When you have learnt something to a certain standard you often forget what gave you so much trouble when you first started learning. Parts of the process become too obvious to mention when trying to help another artist who is struggling with a tricky scene. Typically it takes me about 5 to 10 min to do my drawing out. The process is so ingrained that I find it quite hard to break down the steps I take.
I certainly take a different approach to drawing out a cityscape than I do for a landscape. So that is my first step. What needs drawing out and to what degree. A subject consisting of hills and trees requires less precision, but still requires an understanding of general characteristics. Such a subject is also more mutable so we can easily make alterations to improve our composition.
A townscape with people and cars requires more careful drawing because the bounds, between which people will feel things look wrong, are narrower. If our perspective is out then the viewer has the choice of either thinking the building is distorted, or the artist got it wrong… I’m afraid they will always go for the latter. Moving stuff around also becomes harder and really an idea of the rules of perspective is required to carry it off in many cases.
Most pictures have a focus. Where the eye will come to rest. Usually it is the key thing in the composition, a boat on a beach, a tree on a hill, a figure on a cliff. The very first thing to decide is how big and where on your canvas this thing should be.
Rule 1 is put the most important thing, the focus, in first. Take time to get it in a good place and decide how big it needs to be. I frequently try 10 or so different places before plumping for a final position, time is never wasted on this stage and don’t move on until you are satisfied.
Rule 2 is similar find what you feel the next most important thing is. Once decided you need to get it in the right relative position to the first object. An example is easier than words at this point!
Here we have both buildings and shrubbery. It is easy to see our focus, the eye is always going to end up on Corfe castle. So that is no 1, we get to the castle via the track so that is no 2.
So no 1 is our castle. I find the turning point of the track (no 2) by holding up my brush to determine the angle from my castle base (grey dotted line) I know it must be somewhere along this line. Next I estimate how much to the left of the castle the turn is and drop a vertical. Where the two lines cross will get the turn roughly in position. Holding our brush up and transferring the angles will get the rest of the track in. The skill to learn here is being able to transfer an angle from the scene before you to the canvas.
The next line is the tree line (3). I have more leeway here and may want to adapt it to improve the composition. Also having the track and the castle in place makes it easier to draw in. No 4 is the hedge line and finally 5 is the foreground dark. For this scene that is all I would initially draw, perhaps 7min in total, 5min of which I would spend on the first two items. Which brings me to…
Rule 3 don’t over draw, put your time into the bits that will ring alarm bells in the viewer’s mind. People are usually the hardest to get right so time spent refining figures is never wasted. Cars, boats and buildings are also worth taking care with. Trees and shrubbery however are less crucial. Drawing details can be put off until later, indeed you might find many of them are not needed at all.
For a cityscape the process would be the same but there would just be more items and more angles would need to be checked. On the other hand there are lots of straight lines in such subjects which makes checking easy. Which brings me neatly to the final rule.
Rule 4 check and check again. Transfer an angle three or four times, don’t assume once will nail it!
You will often see people squinting at their brush held at arms length to work out relative sizes. If the person hasn’t dropped their head to put one eye down on to their shoulder then they don’t know how to use that method! It is in any case a very crude method, angles with verticals and horizontals is far more accurate and easier. However the holding the brush out and so forth looks really cool so I do it anyway to impress passers by.
A few drawings to finish, I am very behind with blogging due to trying to do too many things!
Here is one of Poole where I forgot rule 1! I didn’t settle on a firm focus… too late to add one now.
Another demonstration of rule 1 not being adhered to! The people were intended as the focus but I placed them dead centre… the best place would have been just coming through the arch… also not enough time spent on getting the figures believable. Pity really as the rest is good. It is Scalpen’s Court in Poole.
Here finally I remembered my own rules! I have wanted to do this road in Shaftesbury for a while. The gable end of the pub with its chimney against the sky is a shoe in for no 1 and the road leading us in for no 2. Once in the rest of the picture is fairly easy to assemble. Pen and Ink.
Not the easiest of pen and ink subjects, it is of course Durdle Door. I remember trying the arch in at least six or seven places before settling on its final position. Once in the Horizon was next, then the line of the beach. For the sea and sky I only draw soft lines as guides to directions of flow. These allow me to work fairly freely when hatching in the sea and sky. Pen and Ink.
The famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury. Here our No 1 is easy if subtle, the Church tower needs to be in prime position. The curve of the steep road is a no brainer for No 2. It is the relationship between these two that sets the scene. With the road and church in I next did the roof and chimney line, with that in position I could find the gutter line and then extend down to separate the buildings. People are tempted to divide into buildings early on, but usually in this sort of circumstance that results in the building being stretched horizontally. Lastly I drew in the Abbey wall to the left.
To find the size of my church tower I held up the paper at arms length until it covered my desired composition then keeping my arm fixed and my head still I lowered the paper vertically until I could mark out the width and position on the top edge of the paper. While I was at it I noted the positions of the chimneys as well. Pen and Ink.
Here is the same street from the top… the classic “Hovis Hill” view. The little group of buildings at the bottom is my focus and the first thing I placed, but I then positioned the man’s head where the road passes from view so as to give it more weight. It also produces a pull between the distant turn and the nearer figure. This is just the sort of subject that foxes people as the many excruciatingly badly drawn versions you will find on Google will attest. If you are systematic though even this sort of scene with its extreme angles and unexpected relationships can be drawn out surprisingly rapidly.
I debated with myself about calling these tips “rules” so I will remind that rules are not there for every circumstance only as a general guide. I do find however that more paintings fail due to rule 1 being forgotten about in the excitement of getting going on a potential winner than any other cause.
That’s it oil paintings next blog, done the paintings I just need to pull my finger out with the blogging!
This is a brief tutorial on the construction of shadows as they are cast from the sun. We all know how descriptive they are, the long shadow of a fence over a path, a telegraph pole over a road, spreading from the feet of people on the beach at the end of the day. Shadows in a painting tell the viewer more about the day than you might expect. A shadow crossing a road shows how high the verges are relative to the road, describing the shape of the land. We instinctively understand from shadows what time of day it is, even which season. If you understand how they are cast and how to get them correct you have quite a powerful tool in your painting box.
Here I want to deal briefly with the simplest of possible cases, but hopefully give you an idea of how the same methods might be used in more complex scenarios.
So our first example, a set of posts.
The time is 1pm. See the changing angle of the shadows and how although in reality all the shadows are the same length in our perspective view they vary in thickness and length. Let’s move the clock on an hour.
Here we are at 2pm the sun is at it’s highest due to the magic of daylight saving summer time! People often imagine the shadows are splayed because the rays radiating from the sun, but this is not the case. The sun is 93million miles away so if we looked straight down from the top all the shadows would be the same length and parallel. So the effect of the shadows splaying is due to perspective and nothing else. On one more hour.
No surprises here at 3pm the shadows have swung round and lengthened again as the sun has dropped nearer the horizon. So let us look at 2pm again and look at how things got to where they are.
A very tall skinny illustration since we have to get the sun in!
First the Red lines. If we drop a line vertically down to horizon we find it hits exactly at the point where the shadows converge at the horizon IE, the shadow’s Vanishing Point. If we had the shadows and no sun (as we might have in a reference photo) we could extend the shadow lines to the horizon and then project that point vertically up. We know the sun must be on that line… but where?
For that we need the Green lines. If we start from the sun again and fire a ray from the sun so that it skims the middle of the very top of the pole. Where that ray hits the ground marks the length of the shadow. Once again if we work backwards we can draw a line from the end of our shadow and through the middle of the top of the pole, extending it on we find it crosses our red line at exactly the sun’s position.
Here is a simplified version with just a plank. As you see it also shows how the shadow gets wider in perspective as it gets nearer. Now a more complex example, a sculptor’s table with hammers upon it. First a quick video.
You can drag the slider and watch the shadows in motion. Once again here are a few times of day.
Here is our table at 10am.
…and at 12pm. Compare the two images and see how the various parts have moved. On 2 more hours.
Finally here we are at 2pm with the sun at its highest. Time for another tall skinny illustration with coloured lines!
