Thursday, January 31, 2008

looking at non traditional composition and quiet vs busy areas in paintings

Paul Klee

I thought I'd look at non-traditional composition - where the rule of thirds isn't the key but the painting relies on different compositional methods. in response to an excellent series of posts on the various ways of looking at composition by Katherine (link at end). These alternative considerations or breaking of rules - but making it work - appeal to me more than too heavy a reliance on the rule of thirds.

The painting above, by Paul Klee is a 'field' painting' - the composition is overall, the eye travels around enjoying the glowing colour that he creates by juxtaposing complementary colours, subtle greyed greens enhancing the oranges/reds/pinks. Most of the image is composed of the various greens, greeny browns and khakis, with accents of the warm colours. When working this way it's important that the balance is unequal and that the accent colours are placed carefully to keep the eye moving in the way the artist wants. A couple of the brighter colours could be said to be on the 'sweet spots' but there are sweeps of warmth or bright colours, guiding your eye through the work and these are more important in this case.

Another issue is quiet vs busy areas - a painting needs a mixture of areas of intense activity (colour/detail/tone/marks) and quiet areas to offset these, enhancing their importance and giving them a 'setting'. There are quiet areas even in the Klee, where similar colours harmonise and allow those warm colours to glow in trails and spots of warmth.

Jackson Pollock and Therese Oulton are other 'field' painters.

Azurete. Vivien Blackburn approx 5in square
(The 'e' in the title should have an acute accent, it's French for the Blues) This is a very small abstract that's also about balance, harmony and moving your eye throught the painting. The imbalance is deliberate - part of the feeling of the blues and a field painting.
Again there are quiet areas to offset the busy/darker/lighter areas


This Degas compostion does have head, jug, hairbrush, almost her hand, at 'sweet points' - but he's daringly made that shelf take up a third of the picture, the model faces outwards close to the edge - but he makes it work. The 'weight' of the objects and the shelf keep you in the painting and balance the figure. Following traditional advice she would have been further to the right, with room to 'look into' - but when you know the rules and can apply them you can progress to breaking them as long as you break them well - like this :>)

Objects, the direction of the objects or marks and the colour and tone used can all add weight that balances a seemingly unbalanced or 'wrong' composition.

Again look at the quiet areas - see how important they are.


Many of the paintings by Degas have a very unusual composition, like the ones above. There is a strong upward diagonal working her and the downward movement of the dancer on the left is the gesture that balances this and keeps it working - it creates a dynamic movement that balances and counteracts the upward diagonal of the right hand figures

- rather like balancing a seesaw where you need to move the weight (child) if the two children aren't equally sized - in painting this can be done with position, colour, tone to increase or decrease emphasis and tip the balance.

Gauguin. Vision after the Sermon

Gauguin uses a similar device to the Degas bather - there is a strong diagonal division between the women leaving church and the vision of an angel that they are seeing. The tree cuts the painting in two dramatically. The white headresses make a repeating pattern across. Again elements are placed on 'sweet spots' but it's that diagonal tree and separation of the elements that creates the drama.

The rule of thirds or Golden Mean tends to create a calm composition - for drama it's necessary to direct the eye around the painting in other ways, such as this.

Roger Hilton . Oi Yoi Yoi

Roger Hilton had had an argument with his wife who was jumping up and down in temper and waving her arms - he did this painting in response. The bright colours, dramatic flowing bold lines and positioning of the figure almost bursting out of the picture, arms windmilling, really capture this - you can almost hear her shouting :>)

Again look at the lively lines, echoed to give a sense of bouncing movement and then the quiet of the blocks of colour that enhance the liveliness of the marks and add to the energy of the figure in the use of colour.


The hare races down the track ahead of the speeding train in this Turner painting (you won't see it here but it is there honestly! it just isn't good enough resolution). The horizon is in the centre - oh dear you 'shouldn't do that!!!!' (normally very true) - but - Turner has made the land and sky similar colours, dissolving in light and so it works.

Generally speaking horizons do work better 1/3 of the way up or down the painting but when you know how, you can make it work even though you break the 'rules'. :>)

Windblown, Vivien Blackburn

This one of mine is about movement, marks that swoosh your eye up through the abstracted petals. Again there are quiet areas and areas with lots of detail - marks/colour/tone.

