This Wednesday just been (1 April) was our final Beginning to Draw & Paint class at Browne. It was meant to be on abstraction, but because we’d moved to Zoom and it would’ve been tricky to teach by video, Matthew decided to continue with the previous week’s subject of transcription and analysis.
A good explanation of transcription:
A transcription is when you take a master painting and draw [or paint] from it to understand how it is made. It isn’t copying because you are not replicating it verbatim. Instead, you are distilling the image, taking from it what you want, and leaving the rest behind. It is a tool artists have used for centuries.Ashlee Rubinstein
The focus of our transcription was colour harmony and discord. Matthew gave us black-and-white photocopies of paintings by Georges Braque, Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, Van Gogh, David Hockney, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. He told us to pick one and, without looking online to see what the original colour palette was, do two paintings based on it: one with a harmonious colour scheme and one with a discordant colour scheme.
From looking at my colour wheel a lot, I was familiar with how to produce colour harmony, but I hadn’t really considered how to deliberately produce discord. One of the ways Matthew told us we could do this was by pushing colours in the opposite direction of their natural tonal tendency (for example, creating a dark shade of yellow or light tint of violet).
For my painting, I picked Corot’s Civita Castellana. In the black-and-white photocopy, it looked like there was a river just beyond the foreground, but looking at the original now, I think it’s actually land. I’m kinda glad I read it that way though; I think it made for interesting paintings.
Transcription with colour harmony
My colour palette for this one was the triad yellow-green, red-orange, and blue violet.
I found this first painting quite difficult.
- Because there were a lot of subtle tonal variations in the black-and-white copy, I ended up labouring on the underpainting too long and overdoing it. (I should have simplified the values to begin with.) I got distracted by the detail produced by all the scumbling in the original, too, and ended up trying to replicate some of that in the underpainting. I also used both yellow ochre and raw umber, which probably added to the complication.
- I struggled to achieve a colour-temperature shift to create accurate depth with the mountains in the background.
- I didn’t pay enough attention to the intensity of the colours in the river and sky. I probably could have muted them. (Although, I now kinda like the result.)
- Clouds are hard to paint! And, related to that, acrylic paint is hard to blend!
- My palette tends to end up covered in paint from all my mixing. I think I need to adopt what I’ve seen some experienced painters doing (see about 0:25 in the video) mixing a single colour in a small bowl.
Transcription with colour discord
My colour palette for this one was orange, yellow, and green. I pushed the yellow and orange dark (to become dark olive and brown respectively) and the green light to what Matthew said was a slightly acidic (uncomfortable, artificial) green.
This painting was a bit easier and more fun to create, for a few reasons:
- I just used raw umber (mixed with a bit of ultramarine blue for the darks) for the underpainting.
- I tried to stay loose and do the underpainting quite quickly and not worry too much if wasn’t exactly like the original. (It wasn’t in the first painting, anyway.)
- When I mixed the tint of green, I was worried that it would look really weird with the darker, more earthy other colours, but I was actually surprised by how striking the end result was. It gave the painting a kind of eerie look.
- I was much happier with my clouds (and the mist against the mountains to the right) this time.
- I think my scumbling improved a bit in this one.
Thoughts on the course
I really enjoyed the course at Browne. It was just what I was looking for in terms of getting a good grounding in the foundations of painting. Matthew was a very good teacher—knowledgeable, experienced (he’s been a working artist for about four decades), encouraging, and often humorous—and he covered not only the technical side of painting, but also the ins and outs of being an artist. I got along well with the other students, and I really enjoyed the art-school environment. The only bummer was having to do the last couple of nights over Zoom, and miss out on the night on abstraction, but I still got a lot out of that. (The final night was a kind of ‘show and tell’ of the paintings we’d done in week 8—the ones above for me.)
Overall, the course was well worth the money, and I feel inspired and equipped to carry on.
Where to next
We covered a lot in this course, so I plan to spend the next few months rereading the course materials and my notes and working on all the skills I’ve learnt, to solidify and internalise them. Then, in term 3, I hope to take the Painting L2 course and push things to the next level. 🙂