David Cox -
David Cox merits our attention equally with Cotman, for he should be canonized as the patron saint of sketchers. While Cotman represents the impersonal dignity of genius on a high unattainable plane, Farmer David meets us on terms of intimacy, modest, friendly and good-humoured. Not only sketchers, but all who love nature, must love him. He painted English landscape and the Welsh mountains under all conditions, but liked best cool harmonies of gray, the nascent freshness of rain and dew.
He was a teacher like Cotman, and published a treatise on Landscape Painting and Effect which is still quoted. There is much to be said for the methods of teaching in vogue and at that time. Beginners were compelled to perfect their technique before attempting original expression, and to do so, copied good drawings. Both artists made hundreds of drawings for this purpose. Cox insisted that conception should be complete before painting was begun; that outlines should be clean and decided, tints laid on directly and luminously, and planes judiciously observed. He held that truth of effect is greater than truth in detail, and that a selective attitude towards nature should be adopted.
His own out-door studies were often frankly realistic. He recommended the use of a large brush. Don't spare the colour', he said. Use plenty of colour and dab at it.'
Cox made no use of the pen. He made a preliminary drawing with pencil, and in the process of painting would draw also with the brush point. His method was that of building up tones with a constant repetition of touches until the correct intensity and elaboration was produced. His brush was spontaneous and free.
Cox paper is in common use now. It is a Scotch wrapping paper, which pleased him mightily, and enabled him to get power at once.' Warm gray in tone soft and absorbent, it is spotted unevenly with brown specks, which give an interesting texture capable of being used to advantage, though disfiguring in a sky. Cox was asked once what he did with them in the latter case. He replied, Oh, I just put wings to them, and they fly away as birds. It is reasonably suggested that he sized this paper before using it.
Cox sometimes used body-=colour, but more frequently scraped when he wished to interpolate small passages of light in a dark mass. He obtained sparkling effects by leaving specks of paper bare of pigment.
I shall be finished when I shall have done all that I believe required to satisfy art. Michaelangelo.
It is difficult for an artist to determine exactly when he has done enough to a painting. Thewre is always a temptation to improve and amplify, and a reluctance to abandon a work of art that is imperfect; for no painting is ever perfect, and no one knows that better than he who painted it. Even Turner was always hankering for the sketches he had parted with, to finish them. While sincerity and over-anxiety can spoil a picture, through superfluous elaboration and unnecessary correction, the carelessness that would leave it in an unfinished state is even more reprehensible.
Summary and loose methods of painting were never so common as now. There is danger any way.
If, however, the ideal quality of wholeness, or unity, in which no part of a painting has any individual interest, except in relation to the whole, or as a contribution to the general effect, is kept in mind throughout its production over-elaboration cannot harm it much, indeed there is less temptation to resort to it.
Technical polish represented by stippling, the softening of hard edges, correcting with patches of body-colour, should never be necessary. It is better to leave a slightly imperfect wash which possesses original bloom, than to change it by correction to a mere precipitation of pigment, worried dull and niggled.
The standard of scale, the key-note, and the chief organ of sentiment. Constable
Some very interesting observations on skies are noted in Sir Alfred East's Landscape Painting, but he wrote of the oil medium, and his habit when sketching, of leaving the sky untouched until something suitable appeared,; is not often possible in water-colour, more especially when that and other parts have to be welded in wet colour. It is natural in water-colour moreover, to start at the top, so that the pigment may be manipulated as it flows downward.
Skies are often neglected, and few painters succeed with them as well as they might. Constable appreciated their value in Landscape more perhaps than any other man. He wrote, That landscape painter who does not make skies a very material part of his work, neglects to avail himself of one of his greatest aids. Certainly if the sky is obtrusive, as mine are, it is bad, but if it is evaded as mine are not, it is worse.' Only observation can teach anything about the tremendous variety and the evanescent beauty of the sky. Water-colour is perhaps the most difficult medium in which to paint it.
It is a great mistake for a sketcher to hold as an ideal the completion of a picture on each excursion. A far more profitable proceeding is to fill a sketch book occasionally with studies of skies. They should always be marked with the time of day, the way of the wind, and the geographical direction.
Sky in a picture should echo the sentiment expressed in the landscape, as well as form an essential factor in the design. To paint a sky just because it happens to shine behind the scene you have elected to paint is useless, and, if there is any reason in design, illogical too. Clouds submit to arrangement more readily than other parts in landscape, but the lazy-minded painter will, I suppose, always copy them, for design involves effort. A shy must be introduced for better reasons than that it is factual or pretty. Mr Carmichael's work affords much information in this connection and should be studied.
Clear skies present their own difficulties in their gradations, change of hue, and the scintillations of the strata immediately above the horizon. A gray mist, filtering the rays of an invisible sun, is vastly different from a mist of rain in effect, though the colour seems the same. The latter might be represented by a wash of dead colour, a mixture of cobalt and light red, perhaps, and the former by the separate application of cobalt, rose madder and yellow ochre, and their fusion in the general flow of pigment downwards. That process is sometimes called mixing on the paper, or dropping colour into a wet wash. The result is a sparkling gray, in which the three pure colours are incorporated and yet distinct. It is a wet process and corresponds to colour division in oil.
A clear sky may be treated in the same manner, blue predominating at the top, and all three colours fusing into gray at the horizon. The gradations and changes of colour between the fathomless blue of the zenith, and the clear tones of the lower sky, are represented in painting, though in nature the extent of the gradation is too vast to be contained within the limited range of vision possible in art.
The sky has its planes and distances, which may be differentiated in cloud forms, but frequently it is made to look like a wall instead of a dome of illimitable extent, the clouds like paper silhouettes, instead of volumetric masses of vapour. The same amount of perspective should be used in skies as in landscapes.
There is no rule by which skies can be painted, and it is difficult however it is done. Sometimes I start at the top and paint the parts together, going back before any part is dry, and lifting superfluous colour from the bright clouds to correct and elaborate the modelling. If the clouds are few, I might ignore them, and paint the whole sky in its proper tones, returning to pick out the cloud forms with a sponge brush.
The clouds may be drawn first - the method really depends upon their character - and the blue of the sky around them, or each individual colour may be kept to itself with no attempt at fusion. The best skies technically, are those wherein hard and soft edges have been perceived and distinguished, the former on dry paper, the latter by wet fusion with contiguous colour.
A patched sky in water-colour is a painful sight. Whatever technique is adopted, it should correspond with that of the landscape.
Mr. Brigden's skies are never neglected, and
are rarely unsuccessful. They establish the mood of the scene,
and are always well painted.
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