Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists
Topic: Geraniums in a Vase, Plover, Steam Train in Water Colour
When I first read that Jeff was going to paint three subject including a steam train coming out of a tunnel, I wondered how he was going to be able to cover three topics, especially one that is so complex, in the space of a two hour demonstration. I came to the session honestly expecting that it could not be even closely achieved. As the demonstration started it became evident however, that Jeff is a very focussed and brisk painter! Coming form a graphic design background (as I am discovering that many of us do), Jeff has had to be efficient with his tome over the years. He has this skill more than most coming form a newspaper and magazine background, where you had to be brilliant but do it NOW! I have a similar background in newspapers and advertising signage so recognised his mindset straight away! You design, and have the process in your head and just get on with it.
Jeff joined his first art guild over twenty years ago. He met his wife who is also an artist and she encouraged him to paint. He has never looked back. (just shows what a great life partner can do to make your life meaningful) He now teaches, demonstrates and exhibits his artworks.
Jeff has a basic palette made from a toolkit he bought from a hardware store and modified. As many of us find out, the dedicated art products in art stores can be very expensive and not always just right for the job. Many of us end up in the local hardware store where we find the right item for our needs. I have found great gear at a Total Tools store which has nothing to do with art at all!
Using just two or three basic brushes Jeff is able to use each to its maximum efficiency to complete an entire painting. For the demonstration he had sketched in his layouts so that all the subjects would be as close to complete as possible. He draws with a 2B pencil and rubs off any dust or excess with a kneadable eraser.
Unlike the regular technique of starting with lights and going to the darks for water colours, Jeff will start with any tone he sees fit. In this case, for the geraniums in a vase, he began with the greens for the leaves and then went to cad red for the flowers, following with a mix of black thinned to a soft grey for the edges of the glass vase.
For any soft edges or shadows Jeff used a clean brush loaded with only water to go along painted edges etc to blur. The paint was placed over areas in a thicker, drier mix for deeper colour and alizarin crimson was used with the cadmium red the shadow areas for the petals, cobalt green was used in the shadow areas of the leaves. A quick flick of the larger brush was used with a mixed brown for the table top, leaving the painting nice and loose and painterly.
The next subject was a plover. Not exactly my favourite bird, as they nest right over my feed shed and are huge pests every time I get my horse’s dinner out! Jeff likes them however, so that was his bird of choice. This painting was completed in a blistering ten minutes! First came blocking in of Van Dyke brown and indigo which established the form of the bird. A thin wash of warm brown was used for the back and a dark grey was mixed for the legs. Cobalt and a little red were thinly mixed for the shadow areas of the white chest feathers, cadmium yellow and yellow ochre were mixed to paint in around the beak. A mixed green was quickly painted in to show long grass and a darker brown swiped across for ground and shadow, this was also used for the shadowy parts of the face and legs. Done!
The main topic was the steam train. It was interesting that Jeff had also sent a painting over to Adelaide for the exhibition for train enthusiasts recently. I study with another Jeff who had entered a lovely oil painting in the same event.Both unfortunately didn’t sell or get an award. I suggested that next time he do a South Australian train as this may make a difference. (unfortunately some exhibitions can be like that so you have to consider that may happen when planning your painting)
This painting was on a full sheet of 300gsm rough water colour paper. Like the others, the drawing was already done to save time. A lot of the composition was made up of the “smoke” from the funnel of the train billowing out and taking up most of the top half of the area. The engine was dark in colour as was the tunnel entrance. The limited colours meant that there was an immediate focal point around the reds on the front of the engine and the gold bell on the top.
Jeff again began with darks defining the shape of the front of the engine and used mixes of warm and cool greys to show the difference in areas. Laying the painting flat, he used a big mop brush to dab and turn the brush around to paint in the smoke. To soften he just used water in the brush and left a few areas with the white paper showing through. With a thicker application of the darkest tone he achieved a nice range of tonal values through this area giving the smoke depth and form.
With a cool grey wash and by adding thicker application of a neutral darker grey for shadows the form of the front of the engine was quickly done. The point where ti really started to come together was when the little details were added such as rivets and shadows. The painting in of the red on the very front of the engine and the gold on the bell was when it really began to pop off the surface of the page.
Due to time limitations, white gauche was used on the side of the engine to indicate some of the rods etc and some details were left out in preference for blocking in simply with a warm grey. The tunnel bricks and blocks were also only indicated and the ground and grass done similarly. The train was moving so the feeling of movement had to be considered and the focus was the engine not it’s surroundings.
All three of these works could have easily been worked of further for more detail, but for most artists, it is up to us how far we take a painting and how realistic we wish to make it. Jeff likes his paintings to have a nice “loose” and impressionistic feel to them, which I think he achieved in buckets. When the matt board was put around the train painting it looked great. Not something for dedicated train buffs necessarily, but for those of us who look at it as an artwork first and foremost – a lovely job. Given the time frame I was very much interested in how Jeff was able to achieve what he did and wish to thank him for an interesting demonstration.