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…

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