Working ‘En Plein Air’

I’ve been doing a lot of ‘en plein air’ painting recently. There’s no doubt about it -it’s a beneficial exercise. Painting outdoors and in public hones your drawing and painting skills -and frankly; gets you noticed. The weather has finally settled into something like a summer and it’s good to get out and about.

I also enjoy talking to passers-by. I’ve never really had anybody cause problems although I know an artist who has had one twit get all aerated because he thought he was in the painting and managed to convince a guard (a second twit) to move the painter along. What an absolute pair of berks.

I’ve just had a relatively easy week, though. I’ve been at the fantastic Cill Rialaig Artists’ Retreat and had the time and freedom to explore the gorgeous county around South Kerry.

Anyway; I teach this stuff and if you want to have a go, have a look at my teaching web site, www.McSherryStudio.com

Brunaille: Next week’s demonstration of a Monochrome Underpainting

A Brunaille: technique of making a warm, monochrome underpainting
A Brunaille: technique of making a warm, monochrome underpainting

If you want to try out this technique of making a warm, monochrome underpainting at next week’s class, you will need the following tubes of ACRYLIC paint:

Ultramarine
Burnt Siena
Flesh Tint (Winsor & Newton) or Warm Bright Yellow (Sennelier)
Titanium White

This technique provides you with a great big safety net for you when you get to the point of adding colour by glazing -and the results can be beautifully rich and lustrous. I often use this method in my hand painted illustrations as I can get the whole work planned out in monochrome before committing to colour. In the image above, I didn’t even glaze colour and left the brunaille as it was -I thought colour would detract from this one. If you’d like me to hold a demonstration in your area, why not drop me a line at kevin@mcsherry.ie?

Brunaille: Underpainting in warm monochrome.
Grisaille: Underpainting in cool monochrome.

Snake Oil

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I’ve been working for some time on a series of illustrations to be produced as prints. It’s an avenue that I’ve been exploring as a way out of the drudgery of ‘jobbing’ illustration. This is how I’ve been feeling for more than a year, now. Working for those who either lack the imagination to extrapolate from a simple sketch or who see artists’ skills as merely a way to realise their own ideas has palled. None of this is their fault, since they’re paying for a start and I’ve colluded in this state of affairs myself [I’ve willingly bought the snake oil salesman’s promises] but it is a strong indication that I’m really in the wrong end of the business.  

Producing my own art for my own products is also fun, which is the bit that has been missing, of late. All art has to have a LARGE amount of the artist invested in it, if it is to be any good. If it doesn’t, it enters the world still-born; a lifeless conjoined monster of conflicting personas, likely to be shunned. You can’t, as many people seem to believe, micro-manage an artist’s work and expect it to shine. This is absolutely the very worst aspect of being an illustrator. I suspect that the same applies for designers and advertising creatives, copywriters or any ‘applied artist’.
 
So, this way if the idea fails, then it will have failed on my terms -because of my imagination, my drawing skill, my own efforts. So be it. If the idea succeeds, then I’ll reap the benefit -on levels much more important than the mere accrual of money. For me, illustration has been like a bottle of balm sold by the credible-sounding man in the white suit -just buy this and all your art troubles will be over! Become an illustrator and be an artist who actually gets paid! Strangle that snake oil salesman who lives inside your head -he’s full of empty bottles and unkeepable promises. Here’s my advice to any young artist thinking of becoming an illustrator: Think very very carefully -do you really want to make your much-loved hobby into your job? Perhaps, before embarking on your career, read ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ by Michael E. Gerber, then at least you might approach it with a plan in mind.
 
This wasn’t meant to depress -I’m excited about my art these days -but only art that is truly, or even largely, mine. I get more joy out of a small sale from my little still life studies than I ever did from a big illustration project because I know that a beautiful, personal connection has been made and that the love invested in the small painting generated love in return. As Paul McCartney wrote; In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

The Terenure Dirigibles

The Terenure Dirigibles. Oils on canvas 10″ x 12″

Somebody told me recently, that before the rise of the GAA, cricket was the most popular sport in Ireland. Interesting. I was never that interested in cricket. I could never understand why people got excited by such a ponderous game. I much preferred football and as a child, always dreamt of scoring the winning goal for Manchester United or Chelsea; I can’t remember which.

Meandering about a field on the off-chance that a very lethal ball might fly your way sometime in the next week just didn’t do it for me. However, now I’ve gotten older, I can see the attraction more and I wouldn’t mind standing on a grassy surface for a few hours -and then retiring to a clubhouse for a beer. Or I could just go for a beer.

I don’t single out cricket for a mild ribbing due to any particular dislike; I see all sports the same way. I realise that this is probably why I’m shunned by society; it’s hard to be with a crowd of Jeremy Clarksons in a pub and have to ask them which sport they’re talking about, about an hour into the conversation.

 

“Huzzah for Terenure,  
O land of beige and taupe,
Our genetic ability for dirigibility, 
And hiding our money ‘neath the soap” 

 

Sport always generates an inordinate amount of seriousness, and a serious amount of hot air. It’s worse than art. Many people seem to have an almost religious observance of the details and forms of sport. And an unlimited capacity for reeling out sporting anecdotes about events dating back to the 12th Century.

Mostly, though, the media and advertising seems to be pathetically obsessed with sport and what it thinks it’ll do for sales figures -hence, those fantastically overwrought TV introductions to sporting events that scream excitement, excitement, excitement! Then they get some elite sports star, who’s the personification of derring-do on the field of play, to endorse a product, only to have them drone through their script in a monotone, passionless manner. God knows how they think this will help them link sporting élan to car insurance or National Cement in the minds of the public. I always think of the poor creative directors of many of these ads whose dreams are broken on the wheel of sports-star dullness. It always makes me smile. Thank you sport, for making me smile.

