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?

Narpyn Creek - plein air oil landscape

We had a bit of sunshine last weekend so, naturally, I headed out to paint.

Here's the underpainting...

I got a fair way through the painting when I looked behind me and saw heavy clouds heading straight for me. Before I had time to throw everything in my back pack and fold up my easel, it was raining. And it got heavier.

I was over 100m from the nearest shelter and had to tread carefully as the paddock is very green, very uneven, very slippery - and uphill all the way. Carrying a French easel with wet painting on-board in such conditions is not the most fun a person can have in a day.

So here's how things looked when I made it to shelter in a nearby shearing shed.

I'd been standing down that valley, off to the right of the photo, when the rain hit. I was somewhat damp by now.

I plonked the almost-finished painting on an easel back in the studio, let it dry, then added a few finishing touches. Here's how it ended up.

Creek. Plein air landscape painting in oil by Andy Dolphin
Narpyn Creek.  
30x40cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

Looking at it with fresh eyes, I think I need to go back and try again on a day when the sun plans to hang around a while. This one goes in "the pile". It happens.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cottage - plein air oil painting

I mentioned recently that I've found a new favourite painting spot. It's a farm, less than 10 minutes from home, with a history dating back to the late 1800s.

I've been given permission to do some painting around the property and have spent quite a lot of time out there over the last week and have taken a lot of photos since the weather has been less-than-forgiving and mostly not suited to painting outdoors. So far, I've managed to paint five times, and it's rained on three of those occasions.

On my first visit, I wandered around an old, derelict cottage and was captivated by its sunlit eastern face. I photographed it and studied the photos over the last week. I even did a rough Photoshop sketch of it.

Today we had clear skies again, so I headed out to the farm knowing exactly what I planned to paint. It was time to test my "contemporary impressionism" skills again.

So, without further ado, I bring you "Narpyn Cottage, winter morning"...

Narpyn Cottage, winter morning.
Plein air. 38x35cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

At 38x35cm, this is probably the second-biggest plain air painting I've ever done and, at somewhere between 3.5-4 hours to complete, it took the longest, by far. I don't think it's finished yet, though.

Here's stage 1 - the under-painting...

This is a combination of washing-in and wiping-out. Although the idea is to keep things fairly loose, a lot of important questions are asked at this stage. Where are the major darks? What's warm, what's cool? Is it too centred, too high, too low? Why do people say painting is relaxing? Should I have taken up golf instead? The questions just keep coming – the same questions, every time. Some remain unanswered.

There's 15-30 minutes work here.

And here's stage 2, almost two hours in (I didn't know it had taken that long, but that's what my camera claims)...

By this time, the sun had risen pretty high and shifted across to the left, so the shadows had all changed. It was important to try and stick with my layout and not be tempted by what I was seeing in front of me. By the time I finished, the sun had moved far enough that none of these walls were sunlit.

Ordinarily, a thumbnail sketch is a useful reference for dealing with the changing-shadows problem but, in this case, I'd had the image stuck in my head for a week, so I didn't do a thumbnail.

I used the palette knife quite a bit in this painting - for adding and removing paint. That's a whole new world for me. Until this week, I've usually only used a palette knife for mixing paint or, more often, cleaning my brushes - or, sometimes, deleting sections of paintings, or deleting entire paintings. I still have to tame the knife, but this property will offer me a lot of opportunities.

I was exhausted, mentally, when I got home. So I had some lunch and a nanna nap. Then I got up, had coffee and went back for more before sunset. I didn't have much time so I almost literally threw this one together...

Evening, winter.
Plein air sketch. 34x30cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

There's just less than an hour's work here, and much of that time was spent on the two sheds. Actually, most of it was probably spent on the white shearing shed. So many shades of "white"!

When I put the brushes down, the sun had set and the entire scene was in shadow. But when I turned around, the sky was a brilliant orange-violet. Five minutes later, it was all gone.

It was great to have a day with mostly-clear skies.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Stirling Afternoon - plein air video

My latest plein air landscape sketch video has just been uploaded.

This painting features a view across farmland to the Stirling Range, home to Bluff Knoll – the the highest peak in southern Western Australia.

(Stirling afternoon. Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

It was a very cloudy day but the sun did break through occasionally and light up the view. Days like this can be challenging if the sun spends too much time behind clouds but it peeped out often enough on this occasion to keep me almost sane.

I actually began this painting on a board I'd previously used for a plein air painting that ultimately failed. I had only laid in the foundational wash of that painting when the sun disappeared behind heavy cloud and all semblance of light and shadow vanished with little hope of returning that day. I scraped the paint off the board and wiped it back with a paper towel. This left me with a board already stained with a warm, transparent earthy tone.

NOTE: You can watch the video here on the blog but I'd recommend going to Youtube and viewing it at full size (click the little "cog" symbol and choose 480p if your internet connection can cope).

Thanks again to Kevin MacLeod, who offers hundreds of royalty-free music tracks on his Incompotech website.

Uploading this video generated an interesting copyright dilemma. If that sort of stuff fascinates you, you can read about it here.

You can see my first painting video, Barrow Road, on Youtube too.
Or my second video Winter Light - plein air painting.

