Artist's Statement

Artist's Statement:

Painting is one of my most satisfying pastimes.  Although I drew and painted in oils as a youngster, a career in the British Army, followed by many years as a senior business executive, meant that painting was only a sporadic activity and I did not start pursuing my passion again in earnest until I was in my 50s.  I am so glad that I did.  Since a friend recommended that I try acrylics, I have never looked back; I am a very impatient person, so the fast drying time really suits me. Acrylics also give me options that are not necessarily available in other mediums.

I am an engineer by training and although I love the Impressionists, I have a great deal of difficulty being “loose” in my own paintings.  Having tried and failed, I decided to take the route of being a realist artist.  I have become a fanatic for detail.  However, I am not interested in achieving photorealism – plus I don’t have the patience for it!   

My time-consuming technique pretty much prohibits painting en plein air, so I use photographs and sketches for reference in my studio.  Consequently, I take a camera everywhere. Although this drives my wife nuts, it means that I’m never short of things to paint.

In general, I try to avoid painting direct copies of my photos.  Indeed, I usually make lots of changes, often combining a variety of references to achieve a broader or a more interesting view.  First, I will often adjust the perspective, so as to create focal points on one or more “Golden Ratio” (see “tactics” below).  I may also change the lighting, moving shadows and illuminated areas to maximise impact.  I nearly always change the sky, referring to my large library of photos. And I often add features, such as flowers, to create contrast and interest. 

I have deliberately avoided the temptation to focus on a common theme.  I am always exploring what is possible, so paint what I enjoy and anything that I think is interesting, be it a landscape/seascape, still life, botanical, animal or portrait/figure.  I want to avoid being “type cast” as having a particular style or subject matter.

I mainly use ARA, Atelier Interactive and Daler-Rowney acrylics.  The latter’s Prussian blue still works best for me, as does their Titanium buff, which I seem to use more of than any other colour.  ARA paints are my favourites; they are smooth and easy to apply, and the nozzles on their containers allow me to extrude the desired amount of paint, resulting in minimal waste. I also use Liquitex acrylic inks both for my floral paintings and also for painting thin lines on my other paintings.   

Although I used to paint on an easel, when I started suffering from acute shoulder pain, I invested in a drafting table.  Not only did this cure the shoulder pain but it also dramatically improved the accuracy of my painting.

As an artist, I am self-taught but am constantly learning, not only by painting (every painting is an education) but by exhaustive reading and looking in detail at how other artists paint.  I love attending art shows, as I not only learn and get ideas from other artists but also enjoy helping them by passing on my experiences.

My Design and Composition Tactics

  1. Although I use reference photographs, I usually make substantial changes to these.  Photographs often have serious shortcomings from a composition and lighting standpoint, as well as lens distortion, so I do whatever I can think of to make the scene more interesting.
  2. Although most canvases are supplied with gesso already applied, I always apply at least 2 additional coats before starting to draw my scene, often applying a texture in the process.  I find it makes it much easier to apply paint and the surface is less wearing on my brushes.   
  3. I am a strong advocate of using the Golden Ratio (Phi - 1:1.618, known in the Renaissance period as the “Divine Proportion”) in my paintings.  I use this to position key focal points, often aligning the sun or other focal point on a golden section. I believe that this gives my paintings better balance than using the more traditional "rule of thirds". 
  4. In most cases, I use a different sky from that in my primary reference photographs. I have built up an extensive digital library and select a sky that best suits what I am trying to achieve as the basis for the new painting.   However, I still use a lot of artistic licence, so the final result differs considerably from the photo reference.
  5. After blocking in the main areas of a painting, I nearly always complete a section or area at a time, rather than gradually building up paint over the whole canvas.  I start with the sky and then move from the background to the foreground.  I can therefore see a finished segment before moving onto another.  Not only does this help me to avoid missing crucial detail but I also find that it inspires and motivates me to continue, as I get “instant gratification” from each completed section.   
  6. As the work progresses, I regularly look at it in a mirror to make sure that the perspective and balance are correct.  Viewing upside-down is also useful.  As an engineer, I have an eye for perspective and can usually pick up errors quickly and before I invest too much time in adding detail.
  7. I always use a limited palette. This includes using “convenience colours”, such as titanium buff and sap green.  I also make up a batch of neutral dark from a dark blue plus raw umber, which I store in an ARA bottle; this is far more natural than black, which I only use for man-made objects.  For highlights I tend to use unbleached titanium, rather than white, as again, it appears more natural.  I generally reserve white for clouds, waves and buildings.
  8. For both highlights and shadows I make extensive use of acrylic washes, applied over the dry paint.  Thin yellow and orange washes can really make the sun shine.  I use plain water and no longer use mediums, as these can be shiny.  After application, I wipe most of the wash off with a cloth before drying with a hair dryer and applying further layers, as necessary.    And if it doesn’t work, I can just wash the whole lot off and start again – one of the great benefits of acrylics.
  9. I always seem to know when I have finished a painting, although I do spend several days with it on view, so that I can pick up errors and correct them.  In addition, I ask others what they think.  Both my wife and my printer (himself a professional artist) are my most reliable critics, never being afraid to hurt my feelings!  After correcting the final snags, I have the painting scanned and then protect it with several layers of tough acrylic varnish.

Richard Harpum - Artist