Monday, February 25, 2008

update on the seascapes February

High Tide, Sunset. 24in sq oil on canvas. Vivien Blackburn

this one underwent a few changes :>) - I decided to have the tide in, rather than having a beach with pools - the waves made for a better composition and I like the perspective of being in the air, hovering somewhere over the waves. I also sorted that sky that I hated.

You can see the very early stages here (it's the third image down in this post) and at a later ugly underpainting stage here when I was planning to keep the foreground as sand and pools.

Lots of that underpainting still shines through in the final version.

I wasn't at all happy about it until I sorted the sky out and made that decision about the high tide, then it came together, at last.

Do you work in series? Do you like to look at the same scene or small area in different lights and seasons?

Monet did and so does this artist who made a contract with himself to paint outside daily and produced some stunning work, often revisiting the same place in different lights and different times of year. His site is well worth a visit.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Teaching and Learning Styles part 3

class website: Welland Park students, tutor: Vivien Blackburn

This is a website I set up for the classes to show off their work - you'll see the wide range of subjects, media, styles and experience - the differentiation I talked about in my last post on teaching styles.

website address: it's worth a look - there are some talented students in my classes :>)
previous posts on teaching in this series: (2 posts) and where I talk about the good teachers I've studied with .

Core elements in painting and drawing

Teaching I believe is being a catalyst. You are aiming to bring out and develop the talents and increase the understanding of students.
Core elements for me are:
  • encouraging an open minded exploratory attitude from the very beginning (a relaxed atmosphere as explained in the first post, enables students to do this without fear of failure - there is no failure, some things work, some don't, it's all learning) I don't want students to think that they will, or should, produce a finished painting every week in the lesson. I encourage thumbnail sketches and little sketches and paintings working out particularly difficult sections of texture or colour or form within the painting, working out beforehand the visual language of marks and colour that will express it best in a final piece. Painting is a language and you need to develop the vocabulary - which is colour and marks. I'm there to help work out options, more than one way of dealing with particular problems, so that students use the solution best suited to them.
  • drawing and painting are not distinctly separate things - charcoal and pastel are painterly, paint can be used to draw - the division, if there is one, is blurred. The loosest paintings with no drawing before paint is applied, need sound underlying drawing skills to hold them together.

  • a good understanding of colour and colour mixing is essential. I advise all my students to invest in a copy of Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie - a really good way of considering colour and its interaction. I get them to mix complementaries to see the fascinating range of colours that, for instance, Alizarin Crimson and Viridian make - dark deep forest greens that remain translucent to deep dark burgundies via black. Then thin the mixes down and see the range of beautiful coloured greys. We repeat that with other complementaries. Then there is glazing - another subtle way of altering colours and adjusting 'wrong' colours - a banana painted with yellows straight from the tube and looking far too loud can be fixed with a thin glaze of complemenary purple for instance. Just this week a real beginner had the foreground grasses really good natural colours but for some reason the far hills were emerald green - a wash of orange over them and they looked great - suggestions of bracken and the colour knocked back. Good colour can make an interesting painting even if the underlying drawing is a little off ;>)

  • observation. observation. observation. Look very very hard I tell them and don't go onto automatic pilot - don't draw what you think is there - look what is actually there. Perspective comes into this - how to cope with ellipses. the perspective of buildings, scale and interlinking shapes. Then there is Aerial recession - how to use the weight of line or colour to suggest the landscape going off into the distance. I encourage the use of sketchbooks to work in regularly, drawing anything and everything - mundane to beautiful, just to keep practising the hand-eye coordination and observation skills. In class it is sometimes necessary to work from photographs but I encourage as much working from life as possible. You'll see on the website that a lot of work is done from life - pears, flowers, teddies, shells - a long list.

I tell them not to throw away their 'failures' - they may appreciate later that some things were working and how will they judge their progress if they don't have something to compare.

Then there is the importance of talking to fellow students, discussing work, media, techniques, aims and objectives .... they will get a lot out of it. Knowledge of local sketchclubs or exhibitions visited is shared over coffee.

Beginners usually have a rosy view that they hope to achieve a stage where they are satisfied - I warn them that the goal posts always move forward as they improve so we never get there! or if we do, we've stopped learning and developing.

It's important that copying from other artists is only done as research, to work out how, investigating colour, composition and visual language. Copying is like trying to walk in someone else's shoes though - the fit may not be good ;>) - you don't know the thought processes and observation that led to the painting or the order of marks and layers - it's important to take elements of technique or whatever it was that was interesting and make it their own, adapt, adjust and be true to themselves.