Starting with the red lines. A line from one corner of the tabletop shadow then taken through the real corner and extended up crosses the same line drawn from another corner (any corner will do) at the point where the sun is. The blue lines show the splay of the shadow of the table legs and obey exactly the same rules as the posts did. The two vanishing points of the sides of the table top shadow are exactly the same as the vanishing points for the table top itself.
Similar rules govern how shadows from artificial lights are placed. If the ground is sloping or the posts at an angle then obviously the geometry gets more challenging. A more complex description is on the excellent Handprint site.
Well I have had 16 days of open studios. More than 600 people marched or mooched, depending on mood, through my house and admired my decor whilst briefly glancing at the pictures on the walls. I sold 25 pictures so a buyer every 24 people… though less actually since some bought more than one. I set myself up to paint and draw throughout as a sort of educational how to do exhibit or should I call it performance art? I had about a hundred works on show so I am pretty pleased with the way it went.
I am not shy about painting while people watch, that is one thing being a plein air painter prepares you for. What was fascinating though was watching people look at my paintings. There seem to be a few different sorts of art gazers. There are the skimmers, they zip round in a trice, some seem merely to revolve once in the room and they are done. They seem to scan in order every picture getting the briefest of glances. Their visits are over in minutes and they never buy anything. Next fastest are the skippers. They take a more random approach flicking past most paintings then diving in close for a better look every now and again. They don’t look in order and if they return to a painting more than twice it is time to chat with them… a sale is unlikely but you never know. Next are the browsers. They are going to look at everything in order. Some paintings are briefly assessed others given the third degree. They often look at a painting move on then dodge back again as if something has struck them. Browsers are definitely potential buyers. Next slowest are the indexers, they give each work the same length of gaze and do them in order, they never go back to look twice and never buy anything. Then we have the enthusiasts they bounce around admiring things gasping and ooing and ahing if they like something. They raise your hopes but alas they are usually other artists! Then the rarest bird of all, the collector, they always grab a price sheet and move quite briskly from picture to picture pausing occasionally to make a note against a title on your list. They might go away without buying but if you are lucky they will return once they have thought about what they like and they might buy more than one.
After you have watched a hundred or so peruse your efforts it becomes clear that some pictures are the stars of the show. Mostly they are not the ones you expect to appeal. There was one small, soft and subtle painting of Portland which garnered many gazes despite being in a corner and high on the wall. Damned if I know why… but if I could work out a theory I’d be rich! One thing that pleased me was that my pen drawings were a hit. I had put them in amongst other works last time and they got rather lost, so this time I grouped them on two adjacent walls. It worked almost too well, they out sold the oil paintings! It has decided me to work towards an exhibition of just pen drawings at some future date. Prints also went down well so I shall persevere there too. Now it is all over I am at a bit of a loss, but am painting in France soon so that will perk me up.
So here are my efforts from the 16 days. It was a little odd getting just 10min here and there to work. Short bursts interrupted by chatting to visitors and meeting and greeting.
I had decided to do Corfe from Nth, Sth, East and West, this is looking South. As I was marooned in my house I had to work from reference. I remembered I had needed to clamber all over the hill when I was taking photos to get everything in an interesting relationship. The day had been dull so the lighting here is largely imaginary, the result could almost be moonlight.
Another day another drawing. Beaminster was my next victim. On this day I had painted one view of the church only to find a much better one a few yards round the corner! With no time left to linger I had to take a quick snap and moved on. With tonal pen drawings the more dark the image the more work it is. Here though I used my new Fude pen that can make very broad lines, which somewhat reduced the task.
Here is the next view of Corfe looking West. Monday was bit slow with the visitors so I could take my time. I love the chunky marks the Fude pen makes, you can really give weight to the foreground tones.
Tuesday was another Corfe drawing, here we are looking East. I actually didn’t get this completed so it was Wednesday’s drawing too. Usually I would complete one of these in a couple of hours so a drawing dragging on over two days was a little odd.
The last of the Corfe ones this is of course looking North. You can see the thick Fude lines in the shadow on the road. This one sold next day.
During the brief snow we had here in Dorset I had climbed Hambledon hill to paint and was amazed at how the snow had brought out the shapes in the ground. Not the easiest subject in pen and ink but great fun to do. It will I hope become a Lino cut at some future date.
I realised at this point that I had better start pushing the oils, so I changed medium.
