the top left-hand quarter and the picture looked rather unbalanced. I put in the cloth as an afterthought. With it's connotations of the draped funerary urn, I felt this 'worked' as a nod to the memento mori genre of painting.
There are heaps of things for me still to learn about rendering textures and depth, but I was fairly pleased with the silver and alabaster. I was tempted to make more of the printed pages of the book, but on reflection I'm very glad I didn't. At the stage I was at at the time this was painted, it would have ruined the unity of effect. A couple of years on and I'd still be extremely nervous about putting in more than the merest indication of the text.
It’s sometimes difficult for non-artists to understand why the study of anatomy and figure drawing is so central to learning to draw and paint. The human form is the visual subject matter which, above all else, we are most familiar with. It is the scaffold which contains everything that we are. There is something innate in our knowledge of it. Facial recognition, in particular, is something which scientists think is hardwired at an evolutionary level.
Since we know our bodies so well, the human figure is one of the most unforgiving of subject matters. It is relatively easy to draw a tree or a vase and make it “believable”. Depicting the articulation of a head on the shoulders, the bones of the ankle or a figure foreshortened or in a twisting contraposto is a different matter. Our deep familiarity with how the parts of the body “work” mechanically means it is instantly obvious if something isn’t right with the depiction of the various interlocking shapes that make up a figure drawing. With something so well known to us there’s nowhere to hide!
Anatomical knowledge enables the artist to draw the body with more confidence. Here are my four favourite anatomy books.
Each book approaches the subject from a different angle. In a sense, that is what makes them particularly useful as set. The Richer book is the most purely factual of the four – focusing simply on the names, locations and functions of the bones and muscles of the body. This makes it rather a dry read, but a good studio reference manual. The Hogarth book tackles the subject from the perspective of depicting movement in the context of illustrating graphic novels. Bridgman, on the other hand, offers a constructive approach which focuses on the main structures and masses of the body. The most recently published of the four is the Simblet book, “Anatomy for the Artist”, which is the only one illustrated with colour photographs. This one is particularly useful as it has translucent pages allowing depictions of the bones and muscles to be overlaid on top of photographs of the surface form of the body.
with the sole intention of improving my eye and my hand. It’s all about the lessons I can learn from the things I tackle; the subject matter and, to a point, the aesthetic appeal of the finished product are of secondary importance. After all, few people would want a sea of moodily-lit cast drawings on their walls.
Here, though, I feel I’ve managed to get that “on the wall factor”. I can’t quite formulate into words why that is; I think probably a number of things. First is the pose itself - which has something statuesque and graceful about it. Secondly, there is a lightness of touch in the rendering, which communicates just enough without becoming “stodgy” or visually oppressive. Finally, there is a warm luminous atmosphere to it, which is so easily lost by endless reworking and adjustment.
espoused this approach over the licked finish was Sweden’s Anders Zorn. I love the energy and freedom of his brushwork and the brilliant luminosity it gives his canvases. Here are some examples:
To do either sort of painting well takes remarkable dexterity and razor-sharp observation and there are artists I admire in both camps (although Bouguereau’s subject matter is normally a bit chocolate-boxy for my tastes). As an incorrigible tinkerer with a rather lazy approach to searching out key shapes I don’t yet feel have the ability to get the immediate grasp on the subject necessary to do bravura successfully – but maybe I’ll get there some day!
For a first go at landscape painting I’m fairly pleased with the results. It’s not going to win any prizes – but, equally, for a simple holiday painting it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen. Aside from the pure pleasure of spending time in such a delightful setting, I learnt one or two valuable things about working alla prima. For one thing, working on a small scale you really can’t get too bogged down with measuring everything. When the scene is so distant it’s difficult to get the view to ‘lock in’ in the same way it does when you’re sight-sizing a portrait or still life.
You also need to make a decision, fairly early on, about what the light (and, in this case, the water level) is going to be doing. I began painting at about half past ten in the morning and the shadows and the tide were changing constantly. By the end of the day the estuary was just a trickle and people were walking across with the water below their knees.
I consciously tried not to make the greens too ‘acid’ – a mistake which beginners often seem to make. In fact I deliberately omitted from my palette any green from a tube– and instead I mixed my greens from Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cerulean Blue and French Ultramarine, tempered with Yellow Ochre and Raw Umber.
There were a few surprises in store for me too. The water (roughly done though it may be) was unexpectedly easy to execute. Even doing the channel of slack water and the dark area in front of the boathouse wasn’t particularly difficult. The cliffs and vegetation in the background, on the other hand, were a nightmare.
Toward the end of the painting I decided to have a look at the boathouse using a small mirror (something I often do when I’m painting in the studio) and I realised the shape of the thatched roof was fairly badly ‘out’ and needed correcting. I’m still not sure it’s quite right but I don’t think it’s a disaster. The object of the exercise was really just to have a go and enjoy myself, and in that respect the day was a great success!
* Alla prima (Italian, meaning “at first attempt”) is a technique in which layers of wet paint are applied to previous layers of wet paint. It is sometimes referred to as 'direct painting' or by the French term “au premier coup” (meaning “at first stroke”). It was a method made popular by the Impressionists.
Ben Laughton Smith
Aspiring artist, training in the classical tradition.