Sunday, 27 March 2011

Time-Lapse Video


Upon re-reading my previous post I thought I'd add that when painting at night it is important to use enough light so as not to strain your eyes, and although you shouldn't use lack of ventilation as an excuse not to paint with oils, also don't make yourself sick.  I paint with oil paint and white spirit in a relatively small flat and if I'm mixing with a lot of white spirit the room where I'm painting can get quite full of fumes but then I go away and do some washing up or something, or open a window if it isn't too cold outside, I don't get headaches maybe you will.  Use some common sense, but forget the excuses.

I've been experimenting with making time-lapse photography.  While downloading photos from my camera I noticed an option for controlling the camera from the computer, after a bit of playing about I worked out how to get the camera to take a photo every ten seconds.  A week later and after my first go at using Windows Movie Maker I've edited together a time-lapse movie of me painting my friend Samanta from a photo she took with a web cam.  I was covering another painting so before I started did the underdrawing and then used some left over magenta and white (it might have had some other colours in it too) to hide the previous painting and most of the pencil.

As an illustration of my previous post, in the video you can see how I have a yellowish 9W compact fluorescent off camera to the left.  There is also a more powerful 20W white light off camera to the right which is bouncing light off the walls.  The finished painting photo was taken with the white lamp directly above it.

The Importance of Using the Right Equipment

Now, I bet that you think I'm going to say that using the right equipment is of utmost importance, well you'd be wrong.  This post could just as well be titled "The Importance of the Having the Right Painting Environment/Natural Light/Ventilation".  All of them are great excuses for not painting.  I knew an art student who said that she couldn't understand how I painted in my flat, sat in front of my computer most of the time with tubes of paint hiding behind the keyboard and under the monitor.  She needed a big light room with a big table to put her paints and brushes and immaculately organised mixing palette with the colours always in the same order.  She found it difficult getting access to such a studio so hadn't painted since she left university.  Sad really.

Excuses, excuses.  I mix paints in the bottoms of cut up fizzy drinks bottles or on the polystyrene trays you get food on in the supermarket.  This way I can have one mini palette for dark colours, one for whites, maybe a skin tones one or a green one, depending on the painting.  They fit easily in the palm if you're standing up or can be propped on the edge of the messiest table. They are also useful because I can squirt white spirit in (I use the cheapest supermarket turps I can find, not the expensive artist's stuff) and have five little wells of colour with a mixing area in the middle.

Now, the point of me writing all this is not to advise you to adopt my "PalmPalette", in fact, sometimes they are annoyingly small and  can easily become chaotic (but who cares? grab a new one!).  I also have a few traditional  palletes (which are so completely covered in paint on both sides that they are about an inch thick and weigh about 2 kilos each) , and I have used the type of pallette which utilize tear-off sheets of greaseproof paper (both comercial and homemade), which are great for oils and absolutely indispensable for acrylic painting if you want to keep your paints from drying (you have to put moist tissue underneath the greaseproof paper).  Any of these options is acceptable (for oils at least), I've heard of professional artists who use glass tables to mix paint on, every night they scrape them clean ready for the next day, and wouldn't that be lovely in an ideal world, but I for one am too lazy and would rather see a dollop of paint dry and harden over a few weeks than throw it in the bin on a tissue every night.  Try to avoid muddy colours, put colours with similar colours on the palette so that you don't accidentally get some black in your yellow or blue in your orange.  I often use various dollops of white, each dedicated to a certain colour for mixing: one next to the blues, another for the skin tones.  But the shape of your palette is not going to have much of a detrimental effect on your painting , forget about all this pre-preparation, do it if it comes naturally but try to concentrate on the colours in the painting when choosing what you're putting on the palette.  For me, the palette should be dictated by the painting, not visa versa.

The point of me writing all this is to say that painting should be the most important thing, if you are being prevented from painting because you think you need everything laid out like a surgeon's scalpel trolley then you need to realize that your are procrastinating, everything needn't be perfect.  Just relax a bit and get started, you'll enjoy it when you get going.

The same goes for using bad lighting as an excuse.  Ok, you need good light to take photos (especially of your paintings), and you will need good light if you plan to paint from life, but I paint late into the night using supermarket brand low energy light bulbs and my painting seem to turn out ok.  I have various lamps of varying power and hues scattered about my study, I  use them alone or in combination depending on my necessity at that moment.  Most of the time when I'm just relaxing and painting at night (or on dark winter evenings) I prefer to use my 9W desk lamp which has a warm tone, if I need more power or a more careful assessment of the colours in a painting I switch on one of two 20W lamps which are portable and can be hooked onto shelving, depending on where I want the shadows to fall (or not fall). Although probably not true daylight bulbs they cover more of the spectrum than the warm yellow variety and are better for judging colours on a painting.  I only use them when necessary because they are very bright and make me feel that I am painting in a bathroom or kitchen, working rather than relaxing.

It is important to note that these bulbs are low energy (of the compact fluorescent type) and so the light they produce per watt is much more than an old tungsten bulbs, the 9W behaving like a 40W incandescent lamp; and the 20W somewhere around a 100W of the old type.  This also has the added advantage that I am able to put a powerful 100W equivalent in a flimsy but portable light fitting only rated for a 40W bulb.  It isn't a professional studio lighting system (during the holidays I sometimes work back in England for a friend who is a professional lighting engineer and we put floodlights on schools and do interiors of churches and the occasional art gallery, a genius of light and electricity and a conscientious craftsman, Nick Bove of Nico Electrics (don't contact him, he doesn't need and more work)), but the set up I have good enough for my painting and costs next to nothing.

