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Showing posts from 2017

Workshops: composition and portraiture - Kelowna, BC, Feb 24, 25, 26

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A well-composed painting is one in which the eye moves easily and fluidly, pausing and exploring,  finding the intended focal area, but never slamming to a halt or - perish the thought - drifting out of the picture altogether along some unintended shape.  And maybe 1 in 1000 photos are strong enough to need no redesigning to make them into good painting references.  So, for the other 999 photos that you'd like to paint, I'm offering a 1-day composition workshop through the Federation of Canadian Artists in Kelowna, BC in February. 

This will be a rigorous and fun workshop that is open to any medium, and that uses your own photos as the starting point for exploring successful composition. 

I'll follow this with a 2-day alla prima portrait workshop which will be done from life.  Working from a model, oil and acrylic painters will learn a logical, shape-based approach to painting a portrait.  We'll address proportion, mixing skin colours,  and layering wet-in-wet.  This …

The difference between student and professional paints

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I taught a couple of still life workshops in the Vancouver area recently, and, as always, they were open to both oil and acrylic painters.  I bring - and demo in - oils, but, during the workshop, I make a point of working on someone's acrylic painting as well, to show how my method can translate to that medium.  The other acrylic painters watch the demo, and, frequently, they comment that it was invaluable to see how I get the richness and luxurious handling of oils.

Sounds so successful, doesn't it?  I wish!  Sometimes, I start to work on a painter's piece - whether oil or acrylic - and discover that I can't make the paint do what I want it to at all.  I can't achieve strong colour or robust paint surfaces and coverage, and, in the case of acrylics, I can't work wet-in-wet, as the paint is drying the moment my brush hits the canvas.  Invariably, it turns out that the paint on the palette is student grade rather than professional.  And, often, the painter didn…

2 new, back-to-back workshops in Kelowna, BC

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One Day Composition workshop Feb. 24 Kelowna, BC FCA COC 


I'm excited to be invited back to Kelowna, BC in February to teach 2 workshops over 3 days.  This is a new format for me, and one that I think will be really effective as the second workshop, though it's a stand alone, is enhanced by having taken the first. 

I'll be starting with a 1-day compostion workshop which is open to painters working in any medium and which will be done from photo references that each painter brings along. 

Yes: photo references!  I know I've gone on about the lying, cheating nature of photos, but I also know that this is what most of us use when we work in our studios.  So this workshop is to help artists to interpret and maximize their photos to create good paintings.  Our job is not to copy, but to arrange, alter, and filter those photos through our own, personal aesthetics.  It's this filtering and editing that makes a work of art both personal and illuminating for the viewer.  It sh…

Texture and Obfuscation

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My favourite paintings are the ones that hide parts of themselves, forcing viewers to finish ambiguous areas with their imaginations.  I also love rugged textural surfaces that allow underpainting to show through in surprising glimpses.  Vuillard was a master at this way of painting as was the recently departed Bernard Dunstan.  But oil paints are manufactured to be smooth and buttery which means that it's pretty much impossible to create the type of surface that I long for without trickery and additives.

These 3 pieces come close to achieving my aims (no painting is ever what I'd hoped it would be) and they all do it a bit differently.

In the first piece, I mixed a bit of Gamblin's Cold Wax into the paint and applied it with both brush and knife, making sure to work dryly.  It's fine to add some more fluid medium to the wax and paint, but I find that it defeats the purpose of the wax - at least for me.  Wax allows a complex building of layers as well as giving the …

New Lighting!

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My studio has north and west facing windows, and I've always yearned for some southern exposure. In my continuing quest for sunlight, I broke down and bought a powerful spotlight from a camera shop: a professional-looking LED light called a Lightstorm Aputure.  It's a huge step up from the Home Depot brooder, clamp lamps with halogen floods that I've been using.  The light is very bright (equivalent to 1000W, according to the salesman) and cooler than I'm used to - something that's always deterred me from buying "daylight" bulbs as they seemed so blue - but the CRI (colour rendering index) is extremely high and so I'm not seeing a colour cast to the objects that I put under it.  In fact, colours are crazy rich, and it's taking some time to get used to.

Below are some of the small still life arrangements that I've painted since the big light up.  Because the light is cooler, I feel like I'm learning these familiar objects all over again.  T…

Experiment with Rublev Epoxide Oil Gel

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Some studio days are given over to experimentation: painting with no aim or gallery in mind, just seeing what comes out.

