Thursday, 14 September 2017

Cheerful chap

pet portrait, oil painting of German shepherd pup - a cheerful chap
This adorable dog is painted a bit larger than I normally paint for my daily painting practice, he is 10"x12" and his eyes follow you around the room, so if someone buys him I am going to miss him!
I did not paint him wet-on-wet. This sort of fur colouring - black, red, yellow, cream - is tremendously difficult to paint wet-on-wet. Best possible colour choices for achieving mud, in my experience. 
My technique, which is not idiot proof (or at any rate, it is not proof against this idiot) is to keep white off the palette altogether for as long as humanly possible. White is the problem. I try to follow Peter Paul Rubens' advice if I can: 
White is poison to a picture: use it only in highlights
I painted his eyes first - to finish because one of the joys of painting a portrait like this is the feeling you have a friend walking with you. 
Then I painted everything that was black, or nearly so (the background, for example, is a mix of black and transparent oxide red - it makes the black warmer somehow, without detracting from the dark quality).
Once the black was dry, I painted the nose, tongue and gums to finish, then let them dry and painted in the red and yellow ochre fur with no white on the palette.
My poor friend looked distinctly moth-eaten and to avoid the temptation to fiddle, I turned the painting to the wall until the paint was tacked up but not dry - so I could soften edges and not just leave pale fur sitting on top.

The colours I used were: W&N Alkyd Lamp Black (I use this all the time now instead of Ivory Black and much prefer it); Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Red, Michael Harding Yellow Ochre Deep and Warm White. I only used Titanium White for highlights created by moisture from the dog i.e. eyes, nose, tongue.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Chestnut Horse

Oil painting of a chestnut horse, inspired by George Stubbs' Whistlejacket
It has been a while since I painted a horse, so here is a lovely one, inspired by probably the greatest horse painting of all time - Whistlejacket, by George Stubbs, hanging in the National Gallery in London
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs

This horse, an Arabian thoroughbred, belonged to the Marquess of Rockingham, and was painted in about 1762. It is approximately life-size. It was spectacular at the time for its anatomical accuracy as well as its size, and Stubbs' choice of a plain background, which was a novelty - romantic landscapes being the norm - so much so that stories circulated that the painting was unfinished.

I have often wondered how Stubbs achieved such accuracy. The answer, in part, is this: having studied anatomy in York, he went to Lincolnshire where he rented a cottage and spent 18 months dissecting dead horses and drawing what he observed. Wow.

To paint my horse, I first experimented with some colour mixes:
colour palette for painting a chestnut horse
I used: Burnt Umber, Caput Mortem - a sort of dark, violet red (very strong pigment - a little goes a long way), Terra Rosa, Transparent Oxide Red, Cadmium Yellow Deep and Gamblin Warm White. 
painting of chestnut horse, work-in-progress

I began with a simple line drawing to establish the shape and main features of the horse and put the background in around the horse. For this, I used Olive Green and Raw Sienna with white. Unsure where to go from there, I started putting in the darkest darks. In the event, it then seemed to make sense to simply work from left to right:
painting of chestnut horse, work-in-progress

None of the colours I used were alkyds so I had to wait several days for the paint to dry before I could finish the piece and add a few highlights. It was a difficult painting and I worked under the ominous feeling that it could go wrong at any minute - I have no idea how you would work this life size!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Eclipse Watchers and Sun Seekers

Eclipse watchers - two dogs in sunglasses hanging out of a window in bright sunlight. An oil painting by Karen Robinson

Well, this one was a challenge after a difficult week during which nothing went right. 3 wipers in one week is going it some and I thought this one might go the same way once or twice.

It is painted on board, prepped with a coat of cadmium red acrylic - a very difficult colour to work on, but it lends the sensation of warmth. I painted the background first - around the dogs - although it did need some re-touching after the dogs had been put in. This was to differentiate it better from the dogs' faces. It was necessary to mix a slightly darker primrose shade for the boards and grey it a bit more (with red) so the brightness of the dogs jumped forward better.

I used three colours for most of this painting: Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Red Medium and Lemon Yellow + white. I found it difficult to get the darks dark enough with this combo for the dogs so had to use a touch of black for them. I also used a touch (literally) of Cadmium Green Pale and Orange for the reflections in their sun glasses.

The most important thing to me for getting this piece right was to keep the brushes scrupulously clean. It could so easily have disappeared into mush and mud. I used a different brush for each colour and wiped the brush in-between every single brush stroke (I was working wet-into-wet as usual. A layering process would have been simpler if more long-winded).

Just love that one of them is wearing his sunglasses upside down.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Best friends

two greyhounds, side-by-side, in sunlight
Well, this one has been a struggle and I am not sure I have entirely pulled it off.  I was aiming for impressionistic and cannot decide if there is too much impression, or not enough.
 It began with a simple line drawing and I put in the pale greyhound first:
two greyhounds, a painting, work-in-progress
I worked on a white, gesso ground with no prior toning on purpose because I was forced to paint the white greyhound using colours other than white
two greyhounds, a painting, work-in-progress
thus saving my lightest values, including tube white, for the full sun hitting the side of the dog and bouncing around the picture
two greyhounds, a painting, work-in-progress
At the moment, as you can see, the dogs are sat on a dappled ground with no actual light painted - I simply wiped off the shadow colour in the background to create a dappled effect - and no shadows on the dogs. At this point I waited 24 hours for the paint to more or less dry before completing the piece.
Originally intending the light to be dappled, in the end I joined up some of the "dapples" to create larger puddles of light. This was because, 'unjoined' up, the painting risked looking fussy rather than dappled.

Here's one by Renoir showing how it is supposed to be done:

The daughters of Paul Durand Rule, Renoir

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Hi Mum - I'm HOME!

oil painting of a happy chocolate labrador running
With this one, I was very concerned about the brilliant, sunlit background detracting from the dog. Also, the scene is so very GREEN which is hard to get right.

I decided to render the dog first, so that I could key in the background to him, rather than starting with the background then trying to make the dog pop out of it.

chocolate labrador oil painting - work in progress

As you can see, I started with what the dog was leading with
- his nose and tongue.
chocolate labrador oil painting - work in progress

The rest of his face and his right shoulder in next. Roughly speaking, the right side of this dog is in shadow and the left side is in the light. I split the palette and used two brushes, one for the shadow and one for the light. 

chocolate labrador oil painting - work in progress

And here he is, bless him, bounding out of the canvas towards me. Now to ruin it, I thought and began tackling the background with considerable trepidation. I started off using only combos of the same paint colours as I had used on the dog - to try and ensure the painting hung together OK. But that quickly appeared hopeless - far too bland - so I whipped out the cadmiums: lemon yellow, pale green and gave it a bit of energy with a large brush. I was happy with how it turned out.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The first time I saw the Queen

an oil painting of a frame of honey bees with the Queen visible
For a long time after the bees first arrived in our garden, I thought I should never see a Queen at all. 
Unlike in a photograph or a painting, the little blighters won't keep still, you see. The constant movement and farkling about is bewildering to a novice beekeeper. 
But once I had spotted her for the first time, it was so obvious which one was the Queen, I was puzzled how I could not have seen her. There is a well-known old saying about learning to paint: that what you are really learning is how to see. This is very true and it applies also to beekeeping, I think.
I have had difficulty photographing this piece. I wanted you, the viewer, to be able to see the Queen too. So I placed her slightly off centre - just down and to the left a fraction - and positioned a few bees so they were pointing at her. Then, to be on the safe side, I gilded her with gold leaf after the paint was dry. So she shimmers most beautifully.
If the sun shines on her she shimmers like this in real life, too.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Guardians of the Steps

An oil painting of two labradors sitting on the front steps in dappled sunlight
This painting of two labradors sitting on the steps in dappled sunlight took 4 attempts to get right, the first 3 were wipers. I was almost ready to give up. Decided on one last attempt because I really did like the dogs.
The reason for the decision was a clue.
I had been blocking in the whole piece. On the 4th attempt, I painted the dogs only to completion, wiping the board as clean as possible, sketching in a few lines to get the positioning right and laying out a small palette of colours for the dogs only. 
On the left of the palette I laid out shadow colours: raw umber, french ochre, black and white. On the right, I laid out the sunlit colours: transparent oxide red, yellow ochre deep, cadmium yellow lemon and white. I used two brushes, one for shadow and one for the light. 
This approach did the trick - I finished up with two labs floating near the upper quartile of the canvas, but they were just as they should be. Then I put in the background around them with a fresh palette of colour, but again, divided in half: the shadow colours and the light colours.
These were: raw umber, purple lake and ultramarine - shadow; yellow ochre deep, naples yellow, lemon yellow and white - sunlight. For the bushes, I added cadmium green light for the sunlit areas.
Two brushes: one for shadow, one for light.
Hope you like the result.