Autumn is Drawing In!

Depth’: noun – degree of deepness, deep place, abyss, intensity of colour or feeling, profundity.

In addition to painting, towards the end of summer, I returned to drawing practice, as many artist friends have done in order to continue to develop observational skills, broaden mark making and expressive range and to practice theory in tone and composition. I also particularly love drawing with pencil and find it is a great way to spend an hour or so quietly in an evening when you don’t want to set up all your painting gear.

I most frequently use a 2H to draft out the initial composition, and then use HB, 2B and 3B to develop tonal shading and shaping. Finally I will use finer mechanical pencils to develop detail.

I draw from a range of photographs taken over the years and basically just go for what I fancy at the time! There is no real plan! Here are a few recent ones, some better than others, but my main purpose is to have some fun whilst steadily developing my skills.

We’ve recently just come back from a week’s holiday cruising the Norwegian Fjords – I know! How lucky are we! It is one of our bucket list! I just loved the time we had in the Fjords themselves. I did a little sketching whist away, mostly from life, although on the odd occasion it was really cold even though we were very lucky with the weather! Again it was fabulous to really spend some time ‘looking’ and considering the obvious depth in front of me. Although I do love pencil drawing, the sketches just couldn’t do justice to the amazing colours and atmosphere. However I truly believe that spending that time really concentrating on the scene in front helped to sear more of the detail in my memories!

Just to close, a rather useless but interesting fact we were told by the captain of the ship we were on: the north sea is not as deep as you might think! If the ship we were on were to sink and settle on the north sea bed ( what was the captain thinking of by suggesting that, especially when it was a bit choppy!!) we would still be above water if we were in the top bar lounge! The ship we were on was no way near one of the biggest ships.

Work In Progress – Pule Hill

Progress‘: verb – develop towards an improved or more advanced condition.

This painting is of Marsden Moor, looking towards Pule Hill, a rather iconic, wedge-shaped hill that can be seen from miles around.

Starting and sketching.

Blocking in

Adjusting colour, shape and form

Adding detail

Final Result

Scumbling

Complementary‘: noun – companion, completing, correlative, corresponding, fellow, interdependent, interrelating, matched, reciprocol.

There are a number of painting techniques that I particularly like with oils and one of them is scumbling. Scumbling is traditionally described as applying a thin coat of broken colour to change the effect of the base colour without totally covering it. It is often advised to use opaque colours and lighter colours over dark, but, as usual, I seem to like breaking the rules (I must have a naughty gene!) so I thought I would share what I have learnt about scumbling so far.

So, I agree that scumbling is the application of thin paint over dry paint (safe ground so far), although (uh oh!!) I have found with oil painting that I can get away with nearly or touch dry paint, especially if I want a softened effect (the stickiness of the surface on ‘nearly dry’ helps to produce either a more marked effect or softening the effect in some cases). I use scumbling to create texture, break up areas of solid colour to imply form and structure or to suggest variations in surface and to break up areas of colour to provide interest and the suggestion of depth. I might develop several layers to achieve an effect I am most happy with, often leaving a few days in between so that the base layers become tacky or dry, and I have a chance to reflect on how it is working within the painting as a whole.

I use a range of my scrattiest, oldest, cheapest brushes, that have been battered and knocked about – the more battered the better! To apply paint thinly, I don’t use any mediums – just the oil paint straight from the tube, using a dry brush. To get the paint thinly on the brush I knock it about a bit on my palette to make sure there is just a tiny amount in the bristles. You can see where I knock or tap the brush on the palette further and further away from the original pile of paint so that it gets thinner and thinner.

One tip I would give is each time you take brush to painting start off working in an area where you know you want the scumbling to be thicker – the more you tap the brush onto the surface the more paint is deposited and wet paint already there is smudged together. Continuing like this can lead to nearly fully covering the base layer. Conversely a few taps dispersed over a wider area leaves more obvious tiny splodges of paint ( depending on the size of brush used). So, to help build up form and shape I would start where I want to scumble colour to show most, fading outwards in intensity towards the edges. The following two close ups show this I think.

Note – looking at the work really close up, ie whilst you are mid-scumble, can be misleading as it often looks just messy (as well as making you a wee bit cross-eyed after a while)! You need to keep standing back to look at the whole painting and how each area is working together.

I have found that I can produce successful effects layering dark over light as well as light over dark, using transparent colours over the base colour as well as opaque, layering different hues of the same colour, or layering complementary colours. It is true that with techniques you simply just have to try different things out to see what works for you.

In the image below, on the right is the stage where I had worked some different colours in to start to form the clumps of grass on the moor. On the left you can see where I have used more purples and reds to warm the areas up, creating greater depth and interest, defining that area of the painting within the whole piece.

