Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Art of Tempera Painting 2

In a previous blog (25th August) I talked a little about tempera painting. It is a technique which stretches back to the Ancient worlds of Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, Greece and Rome. One has only to think of Herculaneum or Pompeii, or the marvellous churches of the Byzantine era. Moving forward in time to Italy, we see it flourishing in the hands of artists such as Giotto, Massaccio and of course, Michelangelo. With the advent of oil painting in the 16th century tempera painting fairly rapidly was eclipsed. Not until the 20th century was it revived by artists such as Orozco and Rivera in Mexico and Ben Shan and Andrew Wyeth in the U.S.A.
Technically, it is a medium which is much more difficult to hande than oils. Originally, the painting was done directly on to wet plaster (true fresco) though frequently was retouched when dry (fresco secco). The craftsmanship and discipline required in the mixing of the pigments and preparation of the surfaces to be worked on is highly demanding.
A brief recipe will demonstrate that it is not a process which can be rushed.
Soak a yoghurt potful of rabbitskin glue in 2pints of water for 24 hours. Heat this in a double boiler and stir in 64 tablespoons of whiting. Let it absorb and leave overnight.
To prepare the panels ( e.g.M.D.F.) size with a weak gesso. (4-8 layers) Both sides of the panel have to be painted to avoid warping. With each successive coat change the direction of the brushstrokes. After this leave for a fortnight to season.
To smooth the boards, a cabinet scraper should be used. Dust charcoal on to show any raised portions which can then be polished with a linen cloth dipped in ionized water.
Pigments now have to be ground using distilled water and a muller (in a figure of eight motion.) When smooth, the colours should be placed in a small jar and covered with a layer of distilled water. When the time for painting comes, egg yolk is the binding medium. Use a fresh, free range egg. Separate the yolk from the white. This yolk is squeezed into a reservoir on the palette . An equal volume of pigment and egg are mixed together , adding distilled water as necessary.
In my brief foray into tempera painting , I choose a couple of portraits by Andrew Wyeth to copy. These are incomplete , but they will demonstrate some techniques and the effects that can be achieved.

It is a slow and methodical process building up successive layers with tiny strokes. It has to be done in this way as the pigment dries instantly so the smooth blending of an oil cannot be achieved. A close up should demonstrate the technique.

As I said these studies were unfinished and would have taken hours more work to achieve the finish require, despite the fact they are only about 5 inches high.
Tempera is most definitely a lovely medium for those with patience and a love of craftsmanship.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A pastel drawing of Kirkcudbright Harbour. I did this as a short demonstration in the pastel medium for the group who came on one of our Painting Holi

For the next two weeks I am taking part in an exhibition in Newmarket. It is by the Friends in East Anglia of the R.W.S.
Exhibits are not only in pure watercolour, but also include any water based medium such as gouache , acrylics, or pen ink and wash. The subjects are very diverse - from East Anglian seascapes and landscapes to further afield. Abstracts, animal portraits, flower paintings, and architectural interiors are also included. Below are a few examples of the paintings on show.

“Pretty Prawn” by Tessa Shedley Jordan

“Swimmer” by Gillian Marklew

The “Prospect of Whitby” by Les Williams

“Old Hulks, Pin Mill” by John Glover
The exhibition is in the Palace House Mews Gallery and runs until the 18th October 2009.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An artist’s journal from John Glover

Now it is time to concentrate on various portrait painting commissions. I have commisions to paint four children. A six year old in oils and three others , ranging in age from four to ten, in charcoal.

I also have a large double portrait in oils of the Sheriff of Huntingdon and her husband to complete.

Teaching continues also. I teach three classes a week at the Lothbury centre near Newmarket. Portrait painting, oils and acrylics, and of course my own paintings for pleasure. I also run day schools on portraits or life drawing and painting, at Grantchester and Barrow. These are held on a Saturday or Sunday and last from 10-4

Something else which is proving popular is one to one tuition whereby I ask any student to bring along samples of their work for review. We then work on a project together and I set ‘homework’ for the following session.

