Many moons ago I was muttering darkly about the problems of finding suitable reference photographs to use as the basis for paintings. Well, recently, I found a site that aims to bring painters and photographers together and on which photographers post their photographs for precisely this purpose. If you need reference photos, or just a bit of fresh inspiration, have a look at http://paintmyphoto.ning.com/ where you will find upteen thousands of photographs covering many subject areas, including landscapes, buildings, boats, animals (wild and domestic), flowers galore, a few portraits and more. A minority of the pictures are of finished paintings or drawings based on photos in the site, and it must be admitted that many of the photographs are not all that useful (some being, for all practical purposes, duplicates). Even so, this is a very welcome site and all credit to the photographers involved.
I have intended to review the blogroll here for some time and have now made three worthwhile additions to the Art and Music category. Bill Mather and Daniel Gerhartz are two of my favourite painters of portraits and the husband and wife team, Melanie and Nick Beale, are truly amazing painters of dogs, cats and horses. Enjoy.
Our local supplier of Winsor and Newton Artists’ Acrylic here in Cardiff (apparently there is only one, even in the Capital of Wales) is not maintaining a full range of colours in this brand. I was told by a member of staff that they check and replenish their stock every three weeks. Well, that is clearly not good enough. They have been out of stock of some important colours already. Inevitably, when only small quantities are bought by the shop, at insufficiently frequent intervals, it soon becomes apparent that the most popular colours are out of stock all too often. This is particularly critical when there are no other local stockists. It is also no help to the manufacturer trying to establish a relatively new range of paints that have superseded its earlier range. Established acrylic painters may well change their brand (and thier retailer) if they find that the new paints are not available when wanted. Newcomers to acrylics may feel unable to start at all if certain colours appear unavailable. In this instance, Titanium White is among the absentees.
As for me, I am continuing to try the new paints and, so far, I like what I see. However, if our local stockist continues to be unreliable, I will have to abandon my practice of supporting local business where possible and use an online supplier instead. Meanwhile, I have a half-finished acrylic painting awaiting supplies!
Some time ago I shuffled the furniture in my small “hobbies room” to create at least an illusion of more space. Then I bought a folding tea trolley to accomodate all my painting requirements. It is ideal, enabling me to avoid the chore of getting everything out of cupboard or drawer, before even starting to paint, and putting it all away again. It is easily moved about and if ever the painting kit is stowed away in cupboard or drawer, the trolley folds up flat and so takes up very little space.
Thus emboldened, I decided to smarten up the “studio” by dispensing with the scruffy old coffee jars which had served as brush containers and to find some smart glassware for the purpose. Two large, plain glass vases with heavy bases were purchased from our local Tesco’s and three smaller ones from our local charity shop. Now I needed the personal touch. Our friend Ruth (Welshpurpletree to those of us who know her on the web) is rather good at painting on glass and she kindly agreed to take on the unusual challenge. Each glass was to have a different theme connected with my interests and each glass was to be painted all round (which is why the picture above appears a bit confusing). Henry (the tortoise) is included, as were both VW Campers that we owned many years ago, my hobbies (music and painting) and my very strong connections to Ireland. I am delighted with the results and they certainly raise the tone of my workspace.
Apparently, photographing paintings is not as straightforward as it seems and I have much to learn. However, this is an approximation of my second oil portrait. I have no idea where the original photograph came from on which this portrait was based but I hope it was from one of my copyright free sources. Otherwise I will be happy to delete it.
I particularly enjoy painting portraits and am attempting to teach myself how to do it by tackling a short series of projects. It is interesting because it combines research (available books and pictures on and off line) with practical application. The results will not be for sale but, perhaps over time, they might show some tendency towards improvement. That will be reward enough for the time being.
Having resolved, just two or three weeks ago, to complete a painting in time for this post I failed to paint at all for several days and then made another of my famous changes of direction. So, rather than a finished portrait in oils as anticipated, I am including here a few sketches in acrylic. Yes, acrylic! “What is the man up to?” I hear you ask. Well, it goes something like this.
