Sunday, November 30, 2008

Grandfather's Paintbox; an Introduction.

I have a little story to tell. It is about my grandfather who, in retirement, was a landscape painter. I shall be putting the story on my blog over the next few days. Mainly, it concerns an exploration of something he left behind – his paintbox. I have very much enjoyed examining the paints, brushes and other equipment, along with the box itself, which is a beautifully designed and constructed artefact. All has lain unused for seventy years, and recently came into my care. I have taken a number of photos showing some of the intricacies of the paintbox, with its built-in easel, and in my account I have explained how I sampled all the paint colours which the box still contained. I hope all this may prove interesting to my artist friends, especially those with a fondness for the history of paint and artist’s equipment.
The story is in five parts. Some of the technical bits about historical colours you may find boring, so feel free to fast-forward. On the other hand, I’ve buried a few quotations there that you might find amusing too!
The story will be illustrated on Flickr. You will find the associated photos together in a set entitled ‘Grandfather’s Paintbox’. It is in tribute to, and appreciation of my grandfather, William Hall Henwood.
Here is the link to Flickr:

Friday, November 28, 2008

Realizing the Vision - or Not!

I have yet to do a painting where I was not first absolutely gripped by the subject. Often I find myself returning to the real world scene to study what it is that I find so exciting about it. There is always some kind of idealized vision in my mind that I need to express, something that is different from what you might call the ‘actuality’, that a camera might see. It may be simply the combination of colours which first attracts, or there may be an emotional context that needs to be memorialized. Sometimes it will be something that startles me visually, that I have never noticed before in life. In some cases the vision is only in memory, the source being now inaccessible or long in the past. When I find my thoughts often recurring to any theme I will put it on my list – of ‘Paintings to Do’! The list gets ever longer, as more pictures get undertaken in the heat of the moment without ever going on the list. But I digress.

Last Sunday I painted a landscape that made me really happy. It did not take very long, and it was a true success (for me at least), because it did in fact simply realize the vision, perhaps with only a tenuous relationship remaining to the original source which inspired me. I’m talking about my little landscape ‘Dawn Breaks over the Gumligenberg’, which I have posted on Flickr. It is amazing how such a happy, albeit simple result can give confidence, (regardless of the opinion of others), and confirm a novice artist in the belief that he or she does indeed have something to offer.

So, funnily enough, this event led me to take a long hard look at one of my paintings which I am least happy with. I find myself at the artistic point now where I think I need not hide my failures. Knowing that I can do, and have done better, I am ready for Critique, with a capital ‘C’. And the reason I want this is because, in connection with the picture I am unhappy with, I have never been able to exactly analyze what is wrong with it. If I can’t figure that out properly, then I may well repeat the same mistakes in the future.

I have to tell you now about the picture, called 'Aidan House' which is a watercolour of a neighbour’s house that I painted some three years ago. It wasn’t a commission; I did it because I was elated by the view of this pretty house all decked in fresh spring colours. The vision was all greens and yellows, cream and black; a bright spring morning with the trees newly leafed. A laburnum tree in flower in the front yard summarized exactly the fresh and happy scene. I cannot say the work went easily, and that should have been a warning sign. Because it was primarily a portrait of a house, I first took exquisite care over perspective and line in the drawing, before ever I dipped a brush into paint. When I was finished I showed it to my surprised neighbour, who was really pleased. So I gave her a framed print; kept the original, which I framed also. It has been hanging on my studio wall ever since, and is beginning to reproach me with its deficiencies.

So what I would really like is for a few honest artists to tell me where I have erred, and what they might have done differently, or even how I might have fixed the painting as it progressed.

I am about to join one or more of the ‘Art Critique’ groups on Flickr, and so I went in to a ‘Pool’ or two to see what I might expect in the way of comments. I have to say I am disappointed. I found that when I click on a picture that I consider poor, it is likely that, rather than offer hurt, people will not have commented at all! Nobody is going to learn from that. Conversely, when a work is good, comments are often just too effusive, whilst not actually offering any analysis as to why the picture in question is so outstanding. Again, while we all welcome the warmth of praise, there is not much learning to be had.

So here we go – I am posting this picture, which I already know is overworked and stiff. It reminds me of some kind of illustration done for a real estate ad. There, that’s my ‘off the top’ critique. Now it’s your turn. I’ve taken off my glasses. Take your best shot!