The Lake, Tredegar House, Newport; pastel on pastelmat card 14x10 inches
Peaceful tree-lined lake in the grounds of Tredegar House, Newport, Wales. The park's trees are especially vivid in autumn. Despite being a short distance from the M4 motorway, these grounds are surprisingly relaxing. The picture was created from several reference photos, aiming to catch the autumn colour, some bird life and peaceful water.
I'm not expecting to get a lot of work completed during June, it's really busy; thankfully pastels come into their own during such times because they are "instant" and don't require any drying-time. Sketchy pieces can sometimes lead, later on, to something more complete, though.
Finally....there are some real exhibitions this year, and I've spent a little time framing up a few items, ready for mid-year.
Red Campions, Ashton Wood; pastel on pastelmat card 14x10 inches
A very green pastel painting, punctuated with pinkish-purple spots and dusty scatterings of red campion flowers. A busy couple of weeks has stopped me from getting on with my plan to create a few mini-paintings; plus the fact that new glasses are proving to be problematical and I'm back using the old ones again....which are still ok but not quite, if you follow my meaning. In my workroom are a couple more finished pictures that will probably be the subjects for the next few posts, giving me a bit of time to get one or maybe two new ones done before mid-summer.
Cumulus, Late Afternoon: pastel on pastelmat card 12 x 9 inches (30x22cm approx)
Today's work features an imagined beach but includes an actual cloud study. Sometimes you can't find a real landscape that matches your inner visions and ideas, so you have to make it up. That's what has been done here; a wave study derived from photos and other recent work, coupled with a group of clouds observed and photographed a while back, this year.
I haven't been painting every day, in order to give a break for the tension headaches and severe ear infection I've had since late March. It's been quite a while clearing up but is almost there now. So I decided to make a post for the Bank Holiday Monday. I'll be poddling along now with new work on a more regular basis....and have been thinking about getting back to what we call small-format art, which is incorrectly referred to as "miniature". They can be miniature in size but are not necessarily miniature in terms of the brush-strokes used. The nearest to small-scale art that I see online is usually the ACEO range (art card editions and originals)...these go well on Ebay but, from the painter's point of view, they are a lot of work for very little reward.
I work at around three to six inches square (or rectangles); (that's 7.5 x 7.5cm to 15x15cm for the imperially challenged). These are nice sizes to paint within, and avoid challenging the eyesight too much. When I visit exhibitions, I always make a point of looking at very small works; the majority of folk breeze by them, they don't use their eyes and subsequently miss some real gems. I have subject material ready to start, I just have to plan which ones I'm going to start with.
Evening Surf: acrylic on gesso board 12 x 9 inches (30x22cm approx)
Today's painting is in acrylic on gesso board; a recollection of a rolling tide in evening light.
Now, I have to say that further updates are going to be stalled for a while. I have slowed right down in painting because I am suffering from stress and vertigo, following an ear infection. I'm therefore not going to be producing much work for a while; how long, I don't know. So, rather than updating here in two weeks, the next one will be...in a month's time, maybe? Just need the time out. However, can still post out purchases.
Bossington Hill, near Minehead; pastel 14x10 inches
Back to the pastels this time, and the picture this week has a couple of interesting aspects. Firstly, though, the scene is a large and rather high hill, well known to Somerset walkers as being one with a commanding view towards the old village of Porlock and also out across the waters towards Wales. My stand-point was on a footpath that leads towards Bossington village; a typically hot summer day with everything green and gold. The working of this pastel began on white PastelMat card (instead of a coloured surface) with the profile of the hill; followed by laying-in the path and tree outlines; then a longer working session on the clouds. Next day was spent on forming the trees more fully, trying to keep deep shade and bright sunlight reasonably balanced. In reality these trees are in a fairly straight line, which isn't always ideal for compositions; but I left them alone because moving them might mean blocking a view of the hill. The footpath leads straight ahead and passes beside a stone wall.
The vegetation around the tree bases seemed to need something more than just thin pencil-line grasses; I tried out a pastel technique that I have rarely used, which is to scrape pastel-dust from a stick and let it fall on the paper; then squashing it quickly with a painting-knife. This scatters fine bursts of colour outwards, creating a sparkling glow. Ideal for tiny flowers, pollen, scintillation. From this point I couldn't decide whether or not to make more of the footpath; the painting has been left to sit quietly on the side while I think about it. Sometimes it's best to leave things as they are.
Just a point re the image; soft pastel can be tricky to get a sharp image with, simply because it is soft and doesn't provide the painting with clear sharp edges. This is especially noticeable on Pastelmat card which itself has a "fuzzy" surface. There will be a larger image available when I get it onto the gallery section.
Squall; acrylic 8x8 inches
I have two pastels waiting to be photographed, heavy rain has prevented me from taking them outdoors to do this job, so I've moved to the scanner this week and prepared this small acrylic panel. Produced in the same style as those from mid-February, using a limited number of colours; ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow/light yellow and white.