I actually got out to paint this quickie near Plush. The evening light was gorgeous and it was great to be outside to paint after being mewed up indoors. Oils 16in by 10in.
Back to working from reference. This is the Wellington Clock Tower in Swanage. I did a watercolour of this en plein air, as I was packing up the clouds rushed in and I rather liked the mood, but had no time to paint it. Oils 14in by 10in.
Next day I felt like doing a bit of sea. Also I have to give a talk on sea painting later in the year. I have done several others for the talk, but they keep on selling! this is Dancing Ledge, I went several times a year ago as I had a commission. 14in by 10in Oils.
I had enjoyed doing the drawing of Corfe so I decided to do a painting of the same view. It was a very busy day so I painted this in fits and starts. 14in by 10in Oils.
I was getting into the swing of it now so I took on this view of Chesil looking over Fortuneswell. It had to be seriously reorganised to make any kind of a composition so it was fun trying out different options from various reference pictures I had taken on different days. 12in by 10in Oils.
More sea! This time it is Pembrokeshire. I wanted to experiment with the knife to try and get the sparkle of the water. I was really getting into the routine of painting a bit chatting a bit now so I just did the knife work in stages. It was vital here to get the underlying tones of the sea right. It is very easy to get it too light then the highlights won’t sparkle. 10in by 14in Oils
This is the lighthouse at Portland Bill. Another one where I took a quick snap after finishing a different view. This one had been sitting as a basic block in up in my studio for a month or more. Again very good control of tone was needed a many areas were quite close toned but the contrasts had to be there without being too harsh. 24in by 12in Oils.
Another bit of sea for my talk. A bit more Welsh sea near Cardigan. You have to be so careful painting stormy seas as too much structure and there is no movement, not enough and it is just foam soup! Here I merged the features of about 10 photos picking bits here and there. I kept on defining and then blurring back until I felt I had the right balance of movement and structure.
That’s it I was surprised how much I got done during the exhibition. Many thanks to all those who came and took a look and even more thanks to those who made appreciative noises or even bought something. Being a painter is an odd business and a little bit of positive feedback really spurs you on, now I have to get back out and paint pictures from the real stuff!
Looking back over the years I have been blogging the word “style” has cropped up a few times. I have always been dealing with aspects of it though, not really considering the attribute itself head on. We use the word for personal appearance, dancers can be stylish, architecture and decoration are categorised by it, all in all it seems a covetable attribute to have and one worth acquiring. It sorts the hens from the geese, cats are stylish dogs less so, sorry dog lovers it’s just the way it is.
Eric Furnie says it is a “…distinctive manner which permits the grouping of works into related categories”. Now this is less attractive, it is now a kind of pigeon hole that some art historian wishes to shoehorn you into for their own convenience. Like so many things you think you know the meaning of, when you take a closer look the edges soften and definitions become soft and hard to pin down. The word actually seems to be two rolled into one. It has a meaning as an identifier of an individual or an individual belonging to a larger grouping. It also has a usage as a compliment on an interesting and exciting manner of being or means of creating. One tends to be applied to a thing that is made and the other mostly to the maker.
However much you wish your style to be you own and only your own you are, in this interconnected world, doomed to failure. Someone or indeed many someones paint, make, dress or whatever just the same as you do. In our age millions upon millions of people paint pictures. When Rembrandt wielded his palette there were far far fewer. There are probably more good painters in the world now than ever before, but that just makes it harder to stand out from the crowd.
Ah! I have said it… “Stand out from the crowd.” Along with the fascination of doing and learning a craft there is the wish to be noticed for doing it well or even not so well. For that to occur we must bring something to the table, either in ourselves or our work, that is remarkable. I have long puzzled at the popularity of my pen drawings. In my own opinion they are no better or worse than my paintings. They are made by the same hand and mind. I had a friend round and we were discussing what I should exhibit. She said, “Oh you must put in the drawings they are so unusual.”
Afterwards on considering it a small penny dropped. My paintings are “usual” you can find a load of painters doing the same or better than I. If you search for people doing tonal pen drawing to a high standard then there are very few. It is relatively easy to stand out from the hoard of felt pen stipplers copying photos of Elvis. This makes the decision to go larger on the drawings in my upcoming open studios and easy one. It does not however change my course as far as getting generally better at my craft. The “style” of the drawings might be a hit, but you must never let style drive the direction of your endeavour.
