Boats and harbours

I find that a lot of people struggle with boats but by getting people to sketch rather than try a full-blown painting I have had some really good results. Because ‘it’s only a sketch’ people loosen up and forget their boat block, and often produce some loose and lively work. Boats and harbours offer a wealth of painting opportunities.

TAGE ONE I drew in the main features, buildings, boats and banks, and just a hint of where the reflections would be, with my F and S Pitt pens

 

STAGE SIX I removed the masking fluid and added ultramarine to my stone mixes to describe all the shadow areas in the buildings and the weir walls. I also extended some sunlit wall reflections into the water next to the left-hand boat, keeping it lighter in tone than the shadow reflections

The scene is constantly shifting – boats languidly rolling on their moorings are left high and dry when the tide goes out. I do love getting down into the harbour floor to look up at the jaunty angles of the boats and it’s easy to become engrossed and overlook the fact that the water is on it’s way in – I have got my feet wet a few times.

Depending on weather and the time of year, harbours can be rather chilly venues so I always pack a waterproof jacket and best double stroller for my kids, which also keeps out the wind. I also tend to weigh down my lightweight easel when painting in case sudden gusts of wind take my kit on flying lessons. There have been times when I have had to go on a fishing expedition to retrieve a piece of kit that has been blown over the edge into the water. It’s all part of the enjoyment of painting en plein air!

The importance of the sketchbook

STAGE SEVEN I pulled all the reflections together with a glaze of rose madder and cobalt blue plus some dilute orange under the foreground boat to give unity to the water area. I also added some shadow areas next to the left-hand boat and the lock wall

I tend to sketch in pen and watercolour wash, going straight in with the pen work and then overlaying a series of watercolour washes. I find this stops me from fiddling and also forces me to concentrate on the scene so that each mark is as accurate as possible. There’s no rubbing out an ink line once it’s down so careful observation is paramount. That’s not to say that I don’t get it wrong sometimes but so what – I put in the correct mark and then colour over the wrong one, it’s only a sketch after all.

Porlock Weir

I have been to Porlock Weir a few times and am always excited by the wealth of painting material. On this occasion I had taken a group for a day’s sketching; the tide was out but the lock gates and the harbour walls presented a great subject, which I managed to capture in my sketchbook. Just before we left the tide came right in and the whole scene changed, so I took a series of photos around the area with all the moored-up boats riding high in the water. I decided to get to grips with a studio piece demonstration of this lovely sunlit scene.

Shake-up your style with collage

During the course of a long career teaching painting and drawing I have spent a lot of time persuading students that the subject of still life can be as exciting as any other, with considerable advantages over many of them. It doesn’t move, the light source is usually constant, it can be as colourful as desired – or not, and it is personal to you and can have a story to tell.

STAGE ONE Pieces of patterned papers that had been both cut and torn to give a variety of shapes were stuck onto mountboard, arranged to follow the subject in an approximate way; this is not the time to get down to detail. Some of the papers have glitter in them, which will give an interesting surface if retained. Other areas that would be painted conventionally, such as the jug, have old watercolour paintings on them. White tissue paper gives areas without objects textural interest. This part of the painting is always fun and stress-free, almost like being a child again

In addition, it will teach you all you need to know about drawing shapes, perspective, texture and composition– what’s not to like?

STAGE TWO Using a pigment marker I drew the subject over the collage, some of which I aimed to retain in the final painting. This is a personal choice as I like the strength that it gives, but most will be covered by paint so it doesn’t matter if I get things wrong! I added an extra plum by the vase to take the eye to that part of the piece

 

STAGE THREE I started to paint by running thin washes of acrylic paint over the piece, trying to keep some semblance of local colour in the areas where I needed it, such as the flowers and the tinted drinking glass. Trying to keep paint this liquid under control is never easy so I let it have its own way, hoping for some nice surprises. I enjoy the feeling of being led by the paint, letting the paint talk to me, before I talk to the paint and tell it what to do

  Banish the block

STAGE FOUR I painted mostly in the negative spaces around the objects, using the appropriate colours tinted with titanium white or parchment, keeping the collage in areas such as the glass and the flowers but totally obliterating it where it was not needed. I also picked up the chequered pattern from the collage and placed similar shapes elsewhere, to give balance and interest where needed. The ruggedness of this surface made painting extremely interesting and my tendency to be a bit precious and tight was put firmly to one side. Whole areas of colour and texture required little intervention from me, such as the musical score in the window frame – I like the idea of the observer looking closely and trying to work out what the tune is

About 25 years ago I had a period of painter’s block. I was painting mostly in watercolour and selling well, but wanted to break out of the ‘safe’ and predictable rut I was in. An artist friend advised I change media and try working on textured surfaces, including collage. Although I had misgivings I gave it a go, with startling results.

From that time I was hooked and although I paint in many forms of mixed media, whenever I need a bit of a shake-up I turn to collage and allow it to (partially) tell me what to do. As it had worked so well for me, I wondered whether it would work for my more advanced students. Well, it did but with mixed results. However, the real result was that it persuaded them that still life is not boring and has endless possibilities.

Ways with collage

There are many different ways of working with collage. I have artist friends who will paint the whole piece with cut paper before applying paint, others who will use paint until the piece is almost finished before applying any collage. Some artists will incorporate text into a painting to give both a message and texture, and some, like me, will use decorative papers to spring surprises of colour, pattern and texture.

FINISHED PAINTING Tulips and Plums, acrylic and collage on board, 22?19½in (56.5?49.5cm). I used water-soluble wax pastels for some finishing touches such as the highlights on all the glass articles, the china bowl and along the top edges of the flowers where they catch the light. These pastels allow me to draw on solid colour with a degree of accuracy that is sometimes missing from my brushstrokes. I left all the pastel marks dry initially but later decided to wet and soften some of them, such as on the tulip leaves and the plum by the vase, to blend them into the composition more. Overall, I was happy with it but as with all my other work, I put it away so that I could look at it with fresh eyes after a period of time

Many discover their own preferred way through a process of trial and error, as I did. So what materials are used? Over the years, I have built up a large collection of papers, from very beautiful handmade papers , available at good art shops and stationers, to serviettes with music, flowers, smiley faces and all manner of shapes. Coloured paper, wrapping paper and tissue have all been squirrelled away to await the moment when they are just what I’m looking for. Many old watercolour paintings have had a second lease of life. The surface that I stick onto is usually mountboard that has had a thin skimming of gesso primer first. I have also used cheap watercolour paper very successfully. Both these surfaces need to be framed under glass, which enables me to use pastels and crayons on them.

