Woven Stories – Singer Sargent and Fashion Exhibition review

sargent and fashion exhibition london

Thursday was a day of art & indulgence.

Walking through Chelsea, I kicked off the adventure at Birley Bakery with a delectable almond croissant, crispy golden-brown pastry, toasty warm out the oven and the sweet almond paste within.

Baked goods in hand, I was on the search for John Singer Sargent’s former home and studio.

Outside Birley Bakery in Chelsea.

Sargent (1856–1925) is known for his fabulous brushwork.

He painted portraits of society families, powerful art collectors or theatrical performers draped in satin, lace and rich velvets. He contrasted bolder, impressionist brushstrokes on the fabrics with a lightness of touch on the features.

Born in Florence in 1856 to American parents, he lived in several European countries as a child before shaping his artistic reputation in Paris. (You can see a portrait of his tutor in the article: Singer Sargent & Friends)

In 1886, Sargent settled in London at the centre of society with an accomplished circle of friends that included Henry James, Claude Monet and James Abbott McNeil Whistler.

Outside 31 Tite Street, Chelsea, London

His studio sits on 31-33 Tite St, and you can see the huge studio window above, it was actually in the same building as Whistler’s original studio. The buildings are unbelievable.

In 1900, Sargent expanded into number 31 cutting a hole in the wall between properties, using 31 as his home and keeping 33 as his studio. It would remain his home for the rest of his life.

“[The] windows face north and south, twenty feet of sheer light, with muslin soothing or baffling the light over the street-side window. It is not possible to be in this room and not feel better.

Candia McWilliam, Author and later resident of 33 Tite Street

I took 10 minutes to soak it all in and did a wobbly fountain pen sketch standing in the drizzle.

Tite Street is situated within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, just north of the River Thames, London, with peaceful, leafy streets. In the late 19th century, the neighbourhood was a fashionable location for people of an artistic and literary world, and its history of residents is dazzling!

Anna Lea Merritt, artist; Augustus John artist, Paul Edward Dehn, screenwriter for some of the Bond films, interestingly Fleming placed James Bond home only a few streets away; Peter Warlock, composer; Mick Jagger, Oscar Wilde, Turner and Whistler to name only a few, so just the walk down the street reading the blue plaques is exciting.

Pro tip: You can see an interactive map of the blue plaques in London here: Blue Plaque Map London

I also took a chocolate and almond croissant for an afternoon snack on the way to Tate Britain and excitedly carried on to the second part of my journey.

Sargent and Fashion

From 22 February 2024 until 7 July 2024, Tate Britain, London, is showing over sixty paintings by John Singer Sargent, including major portraits rarely seen in the U.K. Several items of period clothing are also shown alongside the portraits in which they were worn.

Sargent used fashion to express identity and personality. He regularly helped choose the outfits or costumes of his sitters, and the manipulation of the fabrics became central to his painting. He pinned, draped and tucked his sitter’s clothes to create new shapes and textures, rearranging a heavy coat tighter or allowing a silk gown to fall in pools of light.

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, Detail, 1892

Sargent and his sitters thought carefully about the clothes he would paint them in, the messages they would send and how well particular outfits would translate to paint. One French critic noted at the time, ‘There is now a class who dresses after pictures, and when they buy a gown, they ask if it will paint?’

Initially, I was intrigued to see if these items of clothing and accessories were needed, would they crowd or detract from the already compelling paintings?

But in reality, they were very helpful as a teaching tool for understanding Sargent’s approach to painting. One of the hardest things when learning to paint is to learn what to leave in and what to leave out while still capturing the essence of the subject you’re looking at.

When you are studying Sargent’s work up close, it looks like a selection of random abstract marks. Only the subject is revealed when you step back from the canvas.

To the right of the painting is the original coat featured in the portrait

Lady Sassoon, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1907

In this portrait, Sargent posed Lady Sassoon wearing a taffeta cloak. Taffeta is a thin fabric often made from silk that shifts with the light and luxuriously falls to the floor in big folds.

Pink roses, a string of pearls, bangles on both wrists and an amazing hat of black ostrich feathers completed her outfit. Lady Sassoon was a talented artist herself, working in pastels. Raised in Paris, highly educated, and a music lover, they became good friends.

The fabric holds its shapes in concave pools that reveal the lightfall

You can see how Sargent shaped the dark cloak, wrapping it around her to get exactly the right play of light on the fabric. And because you’ve just got a black-on-black subject, Sargent needed something to break up the view, so he uses the inner pink lining of the cloak to direct our eyes.

It’s barely noticeable in real life, but it has been wrapped or rolled back to add a streak of colour that guides our view across the portrait’s surface. The diagonal adds movement; we see one hand, then our eyes travel down to the other hand, then curve back to us.

What I thought was interesting was that the cloak, in reality, has a muted pink lining, but in the painting, Sargent has increased the saturation. This stronger saturation is mirrored on the right-hand side of the painting. He’s pushed the colour to control our gaze.

When you study the hands, the upper one is quite detailed, but compared to the lower one, you can see how he’s used more refined brush strokes and lost all the edges of the fingers.

Notice how the upper finger is a lot pinker because of the reflected light from the pink of the lining, and the texture surrounding it is very gestural and more impasto. You’ll see this a lot through all of the paintings. Thin, smooth layers underneath and gestural marks over the top.

Black dresses became very fashionable during the late 19th century, and although they kept their association with mourning, etiquette was relaxed enough to make them a much more acceptable fashion, and the introduction of synthetic, intense, pure black dyes meant a real new depth of colour not seen before.

Paint it black

Sargent really enjoyed working black on black.

He admired this technique in the work of Spanish painter Diego Velazquez and Dutch artist Frans Hals.

During the 1880s, he painted almost half his female sitters of different ages, all wearing black gowns. The colour was so integral to his work that when visiting his friend, French artist Claude Monet, Sargent couldn’t work upon learning Monet had no black paint. You can just imagine the scene!

Madame X, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1883-4

Sargent painted Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau in a black satin dress with jewelled straps; the pale flesh tone, which she accentuated with pale makeup, contrasted against the dark dress and background. Gautreau was admired in Parisian social circles for her great beauty and appearance. Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, she accepted Sargent’s offer to paint her in February 1883.

The most striking thing in this portrait is the pale skin next to the dark and the pose.

