27 Apr 2013

A note on Notan

This week’s obsession has been notan. A word that I’ve come across only recently, but a style that is prominent in a lot of my work. My diary sketches are just one example. Notan is black & white, or a composition with a harmonious balance of dark and light values. Successful notan is more about design – designing the spaces on your canvas. As a landscape architect I'm trained to design space in the landscape, and subconsciously I probably transfer the same principles onto 2D compositions. In the days before CAD (computer aided design) the layout and drawing of plans using only a black Rotaring pen was good grounding for notan, especially if you only had a black and white printer and were hopeless at Pantone pens like me. I have realised that if I start and finish a painting in colour, I ignore “design” in terms of value, whereas perhaps my monotone work is more successful. I’ve collected a few notan images on a Pinterest board and have been looking through eyes with notan filters all week! I’m also been helping my parents have a declutter, and have unearthered more examples of my very early notan tendencies, including wine labels I made for my late grandfather’s homemade wine, and here are some more from this century...

21 Apr 2013

Exercises in Pastels

With a window in my commissions I set aside some time to experiment with some landscape painting in pastels. I recently purchased a new book which suggested a few exercises to trial different types of under-painting. Under-painting is not something I’ve done before – I usually get straight on with the detail from the start, as I did for a recent painting of the croft house we live in. I wasn’t entirely happy with it – I felt it was a bit dark and pastels were laid on rather thick. The book suggests working on a scene you had already painted so I selected the croft house. I’ve done 6 of the 9 exercises so far.
white paper
black paper
warm colour paper – like burnt sienna
cool  colour paper– like paynes grey
a notan under-painting
an under-painting in burnt sienna and French ultramarine
an under-painting using the local colour in the scene
an under-painting using the complimentaries to the local colour
an expressive under-painting in whatever colour
I used Art Spectrum paper which has a nice sandy tooth, but I didn’t have any white so I tinted the first sheet with some white gouache, which was horrible to work on! Under-painting can be done in smudged pastel, wetted pastel, water colour or even very dilute oils. My adverse reaction to gouache at the start made me lean towards the dry pastel for the others – a decision made less difficult by the timely arrival of a new set of Conte Carres! I selected the same few Sennelier soft pastels as the overlay so that all I was changing was the background colours. All 6 were executed quite quickly and I didn’t really take to any of them, but I did find that I achieved more accurate tonal values when I worked on top of a notan under-painting. I managed to get pastel dust everywhere and all over my face as usual - so a good time was had. I feel like I've spent the afternoon at the gym and I'm be eager to do the remaining three.....

14 Apr 2013

A walk on the beach

I’ve completed another black beast this week, but as it is a surprise commission I can’t unveil him just yet. In fact, I’ve been so busy on my commissions that I’ve neglected my sketchbook and almost missed the 5 weeks of dry weather we’ve been having. So yesterday, before the April showers arrive I thought it was about time to get outside in the sunshine! The catkins are out, the gorse is bursting into fragrant buds of Indian yellow and the skylarks are already singing. I was so in awe of the landscape, happy snapping away with my camera, that I couldn’t settle to paint (despite having lugged my kit a few miles out to the dunes), but I did sit down to do a few little thumbnails. It was a very peaceful walk - I surprised some curlews and startled a couple of deer, but didn’t see another human being. Here are some of my photos and a short video clip of the bubbling stream, just before it turns the corner to feed into the roaring sea (warning - this film is a diuretic, more sound than action!).

6 Apr 2013

A pet portrait in ink

The ACEO production is going well, and the restaurant sign is finished at last. To make sure I don’t pile on the pressure I need to build up a small body of work in miniatures before I start my mailshots so they will be starting in May – plenty of time to subscribe! I’ve had a little dabble with ink for my latest commission. The client wanted a hand painted birthday card of a black labrador – unusually, any old black lab would do! I used water colour paper and Indian ink to create an image of a handsome doting Labrador. To give the painting some colour I applied a light wash of turquoise watercolour, allowing a few sploshes on the dog’s face where the fur reflected the light. I then applied layers of ink at varying dilutions to build up the form of the glossy black beast. A hint of pink for the lolloping tongue finished him off and a little dab of white gouache to put a sparkle back in his eye. Voila