At the End of Day 1: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop

First day of Alan McGowan‘s “Life Drawing into Life Painting” workshop saw us working with tone only. Started with charcoal, gesture line and block drawings, then longer charcoal drawing.

Charcoal life drawings
Some proportions are awry, and needs an area of detail for focal point, but bits I like. Time was 30 minutes, I think.

Next up: graphite stick, white oil paint and solvent on acrylic painted coloured ground. Graphite with white mixes to cool grey. Wiping off paint reveals warmish ground. Get highlights with white or by wiping off; darks from graphite.

Start with graphite drawing, then go over with big brush with solvent, remembering that lots of graphite will turn very dark. Then smaller brush with white paint (50:50 titanium:zinc to give something with properties like lead white ie opaque where thick, transparent where thin) and cloth for lifing off. First time I’ve done this, and really enjoyed it.

Graphite and oil paint
Loved this technique. Solvent over the graphite is like watercolour pencil, but it “dissolves” more readily and the oil paint means it stays workable, which makes the lifting off of colour an ongoing option. Time was about 45 minutes.

Next up: Reductive painting technique, working from dark to light. On cartridge paper primed with 50:50 PVA:water to give a less absorbent, more slippery surface, cover with dilute Van Dyck brown hue mixed with solvent and linseed oil to give an even, dark layer (not a thin, transparent, glazed layer). Use cloth to wipe off paint, lighter tones. Solvent on cloth will take you back to white of paper.

This is a bad photo, taken under strip lights which make contrast much greater and glare on wet paint. It’s a technique that can produce fabulously subtle, gentle tones.

Reductive life painting
Can’t remember how long we had, but at least an hour.

Notes to myself:

  • Make curvier lines on gesture-drawing (armature level of drawing), not so angular. Perhaps exaggerate somewhat to counteract subsequent straightening up of figure and check angle on torso more as working.
  • Use gesture drawing as armature, building outwards; don’t start at outlines.
  • Don’t be so heavy handed with the charcoal, being too dark too early and harder to rework.
  • Remember to look for lightest tones, and more variations in midtones.
  • Limit quantity of lightest/darkest tones and it can be more effective.
  • Put in shoulders and feet in pairs, not separately.
  • Balance gestural markmaking with small areas of detail.
  • Anchor figure to surface.

Related: Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)

Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)

I’m in Gardenstown on the east coast, at Creative Retreat, for a week’s figure painting workshop led by Alan McGowan, the artist whose Anatomy for Artists workshop I did in February. It’s a picturesque village on a steep hillside, a mixture of renovated, being-renovated and sea-worn. The buildings are crammed on top of one another, everything looks down onto and into everything, with numerous sets of steps inbetween.

Hard to live closer to the sea than this.
Hard to live closer to the sea than this.

Steep, cliffside vilage = Rooftops and more rooftops
Steep, cliffside vilage = Rooftops and more rooftops
Not lines of perspective
Not lines of perspective

Gardenstown 2014 web (9)

Red sandstone adding colour to the shore.
Red sandstone adding colour to the shore.
Now if only I'd had my tripod. (Lights on horizon are big ships.)
Now if only I’d had my tripod. (Lights on horizon are big ships.)

Gardenstown 2014 web (11)

Gardenstown 2014 web (10)

She sees shutters along the sea shore...
She sees shutters along the sea shore…
Shapes and textures
Shapes and textures

Photos from My Art Workshop #2 (Painting Trees)

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?

Painting trees in an art workshop on Skye, Scotland
These four paintings were done in my “trees” workshop. One is mine, where I demonstrated the techniques and steps; three are by students.
Painting birch trees on Skye
It’s a magical moment when you peel off the masking tape and see your tree trunks against your background for the first time.
Painting birch trees on Skye using a credit card
The edge of an old credit card is ideal for painting thin lines, for adding a sliver of light or dark to a tree trunk.
Painting birch trees on Skye
Inset photo: The canvas immediately before the masking tape was removed. Main photo: The canvas with the masking tape removed, revealing the trees against the previously created background. When you peel the masking tape off the canvas, stick it onto a sheet of paper to use in a mixed media painting.

