Monday, 31 March 2008

Oranges and Lemon

Oils on primed cardboard, 20x15cm: A one-hour study that took me all day to get to! The idea for today was to get out to the studio early this morning but as I am still catching up from the change over to British Summer Time and need to make up for that lost hour I didn't get up until 9:30. By the time I got moving I realised that today was the last day of March and I really needed to renew my Road Tax before tomorrow (April). So set off up to the Post Office and waited in a long queue! That done, and after some coffee, I was all geared up with my usual painting clothes on - green pinny, beeny hat, zipper jumper and beat-up Nike's - all ready for action brother arrived to see me. Sometimes you've just got to go with the flow of the day although since I stopped full-time working (for someone else) it seems that other people see me as unemployed and doing nothing that can't be interupted. Shouldn't complain - it's good to get a visit and talk to a real person for a change! By the time I did get out to the studio sometime in the afternoon my mind was now too restless to get down to work so set about tidying, cleaning my palette, and clearing some working space.
In this restless state of mind I found that too much of the day was already gone and I couldn't think of starting any large project, so taking my lead from those artists who advocate painting for one hour and working to a very small scale I quickly set up this simple still life with some oranges and my favourite little yellow pot. Moving the objects around a bit looking for a kind of abstract relationship, and using a small viewfinder aperture, I settled on this view and got to work starting with this colour study:

Neocolour pastels on paper, A5: Many studies were not required since I had already chosen the view with the viewfinder, and the colour choices were to be as I saw them directly, so it was straight into the oil painting (top). Since the colour scheme was very limited it didn't take long to squeeze out the colours I wanted and mix them according to what I could see before me: French Ultramarine with a touch of Alizarin and Tit.White; lemon yellow with white; lemon yellow to various degrees with alizarin for a range of oranges, and with blue for some cooler greens. I continue to work with this limited palette which satisfies my need for simplicity and consistency. By the time I have done all this preparatory work on the palette the painting almost paints itself. With as many single strokes as possible I completed the final painting in jig time!
At least I managed something from today.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Sky Dancer

Yesterday at the Buddhist Centre in Glasgow I heard a short poem by Walt Whitman called 'Song of the Open Road' from a little book called 'Reflections on Wildness' This appealed to me so much I bought a copy from the bookshop. It had been reduced to less than half-price appealing to me even more! I will probably have to think on that poem further before anything can come of it but what did make an instant visual impression on me was a story in that same volume about the Dakini, or Sky Dancer. The word 'dakini' comes from the Sanskrit root meaning direction, space or sky and symbolises the transformative energy of the transcendental in female form. The sky symbolises the open dimension of being, an infinite space in which there is complete freedom of movement. The dakini dances in this open space, enjoying complete spiritual freedom and her body is naked, symbolising her uncompromising commitment to truth. She is usually depicted with the colour red, and she has wild, unruly, black hair. No wonder I was taken by her and thought that I must try my hand at painting this fantastic and beautiful woman. The first painting, below, is the culmination of a hard days work although this still is just what I would call a 'colour study' with an oil painting to follow:

Felt pens and watercolour on paper, A4: The various development stages are shown below each in turn leading to this loose watercolour image. What started out as broad sweeps of the pastels ended with this more definitive and less stylised depiction of the lady herself dancing a "Red-hot Salsa" in the sky, with her male counterpart following her lead. He is shown green as the complementary to the female red and he is also rooted in the earth as shown by the flowers around Dakini's feet. It is a night sky with silver stars and a blood-red crescent moon with a multi-coloured "aurora borealis" playing around her legs. The male figure has shifted to this left side position from the previous studies in order to achieve greater interaction with his object of adoration. Some of the development studies are shown below:

Pastel on paper, A2: Development Study 1: The sinuous curve of the female form is created in one bold stroke. Looks snake-like to me but I am possibly carrying these symbolics too far!

Pastel on paper, A2: Development Study 2: The dancing female form begins to appear.

