Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Farewell to 2014

my favourite paintings from 2014, oil paintings at pet portraits by karen
Here are my favourite paintings from the last year. I selected from 126 "daily paintings" and 28 large paintings; this collage is a mixture of both.
The raven is centre stage because I won a first prize with him so he deserved the limelight! 

I have just about managed to achieve my objective of painting every day. On the days when I did not use oil paint - about 7 out of 364 I think - I used a pencil or watercolour instead. 
I am still brooding on my resolutions for 2015 but the practice of daily painting is one that I wish to sustain if possible.

I hope you all have a lovely New Year and I wish you lots of good things for 2015. Thank you for reading my ramblings and looking at my paintings.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Christmas commissions

oil painting of a jack russell terrier, a pet portrait by Karen
Hope everyone has had a good Christmas? I have enjoyed a couple of days off as I was very busy with painting presents in the run up to Christmas as well as my usual daily paintings. 
I painted four Jack Russell Terriers, two Border Collies, two chihuahuas seated and a pedigree bull in a field. Remind you of a certain Christmas song by any chance??
Here is one of the JRTs, called Belle. She lives locally and was the most-difficult-to-photograph dog ever. I took the reference photos myself in the end while her frantic owner tried to keep her still.
Anyway, I hope her "mum" is pleased with her. This was delivered, framed, with just a few days to go. Here are some work-in-progress shots

Wednesday, 24 December 2014


Oil painting of a grey cat on a windowsill, lit by candlelight and waiting for santa, a pet portrait by Karen
MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone and Happy New Year.
Thank you so much for your interest and support in 2014.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Hare in the field

oil painting of Hare in the field, pet portrait by karen
My objective when I painted this, was to create a clear light source and separation of values. I split my palette in half and put colours on the left that I only used in the darks - burnt umber, ultramarine, paynes grey and transparent oxide brown (+ white as necessary). On the right I put cad yellow deep, cad lemon, sap green, transparent oxide red and white. No colour that is in the light also appears in the dark, or vice versa. I think it worked?

The reference photo for the hare was courtesy of Dave Webb on PMP, but I had seen a hare in isolated fields at the rear of the forest where I walk my dog. These fields - in the background - and this dog: he makes a bonus appearance.
the field where we saw the hare
Hares are very hard to spot and harder to photograph although oddly I have had a better view of one when I was driving to the forest: he hopped along the grass verge just ahead of my car, so I clocked him over a reasonable distance at 25mph+. 

Of course they do not live forever, and on this same walk, in the beech bank on the right, we have recently found a partial set of teeth. Research at home established they were the upper incisors of a hare. Here is a picture of them, plus the drawing from my sketchbook, made from a different angle so you get both perspectives.
hare's teeth, upper incisors, watercolour sketch of hare's teeth

I am going to take a short break from daily paintings now because I feel the need for a breather and a bit of a stock take. I feel that I have drifted into a frame of mind where I not so much creating as producing and this is not an entirely comfortable feeling. I will post some photos of my various commissioned paintings instead (once I am sure Father Christmas has delivered them) as well as doing a review of 2014. 

Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


Fox hiding in grass, an oil painting, palette knife painting, a pet portrait by Karen
In the woods with my dog, I occasionally get a strong sensation of being watched, even though there is nobody there. If this sensation persists it can creep you out. I begin to think I am walking in some Tolkien-esque, Fanghorn type forest and it is the trees that are watching me. A couple of times now, though, I have actually caught sight of the perpetrator. Here he is.
In real life, he is much better concealed. I tried painting him that way but frankly it was hard to see him at all and the result was way too abstracted for my taste.
Last time I caught sight of my watcher, he was some way off and not such a red colour. I though it was a spaniel that had been reported missing locally and called out: "Jess! JESS!!" The fox uncurled himself from his vantage point and sauntered out into the open, eyed me up and down and departed with his tail in the air in the opposite direction. 

This is a palette knife painting apart from the eyes to nose triangle.