Photos from My Art Workshop #1 (Drawing Techniques)

Focusing on drawing techniques: pencil control, different ways to hold a pencil, working from light to dark and dark to light, quality of line, continuous line drawing, spatial awareness through blind continuous line, working from memory and observation…

Art Workshop Isle of Skye

Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Blind continuous line drawing
Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Drawing with two pencils simultaneously
Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Drawing with two pencils simultaneously
Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Working with charcoal, starting with midtone then adding dark (charcoal) and light (eraser)

Art Workshop Isle of Skye

Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Line drawing with pencil, from observation
Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Drawing with two pencils simultaneously
Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Line drawing with pencil, from observation
Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Line drawing with pencil, from observation
Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Line drawing with pencil, from observation

Art Workshop Isle of Skye

Art Workshop Isle of Skye
Blind continuous line drawing

Recharging My Creative Batteries in Edinburgh & London

I’ve been away from my studio for a while, attending an artist’s anatomy workshop in Edinburgh over two weekends with a trip down to London in between. Time to learn and see new things, time to recharge my batteries, time to ponder new horizons.

Waiting for a train into central Edinburgh inevitably feels like a lesson in perspective, looking at how the lines converge into a vanishing point in the distance..

Perspective in train track

If I add a cup of coffee, the art lesson then diverges into ellipses too.
Ellipses and parallel lines

You know that lingering doubt when you’re heading to a workshop, entering a strange building with your fingers crossed you are indeed in the right place at the right time? Well, standing on a fifth-floor landing in St Margaret’s House, after deciding I couldn’t face the stairs and would get in the lift with its “no more than four people or you will get stuck” notice, wondering whether to go left or right for the anatomy workshop, there was a skeleton pointing the way to the studio. It’s the second time I’ve done Alan McGowan’s Anatomy for Artists workshop, and I’m pleased to be able to say a lot more of the information has stuck and I found myself seeing/recognizing a lot more. (There are a couple of photos from the first weekend’s anatomy drawing here.)

Anatomy for Artists workshop

In London, my first stop was Tate Britain, with its relatively new rehanging “500 Years of British Art”. Four bus loads of school kids were waiting for the 10 o’clock opening too! Some of the gallery is still undergoing rebuilding, but there’s another, new circular staircase leading downstairs. With all the arches it felt like being in an Escher drawing. Nevermind the art, this architecture isn’t to be missed!

Tate Gallery downstairs arches

Tate Gallery downstairs arches

The coffeeshop area has been renovated too, and there’s one table with a view that lends itself to a geometric abstract.
Tate geometric view

Amongst the artworks that captivated me this visit was a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, titled “Corinthos”. The interplay of shapes, light, dark and shadow. What you see through it, depending on where you stand.
Looking through Barbara Hepworth "Corinthos".
Looking through Barbara Hepworth "Corinthos".

Next cultural stop was the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, for the Turner and the Sea exhibition (on in London until 21 April; travelling to Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts from 31 May to 1 September 2014). I particularly enjoyed seeing some of the paintings that inspired Turner. (I’ll be writing an exhibition review with some photos soon.)

Maritime Museum London
Turner and the Sea exhibition Maritime Museum London

I also popped into the National Gallery to say hello to Monet and Van Gogh. Outside, in Trafalgar Square, the latest Fourth Plinth is a giant, blue cockerel. Position yourself right, and Nelson’s column becomes a birdfeeder.
Fourth Plinth London cockerel

Last culture-vulture stop was the Victoria & Albert Museum (known simply as the V&A). It’s home to a mind-blowing, inspiring collection of cultural artifacts from across the world. I specifically wanted to see Constable’s cloud studies again (up in the Paintings gallery, where few people get to) and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook.
V&A paintings
V&A paintings Constable clouds

The V&A has five of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, known as the Forster Codices, which you can page through online. The sketches on the page on display are shovels for digging. I find it a powerful connection across history, visualising him holding these sheets of paper, selecting what ideas to write down (and being thankful to live in an era where paper is an affordable item).
Leonardo da Vinci notebook in V&A London