Pastel on paper, A2: Development Study 3: I've added her black, unruly, hair, and a crescent moon to indicate the night sky, and the beginnings of an adoring male figure (bottom right) in green.
Pastel on paper, A2: Development Study 4: I have taken the stylisation to a point where I am not sure whether I want the painting to be like this. I have added multi-colours to indicate the Aurora Borealis and I've made the moon blood-red for further dramatic effect. I like it but somehow it's becoming something I am not so sure of. So using the symbolic elements I have already developed I return to more representational figures as seen in the first painting in watercolours.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Winter Garden

Disappointed today that it began to rain quite heavily after a bright start and especially after I had packed my bags and set off with the intention of painting outside. Instead I had to return to my studio and find something else. With the cat esconsed in his own cosy corner I found myself standing at the glazed doorway glumly looking out on the rain-soaked garden looking for inspiration. Then I remembered a sketch of the garden I made some time ago and thought... * ...(that * is the little spark of a thought germanating in my brain!) "What I would like to do is paint a scene of the garden in winter". And here's the end result:

Oils on primed cardboard, 20x15cm: Still working small and laying the paint on as far as possible with single strokes of the brush, and also the palette knife, having simplified the image almost to abstraction.
Below is the intial sketch drawing, and below that a series of colour studies some of which I think are better than the final painting so I think there is a lot more mileage in this subject to get to the final, final statement.

Pencil on paper, A5: Original sketch drawing.

Neocolour on paper, A5: Colour Study 1. I should mention here that the bird table and trees have been omitted and replaced by my memory of a cane construction I set up to support my peas. It was the bright orange lines I wanted to give that dash of bright colour and provide some good verticals and a horizontal.

Neocolour on paper, A5: Colour Study 2.

Neocolour on paper, A5: Colour Study 3. This is my favourite colour study and one that I will make another go of another day.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Tropical Fishes

Oils on cardboard, 20x15cm: I have found it hard recently to do any painting at all but this idea of painting for only 1 hour has re-invigorated me. It helps, of course, that the painting size is so small but what really makes the difference is to lay on colours in single, final, strokes. I'm applying the paint much thicker to cover the ground and this way it allows me to manipulate the image to the way I want it. These two little fellows are not in fact real fishes but ceramic ornaments picked up in a Charity Shop. The cockle shells are real as is the brightly coloured green nylon rope found while scavenging on the beach.
Two minutes to set up on my favourite blue coloured textile and I was off - painting like a demon
in this tiny world of make-believe. The big question is: will the big fishie ever catch and eat the little fishie? Perhaps if I paint them again I'll show the little fishie with a chunk out his tail!!!!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Direct Painting

Encouraged by some other artists seen recently in cyberspace (Kathryn Law and Jennifer Young in particular) I decided today to get right back to basics and paint direct from life. Well sort of - in the first case, and giving in to the overwhelming demand to see what I was up to last week on my trip out into the great Outdoors, I have posted this pen and wash sketch made below an overhanging escarpment at a quiet spot along the Calderglen. I wasn't too sure of this sketch at first because the watercolour washes bled into the non-permanent ink too much for my liking blackening the otherwise clean colours. However, I am at least pleased with the vitality of the drawing and saw it as a good subject for painting "alla prima", which is not the same as painting 'en plein air' but not a kick in the pants off it!

Pen and watercolour on paper, A4: 'Escarpment'. Drawn on location sitting in the sun (to begin with!) as it spilled through a gap in the trees, and looking up to my left. I was using this new Stylo liquid fountain pen which I thought made a great drawn line but unfortunately isn't permanent. I enjoy this activity very much - all on my lonesome, far from the madding crown, communing with nature. It could, however, have been a lot warmer especially after the sun moved round behind some trees and plunged me into sub-artic fast-freeze mode!

Oils on board, 40x30cm: Having worked out what colours I would need and spent some time mixing these on the palette this little painting was made with as many single, and final, strokes as I could with no messing around if possible. This was completed within the target one hour and while I am pleased enough with the outcome, and ecstatic that I got painting again, I think it could be a lot better. I have in my mind's eye where I can and want to take this, but that will need to be another day. In the meantime.....

Oils on cardboard, 15x20cm: "My Little Yellow Pot". In order to paint properly direct from life I set up this little still-life in the studio using a favourite blue piece of material and my little yellow pot with some carnations recently consigned to the compost bin but resurrected (appropriately enough on Easter Monday) for one last hurrah! I think this is possibly the very first time I have painted to this small size and I am glad I tried it because it was such a simple and pure pleasure. It's not that it was easy or anything as it required as much concentration as anything else I have done, but it always felt manageable and also only took me 1 hour.

So that's it for today - any observations welcome.


