Still Life with Conkers: Finished Painting

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This is the finished painting. Rather laborious but we got there in the end! Every now and then I quite enjoy tackling something like this, not botanical painting exactly, but painting a specimen of fruit or flowers, with some expression thrown in. Textures are tantalising, and making an object look solid on a two-dimensional plane likewise.

I hope I have succeeded. One or two conkers, I feel, I can pick up, but I will let others judge

I talked about the story of conker-playing when I last posted, and how sadly, the gentle art has disappeared amongst schoolchildren, thanks to the interference of the health and safety police. No need for me to dwell on that anymore, only to lament the passing of part of our heritage, which had continued effortlessly from generation to generation. Too easy to blame the iPad! Children that I know like traditional games and playing with their iPads

But enough ranting. Let’s get back to the painting and how it takes shape. I remembered to take a picture of an interim stage, so let’s have a look at that

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This is the stage following on from where I left the last post. I have completed a couple more of the conkers, this time with their husks, just to make sure the recipe is actually working. It seems to be!

As a base coat, I painted all the conkers with a bright orange, leaving a soft white spot on each, where the bright light is being reflected. I had already used a pale green for the husks, and had they been fresh from the tree. I could have continued with more green, but they had already gone a yellowy-brown colour, so true to nature, that is what I am doing.

The finished conker colour, I achieved using a succession of reds and browns. I did this wet-into-wet, so it is hard to give a blow by blow account. It is rather like sculpting. Do a bit, stand back and do a bit more

I can tell you, that I used light red, burnt sienna and burnt umber. At the very end, I gave nut and husk a unifying wash of light red, which I think gave them the colour I was looking for. And there it is

Thinking ahead, I have two projects taking shape in my head. One is to carry on with the painting of Bosham Harbour which I drew up and went no farther with. The other is to look back at Notre Dame with Pigeons, and redo the whole thing, removing that ghastly marquee on the left, and also improve the weather, and make the whole thing brighter and sunnier, albeit still winter time

I could also be going to Germany soon for the Christmas markets, so may be able to bring some interesting subject matter back with me

All for the future………….

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Conkers:producing the painting

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I managed to dig back into one of my old reference books and remind myself how I painted my first conkers still-life originally. As you can see, I have just drawn the nuts with their husks from the photograph. I have also put a base coat of yellow/green over the husks, and for this I have mixed sap green with raw sienna, which I find produces quite a natural green, for want of a better word

They look unassuming, and quite uninteresting, do they not. So I thought, what I would do, would be to finish off one conker, one nut, completely just to see if I could still do it.

This was the method I used.

I gave the nut, a base coat of bright orange, in this case Cadmium Orange with a touch only of Cadmium Red, and then let it dry hard. I should have said that I left a soft spot of white paper, working from the photograph, to simulate the point where strong light bounces off a glossy surface.

I then worked a succession of reds and browns wet-in-wet, almost sculpting the shape of the conker, finishing with Burnt Umber for the very dark surfaces. I also put in the shadow and darkened up the right-hand side. I let that dry hard, and put a unifying wash of Burnt Sienna across the whole of the conker, and left it until the following day

The next day, I felt quite pleased with the result. This was probably the nearest that I had come to trompe-l’oeil, where something painted in two dimensions looks solid enough to be picked up. I am not saying that every artist would be pleased with this, but I was, and confident enough to go on

The paper I am using is worth a mention. It is made from pressed rag, and I believe comes from Pakistan. It is similar to hot pressed paper, so that the surface is smoother than the cold-pressed paper that I normally use. It was sent to me as a sample some time ago, and I never used it, but it has proved perfect for this type of work

I shall probably finish the painting completely now and post again when it is done

Conkers

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I painted “conkers” a few years back, and the painting sold fairly quickly, and can be seen on my website davidharmerwatercolour.co.uk. I thought I would do another version, so assembled this little still life from a neighbouring tree, a few weeks ago, and photographed it, to do later at my leisure. It is very important that the conkers are fresh from their husks so that the finish is nice and glossy in order to reflect the light. These are beautiful like polished mahogany

If you were a schoolboy in the 1950s like me, these were highly prized as they would be used every autumn in the game of yes,…conkers. They are, of course, the nut from the horse chestnut tree, the non-edible version. We would drill each one with a skewer, and thread them with string, tying one end off with a large knot. Then let combat commence. Players would take it in turns to bash each other’s conker until one split and fell off the string. The one left intact was the winner. Players would count the number of “kills” and accord them to their own champion, so it would be a “sixer” or “tenner” or whatever.

