Fun with Friends!

This week I had some realxing fun painting some little friends of mine…

The first was my sister’s little dog ‘Poppy’.  She is such a cutie-pie.  Whenever I visit my sister and her family and sit on her sofa, Poppy jumps up onto the very top of the cushions and then snuffles through my hair.  She does it to my mum and my sister too.  I think it’s her way of being with her family.  She is a real sweetie (and quite unlike my sister’s little tortoise who has a thing for biting your socks and toes – hard!)  So here she is sketched in my sketchbook…

She is a Bichon-Frise and has curly white hair.  On some parts of her body her hair is stained a reddish/brown because of where she licks herself to get clean after a walk.  She’s really interesting to paint because white hair has so many reflected colours in it.  This is my sketch painted with watercolours…

 

My other little friend is R2D2.  I have a little model of him on one of my bookcases in my bedroom.  I’ve done this wherever I’ve lived all my adult life, so he is like a little beeping friend.  This particular figure does make sounds if I put in about a million watch batteries (actually it’s four but it always feels like a lot).  Here he is with a message written in Aurebesh for my fellow Star Wars fans!

While George Lucas was in charge at Lucasfilm there was an ongoing debate about whether Lucas should have updated the original films after release.  It’s quite interesting because when they did get updated it became almost impossible to get hold of the original theatrical releases which understandably upset people who loved the films as they were.  On the other side of the argument the films were Lucas’s works of art and who’s to say an artist can’t alter his work if, on reflection, he wants to?  With painting’s the line is much clearer because as soon as someone buys a painting then the artist could only then change it if the owner wanted them to.  With films available via a mass production process though, someone with enough money could change them indefinitely.

Anyway, one of the changes Lucas made was to correct all instances of written English in “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” (Episodes 4 and 5) into the written version of Galactic Basic, a language called Aurebesh.  I really like the “otherness” of a totally different script.

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Seeing, Painting and Pain

Previously when working with acrylics I have painted big gradients of colour across geometric shapes and waves. Here are some examples…

I don’t have any larger resolution photos of these because I was painting for a job at the time so they all got sold.   😦

But now I want to experiment with acrylics again and see if I could get back into them. To do this, last week, I had a go at finding out what the paint can do.

This week I wanted to plan a painting which follows a different style.  I wanted it to have the style of the paintings above but be about real objects and landscapes.  Painting like this involves simplifying the subject and making some changes to improve the aesthetic of the overall piece. I have previously found this difficult because it feels like I’m metaphorically “short-changing” reality. But I have been assured by people who have actually gone to art school 🙂 that this is OK and not “a lie” as I used to define it!

 

Seeing

So, I began by simulating a painting in my computer to see if I can see the shapes I want to paint in a given landscape.For instance, I had a look at this lovely photo of Betws-y-Coed from North Wales – I place I have visited many times and know and love. (This is not my photograph but came from a Wales tourist site.)

Then I painted directly into the computer using my drawing pad to make this…

 

 

It was my first try (and I admit I did get enthralled in playing around with textures so it’s a bit odd in places!) But it gave me a feeling for how I want to try to paint in acrylics now. I got to practice the “seeing” of the painting which is more than half the job – the rest is the more technical side of painting. It’s very similar to improvising in jazz. When I first started trying to learn jazz, in my teenage years, I really had no idea how to do it. But now when I hear jazz I hear the music itself, and then as I get into it, I begin to hear the way my own heart sings inside the song. It’s that which I play when I improvise nowadays and it’s the same with this kind of impressionistic painting. It’s not the landscape itself I’m painting but the echo of it inside my heart.

Then I had another go with this famous picture of Kinder Scout in the Peak District (again not my photo)…

This is another beloved place for me from years ago.

This is how the second simulation turned out (with no playing with the textures allowed!)

These were not finished pictures but sketches done in about 20 minutes each to see how things might work. I love doing sketches of things on the computer because I can do it much faster than with real paints and change things faster if I don’t like where I’m going.

 

Painting

Of the two I liked the Betws-y-Coed one best but felt that the Kinder Scout one would be better for a first try back into acrylics.  So I had a go.  This is the best picture I can get of what I’ve done so far. ( I kept getting lots of shine from my lighting reflecting in the picture of he painting.)

 

I decided to put a little sleeping fox into the picture but he counts as detail and I’ve not added any detail to the painting yet.  I’m still working on the shapes, tones and colours.

 

Pain

I had a very difficult time working with acrylics again. While I can quickly sketch at my computer and paint for a while properly at a table I have too much pain in the evenings to stay up for very long before I have to lay down.  I can’t do something as messy as acrylics in bed.  I can with watercolour, ink and gouache, but acrylics are a step too far.  So I’m going to give myself a break for a couple of weeks to get my pain levels down again and then perhaps have another go.

