Monday 30 July 2007

A missing photo

This is one of the few earlier paintings of which I never took a photo, and incidentally it was also the very first painting that I did sell. So, after several months, I now finally 'have it back' as a photo record. As the very first of the Bedrock & Clouds series, it was the most realist one... myself trying to work through the composition, colours etc. Funnily enough, it's been the two realist ones of that series - this one along with another oil painting that have been the two of the lot that sold quickly ;)

Bedrock & Clouds #1, Pastel on board, 70x50cm

Sunday 29 July 2007

Glen Galore

Here are some of the remaining plein air sketches from my painting week:

Stone Wall, Glen Lednock, Pastel on paper, 30x40 cm

Glen Lednock, Pastel on paper, 40x30 cm

Saturday 28 July 2007

Bedrock and Clouds No 5

This is just going to be a quick post: the n key on my keyboard is still broken, so every typing becomes a bit tedious (or trying to replace with words without the 'n'). I finished a few of my paintings and, in the process of formatting photos for the almost ready website) redid some photos that were still missing.
This is the final one of the Bedrock and Clouds series (it's #5)

Bedrock and Clouds #5, oil on canvas, 40x40cm

It was one where I tried to use the technique Lyonel Feininger used by applying geometric shapes and wiping back the oil colours before applying the next layer.
This link should take you to Google's image search of his pictures - look out for his 'Vogelwolke', which is one of my favourites and his Gelmeroda series.

Thursday 26 July 2007

Window to the sky

When out in the countryside it struck me that, if I want to paint more Scottish landscapes, I need to get to grips with skies - or more precisely: clouds. With a constant breeze, it is the changing skyscapes that set mood, influence lighting and reflection. In response, I've started to make sketches from my breakfast table out to the sky above the opposite row of tenements:

Neopastel II and graphite in sketchbook

Neopastel, marker pen and graphite on Bristol Board, 8x8 cm

And then I came across this skyscape by the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi in my daily calendar:

It made me laugh - the text on the back emphasised the drama in the sky in contrast to the uneventful landscape - I was really intrigued to what let him paint the cumuli clouds in such a naive manner. I found a retrospective of his a few years back at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, with most of his paintings being intricate interiors. This site here shows some of them, as well as another landscape.

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Making my own pastel(s)

... sounds much more glorious than this unsuspecting lump of mid-value grey that's drying on the shelf. I've been collecting pastel dust from my paintings at home - less in an attempt to extend the lifetime of my beige cheap carpet (if anything, I'm looking for an excuse to replace it) but more in hope that all the greens, blues, purple, reds and yellows would come together in the end to make a neutral pastel stick.

Yesterday then was the day: I had collected cool and warm shades separately but the jar with the cool ones looks suspiciously similar to the vastness that is my Blue-Green-Earth Unison set ... I don't quite remember why I bought that set now, but I haven't really used it much at all. After mixing both cool and warm dust and grinding it with pestle and mortar, I added distilled water and rolled it into shape and it's been drying since.

This is the really simple way of making your own pastel - the binder that keeps the pigments together and determines degree of hardness/softness is gum tragacanth - yet, in the pastel dust, it is still contained and does not require anything other than merely adding water.

There are various instuctions on making soft pastels online - ranging from the complex ones like in this article by Phyllis Franklin on Wetcanvas to rather straightforward ones such as on the Earth Pigments website (who also supply, to North America, a glorious range of Natural Earth pigments). One of the few UK suppliers of the binder is the long established Cornelissen and Son in London who supply a wide range of traditional pigments and specialist artist equipment.

Two reasons mad me start looking into ways of making pastels:
- to match the hues and pigments of some of my favourite oil colours
- and more recently as part of my research into the desert sands and how natural iron oxide colours them in a variety of hues from gold to violet.

For the latter, I've come across the Clearwell Caves Ochre mine in England which also supplies fine ground ochre pigment from yellow to an unusual deep purple for painting purposes. That dark purple looks great - and it looks pretty close to one of my favourite dark neutrals I've been using.

Yet - somehow I feel that this isn't the kind of activity that my kitchen surface would welcome... yet another reason to look for some studio space, I suspect!

Sunday 22 July 2007

Woodland moss

Woodland moss, pastel on paper, 30x40cm

This is the first of the many impressions from last week: a quick pastel onsite from which I then started a small oil painting yesterday:

Oil on canvas, 40x40 cm

I kept working on the oil this afternoon and only then went back to have a look at the photos I took - the pastel is very loose and the colours are pushed far away from the original sap and light greens to add more impact. The pen and wash sketch was the last of the three - going back to the original composition.

Pen and wash, 21x28 cm

From these first three ones of the same scene, I can now go and simplifying and abstracting further - both with oils and pastels.

