Monday, December 31, 2012

Some new additions to the studio.

I have been haunting antique shops to find old frames, chairs, and other studio props for my "belle epoque" look which I discussed in my blog about books and Sorolla.

I have some new finds to report as well as a brand new Italian easel.

To my dismay it came in a huge number of pieces in a box and has taken a while to assemble.
Here it is finally constructed. I have had my eye on this model for a while and it was reduced post-Christmas so I could finally afford it. You can see my old faithful red one behind it in the photo also. I will now use it as my mirror stand. I will have so much more flexibility with two easels and not having to have the mirror on a wall.
This photo shows two new aquisitions. The striped curtain (embossed fabric from Spotlight) and the model's chair. I got the chair for $15 at Vinnies. It is velvety and has a kind of embossed pattern also, very comfortable and my very first model to sit in it actually dozed off. Notice I have placed it at my eye height by pushing together some gallery plinths as a stand.
Another exciting find were these frames. Far too beautiful to part with so they will remain studio fixtures for quite some time. They inspire me by just being there.

Here is a close up of the most detailed one. I love these ornate gold mouldings. My chair at the back was a find several years ago and is totally the look I am after.

Now back to painting. I am ruminating on a new project which I will reveal when I have thought a bit more about it. At present I am keeping a "circle of safety" around my idea until I am totally ready.

Watch this space.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Word or Two about Colour

Colour and an understanding of it are vitally important in my work. My thoughts about it have developed the more I paint and I thought I'd share some of my discoveries in this post.

I read recently (unfortunately I forget where exactly but it was either in Simon Schama or Betty Churcher or a book on Courbet)
"It is only what you realise for yourself (or learn the hard way) that has any value as an artist"

I know that I have always been doing it the hard way, teaching myself what paint does, what acrylic will do, what oil will do, what tone will do and what colour will do. The things that I have discovered for myself are what make my work truly mine.

John Worth (Australian artist) related an anecdote to me about Rembrandt. Apparently Rembrandt told his pupils
"Use the richest blackest black you can grind and a pure white ... and other colours only sparingly"
I am finally learning that to have one colour sing it has to be surrounded by subtlety. The mixed tertiaries (or layers) can have it all. Just exaggerate one tiny section of already there colour.

One never stops learning with regard to colour and about six months ago I completed the following colour charts.

I can't begin to express how much the process of doing these eleven charts taught me. I acknowledge that it was my friend artist Terry Bouton who urged me to complete them. (It takes weeks to do them properly.) This method of colour mixing is discussed in the book "Alla Prima - Everything I Know about Painting" by American artist and teacher Richard Schmid. I have since come to understand that Schmid enjoys something of a cult following in the United States. He was the teacher and mentor of the Chicago group which includes Clayton Beck.

One of the most enlightening things about doing the charts is the importance of black just as Rembrandt advised.

I have heard so many artists proudly proclaim that they don't even own a black. This of course comes from the Impressionist idea of various colours in the shadows rather than blacks or greys, but to leave black out is a severe handicap.

The colours in each chart are from L to R

Cadmium Lemon
Cadmium Yellow Deep
Yellow Ochre Pale
Cadmium Red
Terra Rosa (which is similar to the pigment called Light Red)
Tranparent Red Oxide
Alizarin Crimson
Ivory Black
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue

Eleven Colours in all. There is a chart for each colour as the dominant hue mixed with differing amounts of the others plus white.

This is the chart for Viridian which was absent from my portrait palette before but is now a staple for mixing with the others.

This is my chart for Terra Rosa, one of my favourites. The range of hues for portraits is very beautiful and varied.

I have these charts on the wall near to where I am working and I consult them frequently.

There is another totally separate point I wanted to make about colour and it is that of
Colour Symbolism.

This is something I have worked with for years but it is enhanced by the juxtaposition with the carefully mixed tones already discussed.

These meanings come into play in the use of a focus colour or even a series of highlights. They do sound a bit New Age-ish but I don't see that detracting from the ideas.

