Monday, 26 September 2011

Anatomy of a Pastel Painting

It occurred to me that some of you might be interested in how a painting evolves from start to finish, so I took some photos during the process of painting Stonethwaite Approach:
After sketching in the composition with charcoal, I placed in the easy bit - the sky, then the background sunlit hill and the darker Eagle Crag
Blocking in with roughly the right tones, I continue down the painting

Now I draw in the buildings and the skeleton of the trees

Before getting bogged down with any detail in any one place I continue to block in more colours

The entire block-in completed now, I have a roughly toned image of the painting, with the darkest darks in the foreground wall progressing through to the lighter tones in the background

Now I give some attention to the hills again, refining as I go and give the trees some definition, with their sunlit branches

More definition is now given to the cottage, barns and other paraphernalia and trees

Here I've painted the wall in shadow on the right

Finally, I do the sunlit stone wall on the left and give attention to the road and the cast shadows of the wall and posts across it. Once finished-ish, I cast my eye over the entire painting and correct any drawing errors and re-state important bits like the sheeps' legs, then voila, finito (I'm multi-lingual)

Chic Boutique

Just a diary note for anyone interested and near enough to warrant a trip out to get near enough to touch me....I shall be taking part in an Exclusive Charity Fundraiser called Chic Boutique.  I shall have one or two originals and some new Limited Edition Prints for sale alongside seven other traders: Jewellery & Accessories, Arbonne Beauty & Skincare, Phoenix Cards & Stationery, Jamie at Home, Banjocrafts, Lady Captain French Fashion and Waterloo Cottage Farm Foods.
The Pinfold, Ridlington road, Preston, 
Nr Oakham, Rutland LE15 9NN
Wednesday 12th October 
  10am to 7pm

Entry is £1, including tea or coffee and there will be a tombola with prizes to be won!

The event is in aid of Cancer Research UK and Air Ambulance, so if you fancy supporting two good causes AND meeting me and seeing some paintings LIVE, please come along.  You will be surprised just how approachable I am, despite the extraordinary global celebrity status I enjoy..........................


Stonethwaite Approach

Pastel on Pastelmat, 19 x 27 inches

Here's my last Pastel for the time being which is going to be framed with the new ClearColour plus UV glass, which you need a mortgage for!  The glass alone for this one will cost around £90...gulp, but the clarity is unbelievable compared to standard picture glass.  I've long thought that my Pastels have taken on a less vibrant look when framed and found that standard glass has a slight grey cast which, of course, dulls the image underneath.  The new glass also has reflection control and it actually appears that there isn't any glass!  The price for this will obviously reflect (get it, ha ha) this glass...I thought about £750,000....oh no, what am I thinking - that's just for talentless daubs requiring zero design and skill...................

Pastels lack the crispness of Oils, but I love the softer feel, and this one was a joy to paint.  I loved the Eagle Crag towering above Stonethwaite hamlet, adorned in mauves, blues and beiges, silhoetted against the sunlit hills behind it, yet lighter in tone than the foreground mountain, which in turn provided a gorgeous backdrop for the right-hand tree in its winter garb. The road of course acts as a nice lead-in and invites the eye to roam through the composition, and the tree on the far left stops the eye flying out of the picture. Lots of light and dark in this picture, especially in the wall, sunlit on the left and deep shade on the right. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Pastel on Pastelmat, 13 x 19 inches

Yes, I've switched disciplines and swapped my Oils for Pastels. I painted a similar view of Grange in Cumbria in Oils recently and thought I would see how the subject looked with the dry medium.  The subtleties of tones and colours in the mountains is a real challenge with Pastels and, hardly surprisingly, gives a different look to the painting.  As with Oils, by far the most challenging and time consuming part of the painting is the painting of the trees and mountains, whilst the water, the coup de grâce in any painting, takes very little time.

Being a dry medium, Pastel is a very different kettle of fish to mixing Oil colours on a palette.  Personally I don't find Pastel a practical medium to use en plein air, because I have literally hundreds of colours arranged in boxes around my easel, and even then, mix the colours somewhat with the finger.  Conversely, with Oils, I use only four colours to mix ALL the colours I need for 95% of all subjects I tackle, so I find it a very transportable medium for use on site.
Again, as I mentioned before, trying to replicate the colours of the painting in a photograph is frustrating. My Nikon D70 always seems to accentuate the reds, no matter how much I've tweaked the settings.  I even bought a Canon EOS 500D recently to see if it would solve the problem, but I still prefer the Nikon's results overall.

Monday, 19 September 2011

GreatArt Canvases

I've just bought some more canvases from GreatArt in their sale - this time the white, universal-primed Classico range, which are very good quality Belgian linen - infinitely better than the cheaper cotton canvases available in art shops.  If you fancy having a go with canvas, or upgrading from cotton, now is the time to treat yourself as they are offering many at half price for packs of four or six.  I bought a pack of six 50x70cm (about 20x28 inches if you're over 50) which works out at under £6 a canvas, an absolute bargain for that size!  
I usually make my own up from a 10 metre roll of Belgian linen with stretcher pieces, but these made-up ones are cheaper than the stretcher pieces themselves and avoid a lot of time assembling!  They're available in many different sizes, so if you fancy having a go (you can use acrylics or water based oils if you must, as they are acrylic primed), click on the banner above or to the right and click on the 50% off Gerstaecker Classico canvases on the home page of their website.
A word on stretching - no-one ever seems to mention this - when you tap in the wooden wedges (which are too short, a bug-bear of mine) in the corners to make the canvas as tight as a drum before you paint, make sure you put in a piece of cardboard behind the wedges when you tap with a hammer, otherwise, you will get scars and bumps on the canvas where you graze it with the hammer.  Honestly, the tips and wisdom I impart, at no cost........ 

