Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Acrylic Step-by-step

I originally painted this several months ago for a school group presentation at Visual Arts Mississauga, an introduction to creating a painting from the ground up, as it were. I've since been asked to add some explanatory text to the step-by-step photos and post it for others, so here goes.

There are some general guidelines worth keeping in mind, not just for landscape, but for most painting:

Paint from the big shapes to the smaller details - don't get trapped in each and every detail at the first stage. Use large brushes at first, switching to smaller as you need to add detail or refinement. (You may find, as you go along, that there are lots of details that can be left out.) You don't have to paint every leaf and flower petal - leave the greatest detail for your focal area.

Paint from thin to thick, transparent to opaque. Shadows are usually most effective if they are somewhat transparent. Avoid adding white to your shadow colours until you need to modify the colour and/or the light later on in the painting process.

Lay down your brush stroke, and leave it alone. Don't mush your brush back and forth along the same stroke; that destroys all the character of the stroke. And do try to stroke, not jab, dab or stab.

Consider your composition first. It's important to go into the painting stage with a plan, so several thumbnail drawings of your subject are always a good idea. These are small, simplified drawings, with no concern for detail, but looking at balance, shapes, arrangements of lights and darks, etc. Interesting composition tends to avoid placing your centre of interest actually right in the centre of your painting! A good starting place is to divide your canvas into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. The points where the thirds meet are good focal areas.
The first thing I like to do with my canvas is give it a thin wash of colour all over, very roughly. This is called the imprimatura, and it gives you a mid-tone to work on, which makes it easier to judge your darks and lights. I usually do my initial drawing directly with a brush and thinned paint. In the example you can see how scrubbed on and rough the imprimatura looks. I have only concentrated on the big general shapes, nothing fussy.

The next stage is blocking in the darks. I tend to to use cool dark colours, at least in the beginning - blues, purples and cool greens. They can always be overpainted later if they need to be lightened a little or warmed up. Then, consider where the lightest light(s) will be. Often, this will be the sky. Now you have a pretty good idea of the range between the darkest dark and lightest light. Everything else will relate to these. The roof of the tower will eventually be fairly dark, but I don't want to lose it in the dark of the tree at this stage, so I'm going to leave it alone for now.

Notice that the sky is not a solid blue. It's lighter towards the horizon (and maybe a tiny bit yellowish) and the large areas of blue are broken up with some paler, almost white, shapes. I haven't tried to paint anything that looks like a puffy cloud, just the suggestion of clouds.

Now we get into the real landscape colour - green. It's very important to vary your greens. Look at how deep and rich the midground trees are, compared with how cool, bluish and paler the far background trees are. The hedges and lawns are much warmer, with more yellow and orange added. Some of the shadows have been modified to give them a little more colour and light. A point about brushwork - don't try to smooooth out all your strokes! An important part of the Impressionist approach is to have distinct brush strokes with varying colour side by side.

With a lot of the foliage taken care of it's time to look at the tower and bridge. Now I can look at the lights and darks of the architecture in relation to the surroundings. Even though the tower will be lighter than this in the shadows, I still want to be sure that I'm keeping the sides distinct from each other - light, mid-tone, and dark. I'm also starting to work in some of the colour on the paths and the far background buildings.

I can start to fill in the colour of the stonework now. I have no intention of trying to paint each individual stone and brick, but I want to leave a strong impression of the difference in texture between the tower and the trees. Individual strokes, laid down and left alone, are the key here. You can see that the shadow side of the tower is now considerably lighter than the previous step, but each side of the tower is still seperate. Can you see a hint of warm reflected light in the shadow side of the tower? I've also cleaned up the paths a little, with better definition of the lights and darks.

Some finishing touches and the sketch is complete. I've added more detail to the left side hedges, defined the distant tree trunks and added some sky reflection and accent darks to the canal.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shades of Gray

I had the pleasure of leading a drawing workshop on Saturday at the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Etobicoke. "Shades of Gray" focused on using various drawing media on toned paper. The idea here is to use the tone of the paper as an overall mid-tone, and draw in the darks and the lights. This challenges our ingrained habit of filling a white sheet with dark marks to indicate form, often with interesting results.

