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Bonus Features April 2015

Bonus features from more of our gallery artists

Michael Hand   Michael Daley   Jiri Keller   Steve Pannell   Michael Gavan Duffy   Valerie Wood   Andrea Abraham plus an extra demonstration from Robert Dutton, regular contributor to The Artist

Michael Daley - The Scruffy Painter


Everything has to start somewhere, in this case, this article and art all begin life in this glorified garden shed! (See below).

I would guess that most of us have spent years using any spare room as a studio. At one time all my paints, canvases and easel were stored in a broom cupboard. Not sure where the brooms went!

Today, the creative engine room looks like this.

Although not always this tidy, it’s an 8’ x 10’ studio and contains all I need to paint. Provided I don’t want to stand too far away from the easel. It is insulated, has a small portable heater and a daylight strip light. I’m therefore able to work happily through most weather conditions all year round.

Although I paint mostly in acrylics these days, the painting I will describe to you is in oil. The change to acrylics came about when we lived in a very small house and the fumes from linseed oil and turpentine were overpowering. Now that I’m isolated in the garden I can use oil again and open the door if it all gets too much.

That said, my technique is pretty much the same for both mediums, only the brushes are not interchangeable. I use the same type of brushes for both oils and acrylics. Synthetic and hog long handled filberts and flats and occasionally rounds of all sizes from 16 to 4. When getting down to detail I use sable and synthetic short handled brushes from No 00 to 5 or 6

A paper palette makes cleaning up at the end of the working day much easier. A working day in my case is around 9am to 4pm during the winter, and on into the evening during the warmer and lighter months. With breaks for coffee and food of course.

Over the years I’ve developed a fairly conventional basic palette, which suits most occasions and is almost identical in oils and acrylic. I’ve listed these at the end of the article. With these I’m confident I can produce pretty much any colour I need. These days I do very little landscape painting preferring to concentrate on aviation and marine art.

I am aware that aviation painting is something of a niche market, and very little appears in the on line galleries. As a discipline I find it both demanding and stimulating. I hope to convey some of that to you in the course of this article. Perversely,  the painting I’ve chosen depicts an aircraft on the ground. The principals remain the same however.

From brain to brush

How many times have you been asked’ 'Is that from a photograph?'

In aviation art, copying a photograph is considered a heinous crime never mind the copyright issues. Using one’s own images is ok as a starting point for an idea, even using other photographs from the web, books and elsewhere is fine provided they are used as a reference source, a way through to a unique painting of one’s own devising.   

Sometimes a painting comes fully formed into my brain (an odd and dark place according to my wife) it hangs there like an old-fashioned 35mm slide. This can be a blessing when it comes off but frustrating when what the mind’s eye can see, the right hand cannot translate. At best this kind of image can be what an artist friend of mine describes as, a painting that, 'just drops off the end of the brush'. More often than not it is a case of doodling away until an idea forms into a decent drawing.




The Fairey Gannet AEW

What follows is the progress of an aviation painting that was eventually accepted for the Guild of Aviation Artists Summer Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in 2013.

The idea for this painting came from a book on the aircraft in which the author mentions how this very large aeroplane was manoeuvred around an aircraft carrier’s flight deck. 
To give a little technical information. The Gannet had no powered nose wheel steering and had to be guided round the deck by means of a towing arm fixed to the front wheels and steered by two naval airmen. What made this image appealing, to me at least, was that in those far off pre-health and safety days, the huge contra rotating propellers were spinning around some 6 feet from the rear ends of the sailors. They almost certainly had a different view on the matter.

In order to stand any chance of acceptance by GAvA the portrayal of the aircraft and its surrounding must be as accurate as possible. Research on the web and at the library is fine but nothing beats seeing the real thing. Two visits to the Newark Aviation Museum and the assistance of some very helpful stewards helped me to obtain a raft of detailed and general photographs. It was a great help that the aircraft carried the markings of the squadron I wished to portray.

Other items added to the reference mix were; a 1/72 scale model of the Gannet, a hand-held mini fan and a damp/wet-baking tray!  Finding some video on YouTube was a bonus as it gave me an idea of how to show the blur of the two sets of revolving propellers. All of this started in January 2013, it was some time before a brush touch canvas

The model was built and posed under a spotlight to investigate where the light strikes and where shadows are formed. The baking tray and fan took the place of a wet flight deck and spinning propeller - just in case you were wondering.

I’ll get on with the painting shall I?

