Sunday, October 15, 2017

Painting a ground with Gamblin Fastmatte

photo taken from the Gamblin website.

I'm always in two minds about whether or not to start a painting with a ground

A ground is basically a layer of coloured paint applied to an artwork before painting the picture, rather than leaving the canvas or panel white.

Here is really good article on how and why to use coloured grounds:
Painting on coloured grounds

I'm not sure about using a ground because I'm not always overly keen on the way they can tint the whole painting when you are painting wet-on-wet, so I decided to try out a Gamblin product: Gambin FastMatte. Supposedly it dries quickly. I purchased a few colours to try: Hansa Yellow Medium, Indian Yellow, Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Green.

For my previous painting  I used the Hansa Yellow medium colour as a ground but I painted on it basically straight away (too impatient!). I was fairly happy with the result, but the yellow pigment was still tinting the paint.

For my next painting I have decided to try again, but to wait for the ground to dry first. For this painting I am using Indian Yellow.

HOWEVER, 4 days later, the ground is still not dry!
According to Gamblin website it should dry in 24 hours. Hmm.

Not sure what I'm doing wrong. On the Gamblin website it recommends thinning with a 50/50 mixture of Galkyd and Gamsol. I just used my usual medium although lately I have been using Safflower oil which is slower drying than my usual linseed oil. Next time I guess I will go with Gamblin recommendation.

Anyway, I ended up wiping most of the ground off as I want to get started on the painting. There is enough of the Indian Yellow left to have remained on the panel so I'm going to go with it.

Some people just use acrylic paint for their ground as it dries overnight. Personally I do not want to mix acrylic with oils because the long term effects have not been tested. Plus I just don't like the idea of painting on acrylic.
So I'm going to persevere with the fastmatte for a while, as is it oil based like the oil paint itself.

Some common comments I have heard about using grounds:

  • Use a​ warm ground for a painting dominated by ​cool hues.
  • Use a cool ground for a painting dominated by warm hues. 

  • Use a complimentary colour to the main painting.

  • Use a neutral colour such as burnt sienna.  

  • Use the leftover paint from the palette of your last painting as your ground. I have heard that Lori Putnam does this. I think I heard Randy Sexton say he does this as well. Apparently Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco did the same. His painting all look 'brown' to me though... so....

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Early Morning at Fish Beach

So I finally got back into my studio and started painting again!

This is a view of a hut (or row of huts) on Fish Beach on Monhegan Island.
It's a composition from a number of photos I took while I was there.
I went down very early morning just after sunrise. The sun is still quite low on the horizon behind the huts. The rising sun was throwing some illumination onto the side of the hut at the left and just a tiny bit of sunlight was reflecting through onto the interior of the hut on the right. (I think that's an old fridge on the porch on the right - these huts are very 'rustic'!)
I guess the huts used to be fishing huts originally.

The rowing boats were in constant use so they were in a different position most days.

(10 x 10 inches)
25.4 x 25.4cm
Oil on Gessobord

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Plein Air with Randall Sexton at the Landgrove Inn, Vermont

Randall Sexton talking us through his paint palette.

Another week of plein air painting! This time under instruction with Randy Sexton.
For this workshop I stayed at the Landgrove Inn in Vermont, the hotel hosting this course.

Though it was completely optional, I decided to use Randy's recommended palette to start with.

He recommends the following colors:

Ivory Black
Ultramarine Blue
Viridian Hue (Holbein Brand)
Transparent Red Oxide. (Rembrandt)…(or Burnt Sienna)
Quinacridone Red …………………… (or Alizarin Crimson)
Permanent Red Medium (Rembrandt).. (or  Cad Red Light, Cadmium Scarlet)
Golden Ochre …………………………(or yellow ochre pale)
Cadmium Yellow Light………………  (or Cadmium Lemon)
Titanium White

I opted for:

Ivory Black
Ultramarine Blue
Viridian Hue
Burnt Sienna
Quinacridone Red (I detest Alizarin Crimson)
Cad Red Light
Yellow ochre
Cadmium Yellow Light
and Cadmium Lemon

This palette leans more 'natural' than I am used to.
I liked the Viridian green which makes a beautiful sky blue when mixed with Ultramarine and white.
I also liked the quinacridone red, similar to the quinacridone magenta I usually use.

As the week went on I added my usual phthalo blue which I missed and used both cad yellow and cad lemon as I found I couldn't mix all the green I wanted without them.

