Art at Galleries at Home

 

rembrandt-self-portrait-as-the-apostle-paul
Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul, Rembrandt van Rijn

It would seem to be the right time for settling down to do some artwork during this time of lockdown. Those who aren’t able to work from home might have quite a bit of time to kill, and all those occasions when we artists have moaned about not having enough time to paint have come back to haunt us! The problem is that now that most of us are stuck indoors and if you’re a landscape painter like me, there’s little chance of going out to roam around in the countryside or on the moors and setting up your easel. Even less chance of sitting out on the street and doing some urban sketching.

If you’ve watched his series on Channel 4, Grayson Perry thinks he’s got it sorted. We just stay indoors and paint portraits, or miniatures or something and that’ll keep us occupied through months of lockdown. The trouble for me is that I’m not that interested in painting portraits, or pictures of the garden, or views through my window. I’ve got plenty of landscape sketches that I’ve accumulated over the years but somehow doing something from these doesn’t seem to be quite as tempting now. The sketches I did on holiday last year, satisfactory as they might be, just don’t seem to be as appealing as going out into the great outdoors right now and drawing something in situ.

So I’ve spent a bit of time looking at inspirational paintings. Not just modern contemporaries but the real ‘biggies’! The real Masters. These are the ones I should be looking at and learning from, like the Rembrandt drawings above. There are many museum and art galleries around the world that show their exhibits online, some have been doing this for a while. So even if you can’t get to Amsterdam, New York or even London, you can browse the collections of some of the world’s most famous galleries. Now, because of the coronavirus lockdowns, it seems to be a great way of spending time and getting a bit of inspiration.

Of course, in every collection there are works that I don’t like, but every so often I come across a real gem. The other day I was looking at the exhibits of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Its collection is almost too big to do itself justice, but whilst browsing its works I came across Christ’s Entry into Journalism by Kara Walker. The idea itself is so clever, yet Walker juxtaposes the complex elements of American history in a way that approximates a cartoon strip – on one level humorous and light-hearted, but at the same time serious and meaningful.

Christ's entry into journalism - Kara Walker
Christ’s Entry into Journalism by Kara Walker

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a superb online collection. Obviously it focuses heavily on the Dutch masters but there are some fantastic works here. Also notable is their RijksCreative initiative in which artists create their own versions of Master paintings.

I’ve learnt a lot by looking at the drawings of Michelangelo, Albrecht Durer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and even August Rodin. As much of my inspiration comes from looking at famous works of art as looking at nature and there are plenty of inspirational collections around the world to draw from. Check out the following galleries and museums:

http://www.rijksmuseum.nl

http://www.museivaticano.va

http://www.m.musee-orsay.fr

http://www.tate.org.uk

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

http://www.moma.org

http://www.nga.gov

 

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Anatomy of a painting

abandoned croft at LonbainBecause some of the painting workshops I’d planned this Spring had to be cancelled, I decided to do a mixed media painting in stages. I used some sketches of an abandoned croft at Lonbain on the Applecross peninsular, Scotland. I often use sketches like this, reworking them into new pieces – one of the reasons I never throw any of them away.

Stage 1.

I began by taping a piece of heavyweight (200gsm) cartridge paper to a board and sketching out a rough outline of the building onto it, marking in walls and a track.

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Stage 2.

Next, I washed in a sky. For this I used gouache but at this stage I’m not too fussed about getting the right colour. It’s enough just to put something down. I’m more concerned with tones in these early stages. I usually draw some of the main blue tint of the sky down into the foreground to homogenise the whole thing. For this I used a cerulean blue.

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Stage 3.

As with the sky, it’s important just to put a tone down onto the paper, not worrying too much about whether the colour is right or not, as it can always be altered later. I roughly brushed in a yellow ochre with a touch of black added to it. I can never exact about colour as much of the stuff I use from my palette has bits of other colours accidentally mixed with it. Similarly with brushes – my technique involves a lot of scrubbing both on paper and board, so I tend to buy cheap brushes as they don’t tend to last long!

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Stage 4.

I began adding some soft pastel into the sky – light grey and white, to tone down the blue which I now thought was too powerful. I scuffed in some green and ochre pastel tones over the foreground and added a few hints of Prussian blue pastel as a foil to the cottage, which I drew in with various grey pastels. Much of theĀ  ochre tone of the previous stage was covered up now as I began to suspect that it was a little too bright. As I mentioned earlier, it’s good to just put a colour or a tone down; it can always be altered later.

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Stage 5.

 

I decided to darken some of the areas of the painting to add drama. By doing so I was also adding some composition lines to draw the eye up the page to the cottage. I decided there was too much green in the lower left portion and added some grey areas to harmonise with the hues of the stone cottage and the boulders and crumbled walls. I darkened the path leading up to the building with some burnt umber and Prussian blue. I’m not an advocate of blending pastels too much because the results can be a little too slick and wishy-washy. I like to keep my pastel marks crisp and well-defined. Pastels are a wonderful combination of painting and drawing and I’m happy if my work shows this in some way.

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Stage 6.

 

All that was left to do was to add some details – windows, shadowed areas in mauve, black and Indian red, fence posts and stones and boulders in black pencil. The temptation is to keep adding bits of colour and detail, but part of completing a painting is knowing when to stop and not overwork it. I decided that at this point that it was finished.

abandoned croft at Lonbain