November 17, 2020
Fire is natural light. We can cause fire to happen but it is a natural phenomenon and unpredictable in its shape and form which is as flickering and fluid as water. There are some similarities with the way fire and water behave visually; the explosive bursts of fire from natural causes or rockets exploding in the sky are not so different from fountains spraying water as pressure is released by a valve; fire can also pour down volcanic mountains. A difference is that we see water because it reflects light but fire is the light source. Visually it is the difference between the sun and the moon. In our thought processes when we depict fire we depict power and potential danger, even when this is in the form of a humble candle.
Perhaps the disconnect between the power of fire which we harness domestically and its destructive nature, whether natural or harnessed for war is why we find the flickering flame so exciting.
That’s the philosophy bit done! Now for a look at the candle;
The “halo” is not necessarily the sphere as seen in so many Christmas greetings cards. Note the blue at the base of the flame and bands of orange and yellow. Look at the soft glow of the top of the candle itself and tiny subdued highlights in the molten wax. The wick is barely discernible against the dark background here.
Lastly note how the reddish halo gradually merges with the dark ground; colours from dark orange to deep red before becoming indistinguishable from the red/black darks.
If you wish to make a candle study you may like to light a candle, taking sensible safety precautions and observe the colours you see. Your colours and tones may be very different from those in the photograph above so observation is the key to developing a realistic painting.
In 1982 to 1983 Gerhardt Richter made some very beautiful and photo-realistic oil paintings of candles, closely observed against different backgrounds. These look deceptively simple but are carefully painted with huge skill in handling the paint where gradual transitions from light to dark occur. References to these can be found on this week’s Pinterest board at:
Alongside works by;
Georges de la Tour: more candles and candle light; look at how faces reflect the candle light in his works
Joseph Wright of Derby: volcanic eruptions and a fire burning a cottage down at night
And Bonfires by the contemporary artist Brent Cotton.
This should supply you with plenty of ideas for next week’s painting. I would like to see work either from your imagination or a fire situation you have experienced; from an erupting volcano to a child’s birthday celebration or Christmas candle.
Looking forward to seeing
November 10, 2020
This week we are moving toward the coast, rivers and canals for inspiration and your challenge will be to produce paintings including a light source and its reflection in water. The reflection will not only be affected by the position of the light source to its reflection but also the prevailing light conditions; mist or the darkness of night and whether the water is calm, rippling or rough.
Look at photos of rivers and the sea where any light is reflected and look at how reflections are interrupted and sometimes scattered by waves.
Apart from the vertical positioning of any reflection take special care that each reflection is directly below the light source being reflected. This is seen very clearly both in works by Whistler and Andrew Gifford. better still take a walk along the Thames in the early evening.
The medium is very much your choice and as last week you may work from your imagination or from a reference, preferably of a place you know. James McNiell Whistler is famed for his series of “nocturne” paintings of the Thames. The darkest of these are full of drama and the most subtle have that beauty of early morning stillness. Examples of Whistler’s nocturnes alongside works by Andrew Gifford and the Canadian artist David Haughton can be seen on this week’s Pinterest board at:
Also included are some imaginative works by Charles Philippe Jacquet. The artist’s rather surreal compositions combine his ideas with an almost believable reality. In reviewing some of your own photographs you may be inspired to adapt them to an imaginative approach or to paint a more representational painting. If your reference is complicated, consider making a study of part of it and experiment with little sketches before homing in on a final composition.
Lastly I couldn’t resist including this photo of a cruise ship leaving Funchal; the antithesis of the little yellow boat that carries commuters and tourists alike from Leeds Dock.
If you have very little in the way of references for lights reflected in water at night or evening from boats or buildings on the shore, make a sketch or photo of one of the bridges or part of the Thames shoreline at dusk. Maidenhead Bridge has plenty of lights. Alternatively, if you would like to try a more surreal approach why not choose a building you know and perch it with fully lit windows on a rock in the middle of a lake and imagine your own private lighthouse!
