I paint more or less full time now. So if giving the majority of your time to earn an income through an endeavour makes you a professional, then you could say I’m a professional artist… go on then, I will, I’m a professional artist… still getting used to that.
However, it’s been such a short time since I made the transition to full time (except Friday mornings) that I’m still very much feeling my way. Most of the big issues are slowly but resolutely being settled. Like, what surface do I prefer to paint on? It seems I prefer panel. What paint do I use? Well, oil colour. As to what brand? The answer to that one is: whatever is cheapest for the quality I need. So I might have a very expensive red that I can’t get elsewhere for the chroma and quality, but I might also use student quality Burnt Umber because it’s no different to more expensive brands I’ve tried.
The biggest question at the moment is, what do you paint? That one’s a toughie. You see. most artists are known for painting a particular subject or for a broader style, like abstract, photo-real, (etc.) and any combination of subjects and styles. So you might get a photo-real portrait artist, or a photo-real still life painter, or an abstract version of both of these. For the record, I’m not a huge fan of paintings that are so like their photographic reference that you can’t tell the difference. Some people love it, but it’s not for me. Anyway, there are many styles and many subjects and endless combinations of the two and to me, that is wonderful! Long may it continue thus.
But what do I do? I think I just “do”. I paint every day, any subject I find fascinating or beautiful and hope that others might find it beautiful or interesting too. Isn’t that what an artist does? Doesn’t he or she effectively say, through their work, “Hey, check this out. Don’t you think it’s cool?” Obviously not everyone says it that way – I might – but whatever words one use, the sentiment is the same.
As I work I learn. I learn what colours I love to use, what colours I don’t. What lighting I prefer and what lighting I try to avoid, what subject matter appeals and what really doesn’t. Slowly but, hopefully, surely I’m developing a style. There is a saying that dates back to at least the Renaissance, that has been used by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Lucian Freud and many others; it is “every painter paints himself (or herself of course)” and that is what I’m learning to do.
With that in mind, here’s a study I’ve just finished, from a photo’ I snapped on my phone a year or two ago, at great risk to my well being (wasps get nasty when they’re tipsy). It’s oil on panel (my preferred medium and surface), in red (my favourite colour) and browns (also a favourite) and has a subject I found interesting and a little unusual (my favourite subject matter… interesting and unusual).
I’ve been reminded lately of just how important the drawing stage is to the success or failure of a painting. A good drawing can make or break a work. In fact good draughtsmanship underpins just about every successful realist rendering of a subject.
With that in mind I’m going to try to keep these skills in good shape this year (and hopefully improve) by attempting to draw something every day!
So far this week I’m three pics for three days, so doing well so far.
This is today’s exercise, my glamorous big sister, from a rare camera snap taken on the balcony of the Towner Art Gallery (where she volunteers) last year. Graphite pencil H and 2B.
art, artist, brush strokes, canvas, Christian artist, Chuck Close, contemporary art, east sussex, illustration, inspiration, Jacksons Art, Michael Harding, oil painting, paint, painter, painting, picture, portrait, winsor and newton
Unfilled time is dangerous stuff and the old adage that “the devil makes work for idle hands” is probably largely true. There can be few things more unproductive than a day in which you have no plans. Don’t get me wrong, a day off spent doing nothing can sometimes be absolute bliss, but a day that should be spent working when you have no plans can be quite the opposite!
To quote Chuck Close again, “inspiration is for amateurs”. As an artist you’re better off painting anything than sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. If you can’t bear to paint just anything then get out of the studio and go for a walk, have a coffee, see a friend, visit an exhibition, do anything that distracts you from the problem in hand. For it is often in doing something unconnected that inspiration strikes. Ever tried to remember a name and suffered memory constipation? It’s normally when we stop trying to remember that the memory pops into place. Inspiration is a similar mental process. Trying to think of something inspirational is a dead alley, you need fresh input and distraction.
A few of my latest paintings have been the result of a need to paint… something, anything! I’m not likely to paint a 21st century Mona Lisa, a) because it’s not a painting I like particularly and b) because I need to put in a few thousand more hours before I get that good… if ever! But the act of painting is a great teacher, to the artist that is prepared to be honest about their work. We learn new techniques, we hopefully see what we’re doing wrong and work on ways to fix it, we strive more and more with each new picture to express what’s inside of us straining to make it to canvas! Hopefully eventually we find our own artistic voice.
I think in this way, art mimics life. In life we copy people, we see characteristics that they may have and we try to emulate them, we try to incorporate something of people we admire within ourselves. Art is much the same, the art we admire we often try to emulate. We incorporate things in our own work that we have learnt from studying others and that is perfectly fine. We are all as people a mixture of the friends and family that have helped shaped who we are, to a greater extent, we get to choose who we are. In art we are shaped by the myriad of styles and art that we have seen, admired and tried to copy.
Anyway it seems to still be warm and sunny here on the South Coast of the UK. Summer seems reluctant to leave and Autumn a late guest that’s yet to arrive. Normally I’d be sitting here typing and looking out at leaden skies and feeling the dullness of the Autumn rains, but it’s warm and sunny and I’m between a new commission and a just finished portrait which finally means I have time to blog. So here’s the portrait.
