Saturday, 11 April 2015

Velatura ..... another arty term

You've heard of glazing, and scumbling.  Velatura is another art term.  It means applying a semi-opaque layer of paint, usually but not exclusively oil paint, over another, and it's not a term I explained in my e-book Oil Paint Basics (still available from the Amazon Kindle store.   When I produce a revised edition, I'll add it.)

Velatura is the application of a layer of paint that part obscures the paint over which it's applied: it doesn't completely obscure it, and is most often employed in portraiture.  It can be very effective, and will often be facilitated with Zinc White, although it can be applied just as well with thinned Titanium White.

It isn't actually necessary that you know these terms: many of us have long since applied the techniques without knowing what words might describe them: and anyway, what makes the term 'en plein air' any better than 'out of doors' painting?  But it may help to know what it means when reading art books without having recourse to the dictionary.   If you've ever painted a portrait, you've probably applied the technique without knowing the words to describe it: now and then, though, the words can alert you to a technique you wouldn't otherwise have thought of trying.

Pedantry can be good ..................

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Bewared of the Bull....

But find him first.  Actually, he's not that hard to spot.   Got fed up with the leafless trees of this time of year, so dug a summer sketch out of my archive and painted it in oil.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Mud, mud, glorious mud

In truth, I'm not too good at walking in mud so I didn't make a lot of progress up this lane.  But it was fun to paint it - I used black paint over much of the painting to start with, which I very rarely do; had a bit of a fight with that, and perhaps over-compensated with Winsor Violet to counteract it.  I took two photographs, which might vary a little on-screen - so I'll post 'em both....

Claggy Lane, Oil on canvas board, 30 by 40cm

Interesting what difference a different light and resolution makes...

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

New Online Art magazine

See my article in the new online art magazine established by the artist Pratim Das.

Monday, 23 February 2015

New Acrylic - Cliff Path to Blackgang

I had a bit of trouble with this one, but was fairly happy with the way it came round in the end - my sketch was inadequate; I hadn't given myself enough information to work from, and the forms were all wrong.... however, those mistakes are buried now, I hope; and they did at least form a good basis for the subsequent layers.

This can be the snag if you can't, for whatever reason, work on the spot - can't in my case because I'm too knackered, to be entirely honest about it.  Make a sketch, but also take enough photos to fill in the gaps your sketch might leave.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Glazing and Scumbling

Two terms that sometimes cause confusion - and techniques that can save a painting from being dull.

Glazing - a term more usually applied to oil and acrylic painting, but sometimes to watercolour, in which case it would more normally be called a wash, is the application of a transparent colour over a (usually) lighter one.   So, you might turn a bright yellow into an optical orange, just by glazing a transparent red over it.  This will give you - in general - a rather livelier, more luminous orange than if you'd mixed red and yellow together.

In fact, most colours are more or less transparent, depending on the amount of water or medium you mix with them: so you can glaze even with an opaque colour like Cadmium Red - but you'll need to keep the paint to the minimum intensity necessary, and thin it down with medium.  (Most manufacturers supply glazing mediums, in both oil and acrylic - Liquin is a popular one for use with oil paint, and Daler Rowney produce a good glazing medium for acrylic.   Applying a lighter watercolour wash over a darker one will NOT work in the same way, or probably at all.)

Glazing also works if you add a transparent coat over a dark one - say, Raw Sienna over deep green, or mixes of red and green to give a "painter's black" (ie, a very dark tone, but one in which the use of actual black pigment has been avoided).  This will enrich the paint surface, make it more interesting and subtle, and counteract the sometimes dead look that very dark paint can give.

Scumbling is different - it generally means the application of dry-brush (ie, there's very little moisture, whether oil or water, in the paint) over a flat, darker colour - in this case, the added colour is usually scrubbed on over the darker paint beneath.   Again, the bottom layer doesn't have to be darker at all - the point is that you can see it through the added brushwork, and this adds depth.

Traditional oil painting techniques would have been all but impossible without glazing - it was a long process, especially since there could have been as many as 20 layers of glaze: and the paint over which they were applied had to be dry - otherwise, the paint would just mix.  Acrylic paint makes this process much easier - in fact, acrylics are ideally suited to a glazing technique.  Scumbled paint also needs to be applied on a dry layer, but adding multiple scumbles is rarely very satisfactory - at least over a fairly small area.

