SUGGESTING DETAIL

Italian Village
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When faced with a complex, detailed subject, the temptation is often to try and include every detail. This approach can lead to a confusing overload of information. In this demonstration we will concentrate on simplifying and suggesting detail. Our approach will be to decide on an area of interest to serve as our focal point or centre of interest, then simplify and suggest detail in the rest of the painting.
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MATERIALS
Paper
1/2 sheet 300gsm (140lbs) Cold Pressed
Colors
Ultramarine Blue
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Quinacridone Gold
Ink – Burnt Sienna and Dip Pen
Brown Pastel Pencil
Brushes
1″  Bristle Brush
1″ and 1/4″ Flat brushes
No. 2 Rigger Brush
3″ Hake Brush
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This little village, high above the sea on the coast of Italy makes a wonderful subject. The impact of the weathered textures and subdued colors can be amplified by focusing attention on the area of the bell tower and simply suggesting the detail in the right hand side of the village.
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A quick thumbnail sketch will help organise the composition for your painting. I have decided to spread the interest horizontally across the painting then contrast it with a  dark diagonal band from the top left to the bottom right. The top right and lower left areas will be left virtually untouched.
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Quinacridone Gold, Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson are all we need to mix all the colors in this painting
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DRAWING AND FIRST WASHES
Simply block in the major shapes with a brown pastel pencil. More detail can be drawn in as the painting progresses if necessary. The entire area above the village is first wet with clean water before a wash of Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Gold and Alizarin Crimson is worked diagonally through the background. Vary the mixture from a warm, dirty yellow to a cool grey. The same colours can then be roughly washed through the dry paper in the foreground. All these early washes are best applied with an old 1″ bristle brush. (The cheap house painting type are ideal).
A loose soft suggestion of background trees works much better than carefully painting in the line of trees in the photograph.
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BUILDING SHAPES
Using various combinations of our three colours and a 1″ flat brush, we can suggest the shapes for the various buildings. Keep the tones fairly light at this stage. We can always make them darker but it’s a bit more difficult to make them lighter if we need to.
Vary the size and shape of the buildings to keep them interesting
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DARKER BUSHES AND WINDOWS
Once all the building shapes are dry we can use our three colors to mix up a nice rich dark – aim for a color something like Burnt Sienna. Splash it on fairly loosely with your old 1″ bristle brush, then quickly rinse out the brush, dry it slightly and run it around the edge of some of the marks you have just made. This will make the edges bleed out and soften, helping tie the shapes to the rest of the painting.
Before these shapes dry, drop a couple of spots of pure Ultramarine into the lower part of the bushes. This gives them a more three dimensional appearance. Use your 1/4″ flat brush to paint in some of the windows. Remember to vary their shape, tone and colour slightly.
When you paint the bushes, try to think of them as shapes that will suggest bushes rather than trying to carefully render a realistic looking bush.
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Use a clean, damp brush to soften and feather out the top edge of the bush shapes.
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BUILDING TEXTURES
To help reinforce the centre of interest, we will add some brick textures to some of the walls. Spread a few small, less noticeable areas of brick into other parts of the painting, but keep the texture in the centre of interest strong and definite
The detailed brick texture at the centre of interest holds attention in this area. Adding softer, less defined brick textures to a few of the other buildings maintains unity and helps tie the centre of interest to the rest of the painting.
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A flat 1/4″ brush is perfect for putting brick texture into some of the walls. Keep the lines of bricks roughly horizontal and stager the brick joints.
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IMPACT THROUGH CONTRAST
The final step is to add some depth and drama to the painting by darkening the background behind the centre of interest and the lower right foreground.
Before we do this though, a few fine pen lines sprayed with a fine mist of water will add some interesting textures to the buildings.
Burnt Sienna ink works well. Spray it as soon as it’s applied and it will produce fantastic spidery lines. Have a tissue or some paper towel handy as the results are a bit unpredictable and you may need to do some quick tidying up.
The dark contrast behind the main building is a combination of our three colours. Wet the area behind the building first so the top edge of the wash feathers out softly. A dry Hake brush can be used to help even out the wash.
Apart from the detail at the centre of interest, most of the painting is fairly loose and suggested. There is enough information there for the viewer to know what is happening but much of the painting requires some sort of viewer interpretation making it much more engaging than an overload of carefully rendered detail.
 