The weekly painting group continues but I had reached a particularly difficult stage in the current portrait and felt unable to make further progress with it for the time being, especially at the group meetings. So I decided to give it a rest and to try a different medium by way of a change. Of course, what I should be doing is improving my drawing skills, which are not good. OK, to be fair, they are not bad either, just terribly slow. So I played around with pencil sketches, watercolour paints, watercolour pencils and even my old acrylics and had a lot of fun and a few surprises too, especially discovering that my drawing ability has been improving. It’s obvious really (though not necessarily to me!) that if you use a pen, pencil or brush more frequently than at any time previously, and perhaps especially if you adopt an accurate, realistic style rather than the looser, more “painterly” style of painting or drawing, then your hand/eye coordination is likely to improve. I am guessing that hand/eye coordination and the “muscle memory” (mentioned by Shoreacres in her comment under my previous post ) are very close allies.
I used my old Finity acrylics for this quick (and rather rough) self-portrait and discovered that they had deteriorated and become a bit lumpy in some tubes. In any case they had been superseded by Winsor and Newton’s new range of Artist’s Acrylics which, it was claimed, eased or eliminated some of their defects. It was claimed that the Artist’s Acrylics stayed the same colour whether wet or dry, remained workable a little longer and consisted of (mainly) stronger colours than the Finity range. All three improvements appealed to me and I decided to try the new range. My very limited trial (to date) confirms these claims. Both of the rose sketches shown here were painted with the new acrylics. The first one is on heavy, textured watercolour paper. The second is on a piece of thin MDF, gessoed and cut to fit a spare frame
Despite being very busy with garden work during the recent weeks of fine weather (and therefore quite tired by the evening) I have moved on again with the current oil portrait and made some progress. I expect to continue using the Artisan water-mixable oil paints, mainly at home where it is easy to handle wet paintings for as long as it takes for them to dry. I still prefer the feel of the oil paints. In the longer term I will have increased the speed at which I can paint and draw and also learnt a lot about colour mixing which might enable me more easily to meet the challenge of the acrylics, which still dry quickly despite a clear improvement in the Artist’s Acrylic range. By that time I might even like acrylics.
From time to time over the past 12-15 years I have attempted to paint and draw. Neither of these activities happened very much at school, so far as I can recall, and though I was vaguely curious about them in the years that followed, music was the principal hobby in those days and more than forty years passed before I did anything about art – other than to buy an oil painting kit in 1973, which was never used.
In the ’90s I attended some weekly classes in Wales conducted by a very fine painter who was also a good teacher. When those classes ceased so did my painting endeavours, mainly because work occupied me for 6-7 days per week. From time to time I would try to start again, only to lose my way halfway through a painting, or become distracted by more pressing demands on my time and give up for a few more weeks or months.
At last those attempts to restart were becoming more successful. In ’08 and ’09 I completed two small paintings, which was encouraging in itself. Even more helpful was the fact that both finished pictures looked a lot like the subjects that had been painted.
Back in January this year I joined a painting class in our locality. Shortly afterwards I was invited to join another local group, this time not so much a class as an informal group of amateur painters. Sadly, the painting class proved to be a bit too casual and lacking in direction, though I enjoyed the company. It was also at an inconvenient time which I could justify only if it had proved to be a lot more useful. So I gave up the class and am focussing on the informal group instead, which is much more convenient, takes place in a tidy, well-ordered and spacious environment and provides just the right incentive to ensure that I keep painting, week after week.
Inevitably, I suppose, painting two or three times per week has led to rapid progress, though not quite in the way that I expected. I am not improving particularly quickly in terms of painting technique but I am much more willing to take risks and repaint again and again until I get it right.
