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Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Greetings

Getting slowly back to normal following my eye operation, and in the meantime, here's a festive Guinea pig.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016


Long gap in my posting progress - don't really know why, but I do sometimes feel I'm the only one looking at this blog: and as I probably am, I'll just say Hallo to myself, and offer a cheery wave!

Robert, I think you're just lovely.  A little inclined to talk to yourself, perhaps, but other than that you're just a little bundle of charm and talent, all wrapped into a peculiarly appealing exterior.

Right then, having got that out of my system, I am going to show a painting of an old friend of mine, as best I can remember him.   We first met when I was around 8, that is some 58 years ago.  He used to charge his bars in annoyance - appalling really: Bristol Zoo, where he lived and where I stayed from time to time in my distant youth since my Uncle Vic was a keeper there, confined this animal from the American  plains (he was I think an American rather than European Bison, or Wisent) in a concrete compound with thick iron bars.  Poor old Ferdinand was kept there alone, and must have been quietly mad after so many years of false imprisonment.

But he rather liked me, for reasons I do not understand, and permitted me to gaze at him and approach him, without throwing a tantrum.  I always felt sorry for him, and in this very small oil study I've released him from his bars and liberated him from his confinement.  This is just a study, I don't know if I'll ever work it up into a bigger painting - bisons have rather complicated anatomies, every one different from the other depending partly on age, but always massive.  Ferdinand was seriously massive, because he must have been fairly elderly when I got to know him, and didn't get to run in the open pasture lands, as he would naturally have done.

I hope no Zoo anywhere in the world would treat an animal like this again, but it was commonplace over half a century ago.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

On the March

I suppose this is an oil study, more than anything else.  It's based on a photograph on Tennyson Down, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, by my younger brother Brian.  An area I know very well, although I'm not on first name terms with the cow.

For those interested in these things, I used only lead whites, no Titanium (which I very rarely do, but it made for a very different painting experience) plus Mars Red, Naples Yellow, Chrome Yellow Hue, Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue Hue, French Ultramarine, and a bit of Cobalt Violet.

The last of these colours is extremely expensive, and I wouldn't normally use it - but I have a very old tube, and indeed apart from the white just about all the paint used in this was decades old.  In oil, you can do that - in the tube, the paint rarely deteriorates.

I don't think I've ever painted a cow before - and they're not especially easy.

Determined Cow, oil on board, 8" by 10"

Friday, 7 October 2016

Struck down

This has been a fraught and difficult couple of weeks, and painting has had to take a back seat.  My landlady suffered a stroke and is still in hospital around two weeks later: it's amazing how one loses track of time.

I do have a painting planned, but am not sure how it's going to work out, or even what medium I should be doing it in.  Perhaps the weekend will see a start made.

In the meantime, I at last have an appointment to get my cataract measured, and I hope an operation isn't too far away.  We are approaching our 66th birthday here at the Batcave - I don't suppose I'll get the operation before then, but we can live in hope.

In the meantime, best wishes to Pat, my landlady.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

From St Catherine's Down - final, definitive, last, completed, done, version.

Right - I've finished it.  This is the final product - it needed a little dark in the mid-distance, and a little warming up in places; I shouldn't have used stark white - perhaps a little red, orange or Naples Yellow mixed with it would have helped.

But anyway, I have now adjusted it, glazed it, and it now looks as it did to me on the day I was up there.

Thanks to me for my photograph and sketch, and to Barry Fitzgerald for his photograph.  I would paint on the spot, but I just can't lug equipment about; hard enough lugging myself about.

Thanks also to Michael Harding, the paint-maker, without whose Cobalt Blue this would have been a lot more difficult.

By the way, I do know the picture is somewhat skew-whiff: it's my lack of camera skills that is to blame.

Oil on canvas board, 16" by 12"
From St Catherine's Down

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Latest work in progress

Actually, I'm not sure how much farther I want to take this, assuming I take it any farther at all - it could probably do with a few glazes, to warm it up a bit but if it does look a bit chalky, it is a painting of a chalk landscape, so there's something rather fitting about that.  I could perhaps have mixed a little Naples Yellow or even Buff Titanium with some of the whites - but there it is, I didn't.

