I expected after a while to run out of things to post about but it doesn’t seem to be happening so far. Which perhaps shows what a wide subject painting is. This instalment is about relative importance, a something I am just starting to get to grips with myself. This is prompted by a very good article by Stapleton Kearns which is here. The subject is sometimes called subordination, or as I put it in the heading “Relative importance”.
Like all technical theories it needs to be considered as a factor not a rule! You can always find examples that break any rule successfully, but it is something to consider when making a picture. It underlies the problem of detail and why too much of it can often ruin an otherwise good painting. Subordination is of particular interest to a plein air painter attempting to get an impression down of a fleeting moment because it allows you do to break down what is key to a picture and what is merely there in a supporting role. When I look back at pictures that failed very often a lack in the focus on the centre of interest was the culprit, especially in plein air work.
A beautiful scene is all well and good but it is only an empty stage awaiting actors. What can be considered as a subject is pretty broad, anything from a splash of light in a distant field to an upfront figure in a street scene. A very simple example of this in action is the vignette where the edges of the picture fade out, or Richard Schmidt who fades out many of his pictures into abstract scumbling. These are both rather obvious examples the method works best to my mind when it is subtle, done too crudely you might as well paint an arrow on your picture with, “Look here you fool!” written on it… As with drama the hero must be engaging but the supporting players believable too.
One of the mistakes that many painters, both professional and amateur make is the paint the whole picture with the same intensity of gaze. It is a crime I am very often guilty of myself! So in a cityscape the windows of the buildings might be all painted to the same level with window bars and all the surrounds. The result of this , I fear, is a stiff deadness to the picture. As to why this is so is harder to work out. The real world is after all in the same fractal detail where ever we look. The answer, I think, is in how we look. We see in detail with only a tiny bit of the eye, the fovea, everything surrounding this is peripheral, much not even in colour. So what happens is that the eye moves, focusses and as it does so subordinates everything around. Try it yourself look at an object and fix your gaze. Then shift you attention to another object but do not move your eyes. This is not easy as your eyes want to flick to the next centre of interest but it quite possible with practice and valuable for an artist. What you find is that the objects outside your main focus are rendered by the brain in a pretty cursory manner, the basics are there but not much more.
So when you focus in our cityscape upon a taxi coming towards you, you actually cannot see those window bars you just see a dark blur where the window might be. This is why a painting done of the same subject with the focus on the taxi can have very basic indications of windows in the buildings and still seem to the viewer to be all there with nothing missing. This does not mean however that the drawing can be slapdash, that blur needs to be in the right place with the right tone etc and roughly the right shape! In practice you can supply a few bits of detail, a hint of a window bar here and a reflection there are all that is needed for the viewer to fill in the rest.
There is of course a slight conflict here, many viewers of pictures enjoy exploratory looking and will exclaim in admiration over the detail. Whereas a painter might pay a compliment as to the way certain elements are just suggested not defined. This might seem to be an unbridgeable divide but in practice this is not so. I have quite often received the “wonderful details” accolade or worse the “Just like a photo…” when in actual fact the detail was mostly just hinted at. A few paintings so you can see me not taking my own advice…
This was my effort for the Pintar Rapido. No I didn’t win, or indeed sell my picture. I was quite pleased with this nonetheless, it was blindingly hot and
quite difficult light. You had to register before going out so it was impossible to paint early when the light was good. This is the Boltons in Kensington
and Chelsea. One of the most exclusive roads in the capital… 14in by 10in oils.
I had to hang about the next day as I needed to collect my picture. I did this wee watercolour of St Lukes in Chelsea, too hot to do more! 7in by 5in.
I am trying to get to as many Wapping Group days as possible. This one was a visit to Putney. Once again the day was very hot so painting from the shade
was favourite. It was quite hazy with the sun coming and going but I enjoyed painting this. I am using glaze medium to lay in the basic tones which means
using a white board. It is almost like watercolouring with the white of the board shining through. I like the method for the most part though you do tend to
loose the unity gained by using a toned board. The advantages are that the whole thing can be laid in very fast and as the glaze dries quickly it is ready to paint
over in minutes. This really reduces the problems with “pick” up and keeps the painting very clean.
I did a quick watercolour of the same scene, I like the way the different media tend to pick out different aspects of the same scene. 7in by 5in.
I then turned 180 degrees and did up river, my heart wasn’t really in this but all good practice… looks like Italy! A pint of cold beer in the pub was very
welcome I can tell you! 12in by 10in oils.
I’m not sure if this is finished, it is Chelsea again I went back as I saw several possible paintings. I only drew out and laid in with glaze then the heat drove
me away. It was 35C! I carried on working from snaps but I might go back and finish on site if I get the right day. I am pleased with the feeling of heat but there
is something that worries me. I always hate it when there is something not quite right that I can’t put my finger on… any suggestions very welcome!
The car is a bit too dominant perhaps but I rather liked the bad parking! 20in by 12in oils.
Another Wapping day though I saw no one else and couldn’t make the pub due to vegetable watering duties! This is Erith in Kent I rather liked this untidied
section of the river… but the riverside flat plague is infesting the river here too, this industrial stuff will all be gone. I painted this from a scrap of shade but felt
it would be easier to catch in an oil… 7in by 5in
I gritted my teeth and did this in the full sun. I was right in thinking it would be easier in oils. I painted all the jetty and conveyer in a flat dark and then
worked all the other stuff around it. This keeps the darks thin, with a subject like this it takes very few marks to fill in the feeling of detail on top. 10in by 7in.
Some nerdy stuff now, I wanted a super light set up as I don’t like carrying a full pack around the city. The pochade box weighs only 875gm and the
whole lot you see above weighs in at 1.3 kilos including Zipshot tripod. It takes 14in by 10 in boards and can carry 2 wet paintings slid in the back.
Here it is packed up. To test it I went out to Northumberland Avenue near Charing Cross.
This is Northumberland Avenue, some super light, Graham Davies and I painted away trying to catch the mood. A great place to paint as the pavement is
wide and in the evening the light streams down it giving a great effect. A lot to get down in an hour but plenty here to inspire a bigger picture! The new
light set up worked a treat and will make popping up to town to catch the evening light so much easier. 14in by 10in.
Finally my vision of a truly light weight painting set up, “The Helium Pochade” I’m sure it will be a winner!