Wednesday, February 28, 2007

So how DID you paint that? Part Six

Almost there now...... I started the ground by laying on a wet base layer of mauve for the shadows and pinky peachy white for the sunlit areas. Into this I mixed darker and lighter tones, of pinks, blues and mauves, to create an uneven surface.

I used the rigger again to fick in and draw lines for grasses, vegetation and surface debris. Several patches of 'old' elephant dung were added as part of the ambient detailing.
With any luck.... the cheetahs will be completed in one day..... fingers crossed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

So how DID you paint that? Part Five

Now I start working on the left hand side. I added darker colours of mauves and warm pale green to the ochre colour I had put on before. Still using little black I mixed the dark tone from the ultramarine, alizarin crimson, chrome yellow and burnt sienna. With a rigger brush I drew on the branches and twigs then dotted the leaves in with a small brush. I needed the dark areas to dry before I could paint the vegetation in front.
Continuing the next day in the same vein I added the rest of the vegetation in. I used mauves and greeny-blues to pick out detail in the shadows and pale greens, peachy creams and pinks for the highlights. Deciding the shrubs to the left needed a boost of light, I added more highlights to them as well. Finally on this stage I swept in a base of mauve for the ground and mixed in the dark tone and a pale warm brown to pick out the low and high tones. Flicking this up with the rigger to create grass at the base of the shrubs.
Now I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel - I may just get this painting finished comfortably in time for the deadline and have some time to prepare for the workshop on Saturday.

The above images were taken using my Dad's Nikon D50 - I think you can see the difference in quality even at these small sizes.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

So how DID you paint that? Part Four

I'm very aware now of the time I have left to finish this piece, if I want to submit it to a certain event. The deadline for an image and it's details has to be submitted by the 5th March... so I have to concentrate and get cracking now; which is not particularly easy when I know I also have to think about what I'm going to do for the gouache workshop I'm tutoring on the 3rd March.
Continuing with the middle ground I painted the two accacia tree crowns first, again working from the ‘back of the painting’ forward. I kept the amount of black I used for the shadow areas to a minimum but made them darker than the trees in the background to create recession. The highlights on the trees include a touch of mauve and pinks to warm the colours and to add to the feel of morning light. I would need to let the paint dry before adding the bushes in front so I started on some of the vegetation on the right putting in a base coat over which I would paint broken foliage then some branches and bushes that are to the back of the group.

The following day I added the bushes to the left, working down to the level of the ground; making the shadow area darker than on the trees I painted the day before (for the recession) and the detail within picked out in mauves and dark blue-green. I painted the foliage onto a wet base of medium tone green and browny-purple putting in the dark colours first and finishing with the highlights of a soft peachy cream colour.
Painting time varies depending on the piece I’m working on or the medium involved. For example, on the day I painted the bushes on the left, the time I spent in front of the easel was about 8 hours, starting at 10a.m and finishing at 8.30p.m; with several breaks in proceedings for eye rest and sustenance totalling about two and a half hours.

Unfortunately my digital camera isn't quite up to the challenge of taking really decent images of paintings, for some reason any detail blurs out (which strangely doesn't happen when I take a photo of my cat, for example!?) I'm hoping to borrow my Dad's digital SLR to take the final shots, so until then I apologise for the poor quality of the images. But hopefully they willl be enough to give you an idea of how I proceed through the piece.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

So how DID you paint that? Part Three

Now I get onto painting in the zebras, Tommies and adding a bit of detailing to the ground in front of them. Whilst painting these animals I have to consider that I do not want them to stand out particularly. Firstly they are a distance away from us and secondly their markings do as they are supposed to and merge them into their surroundings. I started with the zebs, painting them in first with a peachy white, adding purplish shading to mould their forms and then a darker purple to paint in their stripes. I went back and highlighted the stripes making them lighter where the light would catch them and darker in the shadows. I added a little dust at their feet to imply the dry conditions and a light breeze.

The gazelles were next and I started off in the same way by first painting in their
basic shape in a peachy white. Adding the colour for their backs and a darker purple with a touch of black for their side stripes, facial markings and horns on the males.

I did not approach painting these animals with a mind for great detail – just enough to imply their form and markings. Some of these animals will be semi-obscured by vegetation as I add more to the painting. Once again the idea is not to make these animals stand out but to merge them in with their surroundings. Finally on this stage I added some longer grasses and detailing to the ground. These stiff long grasses are sometimes used by gazelles to scent mark by leaving sticky tar-like secretions from the gland on their face below the eye on the grass stem.
The next stage in the painting will be the tree crown and vegetation on the left of the composition.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

So how DID you paint that? Part Two

Finally after several versions of the composition, I have come up with something I'm happy with.
The process for this was…… After drawing out all the different animals I scanned them into the computer turned them into silhouettes and placed them onto the landscape; I spent a lot of time thinking about the grouping and how the animals related to each other. I moved the individuals around until they felt right together. I think this is where having seen them in the wild helps, as you have better understanding of how they use the landscape and move with each other in a group.
To help me with the feeling of recession, so th
at I could judge sizing better, I lightened the silhouettes of the zebras and Thompson's gazelles. I also placed silhouettes onto a size grid, on a separate document, to better understand the difference in height between the species.

