Oil and white charcoal experiment reflection

Experiment Reflections, Second Term, Second Year

<Painted enplein air at sunset standing here.

With this experiment I tried bigger blocks of colour, a more limited and thought out colour palette, longer brushstrokes and less brushstrokes.
The result is interesting I think! Less brushstrokes means the scene feels vast and emptier, with the space between marks very apparent.
The dark green background works well here and creates mood and atmosphere.
I enjoyed painting when the light was creating lots of interesting colours. What was unusual about this scene I painted was that I was facing the sunset, so the woods in front are silhouetted against the bright sky. This meant I couldn’t pick out lots of colours in the trees, instead I focuses on the background colours.
Applying less paint means there is less chance to layer the paint. But the structures should create the depth.

This was the first time I’ve added multiple structures to a painting. When I looked at the landscape when painting I saw multiple openings in the trees and knew I had to try adding multiple shapes!
Adding multiple structures made me realise there is the added complexity of depth in relation to perspective – every structure has to have the same horizon line so that one structure looks further away than another etc. Multiple structures work though! It does a good job at creating horizontal depth (when vertical depth is being created with one structure already).

Scratching into the paint would work well to mark the page where the white charcoal doesn’t stick to the oil paint (I didn’t have this problem with acrylic paint).

Experiment Reflections, Second Term, Second Year

White tape experiment done en plein air in oils with acrylic an gesso primed paper. Painted on cloudy day in afternoon. White tape applied before the canvas was primed with the green gesso + acrylic.

Underpainting and colours
Colours are less vibrant in white experiment than on the dark grey background on canvas below. I used a lot of pale washy blue on top of the green underpainting which I think is the reason the colours don’t have as much vibrancy and depth as painting directly onto the dark grey.
The darker the underpainting the more mood and atmosphere the painting has. The question is is that appropriate for what I’m trying to capture?

White Tape
The white tape doesn’t work well. Showing the white paper underneath reminds the viewer of the flatness of the painting and removes any illusion of depth – I won’t be doing this again!

Dark tape painting – most fragmented brushstrokes, a fair amount of horizontal brushstrokes.
White tape painting – less fragmented brushstrokes and more blocks of colour, fair amount of horizontal brushstrokes.
White charcoal painting – Least fragmented brushstrokes with mostly vertical brushstrokes.

Vertical brushstrokes allude to height and space of painting so lots of vertical brushstrokes works well. Horizontal brushstrokes disrupt the flow of a painting. Horizontal marks are necessary in spots but too much and the painting is confused and flattened. On a larger canvas I can imagine you get away with more horizontal brushstrokes because the same number would fill less of the space.

Handling of oil versus acrylic paint 
Acrylic paint doesn’t travel as far across the canvas, and is less slippy; breaking up at the end of a brushstroke.
Acrylic paint also has far less radiance and opaque colour.

Oil paint working wet-on-wet works surprisingly well. It limits the amount of strokes I take on any given area so I don’t mush the colours together too much. But it gives the painting a new and interesting dynamic, and the colour pay off is so much better. Plus a blob of oil paint with Liquin goes a lot further than the same blob of acrylic paint and medium yey.

In the white tape experiment there are some bits of dirt and scratches on the surface that were unintended, but they don’t ruin the painting. Since all my paintings are done outside, it seems fitting that sometimes there is evidence of that process on the surface of the canvas.

First oil painting outside reflections

Experiment Reflections, Second Term, Second Year

This is the first test I did in oil paints outside and I’m surprised at how different the outcome is from acrylic paintings outside.

I was painting a clearing of trees in a woodland, with big Rhododendron bushes underneath the clearing. It was a cloudy day just before midday.

The process of the painting is recorded above with the right hand painting the completed the experiment.

The Process

Painting Prep
The canvas is primed with a mix of gesso and acrylic paint. I primed it this dark, cool grey colour to be a base for lighter colours to be added ontop. Having a dark colour seems to bring out the radiance of the colours put on top.
I started with some charcoal drawings in my sketchbook to warm up before starting on the canvas. This gets me into the mode of seeing the landscape.
I drew perspective lines in white charcoal and then applied tape to the canvas before doing any painting.

