Sunday, 31 May 2009

From valley floor to seascape...

Elqui 2, oil on canvas, 50x50cm

oops... how did this happen? Unintentionally, my recent series of oil paintings, which started with a view of Elquí Valle in Northern Chile, turned into seascapes.

Let's backtrack for a bit. I haven't posted much here of late. Rather than marking water I have been back marking fields, woods and forests as subject for some printmaking. While I continue to visit Loch Lomond for some water sketches, it seems a bit distant at the moment.

But, anyhow: for the past couple of months I have been working on three oil paintings out of the impressions of sky, hillside and valley floor left by the magnificient Elquí Valle. Much of these developments were not about a particular place but about an exploration of palette (cobalt blue, two cadmium yellows and burnt siena) and markmaking.

And, in this process something happened. While I wasn't looking and my hand were busy with paint brush and palette knife, seascapes appeared out of the fog of various grey layers.

Elqui 3, oil on canvas, 50x50cm

So suggestive is the palette of landscape references that they easily appear; attempts at undoing the land- and seascapes then got interspersed with working precisely on those connections. It's a process I've found utterly enjoyable - a couple of years ago I had begun to develop some landscapes out of incidental marks on paper. This - with the oil paint as medium and on a larger scale - was even more exciting.

So, I leave you with some seascapes, appropriately misnamed Elquí 1 and Elquí 2.

If you're interested in a bit more detail on the work process of making appear and disappear, here's a process post on my blog.

Elqui 3, Detail, oil on canvas, 50x50cm

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Journey to the Sea - Part II

8 x 8 oils

Water on earth cycles from the oceans, where it evaporates from the surface, into the atmosphere, forms clouds, falls onto the land as rain, travels through wetlands, rivers, lakes and underground then returns to the ocean — collectively known as the hydrologic cycle.

This piece is the second of a 6 part series on the journey of water to the sea. The series will be grouped together to have more impact and link the journey logically. Part I showed the origin - or one of the origins - or water. Rain.

Very close to me are wetlands, even some of my property is a wetland, home to wild ducks, mink and moose. The rain overspills its groundwater source and forms ponds and pools, eventually spilling out and creeping forward like a homing pigeon looking for the sea.

The water forms small and large rivulets that cross woodlands and meadows, soaking the ground and over time, killing trees and changing the vegetation that grows there. Where there were once trees and grass are now marsh plants such as cat tails, aquatic grasses and flag irises.
A closer view of the colours which make up the water in the painting.

The water rises and falls depending on the weather and season, but it moves relentlessly towards the sea. How does it know to flow there? Why does it cross heaven and earth to reach its destination, only to reverse the cycle all over again?

Not all water flows to the sea. There are large areas of southern Saskatchewan where the drainage is internal and water does not escape to the sea. This also happens in parts of Australia and Russia. Runoff within these internal drainage basins can produce saline lakes surrounded by white salt crusts. Dissolved salts are transported in surface and ground waters to the lakes. As the lakes have no outlet stream, the salts are trapped, and concentrated by ongoing evaporation of the lake waters.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Tapper's Cove

If you descend down a very steep winding road in Torbay, you enter Tapper's Cove. The road is guarded by a padlocked gate warning of vessel traffic only, so venture down with care. I wouldn't want to have to reverse up that steep road when faced with a truck hauling a boat. It has a small wharf and slipway and steps leading up the side of the cliff and on to a walking trail. At water level you look out over Torbay on the opposite side of the cove.

Tappers cove (treasure cove)- Tappers cove was once known as Treasure cove because of it’s known association with pirate John Nutt. It is also haunted by a black dog and a little boy relating, again, to the pirates that buried treasure there.

I didn't see a dog or boy ghost or find any treasure, only sparkling water and a little spruce tree perched on top of a steep rock face, defying the salt spray and sparse soil to grow. Unfortunately, photographed under artificial light, the image caught the glare of wet paint and at only 5 x 7, the impact of the painting doesn't work close up, in my opinion, so another small version to see if that helps.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Mood and colour: Painting the changing colours of different times of day

Sennen Cove, Dawn, oil in Canson sketchbook, approx 9ins, Vivien Blackburn

There were some really lovely dawns when we were in Cornwall, the sky was often amber as the sun rose behind the cliffs, with lowering clouds above. Colours are soft and muted.

