Friday, March 26, 2010

What a week!

It's been an interesting week down here. On Monday the weather was threatening and I decided it was about time I tried to do a painting of a rainy day. I headed into town (a two-minute drive) hoping to find some nice reflections of street lights and traffic in the roads, but everything was dry.

I drove around a little until I noticed a nearby hill bathed in sunlight. It was the only sunlight I could see, anywhere. So I perched myself on another hill and had a go at catching the scene in paint.

By the time I'd finished (about an hour and a bit) all signs of sunlight had vanished and Mt Barrow itself was slowly being engulfed in cloud - but it still wasn't raining. Even so, this was something new for me as I've always favoured scenes with strong sunlight and this one had very little of it. Plus, I've lived here for over six years and have never painted this close to town (town is that area between the easel and the hazy distant hill).

(Plein air "Mt Barrow from town" 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

When I jumped in the car to go home I heard on the radio that Perth, our capital city almost 400km away, was being lashed by one of the worst storms in decades.

The following night it was our turn and we experienced one of the most spectacular electrical storms I have ever witnessed with lightning in every direction and for as far as one could see.

I managed to capture this shot after several tries with a hand-held point-and-shoot camera resting on the steering wheel. There was so much lightning, often in multiple bursts, that I just held the camera pointed in one direction and as soon as I saw a flash I'd press the shutter. When a nearby flash actually shook the car I decided it was time to head home.

It went on for about six hours, with wave after wave of very close lightning and house-shaking thunder. We had a lot of rain but luckily there was almost no wind so damage was minimal, and it was still warm outside as we checked drains at 10pm so it could have been much worse.

The following day, Wednesday, the autumn sunshine returned and again I decided it was time to try a new subject - for me, that is.

I've visited Emu Point Fishing Boat Harbour in Albany before and taken lots of photos but have never produced a single painting from them. On Wednesday I took my gear with me, found a shady spot under a tree and did this.

(Plein air "Emu Point fishing boats" 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

I'm going to visit there a few more times to get a better feeling for the place and see if I can work toward a larger painting. Boats are a huge challenge at this stage and I need to work out how to simplify the process of painting them. Emu Point also has some other interesting areas that I need to investigate en plein air.

On Thursday I drove 200km (124mi) to Williams to drop off two paintings for an exhibition then turned around and drove 200km back home again. I looked around for somewhere to stop and paint but the sun was unbearable and shade was never where I wanted it to be. Safe parking was even scarcer in the more-interesting spots. I did stop long enough to do a painting of a historical inn at Arthur River. By the time I got home it was drizzling with rain and that drizzle persisted through most of today.

What a week!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Plein Air Problems

There's nothing like getting out there and capturing reality in paint on site but plein air painting does come with some drawbacks...

painting in oil plein air landscape sketch andy dolphin

These little critters decided to pay me a visit, en masse,  and were apparently very fond of my half-finished - and still very wet - oil painting. They liked to bite too!

They seemed to be mostly attracted to the brighter paint in the finished sky so I left them to it and picked them out when I got home. There was no time to waste on site messing with midges, the light was changing fast and there was a lot happening in this scene.

Here's the finished painting, complete with midges. Don't forget to click the images for a bigger pic.

painting in oil plein air sketch andy dolphin
(Plein air "Stirlings from Mt Barker" - with midges. 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Packer's Prize supports traditional portraiture

The Archibald Portrait Prize is one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious art awards. Winners in the main category have often been controversial with abstract and naive designs featuring strongly in the prize's history (though there have been a few pleasant surprises).

The Packer's Prize, announced each year from the Archibald entries, has a history of supporting more-traditional portraiture and this year is no exception with the prize going to a charcoal portrait of Glen A Baker by Sydney artist Nasifa.

The finalists for the 2010 Archibald Prize can be seen here.

UPDATE: Pleasant surprise again - a surprisingly recognisable portrait of sceptic comedian Tim Minchin has taken out the main prize.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Plein air sketches

A few weeks ago I had a local cabinet maker cut some 3mm MDF into small panels for me. For $30 I got 60 panels of 20x24cm each. What a bargain! This sure beat cutting them with a handsaw as I've done for years.

