"Late light on Cosmos Peaks, Dart Valley, Glenorchy." 1260mm x 430mm
( Repainted when I was not happy with the first version)
It’s a question I've been asked many times. “How can I paint in a confident style?” What people are really asking is how to be “painterly.” It's is a difficult one to answer.
I discovered early in my painting career that when looking around a gallery, it was the bold, confident work that really caught and held my interest. I think this was because it spoke about the joy of painting in an expansive, expressive way, rather than the more careful, studied styles, that to me, can tend to convey considerable patience, caution, and control.
I’m generalising of course. There are many painters who use a controlled approach and produce outstanding work, just as there are others who are painterly - even flamboyant and yet their paintings are not necessarily good. A good painting depends on so many things – the choice of subject, drawing, design, tones, colour, mood, lighting, originality, etc, as well as confidence. Confidence on its own is not enough.
So……. to get back to the question of how to establish a painterly style.
Firstly, you need good equipment.. Good quality LARGE brushes, artists quality paints with a good medium (I use Winsor and Newton Liquin Original medium), and a really nice surface to work on – Fredrix superfine synthetic canvas is good. A panel of MDF coated with one generous coat of gesso primer is also very good and much cheaper.
Then you need to gather every ounce of determination to not fiddle with the painting – apply the paint with large simple strokes and after each brushstroke is applied, don’t touch it again! I think it was the famous American painter, Emile Gruppe who said that every brushstroke in a painting should have a reason for being there. Obviously, you can’t go with that statement and continue to fiddle!
By nature I am very careful, perfectionist, almost the opposite of painterly - but also determined! Because of this, in my early years, I often decided to scrape off reasonably successful passages in a painting and do them a second or third time if I felt that they were not as free as I wished to be.
Now 45 years later, I still feel caution creeping up on me at times. I'm not sure I will ever be completely satisfied that I’ve achieved this carefree and yet controlled style that I’m chasing - but as they say, "Don’t worry about the destination – enjoy the journey."
By the way, two other things come to mind. The 45 years I mentioned is probably the biggest key. It’s all about
“ brush miles.” The more you paint, the more confident you will become. Also, when I decided to paint outdoors,
I discovered that there was simply not enough time in the day to fiddle. Time, lighting, the weather, and even just becoming tired called for a style that was appropriate to the situation.
So …this is your moment to pluck up courage, buy some no.12 long bristle brushes and get started.
Well.....the DVD I thought I would never finish! I had a great deal of trouble with the editing of this one but I think (or perhaps hope) that this is my best video yet.
There's a trailer on this website's DVD page and if you like it,you can download from that page or order a disc.
It's always good to get your comments, ideas for improvement, or thoughts about other subjects you might like me to cover, so please feel free to drop me an email.
I should have started with Merry Christmas and a happy New Year but... better late than never!
Why is it that the best painting light is in the very early morning when I am either up too late or busy letting other things get in the way of painting. Or it's late in the day when the sun is low and we know there is really insufficient time to complete a whole painting - especially a big canvas like this? ( I love painting big!)
With this one, it was about 2:30 p.m. when I finally got started. I had spent too long setting up video cameras, making sure the sound system was working properly, etc.... and I knew it would be getting very dim at about 5:00 p.m. Talk about pressure!
I decided that I was best to just get on with it, enjoy myself,
forget the time, and race on regardless. I'm very pleased I did. I like it despite the fact that it is very grey, almost subdued.
Possibly because of the rush though, I got the audio settings on the camera wrong and so the soundtrack is rubbish! The river in foreground is babbling loud and clear, but my voice, only inches from the microphone, can barely be heard in the background.
It looks as if the time saved on the painting will now be used doing what is called a voice-over - recording the soundtrack back in the studio.........hmmmm!
Mid - year resolution: get on site sooner!
This was one of those rare times. A scene I have looked at many times in the past, but this was different.
I had always seen Turret Head as a huge, cold, grey, lump of rock ...but in this evening light it was glowing with colour. It even had beautiful purple/blue shadows to complement the orange/ochre highlights! A real “wow” moment!
I very rarely use photographs to paint from as I think they can stifle your style… and I so much prefer to work outside anyway.
However, seeing something like this was just too good to miss so my wife's camera was called into action. I was eager to get to my studio easel while the excitement of that view lasted.
