Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Portrait 3

Today's changes to the portrait. Another day of learning. The main points for me are finding ways to improve my mixing and also my measurement. Whilst I've made a number of adjustments to both during this process, I've not yet got them to the point where I'm totally happy but I feel that this exercise has got me a little closer.

I'm about to put this one aside for a while as it has always been a study for a more formal portrait. The next step for me is to spend a little time experimenting with colour mixes to improve my choices when representing skin. 

On reflection I feel that this isn't too bad as a portrait even though it doesn't have that magical quality of a true likeness to the subject. However it is close enough to suggest that I'm making a little progress.

Portrait 3 - Oil on linen

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Portrait 2

I only managed a short spell in front of the canvas today but managed to begin the work of improving accuracy placing some extra shapes. I've also played with some different colours as well as those used yesterday. For a yellow I've introduced Gold Ochre and for a blue, Cerulean. Along with the pigments used previously it has become easier to produce an interesting range of greys.

As with yesterday I can spot a number of things requiring a little adjustment before the next work on refining the image.

Portrait Day 2 - Oil on linen

Monday, 25 November 2013

Portrait Time

I've eventually got round to beginning the first of a bunch of portraits that I want to work on. The last few weeks have been a time for sketching and planning and thinking about where I want to arrive at.
The next stage in this journey is to experiment with technique, colour mixes and types of support.

For the first study I've chosen to work on linen, largely because I don't need to produce a coloured ground and I've already got a mid tone to work against.

The first stage for me is an outline in graphite. After that the application of some paint to get a feeling for the shape of the face and provide a base for thinking about drawing accuracy and placement of colours. The initial strokes are made with burnt sienna and some medium then some skin tones made with cadmium red light, cadmium yellow, titanium white and medium.. All of the paint was put on thinly to assist in drying.

My first impressions have given me a list of adjustments that I need to make to improve my accuracy but I now have something to work on as I develop my palette and start to refine the shapes that I've initiated. Hopefully, I'll have time tomorrow to get back to the job.

Portrait beginning - Oil on linen 14" x 12"

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A New Challenge

Recent frustrations with image making had me thinking hard about getting some sort of focus to my activity. The latest thinking for me is to spend some time making portraits with a view to producing a large scale piece early in the New Year. So in one sense it's back to basics, drawing on a daily basis and honing the observational skills necessary to make convincing portraits. It's some time since I submitted myself to that degree of discipline  so I'm hoping that the process gives me a boost in technique.

The sketch below is one of today's efforts with evidence of much adjustment and erasing as I have attempted to get somewhere near to getting the rudiments recorded. As yet it doesn't represent a convincing capture of the subject but this whole project is very much a work in progress.

I hope that regular readers have patience with my fragmentary work on these lines and I'd welcome any advice from the more regular portraitists out there.

Drawing - graphite 6" x 4"

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wasted Week

By now I thought I'd have a few more paintings to show you but I've been struck with a week of frustration albeit down to my own lack of observation.

The idea was to make a number of paintings based on some of the lessons learned on my last trip to Norfolk. The subject matter was to be based on my sketches and drawings from a trip to Switzerland earlier in the year. Having made decisions about what and how it came to the time when I had to prepare the supports for the work.

I'd decided to make the pictures on MDF board which required preparation by covering them with gesso. To increase luminosity in the ground I put marble dust into my gesso mix and this is where the problems began, although I didn't realise it at the time.

A couple of weeks ago I bought some supplies to make my gesso mix, the marble dust being amongst them. My lack of observation in filling in the order form failed to alert me to the fact that there were different grades of dust and I just ticked the one that said ' Marble Dust Medium'. The order was accurately filled by the vendor and I thought no more about it. Last week I prepared my gesso and treated the boards. A couple of days ago I put up the first board on the easel and began my coloured beginning and this is when I first fully realised the error of my ways. I'd noticed a little more texture and tooth when putting on the gesso but thought to myself that might provide some extra interest in the finished picture, but didn't expect the impact on my brushes as I attempted to place a thin delicate layer of paint as a first stage. Painting on and wiping back ripped the heart out of my brush and my wiping cloth. I was painting on really course sandpaper. The thought of working my way through all the boards with the collateral damage to my collection of brushes had me concerned about both my temper and my bank balance.

