Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Picture notes from California

For this week installment of the 52 Weeks 52 Works challenge, I am posting some paintings and drawings from my recent US trip. California offers contrasted landscapes and the views in the Yosemite National Park are impressive and difficult to describe with words and even in a painting.

Berkeley's neighbourgs -Watercolour by Benoit Philippe

Berkeley (California)

Sonoma (California)

April snow in the Yosemite

Related Posts

Monday, 28 April 2008

Leonardo’s aerial perspective device

The Exploratorium in San Francisco has a tagline that reads: The museum of science, art and human perception.

The relationships between art and science on one hand and art and human perception on the other hand are fascinating subjects; so I was eager to see what was on show.

The museum is a large hall full of hands-on experiments. As an artist, I found the section on vision and perception interesting. We tend to forget how much subjectivity goes into vision and perception.

To demonstrate aerial perspective and how the size of the subject will shrink with distance, they have built the device described by Leonardo da Vinci in one of his notebooks. Here is Leonardo’s description:
"How to portray a place accurately Obtain a piece of glass as large as half sheet of royal folio paper and fasten this securely in front of your eyes, that is, between your eye and the thing you want to portray. Next, position yourself with your eye at a distance of two-thirds of a braccio from the glass and fix your head with a device so that you cannot move it at all. Then close or cover one eye, and with the brush or a piece of finely ground red chalk, mark on the glass what you see beyond it. Then trace it on to paper from the glass, and pounce it onto paper of good quality, and paint it if it pleases you, making good use of aerial perspective."

(Source: Leonardo on Painting: Anthology of Writings by Leonardo Da Vinci with a Selection of Documents Relating to His Career as an Artist (Yale Nota Bene) – page 216)
I took a few photographs, so you can see what the actual device looks like.

The Museum

at the Palace of Fine Arts
3601 Lyon Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

Related articles

Friday, 25 April 2008

Working on tones and values with felt pens

While in the US, I bought a set of PITT Artist Brush Pens made by Faber Castell .

This particular set of six pens only contains shades of grey. The shades are:

  • Cold Grey III (#232),

  • Cold Grey IV (#233),

  • Cold Grey V (#235),

  • Warm Grey III (#272),

  • Warm Grey IV (#273),

  • Warm Grey V (#274)

These pens'tips are shaped like brushes and use pigmented India ink that is both acid-free and archival (PH neutral). The ink is also waterproof when dry.

I used them for sketching during the trip to California. I still need to get used to the palette of warm and cool greys to make the most of them and achieve good contrast and light and shade effects. However, I already like the smoothness of the tip and the ease of use of these pens.

They are ideal to work on tones and make quick sketches to establish values.

Two examples of sketches done in California will give you a better idea of their potential. I also used a fine black felt pen of the same brand for the initial drawing.

Carmel’s mission

Waiting at the airport

Related resources and articles

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Prince Street (Berkeley - California) - Watercolour

I painted this watercolour last week, on location, in Berkeley (California). The weather was ideal, with a bright blue sky and moderate heat.

Berkeley is a very nice town, with wooden houses full of character. There are so many plants, flowers and trees that the place looks like a town planted in a garden. The climate means that you can enjoy flowers all year round. I saw many trees heavy with lemons, a sigth uncommon in England.

To paint, I just sat opposite the house, on the sidewalk. After one hour and half, I wished I had a cushion or a seat. Apart from that, it was a pleasant painting session.

Prince street (Berkeley - California) - Watercolour (11"x15") by Benoit Philippe

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Accent Arts - Be Human, Make Art

I went to Accent Art, an independent art shop in Palo Alto (California).

Shopping for art abroad is always fun and I look for different products that I can't get in France or in England. The staff was friendly (difficult to find unfriendly service in the US).

Instead of giving me a paper or a plastic bag, they put the goods I purchased in a black fabric bag with the following inscriptions:

Humans use symbols

Artists make symbols

Be human make art

There is a lot to think about in these three lines.

Accent Art
392 California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306
(650) 424-1044
Their website:

Add to Technorati Favorites

Monday, 14 April 2008

Leonardo da Vinci advice on judging your work

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – March 2008. 

I just finished reading “Leonardo on painting”, which is – as the title suggests - an anthology of Leonardo da Vinci’s writings on the art, craft and science of painting. This book has been edited by Martin Kemp and published by Yale Nota Bene.

Some pieces of advice are dated, because of the advance of science or customs. However, many advice stood the test of time, like Leonardo’s advice on judging paintings.

1. Don’t trust your own judgement
“There is nothing that deceives us more than our own judgement when used to give an opinion on our works.”

“When a work stands equal to one’s judgement of it, it is a bad sign for the judgement. When the work surpasses one’s judgement that is worse, as happens to someone who is astonished at having produced such good work, and when the judgement disdains the work this is the perfect sign.”

If you have to rely on your own judgement, then keep reading to find techniques to distance yourself for your work.

2. Seek advice from someone else

“We clearly know that errors are recognisable more in the works of others than in our own, and often, while finding fault with the minor errors of others, you will ignore your own great ones.”