I have already determined what the colour scheme is to be. The action is to take place on a wet, windswept flight deck.  I’ve checked on the tabards that the flight deck crew wear to designate their specialist roles and have a rough idea where the figures will be.
To get the figure of the Flight Deck Officer correct I don my bright yellow waterproof jacket, work boots and garden gloves. I strike manly poses whilst my wife does the photography. I do this to get the folds and fabric texture correct. I just rough in the figures for now and will make a more detailed drawing later.

I have laid out my old favourites but start with a little Prussian blue and tiny amount of yellow ochre mixed into a puddle of titanium white to stain the canvas, just to kill the white glare and give me a key to work off (see below).

You can see from the first image that the process starts with a detailed drawing of the aircraft. I just want to be sure that size and position are right. The drawing is then sprayed with some cheap hair spray, something I’ve used for years in place of more expensive fixatives. I then go over the drawing with blue paint so that I don’t lose too much of it once I start painting.


The large areas, sky and flight deck, are painted using No 16 flat and 12 filbert synthetic hog brushes with a mix of ultramarine and cadmium red + white of course. The aircraft fuselage is yellow ochre with a tiny amount of ultramarine near the tail, done with a No. 4 filbert with softer synthetic hairs and a No. 5 short handled synthetic sable

Ultramarine, cadmium red and burnt umber are used for the black markings on the aircraft. I seldom use black which I feel lacks the depth of a mixed dark. A dilute mix of yellow ochre and cadmium yellow to show where the bright yellow markings will appear.
The clouds are roughly scrubbed in using and old worn No. 8 round. Used with varying degrees of pressure and with a pushing motion this gives a nicely loose edge to the clouds.
Some of the figures disappear but I’m not worried by that since I think I need to move them anyway.  All of this is now set aside to dry.

So far this amounts to approx 15 hours drawing and painting time. Figures are now reinstated and the model is placed on the  wet baking tray to observe the pattern of reflections. Roundels and under-wing markings come next. This sort of perspective is always a problem for me. On the model, I draw in the letters and numbers on the underside of the wing with a marker pen. The problem is not solved completely until, much later on, I find a photograph of a Gannet, in a museum near Gatwick, same squadron, different code letters, but the aircraft is in an almost identical pose to mine. Some careful measuring with pencil and ruler eventually fix the problem.
Needless to say I’m down on to Nos 2 and 3 short handled sables at this point.

I work some white into the clouds and give them more definition. I continue to use the worn round and a couple of other smaller filberts to rub in the flatter areas and darker grey clouds. This  helps me to fix the atmosphere of the piece in my mind.  At this point I also bring some of the sky colour onto the deck and use the same grey mix on the ocean and deck nearest the viewer.

Coming back to this later, I am convinced that I must remove one of the figures and alter the pose of the men guiding the aircraft, they lack and sense of forward motion. With acrylics this would not a problem. Paint white square/rectangle over offending image, dry with a hair dryer and re-draw/paint. In oils I rely on my trusty Stanley knife blade to scrape back to the under-painting and begin again.

I insert new figures. The handler to the right of the Gannet, two figures to the rear of the aircraft and the FDO mark the boundaries of the action.

In this instance it is essential to use reference photographs to ensure that all the details to be shown on the aircraft are accurately placed. A lot of work goes into the Gannet. I study the YouTube image of the aircraft as it moves across the deck. I can see now how to paint the propellers  convincingly. The attractive squadron badge is loosely added on the tail and the aircraft number is drawn in.

In this image you can see a rough charcoal outline of a helicopter. An idea that didn’t work! Happily a damp rag removes all trace.

I pour a little water on the baking tray and sit the model in the centre in order to examine the reflections again. Once the little fan is switched on I get some idea of how the water is blown across the surface. A lot of this is still down to imagination though, since the model I have does not carry the enormous radome of the aircraft I’m painting. This is where the photos I took up at Newark prove invaluable. 

Here I’ve added more definition to the clouds and given the sea a little more attention. Not too much since I don’t want any detailed painting here to detract from the main image.

The flight deck of a carrier is an incredibly busy place and is crisscrossed by a mass of demarcation and guidelines. I’ve simplified these, adding only those which add a sense of perspective to the action. By the same token I have deliberately left out all other aircraft and ground equipment that would normally be visible.

This close up gives you an idea of the numerous lumps and bumps that appear on the aircraft together with the aerial cables that run from the fins to the rudder and from the main aerial just behind the cockpit. A steady hand and a size 0 sable is used here. I begin to suggest the prop wash to the rear of the Gannet and do a little more work smoothing out the reflections. I also notice that I have lost the correct shape of the under wing tank along the way. Out with the blade again.