There was nothing left for me to do but scrap the boards or rescue them. Rescue became the task and a morning spent with sand paper smoothed the surfaces ready for the application of more gesso. The lessons learned had me off to the art supply store to acquire the stuff I should have ordered in the first place - Marble Dust FINE!

I'm happy to report that the afternoon I've just spent redoing the boards appears to have me well organised with supports that won't shred my brushes. They should be ready for action tomorrow. Now I just need the time to get on with the work.

Every day a learning experience and anyone desperate for some medium marble dust it's sitting in my studio gathering dust and looking for a new home.

Hopefully the next post will have some evidence of artistic endeavour.  

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Return from the Doldrums

Well it's been a while since I tapped on the keyboard and shared my art life with the cyber world. There has been a reason for this, I've been suffering something of a crisis in my involvement in painting. It all harks back to a painting that I began back in July.

I have a number of sketch books and small watercolour notes gleaned from my travels. Some of these relate to time spent in Venice and I had decided to use them as the source for an oil of the traditional view from the Accademia bridge. That's when my troubles began, having something of an idea of the approach I wanted to adopt I set off and having made my 'coloured beginning' suddenly reached an impasse. I couldn't make my mind up as to how to make the next step. To shorten the tale, I spent the next few weeks returning and looking at the lack of progress then going off to study the many variations on this well known subject, produced by myriad other artists, a big mistake. The inertia created by this process has lingered ever since. In fact, I've been questioning my motivation and methods - do I continue the 'Struggle'?

Fortunately, help is at hand. Regular readers will be aware of my admiration for the work done by Martin Kinnear at the Norfolk Painting School and fortuitously I'd booked myself onto one of his courses entitled 'Light and Atmosphere'. I've just returned, having sweated blood for three days and experiencing an elation from a deep involvement in some fascinating exercise and technical skill development. The structure of courses at the Norfolk Painting School is organised to give students access to Martin's immense expertise, both practical and theoretical.

The thrust of the course was to look at three different approaches from different periods in art history and to explore the methods used by prominent exponents of the time.

To begin we produced a study based on the work of Van Ruisdael. Key elements were the working over an absorbent ground, producing a monochrome tempera, keeping darks translucent and lights more opaque before blocking in with thin oil glazes. After this we worked up the picture with more opaque colour mixed with chalk and medium and finally more glazing with  oil paint.   

Study after Jacob van Ruisdael - Oil on MDF 24" x 20"

The following day we moved on to looking at a late period Turner and attempting some of the technique involved in producing the ethereal images of the period. Working over a luminous ground we painted a thin 'colour beginning' in translucent paint. this was followed by more thin luminous glazing before working up the picture with a more turbid medium created with a mix of glazing medium with wax and chalk. The chalk made for swift drying which allowed us to finish off with bright megilp glazes. The resultant texture and depth of colour was lovely to see.

Study after Turner - Oil on MDF 24" x 20"

Our final study was a work by an artist who was new to me, John Francis Murphy, an American tonalist painter. We began with a bright coloured ground and spent some time developing the picture by stumbling in darks and lights ensuring close tonal relationships in areas other than those where real lights were required. We finished by creating saturated impasto using wax and chalk.

Study after John Francis Murphy - 24" x 20"

This was an incredible experience that managed to have me back on track thinking about my art in a much more positive way and hopefully means the beginning of a renewed period of activity. All of these pictures need a little more work to call them finished pieces but I'm delighted with this lot as an output from three days with the bushes and on top of that I've got a new set of techniques to experiment with - I call that time well spent.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Swiss Sojourn

I've just returned from an enjoyable break staying at the home of some friends on the shores of Lake Geneva. As it was a holiday there was little scope for spending time with the brushes, indeed the only kit I had with me was a small box of watercolours and a block of Not paper. 

