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.