Oil painting techniques and how to paint Impressionist art with Helen Cooper I Colour In Your Life

Oil painting techniques and how to paint Impressionist art with Helen Cooper I Colour In Your Life


G’Day viewers, My Name is Graeme Stevenson and I ‘d like to invite you to come on
a journey of creativity and learning, and adventure through this series,
Colour In Your Life. There’s an artist in every family
throughout the world, and lots of times there’s an artist
deep down inside all of us as well, so grab your kids, your
brothers, your sisters, your aunties, uncles
and mums and dads, and come and see how some the best
artists in Australia do what they do. (Music Plays) (Graeme) Well, hi guys and welcome
back to Colour In Your Life. We are in
Ascot Vale today in Melbourne, (Graeme) and we are going to be spending
the day with a lovely lady, Helen Cooper,
welcome to the show. (Helen) Hi Graeme. (Graeme) Lovely to be here. Helen does the
most magnificent small, it’s the best way
I can describe it, portraits, still life’s and florals, (Graeme) and they are so delightful. I mean
these pictures are just wonderful, wonderful.
Twenty-five years doing this. (Helen) Yes.
(Graeme) It’s a long time isn’t it?
(Helen) It is a long time. (Graeme) But you’ve really established yourself
quite well. You’ve won numerous awards,
you’re in a number of different art societies, (Graeme) obviously a lot of this stuff that you
do is in oils these days as well. But tell me a
little bit about your history. (Graeme) I think that you were telling me
that your granddad had a lot to do with the
influencing, as far as your art, (Graeme) and what you were doing,
and your uncle as well. (Helen) Oh my
grandmother did yes, yeah. (Graeme) Grandmother, and your
uncle I think wasn’t it? Tell us a little bit
more about that. (Helen) Oh, I just used to talk to her about
her uncle, who was an artist. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) And we used to chat for hours because
I used to always draw… (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) …as I was growing up.
And she was really encouraging. (Graeme) Yeah, but your work’s really beautiful.
But we’re going to be going through – you’re
going to be doing a floral for us today? (Helen) I am yes. (Graeme) And they are, what
are the yellow flowers that we’re painting?
(Helen) Chrysanthemums. (Graeme) There you go, Chrysanthemums.
Got to know my flowers, but we’re going to do that.
You’ve got some little special little boards. (Graeme) What’s the actual board itself?
I mean, what is it that you paint on? (Helen) It’s a hard board, it’s gessoed.
Gessoed Ampersand. (Graeme) And it’s Ampersand board, is it? Okay we’re
going to ask Helen a whole bunch of questions
as we go through of course, as we normally do. (Graeme) But you’re going to see some
of the most delightful, they really are
they’re such beautiful paintings. (Graeme) And they’re not big paintings.
I mean you’re a petite lady as it is, anyway.
But Helen paints… I think you paint (Graeme) the pictures that you’re supposed
to paint, in the size that they are. (Graeme) But we’re going to go through that
process and see how she does what she does,
so come along for the ride. (Graeme) Okay Helen, you’re very much
like me, when you set out your palette.
You actually only use seven colours? (Helen) Yes. (Graeme) So which colours do you actually
use and what sort of oils are you actually
using today as well? (Helen) I’m using Art Spectrum oils.
(Graeme) Okay. (Helen) And yeah, I use about seven colours so.
(Graeme) Okay. (Helen) Titanium White, Cad Lemon, Cad Yellow Light, Cad Red, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue… (Graeme) Okay.
(Helen) …and Pthalo Blue. (Graeme) Well one of the most important
parts about the work that you do with your
still life’s and your florals, (Graeme) is preparing your light box, so
you’ve got a consistent light source. (Helen) Yes. Okay well I have a shadow box so I can
really control my light, which is really important. (Helen) I’ve got coming down from
one direction. Because I’m a tonal painter
it’s really important that I can judge the tones (Helen) and yes, no other light source
is affected. You can just use a cardboard
box quite simply. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Firstly it’s really nice to get rid of the
white board. There’s nothing worse than
looking at a white board. (Graeme) Yes, I agree. (Helen) I like to get rid of that so, okay
I just, for this one I’m using Burnt Sienna.
(Graeme) Okay. (Helen) Just a nice warm background
colour. Just a little bit of turps, not too wet. (Graeme) And I can see by your layout,
I mean, you’re a very, very organized lady.
(Helen) Yeah. (Graeme) So, which is great. (Helen) I am pretty organized.
