How to Paint a Realistic Landscape (With Only 4 Colours)

Morning Class,

Last week, we explored Carlson’s theory on angles, and I received an interesting comment from a reader asking how complicated it would be to apply the principles to colour.

“I especially love black and white painting.  I’m looking forward to trying this.  How does it work then with colour?  Seems it could get quite complicated.” – Laura

Well, it’s simpler than you might think!

I thought it would be handy to demonstrate painting trees using just four colour mixes. I’m using water-mixable oils, but you can follow along with acrylics or traditional oils too.

Preparing Your Palette: Mixing the Base Colours

Let’s get started by mixing the four base colours in different values. Remember, value refers to how light or dark a colour is.

From left to right, Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Green Light, Permanent Green, Ultramarine Blue Light and below is Pyrrole Red.

First, the sky mix, using white and a small touch of Ultramarine Blue Light.

This gives us a light, airy sky colour. (Note how there was a little bit of green left on my palette knife, but  it works for this painting.)

Next, we’ll create the ground mix. Take a bit of the sky colour, then add some Cadmium Yellow Light and a touch of Cadmium Green Light. Mix these, and finally, add a speck of Pyrrole Red to drop the saturation slightly.

This creates a natural, earthy tone for the ground.

For our slanted plane, we’ll mix Cadmium Green Light, Permanent Green, Cadmium Yellow Light, and a speck of Pyrrole Red.

This gives us a vibrant, rich green that’s perfect for those angled planes in the landscape.

Finally, the trees. Combine Permanent Green and Pyrrole Red to make a lovely rich dark green, then a touch of Titanium White to lighten the value.

This mix gives us a dark, yet vibrant green that will make our trees pop against the background.

OK, colours ready, let’s go!

Applying the Principles of Carlson’s Angles

Applying the principles of Carlson’s angles, use the sky mix for the top parts of the canvas, the ground mix for the base, the slanted plane mix for angled surfaces, and the tree mix for the trees themselves. Keep your strokes loose and varied, and remember to think about the direction of light and shadow. This will add depth and realism to your painting.

Here’s our subject drawn out with a pencil. You can download the sketch from the blog to follow along. I’m using a size 4 round Aspen brush from Princeton and water, both as a diluent and for washing the brush.

Blocking in the Darkest Values for Tree Trunks

First, I start with the darkest mix and block in the shapes of the tree trunks. Focus on the overall shape rather than individual details.

Next, I move on to the tonal masses of the trees. Instead of painting each leaf or branch, I combine the shapes into one tonal mass to create a cohesive look.

Make sure to paint the cast shadows under the trees; this really helps establish the illusion of a strong light source.

Once the tree trunks and masses are blocked in, I wash the brush out well in water and dry the bristles on a paper towel.

Adding Depth with Slanted Planes and Ground Colour

Now, I jump to the slanted plane. Follow the shapes as they weave between the tree trunks and leaves in the foreground.

After cleaning the brush, I paint in the ground colour. This lighter value starts to bring more life to our landscape. Be sure to include all the little dashes of light between the trees to add depth and interest. The point on the round brush can be handy for this.

Final Touches: Painting the Sky and Enhancing Details

The final, lightest area is the sky.

I apply the sky colour a little bit thicker and paint in some sky holes. If you’re using oils, remember you need to be more deliberate with your marks to avoid the colours blending together and becoming muddy.

Okay, so here is our painting simply blocked in, we haven’t mixed between the colours yet, just used our first mixes and it reads surprisingly well.

Now, we can start refining and mixing our initial four base mixes to add subtle hues.

For instance, a little white added to the darkest mix helps to separate a tree trunk. Mixing between the greens helps with the distant trees. If you wanted, you could develop the painting further by adding stronger warm red-based mixes, but this approach already looks great, and just keeping it this simple effectively demonstrates the theory in colour.

So that’s it!

You can create a beautiful, cohesive landscape with just four colours and an understanding of value. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.

Until next time, happy painting!

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Realistic Landscape (With Only 4 Colours)

Beginner Landscape Painting Concepts – The Theory of Angles

In this lesson, I want to show you how to start recognising light and dark relationships in a landscape.

Once you ‘see’ how the light falls on the main masses, such as the ground, trees, and mountains, painting the values accurately will be much easier.

