Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Painting dappled light

Sunny days are back in England and trees are full of leaves. The sunlight going through the trees’ foliage forms spots of light on the ground. I took some snapshots of the patterns form by the light spots on a path.

Observe these spots of light and note the following:

  • Some spots are more luminous than others;
  • When the spots overlap, their intersection is more luminous;
  • The light spots have a soft edge rather than a hard edge;
  • Spots of lights are subject to the law of perspective and are seen as ellipsis from a distance.

But why are these spots round when the holes between the leaves are not? The answer is that these round spots of lights are the sun projected on the ground. The physics is the same as for the pinhole camera.

So, if each spot of light is a projection of the sun, their shape would be different during a solar eclipse. This is correct: the spots become crescents of light.

Image of the sun during a solar eclipse through the leaves of a tree. October 3, 2005, St Juliens, Malta – picture by User:Ellywa - Source: Wikimedia Common

Dapple light is a good way to bring variety to a landscape or a scene. You can selectively bring some elements of the subject under the spotlight. The difficulty is to avoid having a patchwork of colours and tone without any focus. Renoir used dapple light in an effective way in his painting Bal du moulin de la Galette.

Bal du moulin de la Galette by Auguste Renoir (Oil on canvas - 1876) Musée d'Orsay – Source: Wikimedia Common

Monday, 21 May 2012

Picasso’s quick prototyping

Quick prototyping consists in iterating quickly different versions of the same project in order to test your ideas. It is practical when the iteration is not expensive in terms of money and time.

Making a series of sketches before committing to the final composition of a painting is one form of quick prototyping. Having to correct errors at a later stage would be more painful and time consuming. I found a very good and practical example of quick prototyping by Picasso.

Françoise Gilot, in her book “Life with Picasso” explains:

“I suggested that since all the elements of the composition were perfect and it was only the question of balance that bothered him, he try the solution he had brought to my portrait: cut out the skull from a piece of paper and move it around in different areas of the canvas. He cut out another skull form and, hiding the painted one with one hand, moved the paper skull wherever he felt it might prove sufficiently disturbing. He finally found a spot that was much more unexpected than the original one and provided just the kind of fateful juxtaposition he was seeking, where the balance hung by a thread. Then he was satisfied.”

This is such a simple yet powerful way to test a change you want to make to a painting in progress. You can judge directly the visual impact of the change and also find unexpected placement of elements.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Drawing and colour are not distinct

“Drawing and colour are not distinct, at the same time we paint we draw; the more colour gets harmonized, the more precise drawing becomes. When colour is the richest, form reaches its fullness. Contrast and tones relationships, these are the secret of drawing and relief.”

Paul Cézanne, quoted by Emile Bernard in his article “Paul Cézanne” (revue l’Occident, July 1904)

Monday, 14 May 2012

Parklands Road - painting demonstration

I took a few photographs and some notes while painting "Parklands Road".

Parklands Road - Oil on canvas (60 cm x 30 cm) by Benoit Philippe [Click on the image to see a larger version]

To make this oil painting of a road in Swindon (Wiltshire - England), I took a series of photographs. I then put them side by side on a PowerPoint slide to create a ribbon.

I wanted to create an impression of calm and vastness, so I selected a long canvas: 60 cm x 30 cm. I prepared the ground by tinting the primed canvas with two coats of gesso mixed with some red and Yellow Ochre acrylic paint.

I drew the row of houses on the canvas with a Faber-Castell black drawing pen. I then put a dab of Yellow Ochre and a dab of Burnt Umber on my palette and painted a tonal wash over the drawing. I used a large flat hog brush and  some odourless solvent (Winsor & Newton Sanodor).

The next phase was the block-in.

For this painting, my palette was composed of:
  • Titanium white (W&N); 
  • Naples Yellow Substitute (Roberson); 
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale (W&N); 
  • Transparent Yellow Oxide (Roberson); 
  • Cadmium Red (W&N) ; 
  • Alizarin Crimson (W&N); 
  • Phthalo Blue (W&N) and 
  • French Ultramarine (W&N).
For the Titanium White, I use some Winsor & Newton Griffin Alkyd, a fast drying oil paint that help to shorten the drying time of my paintings. It can be mixed with other oil paint colours without any issue.

I blocked-in the different masses with mid-range tones. At this stage, my goal was to fill-in the whole canvas and not to have too many sharp edges. I worked only with odorless turpentine and tried to get a good consistency with the paint.

After the block-in phase is finished, I reworked the whole canvas with softer brushes and some painting medium in order to glaze colours over the fresh paint.

I started with the sky, glazing some  Phthalo Blue at the top, as well as some Naples Yellow for the clouds. Towards the horizon, I added some white tinted with a little Ultramarine Blue. I glazed over the far away landscape with the same mixture to push it further into the distance.

Once the glazes with the medium started to set, I blended them with a very soft badger brush.

To give the picture the glow of late summer evenings, with the sun setting down, I glazed the brick houses with orange tones. To work on the houses, the trees and the grass, I worked only with two brushes: a bright No. 8 (Daler Rowney - Graduate) and a round No. 12 (same brand).

The white highlights on the windows and roof edges created an impression of enough details to define some focal points.

Notice how the edge of the roof for the house on the right is close in tone to the background. Both the roof and the background are also painted with neutral colours. By contrast, the house on the left has the ridge of its roof lighted by the sun. The orange contrasts with the purple shadow.

I finished by painting the grass with successive glazes of green, Transparent Yellow Oxide, Cadmium Yellow Pale and white. I wanted to make it looked like some waves of grass were under a projector.

I thought about adding a figure walking in the grass on the right side of the painting, but decided not to do so.    The painting is more mysterious without any person in the frame and the blue car was sufficient to remind us of the human presence in this cityscape.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Parklands road - Oil painting

Parklands road - Oil painting on canvas (60 cm x 30 cm) by Benoit Philippe

Friday, 4 May 2012

Repetitions with variations

I recently reviewed the book “The Simple Secret to Better Painting” by Greg Albert. I still think is it a good book, but there is one aspect that Greg Albert did not cover explicitly in his book: the importance of patterns.

I believe one key principle of composition is: Repetition with variation.

Let’s take the painting Port Marly, gelée blanche (Port Marly, hoarfrost), an oil on canvas by Alfred Sisley, as an example.

Port Marly, gelée blanche - Port Marly, hoarfrost - Oil on canvas (1872) by Alfred Sisley (Paris, 1839 – Moret-sur-Loing, 1899)

An obvious application of this principle is to have a repetition of an element in the painting in different sizes. A group of several trees of similar shapes but different sizes will work well on this principle.

The trees on the left form a repeated round shape

Another form of repetition with variation is less obvious but also works well: The underlying geometry of the composition can be based on similar shapes repeated in different sizes.

The shape of the river bank forms two similar  triangle rectangles

The shape of the sky and the shape of the water are almost two mirror shapes of different size.

The reason patterns are necessary for a pleasing composition is that we are addicted to them. As Marcus du Sautoys commented in his book The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey through Everyday Life:

“But how do you come up with a sequence of choices which you can be certain is random and does not have some hidden pattern? It’s a real problem: we humans are notoriously bad at producing random sequences – we are so addicted to patterns that we tend to let structure seep into any random sequence we try to put together.”

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