Sunday, January 27, 2013

Evolution of a seacape in oil - V

I have actually been doing a bit of painting recently but all of it has been in the studio and has involved revisiting old paintings that never "made the cut".

This isn't something I have done a lot of in the past but lately I've been driven to discover why some paintings end up on "the pile in the corner", instead of hanging in a frame. So I've been looking through that pile to see where I can spot obvious design errors as, in many cases, this is where a painting fails.

One of the pieces I looked at this week was a painting of Lights Beach I did in March last year.

Lights Beach, seascape oil painting by andy dolphin
 (Breaker at Lights Beach - sketch. 30x20cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

This painting was done as an exercise, from photographic references, and I have messed with it several times in the last 10 months, playing with shapes and contrasts to see if I could get more out of it. My main interest early on was the depiction of the foam trails breaking up as the transparent water rises into the main wave.

It is fairly true to the photos but I always felt it was a little contradictory as it portrayed a supposedly large threatening wave but was, at the same time, bright and sunny. My biggest issue with it, however, was the relatively horizontal feeling of the design, the detachment of the rocky areas and the lack of a path through the painting to the focal point. There is a path there, through the greenish water to the peak of the wave, but it's very subtle and doesn't act to connect to the foreground to the middle ground.

I've painted quite a few plein air wave studies since last March and I feel I'm in a better position now to incorporate some of that experience into future seascapes.

I put the small painting on my easel and gave it a light coating of alkyd medium to wet the surface and bring the painting back to life. With just a few colours on the palette, I spent about half an hour loosely "sculpting" paint over the old painting. Abandoning my earlier focus on the transparent part of the wave, I altered shapes and shadows in an attempt to get a more dynamic composition and more of a feeling of power in the surf.

Here's where it's at now...
Lights Beach, seascape oil painting by andy dolphin
(Breaker at Lights Beach - sketch. 30x20cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

It's pretty loose, with some areas almost completely unresolved, but that's okay for this painting. What matters more is that the foreground and middle ground are now decidedly interconnected and that there is a feeling of powerful movement in both the foreground and mid-ground water.

While it is no longer exactly like the original photo reference, it is still true to the location and captures the feeling of the place much better. It feels like it has potential now and I'll visit it again soon in order to tidy a few things up.

The revised painting now becomes stage 5 in my Evolution of a seascape in oil series.

Seascape oil painting series:
Genesis of a seascape in oil - I
Genesis of a seascape in oil - II
Genesis of a seascape in oil - III
Evolution of a seascape in oil - IV
Evolution of a seascape in oil - V 
Evolution of a seascape in oil - VI

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Memories light the corners of my mind

Ten years ago I was deeply engaged in teaching myself 3-D animation. I had downloaded a free program called Blender and within hours I was hooked. It is a truly amazing and incredibly powerful piece of software developed by a team of programmers around the world and released absolutely free.

In 2007 I produced an animation featuring a hapless super hero known in Blender circles as Super Wu (or Super Wu-Man). A fellow Blender user Sacha "Sago" Goedegebure had created the original cartoon version of the character and I took his drawing, modelled it into 3-D and made the one-minute animation to the Five for Fighting song "I can't stand to fly". It was one of my earliest attempts at full-blown animation with lip-syncing.

Angry Wu. Blender render by Andy Dolphin.

This reminiscing may seem out of place on my art blog except that I recently saw a link on James Gurney's blog to an art website called Massive Fantastic, hosted by Eric Millen. That name instantly rung bells. Eric, also a fellow "Blenderhead" was, in fact, the inspiration for the Super Wu character. Indeed, Eric was Super Wu.

This is just my long winded way of saying that if you like to look at great art, especially in the Fantasy Art genre, you should check out Massive Fantastic.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Lowlands surf - plein air seacape in oils

Lowlands Beach, near Albany, Denmark, WA. Photo by Andy Dolphin
 Lowlands Beach, Denmark. Photo by Andy Dolphin.

My second painting for 2013 was, in some ways, an exercise in not giving up.

