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.

Saturday 29 October 2016

New start

New start. Comox Estuary.  Acrylic 16x24 on canvas mounted on board. Quick rough  plan with pencil then final plan with acrylic marker.

Block in darks using transparent red iron oxide and pthalo green. Spread for variable thickness using 3 inch rubber shaper.

Block in and carve transparents with opaques. First layer coverage. Frame and reconsider what it needs over few days.

Friday 14 October 2016

Third interpretation

Third morning. I wanted a different approach again. Went to a diox purple as the underpainting and did a bolder rough value plan - adding and subtracting with brush and colour shaper.

Pencil sketch - 18x24 canvas

Acrylic marker plan 

Diox purple underpainting and rough value plan

Stronger vertical transparent darks
Poor photo - canvas covered in first layer- transparent darks carved by opaques. 

So now framed and put with the other two and consider over the next few days. I punched in some silly high saturated branches in the front - just to see if they worked. Probably not. Will see. OK with the sky but the foreground probably too strong and distracting.

Getting started - again

Been away from studio painting for almost a month - closing down Ontario and driving back to BC.  Having trouble feeling excited about painting - and thats not normal for me.  Went for a Thanksgiving Day hike in Strathcona park. Thats all it took to get me pumped again: the colours were wonderful.

I decided to do multiple interpretations of the view of Mt Washington from the Meadows hike. Something I painted years ago when I was tighter and less interpretive. How would I interpret it now?

So I made three "first layer starts", one each morning, and each using a different approach. All were done quickly and crudely - just spots of colour. Stopped each once the canvas was covered, then framed, and set aside to examine in a few days to finish. I wanted loose, colourful, bold interpretations - almost a plein air look.

Start with pencil sketch then final plan with acrylic marker - 18x24

Under painting with quin red and crude value plan using colour shaper

Add caption

Add vertical darks

Add background values

Its crude but canvas is covered.

Framed and set aside for a few days before deciding on second layer and details

Second day, decided on a vertical interpretation. Again total time about 90 minutes.
Acrylic marker plan 16x20

Poor photo - but you get the idea - image covered  

So now, framed, set aside, look at them casually and then more critically. Can see many things to do. For example, on the first piece, the yellow meadow is too saturated and the yellow line takes the viewer out of the canvas to the left. Is the foreground coming forward: is the background pushed visually back? Are the colours too saturated? Needs to be changed.

Tomorrow, the third day. 

Friday 30 September 2016


I have to November workshops ( Gabriolla Island and Coast Collective, Victoria) - both are full.

In January 17-19 2017 I will be teaching at the Old School House in Qualicum Beach. 

Approaches to Acrylic Landscape Painting

The Old School House, Qualicum Beach

January 17, 18, 19 2017

This three day acrylic workshop will expose students to different approaches for planning and developing an acrylic landscape painting. The course is designed for the serious beginner (with acrylic experience) to the intermediate painter interested in alternative approaches.
We will work from the same references.  The first morning we will review/discuss the principles of value, form, perspective and composition. We will paint together the rest of the workshop.  We will plan using shape and value sketches making best compositional choices. Each "start” will be made using a different approach. We will develop the paintings together stroke by stroke, glaze by glaze. We will adjust as needed together and make a final critique to consider and other choices we could have made, and you can make at home, to make the piece stronger.

Lots of learning; lots of fun. 

The following week I teach in Sidney , BC.  This is a longer, more comprehensive workshop focusing on strengthening the fundamentals for landscape painting. Contact:

SPCA  Acrylic Landscape Workshop         January 27-30 2017     

This four day acrylic landscape workshop is designed for the serious beginner (with acrylic experience) to the intermediate painter interested in strengthening fundamentals and getting an exposure to different approaches for planning and developing an acrylic landscape painting.  We will focus on Colour; Value; Shape and form; Perspective; Planning; and Design/Composition. Students will be sent a set of notes in pdf format for reading in advance. This helps to insure we are all “ speaking the same language” during the workshop. We will also discuss self critiques and supplies and equipment.