I'm not absolutely sure that I have finished with the painting yet but that doesn't matter too much – I like it as it is anyway.
I believe that is the real essence of painting. It doesn't matter whether you're working on a landscape, a still life, or some flowers, you need to be excited!
I'm also excited to tell you that I have finally finished my next DVD - “Enjoying painting 2”. Perhaps relieved would be more accurate!
Due to a number of problems, it has taken what feels like forever to complete this one. However, If you go to my DVD page, you'll see it there ready for downloading or for buying a disc.
It's aimed at anyone who thinks they can learn more about painting. I certainly hope that I have learned heaps from making it!
We were told That computers were going to make life much easier for the world, but I've found them to be work demanding and frustration building! However, I'm getting over it (I hope) as I learn more.
The trouble is that many of us who use computers today were brought up in a non - computer age and our brains don't seem to work quite adequately when it comes to computer thinking. I'm very fortunate – I have a 15 year old grandson, Samuel, who is usually able to straighten me out.
You may be wondering why I am talking about this? Well, over the last week or two (attempting to speed up my computer and make Final Cut Pro X, a film editing program work properly), a friend and I decided to rebuild my computer and in the process I lost my emails, addresses, etc.
Many people have been receiving my blogs and have written to me asking questions about DVDs, painting classes, materials, etc, so this is really just an attempt to tell you that if you have written, and have not received a reply, I do apologise and ask if you would just write again please but on a different email address: firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks!
I've found this to have been a very busy year. With filming and editing, taking classes (even in Australia this year!) and of course my own painting and framing, time seems to have flown.
Despite all that, I've been aiming at doing a blog every month but, as in the past, I've only managed three this year, and that's counting this one!! However, the New Year is coming. I'm certainly not going to be making New Year resolutions – but I will aim to do better.
In the meantime my best wishes for a good holiday period over Christmas and the New Year and hopefully, a prosperous and fulfilling painting time next year.
"A quiet day after recent snow, Manapouri."
I know, I know... I haven't written to you folk out there since last February and I was so determined to be more diligent about getting blogs out – hopefully, at least once a month. However, I now feel that I have something to write about.
Like so many others – I find it hard to get started, especially when it's a major task (or at least it feels like that) and so other things get put aside. I've been working on teaching DVDs, (the major task), and so other jobs around the house, and even painting, have been neglected.
However, the painting above is quite recent and was done in desperation really as I had a weekend painting school and had not painted for several weeks.
I've talked with friends about the times when you don't paint and feel inadequate when you get started again. Consequently, I was worried that I would struggle to do a decent demonstration painting to get the school started. We often discuss these things when we're out painting and I think most of us feel the same.
So... Sam, my grandson and I went out searching so that I could feel more confident and this painting was the outcome.
I think this is probably the first I have done that is centred around just a bunch of trees, but they struck a chord with me at the time, and with the rough surroundings–lanky grass, weeds, and snow on the low hills in the background, I thought they made a good subject.
I'm pleased with the outcome and so made it the subject of my latest teaching disc that has just been released on vimeo - you'll find it on my DVD page. It will also be coming out on a disc in the next week or two... but I'm already busy planning the next one.
I think my editing skills are improving slowly so there should be more time available for this blog page. Hopefully!
"Skippers Canyon, Queenstown" ( My painting of the month! ) Oils on canvas 550 x 1200mm
I've said it before and I guess at some stage, I'll say it again."Sorry, it's been so long!"
You'll know what I'm talking about of course – the huge gaps between my blogs. I'm fortunate that you people out there seem to be very forgiving and eventually, somebody will give me a gentle nudge.
The trouble is, apart from being distracted with other things, I don't feel that I've had a great deal to say just lately. I've not even been doing enough painting and we all know how easy it is to slip backwards, to lose our reckless abandon with the brushes, to stop seeing subjects as easily as we would like, if we are not painting enough.
However, I can say that I've not been entirely slacking!
I've been working quite hard on a new series of DVDs. For a long time, I have been wanting to do a series, perhaps as many as 10 or more discs that cover different aspects of painting.
Starting with the very basics – what tools/materials I've chosen to use after 48 years of experience, then moving on to the many questions that people so often ask – what colours do you use, how do you see something that will make a good painting, where should one start in a painting, how do you beat the changing light etc.