I first encountered this simplification of the Four Planes of Landscape Painting in Carlson’s 1929 book ‘Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting’.

I’ve found it’s a surprisingly helpful way of stopping and accessing what you’re looking at in terms of groups of planes of masses and simplifying the enormous detail and overload you can face when painting outdoors.

Understanding how light interacts with the landscape can transform flat canvases into lifelike scenes with depth and realism.

Detail over Depth

Painting the details on a tree, trying to capture the flow of water, and adding highlights to sparkling water can be the most attractive elements of landscape painting.

However, relying on your intuition to ‘feel your way’ can easily result in a loss of basic tonal structure.

The 4 planes help to solve this by giving you an understanding of light.

To illustrate this, first things first; we’re getting the glue gun out!

Modelling the 4 planes of Landscape painting

Here’s a basic three-dimensional model of a simplified landscape.

There is a tree, a bush, a sky, and a hillside.

All elements are white foam core and have a white local value.

You can see this change in value when we orientate them at different angles to the light source.

“The key to this Theory of Angles is, then, that the big elements with which the landscape painter has to deal are, first of all, light masses and half-dark masses, no matter in what sequence you name them.” John F Carlson, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting

1. Sky plane

This is usually the lightest value. But it can vary on a sunny or overcast day.

2. Ground plane

The ground plane receives the most light from the sky, the next lightest value. (There are exceptions, such as snow and bright reflections)

3. Slanted plane

The slanted plane is for hills and mountains; it reflects less light than the ground plane and is darker.

4. Upright plane

This includes vertical surfaces like trees and buildings. This plane is usually the darkest.

Once you have a visual concept of these planes, you can more easily manage tonal values and create depth in your landscape painting.

I’ve made a short 45-second video that illustrates the concept. (You can also watch the video on Youtube here)

“These masses or elements are light or dark, or half-dark or half-light, not because of any colour cast they may have, but because they present different angles to the light that falls upon them from the sky”

John F Carlson, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting

Next time, we’ll try this theory with a landscape painting.

Continue ReadingBeginner Landscape Painting Concepts – The Theory of Angles

​How to Begin Painting (Without Wasting Your Time or Money)

Painting can open up a world of creativity, relaxation, and self-expression; the hardest part is beginning.

Are watercolours harder than acrylics? What if you can’t draw?

Often, the biggest obstacle to success is overcoming the worry you’re wasting your time learning a new medium that doesn’t ‘fit’ your style, or you don’t have the talent to be an artist or, worse, wasting your money buying loads of art materials that you end up not using!

Getting over the Frustration Barrier

“Many things aren’t fun until you’re good at them. Every skill has what I call a frustration barrier, a period of time in which you’re horribly unskilled and you’re painfully aware of that fact.” Josh Kaufman – The First 20 Hours

Even uttering the phrase “I am an artist” can stir feelings of self-doubt. But take heart – every creative feels this impostor syndrome. What matters is moving forward anyway.

(Insights from art psychology books like Art & Fear, The War of Art, and Big Magic prove invaluable companions on the journey.)

The main thing to grasp is that painting is a teachable skill anyone can develop, regardless of innate talent. Some people prefer to take classes with a live instructor, while others prefer to learn independently.

There is a place in the art world for every single artist, and it’s never too late to begin painting.

The main thing to realise is that painting can be learned; it’s a skill that can be developed.

I hope this guide gives you insight into not just materials and mediums, but also a window into the possibilities.

Skill vs Talent (Talent is Overrated)

A Fan Brush used for blending

Can I learn art if I have no talent?

Sure you can.

Can you learn how to bake a cake if you have no talent?

100%.

It’s the same approach. It’s not about natural talent but learning a new skill.

Beginning painting is learning to embrace experiments and find inspiration in your mistakes.

‘Happy Accidents’ can be the beginnings of creative breakthroughs, so be open to when your painting ‘goes wrong’ and try to see what new lessons can be learnt.

Talent is overrated and can be an excuse you can rely on rather than putting in the time on the foundations. The path to success in learning any new skill is focusing more on improving the fundamentals.

“Skill is the ability to do something. Talent is the rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something.¹ If you have a talent for the guitar, that means you will learn to play the guitar faster than someone who doesn’t have a talent for the guitar. If you don’t have a talent for the guitar, that means it will take longer to learn to play the guitar than it would if you did have some talent. For most things* in life, talent doesn’t really matter. The rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something doesn’t really matter. What really matters is the length of time you can do something.” – Billy Oppenheimer 

This quote is so true, “what really matters is the length of time you can do something“.

