It is always interesting to revisit a familiar place at different times and seasons. This is the tunnel made famous by David Hockney in his epic ‘Bigger Picture’ Exhibition at the Royal Academy. It is literally just round the corner from where I live so I have been able to easily chart its progress through the seasons. This is my fifth painting of this iconic scene but the first morning view. This means that the sun is shining through from the right which gives a complete new perspective to the shadows. Of course autumn is the season of colour and it is always a joy to add an exuberant splash of reds and yellows to a painting. Even with lots of colour though, it is still important to get the tones right to create distance in a painting. I mix my colours on the paper so had to make sure that the trees were not as vivid in the background as the ones closer to us. I painted it quickly, more interested in the ‘feel’ of autumn rather than the detail. Mother Nature certainly does put on an amazing show for us at this time of year.
I knew I would be painting this scene as soon as I came across it. It’s a bridge crossing Gypsy Race in the Boynton estate. Gypsy race is a typical fast flowing chalk stream so named because it seems to appear and then disappear on its meandering way to the sea. The scene is so tranquil and peaceful and makes a perfect composition. However if you can’t improve on nature you sometimes have to improve on man made objects. The actual bridge is a simple platform across the stream and fenced on both sides for safety making it eminently practical but not very inspiring. It had to go and in its place I substituted an old fashioned pack horse bridge which might originally have been there in the first place. I painted quickly and freely, focussing on the impression rather the detail of the place. I’m happy with it and will be happy to back there too.
This famous tunnel of trees is just five minutes from where I live and I have painted it a few times already – but not in winter. After a couple of recent visits I decided to give it that magical coating that snow brings. Painting snow scenes are not as simple as you might think. True, snow covers a lot of detail but the detail is still there just covered by the white stuff. So the challenge is to suggest not just the covering but what lies underneath. Colour too is important. Just a quick glance and everything looks white but it is far more subtle than that. You will notice that I have left very little white and used a combination of blues and greens to give the snow texture as well as colour. It’s a great composition to paint of course as your eyes automatically follow the track. Don’t be surprised if the painting figures on this year’s Christmas card!
Surely by now everyone in the world knows that Yorkshire is the most beautiful place on the planet. I say this with all deference to my many friends spread all over the globe and especially those living in Lancashire. At least you are close to perfection - Yorkshire is just over the border! One of the jewels of the county is the North Yorks National Park. Recently we visited one of our favourite parts of the park - the western fringes. Starting from the Sutton Bank Moors centre we meandered down the back roads through Hawnby and then over t'tops to Osmotherley. Finally after a short stop at Codbeck Reservoir we ended up in Swainby where we enjoyed a picnic beside the river that runs through the village. One of the features of the moors are the swaledale sheep. These hardy creatures wander freely and often congregate on or near the roads. They are so used to traffic that they barely give you a glance as you drive by. Unfortunately their familiarity can lead to accidents so it is good to drive carefully though why anyone would want to speed through this lovely area is beyond me. So your motto should be "Give sheep a chance".
Lowthorpe Wood is a lovely place for a short stroll on a hot summer day. Although small it features a fast flowing chalk stream, mature trees and refreshing shade from the heat. It has been a well visited destination for us in this spell of exceptional hot weather and we have enjoyed the cool respite especially Dilly. I am sure these wild deer enjoyed the shade too. I enjoyed doing the painting concentrating on trying to capture the contrast between warm and cool. Here are a few details to help you see how it was built up.
I always think it's interesting to see close up details as the layers of paint become more apparent. Anyway the sun is still shining so time to find another shady stroll. See you soon. Glenn
Regular readers will know that one of my favourite artists is the great Victorian oil painter John Atkinson Grimshaw. Grimshaw was most famous for his moonlight paintings where he imbued the mundane with the magic of the mysterious light of the moon. So the inspiration was - what if Grimshaw had come to Kilham.
