Oil on Gesso primed plywood panel. (8″ x 10″ approx.)
I enjoyed painting this light filled scene from a photo I took in Venice two years ago. I’ve been diligently trying to achieve a looser, more painterly approach and also, to concentrate on establishing the correct balance of tonal values from the very first “roughing in” stage of the painting. I feel I’m getting somewhere – slowly, though. Making it look easy is not easy! Counterintuitively, I’m discovering that to create a spontaneous look actually requires a methodical, analytical, considered brush-stroke by considered brush-stroke approach. But it’s a wonderful discovery and one that makes me want to get to my easel at every opportunity!
I started painting this “in situ” in Falkland but my first “go” at it did not ‘go’ at all well, so I scrubbed it off, took a photo, packed up my easel and came home with my tail between my legs! Next day, I started off this version in the studio working from the photo. Yes, it was certainly easier working in the studio with no cold or wind to bother me and no curious passers-by making me feel self-conscious (!) but – somehow I missed the immediacy and raw emotion of painting ‘en plain air’. It’s been a long time since I ventured outdoors with paint and canvas and I realised that I’ve become a bit too used to the more contemplative and leisurely approach that painting indoors encourages. When you’re out in the open, with your packed lunch in your pocket, you know you’ve only a short time to capture the essence of the scene in front of you and that tends to sharpen your focus and is altogether a more demanding activity – and it requires your mind to be fresh and sharp too. If I’m in any way sub-par, e.g, not having slept well the night before – as was the case that day – then I find it much harder to produce work of the quality I’m aiming for. But then I’m always striving for the unattainable, so having an off day makes that goal even further out of reach! All part of the learning experience.
Well, I’m sorry it’s been so long since I last put something up here but life kinda got in the way – birthdays, holidays, family visits, speaking engagements, not to mention false starts or interesting and enjoyable distractions! Hopefully this will be the start of a more sustained and disciplined approach. I do feel with this little oil painting of a local view that I have discovered a systematic approach that will yield better results if I just keep working at it.
Recently I’ve been studying the beautiful paintings of Jennifer McChristian, a Canadian artist. She emphasises the crucial importance of getting the values right (i.e. the tonal values). It’s something that I’ve always known is much more important than colour, but the way Jennifer approaches it is in a very methodical way, creating a little tonal sketch first, then working from that in the painting. So I thought I would take a leaf out of her book and see if it had any “value” for me! As I worked on the painting, I began to feel I was onto something in a way that I’ve not fully grasped in practice before. I’m excited because I see the way ahead beginning to unfold and I’m really motivated to “stay with the programme” and see where this takes me! Onwards and upwards!
"Values are critical. This can't be overstated. If you don't get the value relationship right between your color masses, it just won't work" - Jeff Mahorney
Pardon the pun but I’ve always been “drawn” to old cars as a subject, especially old cars that have been abandoned and are beginning to decay and fall apart. There’s something sad about an old rust-heap and yet the beauty of the original design and the engineering skill that went into these magnificent creatures somehow shines through all the more.
I say “creatures” because old cars like these seem to take on a personality of their own – they speak to me; they say: “I used to be something special; people valued me and cared about me – even loved me – until a newer, better model came along and then they retired me – relegated me to the second-hand market and eventually I ended up here, a discarded, useless, decrepit piece of junk! But in my heyday….you want to have seen me!”
Maybe these beautiful old beasts are a kind of metaphor for the arc of life we all go through as we age – eventually we all have to face up to the bitter truth that we’re not as fit or as sharp as we used to be – sooner or later we get replaced by younger models with more energy, youth and drive. Ah, but you should have seen me in my heyday!
Recently I completed this oil painting of “Billy” the Cairn Terrier which a friend of mine commissioned. As you can see from the photo, the painting is on a much larger scale than I usually do, so it took me considerably longer to finish than normal!
My client wanted a large painting and we discussed the possibility of including a Scottish croft in the background, since he had been brought up on a croft as a boy in Fife. I created the background to suggest the Lomond Hills in the distance and placed “Billy” in the foreground, as if he is anxiously waiting for his master to return.
This painting stretched me beyond the limits of what I normally do but I think the end result worked out “no’ too bad” as they say in these parts!