If you set yourself a goal of creating one painting, you will face problems.

If it goes well, you’ll be worried that the next one won’t be as good, so you’ll procrastinate on continuing.

If it goes badly, you’ll convince yourself you have zero talent; painting isn’t for you, and all those teachers were right.

So what’s the answer?

Start an experiment.

Let’s say you’ll try to paint 100 paintings before you decide if it’s for you.

Does 100 sound too many? It’s estimated that Picasso created 13,500 paintings and around 100,000 prints and engravings.

And don’t get put off if you’re coming to painting later in life. Your unique experiences and perspectives can inform your practice and tell your journey. (Range: Why Generalists Triumph in A Specialized World By David Epstein is a great book on this)

I teach classical painting methods in oils and acrylics that focus on fundamental painting principles.

My philosophy is less is more. A distilled approach to classical painting. A solid foundation for anything you choose to paint, regardless of subject or medium.

I help other aspiring artists not make the same mistakes I did, so if you’ve ever dreamt of picking up a paintbrush and filling a canvas with colour but don’t know where to start, let’s go on a creative journey together to discover how to ‘see’ like an artist.

Students often ask me, ‘What essential materials do I need to begin painting?’

Winsor & Newton Cotman Travel Watercolour Kit

When you are learning anything new, you want to get the best results without investing too much too soon, so before we get into materials, I found it usually helps to begin with the end in mind.

You need to decide on your medium, and each medium has its own charm.

What are you trying to emulate, or what artists are you trying to recreate?

Make a note of paintings you like the style of, what they were painted with and the effect or technique you want to achieve.

You might have tried watercolours and got buckled paper or put off using oils due to the dangers and smell of turpentine (but not realise how far modern oil materials have come.)

You might be much happier with pencils and sketchbooks than painting on canvas.

You’ll get faster results if you can match the correct medium to your personality, aspirations and experience, but knowing which medium will suit you best is impossible until you try.

When you’re dealing with any paints, there are a few things to consider:

  • Handling properties
  • Drying times
  • Surface that you want to work on to
  • Implement you want to use to apply the paints
  • Environment or the space you’ve got available to you

Oil Paint

Oil paints can be amazing to work with, from quick Alla-prima oil canvas sketches to photo-realistic oil portraits.

They have a lovely buttery consistency and a slow drying time, enabling you to make changes over a longer period, adjust shapes, or work wet-into-wet with thick impasto marks.

Oil paints stay workable for much longer than acrylics; the paint on the palette stays pliable.

And oils are king when it comes to blending colours.

Because of their slow-drying nature, you can enjoy the luxury of tweaking and softening your work, creating wonderful, subtle paintings. This is especially true for portrait painting when the shading of the face can need constant revisiting.

If you’re a bit wary because of all the solvents associated with traditional oil painting, you could use water-mixable oils (WMO’s) that you can dilute with water. (Watermixable Oils vs Traditional Oils)

Pro Tip: Even though you can use water with water-mixable oils, you still need to introduce a water-mixable thinner and water-mixable oil to get the best result. This will give you better paint flow and handling. Try to think of them as  ‘water-cleanable’ oils.

Bear in mind that oil paint is a bit messy. I find it gets everywhere just because, well… it tends to get everywhere!

If you’ve got a house full of cats or small children running around, oil painting can make a mess; that goes for water-mixable oils, too.

With Oil Paint you can change your medium to alter paint handling qualities

Preparation is key. Due to the oil in oil paints (usually linseed oil), it’s best to work on a prepared canvas or board.

If you have plenty of time set aside for your painting, traditional oils can be fantastic, but if you want to work with thick paint, you need to consider drying times.

Each particular pigment needs a different amount of oil mixed with it, resulting in different drying times. e.g. Earth colours such as Burnt Umber are rapid drying, whereas Ivory Black takes much longer to dry.

Drying time guide for Winsor & Newton Artist Oils

Ensure a well-ventilated space; traditional turpentine and white spirits can be quite strong. I work with odourless mineral spirits or ‘Zest It‘ (a thinner made from citrus ) with very little odour compared to turpentine.