I have worked on canvas board and canvas, but because these are framed unglazed I usually confine myself to working only in paint. The glue is usually PVA in various dilutions to suit the thickness of the paper that’s being stuck (the thicker the paper the thicker the glue needs to be). The paint, of course, is acrylic, both in ink form and heavy body, which will paint on absolutely anything. Having assembled all this I start work – remember, this is the way I do it, others do it differently. With all my still-life paintings, by the time I reach the final stage the original subject has usually died, been eaten, drunk and generally dismantled, which helps me to consider the painting in its own right and not keep comparing it to what I started with.

This stops me fiddling to get things exactly right and overloading the piece with excessive detail that it doesn’t need, given the surfaces that I’m working on and the way that I paint. When finished, I hide all my work away for a period of time – days, months, and sometimes years – and then look at it with fresh eyes to see if anything further needs to be done.

Near versus far

At a recent workshop I was asked why my demonstration painting appeared to have a great amount of depth when I had used values that were darker in the background than in the foreground.

The person asking the question had always been told you had to make the distance pale and the foreground strong and that cool colours have to be used in the background. Distance is an illusion that is achieved through the use of aerial perspective and whilst colours are often cooler towards the horizon, they aren’t always. Likewise, they’re not always pale values either. The distance, like all other elements of a painting is relative to the focus you choose and, in turn, how you decide to treat it.

Exaggerating distance

You can make anything distant, even features in the middle ground. Distance is relative to your focus, so choose that first and decide where it is going to be in the painting.

Here the distance has been achieved traditionally, using diluted colour to allow more of the paper to show through

 

Following a similar approach, I used thinner colour but added opaque white paint to the mix. The result is a slightly more solid, duller finish

A focus is part of the painting that holds the viewer’s attention so it needs to be prominent and interesting. A focus can be anything from a figure or figures to trees, a splash of light, a building, a lake and so on. Once you have decided on your focus you may need to use a compositional grid to place it in an appropriate setting near or around two of the intersecting compositional lines. Features behind the focal point can be made to appear more distant than they might really be, which in turn puts more emphasis on the focus you have chosen and creates greater depth in your work.

I mixed some colour with thick white paint and applied it neat to the paper. Notice that the application has formed a ragged edge because only a tiny amount of water was added to the paint. With colour so thick, I was able to place it more precisely than thinner paint

There are a few techniques to use but the main intention is to use less detail and blur most of the hard edges. Use a large brush to suggest any would-be fine detail shapes to generate simpler marks and a more distant feel.

To blur edges, the wet-into-wet technique is an evocative way to create softness; alternatively, paint the shapes in a conventional hard-edged manner and allow them to dry. Take a fine spray bottle and lightly spray the area with water so that it is just damp, then follow up with a stiff brush and gently work the edge of the paint into a blur. Any feature in the background of your painting that has soft or blurry edges will automatically look distant whether they are dark or light. Don’t always concern yourself with values and rules, look at the edges.

Aerial perspective

This is the illusion of depth and helps create recession in your work. As I have just outlined it’s not necessary to make your background paler, as it is subject to the overall image and lighting. However, if you do use paler colours you will create a huge amount of recession. Use your paints quite dilute and maybe add extra blue to colour mixes, such as cobalt blue to give the impression of intervening atmosphere.

Other ways of creating aerial perspective are through using repetitive, similar-sized features such as people, poles, trees or animals. These will reduce in both size and detail as they recede and often a simple estimation of the reduction in visible detail is all that is required. With structures such as buildings and roads, one- or two-point perspective can be used to gain the receding lines of the feature. Whilst perspective can be a confusing experience for many people it really doesn’t have to be and if you paint loose, your perspective lines don’t need to be entirely accurate, so long as they are roughly going in the right direction.

A simple rule of thumb is that of expectation: you either expect a perspective line to slope downwards or upwards. First locate your eye level; any lines above will slope downwards towards a vanishing point located on it and those below will slope upwards towards it in the same way. Lines near your eye level will have a shallow gradient and those further away will have a steep gradient. There is no replacement for looking, but the expectation of which way a line will slope, and the steepness of the angle, will help you place the lines correctly.

Foregrounds

The foreground is, of course, relative to the focus of the painting. If the focus is in the foreground then you may need a reasonable amount of detail to support it, but most of the time the focus is in or near the middle ground. With a foreground, you want to hint at what is there without necessarily painting everything in intricate detail. After all, you want the viewer to look at your focal point, not the clumps of grass in the front of the picture.

I try to encourage people to look at things this way instead of painting something just because it is there. The best way is to hint at rather than state. Paint clumps of grass, mole hills, reeds and so on using a damp-into-damp technique with paint containing very little moisture onto paper that is damp but not saturated. Soft shapes like this suggest at detail rather than state it and, in context of a sharper focus, will allow the eye to absorb what is there without being drawn to it.

Using white

White paint such as titanium white, opaque white, gouache or Chinese white will create tints in your colour that will help to generate the feel of distance. Chinese white is weakest and will add a subtle, milky appearance to your colour, whereas titanium white is strongest and will alter your colour quite drastically.

The reason for adding white over traditional methods of diluting colour is to add a slightly opaque haziness to the colour. This often gives an illusion of light and depth to the distance. Another way of using white is to mix it thickly with colour. This also dulls the colour slightly which helps to create an automatic feeling of distance, especially when contrasted against richer colour and stronger values elsewhere in the painting. Thicker paint is slightly easier to control if you wish to blur small shapes together in the distance or achieve drag-brush effects.

Portraits of African lives

One of the most exciting things about painting people with darker complexions is the way that light reflects on their skin. The contrasts are greater and the form and structure of the head more evident. Colours are also easier to see. My studio in South Africa has a large south-facing window (the equivalent of a north-facing window in the northern hemisphere), which gives me a cool constant natural light source with no direct sunlight coming into the room.

Portrait of Molly and Yenzaogolthi, oil on canvas, 30?24in (76?61cm). Before embarking on this portrait I was aware of most of the difficulties I would face and needed to be clear about what I wanted to capture

The intensity of the light can change with cloud cover but the shapes of light, half-tone and shadow remain the same. Occasionally I paint a subject outdoors. In these situations I will either paint in a shaded area or with the sun almost directly behind the model, creating more of an edge light – the features of the sitter will then be in the reflected light. A wide-brimmed hat is essential to protect my eyes from the fierce African sun and I find that an hour is about as much as the sitter and I can take in these direct sun situations, I wish I could have the best mattresses for side sleepers so I can get some rest while painting.

