How Controlling Your Light is Key to Painting Realistic Florals Outside

How Controlling Your Light is Key to Painting Realistic Florals Outside

Monet in his garden at Giverny, 1921 – Musée d’Orsay, Paris Photo ©

Monet had a real dedication to gardening as well as an obsession with colour. He designed both his flower garden and water garden at Giverny, France, which became his greatest source of inspiration. He painted his water lilies over 250 times, capturing light and texture with effortless ease.

“I perhaps owe it to flowers that I have become a painter.”
Claude Monet

Flowers are always a fascinating subject to paint. I got chatting to a beginner painter at a recent visit to Arley Hall, who was expressing their frustration because they couldn’t seem to recreate a realistic study of the rose garden in paint.

They had gone out in the midday sun because they wanted to capture the garden in its best light.

The colours of the rose heads in front of them seemed impossible to match with their paints. Their pigments didn’t seem to have a high enough chroma, and they couldn’t see the detail in the petals because the sun had blown the highlights out.

They had come back the following day at more or less the same time to take more photos to capture it because they were disappointed with their previous efforts with paint. This is when we struck up a conversation about how the photos on their phone just didn’t capture the range they could see with their eyes.

So we had a beautiful subject, brilliant sunshine, but not necessarily perfect conditions for painting a realistic rendering.

Why?

The importance of light

The dynamic range of a scene is the difference between the brightest and the darkest objects within your scene.

The dynamic range of light is measured by Exposure Value or EV, and cameras can’t capture the same dynamic range as the naked eye.

In fact, most cameras on phones only see a small range of light; they probably have an EV of 11, almost half of what our eyes see, which is about 21 EV.

When the light is too bright, the rose photo, for example, would look too dark or too blown out.

And the thing is, trying to paint under this harsh contrasting midday sunshine en Plein air is the most difficult light to paint under.

The glare from the sun on your subject can make you squint. It’s hard for your eyes to capture the colours accurately; judge the contrasting values, and see the subtleties and details in the shadows. 

More variety in your mid-tones

Lessen the dynamic range of a subject, and it will be closer to the dynamic range we can capture with paint.

If I’m looking to paint outdoors, I tend to look for a subject in my garden in an area where the lighting conditions are a little softer.

How Controlling Your Light is Key to Painting Realistic Florals Outside

You can see in this flower photographed in the bright light that the white is glaring, notice how blown out the rose heads are at the top of the image.

The easiest diffusion to look for is in the shade.

I’ve found that if you move your position or angle so the subject is even slightly shaded, you’ll see more variety in the mid-tones. And surprisingly, you’ll create more of an effect of sunlight hitting the subject when it’s translated into paint.

How Controlling Your Light is Key to Painting Realistic Florals Outside

This is a crop from the photo above, but it’s of a rose lower down the bush, more in shade. This already looks much more like a painting. Delicate light and texture, velvety petals and you can see a wider range of hues.

There isn’t as high contrast, but the key thing here is that there is enough contrast for a sunlit painting.

How Controlling Your Light is Key to Painting Realistic Florals Outside

How Controlling Your Light is Key to Painting Realistic Florals Outside

Swatches taken from the green leaves light and shadow. Notice how close the values are, even though they appear brighter.

Pro-tip: You can also diffuse the light hitting the subject with a handheld photographic diffuser; it will make it easier to capture with your camera because you’ll be mimicking a bright cloudy day, reducing the dynamic range within the scene.

Sun dappled is often in the evening

Sun dapples in the evening.

How Controlling Your Light is Key to Painting Realistic Florals Outside

John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, Oil on Canvas, Around 1885

In the softer dusk light, it’s easier to see all the nuances; you can see into the shadows. If you look at Sargent’s painting Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose above, this was painted in the twilight.

But he worked hard for the light.

He painted it for over two years, and when trying to paint it en Plein air, he only had between two and twenty minutes to try and capture the scene. All in the search to get the perfect light.

