Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Digital experiments with flower photos

Digital experiment 1. Vivien Blackburn


I've been playing around with the recent flower photos and these are 3 of the results. I'd like to do some canvasses based on the first two I think. Maybe using acrylic inks to get the luminosity???

I quite like the geometric hard edges playing against the flowing natural forms of the petals and stamens.

What do you think?

Digital experiment 2. Vivien Blackburn


Digital experiment 3. Vivien Blackburn

Keep those trees coming for the challenge :>)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hydrangeas in close up

Aren't hydrangeas just the most beautiful blue?


Photos of the hydrangea bush I bought this week - it's sitting on the patio looking like a piece of sky :>)

and on the subject of blue - for those who doubted the blue of the sea in my paintings of Cornwall = do take a look at this photographers work. He's very talented

Monday, June 22, 2009

close up photographs of flowers in my garden



The light was lovely in the garden so I went out with my 10x magnification filter to get close ups of some of the flowers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

paint or sketch trees: challenge

Close up of tree bark, Marqueyssac, France. photo: Vivien Blackburn

Another challenge

Rather than another update on the seascapes I've decided to run another challenge in response to feedback from the trees post.

Feedback from people said they got a lot out of the skies challenge and I'm sure you will out of this one :>)


click the image on the left to link to the original post on trees

and you can check all posts with the tag 'trees' here


The challenge is to produce sketches of trees done from life.

  • These can be: close ups, extreme close ups, whole tree, part of tree, distant views - whatever you want.

  • Style: anything goes - photorealism to impressionism but with underlying observation

  • Medium: your choice, anything goes :>) oil paints, acrylics, watercolours, mixed media, charcoal, graphite, coloured pencils, pen, oil pastels, pastels, pastel pencils ....... etc etc etc

  • Timescale: we'll finish at the end of July and I'll post links to your blogs then - please leave your links in the comments as with the skies challenge
To think about
  • The character of trees - they are so individual, consider the way it grows, the dynamic way the branches reach for the sky, the way winds may have shaped it or it clings to rocks or hillside

  • Look at the texture of the bark, smooth, rough, flaking, damaged, patterned

  • The colours - which are rarely simply brown - look for the greys and greens and in some cases ambers, blue greys, off whites and more

  • Close ups as well as views of whole trees - look at the bark

  • Look at the pattern of branches and the negative spaces

  • Remember that branches come towards you as well as sideways

  • Look at where it joins the ground - roots showing ?? base buried in tall grasses?? look how it melts into its surroundings without a line beneath it

Anyone up for this? Let me know? I'd really like to get lots of people joining in with lots of different images and ways of looking at the subject.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pearly Dawn, Cornwall, and Botallack Mine, seascapes in oils, work in progress

Pearly Dawn, Sennen Cove, Cornwall. 10 inches square, oil on canvas, Vivien Blackburn

A calm sea, pearly colours of lavender, apricot and jade. This one is another oil on a 10 inch square canvas, It was a total nightmare to photograph as the subtle jades kept disappearing and the apricot highlights - not helped by photographing it while it's wet! The sky glows a bit more and there are subtle bits of the apricot sky reflecting on the tips of the swells that aren't being picked up very well in the photo :>(

The last one I showed, of the harbour, has had the lower section of sky lightened and I think is finished.

Botallack mine is moving onwards but large areas are still just blocked in. The foreground has a long way to go and the far cliffs and mine houses but the sea and sky are further forward. The sea is going to be wilder, crashing onto the rocks and cliffs.

Work in progress, Botallack Mine. 16x20. Vivien Blackburn

c&c????

Friday, June 12, 2009

works in progress. botallack and sennen cove in oil on canvas

Sennen Cove, Windy Day, oil on 10 inch square canvas, Vivien Blackburn

I worked a little more on the 10 inch canvas today - the photograph annoyingly doesn't bring out the viridians enough. I'll try again tomorrow. Adjusting in photoshop alters too much and has tipped it towards turquoise too much but I thought I'd show that I am working! I will lighten the bottom of the sky a little when this paint is dry.

I started another 10 inch canvas with an underpainting - it's from a sketch of a subtle pearly dawn -all soft peachy colours in the sky with mauves and pale jades and soft grey blues in the sea, all very pale.

I think I may do a series of these little 10 inch canvasses as they work well together.

