Following on from the previous post, I wanted to create a similar illusion of light areas made brighter by contrasting them with areas of dark, but this time using my own photos as reference – these are taken from a holiday in Malcesine on Lake Garda in Italy.
The picture by the lake seemed to be a bad choice for this experiment as the whole scene is flooded in bright sunlight. The lightest value is on the shirt of the figure in the centre, though the whole of the stone jetty needed to look strongly sunlit. The contrast is provided surprisingly by the distant haze of the receding lake and mountains which even in the bright sunlight appear as a relatively dark blue grey.
In the original photo, the eaves of the house on the right were very dark, almost black. One of the dangers in working from photos is that the shadow detail can often be lost, though in this case I thought that would work to my advantage as I wanted to create more contrast and avoid what James Gurney calls ‘middle value mumbling‘. After painting the eaves nearly black, I tried to add a highlight along the outside edge, but I overloaded the brush with paint and created an unnaturally thick white line. As I wiped it away with a finger, it blended with the dark under-eave colour. The result by happy accident looks much more realistic, with the eaves reflecting the bounced light from below. The house dimensions are way too small compared to the figure in the centre (which is slightly too large) – imagine the size of the figure looking out of the top floor window.
The second sketch was more successful in terms of contrast and perhaps composition but I’m not sure I’ve captured the light glancing across the uneven surface of the pink wall in the centre – it looks more like a wall of drying plaster. This is another hazard of trying to be too faithful to a photograph: what makes sense in a photo might not translate into paint.
I’m always struck by how the illusion of glowing, light-filled areas can be produced by surrounding those areas with dark. The strong sunlight transmitted through the red canopies can only appear that bright if the whole scene is painted in a low key. Ignoring the white highlights, the lightest values in the painting are the red canopies and the foreground in the sunlight, but they’re not that bright at all when you examine the paint used: a dull pink/brown for the foreground and a not very saturated lightish red for the umbrellas.
The gouache I mixed up for the background lightened dramatically as it dried, taking away from the illusion. This is perhaps partly due to the matt finish of gouache, but it’s something I need to keep in mind when mixing paints. And somehow I’ve managed to chop the philosophers’ legs off and put them on baby chairs – perhaps that’s what they’re discussing.
A gouache on Seawhite Kraft paper copy of a picture that I found somewhere on the internet. I forgot to note down the artist’s name when I saved it, something I do religiously now (usually) because it’s frustrating not to be able to find more of their work or to give credit in a blog post.
The Seawhite gouache (04 Mauve) looks almost fluorescent when lit by a daylight bulb. The other colours were burnt umber, burnt sienna (close to the tone as the Kraft paper background), and titanium white, painted with a 3/8 inch flat brush to keep it loose.
I recently discovered the work of Terry Miura who paints in a style I love: a mixture of loose painterly expressionistic brush strokes with areas of tightness and detail. I love the effect of moving from abstraction to realism within a painting. Oh, to be able to paint like him! His blog is a fascinating insight into his working methods and vision. Here’s a list of sticky notes he has taped to his easel to help him with composition:
-Unequal distribution of dark and light masses. Don’t make them 50 – 50.
-Have one dominant color. Additional color masses need to be clearly lesser in visual impact.
-Use a variety of edges on every shape. Lose an edge on every shape if you can.
-Paint the concept, not things.
-Have a hierarchy of interesting areas.
-Manipulate this hierarchy with value contrast, hue choices, saturation, edges, opacity, impasto, brush activity, and textures.
-Big passive area vs. small active area
-You don’t need two big passive areas.
-If the focal point is in light, simplify the shadow. If it’s in shadow, simplify the light.
-If the focal point is in light, lower the key. If it’s in shadow, raise the key.
-Connect shapes wherever you can. (Same thing as losing edges)
-Whenever you break a rule, make sure it looks intentional.
-Repetition and variation. Over do them. Then pull back.
-Less is more.
-Make Only One Statement!
On the top his easel, in big black letters, he has written the word MYSTERY.
Some isolated clouds out to sea, viewed from a Cornish cliff top.
I’d like to say I made this postcard sized oil sketch on the spot as a pochade, but it was based on a series of photos. A quick underpainting of acrylics was overlaid with layers of oil.
The titanium white is the slowest drying of all the oils in this palette and only goes tacky after a few days. This can lead to problems if extra glazing is attempted too soon. I’ve heard that the slower drying walnut oil is sometimes used for whites instead of linseed oil as it is less yellowing, but I don’t know if this is the case with these Holbein Duo Aqua oils.