Palette

The Miner, oil sketch, 15?12in (38?30.5cm). Here I used a limited palette (which can be added to) to show colour combinations: A Darkest dark (black): burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, no white and painted transparently B Shadow: burnt sienna and ultramarine blue with titanium white C Shadow halftone: burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and a little alizarin crimson with white D Light halftone: (where colour appears strongest) burnt sienna with a touch of cadmium red and yellow ochre with white E Light and highlight: cadmium yellow, pale alizarin crimson and a touch of blue with white F Reflected light: burnt sienna and yellow ochre Other colour combinations that can be tried are viridian green and burnt sienna in the shadows and alizarin crimson, burnt sienna with ultramarine blue violet to give a cool red grey in light halftones. These are just suggestions to help in painting what you see. Much more important is getting the values right

I am often asked what colours I use for painting dark skin. My palette remains the same whether I am painting a blonde child on the beach or an elderly African gentleman in my studio: burnt sienna, ultramarine blue (deep), alizarin crimson, raw sienna, yellow ochre, cadmium red, cadmium red light, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow deep, cadmium yellow pale and titanium white.

STAGE TWO Using a large brush (size 10 filbert) I tried to establish a tonal range and, in the process, cover the initial drawing. I focused on shapes, value and colour temperature

Other colours that I only use when the situation requires are cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, violet and viridian green. In the oil sketch The Miner (below), I show mixtures used to paint the head under cool natural light. This might not seem like a lot of colours but I have always been fascinated by the beautiful colourful paintings of Anders Zorn who it is said only used four colours: black, white, yellow ochre and vermilion.

This really emphasises how important values are. My preferred way of working is to have the model in front of me throughout the painting process and most of my work is done in this way. Of course a painting of the mother with baby on her back (right) would be almost impossible for me to complete without photographic reference but I still have a go and find that so much information is gained in a 20-minute session that this sketch becomes my most important reference. Having the model in front of me allows me to judge colours and values accurately.

I work looking regularly in a mirror behind me where I can see both model and painting together. It still amazes me how faults in drawing and values become exaggerated in the mirror. This way of working is exciting and involves you totally and when successful leaves you on a high and inspired for hours after the sitting.

How I approach more complicated subjects

STAGE ONE After arriving at a pose that my model can comfortably hold, I started with a charcoal sketch. Although I was not after an exact likeness at this stage I wanted my proportions and design to feel right. I had toned my canvas before starting with a light mid-tone grey and used Nitram charcoal (B) to lay in the drawing. A lot of emphasis was put on proportions of length and angles

A mother with a baby on her back is a very common sight in Africa and a great subject for a painting. In Molly and Yenzaogolthi (above right) I opted for natural studio lighting rather than direct sunlight, to allow for a more comfortable environment for the models and for myself to fully resolve the painting. We started with ten- minute pastel sketches, exploring the shapes of light, halftone and shadow.

These are broad studies where heads and hands are reduced to one or two values with no detail. Lots of photos are also taken from every angle. By the end of the day and after a few nappy changes and a couple of naps and feeds we arrived at a pose that I could explore further.

STAGE THREE I started to recover the drawing, focusing on bringing the eyes to a finish. I used a small brush (size 2 filbert) to redraw and check important proportions

In the morning I completed two small oil studies of the pose, working with a large brush and focusing on large shapes and peripheral edges and searching for lost edges and selective hard edges. Yenza’s grandmother was also with us on this day, which helped greatly because he had decided that modelling was not for him.

In the afternoon I started the large canvas, paying attention to design and head sizes. I was able to get a lot of Molly done because she could hold the pose for longer without Yenza on her back. I finished the painting from my references and would certainly not have been able to complete Yenza without photographic references.

Edges

STAGE FOUR By now I was working on the smaller shapes with appropriate brushes. I had been working for about an hour and a half, with a break and lots of conversation, which had allowed me to study the movement, especially on the lower part of the face. I was trying to capture something that is fleeting but there – to quote the American painter Caroline Anderson: ‘the balance between accurate analysis and intuition’

I simplify the edges in my painting into four types of edges: hard, firm, soft and lost. When observing my subject I always squint my eyes so that I can easily see the sharpest edges first. I then search for the lost edges; after that the firm edges and then soft edges. A good control of edges can improve the strength and appeal of a painting immensely and also gives us the ability as artists to guide the viewer’s eye to see what we are seeing.

Somewhere in our past we have been conditioned to outline everything (probably as far back as colouring-in books). Photographs might be amazing in capturing moments and details but they are distinctly lacking in values and edges, especially peripheral edges. This is another reason why life drawing and painting from life is so important to improve an artist’s observational skills.

Landscape in perspective

The very word perspective makes most art students shudder – all that ‘technical drawing’, precision and formulaic planning – yikes! Well, it’s easier than you think and let’s face it, you need to get to grips with at least the very basic principles of perspective to see real improvements in your art.

Regardless of your subject, good perspective is the foundation on which a good painting is based. Even the simplest compositions are stronger when artists show evidence of good perspective skills.

Pathway Over the Moors,Van Gogh gouache, Rembrandt and Unison pastels, Quink ink, Royal Talens acrylic ink and Nitram charcoal on Canson Moulin du Roy Not 140lb (300gsm), 20?22in (51?56cm)

Assess your subject

The most obvious subjects that require perspective are buildings and cityscapes. In the next issue we will look at this more closely but let’s not overlook landscape. The ‘big landscape’ can appear daunting at first – especially to beginners and artists just starting to paint the subject but some pre-planning will help you as you work. Firstly, ask yourself why you want to paint the scene.

By following the perspective angles and direction of the top coping stones of the wall using their edges as a guide, and the angle of the laid stones within the middle distance wall (the red lines), I could quickly confirm where my eye level was (the green horizontal line) and thus keep a strong focus on the structure of the landscape at every stage during the painting process from start to finish

Take your time – look, think and assess the scene (through a viewfinder if that helps); rushing headlong into drawing and painting your scene before you’ve really planned what you want to do will get you into all sorts of trouble – especially with scale.

When looking for perspective within a flat open expanse of moorland, sparse of any redeeming features, it’s hard to find anything at first to use as a guide to lead the eye through your painting and to discover the true characteristics of the perspective within the scene.

