Friday, 30 November 2007

Children playing in a backcourt

Backcourt and skipping rope,
Mixed media on paper

Without too many words this morning: this is the final piece I did in the Bits and Pieces workshop which was running in conjunction with the Joan Eardley exhibition. A streetscene with cut out figures of children playing in acrylics, oil pastel, ink and collage.

I'll be writing more about the workshop at some point over the weekend. But at the moment I am smiling to myself as the 'contour drawing' of tearing out shapes with paper seems an easy and little scary way of starting to put people into my work... will continue with that.


Monday, 26 November 2007

Shameless opportunism

Inveraray shoreline, September 2007
Mixed media in Moleskine, 21x24cm

... seduces me to another post on reflective surfaces... well: a sketch and a photo from earlier this year.

Opportunism since it is the post on reflective surfaces here which receives by far the most hits on my blog...

Shameless... well... it's not that I have any more detailed commentary to offer tonight, but have a look nonetheless :) And if anything, it's a call for a medium other than watercolour pencils which would bring out the reflection on the water.

Afternoon Sun , Inveraray, Argyle

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Autumn interlude

... two fresh figs in lush purply greens with some sugary icing.

They were supposed to become part of:

Take two pears, two figs - cut however fine you like; a finely-cut small piece of ginger; and the freshly squeezed juice of one orange. Place in an ovenproof dish, you can add some brown sugar on top, and bake in a medium hot oven for about 20 mins or until slightly caramelised on top.

Serve with ice cream, cream or nothing else for a taste of autumn warmth.

That'll be tomorrow's dinner then. But before, they really should get a sketch.


Monday, 19 November 2007

Collage techniques

Detail, Water spray and a low sun,
Mixed media collage, 40x30cm

... by Gerald Brommer (Watson-Guptill, 1994) is the title of my latest art book acquisition. I've been browsing through it and have been enjoying it very much so far.

The book features the works of many different (North-American) collage artists and starts off with an exploration into attitudes, materials, and techniques.

Rather than doing a proper book review - too close to my day job - here are a few of the eye-opening sentences from the introduction of the book. So, let me quote extensively (;))

Artists explore abstract, representational, semiabstract and nonobjective imagery through a variety of collage techniques. In some ways, collage lends itself best to dynamic and vibrant treatments of abstract and nonobjective imagery. Yet, as soon as I say those words, a transparency of a representational image jars my senses with its sheer beauty and simplicity. Collage is a layering of thoughs and ideas as well as of paper, fabric, glue, and paint. As they work, collagists amass history and emotion along with their gathered collage materials, and viewers add yet another layer of meaning. (p. 9)

Brommer continues further along this line of layering, adding history and presence:

The very gathering of materials is a historical process, and collages might even be considered biographies of the lives of the artists-or even as historical artefacts themselves. Collage artists often speak of providing a second life for found papers and objects... (ibid)

And so he writes on, and I am finding resonances with some of my previous thoughts and practice; e.g. in the way that findings enter works (see an earlier post on this here), but also how imagery are captured, mediated and transformed into something different, (as in this post on work flow).

Detail, Water spray and a low sun,
Mixed media collage, 40x30cm

The very idea of working with discarded, recycled, and found materials is working away in the background of my mind as a way of asking all my friends in far away places to send me some of their found papers and materials to be brought together in something new... oh, there seems to be another project for the future.


Saturday, 17 November 2007

Problems to projects

Water spray and a low sun
Mixed media collage on paper, 40x30cm

My mixed media experiments are continuing.

This one had started as a very cautious exploration of gouache and pastels. A few weeks later, I got back to it with some tissue paper and glue. Reworked it, kept reworking it, reorganising a poor composition and kept adding more torn bits of tissue paper, watercolour washes, gouache, ink, charcoal, felt pen and yet more pastel to get to something better.

I am beginning to see how a poor painting - or a problem - turns into a project: part intention, part process, I can go with it where the materials take me. I liked where I got to today, in particular since it transformed thin paper into a thickly textured board with all sorts of things on it - and I haven't even begone to use grit, sand and mud ;)

This is where I started:


Friday, 16 November 2007


I am making use of this space as an annotated and visualised folder to myself: here is my first note to myself for the next year.

People and trees are the plan for practice. Let me elaborate:

Trees - much of this summer had been about paying closer attention to landscapes, changes and movement therein. So, plein air sketching and pastel painting has been a big step towards that; also, the observation of clouds and skies has help sharpen not only vision but also in developing a sense for how time of day, weather and season have different effects on and in the air - the invisibles which nonetheless carry so much.

Hence: next step is to move closer to living things: I've already begun to be a bit more systematic with my attempts at greenery, and there is plenty of scope for more.

Having begun in autumn seems like a fortunate sly of hand, almost: the dropping of leaves, autumn colours on trees and on the grounds leave trunks and branches. So, there's much to explore for structure, solidity and airy movement in the wind without the distracting and difficult addition of green. So. Let's continue with that one.