My favourite medium for painting a ‘Grimshaw’ is the iPad and we were lucky enough to get a shot of the Bay Horse with no cars parked in front. It was the ideal composition to work with and I added all the classic hallmarks – wet cobbled streets, glowing gas lamps and the mysterious lady. I am pleased with the way it turned out for the first attempt. Maybe Grimshaw and other famous artists will be visiting Kilham in the near future – who knows? Here's a step by step guide to the painting:
Maybe Grimshaw and other famous artists will be visiting Kilham soon - who knows?
“An artist is not paid for his labour…….”
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
“How long did it take to do that?” Every painter has been asked this question at some time or another. Although a reasonable question to ask it does seem to imply that the worth of a painting is somehow connected to the time it took to paint it. What do you think – is there a valid relationship between time and worth or even value of a painting? My answer would be an unequivocal “No”.
It’s true that some paintings just flow very quickly. Spontaneity and speed are an integral part of the attractiveness of such work. Indeed I enjoy doing a painting in a very limited time as it frees you from all the clutter and detail so you have to focus on the main point you are trying to express. Other paintings are different and require more time, indeed more effort to get them to say what you want them to say. In a painting like this detail becomes all important.
This was a painting that demanded more time though it was not conceived as such. I painted it in four sessions spread over several days. The sessions were between two or three hours each. Nice way to paint really with lots of thinking time in between. It gave me a chance to reassess what I had done previously and make any necessary alterations before proceeding to the next stage.
The original inspiration came after a chance remark by a dear old friend Stan Lewis about autumn mists. So I began the painting with just a vague idea of a typical autumn morning as the sun broke through the mist. It was not really based on any specific place or time period so very quickly I determined to call it “Autumn Memories”.
Over the next few days memories began to surface. The background was a reminder of a morning quite a few years ago when Merice and I were on our way to Gallery 49 in Bridlington. We stopped off for a stroll in a small nature reserve near where we lived in York at the time. The reserve is renowned for its fantastic rhododendron collection but it was the trees on the way out that caught the attention this particular day. It was a cold and misty autumn morning with the rays of the sun breaking through. It was a bit nippy but we knew the sun would eventually dissipate the mist and we would be treated to a glorious day. It turned out thus.
Over the next few days many more autumn memories surfaced – strolls in woods with Lauren and Katie, hot soup and homemade bread waiting for your return. Then further back in time to carefree childhood days in Cockersdale wood, blazing coal fires and the excitement of Christmas getting nearer. I appreciate that memories are always viewed through rose tinted glasses but it was fun to bask in those happy times.
Details filtered through into the painting like leaves fallen floating in puddles, branches with just a few lingering remains of their green glory or beaten down foliage rotting away but keeping its seeds warm and safe so they could bring forth vibrant new life next Spring. All these are encapsulated in “Autumn Memories”.
The full quote from Whistler is: “An artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision.”
