What a delightful way to start a week, with the sale of a painting! The person who’s bought “Round the Corner” had connected with it at Skyeworks Gallery, but wasn’t sure if it would be too large for the space available, so we arranged for me to bring it along for a viewing in situ as it was only a few miles south of my studio. End result is that “Round the Corner” has, aptly, found a home around the corner.
“…I had ranged the reds from pink to orange, which rose into the yellows as far as lemon with light and dark greens.”
— Vincent van Gogh writing to Theo about painting a portrait of Roulin?s wife, 22 January 1889
What I take from this is to not think of a colour as limited to only tubes marked that colour, but to include analogous colours too (colours that sit alongside one another on the colour wheel). So, not thinking of red as reds alone, but including yellow and orange as well as purple and blue. For blue to include green and yellow. Yellow to include green and orange, and so on.
Or put another way, the ‘secret’ to Van Gogh’s beautiful reds is to use more than only red.
Remember the magenta tree painting I started in June? Well it’s been stuck in “pondering stage” as I tried to decide what I would do with it. There were bits I really liked (e.g. the sense of movement behind the tree trunks), bits I didn’t (e.g. harsh darks), and various directions I could take it. About the only certainty was that I wouldn’t add any more paint until I had a definite plan.
procrastination pondering I decided I would take it for a walk on the dark side, rather than light, emphasizing shadows rather than sunlight. Why? Perhaps it’s the shorter days, perhaps thoughts about how well people responded to “Listening to Bluebells“, which is quite dark, but I’ve no real explanation other than that’s what I felt most like trying.
So out came a bottle of glazing medium, burnt umber and that favourite, Prussian blue. Why these two colours? Because both are strong darks, brown would enhance the sense of “tree” and blue “sky/rain”. The blue glazed over magenta would also give heathery purples, which that other favourite dark, perelyne green, wouldn’t.?This was the result; overall I’m pleased with the moodiness of it, but will do some more pondering, looking at it in different light conditions. The In-House Art Critic has proposed the title: “Plaid Glade“.
There are many drawing and painting techniques anyone can learn in a relatively short time, but it takes dedication and effort to move beyond mediocrity. Years of working at it, not mere weeks and certainly not days. It’s a mistake to believe what an artist appears to do effortlessly was easy for them to achieve and ought to be for you too. Skill through practice makes things look deceptively simple.
Think of art techniques as being to an artist what sentences are to a writer: a single, sensible sentence is relatively easy to achieve but putting sentences together to create a story worth reading takes a lot more dedication and practice. And before you have sentences, you have to learn the alphabet, vocabulary and grammar. So be patient with yourself, grant yourself time to learn, time to develop, time to make mistakes. If you start out with the belief that it should all come easily you’re setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. Celebrate breakthrough moments when they happen, and keep striving determinedly between them.
Compare how Monet painted the sea in his “Regatta at Sainte?Adresse” in 1867 (stiff, flat, static) and in “The Manneporte near ?tretat in 1886 (broken colour with movement). If your aim is to paint sea as in the latter, you’ve the advantage of being able to study what Monet did, but don’t expect to get there in an afternoon. Monet had nearly 20 years’ practice between the two paintings.
JMW Turner’s “radiant effects, obtained with mere paint, remain unique even after Impressionism. … replaced the old technique of light and dark contrast with the finest gradations of colours, all–or nearly all–very light in value.
“While rejecting traditional chiaroscuro, Turner also rejected representation of solid bodies compactly arranged… he created resplendent effects of colour permeating atmosphere and deep space.
“His sketchbooks reveal a background of experimentation with bands and blocks of colours placed side by side in various combination.”
Source: Vision and Invention by Calvin Harlan p85
I’ve often thought of the colours in the view from my studio across the Minch as being part of a colourfield painting by Rothko or a seascape done in greys with a narrow tonal range by Whistler, but there’s also plenty of stormy weather and dramatic atmosphere to relate to Turner. Creating a sense of distant islands, with the sun forcing its way through fast-moving clouds above a wind-whipped sea, that’s what’s on my mind today.
