Hugh Mendes has been away in the USA for the last month and was kind enough to let me loose in his studio while he was away. As I have my first solo show coming up on 19th August I decided to use the opportunity to try and produce some more works to go in the show.
I have a habit of when I am wandering round places of taking pictures of things that interest me and that might make a good painting. Many of them I simply ignore or only use to sketch from them but some of them make the final cut. This time I chose the following 5.
As part of my lawerly day job I currently travel once a month to Kingston in South London. This takes me via Richmond Station. At platform 1 of that station there are a series of raised community flower beds, in which there is always something interesting happening. When I was passing through in June it was a lovely summer day, the flowers had bloomed and the place was literally buzzing. I got the above shot. Foxgloves, bumble-bee, strange spikey read flower.
Continuing the flower theme, and at about the same time while visiting my parents I got the above shot of their exquisitely maintained garden. They are peonies I think and I like the sea of green and the building and looming trees in the back ground.
There are some extraordinary buildings in London. Next to the hulking mess that is Pentonvile prison, on the Caledonian Road is the above castle like structure, which is in fact a council estate. I like the fort like structure, the series of arches that gives you a view of the internal court yard and of course the ivy infesting almost half of the frontage.
One of my favourite parts of London is the Regent's Canal, specifically the part just West of the Kingsland Road, running towards Angel. It has been through massive redevelopment, much of it very good, in recent years. On a recent dusky walk down the tow-path I came away with above snap. The twilight and the reflection on the canal particularly appealed.
The final picture is this blurry snap of a duck and ducklings wafting across the surface of a pond in Chester. Sometimes you can do more with an indistinct picture than a sharp one, and the chopped up water with the light reflecting on it, also appealed to me.
These then were my main subjects. First up the flowers and the bee.
Stage one is above. I like to get the canvas covered in paint. So the first session included sketching out the outline of the plant and some of the greenery and then painting in the wall around that. I was very pleased with the wall and the gradient from gray to beige. Apologies for the blurry photo.
Session 2 (above left) was adding in more detail. Greenery was added to the bottom and the red spikey flowers put in. More definition and colour contrast is added to the actual flowers and finally the addition of the pale dots.
Session 3 (above right) is even more detail, mainly on the flowers. More and different reds on the spikey flowers, and then more definition to the foxgloves so it is easier to differentiate one flower from the next and the two main colours, yellow and pink, blend into each other better and the flowers themselves look more three dimensional. The aspect that really changes the picture though is the red dots on top of the pale.
Final stage (above) - bee and signature - Completo! From beginning to end, well there were also some sketches I did from the photo at home so the ideas were forming from well before painting started, but from the beginning to the end of painting, probably a total of 6 hours.
Recently I have been experimenting with inks. Extracting just the flowers from the above photo I did the above sketch. I think it's pretty good. I toyed with the idea of just doing as a painting but decided instead to go for the full scene. Absence works well in ink but I think with oil painting it is not as effective, unless that absence is activated with paint of some kind.
I chose a large canvas. In fact I chose an old painting I was no longer happy with and painted over it. The first stage was to block out three sections in colour, orange, green and blue and then leave it to dry for about a week. The next stage which you can see in the above left picture was to put in the detail of the background building. For this I used dabs of different shades of orange, then green on top of that for the ivy. I also put in the detail for the hedge on the left and some darker shading on the top and right of the green.
Stage 3 was foliage. The ivy was completed with contrast and also the white flowers, trees were put in over the sky and the back and different shades of green swirled round for the leaves, then I began building up the greenery in the foreground. There has also been a stage 4 put it is not yet finished. So far it has taken about 6 hours and I think needs another 2 or three to finish it. The flowers, being such a big and dominant part of the picture are going to be tricky.
Next up, the building on Caledonian Road. With this one, and the next two, I did something I have not done before. I painted the entire canvas a very dark almost black before starting painting. This was then left to dry. Stage one and two (above left) of the painting was the sky and the building itself. First just a brick red colour and then dabs of different shades of orange (like in the large flower landscape) on top of that to give it texture. The tree is sketched in and the foreground road lightened. I decided to leave out both the car and the lamp-post and change the perspective a little.
Stage three (above right) was then adding in more detail. Highlights of white and light grey on the windows and shrubbery in the front and then of course the foliage themselves in different shades of green, blue and yellow. I find I use more yellow than any other colour so have invested in a larger tube of it. There was also a stage four where shadows were put in but if you want to see that you will have to come to my show.
I ascribe to my general incompetence the fact that I cannot find my photos of the interim stages of this piece but this is it in its finished form. The first stage though was putting in the sky and the buildings in grey and orange. I kept the buildings vague and left the colour drift of towards the bottom. This was using a pre-painted black background so this worked quite well. After that more contrast to the buildings, particularly the orange one to the far right, contrast to the sky and the reflections to the right on the water.
Stage three was adding in the foliage. This took two stages. The first stage was just blocking it in and then the next stage after it had dried was adding in the detail and the colour contrast. I am particularly please with the light contrast I have managed to get on the trunks of the trees on the left, and their reflection on the water. I took my time over this one, relatively speaking but maybe 8 hours. It is difficult to be sure.
Finaly, Chester Ducks. Stage one (above left), put in a blue background for the foliage to go on top of and using the same colour sketch in where the ducks are going to go and some of the main points of reflection.
Stage 2 (above right), put in the foliage, using greens, browns, blues and oranges, the algae using the same colour scheme, add a brown to the ducks and using various shades of blue put in some of the main light reflections.
Stage 3 (above left), more detail on everything, so more colour on the foliage and the addition of white flowers, more on the algae, building up the ducks,and putting in more reflection.
Stage 4 (above right) is probably difficult to tell the difference but if you look at the ducklings you can see more yellowish highlights and all the ducks have been made lighter to stand out more. The other main addition is the reflection of the foliage into the water. That is the final stage.
I have simplified how these are produced. A stage in each painting may in fact take place over a couple of days interwoven with works on other paintings while various things dry, or while I think what to do next. Anyway, I hope you found this interesting, if you want to see these in person, all bar the landscape with flowers (which won't be ready in time) will be in my show on 19th August in Stoke Newington Library Gallery.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.