Monday, 29 September 2008

“Hokusai & Hiroshige - On a Journey to Edo” Exhibition

This exhibition, currently on at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki (Finland), features a selection of coloured woodcuts by Hokusai (1760 –1849) and Hiroshige (1797–1858), two major artists from Japan's Edo period (1603 – 1867).

The prints on show come from the Yasusaburo Hara Collection in Tokyo. Yasusaburo Hara (1884 – 1982) was a Japanese industrial.

Water is omnipresent and landscapes are everyday scenes brought to life with peasants and animals. The colours of the woodcuts are limited (Indigo, red, black and green) but applied with gradations and variations. The blue colour, in particular, is used with wonderful gradation, from and intense indigo (almost Prussian blue in the dark) to a light veil of transparent colour.

Hokusai (1760 –1849)
Hokusai began at 14 as a woodcutter apprentice. He was influenced by western copperplate engravings. I knew about the influence of Japanese art on Monet (Giverny’s house feature many Japanese woodcuts), Mary Cassatt or Gauguin, but did not realise that western art influenced Japanese art in return.

Hokusai published a series of engraving called “Thirty six views of Mount Fuji”. He also published fifteen volumes of manga, with thousands of sketches of landscapes, people and animals.

In his commentary for the exhibition Heikki Malme (Ateneum's Chief Curator) reports the following story: “At the age of 88, just before he died, Hokusai is said to have exclaimed “If only fate had given me five more years, I could have become a true artist.”. Whether he really said that or not is not really important, it is such a perfect translation of every artist’s endless quest towards perfection.

The Great Wave (image source: Wikipedia)

Hokusai’s most famous engraving “The Great Wave”, is on show. The mouvement is beautiful ; you can feel the strengh of the wave and the finger-like foam is litteraly gripping.

Hiroshige (1797–1858)

Hiroshige was a member of the lower samourai class. He became a student of Utagawa Toyohiro. His town of Edo was a major source of inspiration and he made around 900 paintings and drawings of Edo.

Hiroshige has published The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road (c. 1831–34) which was an instant success and The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road (c. 1834–42),

Where and when

Hokusai & Hiroshige - On a Journey to Edo
5 Sep–7 Dec 2008

Exhibition curated by Heikki Malme, Ateneum's Chief Curator.

Ateneum Art Museum
Kaivokatu 2
Ateneum Art Museum website:

Related resources


Hokusai: Prints and Drawings (African, Asian & Oceanic Art)
Hokusai, First Manga Master
The Sketchbooks of Hiroshige (Dover Pictorial Archives) (Dover Pictorial Archives)
Ando Hiroshige: Master of Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints (Taschen Basic Art Series)
Hiroshige: Japan's Great Landscape Artist

Friday, 26 September 2008

Filling the gap – A composition exercise

When reading the book titled The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp, I noticed the following passage:
“Henry James said that genius is the act of perceiving similarity among disparate things. In an empty room, you’re to connect the dots, linking A to B to C to may be come-up with H.”
This, in turn, made me think of the following exercise one could do to get better at composing paintings:

  • Take a blank piece of paper

  • Draw with a pencil two objects anywhere on the page, but make sure they are distant one from the other.

  • The exercise consists in drawing other objects to link the two first objects in a pleasing composition.

Here is an example below.

You could do the same exercise with three objects.

Related articles

Add to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Pack for plein air oil painting

This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – September 2008.

Plein air painting (from the French “plein air” which means “in open air”) refers to works completed on location. Constable in England believed in the virtue of painting directly from nature. In France, Millet and Corot from the Barbizon school went in the countryside to paint realistic scenes. The impressionists followed their lead and many painters today paint on location.

You want to pack light for your painting expedition so that you can walk to your ideal painting spot, not always accessible by car. Here is a list of essential equipment:

- Paint: select a reduced palette of six to eight colours plus a tube of Titanium white.

- Paint brushes: A selection of your usual brushes in various sizes. You should be able to complete a whole canvas with only a couple of brushes.

- Odourless solvent in a safe container. Put the container in a zip bag in case of spillage.

- Paper towels: plenty of them.

- Rubbish bags: supermarket carrier bags are perfect for this. Use one bag for your rubbish as you want to leave the site you paint spotless. I also use a bag to transport my dirty brushes back home. I first wrap the brushes’ heads into a paper towel that I maintain in place with an elastic band.

- An easel: If you are starting, buy a simple aluminium easel. These types of easels are inexpensive, light and sturdy. You need a backpack to carry the rest of your equipment. Another option is a French easel. Made of wood, it combines the easel itself with a storage box for your material and palette. The drawback is its weight. Finally, if you paint small formats (like 6” x 8” panels), think about buying a pochade box. These clever boxes have an integrated palette and their lid stores safely a canvas board, even with fresh paint on it.

- A digital camera: this is optional, but it helps in case the weather changes or if you don’t have the time to finish your painting on site and need a reference photograph.

Make sure you wear neutral colours clothes. You don’t want a red top to reflect on a white canvas and distort the colours.

Have your pack always ready, so you can make the

most of a sunny spell and spend the limited time you have painting, not packing.

Related articles

Bringing home your wet canvas

Inside my pochade box

10 ways a painter can use digital photography

Add to Technorati Favorites

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Pepper and chillis - composition analysis

Last week's post, Pepper and chillis - oil painting demonstration, showed you the different stages of this oil painting:

I would like to explore now its composition and show you different techniques you can use in your own paintings to achieve a pleasing composition and create the illusion of mouvement.

This painting has a strong horizontal composition. The canvas is elongated and called for a panoramic view. Note that the three sections are not equal but get wider as you go from the foreground to the background.

