Friday, 23 December 2011

Painting the first snows

    Last Saturday I had my first chance this winter season to get up into the snow-bound mountains. It was lashing with rain, very cold and windy when I set off from home, to the accompaniment of comments which made several references to 'lunacy.' Aha! By the time I reached the Black Mountains the sky appeared even more ferocious, more threatening, the clouds snow-laden and scudding fast, now and then leaving a gap through which some peak was revealed.

   As I geared myself up I barely gave the mountain ridge to the east a second glance. It looked dull and unpromising and I'd seen it in much better light. Hardly had I gone 300 metres when it suddenly exploded into a feast of light and cloud. Gone was the dullness. Within seconds it had become an amazing sight that reminded me of Tangi Ragi Tau, the Himalayan peak I'd painted several years ago, and shown above. I couldn't see the topmost part of the ridge because of cloud, but this added to the mysterious immensity that offered itself as my first sketching subject.

    The rain had gone, but the wind was vicious. I managed several sketches that afternoon, climbing high into the snow and revelling in the beauty all around. The sketch, the photograph and the finished painting will appear in publication in due course, but the lesson of all this is that however familiar you are with a subject, however many times you've seen it, the moment the atmosphere starts to let off fireworks like this you need your sketchbook and your camera.

    I wish all my followers a Happy and peaceful Christmas, and may 2012 be your best ever!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

How to paint in the dark

    We're been experiencing some dreadfully gloomy days of late, where even in the middle of the day it's been incredibly dark, which makes painting by natural light impossible. It's hard to see what colour you're using at times. Switching on an ordinary light will produce a warm colour cast which can often end with strange results when eventually you view the finished work in natural daylight.

For as long as I remember, I've been using the marvellous lamps produced by The Daylight Company. The lamps come in many forms - some like a normal angle-poise light, some as short strip-lights as you see in the photograph, some with large magnifying glasses incorporated in the structure - I have several, and their bright, cool light is an ideal substitute for daylight. It's also invaluable when you have to work well into those dark evenings. Another great asset is that when your eyesight is not quite what it used to be these lights do help enormously. For the artist they are a real boon, and The Daylight Company is a pleasure to deal with. Check out their website to view their full range. Craft stores, knitting shops and of course art shops are places to find them, but make sure you see their full range first to make sure you get the lamp that suits you best. Don't let those mid-winter blues get the better of you!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Breaking up monotonous features in a coastal composition

    Where you have strident blocks of cliffs or rocks on the coast they can appear both monotonous and overwhelming unless you break them up somehow. An excellent way to do this is to watch for those dynamic splashes of boisterous surf hitting the rocks and use them to break up the mass of solid rock. I often exaggerate these to a degree so that they can be more effective. This is not cheating as I often come across the most enormous and sometimes terrifying waves smashing up against the shore.

    The illustration shows wild waves crashing against a long rib of rock on the west coast of Pembrokeshire. effectively breaking it up so that it appears as two different blocks of rock. Although it is an original sketch carried out on the spot with a water-soluble graphite pencil, the technique applies equally to a painting in any medium. I had just scrambled down the rocks on the left after exploring the bay on the far side, without getting too wet. The gulls added further dynamism and life to the composition.

    Whether you enjoy working outdoors on location as I do, or prefer to stay indoors, it is worth breaking up features that might otherwise dominate a scene, as in this case. You don't need to completely obliterate the central part of the feature, but it really is worth doing a small thumbnail sketch before you carry out a full painting. That will help you decide how far to go with any changes to the scene.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Lost & Found technique in a painting

    In a painting, when you overstate detail you will detract from the impact the work imparts on the viewer.  The answer is to simplify matters by leaving out much detail and lessening the effect of what remains in what we call a 'lost and found' method. This technique is seen quite clearly in the section of a painting of the wall at the home of Witch Coarsecackle, as illustrated below:

    The stonework is only revealed in places, and by washing a transparent glaze over it the otherwise stark edges of the stones have been softened. Also note how the window has been rendered, losing strong detail lower down to stop the whole becoming rather boring. I used the negative painting technique here, but masking fluid might well have been an easier technique. Ignore the rather strange-looking creatures in the top right-hand corner as they add more to the narrative than to the aesthetic appreciation of the lost and found method.

    You will find the 'lost and found' method featured in all my art books, but for further information on Witch Coarsecackle and her amazing abode you can check out The Grog Invasion on my website. It is the first book of the Chronicles of the Llandoddies, the legendary water-folk of Llandrindod Wells, and a great tonic for those who need a good laugh and escape from the realities of modern life, aimed at kids from 9 to 99. Coarsecackle is herself a portrait artist of some renown and a film on her methods is under preparation.