Monday, 25 January 2010

The power of checklists

At the week-end, I read in the Saturday Times a good review of a recent book titled “ The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right ” by Atul Gawande.

The book contains stories on how the introduction of checklists in hospitals let to significant results. For instance, a study showed that of the five basic steps that doctors could take to help to prevent line infections, doctors skipped at least one in at least a third of cases. By using a simple checklist, ten-day line-infection rates went from 11 per cent to zero.

Another profession to use checklists is aircraft pilots. In fact, use of checklist has become common in aircraft safety procedures.

It is easy to dismiss the use of checklists because they are low tech, simple and don’t cost anything. How such a simple tool can be effective in this age of electronics and gadgets? Are these simple tools being there to help the simple minds? Yet surgeons and pilots are using them and checklists save lives everyday.

There is a quote in the Saturday Times article to which I totally subscribe: “It is discipline rather than brilliance that preserves life. Indeed, discipline leaves more room for brilliance.”

Having checklist for routine tasks in your daily artist practice free-up your mind and let you concentrate on the creative side.

Checklists for artists

I found that checklists are not only practical, but also a great way to incorporate what you learn on the way. You discover that you forgot something when you go through the checklist and add it for the next time. By tweaking your checklist, you make your processes more efficient and you spend less time on tasks away from your easel.

Examples of checklists for artists:

  • Organising an exhibition checklist

  • Installing and exhibition checklist

  • New painting checklist

  • Framing checklist

  • Plein-air painting pack checklist

  • Shipping art checklist

  • New gallery checklist

  • Contract checklist

This is just scratching the surface…

Related resources

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Friday, 22 January 2010

BBC Wiltshire gallery

Last weeks, the BBC contacted me because they were redoing their website and asked me if they could make a gallery with my paintings of local landscapes... an offer you cannot refuse.

The results looks really good. I let you judge by yourself by visiting the BBC website.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Do you use black?

Black is an old colour; amongst the oldest ones used in art in fact. Cavemen drew amazing scenes in caves with carbon (from burnt wood), together with earth colours like yellow and red earth.

I am not a big fan of black “out of the tube” and in fact, my palette does not generally bear any. I prefer to mix my black using Ultramarine blue, Crimson Alizarin and Phtalo Green in various proportions (depending on whether I want a cool or warm black) or to use substitutes such as Van Dick Brown. I have a few tubes of different black colours that I used sparingly. Because of this, I have not paid too much attention on how one black differs from another (which I started to investigate).

Rembrandt used Mars black and black was very present in old masters’ paintings, in particular from the Flemish school. So why black is today on many painters’… black list.

I believe there are historical, psychological and practical reasons to the lost popularity of black as a colour in painting (it is interesting to note that black retains a very strong presence is fashion or in electronic consumer products).

Looking at art history, the turning point is the late Impressionism period, but this is an over-generalisation to put all painters in the same pool. Edouard Manet used black to very good effect and others like Cezanne did to. Monet is often quoted to support the ban of black from the palette (in the same way earth colours became suspect). In fact, Monet used black (see
Monet’s palette) in the early stage of his career.

As far as symbolism is concerned, the colour black is associated in Western cultures with death and mourning. This probably contributed to its downfall.

On the practical side, mixing colours with black leads quickly to muddy or dull colours. Used as a pure colour, it can become overpowering. It is hard to use black sensibly and to good effect.

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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Cleaning your brushes for oil painting

To make them last, you have to take good care of your brushes for oil paint. Leave the paint to dry on the brush and you can bin it. How to clean my brushes is one of the first things my father tought me and it is an integral part of my painting routine. A painting session is only finished when all brushes have been cleaned and stored properly.
If you are in a field trip, it is allright to only deep clean your brushes at the end of the day, but don’t wait until the next day.

Here is the process I am using:

  1. Wipe the brush on a rag to remove the excess paint. Make sure you wipe it by pulling the brush towards you, so you don’t run the brush contrary to the hair.
  2. Dip the head of the brush in a jar of solvent to rinse it and then run the brush on the rag to remove the diluted paint. Do not leave the brush to soak in the jar.
  3. Then use liquid soap to remove the rest of the paint. In order to do this, I put a blob of soap in the palm of my hand and drive the soap into the brush tip with circling mouvements to work the soap into bristles. I then gently squeeze the head of the brush between my index and thumb, starting from the ferrule and ending at the tip of the brush, to exude the soap. I do not pull the bristle. I rinse the brush under running water, which helps removing the soap with the “trapped” paint.
  4. I start again with fresh soap in the palm of my hand, until there is no more trace of colour in the soap exuded from the brush head. It will take several goes as the paint gets trapped inside the ferrule.
  5. At the end, use your finger to fashion the hair into its original shape while bristle is moist.
  6. I clean my hand thoroughly. Some paints contain chemicals that can be harmful. If you are concerned about the health and safety of this process, you should wear rubber gloves.
  7. I let the bristle to dry on the edge of the window sill and then store the clean brush in a jar with the bristle-end up (otherwise, it would damage the bristle).

Friday, 8 January 2010

Snow in the garden - oil painting

This is a view from the kitchen's window. The snow makes everything look pretty and somehow magical.

Snow in the garden - oil on canvas panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Painting snow – Learning from Claude Monet

It has been snowing all night and every inch of ground is covered in snow. I like painting snowy landscapes, so this is great news. One of my favourite paintings is a snow painting by Claude Monet with a magpie perched on top of a fence gate. I never miss an occasion to go to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris (France) to see it. This painting was done by Monet on site in the countryside near Etretat. The painting was rejected by the jury of the 1869 salon in Paris.

The Magpie by Claude Monet. Between 1868 and 1869 - (89 cm x 130 cm) Oil on canvas.

The magpie makes a perfect focus point for the painting as its black and white feathers sum-up perfectly the contrast created in a snowy landscape. It also brings some life to the landscape. The backlit scene with some rays of light peering through the hurdle and projecting the shadows towards the viewer adds to the dramatic effect.

What can we learn from this painting?

Using a limited palette: Monet used a very restrained palette compared to his other works and the snow is painted in high key, reinforcing the contrast with the dark tree bark. The overall painting is very luminous, even with the use of pale colours. If it is snowing or the sky is grey, the spectrum of colours becomes narrower with mid-tones becoming grey.

High contrasts: See how the trees and tree branches are very dark, with the use of black and dark brown. The intensity of the light on the snow makes everything look darker to our eye. In your painting, you can recreate the effect of nature by using darker tone for objects and trees covered or surrounded by snow. Another form of contrast is between the cool colours of the snow and the warmer brown tones of the trees and the buildings.

The sky tone: The sky is darker than the rest of the landscape. Normally, the sky is always lighter in tone than the landscape, except when it is snowing.

The snow is not white: Notice that there is no pure white in this painting and that the shadow of the hurdle is painted with some grey blue. Painting snow is the occasion to explore a palette of tinted white, from blue to yellowish white.

The snow covers the landscape: If you take a close looks at the foreground, you will see that the snow was painted on top of a Yellow Ochre background. Touches of paint for the snow are intertwined with spots of ground colour. In the same way, Monet painted the snow on the hurdle and on the branches last. This is why I think it is easier to paint snow landscape in oil or acrylic (that have good covering property) rather than in watercolour where you have to reserve the white.

Simplify the background: You can simplify a lot as soon as you do away from the foreground. If the snow is falling down, visibility will be reduced and far away trees will be light grey of brown masses.

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