Monday, 30 June 2014

Oil Painting: Wild Poppies

I wanted to capture some poppies before they all disappear, so I went back down to Cemetery Road allotments Dereham, as I'd seen a few patches previously.  On arrival I was greeted by a plot holder whom asked whether I'd contacted the council to ask permission to be there.  I explained that I wasn't aware that was necessary and after a little chat he seemed to warm to me and let me stay, he even gave me a cauliflower!   He did however warn me that if anyone asks me to leave there I'll have to vacate the site!  

I spent the best part of three hours painting this unused plot which had turned to towering wild grasses and flowers.  I think the painting looks a little flat, the poppies and some leaves looked much brighter in life, as the bright sun shone through.  It also looks a little too busy and fiddly.  Perhaps I'll return to have another go....

Wild Poppies, Oil on Canvas Board 10 x 12"

Friday, 27 June 2014

Oil Painting: Self Portrait

Today I thought I'd be brave and have a go at painting myself from a mirror.  I was pretty scared painting the initial sketch - I kept painting it too small and wiping the paper clean.  I'd got into a bit of a state and kind of gave up with it in the end. I now wish that I'd have spent longer on this stage as the proportions don't look right.  I started to enjoy myself once I'd began blocking in colour, but I struggled with the changing light; I was facing a window and the weather went from dark thunder storm to brilliant sunshine.  I suppose it would be better to set a time limit or work under artificial light.  Setting a time limit is something I must try as I spent a few hours painting this, going over and over again and again.  I don't like this painting but think it shows potential. 

Self Portrait from Mirror, Oil on Canvas Paper 7x10"

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Pen Sketch: Norwich from Mousehold Heath

I've been wanting to know how to get to this stunning view for some time now and today I found out.  It was a lovely day for exploring, so I walked from the city centre, through the cathedral grounds, across the river and up onto the heath.  It was fun familiarizing myself with the view and I'll definitely be returning with my pochade box at some time.  I think I'll wait until I'm more confident at plein-air painting though, as I got rather a lot of attention from people walking by.  I spent an hour sketching; I messed it up in the foreground - hence the harsh cropped bottom edge of this image.

Norwich from Mousehold Heath, pen on A4 paper

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Oil Painting: Artichokes and Onions

Back down Cemetery Road allotments, these striking artichoke plants stopped me in my tracks and  I rather like the shed with the corrugated roof which has onions hanging from it.  I got off to a bad start today, whilst setting up.  My pochade box fell off of the tripod a couple of times, I'm not sure why.  It was pretty stressful worrying whether my box could take the impact and searching for my paints through the grass, but thankfully no damage was caused and it actually help me realize something.  So far, I'd been screwing my box onto the tripod screw fitting, but it's much easier to keep this removable part attached to the box as it now simply slots in to the tripod and a clip secures it.  Much easier than turning my large box onto a tiny screw!  I then discovered that I'd attached my dippers to the easel clip upside down.  Because they're made of thin plastic, the contents oozed out as I squeezed them, struggling to release and secure them the correct way up.  In doing this I got my Artisan fast drying medium, which is really sticky, all over my hands.  

When I'd chosen my composition using my view finder, I painted dots around the window to mark places of objects. Up until now I've only used thinners but I keep running out, so I thought I'd try this medium.  It's really nasty stuff, very syrupy and unnecessary for plein-air painting as the paint on my palette was drying too quick.  I was glad that I'd set up on the dividing paths when the owner of the plot arrived.  He had a little mooch about and told me that he paints,  keeping plein-air to a forty minute time limit.  I think I need to set a time limit, I spent three hours on this and yet again ran out of time.  He also said that his friend makes a living from painting old sheds on allotments; I should've asked their name.  Oh well, I was too busy painting!  I was glad it was overcast today so that I didn't have to deal with changing light.  I'm unhappy with this painting, the shed looks wrong and the foreground unfinished.  Again I paid less attention to the right of the painting; I think this is because it's hard to get to - the canvas is set back in the box lid and I'm right handed.  I might return to this spot to have another go.