In this image you can see the that the tank has been scraped down and reshaped. The aircraft numbers and letters have also been removed. I put a glaze of ultramarine + cadmium red over the deck and set it aside to dry. Once this is touch dry, I scumble lighter patches of grey over the deck and add shadow under the aircraft and reflections under the figures to emphasise the windswept/wet nature of the surface.

The last lap! The tank remodelled and the identification markings repainted. I also introduced the  rescue helicopter which sits nicely to the right of the aircraft and doesn’t extend beyond my right hand 'eye stop' figure.

I put a number of glazes over the deck and pull them about when they dry out a little to give the effect of wind blown water. This also knocks back the white lines to make them less intrusive. I deliberately leave  out any detail on the figures at the rear so as not to pull the eye any further in that direction. A little more attention to the reflection of the radome. Just the signature and date to apply and I’m done.

There was a very long gestation period for this painting and the word 'Gannet' has been banished from our family vocabulary for the foreseeable future. From my notes I see that it took a little over 60 hours drawing/painting time. The research spread over a period of 3 months. It was a demanding and enjoyable painting to do requiring a degree of technical accuracy but leaving space for the imagination to play. What my kind of painting is all about!

A shorter version of this article appears on my website together with a similar description of the process used to paint a leopard.




  • Titanium White
  • Flake White ( no longer available in UK but still in the art shops in Europe!)
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Prussian Blue (seldom used but a great mixer and useful in skies)
  • Cadmium Red
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Viridian (another great mixer for hundreds of greens and blacks)
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Raw Sienna
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Umber

Work on show at:

The Gallery
9 London Street
PE37 7DD
01760 723755

Michael's work is also displayed in the Crome Gallery, Elm Hill, Norwich. You can contact Michael via his website:
See more of Michael's work in the Painters-Online gallery by clicking here.





Ronny by Andrea Abraham

I have been painting commissions on and off over the years, even at school I would do the odd pencil sketch of a friends favourite pop star. Art was always a subject I loved at school, so I went on to study 'Spatial Design' at the Kent Institute of Art and Design, but I soon realised it wasn't for me and I left to pursue a career in travel, working on ships and as cabin crew for BA, where I have been for the past 16 years.

After an accident in 2010, I had sometime off work which enabled me to join an art group 'Crossbarn Art' run by artist Jamel Akib. As a result, I have learnt various techniques, tried different mediums and developed my passion for painting animals.

I now regularly take commissions, something that I first found very daunting. All of my previous commissions had been for friends, and now I was receiving enquiries through my website. Getting the likeness of a clients beloved pet, and bringing it to life on canvas is something I have gradually grown confident in. I work from photographs, asking for as many as possible so I can pick out personality and characteristics of the animal I am painting.

I mainly work in water-mixable oils, to me they are like a slow drying acrylic paint, I like to focus on just the animal so you will very rarely see a background on any of my paintings.

'Ronny' is my latest commission of a gorgeous black Labrador.

He is painted on a 30x30cm canvas board.

I used Artisan water-mixable oil paints in - Paynes grey, lamp black, titanium white, French ultramarine, burnt umber, raw sienna, cadmium yellow dark hue, cadmium red.

For mixing I used water and liquin.

Picking the right photograph is key to a successful painting. I am often sent photographs which I know will not look right as a painting, so I ask for as many as possible and then spend time playing around with them on my computer - cropping them and enhancing the colours. I send the photo I have chosen to paint back to my client for approval before I get to work. (See reference photograph of Ronny above).

Stage 1

I draw a grid on my canvas and paint in the outline of Ronny in watercolour, this allows any mistakes to be washed off.

Stage 2

Using acrylics I paint in the markings, I have chosen blue as my base colour as Ronny has lots of blue tones in his fur.

Stage 3

Now I can start making Ronny come alive, I always start with the eyes.

Stage 4

Once I am happy with the eyes I work outwards filling in detail as I go.

Stage 5

He is slowly coming together and looking like Ronny, my client pointed out that he has a distinctive white line down his nose and wanted me to make sure this was noticeable.

Stage 6

Apart from his collar he is fully painted and left for day or two to dry so I can go back and finish off the fine detail.

Stage 7

So here is the finished portrait of Ronny, I've painted in his collar and darkened and lightened areas that needed more definition.

Finally I email a copy to my client to make sure she is happy and to see if there are any details I have missed, thankfully she is thrilled to bits which makes the whole process so rewarding.

To see more of my paintings check out or see the Painters-Online gallery.

I also exhibit with The Frame gallery in Odiham, Farnham Art Society, Odiham Art group, MIWAS, Crossbarn Art group have there annual exhibition 12th to 14th June, you can also see my paintings on the walls of The Golden Pot pub near Alton.







