Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tangled Web: studio oil painting

Here's number two in my "year of the tree" series.

This group of white gums sits on a farm a few kilometres from home.

While I was initially taken in by the view to the Stirling Range, I was also interested in the patterns created by the twisting trunks and tangled branches and the umbrella-shaped leaf canopies that are typical of many large eucalypts.

As with my last painting, I wanted to capture the strong feeling of sunlight, not only as it played directly across the trunk, branches and leaves of the central tree, but also as it reflected onto the shaded side of the trunk and the undersides of the branches. In fact the shaded branches in the upper canopy have a younger, reddish bark that positively glows with the warmth and strength of that reflected light.

Although they run cattle on this property, I wanted something understated to help balance the image so I added three sheep to the left side. The fence post is also the result of some artistic licence.
 
white gums near stiling range. oil painting by andy dolphin.
Tangled Web
60x40cm oil on board.  
© Andy Dolphin

As before, that shadow colour on the main trunk looked like mud until the bright highlight was placed alongside it. It's quite unnerving to have it sitting there looking "wrong" but I'm sure I'll learn to trust it after painting a few more of these trees.

The trick with something like that is to trust the tone. You need to get that right or it will never work.

Start with what you consider to be the true "local" colour of the bark – a pale ochre in this case – then darken and cool it to the correct tone. Then you will need to add some reflected light into the mix for some parts of the tree. That reflected-light colour is dictated by the area surrounding the tree.

It can seem like a bit of a battle mixing a colour that is both warm and cool, but this approach should get you in the ballpark. Add variety to the bark with some slightly warmer and slightly cooler colours, and it will start to take form.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Organised Chaos: studio oil painting

I think I've decided to make 2017 the year of the tree, at least as far as painting goes.

Some of my earliest subjects, when I began pursuing fine art, were the karri trees of the southwest. These are among the tallest trees in the world and I produced quite a few paintings where karris were the star.

But in recent years I haven't really used trees as a focal point. Sure, they've been there in the landscape but, since the karri paintings, I have rarely studied trees as a subject in their right.

First cab off the rank for my "year of the tree" is a studio painting of a group of whitegums, or wandoo, which I found on a farm not far from home.

Whitegums are endemic to Western Australia and have a beautiful creamy, honey-coloured and mottled-grey bark that positively glows in light or shade. Older whitegums, especially those in exposed positions, have a tendency to lose limbs over the years and to twist and turn as the elements take their toll.

With branches snaking in all directions as they compete for light, and sometimes falling to the floor or getting hung up in other branches, the trees take on a kind of organised chaos in their constant struggle to survive.

In this painting, I attempt to capture some of that chaos by looking at the base of a group of whitegum trunks. I don't know if this is one tree that divided early in its life, or if three separate trees have survived for years huddled together. I suspect the former.

whitegum trees landscape oil painting by andy dolphin
Organised Chaos
60x40cm oil on board.  
© Andy Dolphin

At 60cm x 40cm, this painting is somewhat bigger than the paintings I was doing leading up to my recent hiatus. The larger surface gave me the opportunity to explore the seemingly random pattern of branches in the tree canopy.

One important achievement in this piece was to get a sense of the reflected light illuminating the shaded sides of the trunks. Those are interesting colours to mix because they look like dark mud on the palette and yet have a warm glow about them when placed in context in the painting. The "mud" really came to life when the bright highlights were added to edge of the tree trunks.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Eastern Stirlings: studio oil painting

Last year my son Michael and I climbed a number of local mountains. One of those climbs was the walk to the top of Bluff Knoll, the highest point in the southern half of Western Australia.

To the east of Bluff Knoll lies a mountainous wilderness known colloquially as "the ridge walk". Requiring serious bush-walking, navigation and climbing skills it is, by all accounts, a magnificently hellish place to experience.

It's on our list.

It's not near the top of the list, however.

For now, I have to console myself with photos of the region, taken from the ground or from Bluff Knoll.

This painting, showing the view to Ellen Peak at the eastern end of the ridge, is based on mid-afternoon photos I took from the top of Bluff Knoll last September.

  Eastern Stirlings
34x20cm oil on board.  
© Andy Dolphin

I hope to take another look at this same scene once the cooler weather settles in later this year. Early morning or late evening should be spectacular.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Peaches and cream with John Wilson

John Wilson is an artist with a worldwide reputation. Based in the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours drive from Sydney, John has built a career on capturing the region in oil paint and last month I was lucky enough to find a spot in one of his 10-day masterclass workshops.

It was an amazing experience as John gave students his recipe for "peaches and cream" and "apricot" and explained his use of foundational warm and cool greys. No questions went unanswered as John shared the knowledge borne from of his years of professional experience.

John Wilson workshop. Capertee Valley. Andy Dolphin.

Of the 10 days, three involved painting en plein air in some of the most beautiful places on earth. We painted from the Megalong Valley to the Capertee Valley and it was easy to see why so many artists are drawn to the region.

I ventured out on my own, before and after class every day and on the weekend in the middle of the course, snapping hundreds of photos. I also managed to do a few of my own paintings on the edge of the Katoomba cliffs.

One of my more-successful attempts was painted one morning from a cliff face not far from the Sky Rider motel where I stayed.

Devils Hole plein air oil painting by Andy Dolphin.
 Near Devils Hole (plein air)
25x20cm oil on canvas board.  
© Andy Dolphin

One thing you quickly learn here is to pay attention at the start and to cement the image in your mind because the light can change dramatically even in the short time it takes to do a small painting like this one.

And here is the "proof I really was there" photo.

On-site Devils Hole, Blue Mountains plein air oil painting by Andy Dolphin.

As you can see in this photo, the dramatic shadow cast by the distant mountains in my painting was almost completely gone by the time I put down my brushes, less than one hour after I began.

One evening I went to a small lookout just before sunset and decided to challenge myself to see just how fast I could paint something.

I set about capturing the Three Sisters, arguably Katoomba's single-biggest natural attraction, as the light shifted rapidly with massive thunderhead clouds building all around and changing from bright fluffy white to rich, deep shades of orange and purple.

The final painting took about 30 minutes, after which there was no sunlight on the cliffs and it was too dark to tell what colours I was mixing.

Thee Sisters, Blue Mountains plein air oil painting by Andy Dolphin.
Three Sisters (plein air)
20x25cm oil on canvas board.  
© Andy Dolphin

As a painting, it leaves a little to be desired but as an exercise, I absolutely love it.

Thanks John and Cecelia, and everyone who attended the workshop, for an inspirational two weeks with some great people. I hope to do it again soon.