Many new solvent-free products, such as Gamblin’s Solvent-free Gel, are now coming to market, so there are plenty of alternatives. These offer a way of diluting the oil paint without using traditional solvents; you can also clean your brushes with walnut oil (Murphy’s soap in the US gets good reviews).

Acrylic Paint

burnt-sienna-winsor-newton

Professional Artist Acrylics have a higher pigment load than student-grade paints

One of the key things that make acrylics a great medium to start with is you can paint on anything: paper, card, canvas board, whatever you have to hand.

Set up is quick; they are water-soluble, fast-drying and water-resistant when dry. They clean up with water, and there’s no smell!

They can be used in thin layers like watercolours or in thicker, more opaque applications like oil paint.

You can mix clean, bright colours, and the crisp edges that can be achieved with acrylics can be perfect if you want to paint with a more graphic composition. You can quickly mask out areas, work over them, and easily cover a hard shape with thicker paint.

Blending with acrylics can be a bit frustrating due to the speed of the drying time; acrylics dry by evaporation and tend to dry quite quickly.

Artists refer to this as having a short ‘working time’; however, this can vary depending on several different factors; the main ones are:

  • How thick or thin is your application of the paint
  • The absorbency of the surface you’re working on
  • The size of the painting
  • What you dilute the paint with, either water or a specialist medium
  • The heat and humidity of the environment you’re painting in

If you are working on a large scale, it can be practically impossible to work the canvas as a whole to bring together the same finish. But apart from working quicker or on a small scale, you can add a medium to the paint to help keep the working time open for longer. Soft gel gloss, a retarder (slows down drying time) or my preferred choice, glazing liquid gloss, make achieving smooth blends with acrylics easier.

Pro tip: 7 Ways to Stop Acrylic Paint Drying too Fast

Watercolour Painting

Beautiful graded washes, translucent colours, seamless transitions, a quick drying time, and super reasonably priced to get started. You can buy a Cotman travel kit, a pad of watercolour paper, a couple of brushes and get going!

If you want to paint outdoors, watercolours are a great option because your kit is pretty compact. Quick, impromptu watercolour sketches of a little plant next to you or a study of your garden always look pretty good in my experience.

Watercolour is all about washes and contrasts over line work, so you must know your drawing skills.

You can, of course, paint abstractly to produce swirls, blocks and washes, but if you’re trying to create a scene, a landscape or a realistic still life, there will usually be a fair amount of a drawing element to it.

When you paint with acrylics or oils, although the initial sketch and drawing out are still important, you can build up the painting through the form using an opaque application, whereas, with watercolour, you’re traditionally washing over a line. (Here’s an Ink and Watercolour demo)

Beginning Watercolour Painting

So, what are the essential beginning painting materials I would need?

The Winsor & Newton Artists’ Choice Professional Watercolour Set of 18 half-pan colours would be a great start for new watercolourists. Great pigmentation and these little pans last a really long time.

Most of the time, you would be painting on paper. You can read more about How to Choose Watercolour Paper here.

You could get away with one good brush, but ideally three brushes, and you could probably do 80% of the paintings with these three brushes.

  • a small round
  • a medium round
  • a bigger mop brush

For watercolours or gouache, brushes are usually soft, have a spring and can hold water. Most traditional brushes are made from animal hair, and the quality of the brush’s bounce and feel depends on the quality of the hair used. But you can get really good quality synthetic brushes now, too. You can read about A Quick Way to Understand Brushes here.

Flat & Round Synthetic Acrylic Brushes (Isabey Isacryl, Rosemary & Co Golden Synthetic, Princeton Aspen)

I think a great starter set for acrylic painters would be the Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic Colour Set of 12 20ml tubes.

Again, a handful of brushes would be a great start.

  • a small round for detail
  • a flat brush
  • a Filbert brush,
  • and a bigger brush 1 1/2 inches for laying down the tonal ground

And Glazing Liquid Gloss as your medium.

Beginning Painting Oil Painting

Michael Harding Introductory Oil Painting Set

And for oil painters, I’d start with the Michael Harding Introductory Kit. The set consists of six tubes of 40ml paint: Titanium White, Yellow Lake, Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre Deep, Burnt Umber and Scarlet Lake.

When it comes to the brushes, it is definitely easier to have more and, ideally, be able to hold a few brushes in your hand at the same time.

