Monday, 22 July 2013

Gold And Blue

I love the Wilton Diptych - not quite as much as the Lippi Annunciation in the National Gallery but you go past one to get to the other.  It is the blue and gold combination that gets me I think.  I tried it on two pieces I did for our contemporary show 'Out of Line' at the Mall Galleries last week: part of the Armed Forces Art Society's double act (the regular show and Out of Line were on together).

I was inspired by the work of one of our finest poets, Pauline Stainer.  Here is the first piece, called The Wound-dresser's Dream in artificial light:  It contains small quotes from Keats and Pauline's poem with that title.

The Wound-dresser's Dream 
15x15 inches, oil and gold leaf.

It looks different in daylight:

My other piece is The Ice Pilot Speaks.  This time I added some acrylic image transfers, some from book illustrations, in the under-painting, then painted into them:

The Ice Pilot Speaks
15x15 inches, oil and gold leaf

I had to produce a statement about the pieces and here is an extract:

The starting point for The Wound-dresser’s Dream is the poet John Keats’ wish to become a naval surgeon.  In those days the Royal Navy was the principal explorer of the Polar Regions and I imagine that Pauline, with her deep knowledge of things at the edge of human experience, has chosen ‘arctic’ imagery for that reason.  As someone who has led exploring expeditions to the Arctic and indeed had the privilege of naming parts of it, I felt a great connection to this poem and a need to explore my own reaction to it.

The Ice-pilot Speaks also connected to me through its polar references.  Captain Bob Bartlett, who is taking a sun shot in my painting, was one of the most famous and accomplished ice-pilots of the Arctic region - alongside Parry, Sverdrup and Rasmussen.   On these men explorers like Nansen and Peary depended utterly for safe passage.  Those who have been to Ultima Thule and beyond will be familiar with the precarious balance between life and death in the Polar Regions that Pauline describes.  I wanted to capture something of that.  I also enjoyed incorporating some of the other ideas in this long poem – hence the Klimt-like reference to love-making, St Brendan sailing through the ‘O’ and other references.  

This week I have been trying to finish a portrait commission and I feel that I am beginning to get there.  It is of Michael El Kassir, a Lebanese gentleman who passed away a few years ago.  I have done my best with it from a small photograph but would much rather have had a 'sitter'!

Michael El Kassir
24x20 inches, oil on board
As at 22 Jul 13
I have now left it, framed, with Michael's son to see if the family can live with it.  Then I will finish it.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Pintar Rapido

Chelsea on Saturday 13 July was full of artists - nearly 400 of us registered for this event and I think at least 150 turned up - from UK and all over Europe it seems.  I met some delightful people from Norway, Latvia and Germany on my patch.

I dithered about using oils or acrylics.  I asked Adebanji Alade and he said he was probably taking acrylics but I reckon that the painting he did that won the main prize was done in oils - I will have to ask!  I took Atelier acrylics - big mistake.  It was such a hot day that I spent all my time trying to re-open partially dried paint.  No matter how much I sprayed the stuff I was constantly having to remix paint and apply it to layers already 'sticky-dry'.  In a way it was worse than traditional acrylics because for them I would have taken my Staywet palette (rather than a sheet of plastic) and probably managed to keep mixes moist.  One lives and learns.

The other lesson I re-learned was that the Thames is tidal.  Of course I know that very well but in the heat of the moment I forgot.  On my last painting I kept adjusting my preliminary work (thinking what a bad drawing it had been) until I realised that the boats were all rising against the background of the bridge and I should have just stuck with the original design!

We could paint as many pictures as we liked but only one would be allowed in Sunday's show.  I managed three small panels and when I went to collect the one I submitted it had been sold, so I only have a thumbnail of the design in my sketchbook:

That was my second one.  The first was painted looking North down the road to the Albert Bridge.  Roger Dellar also painted this scene from further back:

Towards the Albert Bridge
My last picture was done near the bridge:

Boats and The Albert Bridge

I noticed a few gems at the show.  The ones I remember were by Marion Wilcox, Adebanji, Roger, Rob Adams and my favourite - a shopfront by Roy Connelly.  There were also some good watercolours including an impressive and large painting of the long view down the Thames but we all had fun and it was great to see what everyone had been up to during the day.  I hope they run it again.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

New Tubes For Old

Aladdin for Artists? Maybe.  I need some very small quantities of infrequently used oil colours to take with me on the Canadian Rockies trip in early August.  I have some big empty tubes but no tiny ones.  Here is how I tackled the problem.

I had some old Reeves small tubes of watercolour - so old that they were beginning to harden inside the tube.  I cut them in half so that I had the cap, top and about 1 or 2 centimetres of the body left  (I pressed the remaining colour into homemade pans). It was an easy matter to clean out the tube and cap with a penknife and warm water.  I then got some 60mm wide sticky aluminium tape - I think I bought mine for repairing a gutter - and cut off a short length.  I peeled off the backing but left enough so that when the tape was rolled round the remains of the tube, the backing acted as a lining.  Then I rolled the tape round the old tube and used the body of an old biro to help re-shape the tube to roundness.  Now I had an empty tube.

With the cap on I filled the new tube body, using a piece of doweling to push the oil paint firmly into the tube so that there were no air gaps (you can take the cap off to allow some of the paint to escape thus ensuring a good fill).  I folded the end of the tube in the normal manner and labelled it.

The following picture shows, from left to right: sawn off and cleaned old tubes, Aluminium tape, new empty tubes and new full tube.  The whole operation takes about 20 minutes and you waste some paint but if weight and bulk are an issue then it is worth it.

You can use just about any old tube that can be cleaned out: I have recently used balsa cement tubes.  The full tube in the picture is one from a watercolour set I bought in Hong Kong in 1975!  I don't suppose that the paint will last forever in these makeshift tubes but they will be very convenient when I am carrying everything up a mountain.