Thursday, 4 September 2008

Compartments II - Bottle and Blue Surform

This might be the last post for a while. Still busy moving house and it needs alot of work, so everything is on hold at the minute.
Another compartment painting. The blue object is an old surform (a kind of wood plane). I had been hoping to find an old retro style stapler for this painting, but didn't come across one. I found the surform and thought it had a bit of character. I realised that it had a similar shape to what I was looking for in the stapler, so went for that instead. The shape kind of echoes the shape of the shoe and the colour pulls the blue out from the AllStar logo. Although the objects in the paintings may appear to be random, or "mismatched", they all associate with each other in some way. One of the ideas behind these paintings is "balance" so I'm trying to get a relationship going between the colours and the shapes - where a certain shape or colour is repeated or mirrored elsewhere in the painting- tying the compsition together.
I'll post some closeup details of this painting in the next post.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Untitled - Charcoal

More charcoal work.

Haven't had much of a chance to get stuck into these charcoal drawings yet. They're still kind of in the experimental stage. Busy moving house at the minute so I'm not getting much work done.

It's easy to go too dark with charcoal and once it's down it's difficult to take off again. Finding the right paper is one of the main problems. I've tried alot of different "speciality" paper recently, (and wasted alot of money) , and I've ended up coming back to plain old Canford cartridge paper. It's the only thing I've found which will respond to each of the tools I'm using, (pounce bag , stumps, charcoal sticks etc.), and give any kind of control over the surface texture. It's still not quite there though. I would like to find something more archival, and with more of a velvety surface - something that will take alot of the rough texture of the chracoal sticks and also the softer work with the brush. I've heard that some of the Strathmore paper is good for this kind of thing, but it seems hard to get hold of in the uk, especially in the bigger sizes.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Charcoal - Head of a Man

Head of a Man - 32" x 45" - charcoal on paper

For a while now I've been intending to start a series of drawings in charcoal. Up until now I haven't had a chance to really get started on them, but I've had an image in my mind of how I want these drawings to look. The idea was to keep them quite loose and almost "painterly", but with focused areas of tighter detail. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get the effect I was after just using straightforward vine or compressed charcoal on it's own so after a bit of experimenting, I've found that a combination of brushes, stumps, pounce bag, pencils, powdered and compressed charcoal gets pretty close to the idea I was trying to get at. I'm still looking for a way to "paint" with powdered charoal. I think spraying it with something and spreading it with a brush is the way to do it, but I need to work out what to use, possibly some kind of alcohol. I'll post more of these as they come.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Still Life with Pot and Matches

Still Life with Pot and Matches - 18" x 14" - oil on panel

This is the first in a new series of larger scale still life paintings. The wooden compartments will be a recurring theme, so I'll see where they take me.

Stillness and Meditation

“Seek in a still life stillness and meditation. You may find there action, drama and passion, but the best still life is that wherein inward calm is attained in quietness.” - Albert Plasschaert, Dutch art critic.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Eilidh (La Luna)

So, as promised, here is the original portrait of Eilidh.

Eilidh (La Luna) - 40" x 30" - oil on canvas

The object she is holding is a tarot card, "The Moon" or "La Luna", from an old Italian deck. It is a play on the name "Eilidh" - a Gaelic form of Helen, which means "moon" or "shining light". I had originally intended to have a window in the room with moonlight coming in, but in the end decided to keep things simple. The moon idea is echoed in the round pendant she is wearing and also, to some degree, in the overall roundness of the shape created by the face and hair.

Here are some closeups of various details:

And the original oil sketch which the painting was based on...

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Original painting of Eilidh

In an earlier post I put up some pictures of the different stages of the painting “Eilidh in Northwest Light”. I mentioned about how I had originally started the painting as a much larger piece, but came to a standstill half way through and painted the smaller head study instead. It had always been at the back of my mind to carry on and finish the first painting but I hadn’t really planned to do it any time soon.
For the last couple of months, since around Christmas, I have been working on paintings for the various London portrait exhibitions, which creep up all at once around this time of year. As usual, I had started something way too ambitious, way too late to have anything finished in time, so after a bit of a panic, I came across the original, half finished Eilidh painting - which I had forgotten about - and decided I could do something with it. I left the painting I was working on (again) and started work on this instead.
It’s always surprising what six months, or even a year of not looking at a painting can do to your perception of it. Looking at something with a “fresh eye” is one thing, but looking at something which you’ve completely forgotten about pretty much makes it like a brand new painting again. I could see it had potential and I knew exactly what I needed to do as soon as I saw it, so got to work straight away. I think that it’s reassuring , and a good measure of advancement, when you can actually pinpoint the exact thing which was causing the problem, and which actually stopped you finishing a painting, and a few months later go back and understand it, paint it, and move past it.
The main issue here was that I had brought the face up to a certain level of finish ,or so I thought, but it still didn’t look finished. It didn’t look particularly like it was existing in three dimensions. It didn’t look convincing. It’s not that it was flat, it just looked “unreal”. And in trying to inject realism into it (but without understanding what it was really lacking), I ended up “overpainting” it, and managed to paint out any kind of expression that had been there. A lot of the problems were solved by a better understanding of colour mixing, more meaningful application of the paint, better drawing and in this case closer attention to the structure of the eyes. And because most of the groundwork was already done, it took a lot less time to inject some life back into it than I had expected.
I managed to finish it just in time, and went about as far as I could go with it. I’ll sort through the photos and put up the pictures in the next post.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Pot and Plum

