Dunamase – Oil Painting



This impressive ruin is all that remains of the Norman fort of Dunamase in County Laois. A natural outcrop of rock, this most certainly would have had a role to play in pre-historic times, but the current structural remains date only to the 12th century. There is an historical record of a Viking raid on the fort in 845ad. It was assumed that these raiders came from Dublin, the closest known Viking settlement at that time. However, recent research suggests that there was a huge inland Viking fort at Dunrally not too distant from Dunamase and from here its more likely the raiders came. There is a short history in Wikipedia (here) and Dunrally (here) if you are interested.

Dunamase Photo

Dunamase Photo

I include here the reference photo I used to create the painting. As is usual, a photograph really is only a reference. The construction of the painted landscape always needs that bit more to connect with the viewer. A single viewpoint is so limited in telling the story. In the painting I’ve included what I remember of the landscape. The historical background and the sense of former glory add a drama not conveyed in a photograph.

My next post will include a video of the painting process. I’m trying to get back into the habit of using larger brushes to avoid getting tied up in too much detail. This approach is a faster method of painting. The painting was completed in about an hour and a half.

See you in a few days.


Woodland Deep – Time Lapse Painting

Woodland Deep

Woodland Deep

The attached video illustrates the difficulties with glare from the surface of a wet oil painting. Using an easel with overhead lighting is no problem, if the top, of the almost vertical painting, is tilted slightly forward.

If you are familiar with YouTube videos of oil painting you will realise that this may be perfect for the artist but impossible to video record simultaneously as the painting is executed. Basically the camera and the artist cannot be in the same place at the same time and many videos have the camera to one side giving an obtuse angle of view.

My painting ‘on the flat’ is a legacy of my watercolour days and continued when I went back to oil painting using very liquid paint. The problems of glare from this horizontal surface are more pronounced with lighting overhead. This is probably the greatest drawback to painting in this way.

My workaround is to have, on each side of my painting table, two photo studio lights set barely above the level of the canvas and shining horizontally across the surface. If the lights are not horizontal my downward view will have glare. The camera, in front of my face and pointing down, has more or less the same viewing angle as myself and also avoids the glare. So this arrangement happens to be good for videoing the process.

This works fine when the layers of paint are flat, as they are when so much liquid is used in the paint mixes. However, when dryish paint is used (as in this painting), the ridges left by the brush bristles will glare as white lines along the stroke of the paint. The strokes most affected are those at right angles to the light sources, ie the downward strokes. I don’t notice this as I unconsciously shift position to counter the effect as I work. Unfortunately the camera does not move so the glare is there as a fixed series of white lines very noticeable in darker colours.

The last time this happened was in this still life, painted in April 2011 using a similar dry paint technique.

Here is the video and please excuse the glare.

Woodland Deep – Oil Painting

Woodland Deep

Woodland Deep

This is an exercise in painting without the fine brush drawing which I’ve been doing lately. The difficulty is in not doing the things I’m comfortable with. There are no fine lines of branches or grasses, just blobs of paint representing these details. Its a photographic approach and a comfortable image. I occasionally paint in this way to keep in touch with the visual world as opposed to the ‘Gothic’ world of lines constructed from what I know to be there and not what I see.

I’m very aware of the fact that this is a primitive approach. Children paint outlines of what they think objects look like, not what they actually see. In a way this is what I do and I’m aware of it. A tell-tale sign of this is in the amount of time I spend ‘constructing’ bits of a landscape which will never be seen in the final painting because they are obscured by later  additions to the scene.

The initial layer was more or less a featureless flood of ‘solvent only’ paint. When most of the solvent evaporated, the later additions of paint had neither solvent or medium added. The paint did not flow and the application was in short strokes. This effectively ‘disabled’ the drawing technique which was the object of the exercise. The palette was limited to three colours as usual. These were Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue.

I will post the video of the painting process in a few days. See you then.