I love how he’s weighted the pose, so you can feel the pressure of her on the table. It also reminds me of the plaster cast you paint in a Classical Atelier, almost like a statue, so upright. It’s very powerful.

If we look again at Sargent’s hands, it’s very interesting how the one-hand position is posed on the left and the other is grabbing hold of the ruffles, which creates the tension in the gown and holds the whole pose together, so it just feels extremely straight.

As Madame X was originally shown in The Paris Salon 1884 exhibition scandal

Sargent’s original Madame X was first exhibited at Paris Salon’s 1884 exhibition in a much more daring pose, showing one of the jewelled straps of her dress falling off her shoulder.

Sargent insisted he painted her ‘exactly as she was dressed’, and Gautreau described it as a masterpiece in a letter to her friend.

But immediate reactions to the painting were negative; it instantly became a scandal in French society, criticising the indecency of the dress.

Sargent was severely disappointed by the critics and public reaction and overpainted the shoulder strap to raise it and make it look more securely fastened. He left Paris soon after, feeling his reputation had been damaged.

Sargent in his Paris studio, photograph attributed to A. Giraudon, c. 1883-4.

Sargent painting Madame X in his Paris Studio

And then you see the sketch of it.

I really liked this sketch, probably because I just love unfinished paintings. They always have a bit more energy to them, you can see how they were put together. But it’s so interesting to see how the hair looks a lot redder in the sketch because you’ve got other warm elements around it. This study was probably painted before the 1884 Paris Salon. The right strap is missing, suggesting that Sargent was unsure about its position.

He kept this painting until his death.

The Price of a Portrait

Sargent’s career in Britain coincided with a revival of interest in historical portraitures such as those of Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.

Even though Sargent adapted a style resembling it, he painted relatively few members of the British aristocracy, his clientele was international, and many of his sitters came from finance, commerce, the arts, or the sciences. A portrait by Sargent might serve as a reassuring symbol or announce the arrival of more recently wealthy people into high society.

Compelling portraits were widely discussed and frequently reproduced, so Sargent’s work was much in demand from sitters seeking an authoritative image of themselves and an upgrade in social status.

Here is a quote from John S. Sargent forr a portrait for the Harvard Club.

$2,000 for head and shoulders
$3,000 for 3/4 length
$4,000 for full length

Sounds a fair price, but this was 1896.

The equivalent today would be:

$73,432.62 for head and shoulders
$110,148.93 for 3/4 length
$146,865.24 for full length

Capturing the Light

Mrs Leoplold Hirsch, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1902

This is such an amazing painting of Mathilde Hirsch.

A passionate historian and collector of paintings and furniture may have inspired her choice of antique lace for her collar.  The mark-making and brushstrokes are multilayered. They feel very frenetic when standing close to the painting, but the overall portrait is very serene.

Detail of lace collar

When you highlight just that central area, see how the form changes and the values of the skin tones are so subtle. It’s only when you see it in the context of the rest of the painting that suddenly, it feels a lot more three-dimensional and elegant.

What Sargent is so good at capturing, is light fall-off. It’s all about how the light drops in a scene and how he just seems to control where you look just from the fall off of the light. 

Sir Frank (Athelstane) Swettenham, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1904

The portrait above of Sir Frank Swettenham is often reproduced in books, and they pump up his face so it looks like you can see him more, but that isn’t how the portrait actually looks.

It’s really dark on his face, and his trousers are the brightest part. Sargent is brave enough to flip it around. Rather than always focusing on the face, the trousers are the lightest  value, and the figure emerges from the background.

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1892

Sargent visited Lady Agnew in her London home to discuss her portrait and consider different gowns, finally deciding on a white sheer organza and silk dress with lavender accessories.

This is such a beautiful painting, and if you compare Lady Agnew’s hands, which are held together, quite hidden and subdued, compared to Madame X’s hands, which are very stylised, you’re now in this painting, just concentrated on the face. 

I always think if you look at someone’s hands and how they use them, you can begin to see the character, how they’re holding their pose, so you’ve got to think about when you’re painting a portrait of a whole figure.

Does this subject work with the hands or tell a story using them, are you even going to highlight that or not? It’s not just about the face, it’s about the whole character.

The hands can be gestural and portray a mood. Whatever the hands are doing is often a reflection of what the sitter’s mind is doing.

He painted quickly, completed this portrait in just six sittings.

And if you are ever struggling to paint white, study this portrait. I know she’s got a bit of colour in the purple sash, but look how many colours are in the white gown.

There’s purples, yellows, and dark blues, and then there’s some pure white too. It’s also amazing how he then has the see-through sleeves of the top, and you can see her arm beneath it. In the top right corner, how has he even painted the organza so beautifully? 

When you get up close other bits are so bold and quick. The sash is beautiful, it’s so incredibly simple. And I think it’s fabulous to see these very complicated fabrics Sargent manages to convey in a very simple way, but when you stand in front of the painting, you’re really just drawn to her face.

You’re taking in the rest, but he’s managed to control the edges and softness so that her actual face is the sharpest, most focused, most finished part. He has an amazing way of putting weight into people. I don’t quite know how he does it, but you feel like she’s sitting in a chair with her legs out and resting on the side.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1885-6

This is one of Sargent’s first paintings after moving from Paris to London. It was created in Broadway, a quaint, peaceful village set in the Cotswolds where Sargent stayed with his friend and fellow painter Millet.

(You can see some photos of Broadway in this article: Inspiration, Impressionism & the Power of Environment)

It has always been a magical painting, for me and  I remember as a student, being blown away by how compelling the light is.

He painted it over two years, mostly outside in the few minutes when the light was perfect, giving the picture an overall purple glow of evening light. He was inspired by the Chinese lanterns hanging amongst the trees and lilies in full bloom in the garden and added the two girls, the daughters of the illustrator Frederick Barnard wearing white dresses he had specially made.

When you look at this compared to Lady Agnew above , it doesn’t have that same sense of freedom of movement or the very confident, free-flowing brush marks.

But what works incredibly well in Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, which works well in all Sargent, is his graphical composition elements, like the shapes around the lilies. The way he composes the scene is so good. Like that kind of holds it all together.

Interestingly, this painting was created after leaving Paris and the Madame X scandal.

