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City Lit FINE ART week 7

First proper painting session with Chris Hough, (and his funny little cough) (sorry, couldn't help it, totally irrelevant, but it rhymed). I'd had a head start since I'd done his short Drawing-into-painting course a year ago - funny how we covered in one session more or less the same content we covered in a whole short course!

Today, we moved on from drawing by taking fewer objects and just painting them straight from scratch, without sketching or mucking about with charcoal or pencil first. In fact, we used giant decorators' brushes and tough luck if you wanted to make delicate lines or map and measure it all out first!

The first step of all, however, was to make a coloured ground. I knew I wanted the tones in the ultimate painting to be blue, (play safe!) so I chose an orange ground. (complimentary colour theory) You have to blot it on multi-directionally because, if oil painting over the top, oil can seep through the ridges made by the brush if you'd done your ground in one directional brush strokes. The colour you choose because you actually want the painting to "grow away" from it! This is a ploy that keeps you as the artist interested, after all, if you get bored, chances are your audience will too. Don't add white to this colour.

Paper was now getting crinkly and wet so had to have a tea break.

Next we chose a contrasting colour and blobbed in the darkest tones on the painting. You're only allowed 3 tones of that colour, so you have to decide how you're going to break down the "scene" into those 3 tones. I remembered this dilemma from last time : are the shadows going to be treated as darkest tones, or mid tones? I decided mid-tones, then regretted it, asked Chris if I could change, he said no, but make the lightest tone really light. (In the end, the last step kind of negated this dilemma and made those shadows seem darker anyway. ) Then, we had to go and put mid tones in, then the light. As you go lighter, paint gets thicker. You 'll find that when you look around the National Gallery, Chris said. Darker areas are painted in thinner paint.

It felt weird plotting the darkest bits without any frame of reference, - that top of the teapot spout for example - and my measuring was pretty much non - existent, just guesswork.

Here are the next few stages:

Mid-tone inserted

Then lightest tone inserted. Because you are painting with such a massive clumsy brush you can't be precious, and end with up with bits of the orange ground showing through - which is good.

After reaching this stage and waiting for the paint to dry, we had to do something Chris had never done with a class before - wash over the whole thing with a watery new colour, which had to contrast with the existing. I went for lemon yellow - not sure if that was quite the right colour as my final result was pretty khaki! It was quite scary doing it, but many classical artists used this technique - examples below.

As you can see it does dull the existing contrasts and has the effect of levelling everything, unifying it so you can start again, in a way. So what he told us to do next was paint the lightest parts - just the white paper background - back in with white, and leave the rest alone, in my case. I wanted to make the darkest parts darker again because I felt the midtones had been made darker by the yellow and there wasn't enough contrast, but had to leave it. One of the discussions was about how to know when your painting is finished. Apparently Howard Hodgkin never knew, always had to ask other people. Many painters have mentors to provide this very input! I asked if this was finished. It was suggested that perhaps one splash of another colour could go in there. Chris told us a great tip - paint a scrap of paper in a colour (eg, blue) and go and hold it up to your painting, to help you decide.

It's rather gloomy, isn't it! And none of my original blue in it at all, but I'm quite pleased with it.

More "learning nuggets" included:

1. not painting lines or boundaries around a space and then filling it in. Instead, you must "dab" ( my interpretation) at the edges and up to the edges, but not draw a line with your brush. This makes shadows, for example, appear more believable, and objects appear to be shimmering (?) and not too fixed. Everything becomes more believable but at the same time the technique gives the painting more character than a realistically-drawn photo-real interpretation.

2. With painting you must look closely at each stage of what you've made before you move on. You have to learn to read the paint surface and not cover over something good.

3. The approach to painting that we're learning here is "additive" rather than "reductive". The latter is what they teach at school - you start with bright colours and it gets muddier and more complex. Sisley and Renoir had this approach. But "additive" s better because the brightness and intensity is raised as it is added on top of dark tones underneath. Boundaries don't have to be precise - it's all about shifting and making changes as you go.

4. The glazing technique - see Sanchez Cotan's Spanish larder. That cabbage is painted in brown and white, with a green glaze over the top - and the top fruit has a lemon glaze over it. Like tinting a photograph.

5. As the artist, you are in control of what you show or DON'T show your audience, it's not just about how well you paint a thing. The audience sees the painting through YOUR lens. You don't need to learn 25 different techniques (unless you're a teacher!) - learn what it is YOU do and then develop that, and learn how to introduce meaning to make a fascinating image. (It's just like developing your own style in the surface pattern deisgn world!)

Check out my colleagues' work, aren't these great!

Here are some of the blogs of previous students, in the equivalent same session of this same course:

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