Friday, 31 October 2008

Brass Pot

Charcoal preliminary drawing, soft pastel modelling and colour. As you can guess I was stuck by the variety of colour in the brass.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Broken pencil and ink

At a huge art store in Manchester I bought, amongst other things, a pot of dip-pen ink in a fantastic deep and dirty red. I'd been reading about Jim Butler in the Artist & Illustrator's magazine, who draws city landscapes in ink with a stick over found paper. So, to try out these new inks I drew by dipping in a broken pencil end. The variety of marks were controllable to some degree, though I did find that the relatively poor quality paper meant that the ink soaked through to the page below. I have a range of coloured inks at home so I may have fun in the future doing some people studies using this technique.
Funnily enough, Jim has done a lot of studies Manchester scenes. Unluckily, I didn't have time to stop and sketch in the city that day.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Still life with a box of red wine

This is more like it, and the brother-in-law is on the Martini. The bad news is that I think I've lost my sister. Here's what happened; we read through an exercise in one of the books I'd brought on the stages of painting a still life in pastels - start out with a charcoal outline, then lay in the shadows gently, then put in the local colour of the objects, then develop these with modelling, and finally add detail. Mine was going fine, so I stopped for a bit to look at what my sister was doing, and made a few suggestions, and then some more. It was when I asked if she minded if I drew on her work to demonstrate what I was failing to convey in words and she adamantly told me NO! that I knew I'd overstepped the mark.

We laughed about it, and she's been digging me about it ever since, but I think I've learnt that if we're drawing together, to leave her to it until she asks me for help or advice. She is also an Open University tutor, and understands how to give feedback, constructive criticism and all that. I don't. I'm a well-meaning oaf who can't keep her gob shut. I'm just glad she hasn't asked me to go home.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Still life with stewed tea

Here's the first still life I've drawn in a long, long time. One of my sisters has started drawing and painting, and she'd asked about soft pastels. So we set up a still life, and had a go. Mine was a monumental failure. I won't even say that it was fun to do, and the whole time I was gasping for a cup of tea. It's done on A4 pastel paper, and the whole image is too small, leaving me no room to explore the surfaces and describe the shapes. I haven't done any underpainting, just lashed on the local colour, put in some detail, and then wondered why it all went so wrong. Back to the drawing board. Well, actually, back to the 'How to Paint in Pastels' books I've brought with me. In the mean time, I'm having a fantastic time at my sister's, as I always do.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Tree #9

This time I decided not to lay down the sky first, but to work on the foreground and background at the same time. I drew in the foliage, then filled in the gaps with sky. Then I filled in the gaps in the sky with more sky colours, then back to the foliage.

I completed the top half and took a break before tackling the bottom. That was when I decided to pick out the reds in the planting behind the fence. I went a bit wild with pinks and purples, but I'm happy with the contrast to the sky. That done, I needed to beef up the tree some more.
The muted greens and greys are still merging too much with the scruffy blues in the sky. Any ideas how to bring the tree forward from the sky? Anyone?

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Trees #8

At the weekend I went shopping to a cheap stationary shop and picked up this new set of pastels. I'm squashing the urge to use every stick in the box, just picking the main tones, and laying them next to each other so I don't end up with a muddy mess.

This was painted at 2pm, another overcast afternoon, with a light wind catching the upper branches.
The next day I looked at this and decided to put a white wash of pastel over the background, and I think that was an improvement. I want to work over the top of this again, because I still don't think the canopy is strong enough. I like the way the building is looking through this wash, definitely a case of 'less is more'.
Another feature I like is the shape of the left-most branch merging with the green/black foliage. I like that solidity contracted against the lighter touch of the wind-brushed leaves top right.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Tree #7

This tree is further down the row, and was the first one I did in felt tip pens. I painted this the same time as the previous two, just before the setting sun was hidden behind the tower blocks up-river, casting my trees into shadow. They are my trees now, by the way.

I'm now at the stage where I want some more pastels to work with, as I mentioned previously. I want to get to grips with the fantastic sage green of the trunks, and capture the moody shadows amongst the foliage.

This is the box of pastels I'm working with and, as you can see, they're mostly brights.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Tree #6

This was done straight after the previous one, because I wanted the leaves to really quiver and shimmer. I'm enjoying finding different ways of applying the pastel to the paper - broad strokes, smudged areas, dots, scribbles and stabbing. After I was done I decided to liven up the sky area. I think I was too heavy handed with the sky here, but it's fun to try things out.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Tree #5

Late yesterday afternoon at 5pm the sun was setting and the wind was blowing down the Wear River out to see. I wanted to catch the quivering leaves and the dramatically lit tree trunks. So I pared down the background and concentrated on the trees.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Tree #4

This was painted early in the morning, with an overcast sky, so there was a hint of the sunrise low on the horizon to the left, but no dramatic side-lighting as I'd seen on the previous mornings. I almost didn't do this study, because at first glance it looked quite drab, but then I started to see the depths of colour in the foliage, and I stuck with it.

Because there's no detail in the treetop to hold the eye, I think the background is a distraction here. I could have done with simplifying the background more, and emphasised the strong shapes in the tree. Writing this I'm now hoping for a dull day so I try out that idea. I do like the vague dark haze created by the background planting, with suggestions of water and buildings beyond.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Tree #3, of three trees

Later the same day as the previous post. It's now 4pm and the sun is low in the west (front/right). I start with the cold pale sky, sea and river, and roofs. Then I lay on the planting behind the trees, and I am a very happy person, because it's working. I need more colours in my palette; a darker grey and more neutral greens and a range of some off-whites. Anyway, onto the grass and path, then back to the fence. I don't like the fence as it's come out too bright. Some work on the foliage in the trees behind, then I plough on with the three trees. I map in the trunks, which I'm still not happy with, then work on the foliage. Again, it's just not working. So I screw up my eyes and look again. All of a sudden, as through I have put on my art goggles, I see the swathes of colour in the trees and BAM, I've caught it. Peering again I see the highlights, so I add them in, cursing the brightness of the only white I have. Okay, add in the fallen leaves on the grass, shadow, then I decide to add one of the lamposts which are a characteristic of the Roker seafront, and I'm almost done. The sky around the trees is paler, so I sketch that in, and I like the way it livens up the whole thing. The trees aren't as solid as this morning's effort, but I love the composition, and I'm definitely getting somewhere fast. What do you think?

