Sunday, 26 October 2014

Van Gogh, Van Go or Van Goff or Van Gochk ?

Van Gogh by Anne Scrimshaw (after Van Gogh)
How do you pronounce that famous French impressionist who cut off his own ear?

Although of course he wasn't French and he might not have cut off his own ear, but more about that later.

I normally pronounce it something more like Van Goff due to me having a slight hint of a London accent on my “th”s (ok it's a gh but hopefully you get my meaning). However I have heard many, mainly American's pronouncing it Van Go and that is becoming more popular here. I assuming this has happened because in French they tend to leave off the last syllable, or so I understand, not that I was paying much attention in my French lessons, and he was a French impressionist, wasn't he? Well although he was friends with Paul Gauguin and other like him, he was actually Dutch, and he was more of a post-impressionist.

But did he cut off his own ear? There has been some interesting new research that suggested that Paul Gauguin, who like to walk about late at night with a small sword for protection might have accidentally cut it off. Ether because he was surprised by Van Gogh in the street or because he just would not shut up. Van Gogh was apparently quite annoying and a bit smelly, not that I want to be smellist. I was going to say some of my close friends smell, but that's not true. More very distant down wind acquaintances maybe. Van Gogh might even have delivered the part of the ear not as a love token (because let's face it you would have to be really deranged to think a girl would love that?), but so Gauguin could see what he had done.

We may not be able to answer the question of who cut his ear , but we should be able to answer the question of how to pronounce his name. So I asked a friendly Dutch person. As far as I know all Dutch people are friendly, and of course speak perfect English. Dutch is a somewhere between German and English both geographically and linguistically – although that's only in my opinion and as I have already mentioned Language is most definitely not my strongest subject, and it's not at all soft and flowly like French. OK I have made up the term flowly. She said that if you pronounced as you should do if you lived in that are of Holland where he came from you should pronounce it with with an ending that was hard as nails, almost Van Gochk ( I can't in type do justice to the guttural ending of this word however much I try) So there you go, next time you hear someone talking about Van Go, you can tell them where to go – politely of course – he was Dutch after all, and you wouldn't want to go up setting them especially late at night when they have a sharp sword!

What do you think? And did he really shoot himself – they never found the gun you know!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Using Salt with watercolour

Having been the the kitchen for my last post with the cling film, I thought I would carry on the theme and look at using salt with watercolour. This is a very simple technique to explain, the difficultly with using salt is it can be unpredictable.

Firstly lets look at how to use salt. Most of my students suggest that rock salt is the best, however I find that just normal table salt will work as well. The larger the crystal the more pigment it will suck out. While the paint is wet drop the salt onto the paper and then wait until the paint has dried and then brush the salt off. The salt will stuck the pigment out of an area around the salt in a star shape. You could use this effect for, snow or flowers, or stars or for anywhere you just want a little more texture.

The problems with this technique is if the paint is too dry the salt can not act on it, if the paint is too wet it will just swamp the salt and again it will not do anything.

There are four levels of wetness
1 – Very Dry, the paper is warm to touch and the salt will drop off when tilted, and not make any effect.
2 – Damp, the paper looks dry and is not shiny but it feels cold and damp to the touch. This is too dry for the salt to work, but may still be damp enough for the paint to have soft edges.
3 – Wet, the paper is shiny but you can see the texture of the paper. This is the wetness that you want when you use salt.
4 - Very wet, the water is a pool on the paper and it is very shiny. There will be a puddle on the paper maybe the paper has cockled and a puddle has formed. This is too wet for the salt and will just swamp it and not have any effect.

If the salt is placed too close together in a lump it will not work very well either. Very large pieces of salt can remove an area the size of a coin, smaller grains will just make a star a couple of mm across.

What do you think, have you tried this? How did it go?

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Cling Film

After encouraging you all to experiment last week I thought I would explain some of the exciting methods you can used to transform your watercolours, by using clingfilm.

This is a very simple method, which can be used for certain effects. You would not want to use it on every picture, but for certain effects like stone, water or foliage it can be very effective. It will give you a random texture that is difficult to make any other way.

In trying to make textures, we often struggle as humans, because we are always trying to make sense of the random world. Things like trees and rocks are difficult to recreate because our brush stokes are never as random as real life. In real life trees are clumpier and they have more holes and the leaves never actually all line up in the same direction. Unlike when we paint them when every leaf can seem to be painted with the same brush in a nice repetitive line.

There are a couple of things you have to remember when using cling film – Firstly the paper needs to be wet when you put the cling film on. Very thin paper will not hold the moisture and so it will not work very well with this technique. Also there needs to be quite a lot of paint pigment on the paper. You may struggle if you are using cheaper watercolour paints which have less pigment in, and you may end up with a very pale effect. Remember the paint will always dry lighter and it is often difficult to paint it too dark. Go on be bold.

Once you have covered the area with paint and it is still wet just place the clingfilm on the paper. Make it so it has folds in it. You can push it around a little, but try not to mess around with it too much – then just leave it! It's a simple as that. Once it has dried you can lift it off. If the paint is still a little moist it will have a softer edge to it. It will take slightly longer to dry than usual, as of course you have covered it in cling film, but it should be ok after about ½ hour. This can seem a long time if you are just twiddling your thumbs, so this is why I sometimes work on two or three watercolours at a time so I am not temped to rush the drying of the picture. One of my friends does his ironing while waiting for his paint to dry – each to their own, but I try and avoid ironing as much as possible.

