Practice of Painting – Assignment 4

04/12/15

Assignment 4 – Looking Out

Review all your landscape paintings and preparatory sketches and assess which have been the most engaging exercises. Which landscapes have the most appeal for you?

Both the “View from a Window or a Doorway” and “Hard or Soft Landscape” exercises involved the view from inside to outside. I found these very informative and a useful re-introduction to landscape painting as the windows formed a frame-work and provided reference points to place objects in the scene. “Painting a Landscape Outside” was an experience that was more enjoyable on the sunny, cold day (second session). Although I preferred the sketching to the actual painting, I think this was down to the weather as previous attempts at painting on location in the summer were more enjoyable and successful. It also helped being with other painters.

Working from a photograph was fun, as long as it was my own photo and of a place I knew well and liked. The adaptation and focussing in on a particular aspect of the photo was the best part. It made me re-live my being there.

The most appealing of my painted landscapes to me were:

  • Hard or Soft Landscape
  • Painting a Landscape Outside
  • Working from a Photograph

 

Consider why certain paintings are more successful than others and which approaches and styles have worked best for you.

The more successful paintings have:

  • a more dramatic composition
  • made use of shadows and light
  • elements and shapes that help move the eye around the painting
  • a cohesion of colour and tones
  • an emotional connection to me as the painter
  • a spontaneous rather than manufactured mood/atmosphere

The approaches that worked best for me are:

  • On the spot sketches with notes and/or self taken photos of favourite locations that I can sketch from
  • Preliminary sketches of shapes and then tones
  • Less greens!
  • Elements or objects that I can focus on e.g. a specific tree/building or light and shadow effects
  • Always using my sketchbook

Think about how you can consolidate your experiments by working on a large landscape painting (around 90cm x 60cm or larger) using a location and viewpoint of your choice.

Ideas and inspirations:

  • Georgia O’Keefe – simplified landscape/oversized flowers/leaves
  • Gustav Klimt – Expressive details with mark making
  • Emil Nolde – vibrant colours, mood, minimum detail
  • Graham Sutherland – colour/tone/abstraction
  • Paul Nash – his landscapes rather than the war paintings in this instance – similar points to G.S.

Looking back over my sketches, I wanted to explore some of the drawings I had already done and not used. I was also drawn back to the single tree and its shadows that I had painted in the “Painting a Landscape Outside” exercise – I had this taped to the wall and it was always catching my eye.

Two sketches one of the car park area and one of the tree lined ridge.

Two sketches one of the car park area and one of the tree-lined ridge.

 

I liked the distance and mystery of the gravel track disappearing off into the trees, along with the autumnal colours of a bright, cold day. Again the cast shadows of the tree grabbed me, this is a recurring theme whether it’s in a still life or landscape.

 

 

 

Assignment 4 - Large Landscape Combining two previous sketches, Working out composition and rough tones. 8x6" in A4 sketchbook

Assignment 4 – Large Landscape
Combining two previous sketches,
Working out composition and rough tones.
8×6″ in A4 sketchbook

 

 

Combining the two sketches, composition, focal point, scale and light direction needed to be considered. I had already decided to paint over a large canvas that I had used before, it had an underlying texture because of that. It was larger than suggested at 40×30″ (102x76cm). Scaled down, I used proportions of 8×6″ for the sketch and squared up the drawing to transfer to the large size.

 

 

 

Below are photographs of the progress of the large painting:

 

The colours in the photographs are varying quite a lot due to the different light conditions.  I could only really judge these in real life, even then it was hit and miss, even with a daylight bulb! At the point of the last photo of the above gallery, I took a break to get away from the painting for a few minutes. On my return I stood the painting down one end of the room and viewed it from a distance. This made me realise that it needed a lift. Trying to keep it loose and expressive, I swiped across some “sunlight” in the middle ground as there was light across the gravel track at that point but not on the grass This brought the painting together and I decided to leave it there.

Assignment 4 - Large Landscape Acrylic on canvas 40x30"

Assignment 4 – Large Landscape
Acrylic on canvas
40×30″

Make a detailed assessment of your finished painting in your learning log. Consider what elements had a special appeal to you in your chosen landscape subject. Have you found techniques that suited your subject matter and ideas?

