Australian Fine Artist

Bill Caldwell

Venue: Berwick Artists Society

Topic: Landscape in Oils

I am borrowing from Bill’s website to introduce him here:

“Bill Caldwell is an Australian realist artist, represented in numerous international private collections...”

I had the pleasure of meeting Bill and his wife at the demonstration night at BAS and chatting with them not only about art specifically but about their interests and welcoming them to the meeting. His wife is a charming lady by the way and her name is the same as mine, so we really hit it off!

Bill is a member of the Melbourne 20 Painters Group. Not a group that is that easy to get into and only filled with extraordinarily talented artists! He was born in Geelong and started his art career in the 1970s. As he has a background in commercial art/sign writing Bill’s drafting skills are very good and he has an eye for details, especially regarding buildings. He is a past winner of the Camberwell Art Show and describes his style as impressionist/realist which is about what I would call mine – or at least where I am trying to head with it.

Bill is a member of the Peninsula Art Society and teaches there regularly. He loves painting landscapes and especially loves painting plein air so that he can capture the light and atmosphere of a scene.

Bill has 4 fundamental rules to painting:

  1. Drawing
  2. Tone
  3. Colour – including temperature and intensity
  4. Technique – a mastery of the medium, ability to mix the colour you want and apply it effectively

Bill’s first challenge to painting that he sees for all artists is managing the light. Getting what you want in a timely manner before it changes. As the sun moves at 15° per hour your shadows will moves fairly quickly, so we need the ability to work quickly when painting plein air. (possibly creating just small sketches in paint with the additional help of note, drawings and photographs for finishing off in the studio)

The painting for the demonstration was from a photograph taken in Yackandandah in NE Victoria. He has painted this scene before so worked from a print of his previous work rather than the original reference photo. This town, like Bright has a wonderful atmosphere created by the trees lining the streets. The English trees reflect the seasons and add a layer to the colours of the landscape and township that Australian foliage alone does not have.

From a rough outline on linen the surface was covered with a thin mix which was then rubbed back in places to not only start working out the tonal values but also help the surface to dry a little.

Bill uses basically the same set of colours on his palette for all his works only straying from these for portraits and florals. He says that a simple palette allows you to become familiar with the colours and how far you can push them. He also uses a grey scale so that he can constantly check his tonal values.

As with most traditional tonal painters, Bill started by blocking in his darkest darks with both warm and cool darks. He then worked his way through the lighter areas of sky and background and established his lightest lights. After this came the mid tones of the buildings and foreground. With the canvas now covered he moved to a mix of turps and stand oil which is a mix he feels helps him control the paint and give it a nice buttery feel as you apply it. As a sideline here, Bill allowed us to have a play with the mix on his painting to experience how lovely the feel is applying paint this way. It did feel very nice, especially on the beautiful linen rather than canvas which I usually use. I called it “yummy” which he thought was a very appropriate description.

It was interesting at this early stage that Bill rubbed back some of the work with a paper towel to removed excess paint and soften some of the edges. This prepared the surface for more paint and keep it clean rather than muddying up by mixing in with the previous layer. This is also a good time to stand back and asses who everything is going.

Bill was right in the zone as he started on the next part of the process. The luscious feeling of mixed paint applied to canvas or linen he said, was an addictive feeling which he wants to pass on to his students. At this stage it is a matter of blocking in all the mid tones for all the areas on the surface. With the use of several brushes so that colours and tones are kept very clean, areas that are sunlit are clearly visible from those in shadow. Cool areas are shown with cooler colours and the warmer areas by warm tones. The colours and clever use of tonal values push the background to the back and pull the foreground forward and settle items underneath others out of the bright sunlight.

The application of a warmer version of a colour on one wall of the feature building brings it forward and intensifies the feeling of hot sun touching it. The addition of a cool mauve to the white areas in shadow, pushes them back and creates the atmosphere of a cool verandah.

The small features of the street and buildings were not included in this painting, as the demonstration was to show us what level we should expect to be able to get to if painting plein air with the time available to catch the light. Indications of windows, doors etc were painted in rather than every little bit. After he was creating a painting not a photograph.

Bill mentioned as he worked that he uses Winsor & Newton paints and the best quality linen he can afford. If you are intending to sell your work, he said, you should produce the best quality you can. As well as the fact that if you want your work to last for a long time, linen is the best way to go, as it outlasts canvas.

As he was finishing off the painting Bill said that as you paint outdoors especially, remember what it was that attracted your attention in the first place as it is easy to get sidetracked.

The finishing details and mark making finished off the work and changed it from just the representation of a place to a painting, from blocks of paint to something with texture and interest. You can either do this on site or later in the studio. Just keep in mind that nothing replaces the joy of painting in front of the actual scene and the fun of interacting with all the people you meet along the way.

I would like to personally thank Bill for sitting down with me after the demonstration to tell me that he thought I had done a really good painting for the monthly competition. We had a very friendly chat and I am honoured that he took the time to spend with me. I would love to see him give another demonstration in the future – hopefully one of the other guilds of which I am a member will invite him along! He has a lot of knowledge, wisdom and understanding and seems very happy to pass it on.

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