Daytime excursions gave me the opportunity to make lots of photographs as well as a few sketches for future reference so my main painting activity took place in the evenings. The selection of pictures here reflect this activity.

The first picture is the view from the terrace of the house where we were staying and it was a delight every day to witness the changing conditions and light. This view in all its forms provides the vast majority of my photographs. Future painting projects will reflect the many changes seen from this spot.

Lake Geneva - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9"

I was delighted when the family who own the house decided that they would like this picture for their walls.

To keep the brushes operating on a regular basis I got into the habit of setting up a few artefacts to provide still life compositions for the evening and the following pictures represent some of those sessions.

Still Life 1 - Watercolour 12" x 9"

Still Life 2 - Watercolour 12" x 9"

Still Life 3 - Watercolour 12" x 9"

Still Life - Watercolour 12" x 9"

Monday, 10 June 2013

Charles Reid at Burford - Third Demonstration, Still Life

Our third demonstration was the perennially popular still life session where Charles puts together a selection of artefacts, fruit and flowers to make an arresting image.

The Set Up

Charles regularly states that he likes a haphazard arrangement reflecting the way objects are left rather than the more formal arrangements liked by some still life painters. For him the arrangement should have lots of connections between the various artefacts.

As usual the drawing is done in the contour style, pencil remaining on the paper. The first thing drawn was the vase and all the other elements were drawn in relation to it. There was very little detail in the blooms.

The Drawing

The first strokes of paint were foliage, placed in such a way that they created a series of negative shapes, particularly around the white blooms. The foliage colour was largely mixed on the paper and the different pigments can be seen in the photograph.

The First Strokes

The next photograph shows a detail where you can see the range of pigment used in rendering foliage and blooms.


In moving around the painting Charles makes sure that he paints connections and often has pigments running into each other as he does so.

Moving Around

As he moves around and begins new passages he ensures that he keeps his brush on the paper till requiring more pigment. The same routine with the brush is followed each time. The brush is loaded with water, excess is shaken off then the brush is put into the pigment which is kept at a moist consistency before being applied to the paper. He then ensures that the contact with the paper is made with the whole of the brush and not just the point. Brush longevity is a consideration when using expensive sable implements.

The background of the painting is hinted at with a few splashes, warm and cool, to provide a little texture. Splashes are a regular technique used by Charles who is likely to add a few whenever he thinks that he is tightening up.

Another great demonstration.

Still Life - Charles Reid, watercolour on half sheet

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Charles Reid at Burford - Second demonstration - Portraits

The second demonstration that Charles set up was a portrait session and unusually he declared that he was going to produce two portraits, one profile and another in three quarter view. As always the session started with Charles producing a contour drawing. During this segment we were to listen to many sound tips in relation to making the original drawing. 

"Begin by putting down a light oval shape to delineate the placement of the head.

Draw a line around the curve of the oval to mark the line around which the central features are arranged.

Start the detailed drawing at the eyes or nose and relate everything back to them.

Place mouth with dot relating to the eye.

Many people make noses too long, beware of this.

Keep stopping and checking whilst keeping the pencil on the paper. 

Draw in shadow shapes".

Initial Drawing - note shadow shape beside left eye and small demo of an eye at top

"Begin painting  around centre and put in dark shapes.

Draw in shapes with the point of the brush then soften them".

Charles spent some time showing the choices he makes to produce his flesh tones and shadow shades, these can be seen at the bottom of the sheet. The colours will vary according to the individual's complexion. Simply they consist of Cadmium Red Light with a yellow from Cadmium Yellow Light, Raw Sienna and sometimes Burnt Sienna. The addition of a blue creates the shadow and the choice is judged by the value required, Cerulean, Cobalt and Ultramarine being his choices, light to dark.

