Completing 100 days of chiaroscuro

100 day project completed!

For the last 100 days I’ve been studying light and dark in art, ‘chiaroscuro’ being the arty Italian word for this – loved by the old masters and still well used by contemporary painters, photographers and film makers. 100 is such a satisfying number and I’m surprised and delighted to have been able to keep going till the end – if you’d like to see the complete works first head here, or if you’re interested in the debrief, read on…

Some highlights

It would be hard to choose a favourite day but there were some that stick in my mind as particularly rewarding, either because of the mastery of the original artist, the way my materials behaved, or just the way the image chimed with my mood at the time. Incidentally, my favourite title of a work I copied was Joseph Wright of Derby’s ‘Two boys fighting over a bladder’ – bold!

Here are a few special ones:

oil study of a tree
An oil study from one of my photographs
After Ken Currie’s ‘Interregnum’
After a photograph of Rodin by Edward Steichen
After Rembrandt’s ‘Bearded old man’
a photograph of some flames
My edited photo of flames from my firepit

What have I learned?

  • A dive into the art historical archives is never a waste of time – as Austin Kleon’s smashing little book ‘Steal Like an Artist’ says, artists build their practice on the work of those before them, none of us are really ‘original’. I feel quite privileged to be able to dip into artworks from the past to feed my future. Thanks for that art ancestors!
  • Rembrandt was indeed a master – no surprises there and I’ve always been blown away by his work. Copying it gave me an even deeper understanding of his craftmanship and humanity and was a pure pleasure at all times.
  • Caravaggio took it a bit too far for my liking. I realise how ridiculous this sounds and in no way dispute his mastery as a painter and of chiaroscuro in particular, but through copying I learned that the stark contrasts between light and dark in his painting was a bit too clear cut for me, I like a little more mystery, more ambiguity and softer edges.
  • Vermeer repeated himself – the copies I made had so many similarities in the lighting and composition which I only really noticed through drawing. I fancifully imagine that his studio had the perfect spot where the light fell in just the right way and he just positioned all his models to take advantage of that, and why not?
  • Early photographers, particularly those who aligned themselves with Pictorialism, creating some fantastic compositions. Some of these were amongst my favourites to copy from. I loved the emergent quality in many of them.
  • Ken Currie makes such intensely powerful paintings and I really enjoyed copying from them to learn how, though my very limited scale meant that this didn’t work for some.
  • Composition is king – the images which had the most impact even at such a small scale were the ones which were from carefully crafted compositions and tonal arrangements. The ones which were less impressive were poorly cropped, at the wrong scale or just unconsidered. I had deliberately limited myself to a 10cm (ish) square which didn’t always suit my choice of source image, but had the advantage of being quite ‘do-able’ every day.
  • I should devote more time to cropping and editing my own photos, to provide a rich source of imagery to draw from. In the past I’ve had a bad habit of taking photographs of visually interesting things then ignoring them in the archive, like hoarding good books but not reading them. Reviewing with a particular purpose has been really useful. Must do that more.
  • I am totally in love with monotone oil painting – the works I made for this project have really given me a taste for more and on a significantly bigger scale. Summer = oil painting in my studio plan!

Things to take forward

In terms of my own art, above all I’ve learned about what excites me visually and what I want to continue to pursue. Emerging forms, dark ambiguity, subtle gradation, strong composition and tonal arrangement and a monochrome palette are all part of the recipe for future work.

The daily practice was sometimes a struggle for such a lengthy period, but I’m more likely now to embark on another long term project than I thought in January. It’s so good to see other people’s projects and follow their journeys, and sharing online definitely helps to keep up the motivation. If you’re thinking of giving it a go yourself, I’d highly recommend it – here’s the project page to help you on your way.

Read how the project started here, view the full gallery here or check out my weekly project updates on Instagram.

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Planning a new exhibition

I’ll be having a real-life, on the wall exhibition this June at Edinburgh Palette, my former studio complex and creative home in the east of Edinburgh – how exciting!!!

a colourful pastel painting of an old beech tree in winter‘On Tree Time’ explores the way trees adapt and endure in the face of adversity. It will feature a selection of new works on paper in charcoal, oil and pastel made during winter and spring 2020-21. The show opens Friday 4th June and closes on Sunday the 20th, so that’s 16 whole days where anyone who can travel to the area can come to see my newest work in person, have a proper chat with me and maybe even choose a piece for their own collection.

So much has changed over the last year that planning this exhibition feels almost like starting from scratch, even though I’ve been doing them for 10 years now. Private views and opening parties will need to be different, open door visiting may not be possible and hugs with friends, followers and colleagues will sadly be missing.

