Monday, October 2, 2017

New plein air landscape video

I've uploaded a new plein air video showing the production of this landscape painting.

Plein air painting of roadside tree by Andy Dolphin

You can view the video on Youtube here and you can read more on my other blog here.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Southern Art & Craft Trail 2017

It's that time of the year again (actually, it's a little earlier than usual). The Southern Art & Craft Trail, throughout the Great Southern region of Western Australia, opened last weekend and is on for the next couple of weeks.

Due to my hiatus, it's been a few years since I had any work in the trail, but this year I have a few new paintings on display at Haese's Framers in Albany, including my first-ever watercolour, shown above.

I believe this might be the first time Haese's has participated in the trail, so please show them some support and have a look at some of he terrific work they have for sale. You'll find Haese's at 99 Lockyer avenue in Albany.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Plein air problems - shed landscape in oil

A couple of weeks ago I did my first watercolour painting. As a subject, I chose to repaint an old plein air oil painting of a rural shed near my home.

My purpose was two-fold: firstly, to have a go at watercolour and, secondly, to fix a few of the problems in the original oil painting.

Here's the original plein air piece, which I did about 13 years ago.

Barker Shed
35x25cm oil on board.  
© Andy Dolphin

At the time, I was pretty happy with this painting but over the years, I've realised several issues that needed fixing.

The two major issues are a lack of tonal depth – the background is almost as dark and as saturated as the foreground – and the busy brushstrokes and patterns of light and dark over-complicate the scene and reduce the visual impact.

I sorted both of those problems out in the much cleaner and much simpler watercolour painting.

Barker Shed
30x21cm watercolour on Arches medium.  
© Andy Dolphin

Yesterday, I decided to re-do the painting in oil, paying attention to those same problems and trying not to make the same mistakes again.

Barker Shed
30x25cm oil on board.  
© Andy Dolphin

While the finished oil painting is far more detailed than the watercolour painting (and took considerably longer to do), those details retain a sense of unity with their surroundings. The overall contrast, especially of the shed against the background, is much improved from the original.

The tonal pattern of the new painting also provides much better visual impact than the original plein air work. To compare the two, try squinting at them until you only see light and dark. The new painting delivers a much stronger pattern.

I also added a subtle path as a lead in and to break up the large foreground area which would otherwise be a major slab of green. The path carries some of the earthy shed colour down into the lower right corner which helps to create a colour harmony. The distant fruit trees perform a similar role.

You might also note I have dropped that wooden crate from the front of the shed. In reality, the crate is no longer there and I prefer it this way, so I left it out.

Although the final painting is substantially different in effect when compared to the original, it retains a genuine sense of place and I'm sure anyone who is familiar with the location would readily recognise it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Trying watercolour - a first attempt

Before I left Perth to move to the country, around 14 years ago, I bought some watercolours, brushes and a pad of watercolour paper , with the expectation that I might start doing some plein air watercolour paintings.

It never happened.

Since buying them, the paint tubes have remained unopened.

I recently discovered the Youtube channel of British watercolour artist Tim Wilmot, where he methodically demonstrates his approach to loose, semi-abstracted representational painting. It's a style of watercolour I have always liked and his demonstrations make it look possible.

So, with my new-found enthusiasm for watercolour, I dug out an old plein air oil painting - which has it fair share of issues - and decided to repaint it in watercolour while fixing some of those issues along the way.

In the hope it wouldn't be complete disaster, I also decided to video my progress. And since it wasn't a complete disaster, I edited the video and uploaded it to Youtube.

I hope, soon, to do an updated studio oil version of the original plein air painting. It will be interesting to compare the results.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Snow on Bluff Knoll

Just shy of 1100m high, Bluff Knoll is the highest peak in southern Western Australia and, as such, is the only place in Western Australia where snow is likely to fall every year. 

But, even on Bluff Knoll, snow is not exactly a common occurrence so when it does fall, it is something of an event and can result in traffic chaos.

Last year my son and I started doing some of the mountain hikes in our region and I also took an interest in reading weather charts in an attempt to predict snow. Last week those two pursuits came together and we  hiked to the top of Bluff Knoll to encounter a spectacular (by Western Australian standards) snow-covered landscape.

We woke at 2am, left home around 3am and arrived at a surprisingly empty Bluff Knoll car park almost an hour later. We began the 3km hike up the mountain around 4am, three hours before sunrise.

Luckily, the moon was almost full and the sky was clear so we had pretty good visibility, even when we turned our torches off. Once we exited the bush-land part of the walk and traversed the steady incline above the main treeline, we could see the mountain range for kilometres to the west although sunrise was still two hours away.

