Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bantam Rooster oil painting

Here's the latest painting off my studio easel.

This is one of my daughter's bantam chooks and it's my second chook painting. The first was Rudy which proved to be one of my most popular paintings - and apparently the most memorable as people kept reminding me of it more than a year after it was first exhibited.

Bantam Rooster
30x40cm oil on board. 
 © Andy Dolphin

Friday, December 13, 2013

Manyat Peak Gallery opening

Manyat Peak Gallery, Porongurup.

I attended the very busy opening of the new Manyat Peak Gallery in Porongurup on Wednesday.

This is a brand-new, purpose-built studio gallery and owners Robert and Lorna Bunch hope to make it available for workshops and art tourism. Accommodation is available on the property in two new cottages. If you want easy access to the Lower Great Southern region, right on the doorstep of the magnificent Porongurup Range, give Manyat a call on (08) 9853 1174 and book yourself in for a few nights.

I have a few works on display in this exhibition, along with pieces by several other artists.

One notable exhibitor is Jessica Murray who, at 16 years old, is turning out spectacular work. If you haven't seen her landscapes, I suggest you seek them out.

Jessica Murray and Andy Dolphin
Jessica Murray and me, with some of Jessica's work.

For more information on the gallery and cottages:
Manyat Peak Farm, Cottages & Gallery
1410 Porongurup Road, Porongurup, Western Australia
(Between Duke's Winery and Maleeya's Thai Café)
Ph:  (08) 9853 1174

Monday, December 9, 2013

Morgan Freeman - finger painting or fake?

If you're into digital art, and if you haven't been hiding in a cave for the last week, you will have seen the hyper-realistic "finger painting" of actor Morgan Freeman.

Apparently artist Kyle Lambert, using Procreate software, created a finger-painting on an iPad that is so realistic it is indistinguishable from the celebrity photo it was copied from.

scott gries & kyle lambert images.

It's all over social media, and even mainstream news, with the obvious question now being "Real or Fake?".

Not one to turn my back on a controversy, I just have to bite. I can't help it, it's in my genes. And yes, this will be long.

EDIT: The short version:

I think this is probably real except that, perhaps, Photoshop was used in some way during the process, if only in a supporting role. I certainly don't see it as impossible - assuming the hardware and software are technically capable.

Read on if you want the long version...

Before I begin, let me say that I don't own an iPad. I thought about getting one as a handy-dandy, full-colour sketch tool but everything I've read about them suggests that painting on one is slightly less gratifying than shoving an old kindergarten crayon around with your foot.

Well, perhaps not that bad but the device works on finger gestures so, unless you-re blessed with literally a handful of pressure-sensitive needle-point digits, it's hardly a precision instrument (yes, there are pens available, but the claim being made here is about finger-painting). Of course, as with all technologies, improvements are made with each generation and developers continue to create better software solutions to exploit any benefits the device might offer. When it comes to the digital world, people should have learned a long time ago not to make blanket statements about what's not possible.

So maybe I need to get myself updated on what can be done with an iPad these days.

Promoters of the Morgan Freeman "finger painting" would have us believe that the iPad's time has arrived and that, for less than $7, and a 54Mb download, you could have a painting tool that rivals Photoshop. 

But can you really do this with your fingers?

The jury may still be out on how Lambert actually created the piece that's being touted as an amazingly life-like finger-painting, but the evidence against it being done entirely in one cheap app on an iPad is compelling.

The image is so accurate there are suggestions around social media that the artist simply started with the original photo by Scott Gries, and "unpainted" it, slowly reducing detail and deleting colour until there was nothing left, and then reversed the video to make it look like it was built from scratch.

While that seems feasible, I don't think it's necessarily the only way this could have been done (update: after some more thought, I actually think this would be no easier than just painting from scratch). Plus, despite claims by some detractors, the Lambert image is not a pixel-perfect copy of the original photo.

When overlaid at full-size in Photoshop, there are notable shifts when the top layer is switched on and off. The most noticeable deformities are around the subject's right eye (you can just see it by using the slider in the small image at this blog). That said, the finger-painting is as good as 100% accurate at the macro level.

But this is a digital image and that opens up other possibilities that don't entirely dismiss the claim that it was created from scratch. For example, with enough zoom, down to pixel level, it would be possible to simply copy every pixel, one at a time, from start to finish. It would be time consuming but at a finished size 740,000 pixels in total, and if my maths is right, it would take around 600 hours to complete at the rate of one pixel every few seconds.

Note that large areas of the background could easily be filled in single passes and adjoining areas blended with painting tools. That's probably hundreds of thousands of pixels that don't have to be painted individually. This makes the author's claim of 200 hours work look like a very distant possibility, even one pixel at a time. No one's claiming it was done that way, and the video suggests otherwise, but it demonstrates the possibility of completing the piece from scratch within a realistic time frame.

Some people seem gobsmacked that it's even possible to paint photo-realistically, but I am not so dismissive of the notion that the image could have been created from scratch. Chuck Close was doing it 30 years ago - with real paint! I even dabbled myself, back in my airbrushing days.

Adding detail to an image is trivial, if time-consuming, in the digital age. Even my simple caricatures of Tony Abbott and Wilson Tuckey have some level of "realistic" detail such as pores and sweat beads, and they were completed in around 10 hours each, including the underlying caricaturing process. And they were done from scratch with no tracing, no photo manipulation and no photo sampling. Plus, caricaturing and digital painting were very new to me when I did those. There are people out there with much better Photoshop skills than I possess. Imagine what they could do with a high-quality source photo and 200 spare hours. In fact, you may not need to imagine it, Kyle Lambert may well have demonstrated it.