Bookings for me to demonstrate to art groups continue to come in for next year. The latest are for a landscape demo to the Comberton art group and a watercolour portrait demo to the Bury Art Society.

Next September, 3-10 th, I will be teaching during the Art Holiday for Inspiration Holidays in Menorca.

If you are interested in any of the above art holidays, art classes, painting workshops or art demonstrations please contact me on 01284 810 460 or e-mail me at

Friday, September 4, 2009

Painting at Pin Mill 4

In a previous blog (August 10th) I demonstrated my methods for painting a gouache landscape en plein air. The subject was Pin Mill on the Suffolk Coast. Unfortunately, as I explained, “good light” stopped play.
To recap:

The start of the painting.

Stage two. At this point the painting had to be abandoned due to rain and wind!

Fortunately, I have since returned for another few hours to work on the painting and then complete it in the studio.

The finished painting.

Detail of finished painting.

As will be seen, a great deal of work has been done on the barges etc and on the water where I was hoping to capture the play of light and the patterns of reflections. At times I used hogs hair brushes, at others, softer synthetic ones which allowed me to blend much more easily. At the end I was using tiny sable brushes, to do areas such as the rigging.

As I said in my previous blog, working en plein air can be both exhilarating and challenging. If you haven’t already tried it , have a go!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The art of tempera painting

I briefly mentioned tempera painting in a previous blog. The technique pre-dated oil painting and requires a slow and painstaking approach. I have done very few paintings in it but feel it is very worthy of further consideration and practice. Below is a portrait I did of my mother using this technique. The original painting measures only 5″ x 4″.

In a later blog, I will discuss both the history and techniques of tempera painting.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yesterday, I returned to Pin Mill in the hope of completing the painting I had started the previous day.
The block- in stage was complete. Now it was time to focus on more detail. Obviously, work was required on the barges and distant horizon. I also wanted to capture the reflections and play of light on the water.

But as Robert burns said ” The best- laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley”. Unfortunately, good light stopped play. Instead of the brooding sky of the previous day, I was confronted by bright blue sky and white fluffy clouds! There was absolutely no way I could continue with the painting above . Everything was different, from the light to the colour, shadows and reflections! Painting en plein air can be very frustrating!
And so I had to move to plan B. Fortunately, I had come prepared to start another painting. Beyond the barges and houseboats, there are some marvellous old rotting hulks which appeal greatly. I love the decaying moss- covered timbers , the flaking paint , the rusting metalwork. Not the picture postcard view of Pin Mill , but equally fascinating.

My medium was still gouache, but this time I chose to work on a rough surfaced watercolour board (N.O.T.) The subject just cried out for it with all that decay and texture. As before, I went straight in with a large brush, geting the basic outlines and main masses. The pigment is still fluid. Olive green, ultramarine, burnt sienna and white were the colours used at this stage.

I move rapidly on to painting the sky, indicating the distant trees on the other side of the river, and ,of course the river itself. ( I am aware the horizon dips steeply to the left, but this will be corrected later) I have already indicated the foreground mud but decide to leave it and see what happens when the tide starts to come in. I concentrate on drawing the boats ( a tricky piece of perspective) looking at scale and shape. I begin to start painting thickly in places to suggest the texture of the timbers or flaking rust. Gouache is an ideal medium for this . It dries instantly and retains its impasto. But it remains water soluble and can thus be painted back into or even sponged off if required. A very forgiving medium indeed.

By now, after about 2 hours painting, the tide is rapidly moving in to engulf both the hulks and the artist! Suddenly, the subject becomes alive with the image of thes old boats, abandoned and stranded atop the sandbank. I very quickly indicate the approaching water and reflections on it.
It is now time to pack up paints and easel and retreat to dry land.
As before , I am now left with another unfinished painting, but the excitement of that initial image is still there.
With both these paintings I will go back and do more work en plein air as well as finishing off in the studio. I will show the completed works in a later blog.
Working from photographs can not replace the excitement or energy required when painting on the spot. You are at the mercy of the elements and have to work at breackneck speed. You simply do not have time to fiddle around.
Be prepared for frustrations and always have a plan B, if not C at the ready.

