Thursday, October 16, 2014


oil on canvas 51x51cm

Here’s another woodland scene, this time featuring a man and a black dog. It’s taken long enough, and perhaps slightly misses the painting I had in my head, but there’s really nothing more I can do with it.

It’s meant to be about that moment of uncertainty when you hear something unseen and don’t know what it is. In that context, the viewer is aligned with the figures – we are watching them reacting to something in the murky area at the centre.

The setting is an adaption from a google streetview location in Hampshire. The open area was originally wider, and I moved the right trees inwards to make it a bit more claustrophobic – which caused a few problems where the two sides of foliage overlapped in the upper space. I also removed some of the more intrusive branches from the left to unclutter that central zone. Structurally, it’s very similar to Crow (July 2013); there is an open central area, a nearer block of lighter trees on the left and a darker row on the right leading back to a sunlit clump of trees. There’s even a sightline going back on the left, and in both paintings the light shines in through the trees on the right. I only noticed the similarity when I was about a third the way in, and honestly don’t know whether this is a Good or a Bad Thing.

During the initial stages of composition there were just two men; one on the right - as now - and another by the trees on the left. This began to look a bit shifty, so I removed one man and gave the other one a dog. This change, where the animal is suddenly very alert while the human peers into the gloom, introduces more acute senses, and is a bit more potent.

The dog is a pointer* - found on the interweb and originally white – and was exactly the pose I wanted. The man was taken from a BBC TV News report. He’s from Sloviansk, Eastern Ukraine, and was part of a crowd of men watching something going on from afar – again, exactly the pose I wanted

Technically, the initial progress was quite fast. I omitted the charcoal drawing step and went straight to drawing the elements into the grid with oil paint – quite finely in the case of the dog and man, and the left tree trunks. It was fast and efficient, and I think I’ll carry on doing this regularly. Another development is that I find myself using linseed Stand oil more. If you don’t know it, it’s a stiffly viscous substance – like thick honey – and takes an era to dry. To make it more manageable I dilute a batch of it 50/50 with turpentine. This makes it easy to use as a measured ingredient in damar resin and walnut oil mixtures (not forgetting to add the required drops of cobalt driers!). Recently though, I’ve been using it without damar - further thinned down and with different amounts of driers added (still experimenting). I’ve found that as the turpentine evaporates, the oil content tends to stick to itself, and can be controlled quite finely. It can produce a softness I find very pleasant to work with, and, once cured, is very tough. Which is always nice to know.

Now, thinking aloud, I’m getting concerned at how long these pieces are taking to complete, and how the regularity of my monthly blog posts has collapsed recently. This may be subjective, but it seems to me as if I’m only painting long novels, and I feel the need to be producing short stories and essays as well. I’m going to start breaking up my work habit with smaller, faster pieces, on easy-to-prepare card or panel - and just get some churn going.

Subjects? Well, who knows, but seeing as how the sky is always there and always changing and clouds are constantly fascinating and just an up-look away, and I have thousands of photos of them idly cluttering up my computer… 

* To the disdain of my Spanielist friends

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