Working with coloured and graphite pencils by Valerie Wood

Coloured pencils vary from make to make, and it is a personal choice as which brand you like. My advice is to try one or two different products to get a feel of how they perform. This exercise was drawn on a good weight cartridge paper, and the bark was formed from the grain made by the first layer of brown pencil, look carefully and you will be able to follow a bark pattern. 

I have probably always had a pencil in my hand, even at an early age, but have only pursued my love of pencils since retirement when time has become more available.  I live in the Lake District in Cumbria, and can take advantage of nature and wildlife on my doorstep, which I put into all of my art work. The most important thing about drawing is observation, so next time you are on a walk, look at detail and structure, it will pay dividends when you next draw.

Autumn leaves in coloured pencil

Colours used are Faber Castell Polychromos: Van Dyke brown and burnt umber for the bark. Light chrome yellow, green gold, dark chrome yellow, and cadmium Ooange for the leaves.

1. Initial drawing has been made very lightly with an HB pencil.

2. The next stage is colour, using browns, yellows and orange

3. Having now established the colour, block in lightly.

4. Next start work on the bark texture making a uniform pattern.

5. To finish, the bark texture will have layers of shadow, as will the leaves, making sure you first know the direction of the light source.

Wren in graphite pencil

Fitting the drawing of this wren into five stages has hopefully given you an idea of how to approach a graphite drawing. The grades of graphite pencil run from HB in a soft direction to 9B, and in the hard lead direction to 9H, not all of these are required in one drawing, but there could be at least four or five most of the time. I draw on Bristol Board a paper with no tooth surface, so texture, in this case feathers, has to be developed, hence the range of pencils used. 

Apart from graphite pencil, I also work with coloured pencils and pastel pencils, there are many pencil products out there, and I always recommend that you should try everything, just buy one or two pencils and see what you can do with them, most will mix together and with paints. Great fun. 

1. Initial drawing with a 2H graphite pencil.

2. Next stage is to work more 2H pencil as under base.

3. Next stage is to use an HB to work further tonal depth.

4. Next stage is to use a 3B on areas needing darker tone.

5. Last stage is to work with 6B and 8B to complete the really dark areas.

See more of Valerie's work in the Painters-Online gallery by clicking here

Valerie has recently opened a new studio in Harrogate, where she will be running workshops. The Studio is called Banks and Wood Studio 2, and is situated at King Street Workshops, Pateley Bridge, Harrogate. Valerie will be holding drawing workshops with coloured pencils, graphite and pastel pencils, suitable for all levels, also workshops in stained glass. For more details email







Using photography & Photoshop to design a painting by Stephen Pannell

Photography with the use of Photoshop can be useful tools to design your painting. When on location apply photographic techniques thinking about rule of thirds, perspective, angles and compositions. Experiment with exposure settings. Take more photos than required and use the location to take some extra shots of the background details and close-ups that may become useful as references.

I am particularly interested in the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition (Chiaroscuro). I strive to make a pleasing, strong, attractive image with the use of dramatic lighting, vibrant colour to add drama and interest. I also use floral designs to add a decorative element.

After Dinner based upon a Photo Shoot in the style of Vettriano

Here I used the detail and light reflected on the champagne bucket. Lighting plays an important part to my photography (see below).

Here Photoshop was used to add filters and image adjustment tools to create the soft yellow lighting. I often use Photoshop to enhance and manipulate an image, designing my picture to include elements to add depth, interest and colour. I enjoy experimenting with filters and to cut and paste part of an image onto another giving me an idea of how the final composition will look (see below).

Once the main design has been decided upon, I transfer this to the canvas by outlining main shapes and characters by relying upon good drawing skills and knowledge of three-point perspective drawing. Once the outline has been established, I use a fine brush as a drawing tool to depict the main detail, shape and form. Once I am happy with the structure of the picture, I will then begin to add acrylic washes, partly to cover the canvas with a layer of paint, at the same time to concentrate upon the tonal values of the picture. This is a crucial stage in the pictures development for making changes to the design and composition before final details are added (see below).

Using the photos as references, I concentrate on one part of the picture at a time, adding final detail and making necessary changes until I am satisfied with the final composition. I strive to capture the essence of the original photo but also using my own creativity to develop the paintings progress. I will also rely upon past experience and a good eye for detail (see below).

Throughout the drawing process I am continually evaluating the composition and will make necessary changes.