I confess that - while one's never satisfied - I'm not entirely displeased with this.

I watched a couple of painting demos on YouTube this evening - well, three.  The first one was Bob Ross, quite an early film - from 1984, I think, when his technique was much less developed than it later became.  I don't listen to Bob for painting advice - he had his technique, to fit into less than half an hour of TV time (which I certainly couldn't do, by the way), and mine is very different.  But I do find him extremely calming - I get very wound up sometimes, and listening to him, and watching him, is oddly satisfying.

The other couple of demos were of paintings in Alkyd oils by one Michael James Smith - again, a totally different technique to mine, and I don't use Griffin Alkyds (by Winsor and Newton: when used with Liquin, especially, it's an extremely fast-drying paint).  I was fascinated by his approach to painting trees - he lays down a dark substrate, a mix of Ivory Black, Ultramarine, Burnt Umber and so far as I can tell - the demos are somewhat snippety, and not helped by the music he uses to accompany them: I'm a bit too deaf to mask it out and hear all of the commentary; and I don't like the music, either, which doesn't help - a touch of Yellow Ochre and/or Winsor Lemon.

When he comes back the next day or for the next session, he applies a glaze of Liquin over the now more or less dry paint, and then with a quite small brush applies the leaves in a series of dancing strokes with lighter paint, and a quite small brush.  I don't think I'd have the patience for that, although he has acquired a speedy technique; and the results look (on screen at least) very realistic.  It approaches hyper-realism perhaps - not everyone's cup of tea; and I'm not keen on using black for the darks, even mixed with ultramarine.  But if it works, it works....  later on, he introduces the likes of Cerulean Blue (Hue), Sap Green, and more Titanium White.  Worth a look.

But in oil particularly, I prefer a more textured approach and am not overly-concerned with realism - I'm after the impression and the feel of a place; no reason why you can't get that with a very realistic approach, but it's something I find a little too painstaking  - I'd be afraid of working a painting to death.

Anyway, here's my WIP (Work in Progress), an oil of a spot on St Catherine's Down, composed from my own sketches and a photograph by Barry Fitzgerald, my friend and professional photographer based in Tralee, Co. Kerry, in Ireland.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Things to avoid in oil painting: and my landlady's 86th Birthday card

I offer these reflections for what they're worth, and I'm not sure how much that really is.  Technical caution concerning oil paint, though, is probably a word to the wise.

There is concern over the use of Zinc White in oil, particularly in the lower layers or priming of a painting.  In fact, it's always been obvious that Zinc White in the underpainting is a bad idea, because it's an extremely slow drier - and the last thing you want in paint over which you're planning to add layers is slow drying; not only does it hold you back, it also increases the risk of the paint film cracking later.

The new concern - or relatively new - is to do with the formulation of metallic soaps, areas of instability in the paint which can cause delamination: in other words, can lead to the paint just lifting from the canvas and falling off.  Zinc White is far more likely to form these soaps than other whites, like the traditional lead white, or at least forms them much more quickly.   But Zinc has been mixed with actual painting grounds, the so-called "gesso" surface on which one paints; it was also mixed with some lead whites, and it was assumed that this was a sound enough practice (its intention was to make the paint more workable and less prone to yellowing) since the negative characteristics of Zinc would be overcome by, eg, Titanium, or lead.

There are now question marks over this, which have come to the fore over the priming of artists' canvas.  That priming is usually acrylic these days - but there are those who suggest that this is still a potential problem.   I simply don't know if they're right or wrong.

 Unless you make your own sizing and prime your own canvases with the material of your choice, and none is without drawbacks, any canvas or canvas board you buy is likely to be primed with an acrylic paint containing  Zinc; it won't be pure Zinc, but will be mixed in proportion to Titanium White; the latter should be the major constituent, but looking at my own Daler-Rowny container of acrylic gesso, there's no information on it to give any sort of clue as to its composition.  So - this is not likely to cause any problem with acrylics.  I don't think it's very likely to cause any problem with oils either - but to achieve the longest life possible for your paintings, oils should be painted on rigid panels rather than flexible canvas: one of the best would be canvas glued to wood or other rigid boards.   Canvas, which is easily damaged anyway, is very prone to being affected by climatic conditions, temperature, humidity: these factors can hasten the deterioration of oil paintings, cause cracking, promote the creation of metallic soaps.

