Sunday, February 28, 2010

My oil colour chart

Soon after taking up oil painting I made a colour chart showing basic two-colour combinations of the standard palette I'd adopted. This has proved invaluable when working on site or from photos - some combinations are surprising! I use a shorthand notation to identify colours on sketches.

oil painting colour chart color chartClick for a bigger image

To make the charts I first drew a pencil grid on an A2 sheet of textured oil painting paper and made a chart for each colour. I cut the finished sheet into separate pages to make the booklet you see above.

The base colour for each chart is on the far left and below this is that base colour mixed approximately 50/50 with titanium white.

Across the top is each other colour in my standard palette. Below these is a 50/50 mix of each of these colours with the base colour for each chart. Below this is that combined colour mixed 50/50 with titanium white.

If you make a chart like this, take note that each mixture is used twice. For example, a mixture of cerulean blue and cadmium scarlet will appear on both the cerulean and scarlet charts. If you keep this in mind, you'll get the job done in almost half the time! It only took a couple of hours, as I recall.

I used a small palette knife to mix the colours as it was much easier to measure even amounts of paint. I used a small square brush to apply the paint. Be careful to keep your brush clean.

I have since seen charts that take this idea much further, mixing varying amounts of each pair of colours and then each resultant colour is tinted with with increasing amounts of white for a very wide range of combinations.

My standard palette:

  • French Ultramarine
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep
  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Scarlet
  • Permanent Crimson
  • Viridian Green
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Titanium White

Monday, February 15, 2010

Porongurup Sketching Picnic 2

I was invited to a second sketching picnic by the Porongurup Art Group a couple of weeks ago. This time we all met at a farm where Steve, the owner, had happily allowed us free rein to paint and sketch whatever we wanted. And there was lots of material, from a 100-year-old timber shed to one of the best chook sheds I've ever seen. There were also horses and hills and trees and rough sawn post-and-rail fencing and tractors and dogs and a cottage and a big, rusty shed and did I mention the chook shed yet?

The place was amazing.

It was a cloudy evening but the sun would peek through occasionally tempting us with just how delicious the place really was.

While the clouds cast their shadow over everything, I sat and began sketching the scene around the lovely chook shed. Then the sun burst out so I stopped sketching and snapped a few photos for later. Then I continued sketching until it burst through again.

Eventually there was a big enough hole in the clouds for the dazzling evening light to hang on for ten or fifteen minutes. I ran around like an idiot trying to snap photos of the place from all corners and all angles. It was worth it.

The ultimate portable easel?

landscape sketch andy dolphinThe Chook Shed, A5 © Andy Dolphin, 2010

This was the only sketch I did that evening. I'm pretty pleased with it and can't wait to get back there under clearer skies.

I have a painting ready to go from one of the photos I took. Hopefully you'll see it here in the coming weeks. (Update: Here it is - Shed from start to finish)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

East to Porongurup, sketch to final

I first saw this scene in 2005 as I was driving around, almost aimlessly, looking for interesting things to paint. I was so taken that I got the easel out and painted on site, something I don't do nearly as often as I probably should. For once the weather was in my favour and the distant trees and cattle were glowing as the sun was setting.

oil landscape plein air sketch, australia, andy dolphin
(East to Porongurup, sketch. 50 x 19cm oil on panel © 2005, Andy Dolphin)

The light changed fast and I was never really happy with the end result. I loved the light on the trees and cows but the pointy mountain (which is geographically correct but too demanding of attention) and the dark green-grey foreground shadow bothered me. Green grass always bothers me - I think maybe I just don't like green. As a result, the painting sat unloved for more than four years.

This week I was looking through some old paintings that were never allowed to leave the studio and I rediscovered this one. I wanted to just play with some paint so I decided to re-do it using just the plein air piece as my guide. It was an exercise in painting, nothing more.

(East to Porongurup. 60 x 22cm oil on panel © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

This is the result and I'm much happier with it. The warm, dark foreground shadow helps to frame the main scene and the softened mountain peaks don't command as much attention as the pointy one in the sketch. In reality, the range looks just like this from a different viewpoint just a hundred metres or so from where I was standing originally, so it is still true to the region.

We have to be willing to change things sometimes, to "improve" a little on reality, otherwise we might as well become photographers.

This new painting was done almost as if it were an en plein air exercise. I quickly blocked in the main tones then pushed and pulled the values in quick strokes with large and medium-size brushes, trying not to get bogged down in detail. It was an advantage not having a photo to work from because the only detail I had to work with was whatever I'd captured in paint on location originally. I only had to worry about adjustments.