Woodland Lake – Time Lapse Painting

Woodland Lake

Woodland Lake

In the last post I mentioned ‘oiling out’ with a vegetable oil if Liquin or a similar medium is used in a painting. Its a long time since I was discussing this issue so if you are new to this blog you might be wondering why I would recommend this treatment.

I have a page called ‘Varnishing Oil Paintings‘ and its the varnishing which is the kernel of the issue. The manufacturers of Liquin are cautious about varnish being applied to a paint surface containing this product. Windsor & Newton recommend that the uppermost paint layer should not contain Liquin if you intend to varnish. As ‘alls prima’ paintings usually have only one layer the implication is that it should not be varnished if Liquin was used. Unfortunately there is no reason or explanation given by W & N as to the reason for this recommendation. I can only assume its because Liquin will bond with the varnish regardless of how dry it is. My workaround is to ‘oil out’ with a pure vegetable oil, like Linseed or Poppy, which time has proven does not bond with a varnish. This vegetable oil places a barrier between the layer containing Liquin and the varnish.

Remember there are other instances where varnishing causes problems. Low grade solvent, for example hardware grade white spirits or turpentine, can contain waxes or resins. These never fully dry and harden, and solvents in a varnish can dissolve and mix with the paint layer.

All of this is purely academic as the problems occur if the varnish has to be removed, in cleaning the painting, at some time in the future. Paintings under glass will not be subject to the same accumulations of dust or grime as those exposed to the atmosphere. I’ve had to clean paintings and remove old varnish and its impossible to proceed without damaging the painting if some colour is seen in the varnish removed. In these instances I would just remove as much dirt as possible with a damp wad of cotton wool, allow to dry, then use an aerosol temporary varnish to disguise any uneven glossy/dull patches. Reframing under glass will stop any further accumulations of dirt.

Here is the video of the above painting process. See you soon.

Woodland Lake – Oil Painting

Woodland Lake

Woodland Lake

I used Yellow Ochre in this painting, as the only yellow in a palette of three colours. The other two are Alizarin Crimson and Prussian Blue. Its similar to my last painting in subject matter and also its a three colour painting with the difference of Cadmium Yellow replaced by the Ochre. In retrospect, I think the Cadmium would have been better in terms of variety of colour and vibrance. I’m pleased that I’ve managed to include a lot of Crimson without it dominating the painting as it did in ‘Winter Stubbles‘. I will have to decide to stick with a set of strong colours, or weak colours and not mix them unless for a very specific reason.

In recent months I had stopped using a medium in paint mixes. These paintings are ‘oiled out’ now and I’ve noticed a definite lack of ‘body’ in the paint layer when compared to previous paintings. The ‘oiling out’ does correct the problem to an extent and so to ‘beef up’ the paint layer I’ve started to introduce Liquin, in tiny amounts, to the mixes. At the moment this means using a second container with a very dilute solution (25%) of Liquin and White Spirits which is added a few drops at a time as I mix the paint. The other container has White spirits only. Even this small amount of Liquin makes the paint flow better than with solvent alone especially in fine lines. It does make painting easier.

Remember if you use Liquin or a similar medium be sure to ‘oil out’ with a pure vegetible oil like Linseed if you intend to varnish the painting. I will post the video of this painting in a few days, see you then.

Borderlands – Time Lapse Painting



I had a query from Annie regarding making oil paint flow like liquid without loosing its colour intensity. I was reminded of my own efforts in producing an oil paint which behaves more like watercolour (see here).

If you are familiar with my videos of the painting processes you will notice how much time I spend ‘mixing’ the paint. I am, in fact, making the paint liquid. It is something I do without thinking, so thank you Annie for drawing my attention to this very important part of my technique.

