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PAINTING BACKGROUNDS

IT’S A PHILOSOPHICAL THING

In response to inquiries on this subject

Airbrush

The most seemingly insignificant part of any picture can make or break the final result. The sky is a key element in landscapes and nature painting and my comments will apply to this and not to other painting subjects such as portraits. With watercolour paintings the background (sky, forests etc), if painted too lightly first time can result in needing a second coat. It is then that the risk of loosing vibrance by making the paint too dense is a real possibility. And paint the background sky too dark and the tonal range of the whole picture can be jeopardised (unless you want a dark background which is a common thing). My preference in painting backgrounds is with a large Raphael Le 803 brush (sizes 5-11)., and lots of water to boot. Not everyone wants to use a brush.

Over the past decade or two,I have observed the increased use of air brush technique when making pictures of nature. Air brush painting has been an acceptable practice since early 1890’s, and used very effectively for creating pictures of vehicles, motor bikes, boats, portraits, huge wall murals and even by panel-beaters and car decorators. There is a clear and valid use of the device, which I expect, requires a lot of training and skills development- just like any art technique. I have seen images of motorbikes painted using air brush and they are just superb. It is also a technique that appears to lend itself to hyper-realism picture production and helps to create a real bing in a picture. My enthusiasm starts to decline with vehicles, buildings, graffitti and architectural images.

Despite not liking to be boxed into an art type my artwork appears to be consistent with those known as naturalism works- a subset of realism. I like using brushes because they are a natural tool for watercolour- a bit like charcoal and graphite for drawings and linework. My favourite subjects are found in nature and landscapes. I even have a native plant garden. But back to the subject-

The use of air brush technique to make a picture of a natural subject relies in the first instance upon a personal choice which is to answer the question: how do you want the final picture to appear? it’s a philosophical thing really. Each to their own, I say. Many a person trying to paint nature starts out by trying to replicate a photograph. And it is right there that things start to unravel. Well known artists even make air brush backgrounds- and eventually they all start to look the same- same colours, same everything. And if you look in their studio there will be a line-up of pictures being mass produced. That’s just professional art you say. It’s a personal choice- I say. Where is the wrestling with the picture, where is the uniqueness, where is the art? Painting of nature (fauna and flora) has shifted in recent years with hyperrealism artists making huge pictures of small creatures like 60cm high wrens. And that’s all there is- just a wren or a lion or a zebra- no composition with habitat, just an objectified thing and perhaps clinging to a straight stick. And the air brush is used to create the equivelant of an out-of-focus background in a photograph. It’s a studio adaption not a natural reality. The gradation of a shape from in focus to out of focus as achieved in a photograph is not how our eyes perceive an image. We focus on what we are looking at and the rest is simply not specifically recognised. However, since digital photography has become so commonly used we have allowed ourselves to replicate  a photographic style in place of a natural style. And that’s a philosophical choice. My real concern is the lack of creativity being applied by artists when making a composition- originality is being replaced by photo interpretation.

I have never used an air brush and I don’t expect I ever will because I have a technique that I enjoy. It’s a philosophical thing.

and while I am at it another thing that I don’t do- use masking fluid

I don’t use masking fluid to achieve highlights or to protect a piece of paper for later pure colouring. A close examination (and sometimes not so close) of a watercolour painting may reveal the use of masking fluid- the shape of the latex gunk used these days is usually sharp rough edged like a ragged triangle and unlike any natural highlight- it usually looks awful and extremely unatural. So why do people use the stuff in nature painting ?

Before latex masking fluid was availanble one thing artists use to use was wax on paper to stop paint soaking in and then use a hot iron over blotting paper to absord the unwanted wax.

In nature, you will be pushing uphill to find true white, so why imagine that preserving bright white miss-shapen highlights will bring a benefit to a picture. A white feather on a bird will usually be a very pale buff yellow/white; grey/white, pinky/white or so on.

Wandoo and shrubs

The picture above (Wandoo and Shrubs) forms part of a much larger watercolour landscape painting. I wanted the pale trunks of the Wandoo trees to stand out from the darker colours of the shrubs. A feint pencil line indicated where the tree trunks were to be. I carefully but freely painted up to those lines with the dark green and blue. I didn’t care if a bit of paint went to far (as you can see) as long as I maintained the impression of stand out tree trunks. The clouds are wet brushed with clear water added before and sfter the blu paint was applied and then lifted out for the cotton wool effect- revealing a suitable white to give a reliable impression of clouds.