(Graeme) Which is great. (Helen) So it’s just really nice to get started. (Graeme) And the texture of that board,
it actually comes like that, doesn’t it?
It’s already pre prepared. (Helen) It is, it’s really, really smooth.
I like working on a smooth surface.
I don’t like canvas. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) It’s too much tooth.
(Graeme) Sure.
(Helen) I really like the smooth surface. (Graeme) And you actually get this
from the United States do you? (Helen) I do. Yes I have
to send away for them. (Graeme) So why don’t we have such
a great product? Why don’t they stock
it in Australia? What are they doing? (Helen) I wish they would. (Graeme) Yeah. I used to use it when
I was living in America, so I know what it’s like.
It’s just wonderful. (Helen) Yeah. So lucky.
(Graeme) So you’ve got, I mean are you
just using turps with that? Or is there? (Helen) Just turps, that’s it. I don’t
want to have it too wet…
(Graeme) Ah huh. (Helen) …otherwise it’s a bit hard to work with.
(Graeme) Sure. And, and it does with the turps,
it does dry off reasonably quickly. (Helen) It does. I usually wait about
ten minutes or so.
(Graeme) Ah huh. (Helen) Now I just wipe off the excess.
(Graeme) Okay. It really just leaves just
a beautiful soft hue in there doesn’t it? (Helen) Yeah. Another reason I do this,
at the end of the painting…
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) …there might be parts
of it showing through.
(Graeme) Okay. (Helen) It gives a really nice effect.
(Graeme) Mmm it’s very nice. (Helen) And of course the main reason is,
I like to wipe back the lights…
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) …that I’m looking at in the still life.
(Graeme) Oh okay, sure. (Helen) So you sort of get a feeling
for where all the lights are. (Graeme) So you’ve actually gone
from a piece of paper towel. (Helen) Yes, that I’ve picked up. A cotton rag now.
(Graeme) You’ve got a cotton rag. Okay, alright. (Helen) So I just… and this is where I actually
start thinking like an artist.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) I don’t think of them
as flowers any more.
(Graeme) Yep. (Helen) The glass jar, I think of them
as there’s a bit of light here.
(Graeme) Yes. (Helen) And there’s a light shape over here.
(Graeme) Okay. (Helen) And there’s a bit of light over here.
(Graeme) Wow. (Helen) And you can sort
of map out the painting. (Graeme) Yeah I was about to say that.
Because you’ve got no pencil lines there,
you’re really mapping it out. (Helen) No well, I will pick up a
brush now and just…
(Graeme) Okay. (Helen) …and use a bit of this Burnt Sienna.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Just to do a few lines where
I want to have the bottom of the vase.
(Graeme) Yes, yes. (Helen) And I’ll use it also to measure.
(Graeme) So explain what you just did
then with your… with your brush. (Graeme) Because a lot of people would
sort of say why do artists stick their thumb
up for a start. Why did you put that brush up like that? (Helen) This is to measure the vase and the flowers. (Graeme) And you’re just using the
mark on that. (Helen) Yep, the tip
of my paintbrush and my thumb. (Graeme) Yes. (Helen) And I’ll just do
a couple of measurements…
(Graeme) There you go. (Helen) …from the base of the vase,
to sort of the top of the vase.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) The base of that flower to the top of the flowers. Sort of about half way roughly. (Graeme) And I… (Helen) Just so I can fit it into the canvas.
(Graeme) And I notice that your eyes were
squinting, or maybe one… (Helen) Oh yes. (Graeme) …was closed.
(Helen) I was squinting, always squinting.
(Graeme) Okay. (Helen) That’s a good point. It’s just…
You can judge the values.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) And it also cuts out a lot of detail.
Because I don’t want to paint every petal on that flower.
(Graeme) Uh huh. (Helen) I want to just paint what’s there.
So I’m going to put a couple of marks in…
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) …where I think. And as I said, I don’t
want to think of them as a vase and flowers, so I
can see this dark shape down here. (Graeme) Yep. (Helen) Which is actually the cast shadow.
So I just suggest that. (Graeme) I think that’s a great point that
you just used, is that whether somebody
be painting an elephant (Graeme) or a flower, they think of the
object but they don’t think of the shape.
(Helen) That’s right. (Graeme) It’s the shape that you’re
actually after. (Helen) I’m painting shapes.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) That’s what I look at, painting shapes.
(Graeme) Okay. I love the rag technique.