Trying one or both techniques in a painting can liven up and enrich an otherwise boring,   featureless stretch, if dynamic brushwork alone won't do it.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Painting demonstration on Painters Online Bonus Features

May be of interest - a step by step demonstration, from photograph to drawing to painting in several stages of one of my acrylics, painted with Chromacolour colours.

Friday, 6 February 2015

New paintings

Posted elsewhere, but maximum exposure doesn't seem to do One Direction any harm, so why shouldn't I indulge.....

The top one is another version of my last Up the Hill acrylic, but this time done in a different format, and painted in watercolour.  The second is a composite picture - based on a lane in the village where I was born, and also on the old road linking Niton to Blackgang on the Isle of Wight.  Well, it used to, before the cliff fell on it, anyway.  

While I'm at it - I took a photograph of my Dream House painting that didn't come out at all as planned: I was going to bin it, but actually it looks rather interesting, I think: I'm not sure you'd know it was a photograph of a painting at all: so have a look at the image below and see what you think...

If I'd been TRYING to capture this effect, I would most certainly have failed - I don't quite know how it happened - using a Vivitar digital camera with low battery power might be the reason.  And it looks as though it needed the flash, which wasn't turned on.   Bet I couldn't do this again, anyway.  

Monday, 2 February 2015

Over the Hill and Far Away

A new acrylic - I have another one on the easel at the moment, and when I've finished that (delayed by not feeling all that well just at the mo') I shall try something different - change of medium, at least.

This one is 12" by 16".

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Acrylic paint Update

Much research has been undertaken since my last post, not least by me....

A quite lengthy discussion of the issue (acrylic paint lifting from the surface) has been going on at Painters-Online ( but it might help to summarize the main points here.

  1. Acrylic paint can lift from the surface if it's under-bound, i.e. if it's diluted too much.  
  2. There is a problem with some canvas-boards, canvases and other boards sold as being fit for acrylic painting.  This became obvious when I took a close look at a number of boards I've just bought: something has been used - perhaps to inhibit mould growth, perhaps for other reasons - which has given the acrylic gesso a shiny surface which repels water, and will also repel acrylic paint.  
  3. Papers - watercolour paper, mountboard etc - are not affected by this and can be used safely with acrylics.
  4. If it doubt about a canvas board or canvas, wash it - warm water, plus a very small amount of washing up liquid, scrubbed into the surface (carefully!) with a nail-brush until all the shine is removed.  Applying a coat of matt medium (anybody's)  will also encourage the paint to stick.  And I've found that using Daler-Rowney's acrylic gesso on the surface, over the existing priming, also helps.
  5. If you buy canvas boards or canvas sold for acrylic use which have a shiny surface, bring it to the attention of your supplier: Manufacturers need to be discouraged from adding anything to acrylic gesso which actually repels paint - whatever made them start doing it, they need to stop!
  6. Take more than a cursory look at your boards - hold them up to the light: if you can see glittery bits in the weave of the canvas, it needs to be washed.  If you spray the surface with water, and notice the water is being resisted in places, again - it needs a wash.  

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


This is another version of my dream house - i.e. a building I've dreamt about now on several occasions; its architecture varies a bit from time to time: it's gained a pediment this time round - but its desolation is fairly consistent.

What lies within, that's what I don't know......

A word of warning while I'm at it.  I used a fine-grained acrylic paint for this, one I've used many times before and which gives me usually good results.  On this occasion, there was a problem - the painting is not quite the same now, although the differences are minor, as it appears here.   When I went to varnish it, some of the paint actually lifted, and smeared - most of the picture was fine, but the damage occurred on the lit part of the pediment, and parts of the tree.

I'm in discussion with the paint company about why this might have occurred with paint which had never given me this trouble before, but I don't believe it was a batch problem, as I've used this specific pot before, several times.