For example, if you’ve got a white brush and want to go from white to black with oils, it is really tricky.

It takes loads of washing, impeccable cleaning or a huge load of paint to transfer or change oils from light to dark. It’s very easy to end up with muddy colours on your canvas and messy everything else, so ultra-clean practice of brush handling is key here.

You’ve got to spend more time colour mixing, then make a mark and leave it to keep a clean colour, gently blending out the edges.

The other difference with oils is you need less paint, so you only need to put out a tiny bit of pigment. It will last ages, and a small paint volume will have good coverage.

When it comes to the mediums, you can use an odourless mineral spirit, like Gamsol, to cut through the paint to thin it. An oil medium to add flow and oil. Or one of the many non-toxic mediums as an alternative to using a thinner.

How do I set up a basic painting workspace at home?

Firstly, consider light and ventilation.

Essentially, the easiest thing is to have a table and a slightly angled board or a tabletop easel because then you can sit behind and paint in the right light.

You can sit next to a window, but it will vary depending on what time of day it is or how dark it is.

An LED bulb or an LED panel behind and above you is the best thing to get. Clipped on, looking down onto the easel.

This, again, will depend on if you’re using oils, which are a bit trickier because they often get a glare onto your canvas. So you have to make sure you’ve got the hang just right, or you can adjust the angle.

Have a kitchen roll or rags for cleaning up and a bin, and make sure you have a metal bin for oils because of the fumes and good practice with the rags disposal.

What are some of the fundamental basic techniques I should focus on as a beginner painter?

Detail from: Venice, Light & The Landscape Course

It sounds boring, but working with black and white to work on your tones, value, and contrast is fundamental. Paying attention to the value (lightness and darkness) of colours and learning to create contrast in your paintings is essential for depth and visual interest.

And then, after that, I would work on colour mixing because if you’ve got your tones and colour mixing right, everything else falls into place.

And also not to forget, drawing.

I always say most painting mistakes come from your drawing mistakes.

Brush techniques

Practise blending, scumbling, dry brushing, layering, and impasto (thick paint application).

You need more brush techniques with watercolour. With this medium, mastering brush control is key for achieving textures and effects, such as variated wash, wet into wet, lifting and blooms.

You’ll be thankful for that larger brush that holds more water!

When you’re working in acrylics, my top tip would be use more paint than you think you would need.

And with oils, make sure that you don’t drag or you don’t reapply; it’s so easy to make colours dirty. Ideally, you’d lay a colour down, leave it, and then work over it to blend the edges.

How do I choose a subject to paint?

Begin with simple subjects and compositions, and you can tackle more complex scenes or ideas as you gain confidence.

If you are looking for simple projects, I’d recommend signing up for the email newsletter, if you haven’t already. There are 10 references to work from; just pick one of them and follow it.

I often find beginners want to put their own mark onto a canvas; even when they’re first beginning, they don’t want to copy something. But if you look at any of the Students Success Pages, everyone following the same image with the same colours has their own character and natural style. It’s almost like having your own handwriting but with painting!

So, when you are learning, I recommend copying the basics until you understand the language of paint.

Which of your courses would you recommend?

The Beginners Acrylic Painting Course gives a good overview of different paints, such as high-flow acrylics, heavy-body acrylics and different mediums.

There are three different projects: a still life, a seascape and a landscape.

Alternatively, if you did one of the Morning Painting sessions, like the Modern Still Life, you would just have one subject, five colours, and three brushes.

It’s super simple to get started. There’s a drawing guide that you can follow along and you get to a finished painting quicker because it’s more focused.

Remember, painting should be enjoyable!

Let your creativity flow, and don’t be overly critical of your work; it’s all part of developing your ‘talent.’

Continue Reading​How to Begin Painting (Without Wasting Your Time or Money)

Amsterdam, Vermeer & The Little Street

This week I’m lucky enough to be in Amsterdam to experience the largest ever Vermeer Exhibition!

28 of Johannes Vermeer’s known 37 works, have been brought together from museums and private collections across the world for this unique opportunity at the Rijksmuseum.

It’s currently a sell out show with over 450,000 tickets sold! but they are releasing new tickets so it’s worth checking the site. (Rijksmuseum Vermeer Tickets)

On display is one of my favourites, ‘The Little Street’ and we do a master copy of the painting in the Beginners Water Mixable Oil Course.

