Every few weeks, I share my top art inspirations that I’ve read, experimented with or listened to. Here’s this weeks edition of things I enjoyed when I should have been at the easel, with the hope they might inspire your own work too…
My name is Will and I am an obsessive notetaker.
I get sidetracked easily.
If I’m listening to something that has piqued my curiosity, it can send me down a rabbit hole of research….usually halfway through a painting.
And then the copious note-taking follows.
It got so bad at one stage, Vanessa had to prevent me from buying new notebooks because after furiously filling them with fascinating insights, I’d annoyingly lose where I’d put them or worse couldn’t decipher what my own scribbling all meant.
On a positive, my last birthday present was The Remarkable Tablet (an e-ink notebook that feels amazingly close to writing on paper) which has helped add order to the chaos and made the kitchen table decidedly neater.
Some of my research notes do come back to inspire my practice and if they bring me a new understanding or appreciation, I figured they are worth sharing.
So here are my top 5 art inspirations that I’ve read, experimented with or listened to this week, when I should have been at the easel, with the hope they might inspire your own work too…
Will Kemp, Peonies (Detail) Acrylic & Water-mixable Oils on Canvas, 60.96 cm x 60.96 cm (24 inch x 24 inch)
Over the New Year, I’ve been in the studio working up a large scale floral still life painting, from a series of sketches I did over the summer. The original composition had been inspired by the dramatic oil paintings of the Dutch Golden Age (you can see the progress of my painting further down the article).
To achieve the soft blends between the petals, delicate smoked edges and the ability to work across subtle shifts in hues, oils would allow me a longer working time. Then I could build up the painting as a whole piece, adjusting tones, working wet-into-wet.
But being in the middle of a British winter and the studio doors firmly shut with little ventilation, the thought of having a pot of thinners or strong solvents in an enclosed space was discouraging me from getting started.
After a prolonged period of procrastination, it occurred to me, maybe it was time to break out the water-mixable oils.
Inspired by the dramatic, dark Flemish oil paintings I saw in Antwerp; I’ve just started working on a still life set up of some fab oversized pink peonies. I’m going to begin simply with acrylics then build up the piece using water-mixable oils.
Yesterday, I talked about the importance of a coloured ground and how this very simple step of preparing your canvas, can transform your working method. And I received lots of emails asking
‘How do you go about choosing a colour for your tonal ground?’
Well, the first thing I do is make a decision.
What is the most important thing or the most important problems that I can foresee within the painting I’m going to be working on?
For this still life, judging the values of the flowers and getting the drawing right are going to be the two trickiest areas – but get them right….and they can pull the whole painting together. Choosing a sympathetic tone for the coloured ground will help me achieve this.
Peter Paul Rubens, Detail from The Assumption of the Virgin, Oil on Panel, 1626
The rhythmic sound of African drums echoed through the vast interior of the Cathedral.
It was an unexpected acoustic experience, and the historical tour we’d seen advertised was looking increasingly unlikely.
There was just Vanessa and me waiting patiently at the back of the Cathedral when the tour guide arrived; she was getting extremely agitated. She hadn’t known the performance was on, the volume was too loud, a new musical set had just started, and her tension was building.
She was miffed.
But then our saviour came, a gentleman from Romania. Our tour of two had become three. We were off to the races.
I was in Antwerp (just last month) exploring Ruben’s home and studio, but nothing had prepared me for the pure brilliance of his works that lay only a few steps from our hotel lobby, hidden behind the doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady.
Joaquín Sorolla, Strolling along the Seashore, Detail, Valencia, 1909
In the heart of bustling Madrid, behind a protective brick wall, sits the elegant former home and studio of Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla (1863 -1923)
Huge decorative iron gates lead you through a lush Andalusian courtyard garden to one of the best-preserved artist houses in Europe, an absolutely priceless experience.
Claude Monet, The Thames below Westminster, about 1871
“Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat, I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat – the beauty of the light in which they exist.” – Claude Monet
The French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) is best known for his brilliant paintings of landscapes, coastline and water-lilies, but this month saw the opening of a new exhibition ‘Monet & Architecture’ at the National Gallery, London.
This show highlights his interest in architecture, not only compositionally, but how he used it as a backdrop and tool to capture the changing effects of light and I was fortunate enough to catch it this week!
Bringing together over 75 of Monet’s paintings from all over the world, the rooms are unconventionally grouped following architectural subject matter, The Village & the Picturesque, The City & the Modern and The Monument & the Mysterious.
The idea of creating paintings based on ‘picturesque ideals’ influenced Monet’s early work and this concept was part of the larger ‘picturesque landscape’ debate originating in England.
