Final Painting – Adjustments

Here’s the painting as I left it yesterday:


As I mentioned, I noticed quite a few things wrong with it after I finished painting, and when I came back to it today I noticed even more, so before I get into adding too much detail, I wanted to make some adjustments and get things back on track before I finish off the painting.

Here’s the painting after my adjustments, for comparison:


The main thing I changed was the sky. It was much too dark before, and didn’t have that arm glow that I had in the colour study, so I really brightened it up with some ultramarine blue and white, and emphasised the warm yellowish glow.

This meant going over the far bridge tower, so I had to redraw that, and I fixed the drawing on the near tower too, and added a highlight on the left side of the tower where the sun is catching it.

After brightening and warming the sky, I then had to repeat that colour in the water in the distance to make sure the reflection looks right.

I started to add detail with the cables coming down from the bridge, but that was before I adjusted the sky, so they got a bit messed up. I kind of like them a bit broken like that though, I might leave them as they are.

Anyway, now I’m back on track, I can get on with finishing the rest of the painting. Stay tuned!

Final Painting – Blocking in

I decided to stop procrastinating and get on with doing a proper painting from my Golden Gate Bridge study.

Again, I started with a canvas I had toned after a failed painting attempt earlier in the week.

I wanted the drawing to be as accurate as possible, so rather than sketching it in with paint, I decided to use a pencil to sketch in the shapes, so I could be more precise:


Then I blocked in the entire painting, using my previous colour study as a guide. This made it much easier to mix the colours I needed and quickly check that I had the value relationships right from the start.


The final stage of the block-in is to go around the painting using a dry brush to soften certain edges. In general you don’t want any sharp edges in the far distance, and edges of shapes with a similar value can often be softened, especially in the darks.

You may not see much difference between this image and the previous one, but there are quite a few less sharp edges, giving the painting more of a feeling of depth.


I can already see certain areas that I’ll need to adjust in the next stage. The drawing isn’t quite right on the closer bridge tower, so I’ll need to work on that. Also the dark accents on the pieces of land jutting out into the water, shouldn’t be as dark as the shadow on the closest rock, so I’ll need to lighten those up a bit.

The rest of the painting will involve adding detail and colour variation, to unify the parts of the painting into a pleasing whole.

Getting back on the horse

So I was having a bad painting day the other day. Nothing was going right, the paint wasn’t behaving, and the canvas was against me!

Of course, none of that is true, and as always, when a painting isn’t going right, it’s usually the artist’s fault.

In my case, I hadn’t planned the paintings properly, and I was rushing, neglecting to switch brushes for dark areas after painting light areas or vice versa, and not cleaning my brush sufficiently between strokes. The result was a mess.

So today I started over, and did some planning.

I spent 20 minutes sketching several notan studies of various scenes which I thought I might like to paint:

IMG_5866 IMG_5867

Then I chose one where I liked the look of the design (top left in the second image above), and started on a small colour study.

The starting point was actually the remains of one of the previous studies that had gone wrong, after I scraped off all the paint and wiped down the canvas with a paper towel, leaving a nice lightly toned surface.

I then sketched in the main shapes, paying attention to the importance of an accurate drawing.


I then blocked in the colours of all the major shapes, working from dark to light as usual.


Finally I refined the shapes and added some detail and colour variation throughout.

Note how the colour of each land mass gets less saturated the further away it is, and I made sure to soften the edge of the furthest hill so it blends smoothly into the sky, adding to the illusion of distance.


Overall, not what I’d call an awe-inspiring study, but I feel like I’m back on track, and that’s the most important thing.

Every Painting Needs a Good Drawing

Drawing is one of four essential elements of a good representational painting (if you’re doing abstract work, the drawing is not quite so important).

(The other elements are value, edges and colour)

In his book Alla Prima – Everything I Know About Painting, Richard Schmid describes drawing, in the context of a painting, as “the size, shape, and arrangement of all the patches of colour that collectively constitute a painting.”

Essentially, it’s making sure every patch of paint is in the right place and is the right size.

I often start a painting by sketching in the shapes of the main elements, as you can see in these examples:

IMG_2756 IMG_4466

It’s not essential to get this kind of sketch 100% accurate, as you can adjust things as you paint, but it certainly helps to get as close as possible to begin with, and if you’re too far off it will be impossible to achieve a realistic looking painting.

If you struggle with drawing, I can strongly recommend the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. It teaches you to learn how to see like an artist, which is a first essential step to learning to draw. It’s also full of practical exercises to hone your skills.

One thing I’ve always found useful for keeping my drawing skills sharp is going to life drawing sessions. Accurately depicting the human form can be tricky, and it’s great practice for drawing, even if you only ever paint landscapes. I’d encourage you to try going to a life drawing class if you’ve never been.

Here’s a few of my favourite sketches from previous life drawing sessions:

reclining-figure-sketch figure-reclining foreshortened-legs-study torso-red-chalk

The pain of starting over

I just spent about an hour blocking in a painting, only to find it wasn’t going well and not looking how it should, so in the end I felt my only option was to abandon the painting completely. I ended up wiping the paint off with a paper towel and going back to square one.

