Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Using those Rembrandt coloured pencils

work in progress 
Penwith, on the Moor, Approaching Rain, Rembrant coloured pencils,  about 12 inches tall.

I've been using my lovely prize Rembrandts to check them out.   I wouldn't normally use cp's alone to work on an image this size - I'd go into mixed media and use some watercolour to underpaint.   That's partly because I like to work fast and partly because I like the wider variety of marks you can make by mixing media.

It's looking a bit too fairy tale at the moment, not yet rugged enough.  The foreground is obviously only just begun, lots more to do to that if I decide to finish it.   It may just stay an unfinished experiment in the sketchbook though. 

There are more subtle veils of colour than the camera ever picks up :>(   - there are amber colours in the sky, soft and pale but echoing similar colours in the fields.  The camera picked up the pale pinks but not the amber.   It has made the clouds a little brighter in colour as well - they are a bit more brooding in real life with transitions through purplish to bluer to greyer.

Verdict on the pencils:   The colours overlay and mix well, the Bristol board allowing layer after layer of scribbled colours to be built up.  The range of colours is really good too.  So I'm a happy bunny with my prize. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Porthgwarra, plein air oil painting and details of what kit to take when painting plein air with oils, watercolours, mixed media

Porthgwarra from the cliffs, Tide in, Watched by a Seal, oil paint, about 11 inches square, not quite finished, Vivien Blackburn

A hazy, windy day, forecast rain stayed away, the tide in so no beach to be seen but a seal swimming out in the surf  kept popping up to look at us.

I sat in a sheltered spot amongst the wildflowers on the cliff  - just the sounds of the sea and the occasional gull - heaven.  Even himself was quietly musing, no talking.

It needs just a little work doing before I'll call it finished.  I often do just a little more when I get plein air works home - I'm looking at them as a painting then without distraction.


 the sea seething on the rocks

3 corndered leeks, sea thrift and many other flowers around me

I made it to Porthgwarra without incident this time - last time I ended up having to reverse for about half a mile because I met a HUGE oncoming tanker touching both hedges and totally filling the road, followed by a massive tractor with some sort of digger attached.  8>O   - the occasional little passing places are designed for 2 cars to pass - Carefully - not something like this!   There are just a couple of houses down there so I assume it was to fill their gas or oil tanks..

I often get asked what kit I take when painting plein air.   The answer is that in the car it's the kitchen sink and all!  I can't bear not to have virtually everything there.  Just In Case.

a very lightweight rucksack  is what I use to cut down on what I carry - for the a typical day like the one painting at Porthgwarra it contains:

  • Brushes - I like nylon brushes square, round, rigger - designed for acrylics and some hog brushes - don't go too small with these if you want to work freely.   I carry these in a rolled up, recycled padded envelope to keep them upright and together - but not add extra weight to the bag.
  • Disposable Palette - this beats having to clean a traditional palette
  • Baby Oil  for cleaning me and my brushes - skin and environmentally friendly, brushes (and me) then clean off totally with soap and water.  I put this in a plastic bag, which also houses any oily rags on the return journey.
  • Rags and tissues or kitchen roll for cleaning up, smudging paint, whatever
  • Pencil Case with mechanical pencil, carbon pencil, Rotring pen, Pentel Brush pen, Jakar battery eraser, normal eraser
  • bulldog clips and masking tape for holding things in place and preventing the wind flipping pages/book - I have worked in the teeth of a gale where I couldn't even hold a book still as the wind flipped it and my hands!  
  • alternative sketchbook if I feel like it  - I can then do drawings of the scen
  • something to sit on - I work in the countryside so take a thin, lightweight rain cape.   It's ok if the grass is damp and keeps me dry if it starts to rain.
  • camera
  • possible extras
    • If I'm working on the beach for any length of time I might take my half igloo  beach tent  - useful for sheltering from the wind, passing showers, nosy passers by(!) and throwing your gear in the back and providing a ground sheet to sit on.
    • sunhat if it's hot and bright - it makes colours much easier to distinguish if your eyes are shaded
    • sun tan lotion
    • Bag 2 If it's a long session of painting, where I'll do a series of pieces,  I might well take the shoulder bag with my watercolours, charcoal and mixed media stuff in - but that's another post :>)
    • Lightweight drawing board and bulldog clips to attach sketch pad and palette 
What I don't carry - turps - it's inflammable, needs containers. has to be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, not easy plein air - so container for clean and dirty and in-use.   With Liquin I just tip a small amount into the mix on the palette that needs it.


I use this or canvas but prefer the oil paper really when working plein air.   I see no advantage at all in buying oil boards, I don't like them to use, they still need framing and they add extra weight.   I have used hardboard (masonite) in the past but it has the same drawbacks of weight and framing plus the need to prime it.

As the light changes so fast I don't usually work bigger than A3, much as I'd like to as it's not easy to finish in a short enough time.

