I’ve been on a journey this year, as has everyone else. In the studio I have started painting landscapes again, and my artistic journey, with many twists and turns and uneven paths, has led me to a series of pointillist landscape paintings. It ties many different strands in my work, but I think the main reason this style suits me for the moment is that dots allow me to respond to the landscape with abstraction. I can begin to invent things which feels good. There is much to say about all of this but for now here is a recent painting. I will show some of the highs and lows from this journey in future posts.
This landscape looks across Dartmoor in the south west of England and shows the viewpoint looking from the shadow cast by a cloud towards hills with shadows on. You can’t paint landscapes in England without painting the weather. Its not all bad, as you can see the suns out over there! Thats a beautiful thing for me and has always been one of the themes of my landscapes. The light is beautiful precisely because of the shade, and there is always change, things never stay the same, there is always hope.
I can’t take too much credit for the composition of this one which was originally photographed on the Cornish coast, one of my favourite places! I like the dribble of seawater coming off the net on the left. Its a good dribble. This was another painting that I began in acrylics and finished in oil paint, and its a method I am going to return to. My dilemma is that there is nothing more pleasurable than pushing oil paint around a painting surface and acrylics lack this quality as they dry so quickly. I learned how to paint using oil paints and still feel acrylics are not the most natural method for me. They are dry before you know it and I have always found this difficult to manage. But then building them up slowly in layers has other advantages. When I was younger I wanted to draw like Giacometti and used biros and gouache paint to build up meshes of lines and daubs, and that is echoed in how I have been glazing acrylic paint when I use it. Because I don’t want to commit too much as the paint won’t let me manipulate it before it dries, I use thin layers of acrylic to slowly render the form.
I have mentioned I find this similar to carving. Inverted carving, as it is adding and not taking away. But each line or glaze of paint serves to refine and tighten the drawing, but unlike carving the mistakes add to the whole effect and in the end strengthen the drawing. When I carve stone every ‘mark’ with the chisel has to count. Every cut moves the sculpture closer to completion.
This is a portrait I did a while ago but have never shown it. Its actually a posthumous portrait from a photo. I found it in a folder titled ‘other portraits’ and not having seen it for a while I thought in the end it is probably something worth revisiting. Its interesting because I was trying to work out how to start a portrait in acrylics and then glaze with oils. I’m still trying to find a way of painting that I can settle on. I’m a bit of a technical magpie and am always hopping around seeing what works and what doesn’t but never quite satisfied with where I am. So often I find portraits from a while back and I can’t remember how I did them! Looking again at this I can see that maybe there is a way to construct a painting that has a subtle quality I’m seeking. I have different drawing styles too and one way I build up drawings is to add a lot of lines, tightening and sharpening the drawing as I go. This reminded me of that because I have used thin glazes of acrylic paint to construct the head which gives it a quality that appears both taught and is open enough to breathe. This way of slowly building up an image also reminds me of stone carving. In stone carving though there is no room for error! This way I can continue correcting, adjusting and tightening the image until it works. I thought about learning how to paint a portrait alla prima, and I may still do this as I don’t have a way to paint a portrait quickly ie in a single sitting. I have held back from doing it because there is something that irks me about the way all alla prima portraits seem to look the same as if they were painted by the same artist. All the artists I know who use this method have been taught how to do it in the same way, and for me there is something overly technical and not natural about everyone doing something in exactly the same way. People and artists are all unique individuals and surely art education is about trying to pull out that potential and individuality in a person’s work. Maybe its just sour grapes as I couldn’t do it as well as other artists. My modernist art education still hangs heavily over me and it goes against the grain to think about doing things in the same way as everyone else. But the question remains, what to do and how to do it?
