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Portraits of African lives

One of the most exciting things about painting people with darker complexions is the way that light reflects on their skin. The contrasts are greater and the form and structure of the head more evident. Colours are also easier to see. My studio in South Africa has a large south-facing window (the equivalent of a north-facing window in the northern hemisphere), which gives me a cool constant natural light source with no direct sunlight coming into the room.

[caption id="attachment_163" align="aligncenter" width="494"] Portrait of Molly and Yenzaogolthi, oil on canvas, 30?24in (76?61cm). Before embarking on this portrait I was aware of most of the difficulties I would face and needed to be clear about what I wanted to capture[/caption]

The intensity of the light can change with cloud cover but the shapes of light, half-tone and shadow remain the same. Occasionally I paint a subject outdoors. In these situations I will either paint in a shaded area or with the sun almost directly behind the model, creating more of an edge light – the features of the sitter will then be in the reflected light. A wide-brimmed hat is essential to protect my eyes from the fierce African sun and I find that an hour is about as much as the sitter and I can take in these direct sun situations, I wish I could have the best mattresses for side sleepers so I can get some rest while painting.

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Landscape in perspective

The very word perspective makes most art students shudder – all that ‘technical drawing’, precision and formulaic planning – yikes! Well, it’s easier than you think and let’s face it, you need to get to grips with at least the very basic principles of perspective to see real improvements in your art.

Regardless of your subject, good perspective is the foundation on which a good painting is based. Even the simplest compositions are stronger when artists show evidence of good perspective skills.

[caption id="attachment_147" align="aligncenter" width="490"] Pathway Over the Moors,Van Gogh gouache, Rembrandt and Unison pastels, Quink ink, Royal Talens acrylic ink and Nitram charcoal on Canson Moulin du Roy Not 140lb (300gsm), 20?22in (51?56cm)[/caption]

Assess your subject

The most obvious subjects that require perspective are buildings and cityscapes. In the next issue we will look at this more closely but let’s not overlook landscape. The ‘big landscape’ can appear daunting at first – especially to beginners and artists just starting to paint the subject but some pre-planning will help you as you work. Firstly, ask yourself why you want to paint the scene.

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Express yourself in acrylics

Whether you make art to sell or for therapy, allowing yourself to shine through your work is something you shouldn't shy away from. You don't have to spend years of studying to be able to express yourself. We all have feelings and emotions that we can use in our artwork. Whether on paper, canvas or clay, self-expression normally begins with some sort of mark, even for photorealistic painters.

Your marks make you special

Imagine a straight line. If you were to draw or paint a straight line without a ruler, it might be a little shaky. For some people that can be upsetting and create a feeling of failure, but for me it brings me closer to the person behind it. That singular mark is what makes you special, so embrace the shakes!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oNsMva04MM

Some of the greatest artists can be identified through their marks. Van Gogh is a good example of this. When I saw his work in the Van Gogh museum I couldn't help but feel his presence through his brushstrokes – his marks are so alive and expressive.

What makes you special is how you interpret your subject, whether through mark making, powerful subject matter or strong colour, these elements will make you stand out. Many people comment on the sense of movement in my own paintings – marks going in different directions with flicks, twists and turns are what create this impression. Every mark is as important as the next and I want the viewer to enjoy the scene through my own energy encompassed in every mark made.

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Australia – a painter’s view

Close family ties take me to Australia, to a town on the Great Ocean Road. This coastal strip has wide beaches of white, soft sand and dunes, backed by low tree-covered hills.

On my last trip I endeavoured to do a painting most days and very nearly achieved my aim; a holiday can seem to be missing something unless I do a few works – I guess I’m an addict and just can’t do without my painting fix. My sketchbooks fill quite quickly.

[caption id="attachment_57" align="alignnone" width="816"] Beneath the Lighthouse, Split Point, mixed media, 10?13in (25.5?33cm). The light was dazzling, the dark rocks glittering in the strong sunshine, the towering cliff stack reflecting darkly in the turquoise waters. I didn’t have time for much of a sketch here but managed a quick snap while walking, and then worked from that a few hours later while the image was still vivid in my mind. I used ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and raw umber to give monumental solidity to the rocks, allowing flashes of bright colour to describe the form of the cliff. In the foreground I painted swift, broad brushstrokes of turquoise, alizarin, lemon yellow and umber to give light and strength without over- describing the plants and grasses. For the shallow water at the base of the cliffs I used semi-transparent turquoise and crimson applied over the pale pink background, with cobalt blue and pale dioxazine purple for the deeper waters[/caption]

But I also had a small pack of basic equipment with me and the newness of this landscape prompted me to paint small works on acrylic paper, working from my sketches and glancing occasionally at the image on my mobile phone screen.