How Controlling Your Light is Key to Painting Realistic Florals Outside

You can see the beautiful variety in the colours from just one of the roses.

Here is a great Tate Short about How Sargent Painted Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.

So next time you’re struggling to paint a flower from your garden, wait for a bright but cloudy day, go out in the morning when the contrast is naturally lower, or try in the evening and unlock some of the colours hidden by the sun.

And if you’d like to learn more about subtle greys and greens, and how to create a realistic sense of sunlight hitting the leaves & petals you might enjoy the floral painting course.

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The Art Studio Renovation Diary – Phase 1 Completed!

The Art Studio Renovation Diary – Phase 1 Completed!

After years of painting trips, holidays and a rollercoaster of a property search, we’ve finally found our dream studio in Cornwall.

Leaking roofs, copious amounts of whitewashing, numerous skips, and an epic space once the working studio of Royal Academy artist Sandra Blow, in glorious St Ives.

I’ve been taking lots of photographs and Vanessa has been writing a monthly journal following our highs and lows of creating a studio and new life by the sea (with 12 short videos of the progress). The Renovation Diaries, 12-months in 12 minutes

Phase 1, The Garden Room, (formerly the Annexe) completed

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Traditional Gardens & Modern Art

This week I visited Arley Hall & Gardens in Cheshire.

There’s a special exhibition of over twenty works by artists including Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Isamu Noguchi, Cerith Wyn Evans and Danh Vo. Sculptures dotted around the historical grounds, in ponds and deep in the woodland groves, courtesy of the White Cube Gallery and it was fabulous to see the contemporary works within this setting.

garden sculptures

modern sculpture

Play sculpture by Isamu Noguchi. I love how striking the red feels next to its complementary colour green here, it has almost a reverberation to it.

“I like to think of playgrounds as a primer of shapes and functions; simple, mysterious, and evocative: thus educational. The child’s world
would be a beginning world, fresh and clear.”

Isamu Noguchi, A Sculptor’s World

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5 Little Lessons from Painting a Large Painting in a New Space

5 Little Lessons from Painting a Large Painting in a New Space

Painting large scale is not just a matter of having the right size canvas and paint. It’s also about adopting slightly different working methods and brushstrokes than when you work with a small canvas, and it’s one of the best ways to stretch your skills as a painter, even if you predominately paint small.

After months of renovation, I have recently regained the use of our new studio space. For the last 6 months, it had become the perfect place for storing multiple power tools and timber that needed acclimatising. It has been uplifting emptying the space of leftover building materials back to an empty room.

So last week with great relish, energy and anticipation, I propped up a large-scale 2m square canvas against a newly cleared wall and got to it.

I had a loose plan of the final image.

I’d sketched a pen and ink thumbnail of the view and had a palette of colours in mind but if I’m 100% honest I was super excited by the freedom of painting in a big space and seeing how the new studio felt.

Here are five things I learned.

#1. A little colour change is a big colour change.

Mixing the right colours for a large scale is not easy.

On smaller-scale pieces, your reference image is often close in size to the final piece, so you can translate the effect of the colour quite easily, but when you scale up an image everything becomes exaggerated.

As soon as you scale up the surface area that a colour covers, it has more of an intensity to it. The same colour ratio I would normally go for in a smaller piece looked more colourful once it was painted onto such a vast area.

5 Little Lessons from Painting a Large Painting in a New Space

#2. Scale up your brush to match your canvas size.

Just as you have to be aware of scaling down your colour choices and scaling up the volume of paint, you have to use larger tools to apply the paint too.

I rapidly went from a 1/2-inch brush to a 3-inch brush to a mini-roller!

5 Little Lessons from Painting a Large Painting in a New Space

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Capturing Spring Sunshine by Painting Colourful Shadows (Acrylic Painting Tutorial)

Capturing Spring Sunshine by Painting Colourful Shadows (Acrylic Painting Tutorial)

Morning class, last week I was struck by this image of these beautiful colourful cast shadows.

