The Fox – Oil Painting

The Fox

Regular readers of this blog must be tired of the same old, same old colours – Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and Prussian Blue . Well, sorry to dash your expectations of excitement, its the same old colours again. Well thats not quite true, the yellow in the cottage windows is a tiny bit of Cadmium Yellow plus white. As in previous paintings, whenever I need a colour which is not part of the natural spectrum (the red tractor, the people going to church), I use a colour out of the normal harmonious range. This colour does two things, it says man-made and it stands out from the other colours.

I was planning to put a ribbon of smoke coming from the cottage. As the sky progressed I changed the plan, smoke would not be visible on the irregular pattern of bright colours which is what the sky turned out to be. The sky changed from what I intended. It was to be flat and brooding with wisps of white cloud scurrying across a cold blue sky. A more solid structure presented itself, and being an opportunist, that’s the way it went. The ‘knock on effect’ was that the fine lines of the beech trees on the left would be impossible to paint onto the thick layer of sky colour. If the painting, at this stage, was allowed to dry, there would be no problem. I could paint on top and even make corrections by wiping of the fresh paint with a tissue soaked in a little white spirits. But as this was to be a single session painting the solution was to ‘draw’ the trees with a palette knife into the wet layer of paint. Into these ‘channels’ the darker colour of the trees was placed. The paint was very liquid, with loads of white spirits, and ‘flooded’ the channels producing a clean sharp line. Any of the ‘scratches’ not painted in looked OK as well. As usual I’ve videoed the process for a future post, so check back in a few days.

Too cold, see you later!

P.S. I took this photo last Christmas Eve. I was photographing a rare occurrence,  a ‘white Christmas’ (very rare in Ireland).  The little dog is Zuppy, our old Jack Russel terrier. It was so cold on that day, he just stopped walking and gave me the ‘slow look’. He then headed back to the bed. The silhouette of the dog against the snow was an image looking for a painting, and this painting was built around it. The fox, being careful to avoid the cottage, was caught ‘off guard’ by the viewer.


Year’s End – Time Lapse Video

Year's End

The underlying design or pattern in this painting is a series of ‘wedges’ one on top of the other up into the sky. These shapes form a harmonious pattern which tie the sky and ground together. Its always a concern that the sky might become detached from the ground in a landscape.

Harmony of colour in a painting also helps to ‘stitch’ the different parts together. For example, when mixing sky colours I will add in all of the colours which will be later used in the ground part of the landscape. As you can see in the video, the underpainting is Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber and the 2 blues (Prussian and Cerulean, see previous post). OK, this is the underpainting, what about the final mixes? As the method is ‘alla prima’, the underpainting is not completely dry when the later layers are added, so a certain amount of mixing will occur. The actual final mixes are as follows: sky blue – Cerulean Blue, Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber in reducing quantities (i.e. mostly Cerulean with less Prussian, then less Yellow etc.). This mixture is added to white. This is 4 out of the 5 colours used in the entire painting (black and white are not considered as colours). The cloud grey – the above mix (including the white) with Burnt Sienna and Black added. Added to this is the fact the same brush is used with very little cleaning between colour changes. This ‘dirty’ brush is also used to apply the white (with a little yellow) mix for the cloud highlights. The same colours are used in every part of the painting, only the quantities of each vary. This is ‘harmony’ the easy way and the key to it is the limited palette. In previous posts I have mentioned, several times, other advantages to limiting the range of colours you use (this is one such post).

Here’s the video.

Year’s End – Oil Painting

Year's End

Here and there, scattered across the Irish landscape, you’ll find what appears to be the ruins of formal structures. Usually well made ‘cut stone’ walls or gateway, the remnants of the 18th century estates. Many were abandoned or acquired by the State, to be split up and distributed among the former tenants, after the break with the United Kingdom in the 1920’s.

This finely constructed gate post and overgrown remains of a stone wall is an appropriate foreground for this painting of the closing of another year. The ploughing of the stubble fields after the harvest is a harvest for bird life. Seagulls travel from the coast to feed on the morsels turned up by the plough.

