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 🙂
It’s been so wet lately on the south coast of the UK that I half expect to see adverts in the local press that read, “animals required in pairs for epic ocean going voyage”! Today is no exception, it’s been steadily deluging all night and all day. The sky is a dull leaden grey and it’s lit by that gloomy half light that you get when the sun has been taken captive by bad weather.
I’ve just finished my latest painting and as usual I’m feeling that dissatisfaction that seems to haunt most of my work at the moment. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not that good! It’s not what I want to achieve and yet how to achieve what I want, seems to elude me, tantalisingly close but always just out of reach.
I think part of the problem is that I seem artistically afraid of the dark. By that I mean that I seem to have a watercolourist’s way of applying colour. This shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise to me, as my first tentative steps into the world of colour were in watercolour when I was a boy.
As many of you know, the difference between applying colour in watercolour and applying colour in oil, is that a watercolourist will traditionally work from light to dark, but when you work in oils the received wisdom is to work from dark to light, applying the darkest colours first. I know this isn’t always the way, but in general I think that it is true.
My problem is that I seem to be pathologically averse to putting down dark enough shadows and contrast, which results in my having to endlessly darken subsequent paint layers to get enough tonal contrast. I don’t seem to trust the paints ability to cover all that darkness!
So I’m going to try out two different traditional methods of achieving this. The first is “grisaille”. This means effectively painting the whole work in black and white first to get a good tonal image and then overpainting with colour. Vermeer used this method for Girl With a Pearl Earring. Here’s a great example from: http://www.penroseart.com/vermeer02.htm
I’m currently working on a portrait using this method and if it’s successful I’ll post some pic’s. To be honest I’m not sure I have the patience, so it might not be for me, but if it helps break my tonal timidity I’ll try anything once! If that doesn’t work I can see myself doing some in-depth research into renaissance chiaroscuro.
Anyway… the latest work is a landscape. Yep, I know I once vowed never to touch landscape again… I may re-vow that vow again soon, but I love this part of Eastbourne. When the sun sets over the marshes it lights the tips of the reeds so beautifully that I wanted to have a go at painting them. Pure inspiration, not common sense, just inspiration and sometimes you’ve just got to follow that feeling even if you are uncertain of completing the task that you are inspired to do! Inspiration is a motivational force like nearly no other. If Paul Simon hadn’t felt strangely compelled to go to Gracelands then the album Gracelands may never have been made. Bob Dylan had a similar compulsion to withdraw before he wrote his best work. Inspiration focuses our minds and gives us the strength to withdraw from distraction and push on with a project that we can feel divinely appointed to achieve during one of those shaft of light experiences. So even if it makes no logical sense, an inspired idea is always one that should receive great respect and be given serious consideration.
That said, whilst I enjoyed the process of taking the reference shots with my youngest son (apart from deep frustration that a DSLR can’t capture what my eye can), I’m not sure that the resulting image was that great. However! I learnt something, and every painting (or experience) that teaches us something constructive is a great success!
Bits of it I like, but the uptight stuffyness of other bits I find deeply irritating. The old renaissance Tuscan proverb that says “every painter paints himself”, may indeed be true, but not necessarily comforting! We probably do “paint ourselves” in a way, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept that, or that change isn’t possible. I push on with each picture I paint in the hope that either I will change and my art with it, or I will find myself in my art and be at peace with who I find.
This bit I kind of like.
art, artist, arts, bizarro, British artist, brush strokes, Christian artist, comic book, commissions, connor kent, east sussex, fine art, geek, mirror, oil on linen, oil painting, painting, portrait, portrait artist, portraiture, self portrait, superboy, superman, winsor and newton
The Artist is a curious being. He or she is often confident and somewhat full of themselves one moment and then lacking in confidence and neurotic the next! Many of us are a paradox of existence, holding in tension within us feelings of awesomeness and worthlessness. Now, I’m not saying that all artists are as mad as the proverbial ‘bag of hares’, but in my experience many of us have a somewhat split personality. On the one hand we want to be bronzed and adored, on the other we want to shrink into a hole and hide.
So the idea of the ‘self portrait’ is often a tortuous one for the artist, (unless you’re Rembrandt of course, and then you can’t stop painting yourself! He painted at least 40 paintings, and 31 etchings of himself in case you’re interested), but for many of us it seems like the height of narcissism.
In reality the self portrait is often done out of necessity, nobody else being prepared to sit for you for a day or two. It is also a great exercise in self evaluation for the artist. If you paint a ‘selfie’, then you invariably ask a lot of questions of yourself as you prepare for it and while you’re painting it too!
For me, I wanted to see how much, if any, progress I’d made since I painted the first self portrait that I painted back in January of 2012. Actually I know in reality I had made progress, because with nearly every successive painting after that one, I learnt something new about the medium or execution of the work. Also, I’d found that picture recently, peering out at me from behind a stack of canvasses like some grotesque gargoyle – I should say at this point how much I appreciate the kindness of everyone who made a positive comment about that painting. It was much appreciated and a great confidence booster! – however, not having anything much to work on at the time, I thought a reprise of the subject might not be such a bad idea.
