Friday, June 23, 2017

Levels

'The level at which you're trying to solve a problem is often not the level that causes the problem.' 

I don't remember who said this. I picked it up sometime during the nineties, when I was still teaching art classes. It often helped me to look at a problem from a different angle and this goes for painting problems as well. Here's a painting I recently finished.

Summerwind, oil on panel, 11.8 x 19.7"


This is what it looked like in an earlier stage. Lots of fluffy clouds. I had been struggling with them for some time. Adding detail, changing color, what have you. Nothing worked. For some reason the painting lacked focus, it was in fact unclear to me what I wanted it to be about. When I replaced the clouds with a blue sky I suddenly knew: it's about the sunlit area behind the dune (that you can't even see) and not about the clouds. Once I saw that, it was a piece of cake: I brought more color and light to the sky behind the dune and within half an hour I decided the thing was finished...

Of course I didn't look at my painting and thought: 'The level at which I'm trying to solve this problem is not the level that causes the problem.' I solved it while painting. But still, what happened is that I approached it from another level. Maybe I should remember it the next time I get stuck...

Friday, June 9, 2017

Muddy waters


I usually post a new entry every two weeks, but this time it has been a little longer. I was occupied elsewhere. On Madeira, to be exact. Madeira is a small volcanic island, a speck in the Atlantic. It's the place where Sisi went to cure her tuberculosis. There's a small statue of her where people still put flowers.

Madeira is stunningly beautiful. Flowers everywhere, fantastic scenery and a deep blue ocean. I spent quite a few hours at the waterfront, looking at the Atlantic. I'm used to the North Sea, which is, well, a bit muddy. The color of the water is often brown- or greenish because of the sandy bottom. The Atlantic on the other side is very clear. We saw dolphins swimming underwater! When you see a fish swimming underwater in the North Sea you've probably been drinking.

The painting below was inspired by yet another sea, The Wadden Sea. It's a tidal landscape that partly falls dry at low tide. On the map you can find it between the Wadden Sea islands and the Dutch mainland. It stretches all the way to Denmark. Now here is a sea that is defined by the presence of sand. A lot of sand. When high tide comes in it deposits sand from the North Sea on the banks, that fall dry at low tide. If you're lucky you can spot seals on the banks, chilling in the sun.

A lot of my work is inspired by this particular stretch of water, always changing and moving with the tide. Even the islands move slowly to the east. Now I don't sea Madeira doing that...


Smooth Sailing, oil on canvas, 27.6 x 47.2"

Friday, May 5, 2017

The mirror

Everyone who has ever done any painting has experienced it: you have no idea what you're looking at anymore. Does your painting still make any sense or is it a total failure. Especially after a long painting session you loose perspective of what you're doing.

Most painters have a trick or two to overcome these situations. One of them is asking a person whose opinion you value to comment on the painting. Looking at your work through somebody else's eyes can be quite refreshing, though not always a pleasure. Still, honesty is required if you want the critique to be of any value. I'm lucky to have a few honest people close at hand.

Another way to get a fresh view is to take a picture of your painting, open it in Photoshop (or similar software) and fool around with it for a bit. What happens if you give it more contrast or less light? If you know your way around this kind of software, you can change the color of certain areas and see what happens.

A much simpler trick is the mirror. When you look at your painting in a mirror you almost always see stuff that you missed before. I don't know exactly why. I think it has to do with the fact that the mirrored image is relatively fresh, but it's also easier to see your painting as a whole, instead of as a bunch of inconsistent details.  Whatever the reason, it works, at least it does for me.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot the easiest of them all: take a break...


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Warm-cold contrast

I finished my studies at the Minerva Art Academy (the Netherlands) in 1973 and in 1974 I got a teaching job for three days a week. Though I liked teaching I actually wanted to do something completely different, so after a few years I decided to quit and do what I really wanted to do: make music. No more room for painting. I had a great time as a musician. Made just enough money to survive, but after a few years, when the band split up in the early eighties, I went back to teaching.

It was only till the mid-nineties that I suddenly felt a deep urge to start painting again and that's what I did. Of course my subject was the landscape of the Dutch coast, it's light and it's space. I remember how I struggled, mainly with scenes that had dark clouds and sharp contrasts. I almost always felt the clouds were way to dark and heavy, but when I lightened them up, I lost contrast.



In the course of the years I slowly found out that the contrast between warm and cold colors is sometimes a very effective replacement of the light-dark contrast. I could keep my clouds lighter by contrasting them with a warmer area instead of a lighter one. In this detail (of a painting I'm still working on) I used a glaze of burnt Sienna.




On top of that the warm-cold contrast makes your painting come alive, much more than a mere light-dark contrast will. In the above picture I digitally removed the color of the warm burnt Sienna glaze, without changing the rest of the colors. Bit dull, eh? Without the glaze I would've been forced to either make the clouds darker or the background lighter. Like the great Johan Cruijff once said: "You don't see it till you see it".





Thursday, April 6, 2017

Painter with a writers block

Usually I enjoy writing a new blog entry every two weeks. I start thinking about it on Monday, I write it on Wednesday, check it on Thursday and publish it on Friday. But this week was different. I often get the idea for an article during my daily walks, but no matter how far I walked, nothing happened.

So, dear readers, this will be all for this week. See you in fourteen days.

Clouds in Backlight, oil on panel, 9.8 x 17.7"

Friday, March 24, 2017

Oils on paper #2

In my November 25 (2016) blog entry I wrote about the fake canvas texture of my oil paper pad and asked anyone who had found a smooth oil paper pad to let me know. A few weeks later a very kind lady wrote me an email saying she bought her pads in Germany without the texture. Another few weeks later she even brought it along to my studio. Lots of kind people in the world.



Last week I made a number of oil sketches for a possible commission, one that was a bit outside the normal range. The client wanted a large painting, with nothing but a big, dark sky over the ocean. Most of my commisioners ask for sunny beaches, so this one triggered my imagination and I made not one but three sketches. On the new pad.



I like it so much better than the fake canvas paper. It's a lot more like painting on panel. Only possible downside is that you cannot remove a layer like you can on a wood panel. But hey, you can't have everything.  I did get the commission though.



For those of you interested in the new pad, here's a picture.













Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The color of the beach

Whenever I get an email how to mix the color of the beach I have a hard time giving an answer. Problem is, there is no color of the beach, there are countless colors of just as many beaches. Even in my home country (pretty small country as you may know) the sand has different colors on different islands. Sometimes a little reddish, sometimes with a hint of ochre.

From time to time I find new combinations to mix an okay sand color, like in this recent painting. The bottom layer is a mix of flesh color (Lukas) and a bit of yellow ochre. To tone it down in the second layer I applied a rather thinned glaze with lots of transparent white, indigo (Rembrandt) and again ochre. It's just a small part of the painting, but I like it.

Untitled work in progress, 13.8" x 39.4

Very often the Lukas flesh tint is the starting point of my beaches. If I need a pale, almost colorless, beach I'll add a little sepia. If I need a soft brown beach I'll add a little burnt umber and sometimes even burnt sienna, though most of the times I'll have to tone that one down with a glaze of some kind.

Shadows on a beach often have a hint of purple, be it of a cloud or a dune. Old Holland violet-grey makes an excellent shadow color in a mix with transparent white, flesh tint and maybe a little ochre. Works just great when you glaze it on top of an existing beach.

Anyone with new recipes? Let me know!