Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Beginnings

oil painting of a foal on linen
New Year's Eve is one of my favourite days of the year: it always seems to me full of promise for a fresh start. A whole year looms in which - as yet - no resolutions have been broken, no bad paintings painted  and no mistakes made! Wonderful.
What resolutions will you be making?  I am still cooking mine up; it is always a challenge to achieve a balance between things that I have a sporting chance of achieving and things that I would have done anyway: in other words, not too hard, not too easy but just right. 
One area I am brooding on is how to achieve a better balance between small, "daily paintings" - such as this one - and working larger. I find working large difficult, partly due to lack of practice, and I would like to get more fluent and more confident. I have already bought some large canvases and some larger brushes for working on them.
Next, I must put them to use.
I hope you have lots of good new beginnings. Thank you for your company in 2015.

Friday, 25 December 2015

"I see you have turkey..."

I see you have turkey, oil painting, cat looking at turkey
Painted with an extremely limited palette of Venetian red, cad yellow, black and white except for the cat's eyes for which I also used a tiny pin spot of blue to make green and the blue left over from that formed the oven lights.
For me, Venetian Red is the most difficult colour I own. Worse than Pthalo Blue or Pthalo Green: its opacity and pigmenting strength is absolutely formidable. I used the tiniest amount to make this painting and even so had to re-start twice.

My turkey is downstairs, very likely being eyed up by my cat so I must scoot now and sort it out. Have a lovely rest of your day.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The night before Christmas

Christmas Eve, cat and baubles, an oil painting, the night before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; 
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, 
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; 
The children were nestled all snug in their beds; 
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

The first verse of the famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore which gave us so many of our Christmas traditions.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Friday, 18 December 2015

7 more sleeps until Christmas

golden dachshund painting
A wise, old face on this dog I have always thought. Waiting for Christmas, but finding the whole experience rather tedious. Like me, to be honest.
Last of the Christmas commissions despatched, last of the on-line sales packed. I am beginning to review the year just gone and plan for next. I love New Year.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

8 sleeps until Christmas

A few seasonal bits and bobs, complete with a little selfie in the gold bauble. I managed to resist drinking the wine.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Move 'em out

oil painting of cowboy on galloping horse
At this time of year - wet, dark, grizzly - I am often drawn to anything hot, bright and dusty and once again childhood cowboy fantasies come to life. One of my earliest memories was of going behind the TV to look for the cowboys and indians I had seen on the screen falling from their horses and disappearing. I assumed they had fallen down the back.

My objective with this painting - apart from having a bit of fun - was to try and capture enough detail so you know what is going on without a slavish rendering of the original source photo. I used a palette knife, a larger than normal brush and my fingers.

However, to make a start, I put in a few lines and the darkest darks with dilute raw umber. One day I should like to start a painting using the massing in technique, instead of lines. I have only achieved this with really simple subjects (e.g. an apple) or landscapes. I find it very difficult to get my head round that approach where there is any complex detail.

work-in-progress photo of cowboy painting

Last post for this week. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Best of friends

oil painting of an old cowboy and his horse
A painting made with two colours - Vandyke Brown and Raw Sienna - plus black and white. This is essentially a value study, as well as an experiment in varying texture despite using only transparent colours.  I could increase opacity by adding white, of course, but I tried not to. I experimented with working into the paint after it had begun to tack up, as well as with layering. It is surprisingly time-consuming to work in this way. I might use it as a means of achieving specific effects in future, but not to paint a whole painting.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Don't Look Back

oil painting of horse, standing
Also called "dream horse" by me, as I saw this painting, looking like this, in a dream. Sometimes I do paint in my sleep, but usually I am "working" on a piece that is causing me trouble when I am awake. I haven't "painted" anything before from scratch in a dream. 
It is an unusual limited palette: Manganese Blue, Orange and Vandyke Brown with white. The colour combination makes for a nice, dream-like quality I thought.
Last post for this week, have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Rest and relaxation

