No blue skies allowed

April 15, 2012

Yesterday I attended an all day workshop on how to loosen up your painting technique.

We were a group of about 15 people at various levels of ability under the instruction of Antje Sonneschein, a German artist living in Holland. Below is a painting of hers. Here is a video of one of her workshops, in Dutch, but you get an idea of the work and atmosphere.

The Red Farm by Antje Sonneschein. Image from Kunst.nu

Her style is reminiscent of the  (founded in 1918) Groningen Expressionistic group called ‘de Ploeg’ which means ‘The Plow’. They used bold forms and bright colours to paint the Groningen countryside and villages. See below, a painting by de Ploeg artist Jan Altink.

Painting by Jan Altink. From the site of JBalvers .

In the morning we selected a landscape photo to work from.

We could do anything we wanted- with one stipulation, we were forbidden to paint the sky blue.

The reason for this was that the sky determines the coloring for the whole painting, so by choosing an alternative color for the sky, you immediately are thrown into a different palette than your familiar one.

First, we made a charcoal sketch on a small piece of matte board, already making decisions about what to leave out, change or add to make a better composition.

Then we went to work, over the charcoal, in acrylics with a relatively large brush and quickly mapped in the colors. We had 20 minutes from start to finish including the sketch. This resulted in the most spontaneous work of the day. Here is mine.

The photo I selected is fairly close to this. I liked the flowing landscape, the road, and the grouping of trees on the right. The yellow is a mass of dandelions which made a very troublesome foreground, and I chose that as a challenge.

Then we started on a large version of our painting. About 18 x 24″ on a thin piece of MDF board coated with a thin layer of neutral grey. We sketched in our composition with white pastel and went to work with thin paint and a large brush.

I liked this underpainting so much for its rhythm and confidence (sound familiar?), I didn’t want to ruin it so I started another one. (We worked from background to foreground, so the trees will be added later).


My epiphany for the day was when I asked the instructor how to progress from the underpainting and keep the same freedom. Whereby she came along, and with my permission, took an inch wide brush, a huge glob of white paint and some ochre, and in a few quick strokes, painted in the sky.

It is difficult to describe my reaction. Read the rest of this entry »

Working methods

January 12, 2012

One of the ladies from decoartuk asked me about my working methods, here is a reply:

Thanks for asking, none of my working methods are secret. Short answer, brushes, no palette knives.
Long answer: the latest painting is done like this (on canvas board):
  1. I coat the whole board very quickly with various acrylic colours thinned out with matte medium so they go on transparent.
  2. Working fast, I scratch in a trial layout (with a wooden saté stick-  like a long toothpick) of the bottles, then to not get too attached to it and to provide some scratchy background I turn the canvas board 90 degrees and scratch in another design perpendicular to the first one.
  3. Then I start wiping teh paint out of the areas that will be highights with tissue paper or a rag. Sometimes I use a damp brush. The acrylic is partly dry by now so it is interesting which parts come away, creating weird highlights and unexpected textures.
  4. At this point I usually start working in very thin layers of oil paints.  But with the latest painting I added a bit of opaque white acrylic and colour and started putting on glazes because it doesn’t take long to dry and I can keep that crispness I like from the underpainting.

By the way, you’d mentioned that one thing holding you back from trying oils was the drying time. I thought about that as well, but once you start to work with them, you realize that it isn’t about putting on one layer and then waiting a couple of months for it to dry before you can paint further 🙂 . Rather you keep working into areas and building them up. And the way I am working, with thin layers (using Zest lemon oil medium to thin with) I can paint over things in a day or two.

Check out this video of Liam who visits here once in awhile. You can see how far you can come in a couple of sittings.