In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank all the students and well-wishers that have supported the Art School blog over the last year. It’s so inspiring when students share their creativity, progress and fantastic painting successes.
Have a great weekend, Vanessa & I are wrapping up warm, soaking up nature and walking the coastal path …. which so happens to pass an ice-cream parlour. I’m hoping to test if my Dad’s theory that ‘You get bigger portions in the Winter’ is true!
p.s. I’ve been working on a new ‘Morning Paintings’ Course which will be launching in the next couple of months. I’ll keep you posted.
Will Kemp, Fishing Boat at St Michael’s Mount, 10 x 8 inches, Acrylic on Board
After posting photos from my recent trip to St Michael’s Mount, the most popular request was to create a painting tutorial of the little blue boat. So here it is, a new free step-by-step acrylic lesson!
Grab a brew, maybe a biscuit or two (now the weather’s turning a bit more autumnal I’ve got a piece of particularly good ginger cake from the local farmers market) and let’s get painting, I really hope you enjoy it.
After a week of steady mizzle, the skies cleared, and it felt like the perfect autumnal day to head off and explore the nearby island of historical St Michael’s Mount in Marazion.
Nestled on top of a rocky hill, surrounded by blue water, it truly is an incredible sight, even as we approached by road: amedieval church, ancient castle and a family home rise impressively out of the sea.
As we negotiated our way through the old town of Marazion and along the slipway, we went past this super cute cottage with the hand-painted door weathered by the sea air.
‘The combination of lights and darks especially as used in Japanese art : the design or pattern of a work of art as seen in flat areas of dark and light values only.’- Webster Dictionary
Out for a beach stroll early this morning, as the sun was coming up behind the boats in the harbour, it was an idyllic image.
I had sunlight, a beach and a view, so I took a photo on my phone, and you would think this would make a brilliant painting—a reflection in the water, the pier in the distance and the boat in the foreground.
However, I know if I painted this back at my studio, it wouldn’t work out as well as it promised.
It would be just okay.
It might still translate if I wanted to create a piece that focused on the colours of the water and sky, but the basic graphical design of the piece just isn’t strong enough to create a great painting. The boats aren’t instantly recognisable as boat shapes, and the harbour is obscured by other unidentifiable shapes.
I find three value studies or Japanese Notan studies can be surprisingly helpful in guiding your choices for creating a compelling composition in your paintings. If you were just to look at a scene in simple values or Notan, it becomes glaringly obvious what really works as a successful image.
The reason I’ve started this series is that sometimes you can find yourself overthinking the result of a painting, feeling that it’s got to be complicated or a masterpiece. The pressure of having to make it perfect can result in lots of unfinished paintings or keep you from even starting!
I’ve found the best way to get around being overwhelmed is to set aside 1hr painting slot every morning. Embracing the process of practice really helps to build momentum and self-confidence, and that principle has inspired this series.
With small bite-sized lessons, you’ll be building your knowledge and your painting without the task becoming too much. I’m keeping it very simple with just a handful of materials, but we’ll still get a good range of mixes even using a minimal palette.
The actual starting is the hardest part – well, the thought of starting, once you begin, it’s much easier to keep going.
In this first course, I’ve taken all the principles from a traditional still life composition but kept it simple and contemporary. You’ll learn classical principles that are the building blocks of all great old master paintings.
We’ll cover the preparation of your surface & drawing out, mixing colour strings and blocking-in, and how to create the illusion of a three-dimensional shape by observing the cast and form shadows. We’ll understand the importance of harmonious colour and adding texture to the surface to control the viewer’s gaze.
It’s been designed to be really, really simple, like when we paint the pears, we only use two colours for most of it, and then add a few extra little magic bits of glazing to give you a little zing at the end!
So find a comfy seat, a strong cup of coffee, or a pot of tea, and see what can be achieved in a 1-hour painting slot, thoroughly engage in the process.
You could make a big step forward in the painting every day, and after three days, or even over a weekend, I think you will be absolutely amazed at how far your painting has progressed!
What’s in the Course?
1 x Modern Still Life subject from start to finish, based in the studio working from a reference image.
3 x downloadable video lessons, split into separate chapters that follow on 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.
Lifetime access, downloadable on separate devices.
Downloadable jpeg reference images and reference line drawings.
