Thursday, August 30, 2012

Oil and digital seascape sketches

Photo of Green Islands, Albany WA. Andy Dolphin.
View to Green Islands, Albany. Photo by Andy Dolphin.

Date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Weather Forecast: Becoming fine.

I returned to Torndirrup National Park yesterday afternoon in the hope of capturing the sea at its best as we'd had a bit of stormy weather the day before. When I arrived, there was a decent swell combined with a high tide pushing some big waves into shore. A gentle, warm breeze made conditions perfect for painting.

I love the way some waves hit the rocks and explode. There's no other way to describe it. The best of them even send out a solid "boom!" when they hit. You can feel it in your chest.

I set up in a moderately comfy spot well above the wave line and got to work. Using ultramarine, burnt sienna and cad yellow light, I looked straight into the sun and got this...

Seascape oil sketch by Andy Dolphin
(Boom! Sketch. 30x25cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

For a plein air piece, I'm pretty happy with it. There's a lot going on when you're there, on site. Every wave is different and they don't all go "boom!" right where you want them to - and a lot of those that do go "boom!" in the right place, do it when you're looking elsewhere. The clouds shift constantly so the sheen on the water comes and goes and the sun sets quickly, dropping more into view and changing the colour of everything. I tried to ignore all that and spent just over an hour on this painting.

This morning, without looking at yesterday's painting, and relying solely on memory, I did a quick digital sketch of the "same" subject. There's about half an hour's work here...

(Boom! Digital sketch. 800x600px. © Andy Dolphin)

The beauty of working from memory like this is that reality doesn't interfere. With the memory of yesterday still vivid, I can design things the way I want them, out of my head. I put rocks where I want them, invent wave directions and use colours that I feel will achieve the desired result.

It can be difficult to make such decisions in the field with a scene that always looks exciting but which won't stay still. For example, I noticed at one point that the splashes of the waves were casting very clear shadows across the foreground water at times, but installing those shadows into a half-finished oil sketch can be problematic because there just isn't time to be fussing with it. But those shadows were still clear in my mind this morning and I made sure to use them in the digital sketch.

The photo at the top of the article shows how the day ended, shortly after I'd packed up. What an awful way to have to spend an afternoon eh?

Walk to Peak Head, Albany

Stormy seas, Peak Head, Torndirrup, Albany, WA. Andy Dolphin.

I had planned to go painting on Monday afternoon but got sidetracked, literally.

I visited Stony Hill, one of the highest points in Torndirrup National Park. The site offers magnificent views of two very different coastlines. On the left, looking north-west, are high, rugged cliffs exposed to the pounding surf of the Southern Ocean, while on the right lies the mostly-protected beaches of King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour. The city of Albany can be seen in the distance. Isthmus Bay and Bald Head lie to the east while to the south is Peak Head - and this is where I get sidetracked.

The weather was pleasant with a slight breeze and good cloud cover. The temperature was just right for a walk.

View to Peak Head, Albany WA. Andy Dolphin.

Peak Head is a granitic prominence that rises to over 100m above sea level. There is a 2.1km walk trail (4.2km return) that begins near Stony Hill, around 200m above sea level. The trail winds its way down the hill to a 25m high cliff overlooking a rocky bay, before turning uphill again to the final destination.

The uphill walk is pretty easy going until the trail disappears at the base of the granite dome of Peak Head. There's a steep "climb" up a couple of granite slopes to reach the top. Here's a photo taken half-way up one of the rock faces.

view from Peak Head, Albany WA. Andy Dolphin.

If you think you want to do this walk, wear non-slip walking boots! And take note of where the trail ends, so you can find it again later.

View east from Peak Head, Albany. Andy Dolphin.

The return walk is a little more challenging as the steep downward slopes put serious pressure on ageing knees and the trail to Stony Hill is uphill all the way from the bay. Overall, it's pretty straightforward for anyone with a moderate level of fitness and a couple of hours to spare.

cowslip orchid - caladenia flava - peak head

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Plein air challenge!

