Australian Fine Artist

Peter Smales

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

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.

After seeing Peter demonstrate several times over the past five or so years in some ways it can be difficult to write yet another blog or commentary about what he does. Like most of us, however, Peter is continually working to modify and perfect his style and methods. Like all of us he is still learning. To be an artist is to take on the challenge of a lifelong task of assessing, modifying and adjusting your work as you take on more understanding of your subject and the mediums you use.

This is why I continue to go to demonstrations by the same artists over the years, to keep on learning my own craft and profession.

Today it was all about taking on some of the technical details of constructing a painting from a photo. As i have learnt with my own work, Peter starts with a photo and then does a sketch from it, then a small colour oil sketch. As you go through these processes, the photo is less important and making the scene your own, and into a work of art rather than a copy of what you were looking at are concentrated on becomes the main concern.

This doesn’t mean that painting plein air is not important. Observational skill are very important, that is why we do life drawing. The process is that of learning to observe, learning to transpose and translate and then using your creativity to make it your own. Even when painting on site, you don’t have to use all the same colours, you don’t have to put in every detail you are looking at. You are, after all creating your own interpretation of what you see.

To complete one of his paintings, Peter has a set palette with a warm and cool of each of the main six colours he will be using. He adds a couple of tertiary colours to these plus white. With these basic colours he is able to mix anything he needs.

The canvas had already been undercoated with a light buff colour to take away that glaring white that intimidates a lot of us. No detailed drawing in was done, as Peter went straight in with a thin mix of a cool dark to lightly paint in his composition. Is it this stage that some of the changes are made from the photo. Areas are pushed back by making them smaller and a little more random in shape, the mid ground cliff is made to run over the edge of the background shoreline so that it will look closer. The shoreline as made a little wider and the foliage is roughed in so that it will have more layers of alternating cool and warm colours later, instead of the solid block of green in the photo.

Remember to start with darks and keep the paint thin and use a big brush. As the painting is built up you can go thicker with lighter colours and use some smaller brushes as you decide on where you want sharper edges and shapes leading you in to the focal point.

An important point was made about the horizon for seascapes. The sea may be a good dark blue, but to help it recede into the background, run the very edge with a soft line and make it slightly lighter then go into the darker blue. This will help give the illusion of distance.

As the painting is built up from back to front, keep things random and try not to have repetitious shapes. Keep you lines random as well. Some broken and some softened.

As you get to the foreground try to bring some of the colour in the background or sky into this area. Balancing a painting from top to bottom and left to right is important. The other thing is making sure that you keep your light source consistent. This should be chosen before you start so that you have one side of the painting lighter than the other and shadows falling in the right angle.

Another thing to keep in mind as you work your way forward is that colours generally cool or grey off as they recede into the distance and worm up as they get closer. This method of colour perspective helps to give depth to your painting as well. So even if an item in the foreground is not yellow for example, it may pay to include yellow or some warm colour to help it pop forward. A dash of a high key colour (cadmium red for example) in strategic points in the foreground will also help give spark to the work. If you decide to put in a new details like this over very wet paint, don’t be afraid to use a rag to wipe back the paint before you paint it in.

The final touches to Peter’s work were the scurried hints of branches in the foreground. We were all concerned that to bottom left side was left underdone, and one lady asked what he was going to do with it. “Sign it” was his response. Fortunately, he had a frame with him to give his painting that final lift that a good set of matts and a nice frame can do. Suddenly that quiet area that looked undone, was un-noticable. Proof that you don’t need to madly paint in every centimetre of your canvas especially when attempting more impressionist style painting.

“When is your painting finished?” was asked. The response was, many paintings if not all are never finished, they are abandoned. In other words, it is done when you say it is. That is the big headache of most artists and what leads us to overpainting many of our works and taking them to the point where we ask ourselves, what the hell did I do to stuff this up so badly!!? That is where practice, and more practice and continual learning comes in. We learn when to stop (most of the time). Like Peter did, and like I am going to do right now!


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