Friday, 17 October 2008

Tree #2

tree #2 Same time, next day, and I'm back in the porch. This morning the sky behind is a pale apricot, and there's a definite purple tint in the dark leaves. I start adding the planting behind the tree, but leave it only as a suggestion. I love the blocks of colour made by the sky - fence - grass - path - road, working down the page.
I initially dotted on the foliage of the tree, like dabs of paint impressionist-style, but I found it too hard, so I smudged it, then added the side-lit leaves on the left, and I think I like it. In fact I love it. The sea is the wrong colour, the tree trunk is wrong and I don't know how to fix it, but I'm not going to loose sleep over that. I'm just amazed already about how much colour I'm seeing in a view I've glanced at every day for nearly 15 years, but have never taken the time to look at.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Tree #1

tree #1 I have used soft pastels to 'paint' with since I was about 12 years old. I remember the first set I got, and I have my first pictures somewhere, because I have all my old sketch books. My sisters and I all had hobbies - my younger sister played various instruments, which cost money, and my older sister was an avid reader, so she was always buying books. Me? I was happy with a scrap of paper and a 3B pencil. I would draw and draw until the pencil was a stub, and my dad would get paper free from school because he was a teacher. I'm sure I've told you this tale before..
Anyway, my parents were always delighted when I would ask for some new art materials, because I think they thought I was neglected compared to my sister. I must interject here that my parents had little money - it's not like they lavished us with extravagant gifts, and my sisters and I always valued anything were were given, be it new or second hand. I'm getting off subject.
My first set of pastels. Right.... so, this morning in the post is the book 'Colour and Light in Oils' by Nicholas Verrall. At the very beginning he says....the first important decision for an artist is which medium to use..... so we need to find the medium that we feel most happy with, the one that offers us the greatest potential to work in a positive, uninhibited way.'
Okay, so he'll never win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but this idea is timely for me because I am tackling colour - a subject I have avoided for a long time and which I'm determined to got to grips with. Choosing to work in a new medium would be taking on too much at once, and I'd be distracted by learning new techniques when I'm trying to learn about colour.
Hence, I am working in soft pastels. I am not an expert in them, let me get this straight from the start. BUT, they hold no fear for me, unlike the tense thrill I get from painting in oils. I can get them out when I have 20 minutes to spare, and pack them away quick when the kids threaten to interfere.
I may write about the paper I'm using, but I haven't got the pad handy so I won't right now. I want to tell you about this picture; it's the view across the road as I stand in my porch, leaning on the window sill (with a cup of sweet white tea). There's a row of trees on a grass verge, with a planted area behind, then the drop down to North Dock, and the mouth of the River Wear and the North Sea beyond. It's quite a simple view, with a lot of sky above which maybe I'll get into later, or maybe not. I like the lollipop trees, and at 7.30 am in the morning they're lit from the left/behind by the cold rising autumn sun.
This is the first of what I hope to be at least a dozen or so paintings of this subject. I was interrupted by the kids toward the end, and when I returned to the porch I decided to leave this one as it was.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Not happy, decisions to be made

Ugh. This is a colour drawing of the same stretch of trees done this morning at about 7.45am.
Pros - I'm looking intently at colour, and working on the same hand subject over and over is stopping from jumping to conclusions and making me really look. It's nice to line up the drawings next to each other afterwards and look at the differences the light and weather and changing seasons are making to the same scene.
cons - the limited colours I have are dissatisfying, and the scribbling of the fine nibs isn't letting me lay down colour fast enough. With this technique I'm left with a lot of white paper in the background which is diluting the effects I'm after.
Conclusion - abandon felt tip pens, reach for soft pastels, continue with colour studies.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Focus on colour

This morning I decided to record the view from my porch of the trees across the road. I want to find out what kind of trees they are, but I'm getting off subject.

Working with my kid's cheapo felt tip pens I scribbled in the tree with the bushes behind, and the grey sky. I tried to blur it with water and a brush, but the ink wasn't moving, so I photo-shopped it slightly to mess it up a bit. It's not good, but I learnt something by just looking at the colours. Ed Terpening works in colour, and he's an inspiration. How he achieves what he does with no use of line, just patches of paint I would love to learn. So I've ordered myself a book on Amazon this morning called Colour and Light in Oils by Nicholas Verrall and Robin Capon, and I intend to work through it, alongside my Penshaw project, and try to banish my ignorance and fear of colour and my dependence on line.

Friday, 3 October 2008

One down...

Yes, I think that looks better. I want to do a few more of these using the same 'scribbling' technique with brush pens. But I want to be braver with the colours.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Not quite there yet...

Looking at the photo shopped image I'm chuffed with how different this drawing has come out. I am conscious of the ochre stone under the coal soot, and of the reflected light on the surface. I'm also playing on the 'cool recedes, warm comes forward' theory.
I do think that the dark areas need to be even darker. What do you guys think?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


The pale grey pen was running out as I scribbled in the right hand pillar, but this meant that as I slowed down the lines were darker, whereas speedy lines were quite faint.

The top left is looking messy and ambiguous, so next I want to work in some colour and emphasise what is foreground and what recedes.
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