I also worked on the 16x20 canvas below. It's just at the blocking in stage as yet and it all needs finishing and pulling together.

Botallack Mine, 20x16, oil on canvas, Vivien Blackburn

I decided to make the weather wilder and stormier in this one. It suits the ruggedness of the place and the hardship of the miners life better somehow.

With this one I'm making decisions as I go about the way it's developing. It also made me realise that I need to alter the smaller sunnier version - the cliff on the left is wrong in that, I've made it too high, spoiling the shape the sea makes and working against the recession.

I need to alter it. Funny how easy it is to get absorbed in colour and form and forget to really notice that when cropping a sketch to paint from it, pay attention to where your crop ends!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Botallack mine updated, mixed media painting and thoughts on acrylic paints

I took another look at that painting I wasn't happy with, bearing in mind crit from friends on and off line and my own feelings about what was wrong. I spent about 10 minutes on it with oil paint scumbled over in areas, allowing the acrylic underpainting to shine through and leaving a lot untouched.

The Crowns, Botallack, Cornwall, mixed media painting, 11 ins square. Vivien Blackburn

The oil paint instantly improved it (for me anyway!) - the vivid blues are toned down but still glow through and now have recession. I heightened the ochre tones that you get in the grass on cliff tops, which plays nicedly against the blue. The more vivid grass and subtler sea/sky now balance much better to me and I prefer the scumbling and variation in colour that I can get with oils. I also lightened the light areas of the cliffs a little more and added more ochre where it showed on cliffs and rocks in light scumbles. The sky is more interesting and melts into the sea without a clear division along the full length.

Below you can see close ups of the layers and scratches and scumbles - which are easy to achieve with oils or oils over acrylics - but I just don't seem to be able to get this with acrylics alone :>( . Acrylics aren't opaque enough to cover totally like oils, one major problem to me, nor translucent enough for me to swish a thin thin layer quickly and freely without hard edges (it takes work to soften the edges enough and the freedom of the mark gets lost). My natural method of painting is subtractive as well as additive and oils just work so much better for me.

I think I have to accept that for me acrylics work beautifully in mixed media but not alone. Maybe for a painter who puts colours down and leaves them alone they are perfect - or who builds subtle layers in an abstract way without marks like Tina, where they are perfect - but not for me who loves marks in my own work - some subtle glazes, some scratching through, opaque areas, translucent areas and layers.

Details: (the paint is still wet so is a little reflective)





previous version that I didn't like:

What do you think? better?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Painting and Drawing Trees: observation


Sketching Trees in the Park. Rotring fountain pen in A4 sketchbook. Vivien Blackburn

This is an old sketch done in a local park. I was trying to describe the different types of trees and their distinctive shapes, character and foliage with just pen lines. Looking back at it I like the positive/negative changes with light trunks against shadowed foliage and dark trunks against light, changing back and forth. That poor Rotring pen hasn't been used in a long time, maybe I should dig it out. I really prefer less scratchy media.

I like trees - not quite as much as water but nearly!

Trees can have very distinct character, rather like people and I really dislike the generic woolly trees in some 'how to' books.

I've dug out some of the trees I've done over time - some, like this (done in '93) done some time ago and some more recent. They are in pen, pencil, charcoal, watercolour, oils, digital imagery, coloured pencil, ink, mixed media, acrylic, pastel, done in sketchbooks, on canvas .... a real mixture.


Are trees a subject that interests you?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Botallack mine in acrylics

The Crowns, Botallack, acrylic and coloured pencil. 10 ins square. Vivien Blackburn

This is a another view of the tin mines that cling to the base of the high cliffs at Botallack.

I'd decided to use acrylics to see how I liked working with them in comparison to the oil sketches I'd done.

:>( I missed my oils.

I ended up throwing some coloured pencil into it to pull it together - but I still prefer my oil paintings. It probably needs a bit more doing to it.

What do you think? honest c&c please?

Monday, June 01, 2009

what to take when sketching plein air (1 ) .... oils

What to take when you go sketching plein air?

what materials? what equipment? what medium? - oils? watercolour? pastel? acrylic? coloured pencil? pencil? what size paper/canvas/sketchbook? what to sit on?