The colours are the same as before: Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and Prussian Blue. Also used, Raw Umber and Cerulean Blue. Cerulean Blue because Prussian Blue is dark and purple and is moderated nicely by the lighter blue. Although a spot of Cadmium Red was used for the tractor it wasn’t part of the overall colour in the rest of the painting. This spot of colour stands out from the surface and when it dries I will trim flat the lump of paint and possibly scrape off a little to help with the shape of the tractor. That ‘shaved’ red paint will really stand out from the rest of the painting which is needed to draw attention to the tractor. Its such a small item it needs an attention grabber. Subconsciously, the viewer enters the painting somewhere on the left, the tractor grabs the eye which will then travel with the birds and leave the painting over the hills on the right. Subsequent journeys may take the viewer to the gatepost and into the field, which is OK .

There is an overall green/brown colour in the painting, good for late Autumn. The green was a mix of Yellow Ochre and Prussian Blue. The blue is added to the yellow, in that order, as it is easier to check the ‘greeness’ of the mix going from the yellow (this might sound weird, but it is not). Remember from a previous post about mixing greens as opposed to using green straight from a tube – the ‘mix’ green is always more natural, better for landscapes. On the subject of mixing colours, one mix which will always be required in a landscape is the mixing of a blue and white for the sky. Always, always add the blue to the white, never the other way round. The bulk of the mix will be white, so adding little bits of blue until the colour is right ensures you don’t end up with a huge lump of sky blue mix. Also, like in the green mixing above its easier to check the colour of the mix coming from the white.

There is a video in the pipeline for the next post. See you then!

Christmas Morning – Time lapse painting

Christmas Morning

Placing figures in a landscape, for me at least, is always problematic. I’m fascinated by artists who paint figures first, then fit the landscape around them. This seems to be the logical way to do it.

In this painting, although the story is of the Christmas Morning church goers, the figures are incidental to the scene, so their placing is better in an already finished landscape. As you can imagine, painting wet on wet, adds a few more problems. I would plan the figure as a separate sketch, experimenting with different figures and their sizes before attempting to paint them in. As in the previous painting, by lightly ‘scratching’ the figure on the wet paint the correct size and shape of the figure can be worked out. When the correct ‘drawing’ is made any unwanted marks can be repaired by lightly reworking the wet paint. Also, if there is a heavy layer of paint its advisable to scrape this off before adding the paint of the figure. Wet on wet does not allow for errors, so be careful. It sounds like a pain in the neck, but as you can see in the video its not that daunting.

I will be printing the Christmas cards (this painting and previous one) next week. I will include observations and a few photos of the finished product in future posts.

UPDATE: Christmas Cards available at ONLINE SHOP.

Here’s the video of the painting of above picture.

Christmas Morning – Oil Painting

Christmas Morning

Another Christmas Card theme. Again, I’m trying to tell a story relating to Christmas activities, and going to church on Christmas morning is a time honoured tradition. Last year we had heavy snow at Christmas time and many roads were impassible. For the first time in many years, people had to walk to church, which was a novelty.

It was snowing in parts of Ireland today, mid October, very unusual. Apparently the earth is moving into a cold period, a mini-iceage, which will last about 80 years. The last one ended about 1715 ad and many of the images in art from this period showed the effects of this cold spell. The skaters on the Thames in London is one such example.

The colours in this painting are almost the same as the previous paintings, at this stage you must be getting bored to tears with the same 4 colours. However, there is one slight change, the blue used is Prussian Blue, otherwise all remains the same. The technique is similar to ‘Going Home for Christmas’.

As usual I’ve videoed the process for the next post so come back in a few days and check out process.

UPDATE: Christmas Cards available at ONLINE SHOP.

Going Home for Christmas – Time lapse video

Going Home for Christmas

In this painting the placing of the figure was important for two reasons. Firstly, the figure is central to the message and therefore should be ‘centre stage’. Secondly, the human figure within a landscape painting is a ‘heavyweight’ in terms of balance. So after everything else is in place, the figure is positioned, bearing in mind these two considerations.