Thursday, 11 December 2014


oil painting of a stag in dawn light by pet portraits by karen of Devon
This is a small study to help me with a much larger version that I am presently working on. 
The inspiration came from a trip up my garden with the dog the other morning early - pre-dawn - when movement at the top caught my eye and out of the murky grey/violet/lemon light of pre-dawn a small herd of deer shimmered across the grass and over the bank. 
Not red deer though and not a stag.
I have no photos of woodland in the pre-dawn so I am painting this from my visual memory, which is a most liberating and fun experience.
I have popped out a couple of times very early to refresh my memory but what I saw was not as attractive or colourful as I remembered so I thought I would ignore the "reality" in front of me and stick to the reality in my memory.
Visual memory is a strange thing: most people have experienced its quirks in relation to childhood memories: going back to visit the Absolutely Enormous house you used to live in, for example, and being astonished to discover how small it now seems.
Which reality is more real?? Answers on a postcard!
Last blog post for this week. The reference photo for the stag was by Steve Lyddon of PMP.
Thank you for reading my ramblings and looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Model dog

elderly Pointer dog sunbathing, a pet portrait by karen

In my head I called this painting Not All Super Models Are Young. But then I realised that not all oldies are super models. So my insecurities remained unresolved.
This beautiful old Pointer - who probably cares nothing for either modelling or ageing - is called Shamus and I painted him from a photograph by Claire Bartlett. Worked in oil using a brush and a knife.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Old dogs are cute too

Old dogs are cute too, oil painting with a palette knife, poodle type dog, a pet portrait by karen
Not sure if this pooch is actually old - he is called Smudgey - but he had that "old as the hills" look in his eyes as well as grey (or faded) fur. Reference photo by Jennifer Livick on PMP.
I worked this with a palette knife apart from the eyes and nostrils. I used black for the pupils and nostrils only. 
The greys and other darks are mixed from Prussian Blue, Alizarin Crimson and - if it needed to be really dark - a touch of Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Brown. 
This is a fab colour for darkening complementary greys but only a little is needed or it swamps the other colours, even Prussian Blue.
There is nothing else that swamps Prussian Blue in my experience, except perhaps for my own person: I finished this small painting and subsequently found little smudges and spots of it spread across a good deal of my clothing and even my body, including elbows, like an Ancient Briton experimenting with woad, perhaps. No idea how that happens. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Still life for Advent

Still life, for Advent, 8"x6", oils on board, still life, Advent, reflections, glass of wine
I made this little set up in the corner of my work area. 
The green background was in fact a waterproof cagoule - the only darkish green thing I could find and I suspended the Christmas baubles in mid air from a yard stick protruding out of the book case. 
It looked a mess so a goodly amount of artistic licence was required. 
I painted the background with a brush and the rest with a palette knife. I felt nervous about painting the shiny reflections in the baubles so took a deep breath, dredged up some courage and remembered advice I had read to the effect that you just paint the shapes you can see: this bit a dark triangle, that bit a lighter rectangle, this bit a bright square and so on and so forth until the bauble is complete. One shape of light and dark at a time. 
So when I sat back at a distance to see whether the composite effect of these shapes looked like baubles I discovered (1) yes they did - hooray, and (2) my reflection was looking back at me from the gold one! I was astonished. I had been concentrating so hard on identifying and working shapes with my knife I hadn't taken it in that I was peering at myself.
So here you are: an Advent still life with a bonus self-portrait.

That's the last blog for this week. Thank you for looking at my paintings - have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Palette knife bunny

palette knife bunny, grey and white rabbit, palette knife rabbit, pet portrait by karen
I don't recall painting a bunny rabbit before. I have had three or four goes, but found it difficult to capture the look I am after. What I want to avoid at all costs is "cute" as I do not think bunny rabbits are cute at all. I recall as a child being scratched, bitten and kicked on a regular basis by my malevolent white rabbit. I have no doubt I deserved it (from his point of view). 
Nowadays the view is that rabbits are inappropriate pets for children. I agree. 
Not sure I captured the malevolent glint in the eye on this one, but he looks wary, which is a good start. Palette knives are very good tools if you want to avoid cutsey. I like them.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Tabby cat

Tabby cat oil painting with a palette knife. Pet portrait by Karen in Devon
A palette knife painting of a beautiful tabby cat called Miss Libby. The original reference photo was by Sandy Scott. I worked the eyes with a brush and a few bits of white fur but the rest with a knife. I had read somewhere that a knife/brush combo was unworkable so am testing this out. I don't think it is true but what I have learnt so far is that the strokes need to be completely separate. Do not allow the brush anywhere near the paint applied with a knife. Why? Surefire way of achieving mud. But perhaps that is just me.

For readers of this blog who do not use Facebook (and apologies to those who do, for repeating myself) I have just won first place in the painting category of the 4th Annual Open Art Competition held by Light, Space, Time Gallery. The painting came 2nd overall. I am so thrilled.