Sunday, 23 March 2008

Painting 'En Plein Air'

Still dreaming of warmer sunny days to come when I'll be able to get out of the studio and do some plein air painting. Last week the sun briefly showed his face and I packed my bags and headed for the hills. After a short while I was frozen stiff and staggered back home for a hot toddy to warm my cockles. The drawings I made are not worth talking about and the streaming cold I brought back is just a pain but I will soldier on without moaning about it! This sortie into the great outdoors got me thinking again about painting direct from life when the weather improves and when my regular catalogue from Ken Bromley Art Supplies arrived the other day I found myself as usual looking at and contemplating getting a new box easel for my birthday in July. People are asking what they can get me for this frighteningly large numbered compleanno and in an effort to help them out I am looking for things that I would use rather than gifts I won't use, like the watch I recieved on my 50th even after letting it be known that after I left full-time working I no longer had need of a time-piece! (my mobile phone tells me the time if I really want to know). Anyway I digress. I have often wondered if a box easel would be a good idea except I am always put off by the quoted weights - a full sized box weighs about 7Kg, and even a half box about 5 or so Kg. Can you imaging lugging that up the side of a mountain? And these figures don't even include your paints, brushes, turps or water, sandwiches and a flask! [passing thought - perhaps I should get a quad-bike as well!]. Also I often think the legs look too fragile and a real pain in the butt to set up with these wicked wing-nuts which really are painful to tighten.

These musings got me on a quest this morning trawling through internet art supply sites to see if I could find anything of interest at a good price, ie: cheaper than KB's. And lo, I did. A site called The Art which is based in Iowa, USofA, offers a good looking pochade box and lightweight at only 2Kg. It's small and it requires a tripod to support it but it looks just the thing. Now, and where all this is leading, I decided I want to find out more about this box so I Google the name - Guerrilla Painter Pochade Travel Box - and stumble upon another artist blogging about this very subject and in particular about this very box. What a co-incidence! Must be meant, I wonder? Her name is Jennifer Young and can be found here: . I'll let Jennifer speak for herself. Enough for me to add that I am indebted to her for her coverage of this topic and that I learned a lot. Thanks Jennifer!

All of this got me thinking about my own efforts to make a lightweight easel for working outdoors. I bought an artbook many years ago by the artist Ted Goerschner called: "Oil Painting, The Workshop Experience" [see TG here: ]. Ted's plein air set-up uses what he calls a "Russian Easle" which looks like a back to front French Easel with the addition of an "Easel Pal" - a fold-out box that sits on front and supported by the easel box which supports his palette so he doesn't need to hold it, thereby keeping his hands free, and places to lay brushes and paint tubes. Unable to find either of these items, even on the wondrous internet, I decided to make my own. Here's what I came up with:

My Outdoor Easel and DIY Easel Pal - Front View: The easel is about the cheapest I have every bought, and more importantly the lightest. It is made of something like Obechi wood which feels and looks something like balsa (ha!) but is in fact quite sturdy. I have modified it to get the painting support bars at a higher level, and also added a longer bottom cross-piece because the ones that come with all of these easel types are far too narrow and paintings occassionally fall off. Ok if you want grass and soil embedded in the paint surface but not generally acceptable!
What you see under the easel set-up is one of these rucksac/stools which I lay my finished painting box holder (takes about four paintings each 30x25cm) which also acts as a solid surface for paints.

My Outdoor Easel and DIY Easel Pal -Rear View: Kind of speaks for itself.

My DIY Easel Pal: This is a simple hinged narrow box affair which folds in on itself. The central area is, obviously the palette with a piece of hardboard with two circles cut in it to hold the turps and white spirit steady, and brushes to one side and anything else on the other. Brilliant, but- the big problem is how to keep the Easel Pal in one place and steady. It is hooked on to the two sliding lower lugs that come with these easels at the back but it also needs supporting at the front. What you can only see here partially is a length of broomstick dowelled onto a crossbar to form a 't' shape which runs right across the front of this damned contraption. It kind of works but I am even exhausted here talking about it! All together it is much lighter than just about anything else I have contemplated but it is still a burden when carrying it any distance and major construction works when you get there when what you want to do is paint! Needless to say I haven't used it very much recently.

And that brings me full circle back to the Guerrilla Pochade Box-on-a-Camera Tripod ( I even love it's name as painting outdoors can sometimes be just like guerrilla warfare - especially the way I do it!!!!