I think it's possible. I don't even think it's difficult. Boring perhaps. Mind-numbingly boring. But possible, with time.

One area of concern is that the video of the painting process shows major features being placed early and never substantially adjusted as the painting progressed, which would suggest the image was traced - but the original photo is not shown. If the photo wasn't traced in any way, it's an astonishing achievement that would likely have James Randi waving a million dollars around for a repeat performance under controlled conditions - and a lot of social media commentators eating their hats. Unless adjustments disappear when 200 hours of painting is squeezed into a few minutes of video.

So, was it traced?

Lambert told Gizmodo " no stage was the original photograph on my iPad or inside the Procreate app. Procreate documents the entire painting process, so even if I wanted to import a photo layer it would have shown in the video export from the app." 

Forgive me for thinking that answer would be right at home in any parliament, anywhere in the world. It is sufficiently vague as to be of little use at all.

Where was the original photograph? How was it used?

Is it possible, for example, to plug the iPad into a computer and have the iPad screen image overlay an image in Photoshop. This way you could effectively use the iPad as a Cintiq-style drawing tablet whilst watching the tracing action on the computer monitor. Doing it this way, both claims - that the image was painted on the iPad and that the original photo was never on there - could be true.

But is this possible? I don't have an iPad to try it out so I don't know.

One thing's for sure, if this is possible, it might answer some of the questions being asked about the finger-painting image's metadata, which appears only to list Photoshop as the software used in its creation and which also, apparently, lists metadata from the Gries photo in the history of the image's creation. Was the Gries photo in Photoshop, being traced, and were Procreate layers transferred to Photoshop as painting progressed?

When I create detailed colour caricatures in Photoshop, I tend to use quite a few layers. I can't imagine how many layers I'd use to reach the level of detail we're talking about here. 295 maybe? 

I'll reserve my opinion on how this was done but it does seem, from looking at the metadata alone (first created in Photoshop CS5, Mac, in 2011), that there's much more to this story than we're being told from those in the know. I don't necessarily think anyone's lying, but there might be a few important details that haven't been mentioned - yet.

Although, the claim on the Youtube channel where the video is posted does say the image was created using "only a finger, an iPad Air and the app Procreate" - and I think there is some plausible doubt about that.

If this sort of thing interests you at all then you may also like to read more about the metadata at Sebastian's Drawings and The Hacker Factor Blog. Though I should say that while I find their information interesting, I don't entirely agree with the conclusion about this being merely a manipulated photo - unpainted and played back in reverse. But it will explain why I think it could take 295 layers to get the job done properly.

Does it even matter?

I suppose it only matters if you are compelled, on the basis of this news, to buy something that might not quite be capable of doing what you thought it could do. But if the image was actually produced on the iPad, despite contradictory evidence in the metadata, and if it was done in one app using only fingers, then the software is clearly more capable than a kindergarten crayon.

If this level of control and detail is now possible - with fingers - that would be a story even if we knew exactly how the results were achieved.

If this can be done on an iPad with a piece of $7 software and a finger, I'd consider buying an iPad tomorrow. But for me, there are too many questions that need to be answered and I'm not about to buy an iPad to find the answers.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Exhibition at new gallery

Plein air landscape oil painting - sheep - Andy Dolphin
  Porongurup Sheep. 
35x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

I have a selection of seven paintings in a group exhibition opening next week at a brand-new studio gallery in Porongurup (Western Australia).

If you're in the region, you may like to drop in and say hello at the opening.

Manyat Peak Farm, Cottages & Gallery
1410 Porongurup Road, Porongurup
(Between Duke's Winery and Maleeya's Thai Café)

Opening at 6pm, Wednesday, December 11

RSVP Robert Bunch on 9853 1174

Plein air landscape oil painting - cattle - Andy Dolphin
  Takenup Cattle. 
35x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

River rapids plein air paintring in oil by Andy Dolphin
  Hay River Rapids. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

Friday, November 22, 2013


Serendipity means "happy accident". In short, it's when something good happens as an apparent result of something not going to plan. You might also call it luck but serendipity is far more poetic.

I'm no great believer in mysterious universal forces guiding me through life, but this week I enjoyed a serendipitous experience of my own.

I went to pick up an order from my framer but there was a note on the door - "Back at 1:30pm". It was only 12:45pm, so I had some time to kill.

I headed into "downtown" Albany and went for a walk along the main street. Before long I found myself at the local auction house. I'd never ventured inside before but I had nothing better to do so I wandered in and had a look around.

Within minutes I spotted some Walter T Foster art instruction books. It was a fair stack, maybe eight books or more, and included some interesting titles including Clowns & Characters, by Leon Franks; an exquisite looking book. There were a couple of seascape books, one on pin-up art and a few more-general titles. Several of them were in serious need of TLC as the covers were completely separated. One had no cover that I could see.

I have a soft spot for Walter T Foster books, as they played a large part in my childhood pursuit of art, so I quite liked the idea of adding these to my small collection. I made a mental note to return on auction day and see if I could pick them up cheap.

Then I spotted it... sitting there staring up at me... I couldn't believe my eyes. Had serendipity struck?

But first, a short back-story.

I discovered Richard Schmid when I bought some secondhand International Artist magazines almost 15 years ago that featured some of his work plus a small step-by-step demonstration piece. I was immediately attracted to his semi-abstract approach to painting. I loved it.

