After my first experiment with oil paint yesterday I will probably spend the week making lists of pros and cons of both watercolour and oil in my head. One of the things I like best about watercolour is the little surprises you get when two washes of different hues mix on the paper. Especially when the mix is in a big puddle because you don’t really know the result until the puddle dries. For this sketch I used a triad of sap green, some kind of purple (I know that’s not very scientific!) and azo yellow. Almost a secondary triad except for the yellow.
I am not really sure where to begin with this post. There’s so much to say about trying oil painting for the first time and I’m not sure I have completely processed what I did today. My friend Marc Holmes offered to give me a lesson and share his paints and brushes with me for this first foray into the medium. How could I refuse such generosity?
It goes without saying that painting in oil is so vastly different from what I am used to in watercolour. You can paint from dark to light, add white, correct your mistakes… the list is long and seems so obvious it needs no explanation.
For now I will simply make some observations:
1. We both worked with pretty thick paint, in a very loose style. Working that way seems easy, and in fact it is, in the beginning, as you plot in the big shapes (and I have to mention that both of us worked with no preliminary drawing). But as you get down to the smaller details the paint on the board is already quite thick, so as you apply more, you are in fact picking up what is already there instead of putting down what is on your brush. I’m really not used to that.
2. It’s great not to be worried about the colour of the paint changing as it dries. And great to know that you can take a little break from the work and when you get back it is exactly as you left it. I’m really not used to that.
3. I am a slob and Marc is really neat. At one point I looked down at my hands which were suddenly covered in paint and then over to Marc whose hands were spotless. I had a pile of crumpled up paper towels and his were neatly folded in piles. My palette was covered in a big grey smear and he had neat little areas of colour, each very distinct. This is going to take some getting used to.
One thing I am sure of is that I want to try this again. I have a lot to think about in terms of how to apply the paint and how to mix the colour (hopefully more neatly than today) but I really enjoyed this. Below are both of our paintings. Mine is the street scene and Marc’s is the bikes in snow. Excuse the blurry iPhone photos. The paintings weren’t dry enough to scan or even bring home.
It was a very tranquil half hour that I spent with Melanie today — me quietly drawing and Melanie reading her book. After a while I realized that we had both been silent for a very long time. I was totally absorbed in my drawing and Melanie seemed to be at a good part in her story. And it was only when I returned home and my sketchbook was open on the counter that I realized that her face reminded me of someone. It took a while to figure out but then it came to me. Her face was like a Renaissance madonna. Maybe it was the pose — the slightly tilted head, the downward gaze, the gentle features. Don’t misunderstand my comparison to that period in art history. I don’t mean that my feeble attempt at portraiture was in any way close to a Renaissance painter. I just mean that there is something about Melanie’s face that is from another time.
I’ve been waiting to draw Alice for some weeks but puppies don’t sit still for too long. I final caught her curled up for a late afternoon snooze, and managed to finish most of the drawing before she rolled over onto her back, oblivious to the fact that she was the model for today.
It’s a gift that the snow has come early this year because I don’t have to search for what the white shapes will be in my sketches. The weatherman promised some breaks of sun today (those radar maps never seems to be accurate!) and I was hoping for shadows in the snow but the sky was overcast, making for a very flat scene. Despite that I was happy to be out in my car sketching the day. I have painted this street in Ste. Anne de Bellevue many times. I’m always attracted to the little sliver of river at the end of the road and, although I didn’t capture it convincingly, an oh so tiny reflection of the houses on the other side.
I usually paint little still lifes in my kitchen where there are multiple sources of light — light from the window, lights in the ceiling, lights over the counter — and this results in all kinds of weird overlapping cast shadows, some diffuse and some quite defined. I started this sketch in the morning with only natural light hitting the tops of the fruit, but I had to leave for work before I was done. When I finished it later in the day the daylight was gone and the overhead lights cast much more defined shadows on the cutting board. There’s really only one solution to this problem: quit my day job and get my sketches finished in one sitting.
It’s hard to find colour in the winter landscape. On a cloudy day there’s warm greys and cool greys and sometimes a pinkish tinge in the sky over the lake. You have to sit and stare for a good long time to pick up the subtleties.
It was a good day to try out some new brushes that just arrived. I bought a set of Scroggy’s Loose Goose brushes and it turns out that they are exactly what I was hoping for to create foliage and branches. The floppy squirrel hair does all kinds of unexpected things. It seems to have a mind of its own and that keeps me from making branches that are a little too tidy and predictable.
I loved drawing my student Fadia. We have a lot in common, I think. We both like the same tv shows and share a love of cinema. That rapport made it really easy to draw her. She volunteered to sit, knowing that I always bring my drawing supplies to school on Thursday. And she was a great model too. Thanks Fadia.
There were two exciting events in the Montreal area last night. The first was a mysterious, very loud boom and flash of blue light around 8 p.m. The second was our first snowfall of the season. Turns out the boom was most likely a meteorite and since I couldn’t draw that, my sketch today is my rusty wheelbarrow under the oak tree. The tree that always sheds its leaves AFTER the snow falls.
The grey November landscape hasn’t inspired me much but there’s snow on the way tonight. In the meantime, a bunch of bananas allowed me to work a bit in my very small Moleskine sketchbook, something I haven’t picked up a while. With this I tried to keep the washes clean and loose, and not touch the surface of the paper too many times in one place.