What I  THINK happened is this: I nearly always use only water as a medium with acrylic paint; this particular product can be diluted a great deal while still maintaining pigment strength, but there is a limit to how far you can dilute acrylic without the paint becoming under-bound (i.e. its "stickiness" is compromised).  This is likely to be all the more true if one's painting on a canvas-covered board, as I was, for several reasons: one, while the paint will dry reliably quickly on a stretched canvas, as it's exposed to the air front and back, and on paper (watercolour or acrylic paper) it can actually take longer on a heavy board - it will look dry, and feel dry, but it might not have proved throughout; especially if the weather is cold and damp.

It might have been safer if I'd waited at least a week before trying to varnish it - as it was, the quite soupy (thick, sticky) varnish and the bristle brush with which I applied it just pulled paint off the surface (and caused me to squeal somewhat.....).

Lessons from this:

  • Employ painting medium, eg gloss medium, in future rather than just water when painting thinly
  • Let the painting dry thoroughly in a warm room
  • Bear in mind that canvas glued to board will cause the paint to dry more slowly (or at least can)
  • Leave the painting for 7 days or so before varnishing
  • If using a fine-grained acrylic, particularly, bear all the above in mind even more so!
I'll post  any further suggestions I might receive from the company.  As for the painting - here it be.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


First, sorry that the last post was hard to read - I may delete it in a while, but it was something I needed to get off my chest, and I'm not too good at cut and paste.

Secondly, and speaking of getting things off my chest, while some people like to listen to Carols at Christmas and to read festive literature, I celebrated New Year's Eve by re-reading Bram Stoker's Dracula - an infuriating novel in many ways, but retaining a distinct power of chill.

Having read it, I got two images in my mind: one of Dracula's castle, and the second of the boy himself - not the usual image of him portrayed in nearly all the films: first Max Schreck in Nosferatu, then Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film, Christopher Lee - Lugosi's character, with added gore - Klaus Kinski (reverting to Max Schreck's performance), and of course numerous others, ending with Francis Ford Coppola's film, which was closer to the book than some of the others, but created a character in Dracula that came out of Gawd knows where.  (Well played though by Gary Oldman: we'll pass lightly over Keanu Reeve's English accent, achieved presumably with a mouth full of golf balls.)

The Dracula of Stoker's novel looks nothing like any of these personations - and it was Stoker's Dracula I drew: or rather, sketched; or even scribbled....  My favourite screen Dracula remains Bela Lugosi, but actually the character described so completely in the novel is a great deal more sinister than any portrayal so far shown.

These are not tremendously serious drawings, in short, but better out than in - so here they are.  Pen sketches in both cases.

 Home, Sweet Home............

Its Occupant.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Rose Report on the NHS - not an arty subject, but then, there are other things in life.


    Publish it now.
    The NHS - and I'm intimately familiar with only a relatively small corner of it, while having a longstanding wider involvement - is crippled by its management structures, imposed by the last two governments.
    The separation of commissioning and provision - introduced, apparently, to satisfy the EU's competition legislation - is a flagrant absurdity, leading to two levels of bureaucracy within every NHS region where one would be far more efficient. There is little or no cooperation between the training and provision element - so that we have severe shortages of qualified staff in whole areas of expertise (particularly haematology) and no means of directing medical students into the needed disciplines - we don't have enough nurses, so are forced to recruit from the Phillipines, and insist on degree-level training for basic carers. And we have a dog's breakfast of scrutiny systems - one at local authority level; another, allegedly independent, in Healthwatch; another, with the Care Quality Commission; yet another, with Monitor, whose function seems to be to enhance the march towards privatization.
    We have Foundation Trusts, with a membership system which is expensive to maintain and offers absolutely no measure of public involvement in running the NHS, although that's its ostensible purpose. Each of these Trusts is responsible for establishing its own governance arrangements and - subject to the scrutiny of these outside bodies - clinical standards. We have a proliferation of such Trusts, some responsible for specific hospitals, some for mental health within a region, some with no very obvious purpose at all, and a gap between all of them, demonstrated by a lack of common standards: except that occasionally they realize they don't have a policy on which they're likely to be examined, so speedily rush to establish one under the heading of 'sharing the learning'.
    You wouldn't run a sweet-shop, a springs factory, a Glee Club like this - you wouldn't scrutinize such a complex system as this - in this way.
    The NHS management structure is a shambles - one disaster built upon another largely as a result of cack-handed government reforms, the worst of which were kicked off by that utter, dangerous, incompetent fool Alan Milburn, and built on by a succession of lamentably stupid Secretaries of State and a dysfunctional and generally lick-spittle Department of Health ever since.
    Not only that, but they LIE about it! They pretend that the intention all along has been to strengthen the voice of the patient, the GP, those who work in the NHS - all of whom have been the passive victims of this incompetence because none of us were ever consulted!
    We're told that Andy Burnham is going to scrap the Health and Social Care Act. Good. But then what? Are we to revert to the Milburn/Reid shambles? Are we still to be lumbered with the Foundation Trust model, the separation of commissioning from provision, the ever-open invitation to the private sector to suck whatever meat remains on the bones? Is there going to be investment in the service and a serious, severe rationalization of management? I don't know, and I wish to God I could believe that Andy Burnham does, but nothing he has said, or been allowed to say, so far gives me even a hint of confidence that the Labour Party will take on this crisis of unwieldy, unmanageable management.
    The NHS still manages to be efficient, whatever its numerous critics claim; it still manages to keep its head above water in international comparisons. How it does this, I don't begin to understand, given the hobbles around its ankles placed there by this government and the last one. It can't be expected to meet the challenges of the future for so long as its entire management structure, from the Department of Health downwards and including its fantastically incompetent 'watchdogs' and regulators. remains in place. It doesn't work. The service functions despite the systems within which it's required to operate. It is crippled, in so many areas, by PFI debt, and dependent upon the fairweather 'support' of the private sector, whose interests have nothing in common with maintaining a national health service free at the point of provision.
    Publish the bloody report, and while there's still time to save the NHS, let's start a real conversation to determine how the blunders of the last 20 years can be reversed.

