by Jacky Pett (notetaker!)
Our January on-line demonstration by Roger Dellar took a photo he’d taken in an allotment, and turned it into an oilpainting.
Plein air painting
Roger commented that it is perfectly acceptable to do this sort of plein air painting, but do ask the allotment’s association for permission, all the same. Many are happy to let artists work in their space, and get used to the idea of small groups of people coming around if you want to set up a regular visit. Always, with regard to painting in public, even if in not much doubt, ask!
The starting point was a photo that many of us might have passed over as a subject: a man kneeling on the ground planting his potatoes in a trench. I didn’t realise that was what he was doing, although after he’d said I realised what some of the other objects on the ground were. This was not just an issue for watching on a screen, though. Roger commented later that the more you look at a scene to paint it, the more details you see. He ‘discovered’ some tools in the foreground and those bags of potatoes quite late in the evening.
Finding the painting
First was a quick sketch of the main lines that he saw, making them connect to each other, to provide a substance to his work. This was in a thin umber that would be completely covered. Roger commented on ‘finding the painting’ many times. ‘Let it come to you’ seemed to be another motto.
Then he worked around the painting to block in the darkest tones first. This surprised me, as there were huge blocks of near-black he put in, but I had forgotten two rules of oil painting:
- Use thin dark colours first, and thick light colours.
- Make the dark colours slightly large as the thick light will go over and hide unwanted edges.
It certainly seemed effective, and enabled those black blocks to be toned down.
‘Look at masses and shape, and think about complementary colours. Let the painting come to you.’
Occasionally he reminded us of complementary colours, such as purple vs orange tones. Lots of green shadows use purple to make them dull green. Also, when mixing greens, cobalt blue give a fresher green foliage than ultramarine as that has too much red in it.
Another tip was to add perspective, eg by drawing furrows in the ground, even if they aren’t actually there. It’s a painting you want, and the painting needs perspective.
How long to dry?
In response to questions about waiting till oils dry, he said “painting wet oils is about laying out the paint, thinking about how to paint your scene, work from dark to light. It’s a myth about having to let it dry. It’s about pressure, about working from lean to fat.”
He also recommended doing a weekend oil painting course to improve our understanding and technique.
Of course, you could also take an art holiday – he’s doing a Crete trip with Art Safaris. It sounds blissful!
I must admit, the picture at the end looked most interesting, and I learnt a lot about making art out of what at first didn’t seem a very interesting subject. I still don’t see that line of light on the jacket hanging up, though!
Screengrabs by Roy. Images copyright Roger Dellar.