Sunday, 31 August 2014

Woodcut Revival

I've always had a thing about relief printing and over the years have produced many personal takes on things, so when I saw Pushing Print was running their Giant Print Event in Margate again I couldn't resist being cheeky and emailing the organiser to see if I could do a large print with the Steam Roller. To my delight the answer was yes. Trouble is I now had to start creating something to print.

The optimum print area is about 900mm sq. Lino was going to be expensive so I thought I'd try MDF - I've seen some amazing large 'Day of the Dead' festival prints done this way online. Trying to get a bit the right kind of size I came across a £2 off-cut just over 750mm square which seemed big enough.

Looking for inspiration the thing I always think of with Margate is Mods and Rockers, Dreamland and the Turner. When I saw the Mods & Rockers hit the news in 1964 the penny dropped that it was exactly 50 years ago so I decided to commemorate the rejuvenation which has taking place over that time. The idea being that there's a couple that would have been around in 1964 - a mod and a rocker - still riding around on their scooter in the bubble of their past memories on a background of the modern Margate with the Turner Gallery. The line 'Talkin' 'bout Regeneration' became an ear-worm while I was trying to work out the design so I had to use it.

The old Mod and Rocker ride their trusty old scooter along the modern Margate seafront with the message around the sides and top in semi-fairgound/Dreamland-style lettering and decorations.

I sketched the image straight on to the MDF four or five times in charcoal before working over in marker pen. Then, to reverse it, traced the image on to baking parchment. Rolled black water based printing ink onto the MDF and used Trans Trace to push the image through on to the surface. This left a clear blue line on the black surface which shows the natural MDF colour when you cut through. Ideal. I've not tried working precisely this way before and it works really well.

I almost stumbled at the first fence when trying my lino cutting tools on the MDF only a couple of gouges seemed any good. I then made the mistake of trying to sharpen one badly and actually made it worse. Panic set in and I checked on line for techniques then found that I didn't have the right kind of gouge or a slip stone to sharpen it. So I took on board the theory of forming a small bur and taking it off using a fine file and it's worked well enough to allow me to cut all day leaving a slightly aggressive edginess to the cut marks which I really like with my free-cutting style.

I just hope I can find enough time to complete the block properly before next Saturday!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Chelsea Bridge from SW development

Yesterday I started reworking some areas in particular where the distant tree colour and contrast was coming forward and the water needed some modelling.

Then this evening I had another session in the studio balancing out the sides. In particular adding suggested structures and cranes to the left along with more bridge structure.

Really starting to come together now. (photographed outside in daylight below)

Size is 40" x 16" btw.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Chelsea from SW work in progress

The day started out with promise. I got the right train, the weather seemed better, overcast but not too windy. Walking along the riverside path from Vauxhall to find a viewpoint, found a slightly elevated quiet corner and did a quick sketch.

The composition looked nice taking the lefthand edge right up to the Power Station - which would have been way too large to compliment the view.

Early warning signs of the increasing wind again as I set up the tripod, adjusting the backpack and strap arrangement so I could pin it all down more easily.

First time I did a charcoal sketch it all looked good except I'd got my scale slightly wrong so had to redraw before starting to paint. There was a wonderfully moody sky and the I had to grab the top of the canvas to stop it getting blown into me as I applied the paint.

Looking at the variations of lights and darks I decided to 'block-in' areas with darker colours with the plan to work the lighter tones over the top, which is logical with acrylics. Of course when doing this you're painting right over your underlaying drawing etc and need to pull it all back.

I seemed to be making good progress by around lunch time but somehow didn't seem to have got as far as I had on Wednesdays picture at the same point - which seemed like a much more complex view.

Early afternoon the wind was cutting through and making me pretty cold too but I battled on to a point where I felt it was complete as an underpainting. It's all in place and the colour modulation from foreground to background is starting to work well. When viewed at distance or low light the eye fools you into seeing it as quite complete but I'd like to do more to it. I may even return for another session!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Chelsea Bridge from Battersea Park

This painting started on Wednesday 13th later than I would have hoped due to missing an earlier train. I got off the bus at Albert Bridge and walked across to Battersea Park.

The forecast had been for lighter winds and less showers than yesterday - wrong as usual - the wind was blowing constantly and again I wondered if it might be better not to start. Walking along through Battersea Park taking in the views East and West as I went the bridges look great but there's a lot of foliage in the foreground disrupting the composition and different levels of handrail/seats by the River Walk that break the view.

Eventually I found a spot at the end of a row of stone seats that gave me a decent view of Chelsea Bridge with the Shard clearly visible behind another tower block. Initially my intention was to ignore the foreground and extend the river and bridge to fill the bottom right corner.

This above photo was taken at the end of the day with the river up but you can see the composition. I knew I wasn't going to have time to tackle the boats so concentrated on getting the bridge and skyline in.

The day's painting was kept entertaining by the passers by many giving complimentary comments and a couple of couples stopped for chats and even a photo.

On Thursday the weather was appalling so my decision to work on the picture in the studio turned out to be for the best. It's the first time I've consciously decided to continue a picture this way. There were a couple of issues I was eager to sort out. As well as the boats, the colour of the foliage was advancing too much and the river wall on the left looked like it was running up hill and I still wasn't sure about the right hand corner.

When it came to it the the drawing of the boat was in the wrong persecutive so I did another first - completely painted it out and worked straight over it. Not as scary as I thought.

