Archive for category Subject: Boats & Harbours

DVD My Chinese Vision || Herman Pekel

In my review of Herman’s previous film with APV, I described him as a magician. To that, I think I’ll add alchemist. Although this is filmed in China, the city street and beach scenes could be almost anywhere, although a session around (newly built) traditional architecture does give more sense of place. All the sessions are dogged by heat, humidity and a dense haze (which might be smog). It’s clear that working in these conditions is hard labour and Herman does well to keep going and produce what can really only be described as pure gold from base metal.

What makes the film watchable, indeed compelling, is Herman himself. His commentary is continuous – few other artists can manage to work and talk at the same time as well as he does – and includes nuggets of wisdom you’ll want to write down. In the city, where buildings, street furniture and signs abound, he remarks, “The more complex a subject is, the more I tend to use just drybrush”. This combines with advice to “Let the water, pigment and paper do the work for you” to demonstrate ways of simplifying not just the subject, but your technique. He adds later, “You must have a vision, you must see the painting finished before you start.”

The scenes Herman chooses are unpromising and the haze makes things more difficult as details are obscured and distances barely visible. His ability to focus on a small area and to manipulate it into an effective composition is the alchemy I referred to earlier. He also has sound advice, especially in the conditions, to do 90% of the work on location, but to leave the remainder for later (on this occasion in the comfort of an air-conditioned hotel room) when you have had a chance to rethink. Here, outlines are tightened up and further details added that pull everything together.

I’m not sure how much of a flavour of China this presents, apart from the heat and the crowds, and it would be unreasonable to suggest that it was something to look at from that point of view. However, as a lesson on painting in unpromising conditions, and on working on location with watercolour, it’s utterly gripping.

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DVD A Simple Approach in Oils || Roger Dellar

Simplicity is a complicated thing. It takes a lot of skill and experience to learn how to extract the essence of a scene without fiddling, over-working and getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. In the five paintings demonstrated here, Roger works from a basic blocking-out of shapes, a carefully selected palette that reflects the dominant colours and an economy of brushstrokes. His remark, “I’m lazy; I only use a few brushes” is disingenuous – there’s nothing lazy about it and, although he’s not one of those painters who thinks hard before making every mark, each one is deliberately placed. There’s no random working, placing and re-placing. It’s fascinating to see how he works from the general to the specific, with details at first scratched into shapes and blocks before being delineated with colour some time later.

Of the five scenes, three involve water – the other two are in the centres of Chichester and Midhurst. The common factor is that there’s a lot going on – different craft on the water, details, people coming and going or a jumble of buildings. A literal approach, where everything is recorded, would be indigestible, but Roger’s way of building up manages to leave nothing out while at the same time omitting all extraneous matter. That’s what I meant by the complication of simplicity: it’s not just about developing an eye for a picture, but about the means of putting it down on canvas.

It’s also worth noting the palette exposition that starts the film. These are usually a matter of “this is my palette, I put these colours on it”. Roger’s is much more, because he works with such a limited range and he explains here and throughout the film how these are chosen to reflect the scene in front of him. His idea of having two sections of white, one for warm and one for cool colours is a neat one, too. Palette explanations are rarely of more than passing interest, but this is riveting.

After I watched this film, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about it. I left it overnight. “It has to mature”, I said, and it has. Roger doesn’t instruct, he just explains what he’s doing, so extracting the information is like brewing coffee – it can’t be hurried. I find I have a surprisingly clear memory of almost the whole film and that’s a measure of good explanation – simplicity always leads to comprehension.