Sunset, Pentire, oil sketch, approx 9 ins, Vivien Blackburn

And a rather loud sunset seen driving home one evening.

I just love changing light and the moods created by it through different weather and seasons.

You can see some of the other sketches here

I find I really do strongly prefer sketching plein air in oils. The only trouble is it isn't so convenient when you are with non-painters as I was and they can be heavy-ish.

With oils I can work so much faster, catching changing light and altering things in an instant, working dark over light, scratching through wet paint to reveal colours beneath, wiping off ..... the possibilities are endless - and FAST.

I can't manage to limit my palette - I just can't! I want a variety of blues and yellows and reds and earth colours and ...... but I have honed it down to a box file, which holds paints, brushes, knives, baby oil, rags and medium. It's an ideal shape to scrabble through when looking for a tube or brush. Then there is just the canvas or paper to paint on and a palette and of course as sketchbook. I sometimes use disposable palettes and sometimes simply a page in a sketchbook! It can always be painted over later :>D

I very rarely draw in pencil or charcoal before painting in oils plein air but just go in with patches of colour that gradually knit together to make the whole. I keep meaning to do a WIP but have zoomed along with work before I remember - and by then I've usually got paint on my hands and don't want to touch my camera!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Nearly done in by a swimming pool

Well, I finished one of the two recent paintings I'd been working on. I'd hoped to have both finished to post them at the same time, as they are very different in feel, and therefore would be interesting to consider together. However, we must make do with what we have.
May I just remind myself for the zillionth time that I am interested  in painting WATER,  not in painting FURNITURE, or SWIMMING POOLS, so what was I doing painting two chairs and a swimming pool ledge??? Sorry for shouting, but all that geometry required an attempt at a kind of verisimilitude that I am not, never have been,  interested in creating! 
Oh well, I'd started it. I wanted to finish it. And I have. Bye bye.
Acrylic on board, 16" x 20"
This is my second year of pursuing water as a theme for paintings and drawings. I've learned which aspects of the broad theme appeal to me. I like the calligraphic patterns that water makes when it moves. I like the tension between water and the solid objects it interacts with, such as rocks or fish.  The painting that I've just finished was worth doing, though it did not fall into the categories I've just mentioned as my favorites. I know now, even more than before, where my painting heart lies. And where it doesn't.  
Now, my delightfully curvy, energetic, colorful, alive and NONfurniture koi are my next painting subject---  and I will start the series just as soon as I get momentum going on another, unrelated  art project, deadlined July 1st. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Sennen Cove, waves, changing weather and light

Sennen Cove in changing light last week. The last 3 are from last September when we had a wild stormy day with heavy rain. The lifeboat launch ramp, that shows in one of the last, is currently demolished and being rebuilt, so it doesn't show in recent photos. It wasn't an easy job for the builders, having to consider the tides :>)

This is why I love Cornwall so much - it's beautiful even in lousy weather :>) Though as you can see from the gorgeous blue skies and seas at the beginning, we were very lucky with the weather generally as most of the country had heavy rain.

The camera never picks up all the colours the eye can see and it can't cope with the same range of tonal values at once - so that's why it's so good to work plein air. You also have the scents and sound that somehow infiltrate your work. I never enjoy working from a photograph as much as working from the 'real thing'.

Take a look at these images of a storm there last year - they are WELL worth looking at.

Storm pictures

now with global warming making the seas rise and giving us more storms would I really want to live there? probably yes :>)

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Journey to the Sea - Part I

I've worked a bit more on the concept of water's origins and how it wends its way to the sea. This will be a series of six oil paintings, all 8 x 8 on canvas panels. They will then be grouped together to form a larger piece. I so dislike the close up views of a painting or drawing that are presented on a computer and prefer to see a painting from where it should be viewed, at least several feet away. So I've given you a slightly different view as well as the traditional close up.

