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Painterly Art (and tricks)

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

A couple of COVID years has meant I've spent many productive leisure hours in the studio, and have continued experimenting and refining techniques, thanks to my 'virtual studio lessons with Julian Hyzler at EASELANDLENS. Julian is based in Tuscany.

As I’ve taken progress photos for nearly all my virtual studio lessons, I thought it might be useful to be able to demonstrate artistic learning along the way. Julian has said that some (many?) students are shy about showing their works, and perhaps also lacking in confidence, so maybe seeing someone else's challenges along the way may help?

I’m not trying to interpret Julian’s teaching skills, but attempting to share some of the issues that now influence my approach to painting.

I’ve chosen four paintings as examples (a subtle promotion from all three of my learning experiences - on site in Tuscany, virtual studio group tours, Virtual Studio 1:1).

Taking photographs for painting. On my first outing from the studio (September ‘19), we were strolling though Chiusi and I was taking a photo of an attractive door. Julian immediately said “No! You need to take the photo from directly in front!”. So a little further on, I snapped this door. I liked it because it’s a combination of a formal structure (door) and random, scruffy surrounds (plaster, old bricks), plus added interest from the autumn leaves blown up against the door.

Fixing a failure. As well as 1:1 classes, I’ve intermittently taken Julian’s monthly ‘virtual tours’ group sketching sessions. I particularly enjoyed the Van Gogh session from the Provence tour. Included in the photo set was Van Gogh’s lovely painting of an olive grove, which reminded me of a photo I’d taken in Corfu many years ago, but the resultant painting was ‘average’ (i.e. neither trashable, nor frame-worthy. So I retrieved it and decided to attempt to add movement, colour and depth (an attempt at contre-jour). It took progress through three virtual lessons with Julian’s eagle eye to turn the painting into something I was happy to frame. (Learning: expert assistance & a different perspective can recover a disappointment.)

Letting the mind’s eye frame the composition. I took this photo of my friend Patrick in Menerbes, Provence and wanted to paint it for him as a gift. Julian immediately advised it needed cropping (e.g., the mind’s eye knows it’s an archway, you don’t need to paint it). Also, the photo was too dark to give enough weight to Patrick and there was not enough interest in the stonework, but blasting the contrast and brightness gave enough information proceed, and also to paint Patrick; except painting his neck and shoulders were a nightmare and took three attempts (plus firm critiques from Julian)! It’s now hanging happily in Patrick’s office in Paris. (Learning: what makes a good photo doesn’t necessarily make for a good painting.)

Finding the right tool for the task. Paint, canvas/paper, brushes, palette knives, medium etc. are all basic tools. But it can be useful to think outside the box. Venice's 'Rio San Moise' was a huge challenge, but the wall with the crazy shadows was a worry. How to get the 'drips' and make them believable? In a fit of bravery, I decided to lay a glaze over the base colour, then used cotton buds to draw through the wet glaze (a 'yippee' moment). For 'Menerbes' the distant vineyard was too detailed for my skills, so I painted the base colour, and when dry, laid the vineyard colour, grabbed a wide hair comb and drew it through the wet paint to create the rows of vines. (Learning - head to the garage tool box, the bathroom, the kitchen for solutions.)

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