I’ve had to trawl my past photos for suitable subjects by which to despatch the final two eye-squinting, take-aim-from-a-yard-away, 8″ x 10″ canvas boards so I can’t name the pretty thing I’ve chosen this time. It required a vibrant pink background wash though, and there might be some burnt sienna to follow the random wiping with fingers and flannel. Is there such a thing as cute grunge?
One final 8″ x 10″ piece of eye-strain to go. Probably better be pink.
I’ve used the last of the squint-eye sized boards* so now I am onto a slightly more manageable 16 x 9. This is a view slightly to the north of the previous scene.
Again I’ve prepped the surface with acrylic primer (gesso) and used willow charcoal to define the lines and stratified areas in the scene. Then I’ve picked out different areas with dilute washes of green, yellow, and a mix of burnt sienna and Naples yellow. There’s a wash of burnt sienna in the sky area too, along with the river. This will form a contrast layer under the blues, greens, and whites that come later.
The sky is taking shape now with a light wash of blue over the burnt sienna, but the other areas are in a state of re and de-construction to give them the underpinnings for the final shapes and tones. The trees will be the last features to reappear but I can see their shapes under the patches of green.
More touches of charcoal to define the lines where they contain bright colours – a bit like stained glass – and some additional layers of colour to the river area at the bottom. The clumps of clay and grass tumbling into the river from the bank are like wedge-shaped pillars with shadows and highlights in odd places. I’m happy with the sky – that wash of burnt sienna has really softened the tendency towards kitsch of the blue/white mix.
And here we are. I’ve found an interesting use for the new collection of fan brushes in fluffing out bright areas and dark areas of grass on the bank and in the foreground. To my eye, there’s a clear ‘best bit’ and that’ from the top edge down to the upper margin of the yellow field. Demands a crop.
Crops, or moments as my tutor** describes them (probably to differentiate something passable from the largely unremarkable!) can make good prints and cards and I think I’m getting better at spotting them.
Probably won’t be able to resist a video.
5th April, couldn’t resist a video: Puddles Like Pillows
Can’t resist a second video:Spectacular Flights of Whales
And here’s the video of the whole painting because why not?
Over time, I’ve come to realise two things. First my close vision isn’t up to small scale, it has me cross-eyed and visually furred up; and second, I’m less keen on canvas board than I was. Put together with my resentment of waste, I’m on a mission to use up my boards, one of which is an excruciating 8″ x 10″.
A couple of days ago, I took some photos of the river banks and the hills behind; fresh, bright, and green and very much the English spring scene. My aim was to stay dilute and go for a jewel-like transparency between all the many parallel lines of the landscape. I’m not sure that’s entirely come off, but then who am I to judge – I can’t see the darned thing!
This moved very quickly because a lot of it was worked while wet so really there are only three photographs. This is the first:
I’ve used acrylics with line work in willow charcoal. I discovered recently that it’s possible to ‘paint’ with this medium – wet it and it behaves like watercolour but can be persuaded to resolve into a finer line than it’s possible to draw. I used it to make outlines of fields, trees, structures, and parts of the bank, wetting and blending as I went.
Here, I’ve washed some areas with dilute white paint and some with bright green, paying attention to the dark area at the edge of the river bank and setting the layers ready to become reflections distorted by ripples.
Final image with foreground foliage and a stand of bare-branched trees on the hill top left which I nearly forgot. The shadows are all layered paint with a smidge of charcoal for final definition. I’m rather pleased with this now it’s done, and I’m particularly impressed at the self-painting roofs on the upper right because I really can’t take credit for what I can see here on screen and not at all in real life!
It probably needs a coat of varnish to stop the residual charcoal from dusting off then it’s done. Might even let it loose on the market.
‘West of the Adur’ (c) suzanne conboy-hill 2021
Video. Animated in MotionLeap, video produced in Filmora10.
As a footnote; boards are better than paper for anything you don’t want absorbed; duck cotton is great for a real canvas feel where paint just sinks into the fabric but it comes in metres and you need to be able to stretch it and fix it somehow. This isn’t yet one of my talents but I like using it anchored only by bulldog clips or pinned to a piece of foam board. Primer stiffens it up and reduces its mobility. Canvases pre-fixed onto frames so they look like box lids are wonderful for that feeling you might be about to paint a real classic whether or not that actually happens. If you’re selling these, there are no mounting, framing, or hanger issues because they manage just fine with a nail in the wall.