We've had pretty strong winds for the last couple of days so I assumed the surf would be pounding along the southern coast. With this in mind, I decided to head to Lowlands Beach, between Albany and Denmark, to see what was happening.

It was pumping! The spray in the photo above is reaching over 50m high, in strong wind.

I stood at the lookout, high above the rocks, and stared. The action below was non-stop and complicated. I must have pondered the scene for 45 minutes or so trying to select an area and cement an image in my mind. Several times I considered moving on to find a location that was simpler and more protected from the wind.

Eventually I just decided to sit and scribble a thumbnail. Hmmm, possibilities. With that done, I decided to set up the easel and have a go. I haven't really painted in a situation quite like this before but, since I was prepared to fail, it didn't matter what result I got.

I decided to just rough out where the major rock forms were but not complete them, yet. Then I focused my attention on the area where the breakers were hitting the rocks. Every wave is different and the bursts of spray last mere seconds, so there's a fair bit of invention involved in capturing the general feeling. I put the burst where I wanted it.

I worked my way out from the focal point and completed other areas in stages until I was happy with the results. By that time the sun had almost set.

Here's the location shot...

Lowlands Beach plein air seascape oil painting. By Andy Dolphin.

And here's the painting...

Lowlands Beach plein air seascape oil painting. By Andy Dolphin.
 (Pounding surf, Lowlands. Plein air sketch.
35x25cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

It's funny that once the painting is done it all looks so simple, but there was a lot of stopping and staring involved in this one. I spent almost as much time squinting at the scene as I did painting. The lesson here is to not give up and to accept possible failure as a part of progress.

I used a very limited palette on this painting. Ultramarine, cerulean, burnt sienna and cad yellow deep. Mixing nice transparent purple-blue shadows is impossible with that combination of colours but it really wasn't that kind of day anyway. Limiting my colour choices meant I could concentrate more on composition and tone.

Here's how my mixing palette ended up...

Seascape oil painting palette. Andy Dolphin.

Unndiup - plein air landscape in oil

Here's my painting from a couple of days ago - my first for 2013.

Torbay plein air landscape painting in oil by Andy Dolphin
  (Unndiup. Plein air sketch. 25x35cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

As mentioned in my earlier blog post, I had a pretty clear idea of where I was going with this one. I did a thumbnail sketch and decided that the brightly lit trunk contrasted against the dark foliage was key to the scene. In order to maintain its importance, I played down highlights on other parts of the tree including the second trunk to the left.

The track acts a as a strong support and invites the viewer to consider what might be around the corner. The shadow across the track adds visual interest and I suspect that this scene would be relatively boring if that shadow wasn't there.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy plein air new year!

With the festive season and ten days of scorching-hot weather out of the way, I got back to painting yesterday.

I had driven down a short gravel road and then turned around to head back out. The road turned into a track near the end and as I was leaving I kept an eye on my rear-vision mirror which is one way of isolating an area, much like using a viewfinder. I decided there was a potential painting here and with safe and easy parking on the side of the road, I saw no reason to look any further for subject matter.

I began with a thumbnail...

plein air landscape thumbnail by andy dolphin

I was interested in the large dark silhouette of the big tree and the shadow it cast across the road. I also liked the way the sunlit road turned behind the shrubbery in the distance. It feels like it's going somewhere. The key to the painting, however, was going to be the sunlit trunk of the main tree contrasted against the dark foliage behind it. You can see that I also noted a strong counterchange with the top portion of the tree trunk contrasted against the bright sky. The thumbnail was to prove useful because most of the trunk went into shadow for quite a while as the painting progressed and I might have played down those contrasts without this visual reminder.

Here's the must-have location shot.

plein air landscape oil painting by andy dolphin

This painting was done in mid-late afternoon, around 4-5pm (sunset is about 7:30pm), but it's interesting to consider that at any other time of day, without the cast shadows, this location might appear completely unremarkable.

When I'd finished, I met and had coffee with a couple of wonderful artists who live nearby. It was a great start to the new year.