Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cow Studies


Turning into final approach to complete a long-laboured Work-in-Progress, I knew I had to fine-tune the drawing of one of the cows. My original ‘model’ was photographed behind a bit of fence and I blithely assumed that I could somehow make up the hidden portions from images on google. Or make it up from my head.

Well. There are NO images of a cow from that particular angle (looking down from three-quarters behind) on the entire Interweb. There are plenty of pictures from eye level, and not a few disturbing images from lower than eye level, but none from the required elevation.

Looking for inspiration, I visited the big museum in Edinburgh – I seemed to remember some stuffed cattle there - but their recent very expensive redevelopment has resulted in much fewer animal displays, and definitely NO cows. (Actually there was a yak in the human ethnicity section, but a yak is a cow in a gigantic fur coat, so the local anatomy of its arse was much obscured). There was, as a consolation, a stuffed Quagga, which I was able to photograph from the correct angle by reaching up on tiptoe, and one of the drawings is a study made from that.

So I did indeed end up having to work it out from my head, from level views of bovine bottoms and a quagga – as you see in the other drawing.

A Quagga is not a bovine, but an extinct form of Zebra.

Monday, June 18, 2012


oil on papered canvas 25x31cm

This is from a photo I took last year at Balerno, just outside Sunny Edinburgh.

I wanted to try simplifying a complex subject, but I wasn’t concentrating enough and the painting soon ran away with itself. As a quick solution I simplified the colour and tone, but used far too much Mars Black. Now, this is a very opaque pigment, and it meant that I was working against a dead background when I wanted to lush up the colour. Painting light to dark is always easier when using layers of thinnish paint – which I like - so this was a rather thoughtless self-inflicted difficulty that meant a lot of rescue work.

Once the piece was more organised I added the figure. It is sitting, or being made to sit, against the bare foreground pine. I didn’t want the viewer to see it at first glance, and I’ve deliberately diverted the eye to the lively sunlit area. Once you’ve seen the figure, it may be difficult to ignore, and could change your response to the work. Which is what I want.

I felt very cramped working this subject at such a small scale, but slogging through it did remind me forcefully of a lesson taught to me at Art College by one of my tutors - Jimmy Cumming.

He was talking us through some slides of paintings, and he pointed out where Whoever-it-was (I’ve forgotten now) had used a small area of pure black. ‘Black is the Queen of Colours’ he said, ‘if you use it at all, use it very carefully’. I asked him later what could replace it, and he said to mix Ultramarine and Burnt Umber. Wow! What a revelation! Both pigments are transparent and layer well, and after finding a few more dark/transparent combinations I went for years simply not having any black at all on the palette.

Mars black is a useful pigment. But… it’s a real killer in lower layers.

Slapped wrist. Now, don’t do it again…

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Valley, Box Hill

oil on canvas 51 x 51cm

We were in Surrey visiting my brother in November, and he took us to Box Hill to get some photo references. I was busy snapping away at the sunlit areas when I remembered the landscape Golden Rule – ‘Look Behind You’ – and there was this cold little valley.

The sharp ‘V’ was slightly uncomfortable, and asymmetric; the dark fir trees seemed quite threatening, but you’d have to pass them to get to the sunlit area further on. I needed some scale, so I got Madam to walk along the path while I took more pictures, and when I looked at them later, I realised that I had a complete idea. I added the foreground sunlight and small scary bushes from other photographs of the day, and that was that.

Technically this piece is quite interesting. For some reason, there was a three-month gap before the finishing session, and the paint had dried hard. The new thin oil application beaded up on it and didn’t sit happily. I had heard of an old remedy for this which I’d never tried – wipe the surface with a cut onion (or garlic). However unlikely this sounds, it does work, and the new layer goes on like a charm.

As far as I know, goblins don’t exist, and there haven’t been wolves in England since the 15th Century. I get the impression though, that Madam, in her Big Red Shawl, isn’t so sure…

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Wreck No.10 – revisited

oil on papered canvas 31x25cm.

Well. I just couldn't let it go.

The cloudwork wasn’t convincing and I knew that I could do it so much better.

Just to compare directly, have a quick look at the primary version - Wreck No.10. If you’re still not convinced, there are much larger images at Entire Blog, in the ‘links’ sections.

Re-reading the text on the post above, I was obviously wrong when I said that the sky was overworked. On the contrary, it needed more. And, yes, it is now much more like the idea I had in my head.

Letting it go, now…