Here is the first pass on the acrylic:
portrait in acrylic and oil – acrylic underpainting
Then I use oils to give it a bit more depth. Its all about the process for me. I get a lot out of slowly building up layers of paint, and having some room to breathe, allowing some human error to infiltrate the photo reference. I don’t actually mind working from photos and perhaps there is no difference between working from photos or from life as everything is photons bashing against my eyes anyway. I believe you can know someone from a photo and that you don’t have to meet them to know them in this way. Obviously it helps to meet someone in person but how well do we know people really anyway? I don’t feel I know myself sometimes and I discover new things about myself all the time. I really believe that there is a reality of a person that the photograph has captured and its the power of the artist’s subjectivity that can reveal this in a painting. Photos are different to paintings because they capture only the most fleeting moments of life. The life is still there though but sometimes photos don’t capture someone because the moment held is so bried it is almost a fragment of life. So there are good and bad photos when it comes to painting from them. I feel that an artist working from a photo can extend the moment captured and develop it into something deeper and longer.
Portrait of Taylor Swift in the manner of William Bouguereau. An oil painting demonstration
Hi there I have just painted this portrait of Taylor Swift to demonstrate an aspect of Bouguereau’s technique, working straight into colour from the drawing. I worked on it for around 4 hours including the drawing stage. Below is the drawing stage which I completed using Burnt Umber and Linseed oil medium in a kind of ‘bistre’ effect. I did model some of the lights and darks in the hair but that was only so that I could clarify the drawing. A true bistre might also model the forms of the face, but here my intention was to finish the drawing so that I could focus on the colour in the video demonstration.
Portrait of Taylor Swift – Burnt Umber bistre drawing
Here is a before and after picture. The first colour glaze took about 90 minutes
Portrait of Taylor Swift showing the drawing stage in burnt umber and linseed oil medium, and then the first colour glaze
In my portraits I would use this colour layer as a kind of underpainting and continue to refine the modelling in further glazes. The demonstration is on my youtube channel, link below.
I don’t want to seem like I’m making any grand claims but I hope to show in a new video what for me is something like the process of glazing that Caravaggio used. I’m coming to this based on trial and error. How nice it would be to travel back in time to watch him at work! But from looking carefully at his paintings and having a go myself I think this may be fairly close to it. I thought I had lost the video but it turned up in an imovie folder I made! It looks as rough as it does because of time limitations on the videos I make, but I think you can see how you would proceed and continue to refine the modelling, chroma etc. with a bit more work. Its all on my Patreon page but you can see the first installment on youtube.
The palette for the skin tones is mainly:
Burnt and Raw Umber
Black – I use Ivory Black and I’m personally not fussed which black you use.
I had a lot of fun doing this copy. Please let me know what you think about it. In hindsight the colours are quite light but I’m just getting used to this process. Also its useful not to commit too much in the beginning and deepen the colours as you go. I will work into them in the next glaze as I did in the Rubens copy.
The point is I feel I have come closer to seeing how Caravaggio achieved his painterly effects, and learned more about his process. I hope I have learned through this example how it is possible to paint using a similar process to Caravaggio.
I have painted a number of these over the years but haven’t shown any until now. I thought this one worked well with the glazing process.
Posthumous portrait, oil on board
I obviously stuck closely to the photo reference I was sent, and I painted the face using a Raw Umber and Titanium White underpainting, or grisaille and then followed this with glazes and halfpastes of Titanium White, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre, Brilliant Yellow, Burnt Umber and Ivory Black
I felt it demonstrates the glazing process as you can see how the glazes went on to the surface and some brushstrokes are still visible. I like the way you can conjure details, like the teeth, with just a few strokes of the brush. I always like to have a ‘truth to materials’ approach to painting, where as well as depicting something real you are aware that it is an illusion, and just paint on the surface.
I feel I have finally found a way to bring all the elements of my practice together at the same time and from now will be embarking on a new series of work in pen. As a sculptor by training I have always love drawing first and foremost and specifically drawing from the figure. Figure drawing in itself is more like a technical exercise for me and so for inspiration I have looked to dance in various forms.