Working with the tape
I did most of the painting with the tape still on, since most of the shrubbery was behind the structure I was visualising.
I then took the tape off and applied a few more strokes for forms in front or underneath the structure.
Adding the strokes of paint once the tape had been removed is an important step I realise in giving the scene depth and distance.
I am pleased with the shape of the structure. The more I practise drawing these cuboid shapes the easier it gets. This one reflects the shape of the clearing well and makes me feel as if I am standing under a big structure which is what I intended.

Painting with oil paints 
I used a small amount of Liquin with the paint as I was mixing, with the intention of having a slightly faster drying time and greater ease moving paint around the canvas.
The paint goes a lot further than acrylics; a tiny blob of paint has much more opaqueness and oomph than the acrylics I had been using, so there was much less time spent getting more paint out and remixing.
The biggest difference from acrylics is that all layers of paint stay wet for the whole time I’m painting. This means layering paint leads to bottom layers mixing slightly with top layers. It put me off doing lots of thin layers of paint, or applying paint to large areas of the canvas, because I am aware that any paint applied on top mixes with whatever’s underneath.
As a result the painting is full of small, short and more careful brushstrokes. Although the brushstrokes I have applied carry more impact due to greater radiance and opaqueness.

The Finished Painting

Knowing when to stop and what to add 
I strangely like the painting in the left hand photo, when not much paint had been applied yet and the tape was still on the canvas. I like how singular the paint marks are, and the way they splay out and appear to be reaching and growing up and out into the canvas.
I also like the white tape and think it works just as well as the black. I should try adding the tape before I prime the canvas with a colour next time.
So the emptier canvas looks more aesthetically pleasing and has a clearer something? but does it convey the experience of being in the woods as much? Because being under a canopy of trees in nature is very messy, and cluttered, and layered and alive, so having paintings that are full of paint marks has made sense so far. – I think this is something to play with in experiments. 

What works in final painting  
– The colour palette – pretty bold colours, but the red lines work well, and so do the rich greens and ochres, they describe the colours in the woods well.
– Some shapes – the long brushstrokes of red leading you up and into the canvas work well to create movement and shape in relation to the size of the structure. The white blocks are the top of the painting also work well behind the structure. Perhaps some more of that colour would have been good.
– Layering paint in front of the structure.
– The opaqueness of the oil paints creates a richer texture than acrylics. It’s not necessarily better, it just creates a different feel to the painting.

What doesn’t work so well in final painting and what could change in the future
– Too many sporadic bursts of paint. I researched into painting large blocks of colour and yet here I haven’t used that. The reason for this is the drying time – if I layered big blocks of paint, the paint would all mush together. But if I did blocks of paint and didn’t layer too much on top it would work! I’ll try that. The blocks of paint would make the scene look more stable and permanent.
– Canvas is very small! Bigger scale coming up.
– The structure formed out of the background dark colour. Surprisingly I like the white chalk structure in my last post as much if not more than the tape structure here. So white tape shape is a must for experimenting with.

Adding structures to paintings

Experiment Reflections, Second Term, Second Year

Since I had these two tests on my wall I thought it was worthwhile adding structures to them.

The first one I did on the left, I used white charcoal to map out the shape using three point perspective and then went over the white with black ink.
It was the first time I decided to make it look as if the structure was appearing and disappearing behind paint strokes, with the intention of giving the paint strokes depth.
The ink doesn’t sit well at all on top of the oil paint but for an experiment that doesn’t matter to me, plus the cracking of the ink gives the structure an interesting texture.
I actually liked the shape better before I added the black ink.
The clean white lines of the charcoal works well against the dark background in contrast to the loose painterly marks.

So for the second experiment I decided to just use the white charcoal to define the shape. This works better than the ink I think.
Using ink meant I kept the white perspective lines, but when the structure itself is white, it looks better to rub out the perspective lines which is very easy to do with this white charcoal.
The structure disappears very nicely behind some of the brush-strokes and really creates a sense of depth and height!

