Horses of the Camargue: Preparing to Paint

Line Drawing on Watercolour Paper

The Line Drawing on watercolour paper

I have transferred the sketch just as a line drawing onto the watercolour paper. The size of the image is roughly what I want, about 30×40 centimetres

The painting will be interesting to say the least. The horses should be lighter than the background, and as you know, you can only go from light to dark with watercolour and not vice versa. The manes and tails in the photographs seem to glow as though they have light behind them. I think they will have to be masked out for that to happen. I may have to put background in first, which will be amusing

I won’t have a lot of time this week as we are going away soon to Sicily, another wonderful source of material. I think before I go, I will hopefully have time to give the painting an all-over wash of Naples yellow and Raw Sienna, which should give the glow of low sunshine that I want. Fingers crossed on that one

So, it may be nearer the end of the month before I can finish the painting completely. This won’t be an easy painting to do for the reasons stated. We shall just have to see how it turns out

 

White Horses of the Camargue

Camargue Horses

White Horses of the Camargue

When we were in the south of France a few weeks ago, we finished our voyage down the River Rhone at Arles. I have already mentioned my walking tour of the city in the footsteps of van Gogh, as well as the magnificent Roman amphitheatre

Just south of the city, and in the salt marshes of the Rhone estuary, is the Camargue region, famous for its semi-wild horses, its black bulls bred for fighting and also flamingos, which breed there, the only breeding ground of that species in Europe.

I say the horses are semi-wild. They roam the region more or less at will until round up time, but also they are used for riding, and the tamer ones used by riding schools and trekking stations. They are, I believe one of the oldest breeds in Europe, and because of the remoteness of the area, the bloodstock remains undiluted

I wanted to paint them. I do paint horses occasionally, usually heavy draft horses as I find them intriguing, but the Camargue horses are something of a challenge, because of their colour as much as anything. You can always find one white horse or two perhaps in a herd, but a complete herd all the same colour is unusual, and would make a striking painting.

I took some pictures of my own, which were shot from the hip very often as an opportunity presented itself, and were ok but not the best. I bought a photograph from a local, which was much more impressive, and am using this to compose something which I hope will make an interesting painting

I have sketched something out as above, using Paynes Grey watercolour which I now prefer to ink, which I think will work. Quite a lot of shadow of course on white and how to make it stand out against white paper will be interesting too. I shall transfer this sketch onto watercolour paper and see how we get on

From Sketch to Finished Painting

Lavant Cottage

The finished house portrait

Just a pity that the camera leeches out some of the colour, try as I might to avoid it happening. The original has a much softer tone

This was an interesting commission, and of course follows on from the last post about the value of the preliminary sketch. The lights and darks from the tonal sketch were invaluable as a reference. What was so delightful about this subject was the strong light coming from the left and low at that.

After transferring the drawing onto watercolour paper, I bathed the whole thing in a mix of Naples Yellow and Raw Sienna. There was very little sky in the frame, so I saw little point in trying to introduce a sky colour. I have used this neutral sky on several occasions before and it works well, when you need to soften the subject, and also focus on a subject, so pertinent  when you are doing a house portrait.

I usually paint roof tops with Burnt Sienna over the Raw Sienna. This time, as it was a commission, and therefore being more careful, I did some research. Some people use Light Red and some too use Indian Red, I was told. After a couple of trials, I elected to use Light Red, which I found rather pleasing and closer to the reference photograph.

The dark shadow was a mix of Violet and Transparent Brown, always successful. Some orange brickwork and one or two red roses to lead the eye

I was pleased with the result. A nice soft portrait of a period house, which was not unlike a sepia photograph, evocative of the period and somehow timeless.

From here, I can rest from commissions. I love doing them as they challenge me with something new, but I have exhibition commitments from March, which seems a long way off but not really. I have stock enough to do an exhibition now, but most have been seen this year, those that I have left unsold that is.

That means a new collection, so best get started

Sketch Painting

Lavant Tonal Sketch

This is a house portrait that I am working on at the moment, which just serves to illustrate the value of the preliminary sketch. The drawing is very loose, which I often think adds to the effect. Unnecessary detail has been removed. The power is in the tone. The dimensions are to scale. All I that I need is there for producing the final painting. Any changes that I want to make or mistakes that I want to correct, I can do now so that hopefully I won’t be rubbing out on sensitive watercolour paper.

What is it about black and white that captures atmosphere so well, perhaps better than colour?  Something in the drama of light and dark perhaps. In this sketch, I haven’t used black, which tends to flatten a painting as it drains all the light. Ink is even worse in my opinion, and although I like black ink for line drawing, I use watercolour for large blocks of dark. Instead of black, I have used Payne’s Grey, which is grossly undervalued in my opinion. It produces a beautiful blue/grey and the end result is a painting in its own right.