Watercolour from Paris and First Steps Back into Acrylic

So I’m back to work this week. This is my favourite term of the year. It’s cool and steady with less in the way of ‘special days’ so we can get on with the learning. I’m going to try this year to balance my work and rest time so I have time to post every week. This week I’ve got a couple of paintings I did whilst in Paris in the summer and some thoughts on starting again with acrylics…

Paris

I painted a few pictures while I was over there in various places. They were all watercolour with occasional use of gouache white. Here are the first two. I was always pushed for time with these pictures so I tried to get down at least the main shapes and colours before people moved.

The first painting was while waiting to board the Eurostar at St Pancras International in London. I was feeling a little stressed at this point having been given a pat down search by Customs (because my heart implant makes the machine go off – I was carrying my pacemaker card but they decided to search me all over rather than look at the bloody thing!) So painting was a great way to calm down again. Here’s the picture I came up with…

My second painting was on day 2 when we visited Notre Dame…

There were actually armed police and droves of tourists all over the square in front of the cathedral so I moved a little to side for my painting. I picked out this beautifully dressed woman in red for my forground and the side buildings of the cathedral as my main subject. There were actually some cars parked behind the bushes just behind the railings but I missed them out too. I have always much preferred the quiet alleys next to cathedrals to the buildings themselves. They seem more friendly somehow.

Acrylics

I have been having a play with some acrylics for the first time in ages this week. My favourite jeans and top attest to this – I forgot how messy I am when painting! It doesn’t matter that much with watercolours but permanently marks clothes with acrylics! Rather than use the ones I already have which are over 10 years old I bought a small new set of good quality paints from Winsor & Newton. I also got some acrylic media to go with them. I have always used a retardent for blending because the paint dries so quickly! But I also wanted to see what effect a flow improver and gloss and matt mediums have. I’ve not got any painting finished from these explorations yet. I did some basic exercises and then began working on a small blue monster and doing different parts of his body with different methods so I can see the difference. The additional media do help a little to make the stuff less sticky but it’s still been very very different from using watercolours.

My feeling is that I’m struggling a bit because, having spent so long on watercolour in the last few years, I’m trying to use acrylics like watercolour and that just won’t work. So my plan going forward is to paint with acrylics in a totally different way – just strike out on a new path! There’s probably some special technique name that I would know if I’d ever been near an art school but I’m going to call it “just blobbing the paint on”. I’m not going to try to make gradients by thinning the paint with medium and moving it about, which I do all the time with watercolour, I’m going to make my gradients with different shades and colours and different painting strokes. I’m also going to blend a lot less than with watercolour.

Mopani Wood and New Directions

Mopani Wood

For my last Inktober picture I played around with ink. I used some water brush pens and 2 types of black ink. I began by wetting an area of my sketchbook and then dropping the ink into the wet area just as you would when using a wet in wet technique for watercolour. I got myself a lovely ink-run…

I let it dry and then began to feel out shapes in the random way the ink was lying. At first I just added some strong shadows…

I wanted to keep some of the ink I laid down in place and move some of it with a water brush later so I put down Pigma Micron ink (which is VERY permanent and great to use even under a heavy water wash). Then I used another pen which has soluble ink and put some of that on top. Then I went in with my water brush and moved the ink around again. Once that had dried I added some details with the Pigma Microns. Here’s how it looked after that…

Mostly I was taking my cues from the patterns made when the ink ran and moved in the water. At first these patterns reminded me of smoke and fire and I thought that my ink drawing would end up being of a fire. But as I continued to work at it – just letting it draw itself – it began to remind me of this beautiful wood which is used often in the aquarium trade. The wood is called Mopani Wood and has these beautiful light sections with this lovely dark brown grain in places. Here are a couple of pictures…

It’s great for fish which like acidic water as it leeches tannins into the tank. Fish which wouldn’t spawn in my hard water area will spawn with Mopani wood in their tank. Some aquarists don’t like the way it yellows the water but I think it depends on what you want. If you want your tank clear and uncoloured, then no, it’s not a great choice. But if you want happy, comfortable fish in natural conditions then it can be great.

Gradually I added more detail and reinforced my darks and lights using a mixture of fixed and water soluble inks. Here’s the last interation when the drawing was nearly finished…

And here is the final Mopani Wood drawing – all from an ink-run!

New Directions

Looking ahead, my next artistic adventure is going to be in acrylics. I began all of my adult artwork about 16 years ago with acrylics where I painted 3D geometric abstracts…

Now, having worked through a variety of mediums and art courses over the years, I want to go back to acrylic and see what I can paint now. It’ll be fun!