Whenever you approach busy, colourful scenes, the key is to look for the thing that draws you the most, then make everything else work around that. What drew your eye to it? To represent that well, try to lift one element above all others – it will become the anchor for the swirling energy of the scene.


Remember, the composition can always be altered to suit your needs. In Never Grey on Market Day, Buxton (see below), I kept the rectangular, orange stall off-centre, which keeps the eye weaving around and avoids the ‘bullseye’ effect of a central point of interest. The strong horizontal line of the stall roof is safely a third of the way down the painting, not cutting the scene in half. To break up the foreground and as a ‘way in’ to the scene, I added the dog.  Everything is loosely rendered with the exception of the zone in and around the girl’s face, creating a sense of movement. As the main focal point, she anchors the eye as it moves round the painting. With a little imagination and creative cropping, you can create a flow from chaos!

Never Grey on Market Day, Buxton, acrylic on canvas, 15½ x 15½in (40 x 40cm)

Colour and detail

Market scenes can be full of colour and noise. To make the colour really sing, you will need some calm, grey areas. Try to identify areas of your image where you can quieten the colour such as the ground or distant buildings – flat areas that will serve as a supporting contrast
to your vibrant areas.

In the same way, detail will stand out when contrasted with loose, amorphous shapes. Too much detail risks losing the sense of atmosphere and place. Keep areas outside your focal point relatively soft and minimal.

Construction and brushwork

When I am working from a photograph, I turn it upside down for the initial stages. Doing this helps to decode the complex figures, buildings and all manner of detail – reducing them to simple blobs and shapes. 

Start with a large flat brush and a neutral colour, and sketch out the main elements in loose, thin paint. Then thicken up and add in the prominent shadows and colours. Paint the subjects (people, stalls, etc) loosely at first, then hone their shape with the surrounding colour of the ground, buildings and sky. This stops things looking pasted-on and adds to the impression of atmosphere.

Use the large brush until the canvas is covered – keep small brush details and highlights till last. If you get those shapes and tones in right, that little bit of finishing light and detail will be the icing on the cake.

DEMONSTRATION: L’Estartit Market


With the photo upside down, I sketched out the main shapes in the image in a neutral colour. I used a watery mix of red, yellow, sap green and white and the corner and side of the large flat brush to apply the paint.


I continued to work from the image upside-down and started on the darks and colours in a thicker paint. I kept shapes and colour in mind – not detail.


I cut in the ground and shaped the main elements with it. I used a mix of ultramarine, white and a touch of red for this area. The light brown buildings are a mix of yellow, red, sap green and white.


I blocked in the tree with the corner of the large flat brush – ultramarine/purple/sap green in the shadows, lemon yellow/sap green for the highlights. The small flat was used to refine figures and add some loose details and shadows to the buildings.


L’Estartit Market, acrylic on board, (20 x 25cm).

This stage is always about evaluating your individual painting and seeing what it needs in the important areas. In this case I used a rigger and a watery mix of white and lemon yellow to add highlights. By keeping this relatively loose no part of the painting became too static. I used the large flat brush to block in the white/lemon yellow sky and shape the distant buildings. I then used the edge of the brush to add a few blobs and lines to the building and the tree.

Jenny shows how to paint using undiluted acrylics in the first of a series of video demonstrations, exclusively available to our Studio members. Watch a taster below and discover Studio here for as little as £3.50 a month!