Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Watching the world go by

When it's cold outside, you are glad to have a collection of reference photographs to work from.

I did this painting based on some photographs I took in Paris, just after painting on location the Rotonde in the Parc Monceau.

"Watching the world go by" - Oil painting on linen canvas (27 x 22 cm) by Benoit Philippe

I thought these two men were enjoying a luxury moment of calm in the craze of Parisian life. I also loved the kyosk behind them.

Follow the link to see the palette I used for this painting.

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Monday, 25 February 2008

Exploring my palette for oil painting

The word palette has a double meaning. It is the surface that the artist uses to layout his pigments and mix them together. By extension of meaning, a painter’s palette is also his personal selection of colour hues.

This is a typical palette arrangement I have used for a recent painting.

From left to right:

  • Titanium White

  • Cadmium Yellow Pale

  • Yellow Ochre

  • Cadmium Red

  • Alizarin Crimson

  • Cerulean Blue

  • Manganese Blue

  • Ultramarine Blue

  • Sap Green

  • Blockx Green

Some comments on my palette layout:

  • I may replace Manganese blue by Blue Rex.
  • I may also have “guest colours” depending on the subject I am working on. For instance, if I am working on a marine painting, I will use more hues for blue and green colours.

  • You will note that there is no black. This is because I mix my darkest tone with Crimson Red and Viridian Green. If I want to turn on the blue side, I would add some Ultramarine blue to the mix.
  • You can use Viridian green or Phthalo Green instead of Blockx Green
  • You can add some earth colours (like Burnt Umber or Raw Umber).

My colours arrangement:

  • Colours are separated between warm colours on the left and cool colours on the right side

  • The colours are somehow arranged in a clockwise fashion from light to dark. This is why the Yellow Ochre is between the yellow and the red. If I had dark earth colours (like Raw Umber), I would put them after the Crimson alizarin.

  • Colours are spread in the periphery of the palette, the centre being left free for mixing.

Different ways to organize your palette

  • You could arrange colours according to the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, black, white.
  • You could group warm colours together and cool colours together.
  • Arrange colours that you often mix together next to each other.

Points to remember:

  • There is no right or wrong way to layout your palette. It’s down to personal preference and experience. You need to find the arrangement of colours that works for you. Try an arrangement for some time and see how it works. Give it some time before you alter the way you lay out your palette.
  • Once you have found your way of doing, systematically arrange your palette in the same order. This is important as it is not easy to recognise some dark colours when they have been squeezed on the palette. You need to be able to reach for a particular colour without having to think about it every time. It’s like driving: imagine what would happen if the clutch was at a different place each time. Your mind would be distracted by it rather than concentrated on the road.

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Friday, 22 February 2008

Underpainting and wet on wet technique

You can have an underpainting even if you paint wet on wet. I do a lot of plein-air painting and you can build-up your painting wet on wet. The key is to follow the fundamental rules of painting with oil: paint fat on lean.

Brown's Extra - Oil on panel (6x8") by Benoit Philippe - This painting was done in one session using the principle described in this article.

  • At the beginning, you use turpentine or an equivalent (I am using Sanodor from Winsor & Newton, which dries more quickly). It does not matter if the paint runs on the canvas.
  • For the second stage, you use the paint with little or no thinner (there is enough oil in the tube). You can block-in with the paint that has more consistency.

  • Then you can use linseed oil or a painting medium. You can make impasto, glazes, etc. The medium will help the paint to stick onto the prevous layer.

Another key element is not to paint too thick at the beginning, otherwise you will get mud. This is probably the number one reason why people struggle with painting wet in wet with an underpainting. If you want to add texture, do that during the last stage.

In case you encounter the problem (i.e. the paint is too thick and you cannot work it without having muddy colours), you can try a salvaging method which is called Tonking. You apply a sheet of newspaper on the wet surface of the canvas, press it gently and then remove the paper. The absorbant sheet will take the excess paint and you are left with a painting surface which is workable again. You will loose some details in the process, but you will have a sound base to continue and finish your painting.

Related articles

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Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Bluebell Wood Walk

The 52 Weeks 52 Works challenge that I gave myself back in August 2007 was to paint on average one painting per week.

This particular painting took me many weeks. Actually, I painted this oil over several months. This is a commission and the brief was as follow:

  • A bluebell wood

  • The painting had to give a sense of space and high

  • Capture the dapple light on the bluebells

  • A painting with texture

Bluebell Wood Walk - Oil painting (50 x 70") by Benoit Philippe

I am pleased with the result and I believe I followed the brief. I like the elongated format of the canvas which helped to create a panoramic view of the wood. The texture in the foreground was rendered by using painting knives and hod brushes.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Art DIY and week-end projects

"DIY" or "Do It Yourself" is big in the United Kingdom. I am not sure this acronym is much in use elsewhere. With vacations looming, here is a list of resource to keep you busy:

How to Make a Paintbrush Cleaner Jar by MaryAnn Clear and published on : Learn how to make a paintbrush cleaner jar for your oil painting brushes with a tin and an empty jar.

Easel Clamp For Reference Photos by Jim Robertson on : I like the idea but I am not sure about the aesthetics. I will try to think about another implementation of the same ideas. I give you the link anyway as it should sparkle your own ideas.

