Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tonight Matthew I'm going to be JMW Turner.....

A study of Turner's snowstorm seascape
coloured pencil on Arches HP, 8" x 10"

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Every now and again I try to emulate - in coloured pencil - a work of a master painter. I find it works extremely well in terms of making you really get to know a work. It also helps with understanding more about how somebody works. I don't mean literally in terms of the media used - but rather in terms of how they construct paintings and develop finishes and a 'look'.

Last night I needed a break from writing - so did a drawing based on one of Turner's works - limbering up for my project on Turner later this year! Emulating another artist's works always make me think of a television programme we used to have over here called Stars in their Eyes in which people impersonate singers. I never used to watch it (too painful!) but always remember the catchphrase "Tonight Mathew I'm going to be....."

This particular painting is part of the Turner Bequest and hangs at Tate Britain - you can see here. It's very appropriate for the time of year - being a snowstorm in a seascape. It's also got one of the longest titles for a painting that I've ever seen. It's short title, as used on the Tate website is "Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth". It's proper title is "Snow Storm - Steam-boat off a harbour's mouth making signals in shallow water, and going by the lead. The author was in this storm on the night Ariel left Harwich." Some argue this is Turner's greatest seascape.

What I always marvel at with Turner is how his later works could be hung in any contemporary art gallery and nobody would bat an eyelid. And yet this painting was completed in 1842 and
was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the same year.

I found the structure of the vortex interesting to do and finding a way of adding in just enough boat but not too much was tricky. It was also very interesting to note how the drawing and values worked in relation to the golden ratio - see yesterday's post.

Drawing this painting as a study also provided me with an opportunity to work with coloured pencils in the way I like best - and which I'm seeking to develop this year. This felt very comfortable to me but I need to find a way of working on my own reference material for landscapes in a more abstracted way. I might be practising a few more Turners to help 'get my eye in'.

One sour note - I discovered last night that one of my books on Turner (Turner - the life and masterworks by Eric Shanes) has really terrible colour reproduction on some (but not all) of the plates. Shanes is Chair of the Turner Society, an authority in Turner and an author of several books and I'm very surprised that he'd allow colour reproduction like this.



  1. Another great little lesson. Working across mediums gets your brain focusing on the real work - as you say getting the detail right and the levels of colour. When I started painting I actually was copying Degas' pastel bathers in oil paint. It was great because I simply couldn't worry about his marks, I couldn't duplicate them so had to work towards the effect.

    If this was Stars in their Eyes though, would you have to dress up like Turner? Perhaps strap yourself to a stage mast while you drew? ;)

  2. I did think about it - but what put me off was also having to dress up to look like him in later life!

  3. I like what you've done here and it looks like you had a good time doing it. I'll have to think about the value of this kind of study done in a different medium. Usually I think of learning about the original artist's brushwork and paint handling, or whatever the medium might be. As usual, you've given lots of food for thought--with the added bonus of showing us your own artwork, which I miss seeing!

  4. Thanks Laura.

    So many artists worked with different media but produced similar results because they were working essentially in the same style and with the same way of seeing. I'm much more interested in these two at the moment rather than in technique

    I started doing this sort of exercise some time ago but haven't done any for a bit - but I do enjoy the learning I get out of the exercise and may be doing some more!

    The reason why there's not a lot of artwork at the moment is because my work is in a process of transition and I'm not too keen to continue to repeat what I know how to do - I want to leave space for my head to get round new ideas - there's lots of thinking going on!

  5. You've had such a great run of posts here Katherine. Definitely put a composition chapter in the book, maybe two. :-)

    I find the cross-medium studies really beneficial. I've done several pen and ink studies from graphite drawings - it forces me to "think outside the box" with the pen and ink. Beyond pointillism, there isn't much softness in traditional pen and ink, but trying to capture graphite softness has really pushed me into better pen and ink habits. My CP attempts at oil studies have not been so successful, but you have given me hope that one day they can be.

  6. It's interesting to do exercises like this You got the whirling vortex well - and this was the one where he was tied to the mast to sketch wasn't it?

  7. What a challenge! I couldn't imagine where to begin with coloured pencil for a project like this. You've bought wonderful energy and movement to your picture with those beautiful, sweeping pencil strokes. Awesome.

  8. Wonderful, ....

    I wonder if Turner did this en plein air, from experience I know that painting during storm or heavy wind can be quite a challenge and a whole other ball game then in a studio. Imagine that everything is moving around you, the wind howls around your ears and you are trying to get that swirling just right, ... :-S

    John Hall (Limner contract) mentioned not for nothing that they could throw anything at him while painting, snow, rain, heat, ... anything except wind!

  9. There's actually a bit of a story and maybe even a controversy about this.

    It's said that Turner asked to be lashed to the mast so he could see and experience the full force of the storm. However my book says that it's all a bit suspicious as his story sounds rather similar to that of a published story by somebody else and it's been established that there never was a boat called Ariel which left Harwich.

    My guess is that he did experience a storm. I very much doubt if he did much drawing while he was in it. I can't cope with sketching in a stiff breeze without all sorts of equipment to hold my sketchbook pages from flapping!

    However artists who have exceptional observational abilities can also reproduce what they've seen after the evnt - and my guess is that this is what he's done. I guess the true test is whether sailors think it's a good representation of what it can be like in a storm.

  10. Hi Katherine. You have quite a knack for the Turneresque. I love this and the fact that you did it with colored pencil is amazing! I'm with the other poster- I wouldn't know where to begin! I think copying the work of another artist can be invaluable- regardless of medium- its really the ultimate way to deconstruct the work. I've been fascinated with Turner and his work for a long time- I have about a dozen books, but the best in my opinion are Standing in the Sun, a biography by Anthony Bailey and A Wonderful Range of Mind by John Gage which is more to do with the work. Thank you for posting this!


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