Profile - Charles Reid, watercolour on half sheet

Charles then moved onto the second view of the model with the same routine in terms of drawing.
In this picture it is easier to see some of his construction lines in this picture. Note the line delineating the central features and the arc across the eyes. You can also see the oval placed to indicate the nose position. Most of these lines are reduced by eraser so that they are lighter than pictured here but many are not removed altogether.

Three Quarters view - Drawing

Initial washes

Sheet layout

Three Quarter view completed

In the above photograph you can see the notes that Charles appended. Here he emphasised the technique he uses next to highlights. The hard edge next to the highlight is placed and keeping the brush on the paper the pigment is worked away then softened.

Two Portraits - Watercolour on half sheet by Charles Reid

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Charles Reid at Burford - First Demonstration

As mentioned in my last post, events conspired to curtail my opportunity to work with Charles Reid on his latest visit to England. However I did get the chance to spend a couple of days with the master during his second week here in Burford. The activity on his first week at Stow in the Wold has been well reported by my friend Peter Ward on his blog to be found at 

Instead of the usual day by day report, this will be slightly different in that Charles broke from his normal pattern of making one demonstration per day by completing two on one of the days that I was able to attend. So from two days I managed to see three demonstrations, a bonus for me.

As is his practice on these occasions Charles likes to do some work from old monochrome source material and usually provides a choice of images culled from vintage photographs. This time some of the images were drawn from the famous Sutcliffe collection, depicting people in the environs of Whitby plus one or two images like the Sargent portrait that I selected for my effort that day. Charles used two images from Whitby as his inspiration. The importance of using monochrome images is in the demands it makes of the watercolourist in terms of drawing but more importantly the rendition of values without the visual crutch of original colour. The focus of the artist then becomes establishing accurate values and leaving colour choices to the taste of the individual. It makes for interesting choices for the artist. 

Charles is a keen advocate of the contour drawing method and he makes great emphasis of the need to keep the pencil on the paper whilst making the drawing, even when moving across the image from one segment to another. The emphasis is all to do with establishing accurate relationships between the various elements of the picture. 

Initial Drawing

Planning the picture requires giving some thought to the proportion of figures within the space available on the paper.

After completing the drawing the time comes to begin the application of paint. Charles invariably begins work on the central features of the face. This could be the eye socket, nose or the central portion of the mouth. Each stroke is applied and worked towards another area, his maxim being, 'Place a stroke then soften an edge'.

The Face Emerges

Moving away from the centre line the importance of making good shapes is emphasised, 'Good shapes make good paintings'.

Another important point is the in relation to the accurate value relationships. Unlike many watercolourists Charles likes to begin with the placement of some dark values, thereby having something to relate to when making middle and light values. It is important to to have a clear idea of where these relative values lie.

Developing the Figure

After developing the figure Charles begins work on the boat, an important compositional element.

Overall Composition

Boat Detail

Once the work on the boat is complete The whole piece is tied together by the addition of the background and sky, lightly applied and impressionistic.

Final Image - Watercolour on half sheet by Charles Reid

The major teaching points made by Charles in this session were as follows:

Good shapes make good paintings;

You should always be able to see the point of your brush, this gives you more control over your shapes;

Keep pencil on the paper when drawing;

Keep the brush on the paper when making shapes;

Place a shape, press and lift off then soften an edge;

Always try to have about half of your shapes have soft edges;

Look for relationships between shapes and make connections;

Look for intersections and use them as connections;

Start with darks first;

Check out values, where are the mid values?

Paint shapes with harder edge next to the light then work into the shadow;

Make sure you have colour changes in the darks;

Always try to make a balance between warm and cool colours in your shapes.