Thursday, 27 November 2014


oil painting, still life, copper, metal,
A little still life painting I did to enter a Daily Paintworks challenge. I bought these props for £1.50 each in a charity shop. The coffee pot (?) is 10 inches tall, the other two correspondingly smaller. 
I draped my little still life corner with black felt, then stood these pots on a mirror and shone a spot on them. The reflection was almost perfect in real life, but I knocked it back to try and achieve a bit of mystery. 
Apart from the use of a mop brush where I wanted to knock back paint ridges, this was painted with a palette knife.
The colours I used to paint the copper were Rembrandt Cad Yellow Deep and Transparent Oxide Red (wonderful colours); then Winsor and Newton (Griffin Alkyd) Lemon, Cad Yellow Medium (hue), white and black. There is also a fair bit of purple in the blacks.
That's all on the blog for this week. Happy Thanksgiving to all US readers, and thank you to everyone for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Miss Whiskers, oil palette knife painting of cat, pet portrait by karen
Another palette knife painting, but not the eyes or whiskers - I did those with brushes. The whiskers were the attraction of this subject, as well as the thing I feared. I cannot say how many hours I have spent practising whiskers. A lot. I have probably bought a dozen or more brushes specifically for the purpose. 
As well as what tool to use, the other problem with whiskers is the need to have a nice, relaxed hand. As soon as you tense up, the wobble-problem begins and the whisker ends up more zig-zag than a nice sweeping curve. But it is difficult not to tense up. Whiskers are like going to the dentist: just relax, they say. Relax?? HA.
Here is a summary of my various attempts:
Soft flat brushes, used on their sides and chisel-edged: feasible but difficult to create super long whiskers using this method. Mine tended to get fatter near to the ends instead of thinner
Sable round brushes: good for short whiskers. They run out of paint for long ones and cheap brushes start to splay so you get the "fat end" problem
Teeny-tiny brushes, meant for miniature work: only good for super short bristle type whiskers. They either run out of paint for long ones or the whisker goes wobbly
Palette knife on its side: good for a representation of a whisker but you can't produce a nice curve so this method has its limitations
Riggers of various sizes: I used a number 3 for most of the whiskers on this cat. The consistency of the paint has to be just right. I have a practice board to hand and mix white with mineral spirits and maybe a tiny bit of Liquin - not too much or it will make the paint translucent which is no good for a nice, firm whisker - and practice on the spare board until the consistency is right
If I get it right, I avoid blobs along the whisker (not a good look) or running out of paint or producing big fat chunky whiskers or producing whiskers that look like they are draped with cobwebs.
If I get it wrong, well I have to wipe it off. 
Which brings me to my show-stopping conclusion: don't put whiskers on your cat until your cat is dry. Then,  you can scorn defiance at blobs or wonks or splats and simply wipe them off.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Shoulders back, chest out

oil painting, Shoulders back, chest out a rooster at dawn, pet portrait by karen
A palette knife painting, except for his beak and eye. I was interested in capturing the iridescence in his breast and tail feathers, as well as the colour of dawn. 
I went up to the top of my (long) garden in the very early dawn light with my dog the other morning and was struck by how everything - all the trees, the grass, everything you might expect to be green - was many shades of a violet tinged grey. At the very top of the garden were some larger shapes, much darker, also a violet-tinged grey but with flashes of white. I thought it was curious as those shapes weren't there yesterday. 
All of a sudden, the shapes seemed to shimmer and dissolve, like shapes in one of those kaleidoscopes you held to your eye as a child. And a small herd of deer shimmered across the lawn and over the bank. 
I thought a small, shimmering herd was beyond my powers, so here is a rooster instead.
The concept of painting shapes rather than things is illustrated by this story. I have found it hard to understand how to work this way, although I know this is how all the masters painted. But I am getting a little better. I no longer say 'this beak' or 'this nose': I look at the large shape of whatever it is and then try to paint all the smaller shapes of dark and light within it. It does make for accuracy if you can do it. Maybe one day I might be able to do it well enough to paint a herd of deer shimmering in the dawn. But not yet.

The iridescent blue green was made using Rembrandt Sap Green and Managnese Blue. Fabulous colours, very strong pigments but also transparent. They also take an age to dry. I painted this last week and it is still too sticky to ship.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Merle Collie

blue merle collie, oil painting, dog with blue eyes, a pet portrait by karen
This dog was painted a while back and I was never happy with it but unable to put my finger on why not. When I pulled the painting out of the cupboard the other day the reason was immediately obvious: I had failed to put the shadow in the dog's eyes cast by his upper eyelids and eyelashes. Two tiny strokes of paint and I was happy with the painting.
It's not the first time something like this has happened. 

