Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2- day figurative workshop




Painting the Clothed Figure from Life
May 6/7 
Tsawwassen, BC

I hope you'll join me for a 2-day figure painting workshop in beautiful Tsawwassen, BC.

I love teaching this workshop because I get to see so many "ah ha!" moments. Painters who usually work from photos, grid their canvases, or create detailed preliminary drawings all discover that a brush and a good squint is all they need to capture accurate proportion. And discovering the amazing colours in the model in front of them is a revelation.

It's an intensive weekend that launches a lot of new exploration and discovery for painters no matter what their usual genre.

There are still some openings in this workshop.  To register, please contact the South Delta Artists Guild.











Saturday, March 11, 2017

A London adventure


I was fortunate enough to be in London last week filming some shorts for Winsor & Newton's weekly "Masterclass videos" series. That was a kick, but a bit nerve wracking: some of the demos that I'd so blithely scripted required a lot to go right, first time, on the canvas board that had 2 cameras and 3 video and art professionals focused on it. No pressure there! But it all worked out well, and I learned a great deal about what it takes to film art technique videos. 

After the work portion of my trip was over, I tacked on a couple of days to see museums. That's totally, laughably inadequate, but it was enough to give me a couple of years worth of thinking in the studio, so I'm satisfied. 

What surprised me was that I was as entranced by the 600 year old Tudor portraits with their intricate, gold encrusted brocades as I was by the Sargents and Freuds that I'd gone to see. Perhaps even more so because my expectations were completely overturned. 

I'd seen the Tudor portraits in art history tomes forever and flipped the page without much thought for them; they seemed so mannered and all about the outfits, but when I was actually in front of them, I could see that there was a portrait there: a real person who was captured by a long-forgotten artist with staggering skill. The outfit was a big deal, but so was the haughty, or serious, or open face that topped it. And, despite their age, the paintings were in perfect, crack-free condition. Painting on panels will do that, apparently.








Like a kid in a candy shop, I spent the weekend mooning over art, snapping detail images, and forgetting to hydrate myself. I came home with a cold and a head full of wonders.


























And I even got to see a Chardin that Lucien Freud admired enough to copy in several drawings and etchings.



It was a great adventure that has already had an impact on how I apply paint. Seeing so much virtuosity in so many different styles has reminded me that it's not what you paint, or what style you paint in, it's how confidently you lay your paint down. I saw a lot of great confidence on the museum walls, and that's my take home. 

Happy painting!













Saturday, January 28, 2017

Toning a support: the big decision!

White Blouse
16 x 12

White Blouse 2
14 x 11

Every single choice that you make in an oil painting is visible, in some way, in the final work and toning is the usually the first choice that a painter makes.  For me, it's the decision that usually takes the longest because I know it will launch a painting down a path and I have to decide which path that should be.

There are no rules about colour choice when toning a support, but here are some routes that are worth exploring:

-Tone to the colour of the light.  So, if the light is warm, tone warm.  If you're in green, forest shade, tone green etc.

- Tone to the brightest colour in the motif.  If you're trying to depict the vivid orange of a pumpkin, it will be easier if you're working on a support that's toned orange; nothing will interfere with the special colour or grey it.

- Tone to the complement of the most important colour.  This is the opposite of the above choice: if you're trying to show off the orange pumpkin, tone blue so that orange will really pop.  This toning requires you to work very opaquely to counteract the neutralizing tone under your star colour.  The first painting above is toned in this way: the most important colour was the warmth on the figure's face and body, so I toned the board green.  You can see that this choice has helped to pop the warmth, but it has also resulted in an overall cool painting.  The warm mixtures of the flesh are all dimmed by the green undertone.

- Tone in an earthy colour such as umber.  This choice will automatically launch your painting into something earthy and, possibly, traditional in feel.  It's a natural choice for tonal painters but not for colourists who struggle to create pure mixtures on top of the rather dirty start.

- Tone grey.  This works as a useful mid tone without being a colour statement.  You'll end up working opaquely on this,  and your colours - even complex mixtures - will look rich on the neutral ground.

- Tone to the opposite temperature of the general temperature of the scene.  This is related to complementary toning, and is often used by landscape painters.   If they're painting a cold, snow scene, they may use a warm toning underneath to balance the painting and avoid excessive coolness in the final work.   Many plein air painters take out red-toned supports as a matter of course because the elements of landscapes - trees, mountains, water - tend to cool colours, and the red fills out and balances the scene on the canvas.

- Tone bright if you intend to paint dull.  That's the choice I made in the second painting above; I used a strong yellow tone under an earthy palette of black, ocher, terra rosa, and ultramarine.  There may have been a touch of cad red light for some of the hot spots on the flesh - I'm not certain - but, overall, it's a dull, tonal palette, and one that doesn't really suit my eye.  I need a hit of brighter colour to keep myself interested, so I toned strong.

- Yes, you guessed it: tone dull if you intend to paint bright.  This helps to keep works from becoming too candy coloured, because the dull tone will take the edge off of high chroma mixtures.