“Sometimes if I am not satisfied with the results, I will be decisive by making necessary alterations”

I try to spend more time at the earlier stages before committing to final detail. Maybe this is something that has been drilled into me from art school, during hours of life drawing classes, when our art teacher made us concentrate upon structure and the anatomy rather than demonstrating our drawing skills by depicting facial features.

Sometimes it is necessary to make drastic changes, even when you have already committed yourself to detail, you have to be courageous and don’t be afraid to paint out an area that you are dissatisfied with. What might look natural in a photo may look indistinct or uninteresting in a painting. I am forever making changes, relying upon a good eye for detail and good drawing skills. Although you may visualize how you wish the final result to look, painting is a process that develops throughout the making of it. (Final image – After Dinner see below)

After Dinner 2014 (Self Portrait)

I choose to use photography as a tool for my paintings partly due to the simplicity and usefulness, but I wouldn't in any way discount the beauty of painting directly from life.

Although I work from photos, I will still incorporate my knowledge of three-point perspective, artistic knowhow and years of figure drawing. Even before photography, artists used the camera obscura. Many famous artists used photography as a source of reference for their work, Picasso, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Lautrec and Van Gogh, to name a few.

Stephen Pannell – Artist

Stephen is teaching digital photography, Photoshop and web design courses at Southdown’s College in Hampshire. He returned to painting in 2008 after being inspired by some of his photos he had taken throughout his travels throughout the Far East. Stephen gained BA Honours in Fine Art at Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1981, where he experimented with painting techniques, incorporating soft focus techniques using an airbrush. “My paintings were influenced by my love of film and included paintings of many film star portraits, such as Laurel and Hardy, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana” Stephen gained much commercial success throughout the eighties with three successful shows at Liberty’s, Regent Street London.

To find out more visit Stephen’s website

Telephone 02392 837184 or email

Stephen hopes to exhibit his work at the Kings Theatre Gallery, Southsea later this year and in between undergoing his latest series of paintings based upon a Vettriano style, he is undertaking several painting commissions.

You can also see more of Steve's work in the Painters-Online gallery by clicking here.

Other examples of Stephen’s work ...

The Golden Inception 2014, acrylic

Soraya 2015, acrylic







Brendan Behan in Acrylics with Michael Gavan Duffy

In recent times I have concentrated on portrait painting as the human face has always captivated my imagination. Every face tells its own unique story, and I try to capture the essence and character of each subject, be they famous or not. Some of my favourite pieces are of local individuals who just have 'great faces'.  However when it comes to commissions, it is generally a famous person from some field (sport, music, literature etc) that I get asked to paint.

For this project I have focussed on my most recent commission, that of Brendan Behan the legendary Irish playwright and raconteur.

I searched around for a suitable image of the subject, one that in my estimation would be instantly recognizable and also reveal the personality of the person.

I worked from a black and white photo of Brendan, supplied by the client, which I painted in full colour.

I started by doing pencil sketches to get a feel for the subject, then, when I felt I had 'nailed' the likeness and proportions, I sketched onto the canvas with a graphite pencil.

The next step was to cement the image onto the canvas with waterproof ink, I highlighted the important features and let this dry. 

I never like painting on white canvas so at this stage I applied an acrylic wash. I vary the colour of the wash depending on the subject, in this case I used orange because Behan was a fiery character and it sets the tone for the painting.

I use the 'squint method' for identifying the tonal structure of the face and proceed to map out the face in patches of colour. Most of the early applications are darker than the finished painting will convey, as I like the dark to light process of painting. With acrylic the drying times are quite fast so one does not have to worry about 'fat over lean' as you would with oils. This is just my preference because I like to slap it on thick.

After several layers of colour each one getting a shade lighter the face begins to come alive. I like to fill my palette with vibrant colours and I think that is reflected in the finished piece. I predominantly use flat brushes for my work creating broad strokes on the canvas.

Into the final phase of the work I applied as much colour as needed to give a sense of balance, speckling colours from garments through the face, or even letting the background colour seep into the facial features. It’s important to keep experimenting as I do not want all my portraits to look the same despite the fact that I have a certain style which most people can readily identify with.

The final touch was to add black strokes with a fine brush which for me acts like a binding agent, it seems to tie the whole image together for me. This happened purely by chance as I had once completed a piece that I was not at all happy with, so I just set about repairing mistakes with black strokes and I liked the end result. I have refined the strokes now to highlight the tonal areas of the face and for the foreseeable future will continue to do so.

When the painting was fully dry added a couple of coats of clear gloss varnish which really brings out the vibrant nature of the acrylics and for me enhances the finished piece.

Michael Gavan Duffy is based in Blackrock, Co Louth, Ireland and has been a professional artist since 2006. To date there have been five solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions.