Very often, when I think a painting is or should have been a "wiper" the actual problem is quite minor. Correct that, and all is well with the world once more (or the painting, anyway).
Here are some things I do when I have that miserable "there is something wrong with it, but I don't know what" feeling:

  • IGNORE it. Put it in the cupboard for a week and ignore it. The problem may spring out at me next time I look.
  • USE A DIFFERENT VIEWPOINT. Traditionally, this means reviewing your work in a mirror by holding a mirror up to the painting or the painting up to a mirror and looking at the reflection. For some reason, this shows up issues that have previously been hard to spot. It is very good for showing up wonky bits. I find mirrors a bit tricky to use and prefer to photograph the painting and then review the photo on the computer.  It is the same principle, though. Sometimes I then import the photo into the Brushes app on my iPad and make changes to it by drawing them in one or more layers so I can see whether that will sort the problem.
  • ANGLES check them. If it is a building this is easier - are the uprights actually upright or on the wonk? Are the angles correct or shooting off in the wrong direction? The same principle applies to animals though: often the nose angles are wrong. It can make the animal look like it has a large button on the end of its nose that has been stuck on upside down or sideways, when in fact it is just one angle that is off.
  • SHADOWS. Are there any (or enough)? If not, the painting might look like a cartoon.  Eyelids cast shadows; muzzles cast shadows on the neck, ears cast shadows on the head (unless they are the sticky up type) and the entire animal casts a shadow on to the ground even if just the occlusion shadow (the very dark one wherever his body touches the ground). Absence of the occlusion shadow can make the subject look like it is floating.
  • VALUES. Squint at the painting. Is there a pattern of lights and darks or is it just mush? If it looks mushy (or foggy) there is the answer: not enough distinction between lights and darks will make the painting look formless, lifeless and dull. Unless you are JMW Turner painting fog. In which case ignore this.
  • COLOUR. Does it leap out at me like the entire contents of a Toys R Us catalogue? Did I want that to happen? If yes to the first question but no to the second, then the answer is to introduce more greys into the work. This might be a re-paint job, though. I find this problem particularly difficult to correct after the event. 
  • MUD, mud, glorious mud. If the painting looks muddy, step one is check the values. Perhaps there is just not enough distinction between darks and lights. Often, though the problem is using the wrong temperature colour, introducing warm colours when they should be cool or vice versa. I check for consistency in my use of cool and warm colours: that lovely sunny day where the shadows should be blue-ish (cool) but I have accidentally sneaked in a warm, dark earth colour.  Correcting that may put the whole painting right. If there is a very sea of mud, though, it maybe a wiper. 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Great Dane

Great Dane painted with a palette knife
This Great Dane (called Oakley - from a photo by Robert Reid) is the first dog I have painted entirely with a palette knife. It is a small painting (8"x6") and I had a few moments of thinking there was very little point using a knife instead of a brush when working at this level of detail, at this scale. The whole point for me of using a knife was to force myself to work more loosely. 
My downfall was his eyes. I can't bring myself to paint eyes loosely, they are very important to me. 

So I ended up using the side and point of the knife - an awkward and inflexible 'brush'. Doh. 

I will have to see if a brush/knife combo will work or not for future portraits. Either that or I must overcome my desire for well-rendered eyes. I checked out how my hero David Hockney managed to resolve this: that master of loose brushwork. 

One of his books is entirely devoted to paintings of his daxies. Guess how he does it? He paints them more-or-less exclusively when they are asleep. Yep. That would work.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Brown Collie

Oil painting of a brown collie, painted contre-jour, a pet portrait by karen
A beautiful brown collie, painted contre-jour. Contre-jour lighting is a type of backlighting where you place the subject right in front of the light. In French the phrase literally means “against the day”. Wikipedia talks about it only in terms of photography, but painters have known about the impact of contre-jour for far longer. 
Most cameras tend to turn the subject into a silhouette when photographing contre-jour, but painters can choose whether to add details or not.
Here is a lovely example from 1884 by John Atkinson Grimshaw, where he plays it both ways for maximum dramatic impact:
painting of Humber Docks, Hull, by Atkinson Grimshaw to illustrate contre-jour painting

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Look

The Look - a beseeching look from a poodle puppy. Painted in oils, impasto by Pet Portraits by Karen
Continuing to work on a looser and more expressive style of painting, this poodle was painted with a brush but a larger one than I normally use and I made a really big effort to build him with the smallest number of marks I could manage. It is still a lot of marks, though.
To see dogs expressed "just so" with the smallest number of marks, you need to look at David Hockney. This book is the one:
David Hockney, Dog Days - painting dogs using the smallest number of marks
all I can say is that it is so much harder than it looks. Hockney says he set up palettes and left them all around the house so he could seize every opportunity to paint his dogs, Stanley and Boodgie. Inevitably, most of the paintings show them asleep, as it is tricky to paint them any other way, from life. My dog would want to grab the brush (stick?!) and run off with it, if he saw me trying to paint him.
Painting from life would be helpful, though, in efforts to move away from the tyranny of the photograph: it would be  easier to avoid getting bogged down with "photocopying" every detail, if your subject was liable to run off at any moment.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Maine Coon