The shape of the second experiment also works much better than the first. It mimics a gap in the tree canopy and looks grander – filling more of the space.
Reasons the second structure works better:
-The top of the structure matches a gap in the paint marks in the painting. —Having a corner of the structure facing the viewer closes the shape off to the viewer and decreases the feeling of being under the shape I think.

I’m not sure whether I’ll use the white charcoal to define the shapes more. It works here for a small painting but on a bigger scale I can imagine the thin charcoal lines are far too thin and faint to make an impact. Using tape with a white background may do the trick – keeping this straightness and structural feel whilst creating impact.

Sketchbook Experiment Process

Experiment Reflections, Second Term, Second Year

Experiment to try out blocking colours into my painting. Using acrylics on primed gesso+acrylic paper.

This is the photograph I used for the experiment:
Chosen because of the arching trees reaching to the sky and the glowy sunset colours touching the tops of the trees.

I did a sketch in charcoal pencils, firstly in white to sketch out the shapes of the trees (using my fave way of drawing them roughly – this side to side squiggle!), then adding in black patches and writing to mark out where blocks of colours would go.

Process in giff form:

The ink shape I based on a digital sketch I did (left). It works in this image because it makes the viewer like they are underneath the structure.

I ended up a few more layers than intended on the original sketch. The light green I put down wasn’t orangey enough so I put down an orange mixed with a lot of gloss medium to give the paint transparency so you can see the green underneath and they mix to create the right hue.
Working on top of the dark primed paper means I was building up the lighter shades, which works well and gives the colours a lot of depth. I left the paper bear where I wanted the under-brown to show through.
The other extra layers I added were more of the sky blue colour right at the end, and more of the dark brown that I used as an underpainting. This is because I want the layers to not look obviously applied one on top of the other. Instead I want layers to mingle with each other, and to appear in some places layered in a different order to others. This gives the paint far more depth and subtly which works well.

The structure in this experiment doesn’t work as well because the width of the structure doesn’t encompass most of the painting so it doesn’t feel like a great shape that the viewer is under.

Artist: Alex Katz

Artist Research, Second Term, Second Year

Katz, A. et al., 1999. Alex Katz, Torino: Hopefulmonster.

Painting ‘Reflections’ 1994 (p.170).
I am interested in the blocks of colours, and the marks made on top of the blocks of colour. This work has a limited colour palette, and is abstracting its subject quite extremely.
Katz believes the ‘all-overness in a lot of the big landscapes’ comes from art.
I interpret ‘all-overness’ as meaning a quality where every inch of the canvas is equally important and there is no focus on one point or subject, the whole is the focus point. This idea makes sense since he goes on to talk about Pollock and Baroque paintings which he says ‘don’t have much of an image, they just have motion.’
This idea of all-overness is present in the painting ‘Reflections’ .

Paintings ‘Dawn’ 1995 and ‘Dawn III’ 1995 (p.200-1).
Idea of painting with consideration of the light and atmosphere, and prioritising that over brush marks or anything else.

Painting ‘Autumn I’ 1999 (p.260).
Love the use of yellow as the background. Impactful light and atmosphere created. Katz seems to use a lot of this colour in his work.
The colour is overwhelming considering the size of the work.

Painting ‘Dark Green’ 1997.
Interesting use of one sap green shade for background, which acts as a colour indicator as well as a suggestion of distance where no paint has been applied on top.
This makes me consider adding more ‘blocks’ of colour in my work.

Painting ‘Lawn Party’ 1965 (P.52).
The trees in the right hand top corner have been painted wonderfully. They are painted four colours; light yellowy-white green, dark sap green, light grey, blue-grey.
Katz paints the leaves in blocks of shape and dots of the same colour surrounding the blocks. It’s a very pleasing way to paint trees and more specifically leaves, simply.
This is reinstating how successful block areas of paint can be.

Sylvester, D. et al., 1997. Alex Katz : twenty five years of painting : from the Saatchi Collection., London: Saatchi Gallery.

