Archive for category Medium: Mixed Media
It’s a good few years since someone told me I should check out the West Country artist Ray Balkwill and I’ve been a fan of his work ever since.
This new collection showcases an excellent variety and quantity of his paintings and even includes a chapter on methods and materials – Ray is candid about the way he works and isn’t averse to sharing. Locations include his home territory, of course, but also Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France. Ray is at home with most subjects, although it has to be said that his paintings really come alive when boats and water are involved.
Ray is often characterised as a mixed media artist, but the truth is that medium isn’t the raison d’être of how he works. He’s not a “media” painter at all, I’d contend, rather a painter who works with whatever best suits and interprets the particular part of the subject he’s working on. For a more detailed demonstration and analysis of his working methods, have a look at his DVD, Capturing Coastal Moods.
This is a beautiful book and will appeal to those who appreciate good art, lovers of landscape and waterscape and, of course, fans of Ray’s work. The quantity and quality of the illustrations will pretty much guarantee that no-one will be disappointed, or even regard the book as particularly expensive.
Travelling Light: The Sketches and Paintings of Ray Balkwill
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The title of this give you an implicit hint as to what it isn’t. It’s not a guide to painting maritime subjects. How so? Well, as Ray tells us at the beginning, “I’m a great advocate of working on location. A sense of place is important, not just to capture what I see, but what I feel.” And that’s the essence of what he’s demonstrating here: it’s not the coast, it’s the mood. He continues, “I’ve painted here a few times. It’s that connection with the place that’s important”. It’s a theme that pervades the entire film and, since we’re quoting, here’s another: “I’m not looking to make an accurate representation, I’m looking to make a picture … as long as it looks like a boat, I’m happy.” (I’ve conflated two things, there, but you get the …er… picture).
Ray is known as a mixed media artist, but I’m going to burst another bubble while I’m on a roll. He’s not. What I mean is that he doesn’t paint mixed media because that’s how he’s pigeon-holed himself. He’s not really a media man at all. Yes, he uses pencil, felt-tip, Conté, pastel and gouache, almost always in that order, but only because they’re what he needs for a particular effect. It’s more like a conductor bringing in the various parts of the orchestra to provide tone, shade and colour – highlighting the violins here, backing them up with woodwinds and cellos, adding colour with the brass and then using tympani to bring the whole thing to a crescendo. I should also say that Ray not only makes this look the most natural thing in the world (you may even conclude that using only one medium is to restrict yourself quite unnecessarily), but also easy. It isn’t, of course, and it’s his supreme confidence and virtuosity that allow him to achieve what he does.
You’ll notice that I haven’t once mentioned the subjects that Ray paints here. That’s deliberate as I think that to describe this film factually would be to miss the point entirely. This isn’t about what Ray paints, but how he does it and there’s a degree of alchemy to that. There are, though, five full demonstrations, all filmed in Cornwall, as well as a studio-based postscript which includes a look at a painting worked up from a sketch done in unpromising conditions in Gweek boatyard.
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Mixed media books are, collectively, like the curate’s proverbial egg. This, it should be said, is one of the good ones, being results-focussed rather than concentrating on the technique itself and not worrying about how it all turns out. Mixed media is not like a dog walking on its hind legs and the fact that’s it’s done at all is unremarkable.
This is also not an obviously how-to book. Yes, there are demonstrations and projects, but they’re part of a wider discussion of techniques and creative possibilities. It should also be said that Soraya French’s style is admirably suited to mixed media, being highly impressionistic and veering towards abstraction. She’s much more about colours and shapes than she is about fine detail and the cover illustration gives you a good idea of what to expect, capturing the atmosphere and bustle of a busy street or market scene.
In terms of what’s covered, Soraya works with watercolour, acrylic, ink, pastel, coloured pencil and some collage. Not all at once, of course, but with the medium carefully chosen to suit the message. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the book’s greatest strength is to show you which of the many possibilities is appropriate where and how to work sensitively and economically. As I intimated at the beginning, mixed media is a tool and not and end in itself. To convey this clearly and convincingly is quite an achievement.
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The title and subtitle of this film, taken together, sum it up perfectly. What Jason Bowyer does with watercolour wash, ink applied with brushes and reed pens and with textures and highlights added with pastel does feel like the legendary philosopher’s stone.
