Monday, 30 November 2009

New exhibition

I have a new exhibition at RWE nPower in Swindon for the whole of December. It is only accessible to RWE's employee but it is still a great opportunity as it is their headquarter.
I have 27 paintings on show (oil paintings and watercolour paintings)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki

Kiasma was opened in May 1998. The building, located right in the centre of Helsinki (Finland) was designed by the American architect Steven Holl. The design is pure with curves and white walls with plenty of natural light coming from the roof.

The main entrance with the reflection in the window of the nearby statue of Marshal Mannerheim.

The curved roof of the building is made of solid zinc that has been patinated to emulate the effect of about 5 years' weathering.

One thing that modern museums got right is to create an uncluttered space for visitors to enjoy the art and to give ample space for the works to breathe.

For copyright reason, I could not take any photographs of the art inside the museum. Most of the works on exhibit are by Finish artists.

In the exhibition “Traces”, Darth Vader with a bendy neon lightsaber by Anssi Kasitonni made me smile. You can see it on
Anssi Kasitonni’s website. I like modern art when it is humorous, crafty, clever, or makes use of new materials in interesting ways.

Another sculpture I liked was Drop by Heikki Ryynänen. It shows a drop falling in four different stages (as if the scene was a sequence of high speed photographs). Forms made of painted birch wood are beautiful and this is a clever way of implying movement with stillness.

Practical information

Kiasma is open
Tue: 10-17
Wed-Fri: 10-20.30
Sat-Sun: 10-18
Closed on Mondays

Tickets 7e/5e
Under 18 year-olds free.
Free admission on the first Wednesday of the month at 5-8 pm.

Kiama museum website

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Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Ambroise Vollard on Renoir

“I have been a model a number of times. Renoir, in particular, painted several portraits of me, including one as a matador. A that time, Renoir was seventy-five. Crippled with rhumatism, he carried on working with the enthousiasm of youth. I can still see him, going painting plein-air, carried in an armchair by the tall Louise and Baptistin, the gardener. Brushes had to be tied-up between his fingers.”

Ambroise Vollard in “Recollections of a Picture Dealer”

Ambroise Vollard Portrait, oil on canvas, 102x83 cm,1917r, in private collection.
Source: Wikimedia

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Friday, 13 November 2009

Helsinki's harbour - oil painting

I painted this scene from a reference photograph I took with my mobile phone in Helsinki last week, one day after the first snow fall of the year. This part of the harbour runs in parallel with the street named Docksgatan.

Helsinki's harbour - oil on panel by Benoit Philippe

In order to get the subject right, I had to shot the picture from afar and use the ditigal zoom, which means loosing some resolution. The resulting photograph is not very luminous and a little blurry. However, I found that sometimes, bad photographs make good reference for painting because they don’t dictate too much. To get the most out of it, I looked at the picture on the screen of my laptop while painting rather than trying to work from a print out.

I selected seven colours that I found suitable to compose a winter palette:

  • Titanium White
  • Chrome Yellow
  • Transparent Yellow Oxide (by C. Roberson & Co.)
  • Terra Piozzuoli (by Mussini / Schmicke)
  • Vermilion red
  • Phtalo blue
  • Ivory Black

Apart from Phtalo Blue that I used to mix cool greys and the greenish grey of the water, these colours are on the warm side. Terra Piozzuoli was useful for the brick walls of the docks.

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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cretacolor pencils product test

I bought some new pencils manufactured by Cretacolor for sketching.

I did a quick drawing to test then.

Waiting at Helsinki airport - by Benoit Philippe

The Monolith Graphite pencil

The Monolith Graphite is a woodless pencil. The pencil is a pure graphite lead covered with a thin lacquer coating. The feeling is strange at first as the pencil is colder than a wooden one but the lacquer coating is really smooth and comfortable.

I chose a 9B as I wanted to be able to get very dark marks. It is easy to get a good spectrum of tones from very dark to very light, just by varying the pressure of the lead on the paper. Because there is no wood, you can achieve a broad stroke with the side of the lead or fine lines with the point.

These graphite pencils can be sharpened with a regular sharpener and are available in six grades: HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, 8B, 9B.

AquaMonolith pencils

These aquarelle pencils are made out of a water-soluble lead protected with a thin coating of lacquer.

The diameter of the lead is 7 mm is and as there is no wood, it is easy to obtain broad strokes by inclining the pencil when working.

The AquaMonolith pencils can be sharpened with standard sharpeners.

I bought the following colours:

Ivory Black – Number 252 50

Dark grey - Number 252 35

Blue Grey – Number 252 37

and the Light Grey – Number 252 32

The verdict

These pencils are heavier than wood pencils. This is an advantage when it comes to balance and precision but could be more tiring over a long drawing session. The possibility to have fine lines with the point and broad strokes with the side of the cone is a definite plus.