The finished painting was hard to photograph accurately. Subtle changes in the ambient light makes the colours and contrast look markedly different.
Various critters snapped in a Cornish rockpool earlier this year, drawn with a dip pen and ink.
I used the ink straight from the bottle, so the nib (Gillot 404) had to be cleaned before each change of colour to keep the bottles pure, but I also cleaned the nib after prolonged use of one colour to avoid the build-up of dried shellac.
Previous sketches showed how even a light pencil lay-in would get trapped under the ink and could not be erased, so everything had to be drawn directly on the page, but the pointillist gradual build-up of dots prevents too many quick mistakes.
Trying out a Seawhite Kraft sketchbook, which has 40 pages of 175gsm brown ‘Kraft’ card suitable for wet and dry media according to the blurb.
The card is slightly rough but doesn’t have much texture. Despite the spiral binding the pages have a slight warp and don’t lie completely flat even when new, but I find this encourages more experimentation and quick sketches as I’m not daunted by a perfect blank page.
The main reason for trying this sketchbook was to experiment with a toned background. With the midtones already there, the paint mostly adds highlights and shadows. These sketches in acrylic were to practice mixing the right range of values in the various areas of reflected light and cast shadows.
A rough sketch copy of a painting by Fred Cuming to experiment with blending colours using acrylic paint.
Instead of using glazing mediums for the background, I used only water. By mixing the colours on the palette with a wet brush, the paint was already fairly thin when I applied it. After covering an area with wet paint, I would straight away clean the brush and re-wet it, then go back over the area to further dilute and stretch the glaze.
When it’s that dilute, the acrylic paint behaves more like gouache in that it doesn’t bind fully to the paper (at least if the paper is still a little wet), so it can be lifted and faded by scrubbing with a wet brush. I was using cheap hog hair brushes which allow for all sorts of rough treatment without having to worry about damaging the bristles.
The colours I’ve mixed are a little too garish. The original painting, which I copied from a scan of a greetings card, has a much more subtle palette.
Drawing portraits has been described as making a picture of someone where the eyes aren’t quite right and the nose is in the wrong place. Well, if I’m going to get it wrong, why not really get it wrong and turn the face in to a caricature: find the features which make a person recognisable and exaggerate them.
I was inspired by seeing Derren Brown’s preliminary sketch of Maggie Smith, which I copied (above) as I found it very instructive in the way that he takes a feature, such as a cheekbone or a chin, and then sculpts and magnifies that form independently of what is really there.
I tried to do the same thing with a number of photos found on the web. Other than Alex Salmond’s enormous jowl and Bertrand Russell’s oversized collar, I found it surprisingly hard to exaggerate most features. As I was drawing, I thought I was overstating Richard Feynman’s distinctive high forehead and quizzical smiling frown, but I quickly slipped back into attempting an accurate copy. Perhaps this is a good way to draw a face: aim for an exaggeration then let the natural instinct to draw accurately tone down the caricature into a more lively portrait.
An attempt to copy a painting by Larine Chung, found on Will Kemp’s page about choosing a basic colour palette. I was impressed by the effect created by just three colours (ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and titanium white) in Larine Chung’s original. I used ultramarine blue, burnt umber, a little azo yellow and titanium white in the Duo Aqua oils.
The handle was the hardest, with the whole three-dimensional appearance being easily thrown off with just a little paint in the wrong place – I still don’t think I got the light quite right, and the alignment of the spout and the handle seems wrong. And I haven’t captured that beautiful luminous glow of the porcelain in the original.
I used a small fan brush to do some of the blending, and found how easy it is to pollute the darks with lighter paint. See Mark Carder’s video on just this problem.
More experiments with oils, getting to know their properties and how they behave. I wanted to get away from using an on-screen photo as a reference, but painting the bookshelves in the corner of the room presented the problem of continually changing light. Not only did the illumination in the corner of the room change during the few hours spent painting but the painting itself was in turn lit by overcast clouds, direct sunlight and sunlight through a drawn curtain – not ideal, but it underlined the importance of consistent lighting when attempting to get any sort of accurate colour.
I started with a perspective sketch and spent some time with a pencil held at arm’s length to get the proportions right. The various mistakes (such as the angle of the top of the books on the lower shelf) were going to be corrected the next day, but the paint had already become tacky and unworkable. Maybe the way round that is to let it dry even more before correcting, or use a slow drying medium so the paint stays workable for days.
I’d bought some low-tack masking tape to hold down the acrylic paper, hoping that would cure the problem of the paper ripping on removal. If anything, this was worse than the masking tape bought from the DIY shop. Perhaps I need to rethink the whole painting on paper technique.