After following along with painting tutorials, learning new skills and getting excited to develop your own painting practice, it can feel like a step into the unknown when trying to choose what subjects to paint next.
Should you paint landscapes, still lifes or work towards portraits? With so many choices it can quickly lead to indecision and procrastination.
I’d like to share with you some of my photos I use as my own visual diary that inspire my sketches, paintings and palette choices. It could be from museums trips or travels to new cities, new paint experimentation’s in my studio or simply a fall of light on a through a window that has a great quality to it.
Just as a painters palette can give you a glimpse into the painter’s approach, your camera roll can reveal what really interests you. The compositions you naturally create, the repeated colours that keep on cropping up and patterns of the negative spaces you’ve observed, all contribute to your own personal style.
Below are a selection of photos with a brief description of what inspired me at the time and this first collection comes from my trips around National Trust properties, focusing on historical kitchens.
Also, I’ll be regularly posting the photo collections to my new Instagram account, really hope you enjoy them.
When I was trying to find my way in portraiture, I’d spend hours studying Old Master paintings thinking “Wow, how did they do that?”
I was flummoxed.
Not only did the skin look realistic, but they’d managed to capture those bluish grey tones that lie just beneath the skin’s surface. In my naivety, I just couldn’t work out how you could paint one colour next to another colour yet create such a smoky transition.
I’d repetitively ask Vanessa, “When will I be able to paint the melt of the cheek you see on the Mona Lisa?”
Unhelpfully she used to say “Isn’t it just old?”
Inwardly I’d sigh.
And then I discovered oil glazing…
When Vanessa suggested a spot of Winter sun, if I’m honest, I dragged my feet.
Locations where being proposed and I politely nodded.
When she casually mentioned a possible trip to Seville, my interest was piqued.
Seville was the birthplace and hometown of Spanish artist Diego Velázquez, and one of my favourite paintings is the ‘Waterseller of Seville’ by Velázquez, but I had never seen it in the flesh, was it even in Seville?
Caught up in the fever of ‘my’ trip, I got researching and discovered the painting was actually hanging much closer to home, in Apsley House, London.
Apsley House? Where’s that?
Well as it turns out, it’s known as Number One London and sits at Hyde Park Corner.
How had I missed it on all my gallery trips and what else was there?
Holy Moly! There’s a study for Pope Innocent X by Velázquez, there’s a Goya, in fact, there’s another portrait by Velázquez and some cracking portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
I shouted through to Vanessa ‘Do you fancy a trip to Knightsbridge?‘
Who knew train tickets could be booked so quickly?…
There was a small sign that hung below an empty black space, it read ‘In Prestito‘.
Last Summer I was back in Florence, Italy, to visit one of my favourite paintings that had enticed me to the city over 10 years ago.
The only problem was, when I got to the gallery, the painting wasn’t there.
It was at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and I had missed it.
Caravaggio’s sleeping Cupid.
Earlier in the Summer, I took an impromptu trip to see ‘Late Rembrandt‘.
It was the first time that an exhibition had been solely dedicated to Rembrandt’s late works. Many of the most famous paintings that he produced in the last 15 years of his life had been brought together from museums and private collections across the globe.
This period is often the most celebrated due to Rembrandt’s development of a more gestural, impressionistic style and this was some 200 years before the popularity of the Impressionists.
He was out there!
Heavy dark shadows, hidden brooding eyes, thick scratchy textured marks, lots of Brown umbers and a dirty yellow varnish glow are all the things that excite me about Rembrandt’s self-portrait style.
With the allure of Nutella Waffles, the opportunity to visit Rembrandt’s Studio and the once in a lifetime chance of seeing so many Rembrandt’s up close together, how could I resist…
Downloading the reference photograph
The photo below can be ‘right clicked’ and ‘Save image as’, so you can use it as a reference image, print it out and follow along with the video above.
You can also download a High-Resolution Image here...
Considering it was mid-April in England, we were treated to some truly amazing weather.
We’d travelled down the coast to an area of South East Cornwall called ‘The Forgotten Corner’. Often overlooked due to its remote location but we found some cracking little-secluded coves and practically empty sandy beaches.
Artist’s have always been drawn to Cornwall due to the quality of light and mild climate, but the trip for me was all about getting to the sea.
The ever changing tide, the allure of cliff edges, the great expanse of sky and the unpredictable power of the waves.
We wanted to get to the edge, be battered by the elements and this was the closest we could find.
View from our cottage window – Rame Peninsula, Cornwall
An Artist in His Studio, John Singer Sargent, 1904
Last month saw the opening of a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The show highlights the work of one of my favourite portrait painters, John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925)
I’ve been a fan of Singer Sargent’s paintings ever since visiting the Tate in London as 15 year old student, blown away by Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, the most compelling scene with its magical sense of glowing light.
