Venue: Berwick Artists Society
Topic: Seascape in Oils
Arriving in Australia from London in 1966 with his parents, at the age of eight, Peter remembers that the family lived in an area “where quite a few artists lived”. Water-colourist Dudley Wood who held exhibitions at his home encouraged Peter’s early endeavours. Peter also received encouragement from his neighbour, Sir William Dargie who explained tonal expressionism to him. Later Peter studied under two of Max Meldrum’s pupils, Ron Crawford and Alan Martin.
Peter attended the Melbourne State College and completed a Bachelor of Education, which included a study tour of the European art galleries which opened his eyes to the broader vision of painting.
Peter taught painting and drawing at Melbourne State College for three years and then devoted some years to full time painting. Peter held his first exhibition at Charles Bush’s Leveson Gallery in 1982. Each year Peter has continued to have one main exhibition.
In 1988 Peter was invited to join the Twenty Melbourne Painters group. Peter has returned to teaching at various venues, the Victorian Artists’ Society, the Council of Adult Education, at his home and at the gallery the Doncaster-Templestowe Artists’ Society.
For the demonstration this evening Peter chose a scene from the Victorian coastline showing some of the dramatic cliffs along the west coast as it meets the Southern Ocean. Peter has very good formal training so as he painted he explained the need to build up a painting from thin to thick paint, and how important composition and the use of warms and cools are in balancing out a painting and directing the eye around. Harmony in colour is very important, the use of light and shade, balancing out your percentages of cools and lights in a scene, the use of complementary colours for drama whilst also watching your tonal values and perspective are all important.
Peter had two photos as references. He liked aspects in each so painted his version of the actual place. The painting is after all your artwork, or you may as well jut use a photo. Peter had also painted on site so had first hand knowledge of what the camera could not show up especially using a colour laser print from it. Having painted a few times on site recently, I have found it far more enjoyable that I remembered, still a little challenging but really worth it – especially if you can go out in a small group of artist friends to talk about your processes as you go.
The painting for tonight was on canvas that was adhered to board and gessoed in an off white colour to take away that starkness that many of us hate when first looking at a canvas. It also added a little warmth that would work nicely under the layers of paint going over the top.
Peter painted from the top broadly painting in the sky and the darker areas of the cliffs and sea. He worked out his light source and where his shadows would fall. He mentioned the importance of working out your tonal range early so there are no surprises later in the work, so a dab of your darkest dark and lightest light somewhere on the painting is a good guide.
With most areas marked in, Peter went to working on the background. Painting from back to front allows for going over edges which later will “settle” items in to the landscapes rather than looking like they have just been plonked on top. The use of lost and found edges, some hard edges where the highest tonal contrast occurs used to guide the eye around the painting and prevent something from pulling you up in one area.
Cooler colours were used in the background with lighter tones and as he moved forward the tones became stronger and warmer high key colours were added as texture and interesting features. As the focal point of this painting was in the mid area to the left (about one third in and from the base) this had the sharpest edges whilst the foreground was made softer and with less detail, even though holding the warms and darker tones. The addition of a couple of human figures gave the scene scale and the high key red on one added that really high key splash that attracts your initial attention to a painting.
Peter’s use of simple and precise strokes of the brush keeps his colours clean and crisp. He doesn’t overwork his paintings and what may to some look broad and incomplete looks something amazing when popped into a frame. This finishing touch really showed how his method of not requiring every little detail in a painting to work so well.
“The beauty is in the paint not in copying reality – the marks we make with he brush and the medium.” Peter Smales
Peter was very generous with his time during the demonstration, we chatted and he explained his processes and techniques. I want to thank him for being the very kind and informative artists that he is. I will be seeing him demonstrate at McClelland Guild in a month or so and am looking forward to another opportunity to see this fine artist at work.
Final Note: Due to a mix up on the night I was given an award for one of my artworks in the wrong category which I could not accept, so it was handed on to another member. Peter gave me some very kind comments about my seascape pastel which in lieu of an award was great to receive. My thanks to members who approached me afterwards to congratulate me on my honesty and integrity.