Australian Fine Artist

Posts tagged ‘Painting’

Fiona Bilbrough Portraits in Oils

We were privileged to have Fiona with us to give a talk about how to produce paintings, in particular portraits, at the society. Even more to her credit was that she had recently broken her arm so could not paint, so she had prepared a tutorial like session with loads of colour prints. Asked if she needed to cancel, Fiona replied that she didn’t want to disappoint those attending by not turning up. She has gained my admiration for that.

I will begin with a little from Fiona’s biography. She has impressive training in art and a good amount of experience as a practising artists and teacher.

Fiona Bilbrough was born in 1967 and studied at the University of Melbourne, graduating with a Bachelor of Education in Fine Art in 1989.

Fiona took a two year course with John Balmain in portrait and still life painting in 1988 and 1989. She received regular feedback from him until his death in January 2000. Fiona was an art teacher for multi-aged groups in oil painting at the McClelland Guild of Artists 1986-1995. From 1988 onwards Fiona was a contract Art teacher and Artist in Residence in a number of schools and from 1990 to the present Fiona has been giving private tuition for children and adults in her own studio. She teaches still life, portraiture, plaster casts and in open air painting utilising the Meldrum methods of casual observation.

A special achievement for Fiona was receiving the Alice Bale Scholarship in 1995. This enabled her to study master paintings in Europe.

Fiona is a member of the Victorian Artists Society and Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors. Winning numerous awards her work has also been published in the Australian Artists Magazine in 1996, 1997 and 2004. Fiona received the Victorian Artist of the Year Award in 2001, 2002 and 2003. She has work in private collections in France, Italy, Spain, England, Scotland and throughout Australia.

With prints spread about the podium to quickly access, Fiona began by asking us why we paint.

So “Why do we paint?”

  • We love it, even if it’s a solitary activity at times, especially in the studio.
  • Painting can absorb us, especially if it is something we love or possibly a tricky portrait to study.
  • Painting from life means different situations all the time, so we get some variety.
  • Painting gives us the challenge of trying to get things right, such as in the case of portraits, proportions, the human anatomy, the unique features of each sitter.

Fiona says that she finds portraiture the most satisfying of all her subjects.

Even though her preference is working from a live model, due to family commitments, Fiona has had to modify her work routine and methods. She now uses photographs more often, especially for practicing the parts of the human body that give her the most trouble. As she likes to go to the best for her inspiration and advice she has taken to going to art galleries that allow photography (without flash) and sketching on site. A good artist to look at is Sir John Campbell Longstaff (1861-1941), Australian artist, followed by maybe a couple of my favourites for lighting and mood, Tom Roberts, Vermeer and Rembrandt (I also like Sir Joshua Reynolds). Keep in mind the lighting in the room as you take your photos, the time of day and the type of lights will effect how accurately the colours come out in your photograph, as well as the fact that the photo may never match the painting exactly, making the colours either cooler or warmer than the original.

This way she is able to take cropped photos of the details in some of our most prized paintings to enable her to practice from them. We have had lessons and tasks at TAFE from our drawing teacher which involved drawing over twenty noses, ears, eyes and mouths to help us with the same task. I noticed that focussing in on just the one detail from a human face and drawing it over and over from various references quickly gave an understanding of how to render them better. Have a look at the shape of the little part just above the lips and under the nose, the corner of the mouth and the shadow under the mouth as well as the angle or slope of the eyes. It is a practice, especially now that I have learnt this bit of advise from Fiona, that I hope to be able to expand to increase my own skills.

Fiona mentioned that something that good judges in portrait exhibitions look for in paintings is the presence of hands that are well executed. Many artists shy away from hands as they find them too difficult. If you can learn to include them as a positive compositional part of your portrait it will help to raise it to a higher level. This again, involves a lot of practice.

Now that we are on the subject of photographs I would like to go on with the pros and cons as Fiona described them.

Photos can be a great resource when you can not get out of your studio, have little time or no model available. They can be the wrong colour as long as the tonal values are correct. A well framed face with a relaxed expression and good lighting can be a great resource. Black and white photos can even be a better picture to use than a colour one if the colours are confusing you as far as getting your tonal values correct.