He was very anxious during this period, aiming to get back his reputation, so it feels like, in parts, it has been overpainted. As a reference point Lady Agnew was painted six or seven years later, by which point he’s relaxed and back in his stride.

The later works feel almost effortless. Take it or leave it.

As a painter you can’t help but let criticisms crowd your mind. There is nothing worse than having an expectation on your shoulders.  I also think in exhibitions, it’s hard to tell the timelines when you’re walking through, most shows are based on a theme, but it’s interesting to see what else was happening in his life at the time the work was created.

Performance and Posture

La Carmencita, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1890

Some of the Sargent sitters, such as Ellen Terry and Carmencita, were professional performers who appealed to Sargent’s love of music and theatre.

Carmen Dauset Moreno better known as Carmencita, was a Spanish dancer who performed internationally. Known for her twisting and twirling dance style, Sargent captured her in a very posed stance; but her shimmering, heavily decorated dress adds real life and movement to the painting.

Lord Ribblesdale John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1902

Sitters such as Lord Ribblesdale were society personalities, he paid fastidious attention to his appearance in the everyday. In this portrait Sargent exaggerated the proportions of his silk tie and breeches.

By having some of the actual garments that Sargent painted, you have a unique opportunity to look at the fabric and folds and try to decide what you would include. How does the surface reflect light? What is the hue and the saturation? What parts of the essence describe the object without getting overly fussy or detailed?

Detail of the  fabric in comparison to the painting interpretation.

When you’re painting impressionistic,  the question is what don’t I paint? Not what can I add more of, but what can I take away from the subject and still tell the story of this object? So it’s like stripping it back down to how simple you can go without getting overly simplified.

You can see what Sargent focuses on compared to the finished painting. So find some fabric, place it next to a light, and observe the shapes.

A great practice when you’re learning to paint is to create a ‘master copy’. This is where you try to re-create a painting in the style of an artist you admire. The biggest thing the artist has already done for you is decipher the real-life image into more simplistic form that describes the subject.


Two Girls in White Dresses, John Singer Sargent, Oil on Canvas, 1911

Left: Singer Sargent, Right: Sorolla.

Sargent travelled extensively during the summer and made many paintings of his travelling companions.

In these works, the figures are nonchalant, allowing the clothing to take centre stage. These are unnamed people, painted outside, and I think they’re some of his most popular pieces. Sargent’s most expensive painting Group with Parasols (A Siesta) sold at Sotheby’s in 2004 for $23,528,000 dollars.

They are his most impressionistic works, capturing that sense of movement; but you can see he’s still obsessed with fabric and working on graphic elements.

It reminded me of Sorolla’s ‘Mending the Sails’ above because of the confidence to have a piece of white fabric as the central element to a composition. Sargent had a chance to experiment with fabric and texture in ways that would be impossible to do within the structure of a society portrait.

He was beginning to feel tired of making people look a certain way, it must have been like doing a Tatler shoot! He just said I’m just not interested in that anymore, and stopped oil portrait commissions when he was in his early 50s.

Much of his later career was dedicated to large-scale murals, he also served as a war artist during the First World War, when he made his largest oil paintings.

Sargent still occasionally painted friends and his final portraits are those of an artist with nothing left to prove.

The exhibition is called Sargent and Fashion, but I think Sargent and Fabric would have been more fitting, its on all Summer so hopefully you can get a chance to visit.

The show runs until 7th July 2024 : Sargent and Fashion

Apres Exhibition at the Tate cafe

P.S. I’d also like to thank reader Raquel, who first alerted me to the show when it was on in Boston, thanks!

Continue ReadingWoven Stories – Singer Sargent and Fashion Exhibition review

5 Books That Helped Me See More Opportunities With My Art, Gain Control Over Procrastination, and Live a More Creative Life.

“Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be.”- Art & Fear

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself lost in a maze of handwritten notes about books I’d enjoyed and was excited to recommend.

Twenty minutes in, an article about Da Vinci piqued my interest, so I moved to the comfy sofa to fully concentrate. An endeavour that culminated in me falling asleep.

Ironically, I’d sat down to share the secrets of avoiding procrastination, mastering time management, boosting art sales, and living a more creative life – but I had gotten distracted.

That said, reading about Leonardo was not only fascinating but enlightening.

Architect, engineer, scientist, sculptor and painter. His first job was as a theatrical producer and set designer, teaching him tricks with perspective that he carried on through into his paintings.

The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci, Tempera on Gesso, c.1495-1498

Notice the viewpoint and how the angle or perspective of the table top has been shifted very slighlty towards us to reveal more of the surface but still sits comfortably within the composition, I’d never really noticed this before.

If you wanted ideas, he was your man.

Leonardo’s interests were broad, and new subjects compelled him so intensely that he usually left projects unfinished, which meant working with him was a nightmare. Clients would avoid relying on him because he couldn’t be trusted to finish.

“to urge Leonardo the Florentine to finish the work on the Refectory of the Grazie, which he has begun, in order to attend afterwards to the other wall of the Refectory of the Grazie; and that agreements to which he has subscribed by his hand be fulfilled, which shall oblige him to finish the work within the time that shall be agreed upon with him.” From Leonardo by Martin Kemp

He spent most of his time observing nature or pondering on scientific theories. In his defence, he was just getting interested in other more captivating subjects, like how to fly or understanding human anatomy.

Really, he was just being curious, which is making me feel a lot more soothed about my limited attention span.

“In addition to his instinct for discerning patterns across disciplines, Leonardo honed two other traits that aided his scientific pursuits: an omnivorous curiosity, which bordered on the fanatical, and an acute power of observation, which was eerily intense.” –  Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci

So, after reading (or revisiting) over 20 books in 2023, here is a list of 5 books that have sparked my curiosity and given me some ideas and principles I’ve tried to adopt in my daily routines.

Live a More Creative Life

  1. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano / act / paint / write a decent play?” Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.”
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

The Artist’s Way is laid out as a 12-week program to get back in touch with your creative self, with exercises, activities, and insights that help you overcome creative blocks and discover your true potential as an artist. Ever heard of ‘morning pages’? This book will show you how this simple practice can revolutionize your creativity and bring clarity to your life.

I read this book as an art student and can’t remember finishing the whole 12-week course, but I adopted two key practices that I use to this day.

