In a multi-day workshop, I usually include some time for colour studies, exploring colour mixing with some underlying focus but mostly for the sheer joy of colour, of seeing what happens. The most common response is what fun it is and why don’t we do it more often when we’re by ourselves? I suspect the answer lies in that we get too fixated on “creating a painting” and forget it is time well spent to practice our scales.
When I sat down at my favourite picnic bench in the Uig woodland, I had intended to do a watercolour version of the sketch I’d made a few days before. But after the first tree trunk was painted, impulse led me to trying various colour combinations in search of the ‘perfect recipe’. An hour or so later, I had this:
This photo is a bit blown out. In the middle is my favourite:
lunar black + cobalt blue + serpentine green
I know what the colour are because I remembered to make notes! Not the proportions of each, just the ingredients.
Celebrating the sale of this large tree painting which is dominated by an unusual blue — for me — ultramarine rather than Prussian. It was sold at Skyeworks Gallery and will be heading to Zurich. I’ve found my fingers itching to paint trees again recently; it’s that time of year when the trunks stand out starkly as leaves are shed and the ground becomes golden-brown. And of course I’ve recently driven between Skye and Fort William, a journey filled with so many beautiful trees, from thin silver stems to majestic oaks.
This is a week focused around the “admin” tasks of preparing for the hanging of my Interlude exhibition at Skyeworks on Sunday. It includes adding d-rings and wire to every painting, plus writing the details on the back, which means deciding on a name for each. Repeat more than 30 times and I’ve begun to question the wisdom of having so many small paintings. The solution is, of course, to do it as I declared a painting finished, but it’s too late now; maybe next time. (Yeah, in the same way I always paint the edges first.)
Good news is that my catalogue has arrived and I’m pleased with it (few minor typos aside) and my new greetings cards are due for delivery today. That means tomorrow’s task is bribing my Mum with frangipan tarts and scones from the Skye Baking Company to put the cards into polybags with an envelope (hardest part is dealing with the little tear-off strip on the glue which static-attaches itself to your fingers very determinedly).
After that is the pricelist and editing photos and … there’s still a lot to get done, but I’m very excited. I’ll send out a newsletter (subscribe here) when I get the photos added to my paintings website (after the opening on Monday).
I don’t always use masking tape when creating the trunks of a tree painting because sometimes I don’t have any tape to hand and sometimes I haven’t the patience to tear the tape to create uneven edges (the straight edge of the tape is too rigid for my liking these days; I did use it earlier). But doing so has two great advantages: it allows great freedom with splattering colours onto the main trunk colour and creates a magical “reveal” moment, when I pull off the tape to see the tree trunks in context. That I can’t see how the trunks look against the background while painting is both a disadvantage and an advantage; I’m committed to whatever I do with the trunks, though know it can always be painted over, and can’t fuss with the rest of the painting.
These photos are from a current painting-in-progress. First photo: starting to remove the tape is always fun mixed with a little apprehension about whether I messed things up or not, whether the tape had been stuck down well or if paint had seeped underneath (especially if I’d turned the painting on its side and encouraged the paint to run).
Second photo: sticking down the tape, leaving what will become tree trunks. When you start taping, it’s crucial to remember that you’re preserving the background and the tape doesn’t represent the trees (seems obvious, I know, but the shape of the tape seduces you into making nice tree shapes with the tape and not the negative spaces).
Third photo: Half removed.
Fourth photo: Pondering time. Foreground to be tackled next.
“Don’t look at nature and consider an inch at a time. See what one big spot is in relation to another. Search always for more beautiful notes of colour, don’t search to put more things in. … Let the eye go from one spot to another without the aid of outlines … don’t insist that the eye shall stop at the edges … don’t paint up to a line, work from a centre …”
I’ve been pondering soft and hard edges, how the former suggest and the latter dictate, the balance between the two and the influence on the dance between abstraction and realism. How colour and tone might do the job of a hard edge more subtly, creating the painting where what seem to be definite edges and lines dissolve into specks of colour the closer you get. The point at which it works and the point at which it’s a chaos of colour. I started a new large tree painting yesterday and found myself breaking up some definite, straight lines even at the very lowest layers that I know will be painted over.
My latest large (100x100cm) tree painting: Echoes of an Ancient Forest is due to makes its way to Inchmore Gallery on Tuesday morning. It’s currently hanging in the in-house art critic’s office, in a spot that gets strong side light, and it’s been interesting watching how the painting changes as the light does (one of the effects working in layers and glazes can create). In dimmer light, the darks become more prominent, and in bright light the whites/silvers on the trees shine. Over coffee we’ve been having discussions about this, and deciding which our favourite part of the painting is. Mine is shown in the detail photo, a bit of the texture on the second-from-the-left tree that goes off the bottom of the composition. What’s yours (share in comments below)?
