Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rio Tavares, meadowland


Rio Tavares, meadowland, oil on card, 11 x 15.5 cm

An underappreciated aspect of painting is surface: especially the surfaces of supports- canvases, card, wood, glass or aluminium, each of which bring specific qualities and meanings to a painting. I paint on card which is primed first with linseed oil-heavy paint, then coated with a lighter later of thinned paint which dries with a brittle surface that ensures a good tooth.

I will re-use these cards when the pictures painted on them are unsatisfactory, and the process of re-priming them lends them distinctive qualities. These qualities affect enormously the final piece: they are the point of departure. Some of the cards are brilliant white- good for very bright sunny days, Others are slightly toned down with various greys, light ochres and yellows. 

One can, of course, cover the whole card at the outset of a picture, and, Renaissance-style, construct picture from layers, thereby obliterating and sense of the underlying surface.  But I think more fun is to use the  particular texture and colour of  a card as a compositional element in itself- much as Chinese,watercolourists, and woodcut printmakers do with paper.

A double carrier with two card supports. 
They are glued to masking tape. 
To remove card simply pull the masking tape tags. 


Friday, July 29, 2016

Two black and white paintings


 My Living room, oil on card, 14 x 15.5 cm

The room in which I do most of my stuff and sit around in is really two rooms which have been knocked together, an arch dividing them. If the arch sounds rather dated and seventies and dated, then perhaps it is, but does it has the pleasant compensatory effect of making me feel like an observer of the other space. 

  Things, oil on card, 10.5 x 12 cm

Some of the objects are- a camera, scissors, sardine tins (they sell tinned sardines in these lovely silvery tins. I have started to eat these sardines simply to accumulate the delightful tins. I have four), two small bottles oneof tabasco the other of correcting fluid, sunglasses, and a stapler.

I painted several versions of these pictures, destroying the weaker ones.

I like best when the visual vocabulary is very simple- a fat line and a thin, and little tonal range. A comparison might be with those pieces of Baroque music where instruments are paired to pursue a music structure whose simplicity allows their qualities to be contrasted.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What is a Pochade?


Pochades are small paintings, painted plein air, either to be used as references for larger, studio-based pictures, or as ends in themselves. The word derives from the French for pocket: poche

Because of the portability of the format, they are often used for painters when travelling, and manufacturers cater for this with "pochade boxes": wooden boxes to hold palettes, brushes, paints and the paintings themselves.

I do not use such a a box, however. I use a French easel as I like to stand when working, and I carry pictures around in little folders, which I refer to as carriers.

There are pochades by a diverse range of artists, typically ninetheenth and early twentieth century, when plein air painting really came into vogue. These include John Constable (in my opinion easily his liveliest pictures are pochades- you can see a supurb set in the Victoria and Albert Museum), Corot, and J.D. Fergusson (whose tiny pochade box is on display at Edinburgh's Museum of Modern Art).

Primed card ready to be used for painting. These cards are about 14 cm long.

.My pochades are in oils, and are intended as final pieces. I want live performance in art, not work tidied, made polite, in a studio. I've been working on these small pictures for about six years but it took a couple of years for me to reach a good level of technical fluency with them. 



Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Moçambique, Forest


Moçambique, Forest, oil on card, 13.5 x 17.5 cm

 Moçambique, Forest II, oil on card, 12 x 17 cm

These both painted on a day of great charm. The heat is returning, but it`s still okay to go outside. 

This was my first session since returning from Peru. I`m trying to keep it fast, unfussy, emotional, like one of those mid-seventies Neil Young songs.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Framing tips for pochades


Praia Mole, December 4, 2015, oil on card, 18.5 x 24.5 cm

I'm sometimes asked for advice on framing pochades. Obviously, what is best is ultimately a subjective decision, but here are some points to consider.

1. Framing is interpretation.

A frame contextualizes a picture,  associating it with certain decorative styles. 

A modern, metal frame will emphasize the contemporaneity of a picture and associate it with modern environments- offices, minimalist houses or modern art galleries. Contrariwise, a gilded frame will imply that the painting is related stylistically to work of the pre-modern period and suitable for hanging in a pre-modern decorative scheme.

So, before framing, it is wise to consider where the picture will be hung. Your choice of frame will vary according to whether it is to feature in a bedroom, a living room, a modern house, an office and so forth. A gilt frame might be lovely ina  period home, but odd in a modernist glass tower block.

Clearly these are general guidelines and with wit can happily be ignored.

2. Have a look around!

 I sometime suggest people look in the National gallery and in the Print rooms of the British Museum for references when it comes to framing ideas for my pochades.. Obviously, these collections will be inconveniently  located for some readers. But there are good collections for reference close or in most major cities, and it is wise to have a notion before entering a framers. 

Puno, a lady in a red skirt, oil on card, 12 x 14 cm 

Here may be seen reflections, the effect of which are worsened by the darker passepartout. 
Nonetheless, the effect of these reflections is marginal, I think.

3. Glazed or not? 

The pochades are oil on card, and are liable to pick up dust. Thus, from the standpoint of protecting the pochade, glazing is considerably better.  You can glaze in non-reflective glass or ordinary glass. Non-reflective glass this tends to be less clear than normal glass and I would say, on balance, less visibility is lost to small pictures because of reflections than is lost because of the slight fogginess of non- reflective glass.

Ergo, it is better with small pictures such as mine to go with ordinary glass, It is also cheaper.

Green Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, a view, oil on card, 16 x 18 cm

4. Plain or fancy?

Seurat, as framed in London's National Gallery.