So, how long did it take for me to do this painting? The answer is a lifetime of memories and a few hours. I hope you enjoy it and that it stirs many happy memories for you. I think it’s time for a wee noggin of port now. Cheers. Glenn
Everyone knows the story about the sunflowers - how Vincent painted a whole series of them to brighten up his home in preparation for the visit of his friend Paul Gauguin. For once Van Gogh was happy and optimistic and these paintings reflect the joy and excitement he was feeling. Vincent foresaw and was looking forward to a burst of artistic endeavour with a man he much admired. Vincent saw heady weeks ahead of painting outdoors together every day with stimulating conversations about art every night. Sadly we know it didn’t turn out that way. Gauguin was looking forward to a different kind of break away from the city. He was looking forward to happy times discovering the local bars and brothels so inevitably there was going to be clashes. Clashes of personality too as Gauguin found it impossible to cope with Van Gogh’s intensity. The ultimate result was Van Gogh cutting off his right earlobe and Gauguin departing back from whence he came. Vincent was blissfully unaware of this outcome though when he painted these explosions of colour. I would imagine he worked very quickly on them mixing his colours straight on the canvas ‘wet on wet’. I allowed myself a bit longer and spread my painting over short sessions on four consecutive days totalling about five hours altogether. It’s a happy painting and it was a joy to paint. The colours are vivid and the composition elegantly pleasing. I decided to use a very limited palette. Van Gogh probably used primary colours but I used ultramarine blue, Winsor yellow and brown madder as my blue, yellow and red. It is a large painting so I worked with my trusty Chinese brushes. I picked them up for a couple of quid at a Chinese Herbalist in York and they are brilliant for this sort of work and probably the best bargain I ever got. Made of hog’s hair (that’s pigs!) they are very versatile and the same brush can be used either for large washes or incredibly fine work. They are also extremely tough. Working in my ‘Van Gogh’ mode I painted onto dry paper instead of my usual sodden mess. Apart from the irregular background wash, the painting is made up of individual brushstrokes some layered with another colour and some ‘wet on wet’. Although initially it was a mental exercise it was impossible not to get drawn in to the spontaneous joy and freedom of the work. I am pleased with the way it turned out and the original is now hanging on one of my granddaughter’s wall. I can honestly say that I really enjoyed experience working with Vincent and I look forward to spending some more time with him. Now where did Merice put that bottle of absinthe? Cheers
“That is the eternal question, is life all that there is of life or do we only know one hemisphere before our death? Speaking for myself I have no idea what the answer is but the sight of the stars always starts me thinking"
Vincent Van Gogh 1853 – 1890
I have done quite a few paintings in the style of and based on the works of many old masters from yesteryear but up to now have never tackled Vincent Van Gogh. Although most of them were oil painters it was never a problem translating into watercolour as they all blended their colours to achieve a smooth finish. In some ways it was probably easier for me to get that effect with watercolours than it was for them with oils. Not so with Vincent no attempt at smooth blending with him. So why now to suddenly take up the challenge? I blame it on one of my lovely granddaughters. She and her partner are moving into their first home together and she asked me to paint one of Van Gogh’s sunflowers as a new home present. Now you won’t be too surprised that I do not have an original hanging on my wall but I consulted my art library and found a print. At first glance it didn’t look to be much of a problem but on closer inspection I realised it was not going to be so simple, in fact nothing about Van Gogh’s work is simple. The reason for that lies with the man himself. We have all heard it said that there is a fine line between genius and madness. If anyone ever proved that it was this man who constantly veered from one side of the line to the other during his short life. As an artist he is totally unique. There had never been one like him before or one like him since. He does not fit into any category or style – he just is Vincent Van Gogh. Vincent’s paintings were not just about the colours or the marks. He was painting more than a visual response to a scene – he was actually painting an emotional response to what was before him. Now my granddaughter wants a large painting. Fair enough but being a Yorkshireman I decided to try a small one first to see if I could do it. After all why waste a large sheet of paper if you can get away with wasting a small one. Looking through a selection of his paintings I decided on this one. There were several reasons. Obviously it is well known and fixed in people’s mind what a Van Gogh looks like. More importantly for me it has all the trademark colours and swirls. If I could do a half decent job on this complicated subject then I should be able to tackle the relatively simpler sunflowers.
So how to paint it was the question? You all know my mantra by now – “you can’t use too much water in watercolours and use the strength of the medium by working with large washes.” Not this time. I painted all the marks onto dry paper building it up layer by layer. Vincent often painted ‘wet on wet’ with his brushstrokes to get varying colour tones and I replicated this technique. He worked mainly in primary colours which was handy because so do I. I gleaned that he used ultramarine blue so I made this my base colour. Thus I was able to stick to my usual six colours with the addition of cerulean blue which, being semi opaque, gave me extra tones. I haven’t a clue where Vincent started on his painting or how he did it. Being an oil painter he could have worked from dark to light but I had to do the opposite and work from light to dark. So the first (very tentative) marks were the yellow swirls in the sky and I proceeded from there. I went slowly at first constantly checking the reference piece for accuracy of the marks. Gradually I developed more confidence and began to paint boldly. As the painting started to appear something extraordinary happened to me. What had started as an intellectual exercise and a test of my skill and colour knowledge with watercolours became something more. I became aware of a deep desire within me to get it right and do it justice. I painted it during three sessions but couldn’t stop thinking about it constantly – are the colours working, are the tones OK? Vincent had evoked an emotional response in me to his emotional response to the original. It took a while filling the white paper with marks instead of washes but finally it was done and I am very pleased with it.
