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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Background - Keeping It Loose

With so many improvements and maintenance jobs to attend to outside, I've vowed to limit my painting sessions to those dismal days when it's too cold and wet to venture outdoors. Unfortunately for my painting ambitions, our first month of winter has brought little in the way of rain; instead, bitterly cold mornings have given way to mild daytime temperatures and sunshine, and I've been able to accomplish a lot around our little property - as my painting sits neglected!

Thankfully, a reprieve in the form of a grey, rainy day has at last allowed me to devote a few hours to this painting. Although my natural tendencies were calling me to begin work on the lion - the star attraction - it's a great comfort to me that I've been able to ignore that familiar siren song; the lion remains little more than an undeveloped raw sienna blob at this stage - as it should!


In between painting sessions I'm giving a lot of thought to developing a process that will stand me in good stead in the future. Part of that process will involve some pre-planning, so in spare moments, and even when I wake occasionally through the night, I find myself mentally rehearsing how I'll tackle the next stage. Hopefully, a considered and patient approach like this will become the new normal for me; it's certainly more likely to yield satisfactory results than the method I've applied previously, which could best be described as ad-hoc.

As I gradually work my way to the foreground, the shrubs and grasses I'll depict will quite obviously overlap more distant vegetation. It seems logical, therefore, to commence the colour stage of this painting working on the most distant area of the landscape first.

Given my past tendency towards detail and tiny brushes, I've had to have a word with myself occasionally as I strive to keep my brushwork loose, reminding myself that colours and shapes can undergo adjustment once this first pass of colour is dry. As you can see, I've tried to enhance the illusion of distance by reducing contrast, detail and intensity of colour.

As always, constructive criticism, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Cheers
Pete

Monday, June 12, 2017

Boring, but Precious!

As well as bringing home a couple of thousand photos of Botswana's wildlife, I thank my lucky stars that I had the presence of mind to photograph many nondescript bush scenes such as this one that will assist me as I finally knuckle down and attempt to create paintings based on the amazing animals I captured with the camera. 


With the focus quite literally on my animal subjects - most of which were captured with a long lens - the backgrounds are inevitably blurred. While some artists prefer to replicate this out-of-focus look in their paintings to an extreme degree, this isn't my preference, so I'm beginning to appreciate the value of the seemingly random photos taken during lazy afternoons back in camp, or while travelling to new locations.

As I contemplate further work on my current lion painting, I'm sieving through these photos. They're pretty uninteresting in themselves, but I know I'll put them to good use!


Cheers
Pete

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Laying the Foundations

Before I began a second attempt at this subject I had an urge to revise the composition; the lion has been flipped horizontally and more of the surrounding landscape is now visible. Although I'm wary of interpreting my reference photographs too literally, I know I composed the photograph consciously and I'm comfortable not straying too far from the original image. Nevertheless, I will do some gardening here and there as I proceed, and I'll move, remove, prune and plant some of the vegetation in the scene.

Another departure from my photographic reference is in the way I plan to depict the landscape as it recedes towards the horizon. The camera creates the illusion of distance in its own distinctive way, but there are other equally convincing ways to convey aerial perspective that more closely align with reality.


So far, my resolve to develop a painting more methodically than has previously been the case is bearing fruit; the advantages of adopting a more traditional approach have become apparent, with a solid foundation in the form of a tonal underpainting an important first step. I've chosen to render this underpainting in a mixture of raw sienna and raw umber, thinned with a little Liquin. Raw sienna matches the overall hue of the scene, while a dash of raw umber allowed me to establish the darker values. The thinned paint was initially applied evenly to the entire canvas, after which I added or removed paint as the particular value dictated. An important advantage of using a single hue at this stage is that it's not possible to create "mud", which was always a danger in the past when I tried to refine my values at the same time as I applied and adjusted final colours.  

In theory, this "wipe-out" method should allow manipulation of tonal values until I'm completely satisfied with them. In reality, my initial layer of paint may have been thinned a little too much; I had great difficulty adding more paint to areas I wanted to darken and it seemed I was often removing paint as I attempted to add it! I plan to wait for this layer to dry before I continue applying more paint to define the darkest areas. Despite a tentative start and these teething problems, I'm particularly happy to have obscured the stark white canvas and pleased to have gone a long way towards established tonal values that will guide me when I begin applying colour.