People - hm... I did a couple of life drawing and painting classes last year. The complexity of anatomy, movement and expression is fascinating - in part clearly because of its challenge. So, there is on one hand the wish to develop this rather rudimentary ability to draw from life further. On the other hand it is about peopleing - however abstractly - some of my land- and cityscapes. While I admire people who do this, I am somewhat unsure how far I'll be able to get there - am just thinking of all the hours, months, years of practice that I won't be able to fit in.

Study of female torso
Oil on canvas, 40x50cm

Never mind that, now, though. I just have to look at any of Joan Eardley's paintings (which I have been doing quite a lot with the exhibition opened in Edinburgh earlier this month) to get a sense of the vibrancy there is in painting and drawing people.

Pat Samson by Joan Eardley
Pastel on paper, c1962
Hunterian Art Gallery

So, there's a resolution for someone who doesn't do resolutions... I'll keep coming back to it.

PS: I suppose it's not really a resolution but a project, and projects I do like.


Thursday, 15 November 2007

More landscape sketches

Felt pen and neopastel ii,
in Moleskine, 24x21 cm

... from the train journey. This time in colour and with an eye for some structuring elements.


Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Sketches in movement

Glasgow - Birmingham, 14:02, 9 November 2007
Graphite in Moleskine, 24x21cm

On the train, wizzing through the Scottish Lowlands... Pine trees on hill tops, below a brooding sky. A few larches here and there introduce some yellows.

A bit further south, it is hedges against the sky. Spindly and barren, they structure the fields, set apart and link together, guiding the eye up to the horizon line and into the clouds.

Glasgow - Birmingham, 14:02, 9 November 2007
Graphite in Moleskine, 24x21cm


Monday, 12 November 2007

The difference a bit of sunshine makes...

Continuing with some applied simple observations, here's a rough and ready sketch from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire from the weekend. Rolling landscapes on moleskine (with some incidental acrylics thrown in), while we were waiting for our lunch.

Ross-on-Wye, 21x14 cm
Graphite and neopastel in Moleskine

Just have a look at the two reference photos... one without sunshine and one with... It's the kind of really simple observations, but again: captured on photo just amplifies the difference not only the shades make to the whole scene but also the difference in light and tone of tree lines and water reflections.

Friday, 9 November 2007

How much texture do you need?

I have written much recently about the importance textures have for me in paintings.
In fact, when I begun to move away from pastels to paint, I was keen on working with oils precisely for their ability to layer heavily and thickly. In fact, one of the first purchases for my acrylics (which were the paint I started with, rather than oils) was heavy impasto medium.

In any case, talking about textures also made me realise that it's more subtle than 'a lot of texture'. In fact, with may heavy layering and impasto I often find I lose the interest in some paintings - e.g., while I admired Leon Kossoff's drawings at the National Gallery, I was rather quickly moving away from some of his oil paintings.

Similarly, Strindberg's abstract and evocative land- and seascapes are heavily textured but... hm... I dunno... I haven't quite figured out what it is about texture/too much texture, but my first hunch is a question of opaqueness and how much light is coming through the painting. Strindberg's waves and clouds are very dark and brooding, at the same time he seems to work liberally with white to lighten his darks, yet it seems flat and opaque.

August Strindberg, Stormy Sea, Broom Buoy
Oil on Board, 1892
Nationalmuseum Stockholm

Does the light of the canvas balance texture?

There's a question to contemplate for a bit... or maybe it's a different question that needs asking...

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Virtual museum visits

August Strindberg, Town Oil on Canvas, 1903 Nationalmuseum Stockholm

... to the Stockholm Nationalmuseum at night introduced me to some new painters. I have already briefly mentioned August Strindberg's experimental photography in a previous post. He has also painted a series of dark and brooding seascapes - high waves, dark clouds and the emotions flying all over the place. - There's much more to say about his landscapes... but above is a brief taster, and here's another one:

August Strindberg, Stormy Sea, Buoy without Top mark
Oil on Board, 1892
Stockholm Nationalmuseum

The second Swedish painter I discovered is Eugene Jansson - also painting from around the late 19c, Jansson produced a whole series of evocative, enticing and melancholic cityscapes and landscapes. Many of them in various shades of blue, they are at the same time full of light and lightness.

This one here just made my new desktop background: those icey blues just sing even in their 72dpi flatness.

Eugene Jansson, Sunrise over the Rooftops. Motiv from Stockholm
Oil on Canvas, 1903
Nationalmuseum Stockholm

And here's another one:

Eugene Jansson, Hornsgatan at Night
Oil on Canvas, 1902
Nationalmuseum Stockholm

Thank you, J.! Such good suggestions!


