Archive for category Author: Haidee-Jo Summers
Time spent with Haidee-Jo is always time well spent and feels more like a relaxed conversation with an old friend than any kind of tutorial process. If you’ve watched any of her DVDs, you’ll know that she spends time discussing not just ways of applying paint, but of reacting to scenes and conditions, explaining the way the creative process works perhaps better than anyone else.
A book is a very different beast, of course, and needs to be more prescriptive than discursive. The written word doesn’t um and ah, doesn’t wave its arms about to make a point eloquently and doesn’t get distracted by a sudden gust of wind. At least, it shouldn’t, though we can all think of books that wander infuriatingly off the topic. No, I won’t be mentioning any names.
For all that, what we have here is an enjoyable ramble through the ways of oil painting. And that’s not a sentence I’ve ever written in forty years. Rambling is normally associated with watercolour; oils are a much more serious business. Aren’t they? You see, that’s the thing, Haidee-Jo is a painter who happens to work in oils, not a (serious voice) Painter In Oils. The medium is very much not the message, merely (is that the right word?) the messenger, a way of communicating form, colour, composition and emotion.
There, I’ve said it, I’ve used the E word, because that’s really what this book is about. The subtitle (they’re always instructive) is “a practical and inspirational guide to painting outdoors”. What you’ll get here is advice about the practicalities of working the field – equipment, preparation, adaptation – as well as how to recognise a subject and construct a scene, whether it’s landscapes, trees, flowers, buildings, water or even people. There’s consideration of light, weather, seeing, interpreting, remembering (because scenes change before your very eyes) and, of course, getting the all-important paint on the also-important canvas.
This is an enjoyable book that can’t but inspire you to get outside. You probably can’t take Haidee-Jo with you, so you’ll just have to imagine her.
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Although the main purpose of art demonstration films is to be instructive, a degree of entertainment helps as it retains the viewer’s interest and makes watching a pleasure much more than a chore. APV have always been good at this, but here have an added bonus in the presenter. Haidee-Jo is not just informative and entertaining, she is also highly engaging and time spent in her company is a joy that seems to pass all too quickly. Perhaps her greatest quality is to be able to keep up a running commentary as she works that is not just a description of what she is doing (we can see that), but why, and how decisions are made and directions taken. Some artists paint in almost complete silence, dropping the odd bon mot from time to time and we should not criticise that – the ability to keep up a patter is something you either have or you don’t. All of which is to say that this is a thumpingly good film you’ll probably get a great deal from, even if you never have the intention of touching oil paint.
There are four demonstrations. The first is a boatyard filled with possibilities, prompting a discussion of subject selection and simplification. We are also introduced to the relationship between colour and light, as well as how to deal with shadow. This is developed further in the second section, a garden view seen through a dark barn, where the final addition of a dash of bright red to the handles of a half-seen wheelbarrow brings things not just together, but to life. It’s perhaps one of the shortest and simplest lessons I’ve seen in any film.
The third demonstration is at Whitstable harbour and includes buildings, boats, sea and sky. It’s instructive to observe how Haidee-Jo omits much of the latter two elements because they don’t contribute to “the story”. This is a theme that recurs throughout the film, the idea of a narrative being central to her work and contributing to composition, colour choice and perspective.
The final painting is an interior filled with dappled light that changes as the work progresses. It’s here that the importance of an initial reference photograph comes to the fore and Haidee-Jo explains how to use it to ensure consistency as the work progresses. It’s a difficult painting that leaves her physically exhausted, but an intriguing exercise to watch – you’re rooting for her just as you would the hero of a thriller.
My notes are full of quotations and I seem not to have included any here, but let’s sum up: “It’s only paint, I can change my mind”; “If you get into a muddle mixing colours, just think of the three primaries”; “What people respond to is the way you feel”; “I don’t want it to be the same colour – it’s OK to be the same value”.
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This is really rather wonderful. The initial impression, picking it up, is that it’s more than usually substantial and, at 176 pages, it most certainly is. A quick flick through reveals a wealth of illustrations and an enormous variety of subjects. Haidee-Jo’s style is loose, relaxed and colourful and this doesn’t, on the surface, feel like an oil painting book, insofar as those are often rather lofty and worthy. The truth is that it’s not really a medium book at all, but rather a guide to the whole creative process that just happens to use oils as its vehicle. I’d even go so far as to suggest that you could find plenty to get from it even if you never had any intention of working in the medium at all.
Investigate further and the next thing you might notice is that, for all its size, there are only 4 step-by-step projects. This is entirely in keeping with the approach, which is to teach you about the subject, rather than simply to train you to emulate it. In the old analogy, it teaches you to fish and feeds you for life, rather than giving you a fish and feeding you for a day. Subject matter is catholic and includes landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, figures and flowers.
Along the way, Haidee-Jo considers composition, colours, light, cropping, the use of layers, tone and more. Some sections are quite short paragraphs, some are sidebars and others simple hints. Everything is accompanied by an example painting and the explanations are commendably clear.
The publisher is trying to sell this as suitable for all levels of ability. I have my doubts. If you were a complete beginner, I think you might find its comprehensiveness overwhelming. However, if you have some experience, or are new to oils, as opposed to painting, it has a great deal to tell you and won’t disappoint.
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Some painting films are a polished performance, both in the presentation and on the paper or canvas. Others are more of an engaging couple of hours spent in the company of an artist as they explore their surroundings. Haidee-Jo falls into the latter camp and my notes add that some of her most eloquent passages are when she’s completely silent, allowing the brushes to speak for themselves.
The title “Vibrant Oils” tells you little and it’s possible to see how difficult it is to characterise the work of an artist who is constantly fascinated by shapes and colours, and also by working out of doors – “the nice thing is that you get to choose the best bits … there’s a little bit of sparkle in the sea over there; I’ll try to remember”. There’s also a dichotomy of subject matter. The first three demonstrations – the DVD is filmed on the Roseland peninsula in Cornwall – are of harbour scenes, so boats play a large part. The second slightly-less-than-half, when the sun is bright, involves flowers and buildings. In the last of those, Haidee-Jo only half-jokingly laments having to put in the flowers in front of a nondescript tin barn she’s fallen in love with. The thing is, though, that so have we. The film shows something about as unpromising as it can get, yet Haidee-Jo finds beauty, colours and shapes that have been keeping themselves well-hidden and, more importantly, communicates them to the viewer.
All-in-all, I’d class this as a film about observation as much as anything else. If you want to paint plein air it is, to a large extent, something you simply have to do. There are certain practicalities, mainly involving equipment, sun hats and protective clothing, but in the matter of painting, looking, seeing and selecting subjects are the most important thing. “It’s amazing how little information the viewer needs … what simple marks I can make”, perhaps summing that particular message up most succinctly. There’s also sound advice about planning your painting, working from dark to light and defining the image: “Details are a treat to do at the end”.
Some films are relatively easy to pin down. The artist has a message they want to get across and the demonstrations are a neatly-structured way of doing it. Here, much happens (almost) by accident and because something caught the eye, the first flower demonstration being one such. The whole is much more of a slippery customer when it comes to attempting a definition. Haidee-Jo works as she goes along and has what we might call an “Oooh, look” personality. If you want an enjoyable couple of hours where you can learn far more than you’ll perhaps ever realise, this is it.
It’s also worth adding that the wildtrack perfectly captures the atmosphere of the scenes, from the proliferation of birdsong to tiny details such as the snick of a tripod being closed. It’s attention to detail like this that make APV films such complete works.
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