Balanced with working from a live model, photos can be a great help in practising your skills. Keep in mind that when you have a person sit for you, it is more tiring that you would expect. Regular breaks every twenty minutes are required and the session should not be too long, as the fatigue will come out in the face of the person as they get more tired and muscles start to ache.

Looking at the work of masters will help in recognising the use of the medium and the brush. In the case of many impressionist style painters one stroke of the correct colour and tone does it. The paintings are not overworked and there is not a lot of tedious blending where not necessary. Knowing the right tone and colour BEFORE you take that stroke on the canvas shows the difference between a practised artist and someone who is still learning to master the medium or beginning.

Another artist to watch out for in your practising is John Singer Sargent. His work shows how great artists interpret what they see and make it into art. They have their own rules to follow in applying paint to canvas for their own unique “look” and style. As a tonal painter these are five rules that are basically followed by tonalists that you may see in his work.

In order of importance follow these when what is most important in planning your painting:

Compose the general look of your painting (where things will fall on the canvas) then plan:

  1. TONE (must be important above all others)
  2. EDGES )lost and found, keeping the painting as soft as possible for as long as possible)
  3. COLOUR
  4. THIN TO THICK (keep thin as long as possible as it gets very difficult to layer paint over thickly applied layers already on the canvas)
  5. TEXTURE (showing the surface texture of times, surfaces, skin, hair, folds, creases etc)

When painting don’t be seduced by the colour or detail, we are often rushed into painting the details in a painting too early, keep the brush strokes broad as the details should only be the last five percent of your painting, even if time consuming in comparison. The use of a mirror, turning the work up side down to work on can help you stop the desire to get too fiddly too soon. It may also help in finding where you may be going off track. A black glass or “red guy” as I call them (a red piece of perspex) is also a good help if held up at 90° to your face over your eyes to reflect the painting. You will see it reversed and only in its tones.

If portraits are still causing you a problem in oils, try changing mediums for a new try at them. I go from oils to pastels a lot just for this, apart from loving using both. Sometimes I can sort out a problem in one medium by tackling the same subject in another. It helps to zero in on where the problem is occurring, in the medium itself or in the subject.

Getting back to the photographs, the main difference in painting from them rather than life is the way shadows are shown in many photos. They are black. If you look at shadows you will note that they are seldom this flat or lacking in colour. David Chen has told us that we should look at shadows as having FIVE parts to them, not just one flat colour. They can also be either warm or cool depending on the light source and reflective surfaces. The light areas in many photos also lose detail in a lot of cases. All these are important for you to either use or not, but at least see to be able to decide on. So check your lights and darks, and check your colours in isolation to others in the photo. Adjacent colours alter the way you perceive them. Just punch a hole in a piece of cardboard so you can look at the colour of what ever part of the photo you are painting to check you are matching the colour correctly (this can also be used when matching paint colour to that on a live model).

On the subject of your models, look at the angles and tilt of the heads in many famous portraits. They are rarely straight on. Getting a good angle on the face can also make the painting or break it.

A great tip from Fiona from this talk that I hadn’t noticed about some paintings, was looking at the use of the canvas. Instead of stretching the canvas at 90° with the weave in line with the frame, the canvas was stretched at 45° so that the paint was kept soft on the edges of forms by the way the brush reacted to the weave being on a different angle. As I sometimes have trouble with paintings looking a bit “stiff” or with too many edges, I really like this idea. As the human form is not a pile of lines and edges but form and shape, light and shadow, it would be good to try out this method of stretching a canvas to see how the brush reacts differently as I apply it. It may have broader applications than just portraits.

Finally as we finished up, Fiona re-emphasised that photos are good for composition but nothing matches real life for matching skin tones. Portraiture is about picking up the individual features of a person, the face and the hands. When you decide to tackle one, look for the unique features of that person that you can translate into a painting and the ideas from the masters that have gone before us that made their works so timeless and amazing.

Thanks Fiona for a great session. Some may wonder how you can give a demo and not paint, but you have passed on valuable information and were an engaging and enjoyable speaker.