Spring sunshine was pouring through the wrought iron railings on the balcony and casting all these amazing shapes of the plant leaves onto the studio wall. I really, really liked the way they framed the rubber plant and I also liked how flat the shadows were in contrast to all the textures that I saw on the front of the aged terracotta pot.

You can be put off by painting shadows or tackling greens because they seem too complicated.

So for this lesson, I want you to think about the drawing first—a tonal underpainting and then a minimal painting on top. Spend more time on the shadows and the lights to create a painting that captures the feeling of sunlight.

I’ve put together a detailed photo step-by-step (with a few video time-lapses as well), so you can approach painting shadows and greens with ease.

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Van Gogh Self Portraits at The Courtauld, London

Van Gogh Self Portraits at The Courtauld, London

‘People say that it is difficult to know oneself but it’s not easy to paint oneself either’
Excerpt from a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, September 1889

My first introduction to the Dutch painter Vincent Willem van Gogh was at school. A tortured artist who cut off his ear and painted thick, brightly coloured swirly paintings.

He felt dramatic, passionate and extreme.

12-year-olds tend to want to produce art that looks more realistic, so I think at the time, I wanted to try and paint like Cezanne. Cezanne’s still life’s hit the dizzy heights of being recognisable yet achievable, with a nice painterly style.

But thinking back, I probably felt I was being sophisticated and different; copying Van Gogh as a young painter seemed too obvious.

It wasn’t until an art trip at 16 to the National Gallery, London that I rediscovered the Sunflowers…

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New! Acrylic Impressionistic Seascape Course

New! Acrylic Impressionistic Seascape Course

Morning class, I’m Will Kemp and welcome to A Cornish Seascape, the second painting in my series of short courses.

‘The Morning Paintings’ are designed to be easy-to-follow single project courses; you can complete them in just a few 1hr painting sessions.

Each one follows the same approach.

  • A single painting from start to finish.
  • A limited colour palette.
  • A handful of brushes.
  • A small canvas.
  • A simple subject.
  • Taught over 3 x 45-minute lessons.

You can see student results from the first painting in the Morning Paintings series here.

Simple Impressionistic Brushstrokes

I’ve started this series because sometimes you can find yourself overthinking the end result of a painting, and the pressure of having to make it a masterpiece can keep you from even starting!

I find setting aside 1hr every morning really helps overcome this feeling of being overwhelmed; in this second short course, we’re tackling a glittering seascape from the south coast of Cornwall.

This course has been designed with small, bite-sized lessons; you’ll be building your knowledge and your painting without the task becoming too much. I’m keeping it very simple with just a handful of materials, but we’ll still get a good range of mixes even using a minimal palette.

In this seascape, the two sailboats give us a great focal point; they also provide a real sense of scale. Having a contrasting focal point against a smooth blend of a sky and cooler softer tones of the far hills sends your eye into the distance. Framed by contrasting values of dark rocks, set against the gradation of the depth of tones within the sea creates realism.

We’ll cover the preparation of your surface & drawing out, mixing colour strings and blocking-in. Starting with just two colours, showing how important it can be to get a grounding in your painting, establishing a tonal range so you can start to judge everything from that initial set-up.

New! Acrylic Impressionistic Seascape Course

Release the Pressure of Perfection

We build thin layers of watery washes followed by thick impasto marks using simple impressionistic brushstrokes. This course will help you to ‘loosen up’ whilst the step-by-step instruction will keep you on track.

It’s been kept to be really, really simple, so when we come to add that punch a vibrancy of colour, later on, all of a sudden your painting comes together in an instant, from all the work we’ve done up to that stage.

And in the final lesson, we will introduce the perfect pigment for turquoise seas; we then introduce dappled light. By having these dashes of reflections, it evokes that memory of a glimmering sea.

So find a comfy seat, a strong cup of coffee or a pot of teaand see what you can achieve in a 1-hour painting slot.