From that point, I will move on to different subjects, mainly plein air but also some work in the studio, that hopefully will cover painting mountains, coastal, buildings, even studies of things like birds and flowers and so on.
So... with a new much better quality movie camera and a more advanced editing program in my computer, I'm hoping I can get better at climbing the steep learning curve that I've taken on!
I'll let you know when the first one is available on my DVD page. Meantime.... onward and upward!
Last weekend in the course of discussion, someone said, "Its time you brought your blog up to date John". So... here we go.
There's something about taking a weekend art school that keeps you on your toes! Especially when it's 11 women, and they are all eager to get started. ( Why are there so few men who wish to learn how to paint? )
To teach the class, I travelled to Balclutha, a small town near the South Otago coast, where I found an enthusiastic group of painters keen to try painting in the great outdoors.
Despite the variable weather, bright sunshine some of the time, but dramatic, threatening clouds and showers in between, we got out there on the beach as the photos show. I think we all agreed that there is something special about painting plein air.
However, it wasn't long after I took these photos that we were all packing up and heading for our cars as the rain started. Back to the art centre to paint pumpkins! I had to repeat several times that still life is one of the best things that you can do to learn to paint better. I think they believed me, and most of them did extremely well at tackling the subject I set up.
As usual, the difficulties common to most people showed up. How to mix various colours, and how to achieve darks and lights that convey depth or aerial recession to the scene.
It's the old story – practice, practice, practice!
"The old hall at Port Molyneux, Catlins Coast, South Otago".
On Sunday, we chose to paint this old building. It was really too far away for us to get a good view but unfortunately, the paddocks between the road and the hall were saturated – almost boggy, so we decided to paint from the road. Not a comfortable place to paint really, as there was not enough parking space and cars were whizzing past at 100 K's!
I did this fairly quick demo painting but realised as I was doing it, that it was a difficult subject for them. However, they all showed tremendous effort with some promising results.
Now that I've done the blog, I can rest up for a day or two to recover!
Two recent plein-air paintings in the Dart Valley - I'm spoiled with an amazing landscape!
First things first!
Over the last month or two, I have been very busy so I decided to save some of my
emails until I had a chance to fully answer them. Most of them were related to this
web site or my recent DVD done by "Put Some Colour in your Life," www.colourinyourlife.com.au showing on YouTube and my DVD page. Unfortunately, I inadvertently deleted all 260 odd emails with no chance of recovery! So..... if you have written to me and haven't received a reply, I apologise. Could you please write again? Hopefully, I won't make the same mistake twice!
However, I do know that many of them were enquiries about the brushes, colours, canvas, etc, that I use, (even my easel created interest among a number of people), so I decided to use this next blog to answer many of those questions and hopefully, save myself having to do many individual answers to people's questions.
Whether you are just a weekend painter, or perhaps more serious, wanting to make progress, contemplating an exhibition, or even anticipating going professional one day, a few ideas from my forty eight years of painting experience might be a help.
For me, it’s important to have a working system. I find it extremely difficult to work in a shambles – gear all over my studio or vehicle, nowhere to store wet paintings, etc, and as “necessity is the mother of invention”, I’ve developed methods and habits to keep me sane!
Easels: Probably, the most important and expensive item that you need is your easel, especially if you intend painting outdoors. I was fortunate to be shown a very good design by an artist friend about 30 years ago – far better I believe than any commercially made outdoor easel that you can buy on the market. I have tired of building them myself so I am looking into the possibilities of having them made by a commercial joinery shop. If you could be interested in buying one, please let me know so that I can ascertain whether it is worth pursuing. Be warned though..... they are made from top quality timber and plywood, titanium/aluminium legs, and the very best of fittings and epoxy varnish, so they are not cheap! They do last though. I gave an earlier one to a friend who is still using it. It's now 24 years old and as good as ever. I can't imagine how many paintings it will have supported over that time!
Palettes: My plywood palette is designed to fit neatly into my easel when it is shut. That means that I can leave my pools of colour on the palette and they will stay wet for several days because the lid is a reasonably airtight fit. Its very important that it is as large as possible, very smooth, shiny, and balanced so that it lies on your arm for support rather than having to grip it tightly with your thumb – very tiring over a long day!