Some things will be the same though. For visitors, there’s the chance to get up close and personal with the art, to peer at the details as well as take in the whole view, to get a true sense of the textures, colours and energy of the work. For me, I relish the opportunity to show a collection of work with a coherent theme all together, the chance to talk about the story of the work with visitors, choosing favourites and great combinations, noticing rhymes and echoes, contrasts and creative leaps.  Sitting with my exhibitions has always been a favourite time for me to reflect on that body of work, review its successes and where it has fallen short of the idea. Almost always I come out of that process with new ideas sparked.

the outside of Edinburgh Palette St Margaret's House

One of the things that I like many creative people have missed so much is encountering the random, unexpected or surprising which can so often be the stimulus for new ideas. Alongside travelling to distant woodlands, it’s conversations with people not in my ‘bubble’ that I’ve missed the most. I’m so looking forward to talking to visitors about their experiences of trees and art, their knowledge and perspectives are always creatively energising.

To try and make the best of the current limitations, I’m putting together a programme of online and in person events linked to the exhibition so, if you’d like to hear about these and be first to get tickets, make sure you are subscribed to my Studio Newsletter. Find out how you can visit here and I hope to be showing you my new drawings very soon.

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100 days of chiaroscuro: light and dark in art

Half way through my 100 day project

In the gloomy and restricted days of lockdown this January, I heard about the 100 day project on a podcast and decided that if there was ever a time to start a daily practice it was now. I set out to investigate how past artists have used light and dark to create drama and I did not think I was disciplined enough to keep going, but it turns out that I am more averse to failure than sticking to a routine! (Read about the background to my project here)

oil study of a tree

Here’s a selection from the first 50 days. Most of the works are around 10 x 10cm on paper or card. I’ve played with lots of the dry media hanging around my studio –  charcoal, graphite, sanguine, sepia, pastel, conté and I’ve also made some little oil studies of real and imagined trees using the wipe-out technique (after Carriere).

a copy of a rembrandt etchingcopy of Joseph Wright painting

Here’s hoping I can make it to 100 – it’s definitely getting harder now the evenings are light and travel and social restrictions have eased but I’m enjoying it too much to give up now.

You can view the gallery of the full 100 days here and check out my weekly posts on Instagram or Facebook.

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Experiments in charcoal

It’s no secret that artists absolutely love getting new art materials, regardless of whether we actually need any or not. In fact need has nothing to do with it. I think this collecting habit is driven by curiosity – what if that new brush is exactly what I’ve been searching for, maybe that new pastel is the perfect green for those mossy bits, perhaps that ink will make exciting splashy marks I’d never imagined possible?

In this spirit of discovery, I jumped at the chance to try some unusual types of charcoal when I came across Wildwood Charcoal showing their experiments on Instagram.

I usually use charcoal from art materials suppliers, mostly made by Coates and Nitram for sticks and Derwent for the powder. I’ve not been too fond of homemade charcoal for drawing before, as it’s been very unpredictable, pale and quite frustrating to draw with. However, I heard from another artist that the passionflower one was great to work with so I ordered a little sample pack and got to work on some arty experiments.

charcoal made from brambleMy exciting little package arrived nestled beautifully in sweet smelling straw, wrapped in carefully labelled paper – nice touch! I set to work testing them in a not very methodical way, just allowed the marks to flow as the charcoals suggested.

Passionflower was indeed a delight, luscious and black. Gorse on the other hand was scratchy and grey, but in an interesting way. Clematis was definitely a favourite for its depth of tone but also its texture – the outer layers being ridged and slightly crumbly, giving pleasantly surprising results. Wisteria had less personality and bramble (pictured above) was pretty brutal – the thorns still jaggy even after carbonising and the stem so hard it seemed almost metallic.

I came to the conclusion that passionflower and clematis would be a great addition to my charcoal ‘palette’, gorse would be worth further exploration and bramble would be excellent if I ever wanted to draw on a stone wall. Each species had its own distinct character which produced a drawing style particular to it. I’d love explore this further, working on more sustained drawings. Of course I’ve also got a list of other plants I’d like to try now – I’ve got a feeling that’s the first of many little Wildwood charcoal packages arriving in my studio.

 

 

 

 

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Featured artist in Herbology News

Cascade_680

I’m delighted to be this month’s featured artist in the beautiful publication Herbology News. Have a look here for a thoughtful and inspiring read with a deep connection to nature. Thanks to Editor Kyra for inviting me and to the design team for showing my work so beautifully alongside the articles. On the cover is ‘Cascade’ from my new ‘Rivers of oak’ series of charcoals.

 

 

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