Green island albany with clouds
Green Islands, Albany. Photo by Andy Dolphin.

Date: Sunday, August 26, 2012
Weather Forecast: Fine with a late change

I made the decision that, with fine weather forecast, I'd head out to a spot near Albany that offers incredible views over the Torndirrup coastline. My plan today was to come home with more than just photos.

I found a spot just off the walk trail, and a few metres short of a very long drop over a very high cliff. I was around 180m above sea level. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and there was a gentle breeze blowing. It was near-perfect. So I set up my easel and got to work.

I worked on a panel that had been stained with burnt sienna. I used it mainly because I had it with me and it was the right shape.

Knowing the light would change dramatically, I pre-mixed small samples of critical colours and referred to these throughout the painting process. I used my oil colour chart to determine the best colours to use for each mix and was surprised to note that the deep ocean was almost a perfect match to cerulean blue out of the tube. In fact, cerulean featured in mixes throughout the painting from the sky to the sunlit hills and rocks.

I approached this painting is a relatively steady manner, rather than as a quick sketch. I roughly outlined the major shapes, separating sunlit and shaded areas, before under-painting all parts in approximate final colours. Then I painted the sky and worked my way down and "forward", painting into all areas before adding the white-wash along the edge of the coastline. I left the white-wash until fairly late in the process because it doesn't really shift much in colour. My main concern was the shadow side of the hills because I knew those shadows would disappear completely as the sun moved higher in the sky. I finished with dark accents and highlights.

A strong wind warning had been issued for the afternoon and the breeze grew steadily over the two hours that I painted. I eventually had to take my hat off because I was holding onto my easel with my spare hand. If anything blew away, I wasn't going after it!

location plein air seascape in oil by Andy Dolphin

While I was packing up, TRAGEDY!!!! struck!!! (Yes, there were definitely exclamation marks when it happened). The very wet painting fell off the easel and face first into the sand. Hmmm.

"Golly gee!", I said. "That's just a little bit too authentic", I added. Or, something like that.

When I got back to the studio, I decided it was worth fixing. Using a razor-blade scraper, I carefully removed the paint where the sand was stuck, leaving a ghost of colour behind. I mixed up some fresh paint and set to work. It only took about half an hour to recover things.

 (Plein air View to Cave Point. 35x22cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

Bonus material:

Here's a few "quick" sketches I've done around the Torndirrup coast in the last week or so.

Torndirrup, seascape oil painting by Andy Dolphin.

Torndirrup, the Gap, seascape oil painting by Andy Dolphin.

Torndirrup, the Gap, Cave Point Lighthouse, seascape oil painting by Andy Dolphin.

Showers are forecast for tomorrow but I might head to the coast again, and see what's happening.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Storm-tossed seas

Green Island, Albany, on a stormy day. Andy Dolphin.
Green Islands, Albany. Photo by Andy Dolphin.

Date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Weather Forecast: Severe Weather Warning

With severe weather forecast, I made the decision that I would head back to my favourite bit of Albany coastline this afternoon. I've seen it in the lead up to a storm before, but not during one.

I knew it wouldn't be pretty but I packed my paints and easel up, just in case there was an opportunity for some plein air action.

The weather bureau don't always get it right.

But they were right this time. All hell was breaking loose along the exposed sections of coastline. The spray from the breakers smashing against the rocks was non-stop and drenching - and the wind carried it long distances, like right across the car park, 100m away, and all over my car. And it wasn't the usual coastal mist, this was like short bouts of heavy rain.

Here's a plein air painting I did a week ago...

And here's what that spot looked like today, from a slightly lower viewpoint...

Painting was obviously off the menu today and I had to settle for photos and video. My poor camera was copping it and I had to keep wiping the lens on my jumper to get rid of the spray (I have a cheap UV filter on the lens for this very reason. Lenses are too expensive to mistreat. I probably should carry a lint-free cloth though.)