Mirror Reflections, Derwentwater

 Oil on linen canvas, 15.75 x 24 inches

This is another Derwentwater painting that is perilously close to being chocolate-boxey, but I think I've just got away with it. With mirror-reflections on still water, it's not easy to stop it looking twee. 

I ummed and arred about whether to put the big foreground rock in, but without it, it would have looked even more twee with perfectly symmetrical reflections.  I did reduce the size of it so it didn't dominate too much, but the darks in the shadowed parts of the rock provided a nice foil to the lighter tones of the band of trees and mountains and it also had lots of interesting contours with varying degrees of lit surfaces within it.

Painting the actual reflections is the easiest and most enjoyable part of the painting technically, though a sustained period of concentration is required to make the tones slightly duller than that which they are relecting, to convince the viewer that this is water.  If you squint you will see that the sky reflections are darker than the sky itself - although still water acts as a mirror, because you are looking through the water as well as light bouncing off it, it always appears a little duller than the ground above.  Have a look next time you're by still water, especially on a sunny day after rain when the silt is disturbed and the water becomes muddied - the reflections then can take on a very glazed colour and can be really beautiful.

By the way, I've made every effort to make these images as accurate as possible, but the camera is not adequate enough to capture the nuances and subtleties of colour and tone in paintings, and of course, each of you will be looking at your own individual screen, which most likely is not calibrated unless you have a bit of technical kit so to do.  Therefore, in short, the paintings will look a lot different to how you see them on your monitor, and hopefully, a lot better.  Just in case you wonder why I paint blue trees, or pink grass, or green sheep........

Monday, 12 September 2011

Calm Morning, Derwentwater

Oil on board, 12 x 17 inches

Continuing my current theme of Lake district paintings, I gave a 2-hour demo to Horncastle Art Group and painted this beautiful view of Derwentwater, reaching this stage in the time allowed:
Having got absorbed with the task and commentary as I painted, I forgot to take a photo of the Group to post here.  You'll just have to take my word for it that the two thousand strong crowd........were a knowledgeable, happy and appreciative audience.

I finished off the painting back in the studio, refining the colours and tones and placed the two Canada Geese to break up the symmetrical reflections.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Langstrath Valley

Oil on canvas, 19.75 x 27.5 inches

This painting was done on clear-primed Honsell Naturelle linen canvas, rather than my usual universal white-primed choice.  If anyone would like to try these canvases (they are medium-grain texture, not fine-grain as advertised) have a look on Great Art's website by clicking on their red and white banner at the top or on the right.  They have a sale on until the end of October, with lots of other materials, they pack things very well, delivery is swift and I thoroughly recommend them.

I've spent days on this painting, but I'm pretty pleased with the result.  The view was a good composition as it was, without any manipulation, and begged to be given a decent sized platform to depict the scene.  The beck meanders through from front to back, with moss-laden trees in the foreground and middle distance, with the hills progressively more blue as they recede into the distance.  The right hand bank, devoid of trees has two handy stoppers to stop the eye flying out of the picture, namely the rocky outcrop a third of the way out into the beck and the man-made walls with the gap between to invite the viewer through. I also loved the mauvey shadow of the foreground tree across the sunlit white water.  

Yesterday, I heard the terrible news from across the pond, that my friend Carol Marine and her husband David and son Jacob, had their beautiful house in a pine forest in Bastrop, Texas, burnt to the ground in an awful forest fire, which even made the news over here.  Thankfully, they're all okay, but escaped with just a few small paintings, hardly any belongings, and their two cars and camper.  Carol's new custom-built studio, together with a huge collection of still-life objects....all gone - can you imagine it?

You can all help Carol by looking at her very entertaining Blog (link on the right) and see her beautiful paintings with her luscious brushwork.  I've bought five of her little paintings and they are all available on the Daily Painters Auction site - she will still be posting the new paintings she's already done, so have a look and help her out by bidding on them and get yourself some superb artwork, too.  She will post to the UK for $30.  

Friday, 2 September 2011

Looking Downstream, Stonethwaite Beck

Oil on Board, 10x14 inches
This composition is a little unusual for me, in that the sun was almost behind me, thus lighting up everything in front of me, à la a picture postcard.  

However, I loved the orangey winter garb of the Larch trees on the far bank set against the blue sky and the dark blue of the distant mountainside.  And, of course, that gorgeous fast running water, tumbling down to the bend, enticing the viewer to wonder what's around the corner.  

Running water is another handbreak-turn for me - I'm so used to painting the reflections of the slow moving waters of the rivers at home, but this was an enjoyable change.  Painted with my usual 3 primaries, Cadmium Yellow Light, Permanent Rose and Cobalt Blue, if you look closely at the water (click to enlarge full screen and click again to hone in) you can see the subtle changes of colours - lots of blue in the middle section, reflecting the sky, with some slightly warmer tones on the left section, reflecting the hillside, and lots of warmer browns and greens in the near water, partly reflecting the Larches and partly revealing the stones on the riverbed.  Just a few flicks of white where the water breaks over the rocks in the water completes the painting.