“Lauren” is oil of canvas. Lauren is talented local animator and a family friend and she was a real sport in posing for the reference shots for this picture. Thanks Lauren.
Finished portrait. Sadly my camera won’t show the shadow detail in the hair etc. without over exposing the skin tones, so this is the best I could manage.
Early stages with some detail, but mostly underpainting. The left shoulder as you look at the picture was to high and bulky at this point.
Resolved most of it by now. The squid is one of Lauren’s characters and he does make it to the final piece, he was repainted and hardly visible in the final piece photo’ though. Also I improved the skins tones and deepened the shadows, picked up the highlights etc.
Painted using mostly Winsor and Newton oils (Artist’s range and Winton), some Michael Harding tubes and some Jackson’s Artist’s oils. The Winsor and Newton Winton colours are generally excellent, but a few like Raw Sienna are poor at tinting, so for those I’m currently using Michael Harding… currently. The Jackson’s own brand oil colours are also excellent and great value in the UK. Michael Harding’s Raw Sienna was a bit gritty, but at least it stains well. If you can recommend a good Raw Sienna I’d be happy to try it.
artist, brush strokes, canvas, Christian artist, contemporary art, contrast, east sussex, free hand, illustration, lettering, light, Luke, neon, oil on linen, oil painting, orange, paint, painter, painting, picture, portrait, representational art, water pistol, zap
It’s bank holiday Monday and having spent some of the morning chiseling off the render from our chimney breast, somewhat inappropriately shod in a pair of slippers I might add, in order to explore an ongoing damp problem, I finally have some time to sit down in peace and quiet. listen to Radio3 and write.
Both the last work “Joe” and this latest piece “Luke” have taught me something. I think nearly everything I paint teaches me something, which is great because I figure if I’m learning, I’m growing and growth is good, especially if you’re not where, or who, you want to be! By both of those I mean in an artistic sense of course. I like “where” I am geographically and I have no desire to be anyone else… unless Superman’s on offer of course, I’d be Superman.
Anyway, one of the issues that both these pieces have highlighted is contrast. Contrast is essential to the full appreciation of so many things in life and art. Love is most deeply appreciated when contrasted with unlove/hate. Plenty appreciated most when contrasted with a period of want, peace when surrounded by war and so on. We often don’t appreciate fully what we have, because we aren’t surrounded by the alternatives.
Light against light is unnoticeable, dark against another dark, likewise. Blue against blue, orange against orange and so on (orange against blue however..). If you want your lights to stand out they have to be contrasted with darkness. In art I think the simplest way to explain this is that you need white, grey and black, or highlights, mid tones and shadows/darks. My past pictures may well have lacked depth because I’ve been intimidated by the two extremes, light and dark. Plenty of safe mid tones though! Learning to differentiate between the highlights, the mid tones and the darks and representing them on canvas has been, and still is, a challenging task, especially when you’re trying to avoid using that troublesome pigment… black! Black is such an unwieldy and troublesome pigment and rarely the best choice for really giving depth to shadows. “But black is the darkest you can go surely” you might say. Well it may have the properties of a pigment-type vampire sucking in light and not letting it go, but it also has a nasty habit of sucking the life out of shadows too!
I’ve been amazed at how often pure pigment unsullied by white or black gives the most vibrant shadows and lowlights. White, particularly Titanium white, has a pastel-ising effect on colour and black has a deadening effect, but mixing dark colours (especially the transparent ones) together can produce some really deep vibrant darks. I used Burnt Umber and Cadmium Orange Hue for the lowlights on Luke’s forearm and in the shadow under the arm and was amazed at the depth it gave me.
Light is a weird phenomena. It behaves like a wave, but also acts like particles and the way it bounces around your subject picking up colour and reflecting it here and there is a revelation. Edges of shadows can have hints and halos of pure colour, oranges, blues, greens etc and if we fail to notice them and represent them then we impoverish our work of these wonderful additives. After all, all that we see is a result of the interaction of light on the surfaces of the things visible to us.
Painting however works in reverse to the way light works. Light is additive. Add coloured light together and it gets brighter with each successive colour until you get pure white. Paint is subtractive, add pigments together and they get darker with each successive colour until you get black. However as mortals this isn’t too big a problem as we don’t paint in light, we learn to represent light by using pigment and so know no different. God’s paintbox must be really quite something in comparison!
If I’ve learnt, or am learning anything, about art and representing things through it, it is that observation is everything. They say that the three keys to french cooking are butter, butter and butter! Well in art the three keys are observation, observation and observation! We grow up being taught, trees are green, sky is blue, roses are red etc. and then as artists we spend the rest of our lives discovering that this is often not so at all and for me at least it is a constant battle to fight against the preconceptions of representation that I’ve probably learnt as a child.