These are to be used for quick studies and on-site sketches so I gave them one coat of acrylic gesso with a small foam roller (I usually double-prime with a random brush action). They are so small and cheap I can afford to mess up with them without getting gloomy and wanting to take up golf instead of painting.

I went out two evenings in a row this week. Both were at the end of very warm days (close to 40ยบ Celsius) with mostly clear skies. But skies don't stay clear around here for very long so I just knew any painting I'd do would very likely have clouds in it. With that in mind, I went out with a plan to paint some cloudy skies, a subject I've mostly avoided until now.

The first painting shown below came almost by accident. I was facing in one direction working on a less than spectacular scene when I looked behind me and saw a sunlit paddock and clouds just begging to be taken notice of. I abandoned my first painting, turned around and worked like mad to throw these colours down. There's about half an hour's work here, maybe less - that's longer than the real-life spectacle lasted.

painting in oil plein air landscape sketch andy dolphin
(Autumn Eve, Mt Barker. 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

The second painting of a distant Stirling Range was done the following evening from the Mount Barker lookout. The light was changing quickly on this one and I revised some sections as I went, adding more warmth to the sunlit clouds. By the time I'd finished, less than an hour, there was no sunlight shining on anything at all.

painting in oil plein air australian landscape sketch andy dolphin
(Autumn Eve, Stirling Range. 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

These sketches aren't perfect but provide a solid basis for larger paintings in the future. There are colours in both these skies that just wouldn't be there if I'd worked from a photograph. That exquisitely luminous blue-green (cerulean blue with a touch of cad yellow light into white) in the lower half of both skies was very apparent whilst staring at the scene yet I don't think I've ever seen it like that in any photos I've taken.

There's nothing like working on location to refresh the mind's eye.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another quickie

Just another quick exercise from a photo.

painting in oil plein air step by step landscape sketch andy dolphin

A tonal wash sets things in place with a hint of warmth in the foreground.

painting in oil plein air australian landscape tutorial andy dolphin

I was so caught up in getting the tree to come to life forgot to take a photo until this point. Sorry. Just the foreground and some detailing to go.

painting in oil plein air australian landscape andy dolphin
(Behind the Dam. 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

As small and seemingly insignificant as the sheep is, it has the brightest bright and it is in front of the darkest dark so it is unmissable.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Quickie

It's been a while since I challenged myself to do a fast painting so today I decided to give it a go. I wanted to complete a small, full-colour painting in one hour.

I chose a photo taken last spring (Sept-Nov in Australia) of canola fields near my home. I did a small pencil sketch with colour notes and this was my working reference during painting.

It was a cloudy day so much of the landscape was in shadow but there was a strip of bright sunlight across the canola.

My one hour starts now...

painting in oil australian landscape step by step andy dolphin

I began with a simple wash in two tones, leaving the lightest areas white.

painting in oil australian landscape step by step andy dolphin

Starting in the sky, I began to block in final colours. I laid in an undertone of greens in the foreground.

painting in oil australian landscape step by step andy dolphin

I used cadmium yellow deep as an undertone for the brighily lit canola.

painting in oil australian landscape step by step andy dolphin
Sunlit Canola. 
20x24cm oil on panel.  
© 2010, Andy Dolphin

I laid cadmium yellow light over the sunlit strip and painted the foreground canola flowers with mixtures of cadmium yellow light and French ultramarine. There are hints of yellow ochre in the near foreground to help bring it forward. I fidgeted a little with the trees and background, making small adjustments to colours and tones.

All up it took about one and a half hours. I might use this to do a larger painting in the near future. Keep watch. [UPDATE: See the larger painting here]

Here's a grey-scale conversion of the final image which shows the tonal contrast of the various areas.

tonal painting in oil australian landscape step by step andy dolphin

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shed from start to finish

On the recent sketching picnic with the Porongurup Art Group I managed to snap a few photos of a farm shed during a short period when some evening sunlight broke through the heavy clouds. It's taken me a while to get around to turning the photos into a painting but finally, here it is - step-by-step.

More often than not I work from sketches from the computer screen. I load up the digital photo, make some minor adjustments so that it matches my memory of the light and colour of the day, crop roughly to the proportions I want for the finished painting and then do a small pencil sketch. I add colour notes to the sketch, often with reference to my trusty colour charts, and I use this sketch as my main reference for the painting process.

