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May 2019: Dazzled Street Scene in Oils by Matt Culmer
Matt Culmer's big enthusiasm is for landscape and painting out in the open, a love possibly formed when he was a child in a family that travelled widely - before becoming a banker, an aviator and finally a full-time artist. (Hooray!)
Central to capturing this is the colour wheel. Red is opposite Green, Yellow/Violet, Blue/Orange.These oppositions give the expected shadow colours so that in an orange sunset, say, shadows should contain blue in order to look realistic
For Matt the most important thing to make a painting 'work' is to get a consistent colour tone.
Depending on the time of day, there is a consistent blanket of light that bathes everything, and that colour needs to be in everything in the picture to create a tonal harmony.
Matt chose to rework a scene from a photo outside the Sidmouth art shop, as shown on the right and in a more detailed interpretation on the far right.
His work method would be broadly the same whether working indoors, as for us, or en plein air.
The focus of this work, the point of it really, was to capture the dazzle and glare of the original scene. Details are entirely subservient to this main idea.
Matt considers the first 20 minutes of a painting are the most vital. It sets up the main blocks of tone and composition. The end of a painting is more arbitrary, less important.
At the start, you are looking for a frosted window effect. Squint at the scene to get a blur. Squint at your canvas too! And always double the size of the brush that you think you need at any stage! Stops you getting too fussy.
When people peer at your work in progress - and they will! - they may well be mystified and unimpressed, but they may also be amazed at how it transforms later into a recognisable scene. The important groundwork has been built upon.
Earliest stages, blue sky, thin oil with turps  [or less fumey equivalent if indoors], adding a bit of Naples yellow to the blue nearer the horizon. You can drag with a cloth for a cirrus effect.
Then get the distant parts correct tonally, working closer as you proceed.
In this case, warm the blue with brown [burnt sienna?] for the street
Adding a bit of the old razzle-dazzle! This is the effect that this picture is 'about'. Off-white added thickly with a palette knife, modified by thumb, cloth, wrong end of a brush etc till it is 'right.'
A couple of thought-provoking tips:
  • Paint every painting like you've never painted before
  • Paint like this is the last painting you'll ever do
This sense of a fresh and unexpected challenge keeps you alert and not bored. And try NOT to paint exactly. The happy accident may be better than what you intended! "I really like those birds you've done" [Thinks: What birds?]
As the later marks go in, always suggestive rather than boringly literal, the painting rapidly gains in vividness and verisimilitude.
The beautiful finished article. (Sorry, a bit out of focus). Matt made it look really easy!!!

Otter Vale Art Society

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