Artichokes and Onions, Oil on Canvas Board 10x12"

Friday, 13 June 2014

Oil Painting: Sweet Williams and Cornflowers

Feeling inspired by the allotment paintings by Haidee-Jo Summers and Valerie Pirlot, I decided to go and check out Cemetery Road allotments, just a five minute walk away from home.  I think I'm going to spend a lot of time there!  I didn't intend to paint such a pretty scene but when I came across this plot of flowers, I couldn't resist.  When I chose my composition I noticed a couple of large weeds prominently placed in the foreground.  I wasn't happy with this, and so carefully stepped in and pulled them out, dreading getting caught.  I felt really naughty and got stung by nettles on the way - that'll teach me!  It was such a pleasant experience being there, I've always fancied an allotment but am not too green fingered, so this is the perfect excuse to hang out.

I wore my new apron from Jackson's Art Supplies today and it helped with my organisation.  It has a large pocket divided into four by sewn lines, and I'm using this to store my brushes as I work.  I can keep them separated into clean and used, light and dark so much easier.   My pochade box doesn't come with a side panel with drilled holes, used to hold brushes, and so far I've had them lying across my palette.  As a breeze passed the pages of my disposable paper palette pad started blowing up and I panicked briefly as it neared my painting.  I then realised that I could attach my dippers to it, as one would to a palette, to hold the pages together.  Whilst painting I was distracted by a noise behind me and turned to notice a bird had got caught underneath the netting protecting a bed of strawberries.  I immediately went over to lift the net and set it free, saving the strawberries at the same time.  I began thinking that my being there wasn't such a bad thing.  I really struggled to mix the reds and pinks of the sweet williams and I longed for a ready mixed cerise.  Also, I don't think the flower heads look large enough in proportion to the cornflowers;  These are what I was painting as I ran out of time.  I spent two hours and forty-five minutes on this and yet again ran out of time.  I've cropped the length of the painting a little to the right as it looked empty.  I've noticed that I seem to pay more attention to the left of my paintings - must try to avoid this next time.

Sweet Williams and Cornflowers, Oil on Canvas Board 10x12"

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Oil Painting: Barley Field Dereham

I love a field of barley, a little green at the moment for my liking but a good enough place to stop and set up.  I felt inspired by the colours in this scene and the depth of clouds.  I've learnt that I should paint in the shade and therefore went out unprotected from the sun.  There was no shade for me to get into to use this view so I thought I'd be okay for an hour or two.  Three and a half hours later I decided to start adding sun-cream and a light shirt to my kit - oops.  I was constantly bugged by tiny black flying beetles today, it wasn't nice for me but even less so for the beetles stuck in paint.  The farmer, driving his tractor, stopped in the lane behind me so I braced myself for a telling off.  I was standing right on the edge of the field in a muddy area, and so hoped he would be kind.  He asked what I was doing and was happy to let me continue once he realized I wasn't from a government body, sent to check up on him.

I decided to revert to using the green and brown paints that I have rather than a limited palette - may as well use them up!  I keep setting out with a painting process and rules in mind, but when I start to paint it all goes out of the window.  I first completed the trees on the horizon, then sky and finally the field.  The sky took forever, I wiped it clean a couple of times, capturing moving clouds is certainly a challenge!  I wasn't quick enough to copy what I saw and ended up making it up a bit by looking at the clouds around.  I don't much like the result, I think I need to try bolder strokes next time.  Because I didn't put the darks in the foreground when I started the painting, it ended up a bit of a muddy blur.  As this was the area I left until last it was also rushed and I actually prefer the painting without it.  I used my view-finder and grey scale card a little to help find the tones of the sky.  I must get some new double dippers as mine keep leaking my thinners during transportation.  I'd opted for the cheaper, plastic, oil palette double dipper from the SAA.

