Landscapes of The Mind: The Art of Tristram Hillier
The Museum of Somerset 9 November 2019 – 18 April 2020
A small exhibition featuring about 50 paintings acquired from both private collections and national galleries. This is the first time in 30 years that it has been possible to get a collection of Hilliers work together allowing us to rediscover his realistic, yet highly symbolic, landscapes.
Born in 1905, Hillier spent his childhood in England followed by many years in France, Spain and Portugal until settling in Somerset after WWII. His father died when Hillier was just 19 freeing him to follow his passion for art instead of a business career.
In 1934 he joined a group of artists known as ‘Unit One’ who focussed upon abstract and surrealist art. The group, including artists like Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, would heavily influenced his work.
The exhibition cover his whole career right through from the 1930s to 1980s and is presented in chronological order interspersed with boards explaining each new phase. The layout is such that the visitor can easily navigate around the paintings getting a clear feel for how they developed over the years in line with his life and the changing World.
He was greatly influenced by the landscapes around him and loved to paint scenes from his travels to Europe. His realistic style is littered with symbolism relating to the effects of war, his own feelings and the fears for his family living in such troubled times. He would draw accurate sketches that he would then take back to his studio in England to paint. His meticulous study of fine detail and the textures around him bring life and interest to his landscapes. For example, in The Beach at Yport (1940), there is extraordinary detail on the netting and the brick wall in the mid ground. However the foreground rocks are almost featureless with the minimum of tones used to imply form. This combination ensures that the painting isn’t too precise and retains its dreamlike quality.
On first glance, The Vale from Cucklington (1944) depicts the usual idyllic scene of an English country church within the green countryside. However this was painted during WWII and you quickly notice that all is not as it should be with the landscape appearing rather neglected with broken gate and branches littering the road. Similarly, January Landscape (1962) shows an English countryside scene painted later in his life when in the depths of depression. Many of these later paintings lack the joy for life of earlier works, using a less vibrant colour palette and bleak compositions. This painting shows a long road ahead lined with featureless hedges and bare trees – a mirroring of his depressed state of mind.
The detail in each individual stone in the wall to the left in January Landscape is beautiful – the shadows, grooves and chips, the subtle variations in colour. Equally the bare trees show in phenomenal detail each branch and twig wonderfully backlit by the low winter sun. After exploring the composition as a whole and following the long road into the distance, you’ll find that you just have to go back to examine all that detail.
An informative and well curated exhibition, well worth a visit.
Landscapes of the Mind: The Art of Tristram Hillier (2020) [Exhibition]. The Museum of Somerset, Taunton. 9 November 2019-18 April 2020
A small collection of 20th Century Spanish and international art housed in the beautiful old customs building in the harbour.
The style of these 2 portraits really interested me having just completed a couple of fauvist style portraits myself. The earlier 1954 portrait is painted with a fairly rough brush and has unblended areas of colour. Some realistic skin tones along with greens and blues. Background plain colour with some tones for shadow. The later 1963 portrait is much smoother and blended, mainly realistic colours. Don’t know what the figure in the background is about though – rather feminine shape, possibly his mother? why is it included? Both portraits include rather more body than is usual with the head taking up less than half of the height.
Two artists with similar surrealist styles which draw you in to unravel and figure out whats happening. ‘Bullfighting’ appears to be 2 donkeys (teeth and horizontal ears so not horses?) being attacked by a smaller bull. Perhaps the oval shape behind is the bullring? A second set of bull horns (they are drawn the same as those on the bulls head) with no body are by left donkey, why ??? Ink drawing using mark making patterns of squiggles and cross hatching. Limited colour palette. The other painting is harder to make out. A multi-limbed dragon being slain by a figure with a spear. There appears to a some cowboy type spurs and a hand holding some hair. Tones of black on white with outlines, no patterning this time.
Figures portrayed with much simplified outlines and detail though still very much human.
Again I love the colours in this and the challenge of un-puzzling it. Table with lemon and box, dice, view to the outside showing blue sky, plants and trees. Geometric lines taking your eye from one place to another. Blocks of colour, no blending or shading.
Objective: To create a snowy woodland scene showing shadows in the snow.
Background first: Wetting paper so paint runs to give effect of distant forms. Drying and then adding payers with more detail, darker tones as become nearer.
Larger trees: choose light/dark sides. Paint applied with side of dry brush so scratchy and leaves white areas.
Snow shadows: varying tones, keep wet so blends out. Dark lines to show folds in ground and give form. Add hints of branches and roots poking through snow.
Pleased with this but looking at it now I needed to be clear about which direction to low winter sun was coming from, or maybe it’s just from behind through the trees? Needs more of the far distant foliage really to give a woodland effect. Just used 2 colours: Ultra Marine Blue and Burnt Sienna which keep it simple and wintry (when there a lack of colour generally). Could have splattered with white spots when dry to seem like it’s snowing…
21st February, half day:
Snowdrops in snow.
Drew snowdrops lightly with pencil and then used masking fluid to block them out so that areas are left white when background done.
Lots of water then Phthalo blue, Ultramarine, Rose Madder, Violet allowed to run. Keep edges clear. Make sure dark colour around flowers to make them more striking.
Dry then remove masking fluid.
Shading to flower petals in violet and bit of green (phthalo + lemon yellow)
Snow shadows with violet.
Flower petals worked well and look delicate / realistic. Background is OK but rather messy – I kept tipping the paper in all directions but should have left it for longer in just a few so that it had a chance to run out.
Snow would have been better given more time but it was a rush at the end! Messy bottom corner unfortunately. Good techniques learnt thought using the masking fluid. Definitely need to practice letting the paint run and blend without mushing together.
Painting student meet up in Maiden Newton on 29th January 2020.
Another great opportunity for me to pick the brains of these 2 students with regard to painting techniques, work critique and OCA questions in general. Whilst these two students are both painters, their work is as different to each other as its possible to be which is an added bonus! Student J is a talented traditional painter using mainly oils and water colour on a huge range of surfaces (paper, board, transparent sheets, fabric, wood…) and from tiny to large hangings. Very interesting to see her vast range of work for her final modules and discussed ways to display and mount. Student S is very contemporary, working a lot with moving image (eg videos of abstract painted shapes suspended on a mobile. edited, manipulated, put to sound…). So interesting to see ways that painting doesn’t have to be in the traditional style on paper/canvas.