  • Morning Pages
  • Artists’ Dates

Morning pages are so handy to stop your mind whirring over issues. The practice is to write freehand using a pen and paper, three pages of a train of thought. No editing, no re-reading, no punctuation. Just pure free-flowing words. If you’ve been tied to your keyboard, writing longhand for three pages can seem to take ages.

Your handwriting might not be able to keep up with the speed of your thoughts, but it can be very beneficial. Just getting any ideas, worries, or frustrations down on a page has a really therapeutic effect.

You’re not looking for solutions; you don’t re-read to try and discover your problems; you just write. The process is the cure.

I also love the concept of ‘Artist Dates’.

If you want to feel inspired, you need to book a date with yourself to go to an event, a museum, or a show. Preferably on your own (although I often bend the rules a bit and go with Vanessa)

So check your calendar for the next month. Where are you going to get inspired?

Making a date, actually going to a museum, going to a bookshop, going to these things on your own rather than with friends is the key; otherwise, you tend to end up just going for a coffee….( erm…I can confirm that is mostly true but we still had fun)

Face the fear of creating your art

2. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards of Artmaking) By David Bayles and Ted Orland

“What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.” – David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear

This book is particularly helpful if you went to art college but haven’t quite fulfilled that potential that you dreamed about whilst quaffing ale in the student union. It looks into the fears we all face – fear of failure, not being good enough, or not being understood. The authors, both artists themselves, share personal stories and advice on their own art journeys.

One key thing that beginners often get hung up on is their own style. If you’re searching for your style and have trouble thinking you’ll never find a unique voice. The exciting thing is that your unique voice is just by being you! Yay.

It’s a short read with motivational insights. The Artist Way is a slower-burn 12-week program; this feels like a little motivational boost when you need it.

“To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process.” – David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Make Time for Your Art

How do you control your attention to focus on what matters in a world that’s trying to distract you from living the creative life you dream about?

These next books help you to make time, appreciate the dedication needed for deep artistic work and prevent yourself from becoming distracted from the task at hand.

3. Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day By Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky

“What Will Be the Highlight of Your Day?
We want you to begin each day by thinking about what you hope will be the bright spot. If, at the end of the day, someone asks you, “What was the highlight of your day?” what do you want your answer to be? When you look back on your day, what activity or accomplishment or moment do you want to savor? That’s your Highlight.

Your Highlight is not the only thing you’ll do each day. After all, most of us can’t ignore our inboxes or say no to our bosses. But choosing a Highlight gives you a chance to be proactive about how you spend your time, instead of letting technology, office defaults, and other people set your agenda.” – Make Time by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky

‘Make Time’ is helpful if you’re struggling with finding time for your art. Juggling your schedule with your passions and everything else can roll into one. The authors both used to work at Google, and they have some great frameworks on how to prioritize your day. They also talk about social media and ‘infinity pools’. Apps that can continue to show you an exorbitant amount of things to distract you from what you want to get done.

The two main methods I use from the book are:

  • Daily Highlight
  • Time Timer

Illustration from: Make Time by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky

I’ve found the daily highlight is a great way to be able to set a focus for the day that you’re excited about, but you know you can achieve without getiing into the minutiae of the to-do list. It’s also a great way to remember what happens on a daily basis, especially if things are super busy. (Another good method for this is ‘homework for life‘ by Matthew Dicks from the book Storyworthy)

My brothers and sisters often laugh at the other method I use.

It’s a timer.

Meant for and used by kids.

And I love it!

You turn the dial, and the red wedge gets progressively smaller as the timer runs down.

I have it on my desk, and I can quickly glance at how long I’ve been working rather than checking an app on my phone and getting drawn down another path! If you want to draw for 10 minutes, set a timer. See if you can answer your emails in 20 minutes and still have time for painting in the hour; set a timer.

It’s not for everyone; Vanessa often tidied it away when it first arrived because, for her, there was no conceivable reason why anyone would need it. And apart from anything else, it was ruining the look of the new coffee table.

But if you find yourself jumping from task to task and not fully concentrating on what you set out to do, it might be worth a go!

Beat Procrastination

4. Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal

You can start to see a theme with my procrastination!

‘Ten-minute rule’. If I find myself wanting to check my phone as a pacification device when I can’t think of anything better to do, I tell myself it’s fine to give in, but not right now, I have to wait just ten minutes.” – Nir Eyal, Indistractable

What I find interesting about Indistractable is the author, Nir Eyal, had previously written a book called ‘Hooked’. In Hooked, Eyal goes through the mechanics of what makes tech and social media apps so irresistible. Indistractable is like the antidote! Giving strategies on how to maintain our focus and achieve what we set out to do.

The biggest takeaway from the book was that it’s actually not usually the external triggers and influences that stop of from doing the things we want to do but internal emotional triggers.

“As is the case with all human behaviour, distraction is just another way our brains attempt to deal with pain. If we accept this fact, it makes sense that the only way to handle distraction is by learning to handle discomfort. If distraction costs us time, then time management is pain management.” – Nir Eyal, Indistractable

How to stay focused, not get distracted and do the hard (uncomfortable) work.

Make More Money with Your Art

5. Good Art Does Not Sell Itself: The Artist’s Definitive Guide to Visibility and Opportunites by Shirley-Ann O’Neill & Laura O’Hare

“Emma explained how she traced the success of her art career back to taking a mentor’s advice in her early career; to actively seek opportunities to share her work no matter how small. An art prize led to an exhibition, which created more exhibitions, and collectors, art critics and media began to notice here work.“- Good Art Does Not Sell Itself – In relation to the work of sculptor Emma Rodgers  

This was my most highlighted book of 2023.

It takes courage to show your art and make the decision to come out from your studio into the realm of criticism. This is an amazing book to have by your side.

It’s packed with practical strategies for marketing, building a brand, and finding the right opportunities to showcase your work.

It’s split into 4 sections and each page is like a mini-blog post that you can take advice from.

  • Mindset & Habits
  • Getting Artwork Ready
  • Opportunities to get visible
  • Implementation: artist visibility path

The different sections are good for different stages of your work. Some of the ideas on increasing the visibility of your works can help you to stay focused on the long game of creating.

One painting hung in a cafe or posted online can lead to a group show, which can lead to a solo exhibition. Every step is a stepping stone that’s hard to see at the start but builds over time.