Yesterday I spent some time working with a new medium: Rublev's Epoxide Oil Gel.  It's thixotropic - the new word of the day - which means that it flows while you're moving the brush and stops dead when the brush does.   This, and it's rather sticky consistency, allows me to make visible brushmarks, even in colours that contain very little white.   Because I avoid all the smelly alkyd mediums in my studio, this is a big deal.  This gel acts somewhat like an alkyd gel (though it's stickier) but it's made out of "reinforced" linseed oil (don't ask me) and so has no smell or associated health issues.  Like the alkyd gels, it transparentizes the paint and increases gloss.  I'm not a huge gloss fan, but found that if I used it sparingly, it wasn't too shiny for my liking.   That took some concentration because I'm not a…

Opening in 12 week class this fall

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12 Week Oil Painting Class Thursdays September 7 - November 30 12:30 - 3:30 Swinton's studios and Carburn Park in South East Calgary, AB **One space left**
I've got an opening in my weekly oil painting class, starting September 7.  I hope you'll join me and my group of keen painters for 12 weeks that include both structured, and independent class time.
This session will start with a brand new subject: the figure in the landscape which we'll paint from life in Carburn Park in the SE. No studio light can mimic sunshine, and the added variable of foliage, water, and sky colours bouncing onto our model makes this section of the course especially exciting and full of colour challenges.

We'll follow this with a unit of independent subject work in the Swinton's studio. This is a great opportunity to finish work that you started outside, or to bring in something that you're working on at home. I'll help you to develop your ideas and solve problems through in…

Delving into colour

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"With colour, one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft." Matisse




Having seen a lot of historical works over the past few months on trips to London and New York, I was struck by how paintings that were created centuries ago can still give the sensation of being colourful and vibrant today, despite the fact that their creators had only a tiny fraction of the pigment range that we now have.  It made me realize that I needed to educate myself about the subtler, older colours; the ones that painters have used for ages to great effect.  So I'm working on some small, limited palette paintings in the studio right now, trying to get a handle on colour. Actually, I don't believe that goal is truly attainable, but I am trying to learn more than I currently know.  

The paintings above contain 3 to 5 colours plus white and most of the pigments are weak ones like yellow ochre or raw sienna.  There are no blues because for some reason I'm loathe to use them righ…

Different brushes for different purposes

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There are so many brushes on the shelves of art stores and it can be truly baffling to choose the right one, so I thought I'd do a post that touches on the basics of brushes and their uses.

Choosing a brush comes down to what you want to do with it; what effect you hold in your mind that you're trying to replicate on the canvas.  That, actually, is the biggest consideration when picking a brush: know what you want it to do.

I like to layer paint, wet in wet, and I don't like a picky, small-detail look, so I need large brushes with long bristles.  They have to be long because short, stiff bristles tend to remove more than they apply when placing wet paint over a wet layer.  So long filberts or flats are my choice for layering.  They also need to be springy, not wet noodly, so that they can hold a lot of paint and don't require me to press them onto the canvas to release that paint.  I should be able to gently stroke a well loaded brush over a wet layer, and leave behi…

3-day floral workshop in BC

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Bear Valley Highlands Art Workshop June 23-25 Lumby, BC
There are some unexpected openings in this workshop and I'm hoping you'll fill them up! We'll cover a lot of ground from colour to composition to brushwork, and I guarantee that there will be revelations that you can carry into your own painting practise, no matter what your usual genre.

This workshop will focus on simplifying your subject to its essence, and discovering how a little precision can go a long way.

You’ll learn to design your paintings to create harmonious, coherent, and balanced compositions that address the age-old dilemma of “what to do with the background”. By using a shape and colour based approach to composition, you’ll begin to see the canvas space in a whole new way; one which stresses unity in tone and colour, and which recognizes that each mark has a role to play in the final painting.
And you’ll explore two different ways to begin a painting: from logical and structured to intuitive and abstract…

The elusive smooth surface in oil paint

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Yellow Pail 10 x 8
Oil painters spend a lot of thought and time doing something that watercolour painters do in a second: we try to create large, simple passages of paint that maintain colour and feel rich, rather than thin and greyed.  And that's because oil paint doesn't work well in very dilute form.  You can't create a wash unless you add a lot of medium to it which is something that I avoid.  If the medium is relatively safe - like my 50/50 OMS and oil - it makes the paint look meagre and dilutes the pigment so much that the colour dies.   If the medium is one of the many pre-prepared variety, it has a lot of technical and health issues that I don't want to bother with:

- how fat or lean is the mixture?  This matters in building a sound painting.

- will it damage my health to use it in the studio, day after day? I've tried mediums that leave me staggering drunkenly by the end of a painting session, and I can't afford to lose that many brain cells.