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TELLING A STORY

This is an article I wrote for International Artist Magazine a couple of years ago. A comment on imagining stories to embellish different locations prompted me to upload it.  It is amazing what goes through your mind after thirty or forty minutes sketching. Almost subconsciously stories emerge tying up and making sense of all the observed details.
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TELLING A STORY
It is easy to be seduced by spectacular scenery or panoramic landscape, but sometimes it’s the little incidents associated with fairly unspectacular subject matter that can be the catalyst for a successful painting. In these paintings the appeal, for me, lies beyond the immediate visual impact and has more to do with the incidents or atmosphere surrounding what is depicted.
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Rosa’s New Pink Curtains
These old Italian waterfront buildings tell wonderful stories about their inhabitants. Pushbikes, fishing gear, potted herbs and flowers, an old comfortable chair in the sun. An hour spent sketching all these details cause all sorts of stories to evolve concerning the day to day life of the building.
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The paintings title is derived from the bright pink curtains in the upper window. To stop this bright color drawing too much attention away from the centre of interest, Permanent Rose was worked over the greys in the top corner of the painting. This eases the impact of the curtains, pushing them back into the painting.
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Fine rigger lines and sketchy pencil marks define the detail in the bottom left. This describes what is happening without drawing too much attention.
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The center of interest is treated with strong contrast and sharp, focused detail to act as a pivot point for the painting. The viewers eye can wander out to other areas of less defined detail, but will always be drawn back to this area.
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Fishermen Wait – Pelleistrina
The long thin island of Pellestrina protects the Venetian lagoons from the Adriatic Sea. Passing the Island early in the afternoon it struck me that even the fishermen, along with every other inhabitant, observes the afternoon siesta. Tide and fish can wait, food, wine and rest come first, then the fishing. I have used strong horizontal and vertical lines to give the painting a sleepy static feeling. The vertical drift of smoke adds to the calm quiet atmosphere
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Flowers were splashed in with a mixture of Permanent Rose and White Gouache. I liked the contrast between the dirty, smelly fishing boats, clean washing and fresh flowers. Ultramarine Blue Gouache gives the fishing boats a flat, velvety finish.
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The hazy sky was first washed over with Ultramarine watercolor. After this dried, a glaze of  cream tinted Gesso was worked over the surface giving the sky a pearly translucent quality.
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The calm water adds to the sleepy feeling of the painting. The same technique of Gesso over glazing similar to the sky was used. This time the underlying wash was Phthalo blue.
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Last Bus Leaving
The frantic pace of down town London is regularly punctuated by the hot diesel clatter of these ancient relics. Huge and shiny, it’s hard to believe these  awesome machines form the backbone of a reliable transport system. This painting plays on the contrast between the enormous mass of lovingly polished duco and the machines apparent attempt to self destruct while idling.
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Loose strokes of red pastel suggest the resonating vibration of the engine and contrast with the glossy sheen of the paintings centre of interest.
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Halfway through the painting  a loose scumbling of dilute gesso was scrubbed over the top right hand corner. This obliterated most of the roof and upper detail allowing it to be loosely suggested with pencil lines and red pastel.
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The bonnet and lower section of the bus were treated with more detail to pull attention down to this area of the painting. The bright red bonnet and white highlights make a great contrast with the surrounding black gouache. I normally avoid flat neutral black, but used it in this case to give the feeling of bitumen, soot and diesel oil associated with the bus.
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Pass This Way – Venice
This is one of a thousand romantic corners that draw you deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of Venice. Rather than documenting all the details, I have focused on the essential elements and reduced everything else to simple areas of contrasting textures. Lines and angles have been distorted to echo the random chaotic nature of Venice.
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Flat Ultramarine gouache was used to convey the brilliant blue of the canal boat. By contrasting this with the rich terracotta of the bridge, a focal point is established.
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The washing hanging on the line was torn from pieces of Japanese rice paper and stuck to the surface with acrylic matt varnish. The rice paper shapes were softened by splashing them with a mixture of Permanent Rose watercolour mixed with  White gouache.
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A fine translucent glaze of White gouache and Permanent Rose watercolor softens the far end of the bridge, encouraging the eye back to the centre of interest.
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LOOKING BACK

A few years ago I sketched this little cottage on Sydney Harbour. It was late in the afternoon and there was no activity – no sign of life at all. As I did the sketch I started wondering what had gone on here in the past. Such an amazing location, I could imagine parties on the verandah, kids running around, boats in the water, but now, nothing – just a little cottage gazing out across the water. It had a kind of empty sadness – a little neglected with vague evidence of lively past.