I think that’s just great. (Helen) It’s great. (Graeme) Obviously I can see that
your fingernail is in there… (Helen) Yes. (Graeme) …as well, when you
really want a sharper line. (Helen) That’s right. Because it’s just slightly damp,
it’s really easy to wipe back those lights.
(Graeme) Yeah, that’s great. (Helen) Now I’m after the large dark masses.
So I want to paint those in now. So I’m just
going to mix up some of the dark colour in this area. (Graeme) Yep. (Helen) …and pop that on.
And then I’ll move on to that area.
(Graeme) Sounds great. Okay. (Helen) Always squinting so I’m
not really looking at detail. (Graeme) You’re just still really trying
to just map in the light and shade. (Helen) Just those dark areas that I see.
(Graeme) When I spoke to you about being
on the Colour In Your Life show, (Graeme) you actually told me you’d heard
about it from an American art radio show.
(Helen) I did, yes. (Graeme) That’s funny. (Helen) That’s right, I always listen to
a blog cast radio called Artists Helping Artists.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) And it was… They mentioned
it on the show.
(Graeme) That’s fantastic. (Helen) I couldn’t believe it. Of course…
(Graeme) We’ve crossed the world rapidly. (Helen) …it was amazing. I didn’t
think you had to listen to an American
program to find out about… (Graeme) Well, we’re glad you
found out about it anyway. (Helen) Now, I’m going to move onto this
dark area here, which happens to be the
leaves and stalks in the vase. (Graeme) Okay. (Helen) I’ll mix up the
greeny value that’s there. (Graeme) I mean I can see the lighter area that
you scraped off for the jar, but the jar’s glass,
so it really doesn’t exist at the moment does it? (Helen) Not at all. (Graeme) It’s just
what’s inside the jar. (Helen) I’m not even
worried about the glass. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) It’ll appear later. (Graeme) Yep.
(Helen) Just putting in the shapes,
that’s all I want to do. (Graeme) Obviously you’ve spent time
overseas as well? (Helen) Yes. (Graeme) In
France, I mean you actually speak French too? (Helen) getting there, yes. (Graeme) Which is pretty cool. I mean to be
dedicated enough to go back to France,
and paint, and learn the language, (Graeme) I think is just wonderful. Even the
light in Europe, if you’re down in Provence or
Cap d’Antibes, I used to spend a lot of time in Arles, (Graeme) cause I was a fan of Vincent.
So even the light in those areas is quite
different to the light here. (Helen) Oh it’s totally different. Especially
when you compare it to the outback. I’ve painted
in the outback and the colours are just so vivid (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) and then you
go overseas, they’re so different.
(Graeme) It’s all very, very subtle isn’t it? (Helen) Oh yes. Okay now I’m going to put
the background in, which is a nice sort of
blue colour, which I’ll make a blue grey colour. (Helen) So we start up here, and I just
go around these shapes here.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Because later on I want to put
some nice fresh bright yellows.
(Graeme) Yes. (Helen) So I’ll just, and I’ll come back and
sculpt around those areas. I’m still not
worried about that glass vase. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) I just keep painting
down to the lighter tone. (Graeme) So why, why the subject matter that you
choose? Is it something from your childhood? (Helen) I just, I’ve always loved painting flowers.
I don’t know why. I guess I just love the colours (Helen) and Chrysanthemums are really
good to paint, unlike some flowers like
tulips that follow the spotlight. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) They’re really difficult to paint and
you do have to be quite fast with those. (Graeme) Oh so they actually turn
towards the… (Helen) Oh yes. (Graeme) …light source do they? Oh okay.
(Helen) They love the spotlight those ones.
(Graeme) Yeah? (Helen) But Chrysanthemums, they’ll
stay in a vase, look for over a week. (Helen) So if, if you really want to have a
go at some flowers, Chrysanthemums
are great. (Graeme) Okay. (Helen) They stay there, they’re very good.
They don’t move even though they’re sitting
under a pretty warm spotlight. They’re terrific. (Graeme) Now, the technique that you use to
do these beautiful small paintings is called
‘Alla Prima’. (Helen) Yes that’s right. (Graeme) So tell me a little about ‘alla prima’,
what is it? What does it do? (Helen) It’s basically painting wet into wet,
and painting really in one session.
