July 12th demo – Vicki Norman – Big Flowers (Oils)

So we’ve all done it. Looked at a vase of lovely flowers picked from the garden, dumped in a vase, shoved on the table and thought, you know I’m going to paint that. We’ve tweaked the petals a bit, ignored the pile of stuff on the table as we’re going to add some background later, grabbed our choice of medium and just cracked on with it.

Well, I’m sorry that won’t cut it at all with Vicki Norman. No winging it with her paintings, there are far too many things to consider: What will it look like painted? Does it make a strong painting? is the object balanced enough? What background should I use? orange – too close to original, turquoise – too sweet & predictable? light grey is softer?

The point is if you want a painting of value perhaps you need to plan a bit?

One of her questions before she starts, is “Will this look better as a painting?”(to which, if it were mine, the answer would be a resounding ‘no’) – the point being is the completed image going to be successful, a worthwhile piece of art and not just something done for the sake of it: because the original is beautiful, doesn’t mean the result will be beautiful or I think that is what she meant.

Vicki’s demo was full of questions, is a warm white or a cool white needed? Is this blue or just a bluer version?  Whilst she’s talking she’s also painting; before your eyes a beautiful depiction of the vase and flowers emerges, and the questions continue, where is the light coming from? How does that change my decision?

Most of Vicki’s work happens before she puts brush to canvas. She is a proponent of the Japanese system of Notan, an Oriental concept which pays the greatest attention to value, balancing light against dark. She also described the comparative method of drawing which again ensures balance in the painting. She showed us how she prepares her colours carefully on her pallette before starting, often doing a small value and colour piece with a softer brush and diluted paint but always to try and achieve the closest colour to her original subject. She follows these principles consciously, always putting value before detail and form before detail and the result is exquisite.

Vicki is an ambassador for Michael Harding paints, describing his pigments as the purest available, some of them will have been used by the Old Masters. They can be eye-wateringly expensive but that’s the price you pay for the very best and if it translates that into your work, it’s worth it. She described her various combinations of Hardings paint and how she uses them to get the specific effect she is after.

She also described how she obtained the best composition often by using a viewfinder, moving her subject in order to get the best position to have the right degree of light or for it to be asymmetrical and therefore more pleasing.

Vicky works quickly (possibly because of the limited time available), punctuating her brushstrokes with information that makes your head spin. So much information that I could barely keep up with her and even worse struggled to read my notes back afterwards. Although perhaps that’s a good thing to remind members to attend demonstrations since a title as vague as Big Flowers does not begin to describe the wealth of information and advice that we came away with.

Although part of me just wanted to go home and drop that bunch of flowers straight into the bin I mostly felt really empowered to start again properly and have a real go at it. Mine is unlikely to be a masterpiece but I doubt if Vicky ever finds her subject does not look at least as beautiful or better, painted.

Visit Vicki’s website and look at the many courses she offers if you would like to learn more.
vickinormanstudio.com