Woodland Stream, Late Autumn – Oil Painting

Woodland Stream, Late Autumn

The leaves are thinning out, and the light, although weaker, is penetrating into every nook and cranny. Its clear and cold.

I’m still using the same three colours as in the recent paintings, namely, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Yellow and Prussian Blue. I have also abandoned the use of added medium, as in Linseed Oil or Liquin. I am surprising myself at how much can be coaxed out of such limited materials. Also, how different the overall colour of the different paintings can be, using the same three colours. For example, October (here), Golden Pond (here) and the above painting are all from the above mentioned colours.

This painting process is recorded on video along with the action on the palette. I will post this in a few days. See you then.

Golden Pond – Time Lapse Painting

Golden Pond

This little painting (12″x9″) was an experiment in painting mist in a scene with deep shadows. Of course I’ve painted mist before, but not with such colour and deep shadows, and now without medium in the paint mix.

Looking at this video I’m reminded of this rule for oil painting – darks before lights. It would appear I do not subscribe to this rule as many of the final colours are the darkest in the painting. I have to say, in spite of appearances, I’m a strict follower of the darks before lights principal.

If the rule is qualified by a few additions, it does make sense. In traditional landscape painting, perspective is an important issue. If a landscape is painted from the distance towards the viewer, the scene can be broken down into ‘planes’ of similar distance, each one painted systematically. For example, the sky is the most distant ‘plane’. This is painted first. Within this ‘plane’, the darks are painted first. The deep blues, the greys of the clouds and then finally the lightest parts of the sky. The next ‘plane’ are the hills and mountains of the horizon. Here again, the dark colours are placed down before the brighter shades. The point is, within each ‘plane’ the darks are painted first. Sometimes its necessary to remove all the lighter colours, especially those containing white in the mix, from the palette before a new ‘plane’ is started. Even the smallest contamination of white in the shadow colours can completely destroy the richness of the colour.

The small palette, with so few colours of my working method make this system easy to control. It would not suit most painters as it is restrictive, lacking the flamboyance of other methods. Here’s the video of the above painting including paint mixing.

Golden Pond – Oil Painting

Golden Pond

Autumn has a distinctive odour. The fermentation of vegetation in the warm days before the onset of Winter. Nothing evokes memories as much as a scent. The ‘back to school’ days, wine making, gathering windfall apples, turf smoke in the evenings, long nights, memories carried in the mists of Autumn. Conveying the effect of mist in a painting is always a challenge.

This small painting (12″x9″) was an exercise in getting the effect of mist and shadows using the alla prima method. As you probably know, this means wet on wet, one session painting. Painting skies is, in fact, painting mist, and wet on wet is an advantage in blending and softening edges to produce the soft ‘fluffy’ appearance. This is relatively easy as the tonal range in sky colours is supposed to be narrow and blending colours does narrow this range. The darks get lighter and the lights get darker as the blending progresses.

If a mist is required in association with extreme shadows the situation can get messy and the main reason for the mess is the white paint. This does not mix well with shadow colours and care has to be taken lest the painting turn into a featureless smudge. Allowing under layers to dry really doesn’t help. Dark dry under layers overlaid with lighter opaque colour will either obliterate it completely if the layer is too thick, or be an insipid patchy white, if too thin. Alternatively, leaving the white canvas or a light coloured dry paint layer, and over painting in dark transparent layers (glazing) will give a colour too rich to represent the softness of mist. So blending colour already laid down, in a controlled way, does produce the desired effect without protracted painting and repainting. A limited palette also helps, remember, the greater the number of different pigments in the mixes, the greater the chance of producing a dull mess.

This painting has just three colours. The same as the last few paintings, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Yellow and Prussian Blue. These work together well. Again, there was no medium added, only White Spirits. As usual I recorded the painting process as well as the palette and will post soon. See you then.

October Time Lapse Painting


Working with video is incredibly  time consuming. Because I’ve included paint mixing in the painting video, the time has doubled from a ten minute video to twenty minutes. I think its worth it, because nowadays a ‘painting’ can be produced by a machine, so I think an important part of modern traditional paintings, is how they are produced using eyes, hands and the most basic of materials. For me, this means trying to keep materials as simple and ‘technology free’ as possible.

Producing a painting using the same method as the cave painters, is an art form itself. Using the most up to date technology to share this primitive process is appropriate. YouTube videos are viewed by hundreds of millions of people. The biggest art gallery in the world, where the artist can show much more than just the finished work. Pure science fiction (to people of my age).

If you are interested in uploading a video, here are a few words of advice on an issue I’ve had recently. Time-lapse is used by many artists to share their painting process. Time-lapse means speeding up the video, so a two hour painting session can be viewed in ten minutes. This is more practical for the would-be painter than having to spend two hours for each painting viewed.