At the planning stage I use charcoal to map out the structure. This sometimes requires correcting by rubbing out the previous drawing, or parts of, to make corrections. Charcoal leaves a ‘ghost image’ after its rubbed out, which is good, as each correction is made you can see where the error was.

However, all this planning and drafting will be covered up by the initial painting. Near the end of painting, the figure has to be placed. The position dictates the scale or size of the figure, i.e. nearer, the figure is bigger and visa versa. The painting is ‘alla prima‘ which means placing wet paint onto wet paint. There is no room for errors, you get one shot at it. If the placing is wrong the cleanup operation is a ‘nightmare’. The best recovery method would be to let the painting dry, after the offending paint is scraped off, then repaint the background and try again. But when you get it right – phew, the satisfaction. A trick I employ which gives a little help to this critical operation is to ‘scratch’ the figure onto the wet paint using the blunt point on the handle of the brush (see video). If corrections need to be made the scratch marks on the wet paint can be repaired easily.

UPDATE: Christmas Cards available at ONLINE SHOP.

Enjoy the video!

Going Home for Christmas – Oil Painting

Going Home for Christmas

The Christmas tradition of exchanging cards goes back to Victorian times and I think is particularly enjoyed by children. I still remember some scenes on cards from my childhood and the fantasy worlds depicted contributed greatly to the spirit of Christmas. So when I paint a scene for printing as a Christmas card I try and make a scene which will be memorable by children. Not the ‘sugar coated’ Hollywood images but real worlds telling a small part of what makes this time of year special.

Hungry Birds, and a cold unwelcoming home in the distance (detail)

The colours are exactly the same as the previous painting. But the scene is completely different. Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and French Ultramarine, plus Raw Umber, black and a lot of white. The treatment of the sky is similar, also, to the previous painting. Placing the shapes in position and using swift strokes of the brush to create random shapes and avoid unwanted regular patterns.

Painting snow scenes are tricky. A scene can become too white and lack shadows which define the scene. My approach is to paint the scene ‘under the snow’ with solvent only and not  bother too much with light or shade or even the details of the landscape. Then when placing the white there is a bit of mixing with the underlying wet paint. This helps avoid the ‘washed out’ effect you get from placing white (or even tinted white) directly on the dry surface. The amount of mixing with the underpainting can be controlled by the amount of ‘working’ of the white on the underpainting, so subtle tints and shades pop up all over the place.

Almost there! (detail)

If you are considering having your own cards printed there are a few points to consider. The first is the shape. Regardless of the size of the painting its the shape of the painting which should be decided first. Because envelopes are produced in a limited range of shapes. There are ‘on-line’ companies which specialise in this business but unless the initial shape approximates the final size, the scene could be truncated, or worse, distorted to fit the standard shape. In a previous post I discussed other matters relating to artwork for printing.

As usual I videoed the painting (which took about 2 hours in a single session) for the next post. You might think I’m a bit premature with thoughts of Christmas, but now is the time for preparations especially for the slow drying oil paintings. And remember, making the Christmas cakes will also be starting soon to have a well matured, whisky preserved treat to brighten the dark days of Christmas.

October Coloured Weather – time lapse painting

October Coloured Weather

Just a short post to accompany this time lapse video. The painting of the sky should be of interest to a painter having problems with cloud shapes. You know what I mean. The ‘morning after’ you finished your painting, you feel your finally finished, and you are confident it is a good painting. You go and have a quick look before going to work. Ahhhh… the sky is full of – ‘SHEEP’. SHEEP! Fluffy fat ones, demure ones, punk ones, every breed of imaginable sheep. Your lovely clouds, which you painstakingly sculpted the previous evening, have been transformed into sheep!! “W…T…F…”, you say (internally, of course). Mischievous elves, gremlins, jealous neighbours…, someone or thing has ‘got-at’ your painting overnight – you repeat the previous exclamation. Then, the realisation strikes you. You recognise the shapes. Your wonderfully realistic, fluffy clouds are more like sheep than clouds (‘sheep in disguise’ – ‘sheep-in-the-skies’, get it!).