My reference photo See if you can discover the perspective lines in the composition for yourself now I have explained how to find them
Perspective and tonal sketch on Canson Moulin du Roy Not 140lb (300gsm), 22?30in (56?76cm). Using a variety of mixed black and white media I planned in tone what direction to take for the full colour mixed-media studio painting

By following the contours of the land, the undulating shapes and shadows, then plotting those shapes, the angle of the deep gullies and carefully observing the angle of boulders, pathways and tracks, all is revealed.

By analysing your chosen composition into a series of shapes, forms, tones and, of course, the ‘feel ‘ for your subject, you can begin to apply the basic principles of perspective to those elements to bind them all together. In Sun and Shadow over the Old Moors – South Pennines (below) the underlying perspective forms a strong framework on which all the above principles are intertwined.

Everything on the level

The most important thing to establish before you begin is your eye level in relation to what you are looking at. If it is difficult to ascertain this, try drawing a series of lines at the correct angle from objects you can see – where they cross over or correspond with one another will establish their vanishing points.

Sun and Shadow over the Old Moor– South Pennines, mixed media on Canson Moulin du Roy Not 140lb (300gsm), 20?22 in (51?56cm)

Be prepared for the vanishing points to be outside your composition; don’t force a vanishing point back into a composition just to make it easy for yourself because it will be wrong and throw everything out. Tonal values also help with perspective.

Working from light to dark (stronger colours in the foreground and lighter colours towards the back) helps to give the impression of aerial perspective. In watercolour the lightest light is the white of the paper – adding white during the process or at the end will never be a substitute for the pure white of the paper as the same brightness or lightness of tone cannot be achieved.

Proportions

The distances between each and every element in the composition, and their scale in relation to one another is really important as it will unify everything in the painting.

By following the perspective angles and direction of the top coping stones of the wall using their edges as a guide, and the angle of the laid stones within the middle distance wall (the red lines), I could quickly confirm where my eye level was (the green horizontal line) and thus keep a strong focus on the structure of the landscape at every stage during the painting process from start to finish

Pay close attention to the actual solid volume, tone and colour of the shapes, the negative spaces and distances between each creates the framework too.

As a painting develops don’t just paint with a brush, draw with it too. Creating some sort of added drama, point of focus or contrast gives a painting the edge.

Equal amounts of dark and light within a painting can stifle it, despite your best efforts. Try to think about different proportions or relationships between light and dark in your compositions – more light in ratio to dark or, more dramatic still, more dark in relationship to ‘spotlight’ light.

STAGE ONE Paying close attention to perspective, I drew out the main shapes with a 9B graphite stick then, with Derwent Inktense water-soluble pastels, I quickly established the main shapes, tones and local colour areas. The flexibility of the pastels allowed big brush washes of rich, saturated colour and expressive hand- drawn marks
STAGE TWO Once the first washes had dried I strengthened several areas using Royal Talens acrylic inks (working flat this time), adding water to weaken the highly saturated pigments when needed. By developing the full painting in all areas at the same time rather than in disparate parts, the painting quickly interlocked as a whole
STAGE THREE When the ink had dried I added transparent and more opaque layers (adding white at this stage) using Royal Talens Extra Fine Quality Gouache, firstly with weaker washes of cobalt blue mixed with violet and a little burnt umber in a variety of strengths to sort out the main shapes and further develop light and dark areas as well as topographical detail. Using Pro Arte Connoisseur round size 20 and Series 106 Prolene One Stoke Flat 1 1 ⁄ 4 in brushes, I blocked in the deeper shades of the sloping fields and trees using viridian, ultramarine light, blue violet and a little alizarin crimson, paying close attention to the various tones within these areas – particularly the shadows – strengthening the colours as I moved forwards
STAGE FOUR I loosely developed everything, again using dry Inktense sticks – especially to imply texture. Keeping everything as ‘free flowing’ and as expressive as possible, the whole painting had begun to take shape. Using direct and confident mark-making techniques with different media throughout the painting helped to create a good balance between detail and expression

 

Express yourself in acrylics

Whether you make art to sell or for therapy, allowing yourself to shine through your work is something you shouldn’t shy away from. You don’t have to spend years of studying to be able to express yourself. We all have feelings and emotions that we can use in our artwork. Whether on paper, canvas or clay, self-expression normally begins with some sort of mark, even for photorealistic painters.

Your marks make you special

Imagine a straight line. If you were to draw or paint a straight line without a ruler, it might be a little shaky. For some people that can be upsetting and create a feeling of failure, but for me it brings me closer to the person behind it. That singular mark is what makes you special, so embrace the shakes!

Some of the greatest artists can be identified through their marks. Van Gogh is a good example of this. When I saw his work in the Van Gogh museum I couldn’t help but feel his presence through his brushstrokes – his marks are so alive and expressive.

What makes you special is how you interpret your subject, whether through mark making, powerful subject matter or strong colour, these elements will make you stand out. Many people comment on the sense of movement in my own paintings – marks going in different directions with flicks, twists and turns are what create this impression. Every mark is as important as the next and I want the viewer to enjoy the scene through my own energy encompassed in every mark made.

CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Sometimes we can get too comfortable when producing our paintings. Marks can appear dull, lifeless and overworked. I can normally tell when I view a painting if someone has got bored as their marks become repetitive. A good example of this is when painting grass, lots of similar lines all going in the same direction with a tiny brush. Stepping out of your comfort zone will create another dimension to your work and help you evolve as an artist. You can make a start by:

  • l Trading in your tiny brushes for a large brush
  • l Use your largest brush for details
  • l Use your whole arm rather than working from the wrist, which gives
    ultimate control
  • l Paint a subject unfamiliar to you, even something you don’t like!
  • l Work larger or smaller
  • l On a small surface, don’t scale down brush size, use a large brush
  • l Restrict your equipment: one or two brushes
  • l Restrict your colour palette

Initially you may feel uncomfortable and awkward but it’s purely for your own benefit – no one else needs to see your experimental artworks. For me art is about exploring the different ways in which a subject can be interpreted, not being predictable.

