THOUGHTS ON 'RULES' IN ART.
am aware that art should be free, and that the visual image
should be something more than just a mechanical reproduction
of some thought process... it was Henry James
who said that 'art is the soul of a Nation...' We
all know that one gets art from artists, but just pictures
the same token, in order to create the artwork, a lot of
practical and often highly technical things have to be done
on the paper or canvas. A work of art
is therefore the product of two elements:
CONTENT (THE IDEA
OF THE ARTIST), and
TECHNIQUE (HOW THE
ARTIST DOES IT).
there is inadequate content, then we have a mere technical
exercise as a result, and if the technique is deficient,
then the expression of the idea will be lacking.
Both of these factors are necessary in a good work of art.
it is very difficult to assist an aspirant artist with the
idea, although one can give participants
guidelines and encouragement to assist stimulation, subject
analysis, discipline and related spheres which can help
them to create with more spirituality, enjoyment and and
motivation. Hopefully quality ideas will
flow therefrom, and the artist will grow in stature....
On our courses we assist the participants in this 'right-brain'
realm by providing facilities to make them comfortable and
relaxed, by sharing our peaceful and tranquil studio setting,
by spoiling them with fine food and beverage, by providing
an eclectic music programme, and by giving them access to
hundreds of collected photographic, video and graphic images
as stimuli. In addition to this, I try
to bring a greater awareness of the 'big picture' in world
art into the course, and all along the way we have the particular
beauty of Leisure Isle around us... But
I still know that the really good ideas will come out when
they are in their own environments, surrounded by their
own loved ones and when they can start to plot an art direction
in their own creative world.
is different. Technique is mainly from
the other side of the brain. We have more
medical folk than any other profession attending our courses,
and I always endeavour to explore the left brain / right
brain hemisphere influence theory with them.
Whilst it would appear to have certain grey areas (sorry!),
there seems to be definite consensus in the concept that
there are cerebral areas that control different disciplines
in our brain. The most-quoted and formulated is the theory
that the right brain is the side that has to do with the
'big picture', and is holistic in its nature, whilst the
left brain is more technical and analytical. Teaching
technique in painting would therefore probably fall more
under the left brain influence.
started out in this section by suggesting that art should,
as far as possible, be 'rules-free'. Indeed
most of the books and videos of artists that I have collected
over the years suggest this desire, and then the artists
go on to do their artwork following the guidelines of a
series of obscure rules that they have created for themselves!
have always been one to try and make my job easier, and
when we teamed-up with the Gatehouse Production House in
Johannesburg to make my first two videos on oils and watercolours,
both the production team and I decided to ensure that my
steps in painting were set out in detail to assist those
who followed the demo paintings in the videos. After
all, we realised, if you go on a learning workshop for golf,
or cooking, or fly-fishing or any other discipline, you
will be given a structure of ground-rules.
Why should the technical side of painting be any different?
We have sold hundreds of the videos over the past decade,
and confidence from this broad acceptance has led to the
processing of this computer programme.
OF THE PAINTING PROCESS
the years, since my first lesson in oils with my late father
Leslie Elliott when I was at school in 1961, I have been
analysing the painting process.
Almost by default I inherited the role as a painting facilitator
on the established Mont aux Sources painting holiday programme
in the 80's, and since then I have actively watched how
folk paint, how they cleverly streamline the process, how
they employ devices and techniques to make their job easier
and how they utilise their equipment to their best advantage.
One very important thing I have noticed:
once the artist establishes a basic set of rules to paint
with, he or she sticks with that structure forever. Obviously
the artist will always tweak the framework as his technique
becomes more proficient, but the basics will remain the
same. It is therefore, with respect, very
important to have a tried-and-tested, versatile and uncomplicated
set of 'rules' to start off with.
have developed a set of 10 basic steps in oils / acrylics
which I have introduced to hundreds of creative folk. These
steps are very straight-forward, and should help to give
a structure to your oils / acrylic painting.