Oil painting of a Maine Coon cat  by Pet Portraits by Karen

Cats, for me, can prove to be particularly difficult to paint, especially as a 'daily painting' (when I am seeking to complete the work in one sitting). About half of every 'daily' cat painting I begin turns into a wiper.  I know this fail rate would reduce if I worked over several days in layers, instead of alla prima. But that isn't the point: if I do that, it would not be the process I am seeking to gain proficiency in - it would be a different process. The results would look different, too.  
This Maine Coon was my 3rd attempt. I think he turned out alright.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday (Veteran's Day)

Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day) painting. Oil painting of poppies and dog
To commemorate the numberless legion of animals who have been bereaved, lost, injured, abused or killed in human wars.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Still life with red

still life of vase, brushes and teapot using impasto red oil paint and a palette knife
This still life, painted largely with a palette knife on A4 board, was heavily influenced by the work of David Cheifetz, which I have fallen in love with. On his website, if you follow the link "Impasto logs" it will give you access to 6 podcasts about how he paints. I have learnt so much from them.

So I set this arrangement up in a newly created still life corner of my work station. Here is "still life corner" in the context of my room, with some of my bits and pieces visible. I swap that white fabric for dark when I want a black background
The still life corner in my studio at Pet Portraits by Karen
I drew the arrangement out using the sight size method, and following David Cheifitz's approach, I painted the teapot first. Everytime I completed another piece of the arrangement I took my knife and slapped a bit more red on the pot to try and ensure it remained the most vibrant part of the painting.
For the dripping brush, I took a tube of cad red medium and squeezed it directly on to the canvas then dragged the blob down with a metal skewer. Great fun, but it took forever to dry.
That's it for the blog for this week. Thank you very much for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


palette knife oil painting of a poppy for Remembrance Day
My palette knife poppy for Remembrance Day. 
I thoroughly enjoyed using lavish amounts of Cad Red and Cad Yellow Deep to paint this poppy. I finished it maybe 3 days ago and it is still so wet I had a job moving it about to photograph it. A scan was completely out of the question. 

I am not used to using "ordinary" oil paint - normally, I use W&N Griffin Alkyds, which are reliably touch dry within 24 hours. So it is a bit of a shock. But it has been such fun playing with my new paints. Here they are:
My selection of Rembrandt oil paints
From left to right: Transparent Oxide Brown (which I use all the time, instead of Burnt Umber. Much better: much less likely to turn muddy); Transparent Oxide Red (also one I use all the time, instead of Burnt Sienna), Permanent Red Light, Manganese Pthalo, Yellow Ochre Light ( a fabulous colour: I also use Michael Harding'a Yellow Ochre Deep); Cadmium Yellow Deep, Olive Green, Sap Green, Ivory Black and Transparent White. 
I bought the Transparent White because I thought it would be useful for scumbling: to add mist and fog for example, or the breath of animals on a cold morning. It is hard to do this with Tit. White. 
I only ever use W&N Alkyd Tit. White, by the way. I tried another brand, not alkyd, and felt myself growing visibly older waiting for it to dry .

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Sergeant Stubby

Sergeant Stubby, oil painting of most decorated dog of World War 1
A week of Remembrance this week. Here is Sergeant Stubby.

Sergeant Stubby is said to be the most decorated  dog of WW1 and the only dog to be nominated for rank and then promoted through combat. He took part in 17 battles over 18 months on the Western Front.

His sense of smell enabled him to save his regiment from mustard gas attacks; he could hear the whine of incoming shells before people could and warned them; he found the wounded, stranded in No Man’s Land, and they could help themselves from medicines he carried in his coat. He once caught a German soldier and held on to him by the seat of his trousers until help came.

He was smuggled on to a troop ship by Corporal Robert Conroy from Connecticut. On being discovered by the commanding officer, he was allowed to remain when the dog saluted the officer, as Corporal Conroy had taught him to do. He earned many medals and insignia. His chamois coat was made by the residents of a French town liberated by his regiment.

Robert Conroy and  Sergeant Stubby both survived the war. On returning to the USA, Stubby accompanied Robert to University in Washington DC. He met and was honoured by no less than 3 US Presidents and led many processions and parades. Stubby died peacefully in his sleep in 1926.