Barbara Rae

Barbara Rae's work is based on landscape but very much abstracted to colour and mark, with colours heightened dramatically. The swooshing lines move your eye through the work and your eye roams around - these are lovely in real life, the paint surface is full of marks, scumbled paint showing underlying colours, glazed colour, bold marks put down and left and colour used with drama.

Frequently in my own work it's the directional lines and marks and the way colour pulls your eye through that are the most important elements in composition. These are crucial from the very beginning - as you'll see in the work-in-progress seascapes that are ongoing - those go down at the beginning and I work around them, maybe adapting, moving, losing bits and enhancing bits but that movement is there in the final painting.

link to Katherine's excellent articles beaches paintings

How about you? how do you consider the compostion of a painting/drawing when planning?


Sunday, January 27, 2008

charcoal, sketch looking across the beach at sunset

Across the beach, sunset, 16 ins square, charcoal on watercolour paper. Vivien Blackburn

A quick sketch in charcoal with some conte pencil to push the darkest areas. I used watercolour paper which didn't grip the charcoal very well. The texture worked ok for the sand but was sometimes annnoying in other areas.

The sand has a little more tone than shows in the photograph - again the flash bounces off the white paper, lightening it >:>(


across the beach, last light, monochrome, Vivien Blackburn

I was having a play in PS with this painting and after cropping, simplifying, darkening and tweaking I took the colour out - I like this and plan to do some large charcoal drawings.

When I started that painting using charcoal I did intend to keep the colour quite minimal and to make the charcoal do most of the work - but got seduced by colour!
I'm off to find my charcoal.


Friday, January 25, 2008

horoscopes and write ups

Maggie has 2 interesting posts today - in one she kindly mentions me :>) and in the other she links to this horoscope site. I couldn't resist it - I had to look mine up and .... mmmmm ..... some of that is uncanny!

fun quiz for myspace profile and blog

- link to Maggie's blog.

is your horoscope accurate?


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

mixed media seascapes on paper

Across the Beach,Early Evening. mixed media on paper. 16 in sq. Vivien Blackburn
acrylic ink, acrylic paint and charcoal

A view across the beach in the early evening, warm tinted clouds, pools reflecting the light and the rocks - heavcn :>) if only I could win the lottery and live there.

The light was terrible here today, grey and dismal - and I need a decent light to finish those ongoing canvasses as I need to look at them from a distance as well as close up. I thought I'd work on paper and work close to the window. I finished (I think) the one above

The following one is at a mid-way stage.

work in progress, approximately 18 ins tall
acrylic ink and acrylic paint

The last one may have some touches of pastel added.

acrylic ink, acrylic paint and charcoal. Vivien Blackburn



Sunday, January 20, 2008

Prints at Costco

Autumn. Vivien Blackburn

I never really 'did' the reproduction print route but last year decided to set up an Imagekind account. I'd heard good reports of them.

My reasons were mainly to do with the fact that digital imagery interests me and I do very small editions of digital works - it blurred the distinction between 'original' prints done via computer, where the image existed only in digital form and the reproduction of paintings.

Well, Imagekind are linking with Costco and selecting some images to sell in Costco stores - and they selected this one of mine. I don't know if anything will come of it or how it will go. Profits are very small but potential sales bigger - I thought it was worth saying yes and trying it out - nothing ventured, nothing gained :) - what do you think?


Saturday, January 19, 2008

update on seascapes, works almost finished

Sunset, incoming tide. Vivien Blackburn. mixed media on canvas

This one is virtually finished. Some of the colours aren't showing very well, like the greenier blue on the underside of the waves. It's now hanging above the sofa so that I can decide if I'm going to do anything further to it. That's its working title, which may stick. I'd said these smaller canvasses were 30 inch squares and I've realised they are probably 24 inch squares - maths never was my thing! I do know for sure the bigger ones are 40 inch squares :)

Through the Dunes Nightfall. Mixed media on 40 inch sq canvas. Vivien Blackburn

This is still wet and so the light is catching the wet paint a little but I'm not planning to do much more to this. (the curved shape on the lower left hand edge is something in front of the canvas and not part of the painting)

The other 40 inch canvas is also virtually finished.

The disastrous one of the last post has had the sky/clouds sanded down and repainted. I moved the horizon down and repainted the sky and clouds and it's looking much better :) It's too wet to photograph and I'm planning to glaze thin oil colour over the apricot sky and sand to get the glow and then I'll post it.

