George Inness  1825 - 1894

George Inness 1825 – 1894

Last winter it seemed particularly dark, cold and rather depressing where I live in County Cork, southern Ireland. Given my rather melancholy mood, being someone who’s greatly influenced emotionally by the weather, my work turned to the effects and the affects I was experiencing.

There’s abundance of  beaches near my studio and I often meander along them, usually deep in thought. Around the latter months of last year – Ireland experienced a small portion of hurricane Ophelia, the months that followed felt like a never ending winter, as it seemed to get darker and my mood followed the weather. At the time I was interested in making pictures with very few values, this has been somewhat of a truism in painting theory, if one can express an idea in a small number of clever values, strokes etc…the idea is express more purely to the viewer, (obviously this has to follow what you’re painting) and to paint conditions like mist, fog….etc is a special case – the values are already simplified and comprised to some degree for you.

Similar to the last post I’ll be talking about 3 artists followed by my own work.

One of my favourite artists: Inness does things with paint that I find rather magical. He was quite controversial at the time, as he broke a lot of the classic Ideas of design, putting objects like trees square and centre in his picture (this is usually to be avoided, as it splits the view’s eye 50-50), he also would break aerial perspective (the idea that things get lighter and cooler as they recede), he didn’t just break these rules for the sake of it, “I’m trying to paint God” he used to say, and thus he would do whatever the piece needed to convey this idea.

Trout Brook

Trout Brook

In a painting like Trout Brook, which has an enormous emotional hold on me, one gets the feeling that he cares just as much about his visceral response to his surrounding as he does to the objective reality of nature.
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The very different approach to his work made sales a little harder than for some of his peers….people would say on viewing his picture ‘they are like the visual form of arsenic’….a comment that’s difficult to understand now.

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The effect, whether it’s mist or fog (etc)…Inness really creates a wonderful play and balance, harmony and mood. George was clearly a deep thinker, giving so much…more and more on each viewing!

James McNeill Whistler 1834 - 1903

James McNeill Whistler
1834 – 1903

Whistler’s Nocturnes, are a great example of what I mean when I refer to compression and simplification of values, there’s really only  3-4 main tones in a lot of these paintings.
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These pictures convey an certain melancholia; the fact that over all harmony is rather cool adds to this sense, the only heat are little dots of warm gas lights usually in the distance.
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Edward Seago 1910 - 1974

Edward Seago 1910 – 1974

What I really enjoy about Seago’s work is the simplistic nature of both his design and utility of stroke. He seems to have found a way of putting down very clever and simple shapes, and conveying a lot with a little.
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There’s a lovely feeling of movement, as you can see in the foreground of the above picture.

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Edward pulls what seems like quite a dry brush to create the branches of the tree here. Seago was mostly self-taught, and this comes through in his application of paint.

Here’s some of my work from the past winter’s experiences.

Here’s some of my work from the past winter’s experiences

When laying-in a picture and continuing, it’s wise as early as possible to establish the your lightest light and your darkest dark (keying), traditionally the values which are usually a 9 point scale of main values.

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You can take sections, for example 4-7, but you’re still keying relative to the section you’ve chosen, (7 would be darkest dark in this case) then you could put 1 in for a man-made light, that would form a highlight.

Figures in the mists.

Figures in the mist

As long as nature’s hierarchy is followed, you can push lights and darks for an effect such as a focal point etc…

Mist Study 1

Mist Study 1

Mist Study 2

Mist Study 2

Like you can see, and as I mentioned earlier, the values are compressed more in mist and fog paintings, values are very near each other…which makes things both soft and gives a sombre mood to pictures.

Observer in the mist.

Observer in the mist

Imagined Landscape

Imagined Landscape

With the figures I’ve tried to think about them just as shapes, and  to design these to bring the view’s eye around the picture plane.

Mist Study 3

Mist Study 3

I always ask myself before staring a project, what’s the picture about….is there a story here? Every square of canvas has to be thought about, and made to work with the whole.

After Phelia

After Ophelia

“The greatness of art is not in the display of knowledge, or in material accuracy, but in the distinctness with which it conveys the impressions of a personal vital force, that acts spontaneously, without fear or hesitation.”

George Inness

“The purpose of the painter is simply to reproduce in other minds the impression which a scene has made upon him. A work of art does not appeal to the intellect. It does not appeal to the moral sense. Its aim is not to instruct, not to edify, but to awaken an emotion.”

George Inness

“The true end of art is not to imitate a fixed material condition, but to represent a living emotion.”

George Inness

“Art is a goddess of dainty thought, reticent of habit, abjuring all obtrusiveness, purposing in no way to better others. She is, withal selfishly occupied with her own perfection only – having no desire to teach.”

James Abbott McNeill Whistler