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 importance 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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Destination Africa!

A nine-to-five job has its advantages, the most obvious of which is a predictable income, but unless you're one of the lucky few whose vocation is also a passion, it's simply a means to an end when all is said and done. I know that view will be interpreted as either sad and cynical, or honest and realistic, depending on your own disposition and world view. Or perhaps I just need a change of job! 

My wonderful partner Sandi provides the love and support that forms the bedrock for a happy and fulfilling life, but as those of us with an artistic temperament know, we're also driven by the need to seek out the kind of experiences and inspiration we can transform into something concrete to be shared with others, regardless of the other positive elements present in our lives. I suppose I feel some guilt at feeling this way, knowing that many people the world over would envy my circumstances, but I also acknowledge that the need to create is not something that can be turned on or off - it's part of our DNA. No, this is not news!

Photo by Sandi's daughter, Jane, from her recent African trip.

I've grappled increasingly with this issue in recent years, and live with a constant, gnawing sense that time is running out if I'm to ultimately achieve any of my personal artistic goals. True, I might live for another thirty years, but it would be foolish of me to take good health - and good eyesight especially - for granted. Despite the fact that my output of paintings has come in fits and starts, with years sometimes separating bursts of enthusiasm, I still have an unshakeable belief that by broadening my experiences, and with the right sensory inputs, I can produce the paintings I see in my mind's eye. I'll leave it to others to judge whether this faith has been well-founded.

With the foregoing thoughts in mind, I've finally made up my mind to visit Africa, with Botswana my chosen destination. It's hard to ignore the appeal of the Serengeti and Masai Mara, with the annual mass migration of wildebeest and zebra a huge drawcard, but with a budget to consider, the trip I've selected offers diversity as well as value for money. I'm not terribly fussed about travelling in luxury, and I was careful to seek out a package that wasn't focussed on luxurious accommodation and fine dining, as so many of them seem to be. The basic, grass-roots packages are more appealing, but seemed more difficult to find. 

This is what I can look forward to:

"This trip provides a comprehensive travelling experience throughout Botswana for those with
an adventurous spirit looking to see the wild side of Africa. Few trips can offer such a diverse
and stimulating experience as we traverse the country from the vast and Kalahari, home to
the San Bushmen to the magnificent game reserves in the north. Continuing into the world
famous Okavango Delta we explore this wildlife-rich region by traditional Mokoro canoe and
on foot. Whether you are a wildlife enthusiast or on your first African safari, there are few
places on earth that are as impressive as Moremi Game Reserve and the Chobe National
Park, where huge herds of elephants roam. To conclude this spectacular adventure we cross
into Zambia to visit the thunderous Victoria Falls."