I haven’t done this before unless there’s a photo of the finished version to show alongside it — but here it is. A a photo of an unfinished seascape that I’m working on.
Anyone who has enrolled in one of my online courses knows that a painting during its creation is a foundation. That means that what you’re seeing is not going to be the end result, obviously, but more importantly what you’re seeing doesn’t indicate the direction in which the work is going, nor the degree of artistic elements (such as in this case mist, definition, colour and visual emphases).
Colour is one of those to highlight. Being a foundation, the colours you’re seeing below drive the end result. They inform the end result. But they do not reflect the end result not dictate it. Most notably in this photo are the colours of the sea, which won’t be that cacky insipid blue green – though a perfect foundation for what they’ll become – and the mist, which here is mostly pure white. Mist will eventually have depth and artistic meaning and balance. And there may be more or less of it.
So we’ll see what it looks like when finished, and compare the two photos.
I’ve made the photo a little darker on purpose, because, as a foundation, much of it is lighter so as to capture nuances of colour as it develops.
I’d have to give it more thought, but it could well be that “contrast” is the major culprit in spreading poor knowledge about art, other than poor – or no – knowledge of techniques.
That would be contrast in colour. And contrast in tone.
Thwacking a painting with a strikingly contrasting colour dramatically alters the painting and can dramatically alter the drama: the visual impact. Many modern abstracts rely on severe contrast of colour for them to strike the eye and for the un-beknowing viewer to consider it art. Often, strong contrast alone can pull this off. Terrific if there’s more involved, but unfortunately colour contrast alone is driving the painting.
Contrast in tone has a long tradition deep into art history. Differently, here often we find paintings that vary little in colour: very little contrast and certainly colour contrast is absent in mind when viewing them. However, you’ll certainly find these paintings often (most often? always?) have deep darks and areas of bright light.
These historical paintings still carry their effect when reproduced in lithographs or books in black and white. Strip away colour from the modern work relying on colour contrast – turn it into a black and white image – and you may see very little in it at all.
Contrast in tone can sustain an entire artist’s career. When I first started painting I knew an established artist who has spent a lifetime selling works that impact the eye, gain approval, invoke accolade from a local gallery visitor, all because of tonal contrast. Heavy darks against strong lights. Instant impact; instant drama.
But that’s largely what they are: sugar hits. After the impact…nothing.
Here’s a painting I did some while ago; a theme I particularly like:
Somewhat abstract, it’s a painting of raging swells assaulting a beach, strong winds belting the dune foliage (middle left) – an occasion when nature is unleashed wildly and the air itself is indistinguishable from the sea, being shot through with hurtling rain and thrown sea water. At least, that’s the idea. It’s a creative dream subject.
However, there’s not that much contrast in tone for most of the work, nor does it rely on contrast in colour.
Here it is in black and white:
It doesn’t rely on juxtaposing or including extreme darks along with lighter lights than shown here. In other words, the contrast is at the lower end of the “light” scale and doesn’t vary hugely.
Yet the drama remains. So too, the visual impact.
To explore the theme further would involve also lessening the contrast in both colour and tone. However, the drama and visual impact would have to remain. Only knowing techniques can achieve that.
It’s a theme I wish I had another lifetime to explore, entirely on its own.
Going back tens of thousands – and millions – of years. But do these ancient historical roots apply in this case:
Walking past it, this looks like a rock. This is the best angle I could get to capture the proposition that this is the base of an ancient tree. However, the land surface would have been higher then so this would be beneath the surface. I’ve read that trees don’t harden to become fossils: that instead microscopic minerals carried in water enter into the cells of the wood, replacing those cells, and it’s these minerals which harden. I’d love to know if this is an ancient tree. It’s big; the base is about eight feet in diameter. Here’s a close up of the structural webbing that is now rock:
Learning advanced oil painting techniques isn’t difficult at all. And using them is also super easy. In fact, it’s easier to create with advanced techniques than it is to struggle with basic techniques, which are the techniques usually taught.
Here’s a quick video showing the four stages taught in one of my online courses, if you can bear it through the preliminary statements. Much more fun than “coloring in” with the basic techniques.
And just to clarify: Techniques and their combination are the physical means by which paint is applied to canvas. Similar to the musician, where notes and chords are the physical means by which music is created.
I should also emphasise that these subjects have not been chosen because they’re stunning subjects — they’ve been chosen so that the student can learn the techniques for the widest range of applications – elements of subjects – that they can use in creating their own subjects.
Creativity brings states. States of mind; states of emotion, spirit and energy. There are quite a few more states, but you get the idea.
A certain state that I particularly love encompasses all of them. This is when I’m in full fly, right in the middle of a creative flurry. This can last for hours.
At this time, the implements I use take on the form of an extension to my arm, hand and fingers.
That’s a painting knife. A story about that some other time. This quick story is about a brush.
Any brush — it doesn’t matter which type or size of brush, because this state embraces all of them. In any case, the brush that is chosen, the implement, always fits in concert with the state and is perfect for that time. If it isn’t, you make it perfect.
Everything is ‘feel’ when you choose and work with an implement, in this creative state. On this occasion I was flying with a seascape. Really into it; a burst to capture the torment of that section of sea. I was fast. Onto the palette, swoop onto the canvas, swish through the palette. A wonderful weird dance with canvas, implement, squeezed paint, arm and mind and spirit working together.
In times like this only a quick glance at the palette tells you all you need to know, for the next stroke. (And for the entire remainder of the painting session, actually.) When the palette doesn’t look right at a glance, you stop and get it right.
So here I am, in flying dance, swooping up from the palette with a loaded brush — and my arm was suddenly shot through with pain.
Pain came from the brush: I could feel it in a direct line up from the brush through my fingers and hand, up through my arm, nearly to my shoulder. It hurt.