I noticed looking back at the paintings I did this week that they all ended up leaning towards 'brown', which goes to show that the palette of colors you start with is going to have a big influence on the final outcome of your painting.

The Red Mill at Weston, Vermont.

A progress shot.

unusually for me I decided to start with a ground, using Burnt Sienna. Still not completely sure of the benefit of painting in a ground with my style of painting, but I guess this worked.


Randy giving a demo in front of the sunflower field.

Barn with red roof

This is another one of those paintings that I kind of liked while I was painting it, but once I brought it inside, the colours all looked completely different. One of those learning curves with plein air painting I guess.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Plein air on Monhegan - An island for artists

It has been soooooo long since I have posted to my blog. What can I say, things have been busy.

So now time to catch up.

My week on Monhegan was one of the best experiences I have ever had. It was total immersion in art and talking about art - with other artists!
I was generously invited to be part of this wonderful group of people: Margaret Sheldon, Maria Bennett Hock, Jean Graves and Marji Harmer-Beem. Everybody brought something different to the group. Some oil painters, some watercolor painters - and lots of experimentation.

We rented a house with just the most wonderful peaceful view of the ocean and Manana Island just across from us as can be seen in the photo above. We brought much of our own food and everyone chipped in to cook and wash-up. It was such a delight!

This was the first time I have been able to experience plein air painting fully.
Monhegan is an island for artists. It is just 1 mile wide and 1 1/2 miles long. There are no cars on the island. In every conceiveable nook and corner of the island you will find an artist set up with their easel, painting away. 

The first day or so, we spent walking the island, getting to know our surroundings and observing the light. 

By the third day I decided that the light was best early morning, so for the rest of the week I was up before dawn to set up my easel. We could not have been luckier with the weather. It was perfect almost all of the week, apart for the last day when we experienced some fog. 

Here are some of my paintings from the week. Some you will agree are more successful than others, but this week for me was about the learning experience. I learned to gain confidence with my set up, to paint faster and to eliminate what is not important. I leaned that I need to focus harder on how to achieve a better depth of field - something I will be determined to focus on on successive landscape painting trips. 


My first and least favorite painting from the week. I painted this in bright, bright sunlight and thought I had painted a wide range of greens, until I brought it inside and it was clear I hadn't!

Although Manana island was very close by, I felt that the depth of field was not at all obvious. Something I need to work on.

Lighthouse at dawn

This was a total experiment. I got up well before dawn to start this painting. Around 4.30am.

I feel it was a partial success but I would like to attempt this again sometime. I want to achieve a more yellow hazy cast than I was able to here to capture the atmosphere of this scene at sunrise. 

Two little boats at Fish Beach

Easily my favorite painting from the week. 

I'm very happy with the composition in this one and I felt that I achieved a looser brush stroke and confidence with it.

 The Barnacle

This one was a real challenge.

The perspective was tricky as I was fairly close-up to the cafe. Also as I was painting there was lot of coming and going of customers and staff!

It was such a pleasure painting in such close proximity of the ocean though.

The house we rented was rustic but charming and comfortable. We had electricity (though many houses did not) but the water was not drinkable so we bought water each day from the one small store on the island.

As well as the store, there is also an art gallery, a couple of gift shops, two hotels. A brewery, a pizza cafe and a seafood cafe.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Brush delivery for plein air!

I have just received a delivery of brushes from Rosemary and Co in England. So impressed that these brushes arrive within 2 days of ordering them. The best thing about getting a delivery of brushes from Rosemary and Co is the little art newletter (book) that always comes with the brushes. It always contains a couple of featured artists with tips and painting advice from those artists.

After my recent trip I decided that I'm going to permanently keep two sets of brushes - one for the studio and one to keep in my plein air bag, so that they never need cleaning and are already packed up and ready to go.
I recently tried out the Rosemary evergreen brushes because I wanted something with a really clean sharp edge.

These do the job!

My other favourite are the Rosemary Eclipse Angular brushes. I love these. They have a very clean sharp edge and are great for painting straight edges and corners.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Plein air materials and equipment. A week of plein air on Monhegan Island!

I have just returned from a week of plein air painting with Margaret Sheldon, Maria Bennett Hock, Jean Graves and Marji Harmer-Beem. We had an amazing week and could not have been luckier with the weather. I will post more on that later.

For now, I want to record what I took with me, what worked and what didn't.

