I took these painting-in-progress photos whilst having a go at this month’s painting project: Stormy Camus Mor. It’s on a sheet of A1 watercolour paper, 350gsm, using acrylic inks, tube acrylics, and oil pastel. I have been thinking about this painting since I wrote up the project, it’s just taken me a while to settle down to do it.
Drawing with Dots
I have been thinking about the patterns in the sand on the beach (see my blog Photos: Seashore Abstracts) which led to thoughts about what a pattern transfer wheel might do, how it might give a line of dots in a painting on paper. These photos are from my first experiments with this idea, starting in my sketchbook and then on 350gsm watercolour paper.
Pricking holes in a drawing is a very old technique used to transfer a drawing onto another surface by making tiny holes in it and then dusting chalk or charcoal through the holes. In artspeak it’s called pouncing. (And another bit of art trivia: a full-sized drawing used for pouncing is called a cartoon. ) You can do it with a pin, but that’ll test my patience.
I tried running the wheel across the paper before I painted and while the watercolour was wet. The latter was more successful, possibly because the damp paper indented more. It “works” by the pigment collecting in the holes, making them darker in colour. (If you don’t see the short video below, click here to see it on my Vimeo page.)
Going back and forth, whilst rotating to the side, created a pattern that fanned out. Perhaps a little regular, but that would be easy to resolve by lifting the tool and repositioning it slightly.
Pressing hard resulted in holes in the paper in my sketchbook. Well, it is what the tool’s designed to do! This wasn’t unexpected, and opens up different possibilities (think: drawing with holes rather than dots).
After playing in my sketchbook for a bit, I decided to have a go at a ‘real picture’ and got out a piece of 350gsm paper. Being quite a thick paper, I was able to press quite hard without making holes through the paper.
I used it both before and after I applied the watercolour, and it definitely works better afterwards. The colour I’m using for the sand is a granulating watercolour, so it’ll dry ‘dotty’ anyway. What the pattern wheel has done is introduce pattern into it that I can control.
The above was done on a piece I cut from an A3 sheet of watercolour. Last year the in-house art critic bought me a fabulous safety ruler that eliminates the worry of the knife slipping and my cutting my fingers. (When we were living in London many moons ago, the in-house art critic once offered to cut a cardboard mount for me which ended up with a trip to ER on the bus, and stitches.) He also bought me a beautiful orange craft knife, because being in love with your tools makes them easier to use, and a sharp blade is safer than a blunt one.
A stacked perspective is when, rather than relying on a vanishing point as in one- or two-point perspective (“the railway lines thing”), elements are piled (stacked) one above another in the composition to give the illusion of depth and distance. Or to put it in art speak: when objects are placed higher on the picture plane to create spacial illusion.
It’s easier to understand by looking at an example than reading about it. In the book “Japanese Prints : The Collection of Vincent van Gogh” I came across a fabulous example of stacked perspective in a print by Hiroshige. Van Gogh copied this print into the background of his “Portrait of Pere Tanguy” painting.
In the photo of the print below, start counting the stacks or elements with the white heron at the bottom, or Mount Fuji at the top. Then look at how the elements overlap, linking the parts of the composition whilst creating the sense of some things being behind others.
“Hiroshige’s composition is extremely sophisticated, involving a stacked perspective of seven ‘curtains’, starting with the white heron in the foreground, and ending with Mount Fuji in the distance.” [Quote source: “Japanese Prints : The Collection of Vincent van Gogh” by Chris Uhlenbeck, Louis van Tilborgh, and Shigeru Oikawa, 2018, p. 108]
Calling the elements or layers “curtains” and imaginging transparent shower curtains with images printed on them, really works for me in terms of understanding “stacked perspective”.
- The Van Gogh Museum website has a section on the Japanese prints that Vincent van Gogh collected, here.
- To see sample pages of the book, go to Thames & Hudson’s website
Lines of Gold
The backstory to this is my ongoing interest in the use of line in paintings, my little pile of wood panels with plein-air oil paintings that aren’t resolved for one reason or another, plus the thought of using wood-carving tools to cut lines into the wood panel. Enter a basic set of woodcarving tools, several weeks of them sitting staring at me while I pondered, then a few goes to see what kind of mark I might get, a bit more pondering, and I set about carving “rock lines” in the foreground of this panel.
With the thought that acrylic paint would (theoretically) stick only to the bare wood and not the oil paint, I then brushed over some Payne’s grey acrylic paint, thinking a dark line might work. But the painting still felt lacking. So I carved some more lines (trying to destroy some of the inadvertent pattern I’d created), brushed some fluid gold acrylic paint over the whole painting and wiped it, with it sticking to the areas of bare wood.
If you don’t see the video above, click here.
I think the result has definite potential. The hardest thing was not following lines in the painting, but to ‘draw’ another fresh layer of cut marks on top of the area. Next I need to dig out my printmaking books to read up on woodblock carving and learn to use the tools better.