After endless vain attempts to capture an image I wanted to work from, I finally settled on one that seemed to capture my heroic manliness in all its splendor (that’s sarcasm by the way, well… probably).
The reference shot (there was no way I was going to work from a mirror again) was taken in a mirror, hence the reversed logo on the chest. My boys asked a couple of times if I’d spotted that, which I had… thankfully. Actually it was intentional. For those of you like me, geek enough to know your superman…ology, the reversed superman logo is worn by superman’s negative clone, a villain called ‘bizarro’. So while at first glance the portrait could be taken as the artist wishing he was superman (which of course he does), it also displays his inner struggle with that desire, often feeling more like opposite to that ideal. The fact that the t-shirt is black with a splash of red also gave the portrait an interesting visual edge that I really liked, and yes I do know that the red logo on black is in fact Connor Kent’s logo (Superboy). I explained this once to a relative (who shall remain nameless) to which her reply was, “Super…boy!” (incredulous emphasis on the boy). I have not forgotten, and I’m working on the forgiven too, Mrs. Norton!
What I toyed with adding, was a list of words written across the t-shirt that would sum up the person, positive and negative. The idea being that we are all made up of so many things. Who we are is a mixture of good and bad, positive and negative. It might be interesting to ponder what your own list might be. Mine would include: Husband, father, son, brother, uncle, friend, confident, insecure, considerate, inconsiderate, vain, self-conscious, loved, forgiven, thoughtful, forgetful, at peace, in pain, unresolved, restored, paradox, healed, loved… and you could go on ad-infinitum. We are all so many things, but I guess what we choose to be is more important than what we are by nature, nurture, or circumstance.
I didn’t in the end because a) it wouldn’t have worked with the ‘S’ and b) a picture in some way should tell itself and not need a written commentary… probably.
It’s oil on linen 16″x12″:
Detail below. Many times larger than actual size.
art, artist, black holes, brush strokes, east sussex, faith, fig, illustration, inspiration, it's a wonderful life, oil on panel, oil painting, painting, panel, Richard Eyre, still life, universe, walt disney
Summer has now undeniably packed its bags and left. Autumn now reigns in East Sussex and I sit here looking out of the window at dirty grey clouds, like cotton wool that’s been dropped in a puddle and watch the wind bend all the plants in the garden whistling tunelessly as it catches the edges of the windows, seemingly angry that it can’t get it in. Good job it can’t, because I’m drinking my tea, cosy and warm inside and I have no desire whatsoever to be outside!
I’ve spent more of the morning than I wanted to fiddling with my latest painting. Initially I thought I wanted to add the words “fig. 1.” just below the subject, but having done so I came to the conclusion that it drew too much attention from the subject. While I was coming to this decision and listening to Radio 3’s Essential Classics, Sir Richard Eyre was saying that, “if an artwork needs a label explaining what it is, then it has probably failed as an artwork”, at least I think that’s what he said. Anyway I agreed and rightly or wrongly removed the still wet lettering with a little linseed oil on a rag.
It’s been an interesting piece. Initially I was going to paint-in the wooden surface that the subject was sitting on, but the complexity and detail in the sunken scarred wood grain got the better of my patience and I came upon the idea of painting it out. This was one those occasions where victory was snatched from the jaws of despondency and in fact a better idea than the first emerged.
I don’t know about you, but for me believing in my ability to pull a job off is almost everything! Discouragement can be so immobilising that it can even be the end of a project entirely, but this is a phenomena that I’ve noticed isn’t just limited to painting. DIY projects, public performances, essays, anything that you’ve not done before (and every painting falls into that category) seems to rely on your levels of self belief. One of our favourite films, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, opens with a conversation in the heavens. As the hero, George Bailey, is being discussed Clarence the angel asks, “is he sick?”, “No” comes the reply, “worse, he’s discouraged”.
Encouragement in life is essential! If you want someone to succeed they must have encouragement from somewhere, whether that is from a loved one, from their faith, from friends, or even from themselves, wherever it comes from it is of primary importance to enable someone to succeed. Discouragement on the other hand crushes the heart and destroys self-confidence and joy.
You see if you’ve done something before then it’s as if an invisible track has been laid down that speeds progress and encourages a sense of certainty that whatever you are doing can easily be done again. However if what you are doing is new, then every tiny step can be difficult and uncertain. The greater the fear of failure the more crippling slow progress becomes. In short, encouraging someone can be one of the best and most rewarding things that you can do for another person and discouraging, one of the cruelest.
Anyway, suffice is to say that with the advent of a new direction I was encouraged enough to press on with the new picture. I’ve not done a still life before, but the source photo for this one was shot late one evening in the shed outside and the resulting combined lighting of candlelight and iPhone screen light seemed give the subject a beautiful quality that I wanted to paint.
It’s called “Fig.1.” because… it’s a fig, and… well, I thought it was funny. As usual the photographs of the piece are somewhat disappointing. Photographing black seems to be challenging. Painting in black is likewise challenging. Black seems to have its own gravity, sucking towards it every speck of dust in the room! Perhaps that’s actually how black holes really work, it has nothing to do with their density, it’s actually their blackness that creates intense gravity!