Every few weeks, I share my top art inspirations that I’ve read, experimented with or listened to. Here’s this weeks edition of things I enjoyed when I should have been at the easel, with the hope they might inspire your own work too…
I found this a really inspirational journey, documenting the lengths and dedication that artists can go to, to bring their vision to life. Christo’s projects are self-funded by his own preparatory drawings, and some of the planning stages span over 10yrs for the installation of art pieces that are temporary in nature. The scale and impact of the pieces are awesome!
Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (detail),
The National Gallery, London, has a page dedicated to the latest arrivals into their collection. A recent highlight is this beautiful self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi. Students painting with the grisaille portrait method (from the Oil Portrait Glazing Course) may be interested in having a zoom in on the face, and you can just make out the underlying grey tones.
I’ve been in the studio working on a couple of new courses looking at a modern & classical still life using a limited palette of materials. Inspired by our one hour morning paintings, the modern composition should be released first, hopefully in the next month or so.
The first painting I remember having an immense amount of pressure to get right was in my GCSE art exam.
For the final piece, I had moved into new territory and arranged my own setup of objects in front of my easel.
I thought a still life would be the easiest choice for a timed study.
It felt doable and I was too nervous to tackle a portrait. I also knew there were a few rules I should stick to.
A harmonious colour palette, good placement of objects and strong directional light.
After moving a vase, a bottle of wine and a bunch of grapes around for a little longer than anticipated, I reckoned I should just get on with it.
And some aspects of the finished painting worked ok, they really did.
My drawing wasn’t bad and the composition balanced but the hardest job was judging the colours from life. The light kept changing, I remember desperately trying to block off bits of the window and the immense pressure to create a ‘finished piece’ really lost all the logic and joy of observation.
I know we don’t often find ourselves in art exams, but the same pressure of having to make a great painting every time we pick up the brush often results in unfinished work or worse, unstarted work!
I’ve found the best way to get around this and bring spontaneity back into my studio is to try and paint daily.
Do a quick small study of something I already have lying around the house, try a new technique, colour palette and subject with no expectation.
Just thoroughly engage in the process.
15-min sketch of garlic onto Raw Umber & Titanium White Ground.
Acrylics are a great medium. Pick up a few well-chosen materials, and after a simple set up, you can paint on almost any surface.
They dry quickly. And sometimes really quickly.
If you’re new to painting, the seriousness of this small window of free-flowing acrylics begins to dawn on you, little by little.
The paints don’t seem to blend quite as well as they did when you first put them out on your palette. In fact, that expensive paint you took so long deciding on has now gone completely hard, and there’s a distinctive shift in colour.
This is not just frustrating but feels like an undisclosed complication.
You thought it was going to be getting the painting techniques right that would be difficult, not battling with the paint drying out too quickly.
So how do you stop it from happening?
Paint faster? Invest in specialist paint mediums? Use a broom rather than a brush?
Everything revolves around evaporation.
Controlling water evaporation is the key principle to manipulating the drying time of your acrylics.
Acrylics dry by evaporation. So, the wetter the air around the acrylics, the longer they stay wet. You might be painting in a dry climate and not realise how much that affects the paints’ workability.
The drier the air, the faster the acrylics will dry.
Wet air (around acrylics) – paints stay wetter.
Dry air (around acrylics) – paints dry out quicker.
In my studio, I’ve got a humidity and temperature monitor. This helps to keep an eye on the water content of the space, so I can adapt my techniques if needed.
I’ve noticed when I’m painting near the coast, and there’s a higher amount of water in the atmosphere, the paints will keep working for a lot longer. If you are based in an extremely dry climate, you could introduce a humidifier into your space that will emit steam or water vapour to increase the air’s moisture levels.
Heavy Body Acrylics under ambient conditions of 70ºF/21ºC and 30% Relative Humidity in a 0.15mm brush stroke.
wet: under 5 minutes workable: 10 minutes touch dry: 30 minutes locked down: 3+ days
Temperature & Air Flow
If it’s a hot summer day, you might have placed an air conditioning unit or fan next to your painting space; this will shorten the working time of the paints as airflow aids water evaporation, definitely something to consider.
Pro tip: It’s also handy to check the ambient temperature of your studio. If you drop below 9° C, it can cause issues when creating a strong paint film.
