Wednesday, 30 March 2011


A frustrating day, doing battle with a self portrait. A recent Radio 4 programme, 'Churchill's other lives', brought to my attention his charming little book, 'Painting as a pastime' which I subsequently purchased on ebay for £8 and read. Not much advice for the artist, but many cute anecdotes. The radio programme mentioned Churchill's first submission to the RA in the early 40's under the name David Winter. Looking at his work from the period I can draw one of two conclusions. Either someone at the RA blew the gaff on his pseudonym to get him in, or the standard of entries has improved considerably in the intervening period. He went on to exhibit over 50 paintings in subsequent years. Anyway, the point is, on page 19 he says "painting a picture is like fighting a battle". Probably the most reliable source for such a comparison! Makes the battle I lost today less painful!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Choking is a well known phenomenon among sports stars. They become so good at something it becomes second nature. Then a 'big match' comes along. They think too hard and it all falls apart! Matthew Syed, the English table tennis champion devotes a whole chapter to it in his book 'Bounce'. Anyway, the relevance of this is my first 'group session' of life painting at the weekend. I was in a room full of 10 artists, some of them very good... and it went rather pear shaped for me... literally! So I went into the studio today and knocked up a few self portraits, just to make sure I hadn't totally lost it. I quite like their sketchy qualities. At least I don't look like a pear!  

Sunday, 27 March 2011


Today's fine weather sent me off to one of my favourite painting spots, Petersham Meadow, near Richmond. After a bit of hunting around I discovered this beautiful tree in blossom. I'm always knocked out by the paintings of the contemporary American artist Marc Hanson The way he manages to give definition and form to bushes and scrub is astonishing. So I decided to give it a try.
What I think I got right:
The composition, splitting the image in three, both vertically and horizontally.
Colours in the blossom. I noticed that when the sun came out it brought the yellow out. Even in very bright, but slightly hazy sunshine it returned to white.
The blue/mauve colour note in the background, which actually disappears in the photo but was quite visible!
The light colour of the field behind the row of trees. This was the colour it appeared on a couple of occasions while painting, when in a spot of bright sunlight. Not for the first time it occurred to me that the magic of plein air painting is its potential of capturing the best of lighting effects over a period of time, not just a moment in time like a photo.
What I thought I got wrong:
The tree had more shape than I captured.
Sun shining on any surface always increases the chroma of its colour. My chromas are too dull in sunlit areas. My paint handling is rather crude.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Today's painting, a very old brace drill my dad used for woodworking. I always loved watching him use it with a large spade bit. The shavings spiraled out. The dramatic red background and the dark reflections make it look rather like a sinister space craft, awaiting the docking of a landing module. Yes, I have had a couple of glasses of wine tonight!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


I'm determined to produce better results painting trees plein air this year, so today I did a little exercise in the studio with a few vegetables. The broccoli looks quite 'tree like', though maybe more so from the underside than the side. That cauliflower has been value for money and I haven't even eaten it yet!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


The beautiful cauliflower is quite a challenge to paint. Capturing the subtlety of the florets is the biggest challenge. I had a couple of goes and then figured that the best way to record the essence of them in the highlight was to use colour change with virtually no tonal change, so white to warm white to cool white. Oil on board, 24 x 30 cm.

Monday, 21 March 2011


Quick painting on a shiny black surface. I think I caught the knife blade floating above the glass quite well and the edges are OK, but the tonal transitions are a bit sloppy, particularly on the red onions.

Friday, 18 March 2011


Today was spent at home waiting for a delivery. A chance to try out my new pochade box. Not exactly en plein air, but at least alla prima!


Thursday, 17 March 2011


Summer is coming so time to review the pochade situation. Last summer I carted my French easel around and had one or two interesting encounters.

While I was painting, it occurred to me how completely anachronistic the concept of carrying a piece of wooden furniture around the countryside is. OK... I hear what you are thinking, "why not get a pocket digital camera if you want to be 21st century". Fair point, but just because one wants to indulge in plein air painting, one can surely do it in a more "aesthetically modern way". A pochade box on a tripod is a step forwards. There are some good pochade boxes at and a few more at The latter site has Ben, the founder and maker (and artist) in some very clear videos, assembling the boxes en plein air. Ben's boxes are recommended by one of my favourite young Aussie artists, However, they are still wood! So this is my 21st century option, white PVC board, 75% the weight of plywood or MDF!

I bought an ancient alloy Manfrotto 028 tripod on ebay for £27, which I had to hack around a bit, but the result looks like this.

It has little L shaped alloy clips that slot in to the back board to hold the canvases and a box in the lid to hold 2 x 30 x 24cm canvases or boards. There is a neat slot in holder for the turps pot and a slide out perspex palette painted neutral grey on the underside. Ready for the first sunny day! OK, you plein air snow painters, don't say it........

Friday, 11 March 2011


Welcome to my new blog which starts today. Publishing it was a piece of cake! This is my first post, a small painting of a panettone I found in our kitchen freezer! Hope you like it!