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…
“No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition.”
Morning class! This week we’re taking inspiration from around your home.
You might have always wanted to capture the corner of your sunlit living room or an interesting collection of books stacked up on your coffee table or a section of your garden or patio with all the vibrant greens and spring colours.
But when faced with a new painting subject, where do you begin?
How do you decide on the pigments to use or what’s important to focus on?
The tendency can be just to get started and work it out as you go along.
But without adopting a systematic approach to your painting, you can be faced with frustration with your colour mixing, wasted time on your drawing and an unsatisfying result; I want to show you an easier way.
In this acrylic still life tutorial, I go through the steps of how I think through my colour composition, from choosing the coloured ground to introducing the pigments and then slowly building up the piece before putting the brush to canvas.
So let’s grab a brew and any remaining biscuits you may have left, and let’s get painting!
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.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank all the students and well-wishers for the positivity that has come through the Art School blog this year.
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.
Morning class, this week I’ve been in Corsica exploring the North Coast of the Island.
Sketching your surroundings can be such a fantastic way to create a visual diary of your travel experiences, so when I’m walking around the streets of any new town or city, I always carry a small sketchbook in my backpack.
A couple of tonal sketching pens and a brush pen is usually all I need, always trying to keep my kit as simple and minimal as possible.
Learn more about the course here: New Simple Colour Mixing Course
I’ve designed this brand new, downloadable video course to help you understand the theory behind colour mixing, discover how to mix and match colours accurately and then put theory into practice, creating a series of 4 still life paintings.
You might have been struggling to understand colour mixing for years, sometimes getting it spot on but other times when it goes wrong, have no idea why or how to fix it?
Or maybe you’ve read articles on colour theory but not had the confidence to put that new knowledge into an actual painting practice?
On this colour mixing video course, we take a really simple practical approach, over 5 hours + of tuition, you’ll gain an understanding of the properties of paint, learn the foundations of colour theory and put brush to canvas.
And we’re just going to take it one step at a time, starting with learning the language of colour, everything broken down simply so that the painting exercises and studies give you the confidence you need to develop your colour mixing skills.
I demonstrate using a traditional, 3 primary & 3 secondary colour wheel to teach you a step-by-step approach and working through these progressive tutorials; you’ll be guided by your new colour mixing intuitions, opening up the fantastic world of colour.
I see a lot of fantastic success stories from the tutorials on the blog and one of the most common footnotes is,“‘my painting looks better in real life than it does in the photo.”
90% of them are taken on a phone or iPad and over the last couple of years, I’ve found smartphone cameras are getting better and better, as long as you bear in mind their sensor size.
A traditional camera has got a much larger sensor, in comparison to a smartphone.
The larger the sensor, the bigger the surface area available to capture light on, so to get the best out of your phone and get great exposure on your shots, you need to follow a few easy steps.
I’ve put together a guide below which addresses some of the most common issues and the simplest way to fix them. There are two main approaches, natural light or artificial light, depending on what lighting conditions you have available to take your photos in.
Will Kemp, Still Life with Apricots (detail), acrylic on canvas
I’ve been distracted by an apricot.
It’s not the usual thing that grabs your eye but I’m deep in the midst of filming a new simple colour mixing course and the apricots have got me.
They were the perfect subject to teach colour theory for one of the studies and as I arranged them in the studio, a light, impressionistic, muted blue and orange composition began to form.
Pleased with the setup, I headed down the garden for a tea break.
On a brisk winter’s morning in the coastal town of St Ives, we negotiated our way down the steep lanes, past whitewashed slate-roofed cottages to Trewyn Studio.
Home to one of Britain’s most important twentieth-century artists, Dame Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975), who lived and worked here for more than 25 years.
Trewyn Studio – now the Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden, St Ives, Cornwall
Her secluded garden studio lies behind the white arched doorway and protective stone walls to the right of the house. The property is now owned by Tate gallery but has been left as close as possible to when she worked in the gardens under the Cornish light and amongst the seagulls.
Will Kemp, Cornish Fishing Boat, Acrylic on Canvas (detail)
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days in South Cornwall and caught the most fantastic weather. I’d visited this stretch of coastline before and enjoyed fabulous Summer sunrises & sunsets, fresh seafood and sparkling Mediterranean colours.
Seasons can often show you new sides of a landscape and experiencing it all again in Winter was totally invigorating.
Atmospheric mist enveloped harbours, it was wilder with more dramatic changes in light, and the sombre Winter palette reminded of James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s landscape paintings.
Morning class! This week we’re in a Victorian townhouse.
I’d been visiting for afternoon tea when the play of light in the hallway caught my eye. The warm sunlight coming in from garden doors to the right cast a real glow onto the yellow wooden wall. The floral arrangement reminded me of the peonies in the Floral Still Life Painting Course, and you can start to see how compositions can be built out from one point of reference.
There was a natural blue light coming from a window in the hallway out of shot to the left, and an orange incandescent wall lamp, higher up on the right, both contributing to the warm and cool tones in the flowerheads.
This step-by-step acrylic tutorial looks at balancing different areas of light and shadow (chiaroscuro) when working on a sunlit room interior scene.
This Still Life Acrylic Project Book is a brand new, downloadable PDF E-Book designed to help you understand light and shadow and create better acrylic still life paintings.
Who’s the E-book for?
An absolute beginner to acrylics who wants to complete a simple still life painting but would like help with colour mixing recipes and drawing guides.
If you have trouble creating a realistic form within your still life’s, then you would see instant improvements through the lessons. Why? Because when you will understand how changes in light influence change in value, it can transform your paintings.
Throughout the e-book, I’ll guide you through 3 full-colour acrylic paintings from start to finish. I’ve broken each lesson into bite-size pieces, so you can complete each stage of the painting within a 2-hour window, something you can easily follow, even if you’ve never painted before.
- A 100-page pdf (with 3 x projects, and simple step-by-step instructions)
- Line drawings (so you can follow along even if you’re new to drawing)
- Colour swatches (that you can print out to match your paints against)
- Colour mixing recipes (so even an absolute beginner can achieve balanced harmonious mixes)
- Colour reference images (to work 1:1 with your paintings)
By the end of the book, you’ll learn how to filter your objects, look for relationships in stories, scale, size and the importance of planning a colour scheme, knowing all the same principles will apply to future more complicated arrangements.
You can read more about it here: Still Life Acrylic Project E-Book
p.s You can also read a review of the e-book by the lovely Professor and Author Mary Tabor here: New Book by Will Kemp, Artist and Teacher Extraordinaire