Barley Field, Oil on Canvas Board 10 x 12" 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

My paintings so far

As I hadn't done any painting for a decade (how time flies!), I started off in my usual way of painting from a photograph which I'd taken.  The only difference being that I'd primed my surface with a mid tone which is so much nicer than painting on white and helps in judging tonal values. In fact all of the paintings on this post are on small sheets of canvas paper from an old Daler-Rowney pad which was given to me, or 10 x 12" canvas boards, which I managed to pick up in Poundland.  All primed with Windsor and Newton Galeria acrylic pale umber (a tip from Haidee-Jo Summers).  It took about a week and it's okay, but over worked and the horizon of the roof tops is sloped where it should be straight.  I was so bored painting this and I really want to loosen up, so I decided that I had to face my fear of painting from life and aim to complete a painting within a day.

I was petrified at the thought, and literally shaking when I set up my first still life - hence why I kept it so simple!  I painted this glass in a few hours and am fairly pleased.  I enjoyed that feeling of sharpened senses and concentration that comes with a sense of urgency.  My best drawings have been produced working from life with a short time limit and I feel this will be the same with painting.  For me completing a painting within a day is a big step, but I will keep pushing myself in order to loosen up.  There's something niggling me about this study;  The shadow of the base of the glass looks like part of the base, making it look out of shape, or maybe that's just how I painted it, ellipses are so hard to get right!

I was much more pleased with this second study which again took a few hours.  I really enjoyed painting this, all those reflections including myself in the pink top, were a real challenge.

After doing these and feeling more confident, I decided it was time to venture out-doors with my pochade box and try plein-air painting.  Again, I was rediculously nervous and couldn't decide whether I was just trying to put it off that little bit longer or could not find a good view point.  I kept thinking that it didn't matter what I painted whilst practicing, and as a result made do with a really uninspiring view.  This left me with no desire to capture what was before me and as a result produced a really naff painting (so naff I'm not showing it).  When I set up I didn't realise that I was on a footpath regularly used by dog walkers from a near-by care home.  I was cringing every time someone neared, but this is something I have to get comfortable with.  Thankfully only one woman stopped and she was very friendly, an artist in pastels herself.  I don't think I'll mind people seeing my work or stopping once I'm painting confidently, but for now it's awful.

I remembered that there was a field of rape nearby and donned my wellies for my second outing.  I was disappointed on arrival, as most of the yellow had gone.  I felt much more comfortable hiding in the corner of a field, albeit with the stench of rotting vegetation and a covering of flies!  I felt so happy in the thought that I might make a living from this someday - the great outdoors could be my workplace! Still, I felt pretty nervous and unsure of what I was doing.  I kept going over the trees again and again which left me having to rush the foreground as time ran out. I think I painted this in about three hours.  I found that photographing it from a distance made it look so much better!

Next, I decided to stay at home and paint in my garden, again giving myself about three hours. It took a while to sketch in and again I ran out of time.  I really struggled with this as I continued to paint as the bright sun went in and out.  The painting looks really flat, so as I've been reading about tonal values I decided that it might help if I bought a grey-scale and value finder from Jackson's Art Supplies.

I think I have a really good eye for colour but bought the value finder card to help me match tonal values within a composition.  I estimated that the pale umber priming on my canvas board was a 7 on the scale and thought this should help.  I also bought a view catcher from the SAA to help me see a composition within the scale of my canvas.  I took both out with me for my next trip, which was only yesterday.  The view-finder was quite handy as I could see how the view would fit, however I found this difficult to transfer to canvas.  I was holding the view finder in front of the canvas, which meant that I couldn't view and paint at the same time.  I eventually gave up, happy with a rough idea of what I could fit in.  I struggled to use the value finder too; the darks before me were off the scale!  I used it to gauge the tone of the trees in the distance but that's about it.  At the moment I'm unsure as to whether such tools are a help or a hinderance, but as I love to shop, I'm happy building up my tool box.  Recently I went in search of a good 'how to' book at my local library and found 'Alwyn Crawshaw's Oil Painting Course'.  It looks pretty cheesy and I'm not sure I like all of his techniques, but I'm finding it really helpful and would recommend it.  One thing I learnt from this, is that to speed up painting it helps to always put paint in the same place on the palette.  I therefore decided to use only a limited palette of two of each primary colours and a white as this is how I intend to paint.  I found that I needed to top up my yellows but didn't use all of my blues and reds.  I'm not too happy with the colours on this painting, I think I've mixed in too much white and lost saturation.  Last night I was reading a blog by plein-air artist Becky Joy who advised keeping separate brushes for lights and darks.  I think getting more organised with my brushes might help and once I establish which brushes I like most I'll double them up.  She also advised to first put down only the very darkest, lightest and brightest tones first to use as a gauge for other values.  I think it's going to be a case trial and error, I have a tendency to over complicate things and let theory get in the way.  Practice makes Perfect!  I was happy to find this inspiring spot only a few minutes walk from home,  it was a sunny but hazy day, and I was captured by the light tones of the distant trees framed by the darker ones in the foreground.  I spent a couple of hours painting, and yet again ran out of time.  I'm quite pleased with it, I can definitely see improvement.