Painting ‘May’ 1996, oil on canvas, 305x610cm, p.26.
This is more like the work I have been doing – the brushstrokes are fractured and there is movement in the work. Instantly, the scene looks far more alive and spring/summer like than other works.
More fragmented brushtrokes seems to indicate more life and energy than bigger ‘block’ of paint.
One thing I have been considering in my painting has been how to convey these still, wintery, bare woods, when my painting language has been very energetic and fragmented etc. Perhaps bigger areas of still paint would work for stiller landscapes. This is something I cannot learn more about without experimenting!


Paint applied in blocks appear ‘stiller’ than small separate brushstrokes.
Try adding more blocks of colour maybe as the first layer of painting to map out the landscape.

My paintings have a quality of ‘all-overness’ in my paintings; where the whole canvas is the focus point.

Artist: David Hockney

Artist Research, Second Term

The history of pictures begins in the caves and ends, at the moment, with an iPad.


I saw a retrospective of Hockney at the Tate Britain a few years ago and the landscapes in it really stuck with me, especially the colour palette used. His work has been a subconscious influence ever since so I want to read more about the work and examine his paintings in more detail.
I am going to focus on Hockney’s landscapes that he began to make at the start of the century. I am interested in the colours and marks made, and how he paints en plein air.

David Hockney from book Hockney, D. et al., 2017. David Hockney, London: Tate Publishing

Hockney studied the use of optical devices in art history and determined that ‘the camera homogenises the world and discourages active looking’. P.172
His thesis on that topic: ‘Secret Knowledge’ (2006).

Hockney paints the landscape from memory and observation.

‘Artists thought the optical projection of nature was verisimilitude*, which is what they were aiming for,’ [Hockney] said: ‘But in the 21st century, I know that is not verisimilitude. Once you know that, when you go out to paint, you’ve got something else to do. I do not think the world looks like photographs. I think it looks a lot more glorious than that.’

*Verisimilitude means the appearance of being true or real.

^ I completely agree with this statement, painting from life is superior to painting from photograph for my work.

Paintings on Pp.176, 177, 180.
Looking at the paintings it appears Hockney has a very decided use of colour. He seems to work in blocks of colour with varying shades of the same hue. This can be seen with this painting (p.176):

Image result for david hockney a closer winter tunnel
David Hockney A closer winter tunnel, February-March 2006 oil on canvas, 6 panels 190.5 x 381 cm overall Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased with funds provided by Geoff and Vicki Ainsworth, the Florence and William Crosby Bequest and the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation 2007 © David Hockney Photo: AGNSW

Colour edit of painting highlighting four different colour palettes taking up space.

Simplifying shid further you get:

Colour palette of four different sections.

These block colours work well together! Which makes the painting harmonious.

There also appears to be very clear shapes in the painting that lead the eye towards the horizon and are pleasing even with basic block colour shapes.
I could think about this in my work – placing ‘blocks’ of colour that work well compositionally (I think I started doing a bit of this when working on this body of work last year).

Essay: Ways of Looking, and being in the bigger picture by Andrew Wilson

Hockney thinks that naturalism is not real enough, naturalism as being ‘artifice rather than truth’. (p.214)

Masaccio is named as a painter that paints scenes ‘that the viewer somehow feels an amplified connection to a pictorial world that they take to be ‘real’… artifice temporarily falls away and we believe what we see. Moreover, we fail to distinguish it as effectively an artificial construction.’

If this is actually the case, one result of perspective would be to remove any separation between the viewer of the painting and the painting itself


This is interesting because I have been using perspective in my work to to trick the viewer into seeing height and depth.


Try more colour blocking in my paintings.
Blocks of colour for different areas and sections of the scene in front of me.

Another way of thinking about perspective: multiple-point perspective is a way of removing the separation between the scene in the painting and the viewer.