The problem is the sound track. Speeding up the video makes the natural sound unusable, so sound has to be added after the speeding up process. I’ve been using music supplied by YouTube but none of the suitable  tracks available are long enough for twenty-plus minute videos. A pure silent video (which I used to do) is un-nerving. I used Apple’s GarageBand application to produce ‘white noise’. This application has ‘loops’ of natural sounds which are used to make up a soundtrack. They are licensed  for use by Apple product users and as such don’t have copyright issues. Or shouldn’t have. The problem is that if you use a licensed loop in your uploaded video (which you are legally entitled to do) and this loop has also been used in a registered commercial music track, YouTube will flag your video as a copyright violation, even though you are legally entitled to use it. Its a legal issue which will have to be addressed by both Apple Inc. and YouTube and it doesn’t look like it will be resolved soon. To stay legal, I had to make my own (actually my son, Will recorded it) ‘white noise’ and this delayed me further in my video production.

Finally, here is the said video. See you next time.

October – Oil Painting


Winter’s coming. An icy dew at the start of the day and a mellow mist in the evenings. I was trying to convey this transition, from light to dark and Autumn to Winter. Its about the feeling of year’s end and all that it entails.

This is similar in technique and subject matter to recent paintings. Here the sky has more prominence, not a backdrop to the foliage as in the others. I was thinking of painting the sky in a similar ‘dotty’ way to the rest of the painting, but decided against it as it would destroy the sense of reality which is most important in this painting. I want the viewer to enter into this world and feel its real. So in a small way the sky is a backdrop, detached from the landscape.

The other difference from recent paintings is the extremely limited palette. Just three colours, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Yellow and Prussian Blue. There was no medium used at all, just White Spirits. As in the last painting I recorded the action on the palette as I believe this was helpful to other painters. The process of achieving the large array of colour from such a limited palette is a useful exercise and seeing how its done is the only way to convey this. Three colours is the minimum number of colours to achieve a natural landscape. The red, yellow and blue when combined will produce all colours of the rainbow. Its the individual pigments which skew the colours in different directions. In this painting, the intense colour and tinting power of Cadmium Yellow gave the overall warm colour cast. Prussian Blue is also as powerful, and this counteracted the yellow. Burnt Sienna is not as strong a colour as the other two but appeared in every part of the painting, from the grey of the clouds to the fallen leaves in the foreground, moderating the harsh yellow and blue.

I will post the video later in the week. See you then.

Sycamore Lane – Time Lapse Painting

Sycamore Lane

When I first started to paint in oils, many years age,  I would place about twelve colours on the palette and very quickly into the painting process, the entire working area would be covered in a multitude of colour mixes. There was a tendency to use up all the paint simply because it was there. Most of the mixes were the result of almost random additions of bits and pieces of a variety of paints. Chaos on the palette would be a good way to describe the working method. My biggest problem was trying to remember which paints made which colour mixes, and sometimes I accidentally arrived at a nice mix. More often than not, I couldn’t reproduce this nice mix as I had forgotten the combinations of paints I had used. My solution was to use a reduced palette and in time I got to know a few colours very well.

The funny thing about this is that the resultant paintings were no less colourful with five colours than the paintings with twelve. Actually they were more vibrant and there was also a harmony of colour which was not there, when a large number of colours were used.

I’m not sure if this is an easier way for beginners to produce an acceptable painting. It may require a lot of practise to get it to work, and some types of subjects, like flower paintings, might necessitate a range of colours. After all, my subject range is narrow, and although I might think each of my paintings are different from the others, realistically they are quite similar. Anyway, have a look at the video below and see what you think.

Sycamore Lane – Oil Painting

Sycamore Lane

While I was painting this picture I recorded the process of mixing the colours. It will take me a while to get the video ready for viewing, but I think it might be worth while because its a different approach from what is considered the norm. The actual palette is small and the quantities of paint are always at a minimum. I try to have a systematic approach to mixing the different colours. As each stage is completed, the next set of colour mixes are prepared.

It is thought that before the convenience of ‘tube’ paint, and pigments had to be prepared as needed, this is how the artist worked. I find the narrow focus of limited colours and limited space to work in, does help to keep colours mixes clean and vibrant.

Attached to the palette are two small containers, called ‘dippers’ in which the medium and solvent are kept during painting. As the name suggests, ‘dipper’ means you dip the brush into the containers to add medium or solvent to the paint as its mixed. Of all the modern accepted methods of painting, this to me, seems the most daft. Its impossible to gauge the correct amount of liquid needed and very quickly the dippers become contaminated with paint adding further to the deadening of colour mixes. I use a pipette to transfer the liquids to the mix, counting the drops and adding only the amount I know is needed.

Hopefully my video will let you see how all these peculiarities work for me. It might sound like a lot of fussy bother, but I couldn’t work any other way.

See you soon.

After the Harvest – Time Lapse Painting

After the Harvest

In the last post I mentioned the tedious nature of this style of painting. I mean the multitude of dots, placed in an apparent random order, but having  to be part of the overall design. I’ve come up against this issue before, in the painting of clouds. The obvious difference is, there are no dots in my cloud painting and so the process is freer but easier to control.

