Thursday, 26 October 2017

Last Man Standing

oil painting of a toy on boxes, recording a house move
A small toy standing on a bunch of packing boxes, recording the dismal nature of house-moving. Not sure if the "Last Man Standing" is the penguin or me.
Still testing out my hitherto untried plain air kit from the safety of inside the house and discovering what it is missing. Today it was cotton buds and a tube of Burnt Umber. I mixed the browns from red, yellow and blue - possibly achieving more variety than a tube would have provided. At least I remembered to pack a palette knife.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Jugged Bear


The last escapees in my room waiting to be put in a crate. The jug was, anyway. The bear I borrowed from the dog's toy basket. Painted using my new Sienna Plein Air easel set-up that I imported from the USA back in the summer. It is such a beautiful thing I was too scared to use it, but now everything else is in a crate, my "emergency" painting kit is all I have left.  And very lovely it is, too.

Friday, 6 October 2017

A Nice Cuppa Tea

A Nice Cuppa Tea, a Zen oil painting of a figure performing the tea ceremony

Well, sometimes life can get over-demanding. Then we have to try and be a little bit zen about it. Or just have a nice cuppa tea. Or both.
Painted from my dear little figurine bought for a very modest sum from a second-hand shop in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire last week. I think I might include this gentleman in a number of paintings over coming weeks. 
His tranquility is much to be desired. 
Painted in one sitting using Pthalo Green (carefully), Cadmium Red Light and very small amounts of brown, black and yellow, together with white.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Burning the Stubble

oil painting of a cowboy on horseback burning the stubble

One hot day, earlier this month, the Autumnal scent in the air took me back to childhood in East Anglia, where stubble burning was an annual event. It greatly aggrieved my mother: in the mornings, the stubble burning "stank out" the washing,  in the afternoons it "stank out" the house and in the evenings it "stank out" the dinner. My mum would be pleased to know it is now illegal in the UK.

It is not illegal in the USA, but I imagine it is unwelcome given the many wild fires that have afflicted the midwest this year.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Head Gear

oil painting of a ram with huge horns called 'headgear'

A little exercise in colour harmony - orange and violet mainly, with some Naples Yellow Light and Raw Umber. 

Painted entirely with a palette knife, apart from his eye. I had to get myself into some pretty funny positions in order to make the precise marks with the palette knife especially his horns. Part artist, part contortionist..

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Cheerful chap

pet portrait, oil painting of German shepherd pup - a cheerful chap
This adorable dog is painted a bit larger than I normally paint for my daily painting practice, he is 10"x12" and his eyes follow you around the room, so if someone buys him I am going to miss him!
I did not paint him wet-on-wet. This sort of fur colouring - black, red, yellow, cream - is tremendously difficult to paint wet-on-wet. Best possible colour choices for achieving mud, in my experience. 
My technique, which is not idiot proof (or at any rate, it is not proof against this idiot) is to keep white off the palette altogether for as long as humanly possible. White is the problem. I try to follow Peter Paul Rubens' advice if I can: 
White is poison to a picture: use it only in highlights
I painted his eyes first - to finish because one of the joys of painting a portrait like this is the feeling you have a friend walking with you. 
Then I painted everything that was black, or nearly so (the background, for example, is a mix of black and transparent oxide red - it makes the black warmer somehow, without detracting from the dark quality).
Once the black was dry, I painted the nose, tongue and gums to finish, then let them dry and painted in the red and yellow ochre fur with no white on the palette.
My poor friend looked distinctly moth-eaten and to avoid the temptation to fiddle, I turned the painting to the wall until the paint was tacked up but not dry - so I could soften edges and not just leave pale fur sitting on top.

The colours I used were: W&N Alkyd Lamp Black (I use this all the time now instead of Ivory Black and much prefer it); Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Red, Michael Harding Yellow Ochre Deep and Warm White. I only used Titanium White for highlights created by moisture from the dog i.e. eyes, nose, tongue.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Chestnut Horse

Oil painting of a chestnut horse, inspired by George Stubbs' Whistlejacket
It has been a while since I painted a horse, so here is a lovely one, inspired by probably the greatest horse painting of all time - Whistlejacket, by George Stubbs, hanging in the National Gallery in London
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs

This horse, an Arabian thoroughbred, belonged to the Marquess of Rockingham, and was painted in about 1762. It is approximately life-size. It was spectacular at the time for its anatomical accuracy as well as its size, and Stubbs' choice of a plain background, which was a novelty - romantic landscapes being the norm - so much so that stories circulated that the painting was unfinished.