Competition was fierce and led to devious practices, like baking your conker in the oven to make it rock hard, or soaking it in vinegar so that it pickled. I was never sure that helped, but people did it nonetheless

Sadly, in this millenium, the game was banned by several schools, thanks to a jaundiced view of people’s safety. Headmasters thought a piece of nut could fly off and hit someone in the face! Anything is possible, but in my long experience of the game, nothing like this ever happened. Someone even suggested that players were at risk from “nut-allergy”!! Absolutely no evidence for that whatsoever. Incredible when one thinks of the disabling injuries from playing rugby or from boxing, which young people are encouraged to play

I haven’t seen anyone playing conkers now for years, probably because a generation have never known what it is, so the tradition hasn’t been handed down. I believe that the game of conkers has resurfaced in the United States, so maybe it will come back to us from across the pond.  Comments appreciated if you have any information on that

In the event, my interest for now is in the aesthetic as much as the nostalgic. I have made a drawing from this grouping, which is rather too faint to show, so I will get some colours together, and post another time about the painting exercise

Paul Nash Exhibition at Tate Art Gallery

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The Menin Road 1918-1919

This was the best picture I could get taken from my guide book. This was prominently displayed in the exhibition being one of his best known WW1 paintings. A very big painting and naturally surrounded by people, so no chance I could photograph the real thing, and nor should I.

This painting was commissioned by the Ministry of Information, and was destined for inclusion in a Hall of Remembrance, which was never built. Today it is part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection

His style is starting to alter. He has become fascinated by geometric shapes, which will take him down the road to cubism and abstraction

However, to start at the beginning, we drove into London yesterday in the driving rain. Fortunately you can still park just outside the Tate which was useful considering the weather

The first section dealt with his early work and his comparatively comfortable existence in Iver Heath, where he paints in the garden and starts to show his predilection for landscape, which was to govern his painting throughout his life.

WW1 transformed him and his painting. He described himself as a messenger bringing back word from the men fighting to those who wanted the war to continue. This time a ravaged landscape witnessing a violent emotional experience. The Menin Road which I have shown is the best example of this in my opinion

After the war, places took on an importance for him. He lived at one time in Dymchurch on the Sussex coast, where he painted the sea defences again demonstrating his interest in geometric shapes and becoming ever more cubist. He was also influenced by de Chirico, after visiting an exhibition in 1928, and his paintings started to show lonely places and tell mysterious narratives through isolated objects.

He also at this time became interested in interiors and in still life. These paintings again showed him exploring cubist ideas, with their dependence on geometric shapes. A painting called “Dead Spring” painted in 1929 best illustrates this and I am sorry that I don’t have a copy of this one

He went on to explore the life of the inanimate object, conveying on them human personages. Working closely with fellow artist Eileen Agar, on the Dorset coast, they both used found objects in their work,  both in paintings and in collage.

He became closely involved with Surrealists, and produced work like “Landscape from a Dream” which I can showdscf3496

Some of this was cropped to get it into the frame, but here on the Dorset coast, the hawk is looking at itself in the mirror and also watching itself flying

Then came WW2, and Nash was made an official war artist. He was equally terrified of and fascinated by bombers.He talked about the “sky was upon us all like a huge hawk hovering, threatening”. He was inspired by the imagery of crashed German bombers in the landscape, like sculpture, and also at the Cowley Dump where these parts were brought. He drew upon his surrealist ideas when he painted Totes Meer or Dead Sea, where the twisted mass of crashed planes metamorphosed into waves of a metal sea.