Acrylic on canvas seems a much safer bet.

Is this worrying too much?  Perhaps it is - but even so, in any work I'm offering for sale, I now avoid Zinc White, which I would never have used in priming products (knowingly) or early layers anyway; and on the whole I use rigid panels rather than stretched canvas for oil painting.  Keeping an eye on these technical questions can make one extremely neurotic - and the lack of certainty makes it worse.  But at least if you know there are potential issues, you can make up your mind how to respond to them, or whether to respond at all.

And in the meantime, here's my landlady's 86th birthday card, from an oil sketch; and it's true, you wouldn't know she was 86 (if she'd only wear her hearing aids...).

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Opening a Branch Office

Well it took a while, but I've finished the picture whose early stages I showed below.  The old tree with its huge branch (hence title) is off the Old Blackgang Road in Niton Undercliff - the road leads to an area of managed countryside known as Knowles Farm, and used to take traffic on to Blackgang and beyond - until the cliff fell on it in the 1920s.

Well worth going up it to reach the landscape beyond though - there's a lot of open space, and a path down to the usually deserted beach, if you can penetrate dense undergrowth, and then scramble down to the beach below, which I can't do.  Well, I could get down, not necessarily in one piece, but I couldn't get back up again.

It would be good if we could turn back the clock and regain our lost youth - I'd know what to DO with it now: I didn't, when I had it.

Acrylic, on canvas board, 16" by 12"

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Work in Progress

Working on an acrylic, after too long not working on anything at all - I suppose I feared I wouldn't be able to see properly and so didn't want to take the risk of mucking things up: but I can see well enough to work on this sort of scale (16" by 12").

I can foresee a problem with the large triangular are at bottom right - ie, what to fill it with?  The scene itself is largely composed of nondescript, straggly shrub - perhaps I should just reflect that.  There's nearly always an area in a sketch which looks OK in pencil or charcoal on paper, but gives you a problem when you try to paint from it - well, we'll see.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Salt Water Inlet

And here's one I did earlier - forgot to post it here. Acrylic, 8" by 10".  I'm forgetting a lot of things: I've also forgotten to post my membership subscription to the National Association of Painters in Acrylic, and must pull my finger out before they cast me into the chilly void...


A fallow period - perhaps it's partly the eye, but inspiration has been entirely lacking and I've not painted anything much, though have fiddled with a few things.

However, I did hobble out for a walk today and interrupted a couple of fox cubs as they played on the presently largely unused Undercliff Drive, which is still closed to through traffic (and I think I'm hoping it stays that way - it's peaceful, and people seem to be managing to find an alternative route into Ventnor.  Why they don't just re-open the road as a walk-way, and abandon the idea of reopening it to traffic, I don't know - because I suspect they'll have to in the end.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Self-diagnosis spot-on!

Yes, I should have been a doctor.  Just imagine the sheer amount of disease, death and destruction that would run rampant in the world if only I'd entered the profession.

Leaving which aside, I do indeed, as I thought,  have a cataract in my right eye.  The next step, given I've been referred directly to the hospital since it's badly interfering with my vision (or doing it very effectively, depending on your definition of these things) is an appointment with the surgeon to determine the best way to deal with it, given I'm extremely short-sighted and it's not just a question of whipping the cataract out of one eye and shoving a new lens in.

And that appointment could take a while, given first of all they have to add you to the actual waiting list; and as they're extremely busy, they'll do their best to delay that for as long as they can.  In the meantime, painting is going to be a bit more difficult, and reading very difficult indeed.

As I may have mentioned before, ageing is just a bad idea all round.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Peering and squinting

A good way to start the day, removing spam from the Painters Online website.  I often wonder what spammers get out of it - their posts last maybe a few hours, and are then whipped away.   But I suppose that few hours of free advertising is all they need.