Video: Tall Trees Painting
This video shows me painting on the middle of my trio of tall trees from yesterday’s blog. I used an unfinished seascape with texture paste, starting with yellow acrylic ink which I knew was transparent enough to turn the blues to greens. I had the canvas sideways so I could easily reach edge to edge, rather than having to stretch across it.
The in-house art critic asked how I decide where to put the “blobs of colour”. The answer “I know it’s only to go on the trunk and just random” is inadequate, apparently, so I’ll be trying to figure it out more and put it into words.
How I Do It : Splattering Paint
So having discovered my phone has a slow-motion option on its videos, I’ve been playing with it a bit. This short clip shows how I splatter paint, a technique I use a lot for my sheep and seascape paintings.
It’s a “happy accident” technique you learn to control through practice. The consistency of the paint is crucial, and that you learn through trial-and-error.
If you don’t see the video above, click on this link.
The quality of the video isn’t brilliant because it was done late afternoon in low winter light. And imagine my phone balance precariously on my tripod, held by various bulldogclips. Perhaps I ought to set a Patreon goal that relates to better video equipment?
Reinvigorating a Painting by Adding Line
As sometimes happens, I lost the plot. I was doing a little studio study based on my sketches and previous paintings of the River Rha, and at some point I lost too much of the dark and ended up with mid-tone mediocrity and brushwork blended to blandness.
I’d started on a sheet of dark-charcoal pastel paper* that could’ve served as the dark , but painted out too much of it. (*Full disclosure: it wasn’t a carefully considered choice but simply the sheet of A2 that came to hand in a portfolio bag of mixed papers.) I was frustrated with myself, with what I’d done with a brush, so instead of continuing to paint I decided to change mediums, which can be a bit like changing gears. I reached for some oil pastels to redraw a layer of line and hopefully reinvigorate the painting.
Once I’d re-found the joy in the piece, I painted the stream a bit more. I don’t consider it a finished piece as there’s a disconnect between the stream and the rest. But I know where I would go next if I do decide to continue working on this: a layer of paint over the rocks and background, add a suggestion of stream to the right, bit more water-colour that isn’t white to the stream and a flick of splatter.
Why might I not continue with this painting and finish it? Well, it was a warmup, an excuse-for-playing-with-colour moment, a do-something-so-you-feel-productive piece. It might take a little to resolve it and it might take a lot. It might already have served its purpose. I left it taped to the board for now.
My Painting Process: Warm and Cool
I’ve had requests to explain a bit more about my painting process. It’s an edifying, albeit slow, process nailing down what I do and why. It doesn’t always make sense to me, even as I realise I’m doing it, but then evolution isn’t necessarily logical or sensible (think: furry creatures that eat very specific leaves only).
I admire artists who work strongly with warm and cool colour*. I know the theory. I’ve tried doing it slowly and conscientiously. I’ve drawn myself little diagrams of what part of a composition should be warm light and warm shadow, cool light and cool shadow, and still blown painting it thus. I put warm into cool areas, make distant hills darker than nearer, and choose between lemon yellow and cadmium yellow based on transparency not warmth.
I could blame all the “soft northern light” on Skye, but that doesn’t hold for not doing atmospheric perspective in a painting. And Monet said the light in Algeria taught him to see colour so all my years under a southern African sky should surely have imbued me too.
Most of the time I don’t about consciously think warm or cool, neither the lack thereof nor the using of it.
[cue: shock, horror]
I paint with my favourite colours**, and if something isn’t working when I’m in “pondering mode”, I consider changing the colour and/or the colour’s tone. But it’s not colour consciously measured in warm/cool. (That’s why if you’re in a workshop with me and you ask about something in warm/cool terms it takes me a while to respond, I need a bit of thinking time.)
Will it always be thus? I don’t know.
*Such as Alan McGowan in his figure painting and Michael Chelsea Johnson in his landscape paintings.
**Prussian blue, phthalo blue cyan, phthalo turquoise, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow light and medium, cadmium orange, magenta and titanium white.
Photos: Dancing a Line with a Brush
If you’ve been on one of my painting workshops, you’ve probably heard me say “dance in a line”. I hope these photos help explain what I mean.
Hold the brush at the tip of the handle, so you’ve maximum movement in it from the wrist.
Move quickly and light-heartedly, without overthinking, as you’d do a twirl.
The line I’m dancing in here is intended to ultimately become part of a foxglove in the foreground of a sheep painting.
My “Ascending Pinks” (below) is full of these danced lines.
A Few Words About Brushwork
Context: Thinking about visible brushmarks or mark making in a painting rather than blending and smoothing out all brushmarks, about the things that influence brushmarks.
Shape (of brush: round, rigger, flat, filbert, fan)
Size (of brush)
Hard/Soft-ness (of the bush hairs)
Speed (of the brushstroke)
Direction (of the brushstroke)
Length (of the brushstroke)
Thick/thin-ness (of the paint)
Dryness (dry brushing, wet onto dry paper)