  • Have tried to maintain a cohesive feeling with the painting style, ie not overly detailed and loose and expressive mark making, including the sky and foreground.
  • There is a feeling of a cold and bright autumn day due to the colours, tones and touches of sunlight. Initially the main tree’s highlights were a pale blue/green, however, this gave the impression more of moonlight than sunlight. Therefore, I touched in some yellow ochre/white mix and this warmed up the effect.
  • Aerial perspective was subtle as the dark under the trees were a major component of the composition, therefore, I relied on reducing the size of distant shadows and the distance between them became narrower to give the impression of distance.
  • I like the effect of the treetops against the sky, using an orangey sienna against the blue makes it striking because of the complementary colours.
  • I struggled to achieve a pleasing effect in the foreground grass – it kept coming up too flat. After an attempt at letting paint run, I found that by adding undiluted paint with a dry brush with random marks and brushing over it lightly kept it expressive with some texture.
  • I am not sure that the left hand slope in the middle ground is working – I decided to leave it as is – another tutor once suggested that a little “discomfort” in a painting can be a good thing as long as it’s not distracting.
  • The main appeal to attempting this composition was the cast shadows, both in the background and foreground, although I am pleased that they are not overbearing yet add some drama.
  • Techniques I used and discovered to achieve desire effects included:
    • paint splattering after masking with torn paper for the gravel track, very messy, random, effective and fun.
    • letting paint run, I’m getting more confident with this and although it is not overly obvious here, it gave a good base for the dry brush work. I also used it for the main tree shadows by turning the canvas on its side. It didn’t run as much as I thought but sometimes less is more.
    • dry brushing neat paint lightly for texture of short, scrubby grass.

Review your experiences and make careful notes of future plans. Consider the influence of landscape painters that you admire and explain how their work may have influenced your own.

I found this a very challenging section of the course. I was full of optimism and particularly looked forward to the expressive nature of the mood and atmosphere exercise.  As before in other sections where we were asked to decide on and express a mood, I hit a brick wall. This may be because, I see mood and atmosphere as a feeling and not a thought – as soon as I tried to plan or manufacture a mood, it’s artificial and not heart-felt. It all goes flat – I tried hard to evoke an atmosphere with colour and loose and expressive techniques, but the composition was almost non-existent. How can I get over this?

  • Consider playing appropriate music while working? (I’ve become interested in how different areas of the arts influence each other – poetry, music, sculpture, painting.)
  • Small expressive preliminary paintings where the paint is allowed to do its thing and let the feeling come in its own time?
  • Try not to let the technique become the painting – it needs a core message.

I found it interesting that with landscape more than anything else so far, the media is so key to a successful painting for me. Oils worked for me in the beginning with the “through the window” type subjects but it wasn’t until I started using pastels that exterior, expansive landscapes began to work. The tactile nature of the increased contact between hands, pastel and paper seemed more immediate, the paint brush was almost too far away and I disconnected. I also found the colour mixing more successful, laying down one colour, then working over it with another and making different marks for optical mixing was exciting and satisfying. Once I had that experience, the return to painting with acrylic for the assignment was more comfortable and experimental. For the future:

  • Keep switching between media to encourage experiments, free expression and cross-reference of techniques.
  • Try small paintings of the same subject in different media to understand how to get the best from each.

I have mentioned some of my favourite landscape painters through out this section and above. Interestingly, they are a diverse selection, which may have accounted for my over-enthusiasm for the expressive landscape challenge. I may have tried to incorporate disparate styles and confused myself. Whereas, I think I may have got more of a handle on it in the assignment work. Of the artists I listed above, I think my main influences in this work were:

  • Emil Nolde for the more vibrant use of colour – previously my paintings, particularly in oils, are quite muted. However, I think it has been controlled with a few “swipes” here and there.
  • Gustav Klimt – I mentioned his expressive detail through mark making – I have tried to give an illusion of detail with the splattered gravel and have explored the mark making with the tree bark. An influence but not slavishly copied.
  • Although not directly comparable, I have studied both Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland’s tones and colours and tried to make these work visually in my mind’s eye and not just copied – I would love to try to push the abstraction further in the future too.