The perspective is apparent on the left side with the edge of the tea towel. This helps to break the horizontal lines.

Depth is suggested by a number of oblique lines in the design. Most of them are pointing in the same direction and bring some mouvement to the painting.

Linking the different objects in your still-life is the best way to achieve a unified composition and lead the eye of the viewer in a gentle way. The overlapping chillis also reinforce the illusion of a third dimension.

The green line shows the general dynamic of the painting. See how the different elements are organised around a simple curve that is reminiscent of the round pepper and chillis.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Pepper and chillis - oil painting demonstration

This painting was done at night and I installed the composition on a the table I also used to lay out my painting material.

I took a couple of digital pictures in case I would need them as reference (I ended-up no using them, painting only from nature).

I used the same lamp (an easel lamp from the Daylight company with a daylight bulb which simulates the day light and avoid bad surprises the next day) to light my model and my canvas. Artificial light coming from this unique source projected strong shadows that worked well with the bold red colours of the pepper and chillis. It also created stronger highlights.

As the canvas was a small format, I used my pochade box rather than my French easel.

Colours were laid on the palette the way I usually do, so I didn't have to think about where a particular colour was. From left to right: Titanium White (Griffin Alkyd), Cadmium Yellow Pale, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Umber, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Sap Green and Viridian Green.

The canvas was a linen canvas on which I had applied an additional layer of grey tinted gesso.

I oulined the subject directly with a small hog brush dipped into diluted Raw Umber. In this instance, I did not have to make any correction, but the paint would be easy to wipe out if necessary.

The block-in stage served to indicate the large panes of colours, as well as starting to build-up the paint tickness. After that, I started to use a painting medium instead of the Sanodor thinner.

Almost there... The pepper looked good: round and shinny. I still had to work on the background.

The finished painting. I let it to dry and will sign it later, in the right lower corner in order to preserve a balanced composition.

Monday, 15 September 2008

A perfect Saturday for painting

Last Saturday gave us, in the UK, a glimpse of what summer should have been. I put my pochade box in a backpack, took the bike out and went to do some plein air painting all afternoon. Here is the result.

Coate Water lake - Oil on panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

Coate Water reflexion - Oil on panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

The orange meadow - Oil on panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Pepper and chillis - Oil painting

The red colour of the pepper and chillis look so bright in our vegetable box that I had to set-up this still life and paint.

Pepper and chillis - Oil on linen canvas (27 x 16 cm) by Benoit Philippe

Monday, 8 September 2008

Metal Tube Squeezer

Early in the year, I bought a tube squeezer in the US. You can read the post I wrote at the time on the advantage of having one.

It was a plastic model and, unfortunately, it broke after I dropped it.

I just bought a metal one as replacement and I hope to keep and use it for years to come. The amusing fact is that I found this one on eBay; not in the art supply section ... but in the hairdressing material section. Hairdressers use tube squeezer to get the last drop out of coloration tubes.

Friday, 5 September 2008

How much for the letuce? - Oil painting

Markets are part of a long tradition in France and many people still go to the market once a week to buy fruits and vegetables. These places are bursting with colours, life and enthusiasm.

Fruits are stacked in artful pyramids and vegetables, displayed in wooden crates, paint an edible chess-board.

How much for this letuce? - Oil on linen canvas (35 x 27 cm) by Benoit Philippe

This particular market is named "Marché Poncelet" and is located in the 17th area of Paris.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Pekka Halonen at the Ateneum Art Museum

In August, I had to go to Helsinki and took a couple of hours to visit the Ateneum Art Museum. The great exhibition of the moment (7 March to 24 August) was about Pekka Halonen.

Pekka Halonen (1865 -1933) was born into a Finnish-speaking family in Lapinlahti, northern Savo. He studied at the Finnish Art Society drawing school of Helsinki from 1886 to 1890. In 1890, he won a travel bursary to study in Paris. He went at the Académie Julian. In 1893, he became a private student of Gauguin.
Pekka Halonen: Self-Portrait, 1906. Ateneum

The exhibition, curated by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, covers 40 years of Halonen’s career through almost 300 works.

It is interesting to see the evolution of the painter’s style. Early works are good but academic. His portraits remained more conventional that the rest of his paintings. His works brighten after his Parisian studies and nn the 1910s, he made an incursion into Colourism. He was also influenced by Gauguin and Symbolism (driving his art to clear outlines and simpler shapes).

Halonen is a painter of nature and the exhibition displays an interesting series of waterfalls. His winter landscapes are really unique. The snow on the trees gives the impression of living creatures, with very organic forms. Some of these paintings (there was a room full of them) seem almost abstract. The snow landscapes from his colourist period (around 1910) are uplifting: the same organic exuberance found in earlier winter landscapes is complemented by clear colours. Snow glows and is enriched with blue and purple shadows against pale orange or pink lights.

He was also influenced by Japanese painting with the tall and narrow kakemono shape. Several paintings use tall canvases with a high placement of the horizon for dramatic effect. This is something I want to try.
On art, Halonen said: “Art should not affect the raw nerves like a scouring brush. Rather, it should give peace. This is the only way I have understood art, ever since my youth. I have never painted for anyone but myself. The quest for peace and harmony in art has, in a manner of speaking, become part of my religion.”

Related information

Page on the exhibition on the web site of the Ateneum Museum.

The Finnish National Gallery Collection web site has photograph of 74 paintings by Halonen.
Ateneum Art Museum
Kaivokatu 2, FI-00100 Helsinki
Info: +358 (0)9 1733 6401