Spoilt for Choice…

Choosing the best media for your painting

SAA Professional Associate, Tony Hogan, illustrates how using different media for the same subject can create very different paintings

Each medium available to us as artists has its own particular properties which will produce their own visual imagery when put to use in a painting. Each media can in turn be manipulated to create many different results.

This is why creating works of art is a wonderfully never ending pool of opportunity.

Here I have worked with six of the most popular media to illustrate how the one image will gain different results, each of which works in its own way.

Throughout this process I worked plein air as much as possible and this being over a few days also invited differences as the time of day, light and weather all came into play.

After driving slowly around the local area for some time I eventually selected a scene which I have passed hundreds of times before and never quite had the inspiration to address previously. But on that day it just grabbed me and said, ‘here I am, the one for painting in many media’.

Setting up on the top of the Wolds in early March meant selecting a forecast that looked likely to give me at least a few days of dry, clear-ish weather, and luckily for once the met office had it right.

For my first work, I chose pastels. where was able to work with the full selection from the new ones recently introduced by Derwent.

These now have a softer feel and a rejuvenated range of colours making the laying down and blending far easier and new opportunities for colour selection.

Starting by blocking in areas I then developed the sky which works particularly well in pastel blocks. Once established, the land masses where defined further, again with the blocks and then the barn structures were developed with the pastel pencil range.

As the work evolved more pastel pencil work was incorporated to give the control required, especially for the stark bare winter trees.

Pastels gave me the ability to capture the bright cool spring light as it touched the edges of clouds and fell on the barren fields.

Pen and wash
The second work was executed in a monotone pen and wash. The ink was water soluble so I had to think carefully as to when to when to apply the washes and when to draw the detail.

It could have been produced with colour washes in watercolour or ink and then drawn over with a fixed ink pen, but on the day my selection was monotone to give strength to the image.

I feel the final work here is definitively different to the graphite pencil one producing a much stronger final visual impact.

It was time to switch again and I moved onto using the Atelier Interactive Acrylics.

One of the great advantages to acrylic is its ability for change, to be able to work light to dark or dark to light, back and forth as the work develops. 

The requirement of careful planning needed with good watercolour work is less so as adjustments and alterations can be effected at any stage.

I tend to sketch in the image with Inktense pencils; as these are acrylic based they will not drag into my final painting the way charcoal would.

Once settled with the composition and construction I blocked in areas, developing in my case from the sky down.

It is often the sky that I start painting first as I see this as the control for the light source balancing all the colours for the rest of the work.

Atelier’s extended open time and their ability to be reworked allow then to be easily blended helping to create the atmospheric windy sky seen in the final work.

Graphite pencil
Moving on to 3B graphite pencil, (the one I use most in my rage of 9H to 9B) as it gives me the depth of tonality I require when sketching by simply altering the pressure of application.

Sketching like this helps me get to know the view which will help later when moving onto other media. It also produces a freedom of expression allowing the pencil to dance across the paper whilst focusing on the subject in front of me.

Graphite comes in pencil and block forms and as a sketching set in a water soluble range which I often use -  on this day I stayed with the standard one.
The final drawing has the lightness of the day with the information of the view expressed sometimes in detail and sometimes loosely.

Here I felt the need to return to the watercolour media that I have extensively used and tutored for many years, with my well established selection of SAA., Winsor & Newton and Sennelier paints.

Watercolour can be applied in many ways; for this image I chose to work as far as possible with a large sable brush in a wet in wet technique allowing the paint to do the work in the first instance.

I then applied washes over the field and barns, moving onto wet in wet again for the hawthorn hedgerow before final details and bare trees were addressed with less diluted paint and a smaller brush.

As I stood back I realised that a shadow had cast over the fields to the left of the barn and watercolour allowed me to quickly apply an ultraviolet wash to capture this.

Watercolour when handled well gives a lightness and transparency only achievable with this media bringing a glow to any work executed with it.

Finally I turned to Oil paint, the most traditional of media used by the masters through the centuries.

It has a buttery feel specific to this media and can be applied in many ways and with many support mediums.

It can be thin, thick or impasto, built up fat over lean, by thin glazes, or alla prima. It is a very slow drying medium which can make it less appealing for plein air painting but equally it allows lots of alteration and amendment time.

Work produced in oils will always have a depth and glow which until the introduction of the new acrylics was easily identifiable.

On the day I painted this final work the light had softened as can be seen and the oil paint really made this achievable.

Tony Hogan runs Art breaks in Yorkshire, and gives demonstrations and workshops nationwide.

Contact Tony by e mail; [email protected]

Tel: 01262 420 068 or visit www.hoganart.co.uk