Friday, 17 March 2017

Luck of the Irish...? Gerberas, Crysanths and Cabbages! Oil painting on linen.

In progress - the end of the first pass
When I looked back to find the photos of the initial stages of this painting, I was shocked to see that I began working on it 5 months ago. Now, this doesn't mean that I've taken 5 months to compete the painting! No. In fact, it's still not quite finished, but another few hours on the background will do it.  In between bouts at the easel, I have been very busy illustrating and photographing my book, as well as doing lots of teaching.  I am trying to finish the painting in time for the book launch - I love a deadline!

This photo is to give you an idea of the scale of the painting

Tonal beginnings!

I took the reference photo several years ago, just before Christmas in a florist in Lisburn. It was snowing outside, but the light caught the flowers beautifully. I don't often paint flowers - but it was painting light and colour that I was interested in, and in spite of the complex nature of the subject, I was happy to tackle it. 

Beginning the colour  
Creeping around, flower by flower.

I always enjoy the blocking-in stage - it's all to play for, and the true magnitude of the task in hand hasn't quite hit home yet... After toning the background, I did a rough layer of colour over the whole canvas. This should be as close as possible to the final colours and tones, but it acts as a good base for the final colour layer to sit upon.  I worked one flower at a time. 

The first layer completed.

I usually do my cropping at the photographing stage, but in this case I altered the composition slightly on the right hand side, removing a chrysanthemum from top right which I felt disrupted the strength of the patterns created by the tallest daisy. 


At this point, I went through a phase of getting paint everywhere, including my computer keyboard, which is... not helpful! So I decided to try working with gloves. I wasn't sure if I'd like it - but I do! Just about everything we use for oil painting is toxic to some degree, so it's sensible to protect the hands. 

second layer begun at top
Second layer applied to the top flowers and the left flower only. 
I began the second layer by painting one flower at a time once more - when you know are going to have long gaps between visits to the easel, it's great to have small areas to 'complete' as you go along.  The second layer gives a richness to the painitng. Remember, oil paint is transparent, so the more layers, the more 'solid' and secure the painting will be. The background at the top is an ornamental cabbage, which currently looks like draped fabric!

It was somewhere between the photo above and the photo below that my camera stopped functioning. It just couldn't focus - the flower on the right is blurred.  (In reality, the flower is soft but not as soft as the photo!)  Oh no!!

Above - the second layer on the flowers is complete. As you can see, the flower at the top is blurred - this, again, is the camera. For the photo below, which is the whole painting complete apart from the top background, I had to use the 'selfie' camera, so the quality isn't good, but hopefully you get the gist. 

The camera I've been using is the one in my iPhone. I consider myself VERY lucky. I used it to take every photograph in my book (over 500 shots printed), and the quality is excellent. The repair shop replaced it with a new camera, hoorah! But sadly, it still doesn't focus, which means, apparently, that it's 'a phone problem'.  I suspect that I've used up my picture allowance.

 I've had the phone just 18 months. I think the time has come to buy a little digital camera again, and not rely on the phone for photographs. Gone are the days of repairing our belongings, it seems. But an 18 month life-span isn't long enough for me! This consumer is looking elsewhere... 

Next up: oil painting workshop, Belfast.

for info email 

BOOK LAUNCH and display of student drawings and paintings, Sunday 2nd April, The Engine Room Gallery, Belfast. All welcome!

To preview the book, please click:

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Burning the midnight oil... edit edit edit!! Notes From The Atelier, the first arrivals!

The past few months have been full on (yes, even more than usual!!). So, by September last year I'd written a book (well, MOST of it). But then I realised I needed to learn how to use InDesign, so that I could do the layouts. My degree is in Graphic Design, and (fortunately) I love layout, but I'd never done it on a computer. Indesign is HUGE... However, I got started, and learnt about it as I went along, and it became rather addictive. 

Various, early proofs, spiral boumd for convenience only. 

What was less addictive, but highly necessary, was the editing process. BIG SIGH!!! I am hugely indebted to David McKnight, who edited tirelessly, and never complained, EVER! 

Yet more (late night) editing. 
Just a slection of the printed proofs - each copy
different to the one before, and all of them edited
 and re-edited... I know, I'm repeating myself.!
As a self-published book, the thing that can be lacking is a DEADLINE! And deadlines are so focussing. Then a student mentioned that she's going to America and wanted to take a book with her as a gift - and so my deadline was born! After getting it all to the printer on time, thanks to designer Paul McNally for help with the technology side, I was glad to see an end to it!!

And now I've recieved the first batch!!Exciting! 

I admit, it does feel strange to see so many copies of it all at once!

Sneak peek at Nisa's painitng

Sneak peek at Pat, Sara and Jean's paintings. 
As you can see, it's a big book - 250 pages of Big!

Here's Paul McNally holding his copy. Thanks Paul!!
If you'd like a preview of more pages please click here:

The link also shows you how to order a copy if you'd like one. The price is £35 until the launch, which is on 2nd April. 

NExt up: Oils workshop 25th March. For info email

Friday, 3 March 2017

Compressed Charcoal, tonal studies of apples and onions!

Compressed charcoal is a delicious, and very flexible medium. Recently I gave my students the task of producing two drawings in one session, first on white cartridge paper, then on thicker, mid-toned grey paper.

My demo drawings, with the Compressed Charcoal box top left. 
While most of us enjoy colour (after all, we do live in a colourful world!), working in black and white really improves our abilty to see subtle variations in tones. These same tones are necessary in our colour work too but easily overlooked, giving an unsatisfactory result without depth.

Demo showing the variety of tones, using only three greys, and white.
Graphite pencil is excellent for training our eye to see subtle nuances in tones, but using compressed charcoal allows us to cover the whole area in a shorter time frame, helping us to remember to compare tones in areas all across the page (relative to each other) as well as tonal variations which are close together.

My quick demo on tinted card, with darker tones left hatched rather than blended.
After arranging the apples and onions pleasingly on cloth, the drawing was lightly mapped in, and the tonal challenge began in earnest. Unlike charcoal, the compressed sticks come in a range of 4 greys plus black and white. The challenge was to remember to change the stick as we went along - leaning more heavily or lightly doesn't alter the tone. 

Lovely artwork by Brigid
Another great study by Gavin, who enjoyed the challenge so much that he spent the full session on this artwork. 
It's a dirty business, but once we get stuck in, we become more absorbed in observing the subject than worrying about chalky fingers! We worked on white paper first, and enjoyed the differences when we moved on to the tinted grey paper.

Dawn, blending nicely 
Working on tinted paper means that the whites really sing out brightly. it is also a pleasure to add highlights, rather than realying on the white of the paper to do the job for us. It's good to vary the tone of our paper - 'white' is not our friend. It can be harsh and cold. A neutral colour is often better as a base to work upon.

Sara's atmospheric artwork, nearing completion

Nisa, who is getting lovely richness in this study.

A group of studies - not quite finished, but well on the way.
 Compressed charcoal gives a lovely, velvety texture and laying tones on top of one another creates a wider variety of shades, and the result is very painterly. A delicious exercise, and everyone enjoyed it!

A wonderful result from Joanne, with excellent tonal ranges. 

Next up in March: Colour pencil and watercolour workshop. 
Oil painting workshop. All suitable for all levels of experience. 
For information on workshops please email

For information about my book 'Notes from the Atelier', and to see a preview please click