In the images below, the lower one shows a mixture of using opaque colour, different hues, and complementary colour.

Again, both of these show a mix of approaches to scumbling. Sometimes, I will scrub paint into an area (more brush abuse!) or I might blend parts of the scumbled area to either soften the effect or provide further shaping to create form.

In the images below, the close ups attempt to show some of the detail as examples ( although it doesn’t always work successfully in a photo as the camera struggles to cope with the more blurry edges). The middle picture shows a stand-back view to see how it works in the whole painting.

Scumbling allows successive layers to help build up texture, shape and form. You have to be somewhat patient with it, steadily and slowly building up each section, maybe using a rather smaller brush than you might think and regularly checking how much scumbling is required. Sometimes I might just scumble a single colour on an area and then leave to dry, but more often that not I will work several colours in the same sitting so that I can do a bit a blending where required. But a big plus and beauty of the technique is that if you don’t completely like the result at first, subsequent layers can make all the difference with slight variations in tone, opacity, shape of brush etc, so all is not lost!

I generally prefer a softer effect, on the whole, although I have seen some paintings where the scumbling is very obvious and sharp – it is all a matter of personal preference and taking the approach that says what you want to say in the best way!

What’s my point?

Authentic’: adjective – real, true, faithful, genuine

During my artistic journey to date I have found so many things interesting, fascinating, joyful, a pleasure. I love seeing other people’s work and have marvelled in their skill and the results. I have learnt so much by trying various different things with varying degrees of success. And whilst, not infrequently, I have been able to produce something fairly competent I have often felt something akin to disappointment. Maybe some of this is the ‘fraud complex’ that many of us feel at times but as I explored more about finding one’s visual voice I realised that I kept feeling like I was missing the mark somehow, but couldn’t put it into words to describe it.

I have spent quite some time reflecting on this and looking for inspiration that would help me understand what was going on. I have come to the place of explaining it in this way: for me it is about being ‘authentic’ in my art. But exactly what does that mean? Well, if I was going to write a book, I would want to write about something that was really important to me, something I really wanted to say. I think the same is about visual art – what is important to me, what do I really want to say or share with others, what feels really true to me? This is more important, I believe, in finding our visual voice rather than focussing on what type of medium, tool or technique you prefer or like to use. I realised I had become so distracted by so many things: different topics, styles, mediums, approaches – I was getting lost and my attempts were becoming random and therefore unfulfilling. How could I listen to the gut instinct inside? What was it trying to tell me? I think once we start to tune into these things we can listen closer to what our gut, our instinct is trying to tell us.

I realised that, at least for now, a hugely important thing for me is the land; the landscape itself, open skies, big spaces, the colours and the interactions of the shapes. Whenever I feel tired, stressed or pointless, I drive for the hills! I love the Yorkshire hills and in particular the moorlands. I love times when you go round a corner and have a ‘wow!’ moment with a view that fizzes in your stomach; rolling hills and valleys and big skies filling the soul and pinging that bubble of joy inside. I love the rough and scruff, stone, edge, bracken and ditch. I love the rugged coast line with hard rock and restless sea. Ok, and yes, I do love the softer rolling hills where fields form quilts and blankets jostling with each other, but oh the rough and tumble is where it is at for me! This is what I want to share! This is what I want to paint! This is authentic to me and who I am!

It was a ‘light bulb’ moment to realise this, that I needed to focus more on what really makes me fizz, and once I had that realisation things started to fall into place. Now I had a better understanding of what I really wanted to paint, I could then start to explore how I wanted to paint it, what approach would help me say what I needed to say, what approach ‘fits’ with me. I have become more directed in my purpose and understanding of my use of colour, line, tone, surface and so on. The following question has become my regular mantra: What’s my point? You could substitute ‘what’s my purpose?’ but ‘what’s my point’ is more direct and, well…………. to the point! When I am sketching – what’s my point? Am I doing the thing that moves me closer to that point or am I in danger of missing the point all together? What’s my point in needing to draw or paint outdoors? What’s my point in drawing or painting this particular scene? What will make my point best? What is my point in my decisions about scale and perspective? And so on.

This may all sound like the rantings of a mad woman but the result is that I am now producing more work that I feel really happy with; there is a greater purpose in what I am doing and I want to do more of it; and I am producing work I feel that I want to show people because, finally, I feel like I am really saying, authentically, what I want to say!

En Plein Air

Testing out my new pochard box to see what works and what needs modifying. A rather chilly early evening at Beaumont Park, Huddersfield with members of the Huddersfield Art Society.