Pardon the levity. But I’m entitled to make fun of the situation – I’ve been there, done that. My solution, or a solution which works for me, is to ‘almost randomly’ place cloud shapes and blue sky shapes in the sky area. I’m not mentioning all the other stuff like perspective, light and shade, colours etcetera, that’s another days work, just getting those ‘natural shapes’ you find in clouded skies. By swiping the brush lightly across the surface of the painting, usually diagonally in doth directions, the painted shapes are disturbed in a haphazard way and also blended a bit with the blue.  Its not easy and takes practise, but its easier than trying to draw a compositionally accurate, realistically rendered bunch of random shapes that look good. The video demonstrates the process better than trying to explain. Also, check the previous post for materials and other stuff relating to this painting.

Here’s the video, watch out for the ‘sheep buster’ at 0:58.

October Coloured Weather – Oil Painting

October Coloured Weather

This stream passes close to where I live. It is, in fact, the boundary between the Parish of St. Michael and the Parish of Moone. These two parishes belong to two different Dioceses, Dublin, and Kildare and Leighlin, respectively. The boundaries were drawn up in 1111 ad, at the Synod of Ráth Breasail and were, more than likely, based on the boundaries of older Kingdoms. So this inconsequential little stream, in former times, was an important line on the map.

The sky plays an important part in this painting. Not quite a sunset, but the orange glow is appropriate for the season that’s in it. The canvas was coated with a dilute Burnt Sienna and allowed to stand until the White Spirits evaporated. This colour peeps through the final paint layers in several places, especially in the sky area. This coating of the canvas can be done with Acrylic paint which would dry much quicker and is something I might try. But as Acrylic is ‘water soluble’, I’d worry about the affect on the primer, which is ‘god only knows what’.

The colours were: Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and French Ultramarine. Also, Raw Umber and, of course, black and white. Almost no medium used, only a little Liquin at the details stage. The most difficult part of the painting was getting an interesting and realistic shape on the clouds. Controlled randomness, is a good description of the process. Basically, put the clouds roughly where you want them, trying to avoid ‘patterns’ which you will instinctively do, despite your best efforts. Drag the brush quickly diagonally across the sky in both directions and because there was no medium in the paint you get a blending and softening, but also extra ‘random’ shapes (In the photo above, the brush strokes can be seen. Its the light reflecting off the surface and is not that noticeable in the picture). It sounds easier than it is and, hopefully the video will explain the process better than words. Speaking of which, the video will be ready for the next post. The painting took a few hours (maybe 3) and it shouldn’t have. But I had the time available. Sometimes I think painting time expands to fit the time available and can lead to overworking. It will be a few days before I can decide if I did overwork. The video will reveal a lot.

Twilight – time lapse video


While editing and compiling a video such as this, I don’t actually ‘see’ whats going on until its finished. So, in a way, watching the finished video, ‘speeded-up’, is an education for me because while the overall painting is being considered the actual small steps are almost automatic. It is in the planning of the painting where this is most apparent, especially in the construction lines in the sky. I wanted to have a particular lighting effect caused by moonlight, but subconsciously the sky needed perspective and distance at the horizon. Its because the sky occupies such a large part of the painting (about 2 thirds of the area) that this is important here. So while I was preoccupied with sky colours, and how they could exaggerate the moon light, I placed 2 ‘ribbons’ of shapes running from above the head of the viewer to the distant horizon as a frame on which the clouds would hang. It helps to ‘map out’ something, especially when confronted with such a large blank area to be covered.

The end justifies the means might explain some of the peculiar early stages in a painting. Even at the end there are unusual twists and turns and so it was with the area around the moon. To me, at the end of the painting, it seemed too organised and contrived. So the area was ‘mashed up’ with daubs of thick paint to remove this regularity. When I read in Alissa’s Blog, “When Wrong Is Right”, – ‘these mistakes are exactly what makes a work true for the artist’, I was reminded of this.