Painting at Pin Mill 3

In my previous two blogs, I demonstrated en plein air landscape painting in gouache. Both were paintings of Pin Mill, a lovely spot on the Suffolk coast. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete either painting in one session due to weather and tide. I have since returned as well as doing more work in the studio. One of the paintings is now finished.
I have already shown the beginning and intermediate stages of the paintings, so I won’t dwell on lengthy explanations. ( For those see previous blogs)

The beginning of the painting

Intermediate stage of the gouache painting.

The finished painting.
As you will see, all areas have been worked on. The sky has been softened and blended. The distant shore has had more detail added. Small yachts have been introduced. The bulk of the work has been done on the hulks, scumbling to achieve the texture of the timbers or rust then working with a fine sable brush on top when more precision was required. Masts have been altered and rigging added. With large hog’s hair brushes, I painted the foreground fairly freely, and on occasions even employed a palette knife.
As I have said in previous blogs, gouache is a wonderful medium for working out of doors. It dries instantly, but remains water soluble. It is opaque and is therefore very forgiving. Any mistakes can be instantly obliterated. It has a lovely chalky quality about it , ideal for atmospheric effects. Its disadvantages? You can’t glaze with it and blending is difficult. A technique akin to tempera has to be adopted. But overall, its good points far outweigh such difficulties.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Painting a Colourful Portrait in oils 3

Today was my third portrait sitting with Judy. Prior to it I had spent a lot of time painting her costume as well as considering what to do with the background.

As can be seen if you compare this with my previous blog, I have begun to paint her headdress and necklace in much greater detail. Each particular section (e.g. orange) I painted in a slightly darker tone . With a fine sable, I then outlined the rows of beads . Then it was time to apply a mid tone , before flicking in little pinpoints of light. My original dark tone acts as the shadow area between the beads. All that remains, when this is dry, is to indicate individual shadows on the beads. The triangular metal piece on her head dress (which indicates she is a married woman) still requires some light, shade and reflection to be added. The white strings are simply blocked in at the moment and also need a bit more definition and shadow.

A close up detail of her necklace illustrating the technique described above.
I have also been working on other areas of the costume, and blocking in the large patterns. It is indeed time consuming but there is no way it can be rushed. With her cloak, I am beginning to suggest the folds and creases. These will have to be completed before I superimpose patterns of little black dots.
I have also added at this stage a very colourful bangle and belt.

During our sitting today, I focused on her face, looking at the cool bluish reflection on the left, trying to correct the modelling in her neck, chin and around her mouth. The hair had to be adjusted also.
The background I have also started. Initially, I thought of a bold bright colour like pale blue. But i have now decided to apply gold instead, with all its connotations. The photograph, however, does not convey the richness of it.

This is how the portrait now looks at the end of the third sitting.

Keep watching my blog to see how the painting develops and how it looks when completed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Painting a Colourful Portrait in Oils – 2

Today, I had my second portrait sitting with Judy lasting around 2 hours. As previously stated I focused on painting her head and hands.

Portrait of a Kenyan Lady

Initially, I concentrated on the eyes. I looked at the shape of the lids, both upper and lower. For the cool highlights on the upper lids I introduced some Kings light blue into my basic fleshtone. The lower lids in the corners were a mixture of raw sienna and alizarin crimson. I again used the light blue as these turned into the light. I darkened the intensity of the pupil and iris with a combination of burnt umber and ultramarine.
I modified the shape of the mouth, widening it slightly. On both upper and lower lips I used a mixture of light blue and rose dore for the highlights. For the shadow cast by the upper lip burnt umber and magenta were emloyed with below this a touch of cadmium red light.
I then tried to soften the various fleshtones in the face. The basic colour was raw sienna +yellow ochre + white. At other times I added a little touch of cadmium red or light blue depending on whether it was warmer or cooler. For the shadow areas, I used ultramarine or magenta mixed into the sienna.
By now, time was running out. Quickly the hands were blocked in using the same mixtures as above, but a lot more cad. red to capture the reflection from the dress.