Every time I have attempted to use acrylic paint in a neat and orderly manner, my pictures have generally failed to satisfy me. By working in a much more rapid manner, thinking less and placing more paint, things seem to work out much better. The rapid drying time means I can paint over anything that's not quite right and just keep going, placing the elements as I want them and/or removing and reshaping them. The inner "fear" of getting it wrong simply vanishes and the painting session can be kept lively for a good hour or more. Acrylics generally dry with a hard edge (unlike oils which are softer at the edges); by approaching the painting in a more casual and sketchy manner, those hard edges can be kept to a minimum and only placed where felt necessary. Blending colours can be tricky with paint that starts drying as soon as it gets onto the board; the sky for example was laid on broadly, but the darker patch to the right was added almost straight away and just constantly worked with a flat nylon/Dalon brush until suitably blended. I need to learn how to handle the retarding fluid or flow-improver; that'll be up-and-coming on the next painting, which was started last week in outline.
I still feel that oils are better for "darker" scenes; most dark-coloured acrylics seem to look very similar when applied to a surface, whereas darker oils tend to have some sort of extra presence. The darks laid over acrylic moulding-paste make very good rocks, however....I do the rocks with a palette knife and leave them overnight to dry before painting over the set paste. Though I aim for generally realistic-looking scenes, acrylic seems to impart a touch of the unnatural....probably because it isn't an organic material...and somehow this seems fine with seascapes.
Sails at Chew Valley; pastel 14x10 inches
Today's pastel was completed a couple of weeks ago. Since then I have had some conjunctivitis in one eye and therefore decided to put the pastels aside until it cleared up. It is now doing so, therefore I'm actively looking at what my next pastel subject will be. Although I am not literally working in a cloud of pastel-dust, it is awkward to cope when you have dusty hands and itching eyes. The lake scene is an evening-time view, with the sun very low and, in fact, it is below the hills in this particular viewpoint. The yachting activity is distant but makes the focal point, with foreground growth reduced in colouring to allow the eye to skip over the top. I have a liking for scenery with lower-level light, the results are perhaps less colourful but I usually try to compensate by emphasising the sky.
Despite the dribbling eye, I have continued painting, this time working on some more acrylic seascapes. Another similar to the previous posts has been finished; along with two more, one on canvasboard and another on a smooth gesso board. I had considerable misgivings about acrylic paint when working on floral subjects and finally gave it up some while ago, being dissatisfied with the results. It was a little surprising therefore to discover that the paint worked quite well for me when dealing with a seascape; the rapid drying time has allowed me to get more done in my work-session. More on that next time.
Rain over the Sea; acrylic 8x8 inches
Today we have two new small pictures. In between my pastel work, I have been looking at numerous old photos taken on various coastlines during holiday-time. It's often the way that one sees a particular view and photographs it, to capture a mood, or something transient....and the resulting photograph is somewhat boring. I have been wondering whether some of these images might be put to use in terms of creating a painting. The capture of cloud formations, rock shapes, cliffs, even storms and rain can jog the memory-bank. While it is good to actually sit in front of the scene and paint it, the process of studying the photo in the work-room---away from the real scene--- allows for more inventiveness.
Today's first painting was based on a rather dark and gloomy photo during a thunderstorm...doesn't matter where, what matters is the "remembering" of the dark sky, the water and rocks, with swirling waves. The second painting is from a photo of the same coastline sector, about an hour later.
I chose to do both of these paintings using the same very restricted palette; ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow; plus white; and an occasional dab of cadmium red. The medium is acrylic. It's not always my first choice, but in this instance I wanted to get some paint down on the boards AND DRIED---allowing me to continue the next day without churning up previously-placed paint. (I could have also used what we call alkyds, which is a fast-drying oil-paint----but at the moment I haven't got all the colours that I wish to have for these explorations).
Anyway...to work, and the goal was to create atmosphere in the painting, based on the mental "feedback" from the photo.
Painting Two, again the same goal, to create an atmosphere. I think there are definitely two different environments here; and I was satisfied with the way the restricted choice of colours worked.
Clearing Weather; acrylic 8x8 inches
Quite a lot of the work was done with a small painting-knife, particularly the rocks and the beach-rocks in painting 2. A thin but wide (about 1.5 inches) and flat nylon brush was employed for the skies and general lay-in of colour, plus placement of wave-crests. Even a finger was roped in for touching-up work! I kept the paintings small in size, to be able to work quickly and get them finished. The larger the canvas, the larger the tools you need and I don't have space for creating big pieces. Having completed these two, I found myself wishing to just carry on; but could not, because I needed to research a few more of my pictures. For me, this is a good sign; I'll have a few more at some point in the near future. Same size, probably; or maybe a little larger.
Finally, a note for the near future; I am carrying out a re-shape of the website, something I normally do every two or three years to keep it tidy. Not quite ready yet, but most links will have the same names as they do now and the main front page will stay as it is.
The Wild Patch; pastel 14x10 inches
My aim to get a floral subject underway and completed has now happened. These flowers formed part of a large soil-bank at a local park; an area which had been deliberately broadcast with wildflower seeds and left then to its own devices. By summer the tangle of twigs and stems had been joined by an array of small flowers, including poppies and bright white daisies on incredibly thin stems.
