Author Archives: Andy Walker

To granulate or not to granulate?

I have just returned from tutoring on a painting holiday in the beautiful Cotswolds in the UK. The area is full of quaint old villages, the ancient houses constructed from a golden limestone and bordered by village ponds, trees, and lots of Wisteria in full and fragrant bloom. It was a fantastic time of painting and making new friends.

I sketched quite a bit on the various day trips out and about, and on my return I have begun to make small coloured paintings in a sketchbook from some of these pencil drawings. Let me show you two of them and then explain why they look different. They are both similar scenes from different places, and I used the same watercolour paints in both. But the top one has significant granulation and the bottom one has not.

What is granulation? Well, it’s an effect which is caused by some paints, but not all. These paints are less finely ground and have some particles of pigment that are larger and which separate out of the paint and settle into the dimples in the watercolour paper, causing a mottled effect as the paint dries. I have recently started using a Daniel Smith colour called Green Apatite Genuine which is great at doing this. it is a lovely foliage green and when it granulates it becomes mottled with brown. This gives a semi-realistic foliage effect without having to do to much.

I also used an ultramarine blue for the skies in both pictures, and the top one has granulated while the bottom one has not.

So, what is the secret? How can you either make granulation happen, or avoid it, even when using exactly the same paints?

The answer in this case seems to have been the tilt of the paper. I painted the first sketch with the paper flat on the table top. This allowed the granules of pigment to settle down nicely into the hollows in the paper (a Moleskine watercolour sketchbook).

The second sketch was painted with the sketchbook on a slope of about 30 degrees. This resulted in a much smoother and flatter finish and little granulation.

I found this to be an interesting way to control the end result, (and anything that helps us control the temperamental watercolour is a blessing!), and I hope it will help you have a little more control over your painting as well.

Painting what you feel not what you see

Painting outdoors en plein air can be complicated, frustrating and difficult, as well as fun and exhilarating. One of the things I have learned is to paint fast! Too often the light changes, the wind gets up and tries to blow your easel over, or a van parks right in front of your view. So you have to paint fast.

Now the problem with painting fast is that you cannot capture the detail of what is in front of you. There is usually so much going on and so many tiny details that catch your eye and the impulse is to try and record it all. This usually fails for one of two reasons (or both) – firstly, you don’t need that much detail anyway in your painting (too much detail kills a painting in my view), and secondly, you can’t paint it all in the time allotted. It’s just impossible and completely unnecessary to try and do it.

So how do we get around this? What can we do instead? How do we cope with all that visual information in front of us? My suggestion is that we paint what you feel, not what we see. I believe that if we can learn to do this we will become better artists – not just recording what is in front of us but interpreting it and putting something of ourselves into the image. After all, a camera can record what is in front of us. As artists we need to do something more.

Take a look at my photo and paintings below.

I was painting on this beach last week and in my view were a bunch of complicated rocks, sand strewn with seaweed, cliffs with a myriad of ravines and folds, the waves on the sea. I even had a drone settle above me for a while as someone watched me paint!
How was I to capture all this in a half hour or so? And was it important to get the exact shape of every rock? The temptation was to count them, to draw them all exactly, to try and replicate exactly the scene in front of me. So I took some photos to do just that, and then settled down to record my feelings about the place!

My final paintings were loose, painterly, and I hope captured the essence of the place. No, they didn’t have all the rocks, nor did they have all the correct shapes of the cliffs. But they captured the feel of it all. And that is what is important. In the end I just went for it and painted quickly and simply – from the heart more than from the head.

So, next time you are painting outdoors, don’t allow the details to get in the way of how you feel. Paint from your heart. Go with it. And I’m sure you will be surprised at the result.

The joy of painting en plein air

I love getting outdoors and painting the landscape from life. There’s really nothing quite like it for seeing colours as they truly are – a photo won’t do that for you. And all your senses are involved; the sounds of the birds, or the passing cars, or people chatting as they walk by, the smell of wet earth or flowers, the touch of the breeze, or the blast of cold wind, or the warmth of the sun. All of these play a part in the whole sensation of being outside and being alive and painting!

Today I got the chance to do just that. The sun was shining, the weather was warm and perfect, and there was no wind to knock the easel over. I took my chance to paint an orange grove that is nearby and at the moment has the ground smothered in a tiny bright yellow flower. It’s a weed, but it’s beautiful. And at this time of year there a plenty of oranges still on the trees, and today the sky was a glassy blue.