There are another 2 canvasses that I'm juggling alongside these that aren't yet finished. I'll post those later.

I was going to go to the London Art Fair today in Islington - I had free tickets - but due to me dying of the dreaded lurgy I couldn't go :( - I'd planned to meet up with Katherine of Making a Mark - so I'm relying on her giving me a report on it and hope she got the tickets I sent on in time.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

seascapes update, work in progress 16th January

seascapes, work in progress, mixed media on canvas 30 in square. Vivien Blackburn
This is at a stage where it looks a bit rough and ready! and the colours aren't showing well. I'm not happy with it at the moment. It's coming on slowly though and when it's finished I'll photograph it outside in better light. Below is a detail:

detail of distant cliff, work in progress

I'm still working on the clouds in particular, to try to get that effect of the rays of light and the light peachy sky against the dark clouds. Again it needs to dry before I can glaze and scumble more colour.

work in progress, 30 inch square canvas. Vivien Blackburn
This one has moved on just a little but I don't plan to do very much more. The colour is a bit too warm here, it's not quite so warm IRL, there are cools there as well.

work in progress 40 inch square canvas. Vivien Blackburn

Sorry it is on the slant but the paint was wet and caught the light otherwise. This is one that I started some time ago and got to a point where I hated it! I made some changes and it's going much better now. The trouble is it would need a very light room to take a painting this dark. I enjoy trying to catch the light as night falls and the moon is bright, the sea and cliffs inky dark and colours strange. It still has problems to resolve. Sometimes seeing paintings onscreen distances me and makes me see them afresh and really helps resolve 'where next?'. this was the first stage of it but it had moved on from that in the meantime - the marram glass was there and the sand/water had moved position - and moved again with today's work :) I also moved the moon, made is smaller and added the cliffs.


Monday, January 14, 2008

update on seascapes, work in progress

work in progress, 40 inch square canvas, Tides Edge. Vivien Blackburn

The paintings are coming along but are too wet to photograph properly :(

This 40 inch canvas is almost done, I just want to bring more of the blue in the sky into the sea and foreground - just a little - and do some more spray on the waves.

The colours haven't come out very well - the underside of the waves is more viridian rather than the turquoise it looks here.

Any feedback?

I'm still too close to it to maybe judge impartially but it is making me feel the tumult and confusion of the waves as I walked along at the waters edge - I don't know if it's apparent to others though? From this low viewpoint, the horizon was a mass of incoming swells, not the straight line of an east coast painting. There was an intense feeling of the weight and power of the water pounding towards me and I wanted to catch that feeling.

I haven't a clue what to call it - I hate choosing titles!

My studio wall needs painting too! oh dear, all those splashes of paint.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

blogger is scrambling my site :(

I decided to add a picture behind the title and although they are all still there in the template, my links, history and lots of other stuff has disappeared from the side bar


deleting the image makes no difference, resaving the items makes no difference - blogger what are you doing???????

charcoal sketch of the beach

Charcoal sketch of the beach, evening, approaching rain. Vivien Blackburn
A charcoal sketch in the beach series - I think I may do a large, more finished one of this for an upcoming show. I really do like charcoal and the wide variety of marks you can get - smudgy sfumato to hard crisp lines. It's the medium I'd always choose for a large drawing, often with ink applied with bamboo pen and paintbrush to push the darkest darks.
What is your favoured drawing medium?
I managed to do a little more to the canvasses today before having to go out but the light went before I could take any photographs. I'll update those during the week.

Friday, January 11, 2008

sketching every day things

Lyra skintones set of coloured pencils - swatches

I really like this set of Lyra skintones coloured pencils - if doing a portrait I'd want to add at least a deep dark blue to help with the cool darks and probably other colours - but they are lovely for sketching with in a mono/limited palette way.

This was a quick demo sketch of a jar containing erasers and a pencil sharpener from the art cupboard at college. It's good practice to do observational sketches of every day objects and shows students that almost anything is worth drawing :)

and this was my cup of tea that went cold while I sketched :)

I'm hoping to get on with painting this weekend.