Here it is. Oil on panel:
The original lighting of the image seemed to make the skin of the fig look more like a constellation of stars rather than a fruit and the image is more luminous in real life. I incorporated a lot of purple into the black background to give it a richer feel and the black around the edges of the fruit is blended with oranges, yellows and purples to give it a sort of glow. I even added a few constellations in the spots on the skin for fun, but they’re not that clear from the shots sadly.
There were some progress shots, but my phone crashed and lost those, however they wouldn’t have revealed much about the process. What this piece did teach me though is that transparent and semi-transparent paints are much more efficient at creating luminosity than an over reliance on Titanium white and that underpainting your tonal values well first gives you much more creative freedom with colour later.
Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarised in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.
– Walt Disney
animals, art, artist, aviation, brush strokes, Christian artist, dog, fluffy, flying, illustration, inspiration, Jack Russell, oil painting, paint, painter, painting, pet, picture, portrait, winged dog
Sometimes when you haven’t painted for a while, it doesn’t matter what you paint, you just need to paint. It’s a bit like pushing a car. I don’t know if you’ve ever pushed a car, but you’ve gotta keep it moving, once you let it stop it takes ten times the effort to get it into motion again! So in defence of the subject of this picture I didn’t plan on painting a flying dog, it was a spur of the moment sort of thing that just seemed like a good idea at the time and I needed something to get me back at the easel again. The something in this case was our small fluffy Jack-Russell called Hunny.
Occasionally she gets picked up by one of our boys and when she does she rather patiently does so with a look on her face just like the one in the painting, a look of quiet but disapproving resignation.
So here she is (I’ve included some shots of the process), Hunny the world’s only flying canine in oil on wood panel.
amy goldsmith, art, artist, arts, attelier, brush strokes, cennino cennini, Christian artist, cuttlefish, east sussex, gesso, Il libro dell'arte, illustration, inspiration, knitted hat, knitting, oil on panel, painter, painting, panel, peach black, picture, portrait, ralph mayer, sennelier
It’s been a while since my last painting post because I’ve been beavering away on this project and occasionally getting distracted, but the current project is finally finished and she’s ready to show to the world!
Bit of a change as this is the first time I’ve tried painting on panel, which has been a learning process. Art’s all about learning though isn’t it? Every time I use a new colour or new medium, lighting, surface, whatever, I learn something new. For instance, this project was the first time I used Peach Black. I splashed out on a Sennelier tube, and even that taught me that expensive isn’t always better as the tube leaked black oil all over the worktop, but the colour was pretty cool… literally, it was cool. Peach black it turns out has a very blue undertone and turns a sort of navy blue when blended with white, which was handy as that’s what I wanted, again, cool!
Choosing a panel was harder than expected though. Seriously, most artists seem to hold on to the secret of which panel they use like it was a secret handed down to them from centuries of past masters. In the end I opted for ply. There were some concerns about delamination if it gets damp, but hadn’t planned on making a boat out of the stuff, just painting on it. For that matter any surface is affected by damp. So I gave my ply a couple of coats of gesso (another new experience) and got to it. Gesso it also turns out is not a mystery. I don’t need to melt any rabbit skins or blend it from a recipe found in Il libro dell‘arte by Cennino Cennini (great book though). I just bought a pot and slapped it on… carefully, I slapped it on carefully and artistically.
Honestly there is so much mystery about this and that, what you can do and can’t do as an artist and some of it can be downright wrong. Boris Vallejo for instance once mentioned, in something I read when I was younger, that true artists never mix with white, they prefer yellow. Never mix with white… now it was a long time ago, so I’ll give Boris the benefit of the doubt I may have read it wrong, but one single stupid comment can have students tied in all sorts of knots, and good practical books on the subject – apart from Ralph Mayer’s Artists Handbook – are hard to find.
After that little rant, if you know any great books on the oil painting process please share them as comments.
So, where was I, panel and gesso. Yes, panel – cheap, easy to buy and to cut to size yourself, or you can ask the timber merchant to cut it for you, a good merchant will cut it for a minimal charge or for free if you’re buying a sheet. I would advise paying the extra for the top quality stuff though, the cheaper stuff has more gaps in between laminates which are undesirable in the long term, but fine to use to practice on. Gesso – buy a tub and paint it on. That simple. The one I bought is water soluble and just needs a little fine sanding between coats. If you want to do it the Renaissance way then rub the gesso down (made according to Cennino’s rabbity recipe of course) with a cuttlefish, if you haven’t got a cuttlefish, then a very fine wet-and-dry or sand paper will do. The more coats the better, but I think three should do.
Anyway, to the painting.
Initial drawing from photo’ and light under painting. In future I think I’ll aim for much deeper colour and more contrast, maybe even a complete sketch in black/burnt umber and white with full contrast.
The “sock puppet” under painting, basically just an attempt to get the panel covered in paint to help future layers move better across the surface.
Getting there. More colour and definition added, but still wasn’t happy about the lack of drama in the background.
Close up and detail
The reason I chose this photo’ of my niece Amy is probably self evident, it’s fun and I liked the colour scheme.