Category Archives: painting

Woodcut after Manet

This is an unfamiliar medium for me, so I am practicing with a familiar image. We went to Intaglio Printworks in Southwark on Wednesday. Paradise for a print maker. Amongst many bits and pieces, I bought three sheets of Japanese plywood for woodcuts. This cuts beautifully with my Pfeil lino tools, but it is so different. Grain to cope with, plus splinters. I painted the wood with red ink to start, to highlight the cuts. Then started work on a copy of my copy of Manet’s portrait of Berthe Morisot, one of the world’s greatest paintings in my belief. Had to photograph it and reverse it first.


Looks good as a red carving. Then I inked it with water based ink and printed it first on textured Somerset print paper. Really bad, I just threw them away. Then on some Japanese paper, which was much better but still too thin for my liking.

Then I tried the oil based ink which I also bought. It is so different from the water based. Much thicker and stickier. After a lot of working I printed another proof on Japanese paper, which was better, and finally onto a spare sheet of Zirkal paper which was missed from an earlier run and that was at last something worth while. I think the block still needs some work, especially around her mouth, but that is for later. Cleaning up the ink is not a lot of fun.



Seated nude in mixed media 

This girl has been developing slowly over several weeks, and I still feel she is far from finished. Complex media. I knifed a layer of acrylic over a canvas board that had been sitting blank on my eagle for ages. A mixture of gold and burnt sienna, with touches of green and red, just to get a rich ground. Had no idea what to paint on it until I found an old black and white photo from I should think the 1960s with a beautiful closed pose, looking backwards at the viewer. I decided to try pastel for it, which was tricky, as it did not take too well to the acrylic surface. Some did stick and eventually an image built up. 

I liked the pose, but it was incredibly fragile. Just a light brush of the surface and the image simply disappeared. I found that if I sprayed fixative (hairspray!) over her, it gave practically no protection, but further layers of pastel would adhere much more effectively. 

Eventually I got a figure I felt was about done, but I had to fix her somehow, or she would never survive. More fixative stabilised her a bit, but I eventually resorted to an acrylic overlay, after two or three experiments on smaller panels. You can’t paint acrylic medium over pastel with a brush. The pastel will simply be pushed out of place by the friction of the brush. You have to towel a layer of medium over her with a palette knife, taking great care just to spread it over the pastel in one stroke, without any rubbing. Quite nerve wracking and slow, and the initial result looks terrible. 

But gradually, as the medium dries, it goes transparent and she is revealed in all her glory. 

She is not quite as fresh as the uncovered pastel, and she is shiny now, but she looks lovely. Future pastel takes well on the new surface, so although I now cannot remove anything, I can still work over the surface and add more. I think she needs more background, but that will take a few more weeks of thinking.

People can fly, in the right environment

This one had a curious double gestation. I painted a large seated nude at a life class a few weeks ago. I thought it was pretty bad. When I looked at it a few days later I realised it was awful, and I wouldn’t want anyone to see it. The only solution was the ultimate one, a thick layer of paint, all over. The only paint I had in abundance was an old jar of ultramarine blue, so I now had a large, very blue canvas. I wondered what to do, and thought it looked rather under-watery. That reminded me of the short video by the Welsh artist, Natasha Brookes, of swimming in Welsh lakes, high in Snowdonia, in the winter. The video is below, but I suggest you dress up warm and have a hot drink ready, it is REALLY COLD. But looks stunning.


Blue Hue

I thought the still from the video was beautiful, and could form a basis of painting.

It is hard to avoid dropping into some terrible kitsch with pictures like this and I am not sure that I have avoided that completely, but it was fun to try. As a photograph it is wonderful, and you can’t feel the cold from it.


The first stage was to break up the overall blue a bit. Very hard to put a name on some of the colours, and that makes it very difficult to choose colours. I just have to build them up in layers. Here I have tried to show the bright sunlight and lighter bottom area, with the deep ultramarine in between. The sun is too large and central. All this is done with a palette knife. Brushes just can’t do it.

Next, the whole surface was completely reworked with fairly transparent colours and the sky brightness moved and reduced, again all palette knife work. Constant scraping. More like plastering a wall than painting. I’m hoping to get colour variation through overlaying different areas, rather than patches of different colours.


Another complete reworking of the whole surface. The photo doesn’t show the colour variation very well. It was starting to look fairly deep and wet. I have been resisting the urge to draw fishes. So far successfully…




Natasha puts in her first appearance. This is just a chalk outline to get her position and proportions. I thought this looked so ethereal that I was tempted to leave her just like this. But I could see that her legs were too long and her hand too small. So on with the paint.



Some very thin white acrylic to establish shape and highlights. I tried with the palette knife, but here I needed to use brushes. You can see how much I shortened her legs, and the indications of bubbles in chalk. I was wishing I had left her in outline at this stage.



As she stands at present, although I am sure I will continue tinkering. The colours are richer in real life, there is too much flare here. I really should use something better than my phone for these pictures.

I think the proportions of the original photo are better, but I quite like her. But is it just kitsch? Is that a problem anyway?

Two more fragmented nudes 

I’ve painted four nudes now, based on old life sketches and using a collage of hand made papers as the basic structure. I find it very hard to decide if I really like them or not. I study them a lot, so maybe that indicates something. 

I adopted a very high tech approach with both of these. I pasted up the paper collage and photographed it. Then photographed the sketch and loaded up both images as layers in Sketchbook Pro on my tablet. Making the life drawing semi -transparent, I could see the collage through it. then I rotated the collage to see which layout seemed to suit the sketch best. Then I painted the image in that orientation. 

The technique worked well, and by squaring up a print of the composite, I was able to transfer the drawing far more accurately than I normally can. 

25 and a bit years old

dsc_0705.jpgIt may not look it, but I have largely repainted this nude. Hung on the wall, she just didn’t look right. The major change is the whole profile of her back from her neck to her bottom. Now she is leaning forward a bit more convincingly. Her right arm pit has had an overhaul and I have brightened her hair, possibly a bit too much, to get a bit of colour into the picture. The wooden frame helps her a lot, but I am not convinced gold is the best finish fro it. I may darken it after a bit of contemplation.

Courtauld Gallery

I spent the afternoon in the Courtauld gallery in London. It has the most wonderful collection of 19th and 20th century art. Some of it quite astonishing.


Looking in the catalogue, they have even more which is not on display. And I haven’t shown any of the Van Goghs or Toulouse Lautrecs as they didn’t photograph well. If you only have a chance of visiting one London gallery, go to this one rather than the National. That has far too much dreary baroque stuff for my taste, although it does have a fair share of masterpieces.

More picture framing

I was pleased with my recent square picture frame, so thought I would have a go at another one, for another square nude.


I just bought some basic architrave moulding from a diy shop, with a wider plank glued on the back to form a flange. Mitred it with a bit more care this time, but still needed some filling. Not sure if my clamping board is as square as it should be. Again, applied several coats of acrylic, which works very well, and simply stuck the picture on with double sided tape. A frame does make it look much better.