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Art Masterclass              May 2005

        

Each month laterlife.com presents a feature from either The Artist or its sister publication, Leisure Painter.

 

Art masterclass

from The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists; www.theartistmagazine.co.uk

This month: an Art Masterclass featured in the current edition of The Artist, the magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters.

 The fascination of the EVERYDAY


Scottish painter James Fairgrieve has a never-ending source of ideas for his still lifes in acrylics, often leading to series on a single theme

 

 

Pretty Things - Eilidh, acrylic on board, 24 x 60in. (61 x 152cm)

Pretty Things - Eilidh, acrylic on board, 24 x 60in. (61 x 152cm)

 

Fortunately there are still some artists who are inspired by what they see in the world around them and who have a concern for detailed observation and traditional painting skills. Moreover, the finest of these artists, painters such as James Fairgrieve, have the ability to bring something fresh and exciting to familiar themes and Scottish painter James Fairgrieve has a never-ending source of ideas for his still lifes in acrylics, often leading to series on a single theme subjects.

For James, it is natural forms and the still-life genre that create the motivation. And, like Giorgio Morandi, whose work he greatly admires, he is fascinated by ordinary, everyday objects and able to interpret them in a way that transcends mere representation. The work is skilful and thought-provoking.

James has focused exclusively on still-life painting for the past decade and his passion for this type of work remains as strong as ever.


"There are innumerable ideas to explore," he says. "It is just a matter of finding the time to develop as many of them as I can. In fact, I've always had a keen interest in still-life pictures, especially those of the Dutch School which, of course, have an emphasis on close observation, detail and finish. With still life there is the opportunity to concentrate on such qualities because the objects do not move or change shape (perhaps with the exception of flowers, fruit and vegetables), and the artist has complete control over the way that the items are selected and arranged.

 

Aberdeen Eggs, acrylic on board, 14.5 x 24in. (37 x 61cm)

Aberdeen Eggs, acrylic on board, 14.5 x 24in. (37 x 61cm)

 

Three Onions, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16in. (40.5 x 40.5)
 

Three Onions, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16in. (40.5 x 40.5)

 

Source of inspiration

The principal source of inspiration for James's highly individual, sensitively observed and beautifully composed paintings is from natural forms — mostly objects from the garden or discovered when out walking on the beach or in the countryside. Sometimes the composition relies on a single form that is repeated — perhaps, for example, apples or eggs — while in other works the choice of objects may be completely unrelated. But always, the way that the objects are juxtaposed, both in relation to each other and to the background, is a vital issue, and invariably this generates a sense of tension and intrigue.

 

"When I use these objects, in my mind there is a background of memories, recollections, family associations and so on," James explains. "But I do not believe the viewer's understanding and enjoyment of a painting need be any the less because they are unaware of such associations. There isn't an absolute narrative. Ultimately, I think, a painting should speak in a way that entices the viewer to relate to the subject matter, to ask themselves questions, and to respond to their emotions. I am frequently surprised by people's comments; they are often most perceptive."

"However, this is not to say that I am totally analytical in my approach. Whilst I enjoy looking at flowers, for example, I am not after the same result that a botanical illustrator would want to achieve. Acute observation is important, in that it helps me understand and consider the distinctive qualities of individual objects — such as the effect that nature can have on a surface: the weathering on wood or the erosion on stones. But equally important is the overall mood and impression that are created by the particular selection and relationship of the objects.

 

Boxed Eggs and Feathers, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36in. (61 x 91.5cm)

Boxed Eggs and Feathers, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36in. (61 x 91.5cm)

 

"People sometimes ask why certain objects were chosen for a painting and why they were placed in a specific way. To be quite honest, I don't have a precise answer to that. My studio is littered with objects collected over the years, all of them holding memories and associations for me. Often there is something about one object that attracts my attention and this becomes the key image in the painting.

 

Feather Map, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30in. (76 x 76cm)

Feather Map, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30in. (76 x 76cm)

 

Thereafter it is a case of finding companions and then juggling the shapes around in various ways until I discover a satisfactory composition. But I rarely arrange the objects in a formal set group on a table in front of me and paint directly from that. I have reference to the objects, but I prefer the freedom to keep the painting process as flexible as I feel it needs to be."

 

 


Before starting on a painting James likes to make some pencil drawings to explore the characteristics of the objects and try out different composition possibilities. However, these drawings seldom take the form of detailed studies. Rather, the intention is to consider interesting features and qualities of the objects that could be important in the painting; maybe the influence of light on the form of a certain object, or a cast shadow. The drawings provide reference and information and help in suggesting a particular aspect or emphasis to explore and develop.
 

 

London Pumpkin, acrylic on board, 22 x 22in. (56 x 56cm)

London Pumpkin, acrylic on board, 22 x 22in. (56 x 56cm)

Varied format

The scale of work varies, as does the shape of the boards and canvases that are used. Some pictures measure over 4ft; others are just 12in. square. "The format may be dictated by the mood I'm in," says
James, "or I may deliberately set myself the challenge of a different shape and size to prevent the paintings becoming repetitive and automatic. Generally, the objects are painted life size. The background is very much a positive element in every painting. Again, I vary the approach to this, according to the particular objects and the effect that I want.

 

Big Turnip, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30in. (76 x 76cm)

Big Turnip, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30in. (76 x 76cm)

 

A dark background (as found in many Dutch still lifes) helps focus the attention on the objects and it creates a more intense quality."

James paints in acrylic on prepared plywood or canvas. The surface is treated with four or five coats of acrylic primer, which is sanded down between each coat to create a smooth, not-too-absorbent finish.

 

 

"There are differences between board and canvas surfaces, in the way that the paint is received," he says. "I like to explore those differences. However, because the paintings are layered so much, the choice of surface isn't usually evident in the final work."

Why acrylic? "It suits the way I work. I never use very thick paint, so once I have covered the surface with one layer of paint it is almost immediately ready for the next layer."

 

 

Swans` Eggs and Tortoiseshell, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16in. (40.5 x 40.5cm)

Swans` Eggs and Tortoiseshell, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16in. (40.5 x 40.5cm)

He prefers Liquitex Artists' Acrylic Colour, selecting the colours for each painting from the "dozens of tubes" that he has in his studio. "I generally have an idea about the colour mood of the picture," he says, "especially that of the important background. For example, there might be six paintings with dark backgrounds, each one involving a different colour combination, say from black to burnt umber."

Another factor that influences the mood of the painting is the ground colour of the board or canvas itself. Sometimes this is left white, which tends to enrich the colour quality, but generally the surface is prepared with a warm half-tone earth colour, which enables more subtle colour contrasts and effects. Light is also an important element in creating a particular mood, of course, and James works almost exclusively in artificial light, which can be controlled and adjusted as necessary.

 


   

laterlife interest

The above article is part of the features section of laterlife.com called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to laterlife.com written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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