Learning from Turner: The Scarlet Sunset



I’ve been wanting to try a Turner copy for some time, and I’ve been interested in whether or not blue paper was something for me. As a guide I used the book the Tate put out “How to a paint Like Turner.” Interesting exercises. I didn’t follow along too closely other than for the color mixing tips. Anyway, here’s how I did it.

First I tinted a 5×7 sheet of Fabriano Artistico a cool blue (a mix of Prussian and French ultramarine. This worked out pretty well. I might do this again when I want to work on tinted paper of whatever color, though I can’t imagine that will be common.

Once it dried, I laid in the sky with the red and yellow, using a mix of quinacridone burnt orange and ultramarine for the brown clouds. The bridge was cobalt and ivory black, and the distant buildings were cobalt and cad red, though other colors got in there too. A bit rough, as I’ve never worked with these mixes before. In fact, I never use ivory black, and the other colors I rarely use and if I do it’s not for their mixing properties (except for quin burnt orange and ultramarine, the two of which make an incredible range of glowing browns). The barely distinguishable cart and people were a mix of things, burnt orange being the main one.

A few things I learned:

The trick of the dab of sun and then the calligraphic swipe for reflection is an effective (Monet used it too) but strange shorthand. Does a setting sun ever look like that? For a sketch I suppose it’s fine, but it doesn’t get at the diffusion of light that Turner did nicely with the rest of the work.

Ivory Black is useful. With Cobalt Blue it makes a nice deep blue. Cad Red and cobalt blue make a nice purple grey. I see how I could use all of these in a decent “old style” palette. I am rethinking my decision to use quin red just because the one I have (Maimeri Blue) seems pretty weak. I will put the cad back, especially now that I see how nicely it works with cobalt blue. Will Ivory Black creep in, perhaps as a replacement for Burnt Sienna?

Turner’s painting has a lot of atmosphere, no doubt in part because he knew what he was doing. I laid things on too thick, and couldn’t really lift them out. In other places I was too weak. For a first time with the blue paper, I got a lot out of it, though seeing them side by said after the fact reveals how off I was. Then again, this wasn’t about exactitude, just experimentation.

Colors used:
Isoindolinone Yellow
Cad Red Light
Cobalt Blue
Ivory Black
Quinacridone Burnt Orange
Titanate Yellow (with a touch of titanium white)

Thanks for reading.


Happy Thanksgiving and a Vertical Sunset Painting in Progress

On the way home from work this week I saw an incredible sunset through tall trees. I couldn’t stop to take a picture or paint it live at the time, but it was such a great candidate for a vertical composition that I tried to work it from memory and invention.

In looking at Turner’s skies, you can really see the movement and energy in them. He often does swirled, rounded skies, emphasizing the curvature of the earth. I couldn’t fit all of that in such a narrow composition, so I tried to work with angles to show the clouds and the light coming from somewhere and going to somewhere else.

In case I mess up the trees I am posting the work in progress since the sky came out pretty well. I can’t leave it as is anyway because of the damaged paper. I don’t know, maybe that isn’t noticeable. Also, I think I need to study some really tall skinny trees before I put them in here. Daniel Smith lemon yellow around the white for the brightest light seemed to work pretty nicely. I just got a tube of it a couple weeks ago and have been using some here and there. Seeing it here really makes me love that color.

It’s been nice getting some painting time in on Thanksgiving. My daughters really wanted to paint this morning, so they got me motivated today.

Happy Thankagiving!

Experimenting with another sunset

Yesterday my dad and I drove out west along the Potomac river around sunset to see some scenic farms and a pond that hunters use to train their dogs. He’s taken inspiration from some of these places and for some pastel studies. It’s an interesting area because it’s a remarkably wealthy rural life lived out there with sprawling estates mixed in with some still operable farms. There were some beautiful cherry-tree lines drives, across from which we saw some hunters holding up what looked like a wild turkey.

We took a variety of pictures while out there (unfortunately not of the turkey hunters). This morning I worked one of them up into this sunset study, again learning from Turner, and also trying a wetter approach than on the last. To get the spreading light effect in the sky I wiped drying paint up and out away from the sun. It seems to have created a nice dramatic effect.

