Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Highly Commended

This weekend's trip to Williams was to pick up two paintings I'd entered in the 2010 Gateway Expo exhibition. The theme was "Rustik Memories" so naturally I sent shed paintings.

When my wife unpacked them today, she discovered a 'Highly Commended' certificate on 'Shed in Spring'! I had no idea as the exhibition had finished the day before I went and all paintings were packed ready for collection.

(Shed in Spring. 54x30cm oil on panel. © 2009, Andy Dolphin
Highly Commended - Williams Gateway Expo, 2010)

(Detail of Shed in Spring. © 2009, Andy Dolphin)

I love this detail section, especially the subtle simplicity of the house in the background. That warm glow on the posts, with the strong reflected light, is really what this painting is about. (My apologies for the reflections in the dark areas of these photos).

This shed has provided me with two paintings so far. For years I drove by it almost every day. It always caught my eye and I photographed it a few times from a distance, in different light, and stopped on the side of the road once and sketched it. Eventually I did a painting from one of those photos, with my sketch as additional reference. Later I went and found the owners (they don't live in the house right behind the shed) and asked if they'd mind me jumping the fence and taking more photos. 'Shed in Spring' is the result, painted from one of those photos.

You can see the first painting I did of this same shed in my opening blog post. Despite the main subject being the same, these are two very different paintings.

It was lucky I acted when I did as the owners have since removed all the old fencing and painted the entire shed in Red Oxide. It just isn't the same any more.

This is my second 'Highly Commended' this month. My 'Shed in Summer Light' received the same honour at the Mount Romance Centennial Art Prize in Albany in early April.

shed landscape in oil andy dolphin(Shed in Summer Light. 70x37cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin 
Highly Commended - Mount Romance Centennial Art Prize, 2010)

I posted a step by step for this painting in the early days of this blog.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Williams Cottage

Here's the painting I did yesterday.

 (Williams Cottage. 20x24cm oil on canvas panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

Now, before you ask, no the title doesn't need an apostrophe. The cottage is in a town called Williams, it isn't a cottage belonging to William. Okay?

This one took about an hour. Other than the loss of light due to clouds, half way through painting, this was a pleasant experience with very little of the tension that can often creep into plein air works.

Although there is less spectacular light, shadow and atmosphere, I find paintings done nearer the middle of the day more relaxing than than those done at the beginning or end of the day when shadows and the colour of the light change dramatically by the minute.

The interesting challenge with this one was that the cottage is barely noticeable in reality. It faces roughly south so I doubt the sun ever lights up the front. There are trees along the roadside at the front of the property so I'm sure a lot of people drive by without seeing it. I had to decide whether to try and enhance the cottage a little and make it a feature, or to leave it subdued as just a part of the overall mass of shadow tones.

I opted for the latter as I think it feels more abandoned this way, almost as if it's hiding, forgotten. I didn't want it to be "pretty".

Did I mention that I used Australian Red Gold in every colour mix in this painting? It was a joy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

On the road again...

I had to drive to Williams again today to pick up two paintings. It's 200km one way.

Luckily, the weather was beautiful; another clear autumn day. I arrived there around 1pm, did what I had to do, ate a bit of lunch, drank coffee, did a quick sketch in the car park at the roadhouse then headed toward home.

Before I even left the Williams townsite, I decided to take a detour and just out of town, two minutes down the road in fact, I found an old, abandoned cottage surrounded by overgrown trees and backed by a timbered hill.

At least, I'm pretty sure it's abandoned.

I did a quick pencil sketch while I decided if I should stay and paint it. It was already 3pm and I still had a two hour drive home and kangaroos tend to cross the road as the sun sets.

Once the sketch was done I'd convinced myself it was worth setting up the easel. There was an inviting shady spot and it was a fairly quiet road so I had no excuse not to give this one a go.

Looking at the photo above, it looks like I've painted the blue sky in. I haven't. That blue on the canvas panel is just the natural light on the white gesso. That's how blue shadows are! The photo below was taken immediately after the one above - both are at the same stage, including that warm bit of tree on the far right that I ultimately decided to leave out. Even here there's a hit of blue in the sky but that's because I didn't colour correct it enough to completely remove the blue tint.