DEMONSTRATION One Brush Does All

People gasp when I show them my large brushes. I guess to most people a large brush appears scary and uncontrollable but
it’s not the size that matters, rather the marks it creates. Here’s how I develop a picture from start to finish using one 2in brush

STAGE ONE On a base colour of process cyan, burnt sienna and white I started with a loosely sketched outline using the corner of my 2in brush with a pure mix of burnt sienna and deep violet
STAGE TWO Still using the corner of my brush I applied more pressure to create a slightly thicker mark to block in areas of the dog. The face and ears were blocked in with directional strokes using cerulean blue, deep violet and white. Next I used the full width and corner of the brush in different directions to fill the body. Short and long strokes applied side by side create contrasts using various mixes of burnt sienna, yellow ochre and white, as well as separate mixes of cerulean blue, burnt sienna and white. The different strengths of the colour tints also help each mark to be seen clearly when layered or placed alongside one another
STAGE THREE Once I had blocked in the main areas of the dog I allowed the paint to settle and dry. Moving on to the background I used the full width of the brush to block in large areas behind the dog with phthalo green, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and white on the left-hand side. On the right-hand side I broke up the colour, applying a mix of burnt sienna, deep violet and white, and a mix of process cyan, deep violet and white. Introducing another colour helps to break up the monotony of a similar colour. I then went back to using a pure mix of deep violet and burnt sienna to identify my darkest tones around the dog and, in turn, bring out the shape. This also can help if you have made so many marks you have lost the subject. I had used all areas of the brush with long and short twists, drags and flicks
Boo, acrylic, 24?18in (61?45.5cm). When the first few layers had settled and dried I continued with the same colours in a variety of tints with a few more interesting brushstrokes pulling out highlights and darks, while introducing smaller marks through dragging and dabbing so they can be seen against the larger marks made earlier in the process. The highlights in the eyes were made with a tiny dab using the corner tip of the brush. For the very dark areas around the eyes, nose and ears I used the corner tip with a short drag. I saved my smallest marks til the end – they help draw the viewer into a more concentrated area within the face

 

Australia – a painter’s view

Close family ties take me to Australia, to a town on the Great Ocean Road. This coastal strip has wide beaches of white, soft sand and dunes, backed by low tree-covered hills.

On my last trip I endeavoured to do a painting most days and very nearly achieved my aim; a holiday can seem to be missing something unless I do a few works – I guess I’m an addict and just can’t do without my painting fix. My sketchbooks fill quite quickly.

Beneath the Lighthouse, Split Point, mixed media, 10?13in (25.5?33cm). The light was dazzling, the dark rocks glittering in the strong sunshine, the towering cliff stack reflecting darkly in the turquoise waters. I didn’t have time for much of a sketch here but managed a quick snap while walking, and then worked from that a few hours later while the image was still vivid in my mind. I used ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and raw umber to give monumental solidity to the rocks, allowing flashes of bright colour to describe the form of the cliff. In the foreground I painted swift, broad brushstrokes of turquoise, alizarin, lemon yellow and umber to give light and strength without over- describing the plants and grasses. For the shallow water at the base of the cliffs I used semi-transparent turquoise and crimson applied over the pale pink background, with cobalt blue and pale dioxazine purple for the deeper waters

But I also had a small pack of basic equipment with me and the newness of this landscape prompted me to paint small works on acrylic paper, working from my sketches and glancing occasionally at the image on my mobile phone screen.

Light and colour

Beach Activity, Jan Juc Beach, mixed media, 10?13in (25.5?33cm). I sketched quickly, sitting on a rock whilst watching the silhouettes of figures along the top of the dark rock and bright shapes against the dark shadows. I used orange and cadmium red with purple lake ink on the rocks and sand and the complementary colours of cerulean and turquoise to give maximum impact where the sea meets the beach; a mix of purple and cerulean added depth and perspective to receding cliffs

I have painted numerous times in the south of Europe and used my experience of portraying this landscape to help me with my Australia paintings.

Perhaps it is due to the area’s lack of air pollution, and also its proximity to the colder south polar seas, but here the light seems clearer, with an added sparkle and intensity, compared with the sun-filled glory of the Mediterranean. The red-orange cliffs with colour-filled shadows, blues and violet, and the ochre and red sunlit surfaces are topped with blue-green foliage and complementary colours, yellows, lemon, pink and lime green.

Jan Juc Rocks from Torquay Beach, mixed media 10?13in (25.5?33cm). Here I made maximum use of complementary colours, with cadmium red, ochre and orange against strong hues of cerulean, turquoise and ultramarine. The shadows of the rocks and cliffs are raw umber, exploiting the reds and warms in the portrayal of sun-lit sandstone

The colour of the sea changes from cobalt to turquoise, pale violet and cerulean blue, all hues deep, clean and pure with not a hint of grey! Bearing in mind flight weight restrictions when packing, I choose colours that are clear, bright, and versatile.

These increase my colour mixing opportunities and help me steer

My Australia painting kit

  • l Small tubes of acrylic colour: azo yellow, yellow ochre, cadmium orange, cadmium red, magenta, cobalt blue, Prussian blue, turquoise, dioxazine violet, titanium white and raw umber.
  • l Two bottles of Daler-Rowney FW Acrylic ink: purple lake and antelope brown.
  • l Oil pastels: white, lemon, ochre, pale olive, purple, pale orange and magenta for mixed-media work.
  • l Two Rosemary & Co flat brushes (I recommend these, good value and hard wearing), 1in and 1 1 ⁄ 2 in. l My fold-up palette (a WH SMITH plastic document case with a pad of tear-off paper palette sheets); a palette knife and 20 sheets of 10 ? 13in acrylic paper.
  • l My sketching kit comprises: hardback sketchbook with two large bull-dog clips to hold pages down in breezy conditions, a pack of children’s wax crayons, felt-tip pens, (large Italic from Berol and fine 0.5 tip by Pilot,) two chunky water-soluble crayons in blue and black, a field box of watercolours and watercolour brushes

DEMONSTRATION Sail Boats, Cliffs and Pines

STAGE ONE To give the painting a warm, sunny glow that would peep through the next layers, I painted the support with yellow ochre and cadmium red with uneven vigorous brushmarks, hinting at the shapes that would be painted in at the next stage
STAGE TWO When the underpainting was completely dry, and without any drawing, I added some loose structure using darker yellow ochre, cadmium red and dioxazine purple to describe background cliffs and foreground shapes. I kept it loose and transparent, allowing some of the background to show through
STAGE THREE ABOVE RIGHT The tree shapes were added in a loose expressive way, and I used some pale olive pastel and turquoise acrylic plus a touch of acrylic ink to hint at detail in the trees and cliffs
STAGE FOUR Next I added sea and sky, using cobalt, turquoise and a hint of purple, mixed with white; the colours were laid down close to each other to give movement and interest to the surface. I painted sky holes and described the tree shapes with a small amount of negative painting

 

The Illusion of Glass

I put my satisfaction with watercolour painting down to its elusive quality. The merest touch of colour dropped onto a wet surface can express so much. So often it is the case of what is not painted that says what is intended and in this article I shall give you a few hints and tips that will help to explain almost nothing!