Take a look at the video I made of this experience, and perhaps go and paint outdoors as soon as you can. There are extreme plein air painters who paint in the rain and the snow, so you’ve no excuse (only joking!).

Composing with Rabatment

Have you ever heard of Rabatment? I confess that I had never come across this term until I watched a Youtube tutorial last week by the incomparable Diana Mize (her channel is called: In the Studio Art Instruction). She was talking about a way of composing paintings that has been used down the centuries, but was one that I had never seen before. And then when I looked at some of my own paintings I realised that I was automatically using it without knowing!

Take a look at my video and see what I mean :

Have fun!

How to focus on your focal point

Every good painting should be about something. And this something should be communicated to the viewer. Paintings are about communication, and we want our viewers to understand what we are trying to say. So we need a focal point – something that we home in on and that says what the picture is about.

But how can we do this when we are painting a scene from life or from a photo and we are confronted with a mass of details, shapes and colours such as the one below?

I visited an exhibition this week of watercolours by the Spanish painter Alfredo López, and he has found a way to answer this question in a powerful and yet atmospheric way.
Take a look at his handling of a similar New York street scene.

Alfredo López

Can you see what he has done? He has simplified everything right down so that we are forced to look at his mounted police that are the subject of the painting. Everything else is just a background wash. He hasn’t attempted to put any detail whatsoever into the background because it simply isn’t important. However, by carefully creating the silhouette of the buildings, he has still let us see that this is New York. And by painting in monochrome he has avoided any temptation to overcomplicate the background with colours that might distract us.

How we see

This is very similar to the way we see. When we are in a busy scene like this we might feel that we are taking it all in and processing all the information. But in reality we are not counting the windows in the buildings, we are not seeing every person or every car in detail, we are not really seeing much at all. At any one time our focus is on one thing or one small area and that is all. Everything else is a an out of focus blur.

Try it out – look directly at something around you right now and focus your attention on it. Without moving your eye from it, take a look at what is around about. It should all be out of focus, soft edged and a bit more hazy. That is how we see the world! It’s one bit at a time.

When we come to paint the scene however we don’t choose to see in the same way. Suddenly everything is clamouring for our attention and we feel the need to put in all the details. And the result? Our painting loses it’s focus and it’s power and we fail to capture what we intended. We fail to communicate.

Alfredo López

Less is more

So, next time you are painting, decide what your focal point is. What is the message you want to communicate? Where do you want to draw the viewer’s attention? What is your painting about?
Then paint this with more detail, more colour, and harder edges, and leave the background and the supporting elements much looser, suggestive, and soft edged. See how little you need to communicate your point.

Here are a few more watercolour paintings by Alfredo López for you to enjoy. See how he has simplified so much information, and made his paintings really speak!

What makes a good painting?

I don’t know about you, but I am always searching to find out what makes a good painting. I know that some of mine work out just fine and others are, well, destined to be painted over. I guess we all have a mixture of both good and bad paintings. But wouldn’t it be great if we could improve the ratio, and make better and better art?

Composition comes first

I’ve begun to realise that composition always comes first. If I don’t get a good composition in the first place then I have no hope of making a good painting.
Everything else – the brushmarks, the colours, the details, even the value structure, have to serve a good composition. In themselves they cannot create a good painting.

Original photo

Here’s a photo I snapped the other day. The scene caught my eye because it already had a strong composition. Let me show you what I mean.

I sketched it out in pencil in the dimensions of the MDF panel I was going to paint on. Just look at those red lines which create this scene. There are strong diagonals at the edges of the road which lead the eye to the vanishing point, and in my painting I want to enhance these by extending them into the sky as well. Then there are the strong horizontal and vertical lines that strengthen the structure and ground the composition. It seems as though every element in the picture is doing something to add to this grid of lines.
And this is what will give my picture the best chance of being a good one!

Putting it together

First stage

Here’s my first stage in the painting, and you can see how I have marked in those strong lines. Even at this early stage I can see that I think I’m on to a winner.

Finished painting

The finished painting shows how it all came together. I brushed in the sky using directional strokes that pointed towards the focal point at the end of the road and followed the construction lines I had planned earlier. Can you see how a strong construction, like a strong skeleton, has helped to create a strong painting?