The Gap, Albany, in a storm. Andy Dolphin.

Can you see the person standing on the viewing platform in the photo above (click the pic for a bigger image)? This is a spot known as The Gap and the ocean is some 25m below the viewing platform. There's a pretty scary amount of force behind that wave! And the wind at the platform was phenomenal.

Cable Beach, Albany, in a storm. Andy Dolphin

Above is Cable Beach, a "sheltered" bay near The Gap. A few days ago the water was crystal clear, there were small fishing boats visible way out to sea and I was watching dolphins leisurely patrolling the shore at this very spot.  The only dolphin seen there today was me!

There's a 100 tonne boulder on the beach, just out of shot. Apparently it washed up one day in a storm - a much bigger storm than today's.

Salmon Holes, Albany, in a storm. Andy Dolphin

Above and below are photos of Salmon Holes, a deadly beach near the end of the Torndirrup Peninsula. People often stand on that sloping rock in the left foreground in the hopes of catching fish. Some never get to go home because, even on calm days, massive swells wash a long way up, along and back down it. My fish comes from a shop.

Salmon Holes, Albany, in stormy seas. Andy Dolphin

In all, I used up over 10Gb of my SD card this afternoon - over 400 photos and videos in just under four hours (although some are just blurry blobs because of the water-covered camera lens). I packed up when it got too dark. And did I mention it was cold? It was cold. My cheeks were burning from the chill. The things I do for this blog!

But I loved every minute of it. We'll see if any paintings result from the effort.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Southern Art & Craft Trail 2012

Landscape oil painting, step 3 final, by andy dolphin
Evening Shadows. 
40x60cm oil on board. 
 © Andy Dolphin

This year, the Southern Art & Craft Trail celebrates its tenth anniversary and I will, for the first time, be taking part as a listed exhibitor.

From their website: The trail is "an initiative of Artsouthwa Inc., an organisation formed to promote and market fine art and craft created by artists living and working in the Great Southern region of Western Australia and to assist art and craft practitioners, organisations and galleries with professional and skills development."

I will have a selection of works for sale at West Cape Howe Wines, on Muirs Highway, Mount Barker (Western Australia).

The Trail officially starts on September 29 and exhibition guide books are available throughout the Great Southern. I'll bring you more details as the time draws near. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Evolution of a seascape in oil - IV

This is part four in a series which began with "Genesis of a seascape in oil". In parts one to three, I explained how I took an abstract concept sketch, done in Photoshop, and developed it into a detailed reference for a seascape painting. We are now looking at how these early stages will evolve into a finished oil painting.

Here's where we finished in step three.

Except for the rocks, this image is all digital painting. I took this into the studio and used it to create a 255 x 355mm painting in oils. For the initial painting, I used just ultramarine, burnt sienna and yellow ochre as I was more interested in shapes and overall design at this point and didn't want to get bogged down in colour decisions. I used a little lean medium to help the paint to dry a bit faster.

I let this dry for a few days and looked at it whenever I entered the studio. I also checked it out in a mirror and this showed up a few things that needed some attention. I put it back on the easel and, with a few extra colours on the palette, I worked over most of the picture, making subtle adjustments to shapes and edges and pushing some colours and contrasts.

Here's how the painting stands at the moment.

I warmed up the rocks to give me a stronger colour contrast, warm against cool, orange against blue. I've also done quite a lot of modelling to create more interesting shapes within the rock mass. I've also adjusted the shape of the line where the rocks meet the water as it was too geometric before. As I mentioned in part three of this series, the strip of foam that weaves its way up from the bottom of the picture is an important part of the composition. In the under-painting it was rather solid and needed breaking up a little to make it more a part of the water's surface.

Here's a tonal map of the painting, created using Photoshop's posterize feature.

