I haven’t decided on a title yet, but I’m guessing something about a storm wants to be in there.
“Anyone who works with love
and with intelligence
has a kind of armour against
people’s opinion in the sincerity
of his love for nature and art.
Nature is severe and hard, so to speak,
but never deceives and always helps you to go forward. ”
— Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo 26 July 1882.
Sitting in the sun yesterday with my view filled by the rose hedge (that rambling greenery behind the small sheep painting in the photo below), I found myself thinking about the quote attributed to Picasso about “they’ll sell you thousands of greens, but never that particular green”, and the quote about the secret of Constable’s greens being small bits of different green (full quote here).
Staring at just one bit of rose, you really see it’s a multitude of shades of green, depending on the age of the leaves, the light, the shadows, the angle a leaf is growing. I was rather relieved I had only a pencil with my sketchbook so didn’t have to be up to the colour challenge and instead could focus on line. “Lazing with line in the sunshine” … sounds like the title for a painting, or perhaps a song. (The resultant drawings aren’t up to much, which is why there aren’t any photos.)
Later in the afternoon, when I was back painting in my studio again, one of the things I did was to add a glaze of lemon yellow to two small wildflower verge paintings-in-progress, to give the greens more oomph. This photo shows the result; the one of the left has the extra yellow layer and looked like the one on the right before I added it. The application was deliberately a little uneven, rather than uniform, to enhance the variations in the green.
“The eternal sound of the sea on every side has a tendency to wear away the edge of human thought and perception; sharp outlines become blurred and softened like a sketch in charcoal.”
— Poet Celia Thaxter, Among the Isles of Shoals
Perhaps this is why it’s so restful sitting on the shore listening to waves, whether lapping gently or roaring in. Or listening to the wind whisper through the trees in a woodland. Or bumblebees buzzing around the rose hedge.
I came across this quote while looking through a newly arrived book, Childe Hassam An Island Garden Revisited (on page 13, if you want to know). He’s an American Impressionist (who I suspect I ought to have known about already but didn’t) and a joyous discovery that complements my love of Monet’s seascapes. I’m still in the “look at the pictures, read the captions and chapter openers” stage, so don’t know very much about him yet except that his paintings are inspiring. I also found this program on him.
• Childe Hassam An Island Garden Revisited by David Park Curry
(compensated affiliate link, meaning I get a tiny payment if you buy a book through Abebooks having clicked on this link to their website)
Sometimes I think the hardest thing about painting is deciding on a title. I declared this small seascape finished yesterday, but still have to find a name for it. It’s inspired (as so many are) by the view across the Minch to the Outer Hebrides, on those mornings when the sunrise turns the clouds pink and their reflections turn the sea pinkish too. If you’ve any suggestions for a title, do post a comment!
This painting is 30x30cm (about 12×12 inches), and when viewed at full size is larger-than-life, the photo below gives an idea of the layers and details.
“There are no bold, gestural and expressive brushstrokes in the observable world.
“Painterly and expressive mark-making are interpretive moves used by the painter.
“As brushstrokes become more activated and expressive, they begin to assert themselves as independent elements on the paint surface that may only have a loose affiliation with the actual landscape.”
— Mitchell Albala, Four Methods of Inducing Abstraction in Landscape Painting
Brushmarks are like handwriting: we use the same tools, follow the same instructions, but the result is our own and over time becomes more distinctive. We learn what different brushes do, develop a preference for certain shapes/hairs, and change our favourites over time. A size 10, hog-hair filbert used to be mine and for years I did almost everything with this, really getting to know what I could do with it. At the moment I prefer a flat for crisp-edged marks, a long rigger for fine lines and a wild-haired brush for splattering.
Work with marks in the paint, don’t fight against them and blend them all to oblivion; they’re part of what’s unique to painting, and leave a piece of the artist’s mind during the making behind.
The work-in-progress in the photo below was all done with a flat, and as you can see it gives wide lines and narrow. Because the canvas was relatively small, 30x30cm, I didn’t swap to a larger brush to get rid of the white in the ‘background’ (read: I’m avoiding having to clean another brush). By not carefully blending each stroke in, there’s an energy to the mark making even at this early stage that makes it seem as if there’s something behind the cat and it’s lying on something, even though it’s merely colour not any defined form. Your eye makes a story out of the abstract.
“The Majestic Minch” is the largest painting I’ve done on a single canvas, at 150x90cm. I could have laid it flat on my studio floor if I’d moved all sorts of things to create a large enough space (read: “not my idea of fun”) but, instead, once I’d decided I would tackle it (read: “this canvas sat around for years intimidating me with its size”) I waited for some dry weather and took it outside (read: “let’s play in the sunshine”).
