Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Harmony in Autumn

It is once again the time of year for a change in the seasons, when we all start going on about mellow fruitfulness, and the second spring and all that. Well, yes that's true, and the title her is credited to Shelley. For me, autumn is a time for collecting in the leaves, garden bonfires, and hot chocolate with melted marshmallows while gazing to the starry night skies through my telescope.

Fiery reds are reminiscent of autumn, with leaves and fruits showing off their final, and most spectacular flourish. Red is such a warming colour, and as the nights turn cold, and dark, warmth and the cheerfulness of comforting earthiness is something we all seek.

Student work from the tutorials and workshops

Getting ready for this year's crop of autumnal offerings, starting with 'Conkertastic', my oversized conker in it's prickly shell. Going along wholeheartedly with my theory that if you are going to go for something in life, make it a big one. 

 And some seasonal favourites from yesteryear...

Tutsan berries have a fiery hue before turning deepest near black

Peony seed heads look amazing in the autumn garden 

"Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay." 

Robert Browning

As you can tell, I have also been very busy with the brushes, creating more of the online tutorials that have really taken off since their summer launch. As time marches on, and the leaves start to fall, I can't believe how quickly this year has flown by, and how our little online community has grown. With four lovely new projects, sketchbook exercises, the Technique Tool box videos, and the new live sessions all coming in for the website, it's no slowing down and hibernating for this busy squirrel.

Current Botanical so Beautiful tutorials

The latest tutorial, deep velvety dahlia was another flower study that was worked at twice actual size, so I could really focus on the texture and details. Lots of beautiful new quinacridone colours from Daniel Smith and M. Graham were used, and I had fun building up the complex centre with lovely golds and glowing bronzes.

See the technique video on how to paint the centre of a dahlia flower, often the trickiest part of the painting.

First wash of lilac-blue

Building up with magenta pinks

Working up the centre

Finally there with golden yellows and deepest bronzes
The finished dahlia painting

Elsewhere, I have some lovely new big projects planned for 2017. Autumn is not just a time for nature to begin the long, slow progress into winter, but is the perfect time to plan for spring, and the exciting plans for the new year. Of course, for me that means lots more painting, lots more tutorials and getting going with workshops again. If you're signed up for the archives, you can see all the latest news soon.

And, just getting back to that mellow fruitfulness. Conkers are so evocative of this time of year, and remind many of us of our childhood. Still finding enjoyment in searching for these shiny jewels of the forest is one of the joys of being an artist. Only last week I was given some very funny looks by a couple walking their dog as I was on the hunt.

"There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, 

which through the summer is not heard or seen, 

as if it could not be, as if it had not been!" 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Working in a looser style.

This little sketch was completed before I even started botanical painting 

Latest drawing for a shiny conker in its prickly casing

The conker case |I painted last year.

Finding a case without a conker is a bit of a second prize, but still a good find 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Pleasure of Sharing (more)

Well now, I knew the first post with this title was popular, but I hadn't expected it to be quite so popular. it really does go to show that we are all in need of really good advice, and when we find some, we hold it close to ourselves like a warm blanket. 

"Move out of your comfort zone. 
You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new." 
Brian Tracy

Many new tips do indeed get us to move out of our comfort zones, but I am a great believer that by doing so, we learn so much more and make greater progression towards our aims and goals. Of course, it's been over a year since the original post, The Pleasure of Sharing and so much more has happened, including picking up more tips. So, for today's post I thought I would introduce some new tips and ideas to add to the armoury.

"Each of us finds his unique vehicle for sharing with others his bit of wisdom."
 Ram Dass

Tip 1 Painting Black

I love the 'dark as you dare' hues that really make a painting sing, but achieving such dark mixes can be daunting. 

For all of my black mixes I only mix Primary colours of red, blue and yellow together or those colours which are complimentary to each other (opposite each other on the colour wheel. Cool and warm hues work to create a whole host of neutrals and black mixes. The best tip here though is to only mix colours you already have on your palette for the project you are working on. Don't introduce new colours on your palette, just to mix the darkest tones.

