“The biggest mistake artists make is to concentrate only on the positive space, the objects which define the painting. Negative space gives the connection between objects ? if the negative space is greater than the positive then objects are distant to each other. If spaces are enclosed, they cleanly define objects, if they are open, they allow a flow from one object to another.” –Alistair Boddy-Evans, The Elements of Art
Think of negative space as the chocolate between the nuts in a bar of nutty chocolate. Without it the whole doesn’t exist, and poor quality lets the whole thing down. You pay attention to it, but you notice the nuts more.
My flock of little paintings at Skyeworks Gallery has grown a bit, with a few new sheep (this time with reds), plus a Highland cow and, because it’s been so hot, a shady tree (albeit in autumnal colours, shedding leaves).
Sizes: 5×5″ or 5×7″. Price: ?35. International shipping is about ?15. Contact Skyeworks Gallery by email email@example.com, on Facebook or phone.
Faced with a landscape with many possibilities, how do I decide what to sketch? Take this example, a picnic spot a little south of Struan, where I was on Sunday. To the right there’s an inlet with boats, to the left a sequence of headlands and a lighthouse, looking down a colourful rocky shoreline.
I’ll look around, but most likely go back to what got my attention initially, what do I find most striking or dramatic or appealing? That’s what I’ll sketch first; other possibilities might become further sketches, depending on time and the weather, or saved as a location to revisit another day.
In this instance, it was the tall, dark cliff in the far distance (not quite as far as the wide angle of this photo makes it seem), and the splash of white that was the small lighthouse in the middle distance. As the clouds moved, the light on the distant cliff changes; sometimes darker, sometimes lighter and revealing more. I’ll definitely come back here on a sunnier day for another look.
“The freedom of Eardley’s gestural painting in her landscapes is contained within very well thought-out compositions. The use in all her paintings of brilliant touches of colour in key positions shows her schooled eye for balance and dynanism.” Source: Joan Eardley by Fiona Pearson, National Galleries of Scotland p9
Brilliant in thoughtfully positioned and in intensity of colour. To take one example from the paintings Scottish artist Joan Eardley: look at the reds on the chimneys of a painting titled Snow. Then at the yellow in the bottom right-hand corner, which is echoed in the central foreground. Muted to an earthy, ochre yellow it dances across the landscape, ending mixed with the red as a touch of orange in the distant cloud.
Small touches of colour that change the whole mood of a painting, and pull your eye across the composition. Did Eardley plan the placement and choice of the beforehand or did it evolve? I imagine a bit of both. Ultimately it doesn’t matter when it was decided, only that it was.
So, at the end of another day’s painting, this is how Grazing the Loch looks (this was it yesterday). The weather’s got a bit windier, creating white horses on the sea and blowing in a bit of mist. Some daisies have also popped up in the grass. You can’t see it in the photos, but the cliff edge in the distance has some iridescent silver and gold on it, part of an underlayer; it shows if there’s side light. It’s now at the “Am I there yet?” stage, where I ponder it.
Update: I showed it to the couple who commissioned it, and they love it. So now just to tidy up the edges and varnish it.
I’m waiting for the paint to dry on this before I have another round with it. My fingers are itching to fix the all-to-neat alignment of the shoreline and sheep heads, but first the paint needs to dry. I also need to decide whether to add a cloud in the sky to cast the shadow on the distant hilltop, or lighten it. Plus all the other additions, tweaks, adjustments, not-yet-put-in-ideas bouncing around my head. And deciding whether it’ll have daisies or buttercups in the foreground. Perhaps a few poppies for a splash of red? Are we there yet? Is it dry yet…?
I’ve been painting on a small scale again, on 7×5″ canvas (about 18x12cm). These two “mini Minch” seascapes are a memory of some of the wild weather I’ve watched blow across the view, where white horses churn up deep Prussian blue. Available from Skyeworks Gallery, ?35 each.
“Monet sometimes worked up to sixty times on the same painting…
“…building up his textures in stages, and then strategically scumbling, overpainting and glazing them
“…calculated and intentional effort
“…myth of Monet’s apparently mindless spontaneity
“…Monet’s painting was the product of a consciousness deeply committed to its own material and emotional resources and aware that viewers, to one degree or another, had resources as well.” Source: Monet and Modernism page 136/7
A painting looking spontaneous, random, quickly done and effortless all too easily belies what’s gone into this result. As it should, because the artistic effort shouldn’t be what the viewer is most aware of as they look at a painting.
Rather it’s revealed by the painting changing as the light conditions vary, emphasising different layers and altering the optical mixing. By a painting seeming one thing from a distance and another at arm’s length. Rewarding close looking, showing you more the more you look. There are layers of thought, memory, experience, and time, as well as the paint.
Scumbling is a painting technique where a broken, thin layer of colour is applied over another, letting patches of what’s underneath show through. The result is visually stimulating and textural, producing a sense of depth and interesting colour variations.
Scumbling can be done with any paint, using a dry brush (very little paint on a brush, not a soggy, well-loaded brush), or by dabbing at the surface with a rough sponge or crumpled cloth dipped in a little paint. Also with dry mediums such as pastel, lightly dragging a soft pastel (the softer the better) held on its side across the top to add a broken covering of a new colour.
It might help to think of the technique as tickling the surface, or using up the last little bits of paint in the brush, leaving behind fragments of colour. Or if you prefer to be vigorous, scrubbing at a painting with a not-quite-clean brush.
Work on the top surface of the painting, the top of texture ridges, the tops of the canvas fibres, not filling in ditches. And on dried paint, not wet, so the scumbled paint sits on top rather than mixing in. Rather go over an area again than start with too much paint.
Wipe a brush dry after rinsing, dip it into a bit of paint, then dab it on a cloth to remove most of the paint. It can feel wasteful, but practice teaches you to get less on a brush. Remember you can also dip your brush into this wiped-off paint rather than fresh paint on your palette.
It helps if the paint is stiff as it doesn’t spread as easily when you apply it.
Holding a cloth around the brush hairs at the ferrule end will help pull moisture out of the brush without removing the pigment.