Mount work for assessment on WHITE mount board – assessors prefer that to black. When it comes to my next assessment, take all work along and they will help me choose pieces that work together on a theme and help with presentation – it’s hard to know exactly what OCA want! At this stage, I’m thinking that my connecting theme could a ‘colour’.
Discussed my Fauve Portraits for part 3 and also View from window for Part 4. Suggestions of more artists to look at:
Howard Hodgkins – fauve/mark making
Peter Blake – British POP artist
David Hockney – later portraits to look at colour
Ben Nicholson – view fm windows
Sladers Yard in West Bay hold good exhibitions worth visiting
Student J summer exhibition:
11th and 12th July at Old School Upwey, also all of August at King Combe Centre, DT2 0EQ
SW Study Group meeting in Bristol, 8th February 2020
With OCA Visual Communications tutor Stephen Monger. Morning workshop focused upon producing a poster to fit a brief
Split into 2 groups: Conformist and Non-Conformist. Posters produced by the Conformist group are in the top line above and the Non-Conformist are the lower line. Strangely the most non-conformist are in the top line with additional writing, images cut up, extras added etc. Very interesting to see how every student tackled this differently with some things working and others definitely not.
Fonts to use – use San Serif fonts for posters (ie without the flicks) and choose one that has lots of versions as they are more likely to be professionally created. Never use 12 pts as it looks like you can’t be bothered to edit to the most appropriate!
‘In Design’ very professional, lots of options, easy editing and rotating etc
‘Canav’ – free app with templates, more for the infrequent maker.
Peer Critique in afternoon, a few that particularly interested me:
Ann: Tunnel Book – gradually reducing circles cut into identical photos and then put together with spacers between so that it looks like a tunnel. Looking through time. As it’s a book, the edges are made with concertina folds, a cover will be added together with title, blurb etc. Could be done as a sculpture instead eg using spacers to separate the photos, and no cover. Another fabulous idea for ways of displaying work. Similar to the layer paintings of Anthony Green and could certainly be adapted to painting. Also see blog by artist Shona Grant for details on construction methods.
Paddy : ‘Book as a selfie’. Instead of photos of herself, she chose to make a book for her photos that spoke to her in a variety of way. On alternate pages were quote (not her own) which were sometime relevant to the opposite photo, sometimes not. All B&W to show a feeling of being alone.
Comments were very positive of the photos which grabbed your interest. With regard to book construction: it seems rather a dated style with text pages, following each photo displayed with white border. Tutor suggested perhaps a more modern style – no white borders, no page numbers (why are they necessary?), place all quotes together so as not to distract from photos…
Liz: Layered landscape (photography). Landscape photos printed and folded geometrically, rephotographed and printed, placed into landscape and repeated again and again. Folds are tight and crisp = controlled, but the overall effect is un-controlled.
Video of the print in the landscape, some being manipulated by hands or moved showing body too – should she use sound, clips longer/shorter, on loop… separate between clips with/without body as they have a different feel. Could sound over complicate it? the tricky part has been the folding so now keep it clean and simple.
During Part 3 I have discovered Fauvism which I had never heard of before. I’ve always been a great fan of all things bright and colourful so I’ve found I keep returning to images in this style now and want to have a go for myself!
Started with just a bit of a play around to get a feel for the difficulty really – see sketchbook
It’s hard! Need to do some serious research in techniques.
Research: Firstly searched the internet for lots of images of contemporary fauvism (it appeals more than the 1900s style)
Colour, colour, colour. Bold and unblended. Dark colours, like blues and purples, used for darker toned areas and light colours, like yellows and pinks, used for lighter areas. Black commonly use to accentuate the features or outlines. Hardly any background – what does show is a continuation of the colours.
Now watched lots of YouTube videos showing examples of how to go about painting in fauvist style ie using colour instead of realistic skin tones.
Ground with black then yellow ochre. Starts by drawing portrait with dark paint then infills with Van Gogh greens and oranges. Beard colours were intense, often red. Mixes new colours using remnants on brush so that they work together. Then smaller brush for more detail. Black outlines esp around darker side of face to return the painting to more of a ‘drawing’. Background of squiggles that follow the profile, highlight with purple to make vibrant and add same in accents to face too.
A lot of pallette knife and wedge work as well as brushes big and small. Background colour of oranges and green (with lots water). Chalk drawing for placement then dark paint outline with more detail. Palette knife for bold colours on face then large decorating brush for whiskers. Fingers to smudge.
Abstract background to start, then basic outline. Built up with mainly dark colours. Flesh tones to right side of face but still leaving background showing. Cloak highlights to finish – which is otherwise only a few lines for creases.
Wow such an unusual way to paint. No model, just from imagination. Starts with thick black outline which she adjusts by running under tap to wash some off, then overpaints, sometimes wipes back with cloth too – very messy (can’t imagine it coming together at all!) When happy adds colour, no blending really, lots of overpainting to get balance right. Continual adjustments, always with big brush and bold strokes.
This is the one I love. Ground of acrylics then water mixable oils. Relies on very accurate base drawing. Uses fluorescent colours too. Thin with linseed oil to consistency of mayonnaise. NB although teeth are considered to be white, always add some grey. Fill whole canvas with colour (dark colours for dark tones etc) and only then stand back to adjust lighter or darker. No blending between colours. Frequently uses yellow ochre for shadow under the nose. Hair all black and then highlights added. Lips are flat colour with darker hues for shadow and highlights of white. Eyes and lips are the main focus.
Starts by totally covering surface with abstract blocks of colour. Then uses black to gradually add placement of eyes, lips, under nose. Adds darker toned blocks to give right side of face with blending inwards, and also background on left side etc. Chin is lighter tones. Hair uses less blocky shapes but rather more curvy lines. Very clever build up of detail – rather beyond me right now but fascinating.
What I’ve learnt from all this:
Get an accurate drawing down first
Fill entire surface with colour – light in light areas, dark in dark etc. Then stand back and do adjustments. Keep reworking.
