River Suck, Galway, Roscommon – Oil Painting

River Suck

Little James

We travelled to East Galway over the weekend to be present at the Christening of James, one of our grandchildren. He is the happiest little boy, always smiling. After heavy rain overnight, thankfully the rain stopped during the day, and the little ones could go out and run around and play in the puddles of water. Great fun was had by all, and the mothers thought this was great (yeah!).

The river in the painting forms the boundary between counties Galway and Roscommon. Its normally less than 10 meters across, but after recent heavy rain it looked as if the whole countryside was a lake. It would be very difficult to know where Galway stops and Roscommon starts. The land is very flat here and its close to the river Shannon which is also prone to flooding the countryside after heavy rain.

The scene presented itself as we were travelling home, just before sunset. I can’t resist a beautiful sky and couldn’t wait to get painting while it was fresh in my mind. The scene was all about the sky and the reflections on the flood waters but this alone does not make a good painting. Simply recording this natural phenomenon is not enough. I constructed a scene to allow me to indulge myself and include the sky. To heighten the drama, the composition is on a knife edge.

Remember I wrote about composition in a previous post, the see-saw of left and right side balancing. The traditional method of creating drama or tension is to have a vertical rather than horizontal shape to the painting and include diagonal lines in the design. Well neither of these methods would suit this scene. I placed the sun a little off centre and then put the boats a little to the other side. So all the important bits are in a narrow space. This is in effect what happens in a vertical painting. In planing the design I also included diagonal lines in the sky (the shafts of light) and the lines are echoed in the shape of the mid and foreground.

The colours are: Burnt Sienna & Raw Umber (red), Raw Sienna (yellow) and French Ultramarine. Plus, of course, black and white. There is a lot of work in the sky to achieve the movement. Of the hour and a half to complete the painting, the sky alone took nearly an hour. The video will show the buildup of shapes and the efforts in creating a random chaos in the clouds. I find it easier to make it up as I go along, taking advantage of the shapes created in the earlier ‘mad’ stage of underpainting.

The video will be included in the next post.


Forest Farm – Time Lapse Painting

Forest Farm

This is a small painting (36 x 26cm). The painting time was a little over one hour. I have more information in previous post. There are 2 blues used in this painting, Prussian and Cerulean. They are very different from each other. Prussian looks almost black in colour when placed on the palette. Its has enormous tinting power and is transparent. Its richness of colour is seen when spread on a white surface then the white reflects through the paint layer. When mixed with Titanium White, which is partially transparent, the resultant colour has a rich glow.

However, this does look a little unnatural in landscape paintings and this is where Cerulean Blue comes in. This blue is light in colour when placed on the palette. Its non-transparent and has weak tinting. When mixed with even a little Titanium White it looses it blue tint and becomes a ‘smokey’ greyish blue. This combined with Prussian can produce a variety of blue colours. As you will see in the video, I made up a mix of Cerulean and white which is used to sketch out the cloud shapes and spread upwards to the top of the sky. The pure Prussian is placed into this mix, more at the top to produce the deepest colour blue.

The cloud shadows are a mix of Prussian Blue, Indian Red, Raw Umber and a little black to lower the tone. The variety of blue shades is produced when the sky is ‘blended’ with the large brush. There is very little medium (Liquin) used at this stage as this would cause the entire sky to mix into one homogenous colour and not only the blue shades but also the cloud shapes would disappear. It is important to have the 2 blues present from top to bottom of the sky to avoid an unnatural 2 colour banded sky. The 2 blues enhance each other producing a cold clear blue above our heads to the misty colours at the horizon. The 2 blues were also used in the painting of the ground, especially the darker ‘greenish’ shadows, to tie the sky and ground in the interests of harmony of colours.

Here’s the video.

Forest Farm – Oil Painting

Forest Farm

The horse drawn plough is a rare sight on the land these days. This time honoured activity is now considered a sport with competitions to find the best ploughman. The National and occasionally the World Championship Ploughing Competition is held in this area. Those taking part in the Horse Drawn Plough event will need to do a bit of practice with the horses. This is an imaginary scene of the horses heading home after a days hard work.