New plein air painting video!

Well, there would have been a new video if not for an apparent glitch in Youtube's copyright protection strategy.

When a new video is uploaded, it is scanned and compared to thousands of audio files in Youtube's database, to see if any of the audio in the video file matches any of the audio in the database. If the Youtube "robot" thinks it found a match, it flags the video with a copyright infringement and offers various ways to proceed.

So, if you video your dog catching a ball but have the Top 100 radio station playing in the background, your video will probably get flagged for a breach of copyright. In the majority of cases this probably works as intended and prevents people potentially benefitting from someone else's uncompensated efforts. You're not allowed to upload Top 100 music, even if it was accidental.

However, it appears the automated system has at least one significant flaw - classical music.

Once a piece of music has come out of copyright and become public domain, anyone is free to make their own recording of it. But each of those recordings has its own copyright. So it is possible to have several copyright claims apparently on the same piece of music. But the claim is only on the new recording, it cannot apply to the music itself. And therein lies the problem. If you and I and ten other people all sit at our pianos and record a version of a piece by Mozart, the chances are we would have twelve recordings that sound very much the same (except I can't play piano but bear with me here). We would each then have copyright on our own recording, but there's a good chance, it seems (based on forum discussions), Youtube's robot wouldn't know the difference.

So imagine what happens when major recording artists do their own cover versions of the classics and lodge them in the Youtube database – and then someone else releases their own version of the same classics royalty free, for anyone to use... Do you see the problem?

Well, to cut a long story a bit less long, my new video got flagged.

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I did not breach any copyright. Every music track in my video was sourced from Kevin MacLeod's Incompetech website. Mr MacLeod releases his music under a Creative Commons licence which allows royalty-free usage as long as he is properly credited.

But the Youtube robot thinks my track is from somewhere else. Perhaps it sounds like someone else's music but unless Incompetech have got it wrong, it isn't someone else's music.

I used "Midsummer Sky" from Kevin MacLeod while Youtube believes I have used "Encontré la Leche" by someone else. Maybe they sound the same but I did not use "Encontré la Leche" in my video.

The Youtube robot offered me the option of accepting the infringement is genuine, which will result in ads being placed on my video and the alleged content author being compensated for something they did not* produce. Or I could file a dispute.

I have filed a dispute, which is something of a pain because the process requires selecting from a short list of reasons for disputing the copyright claim. None of those reasons seems, at first glance, to be appropriate in a case like this because there's a presumption in the options provided that the robot isn't mistaken. Each option also comes with a warning that this is essentially a legal claim and in some cases legal counsel is recommended before lodging the dispute.

After contacting Incompetech, I put my anxiety to one side (and be assured this has caused significant anxiety) and chose to dispute the claim on the basis that I have written permission/license to use the material. Later in the dispute process came the option to offer a short written reason for the dispute and this is where I have identified the actual source of the material in question with a link to the licence.

I have taken this decision for several reasons, not least of which is that I feel I am absolutely in the right. I initially conceded the claim, because of all the dire warnings about what could happen if a dispute is over-ruled (hence the anxiety), but I do not feel it is right for a third party to receive compensation (through ad links) for a product they did not produce, especially when the actual producer has made it freely available. Indeed, I feel this result would be absolutely contrary to the intent of the system - to prevent people incorrectly benefitting from someone else's efforts.

So I reverted the acknowledgement and lodged the dispute instead.

I have no idea how long it will take for this to be resolved. My reading suggests it could be weeks. In the meantime I have marked the video "private" so it cannot be viewed. UPDATE: I've unlocked it. See blog here.

I hope to make it public as soon as possible, hopefully intact and without ads.

I'll take this opportunity to again thank Kevin MacLeod for the incredible resource he's provided.

It seems that, despite his altruism in providing these music files royalty free, Kevin MacLeod spends quite a bit of his time having to deal with incorrect copyright claims being made against his work by other parties.

Read more about the wrong third-party content copyright claims and copyfraud.

*I accept at face value Incompetech's claim to own the rights to the music they offer royalty free. I've seen nothing to imply any impropriety on their part so I feel assured that the music I've used is not owned by any other party.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Narpyn Afternoon - plein air contemporary impressionism

One of the things that first caught my eye about this local farming property was a collection of old sheds that could just be seen from the road. I walked around part of the property yesterday afternoon and, after taking a lot of photos of all sorts of interesting things, I looked back at the sheds and decided they needed painting.

I rummaged through the collection of primed boards in my car and they were mostly long and thin, suitable for panoramic landscapes, but not really for this subject. The only board I had that came close to a "normal" format was 49cm by 34cm. This is much bigger than I've painted plein air before but it would give me an opportunity to further experiment with the loose-tight style that I'm working on.

I knew the shadows in the scene would shift fairly rapidly so I did a quick thumbnail sketch. This helps to cement the image in my mind, simplifies everything down to the most obvious tones and provides a reference for later, when the light has changed.

The principal focus of this painting was to be one bright white shed half-tucked under a large tree. It shone like a beacon against the very dark green shadows that surrounded it but it soon disappeared into shadow as the sun headed west. The thumbnail sketch, and the image in my memory from doing it, saved the day.