Part five coming soon.

Seascape oil painting series:
Genesis of a seascape in oil - I
Genesis of a seascape in oil - II
Genesis of a seascape in oil - III
Evolution of a seascape in oil - IV
Evolution of a seascape in oil - V 
Evolution of a seascape in oil - VI

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Plein air seascape in oil

Green Island, Albany. Andy Dolphin.
Green Islands, Albany. Photo by Andy Dolphin.

Date: Thursday, August 16, 2012
Weather Forecast: Cold

The forecast for today was cold and cloudy. As it turned out, that was an understatement.

Despite the weather prediction, I had made the decision to return to my favourite seascape spot near Albany, Western Australia. When I arrived, it was a little bleak and blustery so I went for a walk to see how things looked. The wind was straight off the Antarctic.

But it wasn't raining, and the surf was pumping, so I grabbed my French easel and found a spot where I thought I might be a little sheltered from the wind. I chose to sit on a rock, to further protect myself. This was to prove a mistake - it was soon uncomfortable. Note to self: "stand up next time".

I sat painting for about one and a half hours. During that time the sun shone through exactly never. In some ways this was good because the scene before me never really changed. When there's no sun, there's no shadows to move as time goes by. And when the sunlight comes and goes, it can make painting difficult as the scene changes dramatically each time.

As I was finishing, I met a lovely bunch of people on holidays. Many photos were taken of each of them with my painting, including a group shot with me. Here's where things ended up before I headed back to the warmth of my car. This is 255mm (10") wide.

Plein Air seascape in oils, Albany. Andy Dolphin.

This section of coastline is deadly. There are warnings everywhere - although when I was here last week, a woman walked right down to the water's edge, got very wet, and was lucky to walk back up again. I've seen the spot where she stood get swamped with deep water from big waves on occasion. She was hit by a relatively small wave.

On grey days like today, this bay looks every bit as threatening as it's reputation.

Those breakers hitting the cliff face on the far side literally explode. The spray can hang in the air for four or five seconds, like it's in slow motion. They are big waves. Sometimes an incoming wave meets one bouncing back off the shore and they explode unexpectedly in mid-water. It can get pretty crazy out there!

I've watched, photographed and videoed those explosions many, many times and today seemed like the perfect day for painting them.

Here's a bit of detail from the focal point, so you can see the brushstrokes. Most of the work was done using two flat synthetic brushes with some fine detail added at the end with a rigger.

Plein Air seascape in oils, Albany. Detail. Andy Dolphin.

And here is the "yes, I really painted this on location" shot.

Plein Air seascape on location. Andy Dolphin.

I had planned to do two sketches on the one board, like I did when I painted here on Saturday, but it got colder while I was painting today and it felt like it was going to rain. So I went home.

I'll continue with my "Genesis of a Seascape in oil" series soon. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Genesis of a seascape in oil - III

This is part three in a series of designing a seascape painting in oils. Click the link for part two.

Here's where we got up to. It's a fairly basic seascape design, painted roughly in Photoshop, plus a small oil sketch created using the digital painting as a reference.

digital seascape rough in colour

My imaginary rocks could use a little assistance and I feel the format of the picture is too wide with the main body of the wave directing the eye straight across from left to right, until it hits the rock. I decided the picture could use more foreground to offer a better opportunity for a more interesting lead-in, to reduce the horizontal force of that wave.

To help out with the rocks, I looked through my photos of the local coastline and found a rather nice looking rocky outcrop. Then I flipped the rough digital painting right-to-left - for no great reason other than that happened to fit with the way the rocks faced - then I cut out the rocks from the photo and put the two images together.

Some of you might be thinking "that's cheating", but all I'm doing here is assembling ideas and most of us have used photo references for years. I could just as easily have sketched the rocks digitally, using the photo as a reference, but there was no point in doing that for this exercise.

