Thursday, 11 May 2017

The joy of layering graphite

I am exploring a style, or genre, that I have admired for a long time, but always felt too intimidated to really try myself - botanical art. I very much enjoy the loose and expressive styles of sketching and painting, but I actually also very much like to sit down and spend a few hours producing a (reasonably) precise and accurate drawing or painting.

I've worked through a course on Craftsy called Drawing Essentials: Inspired by Nature, taught by Kathleen McKeehan, this week, and it was just perfect. If you're interested in learning more about working this way, I can only recommend this course. It teaches you all the basics you need to get started: how to measure your subject, different transfer methods using tracing paper, how to light your subject, as well as different techniques for shading - using mainly an HB pencil, which, when putting several layers upon each other, can give you as dark a shade as a much darker pencil. With these three drawings, I was mainly interested in the shading techniques, so I just used the supplied photo references and drew them in my sketchbook without any measuring. I totally enjoyed sitting down for an hour or so and just put one layer of graphite over the other and seeing the subject emerge. These pencil drawings are also the perfect thing for me to do in the evenings, when I'm too tired to get the paints out. It's also rather relaxing, almost meditative.

The next steps will be working on actually seeing all those little details (this kind of drawing is also a very good exercise in observation), working from life, including all the measuring, as well as using watercolours, and maybe also coloured pencils - and of course lots and lots of practice. This course has also been the perfect preparation for a class I signed up for at the beginning of the year, and which is going to start soon. I can't wait to dive deeper into this fascinating way of drawing and painting!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Playing with inks

I meant to continue working on my oil river landscape - and the other two oil painting that I started earlier, but I just felt like laying with ink and mixed media instead. I didn't use any reference for these, they are imaginary landscapes of lakes and mountains. I love mountains, and I love water, and as the sea is far away from here in Switzerland, lakes do me nicely. A cold, crispy clear mountain lake with its turquoise water straight from the snow and ice of the surrounding peaks. I used India ink, and a watersoluble ink from a wonderful little calligraphy shop in Basel, in my favourite colour, Pascha. These were really fun to do, just to see what you can do with two bottles of ink (and some other mediums). It's so important to take time for just playing and experimenting some times.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Inspired by the Dorset countryside

I spent a lovely 10 day holiday in Dorset at the beginning of the month. Almost 10 days of sun and blue sky, and often not even a single cloud in the sky. At one time, we were actually saying that it was almost too much sun for taking photos... We took lots of little trips to some favourite places, like Charmouth beach, Brownsea Island, Kingston Maurward, West Bay (probably better know these days as 'Broadchurch'). I dutifully carried my sketchbook and pencil case on each and every one of these outings - and yet again, didn't get a single sketch done. Ah well, the intention was there. And one day, I'll get there...

West Bay with East Cliff

But our strolls around the Dorchester and Dorset countryside and coast has given me lots of inspiration. And of course I had my camera with me. I used photographs for reference and inspiration for the drawings below, done in pencil, after I got home.

The drawing in turn became an inspiration for a little oil painting. It's still a work in progress, and by the weekend it will hopefully be dry enough for a next layer. I still haven't really got a clue what I'm doing with these oil paints, but I'm enjoying it anyway. And I feel quite drawn to landscapes at the moment. It is probably all those lush greens out there right now, the gorgeous blossoms, the colours in the fields everywhere.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The big blue teapot

This is my big blue teapot. It really is quite a big pot, and I haven't used in about 15 years. I bought it when I spent a year studying in Stockholm. Me and my friends used to spend a lot of evenings together, and whenever we met up in my room, I used this pot to make tea for us. So it has huge sentimental value, and that's why I've been hanging on to it. For 15 years. But I never use it, and I've been doing a lot of clearing out in my home, and I've decided that it's time to let it go. But before it goes to the second hand shop, I'm drawing and painting it with different mediums, so I'll still always have it with me, in my sketchbooks. The first one was done in oils. I intended to work some more on it once this first layer was dry, but now I think I'll leave it like this, as a sketch.

