Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19, 2012 - theatre coming along

Here is my theatre painting after a couple of days of working on it. I think I finally have the shape of the theatre building done correctly. The part with the windows is the foyer and it is circlar. The interesting thing is that even though I am standing up high on the other side of the boat basin - the curve goes up in the middle - not down. When I finally figured that out, the picture improved. The colours are still not right but I do love the windows.

The thing I am thinking now is that if I want to be a painter I have to paint - pretty much every day - for at least and hour or two. In fact and hour or two is perfect because I get tired if I do any longer and end up mucking up the picture because I am not thinking clearly. I also think an hour or two is good because it is hard to get going if you think you have to paint for more than an hour. It is daunting to think how much you will need to do to a picture plus there is so much else to do around here. One or two hours is actually more efficient.

So - nice brushes, better overall design (no more subject in the dead centre - which I now notice is how I have painted quite a few of my pictures) and a couple of hours a day painting a day.  Also - a couple of hours of fun exercise and whatever else is on the agenda. Today we did a 10 k bike ride with Lexy. I am currently so healthy (hardly any phlegm) that it was easy!

Tomorrow we are going to North Van to help with Rob's renovations. I will take my sketch pad and computer and my Emily Carr book - to keep me doing something with my art. Looking and thinking is also needed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October 16 - Next Emily Carr copy

Yesterday I did a copy of Emily Carr's painting "Shoreline." I just did the under-painting using burnt umber - a very dark colour. Today I did the same thing for another Carr painting of a gravel pit. Both these paintings are extremely swirly. They may have been encouraged by Harris with his mystical interpretation of abstract mountains.- who became a friend and mentor to Emily Carr later in her life I'm hoping doing these copies will give me some insight into how to be more graceful and loose in my own painting.

Sorry that the photo of the original is so poor. The paper is very shiny and I actually find it hard to see when I am trying to paint my copy. My burnt ember copy looks quite varied in colour in the photo. Actually the photo is a lot more attractive than the actual under-painting - which is just dark brown. This gives me tons of hope that when I add the colours to the under-painting I will have something that looks a bit like Emily Carr's painting - even if the size is too small and the dimensions are wrong.The look is a bit cartoonish - while Emily Carr's painting is not - despite the squiggles.

As with the copy I did yesterday, I learned that in these swirly paintings, Emily Carr followed the surface of  the things that she painted and did some very imaginative swirly things with the sky. Like the Beacon Hill Park subject, this subject is familiar to me. Although I don't know the exact gravel pit,

Today is my 47th wedding anniversary. Most of my life since I got married has been spent on Vancouver Island. I lived for 9 years in the North Island when logging was at its height - so stumps and gravel pits (to get gravel to build logging roads) are a familiar sight. In fact, a picture of a forest without any stumps doesn't look real to me. I have seen a lot of gravel pits and I think her interpretation is true to the feeling you get in an empty gravel pit on a sunny day. In Emily Carr's pictures the results of logging are beautiful.

It strikes me as interesting that Emily Carr painted totem poles, living forest, and logged over areas - all part of BC today and then. I have read all her published works and can't remember ever reading that she was opposed to logging. She often complained about how hard ti was to paint the huge West Coast forest. The trees are so enormous and the growth is so dense. Without logged off areas or beaches you can't see any vistas in a coastal forest.. Logging exposed the land and the sky so that Emily Carr could paint more than just swirls of evergreen tree branches.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Oct 15 - Thinking and painting

 It is now a couple of hours later and I have tried my first Emily Carr copy.  Here is a picture of the original (note the orange post its). The title is "Shoreline" and it is a painting of the cliffs below Beacon Hill Park with Clover Point in the distance. It was painted in 1935 (or was it 1936?). It must be stunning.

Here is my monochrome first attempt at copying it.

I used burnt umber with titanium white - which I suppose will take a while to dry. I think flake white dries faster. It is interesting how the one pigment - just burnt umber with white - looks so varied in this photo. It goes from almost black to red to gold.

The main thing I learned was that Emily Carr's swirls were her way of showing the surfaces of everything.  Everything! Cool! The part that worked the best for me - so far - is the sandy beach - where the sand swirls around the cliffs and the logs. But even the closest cliff is painted in swirls which follow the shape of the cliff. No blocked out areas for her - pure surface swirls. Of course, the most interesting part of the original is the sky. She does that type of sky quite often - but I think only works because it is not the only swirly part. It is one of many swirls. . This gives movement and wonderful glowing light.

The other thing I learned was that the boards that I am using are way too small. On top of that, they are the wrong dimensions. This picture should be more than a meter wide. However, this is only an exercise, so I won't be deterred.  Once the monochrome under-painting has dried, I will start to put in colours more like the original as it appears in my book.

BTW, I got my info on how to do monochrome under-painting from

October 15, 2012 - new plans

Here are the two pictures I have been working on recently - that I mentioned yesterday.