Saturday 21 July 2007

Back from the outdoors...

... just got a lift back home from Perthshire tonight. Had a good laugh at myself: I took so many pastel boards and canvases with me - see the last post ... just filled one of each. BUT: my travel sketchbook is full of line and wash impressions of the Scottish countryside. So, I finally seem to have found a way of using the sketchbook more than just occasionally. Excellent! Also excellent is that I still have another couple of weeks of holidays, enough to hopefully fill some of those boards and canvases (is this the plural for canvas, looks slighty odd?!) with green to golden to purple Scottish hills in low clouds. Did I say that it rained a lot? Had a great time, though. Now to the unpacking...

Monday 16 July 2007

Going painting...

... my bags are packed for a week of outdoor painting up North. I've prepared about 10 panels for the pastels. Some of them have splashings of acrylic paint on top, I hope to use them for some detailed close-ups.
The weather has been pretty bad recently, so rather than lemon yellow, the last batch got Payne's Grey for colours. I reckon that should work pretty well for low clouds and rain in the Scottish Highlands.

I've also packed all my other things: oils, acrylics and drawing materials - a holiday is a holiday is a holiday - and it would be a shame if I really wanted to use the oils and not have them with me, wouldn't it?!

Sunday 15 July 2007

Desert sketches...

Mulling over, looking through and eventually just making a start with desert painting series by going back to the photos and sketches I made on site at the Coloured Sands in the Makhtesh HaGadol, south of Dimona.
The site itself is quite extensive and is made up of loosely sedimented layers of clay, sands and above all strongly coloured iron ore layers - ranging in colour from pale grey to glowing gold ochre to dark purple. - I've created a Google Map to link to the site: click here to see a satellite image of the area
I captured one of the main views on site, as mentioned in this earlier entry here - but before I feel I can go back to do that as a painting, I need to 'get to know' the location again. Just as well that we took lots of photos in addition to the sketches. Many of these are detailed shots of different small rocks, sand dunes and larger vistas.

Here are the first two pastel studies of one of the rock formations for detail and colour:

Coloured Sands Study 1, pastel on paper, 40x30cm

Coloured Sands Study 2, pastel on paper, 30x40cm

Now that I've started on these, I feel that I'm getting a sense of colour, texture and place to continue with these ones - so, keep watching

Friday 13 July 2007

Drawing lessons

With my sketchbooks ready prepared I've made a start with more frequent drawing here and there. One of the books is in my bag now, but taking it out and drawing is a different matter still. Partly, because drawing people is something I'm not really good at - even if they are sitting still, let alone when moving.
Nonetheless, I've been doing sketches on lemons and stones at home.
For the latter I've been looking for advice on simplifying form, identifying planes and establishing light and shade.
I've done some searching on the web for drawing lessons and came across quite a few:
  • Diane Wright has a series of landscape drawing tutorials on her website
    Well organised in a series of exercises she develops highly detailed and realist drawings of skies, trees, rocks and water.
    I discovered her website through the
  • Drawing and Sketching forum on Wetcanvas - a large and very active online Artforum. In their classroom section, there are numerous exercises on improving one's drawing and observational skills.
    The introduction, Basic 101 Class 1 offers the starting point for a whole series of different tutors presenting a series of exercises around one drawing challenge.
  • Another artist who has a great range of drawing (and painting) lessons on his extensive website is the late Charles Sovek. His Lessons from the Easel are an excellent resource in which he passes on his extensive experience on the basics of drawing line, tone and contour and more advanced questions of composition.
Just for good measure, here is a drawing I did quite some time ago... with more recent ones to follow soon, now that my holidays are finally here.

Cheeseplant, Pencil on paper, 30x40cm

Monday 9 July 2007

More on sketchbooks

Just quickly: a picture of my new sketchbooks - clearly labelled for travel, colour studies and textures/structures.... now I only need to decide which one to carry round with... oh, that should be easy, shouldn't it?! TRAVEL

All my underpaintings

I made up another batch of pastel supports over the weekend. I experimented a few different ways of making my own boards after I found that ready-made boards where both rather expensive but also too even in surface for the kind of texturing I was looking for.
For the past few paintings I've been using large sheets of simple grey boards cut in half, so that I end with a good sized 50x70 cm boards. I gesso these with simple white emulsion twice, then add a layer of equal parts emulsion, pumice powder for texture and water with a broad brush, sand this down if I want a smooth board or leave it with broad brushstrokes if I want a stronger texture, and finally paint a top layer of acrylic paint, pumice powder and water (again equal parts).
The colours I've mostly used are lemon yellow, raw siena or raw umber, but my last batch also included some muted green (still trying to find something for Scottish summer landscapes) and warm yellow ochre.