To view more of recent work, check out

You can also see more of Michael's work in the Painters-Online gallery by clicking here







How to eat an elephant by Michael Hand

I was flattered to be asked to write an article for the PaintersOnline bonus feature newsletter. Flattered and slightly bemused, because, even though twenty something years have elapsed since leaving art collage, questioning what if anything I had learned, I still today feel like a complete novice! So, what could I possibly write that would help other artists? The very people I look to for guidance.

I pondered this question, incidentally it would seem that I’m rather a novice at pondering too! However, I did find an answer. I would simply write about the practicalities of making a painting from my own perspective, I always leave the capital ‘A’ art philosophy to others.

I feel that I should at this point add a disclaimer, I strongly suspect anything I tell you is not new or revolutionary or possibly even that useful – I will however leave that judgement to you!

So, I foolishly decided to make a painting that was, by my standards, ‘fairly complex’. For increased ‘interest/fear’, I would set myself a deadline and assess the method behind my approach which, on the surface tends to be one of ‘stumbling around blindly’!

The painting, in oils on a 28 x 36 inch canvas, was to be of ‘dolls’ from a photograph a local doll shop kindly allowed me to take.

The objective was to enter the ‘The Artist and Leisure Painter Open Art Competition in partnership with Patchings Art Centre’, with a deadline of the 27th March. Leaving me with just under two months to complete … and submit! Hence my first problem.

I work in the arts as a full time Artist in Resident so, I only have time to work on my own paintings during evenings and weekends. And, if you’re anything like me, the very words ‘evenings’ and ‘weekends’ conjure up the image of things other than ‘working’ on taxing and unenjoyable matters …. such as making paintings!

I know we’re constantly told that painting is an enjoyable and ‘stress relieving’ passtime, well if that’s so, I’m doing something very wrong! But, I committed myself to the task and, for added incentive, told my wife of my commitment, negating any ‘genuine’ excuses for not delivering.

My second problem was regarding working from photographs. I don’t want to enter the debate regarding the use of photographs, but my preferred method is to work from observational drawing/studies - using photographs for ‘reference back’ whilst in the studio.

After pondering these two problems (practice makes perfect!), I calculated that I had approximately two hours of worthwhile concentration left per evening and during weekends to work on the painting. So, using Photoshop I arranged the photo’s into the desired composition and gridded the photograph into sections that I could complete in two hours.

Each section was to correspond with a six inch square drawn in my sketchbook, all I needed to do was make at least one drawing per night to keep me moving toward my goal.

To make life much easier, I could have projected the image and traced it onto the canvas. However, on a past occasion when I tried that, the painting came out with all the distortions that a camera generally causes, plus those from the projector. Worse still, using the projector left me with the empty feeling that all I had done was ‘fill in‘ a big colouring book! Yes, in the right hands the projector can be a time saving tool but, in my opinion, only in the hands of someone who has achieved a high level of draughtsmanship.

May I add that as I scour the internet it’s very evident to me that ‘painting in’ these ‘projected distortions’ is becoming quite an epidemic! Fortunately, there is an antidote. It takes a long time to work but the benefits are guaranteed. It’s called ‘observational drawing’!
All that said, I did use a projector for reasons explained later ……...

So, I had my plan and, in the euphoria of finding a workable way to fulfil my commitment without sacrificing the drawing element, I was keen to start. And start I did - a week and a half later once I’d run excuses as to why I couldn’t begin!  

My much coveted evenings and weekends became an arena for a spontaneous outpouring of pure creativity, or put another way, I made a drawing every night, sometimes two.

It’s important to me to draw first for a number of reasons. Amongst some, any painting (representational) is only as good as the drawing. By drawing, even from a photograph, the image gets edited through the artist. I guess this is where the artists ‘style’ comes from.
The most important reason for me is the feeling I get when drawing, it’s the feeling that’s often described as ‘flow’. The state when time seems to fly by and you’re not conscious of your body or surroundings. I only ever experience this when drawing, it’s probably because when painting there are too many distractions - mixing paint, cleaning brushes, walking the dog etc. The only down side to this ‘flow state’ is that it makes me feel very uncomfortable and clumsy before its onset!

After I’d finished the drawings I photographed them and pieced them together in Photoshop. I’m embarrassed to admit on the back of my personal berating of the use of projectors, I used one to project my drawings on to my canvas. Had I not had my post euphoric week and a half of excuse finding, I would have had time to square up the drawings but, the result would be very similar.