Once in place, I have now printed it out and will now transfer this to the painting. Doing this element of the composition on the computer, for me, speeds the process up. I don't know what I'd do without it now.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Time off work to work

From January to the beginning of April I now work at home. This is part of my ‘part-time package’ that I have with the zoo. For the rest of the year I work 3 days a week with them.
The idea is to give me more time to produce and promote my own work and to establish myself more as an artist.
Apart from painting in this time I also do occasional workshops, demos and talks. This January, for instance, I tutored a batik workshop for a school; 3 groups of children came to me for an hour each to produce a batik of a Chinese symbol for them to take home. In March I will be doing an all day workshop with an art group in Gloucestershire helping them to paint with gouache.
Then there’s all the officey stuff to do and the quest for new ventures and projects to pursue. This blog site is one of those new projects.
As for painting, I am currently working on two oil pieces with several more formulating themselves gradually in my mind. I have to think about what exhibitions I wish to submit to this year and try to produce work for them as well as creating a stock for myself and thinking about new stuff for the gallery.
I hope to keep you informed of these ventures and projects via this blogsite.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


With the wonders of modern technology... I can give you a slideshow! Pretty nifty, eh?
So, today I've sorted one out I hope you have fun playing with it. I will change the images now and again to show you more of the work that I do, but I'll keep you guessing as to when I choose to do that.
Don't forget to check out the Alexander Gallery site to see more of my paintings.
Thank you to all my family, friends and colleagues who have checked out the page and been so encouraging in their response.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

So how DID you paint that?

This has to be one of the most frequently asked questions artists get... along with... "how long did it take to paint?"
So over the next few weeks (or however long it takes me) I'll post a rough step by step on the progress of one of the paintings I'm working on at the moment.

First of all......
Inspiration: This came from a trip to Africa in '99 where in the Masai Mara we saw an adult female cheetah with her two juvenile cubs (about a year old). Whilst watching them, and luckily for me whilst video-ing, one of the juveniles picked up it's siblings tail tip in its
mouth and they walked for a while in this fashion. Thankful I had the video camera going throughout this behaviour, I planned one day to paint it. I have some exhibitions, one in particular if I can get it done in time, coming up and now seemed a good a time as any to tackle this idea.
I decided to put the cheetahs in a landscape based of photo's I took in Amboseli and liked the idea of morning light with long shadows.
Stage one is sometimes the most lengthy. This is where the concept of the idea is formed and deliberated upon for days sometimes weeks. In this particular case it has been well over a month or two of thought, planning, research, reference gathering, composition dabbling and final drawing up to size - done in between other jobs/chores. I use the computer a lot for the final stage... drawing up the rough of the landscape and detailed drawings of the animal subjects by hand first before scanning them in and fitting together on the computer. In this way I can play with subject size and positioning in the landscape, just to make sure all is how I planned it is what works best for me, before committing myself to the composition. Once I'm happy, I print it out to the size of the canvas/board so that I can trace this straight onto it.

To eradicate lifting or smudging of pencil/carbon I paint a thin wash of acrylic over the traced drawing. This also helps to 'ground and unify' the painting with a base colour. Some people use the same tone of colour on all their work but I like to use a colour that sets the tone for the final painting and of course that varies from piece to piece.
Now the paint can be sploshed! For this piece I am using oil paints... I like the richness and luminosity of colour you get with oils.... and I quite like the smell too!

So faced with a relatively blank canvas, just where do I start?
I like to work from the furthest point in the landscape to the front. I feel this helps to create recession as I paint trees over distant hills or sky etc; but artists work in different ways and no one way is THE only and correct way to do things. Many I know paint their main subject first and then apply the background around it afterwards, to great and very successful effect. So, back to the picture.... the sky was painted first and I wanted a soft sky with hints of clouds - nothing dramatic as I don't want to detract from the drama of the landscape and animals.
The hills were added next using plenty of white, blue and purple into the mix of greens to make them look distant. I have allowed an overlap in my treeline so that when I paint branches and leave gaps in foliage, the hills and sky sit behind nicely.
So I have now got the sky and distant hills on. I used a soft wide brush to brush lightly over the paint to take out any hard lines or ridges. This 'knocks back' the detail creating a 'soft focus' effect and adds to the feel of recession.

I waited several days for this to dry before I painted the next bit - the middle ground.

Again working from furthest point coming forwards I painted in the tree line - again adding blue, white and purple to keep them 'distant' in feel. To lift the blandness of colour I dropped in patches of warm pinky browns as highlights to create the colour of light that I want for the time of day I'm portraying; and also to keep the shadow areas from getting too dark, I used a very dark blue mix with just the tiniest amount of black (hardly any at all) added to soften the blueness.
The area of ground in front of the trees is mainly pale purple mixed onto a base of a pinky sand colour. I have animals to paint onto this so any detailing (such as broken branches, tufts of grass, elephant droppings) will be done after the animals (tommies and zebra) are on and dry.

I am at present working on this very grouping of animals with thumbnail sketches before I draw up the final plan of their positioning. The composition of the individuals within the grouping and the distance between them and the female cheetah is important, even though they are not the main focus, they are integral to the 'story' within the painting and to get this bit wrong would undoubtedly unbalanced the whole painting.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New blog, new mutterings

Welcome to my Chitchat from the Canvas.
Thought I'd use this blog exclusively for my work as an artist, bringing pics and progress of my paintings and everything else I get up to in the line of duty. I dare say I will play with the look of the layout as I settle in, so please bear with me during this time.
Tis looking a bit bare and slightly scant at the mo, but hopefully over the next week I can improve on that!
Hope you will come back to see and read what I've been working on in the months to come.