Never let the belief that you can’t draw stop you from learning to paint. A painting is not a drawing waiting to be coloured in and, conversely, a drawing isn’t an artwork waiting for paint to be added to it.
While traditionally an artist studied drawing for several years before starting with paint, if you want to get straight into paint, then do. You can always acquire drawing skills at a later stage; in the meantime you won’t have wasted time sitting around wishing you were painting (see: Never Moving Beyond Liking the Idea of Being Creative).
I strongly believe that if you don’t like or are afraid of drawing, for whatever reason, then forget about drawing and jump straight into painting. Ultimately, it’s that you’re doing it that’s important, not the road you take to get there.
Painting involves its own set of skills, which complement but are different to those for drawing. Learning to use tone, perspective,the illusion of depth, etc. can be done while learning to paint. The advantage of doing so while learning to draw is that you don’t have the distraction of colour and pencil is easier to ‘undo’ to fix errors. But if you don’t like graphite or charcoal, don’t let this stop you. Get stuck straight into the wet, colourful stuff! Even if you were an expert at drawing, you’d need to learn how to manipulate paint.
Drawing is a different way of creating art. Having drawing skills will definitely help with your painting, but if you hate pencils and charcoal, this doesn’t mean you can’t learn to paint. Drawing is not merely an initial step in making a painting. You don’t need to do a detailed drawing before you start to paint; while many artists do, many others don’t. I typically do a minimalist drawing of my intended composition before starting to paint (take a look at this step-by-step video demo to see an example).
There is no rule that says you must draw before you paint if you don’t want to and no approval committee checking your process. Never let a belief that you can’t draw a stick figure or even a straight line stop you from discovering the enjoyment that painting can bring. Besides, straight lines are easy…use a ruler!
“Painting embraces all the 10 functions of the eye; that is to say, darkness, light, body and color, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest.”
— Leonardo da Vinci
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“I tell myself that anyone who says he has finished a canvas is terribly arrogant. Finished means complete, perfect, and I toil away without making any progress, searching, fumbling around, without achieving anything much.” — Monet, 1893
(Quoted in Painting Outside the Lines by David W Galenson, p49
It can be terribly demotivating when you feel like you’re constantly struggling to create satisfying paintings while those around you seem to have it come easily. But are you seeing the artist’s process and progress, or looking only at the end results? The few selected pieces the artist shows the world are not the full story, they don’t tell you how many paintings were never finished, how many hours were spent pondering a pristine canvas. Doubts and fears are part of the process; reconcile yourself to this, then use them as motivation to keep pursuing the impossible.
This workshop day was spent creating a tree painting under my guidance, using techniques I include in my own forest paintings. It’s partly about mastering the techniques involved (torn strips of masking tape being key) and partly about learning to be patient, building numerous layers to create a sense of depth rather than stopping at the first layer (and not to be precious about it). It’s an approach that takes a faith in the process (especially the first time you do it!) so I demonstrated each step on my own 25x25cm canvas before we tackled it.
We started with a coloured ground done in dark turquoise, then all used the same set of acrylic colours on our palettes: Prussian blue, cerulean blue, burnt umber, green gold, Sennelier primary red, cadmium yellow deep, lemon yellow, and titanium white.? The results speak for themselves; one of these four paintings is mine, but which one?
[Kahn] “…plays with imaginary color in an otherwise commonplace landscape. The simple image of a river bend becomes a chromatic fantasy ‘so entirely about color that you don’t even think about dark and light’.”
(Source: Wolf Kahn page 90)
How realistic does colour need to be in a landscape painting? How far can you intensify it before it becomes unreal, and does that necessarily mean it doesn’t work? How much can you enhance what you see to create an emotional impact or to convey the strength with which you experience the landscape?
If you let colour overtake everything else in the composition it becomes a painting with its roots in realism. A painting about colour rather than landscape, but the roots give viewers a way into the painting. A way to relate to it and feel you’re able to understand it (or some of it) rather than being completely lost about what you’re looking at as often happens with pure abstracts. Whether you limit the realism to ‘roots’ only, or add a few more aspects of the landscape (‘branches’ and ‘leaves’), that’s when an interesting dance can happen as you juggle realism and abstraction.