I’ve liked art since my teens. I trained in electrical engineering at a college where there was also an art school. In the refectory I talked with students on the painting courses finding them more interesting than the engineers. I considered changing courses but didn’t have the courage so I had to be content with studying art in my free time while earning my living as an electrical engineer. That was a long time ago.
I know which painters, the period and styles that I like. I like the Independants - the Impressionists - mainly of the of the 1870s decade and because they were reacting to and questioning the conservative, chiaroscuro methods taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. I like people who think and see for themselves; they are a minority in a sea of mindless conformity. These artists looked and saw for themselves and went out and painted. They stopped following ‘experts’ and saw life and the world afresh. The vivacity of the paintings of that era still astound me. I remember standing in front of a Van Goch painting in le musee d’Orsay in Paris and not wanting to move away from it. I felt pulled into it. I couldn’t put it into words and then I realized that a good painting is beyond words. They affect us directly without language. What all the ‘Impressionist’ painters did was beyond words.
Sisley is my favourite painter. I always come back to his paintings. He was observant, skilled, a remarkably fast and spontaneous painter and very accomplished I think - although I haven’t been formally trained so most ‘experts’ will probably dismiss my thoughts.
Recently I started painting after waiting far too long and decided to try pastels being impressed by the brilliant colours and the loose styles of pastel paintings and soon over-came my resistance to the dust. I like the hands-on, spontaneity, the expressive things I can do with pastel and the way I can rub out and start again immediately if I want to change it.
After a while I tried acrylics and was totally taken over by them. I had only painted in oils a few times many years before and remember the buttery feel, the smell of them and being able to build them up but acrylics are something else - mainly amazingly quick to dry - so I can maintain the spontenaity of the moment without thinking about it too much.
Of course, I learn by copying others; I stand on the shoulders of giants. It makes me really look at paintings now and see how the painter achieved certain affects and how they saw subjectively the object they were painting and how they represented this subjective perspective on the two-dimensional canvas. It is fascinating. Language doesn’t come into it. When I am working through how I want to paint a painting, when I am actually doing it, it is all done without words. I can sense something happening in the background but there are no words. The self is there but wordless. It is a meditation and so much quieter than engineering and if I ‘fail’ with a painting I can paint over it and start again. Everything is a learning process. Life is a learning process and when we stop learning we die.
I’ve had a few discussions with fellow painters about whether pastel painting can really be described as painting. I thought it could but then began to wonder. It seems to be drawing in one sense and also painting in another. I think it depends on how I start to produce a pastel painting - whether I start with the outline first or start blocking in the colour first so I decided to use the french word for it. They invented it anyway and as some people might know, the word is not the thing.
I’m not claiming that these pastel paintings are ‘good’. This is simply a selective record of my progress from absolute beginner to struggling novice.
The oldest are at the bottom and the latest at the top.
The garden of an old cottage, where I lived, was full of poppies. I sketched some, brought some in to paint but the petals fell off. There was a storm which blew all the petals off the flowers in the garden so I had to use photographs and sketches for this study. It doesn’t quite work. I didn’t have the right tint of red for the high-lights on the petals and I couldn’t increase the tonal range so it looks a little dull. I think the background and the table surface are coming on and the old ‘silvered’ copper vase isn’t too bad although the high-lighting is crude but as an exercise it was useful and encouraging.
I was frustrated by my lack of progress so I stared at the original image of the elderly lady for ages and then just launched into with a certain amount of abandon (difficult for a control-freak like me) and was surprised by the result.
It isn’t good by any measure - the nose isn’t quite right and there is too much yellow on the face - but as a fairly quick sketch it was good. (I think the original painting was of the artist’s mother and called ‘Elderly Lady’ but have lost the name of the original painter and title. When I rediscover it I’ll add it here.)
This pastel of a small Mosque in the south of Ankara was done for an ebook cover and sketched from the window of an apartment opposite.
I prefer the broken colour and it is an interpretation rather than realism and this worked up to a point. I wanted to emphasise the difference between the bright sunlight and the dark shades. So much to learn. I didn’t use it for the ebook (Travels in Turkey). I might for the print book.
Homage a Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and this one (the original) is superb. I think that he captured Van Gogh better than Van Gogh did himself.
I tried to paint the face in the style of Van Gogh but I didn’t get there although I added some fire to his hair. I’m determined to keep doing this until I feel that I’ve got him.