Artist: Richard Smith

Artist Research, Second Year
Image result for richard smith paintings
Painting, 1958, oil on canvas, 1520 x 1221 mm

I saw this painting at the Tate Modern over the Christmas break and was immediately captured by it. The vibrancy and warmth of the colours pulled me in. Then the depth, energy, movement of the brushstrokes kept me in front of it; taking in the whole painting.
The painting reminded me of the kind of work I was making first year second & third term.

The richness of the colours is due to the use of oil paints, which seem to always create a richer hue than acrylics, even when thinned.

The way the paint has been applied appears kind of structural – see photoshopped lines over image of the painting.
The flat canvas has the illusion of depth and dimension.
This dimension is created in the pure colours of yellow. Possibly because the different shades of yellow imitate highlights and shadows of a structure, and add the illusion of depth.

Around the time of the making of Painting Smith was also developing a growing interest in the physical and mental properties of environments generated by the mass media.

Tate website: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/smith-painting-t01588

Learning what the subject and focus of Smith’s work was, shows how subjective his work is. I see this painting as a link to my landscape paintings, and I’m sure other viewers would find equally personal links to their own lives in the painting which doesn’t reflect Smith’s intentions.

Richard Smith, ‘Piano’ 1963
Piano, 1963

This area sits in the grey space between painting and scultpure, although Smith insisted that these works were purely paintings, since a canvas has three dimensional sides so it is already not flat.

The ink lines and rough brushstrokes have remind me of how I’ve been working, and the play with structure and illusion in his work is something I’ve been interested in. Could this be a prompt to work with three dimensions in my own work?

In series: Sixteen Pieces of Paper ‘Interval’
MEDIUM Screenprint on paper
DIMENSIONS Image: 392 x 372 mm
ACQUISITION Presented by the artist 1976

The direction of these marks creates strong movement and to me, the sense of wind rushing through something. I want to try this idea of direction of marks in my own painting. If brushstrokes are angles upwards, or in flat planes or shapes, how does that effect the space and the level or movement?

Piet Mondrian Revisited

Artist Research, Second Year

I looked at Mondrian when I first started painting the woods nearly a year ago (post here). His method of working still inspires my practice.

He spent his life working on abstract paintings and also painting trees. There was no linear transition from trees to abstraction, but a constant relationship between the two parts of his practices.

Having two types of work moving in parallel makes sense to me, there is the possibility that one practice informs the other, or that having the space to step away from either practice is important.

Oils vs acrylics

Experiment Reflections, Second Year
Oil paints on right. Acrylics on left.

Underpainting is 50/50 Gesso and acrylic paint, one layer.

I did both of these paintings right after being outside sketching in the woods. So these paintings are memory paintings. I did the oil painting first, and with the acrylic painting I tried to keep the brushstrokes and colour palette similar to the oil painting, so it is easier to compare.

Same coarse air brushes used in both paintings.

The oil paint is 3:1 oil paint and Liquin medium – for more transparency and faster drying time.

Acrylic paint is 3:1 acrylic paint and gloss medium – for more transparency, gloss and flow. Not sure how this affects the drying time.


Drying Time 
Oil paints still wet when painting finished, so could only work wet-on-wet unless you left the painting for a number of hours.
Acrylics dried extremely fast in comparison – with brushstrokes drying in minutes so mostly dry-on-wet was the way to work. 

I already have a larger variety of colours in oils than I do in acrylics, so I have more colour options without having to buy more paint.
Colours are much more intense and vibrate against the dark background much more than the acrylic paint.
Oil paints have more subtle colours. 

Oil paints have a much more radiant transparency and would have more interesting layers when applied dry-on-wet. (But drying time makes this an issue to do fast).
Acrylics have good transparency with the gloss medium (and have the big advantage of drying in minutes). Radiance when layering semi-transparent paint not as good.


Brushes carry paint slightly smoother and longer with oils, but not much difference, especially with more gloss medium added to acrylics.


Oil paints have more possibility for colour work, but the process would be much slower, and would have to be done in stages if I wanted to layer dry-on-wet. Also cannot paint in oils in sketchbook!
Acrylics better for fast studies and when I want to layer dry-on-wet in one sitting.
Oils better for bigger pieces, that I don’t mind painting in stages.