This painting I can show and it is probably the one we all think of,when we think of Paul Nashtotes-meer

By now his health is suffering. He returns to landscape painting. In 1946 he succumbs to pneumonia and heart strain, and can no longer stand at his easel. Severely depressed he dies at Boscombe near Bournemouth at the age of 57. He is buried at Langley Marsh

 

Paul Nash and the Turner Prize Finalists

Hoping to go to the Tate Britain Art gallery tomorrow, weather and circumstances permitting to see amongst other things , the Paul Nash exhibition

Paul Nash, known as a war artist covering both world wars, not as a documentary reporter, but with his own surrealist style, was also a superb landscape artist in his own right

In fact an artist of many facets

I shall look forward to writing about him and his work when i have learned more myself

Bosham Harbour: Second Version, Preparatory Drawing

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I painted Bosham Harbour in West Sussex as a commission a few weeks ago. I painted it in evening light which I hadn’t done before, and was very pleased with the way it turned out, and relieved too seeing as it was a commission. The colours worked exceptionally well, and I was left wishing that I had something like it, to include in next year’s crop of exhibitions.

Using a number of different photographs, some of my own and some from different sources, especially the boats, I compiled the composition which I have drawn above. The church and houses I have thrown back into the distance, and extended out at the left past the boat house. The boats themselves are entirely different to my previous painting, so everything will be new, which I prefer.

One day I will be stumped as to how to paint Bosham Harbour without referring to something I have painted previously. There are other views, but this is the one people always want, with the church in the background and boats in the foreground. Move along the coast, I suppose, but there is something about Bosham which is hard to find elsewhere. Perhaps it is the historical associations with Saxon kings like Cnut and Harold, with the symbolic Saxon church as a reminder, or maybe just the sheer charm of the place, that makes it difficult to replicate

Anyway, I am going to attempt this composition as a watercolour painting and see what happens. I shall use my previous painting as a colour guide but may still experiment along the way, but still the objective will be to create a painting in evening light

We shall see how we get on

Flamingos in the Camargue: Finished Painting

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This follows on from the last post on flamingos which just showed the preparatory drawing. I think this is one occasion where I prefer the coloured version to the black and white. The colours are really vivid

We were in the Camargue region in the Rhone estuary watching the white horses which I have already painted, and also the flamingos which breed there. This is apparently the only place in Europe that flamingos breed, although I have subsequently seen them in Sicily. Matbe they were just stopping over.

Curiously these flamingos were more white than pink, which is the image we tend to have of these birds. I have probably used more pink wash than necessary in order to get some definition between the birds. In actual fact their heads were pale pink, whilst under their wings they were bright red/orange. I used cadmium red for these markings and that was spot-on accurate

The legs again were a very deep and bright pink. I read somewhere of someone using permanent rose with some cadmium orange to get a good flamingo colour. I tried that and got cadmium red !  Oh well, two routes to the same destination, which is not necessarily such a bad thing.

I started with a light pencil drawing taken from the original sketch. I used violet to put in the shadows on the birds and on the water, which gave me the form to base the painting on. Underneath the birds, and running down the paper, I laid a very dilute wash of Windsor Yellow, as an  experiment really, which I was glad of later, and I will explain why when I get there.

I then started to put in the red markings, and the birds started to take shape. I put in reflections of the legs in the water. I left this for 24 hours to harden off, and then laid a dilute wash of phthalo blue and cobalt mix, for the water. Over the yellow, this glaze turned a soft green, and I think, made a better water colour The red reflections showed through and looked convincing. So far so good

The shadows on the water made by the birds, I deepened with Indigo. Likewise some of the deep shadows on the birds and especially on the legs, I put in with Indigo. The same colour worked well for the tips of the beaks

So there we have the finished painting. I keep looking at it and thinking it looks bright but then again it was a bright subject

Always pleased to hear from anyone else who has experience of painting these colourful birds