There are, I'm certain, a lot of other toning choices to be made, but these are the ones I consider most often when I'm planning a painting.

In general, I tone to about a value 3 (if 1 is white and 10 is black), and I make sure that my tone is lean, but not too lean.  A medium composed of a 50/50 mix of oil and solvent will make a good paint film, but anything leaner will result in an underbound layer and you'll be able to rub it off even after it's dry.  I avoid flowing the paint on and, instead, scrub it on with a stiff brush and a small amount of paint.  Then I give it a good wipe to remove excess paint and medium and to even out the scratchy application.

I also consider the drying time of my toning pigment and try to use fast dryers like umbers and raw sienna, or I add them to a slower drying pigment to help speed it up.  The last thing you want is to have a wet tone under a dry painting.  It's the surest way to a cracked work.  Drying times of some common colours are available on the Winsor Newton site and, probably on the sites of other major manufacturers.

If I don't want the colour to contaminate the paint layer, I'll let the tone dry completely before starting to paint, but there's also something interesting about letting the wet tone mingle with the first paint layer.  There are no rules.

If you've got any thoughts on other toning possibilities, I'd love to hear them and learn.

Happy painting!










Sunday, January 1, 2017

Painting knives

Sidelong Gaze
16 x 12

detail 

I used to be a watercolourist when I started painting, but I soon switched to oils.  The reason? Texture! There's something wonderful about the way that oil paint can move beyond 2 dimensions and enter the 3rd.  Ingres' smooth, enamel-like surfaces are impressive, but give me Monet's crusty canvases, Sargent's thick, dashing swirls of paint, or Freud's heavily layered surfaces any day.  They hold my attention for the rugged physicality of the paint itself; there is both an exciting image, and exciting paint application.

This painting takes texture pretty far as I used a knife heavily throughout.  There was plenty of brush action, as well, but the knife was what saved the piece from being boring to me.  It's painted on a gessoed panel which is a surface that I'm not sold on.  It doesn't grab paint in the way that linen does, and I find the brush marks that I make on it look uninteresting to me.  The best way to explain it is that when I make those first few marks, I can already see exactly where the painting will end up when it's finished; the repertoire of possible brush marks - at least alla prima marks - is limited, and there's nothing more tedious.  A painting should be full of surprises and discoveries, especially for the painter, or else it seems like a pointless exercise to me.  This belief explains why I discard a lot of work as too boring to see the light of day, and also why I eagerly walk into the studio each day: I'm looking for the next great surprise.

So, to counteract the surface, I did a lot of knife work for the relatively uncontrolled element that it adds to the painting.  The best painting knives are long and very flexible; my favourite one is about 2" long and triangular.  Inflexible ones are good for scraping paint, or for mixing it on the palette, and the teeny, tiny, diamond-shaped ones have no purpose that I can discern.  A good painting knife will lay down a hefty amount of paint with surprising precision, but it won't let you get too finicky.  It also allows you to place very clean paint over wet paint, creating a sense of depth.  You can see that in the detail of the forehead above.  Under that clean pink layer, there's some murky, cool, greenish paint.  A brush couldn't have kept them separate in the same way.  

I advise my students to keep their palette knives perfectly smooth and clean -rubbing it on sandpaper can often bring a knife back to full use - and discourage cheap, plastic knives; they're not capable of subtle paint application.  Like scrapers, rollers, squeegies, and other tools, knives are a way to break monotony for both the painting and the painter.

Happy painting!



Saturday, December 10, 2016

Paint patches, not lines

Calendula and Degas
20 x 16



Painting students often ask me how to loosen up edges in their work -how to get rid of the outline - and it's both easy and hard.  Easy, because they should simply avoid starting with a firm, decisive drawing to begin with, and hard because it requires that they look at the world in a whole different way.  

It's natural for all of us to stare closely at a scene to acquire as much information and detail as possible, but that won't make a loose painting; that's the way to a tight painting.  Instead of looking directly at a scene and seeing discreet, separate objects, I advise students to squint or unfocus their eyes, or look at a scene through peripheral vision in order to see the continuous masses of tone, the notes of colour, the general shapes and sizes of things, including negative spaces.  And all the while they should consciously avoid naming what they're looking at.  

As soon as I say to myself: "I'm painting the eye of the little statue," I'm lost.  Then I start to include too much information in an attempt to make a distinct "eye" for the viewer.  Instead, if my interior chatter is more like "I'm painting a little light shape of about this size, colour, and temperature into this part of a big dark shape" I stand more chance of creating an area that's suggestive of an eye but doesn't belabour the point.  I'm more likely to make an general, rather than a specific, statement.

Painting is about masses; drawing is about line, and while great draughtsmen like Degas regularly incorporated line into paintings, the works still felt like paintings, not coloured drawings.  The interaction of masses and colours were more important than the lines within the piece.  In other words, you could remove the lines, and still have a good painting.  Squinting at the painting below will show this.
Two Ballet Dancers by Edgar Degas
So: look at the world in a whole new way and avoid naming things, and your edges will naturally change.  

Happy painting!