November 3, 2020
This week we’ll consider street lights and other urban lights. The principles are exactly the same as last week; huge tonal differences between the light source and its surroundings.
Last week you were invited to make a very representational painting or to use your imagination to invent a moonlit scene. This week you may consider a representational approach or look at the abstract patterns made by traffic and street lighting which would work very well in pastel on dark papers. A few ideas for working in pastel or watercolour are outlined below.
If working in pastel or opaque watercolour you may like to consider working on a dark or mid toned paper. Often street lights are on well before the light fails completely and in this case a mid toned paper may be useful enabling you to easily make some areas lighter and others darker, perhaps using the paper as one of the tones/colours in your painting.
When using pastel and a very dark blue paper, like midnight blue or even indigo, black will make that even darker for the very deepest tones but use it sparingly. As last week you may need to place your shapes by working with a mid-toned pastel pencil before blocking them in and reserve your palest pastels for the light sources; light from windows, street lamps etc.
If you are working in watercolour plan out your composition so that you can either reserve the lightest and white areas by painting around them or by using masking fluid. Remember not to apply your washes till the masking is absolutely dry. Then work as you would usually working first the pale areas, then the middle and lastly the darkest washes. Your palest washes may be washed over pretty much the whole of your paper, lending unity to subsequent washes and you may like to drop in mid tone colours in some areas at this stage.
Do look at your reference carefully as there may be areas of reflected light and sharp edged shadows.
The photographic references include a dark night time scene from Bradford and some in London at twilight where the shadows are diffuse and there is less glare from each light source.
Try to avoid reflections in water this week as that will be the subject of the following week’s challenge. Stick to street lighting, traffic and car lights, shops and window lights and even cafe lighting. If you are feeling more ambitious try a floodlit building, sports stadium or building site.
Look at how the light is emitted from the light source. It may appear as a round dazzle of light as round the sun or from a torch. It may be directed as the floodlights illuminating a building or stadium. You may even see “pools” of light on the ground.
Hope this gives you some ideas and there are examples of how several artists have tackled this subject on the Pinterest Board link below.
Works by John Atkinson Grimshaw, Frederick Childe -Hassam and Whistler are featured and also works by the Czech artist Jacob Schikaneder. I especially like his tramway scenes. These artists all worked over a similar period about 1890 to 1920.
Have fun and don’t forget to photograph/sketch some fireworks ready for the week 5 challenge.
October 27, 2020
This week’s challenge is the moon and its effects on the landscape. You may paint an observed scene or introduce something more imaginative. The works of Turner and Samuel Palmer combine large elements of observation with imagination. Much smaller than the sun its size is often exaggerated in paintings; look at Turner’s watercolour sketch of Shields Lighthouse, 1823-26.
Several of Turner’s works together with works by Samuel Palmer and the contemporary artists John Caple and Richard Cartwright and others feature on the Pinterest Board titled Lights in the Sky, Lights from the Land, section: Moon and Stars, Link below;
Another featured artist is the Victorian artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw of whom Whistler famously remarked “I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures.” This is unbelievably arrogant in the face of moonlit paintings by Turner, Palmer etc. years earlier. However it is really worth studying Whistler’s nocturnes of the Thames which we’ll look at in a couple of weeks time.
The moon’s light being a mere reflection of the sun’s light is less bright, but is most often depicted during the hours of darkness, so affords huge contrasts with the darkened skies. Because of the darkness the palette used for painting moonlit scenes is generally less colourful and may be depicted in near monochrome.
This week you may work in pastel which will work very well on a dark paper, perhaps a very dark blue or even a dark burgundy colour as in the demonstration piece below. If you are working in watercolour you may choose a white paper as in the illustration above, or if you consider working in gouache, or white added to your watercolours, again you may like to choose a dark paper. Pastel papers can be stretched in the same way as watercolour paper, or you could work in gouache on an off cut of mount board.
The images below show stages in creating a moonlit landscape based loosely on the Eden valley in Northumberland.
Below are a few suggestions for painting the moon in watercolour.
