Following on from Alan McGowan’s workshop and my first attempts at oil painting (see Part 1), I’ve begun to make some experiments with the technique of oil glazing. This has meant doing my favourite kind of shopping – buying more art materials, and moving stuff around in my studio to set up for painting rather than charcoal drawing.
I’ve decided to use Windsor & Newton’s Artisan oils which are water mixable but otherwise behave like any other oils, it makes cleaning up easier and less smelly. I’ve also collected various mediums to try out.
For the initial wipe out underpainting I prepared the canvas with a spare coating of one part PVA mixed with three parts water, having learned the hard way that more PVA does not equal a better surface. The canvas needs to have some resistance to the paint to enable you to wipe it off, but too much or uneven PVA application results in the paint not adhering to the surface at all.
I used an image I’d already created in charcoal, so I could concentrate on what the materials were doing without worrying about the composition. I mixed Prussian Blue with a little Burnt Umber to give a nice neutral tone, thinned with turps. Making the image by removing the paint came naturally as it’s a very similar process to my charcoal drawing, though the paint does behave differently, giving more options for interesting mark making.
After allowing a day or two for the underpainting to dry, I’ve started to add glazes. This is a slow process as each has to dry before the next can be added, so there are a few paintings at various stages. There is no real plan here – I’m just trying out the colours I have in a variety of combinations and trying to find out what works and doesn’t work. The many mistakes are very valuable and the happy accidents are wonderful, but it’s too early to tell yet whether glazing is an approach which will earn a more permanent place in my studio.
This is an informative book which has kept me company on my painting journey, with a substantial section on glazes. This blog has detailed information about the principles and recipes and here is a demo of the method.
When does a drawing become a painting? I think of these as drawings made in oil paint and oil pastel.
Above are Dalkeith oaks, below a beech tree near the Cromarty Firth. All are done in the studio from photographs and sketches.
The painting experiment continues...
Paint is an unfamiliar material to me, though I’ve tried periodically to make friends with it, we’ve never really been pals. For some reason this makes me want to keep trying though. I adore drawing and charcoal is by far my favourite medium, but paint can do things that dry media can’t and oil paint in particular has an affinity with charcoal and shares its malleable qualities.
In the studio with Alan, making a painting using the ‘wipe out’ technique
So I decided to seek some expert tuition and booked a place on Alan McGowan’s ‘Drawing in oils’ two day workshop in Edinburgh. He is a resident artist of my former studio building St Margaret’s House and I love the strong draughtsmanship, energy and movement evident in his figurative oils. He is also an excellent and experienced tutor. The aim of the weekend was to show how oils can be used for drawing the figure and how to move from drawing to painting, so it seemed like the perfect course for me to begin with.
We worked solidly over the two days, producing a lot of drawings/paintings and gaining both knowledge of our materials and an insight into Alan’s approach. He shared some of the works and artists that inspired him and showed us many different surfaces and ways of combining materials. For the final session I chose the wipe out method to spend more time exploring, since it seemed to me to be a painty parallel to my charcoal technique.
Once back in the studio I carried on playing, this time using tree images I’m familiar with. I came away from the course feeling like I had a whole new toolbox to play with, though very much aware of how much I have to learn – colour is still like a foreign language to me but at least now I have a few basics to begin with. It will be a long time before the will be any oil paintings of sufficient standard to exhibit as a great deal of rubbish needs be generated first, but I’m excited that ‘Project Paint’ has properly begun.
It's officially Spring, though you wouldn't know it today with the horizontal snow, and the race is on for me to get back into the woods for some decent drawing days before the leaves break through.
I recently bought some Conté crayons and spent some time in the studio playing with them to see how I might use them in the woods. I was looking for some softness and delicacy to develop in my line drawings done directly from the tree. From a practical angle I was hoping that they would be the perfect combination of lovely smudginess when I need it and stability when I'm transporting the drawings across the fields.
Paper on board, ready to draw some ancient oaks after a drop of coffee...
Happily, some of my newest Conté drawings made it out of the woods and into Time around trees last month...
A selection of these drawings will be heading for the Buy Design Gallery when they're framed and hopefully the wind will calm down enough for me to get a few more productive outdoor days soon.Tags:
I've been developing my charcoal drawing techniques for around four years now - it's such a versatile material there's still much more to discover. Many of my favourite drawings from my early days at art school are charcoal ones. I have fond memories of the first time I was encouraged to tape a piece to a stick and draw BIG!! I thought my tutor was mad at first but it turns out to have been a valuable lesson and I often draw with a stick now. People I teach now think I'm mad I suppose.
My discovery of charcoal powder was quite a revelation - I'd tried to make my own, having some success with homemade bonfire remains, but I now use Cretacolor powder which has an even particle size and consistent tone. It's perfect for large drawings, behaves almost like paint in that it can be moved around on the paper, can be combined with binders and water for liquid effects and best of all, I can apply it with my hands, thus getting messy which makes me happy.
I also use regular willow charcoal of various sizes. I've tried hard to like compressed charcoal since it allows a really deep black to be achieved, but I cannot get on with it, it's somehow far too waxy and stubborn. I'm currently experimenting with charcoal soaked in or mixed with linseed oil - it seems to give a lovely blackness which adheres to the paper quite well. Because of this I've been able to use it out in the field without the usual worries about smudging. Here's one I made earlier:
I think there's something poetic about depicting wood with its carbonised self.
Like lots of artists I know, I can’t resist buying new materials to try out and really enjoy choosing and handling them. So it’s inevitable that I end up with far too much stuff and have to make some decisions about what I really need to take with me when I’m drawing outside, bearing in mind I’ll have to carry it all myself.
Experience had taught me that less is definitely best and that restricting my choice of materials makes my trips more productive. I’ve also learned what works best in the wonderful Scottish weather and developed my own ways to cope with wind, rain, mud and occasional sunshine.
I recently had the luxury of staying in a cottage in the middle of a deer park so I was able to take more than usual - I could select a few things as the fancy took me and then stomp off over the field to draw, knowing I could nip back for something else if I changed my mind. In other locations I need to plan more carefully as it’s a longer walk to the trees.
My basic kit consists of:
- A4 hardback sketchbook – a Daler Rowney one with nice creamy paper
- Small lightweight drawing board – an upcycled bit of kitchen unit
- Scrolls of paper for 360° drawings, various sizes
- Elastic bands for holding paper in place – clips always get lost
- My homemade pencil roll (of which I’m quite proud!) containing a selection of Faber-Castel Pitt drawing pens, Sharpies, brushes and pencils
- Viewfinder – though I don’t draw ‘views’ as such it really helps me focus when faced with too much choice
- Leatherman – love my multipurpose tool, always useful and you never know when you might need to hack off your own arm to get free of some crushing branch, thus saving your life. You may laugh but I draw on windy days!
- Emergency whistle – see above
- Buffs – those tubey things that can be scarves, hats or hairbands, essential for the Scottish outdoors
- OS map of the area and compass – this is so that I can orient myself in the landscape to understand it and mark particular trees or features
- Phone – not just a phone of course now, also a camera with gps, a compass, a sketchbook, a map referencer, really an electronic version of a Leatherman I suppose
- A small tarp to sit on when drawing, make into a windbreak or cover things up in the rain
- Camera – I have a Canon EOS 30D which I confess is beyond me technically – I’m just not methodical enough to take great photos but it does an excellent job with my limited knowledge, producing all my reference images
- Small flask of coffee and some flapjack to keep my spirits up
- Some business cards – you never know who you might meet in the middle of nowhere!