Anyway, after a few hours working and reworking the result's looking good. The wall and plant on the right help to give the river direction, leading the eye from the left and the wall on the left leads away into the distance nicely and the buildings have a suggestion of form.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Bertha blows at Vauxhall

This is a painting that nearly didn't happen. It was slightly breezy in the morning but seemed to die-off. The forecast was not too hot but dry so I decided to pack my kit and go anyway. I'd spotted a potential good area for a pitch on Google Maps on the South Bank by Vauxhall. I've never been there before but guessed there must be somewhere with a good view.

I packed one of my new canvases which are 40" x 16" so even more landscape than the previous 48" x 24". I like the proportion was was concerned that it may be too wide to 'control'.

On coming out of Vauxhall Underground I soon found the riverside path and took a stroll. The wind was gusting ferociously by the bridge and it didn't seem like a good idea to even try to set up. After walking a short distance looking towards Chelsea Bridge, the river turns and the wall by the path is low enough to work over, it was looking good and there were some barges in the foreground. Then I looked behind me and saw the view I ended up painting. Lucky because the barges were moving about all day!

I loved the moody sky and the building winding away behind the bridge along the river. Again I was concerned that the view may be too complex and I would fall at the first hurdle.

I drew a preliminary ink sketch in a pad to check the composition and cropping, then set up the tripod and canvas. Then, whoosh! A gust of wind blew the whole thing over. I caught hold of it and wondered whether to pack up there and then and concede defeat. But for some unknown reason I'd packed an adjustable strap from my cycling bits which I then used to attach to the backpack/stool and by having the stool in front of me I found I could hold the whole thing stable by keeping my foot on the stool. So it was I spent the whole day painting Jethro Tull style with one foot raised on a stool - not ideal!

Around 2pm a gentleman stopped for the second time to express an interest in the picture at which point a downpour dropped from the sky. I hurriedly took the painting down and had to place it in the bushes for protection until it passed. The first spots of rain had alarmingly looked as though they might mark the touch-dry paint, but luckily there was no lasting effect.

After the rain a I noticed a cormorant standing with wings out to dry on the heavy duty bouy in the river. I did a quick sketch as a reminder and painted it in roughly in the later stages.

I'm glad I persisted because if anything the day got better as it got later. The sky came back overcast but the wind died down a bit. By about half three I'd reached that natural point where it seemed right to stop.

There were a couple of minor touches added once I got home, just to address things that caught my eye and I'm glad to say I'm very happy with it.

Here's a progression from charcoal draft to end of day painting. I think there's something nice around stage 3 while the whole thing is really low contrast that I really like - might try using that ultra muted palette another day...

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Storm approaching Albert Bridge

After leaving Tuesday's painting to 'rest' on the easel in the workshop (shared by my painting, printmaking and cycling stuff) and letting it catch me unawares as got my bike in and out. I'd stop and give it a critical glance and the same things were bugging me every time, so this morning I took the painting and the paints into the garden to get the natural outdoor light and set about doing some tweaks.

The main thing was 'knocking back' the distant buildings which I thought had too much contrast and warmth in them. They now recede much better. I also reduced the contrast between the trees and buildings to the right so the edge doesn't catch the eye and jump forward. The suggestion of reflections in the far right building just finishes off what Tuesday's blustery weather wouldn't let me on the day.

After that there was a little touching back in to be done and for me, that's finished, staying true to the pleinair painting.

Being new to painting, this canvas has included several firsts for me. Fighting with the weather on the initial outing. Going back to the same spot to work on a part-started painting and finally having the courage (I know, it doesn't sound drastic but painting over spontaneous palette knife marks IS daunting!) to tweak the image off-site.

It's all another step in the right direction.

I hope you like it.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Albert Bridge Return

Just back from a week off I wanted to get painting today as the weather forecast is wet for the rest of the week.

I'd 'blocked-in' a couple of areas of blank canvas from the first day and was looking forward to setting up and having the real view in front of me again. 

To begin with the weather was too sunny for the stormy mood I wanted, then it became more overcast, which was better. Still the light was very different.

Going back to the same spot to continue a painting on a different day is new experience for me, so I was interested to see how it would go. 

Starting with a clean smooth canvas is a nice feeling. Starting with a dry, half done painting seems more challenging. One thing that is the same is that you just want to start getting paint on and enter 'the zone'. 

I started by defining the glimpse of the Chelsea Bridge under the Albert. Establishing the Power Station chimneys and pontoon etc. I also worked over the buildings on the right and structure around the bridge before adding the suspension elements.

The weather was changing from hot to windy and like last time, I ended up battling a billowing sail of a canvas - not as 'push you over' strong as last time but makes it tricky handling the edge of a palette knife with any accuracy!

Again though, I think this adds to the visual experience of the result, as there's no way you could make those kind of marks with out directly being in situ. Thus the reality and mood of the view is conveyed in the final image.

Eventually with the wind strengthening, I reached a point where to do any more felt like it would become destructive. So time to pack up.

The final result? Working at arms length I was getting concerned about the heavy texture of the paint and the 'details', such as they are, getting too wooly. But the whole image is about atmosphere and impression. Just enough suggestion to allow the viewer's mind to perceive the scene. 

After battling on bus and train to get the painting home, wielding it like a shield through the stations and setting it up at home, I am happy with the result and its power to convey the atmosphere of the scene. I may be tempted to tinker with it a little, I'm not sure yet...