Compared to clouds this is more difficult. I was looking at the works of the Impressionists again lately, and I like the way they painted in very small brush strokes, almost dots of colour. I know this was popular at that time as there was a movement called ‘Pointillism’ and even Van Gogh tried his hand at painting in this way. What I didn’t like was the two dimensional arrangement of the dots giving the painting an ’embroidery’ look. Probably this, in itself, was a revolutionary vision at that time and would explain its popularity among artists.

My approach is to paint layers of dots, meticulously placing one definite layer in front of the other, but not consealing the under layer. This gives depth and perspective in the apparent mass of colour. In the accompanying video you can see this. In most cases the most distant ‘plane’ of dots is painted first with occasional additions to under layers as the painting progresses.

There is another issue here regarding colour. Because I use so few colours (here its just five plus black and white), mixing colours is most important. Too much mixing produces dull colours, but with just five basic ‘tube’ colours to work with, producing an almost infinite range of ‘clean’ colours does require a particular approach. I’ve just completed another similar painting to this one, using the same five colours, but he overall colour is different. While I was recording the painting process I also recorded the colour mixing. I hope to incorporate this into the painting process video, as I think it might helpful, especially for beginners.

The video of the above painting is over twenty minutes long, which means it won’t be popular for YouTube views. But again, it shows the buildup and might be helpful for beginners.

After the Harvest – Oil Painting

After the Harvest

Here’s the ‘large’ painting (24″ x 18″) I’ve been working on. Although the scene appears normal, the interest here, for me, was the lush growth of the damaged trees. This damage usually caused by modern harvesting machines.  In spite of this, the trees rallied and thrived. Irelands climate is very kind to trees. No extremes and a very long growing season. This ease of growing has probably contributed to a lack of respect for trees. The international problem of the short term financial benefits of clearing woodland and mature trees while ignoring the long term soil erosion issue was a feature of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years. The economic harvest is now over and the country, like the trees, is trying to recover.

The sky and background were painted in about an hour and a half. It was impossible to place the dark rich colours of the foliage onto the wet sky as the white in the layer was interfering with the dark colours. I had no option but to let it dry (it took about three days) before proceeding. Before the second session I ‘oiled out’ the surface with a very dilute solution of Liquin with about ten percent Stand Linseed Oil. This was to remove the dull patches caused by the drying. Remember, the first stage had no medium at all, so the ‘dulling’ of the colours, especially the darks, was extreme. The addition of the oil kept the surface wet as I completed the final stage which lasted about two and a half hours. Although the total time of painting was about four hours, with the drying time it seemed to last forever.

As in the last painting (which was a quarter of the area of this one) there were five colours used. Burnt Sienna (for red), Yellow Ochre and French Ultramarine Blue. Cadmium Yellow and Viridian pepped up the colours for this Autumn scene.

In recent paintings I’ve been painting foliage as a series of dots similar in a way to the Impressionists (Pisarro and Sisley). This is more difficult than you might think. Apart from the tedious nature of the painting, the position of these dots have to be ‘apparently’ random while still contributing to the overall design. I have a video of the process and if I use my usual compression, will last twenty four minutes. This is a long time in time lapse terms (that’s if YouTube allow it) and may mean splitting the video into two parts. I think as a learning tool every brush stroke should be recorded and therefore the build up of the painting can be seen. I’ll work something out for the next post, hopefully before the week is out. See you then.

Harmony in Autumn – Time Lapse Painting

Harmony in Autumn

In the last post I mentioned leaving a white border on my paintings as a form of frame to give the painting a finished look. As I use ‘loose’ canvas, I have to anchor it to a solid surface and I use masking tape. I will leave about a quarter inch edge on the canvas. Obviously this only works if you are using ‘loose’ canvas or a board. Its amazing how better the painting looks when the tape is removed at the end of the painting session. If you have a lot of paintings you don’t intend to frame, but like to display, the white clean edge is a lovely finish.

There is another advantage to using masking tape, especially for beginners. There is, what can be described as the ‘edge-of-the-painting-syndrome’, where the painter’s brush stops short before the edge of the painting. The final painting will have an area around the outside which will be partially painted or have the obvious brush strokes of afterthought repair work. It’s easy to get into the habit of painting onto the tape before lifting the brush and this solves the problem.

Only one word of caution when using masking tape. This concerns the glue on the tape. Solvents can dissolve the glue and if it mixes with the paint, can stop it from drying. I’ve noticed this when I leave the tape on the painting for long periods. The painting will be dry but the paint at the edge of the tape will still be wet. A big problem at the ‘oiling out’ or varnishing stage. This wet paint will have to be wiped off with solvent and another period of drying will be necessary. Probably the glue has drying retarders which also work on paint or varnish.

Here is the video of the painting process. Remember there is loads of solvent at the beginning and this causes the paint to flow here and there. There is less at the end, but still no medium.