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!.

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