A Good Painting Spot

This was a good painting spot, because there happened to be a thicket of blackberry bushes within arm's reach to my right. Free fruit.

Of course, it also happened to be on a footpath which got more traffic than I expected, which led to some akward dances around the easel, but it could have been worse; read this Telegraph article to see what can befall an RA in the middle of London.

Even as a landscape painter I sometimes get an audience. The good thing is that onlookers soon realize that painting isn't interesting, and they drift away. Sometimes a troll will try to spoil your concentration by talking to you, but I've perfected the deadpan monosyllabic reply and cheerful countenance that makes them realize they're onto a non starter, and they soon leave in search of fresh prey.

People who do that were the bane of Cezanne's life, or so my reading about him would suggest. A sensitive man who was quick to anger, he was probably easy entertainment for bored peasants on a slow farming day. I've been leafing through the local library's copy of Cezanne: His life and works in 500 images, by Susie Hodge (available at a surprisingly high price on Amazon).

Anyway...where was I, and what's my point? Pick painting spots with free fruit, avoid those with bored peasants and/ or jobsworths.

Every day carry

Having seen other every day carry pictures and posts, I thought I'd empty my coat pockets and bag and reveal what lies within.

The folding craft knife takes a Stanley knife blade and will probably get me arrested if I'm ever spotted using it to sharpen a pencil on the open street in the UK.

The black Bic and the propelling pencil are my everyday drawing tools (biro on flimsy sketchbook pages, pencil on heavier paper). The Derwent eraser pen is the best thing since sliced bread. The HB pencil stub is a back up in case of technical difficulties with the propelling pencil. 

The watercolour box came with 24 half pans. I took out 5 I never used, and looking at the 19 half pans left, only 10 are showing signs of wear. A point to consider if you're thinking of buying a watercolour box - fewer colours is generally better. There's a number 6 sable brush in the box. The pens and pencils in the bag are, of course, spares. 

There's also a DSLR stuffed in the rucksack which gets daily use, for shots of potential subjects, reference for paintings, captures of finished works that are too big to fit on the scanner.

Brian Sewell

My favourite art critic just died. When I'm having a good painting day, I find myself commenting on what I'm doing in a poor imitation of his splendidly plummy voice.

It is ridiculous to think you could regret the loss of someone you never actually knew or were ever likely to meet, but he was one of a kind, and his death leaves a noticeable gap. We are a little poorer for his passing.

Here's a link to a YouTube upload of his Grand Tour series.

Oak in a field.

This is a series of paintings of some trees at the side of a cultivated field. I've done one a month for the past year or so, starting in March 2014 and deciding to paint a  series in October of that year.

Actually, it feels a bit cheaty passing them off as a year's paintings. I might do three more so I've got one for every month in 2015.

What has painting a series taught me?

Foliage can last longer than you expect.

Things are beautiful all year round.

The sky is different every day.  Different colour blue, different way it fills with light.

You never find the balance between mass and detail, but you get close enough.

Paint for too long and you're just second guessing yourself.

Colours change with the light in a heartbeat, but if you look long enough you see what repeats.

The smallest brush you use should be a little too big.

If your painting looks right at the viewing distance, don't worry about how it looks close to.

Those Goshdarn Frankfurters

I found an essay online yesterday, which I've linked to here.

It's a very readable and informative look at the reasons behind the cultural shifts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which have had such a lasting effect on us, covering topics as diverse as art and politics, and the unlikely alliances and strange bedfellows which have shaped our times.

If you've ever wondered why modern art became  incomprehensible, or why educational institutions have become hotbeds of gibbering idiocy, this essay will provide some much needed insight.

When I was a young student, towards the end of my time in
college, I instinctively rejected what I was being taught. I stopped trying to paint like a New York abstractionist and started drawing from life. My small, ill considered rebellion had consequences which affect me to this day, but I never regretted it. I'm just glad to have found some of the reasons behind the forces that shape our cultural landscape.

Let this be a lesson to all you budding super villains out there. It's all very well building a secret lair, stealing nukes, or growing your own superbug...

But if you want to do some real damage - start a think tank.

Looking back

Taking time out to have a good long look at what you've been doing is one of the most terrifying exercises known to man.

A week or so ago, I spent an hour looking at all the paintings I've done since I started painting again in 2012. Getting on for 120 pieces, mostly in oil on board, most around 10" x 12".

52 of them ended up in a box labelled 'Do not show'. Right next to the front room fireplace, where they're likely to end up as kindling. Oil paint on MDF - that should get a good blaze started.

60 ended up in the box of salvation, back upstairs in the spare bedroom, waiting on being framed and getting shown. The quality is patchy, but generally high. Most of the works were begun on site, painting plein air, but generally finished in the studio, whether that amounted to a little tidying up or extensive reworking.

Most of them are landscapes, though there have been two forays into self portraiture, one still life, and an Old Master copy that taught me a lot.

A dozen or so are repeated variations of the same landscape over the seasons, a series that will be finished come September.

I like to think I'm forging a tool, putting together the skills and knowledge needed to bring something new and worthwhile to landscape painting. From a cold start back in 2012, my drawing has picked up and my painting is workmanlike. On a good day, I think I know what I'm doing. On bad days I wonder who I'm kidding.

But then, walking that particular high wire, and refusing to let either over-confidence or ludicrous self-flagellation get in the way of what you're doing, is all part of painting. My next step is to enter some exhibitions this year and see if I get anywhere. If someone else decides my paintings are worth showing, maybe I can believe it too.

Flaming June

Well, it was pretty grey and cool to start with, but things perked up.

Painting plein air a couple of weeks ago, working on a study for a larger (12" x 16") version. There's a short list of open shows I'm going to try and get into this year, and the finished version of this is one of the pieces I'll be entering.

Still working on the problem of keeping a painting alive in the studio. I'm pursuing two threads: the nineteenth century academic method of doing studies for a composition, and pulling them all together into a grand pictorial statement, and the more agile and responsive Impressionist method of painting from life and keeping the marks and colours intact in the finished work.

I've got studies from last year waiting on the time being right to attempt full sized paintings from them, notably a house in Rowthorne, and a field on the way there. I passed by the house last week and noticed swarms of workmen going in and out. I just hope it's still standing when I go back in August. They trimmed the hedges and the ivy on the walls last year when I was halfway through the drawing.

Two lucky purchases this month, the first being a copy of 'Victorian Painters', by Jeremy Maas, which I picked up, literally for pennies, on Amazon. It's a brilliant overview of English painting in the nineteenth century. The second was a similarly priced copy of W.P.Frith's memoirs, with stories from the life of the successful academician. Given that he personally knew Turner and Constable, and that the book features stories about both men, I found it of particular interest.