I started out with some rough thumbnail sketches which are more like me thinking on paper to gel ideas in my head. Then a few plein air sketches of places that may be starting points along the journey.

The progress of water images will be

1. rain/snowmelt,
2. wetlands,
3. brooks,
4. ponds,
5. rivers/waterfalls,
6. rivers meeting the ocean.

This brings me to the first painting in the series. Rain.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Plein air

Coin Perdu

Dear Watermarkers,

I am still in Corréze and wanted to say a quick hi to you all!

I miss you and think of you when I'm putting down a stroke on my canvas. The weather is beautiful and sunny, the rivers are flowing undisturbed and I am already golden skinned from all my plain air painting!

I'm sending you some images of how it looks here where I am and what I'm painting at our hide away Coin Perdu in Puy d'Arnac, Corréze. You can see some more images here. search of corners to paint...

Some proof that I am indeed "working": the brook...
...see, something on the canvas...

...even on a rainy day...

...even putting my life in danger...

... and attacked by Billy the kid...

...safer ground...
In two weeks I hope to show some finished plein air work, which I am thoroughly enjoying doing, even though I mess up most of the time.
Browsing through all your latest work, has me once again in admiration of your talents and stunned at what you've all done these last few weeks; needless to say the inspiration has me itching to clean up my palette immediately and get out there again.

Well, that's it for now. I wish you all well and keep the pastels and paints flying wild wherever you are!
See you in two weeks, Watermarks...!

All my best and bises!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Friday morning, Sennen Cove

Wild Morning, Sennen Cove, oil, about 14/15 ins square, Vivien Blackburn

I'm back from a week at Sennen Cove with the family - 4 generations so lots of juggling of interests. Making painting time sometimes meant getting up very early.

I had been hoping to get into Falmouth to the Beside the Wave gallery to see Sarah's work for real but didn't make it :>( Next time I'd like to go down with friends and spend the time painting and gallery hopping. It would have been nice to meet up but I knew with only a week and all the family there it wouldn't be possible :>(

One gorgeous place that I must go back to is the Cot Valley - a beautiful steep V of a valley with a narrow road leading down beside a tumbling stream that ends at a gorgeous little rocky beach. I have to go there and paint.

I was driving down the narrow lane to Porthgwarra (isolated beach) another day, with flowers and ferns touching each side of the car from the hedgerows - primroses, bluebells, cranesbill, wild geraniums, ragged robin, wild garlic, violets and much much more - when I came face to face with a huge oil tanker coming the other way. Not only were the hedgerows right up to the car but just beneath the flowers is a stone wall. It meant I had to reverse for half a mile - so not fun. I'd been lucky with all the other narrow lanes and only met other cars so that the occasional passing places were suitable and reversing wasn't too far. Following the tanker, when I got back to a gateway to pull into, were a tractor, a crane and a few cars. I'm afraid I gave up on Porthgwarra. Did I miss much Sarah?

I'll do a slide show of some of the photos in another post later.

These 3 are oil paintings done on Friday which was sunny but very very windy so the surf was high and crashing over the harbour wall. Absolutely beautiful :>)

Cornish sea is the most beautiful colour in almost any weather - a day before in the sunshine it had been vivid translucent blues and viridians. On this day the viridians were still there but quieter, more muted. As the waves rise, the under side is like translucent glass with the light shining through. The swell rises, the crest starts to break in several places and then they rush to meet in a crash of spray. On the rocky reef beyond the harbour wall they crash and bounce huge sprays upwards. Every so often a huge swell comes rolling in and the waves pour over the harbour wall.

(These were done in Griffin Alkyds which I always use for plein air oil painting. I wrote more about using them on my blog if anyone is interested).

Illinois River Lock

Last weekend, Craig and I had a lovely get away at Starved Rock State Park. The park is right on the shores of the Illinois River. Craig and I brought old Leaky and ended up canoing on the mighty Illinois, barge traffic and all. But that's a different story. On one of our afternoons, we spend several hours watching all the barge traffic going through the locks.

Barges, two wide and three deep are stuffed into the lock. The tow boat has to wait until the next water flow to go through. There is no room in the 600' lock. These babies are huge!