(Graeme) Okay. (Helen) Which I like to do, it keeps it
nice and fresh I think the painting. (Graeme) One problem that some artists
do confront is that painting wet on wet is
sometimes you… the paint slides. (Graeme) So you’ve really got to be sort
of quite bold and direct with the colour and
the amount of colour that you put on as well. (Helen) Yep. With my darks, I usually keep
them fairly transparent and light. And when
I do get onto my lovely, (Helen) rich yellow colours near the end,
they’ll be really thick and opaque paint.
Which gives you that nice three-dimensional… (Graeme) Yes it’s beautiful. (Helen) …feel. And as I was saying this is
where I sometimes like to keep the background
showing through. (Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Which gives it a really nice effect.
And I’m still not worried about that vase.
I’m just painting through the whole thing. (Graeme) Yeah it’s sort of incidental. I mean
I think a lot of people get caught with the fact
that it was there and it’s clear… (Helen) Exactly. (Graeme) …so you want to create an impression that’s clear. (Helen) And I’m just painting where I’m
seeing this blue colour. This bluey-grey tone. (Graeme) Uh-huh. So what are the other
tools that you use to create your pieces?
It’s probably not just the brush is it? (Helen) No, no, I use this little tool here.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) It’s called a Shaper. And I’ll just wipe
back the paint just like this, just to
suggest where they are. (Helen) And I can just put clean paint over
the top. (Graeme) I mean could you use that
as a mechanism to trace a source of light at all? (Helen) Yeah if I need to clean up an area
or wipe back, I can use the rag or just… (Graeme) Look at that. (Helen) …takes it off
very cleanly. It’s terrific. (Graeme) Fantastic. (Helen) It’s a great tool, so a Shaper.
They’re really good, I use it a lot. (Helen) Okay I’m mixing the Cad Yellow
and the Cad Lemon together, and mixing in
a bit of Naples Yellow. (Graeme) Uh-huh. (Helen) I actually really like using
Naples Yellow more than white some times,
because it makes the paint less chalky (Helen) and keeps it nice, rich and opaque.
And just, trying to suggest some of those
lovely light shapes that are on. (Graeme) Once again, just really trying
to make an impression of what’s there. (Helen) And I keep trying to
keep my brush pretty clean too. (Helen) If I pick up any of the background,
being all wet, the paint can get very muddy quickly. (Graeme) So Helen, why do you think
painting small and often is a good idea? (Helen) Look, I think if you really want to improve
your work, you have to paint. Paint a lot. (Helen) So with a small panel you just feel like you
can get something done in a reasonably short time. (Helen) It’s a small piece, and let’s
face it, art materials are quite expensive,
but because you’ve got a small panel you think, (Helen) yeah I’ll have a go at this. And
you tend to be a bit more creative too. (Helen) And I’ve just painted so many,
so much more because I’m using a small panel.
And I just love it, it’s terrific. (Graeme) And I mean your work is so popular
as well. Not just because of the subject matter, (Graeme) but you know, pieces this size
can fit in easily to any home… (Helen) Yes. (Graeme) Anywhere. (Helen) Absolutely yeah. (Graeme) Yeah, that’s what’s fantastic about
them as well. And as I said before, they’re
just such delightful pieces to be around as well. (Helen) Oh thank you. (Graeme) Now a piece like that you were
telling me is about three hundred dollars, and
your prices go up to about fifteen hundred dollars. (Graeme) And I would think that anyone out
there that is really looking to invest in a
really talented woman, (Graeme) and also have something that
would fit I think just about perfectly anywhere
into any home. (Graeme) These aren’t huge pieces,
the pieces that will go really well in any
decor in any home in this country. (Graeme) And I think, three hundred
dollars is just a fantastic price for your work. (Graeme) It’s just amazing, so, they
can get in touch with you at your website,
which is helencooperpaintings.com. (Graeme) And also, you will be able to come in and
have a look at Helen’s work in our site as well so… (Graeme) Just magnificent pieces
at an incredibly reasonably price. Alright I’ll
continue to let you work. (Helen) Okay. (Graeme) So you can really start to
see those contrasts coming through
with what you’re doing now. (Graeme) Are those are the yellows
as well, as seeping back into – back of the
foreground of the picture? (Helen) Yeah, and I’ll just add some more
varying tones of the bright yellow. Just to
sort of blend them all in together. (Helen) This is where you really have
to simplify, but still add more paint and
hopefully yeah, (Helen) have a nice transition between
all the yellow… the yellow values. (Graeme) They look like the flowers are
actually floating in that neutral grey background.