To get to grips with how to depict glass you need to note exactly what you actually see as opposed to what you think you ought to see. Because we see through glass we need to paint what is behind it and, if it is a vessel, what it contains. Glass in the form of a vessel can do all kinds of things to the above depending on its make, thickness and shape. Distortion is common together with reflections and refractions.

Additionally, glass is a hard, crisp- edged material that looks worse if painted with a woolly edge. Needless to say if one tries to depict all the aspects the image could look overloaded and unreal. The trick is to know what to put in and what to leave out, along with the illusion. Imply rather than overstate – keep it simple!

STAGE ONE This vase has a complex symmetrical shape. To achieve this, a paper cut out is needed. Fold the paper in half and draw the shape against the fold – when opened out you have your symmetrical shape. Lay this over masking tape (or Frisk Film) and cut out the shape
STAGE TWO The masking tape has been cut out and masking fluid applied. When the fluid had dried, the first layer of paint was applied
FINISHED PAINTING Czech Coloured Glass, watercolour on Saunders Waterford HP 300gsm, 13?9in (33?23cm). A second layer of colour was applied to darken and define edges. I used a sponge to lose some edges. Finally I applied a transparent shadow

Masking

First things first: Don’t put an outline around a glass object. If you look carefully you will note that the edge is sometimes not even there unless the glass is tinted. I have found the most efficient way to obtain this elusive but crisp edge is to use masking tape. If the glass is straight-sided then it is simple.

However, if the glass is curved in any way a symmetrical template has to be cut. With the sides taped off you can paint what is behind or within without worrying about the edge. At a later stage in the painting you may well need to mask out the vessel in order to paint in the background.

STAGE ONE The vase has many cyclic curves so I decided to keep the whole thing simple and use my compass brush. Shown here are the brushes I typically use for glass images, notably various flats (one stroke), a sable and a fine No. 2 sable round. The masking fluid is in one lid and some liquid soap, to protect the brush from the fluid, in another. My colours for glass are typically phthalo blue and indigo. For a green tint I use intense green (phthalo) and occasionally a touch of May green by Schmincke

Masking tape is also useful when there are reflections in the surface of the glass, which may appear as lighter vertical lines. These will need to be masked out, leaving a slot that can then be lifted. You may also note reflected highlights, which can be shown by using masking fluid at the outset.

Reflections, refraction and shadows

STAGE TWO I put in the basic colours. These were worked wet-into- wet then allowed to dry before putting in the crisp shapes. I then softened areas with my natural sponge

If the glass vessel contains water the surface of the water seen through the glass will be reflective. It will also be distorted where objects such as stalks pass through. In this instance note the relative tone of this reflection as it will be different to the glass. You may see the elliptical surface of the water but only partially – another phenomenon particular to reflective substances and materials.

Clear glass usually has quite strong tonal contrasts in its reflections. Circular vessels act like lenses that both distort and magnify contrasts. Note this especially at their bases and rims. Dark liquids in a glass or bottle reflect most strongly, quite often your own face.

FINISHED PAINTING Handblown Glass, watercolour on Saunders Waterford Not 300gsm,13?9in (33?23cm). Notice where the masking on the glass has enabled me to paint the cornflower in front – this way you don’t get any muddying of the colour. Final details included intensifying some of the tones, tinting highlights and plenty of negative painting for the flowers

Again, because of the shape of the vessel these reflections are distorted, especially at the sides. Refraction is that peculiar effect that distorts any object that passes through the surface of the water. Note that the stem appears to be separated at the water surface level.

Because clear glass has no tone or colour to indicate form it cannot theoretically cast a shadow, but anything in it will. The rim, base and sides of the glass cast a shadow because the light cannot quite pass through these greater masses. Notice how, if the light comes from behind the glass container, the base acts as a lens and produces a bright light in the middle. Any texture in the glass such as subtle ribbing will produce ribbed-type shadows. If the light comes from in front, any shadows seen through the glass are distorted at the sides.

Cut glass and coloured glass

Surface decoration on glass, whether coloured or cut, produces even further challenges for the artist. I have some cut-glass fruit bowls that are immense fun to paint but very difficult and, to add to the fun, the rims are also scalloped (page 20). To paint one I start with several dots to establish the relevant ellipses, then the high and low points of the scallops.

Following this, with intense concentration, I paint exactly what I see. Well almost. The bowl invariably contains fruit of some kind. Another piece of torturous glassware I possess is a brass-based twisted oil lamp with an engraved glass bowl, through which can be seen the glass flue. Yes, a serious piece of work especially when I put in blue– or pink- coloured paraffin and light it.

Modern glass can often have colours swirled into it. The best way to achieve this effect is to work wet-into-wet whilst still preserving a crisp edge.

If the vessel is a complicated shape a stencil cut in Frisk Film* will probably do the trick. Some glass objects have surface colouring that has been cut, engraved or etched to reveal the natural glass. Similarly, as for engraving on natural glass, you can use masking fluid to delineate the decoration; I have often used this method to illustrate my oil lamp where the orange glow of the light reveals the decoration.

Glass containing coloured liquids

Tomatoes in Cut Glass, watercolour on Saunders Waterford HP 300gsm, 9?13in (23?33cm). This multifaceted glass bowl has a scalloped edge. A series of pale grey dots positioned the various ellipses, which were then painted in using a good-quality flat sable. Even the shadow had complex issues. It was difficult to know when to stop but less is more in a situation like this. You will notice a few changes, made with the sponge, and several drawing corrections. Be brave – be ruthless when working on complex items such as this

I have already touched on coloured liquids in glass vessels. In an object such as a bottle of wine you have three factors to take into account: the label, the colour of the glass and the colour of the liquid. The colour of the glass or its contents can vary considerably according to what the glass reflects.

This is particularly noticeable if there is any candle light about. Again acute observation is the name of the game. If you don’t trust your eyes, take a photograph and look intensely at the various phenomena revealed. The brain tends to deceive, willing you to simplify and make logical. Unfortunately the truth is more complex and therefore more interesting – trust your eyes.