Monday, 9 June 2014

A Quick Introduction to Me.

I was born with artistic genes but have never really known what to do with them! I've never really done much art, mainly when I've been in education.  I've always known that it's my strength, so I educated myself to degree level.  I used to doubt that I could make a living from art and couldn't bare the thought of no salary. I therefore spent my working life in office-based jobs, feeling apathetic towards career growth.  I thought I might teach art, and completed a PGCE in Post-Compulsory Education.  I didn't feel drawn to becoming a college tutor, however whether I ever teach remains to be seen - I guess it depends on how much I can learn.  I have been a full time mum to my two children for the past eight years, and my youngest started school last September.  So, I've recently been faced with the issue of what to do to get back to work, and the decision I made was to embark on a career as an artist.  

My training from GCSE to BTEC was very traditional, and I soon learnt that my strength as an artist was observational drawing, through completing still life and nude studies.  I chose my place of study for my degree for the wrong reason, and during my time there, felt that it might not be the best place for me.  I'd hoped to learn painting and print-making techniques, to build up my skills in order to teach.  However, technique seemed not to matter.  Against my will I was pushed in to thinking conceptually about my work.  I really struggled with this but eventually made a piece that I was proud of and learnt to appreciate Conceptualism.  My final piece 'Sump Oil on Canvas' was a full sized copy of  'The Hay Wain' by John Constable, which I painted in sump from motor vehicles directly onto stretched canvas.  I'm interested in ecological issues and love the Romantic movement and work of Constable.  Using a carcinogenic substance I had to work in a basement, wearing a mask.  I wanted to paint this rural idyll showing a hay wain (horse drawn cart) using a pollutant from  vehicles of today.
I've found so much inspiration and information on-line, and now have an idea of what to do to get where I want to be.  My first hurdle is to learn to paint.  In the past I've used acrylics and oils and never really had a  painting process, I used to muddle my way through, usually working from the distance into the foreground.  For example I'd paint a sky, wait until that's dry, then paint over the top - often very time consuming!  I've only ever painted from photographs too, which is equally frustrating, as I get drawn in to detail and over work.  I've been watching painting demos online which has helped give me a process to work with.  This being: sketch the basic composition in diluted paint; block in darks with diluted paint; block in large areas of colour; block in lights; build up detail working thicker paint over thinner.  I can't believe that I'd never heard of a pochade box until earlier this year when I came across a YouTube video of Haidee-Jo Summers painting plein-air.  I'd just discovered Haidee-Jo too, I admire her work and she has really inspired me.   I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone in order to enjoy painting and to produce work that I'm proud of.  I chose my first pochade box from the Society for All Artists.  I was looking for something cheap, that held a good sized painting support.  This box doesn't come with a tripod fitting so I bought a camera tripod mounting bracket.  Because the base of my box is so thin, I had to glue a piece of wood to it before I could screw this bracket on.   It's not ideal as it juts out, so I can't carry the box with it against me or use the box on a table. I've decided to try Windsor and Newton Artisan water mixable oil paints as I don't like dealing with turps.  Cleaning with it seems messy and smelly and I don't like getting it on my skin.  Being able to clean up with water appeals to me as it's better for the home and outdoor environment.  I've been trained to use a limited colour palette of two of each primary colours and a white, but as I had the beginner set of paints bought for me, including some extras, I may as well use them.  I also have a selection of Artisan brushes, thinners and fast drying medium.