Well that’s a delightful runup to Christmas: just had email from person who’d commissioned a painting as a present to say the intended recipient saw it in Skyeworks and loves it. So tomorrow I can change the note from “reserved” to “sold”, and wrap it for a safe journey to its new home.
(If you feel this reminds you of another painting of mine, you’re probably thinking of “Listening to Trees”, and you’d be right as this was mentioned in the commission brief.)
One more coat of varnish and the first large painting (100x100cm) I’ve done in my new studio will be on its way to Skyeworks Gallery in Portree. It’s certainly a joy being able to leave a freshly varnished painting flat on the studio floor and close the door without concerns about pawprints or donations of fur happening overnight.
This is also the first large painting since I was on a Colour and the Figure workshop, where I spent four days mixing “interesting greys” and using complementaries to desaturate colour (with varying degrees of success). It has strong blue/orange complementaries, fulfilling my desire for some strong colour, but in the tree trunks and shadows I found myself thinking far more deliberately about what was going into mixes, trying to venture into “interesting greys” and “colour-filled shadows” and “building a bridge between orange and blue”.
For once the dominant blue isn’t my favourite Prussian, but ultramarine.? Colours used: lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, cadmium orange hue, permanent rose, perelyne green, Prussian blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine and titanium white.
It all began with the thought: “what if I were to use some of that fluorescent Sennelier orange as a coloured ground?”
First I created “tree trunks” with texture paste, left this overnight to dry completely. (It’s incredibly annoying to flatten a still-wet spot with a brush, but ever so tempting to be getting on with the painting!) Next came the fluorescent orange, plus fluorescent pink (well, you know, it was just sitting there feeling lonely) as well as some red (leftover sample of Liquitex artist’s spraypaint). I worked wet on wet and sprayed additional water to encourage the paint to spread. The result was certainly, urm, colourful. And intense. And bright.
Once this was fairly dry I laid the canvas flat and applied some fluid sepia and pearlescent white. I encouraged it to spread by spraying some water over it, then left it do meander its way around the texture. Left to dry, and repeated, and tweaked, and repeated, and pondered, and tweaked.
The final result is, to my eye, an interesting result of intense colour peering through intriguing darks. The in-house art critic, running his fingers across the surface, said it felt and looked like dragon skin. Take a look at the detail photos below, then share your thoughts in the comments section. (Click on the photos to see larger versions.)
These are a few of the studies I’ve done recently; in each I was trying something specific or remind myself of something. Often I work on a pair together, aiming to push the one a little further than the other. I find mounting makes me see the piece more objectively and assess it more critically, not least because you have to decide where to crop the painting with that sharp, stark mount edge.
In this sheep study I was trying to work wet-on-wet in the clouds, letting the white paper do its thing. The danger is my tendency to overwork it, then needing to use white acrylic or gouache to rescue it. The very dark bit of blue echoing the shape of a bird (or perhaps sheep’s ears?) was a ‘happy accident’.
With this woodland study I was again working wet-on-wet, trying to use the white of the paper as an integral part of the painting, rather than covering it all up as I would do when painting on canvas. I was also trying to use cobalt blue for sky, rather than my more usual Prussian blue. Overall the colours are? softer and softer than my ‘usual’, like colours muted by mist (hence the title).
With these two tree studies I started with a layer of thin quinacridone gold, which gives the glowing light gold in the background and the deeper orange-golds on the trunks. I wanted to create a sense of wintry sunlight where in the afternoon it turns the landscape gold but it’s not exactly warm. So warmth from the quinacridone gold background and cold from the top layer of blues on the edges of the trees. The second study I used more blue; still deciding if it’s too much. Colours:? quinacridone gold, cadmium red, perelyne green, Prussian blue, cobalt blue, titanium white.
I’ve been in the mood for tackling another large flower painting, along the lines of Listening to Daisies. These two studies were intended to remind me of how I’d painted that: the layering, the colours,the refining detail from chaos. The second one I tried to add stronger darks, for more tonal contract, something I ought to have done at a lower layer.
These paintings are all now at Skyeworks Gallery (?49 each).
Not shown are the other half dozen studies that ended up as a muddy confused mess or didn’t get anywhere near anything sensible that are still pinned to my easel. I’ll have another round with some, overworking with opaque or semi-opaque colours; the rest I’ll save for when I need something to rip up in frustration abandon.