The quality of the graphite and water soluble graphite is very good and these pencils offer a great range of tone and texture (from rough to subtle washes when brushed over with water).

Overall, these pencils are great products worth adding to your sketching kit.

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Monday, 9 November 2009

Looking outside - mural

This is different from my usual paintings. My youngest daughter wanted to have a window painted in her room, with a cat looking outside. I painted it in one week, while the family was away.

Looking outside - mural in oil painting by Benoit Philippe

Looking outside (detail)

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Painting the sky

This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – November 2009.

If you are a landscape painter, you already know that the sky plays a major role in your overall painting. In order to avoid a bland division of space, I would advocate not placing the horizon line right in the middle of your painting. This means that, if you choose a low horizon, the sky could take more than two third of the painted surface and, if you go for a high horizon, around one third of the surface. The last thing you want is a boring sky.

Weymouth Bay - Oil painting by John Constable - National Gallery (Source: Wikimedia)

The sky is more than a backdrop on a theatre’s stage because it conditions the quality of the light and therefore the brightness and tone of all colours. A blue sky reflects on all objects in the landscape. In the same way, a stormy sky will shed a grey light on the land and bring out very specific colours. If you work from photographs, you cannot just take a scene captured on a sunny day, change the colour of the sky to grey and hope it works as a rainy day scene. The whole palette is affected by the quality of the light and this artificial juxtaposition would just feel wrong.

There is nothing like a blue sky. What I mean by this is that you will find many types of blue colours in the sky, many nuances and variations; and this is what makes the sky so interesting to paint. An excellent way to analyze and compare the colour of the sky in different areas is to take a sheet of white A4 paper in portrait format and cut out two small square windows (one square inch will do) ; one two inches from the upper edge and another one two inches from the lower edge. Then, hold the piece of paper against the sky you are observing and compare the two “samples” of sky in the square windows. Because you isolate these two areas, you can see the difference in colour.

Imagine that the sky is like a high ceiling that goes down as it recedes and merges with the horizon. The colour of the sky fades and its intensity lessen as it goes towards the horizon.

Let’s now talk about clouds. They are the most interesting features as they bring diversity, volume and movement to the sky. They also have an abstract quality that fires the imagination. Do you remember looking at clouds as a child and finding all sorts of figures, animal and objects in these morphing clouds?

Clouds come in various forms and shapes. Be aware that different types of clouds are found at different altitudes: high level clouds include Cirrus; medium-level clouds include Altostratus and Altocumulus. Stratocumulus, Stratus, Nimbostratus; and Cumulus are all low-level clouds. Finally, a Cumulonimbus is a cloud that develops vertically. As painters, we are interested in different texture and clouds can be transparent like Cirrus or opaque and creamy like Cumulus.

Here are some pointers when you paint clouds:

  • Clouds are not flat but three dimensional objects subject to the rules of perspective. Think of them as rounded objects lit by the sun.

  • As they recede towards the horizon, clouds appear smaller.

  • Introduce variety in the shape of your clouds, while maintaining the characteristics of the family they belong to.

  • Take note of the position of the sun and make sure your light and shadows are consistent in all your clouds.

  • Clouds are not white. They also reflect the colour of the sky. Reserve the white for highlights.

  • Clouds have shadows in them. The difference is sometime subtle but you will always have some type of shadow areas with slightly darker tones. I like to use a mix of ultramarine with a hint of Yellow Ochre and Carmine Alizarin to create shadows in clouds.

  • By default, you should treat the edges of clouds as soft edges. Even if you see a well defined outline of a Cumulus, chances are that some blending happens on the edge due to the misty nature of clouds. Also observe how the tone at the base of clouds is very close to the tone of the sky touching such a base, so that an optical blending happens between the two.
The best way to capture the variety of the sky and clouds is to go out and do some plein-air painting. During windy days, clouds move fast and if you are inexperienced, I would recommend that you take a couple of reference photographs for your peace of mind. When you paint from nature, quickly draw the general shape of the clouds, mark their position and outline their shadows. You can make some adjustments and refine them after you have painted the colour of the sky.

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Monday, 2 November 2009

Pulteney Bridge - oil painting

I did this painting on location one week ago. The weather was good but windy.

Pulteney bridge (Bath) - Oil on canvas (12" x 10") by Benoit Philippe

The bridge, located in the city of Bath in Avon (England), was designed by the architect Robert Adam in the Palladian Bridge. Completed in 1773, the bridge was named after Frances Pulteney, the heiress of the Bathwick estate. It is one of the few bridges in the world with shops build across the bridge on both side of the road