As you might imagine, there are very few reference photos for me to work from, none of them in colour and all of them very tiny. So I have done my best with this painting. I know that Stubby was a brindle, but I do not really know his colour. I suspect it was darker than I have painted him. Here is one photo from the BBC website:
Corporal Robert Conroy and Sergeant Stubby
I used a brush for Stubby’s face, but otherwise I used a palette knife. On his coat he actually carried many more medals than I have depicted here, and of course I do not know what colour the ribbons were, but I have painted an impression of his decorations: it is not supposed to be a literal rendering.

In memoriam, Stubby. 

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Yellow Rose

palette knife painting of a yellow rose
Another palette knife rose. I chose a yellow one because yellow is both my favourite colour but also the colour I probably find hardest to work with. Achieving a luminous glow is one difficulty - although I have discovered that forking out for a tube of a pure cadmium helps - but the principle one is mixing shadow colour. Using the complementary of a reddish-violet is not always the solution as the result can be too grey. Darkening the shade of yellow with the addition of red, even a lovely transparent red, can produce a result which is too orange. 
This rose is an intermediate step in my journey to 'getting it right'.
Thank you for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Raven

Oil painting with palette knife of a raven, trying to capture the spirit of the bird
Another palette knife experiment. I only used a brush for his eye.
I have tried to paint birds before, specifically, black birds, and really struggled because I ended up bogged down in feathery detail. It is a conundrum for me because I want to be a realistic painter. But I do not want to be a photocopying machine. Hyper-realism is very clever but it is not for me: I sort of can't be bothered. I've got a good camera - why not use that? Trouble is, if you are not going to go down the hyper-realism route, then where are you going to go?
I spotted this quote one day from Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957, a Romanian sculptor who worked in France. He said:
When you see a fish you don't think of its scales, do you? You think of its speed, its floating, flashing body seen through the water... If I made fins and eyes and scales, I would arrest its movement, give a pattern or shape of reality. I want just the flash of its spirit.
So here is my attempt to capture the spirit of a raven, even if not every strand of every feather. The beauty of the palette knife is that it makes hyper-realism - or the constant fiddling for every detail - impossible. For me, this is a good thing.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Of knives and roses

oil painting, pink rose, palette knife painting
For this week, I have been practising painting with a palette knife. The only time I had used one before was recently on Dan Edmondson's landscape course to paint rocks and it was great fun. I thought it would be useful to get more adept and there is only one way to do this - actually do it. Dan Edmondson is very clear that there is no right way to use a palette knife, there is no secret "trick" that will suddenly enable you to pull off masterful strokes. You just have to practice.
As I also had a bit of a mental block about flower painting (my attempts to date being less than satisfactory), and my mood was somewhat devil-may-care, I thought I would go for it and try to crack two problems at once.
It is surprisingly liberating to launch into something like this; I had no fear of failure because I expected to fail: there was nothing to fear because it was a certainty. I have no idea what the psychology of that is, but it was so. It implies that fear is largely to do with the unknown. 
Anyway, palette knife painting, if you haven't tried it, is fab. If it goes wrong you just scrape it off or slap a bit more on top. It uses fearsome amounts of paint. 
So here is a pink rose. I think it is quite nice.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Red Collie

oil painting of a red collie in bright sunlight. A pet portrait by Karen
A day of numbers today. This is my 300th blog post  since I decided on 1 January 2013 that I would paint every day in an effort to improve.
During the 22 months since, I have painted 272 "daily" paintings (not including "wipers" or any others that were not wiped but did end up with their faces to the wall in the cupboard of shame).
I have also completed 92 other paintings including commissions. 
Hopefully I am improving.
Certainly I can safely observe that I barely own a single item of clothing any more that is not embellished with at least one paint splodge.
Perhaps I should post some shots of my clothing in the manner of Tracy Emin and her unmade bed? No?? 
Ok, perhaps not.
No more posts until next week now. Thank you for looking at my paintings.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Autumn triptych

a triptych of Autumnal paintings of peppers and squash. a still life painting by Karen Robinson
Three little paintings that I painted from life. The squash, for anyone who doesn't know - I didn't - is a baby Harlequin squash. There was a big heap of them in the farm shop and I was enchanted having never seen one before. Quite expensive, too, hence I bought the smallest one on the heap.

Usually, I paint from reference photos. It is not practical to paint people's pets from life, even assuming we live on the same continent. There is a big part of me that feels this practice is not "proper" and that to be a "proper" artist you should paint from life. It is going to take some practice, though, because all the little tips and tricks I use to get the drawing right are much harder when working from life. 
For example, I depend heavily on the negative shapes.