As my style of painting is ‘rough’ or ‘loose’, painting the horses is a little bit tricky. To keep the consistency of style I have to paint the horses in a way it ‘looks like’ I just stuck them in with the same abandon as I stuck in everything else. There is always a danger of overworking this vital part of the painting. Horses are difficult to paint looking natural. Having them looking like they were painted with a few ‘daubs’ and still looking natural is a bit of a challenge. As in the previous painting, Alla Prima makes it even more difficult. But there is a great sense of achievement when it works and I think it might have worked here (I’ll look at it again in a few days before I’ll know for sure).

The advice given to beginners in painting is to place the focal point, not in the centre, but in a position about one third of the distance in from the edge of the painting. This is good advice. The problem I find with this, is sometimes the scene can look contrived. You know, the same old comfortable arrangement and when a number of such paintings are viewed together, in an exhibition for example, the one third formula becomes noticeable. Producing a ‘lob-sided’ painting is not an option. The scene in such a painting will look unfinished. The viewer, consciously or sub-consciously, will assume a lack of skill on behalf of the artist.

In the above painting the farm buildings follow the rule, one third from the right edge. The horses would have fitted comfortably into the other one third position from the left but I broke the rule and placed them smack bang in the middle. I left a gap in the design on the left side which would be filled once I placed the horses. Only after they were in place was I able to ‘construct’ the trees on the left. The clouds, the trees, the farm, all weighed heavy on the right, and those little trees ‘grew’ until the balance was restored.

The colours were a little different from previous paintings, similar to ‘Morning at the Crossroads‘. They were: Indian Red & Raw Umber (red), Raw Sienna (yellow), Prussian & Cerulean Blue (blue) plus black and white. These colours have a raw look to them, nice for a cold winter’s day.

I will have the video for the next post.

Rainbow’s End – Time Lapse Painting

Rainbow's End

Optical phenomena in paintings are always considered as mistakes. Whether it is the faithfully represented, but very unusual, sunset or the bizarre arrangement of objects you sometimes find in a landscape, they are regarded as mistakes‘. This is what I said in a post, last April, in relation to reflections on water not behaving as expected.

When I thought I had finished this painting, it occurred to me that the rainbow was indeed a very spectacular sight, occasionally seen. But this is valueless. The whole scene is from the imagination anyway so I could have had a leprechaun burying a pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. Anything is possible, using the imagination. I feel it is more important to portray the ordinary, or mundane, in a spectacular way. The viewer, hopefully, will appreciate the natural world a little more and not the power of the imagination of the artist. So the rainbow was reduced to an insignificant common sight, the kind we take for granted as part of the landscape. Spectacular natural phenomena are better recorded by photography, but this is losing its integrity as every photographic image is manipulated every step of the way, from the moment the shutter is released. If a photo is recorded as JPGs or TIFs the camera applies a pre-set series of algorithms to the RAW image to produce the JPG or TIF. If the image is recorded as a RAW image, the photographer has to manually manipulate the image him/herself.

To change quality settings

Here is the video. There is more information on this painting in previous post, colours, etc. As I mentioned previously, the videos are recorded as 720 HD. Your viewer will default to 360 low resolution on YouTube videos (for various reasons). On the bottom of the viewer screen is a setting for changing Quality settings. Very few computer users are familiar with this setting. I suppose it’s to be expected as most You Tube videos are uploaded at 360 and this option is not available. By the way the music in this video is from the 4th movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, ‘after the storm’. Its worth watching for this, if nothing else.

Rainbow’s End – Oil Painting

Rainbow's End

I remember painting a rainbow in watercolours, many years ago. The lightest of tints were added for each colour and built up, on the clean paper, until the correct intensity was reached and that was that. Oil painting is different. ‘Alla prima’ oil painting is different again. This painting was completed after about 6 hours, less than 2 hours were spent actually painting. Most of the time was spent waiting for the solvents to evaporate and the Liquin to become tacky. If I was painting over a number of sessions and waiting for the previous layer to dry, the rainbow part would have been similar to the watercolour technique. By painting a white band and allowing it to dry, then placing transparent glazes on top with the rainbow colours. Glazing is not an option in ‘Alla Prima’ and this is where the fun starts.

I would find it impossible to paint one of those distant narrow bands in ‘Alla Prima’. Let’s say, a semi-circle. Looking at traditional paintings, like Constable’s, the rainbows always look odd, to say the least. Some of the colours have faded and others darkened and the band sometimes looks like a solid structure. I imagine they have suffered the effects of time as some of the glazing media of the time, were not totally permanent. So I will content myself with one of those ‘partial’ close up rainbows.

