Thursday, 30 June 2011

The observer observed

As a rule, there are hardly any paintings hanging in my studio apart from the ones I'm currently working on. There is one exception however and that's 'The Observer'. For some reason I find this character's benign gaze quite encouraging and he doesn't tend to talk too much either (which is an important consideration when you are trying to work).

He was painted a few years ago but I recently found a set of photographs that show the work in progress. I hope that you might find them interesting?

'The Old Observer'
acrylics on canvas (76cm x 61cm)

work in progress  
The painting was developed from an initial quick sketch (which I've now lost) by squaring up the canvas and then roughing out the image in Payne's Gray acrylic washes. This is much the same technique as described in an earlier post: 'Reaching for the Moon'. The image is worked over with layers of Payne's Gray until it feels complete as a simple chiaroscuro under-painting.

work in progress  (click on image to enlarge)
Time to add some colour. At this stage, the colour is really under-painting and a bit experimental as the mood of the overall image is developed. Because I work with transparent colour glazes, colour undercoats will show through subsequent layers. This helps to create depth to the image and provides some fairly subtle lighting effects when the painting is completed. 

work in progress  
OK, this is where the fun starts and where everything slows down! The skin tones are gradually developed (with numerous transparent colour glazes) while the modelling and detailing of the face and hand are further defined.

work in progress 
These photographs help to show the level of detailing that's involved, it is very nearly microscopic! It's certainly time-consuming to do and there is a point where you feel that you'll go completely crazy if you have to paint another whisker or wrinkle. You begin to wonder why you ever started and swear to yourself that next time the image will be much more impressionistic. It never works out that way for me though!

work in progress  
The last stages. Detailing is complete and the painting just needs a few final transparent glazes that will 'knock back' some of the colour slightly and create a more subdued and realistic skin tone. The shading is also developed further in order to get the painting into a state where it is almost half light, half shade and where the character almost appears to be observing you from out of the canvas...

"That's a sign of a good painting Dud, if the eyes follow you round the room it's a good painting, if they don't, it isn't" -Peter Cook to Dudley Moore (At the Art Gallery).

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Oh I do love to be beside the seaside...

I consider myself to be very lucky to live in a seaside town and have had an ongoing love affair with English seaside towns (real and imaginary) for as long as I can remember. Here are a few selected paintings to prove the point...

'The Seasonal Visitor' 
inks & acrylics on paper (40cm x 30cm)
Unfortunately for the locals, some of the small fishing villages on the south coast experience regular problems with unwanted visitors during the summer months.

'Coastal Town'
acrylics on wood panel (70cm x 40cm)
Very much an imaginary place. You can probably see that of course! This painting belongs to an insurance broker and I do sometimes wonder how much it has been insured for... loads I should think ;0)

'The Bridge'
acrylics on canvas (50cm x 38cm)
If you look right now you'll see me going past on my bicycle...

'Tales of a Sea Chicken'
acrylics on paper (50cm x 40cm)
OK, I've got a thing about chickens (and ladders) too. So here's a seaside town and a chicken and a ladder. Does it get any better than this?

'A Bird's Eye View'
acrylics on wood panel (100cm x 88cm)
All the best English seaside towns should have a ruined castle! Again, this is an entirely fictitious view of an imaginary place but I like to think that there's a little bit of 'truth' in there somewhere. This is quite a large scale painting with a lot of detail. Actually so much detail I completely dried up half way through and abandoned the unfinished painting several years ago. I did not know that my son Ivan, had quietly removed the picture for safe-keeping (I'm a destroyer as well as a creator) and returned it to me last year judging that I might be in a mood to complete it. I'm very pleased that he did, a few alterations were made, the detail was finished and everything worked out well in the end.

'As Far as the Eye Can See'
oils on wood panel (90cm x 90cm)
A rare image (for me) that faces away from the seaside town and looks out to sea instead.

'Thundery Showers'
acrylics on paper (21cm x 20cm)
A small painting, from last week, of houses at Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire. My wife and I (and our little white dog) have just returned from a few days in North Yorkshire. You can see what the weather was like.

Finally, a very short animation with a seaside theme. Please think of this as a moving picture. It is definitely not a film with a heart-wrenching plot, thoughtful character development and a stunning climax, it is just a small beach scene (with sound) set in Hastings.

'The Fisherman's Catch'
That's All Folks!

All images copyright Manfred Hennessy. 
All rights reserved.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Cervus elaphus elaphus

A few paintings of a personal favourite subject, the male Red Deer. These images all show the stag at the point when its growing antlers are still sheathed in velvet (very dense short hair).