Use acrylics so they dry fast and lots of adjustments can be done without having to leave for several days.
Accuracy of the base drawing is vital to get correct placement of eyes and mouth especially. The colour tells the story of the variation in tones but if the layout isn’t correct then the painting never will be.
keep adjusting and reworking. I usually stop way sooner than these artists seem to. Continue to tweek and adjust.
Add white/light highlights last
Dabs/blocks of colour rather than accurately scribed marks.
Minimal blending, leave it bold and broken
In all of these examples the background behind the portrait is a continuation of the abstract colours without identifiable shape and form.
A bit more of a look at Francoise Nielly art – see sketchbook:
Ready to have another go now. I’ve chosen to do a portrait of my daughter laughing (crop from same image as exercise on Conveying Character). Starting with practicing accurate drawing so using a grid to help with placement:
Now to have a try with colour. Watercolour brush pens in sketchbook:
Canvas Board, 24×20 inches, ready primed. Gradually building it up and adjusting. I can actually feel that it’s getting there, coming alive. More tweaks to make though:
detail of eye lashes and creases in black
areas inside glasses are too pink compared with yellow outside
add hair strands to left side
Largely finished? now to leave it alone for a day or two to ponder what else is needed….
The finished portrait: Fauvist Katie.
Added a couple of adjustments: made the teeth less white by adding some very pale yellow. Also made less of a colour change down line to right of mouth by adding some blue and yellow to cheek area.
I stuck to my proposed colour palette but the blending of colours when wet has created a wider range of colours including green and oranges which I feel really adds to it. I’m really pleased with the vibrancy created by using a whole range of colours which ping against each other. I studied the photo very carefully for changes in skin tone and substituted appropriate tones of colour.
For the background I continued with the same colour palette. I made sure to use contrasting colours in order to bring the face to the foreground eg on the left side of the face which is largely yellow/light tones, I used the darker pink/purple colours behind.
This painting is all about the sparkle in her eyes. I chose to keep her hair black (it isn’t really) and painted lines to show the flow and style of her hair. I then filled the gaps between with the same colours as the background in that area. Looking at it now, perhaps I should have painted more strands of hair so it was denser, with less background colour between – something to try next time.
Everyone I’ve shown this to (and since I’m pretty proud of this one, there’s been a few) has recognised my daughter, Katie, straight away. I have managed to capture the sparkle in her eyes and the way her happy face lights up the room.
I’m not completely happy with the mouth, teeth and lips. I’ve kept the colours here fairly realistic which I feel is right but the teeth and gums are especially hard to paint! I struggled with making the teeth not totally white and added a touch of yellow from my palette which is OK. For the gums I suppose you’d add a little black to give pale grey pink but that didn’t seem right. So I tried making a darker pink from my colours but they’re now really too pink I feel.
As a comparison, the above 2 photos show my progression with painting this portrait. Same image but far more accomplished now (well I feel it is). The eyes are now looking and seeing, and there is a sparkle to them. The cheeks are pronounced and in the correct place now for a laughing face. I’ve certainly learnt how important it is to get the initial drawing correct before starting to paint (shape of glasses!)
I’ve enjoyed painting this portrait so much that I’m now having another go. Found a photo of me and tried sketching out:
Not enough contrast between light/dark – this would be hard to get a good range of colours. Try another…
This photo of my daughter Beth, has better contrast between light and dark and shows her caught in a natural smile. However, this image doesn’t capture the essence of Beth in the way that the one of Katie did. Beth doesn’t usually wear makeup or have her hair done fancy – I hope I can manage to none the less capture her spirit and make her recognisable.
Had a bit of a problem with my sketch which I struggled to get right – then I realised that the face was one square too wide! Folded the page and yes it’s her now.
I want the colour palette that I use this time to be slightly different, tricky as I used all my favourites. I’ve decided to use more orange and perhaps red, instead of the rose red pink this time. The background will be orange / blue rather than pink / purple.
Realised that I had made the jaw and cheek far too dark and also too cleanly edged. Overpainted with titanium white and left to dry so that I could try that part again! Also shoulder behind neck is too dark and I need a distinction between earlobe and neck…
Toned it all down and added the detail of eyes and mouth. Eyes are Copper acrylic – I wanted something that would sparkle a bit compared to the rest of the palette and she has dark brown eyes.
Adjustments for next stage:
Pupils of eyes are a bit flat, try adding a darker edging, also white spots
The lashes on the right eye are lost into the dark background – trying lightening the background so they show
It is all TOO YELLOW! She looks like a character from The Simpsons! I need to add much more variation in colour to the skin – more oranges, reds and blues. I know why this happened – she is very pale skinned and this made me keep using my lightest toned colour ie yellow. Notch everything up a few tones…
The eyes just aren’t right. I expect this is because the blue shading on the eyelids looks like eye shadow and she doesn’t do makeup. Also less black line on lids needed
Finished painting: Fauvist Beth
Canvas Board 20×24 inches, ready primed
That’s better. Made the changes as above plus added some titanium white touches in the lightest areas of nose, chin and forehead.
I especially like the ear and jaw line. My mistake early on with making this side of the face far too dark has really paid off in that I’ve left just a slither of the dark blue along the jaw line and that really sets it off well. Ears can be very tricky I’ve found but this time the use of colours has come together well.
It’s not quite a correct likeness as predicted but the essence of her is there – slim face, lush hair. It appears ‘off’ because of the red lips and made up eyes – perhaps I should have toned down the red lips but then this is pretty fundamental to the style I’m creating…
What I’ve learnt from these Fauvist Portraits:
Wow I’m loving this style! So pleased with the results too. And I can see definite improvement between the two painting.
The black lines of ‘Katies’ hair are too few and there isn’t a lot of contrast with the background. For ‘Beth’ I carefully painted more lines, showing the style too, and infilled with a lighter colour to show some contrast. I also overpainted the black with some yellow as some shine and highlights.
I struggled with the neck on ‘Katie’ as there was less definition to show. With ‘Beth’ there is a clear, strong jaw, neck and chin.
My brush strokes also became smaller and slightly more blended which I think works better too.