Jeff Gilmour

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.

Ron Miller

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

Topic: Gum Trees in Water Colour

Ron Miller is from what I can gather a mostly self taught artist. I had a look on the web for any info about him, but came up with nothing. A bit frustrating when I like to learn about an artist before going to see them demonstrate and like to write about them with a bit more information.

What I can say is the Glenn Hoyle came along to them demo on the day, and Glenn’s work is amongst those that I admire greatly for his own work on the Australian landscape, especially gum trees. (I’d like to thank Glenn for taking some time to give me a critique of a painting of mine that I had with me after the demo, he says I am improving a lot, gave me a couple of tips and encouragement and that means heaps from Glenn!)

As I came into the room, it was a great thing to look at the couple of finished paintings that Ron had brought along and immediately understand the methodology behind the colour. David Chen’s workshops really are making me into a more informed artist. I knew the colours he had used, and the system he had applied which we had just covered in the last few weeks with David, being triadic colour. It does make you feel better as a practising artist to really know stuff like the combination of three darks and a light from the warmer side of the colour wheel, or choosing a dark warm, a light warm and a cool dark and further knowing which ones they were when you look at a painting!

So about Ron, he had a lot of jobs over the years including VicRoads and only started painting after retirement. Considering his skill, I can’t help feeling that he must have had something in him as a talent to start with that he has now tapped into and refined as he has had the time.

Ron likes a more realist subject and style, concentrating on the atmosphere and light of the Australian bush. He likes to push his tonal values and colours and create a painting that directs you into that sweet spot or focal point. He paints with a limited palette, which I had already worked out to my delight and experiments with things like gel mediums etc on the occasion to see how far he can push his water colours.

Working from traditional lights to darks for water colours, Ron built up his images layer by layer gong from an overall wash over the paper to building up the background hills and foliage. With cooler and greyer colours in the background warmer on one side and cooler on the other to indicate the light direction, the painting was built up fairly quickly.

Washes were allowed to work on the paper naturally without interference or overworking. Following a simple method for water colours is as follows:

  1. Light to dark tones
  2. Large to small areas
  3. Wet in Wet to Dry (the dry being your darkest darks and hardest edges)

The main trees were painted in over a little of the background wash had been lifted from the Saunders paper and modelled allowing the left side to catch the light and simple treating the trunks like cylinders, with the darkest area right next to the lightest and a little reflected light on the shadow side.

Foliage was painted in using the side of the brush and done in layers of three tones to show lighter and shadowed areas. Some spots were scratched to indicate branches and distant trunks of trees rather than painting them in.

As the darkest darks were applied to shadows on the ground, the paint was much thicker and applied in a scumbling manner to indicate debris at the base of the trees. These were in a much darker tone of the ground cover colour. Hints of a couple of cows were painted in and the reflections now showed up the pond in front of them. A few touches of white gouache were painted in on the left side of the main tree to really silhouette it against the background with the spot where the light touching it was at its strongest.

The painting was completed within the timeframe of the demonstration, which a lot of artists given a topic like this one may have struggled to do. The finished work when popped behind a matt board looked professional and very attractive. Overall a very informative water colour demo with some valuable tips.

Monet’s Garden Exhibition

TAFE Excursion to the NGV

I want to begin with the fact that I rarely if ever cry at art exhibitions – the last and only other time to my best recollection was at an exhibit that caused shock and sadness rather than tears of joy or any positive emotions. This time it was from overwhelming beauty. The colours, the story, the texture of the paint, the life of the artist, the atmosphere he created and the dedication to his art all came together for an experience that ended up being so much more than I had expected. I cried several times and may make a return trip to this exhibition in risk of doing so again.

This was not just an exhibition for me, or a learning experience, it was one of those moments in your life where life changing and enriching seeds are planted – where you rededicate yourself to your calling in honour of those amazing artists who have gone before and those that are yet to come.

The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.  Claude Monet.

Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment. To such an extent indeed that one day, finding myself at the deathbed of a woman who had been and still was very dear to me, I caught myself in the act of focusing on her temples and automatically analyzing the succession of appropriately graded colours which death was imposing on her motionless face.  Claude Monet.