The painting

Now I had my canvas drawn up and ready to go, but still under the time constraints of evenings and weekends, I proceeded to make an underpainting. For reasons unbeknown even to me, I chose pinks for this purpose. I normally use traditional earth colours or grisaille. My method of underpainting is the same as the colour layer, alla prima. It’s the perfect technique for one who’s only comprehension of deferred gratification is waiting for the kettle to boil.

On a technical note, I use artist grade oil paint and an alkyd titanium white, this is to ensure the painting is dry enough to ‘alla prima’ over the top the next day. This is not strictly ‘wet in wet’, it’s more ‘wet in wet over dried’ previously ‘wet in wet’, but ‘alla prima’ is easier to say!!

Once the underpainting was finished, or should I say almost finished, my deferred gratification had been stretched to its limit so, I decided to paint the bottom section ‘on the fly’.

I started applying the colour layer along with all the aggravations it causes, mainly colour mixing and keeping the damn brushes clean. The colour layer is applied in the same way as the underpainting, I look for a piece of colour, I mix it as near as I can and put it on the canvas and stand back. If it’s right I leave it, if it’s wrong I change it, if it’s really wrong I scrape it off and repeat.

As I worked on the painting, I realised that painting for me was just a series of making mistakes, fixing mistakes then making some more. So, it would seem that the real skill is recognising mistakes and not worrying about making them.
A toast, from here on in - 'may we all see lots of mistakes in our work.'

Eventually the painting was ‘finished’ (see below) not surprisingly at 5pm on the final day for submissions. Leaving just enough time to get into all sorts of problems filling in the online entry form, but that’s another story.

Doll Shop, oil (91x71cm)

I had 'eaten my elephant', metaphorically speaking. I’m a vegetarian and I don’t have an elephant, but I had made the deadline. Did I make a good painting? That’s not for me to decide. Will it get into the competition? I don’t know. Did I enjoy the process? No. Will I do it again, of course, I’m a painter.

Good health, Mick

See more of Mick's work in the Painters-Online gallery by clicking here.







Jiri Keller - Painting the little chapels of my home town

For the past 25 years I have spent most summers in the country of my birth, the Czech Republic, in Kutna Hora - a town with rich history and which is on the Unesco cultural heritage list.

Some 600 years ago Kutna Hora was an alternate seat of Czech kings. The town was wealthy due to the mining of silver, and boasted two cathedrals and a dozen other churches. Many a town house had either a niche with a statue of a saint or a painting of a religious subject above the front entrance. 

I am primarily a painter of people but have also painted a few vistas of my town.

Last summer, on the urging of friends, I started a series of paintings of the little chapels that you can find in some numbers throughout the town. Inside are Madonnas, crucifixes and saints. The chapels vary in size from that of a small house to just a niche in the wall. People put fresh flowers or a lit candle on the plinths.

I managed to paint most of them, en-plein-air using oils paints and would like to share them with you here, as an encouragement to try something different rather than sticking to what you know. Each painting took from an hour to an hour and a half to complete. I have found painting a series of images, with a common theme, a very rewarding experience.

Riegrovy Sady

Na Spici

U Jelena (or by The Stag)

U Novych Mlynu (or by The New Mills)

U Klastera (or by the Monastery or Convent)

You can see more of Jiri's portraits and landscape paintings in the Painters-Online gallery by clicking here.

Jiri has just had two portraits accepted for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition, to be held at Mall Galleries from April 16 -19, 2015. Click here for details.






Create the drama of a Winter mountain scene in pastel with Robert Dutton

Winters Glow above Windermere from the Kirkstone Pass, (Black and white en plein air study) (26 x 38cm)
Initial Nitram charcoal and mixed black and white media filed sketch for the studio pastel features created on Arches 300gsm (140lb) ‘rough’ watercolour paper

 I must admit, when it comes to buying art materials I’m a bit fussy. Since I make my living from my art as a professional I need to be and as I paint in pastels ‘a lot’ the quality of them is very important to allow unhindered artistic expression.

Realistically there are not really any ‘bad’ pastels on the market. It all depends on how you use them and your technique on different supports is key. Not all supports or pastels suit every artist so experimentation to find what you like best and suits your style is a worth the journey.

Personally I use Canson Mi-Tientes ‘Touch’ pastel paper now for the vast majority of my award winning pastels. The 14 shades are fantastic to work on as the colours have been carefully designed with all artists in mind. I even like the rich black sheet and the white – both are fab for drawing media such as Nitram charcoal mixed with other black and white media, to include paint and inks.