There was a definite warmth washing through the whole scene so I gave the canvas panel a quick wash with Australian Red Gold and Burnt Sienna. Then I went in with a simple wash of basic undertones using enough turps to keep the layer thin. It was warm so I expected this would dry as I continued painting. I feathered the underpainting with a clean pastry brush to knock off any thick raised edges and to blur it so it didn't start to "lecture" me on where things should go.

I bought my tube of Australian Red Gold (ARG) years ago - I can't even remember when but I suspect it was more than six years ago - and I've never once used it in a painting until today. Since I had it on the palette from the first wash, I decided to use it in my mixes.

ARG is a translucent yellow very much like rich, dark honey or treacle. In a pile it looks brown but spread thin it glows a vibrant golden yellow. I was amazed by the colours I got when mixed with my usual palette. Mixed with white it looks edible!

Here I've started to go in with final shadow tones. My main interest is keeping my dark and mid tones distinct and grouped. Even the silver roof of the cottage is a part of the shadow area. The red brick wall is a bit bright and saturated here. If you squint at the above pic (click for a bigger image) you'll see that the red jumps out too much from the dark trees either side of it. And it glows almost like it's in sunlight so it needs darkening and neutralising with a bit of ultramarine blue and ARG. I need to play warm darks against cool darks. This is one of the biggest challenges we face when painting en plein air (along with snakes, biting insects and clouds!).

The sky is mixed from ultramarine, white and ARG. The distant hills are mostly ultramarine and ARG with a little crimson thrown in the neutralise it (make it more grey, less saturated) then lightened with some of the sky mix. A little more white and ARG was added to suggest sunlit tree tops with the whole area kept soft to stop it coming forward.

From here on I was concentrating so much on painting that I forgot to take photos. Sorry. I can tell you that, quite unexpectedly, clouds rolled in and I lost my light. Bummer. Luckily I had a firm image in my mind from doing the sketch and there really weren't many sunlit areas anyway (it was really lucky that I had a mind-image because the photos I'd taken before I started are awful so I wouldn't have been able to use those to complete the painting).

The biggest problem now was that without the harsh sunlight, the shadow areas suddenly had detail. I could see all sorts of tones in the dark tree on the right, for example, that I couldn't see when the sun was out because the paddock was so bright. I was careful to ignore shadow detail as I soldiered on.

I left the foreground until last because the warm under-painting was a reasonable approximation of the final tone and colour. Then, just as I was painting it, the sun came out again - sort of...

Farmers like to burn their paddocks in autumn and it became apparent that someone was doing that nearby. The air was now filled with smoke and this gives sunlit areas an unnatural orange tint. The light was a useful guide for finishing the painting but I had to ignore the colours.

I'll post the finished painting tomorrow.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Working fast again

Firstly, here's the first painting I did yesterday. I've popped it in a frame for you. I had this frame made just for this purpose - it's a great way to "test" paintings. Sometimes they look much, much better in a frame and sometimes they confirm my worst fears. If they look good, then I can go ahead and get them framed properly.

I've done the same thing after painting demonstrations but it's usually best to wait until the paint's reasonably dry or it can get messy.

(Roadside Creekbed. 20x24cm oil on canvas panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin SOLD)

After I'd finished that one there was still a good few hours of sunlight left so I drove around looking for other subjects and taking lots of photos. I eventually found a spot where I could park the van and stand in its shade (I'd had enough direct sun for one day).

She's 25 years old but she still has her uses.

I was in two minds whether to paint here or not as the light was still fairly white so there wasn't a lot of colour on the mountains or the paddock stubble. But the atmosphere behind the distant trees, and the fact I had a shady spot, made the decision for me. Still, there wasn't much time left now before the sun would set so this was going to be another fast one...

(Porongurups. 20x24cm oil on board. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

This is what I ended up with before the sun went down and the whole scene was cast into shadow. The colours aren't great, partly because of the rush and partly because I couldn't clean the brushes properly from the earlier effort so there's a bit of green in everything.

Even so, I'm happy with the overall sculpting of the mountain and that major shadow that first attracted me. With this, a photo of the area and maybe another visit on a similar day, I think there's potential for a reasonable sized studio painting.