I have often wondered how Stubbs achieved such accuracy. The answer, in part, is this: having studied anatomy in York, he went to Lincolnshire where he rented a cottage and spent 18 months dissecting dead horses and drawing what he observed. Wow.

To paint my horse, I first experimented with some colour mixes:
colour palette for painting a chestnut horse
I used: Burnt Umber, Caput Mortem - a sort of dark, violet red (very strong pigment - a little goes a long way), Terra Rosa, Transparent Oxide Red, Cadmium Yellow Deep and Gamblin Warm White. 
painting of chestnut horse, work-in-progress

I began with a simple line drawing to establish the shape and main features of the horse and put the background in around the horse. For this, I used Olive Green and Raw Sienna with white. Unsure where to go from there, I started putting in the darkest darks. In the event, it then seemed to make sense to simply work from left to right:
painting of chestnut horse, work-in-progress

None of the colours I used were alkyds so I had to wait several days for the paint to dry before I could finish the piece and add a few highlights. It was a difficult painting and I worked under the ominous feeling that it could go wrong at any minute - I have no idea how you would work this life size!


Thursday, 31 August 2017

Eclipse Watchers and Sun Seekers

Eclipse watchers - two dogs in sunglasses hanging out of a window in bright sunlight. An oil painting by Karen Robinson

Well, this one was a challenge after a difficult week during which nothing went right. 3 wipers in one week is going it some and I thought this one might go the same way once or twice.

It is painted on board, prepped with a coat of cadmium red acrylic - a very difficult colour to work on, but it lends the sensation of warmth. I painted the background first - around the dogs - although it did need some re-touching after the dogs had been put in. This was to differentiate it better from the dogs' faces. It was necessary to mix a slightly darker primrose shade for the boards and grey it a bit more (with red) so the brightness of the dogs jumped forward better.

I used three colours for most of this painting: Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Red Medium and Lemon Yellow + white. I found it difficult to get the darks dark enough with this combo for the dogs so had to use a touch of black for them. I also used a touch (literally) of Cadmium Green Pale and Orange for the reflections in their sun glasses.

The most important thing to me for getting this piece right was to keep the brushes scrupulously clean. It could so easily have disappeared into mush and mud. I used a different brush for each colour and wiped the brush in-between every single brush stroke (I was working wet-into-wet as usual. A layering process would have been simpler if more long-winded).

Just love that one of them is wearing his sunglasses upside down.


Thursday, 24 August 2017

Best friends



two greyhounds, side-by-side, in sunlight
Well, this one has been a struggle and I am not sure I have entirely pulled it off.  I was aiming for impressionistic and cannot decide if there is too much impression, or not enough.
 It began with a simple line drawing and I put in the pale greyhound first:
two greyhounds, a painting, work-in-progress
I worked on a white, gesso ground with no prior toning on purpose because I was forced to paint the white greyhound using colours other than white
two greyhounds, a painting, work-in-progress
thus saving my lightest values, including tube white, for the full sun hitting the side of the dog and bouncing around the picture
two greyhounds, a painting, work-in-progress
At the moment, as you can see, the dogs are sat on a dappled ground with no actual light painted - I simply wiped off the shadow colour in the background to create a dappled effect - and no shadows on the dogs. At this point I waited 24 hours for the paint to more or less dry before completing the piece.
Originally intending the light to be dappled, in the end I joined up some of the "dapples" to create larger puddles of light. This was because, 'unjoined' up, the painting risked looking fussy rather than dappled.

Here's one by Renoir showing how it is supposed to be done:

The daughters of Paul Durand Rule, Renoir

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Hi Mum - I'm HOME!

oil painting of a happy chocolate labrador running
With this one, I was very concerned about the brilliant, sunlit background detracting from the dog. Also, the scene is so very GREEN which is hard to get right.