For anyone unsure what I am on about - sorry if this is too basic - here are the negative shapes marked out on a b&w copy of the first painting, to show where the veggies should be placed on the canvas and in relation to each other:
still life painting with negative shapes marked in red
Basically, a series of squidged triangles. The trouble is, every time you move your head even a tiny bit those 'triangles' of negative shape - change shape!!
It drove me nuts but then I had this thought: I wonder if that is what Picasso and the other cubists were on about: every time you move your head a fraction, the "reality" in front of you changes. So how can you ever capture it in 2D?
Picasso, Still life with fruit, 1930
I do realise that this is likely a statement of the bloomin' obvious, but it came as something of a revelation to me.

Meanwhile, for a complete contrast, here is a painting by a still life artist whose work never ceases to amaze me, Frans Snyders (Dutch, 1579-1657). 

Frans Snyder, Still life with food
Frans Snyders (1579-1657) Still life with food

How did he paint this from life, do you suppose? Believe me when I say it would have taken a very long time.The grapes would have shrivelled up, the game rotted away and that lobster would have become very, very stinky. I have no idea. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A little slide show for today

This is my first go at putting anything on YouTube. It is very simple, but you have to start somewhere.  

PS. Sunday 19th Oct: thanks to readers for telling me this video won't work in the USA. It is because the music - supplied by Apple (!) - is copyrighted. I am in the process of figuring out how to edit the video with different music that is acceptable in the US. Apologies: this is a bit of a learning experience for me.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Working dog, on a golden day

oil painting of a German Shepherd on a golden background. A pet portrait by Karen
This handsome chap belongs to Maria, who kindly permitted the use of her photo. In real life he lives in Russia, but in my painting I have placed him on the top of a Tor on Dartmoor. He struck me as being master of all he surveyed, so I painted him high up. The background is largely imaginary although I based it on my own photos taken from the top of Brentor. Interestingly, the photos show a sort of whited-out, bleached light - although my memory of the day is that the light was gold. So I painted my memory of the light.
Here are some WiP photos. I drew the doggy out first on 10x8 board that I had gessoed the day before
drawing of German Shepherd, first stage of a pet painting by Karen

The horizontal line on the right of the board just below his neck, was an accidental stroke and doesn't mean anything. I try not to use too many lines, but equally this is one of my daily paintings and if I am to complete 3 per week alongside larger pieces and commissions, I feel I can't afford to have the drawing go off. There are plenty of other things that can go off, let's face it. I decided to use my favourite start as per Richard Schmid: the selective start. As I have explained before, it means: select a place and start there and proceed accurately and in one pass, one brush stroke at a time. In theory, anyway. I started with his right eye:
2nd work in progress photo of a German Shepherd, painting the eye. A pet portrait by Karen.
In reality, I did fiddle a bit to get the direction of the fur right. I also put some extra fur on top later. But mostly, I tried to get it right first time. The benefits of this selective start approach for me are: 
(1) it is clear how to begin. I don't have to sit there looking at a blank canvas thinking - yikes! Just pick a point and start 
(2) for subjects like this with two colours in their coat which can create difficulties together (orange and black will make cow pat green if mixed), it reduces the risk of this happening  
(3) I can get up and potter off for a coffee anytime and I will know exactly where to pick up again when I get back.
Richard Schmidt explains all this better than me in his book Alla Prima - Everything I know About Painting. The book is available on his website. It is expensive but worth every penny. No, I am not on commission!
oil painting of a German Shepherd: work-in-progress stage 3. A pet painting by Karen.
It was at this point that I felt him come to life under the brush and I was on a roll. So only one more photo of the process, I'm afraid, as I forgot to take any more after this:
oil painting of a German Shepherd, 4th progress shot, a pet portrait by Karen
Anyway, I just carried on until the dog was complete. Then I waited about 5 hours for the paint to tack up a little bit so I could better control how much of his coat went into the background: I wanted to lose the edges a bit on his right hand side but I did not want black fur merging into my sky and making mud, so that was the trickiest bit. The fields I re-did a couple of times to make them go back sufficiently: if the chroma is too high they come forward and it doesn't look like the dog is high up. The rock I painted with a palette knife. And voilĂ :
Oil painting of a German Shepherd on a golden background, a pet portrait by Karen

Hope you like him!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Working dog (on a grey day)

oil painting of a working dog, weimaraner, painted on a grey day on Dartmoor. A pet painting by Karen.