Paper though, and other kinds of materials like carboard, glass, metal, bits of old tat you found down the garden – these, to my mind, tread a fine line between innovative purposeful creativity and tricksy gimmick. Personally, I’d recommend trying to paint on anything just to get a feel of what these things are capable of, then when you have a need for a particular effect, you can choose. Example: I wanted to replicate a Degas feel using a photo of a contemporary dancer. Degas does light, he also does tutu fabric that glows. I had some old net curtain and I used that to form the base of the painting where its folds and tucks created a set of textures I could highlight with white and silver paint. Here it is, and subject to framing, it’s found a new home.
When your new soft pastels arrive you have to take them out for a spin. I chose a photo of two of my cats just outside the studio where one was sitting in a box and the other lurking in the foliage further back. I used an A1 sheet of cartridge prepped with white primer for a bit of tooth.
The pastels turned out to be harder and slightly grittier than I’d hoped but nevertheless, do a job. It gave me a good basis for understanding the shapes and colours that make up these cats , but the best bit I think is Cat Two’s eyes because they are absolutely him – a total cartoon of a lad!
I hadn’t quite intended to follow this up but translating from pastel sketch to painting felt like a legitimate challenge. This is acrylics on primed cartridge, first iteration.
The next iteration includes highlights to Cat One and some hints of foliage. A disadvantage of painting at this scale on cartridge pinned in place only by large clips at the corners is that it buckles and becomes impossible to photograph without ripples of reflected light. Bang it under a massive scanner and it would be much improved in that regard but perhaps not so much in the revelation of unhelpful detail!
Best bits? Cat One’s coat and Cat Two’s eyes. Less cartoon now, more realistic glint.
This is the third iteration with the beginnings of defined foliage which could then be knocked back with a dark wash.
This sequence shows the effect of different light levels. Same time of day, changed angles and LED lighting.
Last set of images, this time in daylight and with some too-shiny crops.
So, enough of the buckling paper, this is all about 14″ x 18″ pre-stretched canvas. Base is a layer of transparent primer and a light wash of dilute burnt sienna; and suddenly there’s a kind of Italian feel to it
The drawing is in willow charcoal, the paint acrylics. With the colours blocked in, I outlined the shapes of the ‘blocks’ of cat and the lines of her markings to get an idea of tonal composition.
And this is where that led. The palette is quite limited; Burnt sienna, Payne’s grey, Titanium white, and Naples yellow – all very dilute and soft. At this point I was becoming fond of the background and reluctant to proceed with the whole dark and heavy foliage thing but had no real idea of where else to go.
So I emphasised the cat’s highlights.
Then this happened. The light patches are actual light from the windows falling onto the back of the canvas. A friend suggested quantum cat – neither inside nor outside the windows which were neither there not not there!
Quantum mechanics aside, serendipity is also an artist’s friend and this gave me a new imagined framework – cat looking out of windows, high up somewhere. The lines and shading are made from willow charcoal, coaxed into tight lines with a wet brush but allowed to leak and blend round the edges.
What to do with those windows though. Where are they? What do they look out onto? At the top, I tried blocking in some colour which I spent another half hour trying to reduce. At the bottom, I drew in some loose shapes that could be buildings or trees and then dissolved the charcoal with a wet brush to make the lines less prominent.
This took several deep breaths because I like the dilute wash, but the insides of windows are rarely as bright and light as the windows themselves so that had to be adjusted. Again, very dilute Payne’s grey and now a touch of Hooker’s green which gives that bottom left a bit of a Chinese look I think. At least it bears some similarity to parts of a poster I have which a friend brought back from China in the 1970s.
The windows needed some definition then and, with an eye on keeping the image simple (I could very easily get out a palette knife and start slicing thick goo into it if not restrained), I added another couple of charcoal lines to each and a straight brush stroke of dilute Payne’s grey to make the final image.
So here it is, Watch Cat, keeping watch high up somewhere in a fantasy Sino-Italianate tower and looking out over an indeterminate landscape. Ta da!
Impossible to resist a video, but what’s the story?
Asked to make a detailed painting of weeds on a mid-tone base, obviously I went for black cartridge, big brushes, and an animation. If there are any resonances, they’re Dutch vanitas(faint), and Kim Baker’s updated version of same (a little louder).
