“When I first started plein air, I relied very heavily on the scene doing all the heavy lifting in the painting. If the scene was boring, the painting was boring. I would walk and bike around all day with my heavy backpack and often not even find anything to paint.
But as I progressed, the role of the scene and the role of the artist started to switch places.”
When painting or sketching on location, do you choose the best spot for yourself or the painting? Do you spot a comfy-looking spot to sit first and then see what you might paint? Standing on a bank of pebbles may give you a better view, but will this be undermined by it not being stable underfoot and thus diverting some of your attention and energy?
I do a bit of both, depending on my mood and energy levels. The photo below was the day I chose a spot where I could sit whilst painting.
“I went and stayed with the Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum in 2012 for 6 weeks. … I could see how much joy he got from painting something he was pleased with. I understood that for me to have any sort of satisfaction and longevity within painting I needed to get the joy of creation back that I had had as a child.
… painting wasn’t about any sort of brute force. It was an exploration. Watching paintings evolve on the canvas without any pre-planning work was difficult for me initially, but it was enjoyable. Finishing the painting wasn’t the best part any more. It was like finishing a good film, I just wanted it to keep going.”
This little seascape was done on two wooden panels using acrylic over texture paste. If you wonder why the panels aren’t blank when I start, it’s because they’re two I’d previously painted a little on but never taken the ideas further. I knew the texture paste would cover a lot of the colour (it dries as opaque) and that I would then add Payne’s grey acrylic ink as the first colour over the texture, which would hide even more whilst creating a lovely dark in the recesses of the texture. (Note: the video does not have sound.)
“Building relationships is like investing a small percentage of our happiness in this other person, and receiving an investment of some of their happiness in us in return. This allows us to diversify our happiness across many people in many different aspects of life. And this diversification makes our own emotional health more resilient when difficulties in life come.”
Substiute “creativity” and “art/painting” for “happiness” and “relationships”, and we get:
“Creating art is like investing a small percentage of our creativity in every painting, and receiving an investment of some of its creative energy in us in return. This allows us to diversify our creativity across many pieces in many different aspects of painting. And this diversification makes our own creative health more resilient when difficulties in painting come.“
“There is a natural distortion that occurs in every painting. Very few paintings are accurate to what we see with our eyes verses what the camera records. … a painter is looking to create a piece to communicate beyond a mere record … expression goes beyond accuracy.
“We tolerate inaccuracies in paintings because of two reasons. One, we simply know it’s not a technical reproduction; second, we accept that the painter is telling us something as an expression. Paintings are not poor excuses for a lack of a camera.”
I’ve got a few daisies sitting on my painting table in the bottom of a little spray water bottle.
This painting I did from the daisies is still waiting to be fixed, that is taken further than where it is now, at the very least adding yellow centres to each. Will I succeed or will I spoil what’s currently beautiful about it? Should I try or should I enjoy it as it is?
Flowers are cheerful, undemanding company, quietly reminding me to try not to despair about things I can’t fix.
How long it takes to create a painting is a measure of time and nothing else. Sometimes things flow; other times it takes considerable effort to get a painting to a satisfactory point. More time spent on a painting doesn’t inherently make it a better painting.
There’s also the question of what’s being included in the calculation: is it only when you’ve a brush in your hand applying paint or does it include planning and pondering and development work such as sketching? Every painting carries with it the history of every painting that came before. And there’s that some people wield a brush at a faster pace than others.
If you’re in a situation where time is limited, such as life painting with a model or plein-air painting at sunset, you might adapt how you approach the painting to the time available.
Yet “how long did it take” remains intriguing, something to measure our own painting skills against others and our previous paintings. Perhaps because it’s a tangible thing amongst all the intangibles of art.
I don’t often keep deliberate track of the time I spend painting, but a few days ago I did because I surprised myself when I paused for the first time and realised it’d only been 20 minutes. It had felt like longer and I was intrigued by how far I’d gotten already; my previous paintings at this location had taken me far longer.
When I got to this point, I was conflicted because I felt I wanted to stop but as it’d only been an hour I worried it was it too soon to stop but then would I overwork it if I continued? I took me a bit of pondering to decide it was okay to stop. The question then becomes, do I include this time in how long it took me to paint this?
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If you’ve not met one before, a concertina sketchbook has one long zigzag page that folds up between the covers. How many pages it has and what type of paper depends on the brand; the one I’m using in this video is from Seawhite and slips into a case. (If you don’t see the video below, click here to go to my Vimeo channel.)
