Sunday, August 24, 2008

What about gouache?

Gouache is my favourite medium for quick colour studies. The main advantages are speed and opacity. It takes just minutes to get going, and unlike watercolours, the paints are opaque and can be painted onto any old paper, white or tinted or ordinary brown, going straight to lights and darks and middle tones without fuss or bother.

Good quality gouache paints go on smoothly and spread easily and are a pleasure to use. Only a small amount of each colour is needed on the palette. These shown here have good coverage and tinting strength -- a little goes a long way.

The paints are not waterproof which is both a plus and a minus. Any spills or splashes are easily cleaned up, unlike oil and acrylic, which need more advance preparation. Even if the paint dries accidentally in a brush it can be washed out. Also, only one brush is needed. The sable brush shown here is the only brush I've used for gouache for several years now.

The disadvantage of not being waterproof is that dried paint already on the paper may dissolve when overpainting. This doesn't bother me, I just accept the new mix or paint more thickly, depending on what I'm aiming for.

The gouache colour studies shown below, Road 1 and Road 2, both about 8.5 x 11", were each done in about 30 minutes. They are only studies and I confess I don't think of my own gouaches as finished pieces, they're just steps on the way to something else. Many painters take gouache to a high level of finish.

So, in a nutshell, for me gouache is a great way to try out ideas and to generate new ideas, because one thing does have a way of leading to another.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writers on Artists

Writers on Artists

In association with Modern Painters
DK Publishing, Inc. (2001)

Billed as "A collection of great writing on art by some of the world's leading novelists, poets, critics, and artists from the pages of Modern Painters magazine. Foreword by A.S. Byatt"

I got this book from the library last week and it's great. It consists of reviews and interviews from eighteen years of Modern Painters magazine. I've read only a few so far, dipping here and there into some that jumped out (e.g. David Hockney on Picasso, Matthew Collings on Jeff Koons), but now I've started over at the beginning and am reading it all the way through.

Many of the articles are interviews and this makes the book fresh and up to date and compelling. For instance, Matthew Collings asks Jeff Koons whether he really means what he says, and goes on, "It's like a fairground spiel, isn't it? -- the 'Jeff Koons Show'? Koons says, "Absolutely. This is 'Jeff Koons Entertainment.' I believe in art as a communicative device that's part of the entertainment world. It participates in 'showtime.' It just draws a slightly different audience than other entertainment vehicles."

Later in the interview MC asks, "What about more old fashioned artists who just want to paint Nature and the model in the studio and so forth?" JK says, "Well, if they weren't allowed to do that, then that's the thing we'd all want to start doing . . . there has to be this conservative aspect of course. If it was banned then pretty soon radical artists would be moving into that void. Somebody's got to maintain it, otherwise we'd all be back in there fighting for Nature again."

Each article consists of about 2,000 to 3,000 words, and is generously illustrated. The pictures have all the necessary information -- date, medium, size in inches and cm, and location.

The book contains 40 of these articles in all, making it a substantial and satisfying read. Here's a few selected writers/artists from the list which is too long to type in full: Howard Jacobson on Andy Warhol, Germaine Greer on Paula Rego, Jed Perl on Henri Matisse, Will Self on Damien Hirst, Julian Barnes on Edgar Degas, David Bowie on Tracey Emin, A.S. Byatt on Patrick Heron, Jules Olitski on Himself, Seamus Heaney on Barrie Cooke, and many more. Enjoy!


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Some drawing criteria

Mademoiselle Lacaux, by Auguste Renoir

I've always thought that Renoir was a brilliant draftsman and that everyone else would think so too. But it's by no means a universal view, and in the end it's a matter of taste and how different people define drawing. In fact there's no universally accepted definition of drawing, and it's futile to devote too much time to thinking about it.

However, it's important to me personally to have my own understanding of what drawing is, and especially what good drawing is, because otherwise how do I know what I'm striving for, and whether or not I've achieved it?

These are the criteria I use to judge drawings, my own and others:

Unity. Everything in nature has intrinsic unity. If the unity is disrupted or broken the object ceases to have life or to be itself, or the drawing is not convincing. Unity in a drawing is easiest to see in figure drawings, especially hands, and in animal drawings; but there's unity in everything, including landscapes and man-made objects. For an example of a lack of unity, imagine a drawing of a flower pot that looks as if it's made of plasticene.

Balance. I've blogged about balance in drawing before (A sense of balance). The kind of balance I mean relates to the law of gravity and it can be sensed or felt with one's own body rather than seen. A lack of balance in a drawn or painted figure or object is to me a fatal flaw, especially if it's my own drawing, unless there's a compelling reason for it to be like that.

Three dimensional form. A drawing that gives a solid illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface is a beautiful thing to see. Dark and light tones (or "shading") can help to achieve it, but there's more to it than that because a seemingly flat silhouette, or a simple contour, can give a convincing sense of three dimensional form with no shading at all. What it means is that drawing is a more complex and mysterious skill than at first it seems.

Life. Achieving a feeling of life is tied up with unity, balance and three dimensions. There's a magical quality about a sense of life in a drawing or painting, and if the work has life, then other shortcomings might be overlooked.

Renoir's painting of Mlle. Lacaux has all these qualities -- unity, balance, three dimensions and life, satisfying all my criteria. I wish I could draw like that.

Oddly enough, Picasso's sketchbook drawings of invented "creatures" (links below*) satisfy all my criteria too. The fact that they have 'life" is especially remarkable because these particular drawings are of invented inanimate clunky objects which could be carved from wood or plaster.

Some of Picasso's invented forms from 1927:
(first link, bottom of page; second link, top of page)

Some of Picasso's invented forms from 1933 (titled "An Anatomy")(first link, bottom of page; second link, top of page)

*Edited 17 June 2013: Those links were to The Online Picasso Project website which sad to say has since been closed to the public. Neither can I find those images anywhere else. It may be worth tracking down a copy of the big book by Carsten-Peter Warncke and Ingo Walther titled "Picasso" which has more than 700 well illustrated pages. I don't think the sketches referred to above are in it but there's a chapter in the middle called "A Juggler of Form", starting page 305, which has a variety of his other inventions.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A home-made portfolio

Click on the image to enlarge

This is a rough and ready portfolio made out of cardboard and canvas offcuts. It fits artwork up to 18 x 12" and I use it to send work to my OCA tutor, in a padded and waterproof envelope of the biggest size in the shop. In fact the biggest-size envelope isn't big enough, it needs a small extension, again made of cardboard and fixed to the envelope with duct tape. For the portfolio itself I prefer canvas offcuts and white glue because duct tape is so sticky that it can be a nuisance, for instance inside the pocket.  

The portfolio isn't pretty but it's functional and it easily accommodates twenty sheets or more. The top edge has a cardboard flap, and since taking this photo I've added a canvas strip from the flap to the front of the pocket, to prevent anything from falling out at the top if the portfolio is inadvertantly handled upside down.

Added Feb 12, 2012: I've put an improved version of the portfolio at It's a PDF with step-by-step pictures showing how it's made.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The old screen, a trial run

The screen has been exposed, only 12 minutes, and the picture shows the "open" screen after washing out the image. It looks better than the last time but it's still not great. I decided to do a trial run anyway to see what other issues might crop up.

The proofs drying on a line. 

Pulling the proofs was one of the messiest things I've ever done in my studio, it would be better somewhere outside the house like under the eaves. The proofs didn't turn out all that well, as expected, and unfortunately the screen fabric got a small tear during overzealous clean up.  It will last for another short run or two and then I'll replace the fabric. Other than that -- it was terrific to be pulling prints and I like the potential that this technique has for future work.