Moleskine Reloaded…or, How to Rebind a Moleskine Notebook: Make a Custom DIY Sketchbook! by Martha of Trumpetvine Travels : This is one of the best examples I have seen of instructions to make your own sketchbook… by the book. You will need time and some specialised material, but the finished product looks fantastic.

How to build a palette table by Loretta on : Step by step illustrated instructions on how to build your own palette table. Not an easy 1-week-end job, but the result looks nice and is worth the effort.

How to build a pochade box using a cigar box. The same article also gives instructions to build a Box for Carrying Wet
Panels. I like the fact that the front and back of the box are made of Plexiglas. This way, you can show the painting without getting them out of the box and risking smudging the fresh paint. In addition, your painting is visible to people you pass on your way home. You never know, someone may see and like your painting…

Related articles

Making MDF canvas panels

Art DIY and week-end projects - Part 2

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Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Golden Field - Watercolour

I painted this watercolour from a photograph I took last summer.

The composition is fairly simple, but very effective with the trees and the path on the left creating a sense of mouvement towards he horizon.

Golden field - Watercolour by Benoit Philippe

I painted the trees by layering colours in alternance: sap green, raw umber and ultramarine. I wanted to keep the transparency of the watercolour while having deep shadows.

I applied masking fluid to reserve white areas in the trees and also for the grass in the foreground.

The field is painted very freely, wet on wet. I used a watercolour spay bottle (any spay bottle would do, including the one you can buy for perfumes) to keep the paper wet. I also sprayed some water onto the paint, which created and even wash and smooth grading between different colours.

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Monday, 11 February 2008

Learn and you will see

In his book
Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, Michael Mickaldo describes the newspaper headline illusion. He proposes the following experience:

“Have someone hold up a newspaper just far enough away that you cannot read the
headline. Ask the person to tell you what the headline says. As soon as they do
so, you will be able to read it. This is known as the newspaper headline
illusion, and it is based on expectation. You read the headline because you think you can read the headline because you expect to read

Vision is done as much by the brain as it is by the eyes. Your eye can “see” but your brain may not register. In fact, your brain is programmed to filter the thousands of stimuli that our senses are bombarded with every second so that we can make sense of the world around.

The trouble is that, as a painter, you want to observe the world the best you can and make conscious choices, artistic choices on what you keep and what you leave out of your work. You can improve the quality of your observation by learning what you should see.

Learning the logic of the world around will change the way you see, it in the same way that believing something is possible makes it possible.

If you doubt how the mind can expand or restrict our vision of the world and rule what we can achieve, think about this: for many years, physiologists said that it was impossible to run a mile under 4 minutes. On May 6, 1954,
Roger Bannister, a medical student, stepped onto the racetrack at Oxford, broke this barrier, and ran a mile in 3min 59.4 sec. The previous record, over 4 minutes, was 9 years old. Guess what happened next? Just 46 days later, on June 21, Bannister’s record was broken in Finland by John Landy who ran a mile in 3min 57.9 sec. Now they knew it ws possible.

There are 4 ways you can expand your observation skills:

1) By direct observation. In a fast paced world, we are not taking enough time to stop and just observe.

2) Study the work of other artists: Artists have observed the world around for centuries and have solved colour and composition problems their own way. You can take it a step further and copy the masters. By copying, you force yourself to scrutinize the model, analyze what the artist has done and your hand is able to register the information too.

3) Read books by artists. Instruction books will address technical issues and are a good way to learn the craft. But also read artist’s correspondence and writing to get new ideas and insight into their creative process.

4) Read books on various topics like science or geography. I already mentioned this point in my previous article on
Drawing and painting trees. Science feeds on observation as much as art does. Leonardo da Vinci was a perfect example of scientific curiosity nourishing an artistic vision. If you read descriptions of trees, if you learn the name and shapes of clouds formations, if you learn how they appear and evolve, you will be able to observe them and draw them more accurately. As an example, a book I have on my reading list is “The Cloudspotter's Guide” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

Related articles

Drawing and painting trees.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Wandering In The Woods - Watercolour

After a long period painting only with oil, I came back to watercolour. This is a view of a little wood in Swindon. Although it is in the middle of town, you get some views without any building and you feel as if you were in a big forest.

I used mostly dry technique, only spraying some water with a spray bottle to paint the blueish background.

I also used masking fluid to reserve the light areas on the path, create light in the foliage and draw the ferns and grass blades in the foreground.

Wandering in the Wood (37 cm X 30 cm )- Watercolour by Benoit Philippe

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Monday, 4 February 2008

Visiting the Triton Museum of Art

Entrance of the Triton Museum of Art

I recently reported on the plein-air painting exhibition
"A Brush With Nature" at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara.

The Triton Museum of Art is a very minimalist space, with good lighting conditions. The building is simple and modern. It combines exhibition space with some studio space where workshops and art classes are ran on a regular basis. I like this idea of "living museum" where conservation and teaching spaces are hosted under the same roof.

The garden at the back of the museum showcases a collection of sculptures. You can seat there on benches and relax while enjoying the art. This is a good way to finish your visit.

The sculptures in the Museum's garden

A quick sketch I made from the bronze sculpture

Triton Museum of Art

1505 Warburton Avenue

Santa Clara, California 95050

Monday - Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Friday - Sunday: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

FREE admission

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