I don’t like painting with ‘paste’. This is the form the paint is, in the tube. Picking up a bit of paint on the brush and dipping it into the medium and then applying it to the canvas is NOT what I do. I rarely ever dip a paint covered brush into either the medium or the solvent containers. I transfer the liquids using a pipette into the paint mixes on the palette. Using a firm but flexible knife, I press the paint and added liquid against the flat surface of the palette. This ‘mulls’ the paint, similar to the process used in the manufacture of the paint (using a ‘muller’). This reduces the ‘paste’ nature of the oil paint and makes it more liquid, the way I like it.

Check it out in this video. See you soon.

Borderlands – Oil Painting



I’ve painted this area before, last March (2012) to be precise. This time the colours used are completely different. In the previous painting (here) the colours used were Burnt Sienna & Raw Umber (red), Yellow Ochre (yellow), Cobalt Blue and Sap Green. This painting has only Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson and Prussian Blue. Here, the stronger colours have contributed to a richer more dramatic colour scheme. I don’t think its better or worse than the other painting, only different.

As I was saying in the last post (here) using very strong colours and staying within the bounds of natural landscape colours means effectively painting in variations of grey. Remember mixing the three colours used in this painting in roughly equal quantities produces a very nice grey. Varying the quantities  of one or two in this three colour mix of unnatural pigments produces the range of colours seen in the painting above.

The approach is so different from the painting of last March. In that painting the starting colours are natural, Sienna, Umber and Ochre, straight from the tube. Even Sap Green can be be used, as a natural landscape colour, without much adulteration.

I’ll post the video of the painting process in a few days. See you then.

Bert House – Time Lapse Painting

Bert House

Bert House

Trees in winter, deciduous trees that is, present a particular challenge to the painter. There is no foliage to cloak those fine lines that define the shape. But its necessary to be able to draw the shapes before you paint them.

Trees in a traditional landscape define the scene. The number, type and placing are important if a particular scene is to be recognised or for a design or compositional purpose. Its difficult enough to place the trees as general shapes but its not good if you have to draw in every branch from observation. So being able to ‘construct’ a tree similar to the one you need, is a worthwhile skill to learn. Remember, trees grow to a formula which is found throughout the natural world from the shape of the air passages in our lungs to the delta of the Amazon River.

The rules are simple. The most important one is, the large branch or tree trunk is equal in volume to the sum of the growth of smaller branches into which it splits. Put simply, the branches get consistently smaller the more they split into smaller growths or the longer the shoots have grown. The next thing to keep in mind is that the branches are presenting the leaves to get the maximum light. Different species of trees have developed their own way of achieving this, so there are different basic shapes. Its not necessary to be a botanist or tree expert to recognise the different types as long as the viewer of painting can also recognise the different types.

Practice drawing from photographs or nature to get the route the lines of the branches follow. Using charcoal or a pencil allows a continuous line to be drawn. Start every line at ground level and let it ‘grow’ upward. As each line is added, and not overlapping previous lines, the trunk of the tree gets bigger and if you draw along previously created branches they also get bigger in proportion to the number of lines added. These individual lines end as a fine branch. The tree ‘grows’.  So each branch is the sum of all the lines or smaller branches added. I find this works for me as a starting point with accidents or design changing the shape as I go along.

Painting, as opposed to drawing, using this procedure adds a few difficulties. Paint from a brush is not a continuous line, and a flowing line is needed to give the look of a growing branch. Also the thickness of a brush stroke varies. I use a small long bristled nylon brush which I rotate between my finger tips as i draw. The long bristles hold a lot of paint so you get a longer line. The paint should flow like ink and this works if solvent is used with a little ‘flow helper’ like Liquin. By lifting the brush upwards as I draw the branches, the line gets thinner. This is one of the few advantages of a brush over the charcoal or pencil. Another advantage of brush and liquid paint is to place reservoirs of paint in the thicker branches and use the brush to drag the paint into the finer lines of smaller branches.

I hope this does not sound to complicated but it becomes automatic with practice. This video shows how I used this method on the trees in the foreground. Although the basic principle is followed there are many places where the rules were bent and twisted to achieve the end result. But its good to have some basic guide to follow.

See you soon.