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.


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!


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.