I found working with the first colour palette of pinks and purples easier than with reds and oranges. I suspect this is because I’m happy with making lighter tones of pink which gave a good alternative to using yellow for all the light tones. A lighter toned red is, of course, pink which I didn’t want included in this palette and so I became restricted to using yellow for the light tones – ie making her into a Simpson character.
I’m so pleased that I did some thorough research before starting as it really helped me know just where to start. I adopted some ideas from the paintings I studied such as keeping the eyes and mouth fairly realistic like Francoise Nielly. Also continuing with the same colour palette for the backgrounds and keeping it without recognisable forms as many of the contemporary artists do.
Now I need to attempt my son so that I have portraits of them all. That will be hard – the style has been about the flow of hair amongst other things and he has short hair and a beard. Needs a lot of thought so I’m not including this in the assignment.
Born in Oban, Charles Avery works between studios in London and Mull. Since 2004 he has focussed all his work on ‘The Island’, an imaginary place that he continues to build and expand. Populated by humans together with imaginary creatures, plants and trees that do not grow or reproduce, architecture from all places and times,
Drawings, sculpture and texts.
Mainly pencil, ink and acrylic on paper.
The drawings show minute detail with considered shading. Limited use of colour – just for highlighting odd things. Slim human figures amongst objects both known and made up. Pyramids with UK high street buildings. Images fade towards the edge of the paper.
Time consuming, meticulous work. Very interesting to study each piece and work out it’s story. A lot of thought and preparation obviously goes into each piece. Although I love this work, it’s not a style I could reproduce – far too detailed and fine drawing for me to achieve.
Contemporary American artist. His homosexuality is apparent in many of his paintings which commonly feature young men, no women. Uses acrylic in a part realistic, part abstract style. Colourful and intense.
I like the use of colour in these – realistic with some bright highlights that draw your eye. Simple representation of plant for example. Blocks of colour rather than serious blending.
I liked the idea of having a group of figures in an interior so started with making some notes about the above two artworks and what I could / could not take from them to use in mine. Neither of these are painted from actual events but the artists have painted their friends/acquaintances into a setting, making up the composition. I could do that!
I decided to use my kitchen as the setting as it’s a large open space without too much fuss and detail. I then found a range of photos from social events with figures holding interesting poses or expressions. I pulled these together into a composition with larger more detailed figures at the front and those with good poses towards the back.
The foreground is a chap (my son) looking directly at the viewer holding a cocktail glass. He is the focal point that our eye starts at before being drawn back to the man blowing out the candles (David) and then onto the background.
This is the point that I decided to leave it overnight to take a fresh look the next day. Made notes on my thoughts:
It’s a shame, and odd perhaps, that none of the figures are looking at the man blowing out the candles – hmmm.
Made the changes I’d identified :
The main one being the legs of the man blowing the candles – tricky but I’ve done what I could. I overpainted the bottom section of the black shirt with titanium white and then the blue of the jeans, reshaping a bit too. I also moved his knee up to extend the length of his lower leg and narrowed his arm. Not exactly right still but better.
Added more width to the face of the lady across the table, now including the other eye. Also narrowed her neck which looks more human now
Added some light detail to the clothing of the background ladies
Altered the line of the chair seat – looks less awkward now
Flattened the bottoms of the dangling lights
Pretty happy with this now. Taking a step back to dwell on what hadn’t worked out and why was a good move and I was able to refocus and come at it afresh. I wonder if the people would be recognisable to themselves – I’ll pop this on Instagram was see what reaction I get. The form of the candle blowing guy still bugs me – something to note for the next time – I must make sure my sketch is accurate before starting to paint. Glad I chose to use acrylics rather than oils – I don’t think I could have managed this if I had to keep waiting for it to dry.
The composition gives the interior space – the foreground figure is large and detailed, the background smaller and rougher. Also the perspective of the table, bench and far wall.
Update 10/1/20: I showed this to a friend who immediately named three of the people without hesitation. What a relief that I’ve caught the essence of at least some of the people without needing to paint totally realistically.
Research point 3: Figures in interiors
A dreamy, misty room with a figure sitting on the floor, reading. It looks as if she happened across the book, got engrossed and just sit down where she was to read. Detail in room is non descript – tables with objects on. Bottom third of canvas is just floor. Limited palette of pale browns and blue – soft and relaxing. The woman sits centrally within the painting and is the focus.
A black tie event with guests crammed into the room. Many looking rather depressed – definitely not a party atmosphere! Many of the characters have been identified but this is not a party that really happened. The reason for this virtual gathering and its mood is left to our interpretation. The figures form the focus with the room mostly hidden. Our eye darts from one figure to another, studying ‘who they are’ – no single one pulls you in more than another. Interesting style: how he uses an assortment of skin colours and tones, black for outlines and feature detail, semi abstract, each person very individual personality – I tried to use this style for the Interior painting above and it does help give each person an individual personality.
Scene from everyday family life. Figures are in the foreground but the eye is drawn backwards through the enormous room by the highly polished floor. What would otherwise be a rather bland floor covering over half the painting, is brought to life by the patches of bright summer sunlight coming through windows and casting bright patches on the floor. No furniture to speak of to distract the eye. Whilst the figures should be the focus, our eye is quickly taken by the great sense of space created within the rooms and the figures seem to become insignificant.
Rather a tricky one this, needs plenty of thought…
I went Christmas shopping to Exeter and was struck by the number of homeless people (mainly men) on my walk from the car park. It struck me that there was such a contrast between these people (cold, lonely, hungry, dirty, unshaven, desperate) and the shoppers (happy, wrapped up warmly, laughing, spending freely, full of festive joys).
I sketched from memory when I got home – obviously couldn’t stand there to sketch or take photos.
At first I thought about doing a view of a home with a lite up window showing a family inside laughing and eating their christmas meal. In the foreground I could put a silhouette of a young lad watching them – perhaps an estranged son or son from a previous marriage. However this composition idea gradually changed into a view of distant shoppers amongst the bright lights happily going about their business with the homeless silhouette in front. I was keen to have a go at painting figures in a loose way in the distance and this seemed the ideal opportunity. Being loose and free is something I find very hard and need lots of practice!