I found a one of his books on landscape painting listed on the state library database and put in a loan request. I waited for the call to say the book was available but it turned out to be lost in the system somewhere.

I tried again a few years later, after seeing more of Schmid's work on the internet, but the book still could not be found. It has since been removed from the Library database.

But there I stood, two days ago, in one of the most remote cities in the world, a virtual outpost, a tourist city with a population of less than 35,000 people - and Richard Schmid's landscape book was lying there in front of me.

Two sleeps later - auction day.

I went along and waited patiently as the auctioneers worked their way through a list of over 1000 items. I think the sets of books I was interested were listed at item numbers 998 and 999. At least, it felt that way.

Finally the moment arrived. I knew what I wanted to spend, and I knew what the Schmid book was worth on Ebay - and there was a big gap between those two figures. Even secondhand copies in average condition command a premium price.

The Foster books were up first and the auctioneer's assistant shouted out an an absentee bid right up front that was almost double the figure I had in my head. I didn't even get a bid in. Somebody wanted them more than me, and that's great. They still got them at a terrific price, albeit more than I wanted to spend.

And now it was time. A little stack of three art books was next on the list. "Richard Schmid Paints Landscapes" was one of them.

The auctioneer spoke... "$40 anyone?... $30?...20?...$10?". Absolutely! I gave a wave and the bidding war started.

And ended.

I won with one bid. For $10 I got the book I've wanted to read for years - and two bonus books. I don't even care about it's resale value. I would have paid $10 even if I knew it was worth that, or less, on Ebay.

The dust jacket on Schmid is a little the worse for wear but the book itself is in terrific condition.

So here it is, dear reader, my serendipitous moment in picture form...

Richard Schmid Paints Landscapes. Creative techniques in oil. Book.

I no longer have to hope the state library will find their missing copy and remember that I requested it. I no longer have to borrow it from anyone. I own it now, and all because my framer wasn't open when I went to pick up my latest order.

Now excuse me, I've got some reading to catch up on.

New exhibition - Porongurup

I'm going to have a few paintings in an exhibition to celebrate the opening of a brand new gallery in nearby Porongurup. The date hasn't been finalised yet, but it will be very soon. I'll post more information as soon as I have it.

One of the paintings I will have for sale is this little still life...

Big Apple - still life fruit painting in oil by Andy Dolphin
  The Big Apple
20x24cm oil on panel. 
© 2013, Andy Dolphin 

Long-time followers of the blog might recognise this baby as "Fallen Apples", painted in 2010. 

Since I first painted it, it's been hanging around the studio taunting me to do something with it. Finally, last week, I decided I needed to rework it to loosen it up a little and harmonise the colours a bit more.

I'm pretty happy with where it ended up, so it now has a frame to live in. I like it even more in a frame.

In celebration of its new lease on life, I've also retitled it "The Big Apple".

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Spring was here!

It took a while to arrive, but spring did show itself for a few days recently. But, with summer just two weeks away, the grey weather has returned.

I bought myself some new brushes recently. I've been using flat synthetic brushes for the last couple of years but now I'm returning to good old, tried and tested hog bristles. The synthetics started to get a little bit too frustrating as they loose shape fairly quickly, even with careful washing and storage. They also occasionally refused to let go of the paint when making a stroke and I found myself adding more and more turps or medium to try and get things to work properly. There were times where this seriously slowed things down and time is one commodity the plein air painter rarely has enough of.

I might write a bit more about that once I've tamed my new bristles.

The continuing grey weather has given the opportunity to spend a little time in the studio and this week I did something I've rarely done in the past - I painted over some plein air sketches that I felt needed a lift in order to become frame-worthy.

The first one is a painting I did a while ago. It was painted very late in the day and the light faded fast. I used a "pre-mix" approach where almost all the colours are mixed on the palette before any colour is applied to the painting surface.

I mixed a few main colours for the trees - shadows and highlights, warms and cools - two for the hills, a few for the ground and two for the clouds, plus some blues for the sky. This was a first for me and I can see some potential advantages in the method when the light is changing fast, but I'm not sure how often I'll use it. What I generally tend to do is use a mix-and-apply approach in combination with pre-mixes for some specific areas where I want to lock-in colours at a given time.
Plein air landscape oil painting - sheep - Andy Dolphin
  Porongurup Sheep. 
Plein air sketch. 35x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

I liked the general structure of this one but the major forms were a little fractured and it lacked punch. I particularly wanted the sheep to catch a bit more of the evening sunlight. So I carefully scraped back the dry paint with a new palette knife, to get rid of the biggest ridges, and got to work. Here's the result...

Plein air landscape oil painting - sheep - Andy Dolphin
  Porongurup Sheep. 
35x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

My second re-do was first just two weeks ago. It was a perfect afternoon and I hadn't looked at this location before. The distant air was thick with sunlit vapour and almost swallowed the Porongurup Range less than ten kilometres away.

This was the first time I used my new brushes and was very pleased with the process. Here's the painting as it stood when I packed up...

Plein air landscape oil painting - cattle - Andy Dolphin
  Takenup Cattle. 
Plein air sketch. 35x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

...and a location shot, of course, for people who like that sort of thing...

Plein air landscape oil painting - Western Australia - Andy Dolphin

And here it is after I scraped back the ridges and painted over it in the studio.

Plein air landscape oil painting - cattle - Andy Dolphin
  Takenup Cattle. 
35x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

I feel the end result does a far better job of capturing the glowing atmospheric light that attracted me in the first place. I also reduced some of the mid-ground clutter by deleting what appeared to be a second dam behind the one where the cows are standing.