(Note to tutor and self – see private Pinterest boards – access given in previous email).

Exercise: Working from a Photograph

01-03/12/15

Exercise: Working from a Photograph

Choose a landscape photo with plenty of space and either tall trees in the middle ground or hills or mountains in the background… When you’ve decided on your photo, look at it critically to decide how you might interpret it.

Source photo Looking over Blashford Lakes

Source photo
Looking over Blashford Lakes

This is one of my favourite views from a dog walking route over Ibsley Common in the New Forest. I only have the photo digitally and not in print, so sketched out the main photographic composition in my sketchbook to work on my painting composition.

Sketched reproduction of the source photo with compositional options and notes. A4 Sketchbook

Sketched reproduction of the source photo with compositional options and notes.
A4 Sketchbook

 

Putting coloured frames around parts of the whole sketch/photo helped me decide which composition would be the most interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

Composition scaled up and main shapes marked in.

Composition scaled up and main shapes marked in.

 

 

Once the composition was decided upon, I scaled it up and drew out the main shapes in a fresh sketch.

 

 

 

 

 

Tonal sketch of chosen composition.

Tonal sketch of chosen composition.

 

Next, the drawing was repeated and simplified tone added to assist with the actual painting.

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to use a pastel and watercolour combination on thick cartridge paper. I used a base of soft pastel as an under-painting. I have struggled with working loosely in this section of the course for some reason, so this method is more tactile and more intuitive for me.  I worked the pastel into the paper to try to cover all of the whiteness.  Working in the darks quickly and strongly, using black in the foreground just to get the depth, then using different dark colours, such as purples, reds and browns to give a richness in the shadows. The minimal use of green seems to be helping me, as the autumnal colours are rich and bright, using sienna, yellows and oranges have lifted the whole feeling of the painting. It was important to keep the sky lively too to balance the strength in the middle and foreground. Once the under-painting was done, I tried to avoid overly blending the pastel and kept the marks visible although less so in the background. To assist with subtle branches I used a damp brush to pull the pastel through the trees.

Once the bulk of the pastel work was done, watercolour was added to intensify some darks in the middle and foreground. The birch trees were added with a rigger brush and Naples yellow and sepia. I used the trees in the garden as reference, especially to see the hanging down of the end twigs and remaining leaves, these were added to the painting with a smudge of mixed tones of pastel. Before using the watercolour, the pastel was fixed and each subsequent application was also fixed.

At this point I stood back and assessed what else needed doing. The sky needed bringing up to same level as the foreground, so I built more shadow beneath the clouds. To enliven the painting even more, I splattered watercolour over the foreground shadows after masking off the other areas with a large sheet of paper. I also referred to the last work-in-progress photo and noticed it was more intense in colour than the actual painting.  This is a comment my tutor has made several times, in that the photo works better, therefore, I added more lights and darks to bring it up to intensity level of the photo. Unfortunately, by this time, the light was fading and the final photograph is a little grainy but gives an impression of the finished painting. If time, I may re-take it and post.

Working from a Photograph Exercise. Pastel and Watercolour on cartridge paper. 57 x 39cm

Working from a Photograph Exercise.
Pastel and Watercolour on cartridge paper.
57 x 39cm

When you’ve finished, look at both the painting and the reference photograph.

In what ways did you depart from the photo?
I zoomed into a specific focus in the photograph and have tried to walk the line between representational and abstract.

Why did you make that choice?
I had been struggling with most of the landscape exercises, with a combination of colours, media and composition failing me. I have previously made landscape paintings with pastel that have had a higher success rate, they seem to make me feel freer in the execution of the painting.

Did you produce a painting that satisfied you, or were you overly influenced by the photo?
Funnily enough, when I came back for the second session of painting, I couldn’t access the digital photo for a couple of hours and had to work only from memory and my drawings. This was useful for tonal representation, although, when I could use it again, the photo was useful for colours. As I progressed I used the photo less and less and I like the interpretation that resulted.