My teaching plans - schemes of work and lesson plans - are flexible. Students often bring up topics they'd like covered and the whole class express an interest - so we look into it. At other times someone may bring in a really interesting book (like the ones by Shirley Trevena) and I'm asked to show them how I'd use some of the techniques - that can really put me on the spot! I have core issues to cover and beyond that it's tailored to the individuals and their particular needs. It means it's much more fun even though it's probably harder work. I'm made to think around different problems and frequently learn new things myself or am introduced to new materials on the market that I haven't tried.

Vive la Difference! I like Differentiation and it starts even with these core elements.


Friday, February 22, 2008

acrylic and coloured pencil, mixed media beach

Midnight, High Tide. 11-12 ins square, acrylic and coloured pencil painting. Vivien Blackburn

So far all the paintings I've done of this subject have been daytime or evening - I wanted to catch a nightime view and also do a painting with the tide high.

I underpainted in a mix of ultramarine and raw umber and white. Ultramarine or indigo and burnt umber are what Paynes Gray is made up with - so that's a colour you really don't need to buy. If you mix your own you can tip it slightly bluer or slightly browner and have a little variety, which I think is more interesting than a flat colour.

I then added touches of colour on the cliffs, in the clouds and the sea in purple, blues, green, ochre and brown coloured pencils. The underlying acrylics create a unity of colour and help with the night time feeling.

The long thin drawing I did earlier I decided I wasn't happy with - I've cropped a square out of the middle. which I like better:

Evening beach: charcoal and coloured pencil on grey paper 12in sq. Vivien Blackburn


Thursday, February 21, 2008

drawing babies - altered - Sam version 2 :)

Following some good advice I've lightened his nostrils from the last post - I think it's much better now. Do you think so?

Sam, 5 months old, mechanical pencil in moleskine sketchbook, Vivien Blackburn

Crit from friends with a clear fresh eye is so useful.


drawing babies - Sam aged 5 months

Sam, 5 months old. Pencil sketch. Vivien Blackburn

Drawing babies isn't the easiest thing to do - but now Sam is developing a distinct character and personality of his own it's getting easier. This is in my moleskine sketchbook - I do wish they would make a larger size of these because I like them for drawing in but even this 'large' size is in fact small. He was absolutely delighted with this stuffed toy that jingled and made noises and he's very sociable, loving the interaction with those around him. He has very dark eyes.
It made a change from the beaches :>)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

drawing, across the beach, late afternoon, cool day, charcoal and coloured pencil

Across the beach, late afternoon, cool day, charcoal and coloured pencil, 18 ins sq.
Vivien Blackburn

Another experiment with the charcoal and coloured pencil combination on grey paper - this time I did something I rarely do and included figures and a dog - it helps give the scale of those cliffs and rocks - the figures should actually be slightly smaller but the pencils wouldn't cooperate any smaller than this :>)

Done using willow charcoal, polychromos and Lyra coloured pencils and a battery operated eraser on grey rough paper (which eats the pencils).

The curve in the horizon is the paper not lying flat - not me tipping the sea up!

detail enlarged - on the drawing this is less than half an inch high

the figures are just very loosely suggested, with their dog playing in the water.

detail from dark reflection

- there are lots of hazy subtle colour changes in these that don't show up well onscreen :>(

I ended up working all day and evening yesterday, covering for another art teacher who is off ill - and have a lot of boring routine stuff to get on with today so painting isn't likely :>(

next installment in the teaching series will be at the weekend for anyone interested


Sunday, February 17, 2008

New seascapes - blue summers day and teaching - differentiation

Blue Day. Oil on canvas. 24 ins. Vivien Blackburn

A new seascape finished, it's oil on a 24 inch canvas. Started with free calligraphic marks and finished off with glazes to get the subtle changes in the colour of the sand. Really quiet, calm and simplified, trying to get that lovely feeling of walking down to the waters edge on a blue blue sunny day.

I thought after all the rain and cool weather paintings it was time to do a warm and sunny day :>) .

and .........

Teaching Part 2: Differentiation

Differentiation: teaching allowing for different skill levels and interests and developing the individuals skills and addressing individual needs and projects - not a one-size-fits all method :>) ........... nor one subject, one medium, one learning style, one ................