The first one is my Nanaimo Port Theatre painting. You may be able to see that I have put on some initial colour for the big windows (green) and the buildings (pink) and then I have redrawn them - to make them larger and, I hope, improve the overall design. I also enlarged the double-ended troller with the tallest trolling poles. But most important, I made the tree on the leftt and Coast Bastion Inn on the right actually go off the page. As mentioned yesterday, this is my attempt to improve the design by taking a slightly more interesting angle and putting the viewer further into the scene. (At least that is my current idea - based partly on a great 2 hour photography course I took during our trip to Winnipeg this summer.)

The second picture (above) is my first go at my arbutus on Wallace Island painting. So far the paint is completely diluted with turpentine - to lay out the initial design and colours of the picture. I have not yet tried to do anything with the fabulous twiggy arbutus branches - but my idea is that most of the pciture will be covered with them - dark lines on the light sky and whitish lines on the trees and water. I hope this is an interesting design - probably  a bit too predictable but hopefully the colours and brushwork will be good.

So brushes! I went to Michaels today and bought 10 new brushes. They are all Wintons and all made from hogs hair bristles - so - nice and firm and not worn down yet. Michaels is so expensive with all their silly sales gimmicks - but it is cheaper to buy them there than drive all the way to Victoria to go to Opus - which is a real art supplies store.

My next idea is to try to learn more about painting by imitating Emily Carr. This time I mean I'm actually planning on copying some of her paintings. I have four 24"x18" boards and have selected 8 paintings I want to copy. These paintings are not of totem poles or trees. They are more about beaches and/or skies. Everything is very swirly. Apparently Emily Carr was trying to portray motion in these paintings. Having created a very static painting of the Swy-a-lana Bridge - I hope I can change my style to more motion by copying Emily and using better brushes. My main concern is that her paintings are probably much bigger than my boards and some of her paintings are actually just sketches on brown paper. However, I think I will learn something. In a class, I once did a copy of a Picasso and it changed my approach - so why not copy Emily Carr. After all she is BC's most important painter - so learning to emulate her style seems reasonable. (I think I have had this thought before and even wrote it in this blog - but I don't seem have any paintings that are even remotely Emily Carrish.) My plan is to have at least 4 paintings on the go at once - including the theatre, arbutus and Emily Carrs and hope that something amazing and interesting happens.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 14, 2012 - new tricks

Today I learned two really important things -

First, I need to buy some new brushes. Here is my story about that:

When I finished my "Swi-a-lana Bridge in the Twilight' painting, I knew it wasn't right. There seemed to be so many possible reasons it was wrong. The drawing of the bridge was not accurate - the arches were not wide enough. The overall design did not lead your eye smoothly through the picture - your eye had to jump about. There was too much blue - the distant hills did not recede because everything was blue.. Worst of all, it was "tight"!

"Tight" is the worst thing that you can say about an oil painting  - especially if the artist is trying to paint in an impressionistic style. It means there is no flow, grace or boldness to the painting. Not only are there too many small petty details, the whole painting has a forced, overly worked, sort of "precious" .look. I figured the tightness was happening because as that I had been using brushes that were too small for the size of the painting. The painting was not quite finished in time for the NAC Fall showcase - otherwise I would have dutifully put it in. Probably that was a good thing. Without doing a lot of self reflection I wouldn't have figured out what was wrong with it - and would simply have thought I was unappreciated.

Despite having figured out I needed to use larger brushes, when I went back to work on my Nanaimo Port Theater painting, I kept on painting with small (#4-#6) brushes  I thought the problem with the theatre painting was that my design was banal. There sat the nice theatre, with neat little fish boats on the docks out in front, a tidy tree on one side and the Coast Bastion in neatly standing on the other. My first attempt to fix this painting, before I had gone too far with it, was to try to "go further into the picture" - make the tree and the hotel extend beyond the borders of the painting and make the theatre and boats a little bigger. I did this because I had noticed that as you walk around looking at the scenery you seldom look at the whole scene.  You actually focus on different smaller parts of it. Furthermore the things you focus on are not in neat rectangles. Of course, everyone knows this - but, because the photos I have been using for inspiration are all neat rectangular pictures of a "complete" scenes, I just kept painting that way.  After I had painted some new lines indicating a change in the size the buildings, tree and boats over the first layer of "mediumed" oil paint, I thought the picture looked better. I decided that in future, I would try to take more interesting angles on subjects.

While the theatre painting was drying, I decided to start on a new, big painting of an arbutus. I  had been trying to take a really good photo of arbutuses during our boat cruise in September and ended up with a few photos that seem quite promising. They are not just arbutuses in the distance - but emphasize the trunks and twisty limbs. Kind of interesting in a design way.

My first step for my new arbutus painting was to try to draw the tree on the canvas (using a pencil) in a way that fairly accurately represented the photo. It is very tricky painting the limbs of a tree because you loose your place - which "v" was that - the one at the top or the next one down. Which branch is this - the one on the left or the one in the middle. If you don't get the drawing right, the tree doesn't look right. It's the same with boats - you have to get the drawing right. One of the problems with my first arbutus painting (2010) was that the painting simply did not follow the photo. (BTW, I did that painting almost exactly 2 years ago. It seems like forever but its not that long really.)