This module has taken eighteen months, partly due to my taking too seriously tutor advice to slow down, thereby missing a deadline. It means I need to finish the next two modules in the same time. No pressure then.
The Drawing unit sets out the basics of mark-making with reference to still life, landscape, the human form, and – in my case – whales. This is a detail from the larger A1 piece, made in acrylics on white cartridge selectively prepared with layers of black and white gesso for substance and texture.
There are nods here to Hambling, Turner, Klee, and Hokusai, all of whose work I had copied in preparation. You might notice some curls in the foam of the wave; these are drawn from Hokusai’s Great Wave as is the sharp delineation between with body of the water bottom left and the emerging whales above. Hokusai was a wood block and print man, fixing his images in place with such delineations.
The large brush strokes rising up into the top of the wave come from Maggi Hambling’s expressive gestural style that is interested in the energy rather than the anatomy of its subject.
If you spot some blending – and what else are fingers and thumbs for when given wet paint to play with? – that’s derived from Turner’s style, his in oils and crafted over time, mine more a way of transitioning from broad solid strokes to the insubstantial nature of foam.
That spot of red/orange down near the surfacing whales serves two purposes, the first is to reflect Klee’s Golden Fish, but the second is, as far as my eye can judge, the centre of the Fibonacci spiral that defines the golden ratio. Coming from a science background, it might not be surprising to find this came to mind after seeing a group of engineers in NASA’s live lab(where they’re building the 2020 Mars rover) fall into an almost perfect Fibonacci tableauone afternoon. Geeky? Yep!
The copying process is on my OCA blog along with the sketches and preparatory larger scale pieces if you’re interested.
Cheeky Hokusai Christmas card – soft pastel on black gesso with magic sprinkles via Escapemotion’s Flamepainter.
Next stop, formal assessment of this module – and possible career advice, would I fancy plumbing maybe? – then on to the Practice of Painting module, PoP to its friends.
I’m very much enjoying the Drawing course but it was good to be able to carve some acrylics onto a solid gesso base again. The task is to produce a painting of my choice on any support and in at least A3 size. Initially, I went back to my jug and onion combination – lovely bright colours and this time the jug actually looks to be the right sort of shape and proportion with itself!
Happy? Course not – there was a seafront calling, based on a drawing that gave me enormous trouble with its perspectives. I’d liked the monochrome charcoal/conte impact and the dash of Brighton jade on a small section of railing so I fancied a go at this with paint. Using a different photo – one that turns out to be pre-i360 and with a bit more West pier in evidence – I went the whole A1. It needs a bit of attention from a flat iron to squash those bubbles but hey – promenade perspectives! Now I don’t know which to submit, help please …
I’m right at the beginning of what could be a five to seven year haul towards the degree and, coming as it does some fifty years since I did the Foundation year, I need to get a shift on or I’ll be grabbing that scroll while they’re nailing the lid down!
My blogs (learning logs for the course) are elsewhere but, as it’s going to take up much of my artistic effort and there might not be much else to post, I’ll be popping some bits and pieces here from time to time. Maybe there’ll be visible progress, you never know!
Most of it won’t be available for sale, the originals anyway although prints are always possible, at least until after the formal assessments. In truth, I still have to figure out how to sell anything that isn’t on a table in front of me but if I do, it will be on another page, properly described and detailed.
These things? These are pieces I never would have done without this course. They’re raw and, for me, experimental; and they’re works towards works towards works. When I’m not having teenage crisis-of-confidence tantrums, I’m having fun!
This is the underside of the Steyning bypass and a preparation sketch for the assignment at the end of this part of the Drawing module. Drawing seems to incorporate acrylics at this stage and that pleases me because I like carving out textures with a palette knife.
These two are, fairly obviously, fruit. An exercise in line-free application of paint for the first part of the Painting course.
These are my Pound Shop Rothkos – supposed to be graduated washes but hey, purty or what? The one on the right is a bit more, um, chunky than the task requires.
Wet on wet inks with sugar paper support. This is a metal bird (I find they stay still longer) that my sister bought me for Christmas. I’d bought her the exact same thing from The Basement93 in Steyning. I say exactly; I bought her one, she bought me three so I’m in serious bird debt.