Looking for inspiration for this, my 99th doggy painting this year (not counting commissions, wipers etc) I thought I would paint some working dogs. 
There are plenty here. Backgrounds are required and I have many photos taken of the countryside and moors round where I live. I was struck by how many of them had lowering, gun metal grey skies. Weimaraner grey. It must be a feature of the moor. 
This painting was therefore a challenge in differentiating grey. I mixed the majority from base colours of cobalt blue and cadmium yellow which I then greyed using Transparent Oxide Red (warm greys) or Permanent Rose (cool greys) and some violet for a little extra kick now and then. It was fun to do and was one of those rare paintings that seemed to paint itself. 
The foreground was arrived at by experiment and repeated failure. I did it last and was determined not to lose my doggy so ultimately I felt I had to make it work. I slapped on olive green, naples yellow, some yellow ochre - all liberally cut with white - and got a perfect boggy colour. 
Perfectly disgusting, in fact. 
I thought: but this IS the colour of the moor so why does it look so foul? I know - it needs highlights. Rather than add more white I scratched off some paint to create highlights using a metal skewer. Then some more. Then yet more - until I ended up with this. I like it.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Border collie 2

oil painting of a border collie, a pet portrait by karen
A beautiful long coated border collie for you to round off this week's blogging. This painting was created  in two steps: step one, paint the whole thing in one sitting then stop. It kind of looked finished but, but... Wait for the paint to dry. Step two: paint the entire coat again on the dog from the neck down. This method seems to work best for me to achieve the depth needed for long, fluffy coats.

If you are reading this post today because you might want to buy a pet painting for someone for Christmas, then - hello! and YES, you have come to the right place, and NO it is not too late - but please get in touch as soon as you can, especially if you live outside the UK, when longer shipping times need to be taken into account. 

Have a great weekend everyone and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Green Pasture 2

oil painting of cows in a field, pet paintings by karen
Here is the larger version - this is 20" x 16" - following on from the smaller study that I posted yesterday. There are one or two small compositional differences: I added the cow, top right-ish, which is turning and licking his leg as a device to try and turn the eye of the viewer back into the painting. I also added an additional log (or rock) in the foreground as it was rather a large amount of space to fill with grasses and shrubs. 
I still painted this using "big bang" - I started top left and moved right and down one brush stroke at a time until it was all complete. The only bit I revisited was the modelling on the animal in the foreground, which needed considerably more work at this scale than it did in yesterday's study.
This was one of the technically more difficult pieces I have painted and I feel like I have learned lot. Apart from composition, the other tricky bit was colour mixing, because such a vast expanse of green needs thinking about. For reasons that I don't fully understand, if you look at a vast expanse of green, rolling fields in real life it looks perfectly alright - charming - beautiful, even. But if you paint a vast expanse of rolling green it is liable to look horribly artificial and phoney. I have no idea why, but it is so.
The colours on my palette for grassy pasture were: cadmium green pale (W&N artists oils), transparent oxide red (to grey it down), Michael Harding's yellow ochre deep (other brands don't seem to hit the spot), titanium white and ultramarine. One thing I have learnt is that the result is always better if I keep yellow off the palette. Any proper yellow seems to make a green that on the canvas is very garish.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Green Pasture

oil painting Green Pasture, landscape, cows, pet portraits by karen
This little painting is a study for a larger piece that I am painting as part of an on-line course I am currently doing with Daniel Edmondson.
My first attempt at Green Pasture was on a large canvas, as per Dan's instructions, but within about 6 hours I had lost the will to live as I could not make it work. So I stuck that canvas in the cupboard with its face to the wall. 
My next attempt was small (10"x8") and this is the result; I am pleased with it. Instead of doing a block-in of the main shapes and/or the main darks and shadows, I decided to do the Richard Schmid selective start or big bang approach that I have mentioned on this blog a number of times. 
I started in the top left hand corner of the canvas and worked across and down until the whole thing was completed, one brush stroke at a time. The only exception was the foreground which I left until last. 
I put that in using a palette loaded with big lumps of paint and a small palette knife (no 2).
Tomorrow I will post the large version because as soon as I had completed this small study I went on to do the big piece for the 2nd time (on a fresh canvas; the disastrous one remains in the cupboard with its face to the wall of shame). I used exactly the same approach as in this study, but with bigger brushes. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Border Collie Stare

oil painting of a border collie - his distinctive stare. A pet portrait by Karen.
I was following on behind a slow-moving land rover the other day with three of these doggies staring at me from out the back. They were all looking at me like this. The message seemed to be: "One false move, sunshine - and we'll round you up". 
This was a fast daily painting, oil on board, and the aim was to capture the stare. Last blog post for this week. Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.