Notes on the Quotes: Good Art Does Not Sell Itself

This book is relatable, informative and incredibly useful.

Their insights and recommendations are not only easy to understand but also applicable to real-life situations you find yourself in as an artist. You’ll find yourself nodding along and saying, I can do this! Highly recommended!

I really hope you find one of the ideas or books of interest, because even as a relentless pursuer of new shiny interests and ideas, some of the practices have really stayed with me and helped.

But as with everything, it’s unrealistic to say I’m a changed man, so at this moment, I’m sitting comfortably on the sofa nursing a hot brew, saying it’s ok to go down the odd rabbit hole and fully committing to a few creative ponderings.

Continue Reading5 Books That Helped Me See More Opportunities With My Art, Gain Control Over Procrastination, and Live a More Creative Life.

A Rest Day for Artists (And Nearly New Year Blues)

I love the couple of days after Christmas. It’s like having surprise days off.

No pressure for Christmas Dinner, no expectations on what you could, should or must do. It’s like a deep chill. It can be a nice time to reflect on what’s worked on your paintings and what hasn’t over the year.

Go back on your phone camera roll from 2023 and see where you went, what you sketched, or what you painted (Or what you wanted to paint but just didn’t get the time to start)

Also, take the pressure off and enjoy your inspirations no matter how quirky or obsessional they seem.

I’ve been enjoying photographing festive drinks! hic

Then December 28th dawned.

This period can start the stirrings of being a bit lost at sea. I call this the ‘nearly new year blues’

You start to put expectations on yourself for the year ahead.

What massive artistic brilliance are you going to have to ‘show’ this year? will you ever find your unique style? Or just even do the paintings you said you were going to do.

Everyone else seems to be super productive, it’s enough to crack open the Christmas chocolate again!

But having been here before, have faith. Every brushstroke you make, every line you draw and every new idea you jot down will carry your practice through.

Your journey as an artist is not defined by the destinations reached but by the courage to take action.

This year might not have brought you the goals you anticipated, but the worst thing you can do is get stuck in your own head, ruminating about what you could or should have done and, as a result, do nothing.

So, as you prepare for the coming year, embrace the unknown. Every artist’s journey is unique. Keep creating, keep exploring, and most importantly, try and remember this sense of calm and freedom you felt waking up on boxing day, it will serve you well in your paintings in the year ahead.

Now, all I’ve got to do is remember my own advice!

Have a fab New Year,


Continue ReadingA Rest Day for Artists (And Nearly New Year Blues)

10 Last Minute Gifts Ideas for Artists | 2023

  1. Airtight Resealable Palette | £13  24 compartment palette
    This palette is incredible in keeping acrylics workable, I’ve had paints for weeks and they can still be used. There is a handy spatula that slides in the front of the palette and a thumb grip on the back. There are a number of different brands that all create very similar palettes.

Something they want, something they need, something to eat and something to read is always a good starting point when you don’t know what to buy someone.

Below are a few last-minute stocking fillers for the budding artist in your life (or just a way to treat yourself!)

For Scanning Drawings and Watercolours

epson v39 scanner

2. Epson Perfection V39 II | £119 Epson Scanner

For £100 (there is a £20 cashback offer at the moment), you will get fantastic copies of your images at a super high resolution. Just plug it into your computer and scan. You even get a stand so you can store it vertically if needed. Great for making prints of your sketches, scanning your acrylics and recording your watercolours.

For super matte drawings

3. Faber Castell Matt Pencil Kit | £25.99 (8 Pencils, Paper Stump, Sharpener & Eraser)

Sometimes, with traditional graphite pencils, the surface can reflect light, so your darkest darks aren’t quite as dark as you may like. Faber Castell’s new range of pencils offers a matt sheen to your drawings, allowing you to go super black!

To unlock your creativity

4. The Creative Act: A Way of Being – Rick Rubin. Hardback | £20.99 

One book I’ve enjoyed this year is The Creative Act by Record Producer Rick Rubin. He’s got some fascinating insights on how creativity works and how to get into the act of creating. We get to move forward in our art, a bit like a coach telling you the obvious thing, but you still need to hear it.

“We Tend to think of the artist’s work as an output. The real work of an artist is a way of being in the world.” Rick Rubin

For the wannabe organised creative!

5. Nimbot Label Maker: Bluetooth wireless Thermal label printer | £29

For just under £30, I thought this might be too good to be true. But it’s great! Thermal printing, so you never need to buy ink again (just new labels). You download the app on your phone, type in the label and print. You can also import icons and images to the app. Great for labelling paint mixes and shelves. I got a set of cable labels aswell, so handy when digging behind the computer for plugging in the printer.

For the timid sketcher

pentel brush pen

6. Pentel Brush Pen | £18.60 Pentel Brush Pen

So nice. I use it in practically all of my urban sketches; it adds shapes and fine lines all within one tip that seems to stay wet and workable even if you haven’t used it for weeks. They now have a grey and a sanguine colour.

For the part-time woodworker

7. Tracer Pencil | £7.91 Tracer-tools.com

These pencils are designed to be used for woodworking and construction sites because the narrow metal shaft allows you to mark holes through woodwork. I find them super comfortable to use and really handy around the studio. They have a sharpener in the rear of the pen and come with refillable leads.

For the perfectionist sharpener

8. Hovel Pencil Plane | £68 MakersCabinet.com

You definitely don’t need this, but there is something therapeutic about having a plane as a pencil sharpener.

For the art appreciator

9. National Art Pass | £56.25 individual year artfund.com

This pass gives you discounts and free entry to hundreds of events and exhibitions across the UK, which is marvellous!

For the digital painter

10. Paperlike screen protector | £34 for 2 Paperlike.com

If you find the surface of your iPad too glossy and slippy to sketch on, this might be the answer. Paperlike is a screen protector that also adds some resistance to the stylus. You lose some of the intensity and contrast of the screen image, but you gain more grab.

Have a creative Christmas, and if you’re running right up to the wire, all the art courses on the blog can be gifted as instant digital Gift Vouchers!

Have a fab time.

Continue Reading10 Last Minute Gifts Ideas for Artists | 2023

​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?


