On Drawing Trees And Nature

...Is a book I've had on my Amazon wish list for a long time, and I finally got around to finding and downloading a pdf copy from Google. It's long out of copyright, so feel free to go ahead and do the same.

The drawings are beautiful. Oddly modern looking, and not as weirdly formulaic as I'd half expected. (If you've ever looked at a collection of 18th or 19th century drawings or prints you'll know what I mean, those wavy, unlikely looking trees with feathery foliage.) 

J.D.Harding's trees are splendid. He's obviously worked from life, following his own excellent advice, that he passes on in the text in somewhat indigestible wedges of dense prose, but it's well worth your effort to read and re-read his lessons and take all you can from them.

He tells you how to look at things we're all used to seeing, but in a manner that will help you draw or paint them. Consider his instruction another tool in your internal toolbox, a starting point for your own investigations. Just like the writer has been handed down the language and grammar he uses, or the musician the notes and scales and theory, painters have access to a wide and deep body of knowledge. You don't have to invent drawing. 

Rembrandt self portrait

I painted a copy of a Rembrandt self portrait this past week. Copying is one of the best ways of learning how to paint, providing you pick someone worth copying. You get in their head, plus you get to know what painting a masterpiece feels like.

You also get to see the quality gap between your work and theirs, which is chastening. But you find ways to close the gap a little.

I don't think I'll be starting a career as a forger any time soon. The finished piece is a different beast from the original, even at a casual glance, but I learned a thing or two in the painting of it. Such as:

- How to make a restricted palette work hard.
- How to use glazes and scumbling over an underpainting.
- How to control tone for a dramatic light effect.
- How to control edges to describe what you're painting.

The whole of art history is a Google image search away. If you want to kick your painting up a notch, go to it.


I'd been passing by this crumbling old building on my regular walk for years before I got around to painting it.

I have painted it before, from the road. It featured in this painting I did back in '92 or '93, 'Albert Mansfield's place', which is what my old man called it when he recognized the place in the picture.

Finally I got around to taking the photograph that would act as the basis of the painting. The tree shadows did it for me. Some subjects just need a light effect to set them off, and I always like the challenge and reward of including a cast shadow in a painting. Shadows tell you so much: where the light is coming from, and what, unseen, lies outside the picture and casts the shadow, and the nature of the surface on which the shadow is cast. The challenge lies in managing tone and colour temperature and edges to make the shadow convincing, and the reward lies in the opportunities this presents for the use of rare and beautiful colour.

The photograph presented some difficulties with the composition. The original photograph included a strip of sky and the full height of the background trees, and the tangled tree shadow on the wall to the far left. I did a small watercolour study on site which told me this might present insoluble problems. I used GIMP to crop the photograph in various ways, and eventually settled on my usual 10" x 12" study format for the painting.

I took the painting to what I thought was a finished state, but put it away to get some mental distance from it. When I took it out again after a couple of weeks I saw that the foreground saplings had to go. They broke one of my own rules: Don't try to paint something through something. I rubbed out the saplings with a piece of sandpaper and repainted the wall. 

I also took one of my most useful tools - two L shaped right angles of mount board - and decided on a new crop for the painting, cutting off the distracting and redundant two inches at the far left to end up with a 10" x 10" painting.

That seemed to solve all the composition problems.* Now the painting just had a few components that all worked together: the building, with its pointed roof, the tree shadow that sprawls across it, the trees in golden light behind the wall and the ivy bound tree in the middle, plus the foreground with its shadowy grass and reflecting stream.

I worked and reworked the wall, aiming for an effect of sun struck stone and brick. I did as much with the background trees, using texture and colour to add interest.

Any painting I can bring to a conclusion and in the process come up with a couple of tools to add to my inner toolbox, I'm happy.
Why Rapunzel? Every time I passed the building, it put me in mind of those Hockney etchings of Grimms fairy tale, and the contrast between that and the building's original purpose - it was a pig pen - made me smile.