When I get back to the studio I’ll put together a exhibition review but for now I’m off to grab a coffee and a Stroopwafel.

The 5hr+ course is best suited if you’ve been working with acrylics and want to learn about the pros and cons of water-mixable oils. We go through lots of materials and options to give you an overview of what’s available with water-mixable oils.

Speak soon,

Cheers,
Will

Continue ReadingAmsterdam, Vermeer & The Little Street

How to Quickly make Sense of a Complicated Landscape Scene

I had an email from a student recently with a great question,

I’m wondering how to start painting this picture. There are so many colours, trees and bushes so I think it gets so messy. Do I start with the sky in the background and work my way forward and finally paint the trees? – Ulrikke

The photo that accompanied the email was a scene crowded with trees. Lots of layers all on top of each other, overlapping leaves and foliage coming towards the viewer with almost no visual sky.

Continue ReadingHow to Quickly make Sense of a Complicated Landscape Scene

How to Dilute Acrylics vs Water-mixable Oils

A Comparison Video

Morning class,

Over the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with various mediums, recording drying times and noting the handling of water-mixable oils – all in the process of creating a new course.

Amongst the copious footage, I wanted to share this introductory lesson where I compare the dilution of acrylics to water-mixable oils.

Simple but fundamental observations.

You may find there are times when acrylics dry off too quickly or are difficult to blend especially when you’re painting in thin layers. Using water-mixable oils can be fantastic because they give you that extra working time. Painting wet-into-wet is one of the significant advantages you’ll notice because you gain a lot more time for smoking together colours.

But how do they both compare when diluting with water?

Continue ReadingHow to Dilute Acrylics vs Water-mixable Oils

Edition // 001: Notes from the Artist’s Studio

Morning Class,

My name is Will and I am an obsessive notetaker.

I get sidetracked easily.

If I’m listening to something that has piqued my curiosity, it can send me down a rabbit hole of research….usually halfway through a painting.

And then the copious note-taking follows.

It got so bad at one stage, Vanessa had to prevent me from buying new notebooks because after furiously filling them with fascinating insights, I’d annoyingly lose where I’d put them or worse couldn’t decipher what my own scribbling all meant.

On a positive, my last birthday present was The Remarkable Tablet (an e-ink notebook that feels amazingly close to writing on paper) which has helped add order to the chaos and made the kitchen table decidedly neater.

Some of my research notes do come back to inspire my practice and if they bring me a new understanding or appreciation, I figured they are worth sharing.

So here are my top 5 art inspirations that I’ve read, experimented with or listened to this week, when I should have been at the easel, with the hope they might inspire your own work too…

Continue ReadingEdition // 001: Notes from the Artist’s Studio

Peonies in Water-Mixable Oils

Will Kemp, Peonies (Detail) Acrylic & Water-mixable Oils on Canvas, 60.96 cm x 60.96 cm (24 inch x 24 inch)

How do they compare to Acrylics?

Over the New Year, I’ve been in the studio working up a large scale floral still life painting, from a series of sketches I did over the summer. The original composition had been inspired by the dramatic oil paintings of the Dutch Golden Age (you can see the progress of my painting further down the article).

To achieve the soft blends between the petals, delicate smoked edges and the ability to work across subtle shifts in hues, oils would allow me a longer working time. Then I could build up the painting as a whole piece, adjusting tones, working wet-into-wet.

But being in the middle of a British winter and the studio doors firmly shut with little ventilation, the thought of having a pot of thinners or strong solvents in an enclosed space was discouraging me from getting started.

After a prolonged period of procrastination, it occurred to me, maybe it was time to break out the water-mixable oils.

Continue ReadingPeonies in Water-Mixable Oils

How to Choose a Colour for a Tonal Ground

My Top 5 Pigment Choices

Inspired by the dramatic, dark Flemish oil paintings I saw in Antwerp; I’ve just started working on a still life set up of some fab oversized pink peonies. I’m going to begin simply with acrylics then build up the piece using water-mixable oils.

Yesterday, I talked about the importance of a coloured ground and how this very simple step of preparing your canvas, can transform your working method. And I received lots of emails asking
‘How do you go about choosing a colour for your tonal ground?’

Well, the first thing I do is make a decision.

What is the most important thing or the most important problems that I can foresee within the painting I’m going to be working on?