The pastel painting is on a reddish-mauve pastelcard, much of which has been covered but still remains showing through in places. Although the positions of the main flowers were marked in at the start, I chose to create a general tangle of pastel-marks, to indicate the nature of the wild growth. It would be impossible to mark in every leaf and stem. The deep shaded areas were indicated with a mix of deep green and black pastel, with some purple, then sprayed with fixative to encourage it to darken further. The work continued on top, building networks of lines and leaf-like marks, plus poppy seedheads here and there. The main flowers were added at the later stages, gradually building them up with the softer pastels.
There is often a tendency to overwork when creating looser styles like this, so I had to make myself stop at various stages to assess what had already been put down on paper. Once the main red and yellow flowers were in, plus daisies, it just required placement of a few more background coloured shapes to finish it.
I'll be looking to get a somewhat better image of this one as soon as I can; not enough sunlight outdoors today.
Woodland Light; pastel 14x10 inches
This post is about a woodland stream encountered on one of many walks during autumn. It is a fairly unremarkable place, but on this day had an air of solitude, as if everyone had forgotten it was actually there. It had been raining and the light wasn't especially bright. Such scenes can be a bit drab, so my aim was to make the trees stand out against the gold-green leaves. I also added some very bright yellow-orange leaves in between the tree trunks. The rest of the scene was kept as a gentle haze. The only really hard work was trying to decide how to tackle the foreground, because it was brightly lit...but I didn't want it to grab all the attention. It was eventually done in a more sketchy manner, a bit indistinct with flashes of yellow, a few twigs and subtle greens.
I am working slowly through a group of selected images that have shown potential for being the basis of a pastel painting. At the time of writing, I am into the fifth one...however, the two following on from Woodland Light have given me some technical grief....as is sometimes the way, after merrily producing two satisfactory works in succession. Despite that, it has allowed me to stop, step back and rethink the nature of the paper I was working on. Pastel number five is now slowly assembling itself, built from the accumulated experience.
I have some other landscape images which I think will be better done in oils. If I can get one going, it will help to decide if there's a small series possible from them. Just to note, I have now detached the abstract section of this website, I feel the project has dried up so it's time to put it aside and try something new. My gallery at Original-Art-Under100 is in need of some new work, especially in the under100 section; it is in here that I tend to aim my more experimental pieces. The preferences here seem to be for oils and acrylics; so it means I have plenty of incentive to keep two media on the go.
Along the River Severn; pastel 14x10 inches
Last time I was setting up to do a new pastel; and here it is. Started on the 2nd, finished on the 5th. It's been many weeks since I completed a pastel subject, so I was rather pleased to get this one constructed and done to a level that I was happy with. It is on pastelmat card. The subject was bathed in afternoon light during the month of November, giving good contrast, but at a low angle. The view is framed by tall poplars on the left, with a distant sunlit house catching the eye up-river. I don't always apply pastel heavily to the paper; I find it better to start gently, and maybe later add more pressure where stronger lighting/colour is required. It's easier to add than take away.
As much as I enjoy using oils and experimenting with them, I found the return to pastels was easier than expected. I felt more at ease, somehow. It is a factor that I should take note of. Pastel number two is already underway.
I have a lot of pastel paintings tucked away in a box, sandwiched between sheets of newspaper. The box is getting quite full now and I suspect it will be time soon to begin a new container. I don't frame everything, but every now and then I take a section of them out and re-consider. I have more pastel pictures clipped together with bulldog clips, hanging from a cupboard door, several of which really need framing up for longer-term protection. The major good thing about this medium is that there is no drying-time!.
Summer at Backwell; pastel 12x9 inches
As the paint dries on one canvas, I have started preparing some more boards for oil painting. These however are taking second place to getting the pastels started again. It is several months since I last used them and during the Christmas break I spent some time watching pastelling videos in order to revitalise my interest. I have a few subjects in mind and yesterday managed to set up and get a new one underway. Early days yet for that one; so for this post I'm putting up a piece that was done in mid-2021, and yes, I had put it away and completely forgotten about it.
The view is a typical green summer's afternoon at the local "swan lake"; the aim here was to try and portray the greenery with a variety of shades, rather than the same one throughout. Thankfully the mass of trees is broken by a house-roof. On a sheet just 12 x 9 inches it is not desirable to try and create too many tiny details; the expanse of water was kept simple, with a few patches of floating "duckweed"; the swans put in with the sharp edge of a harder pastel.
The oil painting just completed was seen (in progress) in my penultimate post from December '21; it has come out ok, but I am feeling that it still needs stronger highlights. We shall see. I am tempted to do it in pastel as well, and make a comparison. Again, this provides me with another exercise. As well as actual painting, I am going through a rubbish clear-out and re-organisation of my media. Stuff that hasn't been used for years is being binned and/or carefully boxed up; old drawings cleared out, maybe the better ones retained in a folder. We are often told that as artists we shouldn't throw anything away...well, I don't have the space to file my entire life, so some things have to go! Next post in a couple of weeks, when hopefully I'll have progressed the new pastel.