Ok so you finish your painting and that’s an achievement in itself. But is it finished or have you a tendency to just add one more finishing touch?
I know I do. I say to myself, ‘right, that’s it, finished, definitely finished.’ And as I’m saying it I find myself just adding a little dab of paint here and there, and then a bit more until I find I’ve messed up what I just had and have to start again. Sound familiar? I’m sure it does.
Then what happens? A few days later you look at your painting and something doesn’t look right. It seems flat and one-dimensional. It doesn’t jump out and grab your attention. It’s just not striking enough. So how can you improve that? How can you make your painting stand out and be noticed?
Well look no further, here’s a sure-fire proven method used by painters such as Holbein, Stanley Spencer and Winslow Homer, to name a few.
If you are painting a landscape add some cloud shadow. OK so it may not have been there on the day you started painting but you are the artist, you can change the canvas to suit yourself. Imagine there was a big cloud overhead and a large shadow has been cast across maybe one-third of the field you have just painted.
Look at Winslow Homer’s The Fog Warning or Stanley Spencer’s view of Cookham where if you look at the right hand corner of the painting and you will see exactly what I mean. You may be unsure about painting a layer of burnt umber or ultramarine over your bright green field but be adventurous, give it a go and I’m sure you will be pleased with the results. One tip though is to dilute the paint with a glazing medium, that we you will still be able to retain the form and original colour underneath.
The same applies to a portrait. Maybe there wasn’t a light shining on the day you painted but add your own shadow and suddenly you will see how you have given your character depth made them real. This may seem obvious but I don’t think it is.
What I don’t mean is, there’s a tree, there’s the sun add a shadow. I’m thinking of something a little more subtle that the observer of your painting might not at first notice. Take a look at Holbein’s painting of Jane Seymour and better still, Christina of Denmark. See the shadow on the right and on the left? Both are pretty much identical and both give a 3D quality to the painting that tends to turn the sitter towards you. Have a look at the Merchant Georg Gisze too. There is an almost identical use of shadow by Holbein. It’s the same thing.
I used the same effect on my picture of the two offshore deck crew struggling with the anchor brake.
I put the shadow in to add drama and to emphasise the huge chains which overshadow the characters. I’m also using the same effect on a painting of Sebastian and Harlem Eubank.
Not quite finished yet but you get the idea. Next time you are painting try it yourself, then put your paint brush down and reap the rewards!
Life, the world, the universe … What do we know about them? We humans tend to be planners. We look into the future and make decisions, not always based on solid experience but often on hunches, ideas or dreams. If it works out, we congratulate ourselves for being so smart, if it doesn’t, then we blame ourselves or often others for being so stupid as to ever think that scheme would work in the first place. Luck, attitude and confidence play a large part in our success, but then life comes along and interferes and we are back to square one. Looking back you can see where you went wrong, it’s obvious, isn’t it? So if you happened to own a time machine, would you go back and do it differently? This is what happened to me …
Art College was a kind of gap year while I got my band together ready to hit the big time. What could possibly go wrong? OK so the gap year was more like five months but I was in a hurry to head to London where fame and fortune awaited, or so I thought …
Leap forward 43 years. Well fame and fortune didn’t meet me in London or if it did, it was so different that I just didn’t recognise it. Life flew by, I got a job, grew up a bit and got older too. That’s when my hands got achy which in turn made guitar playing a bit more awkward. And that’s when I happened on some luck, I noticed 3 easels standing in an old corner of an out building where we live.
I produce some oil paintings of my wife Helen, a self-portrait and a couple more.
Helen seems genuinely surprised at how good my paintings are so brimming with confidence I pronounce myself a genius and spend any spare moment I have studying the glazing techniques of Vermeer and figuring out what scumbling and glazing are all about. Who needs a guitar when you are master of the paint brush?
Painting continues in between bouts of work in the North Sea. However I am not put off. I see this as an opportunity to draw and paint a record of the people and locations I know offshore.
And luck? Well I’m lucky that I didn’t start painting earlier. Paints, brushes and canvas are not cheap and I think I would have soon gone broke. Painting in a bedsit is OK at 21, but would I change it? Yes, I would! Now I’m older I appreciate more space. There are plenty of rooms in our house so obviously I choose the one nearest the kettle which also happens to be right near the kitchen table, perfect!
By the way, have you ever noticed how paint brushes roll around and make splodges when they hit the floor? Has no one invented a square sided paint brush? And another thing, how does paint get on walls, door handles and carpets? Surely this will always remain one of life’s mysteries. But the odd thing is, paint actually appears to be following my progress through the house! A bit weird, don’t you think? Anyway, after an enlightening chat with my wife I move from the kitchen to the Sun Room. That turns out to be a misnomer as it’s freezing so I move to a spare bedroom and set myself up there.
I submit a picture of three North Sea Oil workers to a maritime art exhibition. A nautical theme is requested and my picture is rejected. It might be because I didn’t include a boat, but I’m not sure.
I am asked if I do commissions. I’m flattered but explain that I am working on increasing my portfolio and don’t yet have the time.
The pipeline inspection work in the North Sea is complete and I return home to concentrate on painting full time for the whole of August.
Helen calls the Maritime Museum in Aberdeen and points them in the direction of my offshore paintings. The Curator rings back and says he would like to put them in an exhibition but it won’t be for a while.
I finish a landscape of the Sussex Downs which I’m very pleased with, I reckon it’s my best so far. It’s a large painting and I decide the best way to photograph it for my website is in daylight, so I take the painting and the easel into the garden.
I prop up my painting and stand back. There is a slight flutter as the wind catches the corner. As it lurches forward I dive towards it. Relief! I grab it and hold it firmly in both hands. Nice catch! What I haven’t noticed is that the easel is also hurtling towards me. There is a ripping sound and I look on in disbelief as the easel tears a 2 feet long horizontal gash in the canvas.
But surely I can turn this misfortune round? I decide this is my opportunity to take my painting to a local art gallery on the pretence that I need advice on getting it fixed. I twiddle the picture around in front of the gallery owner in an attempt to dazzle her, but she appears unaffected. I return home and hunt in the kitchen draw for the scissors.
I’m in luck again. A still-life painting of a dining table covered in glasses which I submitted to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters is pre-selected.
So I go to London. I’m cautious in case it gets damaged so I take it by train and taxi.
National Portrait and National Gallery
I drop my painting off and decide to spend the rest of the day at the National Portrait and National Gallery. I haven’t been for 40 years and it’s a bit of an eye opener. I now have a good idea of Holbein’s technique for painting material. It seems to me that the faint shadows are produced by glazing but the darker ones are added afterwards. I try to find the Vermeer but the gallery is closed due to industrial action. However the Impressionist gallery is open. It’s interesting looking at Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres as I didn’t realise that the whole picture is scumbled from top to bottom. I think I’ll try this myself when I get home.
I am offered another commission. I now have 27 paintings completed so after a bit of umming and ahhing and another gentle word from Helen, I decide to do it. The portrait is of Katherine in her wedding dress. The dress is a real challenge, and I paint it one layer at a time. It takes a few weeks to complete and after 6 different layers I am pleased with the results. I decide to advertise for more.
A last minute job puts me back in the North sea with limited internet or phone contact. It’s a bit of a set back but also an opportunity to catch up on my blogging. (To be continued).