The first exercise was the old "make a circle look like a sphere," using charcoal or carbon pencils, wax-based coloured pencils, and "white charcoal" pencil. (If anyone knows what goes into making General's White Charcoal pencils, I would be very interested)  From the very beginning I encouraged the group to use line for basic layout purposes, but ultimately to pay more attention to the value masses, and how the relative lights and darks interact next to one another.

The next challenge was to draw a carton of eggs, and I don't think it made me any new friends... This one really showed that this technique requires the artist to think differently about representing values. There were times when it was more advantageous to add white to the shadow area of the eggs, because the midtone of the paper was too dark!

After a short lunch break, things were a little more open, with each artist choosing their own subject matter from a selection of reference photos: flowers, a portrait, a landsape, a dilapitated old barn, etc. I demonstrated an ink-wash technique during this time.

The focus and concentration was very intense, and the group tried a number of techniques, including brush drawing, pen drawing, and coloured  and watercolour pencil, often in combinations. They were a tired bunch by the end of the day, but they all felt very pleased with the work they had produced.

I must apologize to some of the participants if their work was not included in the post - my camera let me down, and I lost about half the shots I took. I am very sorry.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Digital Figure Study

I continue to play around with painting in Photoshop, and I finally have a figure study I'm not embarassed to share. This is actually the third version of this image. I decided that I really needed to push the colour and texture a little to create a little more interest in an otherwise monochromatic painting, so I banged in some greens, blues and purples and massaged them into the original warm oranges and browns. A lot of this is experimenting and playing with the various brushes and settings that are available in Photoshop. I think it has a bit of that trashy paperback/pulp look from the 50s and 60s. Kinda fun...

My Fall painting class has started, so there should be some posts of acrylic landscapes again soon. But I'm not giving up on the digital world!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

More Digital

I spent a few days either side of the Labour Day weekend on Georgian Bay, and I felt it was time to attempt a digital landscape painting. All I had to do was look out the window, after all... Really this is just a quick study, not a full landscape, but I'm getting a better painterly feel for the medium. It's still pretty rough around the edges, but it's coming.

The physical size is about 10x13 inches, so I was working at about 50% to fit the entire image on my monitor. This helps with the principle of working broadly at the beginning of a painting, getting the big shapes and value relationships early, and not looking too closely at detail too soon. In fact, there is not really any fine detail in this painting, I left it in a very sketchy (in places nebulous) state, as the detail illustrates.

There is likely enough here that I could increase the size of the "canvas" and spend another hour or two making a much more detailed finished painting, but that was not the intent of the exercise.

I'm pleased with how this is going, but with any luck I'll have a couple of more traditional painting classes starting in a couple of weeks, so there will be more acrylic demos to show. However, the digital isn't going away; you'll see more soon.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Different Strokes

Is painting in the digital realm still painting? I think so, and as I work to improve my skills  in that arena I will occasionally post my progress here. As an illustrator I have allowed myself to slip out of the mainstream, which is more and more digitally based. So, time to pull up my socks and get to work.

Actually, I have been working on this tangent in a fairly focused way for the past month, and I finally have an image I'm prepared to post.

This was produced in PhotoShop 7 with a Wacom Bamboo tablet. I only used the basic soft and hard brushes and the eraser tool. This is just a study, a sketch, but in the face I think I've managed to capture a real painterly quality.

I'll keep at it, and I hope the next post will have some colour in it. Cheers.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Water Miscible Oils

I've been playing a bit with water-miscible oil paint, also sometimes called water-mixable or water soluble. This is mostly due to concerns with using potentially harmful volatile solvents in a small, less-than-optimally ventilated studio. I've decided that I'm not convinced. There doesn't seem to be that much in the way of actual benefits, aside from the ease of clean up with soap and water. And I can do that with the M. Graham walnut-based oils anyway.

Washes done with water as solvent are really only practicable in the first layer of paint, and the wash doesn't look or feel anything like a turps or mineral spirit wash. You also want to be sure the water has completely evaporated before you start any overpainting, or you might compromise the paint layers. There are driers for these paints, but they are just as smelly and noxious as the alkyd driers for linseed oil paints. The cost is considerably less than most artist grade paint, more like student grade, so that makes one wonder about the longevity and quality of the products. So, the verdict from me seems to be: carry on in the old tradition, just be very careful with my solvent use.

