Saturday, 18 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas
If you were on my Christmas Card list this year you will no doubt have already received a card. I had originally intended to make it a very busy scene with ladders leaned up against the snowman and lots of people enjoying the weather, inspired as I was by a recent viewing of Breugel's 'Hunters in the Snow.' However in the end I deleted most of the population in favour of something much simpler.
Intial ArtRage Sketch
3D Reference
An initial sketch using ArtRage's chalk and oil brush tools was used as a background over which I traced some basic 3D geometry to check the perspective of other elements. Something I enjoy doing occasionally and for the 15 - 30 minutes it takes to put a simple 3D scene together, you get an awful lot of reference information back. Relevant reference material doesn't always present itself, but you can always make your own. Cinema 4D also provides a basic artist mannequin which is useful for quickly posing and placing humanoid figures. Happy Christmas one and all!
Click on images to enlarge.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Oil Pastels

I do love oil pastels, they might just be among the most flexible art materials in existence and I quite honestly can't believe how little we see of them in the public arena. I realise to make such a statement is to invite derision from certain circles, but please allow an indulgence...
Although I had previously dabbled in oil pastels and noted their potential, the image 'Luca' (left), a portrait of my lovely Godson, is the first oil pastel painting I ever completed. It was painted with what I now know are considered 'student quality' pastels, usually characterised as containing more wax and less pigment than artist quality pastels - you can see the hard waxy marks, which I think actually add something positive to the painting, so their lack of blending qualities isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The image used up my supply and the search for replacements unveiled other brands. In the UK the three most popular art shop brands I found were Royal Talens Van Gough pastels, Caran D'Ache Neopastels and Sennelier Oil Pastels. Although there seems to be some confusion, I would consider the Van Goughs student grade simply because their colour chart states that all pastels are marked either +++ or ++ for lightfastness. The first equates to 100 years lightfastness under gallery conditions and the second 25-100 years. Although a century sounds a long time, I'm guessing anyone considering an art investment would prefer a little longer. After all, if you are mixing ++ with +++ you are surely not promoting ++ to +++, but rather demoting +++ to ++, which could mean there is a chance your artwork may disintegrate within the lifetime of the buyer. Probably not good.

The Senneliers and Neopastels, however, are in a different league. You can tell just by using them and perhaps the best way I can describe both types is to say they feel more like oil paint in stick form, particularly the soft buttery Senneliers. Where the Van Goughs blend into mush when painting white over dark, for example, the other two brands are beautifully opaque and most of the time the white sits atop any colour like oil paints. But even where this is not the case, because oil pastels contain wax, they never dry like paint. This means you can rework an area simply by scraping off parts of the painting or use fixative over areas you want to amend. It also means you can employ really nice sgraffito effects.
Sparkle - Senneliers
There are differing opinions on whether oil pastels should be fixed or not. Some people prefer to keep them unfixed but mounted behind glass. Others use fixative spray such as Sennelier's. I like to rub slightly watered down acid free PVA glue over the finished work with a finger. Slightly unnerving as it is white when applied, but very quickly dries clear with a satin finish. The pastels are stable enough not to be disturbed by the light rubbing action.

Backlight - Sennelier/Neo
Although they never dry, oil pastels are also never wet, which means they are perfect for open air painting (en plein air.) Not that I'm an expert on the subject, but lately I've been trying to make a point of going out to paint on the spot because it is both good practice and good for the soul. There are no levels of abstraction to wrestle with such as paint tubes/pans, brushes, pallets, water, rags, oil or turps. No time spent pencil sketching, applying or removing masks, no pre-mixing colour since it is all done directly on the painting surface, no waiting for layers to dry. All I need to pack is a multi medium sketchbook, an old crayon tin full of pastels, a craft knife, a blending stump and a sheet of kitchen paper. The image 'Backlight' (above left) nicely demonstrates the medium's directness. While walking through Edinburgh Botanics I wanted to catch the low Autumn sun. I only had perhaps 15 minutes before the sun moved
One For Sorrow - Sens/Neo
behind the background building, so speed was an issue. In the time it takes to pull a sketchbook and a tin from my rucksack, maybe 10 or 15 seconds, I was painting. 'Backlight' and 'One for Sorrow,' also an open air painting finished in studio, both demonstrate the opaque nature of artist quality pastels where light colours are overlaid on dark. Applied pressure and a twist of the wrist creates really nice impasto strokes. The finer branch, leaf and grass highlights are the result of scraping away pigment - sgraffito.

Self Portrait - Sennelier
On the subject of speed and convenience, for various reasons I quite often find myself waiting in the car for small amounts of time. You can wait and do nothing or you can wait and sketch. Sometimes that means whipping out my ipod touch and firing up ArtStudio, but that is another subject for another day. On this occasion I started sketching the car mirror with grey pastels and soon realised I was in fact drawing myself. I really like this image, don't know why.
Self Portrait 2 - Sens/Neo
On yet another occasion I just could not sleep. You know, lying there in the dark, restless, brain won't switch off and legs won't stop twitching. Well eventually I just got up and started sketching Self Portrait 2 (right.) The light source was a single bedside lamp. It isn't an exact likeness, but I like the fuzzy sketchy quality, particularly around the eyes, which are normally the first point of contact for viewers and therefore rendered sharp. The whole thing nicely sums up that restless quality our friend insomnia sometimes brings. 
Click on images to enlarge.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Apple Agency

Apple Agency Screenshot
This week, my agency have been kind enough to put a sheet of my work on their front page. By way of thanks, small gesture though it may be, I thought I'd write a potted history of The Apple Agency.
Simon Burr started out as a traditional illustrator over a quarter of a century ago. I've seen his work and it comes as no surprise to learn that his business soon flourished despite the considerable hurdles. To put that in context, before the digital age an illustrator would have to travel the length of the country to meet with clients, travel all the way back to carry out instructions then do the same thing over and over again until the piece was approved. When fax machines first came out he jumped at the chance to own one despite their phenomenal cost and terrible output; it at least meant the client could approve work without an all day journey. The workload became so huge Simon began sharing projects with fellow illustrators and eventually went on to set up The Apple Agency. I'm sure all his artists will agree Simon's illustration knowledge is an invaluable part of the process! Soon after the agency was established, he realised he needed to expand and enlisted the help of an old friend, Iain Blenkhorn, who also quickly became an invaluable. It is a rock solid setup!

Simon Burr
I first came across the Apple Agency about 7 years ago while looking for work online and noticed they were based in my home town, Scunthorpe (up the iron!) Luckily, Simon and Iain saw a chink of potential and gave me a chance. We have since worked on hundreds of projects together. Bizarrely their office turned out to be within walking distance of my parents' house so I always felt fate was in a philanthropic mood that day. Long may it last!

Click on image to enlarge.