oil painting of a snoozing dog
Being a bit pushed for time at present, due to family dramas coinciding with Christmas commissions, this one is a re-post from "one I did earlier" (that phrase was made famous by a UK children's TV programme when I was little). 
I pulled it out of the cupboard because I have always liked it, and could immediately see how to improve it. 
Basically, I glazed over the shadows with a darker colour to strengthen them.
It cheers me up when I can immediately see what needs doing to one of my pieces: it possibly indicates I am improving, do you think? 
Shame I can't practise this on my commissioned work but customers will unlikely sympathise with my desire to put their presents in the cupboard for 3 months in case I can subsequently see how to make improvements.
I did read somewhere that you should never re-touch your work, but only move on to the next piece. Well, I think that is rubbish (at least if you work in oil).
 Leonardo da Vinci said: "A painting is never finished. Only abandoned."

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Guarding the Ball of Power

oil painting of ball and teddy bears
Also known as "My dog's Toys", this is a small study for a larger painting that I have previously posted. I revisited it recently with a view to building a similar but more complex set-up for another larger painting, perhaps with more variety of texture. I like working with brush and knife in the same painting.
The "Ball of Power" is so called because of the impression my timid, little dog gives that - with a tennis ball in his mouth - he is transformed into a super hero.
dog on beach with tennis ball
Bilbo with the Ball of Power

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

River Tavy, Tavistock, Devon

oil painting of River Tavy, Tavistock, Devon

This was the scene about 4 weeks ago. The trees hung on to their leaves for a remarkably long time. Painted from my own photos and observation at the scene, although I did not set up an easel, being still too shy especially in such a public place. There is a footpath to the left of the painting out of sight and it was teaming with Saturday shoppers.
The first time I saw this river from the footpath - which is 10 or so feet higher than the rocks here - it was summer and we scrambled down on to the rocks to sit and watch for trout or salmon. There is a fish gate at the top by the bridge to help spawning fish ascend the weir and continue their journey up river.
Painted mostly with a knife from the back forwards, it took about 4 layers to achieve this effect, drying in-between and I had 3 wipers before I was happy with it. 10"x8" on board.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Catching some rays

oil painting of chestnut horse
A simple head study today. I liked the play of light and shadow on her face. She also has, I thought, a lovely strokeable nose.  
Painted thinly using mainly burnt sienna and Vandyke brown with black and white. I also used some yellow ochre (nose) and some dioxazine purple (shadows). 
Last post for this week, have a lovely weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Study of a bob cat

oil study of a bobcat
This study was painted in 3 passes, allowing each layer to dry in-between. To achieve a polished finish I would need at least one more pass, hence I have labelled this one a 'study'. This is not my favourite painting technique as regular readers will know, but I am at a loss how to achieve a realistic result for a cat any other way. All my cats have needed at least two passes, unless they are painted with a knife, in which case the level of realism is necessarily reduced. 

Perhaps realism is not the be all and end all: an "impression" might suffice. Or even an "expression". Or something altogether more post-modern - a white shape, perhaps, indicative of cat. That would certainly have induced less teeth-grinding frustration.

I was astonished, by the way, to read how widespread and common bobcats are in the US, although nocturnal and furtive so rarely seen by people. On that basis, perhaps a black background with a lighter blur to indicate cat - a smear or two of paint in an indeterminate grey - perhaps that would have been a realistic portrayal of a bobcat?