The science behind these locks is really ancient technology. The doors actually float so they are relatively easy to open and close. They are shaped so that the water in the lock holds the door closed so very little energy is needed to run the whole operation.

Craig and I had a short chat with one of the barge workers. We asked him how the traffic moves thorough the lock if the tow boat has to wait outside. He said the whole gaggle of barges is pulled along with a chain, that sits just above the water line next to the barges. If you look up and down the river, there can be many barges waiting their turn. Sunday was a busy day for the lock tenders.

Barge traffic is a very efficient way to move goods. One full barge carries the same pay load as 58 large semis and 15 jumbo hopper train cars. This is all good news for global warming and new leaner balance sheets for businesses.

Anyone else live near locks? Please feel free to add links in the comment section so we can "visit" you local lock.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Journey to the sea

Flooded path sketch
9 x 12 watercolour

We don't often think about the origins ocean water and how it is continually fed by rivers and streams and rain. Its one of those things that is taken for granted without thinking about the journey from land to sea that water takes and its shape changes along the way.

It all starts with a drop of water...

While the ocean environment has conditioned every aspect of the Newfoundland and Labrador experience, the province also has ample fresh water, the source of which is abundant precipitation. More than 8% of the area of the province is occupied by lakes, slightly greater than the average for Canada, and as elsewhere water is also stored in the soil, either close to the surface where it can be used by plants or deeper in the rock as groundwater where it may be tapped by wells or returned to the surface in springs.

Besides lakes and groundwater, Newfoundland and Labrador also has many rivers. These rivers show marked seasonal variations of flow. Throughout the province peak flow occurs in late spring or early summer as the result of spring run-off, when winter snow melts and runs over the surface directly to the nearest stream. Some of the melting snow infiltrates into the soil (if the soil is not frozen), moving slowly downslope. Some of this soil water percolates deeper to the groundwater, moving even more slowly.

This Google map shows Flatrock and the abundance of freshwater ponds and lakes that are in the area. I don't think I'll have a problem with my well drying up anytime soon.

I would like to track one small trail of water as it searches for its way to the Atlantic here in Flatrock. The journey starts with groundwater, which is my water source through a well. Also the groundwater feeds some of the ponds close to my house. They in turn spill over into rivulets of water that wend their way through forest, meadows and ditches and feed my pond.

One of the wetland areas near my house is a small lane to the marsh. Its rarely dry and until the heat of summer dries up the flow, the path is like a river itself, if only a static one. I have painted this path several times and wanted to try it again, but in watercolour, to get a more delicate version of this rocky, muddy piece of semi-aquatic landscape.

I will continue to track the water as it heads towards the sea and show you where it takes me along the way until we reach the Atlantic ocean.

Van Gogh's fountain

I like studying what sort of marks artists make when trying to depict water. Here's an example of how Vincent van Gogh drew a fountain when using pen and ink. I spy ripples drawn with a variations in the weight of line plus dappled shade and spray!

Bear in mind he's an inpatient at the hospital at the time!

Fountain in the Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital
Vincent van Gogh - 1889
Van Gogh Museum (Netherlands)
Drawing in Black chalk, pen and ink
Height: 49.5 cm (19.49 in.), Width: 46 cm (18.11 in.)

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Step back in time: The Cutty Sark

When I first started painting and printmaking I did quite a lot of pieces of old ships. I would walk down to Greenwich and sketch the Gypsy Moth and Cutty Sark. As a member of the Canvas Club of the National Maritime Museum (they are still around, but hard to find info about - ask at the Friend's desk at the NMM) we had special access for sketching days in the stores. You would be amazed at the ship's models that are in storage! Hundreds at least.

It was the start of my sea fascination in my artwork, and tied in well with my non-abstract style of the day. (If you'd like to see my large Cutty Sark linocut it's on my own blog today! It's about 1 meter high.)

Sadly, as most of you probably know, the Cutty Sark was devastated by a fire in 2007. What is left of it has been under wraps for a couple of years while they reconstruct it.