I decided to render the dog first, so that I could key in the background to him, rather than starting with the background then trying to make the dog pop out of it.

chocolate labrador oil painting - work in progress

As you can see, I started with what the dog was leading with
- his nose and tongue.
chocolate labrador oil painting - work in progress

The rest of his face and his right shoulder in next. Roughly speaking, the right side of this dog is in shadow and the left side is in the light. I split the palette and used two brushes, one for the shadow and one for the light. 

chocolate labrador oil painting - work in progress

And here he is, bless him, bounding out of the canvas towards me. Now to ruin it, I thought and began tackling the background with considerable trepidation. I started off using only combos of the same paint colours as I had used on the dog - to try and ensure the painting hung together OK. But that quickly appeared hopeless - far too bland - so I whipped out the cadmiums: lemon yellow, pale green and gave it a bit of energy with a large brush. I was happy with how it turned out.




Saturday, 12 August 2017

The first time I saw the Queen

an oil painting of a frame of honey bees with the Queen visible
For a long time after the bees first arrived in our garden, I thought I should never see a Queen at all. 
Unlike in a photograph or a painting, the little blighters won't keep still, you see. The constant movement and farkling about is bewildering to a novice beekeeper. 
But once I had spotted her for the first time, it was so obvious which one was the Queen, I was puzzled how I could not have seen her. There is a well-known old saying about learning to paint: that what you are really learning is how to see. This is very true and it applies also to beekeeping, I think.
I have had difficulty photographing this piece. I wanted you, the viewer, to be able to see the Queen too. So I placed her slightly off centre - just down and to the left a fraction - and positioned a few bees so they were pointing at her. Then, to be on the safe side, I gilded her with gold leaf after the paint was dry. So she shimmers most beautifully.
If the sun shines on her she shimmers like this in real life, too.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Guardians of the Steps

An oil painting of two labradors sitting on the front steps in dappled sunlight
This painting of two labradors sitting on the steps in dappled sunlight took 4 attempts to get right, the first 3 were wipers. I was almost ready to give up. Decided on one last attempt because I really did like the dogs.
The reason for the decision was a clue.
I had been blocking in the whole piece. On the 4th attempt, I painted the dogs only to completion, wiping the board as clean as possible, sketching in a few lines to get the positioning right and laying out a small palette of colours for the dogs only. 
On the left of the palette I laid out shadow colours: raw umber, french ochre, black and white. On the right, I laid out the sunlit colours: transparent oxide red, yellow ochre deep, cadmium yellow lemon and white. I used two brushes, one for shadow and one for the light. 
This approach did the trick - I finished up with two labs floating near the upper quartile of the canvas, but they were just as they should be. Then I put in the background around them with a fresh palette of colour, but again, divided in half: the shadow colours and the light colours.
These were: raw umber, purple lake and ultramarine - shadow; yellow ochre deep, naples yellow, lemon yellow and white - sunlight. For the bushes, I added cadmium green light for the sunlit areas.
Two brushes: one for shadow, one for light.
Hope you like the result.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Waiting for mum to come home

oil painting of a dog in the window, waiting for mum to come home
An impressionistic oil sketch of a dog looking out of the window.

Worked swiftly with a very limited palette of transparent oxide red, Prussian green, cadmium yellow light and white.  You get some very nice, rich darks using this particular red and green. Painted on a prepared A4 board and using biggish brush - a No 6 flat. For any fiddly bits, I turned the brush on its side and used the corner.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

out of the shadows

out of the shadows, a dynamic oil painting of a cat
A couple of extra posts this week as I have got a growing pile of finished paintings on the side.
This was an experiment, 95% palette knife. The inspiration was a photo of a grey and white cat stalking through dappled foliage. It was a very cute cat. 
I was conscious, though, that it would not look so cute if you were a small critter occupying that foliage.
This piece was an attempt to get away from a rather static realism and grab the coiled dynamism of a cat hunting for prey. 
Don't know if I have quite pulled it off, but that was the intention!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

What's the password?