The above painting will be showing in Terenure Sports Club’s Culture Night event on Friday 18th September. That’s this Friday, folks.
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Original Thanking

A few weeks ago, the Irish Times published their annual Christmas gifts supplement. They had contacted me previously about my web site, www.irishdailypaintings.com where I sell my small oils painting studies, with a suggestion to insert an article on it. 

It demonstrated to me why print is still vital for advertising. There’s something reassuring to buyers about a write up in a newspaper. You can pour all the searchable tags you like into a web site to drive people to your online presence but at the end of it, many people don’t see material published on the web as verifiable and authentic. We all know from the movies that a newspaper office is full of caffeine-fuelled editors and journalists, with sleeves all rolled up, endlessly fighting to find the truth. So we know that all the material has been researched by the hacks and verified by a growling cigar-chomping ed, don’t we? And that’s a good thing. On the internet, it has been said, nobody knows you’re a dog; any mutt could claim anything and they frequently do. The trouble is, we all suspect that the claims may be nothing more than piss up a lamp-post -even after evaporation, there’s a bad smell and you don’t want to park your bike there.
Subsequent to publication, I received many more enquiries [and sales] over two weeks than I had had in the entire year before. Print is not dead. You can’t sit in a café and browse comfortably through an old copy of the internet and you can’t hide anonymously behind the puff and flummery of a web site and expect people to have faith in you.
Of course, you are reading this on a blog -but I’ve been verified and passed as authentic by Citizen Kane. So, thank you.

Babel Illustration

This brief from the Irish Times Innovation supplement was simply handed to me on a plate by the editor , ‘This is an article about the U.N. being in a shakey condition. How about an illustration of the Tower of Babel?’. I duly scrawled out a sketch which was passed:

…and

…proceeded to the final. What I did differently this time, though, was to use oils for the entire piece. I reasoned that, since I have a half-decent digital camera, I may as well have a go. I was a little concerned that it might take longer to do but it turned out to take about half the time that I usually take. I didn’t work up a more detailed sketch; there was no time. I just found it easier to apply oils and move the paint around than the more laboured approach for acrylics. I gave the stretched paper a couple of coats of acrylic wash and then drew the general composition right onto the paper. The sky, for example, was far easier to achieve; the ‘biblical’ dramatic sky and clouds appeared very quickly. Even the details of the rubble cascading down the walls was a simple matter of applying thicker gobs of colour.

You may notice that I departed from the sketch in that I made the tower more ‘massive’. I moved the building further away and daubed in a ‘city’ at its base. The crevasses and tumbling brickwork are smaller in relation to the building and that gives more of a sense of drama, I think. I also negotiated the removal of the flag. I felt it detracted from the composition and would appear ridiculously large in comparison with its surroundings, Besides, I reasoned that Irish Times readers are intelligent enough to know that the illustration relates to the text next door!

I took the finished illustration out into the garden and photographed it. There was a certain amount of retouching to do, to bring up the colours and contrast, etc. but it proved a worthwhile method of production. This all may justify the expense of a nice new digital SLR camera though…

Painting-a-Day


In my on-going quest to rediscover the pleasure of just painting, I blundered upon a large and growing internet-based art movement; Daily Painting. Apparently only going since 2006 as a informal, blog-based idea, it works on several levels. It’s an education to see other artists’ set-ups, thoughts and working practices -often along with step-by-step demonstrations and explanations of techniques. 

For the artists, it’s an encouragement to practice every day. They can then sell originals by availing of several internet outlets, such as Etsy, eBay or just through the blog itself, with a link to PayPal. It’s a super way for the general public to buy reasonably priced original artworks, with no gallery fees. Most of the resulting artworks are small, since they’re only studies -often around 6″ x 8″. 

My own favourite is Peter Yesis’ Daily Painting Practice. He loves to share knowledge and his good-humour and modesty comes across in his writing. Like all the daily painters, his output is prodigious. Another is Carole Marine’s . I find her style captivating -a great sense of colour with a beautifully spare technique that belies the amount of skill and work that goes into each piece. For the same reasons, I like the work of Qiang-Huang.
For my part, I have set up my own Daily Studies in Oils blog. I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to paint with no art director or client to comment or make changes -just me and a blank canvas. It’s also surprising how different the required skills are from illustration. It’s going to be a long haul but I’m going to enjoy every minute. Now, before the light goes…

Studying with Oisín Roche

I spent a morning, along with fellow illustrator Padhraig Nolan, learning from Irish portrait artist Oisín Roche [One of his many portraits above]. He’s an artist who has studied the techniques of the great portrait artists of the past and has a phenomenal grasp of how to describe flesh tones [along with everything else]. As an illustrator, I rely a great deal on whatever my own inner vision generates and what my drawing skills can support, and true-to-life depictions aren’t absolutely necessary when the message of the illustration is paramount. However, I feel that I’d like to continue to strengthen my basic drawing and painting skills -because that’s what has always attracted me to art anyway, and there’s always something to learn. I picked up a great deal even in the first minutes and it proved to be an invaluable few hours overall. Especially with regard to the palette -I’ve never been one to limit myself to the basic few colours really needed to complete a painting! I’m looking forward to the next session…I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile here are a few pictures from the session -showing Oisín’s own work. Sorry about the picture quality; I had to use my phone’s camera and it has a lens the size of a gnat’s chuff. [Don’t get technical -you’ll lose them -Ed]


As this was a study, Oisín mentioned that the reason for drawing the subject in charcoal directly onto the canvas was to save time getting to the colour work. I’m not quite sure how he would’ve approached the task otherwise.


The charcoal drawing was spray-fixed and a wash of burnt umber acrylic applied.


And the study in oils begins…I’ll bring a decent camera the next time.