I have been looking for something very specific in my recent paintings. Something which I have been trying to understand for quite a while. There is a certain aspect of the light which exists between two extremes. Between the light and the darkness is an area of twilight - the dusk of the light -the gloaming. Not shadow or halftone, but a darker light.
The area of intense light which hits the surface of an object directly falls away very quickly from the highest point. Most of the remaining light sits within this twilight area. Rather than a building up of light towards a high point, It is a falling away of the light from the source into a more subtle state. Colours are more subdued - becoming generally cooler and more muted. It is an area which at first seems quiet, but is actually full of life.
Occasionally - either accidentally or deliberately - I revert to a much looser style of painting, allowing a large amount of the ground of the painting and the canvas to show through. For me, this is usually a raw umber tone. When using the stained canvas itself as a major unifying value within the painting, I'm always surprised by how little actual painting work needs to be done to make the painting work. When I do this, I do no real underpainting - using a fairly dry brush to just block in the basic shapes and suggest the structure of the subject, as quickly as possible - whilst allowing the stained canvas to hold the piece together in a unified way. The umber ground acts a middle tone for the entire piece and does the bulk of the work. All that's really needed are the darkest darks and the lightest lights, along with some suggestion of structure and mass in the middle range. I suppose the key is to put just the bare minimum onto the canvas to make it look like the subject. The painting comes together surprisingly quickly and, when it works out, I think is much more interesting to look at - warmer and more dynamic.
Anders Zorn was a master of this technique in his looser work as well as Sargent in most of his portraits….
Anders Zorn - Antonin Proust
Anders Zorn - Coquelin Cadet
John Singer Sargent - Robert Louis Stevenson
I know this isn't a new or surprising technique, but I'm always aware that I don't do it often enough. Staying aware of this approach and keeping it in mind is the challenge, and like most people I never know when to stop and usually end up overdoing it and spoiling the simplicity of the painting.
Keeping this in mind I picked up the old linseed oil bottle again and had another shot at it, trying to stay simple and let the underpainting do most of the work. The result is above.
..…Nearly two years since the last post?! Suppose it'll be time for another update!
Since signing with a publisher it seems like I've been doing a ridiculous amount of work over the last 18 months - around twelve to fifteen paintings a month, which is ALOT for me. I suppose it's less than many of the "Daily Painters", but for me this kind if volume doesn't sit naturally with my painting technique. As much as I've tried, I have never been able to finish a painting in one session and have resigned myself to a kind of three-stage attack - which works for me, but is time consuming. As a result the blog has become a bit neglected. Same goes for my website. I'm onto it though!
I have been thinking for a while now about painting matchboxes. I included one in an earlier painting and liked the look of it, so decided to do a study of it on its own. This first matchbox painting has led to the beginning of a series of paintings which, at the moment, all include the same matchbox. To me, matches represent something very powerful. They are symbolic of fire, an example of pure elemental energy. Not just the spark that leads to the fire, they are the catalyst – they precede the spark and exist as pure potential energy, and what they become depends on the intention of the person holding the match. In this way they represent human potential, the ability we have to create something from nothing and the power that human beings have at their fingertips.
As usual it’s been ages since my last post. A lot has been happening though, and I’ve been pretty busy with one thing and another. When I first started this blog I was mainly focused on portraits and figures and expected to continue down that road. I started painting small still lives mainly as practice and to work out ideas for backgrounds and interiors for portraits. Then I got kind of hooked on the still life work and now it has almost completely taken over everything I do. I ended up with quite a big and unexpected body of work and as a result (and after alot of thought about which is the best way to go with it at the moment) I have just signed a publishing and distribution deal with DeMontfort Fine Art. Although they want ALOT of work, and I was worried whether I’d be able to keep up with the demand, it has been a positive experience and has actually forced me to really improve my working methods – to focus and to work more quickly and much more efficiently. As a result I have probably produced more work in the last three months than I would normally have done in a whole year. I’m really hoping to find the time to do more portrait work over the next few months, but this is what has been taking up most of my time recently and I’ll start posting more work here soon.
This is a set of three paintings which were done recently as a commission. A while back I posted a small (but crude) painting of a Marmite jar, which was one of my first still life posts, so it was good to get the chance to have another go at it and I'm quite happy with result. I think the ketchup turned out pretty interesting too with the translucent effect of the ketchup on the sides of the bottle.
Another compartment painting. When I looked at the last compartment painting, I decided that the most effective section of the painting was the right hand side area with the shoe, the bottle and the lemon. In a way I thought that the painting could do without all the other elements, so I made a simplified, stripped down version of the composition. Slightly different but basically the same idea. Here is the result.
I'm posting more small still life studies here. This and the work which follows won't have a BUY NOW button because I'm keeping most of it back for exhibitions, and some of them are already completed commissions. I am planning to put more work up on the blog for sale in the future though.
I was very happy to be asked by the National Portrait Gallery to contribute a couple of paintings to their Mystery Portrait Postcard exhibition for this years Portrait Gala. 139 portrait postcards were exhibited anonymously and sold to guests on the night of the Portrait Gala, which raises money for various educational programs at the gallery and also to help them purchase important new works for the collection. Because my invite was sent to my old address, I didn't even know that I'd been asked to do it until about a week before the exhibition! So without too much time to think about it, on the two postcards which they sent me I made a small drawing of my son Lucas on one, and a pretty loose self portrait on the other. The self portrait sold on the night, but as far as I know the drawing of Lucas is one of a handful of paintings still available to buy on the NPG website. You can see all the paintings from the exhibition here or even buy my drawing if you fancy, here.