What's the password? oil painting of two labradors in front of a doorway

Still working hard at my new approach to painting: holding the canvas properly upright on my easel, standing as much as possible, stepping back frequently and using bigger brushes. This was painted almost entirely with a size 6 ivory flat, which is twice as big as the size I normally use. For fiddly bits - the dog's eyes, the carriage lamp - I turned the brush on its side and used the corner.
I spent a couple of days on and off thinking about this painting before I started and decided that it was most important the dogs 'came forward' and that the background stayed back. As the background is largely white and white is an opaque colour that is usually used last to make sure it "comes forward", I was a bit worried whether I could pull it off.
To give myself a sporting chance, I started with the dogs and a limited palette of alizarin, cad yellow light, black and transparent oxide red (to warm up the shadows):

work-in-progress of labrador painting

The canvas board had a thin wash of blue acrylic, which I don't normally use but I didn't want a warm colour so it seemed best. It was completely dry before I started. Also, I put some lines on as it seemed daunting to begin with no lines at all.

work-in-progress of labrador painting

At this point I thought I had completed the lab. Forgot his back and rear legs, poor poppet.

work-in-progress of labrador painting

Here's his little friend going in. I was beginning to feel a tiny bit more confident by this stage that it wasn't all going to fall to pieces.
Last WIP shot

work-in-progress of labrador painting

I forgot to take any pix of laying in the background. What I did was take the warm colours off my palette and add cool colours, specifically cerulean blue and lemon yellow, plus black and white. All cool colours. 
Cool colours recede, warm colours advance. 
The slight pinkish colour in the foreground shadows was pulled from the choc lab's coat.
I still used the no 6 brush, until one of the door frames developed a wonk, at which point I used a ruler and a rigger but only for a single line (honest). 
The background did not take long. I deliberately gave myself an artificial deadline which was pretty tight - about 30 minutes once the palette was set up. This was so I would not fuss it too much.
Really I need my mother standing beside me throughout the process so she can smack my hand at regular intervals (this was her preferred method of teaching table manners and the proper use of a knife and fork. I'm guessing it would also work with a paint brush).

This was the first painting I have made using my new approach that I have really enjoyed. I liked applying some of the things I have learnt, especially cool vs warm, also I double-loaded the brush with one colour one side and a different colour (or value) on the other. This helped with laying in the golden lab and was fun.

Have a lovely weekend and thank you for reading through all this and sharing the experience with me.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Bright Eyes

Oil painting of a beautiful beagle using a limited palette
This was a limited palette painting, working with a No 4 Ivory flat brush. For fiddly bits (chiefly eyes) I turned the brush and used the corners to get a touch of detail. Whiskers were painted separately when everything else was dry using an extra long liner with about 2 hairs (I think it is aimed at miniaturists, size 30/0).

The palette was chosen almost by accident, as the support had seen two previous 'wipers' and as a result was coloured a sort of pale, salmon pink. It reminded me of the paler colouring on some beagle-type dogs and I thought it would be fun to try and make a dog emerge organically out of the mush of previous failures.

To paint his eyes I cleaned up eye-shaped holes in the background using cotton buds and mineral spirits. I seem to get a better shine on eyes if the background behind the transparent paint is white.

So, colours were: Transparent Oxide Brown (by Rembrandt - for the eyes); Burnt Sienna, Purple Lake, Lamp Black, Titanium White and Cadmium Red Medium (all Winsor and Newton).

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Got something for me?

oil painting of a Pointer looking straight at you and saying "Got something for me?"
This painting was worked standing at my new easel, using bigger brushes and with the goal of loosening up my technique a bit. I found it impossible to work the eyes standing and with big brushes, though. 
The linen board was pre-loved - in other words, my previous painting was a wiper. And the one before that. To get a fresh surface for a 3rd attempt, I wiped some titanium white all over it and left it to dry.
Then I drew out the dog with a pencil and decided I didn't like the fact I had set the board up landscape.
So I turned it round to portrait, wiped burnt sienna and turps all over the board and re-drew the dog with a brush, ignoring the lines underneath.
oil painting work-in-progress, 1st stage

Incidentally, this is how I set my easel up to hold small panels in position (as with all studio easels, they are really built to hold large canvases not small panels):
How to Set up a studio easel to hold small panels

Basically, I have set up a large 6mm deep canvas board as the support for the panel. Then I have cut strips off a canvas board using a Stanley knife and attached those strips to the backing board with nice, big, stiff clips. These strips can then be moved to accommodate larger or smaller panels. I placed my panel between the two strips and adjusted them so it was held really tightly and will not move. The main thing is to make sure the strips are thicker than the panel you are working on so they get a proper grip. If necessary, stick two strips together with a glue gun. That's what I did.

