Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Just Keep Swimming

With Christmas behind us and 2016 drawing to a close, it's a good time to loosen my belt, sit down at the computer and review my creative journey of late. And that's how I see it – a journey – because by looking at other people's work, using different subjects and keeping an open mind, my artwork is evolving and changing (hopefully for the better). That's why I've given this post the title, 'Just keep swimming'.  It's a phrase used by the eponymous blue tang in the Disney film 'Finding Dory', voiced by Ellen Degeneres. Dory has qualities that I think are helpful in being an artist (and life!), namely, to persevere despite set backs, and to keep moving forward. Ellen says these are qualities that she aspires to and she's done okay!

So what changes have I made these past months? Well, on reading that one day Lucian Freud decided to paint standing up, I thought I'd do the same. After all, he was one of our greatest ever painters and probably had some good reasons for making this decision. I think one of the benefits is that it gives you a better perspective and I think my brushstrokes are stronger. So no more sitting down on the job.

Another quite big change that I've made is to use palette knives. This came about after looking at work by Oliver Akers Douglas. He paints large oil paintings outside in the Wiltshire countryside. He says he likes the speed at which he can mix colours using the palette knife, sometimes even on the canvas itself. I'm impressed with his bold compositions and the way he captures the drama of our skies.  You can see his work here The very nature of using the palette knife means you have to use loads more paint and this gives a much more impasto effect. I like this side effect as I love the feel of laying on the paint thickly. The first painting I tried this out on was of Crantock Beach in Cornwall, and when I posted the image on Facebook I received some good feedback so I've decided to explore this further.

Crantock beach I, 2016 (using palette knife)

 Compare this with a recent landscape I did using brushes only and I think using the palette knife gives a stronger painting. Hard to tell without seeing the pictures in the flesh, though, I appreciate that.

Lulworth, Dorset 2016 (using brushes)
I supported my daughter's school Christmas fair by donating a seagull painting to the silent auction. It was this one below. But I miss it already so I'm painting another one, only this one will be done using the palette knife.

Cornish seagull

I was recently asked to paint a portrait of a dog for a friend. I've always really enjoyed painting animals so welcomed the opportunity. Here is the finished painting of Monty below. Next I will have to paint our own dog, Phoebe. She looks much more like a poodle now she's had her puppy fur cut off.

Monty, 2016
Finally, if, like me, you are interested in the work of Lucian Freud then check out this link The page provides visitors with Freud's biography, over 50 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Freud exhibition listings.

So, until my next blog, just keep swimming. Or I suppose I should really say, just keep painting.


Sunday, 17 April 2016

How now brown cow

Ever since I painted some cows in Beaminster, Dorset, I have been itching to do another, so when a friend gave me a photo of a field of brown and white cows (the breed is Hereford I think, but I'm no expert) I couldn't resist the urge any longer. Here follows the process of painting that picture. Out of a field showing five cows I opted to close in on one pair – a cow and her calf. It also seems quite apt since we are now in the midst of spring, with life burgeoning in the countryside once more!

So here is how the painting went:

And the final version:

Brown cow and calf (30x40cm) by Karen Davies
Still on the subject of animals, but a bit closer to home, last week we introduced a puppy into our home. Phoebe, a nine week old poodle, has caused quite a stir with her sheer cuteness, and much to my relief, is sleeping through the night already. Many years ago, a friend commissioned a portrait of her toy poodle, Pouchi. I never imagined that one day I would own a poodle myself one day, and when she has grown a bit I am sure I will paint her picture too. We previously owned two rescue dogs, Charlie and Pebbles, who were great subject material for many paintings. Beloved pets often turn out to be inspiration for their artist owners – Lucian Freud and his whippets and David Hockney and his dachshunds, spring to mind. In fact, there is even a book of paintings and drawings just of Hockney's dogs, titled David Hockney's Dog Days. It's on my wish list of art books, that's for sure.

Here's the newest member of the household, Phoebe:

And here is the portrait of Pouchi the toy poodle:

I look forward to Phoebe dragging me out for some walks in the lovely Cookham countryside.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

A clear view

This is my third oil painting using a series of great photos of one seagull in St Ives, Cornwall, which were taken by a friend of mine who also happens to be a talented photographer. Below is the photo I based the painting on:

Photograph  by Lindsay Fitzpatrick

This time I was so keen to get on with the picture that I forgot to take a photo of the work to record its progress. That's why there is no sketch of the image in charcoal and the first stage we see already has quite a lot of the canvas covered. 

Canvas size is 23 x 30 cm

You can see how green the sea looks near the shore in the photo and it becomes darker blue towards the horizon. The colours I used for the sky are cerulean blue and flake white, and for the sea: Windsor emerald, phthalo turquoise and French ultramarine. In previous paintings of this scene I added some clouds, but this time I resisted the temptation; I think the pure round white head of the gull intersecting with the cloudless blue sky works well.

'Seagull looking out to sea'

This time I struggled with the bird's feathers and I still wasn't happy with the picture.

More work done to the tail feathers and sea

I deepened the shadow for the seagull and carried on working on the feathers until I felt I was going round in circles with them. Something was still jarring with the picture and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. But then, while writing this blog, I realised what the problem was. You see, it became obvious to me when comparing these pics with the original photo at the top that I have made the seagull's legs too short. Right at the start I got the scale of the body and head too big to comfortably fit the feet on the canvas. If I knew it was going to throw the painting off so much I would have started again. Lesson learned, I hope! So it is useful for me to blog about a painting. Not only does it hopefully inform or interest others, it can help me analyse where a painting might have gone awry.

Final version of 'Seagull looking out to sea' by Karen Davies

Oh well, I think the answer is to get myself a copy of 'Drawing Birds' (published with the RSPB in 1986 and revised in collaboration with Bill Oddie in 2004). This book was produced by the brilliant wildlife artist John Busby, who died aged 87 in June 2015. He was passionate about painting birds and was also an inspirational teacher. He was able to capture the essence of a bird's movement in just a few strokes of pencil and watercolour wash in the field and develop the rest of the painting back in the studio. See for yourself using this link:  I couldn't even capture a seagull standing still, so I have much to learn from the master!

Other arty news is that a new gallery dedicated to a French artist Irene Laksine has opened in the high street in Cookham. Her work seems to be mostly flamboyant, colourful abstracts and looks very interesting. I must check it out, although I think her silk scarves prints are a bit beyond my pocket!  C'est la vie.