For some reason I decided to go with Oil paints again despite finding them a pain because of the waiting for layers to dry. And also I find mixing them tricky and quite a fuss – harder to get the colours you want than with acrylics I find, and adding fast drying mediums and Linseed oil is a faff.
As the composition is fairly wide it didn’t suit the more square shaped canvas boards that I have and so opted for the SAA Artists primed canvas 380gsm 40x50cm, which I taped to a board.
At the end of first session – rough marking out using brush and also knife. Distant shoppers with bags look OK but I need more up towards the shops and these need to be even more vague and loose!
Using colour to accentuate the differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ ie warm colours – reds, oranges, yellows – for happy shoppers. And cold blues and blacks for the foreground homeless.
I’m aiming for the foreground being a dark silhouette so that the initial focus of the viewer is on the shops and shoppers. Hopefully the eye will then be taken to the foreground and the contrast noted – that’s the aim anyway!
Spent some time looking at how other artists paint bright lights in a dark street and also ways of painting figures in the distance – see sketchbook
Left for 4 days to semi-dry…
I like Leonid Afremov’s painting style of night scenes in the rain with brights colours reflecting and merging. Obviously my painting is of a cold snowy scene rather than rain which means I can’t have the long reflections and glare but I’m keeping my brush strokes rough and a little abstract rather than trying for realism. More work needed on homeless figures and also the xmas lights.
Good contrast between foreground and background creating the story of different lives. Happy with my effort with the distant figures and keeping them free and loose. Perhaps I could have added more figures, especially in distance.
Tried to convey the feel of life happening inside the shops whilst still keeping it loose – I think I’m getting there especially with the left hand bar …
I can tell that there are 2 homeless people in the foreground but I wonder if that’s obvious to others? (seems to be when I asked a couple of people)
Left for a week to mull over and then made a few changes:
More variation in colour and marks added to trees where light catches them.
Upstairs windows have been changed so they’re not quite so luminous – window bars/objects hinted at.
bit of detail to xmas light hanging in street and also in bar window
more distant figures
Not completely happy – it’s all a bit twee and christmas card like but the essence of what I was trying to convey is there. The eye starts with the shoppers and windows before coming forward to the silhouetted men and so it leads the viewer into seeing the two halves of the scene.
All of these artists are looking straight at us, ie looking into a mirror in order to paint themselves. That is except for Fred Hatt who has the benefit of modern technology to video himself and display live on a monitor which he looks at instead (see below).
Un-prepared canvas, his usual blurry brushstrokes, focus and detail all on face with shoulders and background roughly painted – doesn’t go right to edge, remember this! Wearing his artists beret and very much looks like he’s standing at his easel and looking in a mirror to do this. Serious, concentrated expression.
Made over 300 self portraits throughout his career and clearly showing a record of his aging. Drawings, paintings, alone, with others, pulling expressions…. This one is artist at work with his brush crossing the edge of the painting, Very effective simple blocks of colour with no variation in tone. Face just one tone with brush strokes in darker. Looking in a mirror at himself while painting flat on the table.
“In December 2012 I drew this portrait, with a camera set up to capture stages in the development of the picture. I pointed a video camera at myself and drew from the image on a monitor, to avoid the reversed face you get in a mirror and the frozen effect you can get from working from a photograph. The bluish colors you see under my eyebrows represent the cool glow of the computer monitor I could see on my face. ” (Fred Hatt, 2013)
Multicoloured line work on brown paper that is still visible. Red background pushes the face forward.
Artist uses the mirror (convex spherical surface) as the focus of this piece rather than the reflection itself. Careful study of how the surface distorts the image. Cannot see the artists work in the drawing however.
Drawn about a year before his death and took several months to complete. The look of fear in his large staring eyes is prominent and the black lines are said to have got darker as he worked on the piece. All about feelings and expression rather than accurate representation. Tonal shading makes the face rounded with depth (the nose)
Limited colour palette with red accent of leaves behind. Lots of visible brush strokes give it character and life, limited use of tones to show light/dark areas of skin, more just to show a mottled complexion.
Painted several self portraits in the early years to develop his own style. Very realistic. I wonder how he painted this composition in a time before photography and managed to get those staring eyes. Lots of tonal variation and use of bright light to create contrasts.
I’ve decided to give Oil Paints a go as several other students have said that they’re easier to use than acrylics and worth giving a go. I’ve bought Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colours along with a book ‘Oil Painting for Dummies’. Watched lots of YouTube videos also to find out the differences between regular Oils and Water mixable Oils:
Giddings, A.M. and Clifton, S.S. (2008) Oil Painting For Dummies. (s.l.): Wiley.
They are still Oil Paints and all the same rules apply to these oils as to regular ones. The only difference is that brushes and hands can be washed with water instead of smelly solvent. (Also these oils can be mixed with a few drops of water instead of linseed oil in certain circumstances but see below)
Range of colours available is slightly less and there are cadmium hues rather than regular colours – this appears to be because they are less toxic but colours are just as good
Water mixable can be mixed with regular oils – you’ll just need to use solvent now to wash brushes etc, the mixing works fine
They take the same time to dry – the thicker they are applied the longer they take – maybe months or years!
Paper/boards need to be primed with a mix of Acrylic Paint and Gesso to help the oils stick
Water Mixable Oils can be thinned with either water or Water Soluble Linseed Oil
Fat Over Lean rule applies: successive layers of paint must contain more oil to avoid cracking. If completing a painting in one sitting (alla prima), then this doesn’t matter and use either water or oil to thin as desired. If working in layers then first layer thin with 1 drop oil and leave for few days/weeks, next layer must be thinned with 2 drops oil and left, third must be 3 etc
Very nervous about starting with Oils and procrastinated for several days but eventually decided that I just had to jump in! Set up an easel next to full length mirror so that I could glance sideways to see myself. Remember to keep my glasses lower down my nose than usual so that I can see both in mirror and close-up on canvas. Wearing hoodie and apron – it’s cold in this studio. Light coming from left side.