If you go to the National Gallery in London or the Met in New York, and look at the Impressionist pictures, or the small Biedermeier paintings by Danish or German artists you'll see that many are framed in very ornate frames. At times this is effective, but more often the effect is heavy, even somewhat absurd, as the frames seem to overwhelm the pictures and imply that the artist had a decorative intent to his work which we know is very unlikely to be the case (Renoir's horrors being an exception, in the case of the Impressionists). 

At times, an ornate frame can, however, when used with a passepartout, have an enchanting effect, especially when contrasting with a very simple painting,

Personally, I recommend going for simpler frames. They allow pictures to be hung in a wider variety of places, are easier to keep clean and are much easier to match with pictures. I also recommend them because I feel my pictures to be fairly straightforward and down to earth, and I find ornate frames somewhat pretentious, I tend to prefer wood, as it gives a warmer effect than metal,

5. What about a passepartout or mat?

These terms are used to describe the thick card that is used to hold the card in place within a frame.

A lot of people make the mistake of framing pictures too tightly: putting the frame too close to the edge of the picture, with a narrow passepartout or without one at all. The effect is uncomfortable, The picture needs to breathe. It's better to err on the generous side with a wide passepartout. So, if the picture is 14 x 18 cm then give it a passepartout of about 5 or 6 cm on each side.

The passepartout can be coloured- this will bring out colours within the picture. But I'd avoid going too bright with the passepartouts and stay with more muted or blander tones. Black is an option, but it has specific associations with photography and I think it often best avoided.

La Paz, shops, and carrier-within box frame.

6. Box frames. 

Yes, these can be very nice. They can be used to frame the pochades within the carriers I use to transport them.

7. Pay peanuts, get monkeys...

Generally, with framing, cost is proportional to quality. By all means shop around, but I've found that, more or less, you get what you pay for, The materials should be archival, the service pleasant and unhurried*, and the framer should understand basics of picture conservation.

*My experience of artisans and tradesmen being, alas, very much the following: Here am I trying to do my work and you come into my shop and disturb me.

Mocambique, paths, December 2016, oil on card, 19 x 22 cm  SOLD


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Peru: part two


Peru: part two

I found Peru extremely agreeable, and I've resolved to escape the summer there, from late January to the end of February.

I'm going to stop in Lima this time, then I'll continue to Trujullo, and then up to  Cajamarca via Huamachuco, which I'll use as bases to explore the surrounding Andean region, thus:

I'm happy with the new double carriers, which allow me to carry considerably more materials. I am therefore able to travel for longer, a month or more. 

Join me if you wish,


Sunday, July 3, 2016

A visit to southern Peru; Arequipa; conclusions


 Arequipa, Puento Bolognese, oil on card, 16 x 14 cm 

 Arequipa, Calle Melgar, 14 x 18 cm

 Arequipa, Beateria, oil on card,15 x 16 cm  NOT FOR SALE

This, above, is one of the more successful of the paintings.

 Arquipa, a mendicant, oil on card, 18 x 15 cm

Arequipa, a garden, oil on card, 17.5 x 16 cm

This is the final set from Peru: five pictures from Arequipa. This group is less coherent than the Puna set, though If i'd spent more time there perhaps it would have become more so,



This southern Peru set is strong. It augers well for the next long trip- to Ecuador sometime between Christmas and March.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

A visit to southern Peru: Puno; part three, down by the market


Puno, red car, woman, oil on card, 15 x 16.5 cm

Puno, a lady in a red skirt, oil on card, 14 x 12 cm

This picture above, above, is one of the best from this trip. It convey's the rugged feel of the place well in the roughness of technique.

Puno, late afternoon, oil on card, 16 x 18 cm

I continued this way: a cross between impressionism, and art brut approach (not so much a choice as an instinct) working rapidly and directly. It has something to do with saying- these are the limits of my capacity to know, I can only see so much now, let me not pretend.

 The places depicted here are in some senses ugly, unfinished, in other senses they are places with potential, rudely muscular like many young places in Latin America,

Puno, people going about their business, oil on card, 13 x 14 cm

The last four pictures revive the sense of stimmung, the concept of  which de Chirico writes about eloquently with reference to Nietszche, and seeks to introduce into his own work. He describes(from The Memoirs og Giorgio de Chirico,  translated by Margaret Crosland, Da Capo Press, 1994):

 ...a strange and profound poestry, infinately mysterious and solitary...this extraordinary sensation can be found (but it is necessary, naturally, to have the good fortune to posess my exceptional faculties) uin Italian cities  and in Mediterranean cities like Genoa or Nice; but the Italian city par excellence where this phenomenan appears is Turin.

Does the  clear light of the Andes which resembles that of de Chirico`s Turin?


These streets contain many incidents, and suggest the possibility of incident. They are market streets but given my aversion to people watching me while I worked, I painted the less busy streets.


A double carrier

The double carriers worked reasonably well. There were difficulties with one: the cases have to allow for the fact that in hot weather the card supports start to buckle in the sun and take up three or four times the depth than otherwise, so it is best to compensate for this with fairly deep case frames.

 I used glue rather than blu-tac to hold the pictures. It seems more secure than the blu-tac. The pictures can be removed from the carriers fairly easily. 

These carriers allow me to take considerably more pictures home with me, and therefore open the possibility of longer trips? thus Ecuador, in January, might well be a whole month.


Friday, July 1, 2016

A visit to southern Peru: Puno; part two, in the neighbourhood


Puno, the end of a street, oil on card, 14 x 15 cm


Puno, man, dog, oil on card, 12 x 13.5 cm

These were all painted in the streets north-west of the Plaza de Armas, an area possessed of considerable mystery.