It looks quite, quite exciting. (Helen) It’s a great colour, because it does
help the colour of the yellow to pop out. (Helen) Okay, what I’m going to do now
is go to the vase. I’ll leave this area for a while, (Helen) and just try and finish this off
a little with some lighter tones. (Graeme) Sounds great. And then really
what we’re working on is the reflection and
getting the character of the glass itself. (Helen) Yes, yep, yep. I don’t want to draw
you know, all the lines in and everything. (Helen) I want to make it look like a
glass vase just with the different tones. (Graeme) And the thing about the
presentation of your work is that there’s
no pencil lines or charcoal. (Helen) No. (Graeme) You’re really just sort of filling
the whole thing in with a paintbrush. (Helen) The different paint strokes
hopefully will tell the story. (Graeme) Absolutely. In the house
and in the studio you have a number of little
pieces of bric-a-brac and figurines and… (Helen) Yes, I’ve collected a
lot of things over the years.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Lots of figurines and cups and glass
and yeah, just anything that’s interesting. (Graeme) Uh-huh, it’s just an
important part of putting, particularly
all the still life’s that you do… (Helen) Yep, yep, you really do need a lot of little
things to put it and out of… I’ve got that many
glass vases. You never have enough glass vases. (Graeme) Well you paint
glass very well I must say. (Helen) Thank you. Now the real thing that will
finish this off is when I put the highlights in. (Helen) That will really brings up the vase and
finishes it off without having too much detail. (Graeme) Okay, yeah I actually, I’ve
sort of noticed as you’ve been working,
is the subtly of less is more. (Helen) Oh, absolutely. Definitely. The thing
I don’t want to do now is over paint. I like to
leave it almost unfinished, not quite finished. (Graeme) Sure. (Helen) Otherwise, if you over
paint it I just think it kills the painting.
(Graeme) Yes I agree. (Helen) You lose that freshness. (Graeme) Mmm, and another thing I wanted to
mention as well, is that, you do some fantastic
workshops based around these wonderful pieces. (Graeme) And I think the great part
about your workshops is that they’re not complex.
You, you show people some methodology (Graeme) that enables them to paint these
really small, but quite striking pieces at the
same time. I think that if anybody out there (Graeme) that’s watching the show right
now and is obviously in the Melbourne area,
particularly if they want to learn (Graeme) how to paint florals and still
lifes like this, because the pictures have got
so much character in them, (Graeme) that they really should get in touch
with you as well. Because I think that would
be very valuable time spent with you. (Helen) Okay now, I’m going to mix up
these highlights. Now they’re not white,
straight white. (Helen) I actually – well I like to use my
palette knife. (Graeme) Yeah, (Helen) Because it keeps it a nice clean mix.
And I just mix a little bit of yellow in it. (Graeme) Okay. (Helen) And that just really,
really makes… (Graeme) Oh yeah.
(Helen) …it look like a bit of glassware. (Graeme) You’re just picking that reflection
up from the bottom…
(Helen) Yep. (Graeme) …of the vase. (Helen) And just a tiny little dot on this side.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Just the highlights right at the end
just makes such a difference.
(Graeme) Yeah. (Helen) Especially with glass, usually the highlights
somewhere, so you really need to look for those. (Graeme) With that light. (Helen) Okay I’m just going to come
back into the flowers here, the top part
with all those lovely lights and so finish those off. (Graeme) Okay, well another fantastic day.
A very talented lady. Helen, thank you so much
for having us in your studio, it was fabulous. (Graeme) And as you can see by this great
little piece that’s been produced, she produces
some fabulous work, (Graeme) and if you would like to come
along to Helen’s workshops to produce something
like this, which is really just amazing, (Graeme) they can go to your website
at helencooperpaintings.com. (Graeme) Fabulous, and you can also see
some of Helen’s work in our website as well,
in our shop at colourinyoourlife.com.au . (Graeme) And also on our Facebook page as
well at Colour In Your Life. We’ve got some
great things in the shop these days (Graeme) so really do come in, and also other
artists as well. I mean there are some fantastically
talented people out there, (Graeme) I mean we found out about, or you
found out about, the show from actually an
American radio talkback show. (Helen) Yes. (Graeme) Which is just amazing.
We think it’s fabulous that the idea of this is
spreading across the world. (Graeme) But we’re going to head off again,
and as we always say, remember guys,
make sure you put some Colour In Your Life. (Graeme) And we’ll see you next time.
Bye now. (Helen) Bye.
(Graeme) Bye guys.

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