These small 5×7 studies have been fun, and despite their small size pretty potent. I think they’d look good in an oversized mat. Something for later. For now, here it is still drying.


All the colors in a sky–learning from sunset

After looking at so many of Turner’s skies and sunsets I have really wanted to give a small one a try. I have also been interested in the way pastel artists get such compelling skies with so many colors in them (see Loriann Signori’s blog). It seems like one key ingredient is having several blues in close proximity. And a teal or turquoise plays an important role.

This rough sunset attempt is from a picture I took while crossing the Severn River in Annapolis this weekend. My goal here was only experimentation. I would rather handle these directly outdoors, but some practice first makes sense.

Thanks for reading.


Learning from Turner: Eddystone Lighthouse Sketch

Turner seems to have accomplished some awesome atmospheric effects quickly and roughly, especially in his sketches, where he used his fingers as well as a brush to move paint around the page.

Today I tried a quick study of one of his sketchbook works of Eddystone Lighthouse. I have been reading about the paper he used being gelatin sized and the sizing being very resistant the first time around then breaking down. This reminded me of the Moleskine sketchbook paper, so I gave that a try with two colors: Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber. The smoothness of the paper made these effects easier to accomplish. Here’s my sketch of his sketch:


And here is the original. The point in my mind wasn’t to duplicate the marks he made, but instead to get a sense of some techniques and apply them myself. I am looking forward to putting some of this to work out in the world.

Thanks for reading.

Marathon Running and Turner

My wife got into running a couple years ago, building up from a strong dislike of the sport to a passion for it. Today she ran her second marathon, cutting 34 minutes off her time from her first one last year. 4:31 last year to 3:57 this year. That’s beyond incredible, and I am totally impressed with her, not just for her performance today, but for the consistency, the training, the diligence, and the perseverance. Really something to admire and aspire to. She trained for a time and was pretty much spot on (better actually), but that speaks so well to knowing herself as a runner through experience and self-initiated challenges, and what has turned out to be a level of natural gift for the sport she didn’t realize she had until starting to take it seriously.

This brings me to art, and one of the watercolorists who most embodies the qualities my wife exhibited: Turner. The Tate has an incredible collection of Turner’s sketchbooks here. I have been looking at them a lot over the past few days. Some of his sketchbook works were far more than sketches. they were very developed works of art, though small. Others are quick dashes–studies of light at different times of day, or studies of the sky under different weather conditions. These studies were especially interesting to me, as I want to used sketching more as experiment than attempt to get a scene, as self-initiated challenges and training as my wife did with her running–as an aside, she is also an artist and inspired me to pick up the brush in the first place.

Turner was very rough and loose with his studies, but he obviously had masterful understanding of light and weather. In an attempt to try to understand how I might sketch like he did, how I might study, I did this quick study of one of his studies. I tried to paint quickly, and get some pretty saturated washes on, then scrape with my fingernails to add texture and energy. Lots more space to experiment in this line. Here it is.

20140315-201005.jpgIn addition, I am trying to work out a minimal set of brushes for decent sketching studies. Something to do washes with and something to handle concentrated applications of paint. The other factor is size. I want the brushes to fit in a small pencil case with my compact kit and a few other items. I seem to be settling on my Series 7 #5 (an incredibly versatile brush, with water and color holding capacity of a much larger synthetic), and my Escoda Prado #8 round, which is stiffer and grabs paint well but not much water. Both hold really sharp points, but the Series 7 is noticeably wetter. Good combo so far. A couple cut-off straws to protect the tips, and I should be in good shape. They work well with the Stillmam and Birn Alpha sketchbook, which can take a lot, though scraping can tear into the paper, but it is only a sketchbook, so I don’t expect it to be as good as 100% cotton paper. Despite that colors can look really brilliant..

I also made another change to my compact kit paints. I swapped out Cobalt Blue for Prussian Blue, which is a little more versatile in combo with Ultramarine, and it can go far moodier.

Lastly, while my wife and kids were napping this afternoon (they were so excited for her they woke up really early), I did this pencil study of a tree at my house. This was a good exercise I should do more of.

Thanks for reading.