Gain confidence, and embrace the process of practice!

You could make a big step forward in the painting every day, and after three days, or even over a weekend, I think you will be amazed at how far your painting has progressed!

What’s in the Course?

  • 1 x Impressionistic Seascape from start to finish, based in the studio working from a reference image.
  • 3 x downloadable video lessons, split into separate chapters that follow on sequentially. Step-by-step instructional videos so that you can follow along at your own pace.
  • Each stage is a detailed yet easy-to-follow process.
  • Lifetime access, downloadable on separate devices.
  • One-time payment.
  • Downloadable jpeg reference images and reference line drawings.
  • Printable Class materials list.
  • 2 hrs of detailed video instruction.

(You will need a printer or print shop for the reference image)

Learn more about the course here: A Cornish Seascape Acrylic Course

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How to Quickly make Sense of a Complicated Landscape Scene

How to Quickly make Sense of a Complicated Landscape Scene

I had an email from a student recently with a great question,

I’m wondering how to start painting this picture. There are so many colours, trees and bushes so I think it gets so messy. Do I start with the sky in the background and work my way forward and finally paint the trees? – Ulrikke

The photo that accompanied the email was a scene crowded with trees. Lots of layers all on top of each other, overlapping leaves and foliage coming towards the viewer with almost no visual sky.

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The Art Studio Renovation Diary – Update

The Art Studio Renovation Diary - Update

After years of painting trips, holidays and a rollercoaster of a property search, we’ve finally found our dream studio in Cornwall.

Leaking roofs, copious amounts of whitewashing, numerous skips, and an epic space once the working studio of Royal Academy artist Sandra Blow, in glorious St Ives. 

I’ve been taking lots of photographs and Vanessa has been writing a monthly journal following our progress on the build. We’ll be sharing more of the Art Studio Renovation Diaries in the New Year.

Here’s a brief update of the journey so far, bringing this eclectic empty property back to life. The highs and lows of creating a studio, home and new life fuelled by large amounts of ice cream. 

First things first, the Annexe

It seemed like the most logical place to start. Small, manageable, single-storey, and far enough away from living conditions to be contained.

The Annexe is where it would all begin.

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A Thanksgiving Thanks!

A Thanksgiving Thanks!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank all the students and well-wishers that have supported the Art School blog over the last year. It’s so inspiring when students share their creativity, progress and fantastic painting successes.

Have a great weekend, Vanessa & I are wrapping up warm, soaking up nature and walking the coastal path …. which so happens to pass an ice-cream parlour. I’m hoping to test if my Dad’s theory that ‘You get bigger portions in the Winter’ is true!

Will

p.s. I’ve been working on a new ‘Morning Paintings’ Course which will be launching in the next couple of months. I’ll keep you posted.

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Fishing Boat at St Michael’s Mount – Acrylic Step-by-Step Tutorial for Beginners

acrylic boat tutorial

Will Kemp, Fishing Boat at St Michael’s Mount, 10 x 8 inches, Acrylic on Board

Morning class,

After posting photos from my recent trip to St Michael’s Mount, the most popular request was to create a painting tutorial of the little blue boat. So here it is, a new free step-by-step acrylic lesson!

Grab a brew, maybe a biscuit or two (now the weather’s turning a bit more autumnal I’ve got a piece of particularly good ginger cake from the local farmers market) and let’s get painting, I really hope you enjoy it.

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Exploring St Michael’s Mount, the Castle & Recovered Portraits

Exploring St Michael's Mount, the Castle & Recovered Portraits

After a week of steady mizzle, the skies cleared, and it felt like the perfect autumnal day to head off and explore the nearby island of historical St Michael’s Mount in Marazion.

Nestled on top of a rocky hill, surrounded by blue water, it truly is an incredible sight, even as we approached by road: a medieval church, ancient castle and a family home rise impressively out of the sea.

