” feel integral.
Fourth step was to repaint wall to eliminate the white stripe, and the fifth the back wall and sky. Tweak, fiddle, faff, doubt, check, tweak, fiddle, faff, doubt, check, tweak … all of which got me to this point.
My problem now is deciding where to go with this painting, how to connect the house as it now is with the rest of the painting. Do I add detail everywhere to bring the rest of the composition towards the style of the house. Do I paint detail around the house only, going towards looser in most of the foreground? Do I keep the bright colours or subdue it?
For now it’s a painting that’s about a bit of perspective practice.
“Art is about more than the creation of beauty; it demonstrates an enthusiasm for life, which is contagious.
“Spreading some of that enthusiasm around is the artist’s contribution to the world.” Christopher Gallego, Painting Perceptions interview, 1 November 2012
Infectious enthusiasm is the name of the game. Let’s spread it around, starting with ourselves.
[Edited 6 April 2020 to add: I wrote this Monday Motivator in January when I was writing ahead in anticipation of being at Higham Hall for my workshop. The words feel quite different today reading them whilst in covid-19 lockdown.]
A few weeks ago I did an on-location painting of an old croft house. There were some issues with perspective (which is something I have to really think about) but overall I was happy with it. And I thought I’d internalised where I’d gone wrong with the perspective, having consulted the in-house art critic for whom perspective is easy.
I’ve been thinking about this old house and doing it on a bigger canvas. A few days ago I got out a 100x100cm canvas and put it up on my easel.
I didn’t do thumbnails in my sketchbook (even though I encourage you to do so!) but just played them through my mind as I sat looking at the canvas. And then all of a sudden yesterday afternoon I was struck by a desire to start, and sketched in the composition with an acrylic marker pen, then added orange and yellow to the “not-sky” area.
I then painted in the “sky area” with blue and white, cleaning my brush of the blue into the foreground (where it’ll create a colour connection across the composition and work as a shadow colour) before adding some yellow (which with the blue on my unwashed brush and the still-wet blue on the canvas mixed to greens) and then some white to get the lightest green.
And this was when I realised I’d made an error in the perspective on the cottage. Not like a little mistake, but totally the wrong way around. At least I’d noticed before the in-house critic came along. So I forced myself to slow down (no point getting the sky and foliage working before the house), to think it through from the basics and redraw the perspective.
I edited one of my snapshots on my phone to draw some lines on it to help me. The lines aren’t straight because they’re done freehand; if I’d been using editing software on my computer I’d have used the straight-line tool. (Click here for the original photo if you’d like to have a got at painting this too.)
Using a rigger brush and Prussian blue (which is what I’d used in the sky), I redrew the house.
And then I continued to “just add paint”.
The “rusty roof” colour is created with Prussian blue, titanium white, cadmium orange, and magenta i.e. I added some magenta to what I had already been using. Notice how I’ve also used some of this elsewhere in the painting so the colour doesn’t sit isolated on the roof only.
This is where I stopped painting for the day and went to check my perspective with the in-house art critic, who saidthe back wall of the house needs straightening but overall only a little bit awry.
This photo is to show you that I had my on-location painting in view whilst I painted.
The Pre-Raphaelites show us how beautiful detail can be, but used it with a strong focal point, leading us into a painting to gently discover more and more. Don’t give everything equal weight or importance, otherwise we don’t know where to start looking.
This painting by Millais is dominated by the blue dress and the orange stool. Large, striking shapes of strong colour that pull you in immediately, straight to the figure.
Your eye probably next went to her face, and then left towards the light rather than right into the shadow.
The dark in the top righthand corner and floorboards provide other reprieves from detail until you start looking more closely.
How many leaves do you count? Do they make you wonder where they came from, if there’s an open window to the left of the scene? Taking your mind outwidth the painting.
April’s project is one that can be tackled on various levels, from a five-minute version using a felt-tip pen (a found or black-out poem) to something that could take you days (a visual poem with a complex image to accompany the words you chose from your page).