This happens occasionally. It’s usually due to bad planning, rushing the painting, or just not being in the right mood, maybe feeling distracted or under pressure. Rather than spending hours wrestling with the painting to try and salvage it, it’s sometimes wiser to give it up as a bad job and move on.

Yeah it’s frustrating, it feels like wasted time, and makes you wonder if you’re just not good enough (or ever will be). It can be very disheartening to spend time on something and not produce an end result.

What’s important is to be proactive. The only way to improve is to keep trying. I know I can produce a decent painting if I put my mind to it, and the fact that this rarely happens tells me that it’s nothing to do with how good I am, I was just having a bad day.

I’m not sure if I’ll attempt the same painting again, I think it may have been slightly too ambitious. But I need to get back on the horse as soon as possible and do something I can be happy with.

I’d love to know if you ever have days like this, and what strategies you use to get back on track. Let me know in the comments.

Onward and upward!

Painting a house – Step by step

I can finally post this painting I did earlier this year, as I just gave it to some friends of mine as a housewarming gift. The house in the painting is a family holiday home in South Wales that has been in the family for generations and is full of happy memories. I’ve stayed there a few times myself and last time I was there I was inspired to take some photos to use as reference for a painting.

Here are some photos of the stages involved in painting this, one of the largest paintings I’ve ever finished (around 100x80cm).

First I sketched in the rough position of the house and the trees, and blocked in a bit of background colour, including some of the darkest areas. Extremely loose at this stage, with no detail. Everything here will be painted over in the later stages.


Next I blocked in the roof and lightly indicated the position of the details on the house, plus a bit more background colour.


I actually got ahead of myself a bit here, and started doing some detail on the house instead of finishing blocking in the main colours of the painting.


Now I finished blocking in the grass and the rest of the background.


Then I realised that the background trees surrounding the house were actually too dark, so I lightened them up and softened the edges to make them recede into the background and let the house stand out.


Now I start detailing the rest of the painting, starting with the tree on the right. Still trying to keep the brushstrokes nice and loose, and suggesting detail, rather than painstakingly drawing in every last branch.


Next, the tree on the left, and the bushes on the right side of the scene. Plus some more detail of the light patches on the trunk of the right hand tree.


In the final stages I finished adding detail where necessary, for example adding some interest to the foreground grass, and removing detail where I felt it wasn’t needed, by softening edges.


I can definitely see areas now where this painting could be improved. I don’t think the background reads as well as it could, and I’d probably grey down the grass a bit if I did it again, and perhaps zoom out a bit to make the house slightly smaller. But overall, I was quite pleased with how this turned out.

Oil Painting Mediums Demystified

I’ve written before about how the dizzying array of oil painting equipment available can be enough to put people off, and painting medium is one area that I feel this applies in particular.

What is a painting medium?

Simply put, a painting medium is a substance that you mix with your paint to change it’s consistency and/or appearance.

Oil paints straight out of the tube can be pretty thick, which is nice, but sometimes you need to thin those down with medium so your paint will flow better.

The number of different oils, mediums and solvents available is mind-boggling, and as such, this isn’t going to be an in-depth analysis of oil painting mediums. On the contrary, I will just describe a few mediums I like, to try and make it really simple for you, so you can pick one and get started!

Liquin Original

Liquin Original

This has mostly been my go-to medium since I started painting with oils. It’s fairly cheap, comes in a single bottle and doesn’t give off any nasty fumes, or smell strongly at all.

Mix a small amount with your paint for increased flow and faster drying time.

Ralph Mayer medium

Mayer medium

This is one I’ve experimented with recently, after hearing quite a lot of artists recommend it. The main disadvantage is you have to mix it yourself, and the ingredients can be expensive:

  • 5 parts rectified turpentine
  • 1 part stand oil
  • 1 part damar varnish

Mix them all together in a jar and shake it up. Another disadvantage is that it uses toxic solvents, which smell very strongly, so you don’t want to breathe too much of this stuff in. Make sure you have a window open when you’re using it, and keep the lid on as much as you can.

Walnut Oil

Walnut Oil

Walnut oil is my newest painting medium of choice. It does pretty much the same job as the two described above, but the big advantage is it’s non-toxic and almost odourless, so you don’t need to worry about the harm it may be doing to you!

Some artists also swear by it for cleaning brushes. I haven’t actually tried that, but if you don’t like using mineral spirit, and want to go completely solvent-free, walnut oil just might be the medium for you.

I was going to post a picture of some paint strokes using each of these mediums, but to be honest, a photo wouldn’t be much use to you, as they all have pretty much the same effect of thinning the paint and increasing the flow.

There will be some minor variations in the final effect of each one, and you can feel free to experiment with them, and any other mediums you’re interested in, but if you’re just confused and want a medium to get started with, then any of the three above should get you headed in the right direction.

Let me know what your favourite medium is in the comments.