I highlighted in red changes I would make for next time.

11 x 14 and 12 x 12 Ampersand Gessobord panels  (took 7 of each but only used 3 of each).  
11 x 14 and 12 x 12 Raymar panel holders
Refined linseed oil 8oz bottle. I almost used all of this, so next time I will take a 16oz bottle.
Large Coulter Plein air easel containing full pad of disposable palette paper. After a love/hate relationship with the easel, I have decided I love it. Very sturdy. A great workhorse and by the end of the week I got pretty speedy at putting it up and down.

Plein air umbrella - this turned out to be ESSENTIAL
Fishermans chair. Very lightweight. Probably could have got by the week without it though, since I stood up to do most of my paintings.
Clip on cup

Grey plastic view catcher
2 x Palette knives; Liquitex 119914 #14 small knife. Could also have done with another smaller knife.

8oz tub Studio soap Used up most of this
Small bottle of brush cleaner solvent 
2 x rolls VIVA kitchen towels (completely ran out but just had enough for 5 large-ish paintings)


Rosemary Brushes:
Ivory Egbert #0
Ivory Rigger #4
Eclipse angular 1/4"
Eclipse angular 3/8"
Eclipse angular 1/2" (x2) (didn't need 2)
Eclipse angular 3/4"
Ivory Filbert #6
Ivory Long Flat #5
Classic short Flat #10 (could have done with another brush this size or larger)
Robert Simmons Titanium Brushes:
Round #2
Bright #4
Bright#8 (could have done with another of these)
+ #6 chisel colour shaper
+ viewcatcher

Oil paint colors:
Large Titanium white
Cad yellow light
Cad Lemon
Quinacridone Magenta
Cad red medium
Phthalo blue
French Ultramarine
Burnt Umber
Burnt Sienna

Ivory Black
Sap Green - found that I didn't use the sap green all that much but I was glad to have it handy. 

Also took cad yellow medium which I didn't end up using. Possibly Cad yellow deep might have been more useful, or cad orange.

 - One small tube of each colour was plenty for the week.

Box of zip loc bags - essential! Especially good to have one handy to put dirty brushes in.

plus old plastic shopping bags for rags.

Small portable watercolour box 
Small selection of watercolour brushes
Pencils and sharpener
Waterproof black pens

Can for water and brushcleaning
masking fluid and Brushes

Also had to buy once on the island: spare white, black and aqua watercolour tube.

Large Rucksack
Large suitcase to store art material for travelling.
Water bottle
hot drink flask - my flask leaked a couple of times when the backpack was not completely vertical. Now on the lookout for one with better leakproof lid. Needs to be narrow to fit in backpack pocket.
small flashlight (or use phone light)
bug spray

oatmeal raisin bars for snacking 
small travel size pack of wet wipes

Charger and spare charger
4 hour portable charger (essential!)

purse + spare cash

And that's all before you get to clothes and bedding that we needed to have with us!
I packed clothes very minimally! 

All in all I was pleased with the equipment I took with me. Very happy with the limited(ish) palette. I found I could mix all the colour I needed other than a really vivid orange.
I discovered that one large painting per day is my limit so I will reduce the number of large panels I take and maybe take some smaller ones to do oil sketches. 

I will post some of my work next....!

Adding the following notes;
for travelling take travel size toiletries to save on weight; shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, anti-perspirant.
Don't forget glasses and contact lenses!


Friday, April 7, 2017

Misbehaving Tulips

Wow. It's been such a long time since I have painted anything. About 4 months!

Actually in my defense I have been painting - just not oil painting - house painting!
I do a lot of the DIY and painting and decorating around the house and we have had contractors in and a lot of dust flying around.

So after my long hiatus, this is my latest painting. I'm working on a series of tulip paintings - partly inspired by the Spring and partly inspired by an artist I admire - Anne Redpath. She was one of the 'Scottish colourists'. She painted ordinary still life objects and incorporated simple patterned textiles into her set-ups. I also like the way she did not use conventional perspective - she would 'tilt' the table surface to incorporate more of the surface into the image - similar to Matisse.
Anne Redpath was 1895 and died in 1965. To me her work is as relevant today as it was back then.

This painting is:
(16 x 16 inches)
40 x 40cm approx
Oil on Gessobord

This painting is not available for sale just yet.  I'm keeping it for reference while I work on a series.
I was telling my cousin that the tulips seemed to have a mind of their own. She suggested the title.