The initial challenge was how to eliminate all that intimidating white. I had the composition/colours in my head, a summery Minch seascape, when there are little pink flowers (thrift) blooming along the coastline, with “interesting greys” in the water, and the line of outer isles. So out came the squeezable bottles of acrylic plus a big brush and some water. Oh, and a bit of canvas to catch runs of paint, because I was working on a slight slope.
First down was Prussian blue, spread across the sky area to cover all the white and broken up where there’d be sea. Sprayed this with some water to help spread it and to let it run, and spread with a brush dipped in water, hence the blue on the dropcloth. Then some yellow, which brushed mixed with the blue to give green, then golden ochre, light pink and white, which were spread and mixed for the shoreline, and then golden ochre for the distant islands. Because it was sunny and dry, the paint was drying quickly but not instantly (this is Skye after all), giving time to move it around and mix on the canvas somewhat.
The angle of the next photo makes the brush handle seem longer than it really is.
I added more layers of blue-greys, mixed in a squeezeable bottle so I could pour it out across the canvas, gradually getting lighter in tone and greyer in colour. I also added glazing medium and water to the paint bottle. I don’t have any photos because I was having too much fun painting to stop. The big size meant walking around and stretching over, and remembering to go edge to edge not only do the middle.
I left it outside to dry, moving it onto the grass where it is more level, then moved it into my studio onto my easel for the pondering stage and, ultimately, the final rounds. Most significant change was the distant islands, knocking back the bright colour without obscuring it completely and adding some “rain”. I also worked on the sea, adding in darks and lights, spray on the shore (read: small additions, lots of pondering, more additions and tweaks).
Used in this painting:
- Genie Canvas Collapsible Canvas (Buy: USA, not available in the UK). I was sent one some years ago to review when I was still writing Painting.About.com (read review on Wayback Machine); I still think it’s a clever, useful concept and it seems to have been refined since, but they’re not cheap.
- Amsterdam acrylics for the initial layers (Buy: USA, Buy UK). A ‘student’ paint that I find a good balance between quality and price, with strong, clean colours.
- Liquitex String Gel (Buy: USA, Buy UK). The “flows like honey” medium that works for me only when it’s warm enough, and then it’s great for strings of colour on a seascape. Most of the year it sits around as my studio’s too cold and it “flows like jam” (i.e. doesn’t).
- Artist’s quality acrylics for layers above the initial colour, Prussian or phthalo blue plus burnt umber and white to produce various greys (Buy: USA, Buy UK). My current favourite brands are Golden and Schmincke, but I use all sorts.
- A wide coarse-hair brush (Buy: USA, Buy UK). Look for a “thin flat varnish brush” and go for wider than you initially think; it’s for getting large areas painted fast, not details.
- [Note: compensated affiliate buying links]
A member of my Skye flock and its croft home.
”The seed of your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections (or mistakes, if you’re feeling particularly depressed about them today) are your guides — valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgemental guides — to matters you need to reconsider or develop further.”
— David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear.
Before you destroy a piece, ask if you’re destroying your seed corn. Put it aside, hide it away, save the decision for another day when the emotions from making it are less strong and the results less precious. Sometimes there’ll be something that I like that I then try to do/use again, sometimes it becomes the lower layers in another painting. Sometimes I’ll still hate it and then it gets destroyed, but by then I have other seed.
“Aerial perspective was achieved by all painters prior to the Impressionist movement by varying the tone quality of a note to the lighter shade. The Impressionists, chiefly Monet, achieved aerial perspective by varying the colour quality of a note.”
“Hensche on Painting” by John W Robichaux, page 17.
You know how you sort-of know something, but all of a sudden something crystallizes it? Well, that happened when I read the above quote. I realised that if I actively think about aerial perspective, I always visualize it in tone. As in tone getting lighter. And then tone getting lighter and bluer. And sometimes I mess it up because I’m not paying sufficient attention to the tone because that’s something I tend to do. Of course tone and colour are connected, but if I can train myself to visualise it in colours first (as in: lighter colour rather than lighter tone of colours) … well, cue my lightbulb moment. Where’s that tub of lemon yellow for that distant hill?
Aerial perspective, in case you’re new to the term, is artspeak for how atmospheric conditions (“the air”) influence our perception of objects as things get further away. A sequence of mountain ranges marching into the distance is the easiest way to visualise it, I think, but it applies even the sky (directly above you, on a clear day, it’ll be much bluer than at the horizon, where it can fade to nearly white). I took the photo below at Tsitsikamma national park in South Africa, of the coastline looking east, on an overcast day.
And this (non-blue!) one on Skye:
Now I need to look through my photos and find a reference that does aerial perspective in colour, not tone!