Thursday, February 18, 2016

Day’s Work Done

oil on canvas 66x51cm

It’s a very pleasant feeling when a problem painting is resolved; the shoulders loosen and drop, and there’s a general feeling of ‘and relax…’ Or, as in this case, ‘phew, done…’ 

Before anything else, I should give a nod to the mood-setter. I was half-listening to random singles while setting out the figures, then ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ came on, and it put me straight inside their heads. The sheer rawness is the thing, and I’m afraid the neighbours may have suffered a little when I started each session. The painting’s title indicates that this is evening, and that the young men are returning from doing what callous young men in militias do. In my head, they are the perpetrators from ’Road’, though I should stress that the two paintings were not designed to be linked.

The landscape source, google streetview again, is in Slovenia. I’d spotted a similar steep wooded area just along the road, but was having trouble making it work. Gravity pulled the wooded slope straight off the bottom right-hand corner, but with the blue sky and rock outcrop the composition became stable. I’m hoping that the figures won’t be found immediately, and I’ve tried to distract the eye with the blues, yellows, and fiddly bits of leaves and plants.

Even though the tonal range spans murky black to bright white, it is a very dark painting. I think the trees against the blue areas have worked particularly well, though I’m a bit disappointed by the foliage texture in front of the white cloud. I’m also not totally sure how the viewer will interpret the bright yellows. If you want to do it the hard way and work them out for yourself, ignore the footnote* containing the subtlest of hints underneath. 

On the technical side, there’s quite a lot of ‘Glazing’ going on here. Glazes are thin transparent layers of paint in a mixture of oil and a simple varnish – I use Damar resin dissolved in turpentine. The idea is that the glazing layer acts like stained glass – the layer below is visible through a veil of colour. This is very evident in the two figures on the right – the colours are simply washed over the monochrome drawing underneath. The more transparent your pigments are, the more effective your glazes will be. Some pigments, e.g. Yellow Ochre, Venetian Red, and the Cadmiums, are completely opaque and are not so useful in this context, so you have to choose your paints carefully. The sky is straight Ultramarine, and is stippled fairly loosely over the trees and foliage in front of it. The opaque bright yellows are intensified by a couple of layers of Indian Yellow and Transparent Red Oxide (from Michael Harding paints) – a very rich combination, which also contributed to the reddish ground colour. I boosted the Damar varnish proportion of my usual medium for these layers, and am quite pleased how that turned out. Interestingly, the original Indian Yellow pigment was made in India by feeding cattle exclusively with mango leaves, then processing the resultant urine. In more recent times it was considered cruel, and the practice was discontinued. Modern ‘Indian Yellow’ pigments are made from a variety of chemical dyes. Which I suppose is a Good Thing.

Well, I’m very glad that’s finished and I can give Nirvana a rest. I bet the neighbours are too…

* OK, I apologise for not doing them better, but the yellow patches are sunlit trees seen through the shadowed foliage of the trees in front. I’ve exaggerated the colour to distract the eye from the figures. Not particularly realistic maybe, but you must admit they’ve got a nice glow about them.