I refined the image some more in Photoshop, still keeping my mind on the overall design, rather than "the seascape".

The foreground water, the semi-submerged rock in the lower-right corner and the distant headland and clouds are painted digitally. I've also added some water running off the main rock area because my waves are much bigger than those in the photo reference. The main addition here, however, is that strip of sheet foam that snakes gently up from the bottom of the picture to the focal point. This was designed, quite purposefully, to lead the viewer in. I spent quite a lot of time on that one feature.

I  warmed the rocks up a little to boost the contrast between them and the overall cool blue colour scheme. Here's the tonal map of the image at the end of the digital design process.

This has given me a pretty good scene to work with. With the extra foreground, the dark masses now take up most of the area followed by mid tones then highlights. The strongest contrast is still where the big splash meets the rocks.

The next step is to turn this digital composite into an oil painting.

I'll post part four soon.

Seascape oil painting series:
Genesis of a seascape in oil - I
Genesis of a seascape in oil - II
Genesis of a seascape in oil - III
Evolution of a seascape in oil - IV
Evolution of a seascape in oil - V 
Evolution of a seascape in oil - VI

Monday, August 13, 2012

Genesis of a seascape in oil - II

This is part two in a series of designing a seascape painting in oils. Click the link for part one.

Here's where we got up to. It's a fairly basic seascape design, painted digitally, and roughly, in Photoshop with no reference. There's about half an hour's work in this.

digital seascape rough in colour

I was happy with this as a basic "thumbnail" and decided to do a small oil painting using only this digital painting, and my memories of everything I've observed in recent weeks and seascape paintings I've done over the years, as reference.

Here's the oil sketch.

This was done using a very basic palette and, other than colour, it varies little from the digital sketch. I'm happy with the overall scheme but need to work on the rocks a bit.

That's it for part two but here's a short video I shot last week of waves at various beaches near Albany, Western Australia. It really is a spectacular stretch of coastline.

I haven't uploaded video here before so I hope this works for you. It works for me but I notice the uploader has shrunk it quite a lot. I might upload it to Youtube and embed it from there... one day.

Please note that it has no audio. Do not adjust your set!

Sit back, relax and enjoy!

I'll post part three soon.

Seascape oil painting series:
Genesis of a seascape in oil - I
Genesis of a seascape in oil - II
Genesis of a seascape in oil - III
Evolution of a seascape in oil - IV
Evolution of a seascape in oil - V 
Evolution of a seascape in oil - VI

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Plein air seascape sketches

The Gap, Albany Western Australia. View to Green Island(s)
Green Islands, Albany. Photo by Andy Dolphin.

Date: Saturday, August 11, 2012
Weather Forecast: Fine

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been thinking a lot about waves and seascapes lately. I've studied paintings of them, watched them at a variety of beaches and photographed and videoed them. And I've been working on a "seascape by design" over the last couple of weeks.

Today, with clear skies promised, I decided to head down to the Gap, near Albany, Western Australia, to do some wave painting en plein air.

When I arrived the sky was blue, as promised, and the ocean looked calm compared to what I've seen here in the past. But I wasn't to be disappointed. There was a decent swell and a solid off-shore wind that picked up the tops of the biggest waves and blew them back out to sea. Almost every wave looked like a painting.

I found a spot among the rocks that sheltered me a little from the wind and I chose a scene. I used one half of a 255 x 355mm (10x14") primed board. I was particularly interested in the temperature differences between rock and water and between areas of sunlight and shadow. The wave was assembled slowly, bit by bit, as it's simply not possible to remember everything about a single wave, so I was always looking out for similar waves and taking note of different parts each time one crashed through.

Gap Albany, plein air seascape oil painting by andy dolphin

Once I was done with the first painting, I flipped the board upside-down, turned to my left, and painted a second scene. This spot was crazy. Half the rocks that you can see below would keep disappearing completely under waves and there are submerged rocks that you can't see in the painting that would appear every once in a while as a massive volume of water retreated. Choosing a composition was an interesting exercise!