'Stag in Velvet'
acrylics on canvas (76cm x 76cm)

'Red Deer Study'
acrylics on canvas (61cm x 46cm)

'Shedding the Velvet'
acrylics on canvas (76cm x 61cm)

'Red Deer Stag'
acrylics on canvas (100cm x 80cm)

1. 'Red Deer Stag' work in progress (
The main image is quickly roughed out from an initial sketch (which I've managed to lose), built up in terms of volume, light and shade and then developed further with the addition of some rudimentary colour. I was still experimenting with the background at this stage. 

2. work in progress 
The stag continues to progress but things are kept pretty loose at the moment, not too much detail. The background has been lightened again and subsequently develops into a gentle open landscape.

3. work in progress 
The painting continues to sharpen up and detail emerges from the background. Numerous transparent colour glazes are used to breath life into the landscape and give it depth. There are further refinements to the stag with detailing and transparent glazes and the painting eventually comes to a close. As ever, these final stages of painting really take the longest to execute. The scale of the painting and amount of close detail can make this whole process quite ridiculous. I went slightly insane painting all of that grass, never again!

Detail of the stag's head from the finished painting.

All images copyright Manfred Hennessy. 
All rights reserved.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Personal reflections

'The Guardian of the Shed'
acrylics on mounted paper (24cm x 19cm)

'The Sleeping Man'
acrylics on mounted paper (15cm x 10cm)

'The Place of Departure'
acrylics on mounted paper (20cm x 15cm)

All images copyright Manfred Hennessy. 
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Reaching for the Moon

If I remember in time, I try to keep a photographic record of work in progress. It can be interesting to look back on and I know that other people sometimes enjoy seeing the stages of a painting or print as it progresses. If you are one of these people, then this post is for you! 

'The Ladder and the Moon'
acrylics on canvas (61cm x 61cm)

This painting really started with the small sketch shown below. It's a reasonably faithful recording of a small derelict outhouse that backs onto a railway line near to where I live. I'm a big fan of crumbling derelict buildings and this one is especially picturesque... 

'Ruined Building in Southchurch'
inks and acrylics on paper (18cm x 18cm)

Stages 1 & 2 
I've 'squared up' a copy of the sketch and will keep this as a reference as I paint. For this painting I've prepared the canvas with a base of dark red acrylic paint. My personal preference is always to avoid a white canvas wherever possible: the deep red will work well for the brickwork and provide a warmth to the final painting. I used a brush with Paynes Gray to draw directly onto the canvas and then worked up the image with thin washes.

Stages 3 & 4 
When I'm happy with the basic under-painting, I start to accentuate the form, detail and highlights of the building and introduce colour to the canvas in the form of thin transparent glazes. I'm aware at this stage of painting that something is going to happen to the image that will take it beyond the initial sketch but don't really know what that will be yet. This is probably my favourite part of the whole process!

Stages 5 & 6 
The colour glazing technique is something that I use extensively when painting with acrylics, it is a great way of subtly building up colour and it allows colours beneath to shine through. A painting like this could easily involve twenty to thirty separate glazes. The application of transparent glazes over darks and the use of more opaque colour for the lights is known as the Venetian Technique and goes right back to early 16th century Venice and painters such as Titian and Giorgione (who were then working with oils of course). The painting now starts to move away from the initial sketch with the introduction of an open sky and suggestion of an empty hillside behind the building. Before I know it, a full moon has risen over the ridge of the roof... 

Stage 7 and final painting 
An old wooden ladder is leant up against the dark side of the house and everything locks into place, including the title! The last stages of a painting like this probably take longest with the least to show for the amount of work involved: minor corrections, tightening up details, drinking copious amounts of tea, finalising aspects of light and shade and enhancing colours through further glazes. When that's done, the final hurdle is to actually stop, let go, and move on to the next painting!

If you are interested in the fate of the original building that this painting was based on, then take a look here:

All images copyright Manfred Hennessy. 
All rights reserved.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

An Elemental Folly

This was a personal project from a few years ago. It involved several weeks of madness building and painting this slightly eccentric neo-gothic altarpiece. It was never intended for a church but rather for a sun-lit glade in a secret part of a dark European forest; to be stumbled upon by squirrels, magpies and the odd medieval travelling pilgrim.

'Elemental Folly'
Wood construction painted in oils, acrylics, enamel & metallic paint
stands 110cm tall
The doors open to reveal the internal paintings

Early construction phase:

Primed and ready for painting

The roof area with hidden compartments for the four elements: Air, Fire, Water & Earth

Side views

The lower chamber with doors closed and open

The main folding doors closed...

...and open

'Toowit toowoo'
The painting at the heart of 'Elemental Folly'

In reality, this never did get to it's secret place in a forest. It ended up getting left in the attic of our last house when we moved. I sometimes wonder what the new owners might have thought when they discovered it...

All images copyright Manfred Hennessy. 
All rights reserved.