Canvas Board – Loxley, 16×12″, primed
This was after perhaps 2 hours, decided to stop there as it’s beginning to get tricky with paint muddying as extra added. I used a little water to thin this first layer. No Black in my pack of 10 tubes – a bit surprised by that but quickly discovered that French Ultramarine and Burnt Umber in roughly equal quantities mix to make Black. Skin tones are White mixed with Yellow Ochre and maybe a little Burnt Umber. Lip colour was tricky – added a little Cadmium Red Hue to skin colours but it’s a little too pink. Try adding Permanent Alizarin Crimson instead next time as that is more burgundy…
Took a step back – surprisingly not too bad. Eyes too large, especially the left one. Mouth not in line with nose. Are eyes too high up on my head? – remeasured and no they’re at about the right level it’s just that my head is angled down slightly and I have chins! Next day (so oils are still totally wet which is so odd after using acrylics) just touched up the left eye and moved mouth.
Better. Now put to one side for a week or so to dry – possibly do more to it later.
Clothing and hair were fairly straight forward, it was mixing the skin tones that I found really tricky. This was further hampered by it being oils so that it was near on impossible to correct a wrong tone – I’m not used to having to wait for days. I was mixing each tone as needed but this lead to a very messy palette with no order about it – I need to find a better method.
There is a fair likeness except that my skin tones are far too light and need to have a more red tint. Range and placement of tones is OK but not their colour. Two OCA student friends recognised that it was me but said I looked ill with such washed out grey skin!
Exercise: Head and shoulder portrait:
This isn’t easy, there’s only me and David at home and he’s always on the move. The only thing for it is to move my easel etc down to the sitting room and paint him while he watches TV in the evening. It’s dark outside the windows with the glass reflecting odd things. The furniture is also dark in colour. I ask David to change his dark grey hoodie for something lighter in colour – cream shirt and light grey jeans.
I’ve never painted in front of friends or family before and am quite nervous about his reaction.
SAA Acrylic Practice Paper, Satin Lined-Embossed Surface 330gsm – meant for acrylics but hopefully it’ll be ok. Taped down and primed with one layer of gesso – should it be white acrylic mixed with gesso? one or more layers? I don’t seem to be able to find the answer to this simple question! Paper curved a little after gesso so perhaps not ideal…
About one and a half hours. I’m tired now and he’s had enough of sitting still-ish. Realised that I’ve done more than Head and Shoulders – oh well. Beginning to get the tones in clothing. How do I paint a balding head with just some hair? Skin tones need to be a bit redder.. Good start but time to leave for a week or so before doing another layer.
Tuesday 3rd Dec met up with a couple of OCA painting students in Maiden Newton for a bit of critique and group help. I showed images of my 4 figure paintings so far. Very positive reaction and feeling greatly encouraged. They liked compositions and variations on techniques explored. Oils need practice with mixing skin tones (yes definitely!). Head and Shoulders portrait of David on sofa: don’t fiddle with clothing or background further, good as it is, work on head and skin with another layer.
Also discussed the disappointing news that units are being limited to 1 year maximum now – should be fine for me as I don’t work and aim for 10-11 months then a bit of a break, but impossible for working students. We hope OCA will survive this!
Pointers on using oils and skin tones:
try using a glaze as this brings Oils to life
This book was recommended by a tutor as great for colour mixing practice and has lots of practical exercises such as mixing skin tones actually on your hand. Basic Colour: A Practical Handbook: by Jane De Sausmarez – ordered 6/12 from Amazon
Mix a range of tones on palette before starting painting, right from the lightest to darkest (add appropriate oils/mediums now) – this way is a lot less fussy than mixing as you go. Yes my palette has been getting in a total muddle so I’ll give this a go
Get zinc white for mixing. Just as with acrylics, the titanium white isn’t the best for mixing so invest in zinc
more life poses on the Royal Academy website for free
investigate Liquin Fine and Liquin Gel – opinions vary but could be good for mixing
use the Fast Drying Medium – oils should be dry in about a week if not too thick
Head and Shoulders continued:
Base layer dry so re-working skin and leaving the rest as it is. After my self portrait I now know to focus on the skin tones more accurately and so this time I mixed Titanium White, Burnt Umber and Alizarin Crimson to get a much redder colour. I also started by mixing a range of 8 tones in order on my palette and labelling each clearly to make remixing next time easier – see mixing palette in sketchbook (also adding a few drops of Water Mixable Linseed Oil to each as 2nd layer).
Initially I used a small brush but quickly found that this wasn’t any good as it didn’t hold enough paint and there was no coverage. The tones are much closer now and I’m fairly happy with the head except for the nose! I tried wiping that area clean and redoing but I’m still not happy with it, especially the area under the nose, so will have to wait again for it to dry and try again…
5 days later…remixed tones for skin and redid the nose – shorter and rounder. Moved mouth up a bit and adjusted some of the too dark tones. Quite a bit better now although it’s not a very flattering likeness of the poor man.
Research Point 2: Portraits that convey a distinctive mood or atmosphere
Both the above use restricted palettes of black, white and earth colours with an emphasis on using tone to show atmosphere. The lack of a varied colourful palette infers a basic life without extravagances. Somber, hard working, faithful.
Picasso’s Blue Period lasted from 1900-1904 whilst he was in the depths of depression with no fixed studio space. They show the relative poverty and instability he experienced in the streets, with beggars, the old and frail and drunks. The blue colour gives the paintings a cold joyless feel of despair.
“German expressionism was an early twentieth century German art movement that emphasized the artist’s inner feelings or ideas over replicating reality, and was characterised by simplified shapes, bright colours and gestural marks or brushstrokes” (Tate.org.uk). Both paintings use blue, yellow and green (analogous=colours that lie adjacent to each other) which create a rich though calm feel.
“Fauvism is the name applied to the work produced by a group of artists (which included Henri Matisse and André Derain) from around 1905 to 1910, which is characterised by strong colours and fierce brushwork ” (Tate.org.uk)
Contemporary Fauve art – an even stronger, more vibrant use of colour than before with an amazing use of complementary colours that make the painting extra bright and full of vibrant life. Love these! Definitely a style I’d like to try – use of colour as the tones ie dark colours like purple v. light colours like yellow, also use of warm and cool colours. Have a go! ***
For this exercise I want to use lots of colour to give a happy joyful and lively atmosphere – bold, in your face and fun. I don’t suppose that it will be true to life but rather give the feel of form within colour.