* A square format has a kind of power of its own to please the eye. For many simple subjects with a frontal quality, it often ends up being the best choice.

Get up and go? I got up and went.

In line with my new get up and go approach, the sidebar to your right contains an email sign up form. Go ahead and sign up. You'll only hear from me when I have a new painting to show you, or some interesting news. Your email address will not be sold on.

Also, towards the bottom of the sidebar you'll see some links. These go to the portfolio pages of my online gallery accounts, and my
YouTube channel. Check them out.

Oak in a field. 2014, oil on board, 12" x 10".

Support the arts. Buy a painting. You know, one I did.

Study for field. 2014, oil on board, 10" x 12" (H x W)

I've decided that this blog is going to be a lot more... selly.

I'll be selling originals and prints through my Saatchi online account here. I could sell through the blog, but I figure they get more footfall than I do, and it makes sense to leverage their traffic.

There'll also be a permanent link in the sidebar to a Kindle version
of my book about landscape painting
, several years in the making
and now just about ready for publication. It will tell you most of what I know about painting landscapes, with illustrated examples showing works in progress.

Future blog posts will relate to current work, and the occasional
how-to about my working practices, which might prove of interest to the painters among you.

Study for Hardwick park

Attention, art loving gift givers. Christmas approaches, and with it the need to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest.

And what better or more appropriate Christmas gift than a 5-pack of postcard reproductions of a small painting of Hardwick park in sunny Derbyshire on a sweltering day in July?

This is available in the UK for a very reasonable and post free £3.25. Just click on the Paypal button below and my mighty publishing empire will spring into action to make sure your handsome postcard pack is delivered to your door post haste.

How to get a postcard of your painting printed.

Painting is hard. Promoting your work on top of that can be an uphill struggle, which is why using printed material to do the job for you is a good idea.

Perhaps you have an online presence already, but a hard copy of your work, in the form of a printed postcard reproduction of one of your best paintings, is a calling card you can send to galleries or potential buyers. If it's pretty, it gets to stick around, a real world, lasting reminder to everyone who sees it that you're out there.

I finally got around to doing this last week, and thought I'd do a step by step in case anyone else was wondering how to go about it.

Step 1: Choose your image.

This can be the hardest part. Make it as easy as you can, like this...

Gather all the potential images you think could make a good postcard. Stick them into one folder on your desktop.

Choose recent images over past successes, to better represent the kind of work you do now. Pick your best work - you know which of your paintings are better than the rest. And lastly, pick paintings that have impact. You want an image you can read all the way across the room when it's only as big as a postcard.

Open the images in Windows photo gallery, or whatever slide show viewer your system supports. Click through them, one by one. Take your time. Narrow down your choices. Keep the proportions of the finished postcard in mind. An A6 standard sized card is 148mm x 105mm, around five and seven eighths by four and one eighth inches, or roughly 3:2. Remember your painting might not fit those proportions exactly, and that you may have to leave space around your image.

Got the picture you want? Sure? Stick with it. Once you've made a choice, remember that the investment is small enough that any second thoughts don't really matter. Don't second guess yourself.

Step 2: Prepare your image with GIMP.

Now you have to get the image print ready.

Is the image you chose the best image possible of the painting? It needs to be good quality, sharp and clear, with accurate colour and tone. That murky snapshot you took on a dull day with your phone set to potato? Yeah, don't use that. It won't magically turn into a high quality pin sharp printed card. 

There are articles online about how to take good pictures of your artwork, just a Google search away. I use a DSLR set to 200 ISO and photograph my paintings flat on the floor lit by direct sunlight. Using my legs as a tripod..., well, bipod anyway, I stand directly over the piece and make sure I photograph it square on. Not recommended for larger pieces, but good enough for small paintings.

