Monday, December 27, 2010

Clear evening sky

Christmas eve was warm and incredibly humid around here. In nearby Albany, the moisture hung like a veil of smoke over the city through to the early afternoon. I've never seen anything quite like it before.

Since the evening sky was looking clear, I headed back to the scene I painted a few days ago when it was overcast.

australian landscape painting
(After Harvest 2. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

Although I stood in virtually the same spot to do this second painting, I decided to zoom in a little more on the tree. Overall this painting is much warmer but there's still not much detail in the mountains due to the haze. On a clear day you can usually see trees and rocks up there!

As I was painting, I could see the colour changing. The blue was leaving the sky and the mountains as the haze became warmer and heavier. Even the feature tree started to lose its colour and contrast. When I was happy to call the first painting finished, I grabbed another board and captured a quick impression of the same scene before last light.

australian plein air landscape painting at sunset
(After Harvest 3. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

This one was fast - about 15 minutes in total. It's turned out just a little bit grey as I didn't have time to clean my brushes or palette but the general feeling is there.

I might have to keep heading back to this spot in different weather conditions and different times of day.

Hope you had a great Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Artist Tips #2: Painting from photos

Photos seem like an easy starting point for landscape painting and the advent of consumer digital cameras has made photography more accessible than it's ever been before.

Photographs serve as convenient reference material that allows us to paint when we simply can't - or don't want to - get outside. They are also a handy way to produce a lot of paintings from a trip away.

But photography is not without its problems.

We have a much greater range of tone and colour perception than film or digital cameras do and when we view a landscape, our eyes are constantly adjusting to account for light and dark areas. As a result, photos can rarely match what we see in real life.

To understand one of the biggest problems of relying on photos as a basis for painting, take a look at these two photos...

This scene was quite dramatic to look at but neither photo captures it as I saw it.

When I took the photo on the left, I exposed it for the sky. This makes all the dark areas in the land mass much darker than I perceived them. The photo on the right was exposed by first pointing the camera toward the tree line then pressing the shutter button half-way before recomposing and taking the photo. This opens up the aperture (or the digital equivalent) and gives me detail in the darker areas but blows out the bright areas in the sky. It's almost impossible (for me anyway) to successfully expose both areas in one photo to appear the same way we perceive it with our eyes.

Knowing this happens, I often take several photos, exposing each one differently so I'll have reference material for all areas if I decide to paint from photos.

Although it lacks some of the luminosity I experienced, the left-hand photo does a pretty good job with the clouds and sky colours. The right-hand photo captures some of the depth and detail in the land and tree masses but the sky would be virtually useless as a painting reference unless you have a great memory or are happy to invent colours to give it some life. A lot of photos like these probably never get turned into paintings and we might find ourselves wondering why we even took them (I've got boxes full of such photos from the days of film).

If I painted this scene en plein air, the finished painting would combine elements of both photos and would also likely include more warm-cool contrasts and aerial perspective. Getting the same result from "average" photos takes experience, guesswork, luck or imagination.

If you have access to photo editing software and know what you're doing, it's possible to adjust some "average" photos to more-closely match the scene as you saw it with your eyes.

This is the left-hand photo from above but I've used a curve in Photoshop to pull some weight out of the darkest areas whilst leaving the light and mid tones virtually unchanged. Then I adjusted the saturation a little to push a bit more life into the colours, especially the warm highlights in the sky. It still falls short of the scene as I remember it, but it could form the basis of a painting.

If you love doing representational art - where the things you paint are actually recognisable - then the next time someone says "why don't you just take a photo instead?", you can explain how a painting is so much more personal and how a good painting is vastly superior to the average photo. In the meantime, getting out and studying how light truly effects what we see, even taking notes, will make your photo-based paintings more successful.


The sun is still playing hide and seek with us but temperatures are on the rise. The last few days have felt like it was going to rain but it just isn't really happening. This, combined with the warmer days, means humidity! I love days like this - it feels like there's a thunder storm around the corner.

On the way home from my day job, I pulled into a rural driveway and did a quick painting of the sky before sunset.

The tones need a little adjusting but there's potential to turn this one into a larger painting.

After packing up, I encountered this sky a little closer to home...

Rest assured the photo doesn't do it justice. There were different clouds shapes and colours in every direction and the heat and humidity were still electrifying. Just my kind of evening.

PS. I just checked the weather forecast and the Bureau agree there could be thunderstorms.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I looked outside at 6am and the place was glowing, with strong sunlight streaming through the trees. So I got up, had breakfast and coffee and prepared to go painting. By 7am I was in the van but the sun was nowhere to be seen.

I decided to go out anyway in the hope the clouds would break up as the sun rose higher. I headed out to the Porongurups and the cloud cover got heavier until, eventually, it started to rain.

I pressed on regardless and the sun kept teasing me with hints that it might break though anytime soon.

I drove around Porongurup for a while before noticing a setting that looked like it had been designed by a landscape artist. The tree was the "perfect" shape (a lot of gum trees are a bit on the ugly side) and the backdrop, with a cloud draped over one of the Porongurup Range peaks, was magical. The long dry grass in front of the dark silhouette of the tree sealed the deal for me.

Everything was still basically shades of grey but the cool dark tones of the mountains and trees contrasted nicely with the warm straw stubble in the paddocks.

I decided I'd have to paint it - sunlight or no sunlight.

plein air australian landscape painting
 (Almost finished)

The lack of harsh light meant that I was able to take a little more time painting as the colours barely changed the whole time I was there.