At all the classes I teach I'm working with mixed ability students - some are total beginners and some very accomplished and every ability level between The comfort zone I talked about in the last teaching post is vital here so that newcomers don't feel threatened and inadequate and the more able don't feel bored and un-stretched.

I like mixed ability groups and workshop style teaching - the more experienced hear me talking to newcomers about the basics and it reminds them to continue considering basic principles and the newcomers see where they can go with their work as they improve - and they always do improve. My ongoing students are friendly and generous, showing starters their early not-so-good works and explaining their progress.

Work often shows promise that a beginner doesn't yet see - the painting is seen as a disaster but actually contains elements that show promise. It's important I believe to explain these, to say that though they may not 'get' it yet, that I can see things that are working. I tell them do NOT throw the painting away as they need it as a benchmark of progress and to look back and see that there were elements showing promise there which they'll understand later. I never give false praise.

I explain that subject matter is their choice. I could set up a still life that I think is wonderful - learners may find it boring - or they may do a great piece of work from it but it simply isn't something they want to hang on their wall. If they choose a subject they feel passionately about or are at least interested in, then that will come through in the work they do.

Medium is also up to students preferences - many start off in watercolours but then realise they'd like to try pastels or some other medium and I encourage experimenting, finding out which materials they relate to most strongly. I also encourage combining media appropriately if their subject matter needs it.

So ...... I have classes where one is working on large scale oil paintings, another on delicate experimental landscape images from memory (student having sketched plein air), highly detailed flowers, abstracts, landscapes, people, animals, small still life set ups, close ups, drawing, oil painting, watercolours, pastels, coloured pencils ................... and lots more!

This way they learn a lot from each other as they walk around chatting about each others work at break (I tell them at the beginning that they will learn as much from each other as they will from me - I always did in classes I attended) and I often get to have a play with new materials too when they bring in stuff I've never used and ask for a demo of how I'd use it, like Inktense and Graphitint when they came out ............ being put on the spot is errrrrm interesting! I enjoy getting a chance to play with new media like this though and working out what they'll do is fun even if in the glare of the spotlight! I just do quick sketches to see what the materials can do, what marks I can get etc

So ........ we celebrate originality, individuality and differences. We don't all work on the same subject or in the same medium. The styles are widely different - and it's a buzz :>)


Monday, February 11, 2008

across the beach, hazy sunshine

Across the Beach. Hazy Sunshine. coloured pencil. 10 x 6.5 inches. Vivien Blackburn

A busy day and no time to concentrate on the canvasses so I did a bit of drawing with coloured pencils on grey card - one of those sunny days with thin translucent white clouds veiling the sky.

You may be getting bored with this view :>) - sorry - but it's interesting to me to try to capture it in all the weathers and lights I saw. I do love the light and the way it changes colours. Also to experiment with different media as the effects are so different.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Teaching and Learning Styles part 1 - and a sketch of the beach in the rain

Approaching Rain. mixed media. about 10 ins square. Vivien Blackburn

One day I sat looking out across the beach watching approaching rain clouds - the rain started out to sea and I watched as it came sweeping in creating a misty silver haze in front of the sea, then in front of the cliffs, bleaching out colour, and finally it hit our windows. This sketch is an attempt to catch that day - with a nod to Hiroshige :>).

Teaching and Learning:

I've had recent discussions with friends about teaching styles - how we teach or are taught - the styles that we responded best to as students ourselves, tutors who really motivated us and the teaching methods that taught us most.

I'm going to do a series of posts about teaching and learning styles and the way I teach.

During my teacher training the psychologist who clicked for me was Maslow - his hierarchy of needs with its emphasis on the physical and emotional comfort of the learner to create an ambience where they are comfortable to experiment, ask questions without feeling foolish and discuss problems, questions, techniques, artists etc etc etc with me and fellow students easily. Maslow felt that this was essential in order for learning to take place. link to diagram and more information here.

Art is quite a scary thing for a beginner. If you produce a lousy history essay, only you and the tutor need know your mark. In art your work is there for everyone to see - no hiding. So it is important to take away the fear factor - anything that doesn't work is a learning curve not a failure - this isn't just empty words to a student but absolutely true and it's so important that they realise this and can then 'go for it' and not expect perfect results every time.

At degree level we learned to do without this comfort :>) crits were tougher - but by then we had learned to take constructive criticism, for someone starting out it's vital I believe.