Acrylics are ideally used at room temperature, above 60° F / 16° C, and avoiding any applications below 49° F / 9° C, which is the so-called “minimum film formation” temperature (MFFT). Below that temperature acrylic paint cannot form a strong, coherent film and will be prone to failure and various drying defects, such as cracks, poor adhesion, and cloudiness – Golden Paints
On top of your studio environment, there are a few successful ways to manipulate the drying times of acrylics by controlling evaporation. However, I don’t use them all in one painting but pick and choose whatever would work best for the style or stage of the piece I’m working on at the time.
How would you speed up the drying time?
Here’s an inversion thought experiment.
What would you do if you had to dry acrylic paint as fast as possible?
Paint in a thin layer? Warm room? Wind turbine? Sunshine? …Blow torch?
If I had to get a painting to dry as quickly as possible, I’d use a hairdryer on thin paint. High airflow, high heat, about 1 cm from the paint surface! This expels water the quickest from the paint.
Will Kemp, A Mediterranean Washing Line, Detail, Acrylic on Board
For this week’s free step-by-step acrylic lesson, we’re returning to the gorgeous faded paintwork and quiet cobblestone streets of Corsica.
After the challenging perspective in our first Starter Set Challenge ‘Warm Shadows in Corsica’ the simpler shapes and clear blue sky of ‘A Mediterranean Washing Line‘ should be plain sailing.
I particularly love the multiple wires threading your eye towards the sea in this scene and the washing strung up between the buildings brings a human presence of day-to-day life, breathing real energy into the composition.
Will Kemp, Warm Shadows in Corsica, Acrylic On Board (detail)
It’s hard to believe that city breaks, art exhibitions and museum visits were something we used to enjoy almost casually.
Here in the U.K, we’re back in another full lockdown, a cold and wet one!
I was looking through some photos from last summer’s trip to Corsica needing a bit of escapism. They instantly transported me back to the atmosphere, the colours and smells, meandering down sun-dappled side streets, ice cream in hand with the anticipation of undiscovered delights around the next corner.
Drawing and painting can be very therapeutic; so with that in mind, I’ve created a couple of acrylic step-by-step street scenes to help get us through the next few weeks.
Morning class, this week we’re going to look at how to paint fast and loose with your acrylics in this two-part apple study.
I get lots of emails from students who want to develop a more painterly impressionistic style but find when using a photo reference, they get too obsessed with the details, and the whole piece gets a bit overworked.
So in the first lesson of this two-part still life, I approach the drawing out of our apples in a bit more detail. The method I demonstrate is sometimes called ‘Envelope Drawing’ and is an approach that helps you to draw something more accurately.
In the second lesson, we approach the painting without pre-mixing the colours using our intuition and being a bit looser with our brush marks I’ve used a limited palette and simple painterly techniques with just two brushes and four colours.
Why are we drawing more accurately when we want to paint looser?
Well, it depends.
It depends on your skill level of drawing.
If you’re pretty good at drawing, then ideally you’d go straight in with your paintbrush and draw and paint at the same time, so you’re essentially drawing with your brush. That’s how you get the loosest, freshest paintings.
But if you’re a complete beginner, then spending the time getting the drawing accurate is a more failsafe way of creating a painting that looks loose but captures the subject. It gives you the confidence to paint more loosely knowing you’ve got a good structure underneath.
I paint this study with acrylics, but you could also use water-mixable oils.
So grab a brew, a couple of biscuits, and you can download a reference image below to follow along with the video.
How to paint loose with Acrylics – Part 1 – Drawing
How to paint loose with Acrylics – Part 2 – Painting
Downloading the reference photograph
The photo below can be downloaded, so you can use it as a reference image, print it out and follow along with the steps below.
Longing for the sea during lockdown, I decided to have a look through some of my old travel photos from trips around the coast.
I did a few thumbnail sketches looking at different images; I liked the diagonal composition in the first sketch. I used an Acrylic Marker by Daler Rowney (FW Marker) filled with Sepia High flow acrylic (Golden Paints).
I settled on an image looking down on some fishing boats, moored in the harbour of St Ives, Cornwall.
You can download a reference image below to follow along with this acrylic lesson, hope you enjoy it!
Have you ever fancied trying Traditional Oil paints but the thought of using strong-smelling solvents in a small room put you off?