Heres a wee picture of it just to remind ourselves of the future in a box:

Thats all Folks for now, and btw it's trying hard to snow here today so painting outdoors will have to wait a little longer!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Lilies and Iris

Seems like endless days of rain, and cold, I'm desperate for the sun to shine and warmer weather to heat me up a bit. Can't go outside and sketch as I would like to so I content myself by looking for inspiration in my sketchbooks as normal and find this watercolour sketch (below) of Day Lilies and some Iris sharing a simple blue vase. I think I can do something with it.

Watercolour and pencil on paper, 2xA4: Made a few years ago the drawing spills across two pages but it has a liveliness I like and get inspired by, but will it fit the square format I think would suit this subject.

Felt Pen and watercolour on paper, 15x15cm: A small test sketch just to be sure that the square format will work. I think so and plough straight on with the painting!

Oil on Canvas, 60x60cm: Choosing a pre-prepared stretched canvas with a darkish blue/green undercoat that I think is eminently suitable for this subject I start with drawing out the principle shapes in a variety of coloured oil pastels. Next I spend a bit of time mixing quantities of the colours I intend to use - tit.white with touches of blue, mauve, yellow and green; with alizarin and a touch of white, same again with some green added; and various greens themselves ranging from lemon yellowish to dark blue-ish. The palette at this juncture is looking great and I think about stopping here, taking a picture of it, and posting it as the finished work! But no, I must press on.

With the mighty palette knife I start blocking in - the white flowers first, then the Iris, then the background. Working, working, working. Scraping off, laying on, Scraping off, laying on. Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important. [walks away, still making circular motions with hands]. Sorry, I got carried away. For a moment there I was the Karate Kid listening to Mr Miyagi's instructions. [Back to the plot] I've now lost the thread. Is there anything more to be said? The final painting is there for all to see. I'm pleased with it.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


Sometimes when I go into the studio I strike a lucky seam of painting that often eludes me. Working from sketches made last September on my working holiday to the isle of Arran, which I posted on 17/10 under the heading "Amazing Sunsets over Kintyre", this series of sunset/landscapes came flooding out over the length of a very productive day.

Sundown 1, oils on board, 61x30cm:

Sundown 2, oils on board, 61x30cm:

Sundown 3, oils on board, 61x30cm:

Sundown 4, oils on board, 61x30cm:

Fields of Gold, oils on board, 61x30cm: Not strictly a sunset but following on from the previous paintings as an abstract landscape.

Saturday, 1 March 2008


Last night went to hear this amazing four piece acoustic band 'Brejeiro' playing the opening concert for The British Mandolin and Guitar Federation Rally at East Kilbride's Murray Owen Centre. First time I've been to a concert there and I was impressed with the hall and other facilities. Brejeiro specialise in what they call 'Choro do Brasil' style of music with twin mandolins, pulsating rhythm guitar and this fantastic percussionist creating a magic all of his own with a tambourine, bongo drums and even the box he was sitting on! The sketches below are in the ordered place they took on stage. My view of them was very limited and often had to crane my neck way over to get a glimpse then put down my pencil marks. On the extreme left was what I guess was Second Mandolin though he led with some of the tunes and also played his own Bluegrass solo (with the drummer accompanying) titled "Scotland". He was terrific on this little 'f' hole and scroll shaped mandolin.

The drummer was fantastic to watch and listen to with his amazing rhythmic beats and a regular smile showing just how much he was enjoying himself. He wore what at first looked like a huge rock hanging round his neck which turned out to be some sort of whistle which he used naturally enough in a Samba tune.

The girl on the guitar was incredible! What dexterity and rhythm. I was mesmerised by the sound, which was just as well because I could hardly see her for a sea of heads in front of me!
Lastly, but not least, The guy I took to be Mandolin 1 and leader of the group - Dave. Again I couldn't see him properly. This sketch was made from glimpses seen through the person in fronts ears every time they turned to the side! Like the others in the group a fantastic musician playing the most wonderful stuff. His solo (with guitar accompanyment) was "Misty". Absolutely beautiful. No wonder the crowd were in raptures. This was fantastic stuff!
Sometime in the future, like most of my sketches, I will try to construct them into some sort of painting. Don't hold your breath though it may take me years to be ready for it!