I put my brushes down  and looked behind me. This is what I was missing...

Rest assured the photo does not do it justice. I drove home, into the sunset.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Still Autumn!

Sorry, I got distracted by snakes and lizards on my last article. This time I'll stick with painting, I promise.

This spot is between Mount Barker and Porongurup and is a dry creek bed for most of the year. Here it passes through a culvert under the gravel road.

I parked the van off the road - because there was room for a change - and set myself up in the creek bed. I was particularly interested in the dark shape formed by the shadow on the tree and cast on the grassy bank to the left. The culvert "tunnel" added interest.

It was around 1pm, warm and with virtually no cloud so I used a turpsy wash to place the first dark tones in the layout as I knew I wouldn't need to rush like I do with evening paintings. The sun was high and bright so the shadows and colours weren't going to change much for a while.

Major dark tone placed.

The sky is done and all major shadow tones are in place.

I've gone back into the dark tones of the tree, adding a little variety to the shadow areas refining the shape ready for the highlights. Some highlights have been placed in the distance and left foreground. I still need to do highlights on the tree, creek bed and grasses on the right. There was an interesting variety of greens and earth tones to deal with here. It's a constant process of comparing the relative temperatures of similar colours.

An hour has passed and it's virtually finished at this point (click pics for a bigger image). The two sunlit rocks near the tree's shadow in the painting are now in actually in the shade of the tree in the background. I'd taken careful note of them when I started as I knew there was a chance this would happen - and I wanted them sunlit. The concrete face of the culvert has done the same thing as the sun has crossed to road since I began. Again, I took note of this early on. I left the tree until last because I didn't expect its shading to change much - and it didn't, phew!

I added and adjusted some minor highlights before I packed up. I'll post the painting photo as soon as I can shoot it properly.

I left this spot and continued driving around as the weather was still terrific. I took a lot of photos of other places, many of which were in places where standing and painting would be dangerous. The roads around here a pretty quiet but the trucks are big and the speed limits high.

I did eventually find somewhere to stop and paint. I'll tell you about that and the spectacular sunset that followed next time.

Autumn! Snakes!

When people tell you that Australia is just filled with a long list of animals that are waiting to kill you, one way or another, venomous snakes feature prominently on that list. One of those is the tiger snake.

I've seen more than my fair share of tiger snakes this year. We've had at least two hanging around our chook pen for most of summer - and possibly a third under our front door step. When out taking photos a couple of months ago, I heard the nearby grass rustling and looked down to see a metre-long snake heading straight toward me. That same day I saw another crossing the road. A few weeks ago I saw one just up the road from home and another on a track not far from where I'd just been painting. I don't know what it is but something's going right for tiger snakes.

My biggest surprise, however, came just a few night's ago when I nearly stepped on this guy - or girl...

This one is just a baby, about 30cm (1') long and it was sunning itself near the end of the day. Remember to click the pics for a bigger image.

When I'm out looking for interesting painting spots, a good deal of my thoughts are about snakes. I'm not "scared" of them as such (I quite admire them in fact) but you need to be aware they're around from spring through autumn. A few years ago one glided right by me as I was half-way through a painting!

Autumn weather in the Lower Great Southern region of WA can be close to perfect. Today was just such a day with clear blue skies and warm sunlight. And reptiles like warm sunlight...

This is a Goulds Monitor and he was sunning himself (or she-herself) on the side of the road. It remained in this position as I rolled the van slowly forward, with the camera held out the window. They are amazing looking creatures but don't usually hang long enough to get this close. This was yet another reminder that I was going to have to think about tiger snakes today as I went in search of painting subjects.

A little further up the road my mind was back on painting and I found my first subject for the day. I'll start a new article to deal with that one.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More plein air

 When I first took up oil painting, ten or more years ago, I used to paint on site, or "en plein air" quite regularly. On family holidays I'd be up before dawn looking for that "perfect sunrise". Over the years however, I ventured out less and less. preferring the relative comfort of the studio. It's not that I didn't enjoy painting on site but I like to paint sunlight and too many cloudy days started to frustrate me. Plus, a digital camera to capture hundreds of photos when the sun did shine made indoor painting a much easier option.

