I borrowed this phrase from the recently deceased Canadian painter Robert Genn who believed that there is only so much we can learn about how to paint from the many fine instructors and resources available today. The true learning comes from going off on our own and just doing it - Go to your room!

I have had the good fortune to take instruction from outstanding artists in Canada and the USA. I continue to work on my own development ( Going to MY room!) . I share, through this blog and workshops, what I have learned and what others have shared with me.

I created this blog primarily for those attending my workshops to keep in touch and to further share as we grow together. If others are interested in following that would be great.

Enjoy the journey.

Monday 23 April 2012


A question that continues to pop up is how I make my panels. So here we go. 

I like to paint on solid panels more than on stretch canvas - particularly plein air. I make light panels (1/8"thick) from 6x6" up to 14x18" for plein air. I am starting to make heavier (1/4" thick) supports for larger pieces - up to 18x24" - and may explore larger. 

For the thin panels my preference is 1/8" mahogany door skin plywood. It comes in 4x8' and 3x7' sheets. I cut it into the appropriate sizes (6x6, 6x8, 8x10, 9x12, 11x14, 12x16 and 14x18") on a simple table and chop saw. I sometimes use MDF board (medium density fibre board) but the dust it creates makes such as mess that it is not my preference. I seal the boards with a coat of shellac thinned about 10% with methyl alcohol. The mixture  brushes on easily, both sides at the same time, and dries quickly. I lean them against one another and snake them across the floor - often 100 or more at a time. They dry over night. 

Shellac to seal door skin 
Boards drying

I use a variety of canvas and linen types. All are pre-primed with gesso or lead. Un-primed canvas or linen tends to shrink using the technique described.  I purchase the canvas in rolls. I unroll it on a work table and place a selection of the boards spaced about an inch apart on all sides and placed to avoid waste. I do a quick cut around each board using a simple blade 
Sealed boards placed onto canvas roll 

Linen cut around boards

The canvas is then glued onto the sealed door-skin using polyvinyl acetate ( white glue) and spread with a simple spreader. Glued boards are piled with a weight on top and left to dry over night. Next day I cut the extra canvas from the board.  Gives a nice light archival panel. I often add additional gesso layers as needed. 

Glue spread evenly on board 

Boards trimmed once glue dry 

I also take larger paintings that are going no where and, using a selection of frame sizes, see if I can isolate one or more small areas that are stronger on their own that the whole. If the painting was done on board I simply cut with my chop saw. If painted on canvas I cut the selected area using the blade knife and simply glue the painted canvas to a board as described above. I have, on many occasions, rescued smaller salable paintings from an unsalable large one.

Turning junkers into profit

Hope this answers the questions. 

Lots more to making paintings than pushing paint on a brush. 

Saturday 21 April 2012


There are still a few spots open in Preparing for Plein Air workshop April 28, 29 at the Campebell River Art Gallery, Campbell River.  Price $250 - includes lunches. 

Most artists new to plein air painting are  overwhelmed by the challenge of  painting on location.  For the first few years, plein air painting is more about good planning and developing good habits than it is about applying the paint.

This workshop will be two days INDOORS. We will discuss equipment and supplies used for  plein air in oils and acrylics. We will cover  the key elements of planning and selecting composition for plein air.  We  will  practice the habits used by the best plein air painters including simple methods to create value thumbnail sketches to create a variety of simple and effective compositional choices. 

We will then move onto  painting  "on location": planning, subject selection, simplification and effective compositions from projected images creating small "plein air"  paintings in either oils (water-soluble or odourless solvent) or acrylics.  I will be demonstrating in both oils (water soluble) and acrylics. Weather permitting we will take out sketch books outside to do compositional sketches. 

If interested contact me directly ( or the Campbell River Art Gallery Shannon Proctor-McLeod Acting Curator  250 287-2261

Thursday 19 April 2012


This is day 4 of 5 for the workshop at the Old School House Qualicum Beach.  Great group  - a keen and inquisitive bunch of artists - keen to try new and different approaches. I continue to learn as much or more than the students do at these workshops. And I still find it fascinating how unique  each of us is - in the way we see and interpret  and how we use our tools and work with the medium. Learning to paint well is such a personal journey. Wonderful!

I expect to be seeing a few very tired artists today. 

Friday 13 April 2012



I had the pleasure of being interviewed for Daily Paintworks blog yesterday. Daily Paintworks is the site where artists can show pieces - mostly small- and offer them for sale through auctions. It is an opportunity for buyers to get into art at low prices. It is where I display many of my smaller, more experimental pieces. I has brought exposure to my work and resulted in sales throughout the US and Canada. 

To see the interview hit this link.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

They Call it Mellow Yellow

I often struggle with high key areas and highlights. I have a bad habit of grabbing titanium white to achieve those high key values. I always kick myself afterwards when critiquing my pieces and remind myself to NEVER NEVER apply white from the tube. But I keep forgetting. 