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


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)

New Coastal Canvas: Impressionistic Seascape Acrylic Painting Course

Morning class,

Welcome to my NEW Acrylic Painting Course, Coastal Canvas!

This impressionistic seascape is all about simplicity.

It has been designed with short 10 -20 minute ‘micro-learning’ lessons, so you’ll build your knowledge, even if you’ve never painted seascapes. The project is so simple that you’ll have a finished painting in a few short sessions.

In this course, we view the coastal path across gentle waters, where sailboats are harboured up or just coming into the dock.

Set in the early evening golden hour light, the foreground has a secluded coastal garden with pink hydrangeas in full bloom; the greens are dark, cool and olive in tone and frame the passage of the sea.

Then, in the far distance, you’ve got a warm headland of pastel yellows and greens glowing from the golden light, creating a contrast of values and tones of greens from the foreground to the background, and then just a glimpse of a white lighthouse in the far distance.

Loosen Up Your Acrylic Painting

Many beginners think that painting the sea is too hard or that getting a convincing perspective is beyond them and that they need special drawing skills. But in reality, all you need are simple shapes, scale and a framing shift when mixing your colours.

This course is designed for beginners, with a simple subject (even if you’re brand new to drawing) and a limited palette of colours.

Learn how you can keep your brushstrokes simple and the subject fresh to create an impression of a scene rather than a photorealistic rendering. (You could also follow along with Watermixable Oils or Traditional Oils.)

I’ll walk you through how to mix colours, analyse pigments and distil your subject into a compelling painting. We’ll cover the preparation of your surface & drawing out, observing the composition with sketching and scale, and keeping the boats in scale to give that sense that they’re in the distance.

Inky Depths to create realism.

Change the intensity of the greens by changing the pigments, lose the fear, and embrace black in landscapes and seascapes. You’ll discover you don’t need to go bright with your greens in order to make them feel realistic. In fact, less is more; the more darker and muted your greens are, the more realistic they will read in a landscape painting.

When capturing coastal light, sea and sky, understanding the undertone and colour bias of the different blues to achieve the glimmering reflected lights.

When it comes to the details of flora and focal points, we keep things gestural and impressionistic, looking for passion, not perfection.

By the end of this course, you’ll have that insight into the hidden under-workings of a painting, teaching you classical painting skills alongside impressionistic brushstrokes.

Gained confidence that you could create a painting from a simple subject, motivating you to tackle different, more challenging views from your own photo library.

Capture the Essence, Not Every Detail.

  • Learn how to paint realistic headland by controlling your colour intensity
  • How to create a ‘vignette’ with your foliage to frame your view
  • How to paint the sea by using colour strings
  • How to control water flow and absorption
  • How to select an image that will translate well to paint
  • How to check if a subject will make a compelling painting subject (by creating a postcard prep study)

There are some intermediate lessons where we expand the colour palette, but each step is described clearly and succinctly.

What’s in the Course?

  • 1hr 45min Self-Paced Downloadable Video Course
  • 1 x Seascape Painting subject from start to finish, working from a reference image.
  • 8-step-by-step video lessons (split into ‘micro-learning’ sections.)
  • DRAWING TEMPLATE – line drawing to follow to help you overcome the blank canvas
  • TOOLS & MATERIALS: Downloadable Materials List PDF
  • REFERENCE IMAGES: Downloadable Line drawings.

Study at your own pace ✔

Over 1hr 45min+ hours of detailed video instruction ✔

Full Lifetime Access to the Lessons ✔

One-time Payment ✔

Who this course is for?

A beginner to acrylics who wants to gain confidence in their painting by following a step-by-step proven plan. An aspiring artist who loves the sea and the coast and has folders of photos they would love to capture in paint but are unsure of the best approach.

Learn More about the course here: Coastal Canvas Impressionistic Seascape Course

Continue ReadingNew Coastal Canvas: Impressionistic Seascape Acrylic Painting Course

The Insecurities of Becoming a Portrait Painter

The act of creating a portrait is an emotional one.

It goes far beyond capturing a mere likeness; it delves deep, exposing their character and yours.

A finished portrait may exude confidence and calm, but the journey of its creation is often a complex maze of doubts, fears, and self-criticism for the artist.

We can overthink the composition or the medium choice. Then we question, maybe we should have studied drawing a little longer. Maybe we should start when we’ve got more time?

These are often (well-constructed) excuses based on two main insecurities.

  1. The fear we won’t do the subject justice
  2. The fear of social ridicule

I’ve just started a portrait of my nephew, and before I began the process, those same butterfly feelings bubbled up.

The first fear is dealt with more logically now, compared to when I was first starting out.

I still question, ‘What painting method will I use?” “Will it look like him?” “Will I overwork it?

But it’s the second fear that seems to hit me the most and as hard.

Will someone else judge your portrait attempts and deem you a ‘bad’ artist?


But I’ve learnt this can happen if you’re a professional artist with years of painting experience behind you as easily as if you’re an absolute beginner.

On your first driving lesson, if someone judged you as being a ‘bad driver’, you would have laughed at them and said, ‘I know! It’s the first time I’ve ever tried.’

No blame, no shame. That’s the essence of successfully progressing as a portrait painter.

The Challenges

If you’ve overcome the fear of actually starting, painting a portrait comes with different challenges to other subjects.

First, there is the technical challenge of creating a three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface.

Then, the colour mixing challenge of expressing realistic skin tones, hair and features.

And finally, the realism challenge of creating a likeness to the sitter.

So, how can I help?

Here are three solutions that I’ve found can really help overcome insecurities when painting portraits:

1. Build Confidence Through Practice:
One of the most effective ways to combat insecurities is through consistent practice.

Many of my paintings are just for personal use and not intended for public viewing. The more I practice, the more my skills will improve, leading to increased confidence in my abilities.

2. Focus on the Process, Not Just the Outcome:
Insecurities often stem from fixating on the end result.

Focus towards enjoying the creative process itself. Self-expression, exploration, and experimentation. When the process becomes the primary goal, you can find fulfilment in your work regardless of external judgments.

3. Seek progress, not perfection:
Imperfections are a natural part of the creative journey, and learning any new skill will be a series of jumps in progress and self-reflection on how much there still is to learn.

When following a course, the aim is just to follow the steps.

“I can’t see a way through,” said the boy.

Can you see your next step?