Friday, 13 November 2015

Portrait of an owl

Another value study, using slightly more colour than yesterday's piece: the palette was black, white, Transparent Oxide Brown and yellow ochre, plus Transparent Oxide Red and Cad Yellow for the eyes.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Portrait of a horse

Essentially, a value study. I used black, white and two shades of brown - Vandyke (which is a cool brown) and Transparent Oxide Brown (which is warm). I used cool and warm browns to help me model the form, as well as value changes.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day,  Veteran's Day, oil painting of soldier with dog
This one is obviously self-explanatory. Painted in raw umber, raw sienna, black and white, apart from the poppy. I also used a tiny piece of poppy-red in the soldier's face to ensure that part of the painting was the focal point. 
Last post for this week. Have a lovely weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Summer days

oil painting of mare and foal in sunshine
Painted to be a complete contrast with with the weather that was actually going on outside my studio viz. grey, grizzly and wet. I crept up on this one slowly, using very dilute ultramarine to mark out the shadows first. With that much turps it dried pretty quickly. Then I went back in with an even weaker dilution of burnt sienna and blocked in the foal's legs, otherwise I could see myself getting in a tiggy-tangle with the legs. Then I painted the mare from her rump forwards and put in the background with a palette knife. The foal came last.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Red Study

oil painting of fluffy, red, tabby cat

A red study, but on the brownish end of the red spectrum. 

The palette: Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Red and Transparent Oxide Brown. The addition of white increased opacity where necessary; there is also a tiny bit of black in this but used with great care because black and cats do not seem to go together. 
I have discovered that leaving out the white until as late as possible is the best solution; once added in, it seems to spread everywhere and then the darks cease to be dark enough so then you reach for the black, then you get mud, then there are tears before bedtime. This is the trouble with cats.
At the start, the plan was to use orange, but in the event this underpainting was left to dry and I switched to the red palette:
work-in-progress cat oil painting

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Yellow Study

study of boston terrier, light and shadow study

This painting was a study in painting light and shade using a base colour of cadmium yellow lemon.
Yellow is a tricky colour; to darken it you can use progressively darker shades of the same colour family - cadmium yellow deep, moving towards orange, right up to red if you want. But what if those colours are not going to work with your subject? Using them to model daffodils, for example, is not going to work - at least not if realism is your goal. I have experimented with yellow ochre (too overpowering and opaque) and raw sienna (too wimpy and transparent). 
So to achieve a more muted colour, which if you isolate it from its context, is barely definably yellow, I used the complement - violet. 
I mixed my own using ultramarine and alizarin crimson because purple straight out of the tube didn't seem to work.
The second step I took was to separate out in my mind the light parts of this scene from the shadow parts and forced myself to consider them as two sets of separate colours, which I mixed accordingly. 
I have gone through the phase of painting everything the same colours and then attempting to put the shadows over the top (like in "real life"): and it doesn't work.
In a steady and uniform light that cushion behind his back is one colour - pale yellow. But light is rarely steady and never uniform. In the context of this scene it is two separate colours. I had in-the-light colour strings down one side of my palette and in-the-shade colour strings down the other.
It was the same for the dog.
I think it worked. He looks like a sweet dog.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Orange Study

oil painting of a jack russell terrier
This sweet JRT has been painted using 3 colours: Permanent Orange (still my new-favourite tube of paint), Transparent Oxide Brown, Ivory black and white. 
Within the colour harmony of the painting, a little bit of black in a lot of white gives the illusion that you also have some blue on the palette. 
I forget where I read about this. But I thought it must be true, because so often having, say, black and yellow ochre on the palette has produced an unexpected green problem (cow pat colour dog syndrome). 
If black can act like blue on a yellow paint, why not like blue in a white paint. And so it was. 
I painted him from the eyes outwards
work-in-progress, oil painting of a jack russell terrier
until I had a dear little face looking back at me. Then I felt it would be difficult to get the values correct on his white body fur without a contrast from the background, so I put the background in next with a palette knife.
The orange is Rembrandt Talens Permanent Orange, bought as a less expensive substitute for their Cadmium Orange. This one is fab but it is semi-transparent, and I would love a really opaque and vivid cadmium orange as well. 
I wonder if Father Christmas reads my blog?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Grey Study

oil painting of boxer dog, a pet portrait, animal portrait

Such a dignified, thoughtful pose for this lovely dog. A painting made with a limited palette of orange and paynes grey, apart from permanent rose for nails and muzzle, and the tiniest touch of cad lemon in the right hand background. Worked all in one sitting from the eye outwards.