 I recently read a comment on Facebook from noted British painter Michael Richardson that brought back memories of a workshop suggestion that I should have incorporated into my work:

"Michael Richardson one of my teachers told me never to use anything but Naples Yellow until right at the end of a painting when white can be used for bright accents and particularly to avoid titanium because it is so blue and kills colour in mixes ..."

Naples yellow is a muted dull yellow. Various manufacturers make a Naples Light and Naples Deep. Historically, Naples Yellow was a lead-based pigment, and therefore highly toxic. Today, many companies produce it from a mix of "safer" colours - a hue. For example, Golden  Naples Yellow Hue blends Titanium White, Yellow Oxide and Diarylide Yellow to create an opaque, rich hue.

I use it but not often . 

This week I added some Naples Yellow Light to my titanium white - about 50%. It cuts the harshness of the white and warms it with very little change in value. I made a couple of small sketches using this mix for raising the value and for areas of highest value. I liked it. It leaves value room for a special highlight of almost pure white  should I need it. 

The acrylic sketch above is one of a few from a recent trip to Tofino on Vancouver Island. I need to produce a few larger pieces and so am playing with compositonal choices, values etc. All lightening was done with the titanium- naples mixture.

If you suffer from similar issues of white overpowering your pieces, consider adding Naples to your titanium white and completely remove titanium from your palette until you have critiqued your work and decided that you need that last high value punch. Worth playing with to see if you like it. 

Monday 2 April 2012

Six Months Deep in Oil

I have been playing off and on with oils for a number of years - probably averaging about 2-3 weeks per year. There are things I have always liked about working in  oils ( over my beloved acrylics) and have wanted to become more confident with them - but most of my artists friends (and my wife) and galleries have discouraged me - saying that I should stick with acrylics as using them my work was much more inventive and interesting and a personal style was beginning to show. Its true, with acrylics I am playful and inventive; with oils I was tight.  That was the challenge.

So last October I decided that I would shift my focus from mostly acrylics to mostly oils for six months - to see what would happen.

I started with a plein air workshop with Calvin Liang in Glacier National park Montana and finished a few weeks ago with the workshop with Carol Marine. I should clarify that I use water soluble oils - used with appropriate mediums and brushes they are comparable to regular oils. In fact, by the end of my 5 days I had Calvin convinced that there was no difference in application  and the practicality of travelling with them made them worth considering. More about how I work with ws oils in a future post.

I admire the work and style of many oil painters. I am particularly drawn to those that work in the heavy impasto application  and those that lay down spots of colour with minimal blending ( as I tend to work in acrylics).  So for six months I have been trying different applications ( thick vs thin, start thin and finish thick, etc) different surfaces ( course linen, canvas, smooth masonite, Terraskin), different brushes (synthetics, nature figres, filberts, flats and brights), different mediums (water with linseed, sometimes adding Stand Oil, sometimes adding quick dry alkyd) a mix of under-paintings ( acrylic vs oil)   and playing playing playing.

I made a whole bunch of lousy paintings. I made some that were so far off the edge for me  that I almost like them. I gradually felt trends developing - choosing systems from the list above that just seemed to suite me and my personality. By that I mean I am not a detail person and have a short attention span. I am not interested in mucking about day after day with the same painting. I like to work direct over indirect. I would have made a lousy Old Master.

What have I learned? I am enjoying the oils. I am starting to loosen up.  I like working thick and juicy and am starting to develop some control - previously I would get thick too early and needed rubber boots. When in trouble I easily scrape off and start again - in part of in whole.

I really like working in spots of colour - one after the next varying hue or just value and temperature. Working spots of colour is improving my colour mixing and my eye for colour in both oils and acrylics.
I like working on linen. I like a warm coloured underpainting. I like synthetic brushes - brights and flats ( have recently fallen in love with Ivorys from Rosemary and Co).

I am comfortable now in that I don't need to  have one approach or style or even one medium -and  be damned to those that say I do. Each painting is an experiment and needs to stand on its own. Now  I generally start thin and work towards thicker - finishing at completely thin stage or with spots of thick paint or completely thick using a palette knife.

Big thing is that I am not afraid of oils any more - and that is when the real learning normally begins.

Painting at top is my son and daughter-in-law done THICK - mostly palette knife. Below is a portrait done in HEAVY THICK and JUICY - mostly palette knife. At first it was a throw away - but I kind of liked it as it represented a step in learning/ risk taking. Below that is a plein air done totally with palette knife - my first.

The rest are a mix of thick and thin, all trying to apply spots of colour with minimal blending. Some plein air -some studio. You should see that they are all quite different in their approach and style. My guess is that with continued work and more confidence  there will be less variation in the outcomes - maybe that's good or maybe not.

So, for better or worse,  that's my six months with oils. Completed over 200 oils in all. Most junkers ( maybe they all are) - but the junkers are the ones we learn from.

Got three acrylic workshops ahead of me  now so its back to acrylics to rebuild my comfort zone.

Click on photos to enlarge and see degree of texture for each.