Australian Fine Artist

Paul McDonald Smith

Subject: Demo of Landscape in Oils

Venue: Berwick Artists Society

Paul is a painter whose style is somewhere in between realist and impressionism. A type of painting style that I can totally relate to as that is about where I am aiming my pastel and oil painting style. A good reason to see his demonstration to learn some new tips from a very experienced and well qualified artist.

He has practised as a professional artist since 1978 and was influenced by the teachings of Max Meldrum and his mentor Sir William Dargie. Paul’s training included private tuition, tertiary studies in fine art from 1973 to 1979 and European study tours including a scholarship. He now has the letters OAM after his name which he thoroughly deserves in my opinion!

These days Paul concentrates more on studio work with some plein air painting, as landscapes artists really do thrive painting this way. Being where your scene is allows for seeing all the little details that a camera and especially a laser print out can leave out. Plus there is nothing like the tranquillity of painting a beautiful landscape or seascape with all the sounds and atmosphere around you (as long as you don’t have a ton of tourists etc popping by!). Paul believes that an artist should be able to tackle any subject. It takes analysis and working out how to translate what you see into what you want to paint or draw. This is why we practice so much and keep learning for the whole of our career. Every day is another learning opportunity, everything we see can be analysed as to how we would reassemble it as a piece of art.

Unlike how many of us are taught, ie: starting from our darkest darks and gradually working towards our lightest lights whilst building up a painting, Paul doesn’t have set formulas but responds to a subject as he sees fit. What a refreshing approach! As a tonal painter, Paul looks at his subject and analyses how best to build up the painting. This is a variation from the normal Meldrum method but he likes to be a bit more flexible and creative in his approach. In the case of the painting for this demo, he started with his mid tones, keeping the painting as loose and “soft” as possible so that as he built up his tonal range he could adjust and refine details rather than being locked into a composition.

Working with nearly all round brushes Paul had a huge selection with him, and he did use quite a few selecting one for each colour. The tips were kept in great condition by his attention to cleaning and storing with each head wrapped in cotton wound around it to help keep the shape. The painting was begun with thin paint mixed with terps. He also had the easel tilted slightly towards him rather than away, as he said this prevented the reflection from wet paint that we often have to deal with.

The large palette was set out in a very orderly manner around the edge ranging from white paint on the far  left going through warms to cools and with black at the other end.

As the scene did not have any buildings in it, no drawing in was done, as there was no strict perspective of edges or streets etc to consider. Respond to what speaks to you was his suggestion. Keep the painting loose for as long as possible so you keep your options open. Start “thin” so the paint remains workable. Starting with the mid tones and leaving lighter areas like the sky and darker details allowed for large areas to be painted in quickly and be painted over as the paint was thickened.

A good tip at this point was having little towelling offcuts to wipe back paint. Sometimes you want to remove paint from an area or just wipe it back a bit and these are a great and cheap little tool. I have a stack under my easel and use them often. The larger ones can help wiping off your brushes as well.

Another tip: Stay relaxed! Hold your brush not like a pen but with a light touch, stand back from your work and walk away to see what you are doing from a bit more over a distance. Hovering over it and labouring away with a tight grip on the brush will only produced a “tight” painting. Plus standing back will give you a better view of what you need to change or where you need to go.

In the early stages Paul said that painting against the form will help prevent you from trying to build up one area ahead of others and also help with preventing stiff edges on objects in the composition. The modelling can be left until later. Hence the stage the painting was up to at the break was still mostly areas of blocking in to work out the composition and little detail yet.

After a break come back to you painting as if you have never seen it before or you are adjusting someone else’s work. It helps to really see it. This is a time to analyse where you will be taking the work to complete it and any changes you may need to do.

Paul mentioned that his style which is a mix of realist/impressionist allows him to interpret with his painting. It is not a matter of merely copying or attempting to reproduce something. It is a process of translating, analysis and stating what we see and how we see it in our own style and method. This is the creation of an artwork not a reproduction or copy. I was so happy to hear these words. Paul’s style is similar to where I want to head with my own. I don’t want to copy something. The only time I am interested in getting details close to the subject is when I am doing an animal portrait – especially someone’s pet where getting the look and the personality is very important. Even then, I am still doing an artwork, so surroundings can be altered, lighting and the texture and application of the paint or pastel is still up to me. I am not trying to make a photographic reproduction or I would be doing it on the Mac with Photoshop.

Getting back to Paul; during these latter stages of the demo he started applying more tonal variation. Areas of higher tonal contrast started pointing our attention to focal points and edges of objects became crisper. Paul doesn’t shy away from using black as a to of other artists tend to. Very handy if you have a border collie in the scene as he did, and it was one of the focal points for me. The paint was now applied following form and a mix of terms and oil used in the paint. The scene gained more depth and colours used gave the impression of “colour perspective” pushing the background back and the foreground forward. At all times the whole work being at the same level of completion.

In the back shoreline little dabs of paint were all that was required to imply buildings and even the human figures towards the front were not over painted. the whole work remained “fresh” and unmuddied.

Paul said that the process of painting is a constant evaluations and refinement from broad and loose to pulling together the composition as a whole with colours, tones and objects all working together. Shapes always being affected by the positive and negative space around them and how they interact. Great advice.

As a matter of fact there was a lot of usable and sensible advice in this demo. Paul spent a lot of time talking to us so didn’t get his painting finished. I for one am not worried about that. It was on the way and I could see how he would get it done. I was grateful for all the valuable information I picked up. I have been to a couple of demonstrations that were nowhere near completed because the artist chatted on about their pet interests, nothing to do with their methods, practice or materials – that did annoy me. This was not the case with Paul as the demo was full of tips and I had a great art lesson from him. He even spent time with me during the break and was a very friendly and generous person.

I hope I have the opportunity to do a workshop with Paul in the future, I think as his style is so close to where I want to go, it would be a great learning experience. Meanwhile I have everything I have picked up from the demonstration at Berwick Artists Society. Thank you Paul!

I received first place in section A (experienced artists) for my oil painting “Flame Trees” judged by Paul on the night so thanks again for that great honour!

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