Jason provides a more or less continuous and comprehensive narrative that builds up through the various sections into a discussion of the creative process itself. In this, the editing is very like Paintwork’s previous offering on Patrick George, although here there are demonstrations to run alongside the commentary.
It’s a film that’s in many ways best taken in reverse. The main meat of it is the complete demonstration, filmed over two days at Kew Bridge Steam Museum (now the London Museum of Water and Steam). Boiled down into a little under an hour, this nevertheless feels like the complete thing, covering all the processes from the initial sketch through the blocking out of the basic shapes with brush-applied ink and the gradual build-up of detail through to the finished work.
It should be said that, as the location implies, the subject is industrial. Please don’t let this put you off, though, as Jason is much more interested in working with shapes and light than he is in the details of a piece of machinery – “[painting the same thing repeatedly] gives you the freedom to play with the abstract nature of your motif.” Although that has the potential to sound as though it comes straight from Pseud’s Corner, it demonstrates the way Jason regards any subject matter. It is merely the starting point for a creative process and a journey that ends with a piece of art that is about much more than simple representation – although, it should be said, his work is not in itself abstract.
The film actually begins with a series of technical demonstrations, from stretching paper to making a reed pen, mark-making and the use of pastel with ink. Interesting as these are (and the paper-stretching section even has Zen-like qualities), they become more informative if you re-visit them after watching the set-piece, the main demonstration. What can be perhaps slightly dry now has context and relevance. You can see exactly why you need to make what look like random marks with pastel over heavily-laid ink washes and where the initially-applied blocks of watercolour fit in.
Jason has a warm and engaging delivery that encourages you to relax and listen. If you like Radio 4, you’ll feel at home here. Visually, this is not always the easiest film to get to grips with – the colours are dark and some of the marks uncompromising, but the narrative that I referred to earlier carries it all forward and makes the whole thing subtly compulsive.
Available from http://www.paintworkfilms.com
Show me an abstract book and I’ll bang on about how the style is as much about a state of mind as it is about techniques. I’ll also say that the skills you need are mostly the ones you already have. Am I about to contradict myself, then?
Well, no. Paint is paint, brushes are brushes and they all do what they do. However, there is a certain shorthand that can help in the ultimate aim of abstract painting, which is to make your viewer feel the same as you do about what you saw. This means that shapes and colours become pre-eminent, but you can also use textures to emphasise them and draw the viewer into and around the image in a particular way.
The contents list includes terms like Negative Line, Textile Texture and Sketching Using Liquid Paint. Telling you this tells you the facts, but it doesn’t tell you how it all works and you really have to see it to get the idea. The book itself is arranged as a series of studies (being neither demonstrations nor deconstructions) which include several illustrations, notes and a work sequence. I’m not sure you’d necessarily want to follow one through, or that you’re meant to.
If you’re already a fan of abstraction, then this is the next logical step.
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Collage has always been a hard sell in the amateur art market and I’m tempted to say that this contribution isn’t going to make it any easier. That’s a bit unfair and we’ll come to why later.
The problem collage has is its primary school associations. It’s hard enough to get leisure-time artists to consider coloured pencils; and show them any sort of oil-based crayon and they similarly run screaming for the hills. There have, though, been some successes with mixed media (meaning more than just watercolour with a subtle hint of pastel) in recent years, notably the popularity of Mike Bernard’s book. All of this means that it may be possible, eventually, to show that collage is capable of excellent and striking results.
I don’t think, as I hinted before, that this is going to be the breakthrough book though, because most of the work illustrated is probably a little too avant garde for the domestic reader unless they have a predisposed interest. However, if you’re adventurous, you’ll welcome this. Ann Manie provides a good survey of what’s going on at the present time, illustrating works by many contemporary practitioners from around the world. She also examines practicalities and working methods and provides a historical introduction to the medium.
I’m at a loss as to how to describe this. On the face of it, it’s a book about painting with wax, but open it at random and you’d be hard put to spot that because there are so many other techniques and media involved. The best thing I can say is that it’s a whole new craft in itself and I haven’t seen anything like it before (and I don’t think I’ve led that sheltered a life!).
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