Not currently for sale

Friday, December 9, 2016

Gregarious Friends - The Traveling Chicken visits NYC

'Gregarious Friends '
11 x 14 inches
Oil on Gessobord

 Well what a week it has been! Last week some VIP's (Very Important Poultry) turned up at my door.

'The Traveling Chicken' is a project started in April 2012 by an artist called Azra Iqbal in the UK. She bought this tiny little yellow ceramic chicken and painted it in a still life. She then posted the chicken to her friend Karla Uphoff in the USA, who painted it and sent it to her friend Nan Johnson, who... (well you get the idea) and 'The Traveling Chicken' (or TC) was born! The little chick has travelled all around the world and her whole journey has been recorded on the Traveling Chicken blog. She met and gathered new friends along the way including Senor Gallo Azul the rooster, her regular companion.

Click here to read about her visit with us:
'The Traveling Chicken Visits NYC Part 1'
'The Traveling Chicken Visits NYC Part 2'

Her entire journey can be found here:

I put my name on the list to paint the chick back at the beginning of the year and it was my turn to paint her sooner than expected.

I'll be honest and say from the minute I signed up a year ago, I knew that my blue Jersey cow was going to have to feature. My kids insisted that the Friesian cow had to play a role too.

My husband, when he saw the finished painting thought I was going through my 'surreal phase'. Now that he's read the blog, I think he gets it.

The other amazing thing is that Nan Johnson, one of the original painters of the chick and the artist who kept the blog going for 2 years decided to sell her painting this week, so I bought it! We got in contact and talked about all things art and traveling chickens. So cool!

I also got to chat a bit with Pandalana Williams, another artist and current admin of the blog. Since TC is looking a bit world weary (a bit of a crack is appearing), we both are trying to come up with a way to keep her going. In the meantime, she's still good and up for adventure.

All the paintings of the chickens:

This painting is not currently for sale

Monday, November 28, 2016

Persimmon trio

I picked up these persimmons yesterday. They are unusual for a supermarket batch in that they vary a lot in size, colour and shape. Some of them were yellow-ish and some almost close to red.
I never came across a persimmon until I moved to the US. They don't have persimmons back in the UK but they seem to be quite commonly available in the US in the fall. Autumn seems to be the season of orange, not just because of the leaves changing but for the abundance of orange fruit and squashes.

(8 x 8 inches)
20 x 20cm approx
Oil on gessobord panel

For this post I thought I'd include a couple of progress shots to show the original colour of the fruit. Hopefully I captured it.

Here's the fruit and the sketch on my easel. When sketching small paintings, I use yellow ochre. Some people use burnt umber but I find that too dark and I don't like that it can tint lighter colours. I don't tint my canvas either as a lot of artists do, for the same reason - I like to keep my colours un-tinted.

Here's the painting almost completed. I meant to photograph it half painted but forgot! Oh well, next time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tea Two Ways

 This painting was a total labour of love. It has been through a number of incarnations. 

When arranging the composition for this I couldn't decide on a background. I tried stripes, spots and coloured napkins. In the end I decided on a plain white tablecloth.
But then after I painted it, I decided that had been the wrong decision. The cups looked too much like they were sitting in space. So I reset the whole thing up again, with the cups on this delicate flower print cloth. I did make the cloth quite impressionistic as I didn't want the print to fight with the painted cups.

Painting lemons.
One thing I learned about lemons is that the colour of the inside of the fruit is not lemon! It actually leans slightly towards grey which was quite the revelation.  It took me many (many) attempts at mixing the colours before I was happy with them. In fact I could have gone much darker grey as they are in reality, but I didn't have the nerve to darken them up, and I wanted the lemons to still look 'fruity'.

(11 x 14 inches)
28 x 35.5cm
Oil on gessobord panel

Here's one of the earlier incarnations of this painting:

This painting is no longer available

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Strawberries and checkered cloth

This is my new favourite painting. I'm super happy with it even though I say so myself.
I started it yesterday and finished it this morning but I was very distracted painting it since today is election day in the US and I kept getting distracted by updates popping up on my phone, so I really lost track of the number of hours I actually spent on it.
Anyway, strawberries are my new favourite thing to paint and checkered cloth is my least favourite thing to paint.
I may continue with the strawberry theme for a while, since I have some other ideas for them.