In both cases, the major change I wanted to make was to add more warmth. I prefer bright, warm paintings but it can be easy to lose vibrancy when you're standing on the side of the road and painting quickly.

Both paintings were done - and re-done - using a three-colour palette.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blogger images. Just testing.

Just testing something. Sorry for any inconvenience. 

An issue has been noted at Qiang-Huang's art blog and also by Debbie Beck Cooper.

It appears Blogger might be (randomly?) auto-adjusting images when they're uploading, so dark images get lightened/brightened. It's not hugely noticeable on my image below but while it is marginally brighter than the test file I uploaded, the change is nowhere near as dramatic as the colour-shift Qiang-Huang has experienced.

If this is a new "feature" - of the undocumented kind that Microsoft Windows was infamous for and which Blogger do occasionally impose on users without notice (Lightbox anyone?) - then it poses a massive problem for artists and photographers who do not want their images "corrected".

For now, however, it looks more like a glitch somewhere in the system.

And indeed, it seems it is both a glitch and an undocumented "feature".


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rapids: a new plein air challenge

This week I was granted access to private property which the Hay River runs through. There is a section a couple of hundred metres long where the river drops over several granite outcrops. We've had a very wet start to spring so there is plenty of water in the river.

I've never painted rapids plein air before, (I've hardly ever painted them at all), so this was going to be a new challenge. Heck, just carrying all my gear down the steep grassy embankment was going to be a challenge.

I hope to visit here several times in the coming weeks, in order to become familiar with it. I'll begin by attempting exercises, rather than finished paintings. If I can solve one or two problems each time, I should be able to get a decent plein air painting out of it before too long.

Yesterday was the first spring-like spring day we've had this spring. It was warm and sunny with clear blue skies. So, in the afternoon I headed down to the river to see if I could manage a painting. Before I started the walk from the car, I emptied as much stuff as I could from my French easel and backpack.

Here's exercise number one...

River rapids plein air paintring in oil by Andy Dolphin
  Hay River Rapids. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

I was looking directly toward the sun and the reflections were intense. I actually wandered around for almost an hour to allow the sun to move across a little, but it was still very bright when I started.

Here's the location shot...

Plein air location photo, rapids

And here's me doing a "long-distance, time-delay selfie" while pretending to paint...because I could...

Andy Dolphin, plein air artist with French easel

We had clear skies again this morning so I returned to the same spot to try the same scene in different light. Here's the result...

River rapids plein air paintring in oil by Andy Dolphin
  Hay River Morning. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

This time the scene was more front-lit, with very few shadows. I assumed some shadows would arrive as I painted since I knew, from yesterday, that the scene would be back-lit by afternoon. I focused in a little closer this time.

And, ta daa, the location shot...

Plein air location photo, rapids

There's a lot to consider in a scene like this. There's the various textures of rocks, foliage and water. The water  itself presents multiple challenges - flat water, falling water, clear water, flat foam, frothy foam and reflections. Plus, the water is tea-coloured so it takes on distinctly warm hues as it travels over and around the rocks.

Looking at photos of the place, it seems like it should be fairly easy to translate into paint. Some things are dark, some things are light and others are in between. Even the foam patterns and reflections make sense in a photo. But when you're standing there, paint brush in hand, things never stop moving and every brushstroke requires a good deal of thought.

Once again I find myself wondering why people think painting is good for relaxation. I find it an absolute adrenalin rush, from start to finish.

Monday, September 23, 2013

2013 Art Trail exhibition

Just a reminder that I will be exhibiting this year at West Cape Howe Wines.

Exhibition opening:
6–8pm, Friday, September 27
West Cape Howe Wines

That's this coming Friday.

The exhibition continues
10-5 daily, through to October 13.

My painting "South coastal" (below), which took out second prize in the recent Australian Artist  Magazine "Seascapes, Rivers & Lakes" competition, will be on show and available for purchase. I will also be showing several of my most-recent plein air paintings.

Seascape oil painting by Andy Dolphin
South coastal
70x37cm oil on board
© Andy Dolphin

 The exhibition  also features work by ceramic artist Jonathan Hook.

West Cape Howe Wines is on Muir Highway, about 10km west of Mt Barker, WA.

The Trail officially starts on September 28. Exhibition guide books are available throughout the Great Southern or you can follow the link to the website at the top of this article for more information. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Composition: plein air seascape in oil

When painting on location, there often isn't time to mess around with composing a scene.

If you have plenty of light left in the day, it can be very handy to knock out a couple of one-minute thumbnail sketches to see what presents itself as a strong composition. But as sunset draws near, those couple of minutes become precious. And you don't necessarily have a lot of different shaped boards to choose from when you're out and about so your composition options are limited from the outset.

This evening I headed back to the coast (almost 70km away) to see if I could do another cloud painting. We've had heavy cloud all day, not ideal conditions for painting either clouds or sunlight, but I decided to take the chance.

I arrived at Mutton Bird Beach about an hour-and-a-half before sunset and looked around for possible paintings. I did a few thumbnails but the light was dreadful so I continued looking around the area since I've not spent much time there before.

After walking a couple of kilometres down a four-wheel-drive track, and finding a spectacular location for future paintings, I headed back to the car park about half-an-hour before sunset.

The sky had cleared dramatically and Shelter Island was almost-glowing in the evening light. I knew it wouldn't last.