I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, then watercolour in a dropper bottle (including two granulating greens), watercolour from my set using a brush, acrylic paint (cadmiun yellow light and medium), a mixed blue-grey acrylic ink (the masking tape on the bottle tells me it’s a colour I’ve mixed), white acrylic ink (Sennelier’s super-opaque white), and ultimately a touch of orange acrylic ink to deepen the yellows in the flower centres.
The decision as to how many pages to do was intuitive, a feeling for how many would be manageable across the width of my table (and off a bit) and would probably not be totally dry by the time I got back to the start with a new colour. I’m drawing daisies from a mixture of memory and the ones in the jug in front of me, which I turned around at various points so I was seeing ‘new’ daisies.
The colours initially are a bit gloomy, but when I add the bright green these become “background shadows” and everything turns brighter. I had visualised this brighter layer of green before I started, I just didn’t know exactly when I would do it. I’ve got a list in my mind of what layers I’m going to do (colours/materials) but if you’re new to working like this it’s worth taking the time to draw up a list, and having everything to hand, so when you’re painting the decisions are already made and you can concentrate on painting.
What will I do with the rest of the pages? At the moment my thought is to continue with flowers, probably the pink foxgloves that are flowering now too, but I’ll see what I feel like when I start again.
This is only the second concertina sketchbook I’ve used; the first has a watercolour of the sea/weather from my studio on every pair of pages, with a consistent positioning of the horizon line across the pages (drawn in with a pencil before I started). I’m sure there will be more, not least because I have a little Sennelier one with thicker paper I won in a competition and the Moleskine one the in-house art critic gave me last Christmas to try.
The connection between the sketching and painting I do on location (and the sitting just looking) and the painting I do in my studio isn’t always direct, but sometimes the dots that need to be joined are fairly evident, as with this studio painting finished a few days ago:
Its path started last week when I painted at Duntulm (northwestern tip of the Trotternish Peninsula on Skye) at low tide on consecutive days, ending up with two watercolours and two studies in oil paint.
If you’ve looked up Duntulm on a map and seen the word “castle”, don’t get overly excited as there’s not much left.
The first day it was misty, clearing as the morning progressed. I started sitting on the grass, looking down over a stretch of rocky shore (there’s quite a drop where the grass ends in the photo below), painting with watercolour. The mist slowed the speed with which the watercolour dried, making wet-into-wet easy and an interesting change of pace with the paint.
I had my big set of pan watercolours, along with bottles of fluid watercolour and my beloved Payne’s grey acrylic ink (which I didn’t use for once). The red fabric is the corner of my raincoat which I was sitting on.
Then I moved along and down a bit, to a grassy bank, and got out my oil paints.
These two photos give a wider view of the location, and how the colours of the sea change with the light conditions of the two days.
Back in my studio, I put the watercolours and two oil paintings up on my easel as I painted at my table on a wood panel (with a layer of clear gesso on it).
Texture paste was applied with a palette knife, both Lava Black, which is a coarse-grained texture perfect for sandy shores, and Golden’s Light Modelling Paste which dries to an absorbent surface on which watery acrylic behaves a bit like watercolour.
The latter can also be scratched into with a sharp edge fairly easily when it’s relatively newly dried. If you look at the lowest band of rock in the next three work-in-progress photos, you’ll see how I abandoned having a band of rounded slabs of rock and scratched into it with the point of a palette knife so this section looks more like the others.
Here’s the final painting, plus several detail photos:
Where next? I’ve already started another studio painting based on this location, again using texture paste and acrylic but this time on an unprimed wooden board. Without gesso on the board, thin acrylic sinks in and the woodgrain is revealed, as you can see below:
It having dried overnight, I’ve started adding some colour to the rocky shore. Trying not to lose the woodgrain on the right-hand “sea section” is inhibiting me as I’m painting, as are my favourite bits of my just-finished painting because I keep comparing the two. The “sea area” surface is very absorbent any any stray paint will soak in and dry almost instantly, so I’m second-guessing what I’m doing before I do it, rather than responding to what’s happening as I paint. It’s what I mentally label as “trying too hard”. The photo below is where I stopped struggling with it and left it to dry again; I will give it a break for a couple of days.
An email from a friend reminded me I hadn’t done the photo gallery for May’s painting project yet (nor June’s newsletter). Apologies for keeping you waiting; June has rather slipped away from me, but pulling this photo gallery together this morning has reminded me of how much fun there is to be had with grids. So without further ado, here they are for you to enjoy:
May’s project led me in several directions:
The details of June’s painting project (bluebells) can be found here. And a reminder that if you’d like to help with your project paintings, the way to do this is to become a project subscriber via Patreon (now with £, $ and Euro options; I use Patreon because the site deals with the VAT paperwork for me).