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.