When I got tired of drawing and erasing, I decided to change my approach and underpaint the major colour areas with very turpentine-diluted paints to try to get the overall major colour areas and design right. I used #10 brushes - way bigger than I had been using on previous paintings. But filling in the colours was not going well. I thought my brushes might still be too small - at least for that job.

I looked in my drawer and found that I had at least 40 brushes - mainly old brushes from painting back in the 70s plus a few lovely new white ones that I hadn't used. (I didn't want to get them dirty!) I wondered which brush I should be using to smooth the colour in the underpainting. Maybe my huge #16.

I decided to look on the internet to see if there was any useful information. I went first to the Windsor and Newton website - because that was the make of brush I had been using. When I saw the pictures of the new brushes that appeared on the site, I was shocked. They all had such long bristles! I suddenly realized that all the brushes I have been using recently are not only too small for the job - they are completely worn out. I think most of these brushes started out as "brights" - which means they were a little bit longer than they were wide. However, they are all  worn down to about 1/4 to 1/2 of their original length. They are mere "nubs" of their former selves. No wonder my bridge painting is so tight. It is as if I had been painting it with the ends of sticks - not brushes!

Well, this was very exciting - I went through all the brushes in my drawer and threw about half of them away. I actually kept a lot of the "nubs" because they are useful for scraping a path through thicker paint - for things like masts and tree trunks. I made a list of what I now have and what I would like to have. To be well equipped,  I could happily buy about 20 new brushes! .

The second thing I learned today was that there is a way to improve  my paintings which have become dull since they completely dried out.  I have realized for some time that some of my 2010 and 2012 paintings  are losing their contrast - probably because I have been using too much thinner. Basically the blacks are turning grey. According to the Windsor and Newton website my paintings have "sunk."  To correct this, all I have to do is rub some medium (linseed oil) into the of "sunk" paintings with a clean rag. I did this to my Nanaimo Bastion painting. I think it looks better - more contrast. I wonder if Mike will notice the difference.

I am quite excited at the idea of making my paintings better by using better tools and materials and hope I have success!  I would still like to get an honourable mention at the NAC Gallery showcases - hmmm!.

Friday, October 5, 2012

October, 2012 - workiing again.

Now it is October! My career as an blogging artist seems to be flagging.

Well - we were away on the boat for 3 weeks and couldn't do any painting  Then - when we got home I had an annoying virus - along with an exacerbation of my bronchiectasis. (Bronchiectasis is damage in the lungs. Small bronchial tubes become enlarged and fill up with  phlegm. When there is an exacerbation you cough a lot and have problems breathing when you are walking up hills.)

However, I did do some painting during the past week. I had to do something to my Swy-a-lana in the Twilight picture. I knew it had no centre and the red flags on each side led  your eyes outwards in both directions. It wasn't nice to look at despite the lovely colours and shapes. I suddenly got the idea to put a nice little drop of red right in the middle between the flags - the lighthouse at Gallows Point which you pass as you enter Nanaimo Harbour. I had to widen the gap between Protection Island and Jack Point to fit the lighthouse in. This change really makes a difference to the composition. I also thinned out the little ornamental tree on the right. It looked like a mushroom and also distracted the eye. And I added a tiny bit of red to the lights across the bridge. the red is hardly noticeable - but I think it subconsciously leads the eye to the lighthouse.

Unfortunately you can hardly see the lighthouse in this reproduction - even though I have enlarged the size of the picture.

This week I also had a go at three old paintings which are hanging in the living room and have been bugging me - now that I have got a bit of distance from them. I think my main error in painting is that I don't actually show the stuff that attracts me to the subject. I don't use enough contrast between light and dark. Everything tends to be a bit in the middle. This may be because I use too much turpentine which eventually dries out to a greyer colour. Anyway, I did some work on all three of them and think they are better.

The path now fades into the distance - as it did originally.

 The trunk is more defined and thicker.

 The building on the right hand side has been removed and replaced by trees. Plus the stanchions holding the cable have been given a bit more shape and the whiteness reduced.

I also did some work on my painting of the Nanaimo Theatre and Boat Basin. So far it is all just washes of diluted oil paints. Eventually I hope to have the boats look nice and boaty, the sky look overcast - but not deadly grey, the theatre windows look beautifully turquoise, and pink cherry trees look a lovely  frothy pink against the theatre windows. I did not intend to make the buildings look so yellow - but I kind of like it. The overall composition is horizontal and vertical lines with a couple of diagnals. I hope I can keep the fresh look it has now - once I get onto the thicker paint stage.

Now I need to decide what else to paint. It is much better to have several paintings on the go at once. I took a lot of photos of arbutuses while we were cruising on the boat and would like to try 4 smaller arbutus paintings. Why not! It's my choice. Oh dear - I am now looking at my theatre painting and thinking the composition would have been better if I had cut off the tops of the trolling poles on the main fishboat. Perhaps trying to show the whole subject that is another of my errors. I don't think I will change this pciture  - but I will remember to do some chopping off on my new arbutus paintings. Maybe that will make them a bit more interesting.