As stated in section 1, I have developed a system where
we will use the best qualities of both the oils and the
acrylics, the first 5 steps being 'acrylic' steps, and the
last 5 'oil' steps. To re-cap: the acrylics
are good for us because they dry
almost immediately, and they are excellent at building up
strength in the painting with medium
tones, whilst the oils are good because they have
the edge with their vibrant colours,
they handle much better than
acrylics, and they don't discolour
when they dry, as acrylics do.
is the layout of the 'mechanics' of my 10 steps that I give
to participants on my courses:
the following section, Section
5a we look at the first basic exercise in the Step
by Step proccess
Steps 1 - 5
( Using mainly the quick-drying
qualities of acrylics )
your painting from your various references -
sketches, photographs, general accessories etc.
- do a quick sketch on a piece of paper to check
your composition and structure plan.
Planning can include: quiet contemplation; reference
to aids ( like sketches, photos, real life objects
or scenes, any other stimuli etc.); basic layout
of your thoughts on a scrap sheet; analysis
of your goal/intention/reward, and an analysis
of the tools and rules you will use to get there.
Planning should be methodical, and never rushed.
Enjoy your planning, and explore multiple possibilities
to achieve your aim!
- TONE YOUR BOARD
your board with acrylics to suit the colour scheme
of your picture. Use lots of white and apply colour
as a paste working from cools at the top to warms
at the bottom.(cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine,
pink, ochre, yellow, orange, brown, red.) blend
the colour bands into one another.
- DRAW YOUR IMAGE
your plan on your board in 4b pencil in basic
detail. Make sure you draw your whole plan onto
the board - not just the more prominent items
in the composition. Work up the elements of the
picture as an interlinking pattern, activating
the entire picture plane.
4 - COLOUR-IN
your acrylics a second time - this time to colour-in
the drawing pattern you have created ( sort of
like a child with a colouring book ). Apply layers
of acrylic to most areas of the pattern, only
leaving the under-painting from step 2 where it
can work for you. (Eg sky).
When you do this step, apply medium acrylic tones,
not the very brights or darks, as this is for
the oils to do in steps 6 - 10. Work the painting
up from lighter colours to darker colours, within
the aforesaid medium tone range.
5 - FOCUS:
DRAWING AND BLOCKING-IN WITH DARKS
a black or other basic
dark colour (b.d.c.
' mixture of ultramarine, crimson, burnt sienna) to
create an outline focus for your painting, using a
small drawing brush, and also block in any dark areas.
This establishes the darkest limits / parameters of
Steps 6 - 10
We use oils because oils look better, oils handle
better and oils don't discolour when drying )
6 - 'OIL
a big brush, cover the entire board surface with a
film of your painting medium ('Janny's potion'
- a 50/50 mixture of refined (or raw) linseed oil
and English distilled turpentine (also known as turpentine
- 'OIL OFF'
the oil in 6 above to soak into the board for
a few minutes, and then rub it off with a cloth.
A thin film will remain, which will: (a) assist
the application of the paint on to the board;
(b) give the acrylic under-painting ( which can
be rather dull and lifeless) the radiant ' look'
of an oils finish, and (c) act as a vehicle for
any glaze which you might like to apply
- BRIGHTEST BRIGHTS
in the very bright colour extremes. You will now
have the outer colour parameters for your picture,
ie the .darks from step 5, and the brights from
- COLOUR THE PICTURE IN
the remainder of the picture, in tones between
the two colour parameters set above. This sounds
simple, and in fact it is! You have the two extremes
set above, i.e. light and dark, and it follows
that all the other colours must 'fit in' between
the two. For instance, on a misty day your brights
would be softer, and your darks not so sharp,
so your step 9 colours would have a closer range
to work in. On a sunny day the opposite would
10 - FINAL DARKS AND HIGHLIGHTS
is always a fine-tuning job to be done on a painting,
and to end off, block in the necessary dark areas
with the applicable tone of the basic
(B.d.c. ' mixture of
ultramarine, crimson, burnt sienna. Add more ultramarine
for cool darks; more crimson or burnt sienna for warmer
darks; or add sap green or viridian for the deep green
of foliage shade.) Likewise add the final 'zits' to
the painting by inserting the bright highlights where