A found poem is in essence a poem created by words selected (“found”) in a piece of text. This could be a page from a newspaper or magazine or an old book, the back of a cereal box, printed from a digital book, anything really. You circle (“protect”) the words you want to keep and block out the words rest; what’s left to read is your found poem. You then need to decide how much pattern or imagery you might add to it. (The difference to collaging with words is that with this you have to work with the words in the order they appear on your source.)
The writer-artist Austin Kleon, who does a lot of blackout poetry, says: “It’s sort of like if the CIA did haiku.” You redact a lot of the text and see what the rest tells you.
INSPIRATION: An artist who’s done a lot of visual, working with one specific book over several decades now, is Tom Phillips and his Humument. It’s worth having a look at individual pages he’s done multiple times, comparing the first and last versions and seeing how he’s developed (for example ). Take inspiration from the fact that he started relatively simply, with pattern and colour, he didn’t do particularly complex pieces initially.
The pages I’ve used in my examples below are from The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed, an out-of-copyright book. For this month’s project, feel free to use any page, but it’ll be interesting to compare our results if you print your own copies of these pages and use them: pages 1&2 and 3. (I set my printer to “scale to fit page” to make the words print bigger, bug don’t email me to ask me about printer settings if this doesn’t work for you!)
As always with my monthly projects, if you’d like to have your pieces included in the project gallery, email me on art(a)marion.scot or share through social media. Details of all the monthly projects can be found here; it’s never too late to participate in any of them.
There are different ways to create a painting, routes that take you from blank canvas or sheet of paper to finished painting. None is better or more correct than another, they’re merely different. It’s a question of trying each and seeing which you prefer, which may be a mixture of techniques..
1. Blocking In
This is my favourite way to paint. With a blocking-in approach, the whole of the canvas is painted or worked up simultaneously, every part of the painting is brought along at the same time, no bits are left behind for later. The starting point is deciding what the main shapes are in the painting and to paint these areas a colour (blocking in the composition). Then you gradually refine the shapes and colours, working your way towards detail and correct tones.
2. One Section at a Time
Some artists like to work on one section of a painting at a time, moving onto another part of the painting only when that section is finished. You might paint from one corner outwards, finishing a certain area of the canvas at a time or complete an individual element before moving onto the next. It’s used with all subjects, from landscapes to still life to portraits. It’s not something I often do, because I find the blank areas are distracting and influence my judgement of the colours and tones I’m applying.
3. Background Last
Start with the main subject, the details and foreground, then when this is finished, or almost finished, you paint the background in around this. If you’re uncertain about your brush control, this is probably not the approach to take as you’ll end up worrying about accidentally painting over something as you add the background. Watch out for having a background that goes around a subject, or not quite up to it, which will ruin a painting. I don’t like this approach as it treats a background as a separate thing to the rest of the painting, rather than integrated.
4. Background First
If you start with the background, you can get it done and don’t have to worry about it. There’s no concern either about having the background go behind the foreground elements as you’re literally painting those on top (even if you left white gaps where these would go, their edges will go over the top of the background). The danger is being so in love with what you’ve done that you’re resistant to changing it even if, as you add foreground elements, you realise it needs it.
5. Underpainting or Delayed Colour This is an approach that requires patience as it involves first creating a monochrome version of the painting, then glazing colour over this. For it to work, you must use transparent colours, not opaque, for glazing, otherwise the form or definition created by light and dark tones of the underpainting will be lost. This approach has the advantage that you work out tones etc. without the distraction of colour. Depending on what you use for the underpainting, this approach is called different things: Grisaille = greys or browns. Verdaccio = green-greys. Imprimatura = transparent underpainting.
