Showing posts from March, 2019

Edges in photos and life

Last weekend I taught a "Painting from Photos" workshop to a keen bunch of painters.  One of the concepts we worked on was the power of edges, and how to break out of the camera's viewpoint when rendering them.

Photos give us the idea that an entire scene can be in crisp focus, no matter how broad, but that's only true if you're a camera.  Humans don't see like that.  What we see is soft edges with only a tiny fraction of sharpness - maybe 2% of our visual field.  Maybe 1%.  It's actually surprising to realize how indistinct our visual experience is.  Too often, though, we forget this when we paint, especially if we're painting from photos.  We end up creating painted photos instead of paintings that show our  view of the world.

The piece above shows how few hard edges you need to make a believable painting.  I've clustered the edges in the focal area near the eye and the upper part of the face while diminishing the edges of forms as they get fu…


I'm always looking for a new way to make marks and achieve effects in oil paint, and always coming up against its one firm rule: "fat over lean".  Following this rule will ensure that your paintings age as well as possible instead of cracking to pieces in a potentially short period of time; every oil painter's nightmare.

Essentially, "oilier over less oily", the fat over lean rule should be easy to apply, but it's actually very complex.  A brief look at oil painting forums devoted to this subject will tell you that there are a lot of interpretations happening in studios.

If you're building a painting wet-in-wet, it's straightforward: less paint and added oil in the lower layer and more paint and added oil in the upper layers.  Because oil paint is pigment bound in vegetable oil, applying a thicker layer of paint automatically means that it will be fatter (oilier) than a thin application.

I dilute my first layer with a 50/50 mix of oil and odour…

Some good books about oil painting

I've had many emails over the years asking me how I learned to paint and for resource suggestions, so I thought I'd list the books that were the most influential to me when I was learning.  I made that sound past tense, but I'm actually still learning and always will be. 

First, a confession: I look at the pictures in most art books, and only skim the texts, and I have yet to do an exercise from any how-to book that I own.  It's a personal failing.

Here are some books that I actually did read because they were so informative and relevant:

- Richard Schmid:"Alla Prima".  It's a sweeping, common sense, and generous survey of oil painting methods and materials.  It taught me how to choose my palette, start and build a painting, and troubleshoot the inevitable hiccups that every painting presents.

- Charles Reid: "Painting What You Want to See".  My aesthetic is more aligned with Reid's than Schmid's which makes this book especially useful …