Tag along for the ride

Roadside Gum – plein air painting video

Following a long weekend of interesting weather, in which we managed record spring rainfall – and flooding throughout the region – I went out painting on a beautiful spring afternoon, last Thursday.

I had been out in the morning with the plein air artists from Albany Art Group and wasn’t planning to paint in the afternoon. However, I was driving past a semi-rural spot that’s always caught my eye and I decided to have another look.

Plein air oil painting of roadside tree by Andy DolphinRoadside Gum
25x30cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

Next thing I knew, I was setting up my easel. I also set up the video camera so you can follow along with me on Youtube. The final photo looks a little dark on the video, at least on one of my monitors. The image above hopefully looks okay on your monitor.

Something about this tree intrigues me and I think I’m going to go back and paint it again, maybe when the green has gone from the grass. I’m not a fan of electric greens and after the rains we’ve had in recent weeks, the grass is definitely green. I could have toned it down, but I want to see if I can learn to like it how it is. It would definitely make my life easier since it’s pretty green down here around nine months of the year.

Albany plein air group

I recently tagged along with the Albany plein air painters – a group of artists who choose a new location around Albany to paint or sketch every Thursday morning.

Here’s some of my efforts from the last couple of weeks, including this week’s trip to the Hudson’s Circus which was in town for a few days.

I’ve always wanted to draw or paint a Moreton Bay fig tree and the Albany museum visit provided a perfect opportunity.

Albany Museum sketch book tree by Andy Dolphin Albany Museum sketch book Brig Amity by Andy Dolphin

It’s not every day you get a chance to sketch camels or water buffalo from life – in Albany – but when the circus comes to town…

hudsons circus albany thumbnail sketch by Andy Dolphin

The circus painting was a challenge but with some cropping and minor rearranging, I think I can make a new painting from it.

Thanks to Ros Jenke for taking the photos of me at work.




Plein air problems – shed landscape in oil

A couple of weeks ago I did my first watercolour painting. As a subject, I chose to repaint an old plein air oil painting of a rural shed near my home.

My purpose was two-fold: firstly, to have a go at watercolour and, secondly, to fix a few of the problems in the original oil painting.

Here’s the original plein air piece, which I did about 13 years ago.

Barker Shed
oil on board.
Andy Dolphin

At the time, I was pretty happy with this painting but over the years, I’ve realised several issues that needed fixing.

The two major issues are a lack of tonal depth – the background is almost as dark and as saturated as the foreground – and the busy brushstrokes and patterns of light and dark over-complicate the scene and reduce the visual impact.

I sorted both of those problems out in the much cleaner and much simpler watercolour painting.

Barker Shed
watercolour on Arches medium.
Andy Dolphin

Yesterday, I decided to re-do the painting in oil, paying attention to those same problems and trying not to make the same mistakes again.

Rural Morn (formerly Barker Shed)
oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

While the finished oil painting is far more detailed than the watercolour painting (and took considerably longer to do), those details retain a sense of unity with their surroundings. The overall contrast, especially of the shed against the background, is much improved from the original.

The tonal pattern of the new painting also provides much better visual impact than the original plein air work. To compare the two, try squinting at them until you only see light and dark. The new painting delivers a much stronger pattern.

I also added a subtle path as a lead in and to break up the large foreground area which would otherwise be a major slab of green. The path carries some of the earthy shed colour down into the lower right corner which helps to create a colour harmony. The distant fruit trees perform a similar role.

You might also note I have dropped that wooden crate from the front of the shed. In reality, the crate is no longer there and I prefer it this way, so I left it out.

Although the final painting is substantially different in effect when compared to the original, it retains a genuine sense of place and I’m sure anyone who is familiar with the location would readily recognise it.

First attempt at watercolour landscape

Before I left Perth to move to the country, around 14 years ago, I bought some watercolours, brushes and a pad of watercolour paper , with the expectation that I might start doing some plein air watercolour paintings.

It never happened.

Since buying them, the paint tubes have remained unopened.

I recently discovered the Youtube channel of British watercolour artist Tim Wilmot, where he methodically demonstrates his approach to loose, semi-abstracted representational painting. It’s a style of watercolour I have always liked and his demonstrations make it look possible.

So, with my new-found enthusiasm for watercolour, I dug out an old plein air oil painting – which has it fair share of issues – and decided to repaint it in watercolour while fixing some of those issues along the way.

In the hope it wouldn’t be complete disaster, I also decided to video my progress. And since it wasn’t a complete disaster, I edited the video and uploaded it to Youtube.

I hope, soon, to do an updated studio oil version of the original plein air painting. It will be interesting to compare the results.

How to make wet panel carrier widgets

When I travelled to the John Wilson workshop in Katoomba last February, I had to devise a plan for bringing wet paintings home in my luggage.

I made two wet-panel-carrier boxes from plywood, using balsa wood for the divider strips, but I also needed something for paintings that were too small for the boxes.

After fluffing around with various ideas using timber strips and elastic bands – ideas that failed, I might add – I came up with the idea of making small corner spacers that could be held on with clips.

These would work for paintings in a variety of sizes as long as I had a pair of same-size boards to clip together.

I videoed the making of them and have finally edited the footage and uploaded it to Youtube.

While the process looks a little cumbersome in the video, that’s largely because I was trying to orient everything for the camera as I worked on just one widget (and also because some of the balsa proved very difficult to cut, even with a sharp knife!)

In reality, it took less than a couple of hours to make 32 of these little spacer widgets – enough to carry 16 small wet paintings. It took me far longer to make the two box carriers.

I would only use these on small paintings, up to around 10″x12″.

I haven’t tried yet, but it might be worthwhile to make some straight widgets to clip to the centre point of each edge, and this might make them more practical for slightly larger paintings when combined with the corner widgets.

Eastern Stirlings: studio oil painting.

Last year my son Michael and I climbed a number of local mountains. One of those climbs was the walk to the top of Bluff Knoll, the highest point in the southern half of Western Australia.

To the east of Bluff Knoll lies a mountainous wilderness known colloquially as “the ridge walk”. Requiring serious bush-walking, navigation and climbing skills it is, by all accounts, a magnificently hellish place to experience.

It’s on our list.

It’s not near the top of the list, however.

For now, I have to console myself with photos of the region, taken from the ground or from Bluff Knoll.

This painting, showing the view to Ellen Peak at the eastern end of the ridge, is based on photos I took from the top of Bluff Knoll.

Eastern Stirlings. Oil painting by Andy DolphinEastern Stirlings
34x20cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

The photo references were taken mid-afternoon last September. I hope to take another look once the cooler weather settles in later this year. Early morning or late evening should be spectacular.