Glass details

Elements such as bases, stems, rims, handles or any form of excrescence added to the surface basically have crisp-edged tonal contrasts. They are not necessarily outlined but owe their look to the basic shape of these quite specific reflections. Painting glass objects is, like painting water, a peculiar challenge and one that can give a great deal of satisfaction once mastered. In a future article on buildings I will refer to glass in windows!

The Studio Corner

My studio is an old cider barn that looks out across a farmyard from a large, west- facing window. As a painting space, it can be pretty dark through the winter months, but each spring, like some ancient Druid, I wait for the day when the sun just gets into one corner of the studio before setting over the barn across the yard.

From that day on, through the spring and up to mid- summer, the puddle of sunlight gets bigger and the light stronger until, by mid-June, I often can’t work in there at all as the sunlight blazes in and lights up the whole building.

There are days when I hope it might be cloudy, or perhaps even rain, to slow things down a little so that I can do things in a more considered way, but every spring I find myself waiting with growing excitement for the day that I can start to make paintings out of the frenzy of the returning sunlight.

The sun moves quickly – in minutes the shadow of a glazing bar moves across the newspapers sprawled on the studio table. The reflected bounce of colour and light is quite unlike anything I’ve seen all through the winter.

Day one

On one such day I manoeuvred my easel so that I could paint a succession of little panels as the scene changed. I laid out my usual palette in the usual way, with a handful of brushes and a jar of spirit to swill them in, so at least that part of the process would be automatic.

Corner Table, Spring Sun, oil on canvas, 20?24in (51?61cm). Painted over three sessions, I liked the strong diagonal accents of alternating shadow and light, and the reflection in the mirror at the back of the group

No particular thought went into setting up a still life as whatever I did would be subverted by the unpredictability of the splashes of brilliance and darkness – as the sun passes over the studio clutter all things move in and out of the light.

There wasn’t too much thought about composition either – this isn’t about stable pyramids of carefully drawn structure – I got it down as it happened by watching the movement of the light through the next hour or so, painting a sequence of little notes.

April Sun, watercolour, 12?9in (30.5?23cm). Painted with simple washes over lightly drawn pencil, this enabled me to draw the structure first and only start using watercolour once the light was where I wanted it

I started by looking at a boundary between light and dark and making a pair of marks to establish the relationship between the two. The painting grew quickly from this point; I constantly looked at whether a colour was darker, lighter, warmer or cooler than its neighbour, but my eye had to keep sweeping across the whole field of view to allow the pattern of lights and darks to sink in.

I got about ten minutes before a key part of my little design fell into shadow. I could chase it, modifying what I’ve done to keep up with the change, or leave it. I decided to leave it; I had another little board ready for the easel and took a minute to reset my thoughts about what might make an interesting ‘eyeful’.

Shifting my position to gain a slightly different view, I kept my angle of view fairly restricted, a bit more ‘telephoto’ than ‘wide-angle’. There was enough to think about without the complexities of spreading my gaze too wide. In an hour or so I’d made five little studies: one seemed complete in itself and one was a dud; the other three were all interesting, a toe in the water of a few possible visual ideas, and gave me a glimpse of what might be done.

Days two and…

The next day was cloudy and my afternoon was spent priming boards, stretching canvases and thinking, catching my five little studies out of the corner of my eye.

Pheasant Eyes, oil on board, 10?12in (25.5?30.5cm). These scented narcissus grow along our little stream and there’s always a few in the studio window when they’re in flower. Made in just a few minutes, I grabbed the moment when the balance of light and dark shapes seemed just right

In fact, several days passed before I could get back to this subject. I wanted to do something a bit bigger but along the same lines. I had two or three canvases ready, to give me a choice of format, but beyond about 20in the size becomes an issue in the limited time available.

I find pencil and watercolour useful for collecting information so, knowing that the light will be just where I want it at say 3pm, I can start drawing at 2pm, concentrating on mapping out lines and getting the structure right. With my watercolours ready and enough drawn marks on the paper I can move quickly and say a lot with a few simple washes.

Toy Boats (first state), oil on canvas, 16?20in (40.5?51cm). The main structure was put down simply and quickly. I really enjoyed the way the shadows overlayed the various objects with a sort of counterpoint of shapes. I’d noticed the reflection of the sail in the window but not had time to make much of it

As the weather forecast looked fair for the rest of the week I thought I could plan something bigger. Oil paint will let me work over two afternoons, maybe three, before it becomes too sticky to do another day. Beyond those two or three days, the sun would be on a noticeably different trajectory.

I’d been watching how my simple tablescape was transformed by the sunlight and had made some simple drawings to plan my composition on a bigger canvas. I was very aware that the range of tone in front of me was enormous; looking at this group, I loved the way that much of the foreground was covered with a big shadow and all the bits and pieces in that area were very quiet, and need a very restricted range of light and dark.

I also noticed that the light was bouncing colour around the shadows, giving variety to these rather restrained parts of the composition.

Session one

Studio Table, Shadow Edge, oil on board, 9?12in (23?30.5cm). A few minutes before I painted this, the shadow of the flowers ran into the shadow of the toy boat. I waited for them to separate before grabbing this little oil study

The first painting session was fairly brief – I started just a few minutes before the light was just how I wanted it, working in a similar way to the earlier studies, but focusing on trying to block everything in very quickly.

I concentrated on getting the big relationships right rather than worrying too much about the more hidden aspects. I got about ten minutes slightly ahead of the moment I wanted, another fifteen with it just about right, then a few more minutes of relying on my visual memory, stopping as that began to fade. About half an hour is as much as I could hope for in one day.

Session two

The following day was bright enough for me to work again on the larger oil. At its first stage, I’d just got the bare bones so I wanted to elaborate a little further. This way of painting means I’m doing everything at once, drawing and settling the composition as well as making decisions about tone and colour.

For this reason, it’s inevitable that there will be adjustments and I spotted some drawing corrections that needed to be made. A few marks quickly indicated those adjustments. The previous day’s paint was still fairly wet so the surface was quite receptive and I worked quickly with a loaded brush.

Toy Boats (second state), oil on canvas, 16?20in (40.5?51cm). Making only minor adjustments to my initial placing of the subject, I had less than an hour to take things a little further. There was lots to do all at once before the light moved beyond where I wanted it

There was stuff going on in the foreground that I hadn’t really noticed – a pair of scissors made a good X shape, and the blue-and-white plastic bag was bouncing its colour into the foreground along with the yellow from the little glass bottle.

