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Stephen Foster demonstration, 20 January 2009
Knife/acrylic landscape

Visit him at http://www.stephenjfoster.com
Living in Christchurch, Stephen Foster finds Studland is near enough to provide regular inspiration. Once a wandering jazz saxophonist and pianist he started painting in watercolour (apparently quite successful) but decided to "escape" to acrylics (and very often oils in the studio).

Conventional he is not. After we had "chosen" which of foursamples should be his "source" I cannot really describe the evening's sequence so here are bullet points
Sky
Distance Everything is done with palette knives, typically W & N #3 and #5, specially doctored to be slightly curved and square-ended. Neither brush, medium, retarder nor water was used , except for a 99p spray from Superdrug, when the painting started getting dry too quickly.

He finds that a small sheet of damp 140lb Arches w/c paper (left over from his watercolour days) in a shallow tray lasts him for months as a stay-wet palette. An old baking tray seals it enough and when the paper does start to dry out, an edge is lifted and a little more water put underneath;
He uses Liquitex as his stiffer paint and Schmincke Akademie as a slightly thinner one;
To help find the right tube he has a set of bits of bent wire on each of which he threads all the tubes of a similar colour (punch a hole in the end, extended if necessary to avoid damage)
He never mixes on the palette, picking up small amounts amounts of paint (sometimes different colours on the two corners of the knife) and blending in the picture;
He dislikes canvas, preferring double-primed hardboard for smaller works and ply or other wood for larger ones;
Foreground
Pre-coffee He advises working as quickly and with as few colours as possible (less than 2 hours/painting and about 6 or 8 colours, including 3 yellows). Greens seem to be anathema to him, except perhaps for a dark "raw umber and Paynes grey mix" - too difficult. He replaces greens with browns and the browner yellows
"You need to walk around and look to get inspiration, even for abstract paintings"
"Less is more" - suggest what you are painting. "Practice by doing lots of smaller similar very fast sketches until the ideas and the techniques you like become clear"
Starting with the sky and working towards the foreground he was conventional enough to recommend warmer shades as you get nearer the foreground - but then started enthusing about magenta for the middle distance and for a magenta/Prussian blue warm grey in the sky.
Putting complementary colours and light and dark tones together gives vivacity.
He's into very dark foregrounds to give a more three-dimensional feel - this time using a transparent brown (VanDyke) in preference to the more opaque raw umber.
By the interval we had an under painting which he put into the frame before deciding how to proceed - "Do it several times as the work progresses".
Post-coffee
Since spontaneity is so important to him he doesn't like to overpaint work that has gone wrong "It's usually quicker to start again from scratch, although it is possible to overpaint acrylics with oils". Like too much water, overworking makes acrylics look flat.

Enjoyment is the crux "Painting only to please other people is boring". "Don't be too self-critical". "Application of paint is more important than subject matter".
The last few minutes were spent adding lights (including the favourite magenta, a touch of cadmium red and several different yellows, as well as titanium white) and philosophising about the difference between paintings that make the viewer focus in on a centre of interest and ones like this that make him enjoy the entire composition.


An inspirational evening 
Final picture

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