I chose to spend quite a bit of time on the rocky structures in this one as I liked the angles and the way they created a natural lead-in for the painting . Subtle adjustment of warmer and cooler colours in the sunlit rocks helps to describe the planes. The flat water between the wave and the shore was always changing from a single blanket of white foam to almost completely clear water with beautiful blues and greens. I went for a combination of the two and showed the white foam breaking up with windows of clear water.

Near the Gap, plein air seascape oil painting by andy dolphin

The two photos above show how the paintings finished up on site. When I got back to the studio, I did a little bit of cleaning up so I could use these paintings as references for larger pieces. You can see the results below.

resolved plein air seascape by andy dolphin

resolved plein air seascape by andy dolphin

And here are the obligatory on-site photos that every plein air blog needs. In the second shot you can see the first painting upside-down on the same board.

plein air seascape oil painting by andy dolphin on location

plein air seascape oil painting by andy dolphin on location

I'll continue with my "Genesis of a Seascape" series soon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Genesis of a seascape in oil - I

For the last couple of weeks I've been working on producing a seascape. I've done my share of seascapes in the past, usually from photographic references, but this one is different. And I'm going to take my readers along for the ride... so I hope it works.

My aim here is to produce a piece of art that uses foundational concepts of design in a way that just happens to be a seascape. This happens in all successful paintings but it is often done intuitively. In developing this painting, I'm looking at tonal masses, lead-ins, temperature contrasts and edges and bringing them together to create a "big picture" view, rather than a detailed analysis of water and rocks.

In order to do this, I've looked at a lot of seascapes by other artists including legends like Frederick Waugh and E. John Robinson. I've had Robinson's book on seascapes in oils and two of his videos for quite some years. I've stared at the paintings, turned them upside-down and converted them to greyscale and tonal images in an effort to look through the wonderful seascape paintings we see at first view to the foundations below. It's like going back to school except I'm the teacher and the student.

It's still winter down here and we've "enjoyed" some cold, wet weather, but I've spent many hours down at the coast watching, photographing and videoing waves, large and small. I've climbed rocks, wandered through sand dunes and walked along secluded and desolate beaches. I've been rained on and covered in sea spray and witnessed some beautifully atmospheric light. It's tough work, but someone has to do it.

I've done all this to really get a feeling for the ocean, especially where it meets the shore. I hope to do a lot more of it too, because the ocean is a complex and mysterious beast. But, for now, I'm directing my recent experience into a painting.

I began by doing a digital painting in Photoshop making a simple abstract shape in three grey tones. Then I looked at how I could turn it into a seascape of sorts. Once I had something with potential, I added colour over the top.

digital seascape rough in grey tones

digital seascape rough in colour

tonal map of digital seascape painting

I was exploiting directional lines and tonal contrast to make an obvious focal point. The tonal map, above, shows that the painting is made up mostly of middle tones. The dark masses take up less space and the lights take up the least. The strongest contrast, where the darkest and lightest values meet, is right at the focal point.

I also introduced a burnt orange into the rocks to contrast against the cool blue colour scheme. Blue and orange are complementary colours so when they are brought together, each one enhances the other. A small area of complementary colour will generally attract the eye and, again, I've used this mainly at the focal point.

Though it was never intended to be anything more than a very rough sketch, this little painting was pushed and pulled and even turned upside-down occasionally to see how it was holding together. This was all done without any reference so I could focus solely on designing an interesting pattern rather than slavishly copying an actual scene.

It's not perfect but it'll do for my purposes.

I'll post part two soon.

Seascape oil painting series:
Genesis of a seascape in oil - I
Genesis of a seascape in oil - II
Genesis of a seascape in oil - III
Evolution of a seascape in oil - IV
Evolution of a seascape in oil - V 
Evolution of a seascape in oil - VI