Rainbows are transparent, and bright. Lightening a colour in oil painting involves adding white paint. Lets take the red colour. When white is added, its pink. Pink! That won’t do. But in ‘Alla Prima’ it has to do. This pink can look red with the help of the colours in the rest of the painting. At one stage the rainbow colours were too intense. The sky was dark and there was no foreground detail to distract from the intense colours. I started to drag white from the lower clouds over the rainbow colours making the colours lighter, including making the red more pink.

And so the story goes. One change prompts another and fine adjustments are made over the entire surface to produce this faint fluorescent band. Like the smoke in the previous painting (here and here) its tedious and time consuming and the results are not always good. But its worth trying.

The colours in the main body of the painting were: Burnt Sienna (red), Yellow Ochre (yellow) and Cobalt Blue (blue). Also used Raw Umber and black and white. The rainbow colours (which were not used in any other part of the painting) were Alizaron Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Prussian Blue and Winsor Violet. The photograph is not entirely accurate with regard to colours, as is always the case. The camera sensor would appear to be more sensitive to blue, which appears more intense than the others (Lumix GH1).

The video will make the process easier to understand and I will have it ready in a few days.

Wood Cutters – Time Lapse Painting

Wood Cutters

Woodland management is a common enough activity in state owned forests and this scene would be a weekday, or working day, sight. Its from memory and imagination and I think because of the method of painting it hovers between a realist and a fantasy  scene. Without knowing the title of the painting you would be forgiven for thinking this was a secret meeting of witches, casting their spells.

The method delivers an image which would appear, at first sight, to be ‘photographic’ but on closer inspection we see the lines which define a sketch. I find myself in the gap between these two painting styles. Sometimes a painting can look like a photograph (here or here), or a non realist work (here or here) and I have to try not to stray too far into either camp. Realism does have a magnetic effect on the viewer and it draws him/her into the painting. It also speaks of proficiency in producing the real world so any deviation from reality in the painting becomes a deliberate statement and not a shortfall in skill. Check out this site for a bit of good advice regarding fitting the medium to the subject matter of the picture. Its not entirely the same as the point I’m making, but somehow it seems to strike a chord.

This painting does not have a definite structure, it grew from the background towards the viewer, with each layer composed, based on what went before. For me it gives a good impression of the chaos and randomness of a woodland. The only relief is the stream on the lower left which is the ‘pathway’ into the painting. The brush is in constant motion over the entire surface of the painting, creating a ‘random pattern’ which is in fact obeying the strict rules of design and composition. Its time consuming and tedious. (see previous post)

Here’s the video. By the way, the all the videos are 720 HD which means you can change the quality settings on your viewer to large size High Definition. This is why I’m limited to under 15 minutes. Its a trade off between quality or quantity. Until next painting, bye, bye!

Wood Cutters – Oil Painting

Wood Cutters

Alla Prima, as you probably know, is painting a picture in the one session, wet on wet. There are limitations and in this painting I tried a difficult subject for Alla Prima, semi-transparent smoke. Although a relatively small painting (37 x 27 cm), it took over 2 hours to paint. Much of the time was spent preparing the background to receive the ‘smoke’. Leaving a patch for the ‘smoke paint’ would be restrictive as the final position of the column of smoke is decided on what has happened to the rest of the composition up to this point in the painting. So the entire area has to be uniform to allow for this flexibility. Preparing for the ‘smoke’ means painting with no medium, and in this painting adding loads of details with very ‘thin’ layers of paint. Using solvent alone would only produce a flat ‘texture of the canvas’ colour and I needed light glowing through the trees.

Firstly, use paints which are compatible and produce a mix which is not ‘deadened’ by the almost pure white ‘smoke paint’ which is placed on top. As the technique is ‘wet on wet’ there will invariably be mixing of the colours with the white. The shape and appearance of the smoke column is similar to clouds in the sky. This means blending the paint, softening the edges but this will remove all background details in this supposedly transparent vapour. Background details will have to be re-established by repainting into the layer of smoke.

The colours used are: Burnt Sienna (red), Yellow Ochre (yellow) and Cobalt Blue (blue). Also, Chrome Green Light and Raw Umber, and black and white. I know from experience that these colours, when mixed, produce clean colours even with the addition of white.

The video of the process will take a few days to produce and I will post it then.