I quickly set up my easel, grabbed a board and began painting as soon as I could. Composition was the least of my concerns, I just wanted to record the sunlight. I didn't even stop to take a photo to use as a reference later, if I needed it.

I wanted to get rid of the white of the board so I could lay in some of the sunlight colours fairly accurately. I washed in major tones with paint so thin it was like watercolour - it's faster that way. Then I mixed up a couple of warm colours for the sunlit shrubs and rocks and roughed out those areas.

The island enjoyed sunlight for about five minutes after I began painting then the sun dropped behind a bank of clouds. With the sunlit image pretty clear in my mind, I continued painting even though everything was now in shadow.

In some respects, it was probably handy that the sunlight had gone because I wouldn't be teased by the scene changing colour every couple of minutes, as happens at that time of the day, and I could stick with the colour decisions I'd already locked in. I also had to not be distracted by the amazing stuff going on in the western sky (it was a gorgeous sunset).

I packed up when I realised it was so dark, I couldn't really tell what colour I was using anymore.

Shelter Island, Mutton Bird, Albany. Pleion air seascape by Andy Dolphin.
 Shelter Island. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

Palette: French ultramarine, cadmium scarlet, cadmium yellow light, titanium white.

The painting is pretty rough. Some of the paint is so thin, I don't think it could be considered archival, so I can't sell it. I also think the composition is pretty boring. But I really like the main area of light and shade so I took a quick photo and messed around in Photoshop to see what compositional possibilities there were.

Plein air oil seascape compositions.

I particularly like the intimacy of option number two and think I might head back to the location with that composition in mind as my starting point. And, with half the problem already solved, I could probably do a larger painting and take a little more time by starting earlier in the day.

Over the last couple of years, my attitude to plein air work has changed - and continues to change. I used to only paint if the light was perfect and likely to remain stable and if I was pretty sure I'd get a finished painting from a session. I'd usually spend two hours or more on one painting on location.

These days, I'm forcing myself to be more adventurous. I head out when it's cloudy, I start paintings late in the day when stable light is not just unlikely, it's impossible. I paint fast and I end up with whatever I end up with. Sometimes I get a result that's worth framing, sometimes I need to do some touching-up in the studio for a frameable result and other times I scrape the painting, or let it dry then throw it in the corner, with all the other "could-a-beens".

Quite a few of the paintings I've posted on this blog are in that pile because the blog isn't about great art but the pursuit of art. I'm pretty fussy about what I actually let out of the door and into the market place.

But the "failures" still have value, even if it's just from the act of getting out and painting - and that is possibly the most valuable part of the experience. It's taken me a long time to realise just how important it is to just get out there and paint and "bugger the consequences".

Twelve months ago, or even six months ago, I would not have thrown the easel in the car on a day like today. I would have looked out at the grey sky and decided to give painting a miss. As it turned out, I took the chance, went for the drive and had an amazing afternoon.

I still struggle with painting when there's no clear sunlight and shadow, but that can be next year's project.

Spring: plein air cloudscape in oil

Earlier this year I decided my next major project was to be plein air clouds.

Clouds are sods of things to paint on location because they move much faster than we would usually realise. Even those massive cumulus clouds, that look too big to move, refuse to stay still when you try to paint them.

Last weekend, at the end of a particularly gloomy day where the sun refused to shine, I took the gamble and headed down to the coast where I thought I might get some good views of clouds in the evening light. I was prepared to paint grey skies if that's all I had to choose from.

I walked along the beach for quite a while, looking in different directions and doing small thumbnail sketches of mostly-grey scenes before finally seeing some colour creeping into a bank of clouds in the eastern sky.

Most people probably think of the dramatic reds and oranges of western skies when they think of sunsets but the eastern evening sky can be especially attractive as the clouds reflect the warm but subtle, almost-pearlescent sunset colours.

Perkins Beach, Albany. Seascape clouds in oil by Andy Dolphin.
 Perkins Beach, Spring Evening. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

The thing that really caught my eye when I decided to paint this scene was the strong reflection of the sunlit cloud in the ocean. By the time I'd set up my easel and laid out my colours, the cloud had moved - a lot. I used a combination of different clouds and a dose of memory to put the main cloud where I wanted it.

When I began, there was no sunlight hitting anything below sky level, but as I was working the central breakers were pleasantly spot-lit, for about ten minutes, so I decided to include that effect.

I did a little work on this one back in the studio, mainly darkening the ocean which looked much paler, once I could see it properly, than I thought it was on location. Other than that, it's pretty much how it was when I left the beach.

Palette: French ultramarine, permanent crimson, cadmium yellow light, titanium white.

I didn't get a location shot because it was dark when I packed up. I had to put my LED headlamp on to find my way back through the dunes to the car park.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Colin Barnett - AAA-rated caricature?

With the news today the Western Australian state budget has been so badly managed that our AAA credit rating has been downgraded, I thought I should repost a caricature I drew a few weeks ago.

Colin's a popular boy today.

Colin Barnett, WA Premier, digital caricature in Photoshop
Colin Barnett
Digital caricature. 580x680px
© 2013, Andy Dolphin

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Shelley Beach - plein air seascape in oil

Shelley Beach sits at the edge of West Cape Howe, the most-southern point in WA. It's an isolated beach surrounded by steep hills and is a favoured spot for parasailing, with two launch pads located on one of the hilltops.

I headed out there yesterday evening in the hope of capturing a nice sunset painting. When I arrived, there was a thunder storm heading in from the west, over the hills. I ventured down to the carpark by the beach and pondered the possibilities. Everything was grey and there didn't seem to be much chance of painting.