The plastic water bottle on the right-hand side was refracting the strong sunlight and becoming a focus in the painting. I got just a little longer but once again, as my visual memory began to fade I stopped, knowing that if I carried on the effect of one moment would be weakened. I love the excitement and fizz of this sort of painting and I can see obvious parallels with the sort of landscape subjects I look for. I’ll carry on making paintings of this corner of my working space until, in the autumn, it’s reduced to a tiny slice of light.

Richard Burger

Born in Genoa, Italy, Richard Burger studied in New York and London at art schools internationally recognised for their independent approach to teaching art and their success at nurturing accomplished, often groundbreaking, artists.

Now living and working in London, he recalls his formative years before he became an artist, and the influences that affected his career choice and painting style: ‘I grew up in an artistic household where I was always encouraged to pick up colours and a paintbrush. Both my mother and my sister were artists.’ Richard’s sister Carol is the subject of the portrait that was accepted for the 2016 BP Portrait Award (right).

Powerful images

Lulu, oil and spray paint on canvas, 12?12in (30.5?30.5cm). ‘As a rule, I much prefer painting from life. However, I think it is unfair to ask children to pose from life for obvious reasons, so my tactic is to get to know them; I spend a few hours with them, taking photos and generally trying to make them feel comfortable. On this occasion, we went to an art fair in the afternoon with the family and then we all went out for dinner. So by the time I sat down to paint, I had a feeling for what could work.’

Richard’s figurative paintings are powerful and colourful: ‘I love painting in oil. I find it very forgiving as a medium, providing you follow the rules. I sometimes use acrylic for backgrounds to get rid of the whiteness of the canvas. I also love using watercolour pencil for sketches and preparatory drawings, expressive observations of people around me and everyday life.’

Of his continually evolving style, Richard says: ‘Every subject requires me to look at things afresh. I have always loved people, both interacting with and looking at them. Everyone is different and that makes for a challenge every time. Also, somehow painting from the model is more companionable than being alone in the studio! Having said that, I also love landscapes and beach scenes since they get me out in the world.’

My Father Thinking of Me, oil on canvas, 47 1 ⁄ 4 ?31 1 ⁄ 2 in (120?80cm). ‘One of my first portraits from life; I used a mixture of sittings and photos, partly because the sitter tended to nod off during the sittings, and I was determined to get the eyes right. The technique I developed with this painting was to use a darker skin tone for the outline and then to build the skin tones dark to light in subsequent sittings.’

Richard’s art comments on society, but also allows viewers to interpret what they see within them. ‘When planning paintings, I try to find something that I like and that the viewer may find interesting, and work on that. With people, the poses are worked out with the model. I think that anything that the model contributes helps the painting to show that sitter’s character. With landscapes, I plan and sketch the composition out before I begin the final painting, although changes do inevitably happen as I work.’

Carol, oil on linen, 27 1 ⁄ 2 ?23 2 ⁄ 4 in (70?60cm). ‘Carol is the exception to my own rules! I started the portrait on a blank canvas and at home, as I was in- between studios. I did a total of three sittings of three hours each and then added the background at a later stage once I was happy with the face and hands. After the three sittings, I used photos to check the details and make sure everything worked together.’

Influences

‘My vision, acquired over many years of open studio drawing and painting, takes its influence from where I grew up in Italy and from where I have chosen to live in London.’ As far as individual influences are concerned, he says: ‘I grew up in Genoa, so 17th-century Italian painters seem to haunt me! In New York, I studied under Mary Beth McKenzie and William Scharf, and with Enver Gürsev at Chelsea. I always seek to observe the everyday and renew how we see it, and in this respect, Frank Auerbach is probably the reason I paint. I also love Lucian Freud, Peter Doig and Chantal Joffe.’

Dorje, oil on board, 18?12in (45.5?30.5cm). ‘I painted Dorje entirely from life in five three-hour sessions. The heavier marks on the face were outlined using sepia and, due to the speed the painting was made, it is unglazed. It is painted on board, which has become my favourite surface, mainly because I don’t have to worry about damaging the canvas.’

Variety

In his studio – a shared complex in London run by Bow Arts – Richard experiments with materials and formats. ‘I love experimenting with both textured and smooth finishes. At the moment, I’m going through a bit of a phase of painting on board or Masonite. These rigid surfaces let me hit them hard without answering back. The sizes of my paintings vary. My biggest painting so far is about 72 ? 28in (183 ? 71cm), and sometimes I paint very quickly, so a large painting probably takes me less than two weeks to complete. At other times, I work on paintings over a long period of time, letting them stew, and picking them up again later. Most of the time, I have several paintings on the go at once.’ His process is fairly traditional. ‘Normally after making preparatory sketches, I sketch the composition on to my canvas or other surface with oil paint. I tried charcoal for this, but I found it left too much of a mark through the paint. When I paint, there are certain colours that I tend to use more than others, which go in and out of use depending on the theme of the work I’m painting.’ Like many other artists, he struggles to leave his paintings alone when they are finished. ‘It’s very easy to overwork a painting. The key is to step back and leave it alone.’

Portraiture

‘My approach to portraiture is simple, I much prefer my subjects to sit for me from life, but I am aware that people have busy lives, so I try to use a mixture of life, to capture the essence of the portrait, and then work from photos until I’m happy with the result. Often the painting goes very quickly at the beginning and then sits there for a few months until I’m completely happy with it. This delay also allows me to use glazing techniques to add the final nuances to the work. ‘I normally try to avoid using black in my portraits. My favourite black alternative is sepia, simply because as it is lightened it resembles a dark skin tone. I also like to try to include the hands in my portraits, because I think they can say almost as much about a person as the face.’

The driving force

With his wide variety of projects, Richard works both for himself, as he chooses, and for commissions. ‘With commissioned paintings you have people working with you to develop what they want. The best bit about that is that once you achieve these common aims you know the work will have a good home. I also exhibit as much as possible. Getting your work out there is what it’s all about. I guess the best thing about exhibiting is the positive reaction of the people – the viewers – interacting with the work.’

Bella, oil and spray paint on canvas, 12?12in (30.5?30.5cm). ‘This was a commissioned portrait. For most of my paintings, I paint a non- white background to ‘break the ice’ of the canvas. On this occasion, the background was spray-painted to give a slightly more edgy look.’

So what next for him? ‘A spin-off of the BP Portrait Award, involving all participants, has been organised by Cass Art in Islington, so I’ll be involved with that, and in September 2016 I had a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in the USA that gave me the time and space to develop some more exciting works.’