Monday, January 07, 2008

work in progress, seascapes stage 3

work in progress. 40 inch square canvas. Wild Seas. Vivien Blackburn

The beach is a typical Cornish cove - funnel shaped - so the waves come racing in and clash from different directions, bounced off the rocks, as they are forced into an ever narrowing route. I love the chaos and tumult. The sand is carved into hollows and ridges and patterns as the tide moves.
I don't know how well I'm going to be able to catch this but it's what I'm trying to catch.

My Monday class doesn't start up for a couple of weeks so I managed another day of working on the canvasses :) I'm now at the stage where there is a lot of thinking time or waiting for paint to dry and progress slows.

30 inch canvas work in progress stage 3 - seascapes Vivien Blackburn

This one is the most resolved so far. A quieter day, looking diagonally across the beach when the tide is out. The evening clouds a soft apricot. I still have work to do on it though.

30 inch canvas work in progress seascape. Vivien Blackburn

The sky is still in a very rough state and I think I need to go into oils to resolve it. The wet of the sand and the reflections is coming along. The sand is too warmly coloured but this will cool down with the stage of painting. I needed to get those pinks in - wet sand often shines with gorgeous pinks and mauves.

I think that I need to go into oil paint with all of them now - but I'm not going to be able to do any painting tomorrow due to long working hours - I'm covering for a colleague who is off on a course in addition to my normal classes :(

I enjoy using acrylics in these early stages but always feel the need for my oil paints as the painting develops - I can get more subtle changes of colour in the clouds and softer edges, glaze oil paint over existing colours in thin thin veils to adjust them a little and scratch through thicker oils to reveal the acrylic colour below and it remains changeable for longer.

to be continued :) ...........................


Sunday, January 06, 2008

seascapes continued - stage 2 of wip

work in progress, seascape, 30 inch square canvas

The paintings are slowly developing. At the moment there is a fairly limited range of colours in use but there are purples and turquoises in the water that aren't shown well in these photos and the sand has more colour. Each is developing in its own way. This one is about the beach in the evening with the tide out and pools and patterns of ripples in the sand shining as the last light catches them, casts shadows and creates reflections. In the distance the big breakers crash on the shore.

40 inch square canvas, work in progress

This one is closer to the waters edge and I'm trying to get the tumult of the waves and the fact that up close like that the horizon is no longer straight - it's made up of multiple swells sweeping in to break close on the heels of the previous wave. Those dark lines need on the right need to be toned down and partially lost. It has a way to go and as it develops the thinking time increases in relation to actual painting time.

passing rain 30 ins square canvas

The one above is less resolved but I want it to be a rainy day with those wonderful rays in the sky and an overally shiny wetness. At the moment I'm not happy with it as it's too hard edged but subsequent layers will add lost and found edges - parts where the sea and sky are equal in tone and the edge softens and more relections with the confusion of surface that they produce.
And the last one is using coloured pencils over a computer print of the early stage of the 40inch canvas - this image is 8 ins square and the print is completely covered and the image considerably changed - the horizon and the bottom of the painting are recognisable but the rest has changed to a stream of water draining back to the ebbing tide.

coloured pencil, ebb tide evening. 8 ins square. coloured pencil

They are evolving as I go, things are being moved about, areas retained and other areas simplified or changed and this will continue. With these I'm winging it - working out as I go, responding to the painting and the marks I've made and pushing it to achieve (hopefully) the mood, weather, tide, time, season that I had in mind.

feedback welcome :)


Saturday, January 05, 2008

beginning new seascapes

start of a new seascape 40 inch square canvas

I've started on some new seascapes. They are based on the sketches I did in Cornwall and memories of the beach at all times of day with the waves crashing and the light and weather constantly changing.

I'm abstracting from them - I want these paintings to be about how I feel about the spirit of the area and not simply a realistic interpretation of it. I now have to let these early marks dry before I can continue and as I'm still having to work extra hours it won't be a fast process :(

start of a new beach painting 30 inch square canvas

These are at a very very early stage and have a long way to go. Hopefully a lot of these marks will remain in the finished piece but there are many layers and adjustments to go - I don't have a clear pre-worked-out result in my head but simply an idea of the feeling of the particular weather and light and moment that I want to recapture. As the painting develops it may change dramatically - it's a bit like jazz where the painting speaks back and I'll know as I go (hopefully) where I'm going next.

start of a new painting 30 ins square

I wish I was back at the house on the cliff now, watching the tides and wild waves and the ever changing skies. link to research work and plein air sketches link to a webcam just along the cliff from where we stayed