Anyway, here is the next stage. Basic colour blocks and especially the darks in place:
work-in-progress oil painting of a pointer dog
And the final stage photo, working right to left now laying in more detail and correcting the drawing as needed along the way.
work-in-progress oil painting of a pointer dog
Thanks for reading along, have a great weekend.

Friday, 7 July 2017

First Light

High chiaroscuro oil painting of a Maine Coon cat
This high chiaroscuro portrait of a Maine Coon cat marks a new beginning for me: I have decided to change some of my approaches to painting in the hope that I can improve more quickly. 
It is difficult to sustain progress when you work alone and have no teacher or mentor to chivvy you out of your comfort zone.
But as the old cliché says: if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.

So I decided to change a few things to try and get off my plateau and on to the next level up of this painting journey.

My goal is to paint more freely whilst also maintaining accuracy. 

To work towards achieving looser brushwork I decided, first, to change my work area, dumping the desk easel and working as much as I can standing up. 
I bought a fab new easel and what I call my Yellow Brick Road Rug which shows me how far to step back to evaluate my work:
photograph of a working artist's studio
Yes, I know the road isn't yellow, but let's pretend
Second, I have dumped working with lines. At least, as much as feasible. I am trying to block in the painting using mass and tone. Here is the first stage of the cat:

underpainting of Maine Coon cat

Third, I have dumped black. I read somewhere - and annoyingly, I cannot remember where - of an artist who said you should use black exactly as you would tube white i.e. very very sparingly and only to make a statement.

In this painting, I have used no black at all apart from the cat's 'eye-liner' and pupils. All the other darks I mixed, using various amounts of: Burnt Umber, Alizarin Crimson, Purple Lake and Pthalo Green. You can see the shadow of the Pthalo Green in the stage photo, above.

It was Michael Harding Pthalo Green and I think one of his small tubes of this colour would be sufficient, if squeezed out,  to colour the entire ocean. I used a pin prick. I still have a suspicious green tinge to one or two of my nails. Makes a fab dark with alizarin, though.

Then I started to add the lights, but still no white at all: these colours are Yellow Ochre Deep and Naples Yellow Light, plus Transparent Oxide Red


I used great care with the brush because the darks were still wet and we all know what happens if you mix Yellow Ochre with darks (see previous posts on cowpats).

The final stages I painted next day when the paint wasn't dry but had tacked up sufficiently to reduce the risk of me creating mud.

I am pleased with this painting but it cost me great pains to make. It is hard to work standing up if you are not used to it. It is rare for me to actually be reduced to tears by a painting, but what with the tiredness and the wobbly legs and aching arm (from using unfamiliar long-handled brushes) and the final insult of not one, not two, but three wipers, that is what happened. 

Got somewhere in the end, though.

If you have got to the end of this - thank you very much for reading along with me. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

White Horses Study (No 2)

an oil painting of white horses galloping in the sea and emerging from the waves. Inspired by the myth of Poseidon

A second study of Poseidon's white horses galloping in the waves. 

This is painted on A4 MDF board. I gessoed it with white acrylic gesso with turquoise acrylic paint stirred in. I was none too fussy about  smoothing it out as I wanted a textured surface to make me loosen up with the paint application. 

Having decided the positioning of the horses before hand, I pushed the gesso around a bit so it is not quite so rough in the upper centre of the board, where they were to be placed. 