During the past few months I have completed two portraits which I regard as successful but I cannot show them here for copyright reasons. I am especially interested in painting portraits but, unfortunately, family members are not inclined to become subjects. So, I am painting (using reference photos) well-known faces from the worlds of fashion, film and (UK) broadcasting. Although my paintings will not be for sale for a long time yet (if at all) I would like to display them here and at local group exhibitions. This requires certain permissions in relation to copyright as well as suitable photographs of an appropriate technical quality and these have proved hard to find. However, recently I was reminded about the Creative Commons Licensing arrangements whereby generous photographers allow some of their photos to be used by others in certain defined ways on certain conditions. So I have found a few suitable photographs that I am allowed to copy, modify and display for non-commercial purposes in return for crediting the original photographer. Problem solved – for now.
So, patient reader, I have a target: We expect to have a local Annual Fete in July and I hope to have at least two paintings in the exhibition there. Ideally, both pictures need to be completed by the end of May and, on completion I will attempt to take decent photographs of them to post here. So I had better get moving!
I think it will prove to have been a good idea to join the painting class, not for the most obvious reason, ie. that I should learn something but because it has become necessary to do some painting between lessons, quite a lot of painting in fact.
So now my painting endeavours fall into two categories, those that must be completed sufficiently for the class and my own projects. In general, the latter will be portrait paintings and any opportunity or encouragement to work on these will be very welcome.
I am using photographs as references for paintings and, to the extent that this amounts to private study and practice (ie. not for commercial gain) I don’t believe that anyone would object, even if some of the resulting paintings were shown on this blog. If you have any thoughts to the contrary I would welcome your comment.
To get me started I have found a few photos on the web which are intended to be used as references by painters. In fact I was very surprised at how few such photos are available (or, at least, how few are truly suitable for the purpose, bearing in mind that they are supposed to be substitutes for a real, live, sitter). Perhaps there are sources that I have yet to discover.
We had the third painting lesson this week. I took an outline sketch of the tonal exercise that we started in lesson one (and which, by now, was becoming a touch tedious) and spent the whole lesson painting the wretched thing for the fifth time. It wasn’t a wild success but at least I didn’t give up until I had produced something like a result. I didn’t get any credit for persistence. Teacher called me “obsessive”.
Now I move on and it gets interesting. We have another seven weeks to go and it seems that, by the end of the course, each of us is expected to paint a picture of a local building. Next, however, our new project is to paint a portrait. We have a pile of reference pictures to choose from but hardly an inspiring collection. Portrait painting is precisely what I want to do and a few weeks ago I decided to paint a series of portraits of well-known celebrities by way of gaining experience. So I am going to paint a portrait of my choosing for this class project and we will see what happens – perhaps there will be something to show here at last.
Meanwhile, other activities have stumbled to a halt to my disappointment so to take advantage of this temporary easing of demand on my time I have launched into the formidable task of reorganising my “den” to make it a bit more user-friendly. This should be the third bedroom but it is exclusively my bit of our small house, where I read, write, paint, play music, etc. It contains a guitar, a full-size five-octave keyboard with stand, the violin, two clarinets, two chairs, two folding desks, a chest of four drawers, Henry’s house, and around 80 feet of bookshelves in heavy, free-standing units. The room is seven feet and six inches square plus a short passageway leading to the door. So you could say that it is a bit crowded. Since Henry ceased to hibernate at Christmas he has lived on top of my chest of drawers in his house (a modified rabbit hutch) and this has reduced my worktop area by more than half. So a few days ago I replaced this lost workspace by making a folding desk to fit directly inside the north-facing window and this will be used for painting.
The layout of the room’s contents needed a major rethink and I concluded that everything needed to be swapped to the opposite side of the room. This meant putting a few things out on the landing at the top of the stairs to make enough space to play musical chairs with the rest of the furniture having first worked out the best order in which to move everything (including emptying and refilling each bookshelf unit in turn) so that nothing had to be moved more often than absolutely necessary (because I find such antics hard work these days). To complicate matters I had to paint two walls that had missed the last redecorating session because they had been covered (or partly covered) from floor to ceiling by bookshelves.
Now the room is back together again with everything in its new position and I have ample tailor-made space for the aforementioned activities so that (for example) I will not need to put things away after painting to make space for music practice – a big improvement..