The muted colour also meant I could use a limited palette - Ultramarine, Crimson, Yellow Ochre and Australian Red Gold plus white. I could even have got away without the Oz-Red-Gold but I quite like using it in mixes.

I can't recall the last time I did a landscape without using any cadmium colours - this might be a first!

australian landscape oil painting framed
(After Harvest. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

I'm really pleased with this one and I think I might do a larger painting from it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Latest paintings

Here's the Porongurup landscape painting I did a couple of days ago. I've popped it in a frame for you.

plein air porongurup landscape painting
(Knights Road, Porongurup. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

Here's another one of the Porongurups that I did about four days earlier.

plein air porongurup landscape painting
(Woodlands Road, Porongurup. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

The top painting was done using a chisel-edged synthetic brush while the bottom painting was done with bristle brushes. Click on them both to compare the different finishes.

Both paintings were done en plein air but I must confess to making a few adjustments to the bottom one in the studio ans the light was fading fast when I painted it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Another sunny day - sort of...

There were fluffy clouds around all day today but it was warm and sunny for the most part, making it the second sunny day so far this summer.

I headed out to the Porongurups this evening and found a pleasant spot off the side of Knights Road, looking south toward the mountains. The cloud cover had increased and there were a lot of cloud shadows, especially on the distant hills, but the foreground was bathed in sunlight.

I set up and started painting, taking careful note of the major shadows cast by the foreground and mid-ground trees. This was to prove prophetic as the clouds soon rolled in and before long, nothing was in sunlight. I continued painting with an image firmly in my mind. It was quite pleasant as things don't change much when it's cloudy - but I needed to be careful to not go painting too much detail in the shadow side of my main tree (shadow areas become more detailed in the absence of bright, direct light).

Eventually the sun peeked through for a few minutes and I took this opportunity to put highlights on the main trees and some of the sunlit grass.

plein air porongurup landscape painting western australia

After I took the photo, I made a few more additions and adjustments, including reworking the clouds which looked too heavy and somewhat dull.

I stayed fairly true to the scene before me. The only "major" change I made was to turn the two foreground trees into just one as they were almost in line from where I stood to paint. I also made the mountains slightly taller so they didn't "kiss" the top of the that tree. Compositionally, it's best to have edges either overlapping or not touching at all rather than just touching.

I used just one square, synthetic brush on almost the entire painting. It's a brush I've owned for years but I think this is the first time I've used it - I usually use square or filbert bristle brushes. The synthetic brush is more pliable and cleans much more easily than the bristle brushes. I think I'll be using it again for my plein air work.

A sunny day at last!

The first 11 days of summer were, to say the least, somewhat heavily overcast around these parts. I ventured out once or twice to see if anything paintable grabbed my attention but I really am driven by sunlight and shadows so never got my brushes wet.

Finally, on day 12, the sun shone with a vengeance. With a huge blue sky and the temperature hitting the low thirties (Celsius), painting was back on the menu.

For weeks I've driven past a WA Christmas Tree on the side of Albany Highway and kept telling myself that when the sun came out, I was going to paint it. It was frustrating seeing it every day under grey skies. They're still spectacular with their near-fluorescent yellow-orange flowers but I wanted shadows. I took a few photos when the clouds were a little thinner but they were less than inspiring.

When the sun finally did make an appearance, I headed straight to this tree.

Albany Highway carries some large trucks and plenty of traffic, all doing 100kmh-plus, so I didn't really want to stand my easel on the edge of the road. Instead, I parked my van in a driveway across the road from the Christmas tree and set my easel up in the passenger seat. I painted for half an hour - and it was the most-uncomfortable half hour I've suffered for a while! But at least I got my painting.

plein air oil painting wa christmas tree - nuytsia floribunda
(Nuytsia by Highway. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

It's only a quick sketch really but I'm happy with what I've captured. My main interest was the contrast between the ultra-warm sunlit flowers and the cool-dark greens of the shadow side of the foliage mass.

I'd previously given this panel a red tone that you can see peeking through all over the painting. I used a limited palette of five colours to help speed things up a little.

A herd of cattle wandered into the scene when I was half-way through painting. They hung around for a long time and it took a lot of effort not to add them in.

The Christmas trees are putting on a good show this year and I hope to capture a few more in paint before the flowering season ends.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gallery run

My wife and I did an 800km round trip today to deliver the following paintings to two wonderful galleries...


(Forest Road. 33x46cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

(Survival. 54x30cm approx - oil on board. ©Andy Dolphin)

(Shoreline. 54x30cm approx - oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

 (Herefords. 25x35cm oil on panel © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

shed landscape in oil andy dolphin
(Shed in Summer Light. 70x37cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

 (Twilight in the Bay. 70x37cm oil on panel © 2010, Andy Dolphin)


porongurup, australian landscape, oil, andy dolphin
(Summer's Eve, Porongurup, 2010. Oil on board, 70 x 37cm. © Andy Dolphin)

(Nuytsia floribunda. 25x35cm oil on panel © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

(Stirling Evening, 40x60cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin) 

If you find yourself in the south west of WA, take the time to visit these galleries. They have much to offer and you could easily spend an hour or more just browsing each one.

*Note: Due to the variability of browsers and monitors and the vagaries of photography, colours are not guaranteed to match what you see on screen but I have adjusted to be as true as I can make them.