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The Illusion of Glass

I put my satisfaction with watercolour painting down to its elusive quality. The merest touch of colour dropped onto a wet surface can express so much. So often it is the case of what is not painted that says what is intended and in this article I shall give you a few hints and tips that will help to explain almost nothing!

To get to grips with how to depict glass you need to note exactly what you actually see as opposed to what you think you ought to see. Because we see through glass we need to paint what is behind it and, if it is a vessel, what it contains. Glass in the form of a vessel can do all kinds of things to the above depending on its make, thickness and shape. Distortion is common together with reflections and refractions.

Additionally, glass is a hard, crisp- edged material that looks worse if painted with a woolly edge. Needless to say if one tries to depict all the aspects the image could look overloaded and unreal. The trick is to know what to put in and what to leave out, along with the illusion. Imply rather than overstate – keep it simple!

[caption id="attachment_41" align="aligncenter" width="390"] STAGE ONE This vase has a complex symmetrical shape. To achieve this, a paper cut out is needed. Fold the paper in half and draw the shape against the fold – when opened out you have your symmetrical shape. Lay this over masking tape (or Frisk Film) and cut out the shape[/caption] [caption id="attachment_42" align="aligncenter" width="398"]
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The Studio Corner

My studio is an old cider barn that looks out across a farmyard from a large, west- facing window. As a painting space, it can be pretty dark through the winter months, but each spring, like some ancient Druid, I wait for the day when the sun just gets into one corner of the studio before setting over the barn across the yard.

From that day on, through the spring and up to mid- summer, the puddle of sunlight gets bigger and the light stronger until, by mid-June, I often can’t work in there at all as the sunlight blazes in and lights up the whole building.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RthXXGhMvgM

There are days when I hope it might be cloudy, or perhaps even rain, to slow things down a little so that I can do things in a more considered way, but every spring I find myself waiting with growing excitement for the day that I can start to make paintings out of the frenzy of the returning sunlight.

The sun moves quickly – in minutes the shadow of a glazing bar moves across the newspapers sprawled on the studio table. The reflected bounce of colour and light is quite unlike anything I’ve seen all through the winter.

Day one

On one such day I manoeuvred my easel so that I could paint a succession of little panels as the scene changed. I laid out my usual palette in the usual way, with a handful of brushes and a jar of spirit to swill them in, so at least that part of the process would be automatic.

[caption id="attachment_27" align="aligncenter" width="979"] Corner Table, Spring Sun, oil on canvas, 20?24in (51?61cm). [...]

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Richard Burger

Born in Genoa, Italy, Richard Burger studied in New York and London at art schools internationally recognised for their independent approach to teaching art and their success at nurturing accomplished, often groundbreaking, artists.

Now living and working in London, he recalls his formative years before he became an artist, and the influences that affected his career choice and painting style: ‘I grew up in an artistic household where I was always encouraged to pick up colours and a paintbrush. Both my mother and my sister were artists.’ Richard's sister Carol is the subject of the portrait that was accepted for the 2016 BP Portrait Award (right).

Powerful images

[caption id="attachment_10" align="aligncenter" width="616"] Lulu, oil and spray paint on canvas, 12?12in (30.5?30.5cm). ‘As a rule, I much prefer painting from life. However, I think it is unfair to ask children to pose from life for obvious reasons, so my tactic is to get to know them; I spend a few hours with them, taking photos and generally trying to make them feel comfortable. On this occasion, we went to an art fair in the afternoon with the family and then we all went out for dinner. So by the time I sat down to paint, I had a feeling for what could work.’[/caption]

Richard's figurative paintings are powerful and colourful: ‘I love painting in oil. I find it very forgiving as a medium, providing you follow the rules. I sometimes use acrylic for backgrounds to get rid of the whiteness of the canvas. I also love using watercolour pencil for sketches and preparatory drawings, expressive observations of people around me and everyday life.’

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