Three days into 2015 and there’s a sunset I felt compelled to photograph. A reminder of the rich purples in the clouds, and evidence for when someone says “clouds aren’t that colour”. No photo editing, merely point and shoot through the window, it being too cold to hold a camera steady without a tripod outside.
This painting has been in “pondering mode” for a few weeks now as I’ve contemplated where to take it, whether to go further into shadow with backlit trees (more true to the location in autumn) or “add more sunshine”.? I know, artistic license and all that, but the shadows of low autumnal sunshine is one of the beautiful things about this location; then again it was the single, bright yellow tree with its autumnal leaves which caught my eye that day.
Only certainties are that the painting is not where I want it to be (yet) and that I’m inhibited by how much I like parts of it, such as the yellow tree, the river stones at the bottom. What I suspect I’m going to do:
Deepen the darks, using perylene green and Prussian blue
Add some white-rippled water in the stream, on the left-hand edges of the rocks in the water and at the edge of the bank
Glaze over the sky to make it feel less disjointed, wiping off the paint where it goes over the tree trunks
Add “sunshine” to the trunks, river bank and stones, as if sunshine is coming from the top right
But perhaps I’ll contemplate it a little more first, and rather continue on some of my other works-in-progress.
One of the myriad of ways we can advance artistically is to increase our awareness of the colours in the world around us, to pick out individual aspects and, more importantly, to have a way of remembering them. The task is a little bit like that faced by wine tasters who have to be able to identify or critique a particular wine from the little indications they encounter in taste. They develop a special vocabulary that matches up particular flavours to names they not only can recall, but can use when talking to others.
The first step to gaining a vocabulary of colours is to get hold of as many Colour Charts as possible. Preferably those hand painted with the manufacturer’s actual colours rather than something printed, or worse, viewed on your computer (when last did you calibrate your screen, if ever?). Look at them regularly, and pay particular attention to where companies have used the same name for slightly different colours. The pigment information will enable you to compare like with like. You’ll need to decide for yourself which particular colour you are going to associate with what name.
The next step is to use these colour names when you are looking at the world. Look at a bush and decide which colour greens. Look at the sea and the sky, and decide the particular colour blue, or grey, or green, you are seeing. The aim is to get to the stage where looking generates the names of specific paint colours in your mine e.g. “cerulean blue with a dark Prussian blue band on the horizon” rather than simply “blue sea”. (You can treat it like a game, and carry a suitable colour chart with you to check your accuracy. Holding your forefingers and thumbs together to create a tiny viewfinder will help you identify a colour in a small area.)
Finally, when you out sketching, rather than rely on colour matching with your watercolours, make a note of the particular colour you are seeing. Record how the changing light of the day causes the colours to vary; you can use this information to correct the time effects of plein air painting, or incorporate it into your choice of analogous colours when painting in with limited palette.
As you progress, you’ll find that you can differentiate between more and more shades of colour, developing a Nuanced Eye.
Know the name of the colour. Your name for that colour.
“Nature excites the imagination to representation. But one must add to this spirit of the landscape in order to help its pictorial quality. Your composition should indicate the more or less entire character of these trees, even though the exact number you have chosen would not accurately express the landscape.”
— Henri Matisse
Quoted in Sarah Stein’s Notes, 1908, in Matisse on Art by Jack D. Flam, page 45
Attempt to convey what interests you in that particular landscape, leave out what you haven’t paid attention to and emphasise what you respond to in it. Share the scene as seen through your eyes, your experience of it, not merely what it looks like. The latter has technical skill and information; the former has technical skill and poetry.
[The paintings] “deliberately invite viewers to slow their pace and to look closely …meaning is assembled from an unstable but fertile mixture of chance and memory” — Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of The Courtauld Gallery
“Johns seems open to unexpected encounter, and in turn his art often provokes us to unexpected ways of seeing, thinking and feeling. …? Johns has always tried not to have intentions that act as a driving force of his art. Instead he simply begins and carries on working until something happens.” — Barnaby Wright, curator
Jasper Johns’ Regrets series developed from a chance encounter he had with a reproduction in a Christie’s auction catalogue of a photo of a young Lucian Freud sitting on a bed in the Francis Bacon’s studio. I chanced upon the exhibition when at the Courtauld Gallery in London to see the Egon Schiele exhibition (more on that later this week). Like most people, I initially merely glanced at the Regrets paintings as I walked through the room where they were, intent on getting to Schiele, but am glad I did come back for a closer, slower look.
There are layers of meaning and symbolism that can be unpacked, on “themes of creativity, memory, reflection and mortality”, which the Courtauld catalogue (and I presume the MoMA catalogue) explains. About how in his process of exploring and transforming the photo in numerous experiments using oil, watercolour, pencil and ink he mirrored and doubled the original image, and in doing so, the form of a skull emerged in the centre of his new composition. This ?apparition? creates a reminder of death or memento mori at the heart of the works.
But I only found that out afterwards when I read the catalogue. What fascinated me was how the photo guided my interpretation of abstract paintings which, without this reference or anchor in reality, I probably wouldn’t have spent as much time look at. My favourite was an ink painting on plastic paper, and impact of this on the mark making which has ‘dissolved’ lines, spread shapes with soft edges. It was mesmerizing, my eyes moving from one shape to another, feeling the hand of the artist and the happy accident of the paper, getting lost in the pattern while simultaneously overlaying the photo in my mind, engaging imagination and intellect in that special way that painting does. (The press image sheet is the only online reference I can find with the images; my favourite is the one top right. Hopefully it’ll stay available for a bit.)
While I’ve been working on a new big painting, 1×1 metres, studio cat Rascal has been sleeping on the storage heater. He’s a rather vocal cat who generally has a lot to say about what I’m doing (about everything, really), so it’s been blissfully quiet. The painting is inspired by the way the river in Uig turns and disappears, with the banks patterned by trees and shadows, where I was sketching again last week.
I’d done a few thumbnails sketches and pondered it quite a bit before I started sketching the composition on the composition. I tweaked it a bit with pencil, then took a pen to mark my final choice. (Added advantage: it also shows up in a photo! Added disadvantage: shows through transparent layers.)
Next up, lots of texture paste. I’m using Golden’s Light Molding Paste, which I like because it doesn’t shrink too much when it’s dried, it gives a more absorbent working surface and, as the name suggests, doesn’t add significant weight to the painting.
First colour on once the paste had dried, Prussian blue. My plan was to be painting dark to light for the first few rounds with this painting. Where it is in the top photo is where I stopped to wait for it to dry completely before resuming. Still a long way to go, but I’m pleased with the sense of the water flowing past rocks in the stream. It’s perhaps a bit too turbulent a flow, but that could be calmed down with some glazing. Tomorrow’s job is to decide whether to or not.
Coming back from Gardenstown, there was a stretch (between Fochabers and Cullen, I think; certainly before Elgin) where I felt like I’d driven into one of Klimt’s forest paintings.
Not that a plain pine plantation can’t be inspiring too; this was taken yesterday along the path from Aros, Portree.
From there I went into the woodland at Uig, and sketched alongside the river. It’s the location that inspired my “Summer Glow” painting. My fingers are now itching to paint this autumnal tree with the dark reflected trees.
“The Greeks don?t start from the outline, they start from the centres, from the cores. …
“This question ? Millet draws like that too ? more than anyone else ? is perhaps the root of all figure painting ? is extremely closely related to modelling by drawing directly with a brush ? conceived totally differently from Bouguereau and others, who lack interior modelling, are flat compared with G?ricault and Delacroix, and who don?t go beyond the paint.”