Another inspirational session and the reinforcement of many of the ideas that Charles has been espousing for many years. 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Back in the Saddle

After a few little local difficulties, medical and bereavement I've managed to get a little painting this week. I was originally scheduled to be on a course with the wonderful American painter, Charles Reid, but events conspired to stop me going on my original booking. Other complications made it just possible for me to attend two days with Charles during this week and I will post something about it when I can get round to it. In the meantime my fellow blogger, Peter Ward (, is recording his experience with Charles during last week. Recommended reading.

One of the exercises that Charles likes to have students work at is one where you take a monochrome photograph and make a painting based on the image. This is my effort during one of those sessions. The photograph I selected is a well known shot of John Singer Sargent at work.

It was wonderful to get the brushes damp again after an enforced break. Not quite finished off but satisfying nevertheless.

John Singer Sargent - Watercolour on Not paper 16" x 12"

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Close to Home

After suffering the poor light and howling gale on Sunday, I arose this morning to look out of the window and see the sun. With nothing else to do today I decided that painting was the thing to do. The problem of today became apparent when I opened the door. Light there might be but the wind was even stronger than on Sunday.

The thought struck me that I had heard someone say that seeking subjects was not necessary and that painting whatever was in front of you could produce pleasant surprises. It just so happened that the front of our house provided some shelter from the wind and the light was producing shadows, so I set up just outside my front door and got down to it.

As reported last time I was making my first plein air expedition so I am still trying to get into shape. It's amazing how a bit of light makes you feel and today's effort was a positive step in the direction of making a decent plein air piece. Not there yet but heading in the right direction.   

Set Up - photograph

Hunter Terrace - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Sunday, 14 April 2013

First Plein Air of the Year

The weather in this part of the world has been so bad for so long that heading out to paint plein air has not held its usual attraction. Today I met a couple of painter friends and headed out to a local landmark, Penshaw Monument. For those of you with a little knowledge of North East folk lore, it is the place that the Lambton Worm wrapped its tail around, immortalised in the eponymous song. 

Speaking of the weather, the day was grey with flat light and a howling gale to cope with so the initial outing wasn't the comfortable day it might have been. Enough of the excuses, it was fun to be out again and though the result is disappointing I'm looking forward to the next day out.

Penshaw Monument - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Lindisfarne - March Challenge

This month it was my turn to present a picture as the basis for the monthly project I share with Peter Ward, (

I chose the picture below because it presents a number of problems for the painter. First of all the light conditions are flat and the value range quite compressed other than for the featureless sky. So the first choice was whether to stick with the picture as presented or attempt to inject some life by trying to fabricate a feeling of a stronger light source. This is what I chose to do and then discovered the difficulties of doing so when having to ask what the light would do to the scene in each of the passages.  I ended up introducing more glazes than I would have liked to deal with the problem. I'll leave you to decide how successful I've been.

Composition then became an issue and I decided to use the portrait format to emphasise the height of the castle and get rid of much of the extraneous furniture.  

Lindisfarne Castle - source photograph


Lindisfarne Castle - Watercolour on rough paper 16" x 12"

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Salute Sunset - Finished?

First of all, a big thanks to all of you who made suggestions for my next stab at this and I have tried to incorporate them into my reworking. The main things for me were to increase the value range and try to retain some hint of colour in the shadow side of the buildings. I also tried to create some shadow in front of the buildings. It still needs one or two touches but I think it's almost at a finish.

I have sketch books full of work I've done in Venice and I may spend a bit of time over the next month or so working some of them up into finished paintings.

Salute Sunset - Oil on stretched linen 16" x 12"

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Salute Sunset WIP

I haven't had much chance to use the oils recently and as the light improved a little over the last couple of days I laid out some paint to make an effort to get the feel of the oil again.  For subject matter I dug out my Venice sketch books and picked a sketch I made one evening as the sun dropped behind the Salute. The sketch along with a photograph taken at the same time provided the source material.

The work so far has established the basic composition and colour ideas for the final composition and is now going to be left for a few days before refining the basic ideas and finishing it off. I've taken it a little bit further than I usually would which might limit the flexibility I have when I return to it. Alternatively I might leave it a little longer to allow a complete drying then key the surface with medium and rework.