The decision to join a local painting class, at least for a trial period, presented another problem – the need to carry wet paintings on public transport. How do the other painters manage? They paint with acrylics, which (if not applied thickly) dry in minutes. I have been there, done that, and I dislike acrylics. Instead I use the Artisan range of water-mixable oil paints from Winsor and Newton. These dry more quickly than conventional oil paints but, even so, the drying time varies from two to five days according to the official literature (and much longer, of course, if applied thickly). Actually, to refer to this process as “drying” is incorrect in the context of oil paints but that is another story.
The reasons that I like Artisan oils are that I think they have a nicer “feel” about them than acrylics and, unlike conventional oils, they don’t require smelly solvents for thinning or for washing the brushes.
So, having looked without success for any commercially available product, I had to invent a device to carry wet paintings in such a way that would protect them from damage while not smearing wet paint around Cardiff’s normally clean and tidy buses or their equally clean and tidy passengers. Furthermore, the paintings might be on paper, rigid boards or stretched canvas.
The process started with an old paintbox, bought in 1973 as part of a painting kit that was hardly used.The box is just a little over 16in x 12in and a couple of inches deep – quite suitable for carrying a 16 x 12in canvas in the box itself and a home-made plywood palette in the lid.
I removed the original partitions from the box and glued small wooden blocks in the corners of the box and lid so that the paint on canvas and palette would not touch the inside of the box.
Then I attached two pairs of slightly shallower wooden blocks inside the front of both box and lid to steady the slim wooden prop to support the lid when open, so that it could be used, in conjunction with the stout wooden rail added earlier, as a desk easel. thus making the box multi-purpose and limiting the number of items to be carried to and from class. The finishing touches were four plastic feet on the bottom of the box and four soft rubber feet on the back of the box so that it wouldn’t slide about when being used as a desk easel. I also added a hook and screw fitting as extra security should the old catches prove unreliable.
The box can carry a 16 x 12in board with a small painting on paper attached to the middle of the board and placed face down on the back of the canvas, plus a pad or envelope containing additional painting paper if required and this can go between the board and the palette.
Having allowed the success of this project to go straight to my head I quickly designed yet another box. This one is intended to carry painting boards and here I decided to standardise on 16 x 12in as the board size but bearing in mind that paintings of any smaller size could be taped to 16 x 12in boards.
This box was made from two pieces of MDF and some stripwood and its internal measurements were 16.1 x 12.1in – at least that was the theory! Daughter Jennie kindly provided the transport so that I could obtain the materials and fittings from a local branch of B&Q which I cannot reach by any other means in less than a couple of days. The lid has a leather hinge made from an old belt that (like me) has pretty much forgotten the last time that it could circumnavigate my waistline AND pass itself coming the other way. A hook and small screw secures the lid and the smart brass handle matches the brass screws. Had I been feeling really conscientious I would have ensured that the slots in the screw heads all faced the same way. Instead, the workmanship was approximate – you try sawing, single-handed and with an electric saw, a sheet of MDF using the only available support, a ten-inch diameter circular kitchen stool! I drilled too many holes, or changed the design halfway through, I forget which, but the result is neat enough and carries three boards.
In the picture above, the lid (which is one of the long sides of the box) is at top left and you can see two boards in the box with the space for a third between the quarter-inch wooden strips that are glued to top and bottom of the box and act as separators.
And this is my near-ideal solution for carrying the rest of my painting kit. It is a strong plastic mechanic’s toolbox containing brushes, paints, rag, tissues, a spare palette, a screw-topped coffee jar for water and lots more including Artisan thinner and Artisan painting medium. The tray in the box was modified so that the coffee jar would fit and remain in the box when in use and the original handle for the tray was removed to produce enough space under the lid for the small palette and/or a pad of 10 x 7in oil painting paper.
Now I’m ready. Bring on the next painting class.
So what’s next? An MDF violin perhaps? Maybe not.
…that is the question.
