Saturday, 25 October 2014

Forgiven by Vellum

As I sit at my desk I find myself going through my morning mantras to help me get going. It's always tough to get on with work when you are self employed, but I am finding it especially tricky today. It's lovely and sunny outside and I would like to sit and bask in the light like a cat and do nothing all day long, but that experience is for tomorrow for this morning I ought to get on with a bit of work. I think that is the toughest aspect of living in Andalucía! It's so tempting to act like you are on holiday all of the time.

Conker Shells - a work in progress

My morning habits usually inspire me to work, but they have failed in epic proportions today, so I thought I'd get on with this blog post as that usually works. I find reflecting on yesterday's work can be a good spur. I am going to try to keep it short and sweet and focused... As promised it is about how I am actually finding painting on Rory McEwen's vellum. Well, over the past week I have to say I have enjoyed it immensely. I secretly knew I would, but I didn't think I'd take to it like a duck on water. The great thing about it is that it is a very natural product. It is this aspect of the material that I notice first thing when I put my brush on it's surface. Everything is incredibly organic. If anything, it started to make me feel like my paints and brushes were too manufactured. I begin to want an old fashioned Chinese brush and natural pigments. So I guess I notice it's purity and wholesomeness to begin with.

Sense of scale - conker shells a work in progress

Then there is the actual painting experience itself. Although it is a dry brush technique you do need some water. However not much it has to be said. If you are a wet on wet type don't be sad though, as I have found that there is something about the surface of the vellum which means it is reliably forgiving and relatively easy to blend in colours as long as you don't chuck a bucket of water over it...

So you know when you have a shape to colour in and the colour slowly fades out (as opposed to a tint) to the edge? I am guessing that most of us would probably put down a layer of water and then add the colour to one side and watch it bleed across the paper until it fades to nothingness. Easy - Bob's your uncle! Well it is true you certainly can't do it like that with vellum, but what you can do is blend the colours out very easily with a damp brush. I also find that with paper you can get these horrible edges around washes where they have dried out before you've had a change to soften them. With vellum, you don't get these lines, or if you do you can remove them because the paint does move around a lot more - there is less permanence. So what I am saying is I don't believe that it is like using the dry brush technique on paper. Painting on vellum is a technique all on it's own - it stands alone. 

Getting back to the fact that the paint does move around a lot more - this certainly can be a nuisance, as it is easy to inadvertently pick up previous layers of paint with your brush, but with a bit of care, this forgiving nature is really handy and rather cosmic. One almost feels like they can't go wrong (obviously you can, but it does help ones confidence to know how nice vellum can be to you over time). 

The other thing I notice is that it gets harder to paint on with more layers of paint. I can now see why Rory McEwen usually only applied three layers of paint. Firstly you don't really need more than three layers as the paint sits on top, but secondly the previous layers are really tricky to keep down as you build them up. I have reached this point now in my work and it has meant that my rate of painting has had to slow down a bit as I don't want to accidentally remove everything I have put down. It is at this time when the teeny tiny movements and dabs of paint come into the painting technique.


Fine lines are easy to achieve on vellum. As you push the paint around you can build a thin ridge. This is REALLY satisfying, especially if you have the shakes* and can't draw a very thin line. 

Highlights are easy - either avoid the vellum altogether like you would paper, or just lift the paint off with a brush. Or for those very bright tints, scrape the pigment off with a scalpel. I have done the latter yet, but I know Rory did this on some of his work. I do like the fact that you can lift off paint... I am dreadful at remembering where to put my highlights (I can get a bit carried away), or my wet washes can often get out of control on the page, so this technique of lifting the paint off is really juicy. 

So yes... I have rather enjoyed my experience and it is something I will never ever forget. Everything is so smooth and the medium sort of draws you in. It doesn't feel like hard work if you get my drift. All of the work is with the eyes. Looking at the shadows, the colours and and textures. This is great because you can concentrate on the subject so much more. I never thought of working on paper as being hard work, but actually it does require a lot of concentration. You have to concentrate on how the paint is behaving on the paper and that can distract you from the subject matter itself. One can start looking at their painting more than the object and this is something I have come to notice with vellum. I guess you say that this is the one thing I am taking from this experience is the importance of seeing.

If I can actually paint on paper next week we shall have to find out. I am slightly dreading the process of going back! But in this day and age not only does one need to keep an eye on the budget, I think it is good to practice all of your skills and keep yourself on your toes, so I must try to go back.  However... I do have a trip to London on the 6th and I am very tempted to walk into Cowleys and get myself a biggun as a present to myself for 30 years on this happy little planet. 

*I find it is never a good idea to paint straight after a big meal as I get shaky. I tend to graze on painting days. It was a fine art conservator at Plymouth Museum who told me that in her line of work it is not a good idea to eat big meals, or sugary ones, as they make you shaky - either with a sugar rise or the crash afterwards. She often went all day without eating and I remember that if there was a staff birthday on and she'd eaten, she would stick to macro-work for the rest of the day. Just something to bare in mind.

1 comment:

  1. You have captured the texture of the flesh inside the conker shell Jess, as I remember the feel. How wonderful the living greens are captured. I have just returned from the North York Moors with the beauty of it's heather & tussocky grasses along with a wide range of autumn hues in the Dales. The variety of green was amazing from view to view, plant to plant and of course within a single leaf. Having been told I was red/green colour blind at the age of 10, I do indeed confuse these colours at times. However the more I look and under different levels of illumination, the wider hues become visible.
    Colour vision is more than the interpretation of the Ishihara test cards!!

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