I plan to work on more paintings that are based on a strong linear compositional grid like this. Many old master paintings are based on structures like this and they have stood the test of time, so I’m in good company! Why not give it a go yourself?

Get a FREE 40 page guide to Plein Air painting

I am on Instagram (#andywalker.art) and last night I was flicking through some of the artists that I follow there and came across a free offer from Lena Rivo. It looked interesting so I signed up for it and got the download. It is so good that I would now like to share it with you!

Here’s what she said about it on Instagram:
“On my recent trip to Northern Portugal, I collected so many small observations and thoughts about plein air painting that I decided to combine them in an E-book. So, upon my return, I created a new free 40-page PDF guide in which I share my approach to plein air painting, as well as my observations and tips that might be helpful for artists who are inspired by nature. On the last page of the guide you will find a link to a short film from the trip that inspired me to write this guide.

You can download the ebook at the link on my website: www.lenarivo.com

This ebook is full of images, so hopefully it will be a fun read for you” 😊❤️

Hope you enjoy it and find it useful. Lena has other free booklets etc. on her website as well.

Come with me on a Painting Holiday

In May next year I have the pleasure of tutoring on a painting holiday in the beautiful Cotswolds region of the UK. This exciting holiday is provided through Alpha Painting Holidays.

WHEN? 
8th -12th May 2022

WHERE? 
We will paint in a variety of beautiful Cotswolds villages including  Lacock,  Castle Combe and  Biddestone.

Bradford-on-Avon is near to the hotel and we will paint around this historic town and also we have access to places such as Corsham, Nunney with its castle and the famous Caern Hill locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal. There really is no shortage of places to paint and sketch!

THE HOTEL
Leigh Park Country House Hotel & Vineyard, is located in the picturesque town of Bradford on Avon, near Bath.
Set in five acres of landscaped gardens, overlooking the picturesque Wiltshire Downs, Leigh Park is a classical Georgian country house hotel with charm, character and a subtle elegance.

I hope you may be able to join me on this week of painting in one of the most beautiful areas of England.

Andy Walker

Making and Breaking the Rules

I was looking through Google images the other day for paintings by the Impressionists and came across the work of Gustave Caillebotte. He is not as famous as some of the others like Monet or Cezanne or Manet, but his work really caught my eye. Why? Because of the strong and sometimes strange compositions.

Take a look at this painting below, Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877), where he seems to break the rules of “good” composition.

As you probably know you should never divide your painting into quarters, but this is exactly what Caillebotte does here. And somehow he makes it work, even though it makes for a slightly unsettling image. He then further subdivides the picture with repeated vertical lines and some very angular triangles. The whole image is a design. It has not happened by accident, but unlike many other artists who worked to a design, he breaks the rules. I suppose his fellow Impressionists were also breaking the rules at that time, but in different ways.

Now look at the painting below, The House Painters (1877), where he keeps to the rules but exaggerates them. Your eye is almost forced to run towards the vanishing point at the end of the road by the strong and unbroken straight lines. And again he has used repeated vertical lines to divide up the image, and added a few of those triangles as well.

Once again in this painting, Le Pont de l’Europe (1876) he has used the same devices – an overpoweringly strong pull towards the vanishing point, repeated verticals and triangles.

And even in this painting, Portraits à la campagne (1876) you can see the same design strategy.
In fact if you look him up on Google images you will find that many of his paintings followed these rules.

So, was he breaking the rules or making new rules?
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

What a year it has been.

A nice little book to get you started with sketching 🙂

Aloft with Inspiration

A year ago yesterday I published the Kindle version of my book, Look at That! Discover the Joy of Seeing by Sketching.

Two days later, a year ago tomorrow, the paperback version became available.

In the last 12 months, 3,353 copies have sold worldwide through Amazon, and a smaller total (harder to calculate) have sold through private and online bookstores. It’s been a #1 Best Seller in 4 categories for several months in a row, and ranks in the current top 1% of all Kindle book sales.

Those of you who know me know how amazed and grateful I am. This book was little more than a hair-brained idea 18 months ago, a thorn in my side 13 months ago, and a great relief off my back 12 months ago.

This time last November I was more relieved than excited, I knew I’d done my best, and had no idea…

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