Detail of Hands

As I said in my previous blog, it was my intention to do more work on the costume prior to today’s sitting. This has been very slow as there is simply no fast way of achieving the effect I want. As you will see I have started blocking in the various patterns. The collar in particular requires a huge amount more work to show how it comprises of hundreds of beads catching the light and is not simply a flat shape. This will be the task for the coming week.

Portrait of a Kenyan Lady ( stage 2)

My next “live” session is on Thursday 23rd when I will be trying to bring head and hands to near completion. I am also considering my options for the background. But more of this in my next blog!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Watercolour portraits

To attempt portraits in watercolour is not for the faint hearted! Watercolour is a notoriously difficult medium to work in, and is, in comparison to other media, fairly unforgiving. Whatever technique one is using, whether it be wet into wet or a more considered approach, careful planning is required if your painting is to be a success

The above sketch was done in about one hour using a wet into wet technique. No preliminary drawing was done. Although initially it looked chaotic to the group I was demonstrating to, I was, even at the earliest stage, planning and allowing for my highlights to be preserved. If things go wrong there is still the possibility of lifting out with a sponge or tissue.

The same approach was used in this sketch. Having established the position of the features I started to build up the depth of tone. At various points I dried the painting and went in with a dry brush technique, as in the eyes.

The above was a preliminary sketch I did for a more finished portrait. Again this was completed in less than an hour.

“Mary.” A portrait in watercolours.
This more finished portrait took considerably longer, requiring as it did layer upon layer of transparent glazes to achieve the detail I wanted.
I find watercolour the most amazing medium and one which offers a luminosity and delicacy unrivalled by others.
In a later blog I will demonstrate a watercolour portrait from start to finish and will describe the materials, techniques and colour mixes I use.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sketching in gouache

Gouache is a marvellous medium for doing quick sketches. I often use it when working on portrait commissions and wish to present a series of ideas . In a previous blog, I showed a portrait of Tony Langford, Managing Director of John Smedley Ltd. (2003-9)
This was only arrived at after various other alternatives had been considered.

Whilst it was great fun to paint , this was not really a portrait suitable for the Company Boardroom.
Tony is also a passionate sailor, so I was taken on board his motor launch and given a trip along the Orwell. Fortunately, it was a calm day as I am no seafarer! This voyage resulted in the following sketch.

One of the previous Chairmen, however, also had a nautical theme as background, so this alternative was rejected.
Finally, we decided on a Cambridge setting as Tony grew up there,went to University there and now lives there. Hence the idea of having his old College, Clare, as the backdrop. A couple of alternatives were considered


This second version was chosen as the design for the finished portrait. Whilst indicating the Cambridge connection the pose was also intentionally relaxed and casual. As such it was a good foil to previous portraits now hanging in the John Smedley Boardroom.

The finished portrait.

“Tony Langford, Chairman, John Smedley Ltd. ( 2003-9)
oils 38″x 30″
The advantages of gouache as a sketching medium.
It is water based and dries instantly but remains soluble if you wish to work back into it. You can paint with a thick impasto or using a wash technique. It is opaque so you can paint light over dark . As such it is a very forgiving medium. It is much underrated and is well worth experimenting with if you’ve never tried it before.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sam Motherwell's Exhibition

In previous blogs I have spoken both of charcoal techniques and working “en plein air”.
In his new exhibition at the Barnabas Gallery in Cambridge, Sam Motherwell manages to combine the two. There are over 30 charcoal drawings done on the spot in Iceland, Scotland, Finland, India, Nambia, Spain , Egypt and Greece

Dr. Sam Motherwell

Done quickly, Sam’s drawings retain a freshness and spontaneity that can so easily be lost when using charcoal as a medium. He has a very individual style which reminds me of the work of Paul Hogarth. Like Sam, Hogarth worked almost exclusively in black and white, illustrating books by Brendan Behan and also those on his own travels around the world. Both artists balance line and mass, shift perspective and create almost abstract patterns out of everyday scenes and people.