Vincent Van Gogh is a figure of many myths but the two most common ones are easily dispelled. It is commonly stated that Vincent never sold a painting in his lifetime but actually he did…just one. Sold by brother Theo who acted as his agent, it was bought by Anne Boch, sister of the Belgian painter Eugene. It is also commonly believed that he cut off his right ear and presented it to his fellow artist and houseguest at the time, Gauguin, after a quarrel. Again not true. He cut off part of his ear and presented it to a prostitute at the local brothel and returned home to lie bleeding all night in his bed. One thing that is certain though is, despite the madness and the myth, Vincent Van Gogh is a towering figure in the history of art, an artist who altered the way art is viewed and who is still revered to this day for his unique vision.
That’s me done for today so I’ll be off leaving you to hum Don McLean’s “Starry, Starry Night” to yourself while I go fulfil my date with a sunflower. By the way if you would like a ‘Van Gogh’ on your wall my original is for sale. Just contact me for the details. Cheers, Glenn
“The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this.” James Abbott McNeill Whistler
What do you think about this comment by Whistler? For its time it was very controversial not that he was a stranger to controversy. Back then nature was treated as ‘sublime’ and could not and should not be altered. It was the duty of the artist to try and faithfully reproduce what was in front of him. Inevitably Whistler’s approach to his art brought him into conflict with the establishment. Particularly one John Ruskin who was the most celebrated art critic of the time and a guardian of nature’s perfection. He gave a vitriolic review of one of Whistler’s works so Whistler sued him for libel. After a long drawn out and very public trial, Whistler finally won his case. But the judge was also part of the establishment so he only awarded Whistler the sum of one farthing in damages. Whistler was left bankrupt so took himself off to Paris and built up a successful career there. Interestingly when the Impressionists were preparing to hold their first controversial exhibition Monet and Pissarro invited Whistler to join them. Perhaps not wanting to take on the art establishment yet again Whistler declined the invitation. Ironic then that this most unconventional artist is best remembered for a portrait of his mother!
Let’s go back to the comment though. Obviously he is correct especially these days when everybody has instant access to a camera to faithfully record what’s in front of them. So the artist has to add something extra to his painting – his interpretation of what’s in front of him (or her). He has to imbue it with his own unique vision. Normally I take my time over a painting building it up layer by layer and adding more and more detail as I think necessary…sometimes too much detail. So I decided to try something a little different with this one. I allowed myself just thirty minutes to finish the painting. I did a quick pencil sketch based on one of my own watercolours and set to work. I had to paint very wet onto wet just allowing the colours to do their own thing. I found it exhilarating. It was the same excitement I used to feel when I first started painting simply because I had no idea how it would turn out. It took me a just a bit longer than the allotted time mainly due to having to wait patiently while it dried a little. Luckily the sun was out so it didn’t take too long. So after 35 minutes I was left with “Country Lane in Bright Sunlight.” I really enjoyed it and think it captures the excitement. I shall certainly be doing a lot more of these quick paintings. One thing I hope not to do again is paint the dog. Dilly had been lying down beside me in the warm sun and at some point she had acquired a yellow back! It’s only watercolour though so a quick wipe with wet kitchen towel and she was restored to normal. Don’t tell Merice though.
Professional artist now semi retired and enjoying being eccentric!