I’m going to keep going with oil paints and this time use a palette knife to apply the paint thickly (impasto) hoping that the texture will also add life and movement to the figure.
I started by sketching more life poses using The Royal Academy live website (see sketchbook):
I decided to use this pose as there is a strong contrast between light and dark. The figure is in the process of jumping – a very lively shot with lots of movements to suit my chosen atmosphere.
Canvas Board, roughly A2 size, ready primed. Mixed a range of bold colours from light yellow through to dark red – I literally applied these by looking at the photo and, starting with the lightest, used the palette knife to apply that to the appropriate areas, then 2nd lightest and so on to the darkest.
I scraped 3 shades of green across the canvas for the background. When semi-dry, I added some blues and let them lightly blend. Blue/green is the complementary colour of red/orange and so therefore helps to create a vibrant image. Also applied more oils to the figure and studied exactly where the tones should be. Fairly happy with this – top elbow isn’t quite the right shape and that light patch in his stomach needs removing. There needs to be something to connect the figure and the background which currently seem to exist separately.
Brought the figures colours into the background in horizontal and vertical marks – lightest on the left where the light source comes from, and darker on the right. In this photo the central left area appears to have a glowing blue-ness which I really like – not in the painting though, just a trick of the light. I wonder if I can reproduce this…
I love the looseness and textures of the marks created by using a knife. It is not a likeness of the figure but rather a celebration of the strength, agility and movement.
If I were to do this again I would change the pose slightly so that his lower legs appeared to be the correct length – they appear too short in my painting. Both are bent backwards and away from us, hence foreshortened but my painting doesn’t convey this well.
Exercise: Conveying character
My daughter Katie is a perfect model for this task – she has one of those faces that really lights up a room when she’s happy but boy do you know it when she’s not! The photographer caught one of those moments at her wedding with them roaring with laughter.
SAA Artists Cotton Canvas, for oils and acrylics, 40x50cm . Using acrylics this time so that I can get this done in a day or two. Working with the canvas flat on the table rather than on an easel. Haven’t used canvas before but it’s primed and ready to go. Start with pencil outlines and watered down acrylic washes to get basic shapes.
The tones on the faces are all important to get the humour, as are the shape of the eyes.
I struggled a lot with the mouths and getting dark flesh tones that weren’t pink – eventually got them sort of ok and the Paynes Grey shading down the tongues helped. Yet again doing fine accurate lines defeated me and their glasses frames are weirdly shaped. I used a very light violet together with Titanium White for the lacy dresses and dabbed on the paint to leave a slightly textured finish – quite happy with the effect.
Skin tones are much better this time with acrylics rather than oils – I’m keeping it thin and it’s easy to blend and control.
Katie, on the right, is not too bad – could have got more of a sparkle into her eyes but she’s definitely laughing. Toni, on the left, isn’t quite there – her face is too wide, should be longer under the mouth, and her eyes are too low behind her glasses. Decided that I needed to adjust her a bit…
Changed the hair line which makes quite a difference. Can’t alter the placement of her eyes at this stage though.
I feel that although the likenesses are not quite there, I have managed to portray the humour with their facial expressions. I’m happy that I’m progressing with my colour mixing and that the skin tones are improving now.
Review of all my portraits:
Each one has been successful in their way and I’ve certainly learnt from each to move me forward. I started with sickly pale skin tones, moved to too pink before getting it right for the final piece. The first 3 were oils which I found a challenge technically as they need to be left to dry before more layers and corrections can be added. I enjoyed the speed that it was possible to complete the last one in acrylics a refreshing end to this section.
My personal favourite is the abstract figure in red tones. I love the vibrancy and life of this painting, and look forward to doing more in this style. The other true to life portraits are competent attempts but they highlight the errors to someone who knows the people portrayed. A lot more practice would be needed for me to feel competent with painting true to life portraits. If I get time I’d like to have a go at painting Katie (on the right) in the fauve style of Ivy Lang above – lots of vibrant complementary colours used for the tones…
Exercise: Drawing the human Figure – see sketchbook for a range of life drawing sketches. As I couldn’t find a life drawing class at short notice, I managed to find this site with timed poses for free. It’s possible to sign up and pay to get the full package of poses and tuition but I’m sticking with the free stuff for now:
Research: image collection of figure drawings and painting that appeal to me (artists listed below).
Annette Smith, watercolour
Evelina Dilon – realistic skin tones but applied in rough way
Debra Hurd – skin tones enhanced with warm reds and ‘life’
Justin Ogilvie – detail toward front but rear leg etc have none, just shadow
Leomid Aframov – feathery, dabbing brush strokes, I might find this easier?
Anastasiya Valiulina, oil on canvas – violet as mid tone skin
Helena Wierzbicki – background and figure have same colours, all about the placement of the colours. Uses black outline where darker toned
Standing Blue Nude by Henri Matisse – just carefully shaped cutouts, no tone at all
The Dance by Henri Matisse
Three Studies of a Ballerina by Edgas Degas
Worm drawing at Hickory Museum of Art – line to give tones, extremities without detail
You’re Still My Favorite Story by Samantha Rueter – same colour for figure and background, black lines to show form, lightest tones left white, direction of brush strokes
Exercise: Linear Figure Study
Lots of different styles and techniques shown above to choose from of course but for this task I’m going to try out the style of Samantha Rueter (no. 15 and also see sketchbook)
This is the pose I chose and first sketches focussing on line:
I then tested out a few techniques to see what worked. Samantha Rueter uses Acrylics and Mixed Media for most of her work. I was interested to try making the lines in a variety of ways (see sketchbook):
Acrylic Ink background with credit card and figure lines with stick – a bit tricky to control
Acrylic paint this time which doesn’t scrape very interestingly but it’s easy to get a range of tones by diluting. Figure lines with brush – I like the layering of tones with line as on head and shoulder area.
This one’s watercolour which I have very little experience of using ‘properly’ so am making it up! On Hahnemuhle Mixed Media 310gm2 paper for watercolour.