It is similar to when you allow technique to overwhelm the meaning of what you are trying to say. Allowing some style element, or desire to be different for the sake of it to dominate, is just as bad. It is difficult, when being a herd mammal on its way to being a hive mammal, to be lumbered with an incongruous sense of personal individuality. Hopefully this sense of individuality will slowly atrophy and we will become blithely busy uncaring bees.
I am busier than a bee at present organising my open studios which is part of Dorset Arts Weeks and runs from Saturday 28May to Sunday the 10th of June. This involves allowing the public to traipse through your house and studio whilst curling their lips at your home decor and ignoring your pictures. I will be there to sign the occasional autograph, but mainly to receive overwhelming amounts of money and adulation. So come along, cash, credit card, bitcoin, PayPal, praise, scorn and Facebook likes all gratefully accepted.
The amount of work involved in such a venture is a little forbidding. Pictures to be framed labeled and wired, hanging systems and lighting to be installed. Just the decision as to what and what not to exhibit is tricky. Cards must be printed, prints mounted and inserted into cello bags. Your home has to be reorganised and walls space cleared for pictures. Half your furniture, including the fridge freezer, has to go in your shed. Due to my shed being full of furniture I have to add a Gazebo to take the volume of pictures.
Once the rooms are cleared out the lamentable state of your decor is sure to be revealed so painting the walls is inevitable. You have to, in this contactless age, take card payments so an iZettle card reader is required. Signs must be put up at key road junctions, leaflets and maps created printed and distributed. Social media must be saturated with plugs and all your friends, previous buyers and acquaintances spammed with emails.
Now I have you all weeping in sympathy at the artist’s plight here are a few scribbles and daubs.
Here I am perched on a stool in a graveyard next to the smelliest compost heap in Dorset on a very chilly day. This is the church at Chesilbourne in Dorset, tricky to get the best view as it was in the middle of a track frequented by Range Rovers so this was the next best. I used my Sailor brush pen to speed things along with the darks. A5 pen and ink.
This is Christchurch Priory. These sorts of subjects can be overwhelming at first. But if you get the box and the underlying divisions of the box in place then filling in the gaps becomes easier. A5 Pen and Ink.
This one of Child Okeford was done from a photo whilst invigilating at an exhibition. There is a strange meditative pleasure in hatching large areas, though you have to beware of it becoming too mechanical. Pen and Ink A4.
Back to the oils before Venice! This is the view across to Melbury Hill from Shaftesbury. I love the structure of this view and have done it a few times now. Very hard to get the relative tones here as the roof highlights directly reflecting the sun were easily the brightest thing, so the rest had to be subdued to make them ping out. 10in by 10in Oils.
This is the church of St James from the same vantage point. A good time of year for this view as the leaves obscure the church in the summer. I enjoyed the transparent layer of the trees. It can be quite a challenge as if you paint neat roofs and then paint branches over them it looks dreadful. So I paint the buildings seen between the branches as negative shapes which prevents you getting over involved in things you cannot quite make out. If a thing is hard to resolve by looking directly then it should usually be hard to resolve and slightly vague in your painting. 10in by 16in Oils.
This is the Larmer Tree gardens in Wiltshire. Designed by Augustus Pitt Rivers it contained theatres and stages for the general education and entertainment of the masses. It became hugely popular in the 1880’s attracting 40,000 visitors a year. Quite hard to find subjects, a real contrast with Venice where it is hard to find bits which aren’t potential paintings! I settled on this upward view to a small rotunda. Not overdoing the mass of shrubbery was the greatest challenge here. 10in by 14in Oils
A brief study of a concrete statue… well I didn’t know it was concrete until I looked closer. My heart wasn’t really in this… I enjoyed the light on the leaves… but straight on to the “sand it off” pile! 10in by 10in Oils.
A relief to get away from gardens! This was on the way back over the Cranbourne Chase near Win Green. A quick 15 min splash on a small board, but much more my cup of tea… 10in by 6in Oils.