On Tuesday I started a new part-time art course which will occupy two hours per week at our local Adult Education Centre. Whether I stay with it or not remains to be seen. It was a pleasant experience and I am optimistic despite the fact that there seems to be no common ground between the style in which I want to paint and the preferences of the teacher . It will not help either that the rest of the group are using acrylics, which I dislike and am therefore sticking resolutely to my (Winsor and Newton, Artisan) water-mixable oils.
The main problem is that I want to paint portraits most of the time, aiming at a realistic rather than impressionist result and with what William Whitaker calls a high finish. I find this subject matter and style of painting interesting but extremely difficult and challenging. Therefore any success (which has been severely limited to date) is immensely satisfying.
It is too early to anticipate the direction and relevance of the course but if it is of little help towards my stated aims it may well be fun in its own right. We shall see.
It has been a very unusual day thanks to the weather. We are surrounded by deep, soft snow and the few main roads are covered by slippery slush and ice. In general, residential roads seem to be covered in clean powdery snow which has been stirred somewhat but barely diminished by the relatively light traffic that has been moving recently. Snowfall seems to have come in short but heavy doses which has ensured that plenty of snow has just hung around for days to be topped up by the next instalment.
I get the impression that the local authority has been reluctant to use much of its stock of salt and grit so early in the season. Only a few very privileged main roads have been treated and in our area this means a road that is nowhere near the major part of the local residential estate. A few days ago our local buses abandoned us to use this main road and today a neighbour informed me that taxi services were not working.
Our normal weekly shopping arrangement (since getting rid of our car) in which daughter, Jennie, drives her mother to the supermarket and they shop together, has been suspended this week. Jennie had a bad dose of ‘flu at the weekend but I was pleased to note today that she is recovering well.
So, this afternoon I adopted an old-fashioned mode of transport, walking. Remember that? For me it has been a leisure activity in recent years rather than a necessity but today I donned an extra pair of socks and some Wellington boots, an extra layer of fleece under my anorak plus cap, scarf and even gloves and set off to our local supermarket with shopping bags in hand. It is not far to that shop but it is an awkward route for pedestrians involving a couple of underpasses and a few steep slopes. At first it was easy enough. All I had to do was push through the deep snow while concentrating on remaining upright. The return journey was more challenging. I had intended to get our weekly shopping in two instalments, one today and another tomorrow, but it was still heavy. I had to stop twice on the way home to put the shopping down and take a few deep breaths before continuing and I consider myself reasonably able to get about under my own steam. How on earth are less able people supposed to cope in these conditions, and what about young mums with their babies and buggies and other children in tow plus piles of shopping?
A couple of weeks ago I sent for a few items from shopfitting suppliers so that I could make an additional display unit for daughter Jennie’s craft stall. The items in question were a few short lengths of chrome-plated steel tube plus fitting to join them together. The service was good and the delivery rapid but (see the picture) did they really think that box was big enough?
Since Henry emerged from hibernation it has been necessary to keep him (in his house) in a warm place with plenty of light. A tortoise is a cold-blooded creature whose own temperature adjusts to the temperature of his surroundings. This and light levels are major factors in keeping him awake and active. If conditions are too cool, or dull, he could easily slip into hibernation without sufficient enegy reserves to sustain him until he awakens.
At this time of year there is only one place in our house where I can maintain the right conditions and that is my “den”. Thus Henry and I have been companions in late winter and early spring for around 25 years. Unfortunately this is hardly convenient as my “den” tends to be the second smallest room in the house. On the other hand, you can’t do too much for a good tortoise!
So Henry is now privileged to occupy the space formerly allotted to my painting activities, which is not the disaster that it might have been. A few days ago I discovered that some painting classes will be starting (or perhaps resuming) in a community centre near here in January. So I will go to the first session (together with a neighbour) to see what it is all about. To paint a short bus journey away from home will require some departure from my usual equipment – much the same alterations in fact that will make it more flexible so that I can work around the presence of Henry in my “studio”. Meanwhile, I have started the latest daub and, if I ever finish it, I will put this one on the blog for the amusement of all.
For now, however, I can only quote Rolf Harris – “Can you see who it is yet?”