Paints: I use Winsor & Newton artists quality paints - I think perhaps I should send them an account for this free advertisement!! After many years of trying a variety of makes and colours, I have settled on the following: winsor blue (red shade), winsor blue (green shade ) venetian red, winsor green, titanium white, cadmium yellow pale, cadmium lemon, gold ochre, cadmium orange, permanent rose, cadmium red, and magenta. During the winter when they dry more slowly, I add alkyd titanium white (roughly 50%) to my oil white – it speeds up the drying of the whole painting.The colours I use are strong but very pure, and with practice, will mix any colour or shade that you may want. Because they are pure, it is easier to avoid mixing unintended mud, something that seems to beset so many people when they try oils!
Medium: My medium of choice is Winsor and Newton "liquin original" – rather expensive but very nice to use and I find that using it means that my paintings are touch dry in about 24 - 36 hours – even in our Central Otago winter temperatures. My medium container which clips on to my palette has a screw - on lid so that once the medium has been put in the container, it stays there from one painting to the next.
Brushes: I have tried many types and now use brushes with a mixture of hog bristle and taklon synthetic fibre, sizes 8 to 12 - all long bristle with chisel tips. I wash my them in kerosene rather than turps as I find it keeps them in much better condition. I don't even need to go through the ritual of a wash in warm soapy water when I get home from painting – in fact they keep better without it. I do allow myself a small ox/sable brush for branches of trees or my signature – no fiddling with small brushes though!
Canvas: I've painted on a number of different surfaces and now work almost exclusively on linen canvas that I buy on rolls so that I can then choose the size and shape I want to work on when I arrive on site. I simply cut my canvas off the roll and masking tape it down to an MDF panel that then fits securely on to my easel. When the painting is dry, I then glue the canvas to a backing board that fits into the painting's frame. Canvas is quite expensive though, especially linen, but there are cheaper cotton alternatives that are also quite nice to work on.
As a much cheaper alternative, I have painted many times on hardboard and MDF panels that have been primed with a generous coat of gesso. For the price, this is an excellent surface to work on – far better than cheap cotton canvas.
Painting storage: Wet paintings can be a problem so I have a large covered drawer that fits into the back of my vehicle – easiest if you drive a station wagon or van. Inside it is a space for the canvas panels to slide into so that up to 6 paintings can be stored safely until they are dry. Other gear needed is also stored in the drawer with the lid fastened down so that nothing is loose – much safer in an accident. Before I built this setup for the back of my vehicle, I made myself a simple box with grooves down the sides so that I could slide MDF panels into the box and close the lid. It kept the paintings inside completely safe until they were dry.
My philosophy of painting is simple. Whether I paint in an abstract or figurative style, contemporary or more traditional, is not really the issue. After all, the qualities that define a painting in any genre are basically the same. What matters to me is that I create something from my heart, something that communicates with other people in a way that they can understand, and something that involves the elements of a good painting. Namely drawing skills, good colour and tones, flowing brushwork, a good design that may involve some abstract qualities, perhaps even some quality from ‘outside the box’ – something beyond the conventional. That’s a high calling and too often, I feel that I have fallen short – but nobody said it would be easy! It makes the occasional success all the sweeter.
"A windy day on the Dart River bed"
One of the things I dislike when I am out painting is a strong wind – strong enough to buffett the canvas. Even strong enough to start blowing the brushes off the easel and into the long grass.
That happened just recently when my painter friend Richard Robinson and I went painting on what started out as a calm and sunny day, and ended up being a battle with the nor-wester. Having started though, you can't just scuttle off home!
The interesting thing is that having got over the difficulties of the day, I'm now enjoying the painting. I like the very wide landscape format that I decided to use - it's just a little different for me. I also like the loose brushstrokes – the sense of abandon about it. Probably brought about by the rush to get out of the unpleasant conditions!
Perhaps a good lesson to remember and apply to every painting – paint with freedom, abandon. Try to remember that it really doesn't matter. Your future isn't depending on that one painting!
To explain my heading – 'getting up-to-date'. Ive been told that many painters are now selling their teaching DVDs online – ready for instant download. With Richards help, we've now included that choice on my DVD page of this website. There is a brief trailer that you can watch first to see if the particular DVD will suit you, and if you decide that you would like it, it's much cheaper than buying the disc. And of course, you can download it immediately. Hopefully, they will be a great help in your painting.