Friday, January 29, 2010

Tree Studies

pencil on A4

I needed some reference material - weird-looking tree parts - for use in a current project. I had taken some photos of likely subjects, but as they never print out how you’d want, I thought I’d draw them from the computer screen.

Though laborious, there are two big advantages to working this way.

Firstly, it is easier to edit the information from the source. A photo of a tree contains so much information you’re never going to use – background, tiny branches etc, which just get in the way. Better to decide what you’re going to use or lose at this stage than later.

Secondly, you are better acquainted with the subject’s form – its mass and shape - when it comes to painting it on the canvas proper, having already examined and described it once before.

Contrast these drawings with the watercolour ‘Street Sketches’ from last month. Those look effective, but you would be hard put to reconstruct the forms from the information given. These drawings above are utilitarian; I have to put in all the information I think I’m going to need for reproduction in a larger painting.

Not that you can’t be creative. The upper drawing is a composite of two different trees (one wasn’t effective enough for purpose) and, to be honest, it would have taken longer to photoshop the two images together and not been as good.

Ah, yes - and Thirdly, it’s very good drawing practice.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Expulsion - Marchmont

oil on canvas 84x69cm

Finally, at long last, it’s done. I’ve been working on this on and off since May 2009, and drip-feeding it into ‘Works in Progress’. At 84x69cm it felt ambitious but it was more than about time I stopped restricting myself to tiny pieces.

The location is recognisably Marchmont, Edinburgh, the chapel transposed from a block away. I think the painting works quite well as a decorative urban landscape, but there is also a strong underlying narrative.

At first glance it’s a slightly fantastical street scene of some trees behind a wall, and three figures. When you have figures in a painting, you can often construct a narrative, maybe even the one that you’re meant to. You just need to ask a few questions, like; where have the couple come from and where are they going? Why is there an armed guard on the gate? The couple could be Adam and Eve, so are there snake or god references anywhere? If we’re correct, they’ve just been thrown out of a pretty free and unrestricted place (by all accounts) into an uncomfortable world of hard edges and rules. Does that fit? If so, what are the characters’ states of mind?

Well, most of the clues are there somewhere: the gated wall, the snake-branched apple tree, a chapel. As the title indicates, this painting shows the expulsion from Eden, but set here and now. It’s a very traditional subject, usually as a good excuse to show nudey bodies, but it’s also one where you can explore big human emotions as well.

I was listening to all sorts of stuff while working on this, but especially ‘The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus’. The track ‘Soldier’ resonated very strongly once the figures were in place.

There’s a lot of chlorophyll represented in this painting, and I’ve always been a bit nervous about greens. Chrome and Viridian are docile but expensive. Terre Verte is lovely but weak. That really only leaves (gulp) - Phthalocyanine. I’ve got its blue cousin house-trained, but those pthalo greens – they’re still out there… feral.