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DVD Vibrant Oils || Haidee-Jo Summers

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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DVD Essential Watercolour: Boats & Harbours || Paul Weaver

The first few minutes of any instructional film are important. It’s the time when you decide whether you like the style of presentation and, indeed, the presenter themselves. This one starts well, with some neat establishing shots that tell us we’re in Porlock Weir in Somerset and present it as the attractive location it is. You may think that making an art DVD is just a matter of pointing a camera at the demonstrator and recording what they say and do. It isn’t, it’s highly skilled, requiring not just technical expertise to make sure that the exposure is right (nothing’s worse than a painting you can’t see) and that the shots hold details long enough for the viewer to see what’s going on, but change with sufficient frequency to keep the rest of the brain interested. It’s not even enough just to turn the camera on when the painting starts and off when it finishes. Watching an artist from start to finish can be as exciting as watching paint dry and a good editor will know exactly what needs to stay in and what can safely end up on the cutting room floor.

The long-established houses such as APV and Townhouse have the process down pat. They’ve been doing it for years and even have backgrounds in the general industry. Lune Ltd, who make this, are new to me and, when I followed up the website, I was amazed to get to a photo retoucher. Whatever, this is a thoroughly professional production and the people behind it (I assume Paul Weaver is only part of a team) know their stuff. I’ve seen painting films produced by people whose background is more in commercial or wedding photography and they don’t quite get the requirements of art. This is absolutely top quality and even has some neat tricks up its sleeve that don’t grate – editing the superfluous details that Paul is going to leave out of the painting from the video image adds a dimension I haven’t seen before. It must be the retouching background.

Well, here we are, nearly as long as some reviews and I haven’t even mentioned the paintings yet! There’s a reason for that, because I wanted to make the point that I felt well-disposed before we got properly started.

The film itself includes four demonstrations, three on location at Porlock Weir in differing lights and a final one in the studio which allows Paul to spend more time on a sketch he made earlier.

Paul’s main stock in trades are sketching and simplification. He makes the point that, by walking around the subject it and making sketches, you get to understand it – how it’s made up, the form, tone and perspective. Even in the studio, he prefers to work from a sketch rather than a photograph due to the personal element the former brings. Once you’re familiar with the area, the initial question of what to paint should make itself apparent and the next step is to decide what to include and what to leave out. Boats are rarely neatly arranged and the variety of shapes, angles and ancillaries, such as ropes, add a level of complication that make it difficult for the viewer to interpret the final painting. “Not copying the scene exactly … taking the essence of it.” At the same time, it’s important to keep the work balanced, so some elements may even have to be moved to avoid empty areas. Although Paul seems to have an instinctive ability to do this, he’s also very good at explaining what he’s doing and, above all, why he’s doing it.

I have a final list in my notes where I’ve summed up Paul’s painting process. It says:

Sketch
Simplify
Mood and atmosphere
Enjoy

I don’t think I can do better than reproduce it exactly as I wrote it, because it sums up the message, the presentation and the presenter. This is a thoroughly enjoyable film you’ll want to watch, by a skilled and entertaining presenter.

Available from www.paulweaverart.co.uk

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Travelling Light || Ray Balkwill

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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DVD Capturing Coastal Moods || Ray Balkwill

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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Painting Boats & Harbours in Watercolour || Terry Harrison

This straightforward guide is full of Terry’s trademark no-nonsense instruction that’s made him the popular teacher and demonstrator that he is. It also sticks nicely to its brief and contains almost nothing except the subject matter of the title – extraneous details that only serve to complicate the scene and how to paint it are ignored. Even the section on “boatyard clutter” is arranged so that, while the boatyard may be cluttered, the painting isn’t. As a result, apart from a course in maritime subjects, you also get a bit of a masterclass in simplification.

After an introduction to materials, using colour and working from photographs, you’re straight into a simple exercise in getting boat shapes right. This is important as craft sit on the water and mistakes here can make them look all-to-ready to capsize. From there, it’s a simple scene with a small cutter resting in calm waters. This is followed by some reflections and then a few ripples. It all builds up progressively and it’s not long before you’re ready to start tackling rigging.

The bulk of the book is a series of demonstrations – some of simple subjects like jetties and some more complex, but always building on the skills you have and adding more as you go along. Boats and water don’t need to be difficult, as Terry shows, and he blows away a great deal of the mystique that surrounds the subject and he makes it readily accessible in the process.

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