It was a slow, steady walk - made slower by me overheating twice.

Last Thursday morning was predicted to be one of the coldest mornings of the year and I was expecting wet, blustery weather - indeed there had been significant rainfall overnight - but morning on the mountain was clear and still. There was barely any breeze at all, so my five layers of clothing, plus ski gloves, very quickly turned out to be two layers of clothing and two gloves too many.

With that problem sorted, after two stops to shed layers and re-compose myself, we enjoyed a steady walk toward the summit.

By this stage, we had given up on any hope of seeing snow - it was far too pleasant. We were now just hoping to catch a nice sunrise from the top.

Near the 2km mark, we were overtaken by a reporter carrying a snowboard and after I wished him luck, he pointed to the snow at our feet. We hadn't noticed it in the dark.

From here on the snow increased almost exponentially every 20m or so, until it seemed like every surface, including every branch of every shrub, was caked in snow and ice. There wasn't nearly enough snow - or space - to truly accommodate a snow board, but the reporter was just providing a bit of humorous media fodder. 

The vista of snow slowed our walk still further as we stopped repeatedly to take photos in the pre-sunrise twilight. We eventually reached the top of the mountain just after sunrise and were greeted with the astonishing sight of the distant eastern ridge silhouetted against an orange sky with pink-orange sunlight streaming across the snow-covered foreground.

It was sublime. It was magical. It was, quite literally, a winter wonderland. And, if I am to work a painting angle into this story at all, let me say it provided a wonderful lesson in warm lights and cool shadows as it was difficult not to notice the orange-blue complements.

The best thing about this trip was that we were two of just a dozen or so people at the top. A month earlier, with snow predictions broadcast widely across social and mainstream media, hundreds of people converged to make the trek, resulting in access being restricted for most of the day by national park rangers.

But the best thing about this trip was the perfect weather. The throngs who battled the trek in July endured stormy, blizzard-like conditions with some snow flurries, but no snow on the ground.

But the best thing about this trip was that, although no snow fell for us, we saw possibly some of the best snow coverage this mountain ever enjoys.

But the best thing about this trip was that a quokka made an appearance at the top. Yep, I think that was definitely the icing on the cake - a quokka, on top of a mountain, in the snow. My son took a bunch of photos of it and, if you haven't already seen that story splashed all over the media, then I imagine a quick search will find it for you.

Please note, all images are copyright. Please do not re-publish without permission. Thanks.

How to make artists' drawing charcoal

I was bored one wet, cold, miserable winter's day, do I decided to have a go at making my own drawing charcoal.

We are lucky enough to have a wide range of trees on our property, including a variety of fruit trees, so I was spoilt for choice of what wood to use.

Willow is often recommended as suitable for making drawing charcoal, but we don't have any willow.

Grape vine is a popular choice and I have also heard of apple being used successfully. We have both of those available.

I snipped a couple bits of semi-hard wood from an apple tree and grape vine then prepared it for roasting into charcoal.

I videoed the whole process, so you can follow along on Youtube.

For those who like a bit of science, I included a brief, simple, infographic explanation of pyrolysis; the process that sees wood turn into charcoal instead of ash.

I did a quick test with the charcoal and thought it performed pretty well, although some bits were a little scratchy. I hope to do a few more experiments using different woods and longer roasting times and see if I can get better results.

Friday, July 28, 2017

How to make wet panel carrier widgets

When I travelled to the John Wilson workshop in Katoomba last February, I had to devise a plan for bringing wet paintings home in my luggage.

I made two wet-panel-carrier boxes from plywood, using balsa wood for the divider strips, but I also needed something for paintings that were too small for the boxes.

After fluffing around with various ideas using timber strips and elastic bands – ideas that failed, I might add – I came up with the idea of making small corner spacers that could be held on with clips.

These would work for paintings in a variety of sizes as long as I had a pair of same-size boards to clip together.

I videoed the making of them and have finally edited the footage and uploaded it to Youtube.

While the process looks a little cumbersome in the video, that's largely because I was trying to orient everything for the camera as I worked on just one widget (and also because some of the balsa proved very difficult to cut, even with a sharp knife!)

In reality, it took less than a couple of hours to make 32 of these little spacer widgets – enough to carry 16 small wet paintings. It took me far longer to make the two box carriers.

I would only use these on small paintings, up to around 10"x12".

I haven't tried yet, but it might be worthwhile to make some straight widgets to clip to the centre point of each edge, and this might make them more practical for slightly larger paintings when combined with the corner widgets.