Yesterday, rooting through boxes of photos in search of some coast images from Kent, I stumbled upon photographs I took of the Cutty Sark I can't remember when! They were filming the remake of "The Four Feathers" in Greenwich and had the village trussed up like Victorian England and the Cutty Sark even had sails on. What a sight!

(I've made these images Creative Commons, so feel free to use them for your own artwork if you like.)

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Saturday, 9 May 2009

Painting Water: Book Review

Painting Water by Francis Dowden

Even though I am moving into oil painting for my Waterways Project, I found this watercolor book helpful. The author discusses such topics as how to make water look wet, dealing with issues of shallow water, rippling water and still water.

When I first began the Project, I was intimidated by all the various visual elements present in a waterscape...still am! But I found just plunging in by sketching, photographing but most importantly using the "gaze" many of us artist's talk about.

When observing water, it's interesting to see how various lights pick up and distort reflections and shadows. Shadows are darker than reflections and depending on the light can make beautiful cross patterns on the surface of the water. The sky reflection, just like the sky itself, has more color saturation as it moves forward in the picture plane.

It's nice to know the rules even if I disregard them or subvert them when the picture requires it.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Canvas and Paint Process 4

Final touches. The details need to be brought to life, minute touches of paint describe the form of ropes and canvas. The blue vinyl cover of the front boat must be "shinied" up and the water needs its sparkle added...

This is when I start nearly closing my eyes to see what to do, that and rushing to the mirror to "see" it all fresh and spot the glaring mistakes. I also try to dredge up the smells and sounds of the place, I want to give it that and I know of no other way other that intense concentration. If I get interrupted at this stage I am horrible!
Sometimes, right at the end of a painting I might make glazes of colour to adjust tones. To do this I use Liquin, you can also use Linseed oil. When you have used Liquin it will dry shiny but that can be sorted out by the final varnishing when all is dry.

So here it is, finished and dry. I will seal it with a matt varnish, two coats carefully applied with a soft brush. After that it is off to the framers. I use Sully's in Penryn. I was totally amazed at his work, a frame makes a huge difference and when I get this back I will take a picture and show you.
For this painting I have used small brushes, mostly flats, I have a couple of cats tongue shaped ones, nothing above a size 4. I tend to but packs of soft brushes, ones that say they are suitable for oil and acrylic, I find hogs hair too scratchy for my style. I will also use pieces of card or paper to almost print lines and little shapes onto the painting.
Finally I do try to spend some time really cleaning the brushes well with brush cleaning soap and then rinsing well and letting them dry flat on a tea towel.
You can see the EXACT location of this painting if you go here: Paintmap

I hope that you have enjoyed this sneaky peek into how I work and also that you have found it useful and informative.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Canvas and Paint Process 3

Now I am starting to block in colours. Each layer is slightly transparent so it is still possible to see the white under painting which will serve as a guide to the more fiddly bits.

Even though the sea beyond the boats will be very light in the finished painting I begin to block in the darkest of the colour that I can see in the sea! For most of the time with oil painting I like to work from the dark towards the light, this however, is only a general rule, I often break it.
And here I have done just that, painting in the lightest areas on the rowing boat and the covered boat. Painting what appear to be white areas is difficult and involves a lot of colour soul searching... when is white white... not very often in my experience. I tend to keep "tube white" (i.e. straight from the tube) to the very last moment, to give that final flourish. The tiny dabs of paint that make a painting spring to life. I have also begun to work into the blues. You can make a blue almost luminous by glazing one blue over another, for example a curealean blue first with a glaze of ultramarine, try it and see. It is important to mess around with colours to see what they do to each other, watercolours especially have different effects.

Every day I have a new pallet. I believe that this keeps my colour mixing up to the minute. If there is a grey mixed I might be tempted to use it rather than bother to think and make a judgement for each tone and hue.

Now I seem to have gone right back to a pale blue on the water. Indecision of just a change of heart? Not sure. I think the most important thing to remember is to keep an open mind, try things out, experiment, even right up to the last minute. Sometimes the wash or glaze that you sweep on at the last sitting is the one that transforms the painting.
The next and final post will include a paint map link to the site of these boats. See you soon.