I like Van Gogh’s paintings although I haven’t seen all of the 600 or so that he painted in his short career. I’ve seen quite a few in le musee d'Orsay and they impressed me. I like the ones he painted while in Paris but his ‘Cafe Terrace at Night’, is intriguing.
This is my pastel copy of Suzanne Valadon’s ‘Vase and flowers on a low wall’. Valadon was a model of Renoir, Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and others and an accomplished painter. She was also the mother of Utrillo.
I was instantly attracted to her painting. I like the way that the background and foreground are on the same plane and have the same value. One couldn’t exist without the other - or rather - they are essential parts of the whole.
Utrillo’s le lapin agile didn’t appeal to me at first but I wanted to copy it using pastels. I tried to retain the ‘coldness’ of it.
I knew it would be a good exercise. It made me look at a painting to see the spacial relationships, the tonal values and subtle colours. I did interpret the white fencing though. I was listening to music of Eric Sati as I painted this, totally unaware of his connection with Utrillo, Valadon and this location. It was uncanny when I was told about their connections. Maybe their spirits guide novice painters?
My pastel copy of Pissaro’s Mayenne. I like the way he handles the foliage on the right although I didn’t quite get it right and the water and the figures.
I was surprised by the amount of violet in the painting (but that could be a limitation of the copy I used). I think it works up to a point although there’s always time and space for improvement.
Redon intrigues me and I felt the need to do something more abstract.
I like his painting, The Lady of the Flowers, and copying this freed me up a little. I like the browns and the transition into negative space at the bottom. I’ll paint this in acrylics when I’m more advanced.
This is my copy of Cezanne’s Jas de Bouffan - in the garden of his house. It is an interpretation of an artist’s interpretation so I had to paint things that I couldn’t make sense of at the time.
By the time I had realized where the water on the right was coming from it was too late to paint the mound so I left it as it was. I’m guessing that the white statue on the right is a dolphin. This was my first attempt at reflections in water and I was fairly satisfied - at the time.
Homage a Cezanne. This is a view through the trees of Etaques near Marseille. Looking for a suitable landscape to pastel paint, I was attracted by how Cezanne had painted the sunlight coming out of the landscape and I also wanted to free myself up a little more.
I painted two before this until I felt that I could cope with it. Cezanne uses a lot of colour and translating it to pastel was challenging. Overall, I think it was good as an early painting and a learning process. I learned a lot about colour texture producing direction (of light) and representing 3-dimensional space on a 2-dimensional plane but, at the same time, maintaining the difference. Studying this made me want to go back to France peindre en plein air.
I reached a point with my pastellisms where I was unhappy about having to spray-fix them with noxious chemicals that also reduced the brightness of the colours. Transporting the works in progress from home to ‘atelier’ (study-centres) tended to knock a lot of the pastel off the papers. I thought I was doing something wrong but other pastelists had this problem as well so I thought it time to try a less fragile form of painting with brushes using acrylics. I felt a rush of excitement as I started; it was like going home after a long holiday and I painted using hog-hair brushes to produce a freeness and stop me getting too tight, precise or ‘precious’.
Again, I’m not claiming that these are good. This is simply a selective record of my progress from absolute beginner to struggling novice. Again, the following are stratified into a geological layer with the earlist attempts at the bottom, the latest at the top.
An arresting copy of Derain’s Visage d’une femme that I did to speed myself up. I also loosened up a lot and I think this is because it isn’t realistic. I think that Derain probably aimed to get the essence of the sitter rather than a visual likeness - or was he showing a mask? I like this one. There is no ignoring her at all.
I wanted to paint Andre Derain’s Portrait of Matisse to free me up some more and I enjoyed doing this. I’m guessing Derain painted Matisse’s portrait inside an hour then they swapped around.
I think Derain’s portrait better than Matisse’s but they are both good. This took me considerably longer than an hour but it was a good exercise and helped me to speed up and loosen up.
I wanted to paint Susan Valadon’s Vase on a Low Wall again and this is the result in acrylics. It is certainly different and I’m unsure if this is any better.
I lost some of the subtlety of the pastel version but gained with the wall. It’s an early work so I shouldn’t be too critical.
Cezanne’s Etaques through the Trees again but my version is a mixed result. The foreground - the rocks and trees - are fair, the background of sky and sea are fair but the middle ground - especially the buildings in the centre - doesn’t have the right presence at all.
I was disappointed with this but it is a learning process. I felt that the support (380mm by 280mm) was too small for me to work on the detail at my present stage of development. I’ll do it again when I have more confidence.