work-in-progress of boxer

Saturday, 17 October 2015

All attention (3)

seated labrador, oil painting

Working dogs have a particular way of paying attention, especially out in the field, a pose I have tried to capture in this limited palette painting, through a combination of colour and hard and soft edges.
Last post for this week. Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Friday, 16 October 2015

All Attention (2)

Miniature Schnauzer oil painting
Someone has lent me a book, recently, about body language and interpretation techniques. It occurred to me, reading it, that none of it ought to be a surprise to anyone who owns a dog. Dogs only have body language to communicate. It must be acknowledged that Miniature Schnauzers also have a wide, loud and expressive vocal range, but it is hard to imagine they are actually saying anything much beyond "look at me".
Unlike yesterday's Sheltie, they do not "do" elegance and dignity. They are direct and they are very comical.
I just love the expressive variety you get from something so simple as sitting attentively.
Painted in two passes using only black, orange and white (apart from the tongue).

Thursday, 15 October 2015

All Attention

sheltie, rough collie, sitting dog, oil painting of a dog
A little exercise in contrasting colour temperature (warm - dog; cool - background) depicting a lovely Sheltie, or maybe a Rough Collie, in a classic "good dog" pose. Painted in two passes in order to get a feeling of depth to his long fur.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Double Trouble

Double Troiuble, oil painting, two puppies, animal portrait by Karen

Autumn colours again, but a bit more muted and sober than yesterday's. I still kicked the painting off with my luscious new tube of orange paint (any excuse):
work-in-progress photo of two sleeping puppies painting

This muted palette basically consisted of warmer colours - orange, burnt sienna - for the left hand dog and cooler colours - raw umber, blue - for the right hand dog. I hadn't planned it that way but found it difficult to differentiate the two dogs and make an interesting painting. So I wiped the first attempt and used two separate palettes second time around - one for each dog. 
The floor boards are orange, blue and white: orange and blue make a lovely grey. 
That's all for this week (unless you also follow my other blog: I have a portrait to post there in a minute). 
Thank you for looking at my paintings and have a great weekend.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Autumn colours

autumn colours, a yorkshire terrier

This dear little chap was inspired as much by a new tube of paint as by the season: I bought a tube of Rembrandt Permanent Orange and it is fabulous. Here is the start of this painting:
work-in-progress yorkie painting
It was a mistake to draw the few lines on the board using a Wolff Carbon pencil, because as you can see it smeared a bit when the paint went over it. I should have fixed it first or just used something else. 
But I waited for the orange to dry completely before working on it and all was well. It is not as if Yorkshire Terriers are a pure, clean orange in any case.
I worked the rest of the painting in one sitting using a large, pointed round for the face, which I haven't done before. It worked well for the features and the strands of hair, especially because you can place a sweeping line very, very gently thus avoiding the problem of lifting the wet paint beneath.

Friday, 2 October 2015

86 sleeps until Christmas

oil painting of dog under the mistletoe, dressed dog
When October ticks round, and tins of sweeties start piling up in the supermarket, isn't it nice to know you can order something for Christmas that is not fattening?

This post is a reminder, gentle reader, that oil paintings cannot be picked up off the shelf quite so easily as sweets. If you would like a painting of your pet, finished, dry and ready to unwrap on Christmas morning, please pop along to my website here to find out how. When you contact me about your order quote BLOG86 and I will give you a 10% discount.

All orders are first come, first served. International orders by the end of October, please, if delivery by 25 December is essential.

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

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Snoozing Lab

A gentle start to October with this old friend.

Labs are not the easiest of dogs to paint. I find the colour matching tricky. The main risk is that they become paler and paler so in extreme cases you "run out" of light paint and cannot get any lighter as you have already drifted into pure white. This is usually referred to as a beginner's mistake, I know, but it is one of the easiest to make, especially if you're not concentrating: I still do it often. 
Here's a tip: pin a pure white index card against the image you are working from - or hold it up if you are working from life. Things are just not as "white" as you think they are. Unless you are painting a Samoyed or similar:
in which case it is permissible to lose the will to live. I was commissioned to paint a bichon frise not long ago. He had been freshly groomed for his portrait. 
He looked like a dandelion clock with two button black eyes.