Canson Mi-Tientes touch is such a flexible and robust paper that you can use it too for mixed media work so paint and pastels work wonderfully on all the colours. As a 335gsm with a wonderful and unique sanded tooth with a ‘biscuity feel’ to it as you work allows for lots of layering and artistic expression without buckling. A real pick up and go pastel support you can just about take anywhere with you – especially since Canson create the paper in pad format as A3, 24 x 32cm. For studio work the two larger board format sizes 50 x 65cm and 50 x 70 are great for artists who wish to work a little bigger. The size is flexible as you can cut them down into any size you want within the size parameters, which I do a lot to give me maximum flexibility when working. Off cuts make great smaller sizes for quick sketches or other types of works as well.

When it comes to pastels the density of them varies. It’s important you get used to this since the hard and soft aspects of them very (usefully) from brand to brand. Hard pastel means that the pigment stays together more as you work unlike really soft pastels that quickly cover the surface with the lightest of touches. As a result, a lot of artists leave the soft pastel mark making to the final stages of their painting when needing its highlights and final tonal balance to complete. However, there are no rules and very often through the painting process I mix soft and hard pastels between layers to get very unusual and interesting effects.

Spraying with fixative to ‘push the pastel’ deeper into the support and to allow the tooth of the paper to be revealed again greatly assists the soft and hard pastel layering mix and stops colours looking muddy or overworked. Using fixative will slightly darken your colours when ‘going for the tooth’ again. However, I like that and deliberately use it to darken my colours to create rich deep darks since fixative can be applied in several layers, just like pastel!

Laying soft over hard (or fixed layers) to allow the under colours to show through is known as ‘scumbling’. It’s a very useful technique since all sorts of surface textures can be applied in this way. For example fading and crumbling masonry, stones, boulders and so much more besides!

Scumbling is useful for clouds and transient light and air effects as well. You can see the scumbling and layered techniques used in the following painting throughout the different stages for the Lakeland Mountain scene which we are going to look at now.

Stage 1 First impressions

Following a very quick underpainting drawing using a Rembrandt Magenta pastel, which kept the underpainting structure and tones warm in tone, I began to establish the main compositional shapes, tones and colour harmonies to establish the mood and ‘feel’ of the painting for this Lakeland mountain Winter scene. Then by using different mark making techniques with different brands of hard and soft pastels (Unison, Senellier, Rembrandt, Inscribe and Daler-Rowney hard pastels) by applying side stokes of varying pressure throughout I quickly established all the key compositional shapes and tones throughout on which to further develop the painting. Edges of the square pastels (Daler-Rowney hard pastels and inscribe pastels) are very useful as well to create linear mark making marks throughout when needed in the this all important initial stage of the painting.

Stage 2 – Building up the strength and depth of colour in the composition

Multiple layers of hard and soft pastels maintain the details and assist with colour mixing and the big volume shapes in the painting as I allow the composition to emerge from my initial on site charcoal and ink drawing (as featured) and quick photographic reference (which fills in any missing details i may call upon if needed). I very rarely use my fingers to rub and blend – I much prefer the pastels to do that for me since the marks that they create when worked in a layering process to me so are much more exciting than a blended smooth rendition. It was very important to allow the pastel support to show through all the layers of pastels and not fill in all the ‘tooth’ of the paper either.

Stage 3 – Final marks and details

Having established the ambience, glow and overall impression of the scene using Unison, Senellier, Inscribe and Rembrandt pastels in multiple layers, it was time to give the painting its final tonal balance with the darkest darks and lighter areas and final details. With the harder pastels at hand beautiful sharp lines were easily achieved using the tips of the pastel sticks and some of the square edges and sides of others. This was particularly useful in the foreground areas amongst the tussock grasses. Soft pastels were used to create and undulating rough upland field with its first dusting of winter snows, and in the foreground along the descending gap in the upland grasses. Side stokes using different blue violet Unison pastels were used to create the mist rolling in amongst the distant Lakeland fells top right. Canson Mi-Tientes Touch paper is a very robust and responsive pastel paper – I highly recommend you give it a try!

Winters glow above Windermere from the Kirkstone Pass, pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes ‘Touch’ 335gsm – 131 Twilight, (26 x 36cm)

Robert is a professional and award winning artist with many different types of media and as a popular tutor his art classes, workshops and residential art holidays fill very quickly with students keen to learn expressive style.

As a Canson Ambassador, Robert will be sponsored by Canson this year at the Patchings Art Festival, nr Calverton Nottingham on 6 June teaching expressive seascapes in both morning and afternoon workshops. Further details can be seen here.

For further information and to find out about Robert’s UK art holidays in Cumbria, Yorkshire and with Dalvaro Art in Spain in June this year visit or email Robert on

Canson papers can be bought from all leading art supplies. For further information visit