First applied wash of violet and tilted page to allow it to run and spread. Allowed to dry a little and then used a credit card to scrape back the lines of the figure. Dried off with hairdryer and then used credit card to add paint to accentuate lines and areas of darker tone eg face and shoulder, bottom and lower back. Used credit card to scrape paint horizontally for floor and vertically for walls to ground the figure (Violet and Phthalo Blue). Yellow (complementary colour) highlights added – not applied well and look a mess but perhaps if done better…
Interesting method, needs more practice to get it right but I feel this could go somewhere so trying more watercolour figures:
Water Colour, this time on Canson Mix Media 200gm2 paper.
There is too much background this time and the lower half of the figure hasn’t got the correct proportions. I did try lightly drawing on the outline before applying the wash but it got lost of course. I do like the crop below however – the angles of the shoulder and how it’s highlighted on the upper side, the heavy shade on the face and neck, and the ragged hair falling over her face.
Another watercolour try:
Back to the Hahnemuhle Mixed Media 310gm2 paper. Proportions better this time and I like having less background colour. Worked hard on the shaded area of face and neck, and again that area has worked well whereas the feet and lower legs are wrong but reworking is making it worse! Scraping back the wash gives very light outlines of slight puddles of wash ie light line effect for the light areas. By then adding paint to the darker toned lines, the figures become 3 dimensional and rounded.
This paper is very different from the Canson – although this one specifically says for watercolour, the surface doesn’t hold up to much rubbing and is rather like blotting paper giving a rough textured finish rather than the smooth of Hahnemuhle paper.
Exercise: Tonal figure study
Restricted palette so that I focus on the tonal values so perhaps something like the figure by Justin Ogilvie (no. 4 above)
Acrylics on SAA Practice Paper, Satin Linen – Embossed Surface 330gsm.
Started with a mid toned grey wash as suggested. Decided to go with blue instead of flesh colours so that I could focus on the tones rather than getting the exact colour correct. Mixed up a range of 9 tones using Indigo, white and black acrylic – see sketchbook.
Left to dry for a few hours after 3. above so that I could focus on the adjustments needed. Used a mop brush to apply a light second coat to background so that brush strokes largely disappeared and to give the feel of more texture. Changed to my smallest rounded point brush and did dots rather the strokes which seemed to work better for me. Really studied the changes in tone. Reworked the face and hands several times but still not totally happy that they’re correct. Left overnight.
Small reworkings to hands – I realised that I had all the fingers splayed rather than overlapping at the tips and added darker tone to the finger ends. Also narrowed the top of that right arm toward wrist. Bit better now.
Overall I’m quite happy that I’ve got the tones largely correct so that she looks realistic and rounded. Hands and head still aren’t quite right but the best I can do for now.
The angle of her lower left leg isn’t correct – should be vertical rather than angled inward, and this has the effect of making her look like she’s dancing/bouncing around instead of putting some weight into those toes in a still pose.
Loving this paper – paint glides over it smoothly and it’s sturdy enough not to crinkle at all. Expensive but probably worth it.
Thanks to my tutor for such positive feedback. It’s very reassuring to know that not only am I loving exploring and learning to paint but I’m also on the right lines for this course.
“Feedback on assignment: Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration ofCreativity
Within your outcomes for this part you demonstrate a good technical command of your materials across a range of mediums. You show a commitment to your practice and good compositional and visual skills throughout. Your confident use of colour and alternative formats show an inventive approach and you are commended for your ambition with your final piece.
Your still life studies show a well considered colour pallette and observational awareness. Your technical skills are good, evidenced by a command of perspective. There is a graphic quality and precision to some of your sketchbook work and I particularly like your use of a viewfinder to crop a painting study, as it intensifies the vibrant orange, reds and green of subject and creates a more abstracted and formal image.
The technical parameters of your fish eye works for this assignment are challenging and you have shown a competent ability to represent this well, within your final outcomes and more so in your preparatory works. The cropped edges of your work on board enhances the optical quality of your composition. Works depicting interiors can feel claustrophobic but by using this non-human viewpoint you have managed to create an expanding space. This gives the piece a sculptural quality that could perhaps be explored further in future work.
(I really enjoyed developing this fish eye interior and it’s definitely a style that appeals to me and will certainly pursue it further at some point. Crossing the surfaces linear boundaries and having parts continue outside, helps keep the eye searching every corner of the piece – I find including this were possible helps a composition)
There are many challenges with this work and it’s good to see you explore different methods of applying your paint, alongside thorough planning of your composition. You have developed some intriguing results, most successfully when applying more illustrative methods, rather than impasto techniques, where to my eyes the optical effect of the composition is lost through the more gestural application of paint. Here raises a question between representation and abstraction, and how to select methods and mediums for the type of ideas explored.
(I agree – I wasn’t at all sure about the green impasto version but some students at the study day preferred it as it gave an abstract fairytale feel. I did like the texture and life the impasto gave however so definitely more experimenting to be done here.)
Moving forward, continue as you are and use experimentation to develop unexpected directions for your work to take. Use your sketchbook to trail diverse ideas and push your comfort zone. Explore mixing different mark making mediums on your surface, with a focus on explorative processes and material investigation.
Sketchbooks: Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity
You are finding a good balance between sketching, planning, note-taking and experimenting with exercises, alongside some artist research throughout your sketchbook. There is an eclectic mix of ideas and images and it’s building into a great document of your progress so far. The only thing I would say is to be less precious with the pages and let further experimentation spread across more and more pages. Sketchbooks don’t have to be linear, go back and rework sections, or pull parts out to use in other works.
(This first POP sketchbook was far too neat, nerves at it all being so new. But this is changing – lots of experiments in Part 3)
You have included some interesting references throughout your blog, offering insight on your thinking process and exhibition and study visits. You demonstrate an understanding of the research points and write clearly about a variety of ideas. Moving forward, focus your reflecting on how contextual research is impacting specifically on your own work. What can you glean from your research that is supportive of your own practice, both technically and creatively. Try to reflect more directly on how contextual research is impacting on your own ideas, methods and approaches and importantly the subject matter you are interested in.”
(Noted, and I’ll attempt to write more about it. I find researching work by other artists of immense benefit and commonly use this as a starting point for my own pieces – more direct reflection needed here then.)
Several links to contemporary artists were then included which I shall investigate and write up seperately.