Tip 2 Tracing in Colour

Time to get the colour pencils out again with this one. A great tip I picked up from artist Denise Ramsay, when she shared her latest painting via Facebook. When you transfer a complicated composition from tracing paper to your watercolour paper, use colour pencils to help you see which bits of the drawing you have transferred. Change the colour whenever you move on to a different section of the piece. Simple but very effective, and stops you missing bits of your drawing, particularly on very complicated pieces.

"Scientia potentia est: Knowledge is Power"
commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon

                                                                                        (my personal favourite)

Tip 3 Picking out Highlights

This one means taking a sharp, pointy object to your painting and actually damaging it, on purpose. Sounds remarkably careless, but with a little care and precision, you can achieve very effective, tiny points of highlight on your painting by using a very sharp scalpel.

This should be the very last thing you do on your painting, as you cannot paint over damaged paper. Carefully, and lightly use a picking motion to gently lift the paint from the paper. Only do this for very small areas.

Tip 4 Black and White

I've been using this one for a very long time, as it often throws up things you can't see when a painting is in full colour. If you think a painting is finished, take a photo of it and turn it to a greyscale image, (many smartphones can do this very easily). By looking at your painting is tones of grey, you can see the tonal variation across the painting much more easily.

Colour can be a distraction when you are trying to judge contrast and tone. By looking at images on a greyscale, this becomes much more straightforward.

 Tip 5 Photo Finish

Taking photos to work from is very different from taking photos for pleasure. One of the big things to consider when taking photographs to use  as a reference is the background. A garden background that is full of colour can be very distracting, and can actually alter the colour you see in your subject. By bleaching out the background by using a large piece of white card when you take your pictures, you can take out the distractions and isolate your chosen subject.

Of course, there are some very clever pieces of software, (Photoshop) that can do this for you (if you have the time and the know-how) but a piece of card is a quick and simple solution.

Same subject, same light conditions, totally different look.
Even if I whitened the background using Photoshop, the first image would still be influenced by the darker bushes behind.

The second image shows more clearly how yellowy-green the snowberries really are.
Something that would be missed in the first image. 

Tip 6 Thumbnails

Working out a good composition can be a tricky business, especially of the subject is a new one for you. Thumbnails can be a really quick and instant way to see how something will work for you. For me, these little vignettes are a really important part of the painting process, and I can do loads of these before deciding which one works best for me.

Sometimes, to really get a feel for a painting, I will add a bit of watercolour to the sketches, to see if I am happy with the subject overall.

Tip 7 Tiny Hairs

Painting the very tiniest of hairs individually can be a very time consuming job, and may produce very uniform, unnatural looking hairs. By keeping your paint mix quite concentrated, you can use a dry brush technique, and paint several hairs at a time.

With a little paint on your brush, carefully splay the hairs of the brush out a little to form a comb effect. By stroking the brush along the edge of the stem or leaf, you will get a gently hairy effect. Use this technique best where you have very fine hairs on an edge. You can refine the hairs afterwards, and add any others individually. Sometimes you just can't get out of painting them all separately.

Tip 8 Draw a little every day

Practice makes perfect, and some would suggest 10,000 hours is needed to get very good at anything. Well, I'm not suggesting that but a good tip is to just do a little something in your sketchbook every day. 

By keeping your eye in, searching for subjects, interesting compositions and new challenges, your work will continuously grow.

Tip 9 Colour charts 

Like many artists, I love creating colour charts, and now have a good many to refer to. Colour charts are not only a useful reference, but of you get a new colour, you can see exactly where it will fit in with your current palette.

When I tackle a new painting, if I do nothing else, I will create a colour chart for it. Sometimes this might just be a general chart for the main colours, and go from there, but sometimes I will go further, with many mixes be tried out first.

The tip can go even further here, and I know there are several other artists who also do this. When making a colour chart, and working through a sketchbook study for your new painting, rather than just listing your colour mixes, put them also into the order you used them. Colours can change when you overlay them with others, so it's a good idea to know in advance what will happen

Neat and tidy
Pre mix chart for the Iris reticulata illustration 

A working colour chart for the peony seedhead painting
Tip 10 Pass it on

"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it"

Margaret Fuller