Just before I went to leave, I noticed one big sunlit cloud in the east. I didn't have my camera with me, and it was too late to go anywhere else to paint, so I decided to just do a quick cloud study.

Shelley Beach Evening. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

It was clear the cloud wasn't going to be sunlit for very long so I drew in the rough shape and quickly applied a purply-blue to the shaded areas, leaving the sunlit portion white.

Next I mixed up the sky blue and quickly painted this around the cloud. Precision wasn't important - there was no time for fluffing around. Behind me, the thunder was still closing in and the sky took on an amazing glow over the hills. I almost stopped what I was doing and considered painting the view to the west but decided to keep going.

By now, there was no sunlight on the feature cloud so I decided to lay in a bit of the land and sea, for context. Before I knew it, I'd almost painted a complete seascape - and it wasn't looking too bad at all. The thunderstorm was now starting to come around the headland behind me and I kept seeing flashes of lightning in the corner of my eye. There were a couple of good flashes above me too, with loud claps of thunder. I expected to get drenched any minute.

With the rocks, ocean and beach laid in, I went back and added the sunlight to the cloud. Then I flicked a few touches of colour around the rest of the painting.

It was quite dark by the time I put the brushes down. The rain pretty much held off until I was back in the car and heading home, with lightning all around.

I did a bit of tidying up on the painting back in the studio.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Front page contest

With counting from last weekend's election continuing in our electorate of O'Connor, I scored the front page of the Great Southern Weekender today.

With the retirement of single-term politician Tony Crook, who wrestled the seat from long-time MP Wilson Tuckey in 2010, the contest this year was between two political newcomers.

Chub Witham stood for the Nationals and Rick Wilson for the Liberals. Eleven Candidates ran in the seat this year but Witham and Wilson were the only candidates who stood any realistic chance of winning. And now it's down to the wire, although it seems likely the Liberals will take back the seat they held for decades.

Anyway, I sat up late for two nights this week and came up with this...

Chub Witham Rick Wilson O'Connor contest, caricature, Weekender by Andy Dolphin
Witham vs Wilson
Digital caricature.3400x2600px
© 2010, Andy Dolphin

On the first evening, I focussed on doing a caricature of Rick Wilson, as he appeared to be the more-difficult of the pair to capture. At that point, I had no idea what the theme of the finished illustration would be, or who would even need to be in it as it was possible the situation could change before deadline. So this first caricature was mostly an exercise in getting a likeness, just in case (note, if you search for him, he doesn't look much like his red-haired campaign photo in real life).

Rick Wilson, O'Connor, caricature by Andy Dolphin
Rick Wilson
Digital caricature.1900x1700px
© 2010, Andy Dolphin

As it turned out, I had to simplify this drawing the following evening, when I drew Witham and completed the piece, as I wouldn't have had time to do the whole illustration to this level of finish. So I did the Chub Witham face, simplified this one and then plonked them together on a page and drew the bodies around them, using a front-page template as a guide.

Once I had the contest theme worked out, I had to change Wilson's happy expression to suit.

I am Production Manager at the Weekender, by the way.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Scathing attack on my artwork!

It happened three years ago, in August 2010, and it's happened again. My artwork has been the victim of a savage attack. Last time it was "Dirty Harry" and this time it was "Big Wendell".

As I wrote in 2010, when Harry attacked my art, everyone's an art critic.

Last week, Wendell knocked my drawing of Kevin Rudd and tore strips off my caricature of Tony Abbott. But I'm not unhappy about it.

Harry and his successor Wendell live at Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin but they're not art critics. They are, however, touted as psychic crocodiles and they have often made public predictions about a variety of things, including federal elections.

In 2010, Harry chose my Julia Gillard caricature over that of Tony Abbott, to correctly pre-empt that year's election.

Last week, Wendell the croc took his time making a decision but ultimately correctly chose Tony Abbott over Kevin Rudd as our new Prime Minister.

Here's more...

Psychic Croc picks election winner
NTNews - psychic croc picks Abbott

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Newdegate Field Days

Salmon Gum - Andy Dolphin painting en plein air

The Newdegate Machinery Field Days began in 1972 and are run by volunteer committee. Spread across the first Wednesday and Thursday in September, the Newdegate Machinery Field Days is an event that keeps our committee busy all year round and our community busy in the weeks leading up to our event. Our aim is to host a world class agricultural machinery display, which has now expanded to include livestock, family and recreational interests.

The successful running of the Newdegate Machinery Field Days has enabled us to support our local community with donations to many local projects.

All of our volunteers record their hours to a local club or the Royal Flying Doctor who benefit with a donation from NMFD. We are also in partnership with National Disability Services and honour their Companion Card Scheme.

I've been telling myself for the last 10 years, since moving to Mt Barker, that I should enter some work in the Newdegate Field Days art competition. I finally did it this year and decided that I should also go and take a look at the exhibition. It's a little under 300km by road from Mt Barker to Newdegate and it takes a little over three hours to drive there.

It was a fantastic couple of days. My wife and I had two nights' accommodation arranged on a farm about 50km north of Newdegate. I sold both paintings at the exhibition, so had nothing to pick up and bring home. The weather was perfect - clear skies, warm, sunny days and still nights with starry skies.

The 3,000 hectare (7,500 acre) farm features wheat and barley and around 3,000 head of sheep. Our wonderful host, Doug, gave us a tour of the property which features some amazing landscape painting opportunities.