Warm Day, April, Wells next the Sea, oil, plein air, approx 10 ins square Vivien Blackburn (old work)

what and why? that's like 'how long is a piece of string' - one person's perfect kit isn't going to be right for another. All I can say is what is right for me.

I use virtually any and all media sketching. What I take depends on
  • whether it's a family outing
  • a trip specifically to sketch with friends
  • sketching alone
  • how long I have there to paint/sketch
  • how far from the car I have to walk carrying equipment and materials
  • the weather

If with family then what I take is lightweight and limited, and may be simply a moleskine or other sketch book and a mechanical pencil or biro.

If with friends then it's kitchen sink time! I would take in the car: my oils, coloured pencils, some oil pastels for mixed media, watercolours, charcoal, pencil and a variety of sketchbooks/papers in all sorts of sizes and paper types. I also like a variety of colours - I often work with a limited palette - but I want to choose which colours for individual paintings in front of the landscape - not one-set-does-all, chosen in advance. I hate it when I've cut back on something - watercolours or oils - and I haven't taken them.

If I have to walk far carrying materials then it will affect what I take and I'll select from the stuff in the car. If we plan to stay all day then I may be prepared to carry quite a lot - if it's only a short trip then maybe I'd cut back.

What medium I use when I get there depends on subject, light and weather. I'll look at the different media I use in a series of posts, starting with -

Oil paints:

Recent sketches in Cornwall really reinforced my love of oils as a preferred medium for catching colour and movement quickly and fast. I don't draw first but just go in with colour. For me this is definitely the quickest medium and enables me to work larger.

Working plein air in oils

Plein air I use Griffin Alkyds, quick drying oils, that have all the properties of traditional oils but have the advantage of all colours in the range drying overnight.

Equipment: I've recently stopped carrying turps. I simply take a bottle of Liquin for thinning paint if needed and a bottle of baby oil for cleaning up - brushes and me.

I put my paints into a box file along with a few brushes, a painting knife and a colour shaper .

Then all I need is a disposable palette or some paper plates, a very small container for some liquin to be tipped into and rags.

The box file opens wide and means I can scrabble through the tubes to find the one I want without losing any (hopefully). It fits easily in a wheely bag (one of those overnight cases with wheels and towing handle), rucksack or largish shoulder bag - the choice of bag depends on the terrain/how far from the car.

Support: To paint on, either a Cryla pad of acrylic paper or canvas. As I don't trowel paint on I'm able to turn pages in the Cryla pad to work on the next sheet without any damage to the previous painting, They are kept clean (and don't stick) until I get home and can spread them out to finish drying. I would only use a canvas if working near the car and then I might use an easel. Normally I just hold whatever I'm working on.

Sketchbooks: I'll also use oils in sketchbooks - the oil doesn't soak through to the next page and I can shut the book on the sketch without harming it. Though I do get a ghost print on the facing page :>) So my Canson hard back watercolour book has watercolour on one page and an oil on the next and a drawing on the next.

A drawing board can be useful if you are near the car, as you can use bulldog clips to attach your palette and paper to it.

If I'm painting at the beach and know I'll be there for hours then I'd use a little tent that my friends and I all have - those half igloo fishermen ones. It gives me shade, a groundsheet to sit on, gives me somewhere to throw bags, drinks and sandwiches and stuff to keep them together, and is a shelter if it rains. It also means people can't stand behind you and look over your shoulder! They fold up small and are quick and easy to put up - unless it's a day like the one below. I ended up working in a tiny 6 inch sketchbook that day as, due to the gale blowing straight off the sea, I couldn't hold anything larger still.


Stormy Day, oil in 6 inch sketch book, plein air, Vivien Blackburn

I find that baby oil is great for taking out to clean up. Brushes are easily cleaned between colours or when packing up and if I - as I often do - get paint on my jeans, the baby oil will get it out and clean up my hands as well. At home I clean brushes with the cheapest cooking oil. It's environmentally friendly and smells less :>)

I hate wearing hats but do find that a sunhat both protects my face from burning and also the shade makes colours much easier to see accurately.

Easels and chairs are optional and not at all essential. I rarely use them plein air.

In future posts I'll look at the other media I use - watercolours, coloured pencils, charcoal, pencil ... all sorts!


What do you prefer to use?


Links to some of my plein air work

(These 2 paintings are old ones of the North Norfolk coast).