Cobalt - connects to a higher purpose.
Turquoise - deepens ecstasy
Yellow - clarifies
Orange - inspires fusion
Saffron - kindles love
Magenta - sparks higher mental. emotional and spiritual processes
Purple - reinforces supremacy, links to an elevated state
Green - explores expansion and growth, tranquility
Lime - awakens the spirit
Blue - expresses self esteem and mystery
Powder Blue - invites contemplation
Light Green - evoks wistfulness and relief
Gold - expresses abundance
Lavender - freedom from cravings
Red - ignites, stimulates
Terracotta - strengthens security
Pink - Unconditional love and nurturing

I have distilled this list with the help of many internet searches. It is a lot of fun as well as being thought provoking, especially when you consider what colours one may choose to wear or what colour a portrait subject may be wearing, backgrounds, details, inclusion of objects  etc.

Over the years I have noticed my own palette becoming more refined, less bold, more discerning and subsequently a lot more versatile. I do believe though that there is no substitute for instinct and the instinctive use of colour. Even if colour is used instinctively though, knowledge of its meanings provides another level to be appeciated.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Work in Progress of Studio Tea Set and Flowers

I have started a new painting and for the very first time ever I have consistently taken progress shots. I know there are a lot of blogs out there with images gradually taking shape but I couldn't see the point of doing it with my work. Until now.

Lots of people do comment on and ask me about my surfaces so I thought I would actually take special note myself of what I do and keep tangible evidence of each stage. I have loved doing this and have surprised myself seeing the number of layers I really use.

This is an image of the work so far. Nowhere near finished. This is my studio table and I have both roses and peonies in the vase.
Here is the canvas board on the easel with the first layers of paint. Now for my big secret... Even though I paint in oils, all my lead up work and background surface is acrylic. I have painted in acrylic since childhood and I feel it is the medium I really understand the best. It has taken a lot of trial and error to achieve the surfaces I want. It takes a lot of practice to get the manipulation of the washes and drips exactly right. Also control over the colour as it is easy to end up with a muddy mess.
As I am working usually with organic forms I may have a play around with some tree shapes like in this image, even though they will probably get covered over eventually. I can also be playful at this stage before things tighten up at the middle stages.
I have edited the number of these layer progress shots to 16 but there were many more. Sometimes I work wet into wet and at others it is important to let the layers dry. This is the beauty of acrylics in this hot climate. They are dry pretty fast.
Here are yet more layers and I have to control the angle of the drips very carefully as you can see here.
This is a close up of some of the drips happening and some of the underneath layers showing through. I love these when they are wet, but I will regain this effect with a glaze when the painting is 100% finished.
Yet more layers and controlled dripping.
Yellow on top of the blue. The thin washes themselves are clean colour. The subtle tertiary colours achieved are from the layering.
This is one of my favourite bits. I use these paper doilies for stenciling effects using thicker paint.
Yet more washes and a bit of splashing and flicking. The flicks look like little stars. An atmospheric effect with lots of distance is what I am aiming for in this painting. It will essentially be a sky with attitude. There will also be things floating off or blown by gusts of wind.
Even more bold colour goes on now. Still pretty thin paint.
The red is spread around a bit. Maybe sprayed with water from an atomiser.
White over the top and some actual brushmarks. Thick and thin areas.
After that has dried I indicate the drawing in white acrylic. It has taken me several days to get to this point and lots of sitting drinking cups of tea and just looking and thinking...
Now I get to work on the details of the leaves and flowers. By now I have switched to oils and there is no going back to the acrylics because of the "fat over lean" principle. You can put oil over acrylic but not vice versa. I am quietly pleased with the background and any changes I subsequently make to it will have to be in oils.
To be continued...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My History as an Artist