COLORS:

Quinacridone Gold, Alizarin Crimson,  French Ultramarine Blue,  Phthalo Blue, Medium Magenta Acrylic, White Gesso, White Gouache

INK:

White pigment Ink, Burnt Sienna Pigment Ink

PENCILS:

White Charcoal,  Black Charcoal, Dark Brown Derwent Inktense

ON THE SLEEPY EDGE

Sleepy Edge

Urban Landscapes are still intriguing me. This is a half sheet, worked over with gesso, charcoal and pastel pencil. I cant seem to get away from this tube of Liquitex Medium Magenta acrylic. It’s creeping into everything I paint lately!

It’s such a weird color, but does something to your brain, particularly on these industrial sort of subjects. Perhaps because it’s so out of character with the subject. Evening at the edge of a city, painted like a bunch of flowers.

Liquitex Medium Magenta acrylic – scary, addictive stuff!

The great thing about it is the fact that it is listed as having Excellent light fastness. Most watercolor pigments this color are fugitive.

URBAN WATERCOLORS



It seems strange I guess, five months traveling through the bush, and I’m back in the studio absorbed in Urban landscapes. Maybe I miss all  that noise traffic and chaos.

This painting was built up in layers of watercolor and gouache then worked over with thin glazes of gesso. Lots of calligraphic charcoal and pastel pencil marks were then threaded across the surface similar to graffiti on a wall.

Transparent washes of Alizarin Crimson and Quinacridone Gold contrast with the Phthalo Blue foreground glazes and Phthalo tinted White Gouache sky. The brick shaped fine detail was applied with Burnt Sienna tinted White Gouache

A compressed industrial grey color scheme and formal, geometric marks suggest the urban subject rather than accurately describing it in these two paintings.

I find that reducing a painting to the simplest elements and barely suggesting the subject can have a lot more impact. The viewer is engaged on a far deeper level and in a more subliminal way than when details are clearly presented.

BACK IN THE STUDIO

After 5 months away it’s good to get back in the studio and start painting. As much as I enjoy painting outdoors, I always feel the best work comes when conditions are under control and there is limitless time to consider things

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The first thing I did when I got back to the studio was pull out the last demonstration painting I did at the workshop in Pemberton. At the time I was wrestling with it and hurrying to get it finished. I just wanted to see where it would go with a little more time and less pressure.

I attacked it with a 1″ house painting brush full of gesso , leaving the central core of previously painted watercolor untouched. After the gesso dried, detail was added and blotted back with tissue.

The pigment sits on the surface of the gesso, so can be sprayed and blotted back similar to yupo paper. This produces the subtle effects seen in the detail above. It is an interesting, very controllable way to work and produces unusual results.

INDUSTRIAL STUFF

If you’re into over the top industrial hardware, then Western Australia sure is the state to visit.

These giant pieces of apparatus look almost organic. It’s hard to imagine someone sitting at a drawing board, under a cold fluorescent light, creating this sort of stuff. It looks so random and chaotic.

I hope you enjoy the photographs. It’s a dangerous business, standing on the roof of a landcruiser pointing a long lens over five strands of barbed wire. I’m sure I was viewed with much suspicion and, in a different country, would have probably been shot on site.

The sketches are done with a 0.4 Black Artline 204 fibre tip, a White uni posca fibre tip, Indigo watercolor and a tea bag

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sketch1
0.4 Black Artline 204 fibre tip, White uni posca fibre tip, Indigo watercolor and a tea bag
sketch2-1
0.4 Black Artline 204 fibre tip,  White uni posca fibre tip, Indigo watercolor, Tissue paper and a glue stick