This painting (9 x 12, masonite) was done with Lukas Berlin WMOs, which I got because they were on sale. There was a stickiness to the paint that was very uncomfortable, and when it had dried, the colour had sunk to a very matte finish over most of the surface. I'll use up the remaining paint, but I won't be eager to buy any more.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Veterum Non Immemor

I  recently spent an afternoon along the banks of the Credit River in Port Credit, ON, scouting potential painting sites. I had gone with a couple of places specifically in mind, but they left me somewhat disappointed. I sat for a while sketching ducks, geese and swans on the river, and prepared to head home. On my way to the station, I was struck by this scene.

"What?", you ask. Well, it's a small building, made of river stone and concrete. (The river is only about 300 meters away.) It's actually built into the side of a hill, the long-ago bank of the river. Behind it, on the top of the ridge, is a cemetary. I think this is a charnel house, the building where bodies were stored through the winter when the ground was frozen too hard to dig. And on the lintel is the inscription, which I did not attempt to render, "Veterum Non Immemor." I think a rough translation might be "the past is not forgotten," or something to that effect. Times like this I wish I'd taken high school Latin; if you can offer a more accurate translation I would appreciate it. I plan to do some research at the adjoining church to see if I can dig up a little history.

This is oil on a 9 x 12 panel. I think one of the things that really grabbed my attention was the strong contrast between the bright blue of the sky and the intense red of the bush, as well as the lost, half-forgotten, overgrown appearance of the structure. In the midst of a bustling village, it was somewhat lonely. I know the composition needs work, but this is one sketch that I really look forward to working up into a larger painting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Apples in Oil

My good friend, Barry Coombs, just posted a blog article with some watercolour demos of apples. I thought I would share a recent demo for some of my students, done as an experiment with water-miscible oil paints. I don't paint still life often enough, and it's a very rewarding experience. Any painting activity that focuses on direct observation and colour mixing problems is bound to be beneficial, in the long run. Sometimes students complain that they've done still life, that's over, but it's all good practice!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Silent Auction

The Neilson Park Creative Centre recently held a silent auction fundraising exhibition, in which I participated. The Square Foot show required only that the pieces all be 12 x 12 inches. Medium, support, subject (or not) was all completely open. I believe there were over 100 entries altogether. I am pleased to report that my piece sold, and I'm glad I was able to support one of my community's arts organizations. This is Tomahawk #3, acrylic on panel. Tomahawk Island is in Georgian Bay, near Georgian Bay Islands National Park, and is privately (corporately?) owned by the Tomahawk Club, founded in 1895.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Playing With Oils

I have hardly touched oils in many years, for a variety of reasons. Mostly, for the past few years I have been concerned about solvents, as my studio space is both small and poorly ventilated. A year ago I picked up some M. Graham oils, because the walnut oil base can be cleaned up with soap and water, I thought perhaps a big plus. There were some challenges, from both the aspect of re-aquainting myself with the medium and the the particular feel of these specific paints. But I have managed a few successes, I think, such as "From the Channel." (16 x 20)
Recently I picked up a few water-mixable colours, because I am a bit intrigued, and I wondered about using WMO mediums with standard oils. So I did a sketch, using some elderly paints from my student years and a couple of really cheap bristle brushes that I had received as a gag gift. I used a simple triad palette of Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Rose, Yellow Ochre and Zinc White, with Winsor & Neweton's Artisan Fast Drying Medium and Artisan Safflower oil. I gave an 8 x 10 panel a thin imprimatura with a bit of Fast Drying Medium and a mixture of Rose and Ochre, and let it dry for about an hour. The initial drawing was executed with FDM and a dark dull purple, then all the overpainting was done without any more medium. This is a quick sketch, about an hour. I washed the brushes out in the Safflower oil and then again with mild soap and water, and the brushes cleaned up like a dream. And I got a reasonable sketch out of the experiment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Two In A Row

I'm pleased to report that I have recieved an Honorable Mention for the second consective time in an on-line painting challenge at Artist Mentors Online. The challenge this time was produce a painting without using a brush. Finger painting was encouraged, as was palette knife use. My offering is a an oil sketch, 9" x 12".

