Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cloud sketch

oil on paper 21x12.5cm

I sat down by the kitchen window on Monday to sketch cloud forms as they flitted past. It’s impossible to paint a particular cloud, as they change so quickly and my memory isn’t photographic. This is just one exercise to get more acquainted with the vocabulary of clouds, so what you have here are shapes and tones painted over about an hour.

As it happens these are ragged stratocumulus late on a bright windy afternoon.

The paper has several coats of acrylic primer, with a little blue acrylic paint added. I’ve mixed up a whole batch of this, and have a few blank skies prepared already for when the sky gets extra interesting again. Although there’s no tone change in the blue background I think it’s a good system for sketching, though the initial wipe of turpentine/oil mix, for fluidity, means that the oil paint takes ages to dry. I’ve used titanium white, not my usual flake/lead white which would dry much quicker, even with the extra oil. For sheer whitening power it’s really the only choice for this type of work, especially on a coloured background. The two other colours used are Payne’s grey and ultramarine.

The blue tinting in the primer is pthalocyanine. Even in the weakened student product it is a ruinously powerful pigment, and can infect a whole palette if not carefully contained. In this case, it is safely quarantined in a base layer, in a different medium from my active paint, so hopefully nothing horrific is going to break out. In fact I think it does the job here quite well.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Two Life Drawings

conte crayon

Two drawings from Tuesday. I had been getting a little frustrated with my linear style, and made a conscious decision to be loosen up a bit and use the conte crayon more tonally. This involves a bolder, less hesitant, smudge and erase technique, which seems to have made a difference.

In the leaning pose (twenty minutes) there’s light bouncing around all over the place. The dark areas behind the figure really free up the use of light and dark to describe how the light falls on the figure.

The upright pose (one hour) is maybe less immediate and more controlled. I probably should have made more of the ‘dark surround trick’, but then that may have scuppered the impact of the hair. Perhaps this should be cropped to just the head and shoulders. The drawing that is, not her hair.

An interesting thing about Conte crayon is that it was invented because the Napoleonic wars prevented imports of graphite from Britain. The main source of drawing quality graphite was a deposit in Cumbria, discovered in about 1500, and developed during Industrial Revolution. This explains why a lot of pencils – Derwent, Cumberland, Lakeland - have names associated with the Lake District, which had puzzled me for a time. The baked Conte crayon process was invented by a Monsieur Conte, in Paris. Quelle Surprise!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Blue Flash

oil on card 23x17cm

Painted over last Thursday and Friday, and the grey background consolidated on Monday morning.

One of my plimsolls, a Dunlop Blue Flash, has been worn so long that it has come apart at the outside edge. This has revealed a pink plastic construction strip, which looks a bit like the gums in a cat or dog’s mouth. I like the difference between the clean fresh gum, the dense blue of the inside, and the dry, worn textures of the rest of the shoe.

This has turned out well, but on the first day, I got too zoned in on the laces, and when Madam saw it she thought it looked like a kid’s shoe. Solved it the next morning when I woke up and realised that I’d had a shift in scale between the eyelets and the rest of it, a bad thing. Children’s shoes use standard eyelets, and appear much larger, so I had to overpaint my (devastatingly-good-but-no-one–will-ever-know) rendering of giant eyelets. Serves me right for not concentrating.

I would like to point out that I have much better shoes to wear than this.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

George Square

oil 25x31cm

Finished yesterday, this is a view of the back of George Square from the Swedish Café on Middle Meadow Walk.

Reasonably happy with this, though I had a problem with some of the upper clouds. Solved it by A) Listening to some Philip Glass solo piano, and B) Abandoning the damar/oil medium, which got too sticky too quick, and resorting to a basic turps/oil mix for the blended area. It’s really tedious having to re-learn these things again.

So much for the technology, here’s the interesting stuff about the composition. The painting is about the stack extending from the hard, heavy mass of the buildings into empty space. So, I’ve made the painting very stable and bottom heavy. The canvas is upright to broadly echo the vertical stack, which stands alone against a plain untextured background.

I liked the idea of the window groups of three, two, and one. The single has the most complex shape, and is the most interesting in that it’s slightly open and right next to the stack. They are tweaked to sit on different levels so that, reading from the left, they form a shallow arc dipping then curling up to the chimney. This ‘curve’ is set against the rectangular nature of the building shapes and their textures. The movement is reinforced by the shapes of the trees and the sloping, then rising, forms of the two cumulus clouds behind. The whole thing was composed with photoshop, which lets me test compositional ideas from photographs very quickly.

I really enjoyed painting this, especially the stack. Which makes sense, seeing as how that was what grabbed my attention away from the hot chocolate and pastry in the first place.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Two Life Drawings

conte crayon

Tuesday morning is Life Drawing morning, and I’m pleased enough with a couple of yesterday’s efforts to put them up.

Our model yesterday was great to draw, and gave us really interesting poses. Even better, she was able to keep them, especially the difficult ones.

The kneeling pose was on for half an hour, and it’s about mass and weight (as I suppose most figure drawing should be). I quite like the difference between working the load-bearing parts and slung belly, and the economical lines of her resting feet.

The standing figure was a warm-up pose. The model struck up this dancer’s position, with her arms out, and kept them like that for the full ten minutes. It was a quick drawing and I kept the chalk moving quite quickly and lightly, not erasing, but correcting with a second or third line. This, with the delicacy of the pose, has produced a very ethereal, animate drawing.

I am so glad that I was told about these sessions (WASPS at Patriothall 9.30am-12.00, £5). They start off with quick five or ten minute warm-up poses, followed by maybe a couple of longer ones. After a break for a cuppa and biscuits, there’s either two half-hour or one hour-long pose. It’s a community, not an educational, project, run by members, and the space is let from WASPS.

The awful thing about not drawing seriously for 15-20 (going on 30) years is that you just… go… off. It’s not so much the mechanical manipulation of the medium that dulls, it’s the mental skill of looking and examining. Prior to starting at WASPS last autumn, the last time I had drawn a model in a studio was in 1977, and I was appalled to find that I really didn’t know where or how to start. My first new drawings really weren’t very good, and were more about bluff and aesthetic effect than gathering and conveying information. Hopefully, the more I exercise my ‘Looking Muscle’ the more effective I’ll be, and once I’ve achieved fitness I must never, ever let that drop again.

…but it is very, very difficult.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


oil on card 15x20cm

Quick direct painting, done in a day last week, and now dry enough to scan. I felt I had to give it another layer of the olive, or French, grey, as the first layer was way too thin. The texture was similar to that of the blue pot - far too busy and distracting - and the geranium was completely lost.

Incidentally, this is in our front room, where the walls are French grey (BS4800 code 10 B 21, available from all good decorating outlets). It’s a dull colour in itself but it boosts anything you put against it.

I think the strokes and marks are effective, but the composition itself is maybe a bit flawed; there’s too much going on the left, leaving an absence up in the top right corner. It would have been better to turn the plant so that it faced right, heading into the top corner. But then I didn’t think of that at the time.

What I do like about it is the difference between the light, green leaves and the crumbly dry dead ones, and really enjoyed painting that contrast.