Importantly, more than three years after taking the photographs on which the majority of my current painting ideas are based, I find that my enthusiasm for these subjects is undiminished, and in some cases has even grown over the intervening years. Obviously, the photographs themselves are an important visual reference but, critically, if I'm in the right frame of mind they help me to recollect my emotional response to the scenes before me. If, in some intangible way, the emotional element of these memories can manifest itself in paint, my work will almost certainly be the better for it.

Apart from the fact that I'm using oil paints for the first time in perhaps 20 years, this is a totally new way of working for me so it's understandable that although I'm not enjoying instant success, I'm enjoying this fresh approach.

As always, constructive criticism, comments and suggestions are welcome.


Cheers
Pete

Friday, April 28, 2017

Back to Basics

For anyone who has persevered and followed this blog for any time, it would be obvious that it's fairly unusual for me to actually finish a painting.

The lion featured in my last post more than three years ago joins a collection of partially-finished pieces, and I have no plans to resume work on it. However, with some changes to the composition in mind, and a new approach planned, I'm keen to make a start on a second attempt.


I acknowledge that I'm not totally without artistic ability, but it's also true that I don't do myself any favours; my usual way of working has typically been undisciplined, with little in the way of preparation in terms of underpainting or blocking in. As the photograph above demonstrates, I too often I find myself lured into applying detail to one area of a painting before I've even roughed in the remainder of the canvas or board. It's perhaps understandable that I've often become disheartened enough to have given up on a painting, but more difficult to excuse my reaction which has so often been to pack my equipment away and sulk for five years before I'm motivated to try again. A new attitude as well a new, more methodical approach seems to be called for if I'm to enjoy not only the finished result, but the process of creating it.

I'm intrigued by the process adopted by Guy Combes which seems to follow a logical progression, with a preliminary stage in the form of a monochromatic underpainting applied over a fairly detailed drawing. If you can spare a few minutes to view the video, you'll see what I mean. The plan is to emulate Guy's process, even if his level of skill remains out of reach.


We'll see where this new resolve takes me - lets hope it's to good places!

Cheers
Pete

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More Lion Progress

There's a lot of work left to do, but I'm a little happier now that the lion has been partially incorporated into his surroundings. Overall, the colour of the lion is still a little cool, but I'm warming things up as I revisit and refine each area.


I'm confident now that the lion itself will be a success, but it's the vegetation around him that's posing the main challenge for me. I've roughly scrubbed in some colour and texture below the lion, but the shrubs and grasses I've begun to add detail to are giving me cause for concern. I realise that with very rare exceptions I have not painted vegetation for many years, and I think the lack of practice shows. Give me rocks and water any time!

I have some spare masonite on hand, and I plan to step back from this painting and put in some practice before I return to it next week.

Cheers
Pete

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lion Progress

My new A3 printer is proving to be a useful tool, but it was apparent as I compared my first day's progress with the image displayed on my laptop screen that in relying solely on the print, I'd rendered parts of this lion in too dark a tone.


I still have the print within reach as I paint, but I've now made room for my laptop on the nearby bench top, the benefit being that I can better judge tonal values as well as zoom in on particular areas I need a closer look at. This setup isn't foolproof of course; I've found in the past that it pays to be mindful of the screen angle when judging colours and tone; they can vary significantly as the screen is tilted. 

To make amends for my initial misjudgement of tonal values, I overpainted the lion's mane in the area of his chest with lighter tones, and adopted a more traditional approach by blocking in the rest of his body to establish something close to the final tonal values and basic colours. Having done so, I turned my attention today to modelling the lion's body, and attempted to replicate the texture of the creature's short fur. This is unknown territory for me, and I'm finding it very challenging!

I'm afraid the fun is over for another week, and it's back to the day job tomorrow.

Cheers
Pete

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Tentative Start

We came across two young male lions late one morning as we continued our exploration of Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve in September. Unlike the older lions we happened upon, these younger lions seemed less comfortable in the presence of our vehicle and, after we'd observed them for a short while, they casually moved off, presumably in search of some tourist-free solitude.


I captured some decent photographs of the pair, including the reference shot on which this painting is based. Other than flipping the photo horizontally and cropping it to create what I feel is a more pleasing image, the painting will replicate the photo to a large degree. I acknowledge that I often rely too heavily on photographic reference, but as the subject in this case is a simple study of a young lion, I felt there was little need for further manipulation.

After I'd contemplated tackling this piece with oil paints, I opted for the more familiar option and have reverted to acrylics. I'm keen to switch to large canvases and oil paints in the near future, but after what's been a long absence from the easel, I felt that acrylics would pose fewer challenges as I strive to rebuild some much-needed confidence.

Cheers
Pete