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

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.’