Exploring St Michael's Mount, the Castle & Recovered Portraits

As we negotiated our way through the old town of Marazion and along the slipway, we went past this super cute cottage with the hand-painted door weathered by the sea air.

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How to Create Strong Painting Compositions using ‘Notan’ Design

notan painting

‘The combination of lights and darks especially as used in Japanese art : the design or pattern of a work of art as seen in flat areas of dark and light values only.’- Webster Dictionary

st-ives-harbour-morning

Out for a beach stroll early this morning, as the sun was coming up behind the boats in the harbour, it was an idyllic image.

I had sunlight, a beach and a view, so I took a photo on my phone, and you would think this would make a brilliant painting—a reflection in the water, the pier in the distance and the boat in the foreground.

However, I know if I painted this back at my studio, it wouldn’t work out as well as it promised.

It would be just okay.

It might still translate if I wanted to create a piece that focused on the colours of the water and sky, but the basic graphical design of the piece just isn’t strong enough to create a great painting. The boats aren’t instantly recognisable as boat shapes, and the harbour is obscured by other unidentifiable shapes.

I find three value studies or Japanese Notan studies can be surprisingly helpful in guiding your choices for creating a compelling composition in your paintings. If you were just to look at a scene in simple values or Notan, it becomes glaringly obvious what really works as a successful image.

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New! Acrylic Still Life Course

New! Acrylic Still Life Course

Morning class, I’m Will Kemp, and welcome to the first course in my new series ‘The Morning Paintings’.

I’m super excited about these because they are easy-to-follow single project courses that you can complete in just a few 1 hr painting sessions.

Each one will follow the same approach:

  • A single painting from start to finish.
  • A limited colour palette.
  • A handful of brushes.
  • A small canvas.
  • A simple subject.
  • 3 x 45-minute lessons.

You can see students’ results from the course here.

Advice for perfectionists and procrastinators

The reason I’ve started this series is that sometimes you can find yourself overthinking the result of a painting, feeling that it’s got to be complicated or a masterpiece. The pressure of having to make it perfect can result in lots of unfinished paintings or keep you from even starting!

I’ve found the best way to get around being overwhelmed is to set aside 1hr painting slot every morning. Embracing the process of practice really helps to build momentum and self-confidence, and that principle has inspired this series.

With small bite-sized lessons, you’ll be building your knowledge and your painting without the task becoming too much. I’m keeping it very simple with just a handful of materials, but we’ll still get a good range of mixes even using a minimal palette.

The actual starting is the hardest part – well, the thought of starting, once you begin, it’s much easier to keep going.

In this first course, I’ve taken all the principles from a traditional still life composition but kept it simple and contemporary. You’ll learn classical principles that are the building blocks of all great old master paintings.

We’ll cover the preparation of your surface & drawing out, mixing colour strings and blocking-in, and how to create the illusion of a three-dimensional shape by observing the cast and form shadows. We’ll understand the importance of harmonious colour and adding texture to the surface to control the viewer’s gaze.

It’s been designed to be really, really simple, like when we paint the pears, we only use two colours for most of it, and then add a few extra little magic bits of glazing to give you a little zing at the end!

So find a comfy seat, a strong cup of coffee, or a pot of tea, and see what can be achieved in a 1-hour painting slot, thoroughly engage in the process.

You could make a big step forward in the painting every day, and after three days, or even over a weekend, I think you will be absolutely amazed at how far your painting has progressed!

What’s in the Course?

  • 1 x Modern Still Life subject from start to finish, based in the studio working from a reference image.
  • 3 x downloadable video lessons, split into separate chapters that follow on sequentially. Step-by-step instructional videos so that you can follow along at your own pace.
  • Each stage is a detailed yet easy-to-follow process.
  • Lifetime access, downloadable on separate devices.
  • One-time payment.
  • Downloadable jpeg reference images and reference line drawings.
  • Printable Class materials list.
  • 2hrs of detailed video instruction.

Learn more about the course here 

 

Continue ReadingNew! Acrylic Still Life Course