Hen Run – Oil Painting

Hen Run

Another small painting. Same as last time, 27.5 x 21.5 cm, and about an hour and a half to paint it. I didn’t have a subject in mind, so I painted the hen run at the end of the garden. We only have 4 hens at the moment. I added a few more for effect. Not that you can see any particular hen, its suggested hens.

I thought this was going to be a quick painting, but I got more involved once I started. The chicken-wire might be a cause of concern. Chicken-wire is a fine mesh which can’t be seen, even relatively close. If you move your head you can see it against the background. Its really too fine to be painted. So do you include it in a painting, as the viewer of the painting is stationary? Well I did include it for a number of reasons. We expect it to be there. When we view the scene in real life, by focusing or moving against the background, we establish its presence. Now we no longer need to see it, because we know its there. The viewer can’t do this when viewing the painting. As I said, the wire is too fine to be painted with a brush, so I scratched a pattern in the background with a knife. This pattern of diagonal scratches is on the background, but as the background image is not altered, the fine lines are detached – ah!, chicken wire.

The colours are: Burnt Sienna (red), Yellow Ochre (yellow) and Cobalt Blue (blue). Also included, Chrome Green Light and Raw Umber and black and white. As the Chrome Green is such a noticeable colour I included it in the sky to harmonize colours.

I’ve included the video of the process of painting. I hope it explains the process better than words.

Storm – Oil Painting


At this time of year, from where I live the lights of surrounding towns and cities can be seen. Not only at night but on stormy dark afternoons.. In rural Ireland, it is part and parcel of life that people leave the area and move to the towns and cities for college or work. Those who are left behind look at the twinkling lights, remembering that last summer.

This was going to be a knife painting. Although a small painting (12″x10″), after a few minutes I was irritated by the slowness and tedium of spreading the paint, so I reached for the brushes. The scene in the painting is similar to a previous painting, ruins of old 18th century farms alongside present day farm life. In the blobs of paint I’ve tried to suggest details which are discoverable and not immediately obvious.

The colours were different from recent paintings. The red was represented by Raw Umber, a rich brown with only a hint of red. Yellow Ochre, also very dull as a yellow, and Cerulean Blue, also a weak colour. There was also of course, black and white. These colours gave a particular feel to the painting. At this time of year, brown colour predominates. I did not use any medium until the fine lines were needed. This was a bit tedious as well, but I was after a ‘rough’ look, also in keeping with the scene. The video is included in this post and also a poem on the same theme as the painting.


The storm had watched them through Summer
and now, skirting the bogland
found some loose metal sheeting
thrashing itself to death.

While prayers were said by those at home
every jagged edge was screaming
high above the house
where storms pass on
to fall lightly like a murmur
down the misty flat windows of Rathmines.

Low Tide, Kinsale – Time Lapse Painting

Low Tide, Kinsale

I hope the fashion for ‘outlines’ in establishment art would run its course. By now, we are due a change. Digital art, especially relating to game or movie characters, is doing its bit, but the establishment is hard to shift. Someone said (sorry I can’t remember who), the flat surface of the painting belongs to the artist and beyond that, into the depth of the painting, belongs to the subject. My subject is landscape. The landscapes I try to create in my paintings, like the fantastic characters created by the digital artists, hopefully resonate with images we each have stored in the different worlds we each have created in our heads. The image has to be believable.  I mention this in relation to creating skies using oil paint. To be believable, it can’t have outlines. It should pass the test of familiarity and allow us to explore the subject of the painting.

The technique I employ in creating skies involves blending all colours to produce the vapourous nature of the sky. It takes a lot practice to produce spectacularly believable skies and a little effort can produce an acceptable sky in a painting. The steps to making it easy are as follows. Look at the video first as it make this easier to understand. Have very little medium in the paint. Leave ‘gaps’ in the initial placing of the paint. These fill and remove any excess paint from the ‘blobs’ you’ve placed. Staining the canvas with colour beforehand, disguises any ‘gaps’ you don’t completely fill. This stain will also tint the colours  during the blending and add variety and ‘noise’ to a flat area. ‘Noise’ is a term I’ve borrowed from Photoshop users, when painting pure colours they add a ‘grainy’ texture effect to breakup the flat even colour. The practice is needed to know when to stop blending. Prominent clouds or the light striking clouds are placed on top of the first layers and a little more blending knits it together. Remember the sky is a backdrop in landscape painting and should be treated as such. Finished, as far as possible, to the horizon line without exhaustion before the real painting is tackled.

Enjoy the video. Checkout previous post for materials, etc used