- is it…

Painting knives and brushes

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Brushes are great, but they can feel a bit obvious: we've all seen (and made) paintings in which you can tell exactly which type of brush was used and what width it was; flats are particularly distinctive in a painting.  While I do try to vary the type of brush that I use: flats,  filberts, and rounds, and the type of bristle: synthetic or natural; soft or stiff, I still feel that all of the marks clearly say "brush" and that the colour is sometimes less clean than I'd like.  So the painting knife has become a bigger part of my work.  
I've mentioned this in a previous blog, I know, but I thought that this in-progress still life had a good example of the difference between brushes and knives in alla prima painting.  
The bowl of water below was painted with brushes.  I left a space open for the clean swipe of pale green because I couldn't achieve such a high key, clean area if I'd been layering over another colour wet in wet.  
You can see that the marks…

Working with colour and tone

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On most days I consider myself a tonalist with a colour obsession, rather than a true colourist.  The difficulty lies in trying to figure out how to use strong colour as well as strong tonal changes in the same painting.
Colours are at their most beautiful and interactive in the mid tones, the colourist's domain (picture Monet's scintillating haystacks), while tonalists use the drama of a full value range to create their images (think of Rembrandt whose spotlit images are so memorable for everything but their colour.)

The pitfall of purely colourist work is that it can appear unanchored and weak, lacking a strong underlying structure (and this is in my eyes, only.  All art making and viewing is subjective). So, increasingly, I try to incorporate some strong darks into my work.  It gives the paintings focus and solidity in my eyes.   The challenge is to gauge the right amount of dark and its placement.  Too much, or too near a special colour and the darks will take over the wo…

2- day figurative workshop

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Painting the Clothed Figure from Life May 6/7  Tsawwassen, BC

I hope you'll join me for a 2-day figure painting workshop in beautiful Tsawwassen, BC.
I love teaching this workshop because I get to see so many "ah ha!" moments. Painters who usually work from photos, grid their canvases, or create detailed preliminary drawings all discover that a brush and a good squint is all they need to capture accurate proportion. And discovering the amazing colours in the model in front of them is a revelation.

It's an intensive weekend that launches a lot of new exploration and discovery for painters no matter what their usual genre.

There are still some openings in this workshop.  To register, please contact the South Delta Artists Guild.











A London adventure

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I was fortunate enough to be in London last week filming some shorts for Winsor & Newton's weekly "Masterclass videos" series. That was a kick, but a bit nerve wracking: some of the demos that I'd so blithely scripted required a lot to go right, first time, on the canvas board that had 2 cameras and 3 video and art professionals focused on it. No pressure there! But it all worked out well, and I learned a great deal about what it takes to film art technique videos. 
After the work portion of my trip was over, I tacked on a couple of days to see museums. That's totally, laughably inadequate, but it was enough to give me a couple of years worth of thinking in the studio, so I'm satisfied. 
What surprised me was that I was as entranced by the 600 year old Tudor portraits with their intricate, gold encrusted brocades as I was by the Sargents and Freuds that I'd gone to see. Perhaps even more so because my expectations were completely overturned. 
I&…

Toning a support: the big decision!

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Every single choice that you make in an oil painting is visible, in some way, in the final work and toning is the usually the first choice that a painter makes.  For me, it's the decision that usually takes the longest because I know it will launch a painting down a path and I have to decide which path that should be.

There are no rules about colour choice when toning a support, but here are some routes that are worth exploring:

-Tone to the colour of the light.  So, if the light is warm, tone warm.  If you're in green, forest shade, tone green etc.

- Tone to the brightest colour in the motif.  If you're trying to depict the vivid orange of a pumpkin, it will be easier if you're working on a support that's toned orange; nothing will interfere with the special colour or grey it.

- Tone to the complement of the most important colour.  This is the opposite of the above choice: if you're trying to show off the orange pumpkin, tone blue so that orange will really…

Painting knives

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I used to be a watercolourist when I started painting, but I soon switched to oils.  The reason? Texture! There's something wonderful about the way that oil paint can move beyond 2 dimensions and enter the 3rd.  Ingres' smooth, enamel-like surfaces are impressive, but give me Monet's crusty canvases, Sargent's thick, dashing swirls of paint, or Freud's heavily layered surfaces any day.  They hold my attention for the rugged physicality of the paint itself; there is both an exciting image, and exciting paint application.

This painting takes texture pretty far as I used a knife heavily throughout.  There was plenty of brush action, as well, but the knife was what saved the piece from being boring to me.  It's painted on a gessoed panel which is a surface that I'm not sold on.  It doesn't grab paint in the way that linen does, and I find the brush marks that I make on it look uninteresting to me.  The best way to explain it is that when I make those first …