Compare and contrast is the bane of every student who is given some subject with those instructions. Fortunately I no longer have to comply with such rubbish, and yet I am still thinking about this when it comes to painting. I often wonder when looking at paintings how long and hard the artist worked on them. I can only assume, but then I’ve never seen a painting that had the number of hours it took to create among the information given. There will generally be a title, and the name of the artist, but never the number of hours. I can understand why an artist wouldn’t provide this information, especially if they are trying to sell their work for a good price. In business you do not reveal your costs if you want to make as much profit as possible. What if stuff had the time it took to make it on the label? T- shirt, 5 minutes and 11 seconds; cost of production $1.29; price $9.99 – cheap! Oil painting, 3 hours, cost of materials $14.63, price $2500 – cheap!
How long did it take Vincent Van Gogh to paint some of his famous works? I’m speculating here, but I’d guess a couple of hours for some now worth fifty million bucks! Not that Vincent made any money. It’s just a shame his work is now so valuable, because otherwise I’d give him a hundred bucks an hour to paint something for me, as long as he didn’t waste time having dinner while the clock was running.
But back to the compare and contrast rubbish part – I often have a hard time deciding how long to spend on a painting. Sometimes it will take me a few days, and yet other times only a couple of hours to make something just as pleasing to my eye. So how can you compare those? I am at a loss, and lucky for me I don’t have to submit my paper to the professor tomorrow morning. So here are two recent paintings I’ve done. One took me a few days and many hours, the other took an hour and a half. Compare and contrast!
Dussel River, Dusseldorf, Germany
Church, Les Contamines, France
When it comes to iconic logos, Heinz is hard to beat. I don’t think Andy Warhol liked beans quite as much as he did Campbell’s soup, so I have rectified that situation with another in my long drawn out series of card table art.
On a more serious note, here is a lovely scene from last winter – at least I thought it was lovely!
sketch May 2018
Last May, I went out with my portable paint set to do some plein air painting. I did a small painting from a cliff down at the ocean and took a photograph of the scene. Later I sketched it on a large board, planning to do a full size painting. It sat on my easel in the basement for a year, until today. I realized recently that I was avoiding painting large works because I didn’t like spending hours in the basement, where there is no daylight. So I thought about getting a strong but portable easel so I could paint upstairs and move around easily. I looked at one at my art shop but it was about $100. I then had a look at my heavy easel in the basement and realized that I could take it apart and get rid of the heavy bits, like the base on wheels, the heavy bottom tray, the counterweights and the sliding centre rail. So I ripped it all apart and was left with a much lighter easel. I set it up in the living room and spent all day painting. I should have figured this out long ago, but it took me a long time to come to the realization I didn’t like painting in a windowless room. Part of what finally got me moving was seeing the movie Mr. Turner, about JMW Turner. In Turner’s day of course, there was no artificial light. Seeing Turner portrayed at work in his studio with light from the large windows must have made something click, because ever since then I’ve had this idea in the back of my head that I should get going again with my easel painting. Whatever the reasons, I now have no excuse and hope to continue where I left off. Here are a few more sketches and paintings; one small, one medium and one large. It pays to work at various sizes, and especially at small scale, where you really can’t fuss with too much details.
the new old easel
small and medium size sketch paper
9×12 watercolour field sketch
pocket sketch book size (1/2 the above)
imaginary alpine scene
That could be me coming to a bridge over an idyllic mountain stream, but I just made this scene up while testing some new paints. One of those peaks could be Mont Blanc, too! In less than 2 weeks I will see for myself when I arrive in Chamonix to hike the trail known as the Tour de Mont Blanc, or TMB. Training with a pack is one thing, but trying to decide on what to bring is another. The perfect is the enemy of the good, yet I waste hours of thought and time dabbling with various paints, brushes, papers and so on, until I almost feel like forgetting about sketching altogether! However, that would be dumb, because I know that when I get there I’ll be itching to do a sketch – so around it goes. This fantasy was done on heavy watercolour paper using cheap acrylic paints that came in a set. The tubes hold 10ml each, and as soon as I squeezed some out I knew that 10ml would not be enough. For one thing the paint is too thin, and doesn’t cover anywhere nearly as well as high quality paint does. Regular size tubes hold 60ml, which is way too much, but there aren’t any good paints sold in smaller tubes. Winsor Newton makes sets of 20ml tubes however, so I may try those. No doubt it’s decent paint. On any hiking trip you one should keep the gear down to a minimum, thus my sweating over the size of the paint tubes. It seems ridiculous, but ounces add up to pounds, as they say. Two more weeks to get it all sorted…
what to take?