I added interest in the foreground with ridges running at opposite angles to the shadows. Those patches of light in the foreground mirror the slope of the range and help lead the eye to the focal point - the group of cows and trees just right of centre. The focal area is reinforced by the ground being just a little brighter. It also has the lightest light on the "white" heads of the cows and the almost-pure cadmium red on their bodies.

(East to Porongurup, detail. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

This close-up shows some of the loose brushwork in the focal area. Click the image to enlarge. I quite like it cropped this way - maybe another painting for another day?

Porongurup in summer

I've headed out to the Porongurup region a few times this summer with camera and sketch book in hand. The logisitics of the region mean that photos are often easier and safer than sketches or on-site paintings since there's not much space on the side of the winding country road for safe parking - but it's a quiet road so there's usually enough time to snap a few photos before moving on.

I usually head out in the early evening to catch the last light of the day on the mountain range. On a good day the sky, mountains and farmlands take on spectacular hues. A few weeks ago I was there on just such a day.

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

This is essentially a monochromatic work exploiting the warm evening light. The grass is dry and pale at his time of year so its colour is dictated mainly by the light it catches from the setting sun and the blues reflected into the dark shadow areas from the eastern sky. A subtle zig-zag pattern is created through the foreground ridges, mid-ground shadows and the slope of the range, helping to soften the strong horizontal band of trees.

My procedure for this, as with most of my work, was to do a small pencil sketch from the photo viewed on the computer monitor. I make colour notes on the sketch and use this as my painting reference. I re-check the original photo as the painting nears completion but I'm only looking at the overall impression, not detail. If it didn't stick in my head after sketching it then it's probably not important enough to put in the painting. That's why it's called "impressionism".

The Porongurup Range holds a veil of humidity not always apparent in the West Australian landscape. This enhances the aerial perspective with the peaks of the range are quickly sucked into the atmosphere as the light fades. This was an attempt to capture that effect.

A note of in interest: there were no sheep in this paddock that day but I put them in for a bit of additional interest and as a cool counterpoint to the overall warm tones. They bring a little of the blue sky down into the lower half of the scene.

This painting is entered into this year's Wagin Woolorama in March.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Porongurup Sketching Picnic

A few weeks ago I was privileged to be invited to an evening "sketching picnic" by members of the Porongurup Art Group.

Porongurup is a small "village" about 20km from my home and is nestled at the base of the Porongurup Range. This small, ancient mountain range is just 15km long and consists of domed granite peaks and tall karri forest.

andy dolphin sketch australian landscape
(Angwin Peak, Porongurup, 2010. © Andy Dolphin)

I arrived early, around 5pm, and did a "quick" sketch of Angwin Peak (above). I don't do a lot of sketching for sketching's sake. Mostly I sketch as a preliminary step to painting, using sketches for colour notes and to assist in fixing an image in my mind. This was an exception as I concentrated on the highlight and shadows on the main rock structures but paid no attention to colour or lots of other surrounding information. It is just 20cm wide.

When everyone else arrived we walked part-way up the steep granite slope toward the peak - we weren't crazy enough to drag our art and picnic gear to the boulders at top of the 400m high peak. The picnic was set up on a patch of level ground and everyone set about eating, drinking and sketching, mostly in that order.

It was a beautiful summer's evening with clear skies and a gentle breeze. A great time was had by all.

"Eat first, then sketch. It's all about priorities!"

Our view to the "nearby" Stirling Range.


shed landscape oil painting australia andy dolphin(The Shed, 2007. Oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

I am a Western Australian artist and I've been planning an art-related blog for quite some time but never seemed to find the time to get around to it. I've finally bitten the bullet and hope to be able to update it regularly - the title suggests it will be weekly, reality suggests otherwise but we'll see how we go.

I am an oil painter living in the southwest of Western Australia. I do mainly landscapes and seascapes but that could change at any time.

My plan for this blog, if it can be called a plan, is to keep a journal of my experiences in art. I'll discuss paintings and sketches, books I've read and videos I've watched. I will also show recent paintings including, occasionally, some step-by-step demonstrations.

Other issues I expect to cover are framing, exhibiting, colours, brushes, supports, clouds, rain, intense heat and tiger snakes (I saw two while out taking photos today - one was just a couple of metres away and, unusually, heading straight for me).

I'll be looking forward to comments and questions as people slowly discover I'm here.