Sunday, 5 June 2016

Frog Painting

OK, so I am going to give an honest account of my experience of trying to paint a frog. This is not one of those normal art demos where the artist seems to start with so much skill that, no matter how carefully they explain it, you cannot really see yourself doing it. This is how it actually feels to be a relative beginner in oil painting. Maybe someone will identify with it. The starting point is this photo of a frog that I took some while back.

I like it because of the frog's characterful face. I also thought it might be easier than birds, it hasn't got feathers after all! 

So I start off the same way as usual. I lay a grid of squares over the photo and transfer it across to the slightly larger squared grid that I have drawn on my canvas.

Here it is. Not looking too bad so far!

Then what I do is not really part of the painting process and would not figure in most art demo blogs. What I do is walk about the house looking for things that need doing. The idea here is that I really do not want to start on the painting so I look for excuses not to. Maybe I am the only person who does this, I don't know. The reason is that I am scared. The weather is looking fine, maybe I could go out somewhere for a few hours.

The sketch is looking so good that I am pretty sure that I am going to spoil it once I start laying on colours. I really feel that I do not know what I am doing. More accurately perhaps, I look into the immediate future of the painting and see nothing but uncertainty and potential failure, my failure.

Anyway, after several days and having run out of reasonable excuses, plus it's raining, I make a start.

I lay in a dark green background. Seems safe enough, but already I do not like it. Never mind, ignore it, I can change it later perhaps. Then I try to mix some of the brownish colours on the frog and block in some of the darker shapes. Actually quite enjoying it for the moment!

At this stage I am using acrylic paint. My aim is to build up an under-painting that I can then finish in oils. I feel quite safe with this as I know I am not producing the finished work yet. The paint dries quickly and I can easily overpaint it if I make a mistake. One slight problem that you can probably spot from the photo above is that I am steadily obliterating the pencil grid that I drew to guide me. So if major restructuring is required it will have to be done by eye. This acutally turns out to be a real problem a bit later as I attempt to reproduce some of the markings on the frog's face. For the moment though let me just work on the reflection. It is curiously blue looking. I also manage to make some drawing mistakes here that I never quite manage to eliminate from the painting. Ho Hum!

Because I feel safer working on the acrylic under-painting, I decide to continue and add more detail. Actually, it is necessary as I am finding the facial markings and, in particular, the structure of the eyes, rather difficult to understand. Who knew that frogs were so complicated?

Still trying to get the face and eyes sorted out (below) and feeling a bit embarrassed that I am putting so much effort into this stage of the work. Never mind, nobody is watching and no one will ever know. Besides, I feel the need to get this sorted out, even if it is just by trial and error.

After a few hours inconclusive work I begin to wonder if adding some water weeds will take the viewers' eyes off the rather inscrutable face. So I tentatively put some in.

OK, that is about as far as I feel I can go in acrylics. Time now for the final oil painting. Of course this provokes another severe bout of prevarication. It seems like it will be for real now, so I look for other urgent tasks, even non-urgent tasks, to distract me. It is amazing how much there is to do!

About a week later I finally squeeze some oil paints out and start trying to mix some of those subtle colours. My first job is to replace the background with a more lively looking green. Again, backgrounds are a safe starting point. Then it is just a matter of working progressively through the under-painting and refining shapes and colours with the oils. In the process I do away with the water weeds, but perhaps that was a mistake. Not sure. I get so absorbed in the oil painting that I forget to take any more photos as the work progresses. It takes most of the day.

Finally, I stand back and try to appraise the result. It is no good to keep interfering with it in the hope of making it right by a magic accident of brushwork. You have to blow the whistle and accept it for what it is. Here is the final image below. It is just 8 x 10" on canvas-covered board. A portrait of a frog.

I do not often feel really happy with my finished works at the moment. Naively perhaps, I look forward to a time when I will. This was my hope at least until my son, who is a proper artist, told me that the difficulties never go away!

Perhaps the best philosophy is just to keep trying and not get too hung up if things do not go well. Years ago the teacher at an art class I attended used to say "That is probably about enough work on one painting" and would then suggest starting the next. Good idea, it will probably be a fox next.

All my paintings to date may be found at

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