Boats and harbours

I find that a lot of people struggle with boats but by getting people to sketch rather than try a full-blown painting I have had some really good results. Because ‘it’s only a sketch’ people loosen up and forget their boat block, and often produce some loose and lively work. Boats and harbours offer a wealth of painting opportunities.

TAGE ONE I drew in the main features, buildings, boats and banks, and just a hint of where the reflections would be, with my F and S Pitt pens

 

STAGE SIX I removed the masking fluid and added ultramarine to my stone mixes to describe all the shadow areas in the buildings and the weir walls. I also extended some sunlit wall reflections into the water next to the left-hand boat, keeping it lighter in tone than the shadow reflections

The scene is constantly shifting – boats languidly rolling on their moorings are left high and dry when the tide goes out. I do love getting down into the harbour floor to look up at the jaunty angles of the boats and it’s easy to become engrossed and overlook the fact that the water is on it’s way in – I have got my feet wet a few times.

Depending on weather and the time of year, harbours can be rather chilly venues so I always pack a waterproof jacket and best double stroller for my kids, which also keeps out the wind. I also tend to weigh down my lightweight easel when painting in case sudden gusts of wind take my kit on flying lessons. There have been times when I have had to go on a fishing expedition to retrieve a piece of kit that has been blown over the edge into the water. It’s all part of the enjoyment of painting en plein air!

The importance of the sketchbook

STAGE SEVEN I pulled all the reflections together with a glaze of rose madder and cobalt blue plus some dilute orange under the foreground boat to give unity to the water area. I also added some shadow areas next to the left-hand boat and the lock wall

I tend to sketch in pen and watercolour wash, going straight in with the pen work and then overlaying a series of watercolour washes. I find this stops me from fiddling and also forces me to concentrate on the scene so that each mark is as accurate as possible. There’s no rubbing out an ink line once it’s down so careful observation is paramount. That’s not to say that I don’t get it wrong sometimes but so what – I put in the correct mark and then colour over the wrong one, it’s only a sketch after all.

Porlock Weir

I have been to Porlock Weir a few times and am always excited by the wealth of painting material. On this occasion I had taken a group for a day’s sketching; the tide was out but the lock gates and the … Read the rest

Shake-up your style with collage

During the course of a long career teaching painting and drawing I have spent a lot of time persuading students that the subject of still life can be as exciting as any other, with considerable advantages over many of them. It doesn’t move, the light source is usually constant, it can be as colourful as desired – or not, and it is personal to you and can have a story to tell.

STAGE ONE Pieces of patterned papers that had been both cut and torn to give a variety of shapes were stuck onto mountboard, arranged to follow the subject in an approximate way; this is not the time to get down to detail. Some of the papers have glitter in them, which will give an interesting surface if retained. Other areas that would be painted conventionally, such as the jug, have old watercolour paintings on them. White tissue paper gives areas without objects textural interest. This part of the painting is always fun and stress-free, almost like being a child again

In addition, it will teach you all you need to know about drawing shapes, perspective, texture and composition– what’s not to like?

STAGE TWO Using a pigment marker I drew the subject over the collage, some of which I aimed to retain in the final painting. This is a personal choice as I like the strength that it gives, but most will be covered by paint so it doesn’t matter if I get things wrong! I added an extra plum by the vase to take the eye to that part of the piece

 

STAGE THREE I started to paint by running thin washes of acrylic paint over the piece, trying to keep some semblance of local colour in the areas where I needed it, such as the flowers and the tinted drinking glass. Trying to keep paint this liquid under control is never easy so I let it have its own way, hoping for some nice surprises. I enjoy the feeling of being led by the paint, letting the paint talk to me, before I talk to the paint and tell it what to do

  Banish the block

STAGE FOUR I painted mostly in the negative spaces around the objects, using the appropriate colours tinted with titanium white or parchment, keeping the collage in areas such as the glass and the flowers but totally obliterating it where it was not needed. I also picked up the chequered pattern from the collage and placed similar shapes elsewhere, to give balance and interest where needed. The ruggedness of this surface made painting extremely interesting and my tendency to be a bit precious and tight was put firmly to one side. Whole areas of colour and texture required little intervention from me, such as the musical score in the window frame – I like the idea of the observer looking closely and trying to work out what the tune is

About 25 years ago I had a period of … Read the rest

Near versus far

At a recent workshop I was asked why my demonstration painting appeared to have a great amount of depth when I had used values that were darker in the background than in the foreground.

The person asking the question had always been told you had to make the distance pale and the foreground strong and that cool colours have to be used in the background. Distance is an illusion that is achieved through the use of aerial perspective and whilst colours are often cooler towards the horizon, they aren’t always. Likewise, they’re not always pale values either. The distance, like all other elements of a painting is relative to the focus you choose and, in turn, how you decide to treat it.

Exaggerating distance

You can make anything distant, even features in the middle ground. Distance is relative to your focus, so choose that first and decide where it is going to be in the painting.

Here the distance has been achieved traditionally, using diluted colour to allow more of the paper to show through

 

Following a similar approach, I used thinner colour but added opaque white paint to the mix. The result is a slightly more solid, duller finish

A focus is part of the painting that holds the viewer’s attention so it needs to be prominent and interesting. A focus can be anything from a figure or figures to trees, a splash of light, a building, a lake and so on. Once you have decided on your focus you may need to use a compositional grid to place it in an appropriate setting near or around two of the intersecting compositional lines. Features behind the focal point can be made to appear more distant than they might really be, which in turn puts more emphasis on the focus you have chosen and creates greater depth in your work.

I mixed some colour with thick white paint and applied it neat to the paper. Notice that the application has formed a ragged edge because only a tiny amount of water was added to the paint. With colour so thick, I was able to place it more precisely than thinner paint

There are a few techniques to use but the main intention is to use less detail and blur most of the hard edges. Use a large brush to suggest any would-be fine detail shapes to generate simpler marks and a more distant feel.

To blur edges, the wet-into-wet technique is an evocative way to create softness; alternatively, paint the shapes in a conventional hard-edged manner and allow them to dry. Take a fine spray bottle and lightly spray the area with water so that it is just damp, then follow up with a stiff brush and gently work the edge of the paint into a blur. Any feature in the background of your painting that has soft or blurry edges will automatically look distant whether they are dark or light. Don’t always concern yourself with values and rules, … Read the rest

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.

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.

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.

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.

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"] STAGE TWO The masking tape has been cut out and masking fluid applied. When the fluid had dried, the first layer of paint was applied[/caption] [caption id="attachment_40" align="aligncenter" width="600"] FINISHED PAINTING Czech Coloured Glass, watercolour on Saunders Waterford HP 300gsm, 13?9in (33?23cm). A second layer of colour was applied to darken and define edges. I used a sponge to lose some edges. Finally I applied a transparent shadow[/caption]

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). Painted over three sessions, I liked the strong diagonal accents of alternating shadow and light, and the reflection in the mirror at the back of the group[/caption]

No particular thought went into setting up a still life as whatever I did would be subverted by the unpredictability of the splashes of brilliance and darkness – as the sun passes over the studio clutter all things move in and out of the light.

There wasn’t too much thought about composition either – this isn’t about stable pyramids of carefully drawn structure – I got it down as it happened by watching the movement of the light through the next hour or so, painting a sequence of little notes.

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.’

Of his continually evolving style, Richard says: ‘Every subject requires me to look at things afresh. I have always loved people, both interacting with and looking at them. Everyone is different and that makes for a challenge every time. Also, somehow painting from the model is more companionable than being alone in the studio! Having said that, I also love landscapes and beach scenes since they get me out in the world.’