And it caused me to stop. In the next few seconds I would learn a lesson to last until today, for I was young in my career at this time.
Pain? Like that? Why?
I looked at my brush — and sure enough, there was the reason. The bristles had a smear of red paint on it.
I was working with subtle blues. What had happened is that in my urgent flying flurry I had accidentally swiped through the blue paint to catch the blob of red also on the palette.
Had I carried through with the stroke, I would have ruined the painting. It would have been impossible to remove, and I would not have been able to recapture the spirit and physicality of what I had achieved if I could remove it.
At one with the paint and brush, the red imposter – that I didn’t know was on the brush because I wasn’t looking at it, I was looking to the painting at where the stroke would go – actually caused physical pain.
In the first of this series, earlier, we looked at JMW Turner. He used a combination of techniques, applied on top of each other through various stages.
Now we look at a painting of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, by an un-categorised artist who uses Rubens’ techniques (known as “after Rubens”). We’re using this unknown artist because not being as proficient as Rubens, the techniques and combination that Rubens used are more obvious – i.e. not as hidden into the imagery. This artist uses techniques in combination – if at all – in a different way than JMW Turner. In other words, same techniques, different combination, and different degree of usage. Here is a photo of the original:
Overall, you can see the paint is very thin, and looks to be painted on prepared board. You can see the heavier brushstrokes of the preparatory paint underneath the thin paint. Look especially at the area of the subject’s fur coat: this is dryish paint scratched on. Already this is different from Tuner’s. That dry paint is applied using the Dagger Technique, with very little paint loaded onto the brush – a bare hinting on the tip of it. The brush is a Flat Bristle Brush.
Let’s look at this section:
What you have in that area is the Dagger Technique on a barely-loaded brush. This creates the two tones of the subject’s beard: light golden and darker red-brown. Then on top of that the artist uses the technique called Liner Stroke. These strokes are also scant in application, with a few strokes to pick up on the thin Dagger Technique effect to make the overall effect of more hair than the Liner Strokes actually paint. Soft hair, too! You can see the ‘few’ Liner Strokes for all areas of the beard, applied on top of that scant Dagger Technique. This artist hasn’t expertly created the effect, because those Liner Strokes show individually and don’t completely merge visually into the overall effect.
You can see in that area, too, the soft Opaque Glazing Technique to create the flesh. This technique is more obvious in the following area:
As taught in my online art courses, the Opaque Glazing Technique is not named that because it creates an opaque effect. In fact, the technique when applied is see-through. This creates a very soft merging of imagery through the stages. The technique uses Opaque paint, which is why it is so named.
Various colours and tones are applied. The brush is most likely sable, but in the hands of an expert a bristle brush can also be used. These various colours and tones can be intermixed while still wet, or can be let to dry, with the next stage of that opaque paint – made see-through by the use of medium – applied on top and visually intermixed due to its transparency. The result is a very lovely sophisticated area of advanced technique oil painting. There are no Liner Strokes, and no thick paint. Thick paint comes from using the Dagger Technique – loading up the brush more thickly than so far we’ve talked about, and by using the Caress Stroke – also not used here. Thick applications, known as impasto, can also come from using other implements such as the knife and rag, but no knife work is used in this painting. Here’s a good example of impasto usage:
Actually, that’s the only place where impasto is used in this painting. The effect has been created by using firstly Opaque Glaze, similar in tone and colour to that used on the face shadows. This is a dull grey. Only little bits of this remain visible. On top of that the artist used the Caress Stroke with white paint, and a bristle brush with more paint loaded onto it than anywhere else. He has also used a Scumble Technique in this area, also with white, though the type of brush is harder to tell: it’s either bristle or sable. Clearly the effect is to capture the eye immediately, and provides vitality to the image as the viewer’s eye jumps back and forth from the subject’s eyes to the white collar. The picture would be quite dull and dead without it.
But is this white focus too strong? Yes, it is. This also shows the artist’s lack of proficiency. The result also is a kind of anomaly in the image, which leaves the eye unsatisfied and unpersuaded. The intention as can be seen is to create that vitality with the eye jumping between the forehead, more starkly light, and that smaller light collar, which has been achieved to some extent, but is also not persuasive.The barest hint of a transparent glaze over that white would have made an astounding, persuasive, difference.
While in that area, look above to the subject’s left ear, shown here above the collar. That area has been created using the very thin paint described. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll also see a single Liner Stroke applied with very thin see-through paint, the same mix as the Opaque Glaze mix, in a curved stroke to create and define the inner area of the subject’s ear. Right beside that, to the right as we look at it, is a smaller stroke made the same way, which creates and defines the outer curve of the ear.
I’d have to use a hundred adjectives to describe the feeling of facing a brand new blank canvas – without any idea of what I’m going to create – and about to start. The feeling begins sometimes months earlier, when the canvas is leaning against the wall awaiting its time. Then, when the day approaches, intensity rises.
In my art courses I talk about “molding and shaping” an image. This is only possible with advanced techniques. The image takes on a three-dimensional quality, as you work with the techniques in terms of depth, as well of course of working in terms of everything else: colour, line, texture, form, composition, tone.
This is true also of abstracts. If you’re out to create something engaging, to put it mildly, an abstract can rip your last creative urgency from the very edge of your ability. You are constantly dealing with balance. You purposely throw the painting out of balance, which hurls you to that edge. Having placed yourself in that most precarious of creative positions you are impelled then to reclaim balance – having advanced the painting. This then gives the work a quality it otherwise would not have received.
You are – creatively, spiritually, intellectually, physically and emotionally – flying.
One of the things I enjoyed about creating that image is that it can be turned to any cardinal direction, whereupon it takes on a whole new sensibility.