Purists tell us that we should mix our own greys, depending on the grey we want for a particular purpose. I agree and I do that too, but Payne’s Grey has its place. It makes superb skies giving pale greys through to black clouds, and I believe was the reason for William Payne inventing it. It also works superbly well as an alternative to ink for sketching.

William Payne, 1760-1830, Devonshire born, lived in Plymouth, until moving to London in 1790. He was a watercolourist and etcher, and above all, an innovator. His style, we are told, could be easily learnt and he became the most fashionable drawing master in London. His innovations include” splitting the brush to give forms of foliage, dragging the tints to give texture to his foreground, and taking out forms of light by wetting the surface and rubbing with rag and bread”

And of course Payne’s Grey.

Later in life he was surpassed by other artists, and sadly forgotten before his death in 1830

Shere Village and Church: the Finished Painting

Shere Village and Church

Well, the painting is finished, and turned out better than I thought. I dulled down the roof of the lychgate as one critic advised. It had come far too forward, so I scraped it back, and added grey violet which has pushed the image back into the middle distance.

I lifted the paint off the foreground figures and let that dry. I painted shadows in first with dark grey violet, and let that dry hard. I finished them with their local colour, and they turned out well enough. It is possible to correct mistakes in watercolour sometimes

I added shadows cast by the figures, and deepened shadows under eaves and around windows. As soon as you do that,  it is like the sun coming out. Pure illusion but it always works

I might still tackle this subject again but from a different angle. As someone pointed out, it would have been nice to show more of the old church, and I accept that argument. I do have references taken closer to the church, and may well do that later, but not just yet. I need a change from this subject

Perhaps something from France would be nice to do, and perhaps experiment with some different skies, just to make life interesting

Shere Village and Church Painting which is not going too well

DSCF3091

Usually I like to say that the painting is proceeding nicely. In this case it just isn’t. It is one of those paintings that is popular at exhibitions, or should be. A local scene which people recognise and identify with. The sort of scene I have painted so many times, and yet seem to have made mistake after mistake. Oh well, suitably chastened, perhaps I will be more careful as I continue

Just above the church spire, and out of the camera frame, the sky went awry, and left a large blue patch right in the centre, just where I didn’t want it. This type of cloudy blue sky has to be done wet-in-wet, as we know, and apart from lots of frenetic board tilting, there is only so much control you can exert over the finished item.

The roof over the lychgate came up much too bright, so I have scrubbed that back, and will add less colour next time

Likewise the figures in the foreground were disappointing, and these I have scrubbed back with a lifting out brush. When they are really bone dry, I will attempt them again. I don’t know why but I seemed to lose all sense of colour control. I applied paint too thickly and the shadow areas which I had already put in, just did not show through

The brick colour of the cottage on the left-hand side which usually works well, is almost acidic with the green foliage, or am I being paranoid. Perhaps I have been looking at it for too long

On both sides I have painted more of each building. The camera frame would only take the image shown, which looking at, I prefer. There is certainly a case for cropping top and bottom, and maybe quite a bit from each side, and making a smaller picture of it

I will see what I can salvage. I have some ideas now. Being humbled occasionally, never hurt anyone

Have you ever had a bad picture day? Always pleased to hear about it if you have

Preparing a Painting of Shere Village in the Surrey Hills

DSCF3003

This is a view of Shere Village with its medieval church

Shere stands amongst the Surrey Hills and on the River Tillingbourne. Hard to imagine that in the c13-c15 it was industrial, producing woollen cloth. Today it is idyllic, like a postcard, attracting visitors from far and wide

I have been given an exhibition slot at the Royal Surrey Hospital, for July 2017, which does sound a long way off, but now starts the long slow build-up of exhibits. I need at least twelve that I haven’t shown before, so although I have some, I still want some more in reserve

I haven’t painted Shere for many years and then not from this angle. I think I can make something from this photograph, but for starters all these cars must go. I do sometimes put cars in, but in this case they are just hiding anything attractive. I shall probably broaden the composition by taking in more of the building on the left. I do also want some figures in the foreground looking towards the church, which will be a focal point.

The figures will be from my sketch book. I have drawn them free-hand from the screen, and will transpose them onto the drawing of the village street later. I will leave some pictures of the drawing and will post again when I have done some painting

Sketches of Figures

This is the page from my sketchbook. Figures kindly modelled by members of my family, although they didn’t know it, as we walked up to the old church.  What I do now, is to trace my sketch, and then slide the tracing around the drawing of the street, until the perspective looks right

Figures transposed to Shere Village scene

and so this is the sketch drawing which in turn will be transposed onto watercolour paper, after which it will be enhanced with more freehand drawing. When I have done that I will post the result

Gravetye Manor Hotel: the finished picture

Gravetye Manor Hotel

This is the finished picture of the hotel

The lights and darks helped this painting enormously, which was why I was so grateful for the sun shining just long enough for me to get a shot telling me where they were

The chimneys were hexagonal so each side had a different tonal value. They were fiddly and not sure now whether they were completely accurate, but from the point of view of giving an illusion of their shape, they seemed to work

I used raw sienna mixed with Naples yellow for the sunlit building and also for the path, which is my favourite mix for giving the appearance of sun on stone. The path was a gift for the composition, that bright open gateway surrounded by dark shadow.