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, John Singer Sargent, Oil on canvas, 1885
I’d always thought it was quite a small painting having only seen it in books, but in reality it’s nearly 2 meters tall by 1.5 meters wide, the sheer scale of it being life-size really draws you into the piece. The golden hour light is fading and the glow from the lanterns illuminates the girls faces so beautifully.
And that’s often the most fantastic thing about visiting an exhibition, the experience of sitting in front of the painting and seeing it through the artist’s eyes…
“For of all sad word of tongue or pen, the saddest are these. “It might have been.”
John Greenleaf Whittier
I always feel so sad when I read this quote, “It might have been…”
What a waste.
So many aspiring artists come to me with a real passion for learning how to paint and ask me where they should start?
Not knowing where to begin or muddling along on your own can be really slow progress and eventually the paints can spend more time in your box than on your canvas.
Your dreams of becoming a painter get lost.
But you were so close!
If you came to my studio with the question ‘I have a week to learn how to paint, what do I need to know?’
I’d strip the learning process down to basics, the fewest brushes, a few key colours and an essential introduction to the wide properties of acrylics.
Materials and set up, colour mixing and pigment choice, brush handling and palette knife techniques and gels and mediums.
Then we’d get painting using methods that achieve great results even if you’ve got no artistic training.
Acrylics can be used in thin transparent washes like water colours or in a thicker more opaque form like oil paint.
They dry quickly and can be diluted and cleaned with water making them simple to use, odourless and accessible for the beginner.
So when are you coming round, right?
If you’ve never even picked up a pencil I’d always usually recommend learning how to draw. Which I know sounds a little deflating … you want to learn how to paint!
However, learning to draw sets you so far ahead, so quickly, it really is the most ‘bang for your buck’ for a set of principles that don’t change.
But what if the allure of colour is too much to resist and you want to get straight into painting?
Well, I’ve been working on a new course just for you…
J.M.W Turner, Margate (?) from the sea, about 1835-40
11 years ago on a very cold winters morning I was poised with a dripping wet floor mop, recreating a painting by J.M.W Turner.
My audience were a group of five cleaners from the Museum I worked at.
The workshop wasn’t really going to plan.
I was trying to teach this group of absolute beginners how to paint like Turner in a morning.
At the end of the morning workshop their finished paintings would be displayed in an exhibition, open to the public.
Oh, the other artist who was exhibiting in the exhibition?
The main man himself, a collection of original Turner watercolours.
Now where did I put that mop?…
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank all the comments, questions, students and well wishers that have helped the blog to grow over the last year.
We now have over 100,000 visitors a month and we’ve gone from 500,000 views to just short of hitting nearly hit the 2,000,000 views on YouTube, Woohoo!
It’s so inspiring for me to hear stories of students that have found their way back to painting – after life got in the way of their creativity…
I knew we were in trouble when I opened the car door and brown water started flooded in.
‘Shut the door!’ shouted Vanessa.
“Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu!” muttered our French driver, holding her head in her hands.
The car had stalled.
The small country road we had driven along in brilliant sunshine only a few short hours ago was now a raging torrent of water.
I tried the electric windows, no power.
We were trapped.
I saw the water was rising quickly, it was now half way up the car door.
I started to panic.
We were in Provence (just last month) on the trail of Cézanne’s studio, and our idyllic country retreat was rapidly turning into a disaster…
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting on all the positivity and creativity that has come through the Art School blog.
So I’d like to thank you all for your support & encouragement this year. The most rewarding thing for me is seeing students progress in their drawing and painting where they’d previously been struggling.
I’ve also broken through the 500,000 views on YouTube, Woohoo! so thanks for watching and more videos will be coming soon.
I’ve been working hard on the ‘Simple Guide to Colour Mixing Course‘ which should be launched in the next couple of weeks.
In pumpkin pie envy, me and Vanessa are off to the Pudding Club Extravaganza in our local Town Hall – think 50 puddings and 2 fast spoons!
Have a great weekend,
Off the peg or bespoke? The dilemmas of a modern man.
Choosing a canvas is much like deciding between Savile Row, the high street or knitting your own!
With Bespoke you get:
Neat edges on the back, staple free sides, a choice of fabric, a choice of finish (unprimed, sized, oil-primed) an exact choice of size, a choice of stretcher bar thickness and a skilled craftsman making it for you, all coming with a premium price tag.
High street you get:
Neat edges on the back, less robust stretcher bars, not as heavyweight canvas, machine-made but a very reasonable bill.
Knitting your own:
Can be a bit of a headache! But you do get a choice of fabric, choice of size, choice of stretcher bar and it’s a very economical way to achieve what you want, if working on a lot of canvases the same size. Huge flexibility in finish mixed with the glow of satisfaction when stretching your own canvas…