Pot and Plum - 5"x6" - oil on panel


Saturday, 8 March 2008

Still Life Painting - Lemon

Lemon - 5"x6" - oil on panel


Thursday, 14 February 2008

Plum #1

Plum #1 - 4" x 5" - oil on panel


Still Life Paintings

Unfortunately I haven't been able to paint and post as many of the small still life paintings as I'd hoped because for the last two months all of my time has been taken up with portraits for upcoming exhibitions, which I will post in the next week or so. Towards the end of this month I'll hopefully be able to get up to speed with these and start posting more regularly. So far I've really enjoyed doing them and I can see that I could really benefit from the discipline, so I'll look forward to getting into the habit of doing them more regularly.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Still Life painting #3 - Linseed Oil

Linseed Oil - 5" x 6" - oil on panel

Not For Sale

Realism and Expression

Something I have been becoming more and more concerned with recently in my painting is trying not to "over paint " a subject - to leave alone what doesn’t need to be touched. Some marks that are made on the canvas are inspired and happen just as they should, but unfortunately they aren’t always recognised for what they are and are obliterated and overpainted in the pursuit of a more “accurate” painting. The magic that can be created by two or three intelligently placed or inspired brushstrokes can be snuffed out by one thoughtless or meaningless one, and the effect lost completely. The question is; at which point do you sacrifice the absolute accuracy of the object you are painting for the artistic and creative or emotional expression of the object in paint? This is the personal dilemma. On more than one occasion I have looked at photographs I’ve taken of a painting in progress, and discovered that, in some ways, the underpainting or early blocking in stages are actually more expressive of , and true to, the character of the subject than the finished piece. Sometimes, in the pursuit of realism, some of the expressive magic is lost. I think that the struggle to find a balance between creative and emotional expression, and realistic accuracy is something that a lot of artists can possibly relate to. There needs to be a certain amount of “play” between realism and the artistic vision.
In his book “The Practice and Science of Drawing”, published in 1917, Harold Speed calls this principle “dither”. He talks about the problems of a very accurate Academic style of drawing versus a less rigid, expressive approach. He says :

“It is difficult to explain what is wrong with an academic drawing, and what is the difference between it and a fine drawing. But perhaps this difference can be brought home a little more clearly if you will pardon a rather fanciful simile. I am told that if you construct a perfectly fitted engine - the piston fitting the cylinder with absolute accuracy and the axles their sockets with no space between, etc.- it will not work, but be a lifeless mass of iron. There must be enough play between the vital parts to allow of some movement; "dither" is, I believe, the Scotch word for it. The piston must be allowed some play in the opening of the cylinder through which it passes, or it will not be able to move and show any life. And the axles of the wheels in their sockets, and, in fact, all parts of the machine where life and movement are to occur, must have this play, this "dither." It has always seemed to me that the accurately fitting engine was like a good academic drawing, in a way a perfect piece of workmanship, but lifeless. Imperfectly perfect, because there was no room left for the play of life. And to carry the simile further, if you allow too great a play between the parts, so that they fit one over the other too loosely, the engine will lose power and become a poor rickety thing. There must be the smallest amount of play that will allow of its working. And the more perfectly made the engine, the less will the amount of this "dither" be.
The word "dither" will be a useful name to give that elusive quality, that play on mechanical accuracy, existing in all vital art.” -
Harold Speed - “The Practice and Science of Drawing”.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Still Life painting #2 - Marmite #1

Marmite #1 - 5"x6" - oil on panel .

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

First still life post - Satsuma

As promised, heres my first small still life. I painted this orange three times before I managed to do it some kind of justice! Hopefully it will be the first of many.

Satsuma - 5"x6" - oil on panel.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Small still life paintings

Not Quite "Daily Paintings"

To get back into things after the Christmas break and get back into my stride in the studio I have decided to do a series of small still life paintings. In a “daily painting” style (but probably not on a daily basis), I will paint an object which I find close by, at home or in the studio, on a small scale, and within a limited time frame (1 - 2 hours perhaps?). This will give me the opportunity to make finished paintings in one session and, because of the small scale and limited time, it will really force me to simplify and hopefully paint more freely than I’m used to doing.
I’ll see where I go with these - when I have a few together I may turn them into an exhibition in a gallery or I might just keep it as an online based thing, but for the moment they will be for sale on my blog. I’ll probably set up an eBay based system for selling them at some point soon, but for the time being, if you are interested in purchasing them, just send me an email at or click on the link beside the painting and I’ll get straight back to you. Be sure to check back for the first painting.