You can apply this effect to just a small section of your picture. The clingfilm will only effect the wet paint. However you do have to be more careful as you can pick up wet paint on the film and transfer it to another part of your painting. If you do that you will have to try lifting the paint with a damp brush and a dry tissue.

Here you can see an example where I have used clingfilm to get the dry stone wall. I have then worked over the top to produce a three dimensional look. If I tried just painting this I would have struggled to get such a random effect, and it would look slightly contrived. Also I get the lovely dark lines around each segment, which I have enhanced to create a shadow for the rock.

Why not give it a go – I would love to see some or your pictures.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Allowing yourself to make mistakes.

Cling film placed on wet watercolour
My friend crashed his racing hovercraft in practice. We thought there was no need for this, the exit from the water was smooth and clear of any obstructions. Instead he choose to take a wider line through the reads and long grass to the side of the exit. As he came back with his hovercraft on a trailer, and the front all smashed up it was obvious this was not a good idea.
Why, we asked him had he tried such a line? His reply astonished me. He explained that during a race he might need to overtake a craft there and so he had to know if such a thing was possible. I had always concentrated on “the racing line” trying to always find the perfect line. Always trying to get my hovercraft to go as fast as possible, any deviation was a mistake. He was already was a fast driver, so he had started to experiment. This meant during a race he had more options, when faced with a hovercraft he wanted to get past he knew where and when he was able to. As hovercraft have no breaks, sometimes it was a choice between overtaking a slower craft or crashing. 
Salt makes little stars

Now when I am painting I take time to experiment, to allow myself to make mistakes. Last week I allowed a whole class to spend the afternoon just making a “mess”. As I explained we were not there to make a masterpiece – although if we happen to make one accidentally that would be OK.

We played with salt, cling film, granulating medium and much more. Everyone had a lovely time, they learnt many techniques they had not tried before. Although no one did create a masterpiece, everyone had some samples of something they could use in another piece of art.

Cling film can make good foliage.
I have learnt sometimes I have to give myself a safe environment where it is all right to make a mistake, because I will learn something from it, even if the only thing I learnt is not to try that again!

Cling film was used to create this dry stone wall

Have you allowed yourself to make any mistakes lately?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Drawing Ellipses

How to draw an ellipse – or how to correct a squashed turnip shape.
Many people struggle to draw ellipses. They normally end up looking something like this a squashed Turnip:

Now there’s nothing wrong with a squashed turnip if that is what you wanted to draw, but normally we were trying to convey the perfect circle of a cup, created on a machine, with not a hint of a wobble, normally, unless you brought it from the seconds shop, then you may have a hint of a wobble.

Firstly lets think about what we know about ellipses. The one I am trying to create is really a circle seen from an angle. The axis is flat and horizontal.It has no pointed corners. It is symmetrical about it’s two axis, so the top half is the same
On our squashed turnip shape we can see the horizontal axis is not horizontal giving it the feeling that it is leaning over – fine if it is on a slope, but normally it is not. Also the top half is smaller than the bottom.

So first draw a horizontal line. Run your little finger down the edge of your sketchpad as you do this to ensure a straight line – this is usually OK if it’s a pad otherwise as we all know there is nothing worse than an paper cut. Although I have considered that having your head cut off may be worse!
Then draw two lines which will be your top and bottom marks the same distance from the middle one. Draw a vertical centre line and then mark on where the two side lines are, again these should be equidistance from the centre line.

Now we just play dot the dot to join up our ellipse. Making sure that it meets all four of the small outer  lines. The curve is quite flat at the front and back but gradually gets tighter as it meets the edges.
I hope this has been useful to you. I would welcome any feedback you can give.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Mono Lisa

I've never quite understood why people seem to think the Mona Lisa has such a strange smile. To me the answer is obvious - she wasn't a very good sitter and kept changing her facial expressions. Which is why when you look at the Mona Lisa her smile only seems to appear when you don’t directly look at her mouth.
Creating a realistic image is most important if you are attempting a portrait. It has been made easier since photographs as you have one fix vision of a person. Da Vinci had to work from life, and as anyone knows who has tried painting a real person – they move. They start off happy, smiling and looking directly at you, and then they get bored and their head drifts and their expression changes. So you start off painting a happy person with happy eyes and by the time you get to their mouth you have a non smiling mouth. Which gives you the impression when you look at the eyes that she is smiling then you look at the mouth and the smile seems to have disappeared.
What do you think? Am I over simplifying it? Have I missed something?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Avoncroft Ex

It was the Avoncroft Annual Exhibition this weekend, which I help to organise. It is always good to see what all the members have created, and everyone worked hard to make it a success – even if I do say so myself. The only trouble was I was spending so much time sorting it out I didn't really get much time to finish the painting that I wanted to. Still I managed to paint the Walled Garden at Avoncroft for the demonstration I did today, so that was enjoyable.