In these two last pictures observation has taught me the value of contrast. Observation is my best and most valued tutor. Talking to other artists, reading books, magazines and online articles are also extremely helpful, but nothing yet has beaten observation as a teacher. Looking and asking myself “what are you really seeing here?”. Not “what do you think you see”, but “what are you really observing”, because they are often two completely different things. One contains truth, the other contains a counterfeit of reality, a fake preconception of the real. When you really represent what you see as an artist your work has a compelling and reassuring truth to it and that only comes from looking and learning how your subject works and solving the puzzle that you are trying to represent.
Here’s Luke. He was a great sport sitting for the reference photo’s. He was however an even more obliging sitter after I loaded the water pistol. Apparently it’s no good asking a small boy to imagine he’s squirting someone with a water pistol, he has to actually be shooting someone with a water pistol!
Luke – Oil on linen
Joe – oil on linen
art, artist, attelier, brush strokes, Christian artist, David Kassan, east sussex, flake white, Frans Hals, grisaille, Laughing Cavalier, Michael Harding, oil painting, paint, painter, painting, portrait, titanium white, transparent colour, underpainting, White, Winsor & Newton, Winton
I read a Facebook update from David Kassan (http://www.davidkassan.com/) the other day where he’d posted a flawless portrait from a few years ago and in a sort of embarrassed way was commenting on how much he’d learned since! Well I’m not David Kassan, but I’m learning. I pulled out a portrait from a year or two ago the other day… it wasn’t a pretty sight, but that’s encouraging! It means I’m learning and growing as an artist, which is pretty cool.
Anyway, it’s still raining and the boys are home on half-term holiday, which has been fine, as – for the most part – they’ve let me get on with work this time.
Yep, it’s another self-portrait! No I’m not turning into a modern day Rembrandt… some hope. I don’t know why I feel a need to justify that action, but here’s a few reasons why I painted me.
1. He’s free and crucially, available when I need a model.
2. The model doesn’t complain and I don’t have to struggle to communicate what I want them to do. He’s very obliging that way.
3. …well that’s it mostly.
1. I have to put up with looking at him for weeks.
2. Everybody else has to put up with looking at him for weeks, perhaps longer if they get left him in my will!
3. You run the risk of being considered a narcissist. Believe me if a better looking model was available I’d use him or her.
So why this subject? I wanted to try a head and shoulders portrait and I wanted to see if underpainting with a kind of grisaille would have any actual practical benefit. Plus I’ve always loved Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier and wanted to do a homage-type-thing. Hals’ moustachioed cavalier is facing the other way, is ornately dressed and painted by a master, mine has a moustache!
You see lately I’ve been struggling to get depth and weight into my work and a crippling fear of intense colour or tone has resulted in a ‘flatness’ in my work. As it turns out the grisaille (black and white) underpainting was a real help!
I’ve learnt a lot from this painting and been surprised by how much I’ve had to challenge preconceived ideas too. I mean the “trees are green” kind of preconceptions. Trees are sometimes green, but when we paint them we find that they actually might include any number of colours like alizarin crimson, Prussian blue or violet! Depending on the light they could be any combination imaginable.
Now I know this in principle, but I was surprised by how much I didn’t put it into practice. The whites of eyes for instance are white aren’t they? In fact it turns out that a mix of cobalt blue, burnt umber, lamp black and white make a pretty good duck egg grey, like they were in this picture. If they were white, then how would the highlights stand out in contrast and if you haven’t got good enough contrast you have a weak image.
White has been a revelation too! A this point anyone other than a painter might be excused if they dose off or their eyes glaze over with boredom. My wonderful wife actually managed to find this interesting… ’tis only the power of love that can work such wonders!
No, white is fascinating! I’ve been using cheap Daler Rowney titanium white, which was gritty and poor, but the new Jacksons (cheap but quality) titanium white is like a new species entirely! It’s smooth, buttery, a little elastic (in a good way) and beautiful to work with. Titanium white has excellent opacity, so it covers other colours well, but it can also flatten colour when it’s used to mix with and can make your colours look a little ‘chalky’. Flake white by comparison is on the warm side of white and is superb for mixing with transparent colours like rose madder for instance. So where titanium white will flatten colour the more you add, Flake white will bulk up the colour while still preserving a little more transparency, which is great if you want to allow some of the underpainting colours to show through a thin glaze of added colour. Zinc white is a good mixer too, but more on the colder side of white and apparently is a little more brittle on drying. Black… well that’s another equally interesting story for not all black is equal!
I’ve also bought a couple of Michael Harding colours recently, chiefly to see in they were worth the hype. As it turns out, they are. They have great saturation, so you don’t need to add so much paint to mixes and they weren’t overly expensive. On the whole though I think it’s difficult to beat the Winsor & Newton Winton student range. They are little less saturated perhaps than Winsor & Newton’s Artist’s range, but considering the price, they are amazing quality paints! Jackson’s (http://www.jacksonsart.com/) own brand oils are also excellent quality paints and they do a brilliant free catalogue that you can sit and read over a cup of tea while you’re literally waiting for paint to dry.
I didn’t do the whole thing ‘grisaille’, but the areas where I did definitely seemed to encourage bravery in subsequent layers!
Detail. As my youngest son put it recently, “you look a bit like a nutter. But you’re an awesome nutter!”. I can live with that 🙂