(12 x 12 inches)
30 x 30cm
Oil on Gessobord

No longer for sale

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Strawberry love II

Another strawberry study - these two are both studies for a larger painting.
I painted this late last night - I think I started it about 11pm. I paint best first thing in the morning or late at night when the rest of the house has gone to bed.

I took a slightly different approach with painting the seeds in the shadows with this one. In the first painting I painted the seeds darker than the main shadow colour, then removed a little of the paint with a colour shaper - a colour shaper is a little tool shaped like a brush but with a rubber tip. It's good for removing tiny amounts of paint.
With this painting I just highlighted the seeds in shadow with a red mixed lighter than the dark shadow. Not sure which method works best? I kinda like both.

 (6 x 6 inches)
15 x 15cm
Oil on Gessobord panel.

This painting is no longer available

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Strawberry love.

This was an exercise in finding the right shades of red to paint strawberries.
The seeds were a bit of challenge too. The trick I think is not to try to paint all of the seeds.

My eldest daughter loves strawberries. I've been wanting to paint some strawberry studies for a long time, but every time I bring home a box full, they are instantly eaten. You have to be quick off the mark.

(6 x 6 inches)
15 x 15cm
Oil on Gessobord

This painting is now SOLD

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Paint and a brew

I've been meaning to paint a header for my blog for months.

I've had this 6x12" cradled board sitting around my studio - I ordered it by mistake so I used it up to paint my header. It's a different brand of gessobord than I usually buy and it was much more absorbent. I had to thin my paint with a lot of medium.

My inspiration for this one was my usual cup of brew (tea or coffee) that I have in more or less constant supply while painting, and a few of my paints. Sums me up I think. Plus I got some great compliments about this painting so I thought I'd continue the theme.

Here's a detail shot. You can see the full header at the top of the blog (unfortunately the header does not show on the mobile version, just the full web version).

You may notice the image of the brush reflected in the cup. I'd love to say that this was a deliberate ploy but I have to admit that it was more of a happy accident.

Anyway, glad I finally got this done so that I can move onto some new stuff.
I've got a million ideas swimming around in my head at the moment.

Having painted the header and having lived with it for a few days, I have decided to remove it. I think it is too distracting from the paintings in the posts.
I do like the painting however, so I've decided instead to just hang it in my studio.

Here's the full version:

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Orange Rose Study

This rose is painted on an 8 x 8 inch (20cm x 20cm) panel which is a little larger than I have been using for a single subject, but I like to use a slightly larger brush and find it difficult to get into all the little crevices on roses if I go smaller. I think in future I will do all my rose studies this size. The rose is part of a bunch of beautiful vivid blooms I picked up at my supermarket a few days ago.

I have been making an effort to stay away from white where possible, because I want to keep my colours really saturated and in fact I didn't use any white at all for this painting, as you can see from this picture of the palette I used.

 A while ago I invested in some of the Gamblin radiant colours, after hearing Robert Gamblin himself talk about them on Leslie Saetas podcast, but I haven't been sure what to use them for.
I decided to have a go at using my radiant yellow in this painting and found that it is a great mixer and eliminates the need to use white. Now I know what to use the radiants for!
I mixed so many variations of orange for this painting, that I had to start another clean palette for the stems, leaves and background!

(8 x 8 inches)
20 x 20cm approx
Oil on gessobord panel

A bit about value...
I read about and listen to a lot of artists always talking about value. Value in painting terms basically means how much light and how much shade is being cast onto or cast by an object. Artists often say how important it is to learn about value and even that some artists do not understand value. What I'm puzzled by is that to me value is obvious. All objects hit by light are part in light and part in shade. I think everybody knows and understands this, but the trick is finding out how to represent that shade without resorting to just adding black or some dark colour that approximates the body colour of the object you are painting.

Now last night I happened to be reading the book 'Fill your oil paintings with light and colour' by Kevin Macpherson. In it he says this;
"Nature describes itself in full spectrum. Color has three qualities; hue, value and chroma. I will use the term color or color note interchangeably to mean the sum of these quantities. Analyse everything as a particular color note.
If you can learn to see color notes, you do not have to worry about value, because that comes automatically."

Exactly! The trick to representing something three dimensionally in painting is seeing shapes, and the shade as a colour in its own right.

Not that I think that really getting to grips with value makes you a great artist, it just depends on what your intention is. Van Gogh cared little about value in his best work but produced some of the most beautiful paintings. I think finding how to represent value is a good starting point though...

 This painting is available