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".