Professor Richard Thomson, the curator of the show, explains,
“One of the points of this exhibition was to take a very famous artist, who people think they know, but to take a look at his work in a different way”
We arrived in Paris to catch the last few days of a retrospective exhibition of the Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920)
After a snowy week in England, we woke to blue skies, warm croissants and this amazing rooftop view from our hotel room. I couldn’t resist a quick pen sketch of the row of chimney pots in the distance before we hit the show, check out those windows!
Sketch from Hotel, Rotring Art Pen (F), Pentel Brush Pen and Pentel Aquash Water Pen in A6 size (10 x 15cm) Seawhites of Brighton Sketchpad (140gsm All-Media Cartridge Paper)
How often have you heard yourself say “I’d love to paint but I’ve got too much going on… I’ll have to wait till I’ve finished work….the kids have grown up….
“I wish I had more time to paint but… but, but, but”
Just finding space to set your paints out means upheaval of something else and squeezing a free window of time feels too difficult to plan in an already jam-packed calendar.
And then, having to learn how to paint on top of that ….uh, I can see why you’d think you’d have to wait until you retire!
But is it possible by not painting now, you’re missing out?
What if you don’t need more time to paint, but you need to paint, to give your mind a much-needed refresh?…
Detail, Mary Zouch, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks, Pen and Ink c.1532-43, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
I was in London last month to catch the Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt exhibition, held at the National Portrait Gallery until 22 October 2017.
I was particularly interested in studying the collection of portrait drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger on loan from the Queen’s Royal Collection, Windsor Castle.
I’ve always admired Holbein’s oil portraits at the National Gallery London and the Uffizi Gallery, Florence but only ever seen images of some of his drawings in books.
The exhibition room was quite small, the lights low with very few other visitors and it really felt such a privilege to view these drawings in such an intimate space.
The walls were painted a dark Prussian Blue and many of the Holbein drawings were on a muted pink ground hung side-by-side in a line. They were all relatively the same size and the first thing I noticed as my eye jumped across them, was the variety of silhouette shapes created by the headwear and angle of the pose gave a real sense of the sitter.
You can’t help your mind wandering back to the Tudor Court of Henry VIII and wondering about the characters in the portraits (and for the fans of ‘Wolf Hall’ I have to admit, I was silently humming the theme tune)
They felt so fresh with some of the contour lines reminding me of a Singer Sargent’s portrait, it’s pretty amazing to see how contemporary these drawings looked considering they were drawn over 400 years ago.
You like the idea of trying oil paints but the practicalities of cleaning up your brushes with solvents is out of the question.
It could be you paint in a small room without good ventilation or you’ve had to stop using traditional oils due to skin sensitivities or asthma.
So what’s the alternative? Acrylics? Watercolour? or go old school with some Egg tempera?
How about a real oil paint that can be mixed with water or natural drying oils and cleaned with soap and water. Long working time, soft blends, buttery consistency, no solvents and a super easy cleanup.
Mmm, sounds too good to be true, so what’s the catch?…
If you’ve ever wanted to have a go with oils but felt the mysterious mix of Linseed Oil and Turpentine put you off, then this simple still life study is for you.
It uses just one medium mix the whole way through and I demonstrate the similarities between the techniques we’ve been using on previous acrylic paintings tutorials.
Traditional oil painting medium recipes can be complicated but it’s not essential to master it all so I’ve kept it simple so you can get painting.
Switching between acrylics and oil paint can be a smooth transition, the main difference is how you dilute the pigments.
Growing up in Kent, a trip to Margate beach brings back memories of avoiding jellyfish, penny slot machines and overdosing on ice-cream.
As kids, we thought it was a pretty good beach.
Mainly because it meant the freedom of the Summer holidays but also because of the huge expanse of sand we could run about on.
Turner thought it was a pretty good place too, becoming a regular visitor throughout his lifetime.
For him, it was the unique quality of light in East Kent, with impressive skies and turbulent sea that inspired his works.
When I was trying to find my way in portraiture, I’d spend hours studying Old Master paintings thinking “Wow, how did they do that?”
I was flummoxed.
Not only did the skin look realistic, but they’d managed to capture those bluish grey tones that lie just beneath the skin’s surface. In my naivety, I just couldn’t work out how you could paint one colour next to another colour yet create such a smoky transition.
I’d repetitively ask Vanessa, “When will I be able to paint the melt of the cheek you see on the Mona Lisa?”
Unhelpfully she used to say “Isn’t it just old?”
Inwardly I’d sigh.
And then I discovered oil glazing…
There was a small sign that hung below an empty black space, it read ‘In Prestito‘.
Last Summer I was back in Florence, Italy, to visit one of my favourite paintings that had enticed me to the city over 10 years ago.
The only problem was, when I got to the gallery, the painting wasn’t there.
It was at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and I had missed it.
Caravaggio’s sleeping Cupid.