Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Third Plein Air Oil Painting

So this is my third attempt, a bit shimmery as it's still wet. I used all the bits of information I gleaned from looking at Tom Thomson's work. I worked on an orange ground, worked out my composition and pattern of tones in advance with a pencil sketch, drew the outlines carefully with a thin brush loaded with dark red, then mixed the paint to exactly the right colour on the palette before applying it. Am I happy?
Well, no, of course not. This is a boring piece of work. 
But I may know why.
In following all these new rules I've acquired I forgot my usual ones;

1. Never paint a vista, they are lovely to look at but usually end up as tedious paintings. Think hard about the composition before starting. Try to home in on a smaller area and maybe use a challenging angle of perspective.
2. Decide on the main element (s) and emphasise the changes of tone around the edges.
3.  Don't make a psychological block to the distance with strong horizontals, and even worse, a fence straight across without gap or gate (what was I thinking?).
4. If you must use green, and I suppose in current circumstances I must, push it towards blue or orange or yellow even red. I did remember this when I got down to the crop in the field directly in front of me, which was faintly blue green wheat, but I pushed it too far so it looks like water.
5. Never use a tube of green, I didn't use it neat of course but I still have some very unnatural shades in the foreground.
6. The construction of any image should be composition, tonal structure, colour, in that order.

So onward and upward, having reminded myself of my own rules and trying not to forget the Tom Thomson element. 

I've found another painter I like, Peggy Kroll Roberts, Ray Roberts & Peggi Kroll Roberts her work looks plein air although, since there are active figures, she may well be using photographic reference. The images are lively, fresh and full of light. I don't like everything she's done but there are some gems.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Still at the thinking stage

Still thinking about Tom Thomson I realise his colour palette simply will not do for Dorset in high summer. I am going to have to work with greens. My most unfavorite colour.
Meanwhile here are some sketchbook watercolour studies done earlier this year. These take the form of an illustrated journal, although more illustration than journal. They are not intended for exhibition and not really to inform future paintings, just memories of time and place.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Learning to really paint.

I haven't blogged for four years, but this summer, 2016,  I've set myself a task, and I think it would be helpful to document my progress.
Over the last couple of years I've thought more about getting out of the studio and working in the open air, making a direct response to the scene in front of me.
Last summer I worked in acrylic in Weymouth and West Bay and in the gardens at Moreton and I've always used watercolour to record directly, but I don't know how to paint, plein air, in oils.
It seems to me to be a completely different and scary  way of working. I use oil paint all the time in the studio, but the painting develops slowly, layers are left to dry and new modifying layers worked over the top. It takes weeks to produce a piece I'm pleased with. How can it be possible to apply the paint in such a way that it's all wet at once and doesn't get mixed up?
My first attempt, a tree on Exmoor isn't too bad, it's a bit boring, there are no real dark places, the composition is poor, but I have got separate areas of paint, there are mid tones and light areas.
My second attempt in Weymouth is so appalling I wipe it off the board before I have a chance to photograph it. The colours are muddy, no definition. What to do?
I study a couple of "how to" books. The one thing all the examples have in common is that the composition is drawn in with pencil before starting. This is totally alien, I never draw for acrylic or watercolour work, just modify as I go along but, of course, that's wet paint over dry. This can't be done that way. But I also don't like the work, it's too close to reality.
So I go online and look for plein air painters who are producing work that I like. I find Robin Leonard, painting in Cornwall, a wonderfully loose style, I think a palette knife is involved in a lot of them, really economical with detail. This is just what I want to do.  And then, of course, there's Tom Thomson painting in Canada just after the turn of the last century. I saw a beautiful exhibition in Dulwich Picture Gallery a couple of years ago which featured his wonderful, crisp, strongly coloured little paintings of the Canadian Wilderness. This is what I want to do too. Looking carefully at Tom
Thomson's paintings, I can see he uses various coloured grounds and sketches the composition with a fine brush and dark colour before applying areas of premixed paint. Each part appears to be only painted once, so all the tonal and colour decisions are taken before putting the paint on the board. Very little subsequent modification is possible.
I think it will help to have a small sketchbook and work out the composition and tonal structure before getting going with colour, a hard set of new rules to learn.
I will post my progress.
Exmoor Beech, Oil on board, 30 x 30 cm