Any suggestions you have to make would be gratefully received.

Salute Sunset WIP - Oil on stretched linen

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Iris - February Challenge

Regular readers will know that Peter Ward ( and I set each other a little challenge and this is the latest of the series. I took some time getting into this one as winter lethargy and family commitments limited painting time. However, once the brushes became wet and the pigment began to flow the usual pleasure kicked in. The only drawback was the fact that without regular practice some of the techniques get rusty. 

The source photograph, as you can see, is a fairly complicated image and so my first decision was to crop the image and simplify things. I think there's a little bit of adjustment I can make to the background to improve the picture but I'll live with it for a day or two before messing with it.

For better or worse here it is.

Irises - Photograph

Irises - Watercolour on rough paper 16" x 12"

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Brush Practice

A little lay off and the need to get working again had me dig out the watercolours this afternoon. A warm up was required before turning to more serious pursuits. 

In watercolour painting some of the more difficult techniques are involved in the manipulation of the brush and controlling the flow of the paint. Adjusting edges requires a feel for what your selected pigments will stand in terms of lifting out. In the last few days I'd been browsing the latest book by Jean Haines, Atmospheric Watercolours and enjoyed much of the thinking that she puts into her vibrant wash work. This book, I understand, is a best seller and it is easy to see why. Her admirable work is garnering much interest and praise and she is becoming the equivalent of a painting pop star. The ideas that Jean advocates are well worthy of exploration, particularly for those who have difficulty loosening up their work, a category that includes me.

So with a head full of ideas garnered from the book and some pigments that are relatively new to me I set about making a little image that would let me revisit some of the techniques mentioned above. The first job was to lay down an underlying wash of some of the colours I intended using then allowing them to mix on the paper. Colours were Cad Yellow, Quinacridone Gold, Apatite Green, Genuine Amethyst and Sleeping Beauty Turquoise. The addition of some salt was made to create a little texture that could hint at unspecified foliage. I also decided that this would be a one brush approach and reached for my trusty Da Vinci Artissimo that I've mentioned in a previous post, I love it.

After they had dried I began to place the trumpet shapes of the blooms in Translucent Orange with touches of Perylene Maroon. When they dried it was a case of making negative shapes with washes of the colours used in the first pass. To finish off the exercise some fairly extensive softening of edges took place, having left edges to dry to be worked on later. An interesting warm up.

Spring Selection - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 10"

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Latest Challenge

Back to the regular series of monthly challenge pieces that I share with my painting friend, Peter Ward. This last couple of months had me setting the subject and I selected a photograph from a recent trip to the States.

Red Rock Country - Photograph

The picture presents a couple of problems, the representation of vegetation and the strong shadows. I feel that I've dealt reasonably well with the shadows on the rock but less well with the vegetation with insufficient variation to make interesting shapes. I'll be able to do something about that in a later session. The final image needs some compositional intervention to break up the middle ground a little. There you go, doing the thinking after the event rather than during the process. Another little prompt to oneself.

Red Rock Country - Watercolour on rough paper 16" x 12"

Saturday, 5 January 2013

I Really Don't Know Clouds At All

At last the frantic comings and goings of the Christmas period have come to a belated conclusion and the opportunity to dig out the paints has arrived. As a warm up before turning to some more serious projects I decided to attempt some cloud studies. I dug out a couple of canvas boards and my sketch books, selected a couple of drawings and squeezed out some paint. A little mixing on the palette and I was ready to go.

Most of my work is based in the landscape and one of the most important elements in making images in the outdoors is the depiction of clouds. As a warm up exercise the inclusion of clouds was important to me. Two different types of cloud condition made the exercises a little more challenging.

This made for an enjoyable session and whilst not totally satisfied with the results I have managed to get myself back focussed on making pictures.

Clouds 1 - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Clouds 2 - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"