Friday, 15 May 2015

My Palette for 'Kermit the Frog'

Kermit the Frog, oil on board, 8 x 10 inches £150 unframed
 A rather quirky name for a rather good arabian racehorse! I snapped Kermit at Hereford Racecourse which stages a handful of arabian races every summer.  If you've never been, it's well worth a visit if you live in or are visiting the area.

For this daily painting I thought I'd concentrate on my palette, I even remembered to take a picture!

A bit messy, I know, but I am a messy painter.  If you're wondering WHAT I'm using as a palette, it's an old piece of hardboard (a failed painting in fact), covered with baking parchment, shiny side up. Cheap and cheerful. And I tend to add fresh pieces as the palette fills up (as you can probably see in the picture).

For this painting, I wanted to do something similar to a previous one, Elusive Kate, which is still my favourite, I have to say.  This one is larger, 8 x 10 inches, and took around five hours to complete.

My palette for Kermit was: titanium white, naples yellow, naples yellow deep, cadmium yellow, winsor yellow, raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber, cadmium red, cadmium orange, alizarin crimson, winsor violet, cobalt violet, kings blue deep, ultramarine blue, viridian and ivory black. I've never been one to shirk away from a wide range of colours, but I know my husband, a fellow artist, blanches every time he sees me lay out my paints!  He's a fan of the limited palette, but I'm not sure I could cope with such a small choice.
Painted with lovely square brushes, my new favourite kind, I'm still very careful and methodical when I work. Here I started with Kermit's muzzle and gradually worked my way up and round. I love the marks that the square brush leaves but where it's too harsh I use an old splayed round to gently blend. For my next painting in a day I will try to remember to do a series of photographs as the the work progresses but at the moment I'm waiting with anticipation for a new large canvas, so my next one may be some time. Happy painting!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Many Clouds

As  a lifetime fan of horse racing I try to get to as many meetings and open days as I can, though that's not nearly as many as I'd like to. This year we visited Lambourn for the first time in several years, principally to see my all-time favourite Kauto Star, and a few boxes down from him, the Hennessy winner Many Clouds.  We took LOTS of photographs...and I mean lots! From every angle and vantage point. I've had a problem with my eyes now for a few years so sketching from life is pretty impossible. Give me an hour of the kind of concentration involved in such an exercise and my eyes are so blurred I can barely see straight! So photographs it is then.

I had already decided to paint Many Clouds as he's such a handsome horse.  Very dark with a lovely pale muzzle. I had also decided to put a pound or two on him in the Grand National the following week after a word in his ear..ha ha!

I do plan to paint a larger portrait of the (now) Grand National winner, but in the meantime I decided to do a little 10 x 8 study, just to feel my way.

Many Clouds 8x10 oil on board £150 unframed  

So here he is. A subdued palette for this very dark brown horse: vandyke brown, cobalt violet, winsor violet, ultramarine blue, naples yellow, king's blue deep, alizarin crimson, raw sienna, ivory black and titanium white. I think that covers it! 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Painting Your Own Frames

I don't know if it's just me but I've always found framing my work really difficult, especially when framing 'straight on' to an oil painting. Despite all those samples at the framers and many more examples in the framers catalogues, I'm still left feeling a bit disappointed that 'the one' doesn't shout out at me. Inevitably, it then becomes a bit of a compromise. There are framers out there I know, who do produce beautifully hand painted frames, but unless you're selling your work for many thousands, that's not economical.  So for the past few years I've been painting my own frames, matching them to the individual paintings in order to (hopefully) create a more sympathetic and harmonious combination. I must stress, I am not a framer, so if you are, and you're cringing at my technique, I apologise in advance!
Now you can buy wooden frames 'off-the-peg' at many of these 'factory shop' outlets and if you want to try painting your own frame then this is a cheap option. With two artists in the house we tend to use our local framer a lot and she makes up barefaced obeche frames for us that are reasonably priced and come in a nice range of mouldings, from the very plain to the very fancy.
The frame I'm using for this demonstration is for my painting 'A Close Shave' which featured in this blog not long ago. 
The first thing you need to do, whether you've had a frame made up or bought one off the peg, is to fill any cracks or blemishes, either with a proprietary wood-filler or with gesso&bole, a clay/rabbit skin glue mix which I will be using later to paint the frame. I tend to use the gesso for any minor gaps and blemishes. It naturally separates out in the pot so the thicker clay part is ideal for this purpose. Anything larger and I've found wood-filler is better.
Once I've done this I'll leave the filler to dry out thoroughly for a few hours, sometimes as long as a day if necessary. Once dry the whole frame needs a light sanding (I use F2 sandpaper), paying particular attention to those places you have filled, sanding down any lumps or bumps that the filler may have left behind. Check the corners as well and gently round them off if necessary if there are any gaps. Finally, take a soft brush and get rid of any debris left by the sandpaper.  Now you're ready for the next stage.

Gesso and bole features heavily in my frame painting. It is quite expensive, around £32 for a 500ml pot or £8 for a 100ml pot. Primarily used as a base for various gilding techniques I've also found it works well as a 'paint' in it's own right. You can buy it in a small range of colours though I tend to use white. The terracotta one featured I used to good effect for another frame that I will show you at the end of this post.
The large pot will see you through several frames but if you're just experimenting on one for now, just buy the smaller pot to see how you get on with it.
Raise your frame off the (covered) table surface so you can get at the sides. I use some 2x4cm short lengths of wood. Now mix your gesso base. I buy value packs of plastic cups and teaspoons for this from a well known supermarket!  As I mentioned earlier the glue and clay tend to separate out so give the pot a thorough mix before putting a couple of heaped spoonfuls in a plastic cup. Add water to this, a little at a time, until you reach a lovely smooth, creamy consistency, stirring continually.
Now to paint!  I usually put on three coats, allowing a couple of hours between each layer using either a 1/2, 3/4 or 1inch Daler-Rowney System 3 short flat brush. Wash your brush thoroughly between coats with soap and water.