I drew the horses out first on a bit of paper, based on about 100 internet images of white horses together with my own toy horses that I bought from the toy shop, like these:

me with my horse painting and the horse models

Toy shops are wonderful. It is fab to have an excuse to go in them again and buy things. I also have cows, sheep, cats and dogs in my toy basket. Very helpful for compositions! 

Also I have got some skulls - you can see Yorick immediately behind me in this photo, although he is not real, he is made of resin. Real ones can be obtained from medical equipment suppliers but they are vastly expensive and also a bit creepy, don't you think?

These are real, though. I found them over many walks with the dog :


So, back row from left to right: a sheep's skull - found on Dartmoor; a roe or fallow deer stag (not sure which), found in the forest down the road and thirdly a red deer stag, found in the same forest. At the front: a fox cub skull, same forest. 

Friday, 23 June 2017

White Horses Study (No 1)

oil painting of white horses emerging from breaking waves and a foaming sea
White horses have a magical part to play in mythologies from around the world. In Greek mythology - the source of my inspiration - the sea god Poseidon had a son called Pegasus. A magnificent, winged white horse. Poseidon was also the creator of horses, making them out of the breaking waves.

One of the most famous paintings of Poseidon's white horses was by Walter Crane, an English artist and illustrator 1845-1915. Here is a study "Neptune's Horses" that he painted in 1892 (Neptune is the Roman name for the Greek god Poseidon - same bloke).

Walter Crane a study of Neptune's white horses

and a painting on the same theme from 1910. Walter made several pieces on the theme and I am going to try to do the same.

Walter Crane, Neptune's Horses, 1910

I was lucky enough to see this one - or maybe a version of it, I am not sure how many he painted - at an exhibition of animal art the other year at the Russell Coates in Bournemouth - easily my favourite Art Gallery/Museum.

I have had a go at painting a multiple horse version as well and will post that next week, hopefully. Have a lovely weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Sheltie Study No 3

Oil painting of a sheltie, back view, looking up and waiting
This sheltie painting is a re-work of a previous favourite using a golden colour scheme.
I had a couple of other sheltie pieces lined up for this series but have decided to leave them for now and move on to something else, so for next week - expect something completely different!
Have a lovely weekend everyone and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Sheltie Study No 2

oil painting of a sheltie with his nose on his paw in golden colours

A little oil painting of a sheltie with his nose on his paw in golden colours. This is one of those pieces that I have photographed a number of times and still can't get a result quite as nice as the original. I started with a rejected board re-coated with  a gesso that I had coloured a soft pink, using burnt sienna. 

I painted the dog in two steps: all the darker fur, or at any rate all the fur that did not need white, then when that was dry - everything else. I twice attempted to paint him all in one go, but this combo of colours and long fur is still very hard for me to do in one pass and it resulted in wipers and frustration.
I would have had to settle for a much more impressionistic result in order to pull it off. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Sheltie Studies No 1

Oil sketch of two shelties, one facing forwards, one with her back to us, A4 size
Two studies of a Sheltie, front and rear view, painted in thin oil colour. 

After a difficult week or so when everything I touched went wrong, I have decided to go back to painting dogs for a bit! I love these dogs. 

My own dog is half sheltie although he doesn't look anything like these two.
My black and white sheltie, poodle mix breed dog

To make the painting, I wiped some very thin raw umber and olive green paint over the prepared surface. The surface is an A4 MDF board which I had previously primed with acrylic gesso, stirring a bit of burnt sienna acrylic paint into the gesso first.

This is something I do quite often - it provides a warm, lightly toned surface to paint on and it is a useful start for any subject which has a lot of warm browns or reds in them.

Or greens, come to that because red and green are complementaries so the two together "sing" more vividly than on their own.

The shelties were painted in two passes: a darker under painting - this was to capture the shadows that would subsequently show through the longer, paler fur and then, when this was pretty much dry, I put the lighter fur on top.

At the end of the first stage it looked rubbish. It is important not to dive in with the "correct" colours too soon, I find, or it all mixes up and makes a muddy mess. 

I dried stage 1 (ugly duckling stage) by turning the board to the wall. So I don't have to look at it. Less temptation to fiddle.

Speaking of dry, it is tipping with rain here in soggy Devon. A good day for painting, then.