6. Detailed Drawing, Then Paint
Some painters do a careful, detailed drawing first, and only then reach for their paints. There is a strong argument to be made for the fact that if you can’t get the drawing right, your painting will never work. However, I think there’s a balance to be found between a drawing that guides you and one that constrains. You may find you like this degree of control, but don’t be afraid to paint outside the lines.
7. Alla Prima (All at Once) Alla prima the term used when a the painting is finished in one session, working wet-on-wet instead of waiting for the paint to dry and building up colours by glazing. Quite how long a painting session lasts depends on the time that’s available to you. Limited time to complete the painting tends to encourage a looser style and decisiveness as well as the use of smaller canvases! Landscape painters working on location (plein air) are doing alla prima, but it applies to studio painting too.
Learning about different art styles painters have created, and trying different approaches, are all part of the journey of discovering what you enjoy the most and developing your own painting. This list outlines major art styles from most realistic to least; it is by no means a comprehensive list, but a starting point.
The late 19th century and 20th century saw artists make huge leaps in painting styles, influenced by technology, such as the invention of the metal paint tube and photography, as well as world events. Part of the joy of painting in the 21st century is the range of art styles to choose from and the freedom to experiment. We learn by looking, copying, and transforming.
Art Style: Photorealism (“It looks like a photo”) Photorealism, Super Realism, Sharp Focus Realism, Hyper Realism, call it whichever of these labels you prefer and argue about the minute details between them, but ultimately they’re all art styles where the illusion of reality is created through paint so the result looks more like a large, sharply focused photo than anything else. It’s a style which often seems more real than reality, with detail down to the last grain of sand and wrinkle on someone’s face. Where nothing is left out, nothing is too insignificant or unimportant not to be included in the painting. Though it doesn’t mean an artist painting in this style doesn’t consider the arrangement of things to make a stronger composition. Find out more:Photorealism from the Scottish National Gallery
Art Style: Realism (“It looks real”) Realism is the art style most people regard as “real art”, where the subject of the painting looks very much like it appears in real life. From a little distance everything looks “real” but up close you’ll see it’s an illusion created by skillful use of paint, of color and tone. The artist uses perspective to create an illusion of reality, setting the composition and lighting to make the most of the subject. Find out more: Realism from the Scottish National Gallery
Art Style: Painterly (“see the hand of the artist”) Painterly is an art style that is close to realism but celebrates more the use of paint, through evident brushwork and texture in the paint. It doesn’t try to hide what was used to create the painting by smoothing out any texture or marks left in the paint by a brush.
Art Style: Impressionism (“capturing the light of a moment”) Impressionism is an art style that is still much loved today and it’s hard to imagine that when it first appeared on the art scene in Paris in the 19th century, most critics hated and ridiculed it. What was then regarded as an unfinished and rough painting style, is now loved as being the impact of light on nature filtered through an artistic eye to show the rest of us just what can be seen if you know how to look properly. Find out more: Impressionism from the Scottish National Gallery
Art Style: Post-Impressionism/Expressionism / Fauvism (“colour for emotion”) A broad category of “what happened after Impressionism”. Think Van Gogh and Matisse. Characterized by the artist not feeling compelled to use realistic colors or using perspective techniques to recreate an illusion of reality. Rather colors are selected to fit the emotion felt or to create emotional impact. Find out more:Post-Impressionism from the Scottish National Gallery
Art Style: Abstraction Abstraction is about painting the essence of a subject rather than the detail, but still retaining an echo of whatever it is that prompted the idea (unlike a pure abstract). You might reduce the subject to the dominant colors, shapes, or patterns. Think reduced reality the detail you need to paint the character of the scene.
Art Style: Abstract (“Shape, colour, pattern”) Abstract art doesn’t try to look like anything from the “real world”, it is an art style that is intentionally non-representational. The subject or point of the painting is the colors used, the textures in the artwork, the materials used to create it. At its worst, abstract art looks like a accidental mess of paint. At its best, it has an impact that strikes you from the moment you see it. Find out more:Abstract Art from the Scottish National Gallery