Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The art of tempera painting

I briefly mentioned tempera painting in a previous blog. The technique pre-dated oil painting and requires a slow and painstaking approach. I have done very few paintings in it but feel it is very worthy of further consideration and practice. Below is a portrait I did of my mother using this technique. The original painting measures only 5″ x 4″.

In a later blog, I will discuss both the history and techniques of tempera painting.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yesterday, I returned to Pin Mill in the hope of completing the painting I had started the previous day.
The block- in stage was complete. Now it was time to focus on more detail. Obviously, work was required on the barges and distant horizon. I also wanted to capture the reflections and play of light on the water.

But as Robert burns said ” The best- laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley”. Unfortunately, good light stopped play. Instead of the brooding sky of the previous day, I was confronted by bright blue sky and white fluffy clouds! There was absolutely no way I could continue with the painting above . Everything was different, from the light to the colour, shadows and reflections! Painting en plein air can be very frustrating!
And so I had to move to plan B. Fortunately, I had come prepared to start another painting. Beyond the barges and houseboats, there are some marvellous old rotting hulks which appeal greatly. I love the decaying moss- covered timbers , the flaking paint , the rusting metalwork. Not the picture postcard view of Pin Mill , but equally fascinating.

My medium was still gouache, but this time I chose to work on a rough surfaced watercolour board (N.O.T.) The subject just cried out for it with all that decay and texture. As before, I went straight in with a large brush, geting the basic outlines and main masses. The pigment is still fluid. Olive green, ultramarine, burnt sienna and white were the colours used at this stage.

I move rapidly on to painting the sky, indicating the distant trees on the other side of the river, and ,of course the river itself. ( I am aware the horizon dips steeply to the left, but this will be corrected later) I have already indicated the foreground mud but decide to leave it and see what happens when the tide starts to come in. I concentrate on drawing the boats ( a tricky piece of perspective) looking at scale and shape. I begin to start painting thickly in places to suggest the texture of the timbers or flaking rust. Gouache is an ideal medium for this . It dries instantly and retains its impasto. But it remains water soluble and can thus be painted back into or even sponged off if required. A very forgiving medium indeed.

By now, after about 2 hours painting, the tide is rapidly moving in to engulf both the hulks and the artist! Suddenly, the subject becomes alive with the image of thes old boats, abandoned and stranded atop the sandbank. I very quickly indicate the approaching water and reflections on it.
It is now time to pack up paints and easel and retreat to dry land.
As before , I am now left with another unfinished painting, but the excitement of that initial image is still there.
With both these paintings I will go back and do more work en plein air as well as finishing off in the studio. I will show the completed works in a later blog.
Working from photographs can not replace the excitement or energy required when painting on the spot. You are at the mercy of the elements and have to work at breackneck speed. You simply do not have time to fiddle around.
Be prepared for frustrations and always have a plan B, if not C at the ready.

Painting at Pin Mill 3

In my previous two blogs, I demonstrated en plein air landscape painting in gouache. Both were paintings of Pin Mill, a lovely spot on the Suffolk coast. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete either painting in one session due to weather and tide. I have since returned as well as doing more work in the studio. One of the paintings is now finished.
I have already shown the beginning and intermediate stages of the paintings, so I won’t dwell on lengthy explanations. ( For those see previous blogs)

The beginning of the painting

Intermediate stage of the gouache painting.

The finished painting.
As you will see, all areas have been worked on. The sky has been softened and blended. The distant shore has had more detail added. Small yachts have been introduced. The bulk of the work has been done on the hulks, scumbling to achieve the texture of the timbers or rust then working with a fine sable brush on top when more precision was required. Masts have been altered and rigging added. With large hog’s hair brushes, I painted the foreground fairly freely, and on occasions even employed a palette knife.
As I have said in previous blogs, gouache is a wonderful medium for working out of doors. It dries instantly, but remains water soluble. It is opaque and is therefore very forgiving. Any mistakes can be instantly obliterated. It has a lovely chalky quality about it , ideal for atmospheric effects. Its disadvantages? You can’t glaze with it and blending is difficult. A technique akin to tempera has to be adopted. But overall, its good points far outweigh such difficulties.