Sam and Pat Motherwell chat to Colin Hayes at the Private View.

Other guests.
As well as showing Sam’s drawings, this exhibition offers the rare opportunity to view a working studio and print workshop, and to discuss other processes such as lithography, etching and linocut.

Sam’s studio within the St. Barnabas Press.
Sam Motherwell’s Exhibition runs from 25th April- 16th May at the Barnabas Gallery, Coldhans Road, Cambridge CB1 3EW. Mon-Frid. 10-6, Sat. 10-4
Also worth checking out is Sam’s recent publication – “Mill Road stories without words”. It is a book of 114 evocative linocuts of Mill Road, one of Cambridge’s most colourful streets.
Finally, Sam in flamboyant mode. Behind him, a portrait I painted last year as his term of office as the President of the Cambridge Drawing Society drew to a close.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cambridge Drawing Society Exhibition

This last week, I have been wearing one of my other hats, namely that of Treasurer of the Cambridge Drawing Society.
Throughout the country, the Exhibition season is underway with artists rushing to finish and deliver paintings, and organizers trying to cope with all that involves.
Tuesday was the handing in day for the Cambridge Drawing Society. Wearing my “official” badge, and sitting behind the desk, I was able to observe the scene from a very different perspective. Amidst the sea of wrapping paper and bubble wrap, there were those who nervously handed over their works and fled as quickly as possible. There were those who saw it as a social occasion and wanted to chat with friends and officials, blissfully unawares of the queues building up behind. There were those who had followed all the instructions, filled in correctly the forms and labels, and there were those who had done none of it. There was the sound of snipping scissors and shouts for string and pens all adding to the general atmosphere and tension of “Sending in Day.”
Wednesday was the Selection Day, crunch time for all. It is the second year I have in my official capacity been witness to the procedure where all the paintings are brought before the Selection Committee for their decision. It is wholly democratic, with one man one vote, and everyone, whether they be President, Treasurer or Candidate must abide by the judgement, no matter how wrong or unjust we think it might be . Not for the faint hearted the inevitable rejection artists have to endure!

The Selection Committee at work.
Following over 3 hours of judging , the selected works are laid out ready for hanging. It is a time to see everything that has been accepted and to begin to get the feel of how the exhibition will look.

Time also for a brief lunch break!

In the afternoon, screens are erected and the process of hanging begins. This is an art in itself, balancing subject matter , colours and trying to ensure that every painting is seen to its best advantage, an almost impossible task with over 300 works on display. And there are , of course, good spots and bad spots within any exhibition area, so somebody is bound to be upset by where their work is hung!
The Private View looms. Activity becomes even more frantic as labels and catalogues are organized and food and wine “magically” appear.
The Private View took place yesterday evening and was very well attended.

Tania Verdejo, Andy Mc Kenzie and Karen Stamper.

Gavin Clark

Rachel Haynes and her pastel paintings.

Lynne Woodhams, a newly elected member.

Mrs. Gavin Clark.
Founded in 1882, the Cambridge Drawing Society is one of the oldest art societies in the country. Former members have included Cecil Beaton, Ronald Searle and Gwen Raverat. Despite its name, the Society encompasses all forms of artwork, from oils to acrylics, watercolour,gouache, pastel, linocut, etching , wood engraving and sculpture.
In this exhibition, I am showing two works.
The first is an oil portrait of Tony Langford, Managing Director of John Smedley Ltd. ( 2003-2009.)

The second, is a charcoal sketch of “Granny Mc Leod” a 94 year old Scottish lady of great character.

The Cambridge Drawing Society Annual Exhibition at the Guildhall runs from 25th April -2nd May and is open daily 10- 5.30