The annual Opus Outdoor Challenge Paint-In has come and gone, and it was a perfect day, weather-wise. Some years I have been too cold to hold a paint brush for more than an hour, but this year it was mid 20’s C and glorious. I found a shady spot beneath a tree across from this old hotel, known hereabouts as the JBI, and set up my plein air kit around noon after wandering the neighbourhood for an hour in search of a subject. Lots of folks stopped to peak and chat, which I don’t mind at all, as most of them are very complimentary – which is nice but a little embarrassing too. One lady asked me where I sell my work. If only it was that good!
It takes a lot of study to draw buildings accurately, since it is so easy to detect flaws in proportion when rendering a building, compared to the amorphousness of landscapes. This sketch took three hours, compared to the last one, a landscape, which took 45 minutes.
It is as fine a place to sit as I can think of, to be on a high bluff overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait with my plein air kit at hand. I have revised the kit with one major change – I removed the head from my tripod and now I screw the pochade box directly to the top of the vertical post of the tripod. I can level it with the legs and it’s much steadier than on the three way tilting head made for a camera. That piece was unnecessary for my purpose, and I saved another pound or two of useless weight. I also set up an umbrella on a walking stick, which shaded the canvas. This is also a major help, as staring at a bright white surface in full sunlight is bad for the eyes and also makes it difficult to judge colour and tone. I had 45 minutes yesterday to do this sketch, but sometimes faster is better. Had I worked it more it probably would have only gotten worse! Sketches are supposed to be rough and fresh anyhow. I may do a large painting of this scene using a photograph I took, as it was exceptionally beautiful there.
A harbour is a body of water deep enough for ships and sheltered from the open sea. Many of the world’s cities have harbours, or should we say the reverse – many of the world’s harbours have given rise to cities. Thus it has been everywhere I have lived. Victoria Harbour is one of two that happened to be created side by side here at the south end of Vancouver Island; the other being Esquimalt, which is used for a naval base. The most interesting things happen in the Inner Harbour however. That body of water is presided over by the Parliament Buildings of the Province of British Columbia, the Empress Hotel, the old CP Steamship Terminal, and various other buildings of note. It is also an international airport, with seaplanes coming and going constantly.
My favourite sight is the coming and going of the Coho Ferry however, which I happen to have watched so many times I couldn’t count. At one time it was a ritual of morning break to grab a cup of java from the office machine and walk a block to a viewpoint where we could see the ferry leave at 10.30. There was a blast of the air horn and then she’d ease away from the dock and back slowly across the harbour before pivoting and heading out to sea, destination Port Angeles, Washington. This ship has been doing that trip daily for over 50 years, and it’s still going strong. A few years back they put in new engines and she still runs like a charm, a simple boat with no fancy shops or lounges, and the same old hamburgers and hotdogs wrapped in foil like at a ball game. Last week a fellow came over on foot to buy 2 typewriters from me, via Coho. When the ship gets underway they play a recording of Bing Crosby singing about the Blackball Ferry Line, the owner of the ship. They’re down to this single ship now but once they were a major ferry line around Puget Sound.
My plein air of the weekend was painted on the side of the inner harbour to which the Coho backs up before departing. It looked far away when I began sketching and fortunately I knew it was about to leave so I painted the ship in first. When it backed up it came practically right up to my nose, whereupon it was several thousand times larger than it had been when I began, figuratively speaking. I didn’t even watch it go, as I was too engrossed. Subconsciously I figured it would be here later and tomorrow and probably forever, but one day it won’t be – so at least I have one more sketch of it.