I was never too happy with the last compartment painting, which was the last post I made. I thought there was something about the label on the bottle which didn't work and the whole thing looked a bit too much like an underpainting, so I decided to do some more work on it. I took out the label, half filled the bottle with grapeseed oil - which I think draws together the greens and yellows more, and repainted most of the background. I think it has a lot more depth to it now.
I know I haven't posted anything for months and months. With moving house last year, computer problems, internet problems, camera problems and every other type of problem, the blog got a bit neglected, but I'm back onto it now. Thanks for all your comments since the last post and thanks for still looking.
This might be the last post for a while. Still busy moving house and it needs alot of work, so everything is on hold at the minute.
Another compartment painting. The blue object is an old surform (a kind of wood plane). I had been hoping to find an old retro style stapler for this painting, but didn't come across one. I found the surform and thought it had a bit of character. I realised that it had a similar shape to what I was looking for in the stapler, so went for that instead. The shape kind of echoes the shape of the shoe and the colour pulls the blue out from the AllStar logo. Although the objects in the paintings may appear to be random, or "mismatched", they all associate with each other in some way. One of the ideas behind these paintings is "balance" so I'm trying to get a relationship going between the colours and the shapes - where a certain shape or colour is repeated or mirrored elsewhere in the painting- tying the compsition together.
I'll post some closeup details of this painting in the next post.
Haven't had much of a chance to get stuck into these charcoal drawings yet. They're still kind of in the experimental stage. Busy moving house at the minute so I'm not getting much work done.
It's easy to go too dark with charcoal and once it's down it's difficult to take off again. Finding the right paper is one of the main problems. I've tried alot of different "speciality" paper recently, (and wasted alot of money) , and I've ended up coming back to plain old Canford cartridge paper. It's the only thing I've found which will respond to each of the tools I'm using, (pounce bag , stumps, charcoal sticks etc.), and give any kind of control over the surface texture. It's still not quite there though. I would like to find something more archival, and with more of a velvety surface - something that will take alot of the rough texture of the chracoal sticks and also the softer work with the brush. I've heard that some of the Strathmore paper is good for this kind of thing, but it seems hard to get hold of in the uk, especially in the bigger sizes.
For a while now I've been intending to start a series of drawings in charcoal. Up until now I haven't had a chance to really get started on them, but I've had an image in my mind of how I want these drawings to look. The idea was to keep them quite loose and almost "painterly", but with focused areas of tighter detail. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get the effect I was after just using straightforward vine or compressed charcoal on it's own so after a bit of experimenting, I've found that a combination of brushes, stumps, pounce bag, pencils, powdered and compressed charcoal gets pretty close to the idea I was trying to get at. I'm still looking for a way to "paint" with powdered charoal. I think spraying it with something and spreading it with a brush is the way to do it, but I need to work out what to use, possibly some kind of alcohol. I'll post more of these as they come.
“Seek in a still life stillness and meditation. You may find there action, drama and passion, but the best still life is that wherein inward calm is attained in quietness.” - Albert Plasschaert, Dutch art critic.
So, as promised, here is the original portrait of Eilidh.
Eilidh (La Luna) - 40" x 30" - oil on canvas
The object she is holding is a tarot card, "The Moon" or "La Luna", from an old Italian deck. It is a play on the name "Eilidh" - a Gaelic form of Helen, which means "moon" or "shining light". I had originally intended to have a window in the room with moonlight coming in, but in the end decided to keep things simple. The moon idea is echoed in the round pendant she is wearing and also, to some degree, in the overall roundness of the shape created by the face and hair.
Here are some closeups of various details:
And the original oil sketch which the painting was based on...
In an earlier post I put up some pictures of the different stages of the painting “Eilidh in Northwest Light”. I mentioned about how I had originally started the painting as a much larger piece, but came to a standstill half way through and painted the smaller head study instead. It had always been at the back of my mind to carry on and finish the first painting but I hadn’t really planned to do it any time soon. For the last couple of months, since around Christmas, I have been working on paintings for the various London portrait exhibitions, which creep up all at once around this time of year. As usual, I had started something way too ambitious, way too late to have anything finished in time, so after a bit of a panic, I came across the original, half finished Eilidh painting - which I had forgotten about - and decided I could do something with it. I left the painting I was working on (again) and started work on this instead. It’s always surprising what six months, or even a year of not looking at a painting can do to your perception of it. Looking at something with a “fresh eye” is one thing, but looking at something which you’ve completely forgotten about pretty much makes it like a brand new painting again. I could see it had potential and I knew exactly what I needed to do as soon as I saw it, so got to work straight away. I think that it’s reassuring , and a good measure of advancement, when you can actually pinpoint the exact thing which was causing the problem, and which actually stopped you finishing a painting, and a few months later go back and understand it, paint it, and move past it. The main issue here was that I had brought the face up to a certain level of finish ,or so I thought, but it still didn’t look finished. It didn’t look particularly like it was existing in three dimensions. It didn’t look convincing. It’s not that it was flat, it just looked “unreal”. And in trying to inject realism into it (but without understanding what it was really lacking), I ended up “overpainting” it, and managed to paint out any kind of expression that had been there. A lot of the problems were solved by a better understanding of colour mixing, more meaningful application of the paint, better drawing and in this case closer attention to the structure of the eyes. And because most of the groundwork was already done, it took a lot less time to inject some life back into it than I had expected. I managed to finish it just in time, and went about as far as I could go with it. I’ll sort through the photos and put up the pictures in the next post.