Sunday, 12 October 2014

Working like a loom

So I managed to get a few more layers of paint on last night after my first blog post and have worked for a couple of hours this morning while it is raining outside.  I decided to move over onto the other leaf on the left this time around, still working like a loom. This one isn't quite as tricky as the one at the back, but it's still hard going, especially that zone in the middle where all the lines bunch up with the foreshortening. 

Hosta, a work in progress. Jessica Rosemary Shepherd ©

So, I am writing another Hosta related blog post and this time it is on colour. When I mix a colour for a painting, I use a big brush, this is because I get very fed up of running out of colour very quickly and this used to happen all of the time (such as with Sally). Big brushes usually result in a lot of water being splashed about and therefore more colour being transferred onto the palette. So with a big brush in my hand I look pretty carefully at the leaf. Now often, I won't paint a subject straight away, I like to live with it for a while. I have been living with Harry for several months now and have moved him from one space, or light source, to another. I have seen him in London in polluted light, I have seen him in Worthing where the light is bright and 'sea-like' (slightly opaque?) and finally I have seen him here in Spain where the light is intense. I have seen him indoors, I have seen him outdoors and I have watched him under lots of different light bulbs. Over those months he has also physically changed. He was really blue when I first got him, then he turned green through too getting much light. Then again he changed like a chameleon to a sickly brown, then back to green to then finally return to blue. The Hosta recently has also put on new growth, which is noticeably less blue. When looking at these changes, I like to think that what I am seeing are all the colours that are actually in the leaf the entire time. As I am sure many of you know, when a leaf senescences what we see are the yellows and reds (anthocyanins) that were there all along, it's just the chlorophyll has been taken out. I will never forget the first time I did chromatography at school, seeing all the pigments present in a mushed up leaf separated out. I thought it was the most revealing thing I had ever seen and it is an experience that has embedded itself in me. With all of this waffle in mind, I am suppose what I am saying is that by sitting with a plant for a long time, moving it to different spaces and observing it closely (I recognise this isn't always possible) you really get to know what colour it is and how the light behaves on the surface of its leaves.

A chromograph of a leaf
Using this routine often means that I get lucky when mixing colours and I rarely, if ever, make colour charts. I also have a feeling that my eyes are a little 'green friendly'. It is the colour I always focus on when on walks - I am always impressed by the variety of greens one gets, and never the range of reds or blues or yellows. Even this evening, when watching the sun set, I found myself looking at the range of greens on a mountain top rather than the range of pinks, oranges, yellows and greys and even purples in the sky. 

Hosta, a work in progress. Jessica Rosemary Shepherd ©
So I mix straight away. It often takes five attempts, but for some reason (probably because I have been living with Harry for so long), I'd like to think I got him bang on first time around. God love these times. It has to be one of the most satisfying moments in ones life when you nail a colour first time.  So yes... a complicated mixture of New Gamboge (W&N), Cobalt Blue (Daler), Permanent Rose (Daler), French Ultramarine (W&N) and Cerulean Blue (Daler). The mixes change as I build up the layers. For example, I started adding in a touch of the Cerulean only just recently as I moved into another zone on the leaf, and when I changed leaves to the one on the left, I needed to start putting in more pink. So yes, no colour charts, most likely because I am lazy and I am very bad at painting in boxes all neatly in a row. So with the colour ready in bulk I change brush to a Rigger. It's not always a Rigger, but for Harry this is the brush of choice. 

If you can't live with your plant for a while, at least take some time to get to know it. Move it around and stare at it. When I look at green I go through a check list. Firstly, how much pink? (It's often more than you think (or red/purple) and I usually use Permanent Rose for this because I like to live dangerously). Which blue? (I mainly stick with 3 blues in all of my work - French Ultramarine or Cobalt Blue or Cerulean and for me it's just a question of which one. In this case it was unusual to use all three. Sally the Savoy had cobalt in, Caroline the Coffee was mainly painted using Ultramarine, but with a bit of Phthalo/Cerulean in the highlights). Then I ask how much blue (in the Hosta's case it was a lot). I then usually use Gamboge as a source of yellow, but to be honest I am just starting to branch out into the world of yellow-dom after making a trip to the local art shop just before leaving for Spain and so this remains to be a bit of unknown world to me. Personally I know deep down that I don't 'see' yellows very well and I realise this is something I need to sort out. This Spring I intend to spend a fortnight painting only yellow flowers to see if I can teach myself how to see the spectrum of yellow properly and gauge it's possibilities.

Hosta, a work in progress. Jessica Rosemary Shepherd ©
Right, where was I? Oh yes, with my rigger brush in hand, colour mixed I begin. For this piece the brush strokes are currently a mixture of wet washes and little, dry brush lines. I started with wet washes, especially on the leaf stems, but the leaves required something with more control and so I basically adopted a 'vellum painting' technique for these and am painting with teeny-tiny lines using a dry brush. It's taking FOREVER to do, but I actually rather like the affect. This is rather different to Ophelia, who was mostly painted using wet washes and huge brushes. There is certainly never a dull moment when painting plants - one has to keep experimenting, using different techniques that are empathetic to the subject being portrayed.

Ophelia (the same size as the Hosta - A1). Jessica Rosemary Shepherd ©

*I might try and write something about foreshortening next, as suggested by Julia Trickey, but to be honest I am learning that one as I go myself so it will require a bit of thought. Lets see how tomorrow goes...

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