If you close the book on a finished painting, carefully, the turn to the next page, let pages temporarily cling together, you can then continue working on another painting - and another and another ....  

Leave the book closed until you get back to the house and then spread them all out to dry overnight.   They never stick and don't get damaged (unless you trowel the paint on extremely thick).

Next day they'll be dry (if you use Griffin Alkyds)  and you can make any adjustments with glazes or scumbling far quicker than with traditional paint.

I really like these quick drying oils.   They are proper oils (some people think they aren't as the name sounds a bit like acrylics) - they simply contain driers.  This means that very thinly applied paints will dry the same day, thicker applications by the next day and all colours dry at the same rate, a real advantage.  I remember using traditional oils thickly in an autum painting and the yellows and oranges still coming off on me weeks later when I moved it.   Small amounts of traditional oils can be mixed with them without affecting drying times too much if you have much loved colours.

I always buy the big 200ml tube of white, never the small one - you need a lot of white and the small ones run out too fast.

 If you like the combined stool/rucksacks then these would be ok for you, particularly if you work a lot in towns. I tend to work in the countryside with uneven ground where it wouldn't be so practical - also there are often rocks to sit on or grass or sand, using my rain cape.  If working near the car I may use a folding chair or sit on the back of the car with the hatch up.

Personally I'm not a great fan of pochade boxes.   They are very heavy and for the weight, I'd rather take more materials.  With arthritis, the weight matters.   They also limit the size you can work in many cases.  I tend to work holding the paper or use a sketching easel if I'm using canvas (which I rarely do plein air).   

This post was triggered by several people asking me what kit I use plein air and most recently Katherine - who has been asking a million and one questions as she's off to Provence and thinking of using oil paints.   I was invited but couldn't go - I shall read the posts about the trip with sad sad envy!  It would have been so nice to work there with friends Katherine, Ronelle, Sarah and Robyn

If anyone does a post on their plein air oils kit I'll add a link

The Crowns, Botallack, pen sketch in Canson sketchbook

detail of the sketch below
A quick sketch on a very windy day with Rotring pen and watersoluble ink, with a little brush pen (waterproof ink) and a touch of gouache.  I do like watersoluble ink for those lovely washes.

  The Crowns, Botallack, pen and ink sketch in Canson sketchbook.  Vivien Blackburn

And turning 180 degrees this was the skyline, with another ruined mine engine house in the distance.

This one was done in carbon pencil.

Friday, May 27, 2011

urban sketches done whilst waiting

 Biro (ballpen) urban sketches in A4 sketchbook

I've had a few sessions of waiting for family while they attend appointments.   Rather than be bored I've taken to sketching from the car while I wait - good practice for perspective even if not an exciting drawing in itself.   I think I'm going to keep this A4 wirebound sketchbook in the car for these times of boredom.

and one I showed earlier, part of this series ......

more to follow.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Second Prize - Lyra Polycolor set

I had a great surprise when I got home from work - this arrived in the post with a little note saying 'Congratulations   :) '

?????  why?  what?

I phoned the sender ...

......  I'd entered something in the Artists and Illustrators magazine and this was the second prize :>)  - what a surprise.

They are oil based and will mix with my Polychromos = Now I'd better have a play with that luscious range of colours  ................

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dartmoor stream and old bridge - an experiment with foam rollers with watercolour

Detail scanned:  An Old Packhorse Bridge on the edge of Dartmoor.   Watercolour and mixed media, Vivien Blackburn

This one was an experiment with some foam rollers I'd bought at the weekend, working from a plein air sketch I'd done.   Also an experiment with Bristol board  (very smooth) as it's only the second time I've used it - the first was with oil paints in Cornwall.

I swept the rollers over several colours that I wanted to appear in the trees and put them down with one line - it gave a wonderful speckled appearance  that I later adjusted with glazes.   I love these rollers!

Then I used it to put background sweeps and areas of colour for the foliage, grasses and stonework, before working into them with brushes and watercolour, gouache, coloured pencil (a very little), oil pastel and charcoal pencil.

They were extremely cheap and are going to become one of my favourite tools I think.

I've often used much larger paint rollers with oil paint on canvas but never with watercolour like this.

The top image is a scan - I can't fit the whole piece in my A4 scanner so below is a photo of the whole.   There is some copper oil pastel in the stonework that is catching the light in the photo - it's much more subtle than that in real life.

About 11 inches square

Have you got any favourite tools you use with paints?

and ps do look at this amazing video of clouds, skies, stars in slo mo

Monday, May 23, 2011

David Tress Exhibition

David Tress exhibition at the John Davies Gallery, Moreton in Marsh

I went to the Private View of this brilliant exhibition at the weekend and the painting above is the one that I would have loved to own.  The trees glow in a shaft of light, rain approaches and the colour, marks and light express the weather and mood of the day perfectly.   The reality is so much better than any tiny photograph can show.   Some lucky person bought it as I stood talking to him about his work - no red dot at the beginning of the conversation - big red dot a few minutes later.   His work was deservedly selling well.