I make JPGs at the highest setting, 3872 x 2592 pixels, which seem to be adequate. I open them in GIMP, and cut them down to the outline of the painting like this: use the Rectangle Select tool to draw a box around the painting, then go to Image, Crop to Selection. I also use the brightness and contrast tool under the colour menu - lowering the brightness and increasing the contrast, just a little, gives a full bodied, colourful and contrasty image.

Make an A6 postcard template in GIMP, like this. Open a new, blank image - File, New - with the following specifications:

1712 pixels wide by 1228 pixels high (assuming a horizontal image).
Under 'Advanced Options', make sure its X and Y resolution is set to 300 pixels per inch. The colour space is RGB, which we'll talk about in a while.

Now, resize your painting's image so it fits neatly into that blank template. Don't distort the painting's original proportions to make it fit. Make sure that it's no bigger than 1712 x 1228 pixels, and that its dpi count is the same at 300 pixels per inch. You can do this is GIMP by accessing Image, Scale Image, and Image, Print Size.

Copy your image by going to Edit, Copy Visible. This copies your image to the clipboard. Close your painting image, then go to the blank template and choose Edit, Paste As, New Layer. This will place your image in the postcard template, where you can move it about until you're satisfied with the layout, using the move tool from the Toolbox. (Looks like a cross made of arrows.) If there's space around your image, make sure it's symmetrically placed.

When you're happy with the result, go to Layer, Merge Down. Then export it to your desktop as a PNG file.

But we're not done yet...

Step 3: Prepare your image with KRITA.

GIMP, like a lot of Open Source software, is a marvellous, highly specified program which will do many things really well.

But it won't export to CMYK, which is what printers want.

You could bite the bullet and buy Adobe Photoshop (or just pirate it should you be so inclined, NOT THAT I WOULD EVER RECOMMEND OR CONDONE SUCH A COURSE OF ACTION IN ANY WAY, at least not while any patent lawyers are listening) or...

You could download some more Open Source free software. It's called Krita, you can download it here and it's an interesting drawing and painting package with a complicated front end which I haven't the patience to learn properly but which can convert your image to CMYK and output a printer ready PDF file.

Go to Image, Convert Image Colour Space, Model: Cyan Magenta Yellow Black, Depth: 32 bits float. I have no idea what the other options mean, but I think they set the hyperdrive for Arcturus. Press OK, and wait while your computer huffs and pants through the process.

Then, File, Export as PDF, and Robert is indeed your father's brother. That PDF file is what you're going to upload to the printer. Along with another one for the rear of the postcard, where you will include the title of the piece and whatever contact information you want to put on there, be it a URL or an email address. You can make that in GIMP using the same postcard template which you already saved as 'A6 postcard template', right? Use the GIMP text tool, which gives you complete control over font choice, style, colour and size. When it's done to your liking, go through the same process to prepare the PDF for the rear of the postcard.

Step 4: Pick a printer online.

This is the part which could have you curling up into a foetal ball and whimpering softly.

Or, if you live in the UK, you could just do what I did (after a lot of Googling and cursing) and go with Printed.com.

No, I'm not an affiliate, nor do I get any kind of backhander for recommending them. Like any firm I promote on here, it's as a direct result of their good service.

I picked them because my first choice led me all the way through the order process only to lose me at the checkout when I found out their delivery charges cost twice as much as my order, because they were based overseas.

Printed.com, on the other hand, are based in the UK, use the ordinary post, and only charged me a few quid for delivery. Also, their website's online ordering process was easy to use, and their prices compared very favourably with the other online printers I looked into. 

Using their online order process, I uploaded PDFs of the face and rear of the postcard and paid for my order.

Ordered online on a Friday night, my postcards turned up neatly and securely packaged the following Wednesday morning.

And that's how to get a postcard of your painting printed. I must admit to having been a little worried while I waited. My monitor isn't calibrated, and I've had one disaster with an online photo printer returning photographs so dark you could barely tell what they were, but this postcard turned out really well. I'm more than happy with the result, and I'll be using Printed.com again.