We are drawn naturally to seek advice from peers on the basis that, as artists, they are more able to judge a work of art. However, Leonardo points out that anyone’s advice can be valuable:

“Certainly while a man is painting he should not refuse anyone’s judgement. For we know that one man, even though he may not be a painter, still knows what another man looks like and is well able to judge, whether he is hunchbacked or has one shoulder higher or lower than the other, or whether he has a large mouth, or nose or other deficiencies.”

3. Use a mirror

“When you wish to see whether your whole picture accords with that you have portrayed from nature take a mirror and reflect the actual object in it.” His idea is that the mirror’s reflection gives you a good point of reference because its surface is flat like for the painting.

Leonardo also advocates another use of the mirror. Rather than looking at the subject in the mirror, you can look at the painting in the mirror: “The work will appear to you in reverse and will seem to be by the hand of another master and thereby you will be better judge of its faults.”

4. Take a break and get a fresh look at your painting

Putting distance between yourself and your painting is also taking time off, putting it away and coming back to your work with a fresh pairs of eyes:

“It is also good to get up and take a little recreation elsewhere, because when you return to your work your judgement will have improved.”

Related resources

Friday, 11 April 2008

Clouts Wood - Watercolour

Clouts Wood is located just outside Wroughton (Wiltshire). The woods which borders the valley painted in this watercolour consists mostly of oak and ash.

There is a nice walk to do in the valley.

Clouts Wood (Wroughton) - Watercolour by Benoit Philippe

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Pupils and Masters

«He is a poor pupil who does not surpass his master.»

Leonardo da Vinci

Add to Technorati Favorites

Monday, 7 April 2008

Art: You're in Business

I have exhibited several times in companies in Swindon, the town where I live. As an artist, I appreciate the opportunity to exhibit and I would like to encourage more companies to think about setting-up a gallery space in their buildings.

I am the boss of a company and I am here to make money… Why should I do that?

  • Being part of the community: by allowing local artists to exhibit, the business takes an active part in the community. One possibility is to offer the space in the following order of precedence: employees and their families and friends, local artists and finally local galleries.
  • Fostering employee’s creativity. You can invite your employees and their family to exhibit their works. Why not organize an employee photography competition with a small price? You may be surprised by the creativity of your employees and discover hidden talents. It also boosts morale. Art is rewarding and relaxing and happy employees are more productive employees.

  • Art in the workplace. If you rotate exhibitions every month and every other month, employees can enjoy new art all year round. It also provides free decoration for the office, while giving a chance to an artist to sell his or her work.

  • It’s good for business: the gallery becomes a talking point when you have customers coming to visit you. You are seen as encouraging the Art.

  • Do it for charity: One of the companies I exhibited at was asking artists to donate 10% of their proceeds to a charity. This is another way to be part of the community and to create goodwill at zero cost for the company (once the gallery is set-up).

  • The cost is mainly the initial set-up cost for the hanging system and appropriate lighting. Lights would be on anyway, so there is no additional cost here.

So, why don’t we see more companies embracing art in the workplace by creating a gallery space?

Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, 4 April 2008

Framing Pastel Drawings and Paintings

It is necessary to protect pastels under glass to avoid them to be smudged, scratched or to gather dust (I am talking here about soft pastels, not oil pastels).

I have seen two different types of framing styles for pastels. This is a matter of personal taste:

  • Frame with a mount: this works well with all sorts of pastel styles. You frame the pastel as you would do for a charcoal drawing or a watercolour.

  • Frame without mount: This method is really effective with pastel paintings that use painterly effects similar to oil paintings. You basically use the same style of frames that you would for an oil painting, the difference being that you need a glass.

Think about whether you want to use UV glass or not. It really depends on where the work is going to be hung. UV glass is more expensive and you will need to take that into account when setting your price.

Avoid acrylic sheeting because its static charge could lift the pastel dust. In addition, if you use large thin sheets of acrylic, it will bow and touch the surface of the pastel.

Make sure that the pastel does not touch the glass. Allow at least ¼ inch space between the surface of the work and the inner side of the glass pane. A mount will serve this purpose or, if you want to frame you pastel like an oil painting, you will need to insert a separator between the glass and the work.

A small amount of pastel dust is unavoidable and the best way to prevent this ruining your framing is to create a gutter where the dust can fall and settle out of sight. The illustration below shows a section of a frame sandwich and demonstrate how it is done.

It is recommended to use archival or acid free material for the backing and the mount (acidity can cause discoloration in the long term and damage the paper).

When transporting your work, avoid turning any pastel face-down. Even if you apply fixative to your work and gently tap the back of it before framing, there will always be a small amount of pastel dust likely to fall from the surface of the composition. The last thing you want is having grains of pastel dust on the glass or the mount and have to re-open the frame to clean them.

Finally, Paul Dorrell, wrote an excellent article titled “The Business of Archival Practices”. He suggests putting on a back of any work that can be damaged by UV rays a “Warning Labels” telling buyers not to hang the work in direct sunlight. His comment on this (and he is a seasoned gallery owner) is: “I realize this seems obvious, but not everyone gives thought to these issues.”

Related articles

The Business of Archival Practices by Paul Dorrell

Add to Technorati Favorites