Today, I find out if I have a cataract in my right eye, or am just continuing to experience the steady deterioration in the sight in it which has accelerated since I had a detached retina replaced years ago.  Can't say I'm looking forward to an operation, but I would like to be able to see what I'm doing, and be able to read again without shutting the near-useless eye and holding the page to my snout.

Wonderful getting older, really it is.  There are so many advantages!  Give me a month or two and I'll think of one of them.

Saturday, 30 April 2016


A few recent paintings, 10" by 8", acrylics on Loxley canvas board.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Did I do that?

Phone back on, nuisance calls resumed - in fact it's been back for a week, I wouldn't wish to give the impression that EE was dilatory.  Or that they didn't care - I've had 4 calls from different employees since the fault was rectified, seeking assurance that all is well.  This did strike me as a little strange for a communications company, given you'd have thought they might have shared the information received with each other, but there we are.

We must not repine.

Just finished a small acrylic, 8" by 10" - wasn't sure what I thought of it, so I deliberately left it to dry out while I got on with something else and steadfastly refused to look at it.  On my return, it was almost as if someone else had painted it ..... by deliberately ignoring it, I was able to put a distance between it and myself and I'm not at all sure this hasn't enabled me to form a better judgement of it.  We'll see how it looks tomorrow, all the same.  I shan't post a photo of it before then - I might hate it in the morning........

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Telephone not working

If you were about to telephone me - don't, please.  There's a line fault following the storm, and every time the phone rings it cuts out the broadband.  And I can't hear anything anyway.

I've reported it to EE/Orange, but it takes them a day and an age to work out there might actually be an external fault and to contact the engineers.

Email me as usual - with any luck, they'll get through.....

Friday, 18 March 2016

Keir Hardie

Scrolling down, you'll find the work in progress of this gentleman (the oil version).

This is just about the final version, glazing added.

I don't suppose he's very commercial, but if anyone is interested - make me an offer (for anything on the blog, if it comes to that).

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Isle of Wight Landscapes

A quick note - is now updated, uploaded, up and running, and will be updated frequently in future.

Thanks to Barry Fitzgerald for all his help - uploading was nightmareish, but with some help from 3iX, the web-provider, he got there in the end.  I have to say "he" got there, because I was just hovering in the background making keening noises for much of the time.

What a performance.

But it's up there now - all revised, squeaky and shiny.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

James Keir Hardie

While waiting a) to upload my revised website, b) for the paint to dry on my oil study of JKH, I did an acrylic - somewhat loosely based on him, working on old, small, monochrome photographs taken over a 40 year period isn't easy - using the same build up from monochrome to glazed final result.  I've put it on the Gallery at Painters Online ( as well.

In this one, he's looking straight at you - I got the impression he was trying to tell me something unflattering.........

Friday, 4 March 2016

Isle of Wight Landscapes - Watch this space

Fingers crossed as I write this....

For months now, my website has been bedevilled by a problem on the Gallery page - images horribly pixellated and unviewable.  I couldn't work out what was wrong, and in the end I just left to fend for itself, and even thought about taking it offline altogether.

A visit today from my old friend Barry Fitzgerald, a professional photographer working out of Tralee in Ireland, will I hope have resolved the problem - and he worked out why it had happened, so it shouldn't go wrong again (it really WASN'T simple).

It's been a long day, and I'm now off to bed: but tomorrow I shall upload the latest version of the site: this always taxes my memory and eyesight and I regularly get the codes/password wrong.  But all things being equal, I am very hopeful that the issue will have been resolved, and I shall be able to start actually using the site again - I had just been staying away in a sort of neurotic sulk....

And all I'll have to do then is publicize it widely so that more people visit it and savour its delights....

Still, a start's a start, eh...?

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Work in Progress - Keir Hardie

Casting about for something to paint, I thought I'd like to try a portrait sketch; it can only be that because its subject has been dead for just over 100 years now.  But I've not painted a portrait of any kind for years, and thought it was time I did.

It's a WIP - Work in Progress - and because I'm using oil paint (on oil painting paper) it won't be finished for a while given the method I've chosen: and I've chosen that so that I can show an old but (I'm hoping) good method of achieving it.