For this still life, judging the values of the flowers and getting the drawing right are going to be the two trickiest areas –  but get them right….and they can pull the whole painting together. Choosing a sympathetic tone for the coloured ground will help me achieve this.

Continue ReadingHow to Choose a Colour for a Tonal Ground

Inside the Artist’s Studio

Peter Paul Rubens, Detail from The Assumption of the Virgin, Oil on Panel, 1626

Ruben’s House & the Art of Antwerp

The rhythmic sound of African drums echoed through the vast interior of the Cathedral.

It was an unexpected acoustic experience, and the historical tour we’d seen advertised was looking increasingly unlikely.

There was just Vanessa and me waiting patiently at the back of the Cathedral when the tour guide arrived; she was getting extremely agitated. She hadn’t known the performance was on, the volume was too loud, a new musical set had just started, and her tension was building.

She was miffed.

But then our saviour came, a gentleman from Romania. Our tour of two had become three. We were off to the races.

I was in Antwerp (just last month) exploring Ruben’s home and studio, but nothing had prepared me for the pure brilliance of his works that lay only a few steps from our hotel lobby, hidden behind the doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady. 

Continue ReadingInside the Artist’s Studio

Capturing Sunlight with Sorolla

sorolla-strollng-along-the-seashore

Joaquín Sorolla, Strolling along the Seashore, Detail, Valencia, 1909

Inside the Artist’s Studio

In the heart of bustling Madrid, behind a protective brick wall, sits the elegant former home and studio of Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla (1863 -1923)

Huge decorative iron gates lead you through a lush Andalusian courtyard garden to one of the best-preserved artist houses in Europe, an absolutely priceless experience. 

musee-sorolla-casa

musee-sorolla-garden-entrance

Continue ReadingCapturing Sunlight with Sorolla

Monet & Architecture at the National Gallery (London)

Claude Monet, The Thames below Westminster, about 1871

Claude Monet, The Thames below Westminster, about 1871

“Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat, I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat – the beauty of the light in which they exist.” – Claude Monet

The French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) is best known for his brilliant paintings of landscapes, coastline and water-lilies, but this month saw the opening of a new exhibition ‘Monet & Architecture’ at the National Gallery, London.

This show highlights his interest in architecture, not only compositionally, but how he used it as a backdrop and tool to capture the changing effects of light and I was fortunate enough to catch it this week!

Bringing together over 75 of Monet’s paintings from all over the world, the rooms are unconventionally grouped following architectural subject matter, The Village & the Picturesque, The City & the Modern and The Monument & the Mysterious.

The idea of creating paintings based on ‘picturesque ideals’ influenced Monet’s early work and this concept was part of the larger ‘picturesque landscape’ debate originating in England.

Professor Richard Thomson, the curator of the show, explains,

“One of the points of this exhibition was to take a very famous artist, who people think they know, but to take a look at his work in a different way

Continue ReadingMonet & Architecture at the National Gallery (London)

Discovering Zorn, the Petit Palais & Patisseries in Paris

We arrived in Paris to catch the last few days of a retrospective exhibition of the Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920)

After a snowy week in England, we woke to blue skies, warm croissants and this amazing rooftop view from our hotel room. I couldn’t resist a quick pen sketch of the row of chimney pots in the distance before we hit the show, check out those windows!

Sketch from Hotel, Rotring Art Pen (F), Pentel Brush Pen and Pentel Aquash Water Pen in A6 size (10 x 15cm) Seawhites of Brighton Sketchpad (140gsm All-Media Cartridge Paper)

Continue ReadingDiscovering Zorn, the Petit Palais & Patisseries in Paris

The Immersive Power of Painting

(a Painting Truth you can Learn too Late)

How often have you heard yourself say “I’d love to paint but I’ve got too much going on… I’ll have to wait till I’ve finished work….the kids have grown up….

“I wish I had more time to paint but… but, but, but”

Just finding space to set your paints out means upheaval of something else and squeezing a free window of time feels too difficult to plan in an already jam-packed calendar.

And then, having to learn how to paint on top of that ….uh, I can see why you’d think you’d have to wait until you retire!

But is it possible by not painting now, you’re missing out?

What if you don’t need more time to paint, but you need to paint, to give your mind a much-needed refresh?…

Continue ReadingThe Immersive Power of Painting