I am asked fairly often if I have always painted. The simple answer is yes. It was certainly encouraged in my family for all four of the children. My mother Joan Bauer (1933 - 1995) was an artist, so we had ready access to pencils and pens.
My mother did this pastel of me when I was a baby and I have had this framed work hanging next to my bed virtually all my life. Even now it is still there. It touches me to know I was observed so closely when I was asleep. My parents had two more children after me but for a while there I was the baby of the family.
One of these days I will devote a blog post to Mum's work, but for now I am just remembering back to my own early Art Education. Mum and her artist friends in the Dalby Art Group would drive off on Sundays to scenic spots near Bell, Kaimkillenbun and along Dalby's Myall Creek. All the kids went along too. It was  the perfect introduction to seeing the Australian landscape as something picturesque and also a great initiation into an artist's working methods.
This is the type of work Mum was doing in those days.
This is a watercolour and it shows the type of  scenery she sought out. More often she worked in oils like this one below with the purplish mountains either on the road to Toowoomba or near the foothills of the Bunya Mountains.
She called these her "pot boilers" as they sold very well among the locals of the town. She also called them "trad" meaning traditional and in those days it was a very derogatory term. She'd be surprised to see the amount of realist work being done today. As a kid I really liked them and couldn't understand her disparaging tone.
The Australian Flying Art School also visited town and Mum took me along to these seminars as well. I was the little apprentice painter, the youngest by far. (This aspect of my training completed a full circle when in my early adulthood as Education Officer at the Queensland Art Gallery I travelled with Mervyn Moriarty around Queensland in the little Australian Flying Art School plane.)
I painted all the time as a child.
This is me at 16 working on what looks like a pen and ink garden picture. The photo was taken by the newspaper which explains its air of unreality and my awkward pose.
This painting won me the Sunday Mail Art Prize at 16 years of age. All those poor barefoot faceless convicts lined up and the British red coat soldiers with the "X marks the spot" on their jackets. Not really sure what I was thinking... Interesting composition I came up with though and the subject matter demonstrates at least to me a certain consistency in my interest in things historical.
I wish I had more examples of work from my teenage years but this is the sole sad survivor.
I went on to university and studied the history of art which has been fueling my work ever since.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Delacroix, Rubens and me

This last week I have enjoyed rereading a book I have owned for several years and that I occasionally refer to when I am almost ready to begin on new work. It is

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix   republished by Phaidon in 1995.

Here it is on my bedside shelves. I always particularly enjoy reading the thoughts of artists and Delacroix was almost as famous in his day for his writing as his painting. He was an innovator in his work but possessed a deep sense of tradition which is what expressly interests me. Reading the journal you can trace the maturing of his ideas as a painter but you also get a sense of the man as well, playing his violin in the evenings and worrying about the cut of his coat or, more accurately, chastising himself for worrying about it. He has an intimate knowledge of the works of the old masters and I love the way he ruminates about the things he is learning from them. He is always so actively looking, deliberating and producing.
He states
"Rembrandt is a far greater painter Raphael"
but that
"Rembrandt may not quite have had Raphael's nobility of mind".
He also has the highest respect for Rubens which of course endears him to me as I believe Rubens to be unsurpassed in the whole of the painting canon. Many people can't see beyond the voluptuous fat thighs of Ruben's women but when I think back to most moving of my gallery moments it often involved a work by Rubens. (eg his drawings of his children in Vienna)
Over the years I have done two Rubens copies and I thought I would post them here. They were not done in European galleries as I would have liked but just from books and post cards.
This is my copy of Rubens "Abduction of the daughters of Leucippus" 150 x150cm done about 8 years ago.
This is my copy of Rubens "Mary with Jesus, St John and St Elizabeth" which I painted for my son from a postcard about 7 years ago.  (The figures are about life size.)
The glowing quality which he manages to achieve in his flesh tones is the result of oil glazes, a traditional technique he perfected in the cheeks of his children and which some modern artists are now returning to. The curve of a lower lip in a profile view of a child by Rubens can move me to tears....or certainly goosepimples.
But to get back to Delacroix. I have discovered a painting of his which I didn't know.
These flowers by Delacroix interest me firstly because I am painting flowers myself and secondly because of the range of tone that he manages to get in his background, from very dark to very light. They are just flowers but they are dramatic flowers.
The play of light and shadow is quite dynamic and boldly done. It suggests to me that I could be a bit bolder with my own new pieces. They don't call Delacroix the leader of the "Romantics" for nothing. But it is Romantic in the true sense of drama, adventure, bravura, not the way the word is used nowadays.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Books on my studio coffee table

This is the first post for my new blog. I already have another where I post a daily self portrait but I intend this one to be about other art related topics, my art reading, and the progress of my work.