I started out with the most basic possible pencil sketch, strengthened with a"turpsy" (ie, solvent-rich) mix of Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine oil; then sharpened up the drawing a bit from my source photographs - Hardie changed quite a lot over the years, and looked far older than his 60 years when he died: so we're only going to get a sort of composite painting out of this (I suppose that's going to read a bit like an excuse, but it's basically an iconic look I've after with this, so if it does, it does!).

Having blocked in some of the  background and shadows, I employed that old approach I mentioned - rather than going in with full colour, I refined the image a bit more with a mixture of Terre Verte, a very traditional colour historically used for this purpose, and lead white - I still have some Flake White left, which is what I used.  It's less oily and much faster drying than Titanium White, and can be applied more thinly.  There's a long story to be told about the advantages of lead white, but this isn't maybe the time to tell it.

Now this layer has to dry right out, which will take time: and when it has, I'll apply thin, transparent glazes of colour over the top.  You needn't fear you'll obscure the detail - you'd only do that if you used very opaque colour, and Titanium White.

There will probably be some Titanium White eventually, but the aim is to keep it to the minimum - and maybe I'll be better advised to use another lead white instead.

For the moment, the painting looks as if I've turned poor old Keir, as if he hadn't enough to contend with, into the Incredible Hulk, because Terre Verte is a green, with a very low tinting strength: it will cool warmer colours applied on top - and it's one of the ways that the old painters indicated gentle shifts in colour and tone in their portraits.  Probably obviously, the finished product won't be as good as a genuine old portrait - because I'm not going to take the time over it that they would have done, and anyway I'm using paper; but my desire is to give others an idea; and of course it's good practice for me; it'll be interesting to see how it pans out.

Building up a portrait in this way - you can do the same with landscapes if you want, but you probably wouldn't use Terre Verte as your base colour; it wouldn't hurt if you did, but it might end up with a rather cool painting; an earth red would be more usual; and you can employ acrylics if you prefer quicker results - gives a very distinctive look; it's not an Impressionist treatment, but now and then maybe it's good to remember that not everything has to be.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Black Sky

Oil on canvas covered board - many layered painting in oil exploiting tonal contrast - as much as can be achieved without going too far over the top into Abstract work, which on the whole I avoid.  Scratching-out, scumbling, glazing, and - well obviously! - a rat.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Flood Plain - finished

My first completed painting of 2016 - employing Mars colours (synthetic iron oxides) - the Orange, Red, Yellow, and Violet Deep.

There's also a bit of Yellow Lake, Scarlet Lake,  Pthalo Green, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, plus a little Cremnitz White, and Titanium White.  Oil on Ampersand board, 11" by 16",  Ampersand boards haven't been available in this country for long - they're high archival quality surfaces, resistant to warping, and suitable for oil and acrylic, or even for watercolour.

I was unconvinced that they'd suit me at first, but having tried just the one, and only with oil paint so far, I'm very keen to try more in oil and acrylic.

If interested in buying this one - £150 will secure it, unframed.  

Monday, 1 February 2016

Back in Action - and some sad news

On the plus side, I have at last finished an oil painting - my first in 2016.  I can't post a good photograph of it yet, for the simple reason that I haven't got one - given my flat is on the dark side, I can't get a good photo within it without using the flash, which of course distorts colour and causes a shine to appear on the surface which obscures any detail.  So, I need to take it outside to photograph it, and if I do that it'll either fly away in the wind or get soaked (as will I).

Even so, I'll post what I have got - and put the better photo up later: given I've painted nothing since before Christmas, I thought I'd better prove that I actually HAVE finished something.  It's called Flood Plain, which title is intended to be somewhat ironic....

It's an oil on Ampersand board, a surface I've never tried before and quite a novel experience - the surface is absorbent, though not so much so that it sucks the oil out of the paint; so although it's totally smooth, it still has enough tooth to hold the paint.  This is 11" by 16".  The panels are a little expensive by comparison with standard canvas board, but they're worth it - it may not be obvious from the reproduction here that they are, but - they are.