The same approach was used in this painting of karri trees trunks against the blue sky.

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Australian Birds in natural settings- the essence of Australian Bird Art

Splendid View of the Ridge Churchill Scan

Australian birds can be found in the bush, on waterways, in urban areas and around rural properties. Some birds are more recognizable for their urban predominance rather than occurring in their historically natural environment. Silver Gulls and in recent years in Western Australia- the noisy vandalising Corellas.

When it comes to creating a composition to feature a native bird, I weigh-up the various options which might best represent the natural habitat of that species of bird. Black Cockatoos dwell in Wandoo forest as do Galahs and many other parrots. And because I love the old gnarled Wandoo trees then I automatically merge the birds onto the Wandoo branches. Scarlet Robins, Western Rosellas, Willie Wagtails and 28 Parrots can be frequently found in the edges of the forest bordering along pasture land and even feeding in the pastureland. It seems to me that old fence posts are just so natural a place to find these species of birds; it seems OK therefore to place these birds on old mossy posts.

As a bird watcher I am happy to see birds in natural and semi-natural habitats. And when considering a new painting design I fail to accept that placing a bird  on a stick or on a shadow to make a quick simplistic illustration and present it as a serious painting is for me. I want more from the effort.

The challenge of creating a composition that incorporates a natural habitat for a bird to be found in (in real life) is what makes a painting worthwhile and authentic. People who view my work and acquire paintings frequently state that the authentically natural habitat or setting is what they appreciate about my paintings. That is where or when I get enormous satisfaction.

My aim is to produce work that clearly falls within the description or classification of what can be called Australian Bird Art.

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WINTER’S EVENING LOOKOUT

WINTER’S EVENING LOOKOUT- AUSTRALIAN MASKED OWL PRINT

WINTER’S EVENING LOOKOUT- AUSTRALIAN MASKED OWL

The rich colours of the Karri tree branch on a wet winter evening seemed just the spot to perch a masked Owl. This is the first painting in a series of Owl portraits planned for production over the next twelve months. It was 1973 when I painted my last Australian Owl. I had a broken leg and painted a picture of the Boobook Owl in flight. So there has been quite a drought.

Now available as an open giclee print –

A3P38 WINTER’S EVENING LOOKOUT- Australian Masked Owl

An A3+ sized print (329mm x 483mm) on 300gsm Bright Rag Postage and packaging are included in the price This is print only – no matt board We deliver via Australia Post.

A$149.95

A3N04 WINTER’S EVENING LOOKOUT – AUSTRALIAN MASKED OWL

On an A3 sized sheet 300gsm Bright Rag Postage and packaging are included in the price This is print only – no matt board We deliver via Australia Post.

A$99.95

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Australian Birds in natural settings- the essence of Australian Bird Art

Splendid View of the Ridge Churchill Scan

Australian birds can be found in the bush, on waterways, in urban areas and around rural properties. Some birds are more recognizable for their urban predominance rather than occurring in their historically natural environment. Silver Gulls and in recent years in Western Australia- the noisy vandalising Corellas.

When it comes to creating a composition to feature a native bird, I weigh-up the various options which might best represent the natural habitat of that species of bird. Black Cockatoos dwell in Wandoo forest as do Galahs and many other parrots. And because I love the old gnarled Wandoo trees then I automatically merge the birds onto the Wandoo branches. Scarlet Robins, Western Rosellas, Willie Wagtails and 28 Parrots can be frequently found in the edges of the forest bordering along pasture land and even feeding in the pastureland. It seems to me that old fence posts are just so natural a place to find these species of birds; it seems OK therefore to place these birds on old mossy posts.

As a bird watcher I am happy to see birds in natural and semi-natural habitats. And when considering a new painting design I fail to accept that placing a bird  on a stick or on a shadow to make a quick simplistic illustration and present it as a serious painting is for me. I want more from the effort.

The challenge of creating a composition that incorporates a natural habitat for a bird to be found in (in real life) is what makes a painting worthwhile and authentic. People who view my work and acquire paintings frequently state that the authentically natural habitat or setting is what they appreciate about my paintings. That is where or when I get enormous satisfaction.