For the second one I used coloured pencils, in my Hahnemühle D&S sketchbook that I just finished. It has great paper for dry medium, and I enjoyed working in it, trying out different mediums. But I have to admit I did miss being able to use watercolours.

I started a new sketchbook this week. I'm back to a Seawhite one, the same that I used before the Hahnemühle. The paper takes watercolour well enough to serve as an alround sketchbook, but what I really like about it is, that it quite thin. It only has about 45 pages, which makes it about half as thick as the Stillman and Birns, and about a quarter of the Hahnemühle. With all the notebooks, journals, sketchbooks, books and various pencases I've been carrying around lately, my rucksack has become ridiculously heavy, and as consquence, my shoulder has been aching like mad again. So this thinner, lighter sketchbook comes in very handy.

And after all this blue, here's a bit more colour. I found this Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook, that I started in 2014, but only filled four double pages. It's about time to finish it. I just grabbed the first pen that was lying on my desk, a lovely fountain pen filled with brown ink, which I thought was Noodler's Brown, a water resistant ink. As it turned out, it wasn't, but instead a water soluble ink, which created a bit of a mess. Or an interested effect, if you choose to look at it in a more positive way. The radishes were delicious anyway.

Friday, 10 March 2017

More oil painting exploration

There's so much about oil painting to learn. I adore the paintings of the old masters, and I do want to learn how to build up a painting through layers - eventually. But at the moment, I'm trying to concentrate on the Alla Prima, or direct, painting technique first. Which is basically to finish a painting in one go, wet in wet. A technique that, actually, many of the old, as well as more recent, masters used too, for different reasons. It's certainly tricky to add layers to a still wet layer of paint without turning everything into mud. And I'm definitely at the struggling stage. But when you're just starting with oil painting, you want to see some results, a finished picture, quite quickly, without having to wait for weeks and weeks, with each layer having to dry first, before you can continue.

Well, this isn't really an Alla Prima painting, as I intend to work a bit more on it, once this first layer has dried. But I did try to get down as much as possible in the first layer. It's really just play. Seeing what you can do with the paints. How you can move them around, how far you can go. It's entirely done from imagination. Inspired by my upcoming holiday near the sea at the end of the month. And while I want it to be loose and slightly abstract, I do want to give it a bit more definition and depth. But first I have to wait a good week or so. Inspired by this blog post by Lisa Sonora, I started to keep a studio journal at the beginning of the year, at the same time I decided to finally tackle oil painting. With such long drying times in between, it's useful to make notes of the colours used, as well as anything that comes to your mind. In this case, I made some notes about what I want to do with it next time.

To help me learn more and dive deeper into oil painting, I did what I always do in such a case - I bought some books. I just started reading the top one, Alla Prima, and it's fascinating, and very inspiring. All the beautiful images in the book are Alla Prima paintings, and at this stage, I really just can't get my head around how it is possible to achieve that!

I worked a bit more on my still life a couple of weeks ago. It still needs a lot of work, obviously. I made the shadow areas far too green, due to a tinge in the photo I'm using as reference, since I put away the original set up a long time ago. The bright pink in front is completely wrong too, but I'm quite pleased with how parts of the book have turned out so far.

And last but not least a touch of spring. The weather this week is very dull, grey and wet, but these lovely tulips bring a bit of spring into my home. Did I mention that I love the macro feature on my new lens?

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Signs of Spring

What weird weather we're having at the moment. Yesterday, I was walking along the river in mild spring air, with blue sky and the sun shining above my head. Today, I woke up to it snowing vertically. The sky is a dull lead grey and the snow has turned into rain, but the grass in the park around the university campus is still white. And this afternoon, we'll have winds up to a 100 km/h apparently.

But spring is definitely on its way, the signs are unmistakable and everywhere. On Sunday late afternoon, I grabbed my camera and went out to look for the sings around my neighbourhood, and I found some leftovers from past seasons too. I love the macro option on my new lens!

Snowdrops are appearing everywhere. They're such delicate, beautiful heralds of spring. It's always a joy to see - and capture - them.

As are the catkins, with their soft fluffy heads reaching up into the air. You just want to reach out and touch them.

Many signs of the past seasons are still around, and they add to the charm of this time of transition, like these withered dog rose seed pods.

The Chinese Lantern is such a beautiful plant. And it looks good in every state, with its papery husk, but especially in this delicate, filigree state of decay.

I haven't had much to post for the past couple of weeks. It's not that I haven't done any drawing or painting, but there just isn't anything to show, really. But I enjoyed taking my camera out, and doing some photo editing right afterwards for a change, instead of just letting my photos sleep on their hard drive. I should do this more often.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Discovering oil painting

I am so glad I took that introduction to oil painting course last Saturday! It was exactly what I wanted/needed. I just wish I had discovered this course earlier! But hey, better late than never, right? We were a nice and small group of only six plus the teacher, and the atmosphere was relaxed and cheerful. We started with a short introduction and our expectations/wishes for the course. My expectations were simple: I wanted to lose my fear of oils, especially the mediums, by learning about the materials, and how to use them (safely). And that's exactly what I learnt. Plus a whole lot more.

We plunged straight into the matter with an exercise. We each took a sheet of painting paper, squeezed some paints on our palettes, grabbed a couple of brushes, and filled a bit of terpentine substitute into a jar. And then we just had to play. I'm sure we all felt the same: But how? What are we supposed to do? Just do it, said the teacher. Try it out. With solvent, without, mix the colours, on the palette, on the paper, whatever you want to do, just do it, and see what happens. And so we did. And it was a great way to start, it was discovering oil paints.

After that, we talked a bit more theory. My fears of burning down the house are, indeed, not completely unfounded. There have indeed been cases of studio fires, or builder's vans burning, but they were all down to the same cause: linseed oil. When linseed oil has a big enough surface, like those old rags with lots of threads and fibres, that is then scrunched up and thrown away into a container, it can go up in flames. So if you want to use it, it's a good idea to wash out your rags and hang them outside to dry. But to stay on the safe side, just avoid linseed oil altogether. All you need, really, is a solvent like (odourless) terpentine substitute (unless you absolutely want to use the real stuff), which can be used for both painting and cleaning your brushes.

After the lunch break, we looked at and talked a bit about different painting styles and technique, to get an idea of what you can do with oils (basically pretty much everything), and then we each chose a postcard with a motive we liked, took a small canvas, and started painting. I chose a painting of a tea cup by Henri Fantin-Latour, because I like my cup of tea, and I wanted to try a more traditional style with lights and shadows and a dark background. So here it is, my first proper oil painting. I still want to work a bit more on it, maybe letting it dry first, and then add another layer, but I'm quite pleased with how it turned out (despite the rather bent spoon).

I can't believe we did all we did in a one day class! I went home feeling confident about how to use the paints and solvent, and now I just want to play, experiment and practice lots more.

And another funny thing happened too. One I thing I also remembered from my first attempt at oil painting over 3 years ago, and that was the quite strong smell, despite the "odourless" solvent. The same happened when we started with our first exercise. I could not only smell the odourless solvent, I also felt a stinging sensation in my eyes. Would I ever get used to that, or would that mean the end of oil painting for me? But then, in the afternoon, after my fear of the medium had been dissolved, I suddenly realised that I found that the odours didn't bother me anymore, and that in fact, I found them quite pleasant. Isn't it funny, how your perception can change so quickly when your attitude changes?

I didn't do any drawing this week, I started reading The Girl on the Train on Tuesday morning, and I just couldn't stop reading! I finished it yesterday, so now I can go back to my pens and pencils, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with my oil paints at the weekend.

Have a great, creative weekend!