I’ve had a few comments from February’s project participants about not being able to paint horns like I do. Let me let you into a little secret: in my studio I have a pencil drawing of a horn the in-house art critic did for me several years ago as a ‘cheatsheet’ for the shading because I kept getting myself muddled and stressed.
It’s a bit cryptic, reduced to four elements — outline line, white highlight, shaded shadow, and twisted-form zigzag . It reminds me of the essentials, without the distraction of colour, pattern, or ridges, or position of ears. It’s been in the corner, within view though not consciously seen every day. Encouragement and reassurance, a reminder and incentive. It’s taken me ages to feel I can do horns to a level that consistently pleases me, but I feel I’ve got there now, probably.
If you scroll through my sheep paintings you’ll see how horns pop up now and again, but not often. That’s changed over the last few months, even going to this extreme:
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I tried painting my way through a Category Four headache today, but looking at the results I definitely lost the plot. That moon is not sitting on top of its reflection. Oops.
Here’s a photo showing today’s starting and ending points:
So do I move the reflection (by repainting sea blues) or move the Moon (which will entail repainting the sky as it’s layered colour not solid)? Or, as the in-house critic’s suggested, enlarge the Moon to the left (which means just repainting the Moon).
Strictly speaking, just off my easel rather than still on, lying on a shelf to dry out of “I’ll just tweak it” reach, is this new sheep painting that still needs a title. Any suggestions? (It’s 70x60cm in case you’re wondering.)
Here it is as it was when I downed brushes yesterday, along with another work-in-progress that’s texture-paste sheep added to a seascape that had gone awry and needed a drastic change (I put them together like this so I would see both on re-entering my studio):
And here it is when the first round was finished, with fluid paint running down still-wet texture paste.
Apologies, there are no other in-between photos as I forgot to take any! Needless to say, there were several layers of paint between the start and finish.
A flock of my small sheep paintings and I are headed south for the weekend, to the SECC in Glasgow for the Country Living Christmas Fair (Thursday to Saturday). The painting that would have filled the row top right the in-house art critic liked so much it’s staying in my studio for now, and two festive red backgrounds have gone to Skyeworks. Which is your favourite?
Three other little ones, on A5 sized boards rather than canvas, are on their way to Patchings Art Centre near Nottingham for another festive exhibition. (My camera has blown out the colours somewhat, unfortunately) These were mostly done with acrylic inks, which on the absorbent boards gave watercolour-like results. I had great trouble stopping, not doing yet another little tweak on a cloud. Ultimately the need to get them in the post was what stopped me.
FREE TICKETS: I have 30 free tickets to give away for the Country Living Christmas Fair in Glasgow at the weekend. I haven’t checked how many are still left, but head to the online ticket office and try the promo code CLGLA012.
Waiting for it to get light enough to go into my studio (which has natural light only) I resized some progress photos of a sheep painting I’m working on and put them together in this animated sequence . The in-house art critic says it’s got a “Van Gogh Moon”; my thought is “Van Gogh-twisted tartan sky”. Quite where it will end up I don’t know yet, but I suspect not too far off where it is at the moment. First thing I’ll do is re-establish the faces, then decide where or what or if.
Fresh off my easel is the “Passing Places” painting below, which is rather more serene .
And, no, there’s no intended symbolism between the two paintings about the emotional turmoil large family gatherings that tend to occur in this part of the year can bring.
Someone asking “how long did that take to paint?” often leads me into talking about contemplation time, when I’m not actively standing brush in hand but am thinking about a painting. Both require “brain-space”, being able to focus without too many stray thoughts jabbing in. It also requires freshness, space to breathe (metaphorically and literally). It can become mind-numbing if you forget to include “excitement” and “challenge” in the ingredients. You think you’re doing it to the same standard but more likely there’s a little slippage each time until you’re a self-disappointing distance from where you think you are.
I see it in my small sheep paintings, the ones I try to paint when I “need” more flock members compared to the ones when I “want” more flock members. They end up sitting about in a huddle on a shelf until I feel my fingers itch to paint little sheep again because then they’ll be that measure of “better” that satisfies me. That’s why, at times, my flock of little sheep paintings becomes quite small (this photo was taken of what’s at Skyeworks Gallery on Monday):
Over the spring/summer I painted a handful with a full moon (and that idea came from a commission for a large painting that was to include the moon). I enjoyed working dark-to-light and will probably do some more (perhaps Harvest Moon, given the time of year):
The last little sheep to come off my easel was about three weeks ago and will feature on this year’s Christmas card (no, you can’t see a photo yet) and the one waiting patiently that’s the closest to being finished has got glitter on it (just because I felt like it), not that you can really see it in the photo.
I’m heading into my studio this morning feeling like painting little sheep again. But last week I was in Edinburgh painting figures on one of Alan McGowan‘s workshops. No drippy paint, no splashes, all controlled layers and glazes. A creative break, recharge, boost, shift of gears and all those other mantras. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, learnt new things and re-established other knowledge, and now have headspace and the desire to paint some new little flock members. A change of pace back to something familiar, but now different again because I’ve had a break.
PS: The last time I did one of Alan’s inspiring workshops, it resulted in a tree painting dominated by ultramarine, a colour I almost never use. See North Shore.
Looking at this painting and my recent W.I. Committeesheep painting, it would seem that my palette has undergone a shift into lilacs and purples, with warm undertones of magenta and orange. (Well, at least as far as my sheep paintings are concerned; I’ve also been painting sunflowers in strong yellows and black.)
The starting point of a painting and the end point can sometimes be a fair distance apart. It’s most often because a painting takes a turn I decide to follow to see where it leads, knowing I can always go back to my original idea another time. So the painting that became “The W.I.* Committee” started with bright oranges/yellows and a row of sheep and ended with gentle purples and three sheep. These four photos show the progress:
I started with orange and yellows as the blocking in colours, the eliminate-the-white-of-the-canvas and establish-the-composition colours plus some phthalo turquoise, white and magenta. The orange of the sky encouraged to run by spraying it. It’s all a bit “pass-my-sunglasses” intense at the moment but it’s destined to be mostly hidden by subsequent layers.
Enter more phthalo turquoise. One of my current favourite colours, it’s a strong dark when used thickly, a sea blue-green when thin. In this round I was using it to establish darks in the foreground, and this is when the row of sheep got reduced to three. Why? I don’t know, it just felt right.
I started getting entranced by the beautiful mixes of magenta with turquoise, white, orange and yellow, finding myself pulled towards lighter tones for once. Why? I could invent some philosophical statement about? the purples on the hills behind my studio at the moment and the low clouds of a mostly overcast day, but truly it’s simply? because at that moment I was enjoying those colours.
In this third photo the tones are still quite dark overall, but you can see where I’ve started adding light tones. This was a turning point in the direction the painting headed, and I knew it was destined to be more gentle than my other recent paintings, and not dominated by blue or green. And, subsequently, many of the comments I’ve had about it have started with “those are unusual colours for you”.
I left it overnight to dry thoroughly, then worked further ending up here (I realise that’s not much of a description of what I did; compare the two photos, they tell the story):
Perylene Green/Atrament Black (same pigment, different brand names)