The Copse – Time Lapse Painting

The Copse

The Copse

There are limitations in every medium and quite a few in the art of oil painting. Traditional working methods are best served by painting in stages, allowing each to dry before the next stage is begun. This process does not suit my current painting method, which is ‘alla prima’. By choosing this road to follow I accept the limitations – wet underpainting, no glazing or scumbling, and possibly the most limiting, the inability to ‘backtrack’. This means the final colours, mostly containing white, are almost impossible to alter once put in place, except by scraping off.

Its to do with the slow drying of oil paint which favours slow working. One of my ‘workarounds’ is not to add any medium, just solvent to the paint mixes. Another is to use Liquin as the medium. This is an Alkyd medium and is principally used to speed-up the final drying time of paintings and this it does admirably. However my use of this medium was because it made under layers ‘tacky’ while the painting was in progress. An advantage over wet oily layers but not ideal.

I suppose its a natural progression to go further into the Alkyd based oil colours and this is what I’m experimenting with at the moment. My first surprise in using these colours is the speed at which they dry. In this painting, the initial blue, applied with solvent only to the sky, was dry enough not to mix with the subsequent applications of paint – 10 minutes later. I didn’t expect this and actually wanted a certain amount of mixing to happen. Next time I’ll use less solvent or maybe add a little Liquin instead of solvent. Another surprise was with the distant hills on the horizon, they were scumbled over with the light grey of the sky. Impossible to do with traditional oil paint. The light colours of the ploughed field were dry enough to be glazed over with a transparent layer of Raw Umber. At this point in the experiment I’m pleased with the Alkyd paints and will continue to see how far I can push the method.

A word of caution. Be careful of you brushes if you try this medium. If you use a large number of brushes and leave some of them standing for long periods (a few hours) between usage, the paint will have started to dry. I would normally use very few, adjusting the colour on the palette to allow for the paint already on the brush. This is not a normal practice but suits the Alkyd method of working. It would seem that much of what I was doing with traditional oils was more suited to the Alkyd method.

I have just completed another painting doing all the things I was not able to do previously and will post it soon. In the meantime have a look at this video of the above painting. See you soon.

The Copse – Oil Painting

The Copse

The Copse

I intended to use Alkyd only colour, plus traditional Titanium White and Ivory Black oils. As it turned out I under painted in Alkyd, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber and Prussian Blue, then finished in standard Cadmium Yellow, Viridian Green and Cobalt Blue.

So here are my initial observations. Everything happens fast. Thin washes, with solvent only, are sufficiently ‘set’ after evaporation, not to mix with subsequent layers of paint. This is similar to how traditional oils behave after 24 hours. Thicker layers stay workable for at least a few hours. This is good for my method as I very often paint an under layer, sometimes to mix with later layers and other times I’d prefer if they didn’t mix. This is controllable by the addition of solvent or the thickness of the under layer applied.

As an under paint, Alkyds are good. Strong transparent rich colour, drying fast to an inflexible layer allowing later additions of traditional oils. However, in this first encounter with Alkyd paint, I could not get the paint to produce an intense final layer. I rescued the painting with standard oil colour. The Alkyd paints I used, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber and Prussian Blue would have been capable of producing a final layer in standard oils, but not so here.

I think if I were to use Alkyd only I would have to increase the number of tube colours on the palette to compensate for this. I will post the video of the painting process 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 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.

Bert House – Oil Painting

Bert House

Bert House

“Bert House was built between 1720 and 1730 for Captain William Burgh who was Comptroller and Accountant General for Ireland to a design prepared by his brother Thomas Burgh of Oldtown. Thomas was Barrack Overseer in Ireland, a position to which he was appointed in 1701 and was responsible for the building of Trinity College Library, Dr. Steevens Hospital, Dublin and Collins Barracks in Dublin. The latter building is now part of the National Museum of Ireland. The original Bert House consisted of a central block of seven bays, three storey high over a basement. The overlapping side wings were added early in the 19th century. It’s a house steeped in history and the people who lived in Bert House figured prominently in Irish history at various times.” This is an extract of an interesting article written by historian, Frank Taaffe, as part of his Eye on the Past series.

Bert House Photo

Bert House Photo

Its still an impressive mansion on the bank of the River Barrow a few miles north of where I live. I’ve included a photo I took some time ago. In the photo the river is hidden by the line of trees in the middle distance. From the viewpoint I used in the painting, the house is obscured by trees on the river bank. So this painting is a combination of the two viewpoints, probably how the scene would have looked in former times when the grounds were managed in keeping with such a grand estate.

In the last post I mentioned the problems with using a single strong colour in a limited palette of three or four colours. In this painting I’ve used three very strong colours, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow and Prussian Blue. There are none of the problems of any one single colour dominating the painting as in recent paintings. This is achieved by using all three in every single colour mixed. Most of the mixing is on the palette with some mixing produced by blending colours together (as in the sky). Another way of ensuring all three are in the applied paint was by using the same brush repeatedly without removing the previous paint. In this case a ‘filbert’ No. 8 (three quarters of an inch wide). Of course mixing equal quantities of all three produces a grey (as in the clouds), so for example, when a green was needed the crimson was reduced but not eliminated completely.

The video will be ready to post in a few days, see you then.

Winter Stubble – Oil Painting

Winter Stubble

Winter Stubble

There are two contrasting parts to this painting, the sky and the ground. The approaches in painting each are very different. In the final painting the only thing that bothers me is the lack of consistency of texture between these two parts. This is something I worry about in an abstract way, in reality it doesn’t bother me. The solid gritty landscape with a soft misty sky seems, to me at least, a most pleasing arrangement. A more important issue is the colours used. By using the same colours in the sky as I intend to use on the ground, stitches the two extremely different areas together. The proportions of the colours used in each part are different of course.

The sky was produced by blending the colours using larger brushes, but not to the extent that the strokes of the brush are lost. I use ‘filbert’ shaped brushes here. They are flat with a ‘domed’ shape. The same ones as I used to produce the shapes of the trees later on in the painting. There is a texture created by the wider brushes, but no lines as would be produced by narrower brushes. This texture plus the texture of the canvas increases the surface area of the paint and seems to intensify the colour which is a good thing.

Its the narrower round brushes which are used to draw the multitude is lines representing the details in the stubble field. There is no blending or softening of these lines. I said representing the details and this is the case with these details. On close inspection the brush strokes are very much lines of paint but when viewed as part of the overall become the details of the field. The framework of perspective was initially sketched in as thin washes with solvent. The obvious ‘mechanical’ lines were almost completely covered by later brush strokes. The missed bits added to the overall suggestion of details. These bits were pure transparent crimson and blue – the colours which are the obvious shades found in the colours of the sky.

The colours used were: Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue plus Raw Umber. Ivory Black and Titanium White were also used. Generally there was no medium used except for a little Liquin in the final stages to help in placing wet lines of paint on a wet under layer.

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