Monday, 5 November 2007

Experimental photography

Fox Talbot, Botanical Specimen, 1839
Photogenic Drawing

A BBC4 documentary on the Genius of Photography was repeated tonight. It's second part examined the impact of experimental photography as art - notably for surrealism and dadaism. Intrigued by the experimentation with subject - e.g. extreme close-up and the taken-out-of-context - as well as chemicals, I had a look for some of the images and techniques used.

A couple of names stand out - and stand as exemplars for processes, ideas and practices:

- Fox Talbot's sun pictures of the 1830s where he created light sensitive paper on which he could 'draw' by placing objects on top of the paper and then exposing it to the sun.

- August Strindberg's celestographs, exposing photographic plates to the night sky to capture the cosmos.

- Man Ray's photographic experiments: photograms or rayographs; with the solarisation process which makes human skin appear aluminium-like. But also, his 'straight' photography where abstraction is achieved by omitting scale and recognisable reference points. Most notably in the famous Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, 1920, Dust Breeding

Here's a great article by Ben Lifson, a US-based photography teacher, on working with abstraction to composition. Well illustrated and written, it examines different genres and approaches to explore the potential for abstraction while looking at the composition of various artworks. Beginning with landscapes by Constable and Corot, the article then moves on to abstract photography. It is well worth a read and the illustrations are very useful.

Working too late... on a photo set

... to accompany the tree talk... here are some of my own photos on the subject.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

James Paterson's trees

James Paterson
Craigdarroch Water (Landscape with River), 1889
Oil on Canvas

One of the name that came in my art group yesterday was the Scottish painter James Paterson (1854-1932). Loosely associated with the Glasgow Boys, Paterson along with contemporaries such as James Guthrie and John Lavery, influenced Scottish art in the 1880s and 1890s and challenged the dominance of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Art (good old city rivalry in practice) - many of them to become later in their career established society painters.

In any case: Paterson painted primarily landscapes around the village of Moniaive in Dumfrieshire where he had moved to in the mid 1880s. His paintings in oil and watercolours were often done en plein air - in the spirit of the Glasgow School.

I think I found the painting Tom recommended to me yesterday, but it's a fairly poor reproduction. However, the painting is displayed at the Kelvingrove Gallery, so I will pop along to have a better look at it. Tom admired Paterson's ability to paint the trees very lightly, and transparent while giving them solidity nonetheless.

James Paterson
Craigdarroch: Looking down Glencairn, 1891
Oil on Canvas

Paterson was also a keen photographer - capturing many of his scenes on film. This publication in honour of his 150th birthday in 2004 provides some very good examples of how photography and painting complemented each other in his works.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Schiele's trees... beginnings

Whether trees in my paintings turn out ok or not is still largely determined by coincidence. I remember well how I - with my set of Unison landscape colours (15 greens!) - tried first to paint trees from life, and gloriously failed: it just ended up like a mess of colour - same colours, too little highlights and shadows, and no structure.

Having moved on a bit from that, it's painting loosely and sparsely with anything but green that seems to work well; also: if trees are in midground to background, that makes it easier, too. Yet, I figure it's time to have another go at more training on trees.

There is some greenery I want to put in my desert landscapes and currently it's not working: I know how to fix it by cropping and cutting it out, but that is a bit like cheating.

So, when my art calendar presented my with a previously unknown painting by Egon Schiele, I took it as a gentle push to look at his work again. I have been admiring his life studies for a long time, there is something haunting, unsettling and beautiful in his nudes: arms, legs and torsos in odd proportions, all looking out at the viewer and making it almost impossible to avert ones gaze.

In my previous office I inherited a poster with one of his melancholic autumn landscapes , which I since keep taking with me in every office move:
Egon Schiele Four Trees 1917
Oil on Canvas, Oesterreichische Galerie

As a start, here is a first little gallery of some of his trees - most of them are autumn trees - a few coloured leaves, a few left over fruits and above all those trunks and branches, reaching above into the sky, almost in mourning - again: simple lines, muted colours draw me in, don't want to let me go and almost give me goosebumps while keeping looking and looking and looking.
Egon Schiele, Autumn Sun and Trees, 1912
Oil on Canvas, Private Collection

Egon Schiele Autumn Trees, 1911
Oil on Canvas, Private Collection

Friday, 2 November 2007

Details of mixed media

Colored Sands Study, Detail
Acrylic paint applied with palette knife and scratched,
some gouache and some pastels
Mixed Media on board, 35x35cm

I've been a bit preoccupied with my decision to paint my living room last Sunday - and a week of evenings spent painting white walls (and discovering far too many missed spots here and there) took over from other painting. Yet, one thing that keeps in my mind is how flat photos of paintings tend to look and that the excitement of actually making paintings is for me very much in the textures and layering.

So: a brief post today with some of the offsets and upsets of last weekend's desert landscape. Here's the detail which brings together and sets apart the blue/violet calm: