Grounded

Ground’ : noun – surface, reason, motive, coating, background, special area

Grounded’: adjective – run ashore, not permitted to fly!

I must admit that I prefer the mindful use of grounded as being more self aware and well balanced – maybe my dictionary is rather old and outdated!

Anyway, I have been reflecting on the grounds I want to use in my paintings and from that reflection feel more grounded as in self aware and balanced in my approach to grounds in painting! At one point I was quite uncertain about the whole thing but decided that I had to try different approaches to see how it ‘fit’ with me and the way I want to work.

My understanding of a ground, particularly in oil painting, is preparation of the surface you intend to use to allow the paint to stick to it and not be absorbed too much into the surface material. To this end I have been using two coats of Gesso on the stretched canvasses. My initial urge was to leave the Gesso white as I am one of the apparently rare breed of artists who just loves the white, blank page and the promise of great things to come. I have never had the urge to mess up that lovely white expanse with random splodges and marks!

Having said that I wanted to understand why some artists always used a deep burnt umber ground, or a grey or a hot red. Straight away I dismissed using a hot red as, although my body does like a bit of warmth, my soul tends to opt for cool, calm and restful. I have seen some great paintings with the hot red or a cheeky bright orange ground peeping through the paint layers which certainly does give the finished painting a lot of life. I did try bubble gum pink in a brief nod in that direction as a trial but even that was too much for me, so it was quickly toned down with more white!

One thing I do concede is that a coloured ground does work better, especially on canvas, because with a ground left white, as you build up the paint layers, you are always battling to get rid of little white dots of the canvas as the paint skims over the surface, particularly with the way I paint. For some, the little white dots might add a bit of ‘sparkle’ to a painting but it wasn’t really my thing and meant that I was scrubbing the paint on more in some areas where I really did want to ‘skim’ it.

For colouring the ground some suggest applying, on top of the two coats of Gesso, a thin coat of burnt sienna with a rag – a traditional approach that is used to establish tones and composition for the painting. I found this too dark for me and I subsequently struggled to get the light I wanted. Some people find that such a ground helps the artist to establish the right colours in the painting but I didn’t particularly find this helpful. For me the more important thing was setting for me, as the artist, the mood of the painting. So, I am not completely ruling it out and may come back to it later.

Some will use a thin layer of colour over the Gesso to provide a ‘ glow’ underneath subsequent layers. I tried this with a thin layer of French Ultramarine Blue acrylic. I was not sure that the transparency of the colour aided me with anything and was not overkeen on the colour used in this way (although it is a fab colour in general).

I found that I preferred to mix a small amount of acrylic colour into the second coat of Gesso creating a flat matte ground. This gives me some colour to cover the white of the canvas but a matte surface which I feel I need at the moment. I quite like using a cool bluey- grey or, for a warmer tone, have recently tried a lightish raw sienna.

Getting to Grips with the Knife!

‘Reveal’: verb – make known.

Recently I have made some new discoveries using the palette knife that are challenging the way I paint the ground and build upĀ  layers. I think more traditional oil painters will throw their arms up in horror but this approach is really working for me and I want to explore it more.

It is my understanding that traditional oil painters start off using fairly dark layers, gradually getting lighter as the painting progresses, using the lightest lights ( and the darkest darks) in the foreground. I have veered away from this approach, partly because I don’t like to start off too dark anyway, but more because I have started using the palette knife to suggest fine grasses and scrub land by scraping back a layer to reveal a lighter layer underneath.

Many painters use a palette knife to thickly apply paint but my interest is more about using the knife to scrape back and take away.

I paint a lighter tone first and let it dry. This is followed by darker tones which again are left to dry. Then I use the palette knife to scrape very fine lines suggesting the foliage.

I will then go back in with a rigger brush to further suggest foliage with flicks of paint and fine lines in between the knife marks. This is developed further with a small round brush putting in spots of really dark colour in between the clumps of grass to create depth and suggest the base of the clumps of vegetation. I may scrape off more paint to add to the suggestion of depth.

It means I have to plan a bit more the order I build up layers and what colour and tone I use at different stages. As well as using this technique in the foreground foliage, I also want to explore more use of the palette knife in other parts and at earlier stages of the painting to create line, suggest shape and form, and to change tone, maybe moving to more semi-abstract which will be really exciting!