Just take that said the horse.”

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, Charlie Macksey

I have two portrait courses that can help guide you through.

1: Acrylic Portrait Course (suitable for beginners)

Acrylic Portrait Course

The focus of this course is simple, natural colour mixes to help you create realistic skin tones.

The concern for many beginners is that portraiture feels too challenging and would be above their current skill level. So I’ve designed these portrait courses to be as user (and fear) friendly as possible.

We learn about lighting, colour theory and create colour swatches before even starting the portraits. There are line drawings to work from, and we start slow with just a four-colour painting palette.

(You can see some student results here.)

So, will the course be a challenge?


Will you feel like a ‘portrait imposter’

You will, but only until you start painting.

If you stick to the lessons and follow the steps, you’ll gain huge confidence in what is achievable.

  • Creating Realistic Skin Tones, learn the secrets behind mixing and applying skin tones that appear natural and lifelike.
  • Gain insights into the nuances of capturing subtle transitions in the skin, from shadows to highlights.
  • Material recommendations.
  • How to master the Zorn Palette, the amazing power of a limited palette.
  • Colour theory, colour strings, and palette choice.
  • Lighting theory to create accurate colour mixes for your portraits.
  • Paint application & brushwork, from scumbling to palette knife.
  • Poster study using a more direct Alla Prima style.
  • Includes over 4 1/2 hours of video instruction, three self-study painting assignments, materials guide PDF, and downloadable reference images to paint from.

2. Oil glazing portrait course (suitable for intermediate or have some drawing experience with portraits)

Oil Portrait Glazing Course

This course is a more advanced portrait course teaching a classical painting approach based on multiple layers of painting (called in-direct painting)

It needs patience and more time commitment.

It’s a method that seems counterintuitive. Paint your portrait first in black and white and then apply colour on top.

The art of combining the classical technique of grisaille (black and white) with the mesmerizing effects of colour glazing creates stunningly lifelike and captivating portraits.

  • Mastering Grisaille Technique: Learn the foundation of grisaille painting, using monochromatic tones to create a strong value structure and achieve realistic shading.
  • Creating your own painting medium (traditional and modern materials)
  • Completing a value study painting using the planes of the face.
  • Discover the art of colour glazing, layering translucent colours over your grisaille underpainting to achieve luminosity and rich tonal variations.
  • Explore the magic of transparent and semi-transparent glazes to enhance the vibrancy & learn about glazing mediums.
  • Completing two head portrait paintings.
  • Includes over 6 hours of video instruction, two self-study paintings, materials guide PDF, and downloadable reference images to paint from.

P.S. – If you have done either of the portrait courses and have any encouraging words or testimonials for other artists who might be at the point where you were before starting the course, drop me a comment below!

Continue ReadingThe Insecurities of Becoming a Portrait Painter

7 Step Guide: Achieving Realistic Reflections with Acrylic Paints

Morning Class,

This week, I’ve been working on a Spritz cocktail painting inspired by one I enjoyed in St Mawes.

This subject offers an excellent opportunity to practice capturing reflections in water and exploring how coloured liquids can challenge our visual perception.

While painting the background and the surface around the glass might be relatively straightforward, the real challenge arises when we start painting the cocktail itself. Your mind will naturally begin to second-guess what you’re seeing. Thoughts like, “That’s too dark for a lemon,” or “The straw should be white, not grey,” might pop up.

You’ll be craving a cocktail yourself after tackling all these tricky reflections!

Part One: How to Paint a Spritz

Part Two: How to Paint a Spritz

You can see a Student Success page from the lesson here: Aperol Spritz Student Success

Continue Reading7 Step Guide: Achieving Realistic Reflections with Acrylic Paints

New Still Life Sunlight & Shadows Acrylic Painting Course

Morning class,

Get your pencil case ready and sharpen your brushes, as I’ve been busy in the studio adding the finishing touches to a NEW Acrylic Still Life Painting Course.

In Sunlight & Shadows, we focus on a couple of sunlit terracotta plant pots against a lovely pink wall. Vibrant hues and the mesmerising play of colourful shadows can add so much more variety and intrigue to a composition; imagine capturing the essence of these elements and bringing them to life on your canvas.

Shadows can totally transform a scene. We sometimes think of them as dark, but they don’t have to be dull.

I’ve developed this painting course to teach you the skills and techniques to create a stunning painting. We’ll cover the preparation of your surface, drawing out, exploring colour groupings and blocking-in.

Discover the secrets of a split primary palette, enabling you to achieve the widest range of hues and expand your colour knowledge.

Create an illusion of reality, turning a form following the light fall and experiment with slow-drying acrylic mediums to manipulate and blend colours with ease, enhancing the realism of your painting.

You’ll learn about underpainting, using warm and cool colours to evoke a sense of natural light. When painting the greenery, we mix colour strings and observe value and colour shifts, most importantly, looking at the concept of how the shadows are key, actually as important as our main subject.

Working through this acrylic still-life course, you’ll learn to capture depth, richness, and texture while learning classical painting techniques.

And in the bonus Lesson, The Palette Knife Edition, we start to simplify it even more, learning how to expertly wield a palette knife, adding texture, expression and freedom to your artwork!

New Still Life Sunlight & Shadows Acrylic Painting Course

What’s in the Course?

  • 1 x Terracotta Pot Still Life subject from start to finish, based in the studio working from a reference image.
  • 1 x BONUS palette knife edition.
  • 6 LESSON COURSE, study at your own pace (with lifetime access to these recordings)
  • Step-by-step instructional videos so that you can follow along at your own pace.
  • Each stage is a detailed yet easy-to-follow process.
  • DRAWING TEMPLATE – line drawing to follow to help you overcome the blank page
  • LIFETIME ACCESS to video lessons, download on separate devices, keep forever.
  • Downloadable Tools and Materials List
  • Downloadable jpeg reference images and reference line drawings.
  • Printable Class materials list, over 3+ hrs of detailed video instruction.
Continue ReadingNew Still Life Sunlight & Shadows Acrylic Painting Course

7 Tools & Techniques Every Artist Can Use to Check Their Own Work

Painting is all about perspective.

The shifting nature of our perception can be a huge obstacle when learning how to paint.

Have you ever seen your artwork as a masterpiece one moment, only to label it a disaster the next? I know I have!