Detail of surface texture on board

Saturday 7 July 2007

Desert colours

I had planned to work on a series of landscape paintings - mainly in pastel, when I had come back from Israel in Spring. I started with exploring colour ranges and different underpaintings to get a feel for the desert in Spring. This is one is so far the only one colour study for this.

Spring in the sky, pastel on board, 50x70 cm

The palette consists of light blues, turquoise and various Earth colours (my new acquisition of a Unison Natural Earth set has come in very handy), mixed with a few vibrant colours such as orange, yellow green and red, as in this detail of the horizon line:

Thursday 5 July 2007

Pastels outdoor

A few weeks of holidays are coming up. For the first week I'll be going on an organised outdoor painting spree in the Highlands. Very much looking forward to it, I've started to get organised. Until recently, most of my art attempts outdoors were restricted to sketchbook, pencils and some watercolouring for colour reference. Yet, a few weeks back I went up to Ardnamurchan with a friend for a gloriously sunny long weekend.

Shoreline, Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan

I had been to Ardnamurchan a few years ago, and remembered how beautifully remote it was. With all that sunshine the beaches were glowing and so were the Hebridean Islands in the background. This one below is from the place we stayed, at 10.15 pm westward with the sun setting behind the Outer Hebrides.

We had a car and I ended up lugging most of my art equipment with me - and I was glad I did. I had plenty of time for sketching - quick 20 mins sketches on 30x40 cm coloured pastel ground. This is one of Sanna Beach outwards - I didn't even have to exagerate the turquoise in the water.

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan, Pastel on paper

Tuesday 3 July 2007

In the post...

... today were already my two new sketchbooks. That's probably been the fastest ebay delivery I have had EVER. So, two pretty new books. After dinner I started to add some backgrounds and marks - rather simply at the moment just a few watercolour washes and some acrylic paint scattered throughout the books, to use as background for sketches:

Some lime green acrylics wash above, below some watercolour doodling

One of the books will be on textures and detailed patterning - to take forward some of my pieces on wallmarkings.

The other one will be on colour studies. On the basis of that first painting for which I used lemon yellow as base colour, it is going to be lemon yellow (or: Hansa Yellow), based on PY3 pigment (Monoazo Yellow, Arylide Yellow) that I will start to research and experiment with for this month.

Here's page no 1 in the sketchbook:

Looking at this sad attempt at a lemon, I remember that one of the summer courses here offers a one-day masterclass on painting lemons... probably I should consider signing up for the whole year ;)

Monday 2 July 2007


One of the things I'm trying to get organised over the next couple of weeks is to get more into a habit of sketching and keeping sketchbooks. Reading quite a few different blogs, I've come across some intriguing ideas for organising the sketchbook:

- studying a colour for some time before moving on to the next one, as mentioned in the Laurelines blog or
- a sketchbook on a subject (e.g. trees, such as in Vivien Blackburn's one)

I've been using a Moleskine sketchbook for travelling - while the sizing of the paper took some getting used with watercolour washes - which I use mainly just for colour reference, I now started to quite like the effects of it, and went and bought a couple more to organise thematically.

Coloured Sands at Maktesh HaGadol, Negev desert, Israel, Spring 2007

Clay heads

While I didn't learn how to slipcast, I had a go at some clay sculpture:

I've been shying away from life drawing until recently - too complex for me, but working with clay and sculpting people, or heads, was pretty exciting: adding a bit here or there changed the whole expression in a much more involved way than adding lines, texture or shade on a drawing can do. Note to myself: do sculpture again, soon.

Sunday 1 July 2007

Floral porcelain

For an afternoon birthday outing we went to the pottery shop in nearby Buchlyvie. The weather was pretty dreich - but it usually is on 30 June... memories of far too many rainy birthdays, and sure enough, when my Mum phoned in the evening - she joked about it too: North West Germany was grey as was the West Coast of Scotland. Never mind! I got some very cute summery porcelain:

It's a new range by Alison Borthwick, called Poppy - white glazed. delicate porcelain with stylised poppies placed across. This is a small coffe cup, and there's plenty more in the shop.

When we drove to the pottery I remembered that when I was in Scotland for the very first time in the mid-1990s I went up to the Orkney Islands, visiting a friend who was working there over the summer - it was a dry and very warm summer. I took lifts off people across the mainland, met many different folk - a retired diver who would salvage ship wrecks off Scapa Flow, and two elderly sisters who for the past twenty odd years would come to Orkney with their car for their annual holiday from the Shetland islands. At that time I had just started studying for a social science degree. But that week up on Orkney - which for me was pretty much at the end of the world back then - left me wanting to find a pottery in the North or West of Scotland and make vases, dishes and much more and nothing else.

More than 10 years on I still don't know how to work with a potter's wheel, let alone make evenly shaped vases... I suppose that that's for another time.