I have also made a lot of abstract (strictly non-figurative) work in the past and investigated making some large images with pen over 10 years ago. I like the way I can build up colour and tone in an image by repeated scribbling, creating richer and deeper colours the more I work. The image comes into focus slowly, the line is built up by many other smaller lines. To me this parallels the process of stone carving which I suppose is my first love in art. I also like the fact that wherever you look the process is revealed and is exactly the same: single lines of pen that interweave in a tapestry of lines. But I’ll share more of what I think about this in further posts.
This is the first of a number of Velazquez paintings I would like to try and copy. You can see the video in real time on my patreon channel, see the link here on my website.
I was interested in what palette he used and also in his use of the imprimatura and how that was left for some of the middle tones and her clothes.
He may have painted this in 1 or 2 sittings and I show that it is possible to achieve it in 1 sitting, although how he did it in a single sitting with such breathtaking technique is anybody’s guess.
The point of the video is to gain an understanding of the technique so that I or anybody else will be able to use it in their own paintings. There are a number of things that I feel could be worked on a little more but due to the fact I was filming it I stopped working here after 1hr 10 minutes. The technique comes with practice and I think something anyone can do, but of course I mean A LOT of practice. Personally it was very enlightening to make this copy. One thing I did struggle with was not being able to see it all properly, for example the area around her left eye is very dark and difficult to make out. Because of this I think I’ll leave it here, because I don’t know how I can improve it so that it looks more like the original.
I love Velazquez because I think he was a great human being as well as a great artist, as well as being obsessed by status! When he painted various ‘outsiders’ like his bonded slave (who’s freedom he later bought) or peasants, or the jesters and dwarves in the royal court, obviously some would have been the result of royal patronage as well as his own interest. But he painted these people with what I would describe as empathy because he still respected them for their humanity. I wonder about the girl in this portrait, and differences in their ‘status’ notwithstanding, Velazquez does paint her with a sensitivity and tenderness that make this an outstanding portrait painting. She is not sentimentalised like Bouguereau would have painted her, and you can see in this portrait a precursor to Manet’s modernist portraits of people in his everyday world. For this project my main interest is the technique he used, but I still find this a touching portrait that also demonstrates Velazquez’s profound empathy.
The colours I used, and I am pretty sure Velazquez also used, were:
Hi there, I’ve been looking forward to doing this for a while, and now I’ve completed the films of both the glazes. Here is a photo of before and after the 2nd glaze.
from the 1st to 2nd glaze
So this is the painting again showing the change from the 1st to the 2nd glaze, and then following on from that you can see the 2nd glaze next to the original. The 2nd glaze took about 90 minutes, and you can see it in real time on Patreon, and off camera I spent another 10 minutes painting in the dark lines around her eyelids and some details of eyelashes. I feel this is close to the working method of Rubens, and now I’ve done it I think I can get even closer and work even more efficiently. I’m really looking forward to making some more copies from Rubens, Van Dyck, Velasquez and Caravaggio. Each time is an amazing learning experience and I have gained so much from it. I will still work on this painting a bit more but have to stop for now due to time restrictions. I didn’t really do much to the mouth which is OK, but I would model some of the transitions around there next time. In terms of the film I’ll leave it for now because I think it shows you how to achieve these results. It has been a revelation for me just working in this very limited palette, and I’m looking forward to using it in my own work in the future. If you would like to see how I did it in real time you can see it all on patreon.
about 6 hours work to get to this point. I painted the underpainting in 2 passes in Raw Umber, then 3rd pass using more Ivory black, and then 2 separate colour glazes using Vermillion, Yellow Ochre, Black and White, and some Burnt Umber
Underpainting stage for Boy Bitten by a Lizard, after Caravaggio
Hi there, I’ve just posted this on youtube. Its going to be one of 2 videos there but 6 in total on patreon where they are also unedited and in real time. This video is cobbled together from 3 real time films, about 3 hours painting in all. I loved copying this painting and learned so much. Looking forward to the next one! I still have to finish the Rubens copy I’m doing as well. And the glazing for this painting. After that Velasquez and Van Dyck.. all the Baroque greats. Thank you for looking!