The first step to advancing your critical judgment skills is to realise that there probably won’t be a moment you see your work with 100% clarity.

We can all be swayed by various cognitive biases of creation.

A cognitive bias is a tendency to make decisions or take action directed by emotions rather than by careful thought. They can subtly skew our judgment and we can become influenced by our own personal preferences, beliefs, or feelings caused by our values and experiences. When viewing our paintings we tend to place excessive value on pieces we have crafted ourselves or have sentimental attachments to certain scenes or memories.

Or you may just been standing at the easel all afternoon, trying to mix the exact colour for too long and you can’t see it anymore!

The importance of self-checking your own work as an artist.

Do you find it easier to notice flaws in other people’s artwork compared to your own?

When you’re so concentrated on your own painting, it can be challenging to assess your work and identify areas that need improvement. This is because you are seeing others’ work from a fresh perspective every time. You’ve no idea of the time it took them to paint it, the struggles they faced with the materials or the entire backstory behind the image. You just have a single image to look at. That’s why having an art tutor or going to a class with live feedback can be so helpful.

So if the success of our paintings is based on the way we can critically view them, what can we do to be more objective?

I’ve put together a list of 7 small but helpful tools and techniques that I use in my painting practice to help me and hopefully, they will help you too.

Painting is repainting.

Continue Reading7 Tools & Techniques Every Artist Can Use to Check Their Own Work

Vermeer in Amsterdam: Exhibition Review

Vermeer - Girl With Pearl Earring - Amsterdam

Back in the summer of 2021, I read the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, were planning the biggest-ever single collection of Vermeer’s paintings for a Spring 2023 retrospective.

Johannes Vermeer (1632 -1675) is one of the great 17th-century Dutch masters, best known for his tranquil, contemplative scenes depicting everyday life.

February saw the opening of the exhibition, and last week we were lucky enough to experience the show!

What I love about Vermeer’s paintings is how he captures the sense of light fall; it feels like there’s a natural volume. He uses different paint handling to express a different quality.

From subtle gradations in the shadows as light streams through a window and drops away. To sunlight falling onto an object so convincingly, if you put your hand in the painting, it would be warm.

Not only did he capture the light, he told a story.

Continue ReadingVermeer in Amsterdam: Exhibition Review

How to Paint a Moonlit Harbour: Step-by-Step Painting Tutorial

Morning class, this week we’re going to look at how to paint this beautiful moonlit harbour scene using acrylics in this two-part painting study. It’s of Smeaton’s Pier in St Ives, Cornwall, and the reference is a photo taken on a full strawberry moon.

This tutorial is all about colour perception.

Painting landscapes in low light, dusk or evening, makes judging colours tricky. The value range is much more compressed, and we have to overcome our perceived ‘memory’ of an object which can be very strong.

Instead of painting the sand ‘yellow’, we have to paint it a dull purple. And what we know as a bright white sail is now a mid-dusky blue in the evening light. It’s a bit more challenging to focus on what the colours actually are, rather than what you think they should be. It can result in paintings that are too light, too contrasting and not subdued enough.

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Moonlit Harbour: Step-by-Step Painting Tutorial

New Still Life Peaches Acrylic Painting Course

Morning class, “Market Day Peaches”, my NEW Acrylic Still Life Painting Course, is now available.

This is the third project in my series of short courses inspired by morning paintings. All are easy to follow and completed in just a few 1hr painting sessions.

Each one follows the same approach.

  • A single painting from start to finish.
  • A limited colour palette.
  • A handful of brushes.
  • A small canvas.
  • A simple subject.
  • 4 x short lessons (under 45-minutes each)

Simple Impressionistic Brushstrokes

I recently came home from the local market with these amazing-tasting peaches and just dropped them in a bowl on the kitchen table, and they looked good enough to paint. The placement felt more casual, like a snapshot of everyday life, which inspired this painting.

In this third short course, I’ve taken all the principles of a traditional still life but kept the composition informal.

This subject has expanded from the first simple modern still-life painting course of a jug and three pears; we’re now introducing folded fabric, adding glass, a vase of flowers and a bowl.

We’ll cover the preparation of your surface & drawing out, mixing colour strings and blocking in.

So although we are expanding our horizons a little bit, the course has been designed with simple learning blocks—clear step-by-step instructions to keep you on track.

We’ll only use six colours, including white, and if you’ve been following some of my other courses, you will already have most, if not all, of the colours.

The focus of this piece is those beautiful colourful peaches, but I’ve designed the lessons so you approach them last.

We start with just two colours, looking at the subtle shifts between the cools and warms, building up the shadows and shapes so that when we get to the peaches, and you extend your palette, all of a sudden they’ll come together so real because you’ve spent the time doing all the supporting work up to that stage. (The counterintuitive approach for this painting is to spend more time with the first stages to balance our form and tones.)

So find a comfy seat, grab a brew and a biscuit and let’s get painting!

What’s in the Course?

  • 1 x Market Day Peaches Still Life from start to finish, based in the studio working from a reference image.
  • 4 x downloadable video lessons, split into separate chapters that follow sequentially. Step-by-step instructional videos so that you can follow along at your own pace.
  • Each stage is a detailed yet easy-to-follow process.
  • You have lifetime access, downloadable on separate devices.
  • One-time payment
  • Downloadable jpeg reference images & reference line drawings.
  • Printable Class materials list
  • Over 2.5+ hrs of detailed video instruction.

(You will need a printer or print shop for the reference image) 

Learn more about the course here: Market Day Peaches Acrylic Still Life Course

Continue ReadingNew Still Life Peaches Acrylic Painting Course

Studio Notes // 005: Lucien Freud

…Death of An Artist and New Course coming soon!

Every few weeks, I share my top art inspirations I’ve read, experimented with or listened to. Here’s this week’s edition of things I’ve enjoyed, hoping they might inspire your own work too…

New exhibition

EXHIBITION: Lucian Freud: New Perspectives National Gallery, London, until 22 January

There is a new Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Gallery, London. This video gives a great insight into some of the iconic pieces at the show.

And if you can’t make it to a live exhibition, no worries; this research shows how 3-minutes of online art viewing can significantly increase your well-being!

I’ve been listening too…

Continue ReadingStudio Notes // 005: Lucien Freud