Claude Monet also known as Oscar-Claude Monet or Claude Oscar Monet (November 14, 1840 December 5, 1926) was a French impressionist painter, to many he is a leader of the Impressionist movement in France. During a time of wars and social change through the industrial revolution, there was Monet. Struggling at the beginning of his career, but later on gaining enough patronage and sales to be able to purchase the house that he had finally settled into with his now sizeable family of his own children plus ones of the women who became his second wife.

As I moved around the gallery from one work to another the things that struck me the most were the colours and textures of the paint. Cool colours blended and balanced with warmer ones, muted and sometimes bold and striking, with the paint laid on in thick lashings in places to bring the points of interest right off the surface of the canvas. As I moved closer the colours laid over the top and around each other were visible, stepping back across the room, they blended and merged together retreating into the background to allow focal points to stand out.

The water lilies were not just one layer of paint but layer over layer of warm greens, cool mauves and blues, pinks and creamy yellows. The water was also made up of layers of colour that looked like they were glazed over each other to get a richness and depth to indicate reflections from the sky and surroundings. Varying brushstrokes and thickness of the paint also gave form and direction as well as texture and interest to the paintings.

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” Claude Monet.

Paintings in the exhibition varied from smaller rounded canvasses to very large panels, many were not painted edge to edge and the canvas can still be seen inside the framed area. It didn’t seem to bother me as I was so entranced by the paintings themselves. I particularly liked the “Waterlillies Nymphéas” painted on the square panel. The flowers were so striking and the layering of the colours gave it a luminescence that captured my attention. Another was “Roses – Les Roses”. Painted after Monet had his operation to fix failing eyesight due to cataracts. There is almost a joy in this painting as the marks skip across the surface creating the foliage and limbs of the meandering rose bush and the scattering of the colours to indicate the flowers. Even the sky seems to flow around the roses as if playing with them in some sort of game.

Monet’s stronger coloured paintings produced from around 1922-24 show his struggle with his eyesight. At first I didn’t take to them as I had the other works, but as I moved away from them and had another look across the room, the depth and perspective were very clear and I gained a new appreciation for them. I can understand how Monet was very happy to again be able to see his lovely blues better after his operation. From one room to another his love of certain colours for me seemed very clear. I loved his very large panel of the wisteria with its gorgeous mauve and blue colours with the tiny dashes of crimson red.

It came as no real surprise that during WW1 Monet donated paintings to help war victims and that even though two of his sons enlisted, he was horrified by war. His weeping willows are in homage to the common soldier, who suffered in this brutal conflict. I love that Monet didn’t see the need to paint the horror of what went on around him, he could paint to inspire rather than to confront.

The paintings from his travels show his dedication to his art. Even when faced with personal tragedy, he only stalled once that I know of in his pursuit of painting. From the Rouen Cathedral, to the city of London, the colours are vibrant and enthusiastically applied. The river Seine and even the few portraits he did of his sons have beautiful use of colour.

I am so happy that Monet’s garden and home have been restored for us to visit today if we get the opportunity. I know that in the peace of my own garden space, there is a quietness that comes over you, a retreat from the noise and rush of the everyday. There is something in the handling of the soil, the connection with the plants and interacting with the birds and other creatures of the garden. Your artistic mind gets to create the form and the range of colours in your garden, the textures and the way the light will play its way through it.

For me it is another way of exercising my creative brain and giving it a kind of rest at the same time. The clutter and noise of the rest of the world fades away and leaves you with just the garden and you in it. I hope that is what Monet found in his garden. I would love the opportunity to travel to be in this space and experience the atmosphere for myself one day, and maybe, if I am lucky, find some of the inspiration that Monet found in it.

For me this trip was more than seeing a collection of paintings. Some see just that, a pile of lovely paintings. I see a man’s life, his loves, his losses and his work. He looked for material in travels and in his garden. He kept experimenting and evolving his methods, style and subjects. The luscious paint in the garden scenes seem to pop off the wall inviting me to walk my eyes in to each and every work. OMG I am in love.