I was up and about at sunrise on our first morning and headed to a spot I'd noticed the previous evening, where a farm track deviates around a group of Salmon Gums. It's a simple landscape featuring a white sand track. I love white sand tracks and this scene was made for painting - so I painted it. It's not often that things are arranged exactly as you want them.

Salmon Gum tree, Newdegate - plein air oil painting landscape Andy Dolphin
Around the trees. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

Salmon Gums are beautiful, stately trees. The leaves are incredibly dark green and form massive canopies, sometimes resembling giant umbrellas. The trunks are pale and glossy so they change colour dramatically, depending on the time of day and the hue of the sunlight.

I began with a rough wash of cadmium scarlet to tone sections of the board before laying in the painting. I used a limited palette of ultramarine, cadmium yellow light and cadmium scarlet - something I plan to do more of when painting on location. Most of the trunk on the main tree was added using a palette knife and I was really pleased with the result.

While I was painting, a large flock of sheep moved through the shadow cast by the trees. If I do a  larger version of this one, I might add the sheep in.

Here's the location shot...

Salmon Gum tree, Newdegate - plein air oil painting location Andy Dolphin

That afternoon, I headed out to a spot where the mostly-flat land rises abruptly up a white limestone escarpment.

The sun was dropping fast and I knew I was going to be pushed for time on this one. I had to think fast and make sure I got the most important shapes locked in before all the shadows had shifted. I painted for about 45 minutes, but the main rock face fell into shadow after about 10 minutes. I relied on a quick under-painting to guide me as to where the sunlit areas were supposed to be.

I used the same limited palette as above but added permanent crimson to give me better purples in the shadows.

Here's how it ended up.

Newdegate Escarpment - plein air oil painting Andy Dolphin
Newdegate escarpment. 
Plein air sketch. 25x30cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

It's rough and suffers a bit in the composition department, but I think I've captured the general feeling of the spot. Between this plein air painting and a couple of location photos, I might be able to produce a decent studio piece.

I don't have a shot of the painting on location but you can see me working on it in the photo at the top of this article.

Big thanks to Doug for looking after us, showing us around and allowing me to explore the property.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stephen Fry - digital caricature

I was sitting at the computer lazily flipping through blog posts from a range of people on a range of topics and got bored.

Somewhere in that bunch of blogs was a picture of Stephen Fry, described on Wikipedia as an English actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television and radio presenter, film director, activist, and board member of Norwich City Football Club.

Stephen has a face that might best be described as "a gift for cartoonists", so I decided to accept the gift and do a caricature. I searched for a few more images, to get a better feel for his features, and then spent about two hours doodling around in Photoshop until I got this...

Digital caricature - Stephen Fry by Andy Dolphin
Stephen Fry
Digital caricature. 800x1200px
© 2013, Andy Dolphin

I wanted to go for more distortion that I usually do and I think I've managed it. I also wanted to keep it sketchy instead of going for the "airbrushed realism" I normally aim for.

Ultimately, I'd like to be able to do one of those caricatures that barely looks human and yet, somehow, looks exactly like the subject. Something like Russ Cook's astonishingly lifelike drawing of Hugh Laurie. It's a skill that's going to take some developing though.


I kept fidgeting, to see if I could push this a little further by cutting and shifting and distorting and reshaping and ended up with a "sack of potatoes"...

Stephen Fry 2
Digital caricature. 800x1200px
© 2013, Andy Dolphin

Lowlands Splash - digital painting video

A while ago I promised to upload a digital painting tutorial and today it's finally done.

Lowlands Splash. 
Digital painting.
 © Andy Dolphin

I recorded this over a month ago but it's taken me a while to do the voice over and editing. Anyway, here it is.

This painting is based on a section taken from a plein air seascape oil painting I did at the start of the year.

NOTE: As I always say, you can watch it here on the blog but I'd recommend going to Youtube and viewing it at full size (480p).

It's a pretty simple sketch and is unlikely to win any digital painting awards anytime soon - but it only took around 45 minutes to throw together one evening. Another hour or so of tightening up and adjustment could turn it into something special.

Thanks must go to Chris Wahl who has made a heap of Photoshop Brushes available for download from his Art Brushes blog.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Southern Art & Craft Trail 2013

The Southern Art & Craft Trail is an annual art event in Western Australia's Great Southern region. I will be exhibiting this year at West Cape Howe Wines.

Exhibition opening:
6–8pm, Friday, September 27
West Cape Howe Wines

My painting "South coastal" (below), which took out second prize in the recent Australian Artist  Magazine "Seascapes, Rivers & Lakes" competition, will be on show and available for purchase. I will also be showing several of my most-recent plein air paintings which will look much better hanging on your wall than they do lying around my studio.

Seascape oil painting by Andy Dolphin
South coastal
70x37cm oil on board
© Andy Dolphin

West Cape Howe Wines is on Muir Highway, about 10km west of Mt Barker, WA. The exhibition is on until October 14 and also features work by ceramic artist Jonathan Hook.

The Trail officially starts on September 28. Exhibition guide books are available throughout the Great Southern or you can follow the link to the website at the top of this article for more information. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Shearing shed - plein air oil painting

Today, I experienced, first hand, a warp in the space-time continuum. The world turned just a little bit faster this morning. I'm certain of it.

I arrived on site just before 9am. There was a bit of sunshine, no breeze and no sign of rain. Almost perfect.

I took a photo and did a thumbnail sketch of a shearing shed lit by the morning sun. I composed it using a brand new, handy dandy adjustable viewfinder that I made last weekend. I'll show it to you one day.