I began with a large, semi-random wash of some warm earth colour. I gently wiped over parts of this with a clean cloth to get rid of almost all the white primer. I didn't want any bright whites competing with the shed.

If I was into abstract painting, I'd probably stop here and call it done.

I developed the wash a little further, giving some attention to where the major dark tones would be.

From here it was just a matter of painstakingly developing the details of the trees and buildings.

Much of the under-painting remained untouched, as was the plan. The sun didn't hide behind clouds this time, so I wasn't tempted to start messing with things not directly related to the main subject area.

Narpyn afternoon. 
Plein air sketch. 49x34cm oil on board. 
© Andy Dolphin

It's a radical departure from my usual style but it's something I've wanted to try for a very long time. I just needed the right subject matter.

You can go to my previous post to see the obligatory plein air location photo.

Narpyn cottage - plein air oil sketch

This painting represents a very different approach for me. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time but it's not always possible to get close enough to a subject.

It is inspired by the likes of Richard Schmid, whose work I discovered in an issue of International Artist Magazine around 12 years ago, Harley Brown, whose book "Eternal Truths" provided guidance to me almost ten years ago, and Tibor Nagy, whose work I discovered online just a few years ago. I've long-admired their combined loose-tight style, where focused impressionism sits atop an abstract foundation. It's something I've been drifting toward for the last couple of years, especially with my plein air works.

This abandoned and somewhat derelict cottage provided a perfect opportunity for me to develop my style further.

Here's the thumbnail...

As you can probably see, it is all about the hard shadow cast across the wall of the house.

Here's the under-painting. The finished piece was mostly going to be cool greys but the cottage had a sort of organic, rustic charm, so I wanted a warm, earthy feeling to flow through.

I was soon challenged by the sun disappearing behind clouds,before I'd locked enough of the painting in place. In fact, it rained on me half-way through.

When the clouds roll in and the sunlit areas of the subject are cast into shadow, the details that used to be hidden away in dark shadow areas suddenly reveal themselves. It's easy to start fidgeting when this happens and unnecessary detail can creep into the painting.

And indeed, that's exactly what happened (you'd think I'd learn by now to just walk away or something, but no).

My original intent was to create a very loose, high contrast sketch with detail only around the focal point, the window. But I played with it while I waited for the sunlight to return and it tightened up more than I'd planned and I lost almost all the contrast. One of the major pieces of information I lost without the sunlight was just how the leafless, woody creeper was supposed to look. My thumbnail shows that it was probably very striking, and mostly brightly lit, but I no longer had any reference and, without the sun shining, it was just a drab collection of twisted grey sticks. I had to invent light and shadow for it.

But here it is. I popped it in a spare frame, as this can often help to identify issues (I think this one mainly needs more brightness on the sunlit wall)...

 Narpyn cottage. 
Plein air sketch. 30x25cm oil on board. 
© Andy Dolphin

I regard this one as little more than an exercise – not good enough to sell but not bad enough to scrape. I will go back and try this same painting again when the weather is more stable. I might even throw this one back up on the easel and see what lessons I can drag out of it by making changes.

Narpyn Pine - plein air oil painting

I finally got around to photographing my most-recent paintings, so here's the first of three updates.

These all come from a farming property, Narpyn, not far from home. It's a place I've driven past for more than ten years but never got around to visiting. Last week I decided it was time I go and knock on the door and see if I could take a look around the place and do some paintings.

The owners were more than happy for me to do just that.

The property offers all sorts of painting opportunities including a winter creek, large trees, wide vistas, old buildings and sheep, lots of sheep. I hope to use it as a chance to develop my style a little further - particularly pushing the boundaries between realism, impressionism and abstraction.

My first painting, however, was pretty safe and I didn't push too far from my existing style - although it is a square format which is very unusual for me.

I knew the shadows I was seeing wouldn't stay put for long so I began with a thumbnail...

I started the painting by laying down some basic shadow tones. This stage is quite similar to the thumbnail and provides the foundation for everything that follows...

Stage 2 is mostly about mid-tones and local colour. The under-painting is also strengthened at this stage....

As work progressed, I found myself repeatedly turning to the pencil thumbnail to check where shadows were supposed to be. Here's the finished piece....

Narpyn pine. 
Plein air painting. 30x30cm oil on board. 
© Andy Dolphin

I did video my progress on this painting so I may put it up on Youtube sometime soon. I just need a few quiet rainy days to get the editing and voice-over work done.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Still different - another plein air teaser

I went back out to my new favourite location this afternoon and, after walking around taking photos for almost two hours, I got my gear together to do a painting before sunset.

I decided, for reasons unknown, to do a large painting this time. In fact, I think this is the biggest plein air painting I've ever done.

I also adopted a style very different to what I usually do. This is an approach that's appealed to me for years and I've occasionally done small sketches that come close, but more by accident than by design. This time I set out with the intention of doing a combination abstract-impressionist piece. I think this style could fairly be labelled contemporary impressionism.

Here's the location shot and, if I ever get a chance, I'll post a proper photo of the finished piece (along with a couple of others I haven't photographed yet.