Friday, 25 September 2015


detailed and life-like drawing of a spaniel
This drawing was completed a while ago. It was the first really detailed piece in graphite that I completed. It was also very nearly the last. The thing about producing this style of work is that whilst the results are usually very pleasing - there is no possibility of botching it by rushing because rushing is impossible - the fact is it takes forever to complete a single piece. I have already thought up 15 more ideas to work on before I am even half way through.
I see some really beautiful pieces on the internet worked in graphite or coloured pencil and it takes the artists literally weeks. I am filled with admiration for their patience and fortitude, but it is not for me. 
This week I have been experimenting with liquid graphite, looking for a brush-y short-cut to similar effects as the ones achieved with this spaniel. I have concluded there are no short cuts. If you want a piece to look like this you have to put in the time.
So after this short interlude with drawings, I am back to paint.

Have great weekend and thank you for looking at my work.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Ol' Blue Eyes

pastel painting of husky blue eyes
Another dry media piece, this one is worked in pastel pencil on black paper.

For readers who have come here via my auction, this piece is double mounted on soft white, stiff card as follows:

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Little lemur

mixed media drawing of a little lemur
A few different things this week, because I sent away for a pot of Liquid Pencil to give it a try: my efforts to be more faithful to my sketch book are always faltering because I don't enjoy working with dry media and long for a brush. Liquid pencil seemed worth a shot. 
My impression is that it is fab for covering large areas in a light or mid tone. It looks just like pencil when it is dry. You can achieve darker tones by layering, just as you would with a dry pencil. Super-dark cannot easily be achieved, though. For this little lemur I used gouache to get the darkest darks.
His eyes are also gouache.
Having got a couple of different colours on the palette - eyes, background, highlights in eyes - I realised I might as well have used paint in the first place. 

Friday, 18 September 2015


oil painting Zzzz English Bull Dog Puppy
An English Bull Dog puppy, crashed out and doing the only reasonable thing on a Friday and also a day of pouring rain.
Have a great weekend everyone and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Diet Day

Diet Day, oil painting of a pug with his tongue out
When I saw the ridiculous photo of this pug, looking hungry and licking his nose with his tongue, I immediately had a pang of recognition. It is what can happen for 2 days out of 7 when you are on the 5:2 diet. I have even been known to feel a pang of hunger when throwing a handful of corn to my chickens. Sad.

The painting was done on a board painted with Pthalo Blue and turpentine and allowed to dry. I started with the eyes and then put in the tongue, on the basis that the tongue was the focal point - indeed, the whole point - and painted round it: 
work-in-progress pug oil painting
The thing about tongues is that they are quite easy to do if you use a cool red such as alizarin and a warm red such as cad red medium, not just one or the other. The warmest notes seem to sit towards the tip usually.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Little Clown

Oil painting of a Miniature Schnauzer
This was a cheer-myself-up painting, in the midst of a difficult week. Miniature Schnauzers - in my limited experience of the breed - are natural born comedians and rarely solemn.
I painted a blue background in weak acrylic just for speed, so that I could blast the board dry with a hairdryer and get started.
I put 3 colours on the palette: Burnt Sienna. Ultramarine and Titanium White. From these I was able to mix both warm and cool greys by adjusting the ratio of blue to burnt sienna. So, on the left the two colours straight from the tube. Then my darkest dark (a mixture of the two); warm (brownish) greys - for the beard, chiefly - and cool (blue-ish) greys for the fur:
palette of pre-mixed grey oil paints
I used a lovely, new No3 Ivory Filbert from Rosemary & Co for the whole painting. 
These brushes produce great, flick-y lines when used on their side - before I have messed them up, that is. The exception was the eyes, when I used a soft, sable. 
I also applied some black to nostrils and pupils of eyes with the sable brush by taking small blobs direct from the tube. I wanted to avoid putting black on to the palette because then I would be tempted to use it and it doesn't work for this sort of mixed grey fur - it just creates a muddy mess.  