Shearing shed plein air thumbnail sketch by Andy Dolphin

By the time I'd finished the sketch, the sun had disappeared behind heavy cloud. I pondered my predicament for almost half an hour. Would the sun return? Did I have enough information in my thumbnail to proceed without the sun? Should I let this one go and just do some scouting around for future subjects?

My thumbnail was fairly detailed. It showed the critical highlights and shadows. I had the subject in front of me, albeit in full shadow, so all I'd need to do is to work out what colour the sunlit areas should be.

I decided to have a go.

Since this was going to be enough of a challenge already, I opted for an "earthy" three-colour palette – ultramarine, burnt sienna and cadmium yellow deep. The burnt sienna would ensure shadow areas tended toward grey-brown rather than purple, and the cad yellow deep would give me all the warmth I needed in the sunlit areas. This selection also ensured the greens would not be too luminous as both ultramarine blue and cad yellow deep lean toward red, the complement of true green.

The sun made a few very short appearances but wasn't much use to me as the painting progressed. The thumbnail, however, proved very useful and I referred to it repeatedly. Here's where things ended up...

Shearing shed plein air oil painting by Andy Dolphin
Shearing shed. 
Plein air painting. 40x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

Those angled cast shadows, on the fence and the right-hand part of the shed, were derived straight from the thumbnail. Neither was still in that position when the sun did eventually break through. Interestingly, the scene didn't look as appealing with those shadows cast at different angles.

Since I was being "creative" I invented a couple of puddles too. The highlights in the driveway mud were created by wiping back the dark brown paint exposing some of the burnt sienna under-painting.

By the time I packed up, it was about 11:30am. Or so I assumed.

In fact, when I got back in the car to drive home, it was after 1pm. I'd been here for over four hours! I know I slow down when the clouds roll in but four hours? Ouch! Definitely something going on with that space-time continuum thing.

But at least it didn't rain.

You can see in the "must-have" location shot how the sun has come out, now that I've finished, and is now lighting up what used to be the shaded side of the shed...

Plein air oil painting, shearing shed, on location

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Early morning - plein air landscape in oil

Third update for the day.

I was up just after 7am and the sky was clear and the sun was just beginning to shed light on things. So I got my gear together and headed out for a little "early-morning" painting.

If you've been following along in the last few weeks, you know what happened next. Yes, the clouds rolled in. But I soldiered on.

I set myself up in a paddock looking towards the abandoned cottage I painted last weekend. I noticed this view yesterday afternoon and realised it would light up nicely in the early morning.

And I was right. Things were exactly as I expected, when the sun broke through the clouds.

I did a quick thumbnail while the sun was shining and committed as much of the scene to memory as I could. It was far too cloudy to risk a big painting so I grabbed a small board and set about doing a sketch.

It was cloudy most of the time, so plenty of memory was required and it rained on me, again, and it was cold (I wore my gloves again and even took a mid-painting warm-up walk) but things progressed pretty well. I spent about an hour and a half on this one, which is a bit longer than usual for a small sketch but things do slow down when the clouds roll in. I finished off the foreground and touched up a few details when I got back to the studio, so add another 15-20 minutes.

Plein air oil painting rural landscape sketch by Andy Dolphin.
Early morning, Narpyn. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

I used a limited palette of ultramarine, burnt sienna and cadmium yellow deep. The lack of a true red meant that shadow tones and greys would retain an earthy hue rather than leaning toward purple. The burnt sienna under-painting shows through in a few spots too, including the warm glow in the otherwise-grey sky.

And here's the "oops, I packed up and almost forgot to take a location shot so I'll just lean it against this fence" location shot...

So now I've done eight paintings in the last few weeks and have been rained on six of those times. I think that's a record for me. Lucky I don't do watercolours.

I've checked tomorrow's forecast and apparently we're in for some more rain. So I guess I'll venture back outside and see what happens.

Paperbark - plein air landscape in oil

After some fairly dismal weather over the last few days, the sun managed to pop out for a short while yesterday afternoon.

I found a washed out winter creek line on a property not far from home and spent half-an-hour or so wandering around it, taking photos. A gnarled paperbark arching over the creek caught my attention and I decided to grab my easel and see if I could capture something in paint before the rain returned or the sun set.

It did rain on me and the sun did set, but I got something that required very little attention back in the studio, so I'm not sure who won that race.

We'll call it a draw.

Here's the finished plein air oil sketch...

Winter creek plein air landscape painting by Andy Dolphin
Narpyn paperbark, winter. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

As has been the case with almost every painting I've done in the last couple of months, the sun disappeared behind clouds for most of the time I was painting. It was a fairly simple scene so it wasn't to difficult to remember where the highlights should be but I had to be a little inventive with hue and saturation.

And it was cold (by Western Australian standards, not by Moscow standards), it snowed in the nearby Stirling Range in the morning. I actually wore gloves for this one – another "first" for me. And it rained on me half-way through this painting. And it was windy so I had my backpack sitting in my easel tray to stop it blowing away. So relaxing!

I used the painting knife again on this one. I think I'm slowly getting to grips with it. It's amazing how, sometimes, it gives you detail you would never have thought to add with a brush, but which looks like it should be exactly where it is.

And here's the "how do we know you were there?" location shot, taken with a flash because it was pretty dark at this point...

By my count, I've painted at this location seven times now in the last few weeks, and it's rained on me on five of those occasions. Who said painting was relaxing?