So step one is to make sure that students know they can ask anything, anytime and I won't think it 'silly' no matter how basic or advanced and will ask for help whenever they need it. Next is that they are all comfortable with each other and will discuss work, pass on information, give each other feedback and encouragement and 'gel' as a group - the common interest in art unites people of diverse ages and backgrounds.

The surroundings are important as well - it's easier to create this group identity in a room where there is room to move and coffee is available so that they can discuss informally at break times. Light and enough room to work is essential.

so that's the very basics - I'll carry on with this in installments in between showing paintings because it's a huge topic :>)

Do you teach or attend classes?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

'There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing' - artists quotes

I thought today I'd share some of the artists quotes that particularly appeal to me - do you have any that really mean something to you?

On attitude, content/meaning/concept of the work and skill:

Cezanne: A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.

Lucian Freud: When I look at a body it gives me choice of what to put in a painting, what will suit me and what won't. There is a distinction between fact and truth. Truth has an element of revelation about it. If something is true, it does more than strike one as merely being so.

Francis Bacon: I remember Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked. With me, it's what Yeats called the fascination with what's difficult. I'm only trying to do what I can't do.

Mark Rothko: It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Art is literacy of the heart.

Elliot Eisner: Good art is not what it looks like, but what it does to us.

Roy Adzak: In whatever one does there must be a relationship between the eye and the heart.

Wassily Kandinsky: I applied streaks and blobs of colours onto the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could...

Paul Klee: A line is a dot that went for a walk.

Andy Goldsworthy: The essence of drawing is the line exploring space.

Henri Matisse: I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.

Pablo Picasso: Art is a lie that helps us to realize the truth.

James McNeill Whistler: Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.

Edgar Degas: The fascinating thing, is not to show the source of light, but the effect of light.

Constantin Brancusi: When you see a fish you don't think of its scales, do you? You think of its speed, its floating, flashing body seen through the water... If I made fins and eyes and scales, I would arrest its movement, give a pattern or shape of reality. I want just the flash of its spirit.

Cezanne: Style is not created through servile imitation of the masters; it proceeds from the artist's own particular way of feeling and expressing himself.

Toulouse Lautrec: In our time there are many artists who do something because it is new; they see their value and their justification in this newness. They are deceiving themselves; novelty is seldom the essential. This has to do with one thing only; making a subject better from its intrinsic nature.

Edgar Degas: The true traveler never arrives.

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see

Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.

It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one's memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.

A picture is something which requires as much knavery, trickery and deceit as the perpetration of a crime

William Dobell: A sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on to canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing.

Eugene Delacroix: Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything

Michelangelo: A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1923: One day seven years ago I found myself saying to myself -- I can't live where I want to -- I can't go where I want to go--I can't do what I want to -- I can't even say what I want to --....I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to.

William Gough: It takes years to know how to sit still and let the water settle.

William Whittaker: One must really love to paint, to be driven as it were, to put in the time necessary to really get proficient.... Many people would like to paint, but not enough to paint those endless failures necessary to get to the good work. If it were otherwise, we'd be overrun with painters.

Virgil Elliot: It's the ABILITY to draw that is important to a painter, whether he actually draws his designs on the canvas before he begins to paint his picture, or "draws" with paint as he goes. The ability to draw well is the ability to see well. Artists develop the ability to see beyond the ordinary level of seeing by first learning to draw.

Robert Hughes: 'The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize."

Judi Betts: If you work with abstract painting for a period of time, you may come to think of it as a melody, a song, a piece of beautiful music.

Roger Hilton: Abstract art is the result of an attempt to make pictures more real, an attempt to come nearer to the essence of painting.

Georgia O'Keeffe: Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they may say something.

Lin Yutang: Of all the unhappy people in the world, the unhappiest are those who have not found something they want to do.

on anxiety blocks, angst, confidence ..... and getting on with that painting!

Suzanne Edminster: Much life or art anxiety can be relieved by simply making something – anything.

Eric Maisel: A creative block is the wall we erect to ward off the anxiety we suppose we'll experience if we sit down to work.

Claude Monet: No one but myself knows the anxiety I go through and the trouble I give myself to finish paintings which do not satisfy me and seem to please so very few others.

John Gargano: Discussing concepts and exploring alternatives prime the pump but they are not doing.

Robbie Gass: Like an ability or a muscle, hearing your inner wisdom is strengthened by doing it.

Nathan Oliveira: You're sitting there with your muse and your muse is telling you something and you’re following it, and you end up the next day looking at it and thinking "what the hell was the muse saying to me?"

on Talent:

Edgar Degas: Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.

