Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sketching from virtual life

Giraffe resting I

UPDATE:  Giraffe calf born 11:25am Newfoundland time Saturday April 15th.  Gender: male.

If you haven't heard of April the expectant giraffe by now, you're one of few.  She's a captive bred giraffe housed in the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, NY.  Her enclosure is on a live feed on Youtube and if lucky you may be able to catch the birth of her 4th calf in the very near future.

I won't say I'm addicted, more curious perhaps, but I do check in most evenings to see how she's getting on.   Apparently giraffes need between 30 to 120 minutes of sleep a day, so its rare to see them napping.  The other night I was looking at the live cam feed as she folded her impossibly long legs underneath her to rest.  A resting animal is a perfect sketching opportunity and as I'd never sketched a giraffe before I thought I'd try.

Giraffe resting II

She changed position once more, almost cat like, curled around herself with her head on her hind leg. It was like a complex yoga position and didn't look comfortable, but she stayed there for about 5 minutes giving me another chance to do a quick sketch.

If you don't have an exotic animal close by to observe from life, a virtual view is just as good. Testing sketching skills with moving animals whether from life or a camera provides the same results.

Check the cam and see if the calf has arrived yet.  She was showing signs of something happening last night, so you never know.  Next, sketching a baby giraffe!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Chiaroscuro

White Knight
24" x 36"  oil on canvas

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” “There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.”

Chiaroscuro is Italian and roughly translated, means light and dark. It originally described a type of drawing on medium-dark paper where the artist created both darker areas with ink and lighter areas with white paint.  Very similar to drawing on the toned papers that are available today.

Supper at Emmaus - 1601
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Caravaggio, with his intense dark backgrounds in paintings in the 16th century really brought chiaroscuro to a new height with an almost spotlight effect on his figures.  Chiaroscuro adds drama to a painting with focal points being flooded with a light source and the edges of objects melting into the same value as the background, making you look closely to define one from the other.

You can see just how large this painting "Supper at Emmaus" is, with its almost lifesized figures  and see more of his work, style and life in the video below from the National Gallery where the painting is housed.  The video is 30 minutes long but well worth your time if you're interested in the master artists.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A room with a view

All Roads Lead to the Sea
40" x 40"

It can be difficult for collectors to visualize what a painting would look like in situ.  An online image always looks different when viewed from the appropriate distance and more vivid when viewed in person.

Pickeyes Cove
24" x 36"

I occasionally use a free program called WallApp that lets me place some of my paintings in a room setting. The paintings are not accurately to scale, I simply eyeball what I think size would be compared to the furniture.  But they provide an added view for a collector that may make up their mind about purchasing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Government Wharf - WIP

The Government Wharf - WIP
24" x 24"

In Newfoundland there are two types of wharves.  A private wharf, usually called a "stage" is made of thin trees stripped of branches and some planed wood.  They're found all over the province and show a variety of building skills and supplies - and are in a variety of repair and disrepair depending on the health of the fishery in that area.

Garden Cove fishing stage - colour study

The other type of wharf is the government wharf, built with federal funding.  These are traditional, sturdy wharves that are usually associated with an active fishing community, built of preserved lumber and well maintained for the most part.  When I was working on my gyotaku project and asked about boats in communities, I was always directed to "the government wharf", where fishermen often landed their catch.

Petty Harbour II
30" x 40"  Peter Lewis Gallery

I have painted a lot of boats with a lot of wharves around them and love the colours that are found from the values of wood sitting in water, algae found on the wood and reflections that disturb the water of a still harbour.  This government wharf, located in Trinity, seemed to be a good choice as it fit all the criteria I wanted.  I gessoed the wood panel and drew the structure in charcoal, using a yardstick to measure the gaps to ensure there was uniformity.

Updates will be posted as I progress.

This folk song - On the Government Wharf - sums up the loss of the fishery and its impact on a community.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Painting water

Winter Ditch
4" x 36" oil on panel

Water is one of those subjects that can strike fear into some artists.  "It's too difficult."  "I could never do that". are phrases I have heard many times.  And for less experienced artists, its true.  When you first look at a scene, your eye takes in the varying values, colours, forms, and light.  The scene seems enormous and daunting.

So how do you make it more approachable?

When choosing a subject, I use a viewfinder to limit the area I'm looking at and make a good composition that fits the shape of the canvas or paper I'm using.  If using a camera, you're pretty much doing the same thing by honing in on an area or scene, with the advantage that you can have multiple views and choose from them later.

I make a small thumbnail drawing of what I want to paint.  If it has the right shape, correct amount of dark, mid and light values and I like it.  I go on to creating a colour study.  The colour study helps me confirm my palette and colours and set the final seal of approval on deciding if I'll go larger.


What colour is water?  It is every colour.  It reflects everything around it, in it, under it and above it, depending on the light level its seen in.  Sunny days give strong reflections of the world, overcast days have diffused light so colours and values must be adjusted accordingly.

I use a split primary palette of a warm and cool version of blue, red and yellow, along with white and an earth colour.  I occasionally add another colour, depending on what I believe the painting needs.


Starting with an under drawing to guide placement, I build slowly, as with any painting.  When something seems difficult, the mind really is saying that it will take more time than usual to complete and this is very true.  As with any difficult task, working through a little at a time is the way to success.  Its very much like a puzzle; finding the right colour, value and stroke to make everything fall into place.  And most importantly, painting what you see.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

All Roads Lead to the Sea

All Roads Lead to the Sea
40" x 40" - oil on canvas

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.” 
― Rachel CarsonThe Sea Around Us