My aim is to produce work that clearly falls within the description or classification of what can be called Australian Bird Art.

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AGONIZING THE ART

ON BEING AN ARTIST AND STARTING A PAINTING (or a poem)

You come across words, in the most unexpected places at times, that just strike home so appropriately. There is a wrestling and an uneasiness that I experience each time I approach a brand new picture-to be. There is rarely an exception. And while reading the brilliant book: “The Hare With Amber Eyes” by Edmund de Waal, I was absolutely delighted to come across some words of the German/ Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke addressing the very issue of what it is like to be an artist. So I have two quotes (below) that encapsulate the seemingly long and struggling period leading up to the lifting of the paint brush and laying down the first brush stroke. And within minutes you experience all sorts of emotions- from loss of confidence through to relief. Rainer’s comments bring assurance to all who write and paint.


“Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further. The further one goes, the more private, the more personal, the more singular an experience becomes, and the thing one is making is, finally, the necessary, irrepressible, and as nearly as possible, the definitive utterance of this singularity.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Small Rainer-Maria-Rilke

The Swan
Rainer Maria Rilke

Listen
This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.


And this is just one of those drawings that I am simply waiting to start the painting- but just don’t seem to be able to swing it just yet. Maybe after lunch I will land on the water.

small

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IMPROVING PICTURE PRODUCTION- Drawing with Pitt Oil Base Pencils

Pitt Oil Base Pencils are a product of Faber-Castell.

While holidaying in San Francisco I shopped at Dick Blick Art Berkeley as you do if you want a wide selection of products and great bargain prices: https://www.dickblick.com/stores/california/berkeley/

I now buy these Oil Base pencils through the Art Shop in Bayswater, Victoria:

https://theartshop.com.au/

And as I do when travelling, in the USA or Australia, I grab small items to take home and trial them. It only took one of the Faber-Castell Pitt Oil Base pencils and I was hooked. I also purchase Strathmore’s Bristol paper pads because we simply cannot get the range of sheet sizes as are available in the USA. In fact I purchased a larger suit case just so I could bring home lower priced materials for myself- and yes, the price for the suit case has been covered by just two trips.

RIVER RED-GUM, PARACHILNA GORGE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

River Red Gum Brachina Gorge

Combining both pencil and paper and you will get the blackest black and softest grey for sketches and final drawings as shown in this drawing of a River Red Gum (Eucalyptus) growing in the river embankment of the Parachilna Gorge, South Australia. There are hundreds of beautiful big mature trees growing along the rivers in the Flinders Ranges.

Achieving consistency

I have struggled with impatience while drawing over the years and finally stumbled upon a remedy to the ailment in my personal management style. I made two decisions:

  1. I bought a very good and reliable pencil sharpener and installed it next to my drawing desk. I like using mechanical pencils because they are consistent and enable different size and lead hardness to be used e.g. 4B 1mm diam graphite leads.  I dislike the experience of getting towards the end of the led and the mechanism no longer holds the lead stable. A sharpened pencil is pure delight to use and I am more forgiving of any flaws they might have. And
  2.  I bought packets of twelve Oil Pitt pencils at a time; and I keep about six or more sharpened throughout a drawing-session. By starting off with six or more sharpened pencils , and stopping to re-sharpen them all when the last pencil becomes blunt, I find I draw more consistent lines and shading.

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With the oil base, these pencils offer rich black which I cannot achieve with graphite; but can achieve with charcoal but compared to charcoal the amount of smudge and dust is much less problematic. Too much black when drawing can also be easily lifted off with the Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser or similar product.

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Creating the painting: SHARING IN THE HARVEST-BAUDIN’S BLACK COCKATOOS

Creating a painting starts with an idea.

During the coming August, 2019, Margaret River will celebrate the opening of the new Arts and Culture Centre (called HEART). Local artists have been invited to submit works for that celebratory event.

I wanted to produce a picture that was different to my usual efforts and one that would have a bit of wow factor- a bit of “Bing”. So I searched my picture files and out jumped the series of photos of the Baudin’s Black Cockatoo’s feeding on the grapevines at Howard park Winery in Metricup. I was excited but also a bit apprehensive at this option.