Michelangelo: If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all.

Simonides (500 B. C.): One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one's capacity.


Friday, February 08, 2008

landscape and seascape, small demos of mixed media for classes - charcoal and coloured pencil. acrylic, pastel and coloured pencil

beach, charcoal and coloured pencil, 7 x 7.5 inches Vivien Blackburn
The scan isn't level - the horizon is :>) - a small version of the charcoal/cp beach trying out a cream cartridge paper as the background. The toothier paper worked much better, this is a little too smooth. I also like working larger better.
And the landscape below was a mixed media demo of acrylics loosely applied to grey card (which shows through in places) with a palette knife and then worked on with pastels and a little coloured pencil.

Winter Fields. mixed media. Vivien Blackburn 8.5 x 5.5 inches

I'm hoping to push on with the canvasses tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

charcoal and coloured pencil beach, evening light

Evening Light across the Beach. Vivien Blackburn. Charcoal and coloured pencil

This is the charcoal drawing on grey paper that I showed you unfinished here: (scan down past the painting to it)

I said that I was mulling over whether to simply use white pastel for highlights and keep it monochrome or add colour - and if colour what medium???

I decided to try coloured pencils over the charcoal and see how they worked - they worked! I wanted to keep the colours very muted, this kind of evening light softens and dulls colours and the cliff was deeply shadowed and backlit.

I worked in multiple glazes of colours to softly build white, blues, mauve, umber, sienna, peach, orange, ochres and a little green on the cliff top which doesn't show much onscreen as it's only a little. The peachy colours are a little less orangey and more peach than they appear here. The clouds have blues and browns in them. The light blues in the sea and pools are a pale electric sort of blue. The icy blues contrast with the warm peachy sunset which warms some of the sand.

The softness of the charcoal is still there and it shines through the loose glazes of colour.

It was pure experiment. I had no idea whether it would work successfully or not but my lovely rich polychromos and Lyra skin tones coped fine. The paper had a tooth which held them well and helped create texture.

It's rather like using grisaille in oil painting.

Today Katherine has done an excellent post on tonal values in work

I absolutely agree that tonal values are usually what is missing in my beginner students work - they've done what could be a good painting but without pushing those values it's simply an OK one. Paintings are about light on the subject and those tonal values are the key to showing the light you want and to sculpting those 3D forms. The soft diffused light of a Gwen John to the chiarascuro of Caravaggio - each so different and so interesting and one key reason is because of how well the light is seen.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

seascapes update February

Tides Edge. mixed media on canvas 40 ins square. Vivien Blackburn

I'm happy with how this one is going as it evokes to me what I wanted. I'm not sure whether I'll glaze a bit more blue and viridian over the purple sections of sea or not - what do you think?

It's hanging over the sofa just now so that I can consider it. I love working this size.

I wasn't trying to catch a frozen moment of time with the waves in realist detail - that isn't how you experience it. The waves come pounding in, funnelled by the shape of the beach, meeting each other in a crash of spray. It's all confusion. A horizon that isn't level, consisting of swells of water racing towards you, rearing up - power, colour and light and noise. I wanted to catch this feeling.

I finally did what I'd advised my daughter to do - and what I always forgot to do myself and was reminded :>) in the comments section to do - put a piece of tissue over the flash to soften the light. MAGIC!!! the subtle colours show so much better and the photo of the painting isn't bleached, or needing lots of tweaking in PS to bring it back to 'how it really looks'.

Tissue and an elastic band are going to be permanent residents in my camera baga :>)

work in progress, charcoal on grey paper 19/20 ins approx. Vivien Blackburn

This one is a work in progress, done as a demo. I haven't decided yet whether to add muted touches of colour with pastel or paint or simply use white pastel for highlights and keep it monochrome. The grey paper is a slightly warm grey so subtle additions of earth colours would work well - even those Lyra skin tones coloured pencils ????? now there's a thought .....

finished - Across the beach, sunset. Charcoal. 16 ins square. Vivien Blackburn

Sorry this one is a bit distorted - it's leaning on my printer at the moment. This is the one on watercolour paper. I decided to move the moon and do a little more work on the darkest areas. Finished now.

These charcoal sketches were partly about exploring those evenings when the rays of the sun showed like this and working out how to pull together the painting that I wasn't happy with. I do like charcoal to work with, it's got such painterly qualities alongside the ability to produce lovely black flowing lines :>)