"I have discovered the secret of happiness, it is work, either with the hands or the head. The moment I have something to do... I am happy"                                                                (John Burrough.)

I thought I would start by talking about the books I am currently reading as it is so vitally important to my art practice. The quote above I found in wonderful book called

Vetvet Pears - Gardening by the Seasons at Foxglove Spires by Susan Southam.

While at first this does not appear to be an art book as such, I found it quite perfect in design, layout and content and as source material for my research into things botanical.

This illustration gives an idea of the contents.  I took this photo of the book on my studio couch and am using my own flowers as props. I particularly love that old world conservatory look.
Other books currently beside me on the couch...

Sorolla, The Masterworks by Blanca Pons-Sorolla. I bought this book after seeing the amazing Sorolla painting in the show of Spanish masters that came to Brisbane a few months ago. It was his version of a Velasquez Menina. It had the history and tradition and a modern painterliness.
What I love most about this book are the many photographs of Sorolla himself painting and others of the interior of his studio. I glean every detail from these images, from his amazing assortment of studio props to the size of his brushes. There is even a photo of Sorolla actually painting the portrait of King Alfonso XIII in Hussar's uniform at La Granja 1907 outside! The huge canvas is actually set up under the trees in a park. I guess studio lighting can never match the real outside light effects.

This image shows his studio paraphernalia. Very exotic looking. Something I am trying to emulate.

This one shows the length of his brushes!

Another book on the go at the moment is -

A Studio in Montparnasse by Penelope Little. It is subtitled Bessie Davidson: An Australian Artist in Paris. Bessie is not a painter I have had much time for before, but the cover of this book won me over.

Here she is surrounded by her work and some Edwardian appurtenances. She looks quite dowdy with her bun and her cardigan, but she is WORKING. She is a real painter painting, looking at her palette not the camera.
Reading her life story I now have huge admiration for her. An unknown Australian woman in Paris from 1910 - 1965, she recieved the Legion of Honour for her service to art and to France in World War 1. Looking at her work you can trace her influences very clearly, but she has a lovely understanding of light in her best pieces particularly in interiors. You can see where Margaret Olley got her ideas from. Her later works look a bit blocky and cubist and Cezanne-ish, colours more thoughtful. This seems to be happening to me as I get older also ( the colours not the cubes).
Here is a quote from the book...

"What mattered to Bessie was having the freedom to paint. The creative urge that was in her was the guiding force of her life and while she could probably never have been accused of ruthlessness, there was in her the single-mindedness and egotism that characterises the truly creative."

The final book I want to talk about is a novel. I am a great novel reader and there is always some little thing I can take from them for my life as an artist.

Merivel - A man of his time by Rose Tremain. A novel published this year. (I have particularly enjoyed her others of an historical nature such as Restoration and Music and Silence)
I picked this one up as the blurb notes that Merivel "sets off for the French court. But Versailles - all glitter in front and squalor behind". Being the Francophile I am I couldn't resist this and I also looked closely at the author's photo ( absent from my other books of hers) and I remember that her partner is the biographer Richard Holmes whose "Footsteps" changed my life.

A couple of quotes from Merivel.

 "All the way to France I am a-dazzle with unexpected happiness. But when the French coast at last appears I feel an onrush of disappointment. It is not that the little port of Dieppe appears uninviting, for it does not. It is merely that I have been held in an embrace so strong by the journey that I find I have relinquished the will to arrive"  I can relate to this!

Tremain also has her character continually mentioning the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne  and of trying to see himself de pres or "close up"

"not looking only outwards but inwards upon my own demeanor and my own responses, with the eternal aim of acquiring some wisdom about the person that I am or might become."

And later

"What I would fain discover is some Subject such as ... which might absorb all my attention and lead to a Work of Proper Distinction, sufficient to get me some marvellous hearing at the Royal Society, whose Fellows incite in me both admiration and envy in equal measure."

I can relate to this yearning for a great Subject to occupy my mind and my time. The word "fain" is one I haven't heard for a while and I intend to use it!


"And thus, would not my attempt at this Treatise teach me not a little more only about birds or bears and their place in the world, but also about my own place and my own soul, thus enabling me to conduct the last years of my life with greater dignity than heretofore?"