Working this way has some of the advantages of working on site since I am forced to simplify the image into a tonal sketch and then to simplify major colour areas, taking note of warm and cool passages. The time spent doing this helps to cement the image in my mind too so that some of what ends up in the painting comes from my own memory. Only when I'm nearing the end of the painting will I refer back to the colour photo to look for some final details, if I feel they'll add useful finishing touches.

painting in oil pencil sketch andy dolphinA5 sketch from digital photo

how to paint in oil andy dolphinI usually lay my composition out freehand with thin paint. In this case the shape of the shed was critical - if the perspective was off just a little, the painting would fail - so I gridded up a black and white print of the photo and transferred it to the board in pencil. This meant I could concentrate on getting the paint down, without worrying about whether a roof line was two degrees out.

Because this was to be a warm painting, I underpainted major areas with a burnt sienna wash. At this stage I wanted to break the surface into just a few major tonal areas. The washes were thin enough that I could just make out some of the pencil work for later.

landscape painting in oil andy dolphinI broke up the major tones with the addition of some darker passages by adding a little French ultramarine to the mix. The cloud mass was ultramarine with a little burnt sienna added to grey it off. I used a brush moistened with turps to remove some underpainting from the post-and-rail fence

oil painting step by step andy dolphinThe interior of the shed was very dark due to the strong sunlight on the outside walls. I've used French ultramarine, burnt sienna and permanent crimson to roughly block in the dark silhouette. I've strengthened the large trees behind the shed as the sunlit fence will need to contrast against these. A little burnt sienna has been dragged over the corrugated sheets on the shed front in order to give this area a little modelling and to break down the large light area.

Some minor details are hinted at with rough areas of tone. If you blur your eyes at this stage you should see if things are working out.

andy dolphin australian landscape oilTo take the painting toward completion, I begin in the sky. The clear sky area is mostly cerulean blue and white. A little ultramarine is added toward the top. The clouds are primarily ultramarine and crimson with some cerulean and yellow ochre worked liberally into them to reduce the flatness. Sunlight on the distant clouds is made with yellow ochre and cadmium yellow deep into white.

Next I work on the sunlit trees. Combinations of yellow ochre, cerulean blue, permanent crimson and cadmium yellow (deep and light) add variety to the masses. I still have to add colour to the trees seen though the shed. The bottoms of these trees are in the shed's shadow.

Shrubs in the distance are added with little fuss.

landscape painting andy dolphinThe distant paddock is added with a few simple brushtrokes and subtle colour shifts, no need for detail back here. I've used yellow ochre and cadmium yellow light over burnt sienna. Sunlit trunks are added to the trees and a few fence posts are loosely indicated in the distance.

I've also added colour to the shed walls. The bright area on the sunlit side is cadium yellow deep in white. The sunlit rust areas are cadium scarlet and burnt sienna while the shadowed rust is burnt sienna with a little ultramarine added. The front walls are more side-on to the sunlight so they aren't as bright overall. I subdued the sunlit wall colour with a little ultramarine.

The blue-purple shadow area under the roof on the near wall helps this area to come alive while the shadow of a tree on the sunlit wall stops this otherwise bright area from dominating and taking the eye out of the painting.

I've added some warm tones to the fence, combinations of cadmium yellow deep and cadmium scarlet into white, applied over a burnt sienna base. A few bright flashes of pure colour have been "thrown around". These will add minor visual interest later. I've also worked a little more on the interior of the shed, adding subtle shifts in tone to give a hint of the objects in there.

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

The painting is finished with the foreground completed, some extra "sky holes" in the trees and final touches added to the shed walls.

My main interest in this work was the warmth of the summer-evening light on an otherwise overcast day. The dark shadow inside the shed invites the curious while the sunlit post-and-rail fence leads the way and helps balance the massive bulk of the shed that would otherwise weigh-down the left side of the painting. The paraphernalia lying around and leaning against walls and fences tells its own story.

oil painting detail by andy dolphin(Shed in Summer Light, detail. © Andy Dolphin, 2010)