It must be 20 years or more since I visited this popular coastal landmark, spending the best part of a morning sketching and painting in my A2 and A3 sketchbooks. Moving position to capture the many faces that these rocks offer and the ever-changing light casting interesting warm shadows.

I was fortunate that it was a crystal clear day and the light was simply stunning. Light and shadow are the very ingredients that inspire me to paint, and are essential in achieving the illusion of a three-dimensional image, when we know that it’s actually a flat plane that we’re painting on.

The other major ingredient in achieving an illusion of depth are tonal values, and I’ve discussed these in some depth in a previous demonstration, as well as in The Artist magazine. 

A selection of materials used

Top Tip

Remember, if a painting looks a bit flat and uninteresting, check your tonal values.

New to oil painting? Discover the basics here.

Painting in layers

Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, oil on board 40 x 50cm

Old Harry Rocks is a studio painting worked up from those earlier sketch book watercolour paintings, marker pen scribbles and colour notes, and as I invariably do when working in my studio, I opted to paint this prominent landmark using a series of layers. Each layer doesn’t necessarily have to be completely dry, in fact I find it quite useful at times to work into the wet paint layer underneath - but each layer can be left to dry if that’s your preference.

Painting in layers could be considered a more measured approach, as opposed to the direct method of painting, which is generally completed in one sitting, and is how I’m more inclined to paint in oils when working plein air.

I’ve limited the following demonstration to four simple stages, which I hope will help some of our relative beginners and those of you who need a bit of extra help with your oil painting. My text has been kept fairly brief, so digest these four stages in my demonstration and remember to add your own expression and input rather than slavishly copying what you see. 

Remember that it’s often better to mix your colours rather than using them straight from the tube - although this doesn’t necessarily always have to be the case. I’ve used a selection of blues in my painting, but I’ve used them sparingly and often mixed to achieve the exact hue that I’m after.

Demonstration: Old Harry Rocks