Then you might find that Water-Mixable Oils are a perfect balance – the blending time of oils with the super easy clean up of water.
Water-mixable oils are real oils, they are water mixable, not water-based. They can be mixed and applied using the same techniques as traditional oils but whilst wet they can be removed from brushes and palettes with soap and water rather than using a solvent.
Don’t water and oil repel each other?
Well, yes they do. But water-mixable oils have an added ingredient that acts as an emulsifier, so the oil droplets are suspended within the water.
Water-mixable oils are relatively new to the market so I wanted to create this new Absolute Beginners Water-Mixable Oil Painting Course, to address some of the most commonly asked questions and help aspiring oil painters understand the theory and practice of painting in this medium.
Water-mixable oil paints can be mixed with water, low odour mediums or natural drying oils so if you paint in an enclosed space without good ventilation or you’ve developed a sensitivity to turpentine, working in a fume-free painting environment makes them really appealing.
They have a lovely buttery consistency, a long working time which enables you to make changes over a longer period of time, blending colours, adjusting shapes, or working wet-into-wet with thick impasto marks.
What does the Water-Mixable Oil Course Cover?
On this course, we’ll cover the best oil techniques to use, the different mediums and levels of sensitivity of some products that have been specially developed, so you can take a safe approach for you.
With over 5+ hours of tuition, you’ll slowly and methodically be introduced to the theory and practice of painting in water-mixable oils.
The course covers materials and setup, absolute beginner basics, moving on to more advanced classical oil painting methods from underpainting to impasto. I want you to fully understand fat over lean, know when to work alla prima or indirect – practice palette knife techniques and introduce classical oil mediums.
And also oils can get messy! So throughout this course, you’ll see me demonstrating clean working methods.
You’ll complete 3 paintings tutorials, with downloadable reference images for you to work along from and each look at different techniques and methods. I show every stage from drawing out, colour mixing, brush handling and edge control, always being aware of the handling of the paint, drying times and toxicity.
The first is an impressionistic alla prima cloud study where we compare and contrast acrylics and water-mixable oils.
The second is a master copy of a section of a Vermeer painting ‘The Little Street’ where we build it up in layers with an indirect approach so I can demonstrate the fat-over-lean principle.
Our final study is a classical still life painting bringing all the principles together, working through the underpainting, colour mixing to creating form and edge control.
Designed with the Acrylic Painter in Mind
If you’ve ever painted in acrylics and have struggled to achieve lovely smokey blends because the paints dry too quickly – then using water-mixable oils will make the blending process so much easier. And this course has also been designed with the acrylic painter in mind.
We look at how water-mixable oils compare to acrylics, the pros and cons of handling and opacity and how the speed of acrylics drying can be used to your advantage in underpainting, blocking in and canvas preparation. Utilising the best of both worlds.
Sensitivity to Solvents
Because there are varying degrees of sensitivity to consider from painters with multiple allergies and asthma – to painters who can tolerate low odour solvent or others that work in a well-ventilated studio space, I’ve designed this course bearing 3 different levels of sensitivity in mind.
Hypersensitive with allergies – We create a completely solvent-free painting, just diluting with water and oil
Less sensitive and can tolerate low odour solvents – We mix our own mediums using a low odour water-mixable thinner
Low sensitivity/paint in a well-ventilated room – Discover advanced pre-mixed mediums you can use to manipulate the drying time of the paints
Over 5+ hours of tuition
This is a simple, easy-to-follow downloadable video course with over 5 hours of tuition where you will discover the essentials of how to create an oil painting aimed at the absolute beginner.
It has been designed as a step-by-step rounded learning experience bringing together all my knowledge as a student, painter and teacher.
What’s in the Course?
3 x water-mixable oil paintings demonstrations taking you step-by-step from drawing, mixing and matching colours through to the final brush strokes.
9-downloadable video lessons, split into separate chapters that follow on sequentially.
Over 5 hours of detailed video instruction so that you can follow along at your own pace.
Downloadable reference jpeg images, line drawings, and a full materials list.
Lifetime access, downloadable on separate devices.
So why don’t you grab a brew, maybe a couple of biscuits and join me on this New Absolute Beginners Water-Mixable Oils Course and discover your inner oil painter!