Once decided upon I then started roughing out some ideas.

Task No 1 Choosing a (Vertical) format

A vertical format was chosen initially and concept sketches produced. I roughed up some ideas on A3 paper to get a bit of ideas down on paper. I then chose the preferred option and created a concept sketch.

This first picture shows the concept sketch without any birds on it.

Concept sketch for Sharing In the harvest.jpg

Task No 2: Choose the bird postures from my photograph library

The development of a concept drawing relies upon a few things happening together. This is where the composition is developed- the most important call in creating an appealing picture.  Three drawings were developed from the photo library and each one photographed when completed.  These days I use Faber-Castell Pit Oil Base Extra Soft pencils for drawing as it provides a beautifully smooth and rich black tone. These drawings are completed on Strathmore Bristol 270gsm smooth surfaced paper which is beautiful to work on.

These drawings are free-hand works and no image projection is used.

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The three drawings are then photographed and printed to a size to suit the concept sketch. The prints are then cut down and placed over the concept sketch.

CONCEPT WITH BIRDS

Task No 3: Creating the Final Composition Drawing

Having settled on the general layout of the vines and background, and horizon line, the position for the three birds is determined so that pictorial balance is achieved. A final drawing is now developed of the vines ready for transfer onto the working paper.

TRACED IMAGE PRE PAINTING

Task 4 Tracing the Final Image onto the watercolour paper

The drawing of the vine was drawn directly onto the Arches 300gsm smooth paper (which 98% of my paintings are produced on). The Arches paper was stretched a day before and you can see the brown gummed paper that holds that paper to the underlying support board. No tracing was involved and just used the full sized sketch drawing as guide by laying it over the Arches paper every now and then to check position of leaves and key branches. Each bird was traced onto the paper. I use an old primary school method- rub the back of the drawing paper with soft graphite and then trace onto the Arches paper with a fine pencil point. The result is a picture that looks like the line drawing that has been created as above.

Task No 5: Painting the Picture

Nothing magic here just several days of painting.

Baudins- Sharing the HarvestWatercolour small detail of bird _D8H3837

This detail shows the key elements to the picture: bird, leaves and grapes. I used red grapes rather then white because they provided additional dynamics to the picture.

Each bird consists of about four layers of paint- lamp black, Warm Sepia, Mauve, Ultramarine Blue and Raw Umber are used to develop the feather colours. Each feather is painted to obtain a graded tone to represent the contours of that feather. Final detailing is added to give highlight and pale edges (umber tinted titanium white) with Lamp Black breaks to the feather edges for realistic visual impact. This painting was completed over 12 days- includes drawings and painting (about 60 to 70 hours).

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A Couple of New Special Brushes

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I have opted to try a few new brushes in recent weeks to see how they perform. Normally I use Raphael Kolinsky 8408 series for my watercolour bird paintings. For skies I would have used a wonderful #10 brush to apply a thin wash of Cerulean Blue with a touch of Mauve or even just a little of Sepia or Raw Umber to warm the clouds.

While in Paris two years ago I visited Senneliers Art Shop (Magasin Sennelier: http://magasinsennelier.net/index.html

Sennelier Art Supplies St Germaine buildings & art ParisSt Germaine buil;dings & art ParisDSCF3968

If you want a great discussion on art materials etc then visit this wonderful shop just east of the Musee D’Orsay on Quai Voltaire. Without checking the price of this Raphael #11 Le “803” brush I just added it to my collection of items in my hands at the time. I drew a long breathe when I got back to the hotel and checked the prices.

Not to worry. This brush is now very much proven itself as the go-to brush for big sky washes and under coating foregrounds. I even use it to paint grasses and bark on the trees as in this latest landscape:

Free to Grow As You Like Karri trees on Rocky Rd Warner Glen WA (3)

In Australia they can be purchased for about $185 AU and while expensive I cannot imagine working without it.

The second new brush compliments the Raphael 803. I have only ever liked using one Windsor and Newton brush: #6 Pointed Round. Again I found it a superb instrument for painting wispy fine features such as leaves and grass. It carries a considerable amount of paint and allows fine lining for finishing.

Both brushes glide well, sit comfortably in the hand (amongst fingers); hold excellent quantities of paint that flows freely as you want it to.