Whatever your medium, compared with the sun the moon is a tiny object though it appears a good size from earth because of its proximity. It sheds a much paler silvery light on the landscape which is very different from the vast range of hues revealed by direct sunlight.
Your challenge for this week is to paint a picture of a moonlit landscape with the moon visible in the night sky. This may take the form of a very imaginative scene as in the works of John Caple or Richard Cartwight or something more literal. Have fun!
October 20, 2020
This week’s project is to depict the sun and effects of its luminosity on the landscape. As light sources, natural and manufactured are the topics for the next few weeks, I thought it would be useful to consider some general aspects of depicting luminosity.
Light sources vary in the colours they emit; some have haloes of different colours surrounding a white or paler coloured centre and others are single hued with a near white highlight at the centre. During the next few weeks we will discover some of these differences in more detail.
Guidelines for creating luminosity in a composition
(Some of this is rather obvious but here goes!)
1. The luminous area should be smaller than its surroundings.
2. The luminous area should be painted in paler tones than its surroundings and the highlight will be the palest tone.
3. Within the brightest part of the luminous area none of the tonal values should contrast with each other greatly. Deeper values should be painted outside this area although there may be different colours of medium tonal value outside the brightest part of the luminous area.
4. A sheen of the colours within and just outside the luminous area often pervades the entire composition. The Impressionists made great use of these effects. This can be seen in Monet’s paintings of the Houses of Parliament and the Waterloo Bridge series. The hues just outside the main illuminated feature and to a lesser extent those within the illuminated area are seen as echoes in streaks and dashes of paint, the colours that create a sheen over the surroundings area, giving the work colour unity as in the rather rough illustration below.
A link to the Pinterest board “Lights in Art” is below and you will find images of the works referenced as well as several other examples of how artists have depicted the sun and sunlight.
Luminosity may be achieved with neutral greys simply by surrounding a small white circle with rings of increasingly darker pale greys on a background of a much darker grey, or with single hue by doing the same but with a colour instead of grey.
Luminosity can also be achieved by using several hues e.g. white surrounded by yellow, then red and other colours but again choosing a darker hue for the wider area surrounding the light source.
Another way of using colour is to surround a saturated colour (pure hue) with less saturated colours or the complement of the pure hue at the centre. Again it usually works best if the surrounding hues are similar tonally or darker than the luminous area.
A good example of a pure colour being surrounded by a less saturated near complementary colour is afforded by “Impression Sunrise”, 1872 by Monet. The sun is painted as a small disc of a rather pure orange against a rather desaturated(less pure) purple cloud. The reflection of the sun is painted clearly in the water and throughout the work echoes of the orange can be seen among the purples and chromatic(coloured) grays of the rest of the composition giving the impression of the sun’s light giving a sheen over the whole work.
It is of course almost impossible to depict the sun on a bright day with hardly a cloud in the sky. This is probably why most paintings of the sun involve sunsets and sunrises, or the sun in overcast conditions; its light pouring through the gaps between the clouds. Another way in which the brightness of the sun is depicted is it’s reflection in water; either as a sparkle or as a reflection of the whole sun.
Even on the dullest day the sun appears white at the centre surrounded by a ring of pale yellow. At sunset the sun may appear white or yellow at the centre and surrounded by red orange colours or the whole sun may appear bright orange/red. The duller the day the more monochrome it appears and the sun’s reflection in water behaves in the same way.
For more ideas do visit the Pinterest Board link below.
1. Experiment with making a small area look luminous using one hue and then with several hues.
2. Using pastel or watercolour or a watercolour/pastel combination make a painting where the sun is evident in the sky and may also include a reflection of the sun. The reflection may appear as the reflection of the whole sun or as a sparkle on the water.
The weather is up to you!
You may like to work your own version of one of the images on the Pinterest board, or use your own reference/imagination.
A Year in Pastel: landscape and natural forms
26th October to 30th November
Inspired by Ancient Art 1; The Romans
Saturday 11th December