    Saturday, 20 December 2014

    Lord Fisher of Lambeth, Archbishop of Canterbury - flogger or not?

    Mentioning Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury when I were a lad, as I did below, reminds me of a conversation I had with Edward Upward about Repton School, where Fisher was Headmaster and Upward, and Christopher Isherwood, pupils.

    Fisher gained a reputation, largely through the memoirs of Roald Dahl, as a sadistic flogger of small boys.  Edward, however - no great friend of public (i.e. private) schools, nor yet of the clergy -  felt that Fisher had been "badly traduced"; he was not the Headmaster of Repton when the beating to which Dahl referred took place, nor any great wielder of the cane.

    Public schools could be foul places in those days - before the First World War and in the 50 years or so thereafter, but Fisher was far from being the worst sort of flogging Headmaster, who could lecture you about sin at the same time as thrashing your bare buttocks - a classic case of adding insult to injury.

    There was a Bishop - possibly an Archbishop - who HAD been a flogger, of a particularly repellent type; Edward told me his name, but I've forgotten which of them it was; I had best not repeat Dahl's libellous habits by speculating on the culprit, and they're all interred in the hungry grave now anyway, as are many of their victims.  It always impressed me though that Edward Upward, a Marxist and atheist, should have cared about the reputation of a man with whom he can have had little in common - injustice, however, was something he couldn't tolerate.

    Wednesday, 17 December 2014


    Well, the EU has proved that it can see sense after all.  The proposal to ban cadmium in artists' paint has been rejected, because the evidence in support of it is negligible.

    Good: I'm glad I neither stockpiled vast quantities of Cadmium Yellow, Lemon and Red, which I'd probably never have got round to using, nor now need to consider voting for UKIP.  Not that I ever would have done: I do have some standards.  Low ones, but not that low.

    In celebration, I shall post this year's two Christmas cards!  Happy Christmas to all, and congratulations to the EU for examining actual evidence.  Not everybody does.....

    Foxy, in confident anticipation of Christmas dinner.   Watercolour.

    Bishop O'Booze celebrates the true meaning of Chrishmash ... (Acrylic) - with apologies to those of a religious disposition, but clergy haven't dressed like this for many years now, so he's gone to his reward or punishment by now.  When I were a lad, senior clergymen did dress in frock coats, apron, gaiters, and some still wore the top hat with cords, or with a bit of crepe tied around it.  Times have changed: can anyone imagine the late Archbishop Fisher helping at a foodbank?  Actually, yes, I can - but he'd still have worn his gaiters......