Friday, 11 September 2015

Bee happy

oil painting of bees sipping nectar
After our bees arrived, it struck us as odd that we never seemed to see a honey bee actually in our garden. One day, walking by the lake - which is about one mile away as the bee flies - we saw 100s of honey bees sipping nectar from the mint flowers. We immediately talked about them as "our bees", although obviously we cannot be sure. Apparently, you can try dusting your bees with icing sugar as they leave the hive, then rush off down to where you think they go and see if you can spot them. We have not tried this.
The painting was made in two stages: first I painted the background, and let it dry overnight. Next day, I mixed up a  3 value string of violet made from Pthalo Blue and Permanent Rose - dark, mid and light. The flowers are only tiny, I thought 3 should be sufficient, reserving white as the lightest value. Violet is a hard colour to mix, I think. I don't like tube violet, if I use cadmium I get a nasty, muddy colour. Alizarin makes it too cold, like a bruise colour - yuck - but this combo seems about right.
Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Bees At Work

oil painting of bees capping honey
Here is a scene from the inside of the hive. Ever since our bees properly arrived, I have wanted to have a go at painting this scene: I thought if ever there was a subject that would lead me to a muddy end, this was it. I thought for a long time how to best tackle it.
Firstly, I stained the board with some raw umber, pretty dark  Then I washed in some dark patches to indicate the areas that will be more in shadow and the approximate position of the bees and then (most unlike me) waited the necessary time for it to fully dry. After that, I more or less worked as I usually do: top left, across and down, completing as I went. 
One thing I did do differently was to re-visit the finished painting after it was dry to add some more 'wax' i.e. the light cream colour to indicate where the bees are capping brood or honey:
work-in-progress photos of bee painting
Also, I used a very, very soft brush: a Winsor & Newton 1/4 inch angled water colour brush. Apart from the initial block in, this was the only brush I used. It made a big difference to my ability to add extremely thin, light lines on top of wet paint with less risk of it mixing in and causing a muddle -  for example, the edges of some cells in the comb and the bees' wings. 
The palette was: Vandyke Brown, Black, Yellow Ochre Deep, Gamblin warm white and titanium white (for wings).

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Our hive

Oil painting of a bee hive in a summer garden
Here is our new bee hive in the clouds of seeding wild flowers and grasses along the edge of our garden. The bees moved into the garden by way of a swarm earlier in the summer. They started building honeycomb in the hedge. It seemed such an honour to be "chosen", so more permanent accommodation has been provided. 
I worked this from a couple of photos I had taken. But when it came to the bees, I was non-plussed how to paint them at this scale. So I walked my nearly-complete, wet painting, plus a palette and a brush, up the garden to see what could be done. 
I can now advise that bees from-a-distance are not simply black dots. They are more elongated than dotty. You can see the glint of their wings in the sunlight. And their tiny bodies cast a little, violet shadow on their front step.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Two ponies

oil painting of two ponies
I am still feeling my way towards an approach to painting horses. There is some beautiful work to learn from and find inspiration. The difficulty is not so much technical - although it isn't easy - as one of style and perhaps composition. 
If there is any animal subject more afflicted by artistic cliche than horses, it is hard to think of one: tigers, perhaps. 
How to find a fresh approach, how to find something new to say - that is the challenge.
I have been exploring the work of Lucy Kemp-Welch and this piece was very much inspired by her. A British painter, 1869-1958, she specialised in painting working horses and is perhaps best known for her illustrations to the 1915 edition of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
She has a painting, Colt-hunting in the New Forest, in the national collection, in the Tate
but I very much like and admire everything of hers. Worth checking out if you are interested in equine art.