My aversion to poor weather changed when I saw Marc Hanson's blog. Marc is an avid outdoor (plein air) painter and heads out in sun, wind, rain and snow - sometimes at night - in search of his next painting. It was Marc's April Marathon from last year, where he planned to do four paintings a day for the whole month, that inspired me to get back outside and back to basics. It also gave me the final push to start this blog, something I'd planned for a while.

So for the last two months I've been getting out as often as possible with a view to finding something to paint, regardless of the weather. It's difficult shaking off the "must be sunny" shackles but I'm determined to do it. And that's just as well because the weather, as I've mentioned before, has been incredibly varied lately. (On that note, I'd be surprised if we don't have some wild weather again tonight or tomorrow).

The experience so far has been amazing. I've painted in sun and rain and once or twice I thought the easel might blow over. I've been out during an electrical storm and have stared at a huge variety of clouds in differing light conditions. More importantly, I've been painting things I've ignored for a long, long time.

Like this one, a place I drive past almost every day...

(Barker Rd Trees. 20x24cm oil on board. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

I captured the basics but the the clouds swept in front of the sun shortly after I began painting so I'm going to go back on a clear evening and I'll try again.

Here's one I did early last week, on the same day I did my digital painting, "Clouds over the Stirlings".

(Clouds over the Stirlings. 20x24cm oil on board. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

I was particularly interested in the gentle zig-zag shape formed by the clouds. As I was close to finishing, the clouds warmed up considerably as seen in the digital painting. Then I was applying some patches of colour to the land area when I realised it was so dark I couldn't really tell what colour I'd mixed, so I packed up and went home.

A few nights ago I was out and about and once again the weather was offering me challenges with clouds everywhere and rain sweeping through every half hour or so. This was not the sort of weather I would usually have even considered painting in but I went looking to see what was on offer.

After driving around town, and seeing some of the darkest clouds I've seen for a while, I found myself back on top of Mount Barker Hill. With it's 200ยบ views, and being a one minute drive from home, this has been my favourite painting spot so far throughout this exercise.

(Storm Clouds in the Southeast. 20x24cm oil on canvas panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

I've painted my share of clouds lately and on this one I took a different approach, in the hopes of getting everything I need in place before it all changed - and things can change surprisingly fast when you don't want them to. Usually I work each main colour area, one at a time as I would with a landscape. So I'd apply the dark greys then mid greys then, oops, it's all changed and I have no idea where the sunlit bits fit in or what they actually looked like.

This time I used a "paint by numbers" approach. I quickly outlined the major shapes in a blue-grey colour then scribbled a bit of the final colour into each area without filling it in. The land was just given a rough blue-green colour without much concern for final accuracy. I put a few small colour notes where I wanted the sunlight to hit the ground.

Then I worked the sunlit area of cloud to give it an overall warm white before re-working the shaded clouds with their final colours. Even though these clouds had long-since moved on, I was able to look at other, similar clouds for information to assist with final details. Other than the sunlit areas moving around, the land had barely changed so I was able to finish this fairly easily.

With a few compositional modifications, this has the prospect of being done as a much larger painting.

Most of what I've done this last two months has been just for my own benefit. It's invigorating to "get out amongst it" and even if the paintings are not "winners", each one has been worth it just for the experience of doing it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

And now for something completely different...

I rarely do paintings of buildings that aren't in a state of ruin. I love rusty old sheds that look like they'll fall over in the next strong wind but I generally steer clear of solid buildings.

I was driving around town on Monday evening and noticed the strong, warm light of the setting sun lighting up the Mt Barker railway building. The station was glowing! Yes it was a solid building with no rust in sight but in a painting like this the building isn't as important as the abstract patterns of tones and temperatures and that's what I wanted to focus on.

As usual at this time of day, I was going to be pushed for time before the sun set.

  (Mt Barker Railway Building. 20x24cm oil on canvas panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

I was especially captivated by the interplay of warm and cool reds so that was where I started (I wanted to say "the juxtaposition of warm and cool" because that makes any critique so much more "arty", but I'll avoid it for now). I quickly laid out the main outline shapes then worked on the sunlit face, trying to get the tonal balance correct here. Then I worked out from here, filling in the shaded roofs, walls, lawn, path and shrubbery. The sky, a hint of background buildings and a few flicks of the foreground trees were the last thing I added on site. By now the sun had gone but I wasn't finished - I was missing some of the sunlit areas.

