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Of Painting Landscapes, as Read by a Beginner

January 26, 2015
A Review of Painting Landscapes in Oils by Robert Brindley
By Cindy McKee

Painting Landscapes in Oils exampleWhen I first opened the book Painting Landscapes in Oils by Robert Brindley, I thumbed through it and looked at all the paintings. I was bewildered. In one painting, a few strokes denoting clouds, a few brown strokes that seem to represent the ground, then in another painting clear and shimmering details.

Some of the ‘few-stroke’ paintings are sketches or studies, but several paintings in the book are done alla prima, all in one sitting. As I read through the book, I found out that Robert Brindley loves to paint plein air, on location, getting the mood, the feel of the place. I compared those paintings with his more elaborate ones. His drawing is always solid; that underpins all his paintings, no matter the style. He can and does paint in more than one manner or method.


Color Palettes

OK, now that I had that figured out, I settled down to the teaching.
And there’s a lot of it. He gives advice on tools, techniques, ways to get yourself out of a slump, ways to arrange your palette. He teaches about color temperature, which I had to struggle with. I correctly identified a couple ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ colors in the example swatches, but missed a couple. Throughout his painting demonstrations, I kept seeing his use of the grays that he mixed on the palette, and I felt faint glimmers of understanding.

Brindley intentionally painted several paintings in the book to demonstrate the use of a limited palette. He used only the three primary colors and white. In most of his demos, he uses a cool and a warm version of each primary color. He mixes three grays: one cool, one warm and a neutral. He uses those grays to adjust the color mixes. In one of his paintings, I counted at least seven greens. I then went on to another color, gave up counting and concluded that yes, you can mix anything you want, any hue and value, from his palette. But I really need to experience it myself. So with Winsor & Newton Artisan water mixable oils (beginner’s set), I’m sitting here mixing. Oh, and I also built a palette according to the author’s suggestion of plate glass with a neutral gray backing. I ‘framed’ it with gray duct tape.
Well, hmm, there may be something to having a cool and warm version of each primary. I have just one of each primary, and had no trouble mixing a neutral brownish color and a warm, dark gray, but the cool gray…

But it’s relative! So on to painting a colorful autumn leaf. And no problem. I’ve already put on several different shades of orange, brown, green, yellow, etc.

So the eleven painting demonstrations in the book tell the truth about color, amen!

Composition

Brindley talks about composition and introduces several compositional devices, he teaches the importance of tone, he talks about different lighting conditions, the importance of skies in a landscape, how to paint snow, putting animals and human figures into a landscape – he talks about different landscapes, including cityscapes and even something I would call a nightscape.
So yes, this is a teaching book, and yes, you will learn a lot of concepts.

Demos

I must tell you more about the demos. They’re guided. He tells you about the preparation of the support, the brushes used, the paints used, the pencil, palette knife and paper towels. He commences the block-in, he develops the block-in, he completes that, adds details and highlights. Very nice guidance, if you’re a beginner. I like that. Even the layout of colors on the palette is included. Different landscapes are in the demos, along with some other details from the teaching.

For someone who is brave enough to start painting on their own, but a little timid once they pick up a tube of paint, that “This is what you do and this is how you do it” gives some needed beginning assistance.

Besides the demos, there are several “In The Spotlight” critiques of paintings.

The very last demonstration of the book was a shocker for me. I again suffered that doubt, “Is this from the same painter?” The beginning block-in was already incredible and differed greatly from all his other beginnings, the finished work jaw-dropping. The drawing was exquisite as usual, but the detail was very fine and refined, which was not always the usual. And then just a few pages further, I fell in love with Pony and Poppies, which is sort of messy and loose, the complete opposite of High Aspect/River Thames of the last demo. I keep thinking, “Same painter?”

The Negatives

I do have one complaint, about a morale destroyer, in my opinion. From time to time through the book, Brindley has dire words for the fruits of your eventual painting. For example, “Incorrect tone, scale or colour can also ruin an otherwise successful piece of work.” That word ruin tied me into anxious knots. But then, in the back of the book I read, “…extremely competent paintings are often ruined by the way they have been framed.” Oh, relax a little! Frames are removable. I decided he’s being overly finicky, so I’m not going to let myself become too fearful to start painting.

As a whole though, I’m thrilled with the teaching presented through all 157 pages. I still can’t pigeonhole that painter, however; regarding his painting techniques, moods, styles…

Here is a leaf sketch I did using Painting Landscapes in Oils’s techniques:


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