So here's the frame again with three coats of gesso&bole generously applied. Give it another gentle sanding to get rid of any inconsistencies left by the paint then brush away any dust and you're ready to add some colour.
 For  the top coat I use a combination of gesso&bole, white acrylic gesso and acrylic paints. The gesso&bole has a lovely chalky texture and even mixed with acrylics, tends to retain that feature. You can use titanium white acrylic instead of the acrylic gesso but you can end up using quite a bit and as we always have lots in the studio it's a convenience rather than anything else.

As this is the painting I will be framing I want to reflect some of these colours subtly in the frame. At the moment I'm thinking a pale inner and a slightly bluer surround. My ideas are always fluid at first as in-between coats I will test the painting in the frame to see if its working.

In the end I mixed a slightly yellow-white for the inner and a blue-white for the surround, not that you can tell in the photograph!  Dragging the square brush across each length often leaves the under-painting showing through, but I quite like that and tend to leave it, especially if there's little tonal difference between the bottom and top coats as here.  This frame has now had around three coats and will be left to dry thoroughly before waxing.
TIP: If you do have any gesso or paint left in your pots it will keep for weeks in the fridge. Pop some clingfilm or a plastic food bag over the top and secure with an elastic band.  If it does thicken at all whilst it's in there just add a little water.

 The last stage is to protect your painted frame with a waterproof wax.  I used to use bison wax and though this is very good I sometimes found that despite it being listed as 'clear', it often left a yellowish residue if I wasn't careful.  Lately I've been using Renaissance polish, which is clear and hard wearing. Whichever you use, apply with a lint free cloth, then a fresh one to buff. I buy Safewipes, which I think are marketed for cleaning computer screens, but they're obviously pretty versatile (!). 

Once you've waxed and buffed you're ready to frame your painting. At this stage do not neglect the back of the frame. There's no point spending time and effort on painting if you don't pay attention to the back as well. Yes, I realise that it's never going to be seen once it's on the wall but a well finished back really does add to the overall quality of the frame. 
All done and ready to hang.....

This is quite a plain/subtly painted frame to suit a small, busy picture so do experiment!  Here are some others I've done:

With this frame I under-painted with three layers of terracotta gesso&bole. On top of this I painted several layers of off white and gently sanded back when it was dry to reveal the red under-painting.

A very plain-faced frame here, painted a pale blue-grey to pick up the colours in the painting, with a slightly pinky white inner.

here's a much fancier frame and one I use quite a lot. Lots of scope to use complementary colours, though I do tend to lean towards various shades of warm grey as you can probably tell, though I have experimented with greens, pinks and yellows.   Here's a close up of a similarly painted frame:

I hope you've enjoyed this post and if it does inspire you to paint your own then I wish you the very best of luck!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Challenge of Landscapes

Riders on Druidston Beach, Pembrokeshire, 16 x 9 inches. Oil on board. £350
Over the years I have tried and (mostly) failed to paint landscapes. Once I get the board on the easel, having drawn out the basic shapes, I take a brush to it, and immediately all my knowledge, confidence and common sense fly out of the window!  It's as if the painting gods have rendered me incapable of performing even the most basic brush stroke.
Still, I'm nothing if not persistent.  Over the years I have read about and studied many different landscape artists. By far and away my favourite at the moment is David Curtis. He's a  virtuoso plein air painter of the first order and whilst I have no pretensions to be anywhere near as proficient as him I do hope that almost by a process of osmosis I can develop my own schema for landscapes that is at least moderately successful.

So here's my latest one. Another painting in a day. I tried to stay loose, and in some places it worked (!) and I'm really pleased with the reflections and the wet quality of the sand. Probably the best landscape I've done so far, but I'm not feeling self satisfied or complacent as a result. I know I have lots to learn, and at least this painting has given me back a little confidence.

Monday, 6 April 2015

A Close Shave

A Close Shave 17.5 x 6 inches SOLD
So here's something a little different for me for my 'painting in a day' series. I've painted cattle in the past, and would like to do more, but I never seem to get round to taking any photographs. Sheep I've never painted, though there are one or two photographs in our library that have been whispering to me over the years.  This is one of them, taken by my husband some years ago at a neighbours farm.  The light is gorgeous, just the sort of thing I like to paint, and the freshly shorn sheep a challenge to paint with all those dimples and ridges!  A friend bought this one whilst it was still wet, and one or two other people expressed an interest. It gives me confidence to paint more in the future.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Elusive Kate

Elusive Kate (8 x 8 inches) £150
A thoroughbred for you today, and a very talented one at that.  This is Elusive Kate. David snapped her when we were at Newmarket in 2013, the day she controversially beat Sky Lantern in the Falmouth Stakes. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the horses coats glowed. It's just the sort of think I like to paint - rich, bold colour and even richer shadows.  I'm really very pleased with this one, the best of my paintings in a day so far (for me anyway). Lots of colour, lots of brushwork!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Welsh Pony Foal

Welsh Pony Foal (6 x 6 inches) £80

Today's offering is of the very small variety. At only 6 x 6 inches it's probably one of the smallest paintings I've done. This is a Welsh pony foal. I'm sorry I can't tell you any more than that. I don't know the breed very well so cannot tell you which section he/she may be, all I can tell you is that I snapped both mare and foal near the RSPB reserve at  Gwenffrwd-Dinas a few years ago. Very quick and very loose this one, given the size, and a great improvement on my first attempt back in 2010!