It is always better to paint in daylight if you can but as the light fails you needn't worry so much about the dangers of artificial lighting influencing your ability to assess the colours in a painting, you might be painting relative to the colours already put down in the daytime in which case you probably won't stray off into strange hues as long as you keep your mixing palette as well lit as possible.  You might wake up to find the colours in your painting different to how you remember the night before but at least you'll be waking up to see a painting, instead of another pile of excuses.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Painting Translucent Light


I enjoy trying to imitate light in paint, it brings me a unique sense of achievement which intoxicates me so much that painting in an abstract style loses all appeal and pales in comparison to trying do do this, which is to create a reality within a juxtaposition of planes of textured colour. And it's something which you can improve with practice and unlike with abstract painting, it is easy to gauge improvement, you can see when you're getting better.  I've lost interest in most contemporary art I see because they seem to be doing something completely foreign to what I like doing, I'd prefer to be called a painter than an artist.

Here I've painted some grapes.  I saw a painting of translucent grapes in a magazine and then some more on flickr, they were very inspiring and I wanted to have a go myself.  The key seemed to be to have strong light behind the grapes so I bought some and put them in front of a window on my nicest plate.  It worked as I had planned, in fact better because I hadn't anticipated the interesting way the grapes would flop down at the edges.  The grapes are as I saw them, maybe a little greener, I tried putting some strawberries in the scene but quite like this simple composition.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Canvas Prep 1: Stretching the Canvas

Now I won't pretend to be an expert canvas stretcher, in fact most of the time when I need a new canvas I find myself looking though my old paintings for the one I like least to paint over.  I have lots of failed paintings so it usually isn't difficult finding at least one I'm happy to wipe it off the face of the Earth.  However, recently I seem to be having to take canvases off their stretchers (the wooden frame) in order to roll them up and send them through the post.  With pine stretchers beginning to pile up in my flat I went to a local art shop and bought a few metres of primed canvas, then armed with a powerful staple gun I looked on YouTube for a clip of the best way to do it.  There was a useful video presented by a woman called Ginger Cook which you can find here, the video says that she's a "master artist" and I'm only an amateur artist so go and watch the video if you want some expert advice on canvas stretching.

Here I've provided for you some photos of my second attempt at canvas stretching (the first one went well too but I didn't take any photos).  It really is as easy as it looks, hopefully my amateur attempts will encourage you to have a go.  The woman in the video says something about using extra equipment when stretching large canvases, but this one was quite large and I didn't have a problem with it not being taut.  I pulled the canvas as tight as I could while stapling and this seems to have been enough.

First you start with one side with one staple, then do the opposite side, pulling the canvas tight.  Then one staple in each of the remaining two sides.  Then you put two more staples on each side of the first set of staples , a few inches from the first ones.  The next step is to pull the corners tight, fold them and staple them down.  You have to do this stage now because when all the other staples are in place it will be impossible to stretch the corners properly.  Finally you go round putting in the rest of the staples.

Apparently this way of stretching a canvas is called a gallery wrap because you only staple it on the back, I'm not sure why they sometimes put staples along the edge too, they are a real hassle to get out again.  I'm not sure of the best way to take staples out of pine but the little staple extractors for paper just won't hack it (unless you have an incredible hulk grip).  I use a cheap screwdriver and mallet to dig staples out, sometimes I take quite a lot of wood out of the frame too, there must be a better way.  Also with the modern extra deep canvases you see everywhere now you wouldn't want to put staples down the edge.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Year Painting

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It has been almost a year since I last posted, I didn't want to repeat myself too much so I left it until I had something useful to say again.  Recently I got a new camera which has video capabilities and I've been experimenting with different ways of recording the creative process, with some exciting results playing with time-lapse photography.  I'll be posting them here soon.

The time lapse photography came out of my attempts at taking progress shots to document the process of doing a painting.  I finally got hold of a tripod, which enables me to take much better progress shots  (I had until then been propping my camera on shelves and tables in order to take photos of my paintings).  I painted a few scenes of Salamanca and took lots of photos as I painted and uploaded dozens of them on flickr.  Now I look at them I see that it's quite tricky to see what I've changed between the photos, a bit like a game of spot the difference.  For the painting of my boss and myself at the English school where I teach I took less photos and it's a bit clearer to see what I changed between photos.  If you want to see the Salamanca paintings and try to spot the difference, click on the painting thumbnails on the right side of this blog and it will take you to flickr.  Here I've included the steps for the painting of Cristina and me at work, it took me about a week to paint.  Click on an image to jump to a larger version.

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I had been wanting to paint something with lots of detail so I picked a photo of my boss and myself at work and set about drawing a grid on the canvas.  I then transferred the whole image square by square from my computer screen in pencil, fixing it with hairspray as I went (see flickr for more photos of the steps).

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A yellow wash
Then to dull some of the pencil lines and bring some unity to the painting I put down a wash of yellow.  The paint was thinned with white spirit so as not to completely hide the underdrawing.

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Putting in the darkest and lightest areas
To help your to eye gauge the tones of the painting right it's a good idea to put the extremes in at an early stage. 

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Getting the main colours in the right place
All the hues your eye sees are also altered by their proximity to other tones so the next step is to roughly get the colours right.

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More detail
Now comes the hard work, at this point the energy I started the with is beginning to wane and the painting is looking not as good as I hoped, but paintings often feel this way at some point so I hang in there.

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Balancing the elements
It's starting to look a bit better as I begin to balance all the tones and the hues with each other and cover more of the yellow underpainting.

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Final touches
Finally I bring the painting all together with a bit of fine tuning and a lot of squinting.  If I worked on it a bit more then I could probably make it look more real but I am by now very sick of looking at it.
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