Luckily I had taken a photo of the scene before I started so once I was home I brought the image up on the digital camera screen and used that to add some final details. I hadn't added that strip of sunlight on the floor so the photo was invaluable for placing this correctly. The photo also helped to clarify a couple of confusing shadows that had shifted quite a bit as I was painting so a couple of touch ups and I was done for this sketch.

This painting was done on a canvas panel. I've made a few of these up by gluing pre-primed cotton canvas to my pre-cut MDF boards. I used white PVA glue and finished the canvas with a fresh coat of acrylic gesso.

Next time we have a good clear evening sky, I think I'm going to give this location another go - but starting just a little earlier.

The station is no longer used for its original purpose. Restored in 1997, the main building now houses perhaps the best tourist information centre in Western Australia. The railway itself still operates but only for long, heavy haulage trains that pass through without stopping, on their way to deliver grain to Albany Port.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Digital painting

I knocked this one up for fun. Actually I was just studying one of my cloud photos and analysing the colours by sampling them and trying to paint a similar cloud in Photoshop. I hadn't intended to do more than one or two clouds but couldn't stop.

I used the eyedropper to sample key colours off the photo then painted them in on a blank 520x520 pixel image. I used a Wacom tablet and pen with Photoshop CS on a Mac. It would be frustration-plus to try it with a mouse since the pen gives you interactive control over brush size and opacity simply by adjusting the pressure on the pen. This makes "whispy" strokes easy.

This is pretty rough and represents about an hour's work. It's more an exercise in reproducing photographic effects than an exercise in art.

(Clouds over the Stirlings. Digital painting, 2010. © Andy Dolphin)

Although I use computers in my "day job" as a graphic artist, I don't generally use it to produce this sort of artwork.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This week...

It was another interesting week weather-wise.

Monday was fine and warm so I headed to the Mount Barker lookout in the evening and was lucky to find clear skies over the Porongurup Range in the east. The three-quarter moon had already risen and was just above the horizon. This was good because I wasn't entirely sure exactly where it would come up.

The distant range was already turning a deep reddish purple and I knew from experience that the sky would take on a warm pink hue as the sun was setting so I began throwing paint on a board with that in mind.

 (Moonrise over Porongurups. 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

This was completed on-site in around half an hour. I added a tiny amount of fidgety detail back at home - around five minutes worth. This, I'm certain, is my first ever moon painting.

Tuesday was hot with no time for painting and by Wednesday it was raining again. Late on Thursday night the lightning and thunder returned and continued through Friday (Good Friday).

On Friday afternoon I headed out to see what the clouds were doing around the place and settled on a view over the pavilion in Wilson Park, in town. I knew I'd have to work fast so I didn't bother with any turpsy washes for this one. Instead I roughed in the major dark masses with straight oil paint - an ultramarine, permanent crimson mix.

 (Storm Clouds over Wilson Park. 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

This was another fast one as not only were the cloud shapes changing by the minute but it started to rain on me half-way through. By the time I packed up there was as much water as paint on my palette. I blame the "wonky" pavilion on the weather :)

I was fully-charged after this one and drove off to see what else I could find while the thunder and lightning continued to go through in waves. Some huge cumulus clouds had gathered in the west and were catching the afternoon sunlight so I found a spot on the side of the road and sat in the van and painted.

It was a bit of a juggling act with the palette on my lap and the primed panel in one hand, brush in the other, plus it was raining in through the open window. I didn't really care if I got much landscape in this one. It was in full shadow when I started anyway. The cloud was what I wanted.

Things progressed pretty well as the cloud slowly drifted out of view. Then the sun lit up the ground as well so I threw a bit of it in. By the time I left there was very little cloud in that direction but there were still distant lightning strikes visible in the north.

 (Mt Barker Storm Clouds. 20x24cm oil on panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

The photography on these is pretty horrible and the colours leave a bit to be desired. I'll try to re-shoot them if I can.