If you are anywhere near the Cotswolds be sure to go and have a look - the paintings are full of atmosphere, passion,. a sense of place and the marks, texture and collage elements are wonderfully free.   Pure drama :>)

It's a lovely gallery with lots of space and shows the work of some very good artists, well worth repeat visits.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Crowns at Botallack, charcoal plein air sketch, A3 sketchpad

The Crowns at Botallack, charcoal sketch, A3, Vivien Blackburn

I was determined to sketch these old engine houses in charcoal on this visit - the wildness of the place, the old stone buildings - it just seems so much the right medium.   I'd like to do an A1 version of this - or if I've got a sheet of the larger Fabriano paper left, an even larger one.

I do like charcoal.   It's such a painterly medium for drawing, so easily adjustable - smudging out to pale soft washes or left intense and black, drawn back into with an eraser to 'draw' lights back in, like the flowers at the front.  Endlessly pushaboutable!

Friday, May 20, 2011

quick sketches whilst waiting

A quick doodle of the view from the car park on the seafront in Penzance, as I waited for himself to nip to the shops at the top of the steep hill going off to the right.   It relieved the boredom of the wait :>)

I need to get the larger oil and charcoal sketches photographed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

seagull, a quick sketch with coloured pencil and Rotring Art Pen in moleskine sketchbook

seagull weighing up whether or not I had any food to offer, a quick sketch with a Rotring Art Pen and coloured pencils in a moleskine sketchbook

Just the sound of gulls instantly takes me back to my childhood in Cornwall.   They seem the essence of freedom, gliding on the the wind, light shining through feathers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rushing stream through a wooded valley on the edge of Dartmoor. coloured pencil and Rotring art pen in moleskine sketchbook

The edge of Dartmoor, a stream tumbling down through a wooded valley, coloured pencil and Rotring Art Pen in Moleskine sketchbook

We'd been exploring up on the bleak high moors, which I love, small herds of wild ponies and sheep, stunted trees and rocky crags, narrow roads and ancient stone bridges.   Now we were at the edge of the moor - lush wooded valleys, streams the colour of whisky tumbling over rocks on their way to the sea - equally lovely in a very very different way.   I stopped to catch the dappled sunlight on this old bridge and the warm amber glow of the peaty water.

It was an incredible tangle of wildflowers and branches, great contrasts of light and dark and not at all easy!  so it maybe got a bit overworked.

 This is the hotel we stayed at - just for a day on the way home - right on the borderline where the wild, bleak, high moor descends into lusher green fields and wooded valleys.  One side of the road is the high moor, the other lusher and green.  (from their website)

Photos I took of the moor.

I think I'll have to do this break in the journey again and paint there more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

2 more colour studies of the view across the bay - vivid afternoon and oale early morning

Across the bay, blue afternoon, coloured pencil in moleskine sketchbook
pale pearly dawn across the bay, coloured pencil in moleskine sketchbook 

Two more colour/light studies of the view across the bay.   A vivid blue afternoon and a pale pale morning (which was almost impossible to scan because it really is very pale).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Early morning light across the bay, Sennen Cove, coloured pencil in moleskine sketchbook

Another in the series that looks at the changing colours and light across the bay at different times.

This one is very early in the morning looking north west ish.   At that time the sun is slightly to the right and the cliffs are silhouetted, colours pearly pale, clouds burning off in the risen sun and the promise of another lovely day.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Colours of Sennen Cove, Afternoon Light, coloured pencil

Colours of Cornwall. Afternoon light Sennen Cove.  Coloured pencil in moleskine sketch book

Just back from a week in Cornwall - with family, but some painting :>)

This is one of a series of colour studies of the bay at different times of day, recording the changing colours.  This was the afternoon light - sunny, bringing out the intense turquoise/viridian/prussian blue in the water. 

More to follow ..........

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Journal or sketchbook? what is the difference?

Wells next the Sea, blue blue day. oil on paper, (old painting)

What do you call your sketchbooks - journals? or sketchbooks?

For me they are definitely sketch books, gathering and recording information and working through ideas. Some rough and quick, some much more 'finished'. Even though I do often write in them about the day, the light, the history or interesting facts that add to the feel of the place and the memories for me. (not to mention shopping lists of art materials, artists quotes, information on exhibitions, things stuck in and lots more) They are a resource to draw on in the future.

Sometimes I take work out and frame it - that happened to the one above. If I remove it, then I do a scan and put a print in its place so the information and link to the work before and after isn't lost. Usually it remains in the sketchbook though.

Some make journals with text and image beautifully balanced - it's an ongoing diary, a stream of consciousness.

So what are yours? Journals? sketchbooks?

I'm taking a week off the blog to concentrate on painting. I've been so snowed under lately that painting took a backseat - but I'll be back in a week, hopefully with lots of sketches. Maybe links to interesting journals and sketchbooks as well.