The sad news is the death of an internet friend of mine, who gave me a lot of encouragement and advice, and was a marvellous painter - one of the best in my opinion working in Britain in the last 25 years.  Ken Bushe, who lived and worked in Broughty Ferry in Dundee, died of cancer on Monday January 25th.  Just type his name into Google, and I think you'll be amazed by the quality of his work.  Ken loved skies above all else - sky and cloud formations, sunsets, sunrise, rain clouds, snow, fog.  He painted wonderful land- and sea-scapes too, but skies gave him a freedom which he exploited on a grand scale.  He knew a lot about clouds!  He studied them, he sought pictures of clouds from all over the world - but he would paint only from what he saw in front of him: his pictures were usually finished in the studio from colour notes and sketches, but were always based on his own observation of the magnificent skies over the River Tay, especially.

I sent him a few cloud photographs, out of interest - I knew he wouldn't paint from them though.  We never met face to face - he didn't often come South, I believe, and I hardly ever venture North.  But we talked a lot about paint, its qualities, availability, what could be done with it, the brands.  He was active in the successful campaign to keep Cadmium paints in production when they were under threat, and was scathing about those who felt artists' paints posed anything like the threat to the environment that industrial use might.  He won that fight, but lost the battle against this awful disease - please consider a donation to Cancer Research in his memory; and make sure you look at his wonderful work.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

I tell a lie....

I do, I do......  I did paint over Christmas: just one, for the annual Christmas card.  Acrylic on watercolour paper, of Charlie the dog showing how very, very excited she was by the whole festive experience.

She did perk up a bit though when given a bit of gravy from the landlord's pheasant over her canine kibble........ otherwise, she does Totally Indifferent really well.

Still alive....

A leisurely Christmas period - cooked, read, drank, watched films, but painted nothing and drew only a little.  The conventional wisdom states that one should paint every day - but I find that a rest from art work now and then is important; to reflect on what you're doing, or not doing; and to gain a different perspective.  I'm not fond of just churning work out - it's also said that waiting for inspiration is the mark of the amateur.  Perhaps it is.  On the other hand, I don't live by painting - I'd starve if I did.  So, if I don't actually wait for inspiration, I do wait for a subject that engages my interest.

At 65, I should care whether I'm regarded as an amateur or not..... (as in: I don't).

So my creative impulses over Christmas and New Year went into cooking pheasant, brisket of beef, and a rather splendid steak and mushroom pie.

But now what?  The new year has dawned - damply - and I need to work out what exactly I'm going to do.  Certainly, I look forward to participating in the work of the National Association of Painters in Acrylic.  I'll continue, for as long as he wants me, to contribute to Mr Pratim Das's online Coloured Canvas magazine.  I will try to re-cast my e-book Oil Paint Basics, available only on the Amazon Kindle Store at present, into a form which I hope will be publishable in paperback.  I will continue to hope than an article I sent to Leisure Painter magazine months ago will actually get published, as the editor assured me it would -- getting a little tired of seeing the same old faces and the same old stuff in magazines, to be quite frank....

I shall probably continue with such of an interest as I currently take in the Labour Party - more in hope than anything else.  But I'm abandoning Twitter, not that I was ever a frequent tweeter - because it's such a cess-pit.  Sharing things there is one thing; don't mind doing that.  But the number of politicians who have dropped themselves right in it up to the neck and slightly beyond is incredible - incredible that they should be so stupid as to think they can say anything worthwhile in a sentence or two, or anything that won't get them into trouble because they're bound to be misunderstood.  Facebook too is going to take a back seat - the social media might better be described as the anti-social media so far as I'm concerned.  (There was a last straw with Facebook, but in characteristic kindness on my part, I shan't reveal what it was since that would also reveal who was at the centre of it.)

I will try to wean myself away from the Guardian's Comment is Free pages, on which I appear all too often, as Wightpaint: it's not worth the effort: the Guardian needs a complete clear-out of its political staff (and its arts staff, but then its coverage there has always been abysmal).   And there are one or two medical issues to attend to............ as you'd expect.

Which only really leaves painting, unless I'm to loll around all day doing nothing.  Hmmm.  It's a thought.....

Politics is best left to the young.  They'll make a mess of it, that's the trouble....................  and they think you can do politics via Facebook.   Bless 'em.

Ah well.  Happy New Year.....