Another problem was the plethora of green in the foreground. I used three different mixes which seemed to work, as well as some different plant shapes. The violet flower clump broke some of it up, and that good old favourite, red spots dotted here and there helped to take the eye

I have started to use the odd bit of pastel to get myself out of trouble where I might need a bright light colour over a dark background. I find that is a useful device and a nice change from gouache which isn’t always successful anyway

Will I have to call myself a mixed media artist? I don’t think so

Gravetye Manor Hotel in Sussex, UK

DSCF3056

This is Gravetye Manor Hotel which is near East Grinstead in Sussex, UK.

A beautiful old building dating from the c16 set in acres of woodland, which has been converted some years ago to a very luxurious country house hotel. The grounds are awe inspiring. This view is from the Flower Garden, which is one only of 11 separate garden spaces

The hotel has numerous accolades. Hotel of the Year England 2013/2014, Best Countryside Hotel 2014, Rural Hotel of the Year 2014 and more besides

So I was very pleased and indeed flattered to be commissioned to paint this view of the hotel, on behalf of a delightful couple for whom this hotel has become a special place during a significant time in their lives.

I went there about a month ago, hoping to get a sunny day. I say hoping, because our weather has been so very changeable lately , with sun going in and out of clouds all the time. That is even if one was lucky enough to pick a dry day to start with. I wanted sun and I wanted shadows to make the building look more interesting

This photograph is one of many that I took on the day. The sun came out reluctantly and I got a few shots with shadows cast on the building yet with a few highlights left, on the porch, on the chimneys which were a bit of a nightmare to draw, and also lit the front of the building brilliantly

The interesting part of the composition was the path to the right with the garden gate itself in shadow yet giving onto bright light beyond. Where was that going to? Well, the car park but in artistic terms it could be leading somewhere more romantic

I made some sketches and transferred them onto watercolour paper as a finished drawing, ready to paint which can be the subject of another post

Gravetye Transferred Drawing

A little bit pale as I tried to avoid dark pencil lines, but the gist of the composition is there

Exhibition at Tate Art Gallery: Painting With Light

We went to see this exhibition recently. Painting with light explored the relationship between painting and photography, and was a thought-provoking exhibition. Purists still tend to be critical of painters who use photographs, and yet at the time, artists saw great merit in the use of the camera

John Ruskin was never easy to please, being most exacting in his standards. He drew meticulous architectural studies which would have taken him hours. I cannot remember the quote verbatim, but words to this effect he said that if he could have been saved many hours of detailed drawing with a device that did the job in half a minute, then there would have been no doubt in his mind as to which he would use.

Photography was invented in 1839, and was to lead to a development in new techniques and materials which were to influence painters

Edinburgh was home to a progressive movement amongst scientist and artists. In 1843 the young Robert Adamson was to establish one of the first photographic studios where he was joined by the painter David Octavius Hill and Jessie Mann. Together they took something like two thousand photographs during their four year partnership

Their photographic portraits were admired during their lifetime and their views of Edinburgh were an influence on Hill’s landscapes. These works came to be recognised as some of the earliest collaborations between photographer and artist

Holman Hunt painting of Nazareth

Holman Hunt’s painting of Nazareth

Photography was a gift to the Pre-Raphaelites  of which Holman Hunt was one of the founder members. They looked for inspiration to the medieval period, and their works are known for sharp detail and vivid colours. This was almost a quasi-religious movement, and partly because of the medieval influence and partly because of his deep Christian conviction, many of Holman Hunt’s pictures are of Biblical or religious subjects.

Together with his friend Thomas Seddon, he stayed in Jerusalem for two years at the home of James Graham, a pioneer photographer. Together they took many landscape photographs. The reference material that photographs gave artists certainly helped painters like Holman Hunt in their chosen philosophy of sharper detailing.

Many photographers had trained as painters, and had set up studios. They used models whose posing time was cut dramatically with the use of the camera, especially when complex or spontaneous poses were called for. Photographs were used for preparatory references, which meant that props, costumes and models could be dispensed with.

Thus began the successful collaboration between photography and painting, the former even becoming an art form in its own right.

For me the camera has become the sketch book, enjoyable as sketching might be. I shall never again feel bad about that