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Demonstration by Stephen Foster

Visit him at www.stephenjfoster.com

"Semi-abstract Landscape with a palette knife", 12 June 2015
Stephen had brought a collection of works similar to what he proposed for tonight - an encouraging taster.
Although he paints life, still-life and more formal landscapes, Stephen has concentrated for the last decade on painting semi-abstract landscapes with a knife. He only occasionally uses a brush - for backgrounds.

The sequence he follows is to
prepare a board with mid-tone colour
sketch the composition crudely in charcoal,
make an underpainting in acrylic
complete the work in oils.

The use of oils is surprising for a man who is so very allergic to solvents. He deals with this by buying soft, buttery oils, using them straight from the tube (no thinner) and, obeying the fat-over-lean rule for oils by adding only linseed, lavender or walnut oil or perhaps alkyd medium as the "fat" for later coats.
For tonight, Stephen had prepared a piece of hardboard, some 50 x 50 cm, with a coat of about 8% burnt sienna and 92% white Gerstaker gesso. This gives a textured surface, liked by pastel painters, but good for acrylic, too.

To get the areas of tone right, a mid-tone background to which you add darks and lights is half the battle. Tonight, a very rapid series of rough marks with charcoal (easily rubbed out if you are not satisfied) and a little chalk, defined the horizon and areas of dark and light. "Charcoal gives volume, pencils make lines : avoid pencil!"

He likes the texture of Gerstaker acrylics: not cheap but he finds that there is so much more pigment in artists-quality paint that it can actually save money.
Next he covered almost all the bottom part of the picture, below the horizon, with Van Dyke Brown. It is a lovely transparent brazen colour if you leave some parts thinner than others. He holds the knife very flat on the surface, hardly ever lifting it off.

"Wipe the knife every time you pick up a new colour".

Then start the sky with white. Put plenty on, some thin, some thicker - don't be mean. Then spread in tiny amounts of prussian blue and burnt sienna, unevenly mixed, wet-into-wet, to get a good range of blues and greys

A limited palette simplifies things: for this type of painting you need only a brown (Van Dyke), a yellow (ochre), a blue (prussian) , a couple of reds (burnt sienna and magenta) and, of course, plenty of white (titanium).
As he approached the coffee break he reiterated the value of building up colour by repeatedly adding small amounts of it into wet white. The vandyke brown was dry by now and so yellow ochre could be put over it without mixing.

He then produced his "practice frame". I don't understand why it makes so much difference but a frame certainly does wonders, not just making the picture look better but, if you are the artist, showing you where changes might be improvements.

At this stage, you could use pastel to draw extra marks or small areas of colour.

After the coffee break Stephen was going to change from acrylic to oils. He needed the acrylic to be really dry, so he went over the whole picture with the flat of the knife to get rid of any thick lumps of paint.
After coffee he had put away the acrylics and prepared an oil paint palette with a few touches of the same colours. Lukas 1867 and/or Michael Harding are his favourite oils (lovely and buttery).

He starts with unthinned paint, going over the acrylic, tweaking colour, moving edges and strengthening tones. He looks particularly at the edges between the volumes of colour and at adjusting colours to suit his idea of the finished work. Some areas of acrylic were left exposed. Features that look "wrong" were corrected. I lost count of the number of strokes he made along the horizon. A few touches of white and brown were added (dark against light) but he was very sparing with brighter colours. The process did not fundamentally change the picture but gave it more vitality.

There were, of course lots of little hints and comments (see below). Altogether, for me, this was one of our most inspiring evenings. Thank you Stephen.
Hints and comments

If you want an idea for a painting, try cropping an existing image drastically. Was it Renoir said "Take a simple idea and simplify it"?
"I don't use green"
If you've put down big areas of dark or light don't cover them too much with other colours
Oils adhere to acrylic, not the other way round (an accidental splash of acrylic on a finished oil was no problem - "I can peel it off when it's dry")
If you are having trouble with an oil, try taking a lot of the paint off by putting the painting face down on an absorbent surface and hitting/rubbing the back (Tonking?)
Alfresco work? Outdoors, Stephen would prefer to do 20 sketches than one painting. He finds that sunny days take away his inspiration - too cheerful! Norfolk is great for sketching, even for painting, but too cold for living!


A few minutes from the end
Not quite finished but . . .

. . . . below is Stephen's photo of the finished painting, after he had finished it and cut it down to 300 mm square.

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