I've never been terribly fond of the palette knife as an actual application tool, but I gave it a go, as well as fingers, Q-Tips, cut up credit cards, paper towels and corrugated cardboard. I will admit that I was surprised at how pleased I was with the results of the knife on the the large rock shape.

You might notice that this painting resembles the image from my previous post. In truth, this one was done first, as a memory exercise; I used no reference. It seems to me that a memory exercise like this is valuable in a couple of ways. One, it tests your powers of observation. Have you really been looking, or just passing through? Secondly, it will emphasize the elements that attracted you to the image in the first place, the elements that inspired you.

My only visits to this area of Georgian Bay have been in full, sunny daylight, and I've never been at this place in a storm, so I don't what possessed me to create the stormy atmosphere, but I think this is a successful concept. I'll likely paint a larger, more finished piece based on this sketch. I might even use some palette knife...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Back to Class

I statred teaching again last week and had a very pleasant surprise. Winter can often be a tough time to cajole students to get out, and I expected a minimal number of students for the term, but I came in to a class of 15! It's great to see a bunch of new faces, and a few previous students.

We're working on a class titled the Spirit of Seven. It's an attempt to follow in the steps of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, very influential Canadian painters from the early part of the 20th century. Much of their early work was done in Central Ontario, Algonquin Park and Georgian Bay, and further north, in the Algoma region north of Lake Superior. The focus was very much on the ruggedness of the Canadian Sheild landscape.

My demonstration is from Tomahawk Island, on Georgian Bay. This scene exemplifies the subject matter of a great deal of the early work of the Group, and especially Thomson - the rough granite of the Sheild, Eastern white pine, cold lake water and an often brilliant sky.

 This is acrylic in masonite, 12 x 16. I started with a dull gold wash, or imprimatura, over the entire board. A silhouette of the major shapes was washed in using a large synthetic bristle and a thin ,dull purple. Then, using a similar purple in a thicker mixture, I indicated my darkest shadows. All my drawing was done with brush and paint, a very direct approach. The sky area was roughly brushed in, using some of those colours to help refine the tree shapes. The trees were roughly blocked in with a variety of mixed greens. (I rarely use a tube green.)

The rocks were built up in several layers of various colours. Over the initial wash drawing a more comprehensive  lay-in was done with a variety of dull violet-grays in an attempt to flesh out the forms in the rock face.. Over this underpainting I built up layers of warmer colour, often dragging and scumbling to enhance the texture of the rock. The lightest areas are built up in a more impasto method.

The water was blocked in as a simple gradated shape with a little break-up in the foreground to indicate ripples and waves. The darks here are all the original dark washed in underpainting. The background far shore was initially laid in as part of the overall darkish silhouette, and I simply scumbled a thin pale blue over that area to push it back. Voila! Tomahawk Rocks.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Show Invitation

I'm pleased to tell you that I have been invited to participate in a group show at the Gallery in the Garden at Sherway Gardens in Etobicoke. "L-attitudes" includes three other painters, Stan and  Louise Zych and Carole Braiden, in a wide-ranging approach to landscapes. There is work from Cuba to Central Ontario, from extreme realism to highly whimsical imaginings. The show runs in the public space until February 11. The image below is titled "Mother and Child,"acrylic, 16 x 20, a view from Georgian Bay in central Ontario.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Completed Commission

I was approached last summer to create a painting of the Georgian Bay area for a client's new office. The initial request was proposed as "reasonably large", which got me thinking around 18 x 24 or maybe 22 x 28. Then I saw the actual wall and came home and cut a 24 x 36 panel. For me, that's big. After a couple of false starts things started coming together. Finally, after all the Christmas merry-making was done, I made a couple of requested changes and it's done. Even though it has been a few months in the making, it counts as my first finished painting of 2012. "Royal Island Stairway", acrylic, is taken from an island near the Georgian Bay Islands National Park, one of Canada's national gems.