Each morning we will review  the day’s subject with presentation and discussion. Brian will do a demo relating to the days subject and incorporating approaches to planning and design.  Exercises will be introduced as needed.

Following the demo on day one students will work from their own references with guidance .   The following two days,  Brian will demo his approach to planning and executing a painting and students will follow step by step building the piece together. The final afternoon students can choose to once again follow Brians  work step by step, or work from their own reference.

Will be fun.

Next June I will again be teaching plein air skills in Thornbury Ontario. A great place for on- location painting .  Contact the Blue Mountain School of Landscape Painting. 

Plein Air Workshop Blue Mt School of Landscape Painting June 19-23 2017

Painting on location is enjoyable - but challenging. The most experienced plein air artists invest time in planning their composition before they paint.  Time spent planning can speed the painting process and increases the chance of a successful painting/sketch and an enjoyable day.

This five day plein air workshop will begin with two days of “indoor plein air painting” . We will review fundamentals and approaches to planning for strong composition. We will work together from supplied reference material.  This indoor work prepares us to handle the three outdoor days with confidence and enjoyment.  

Looking forward to these workshop. Hope to see you there. 

Tuesday 19 July 2016

My approach to the McMichael Gallery Invitational Plein Air Competition

I was honored to be invited to participate in the 50th Anniversary Plein Air competition at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg Ontario. For those that don't know, the McMichael Gallery is the iconic Canadian gallery housing the works of the Group of Seven and Tom Tompson and other notable Canadian artists. It was the Gallery that had a big influence on me a decade ago where the work and the lifestyle of those artists excited my interest in painting.

This was a two day competion with the awards being made on the second day . I was only able to attend the first day - grandson baseball game the second day. So I decided I was not going to submit for the competion - just enjoy the day and meet some Ontario artists.

I set up in view of the Gallery entrace. Paintings had to be on 16x20, 11x14 or 8x10.  I arrived early. Strong cast shadows created opportunity for strong light and dark contrast and feeder lines showing direction towards the focal point - the strong building roof line.  I made a series of sketches and value thumb nails. I sketched out my plan using pencil on two 11x14 linen boards . Once happy I firmed the sketch using black acrylic marker. I made one verticle and one horizontal.  I thought the horizontal was strongest so I used the same approach to draw the sketch on the 16x20 horizontal.

I then used liquid acrylics to create a warm underpainting - making each panel different - allowing happenstance to affect each outcome.  I then painted each trying to make each a bit unique.

Total time about two hours. I then poped them in frames ( others seemed suprised that I carried old frames with me when doing plein air) set them on a bench  and considered each.  Had lunch and spent an hour walking around chatting with other artists.

The underpainting on the winning 16x20

The first block in on the 16x20 before final changes

I returned. Took each painting into a shaded area and away from the reference view. I now wanted to know what each required to strengthem them - to make them stand alone as a stronger piece.  Most required strengthening the darks - to increase the value contrast at the building roof line.  And I was done.

Took all back to the car and got ready to return home. I had no interest in submitting them for the competion. One of the artists and a new friend, Karin Fidew, enouraged me to submit them. So I applied an isolation coat in the back of my van and submitted them.  I forgot to photo the final painting and have not returned to the Gallery to do so.

I was amazed and very pleased to learn the next day that my 16x20 was awarded first place. The painting will be framed and hang in the Gallery until November - great honour.

The take home, with acrylics, you are able to work on more than one panel at a time to work out your issues. Take a different format and approach for each. Work on one, put it down to dry, work on the next and so forth. In my experience it has enabled one to stand out. And it really does not add much more time to do and allows you to work out your mistakes and consider other options.

Sunday 12 June 2016

Two quick windy day sketches

It was a beautiful morning near the Niagara Escarpment, Collingwood, but VERY windy. Was hoping to spend the morning - but the wind got to me so did two quick sketches - water mixable oils on linen board 11x14.

Friday 27 May 2016

ANSWER TO QUESTION: What am I using to hold my brushes

Following the last post I was asked by a couple of followers about the system I use to hold my brushes. My system is Art Box and Panels. You can purchase a brush holder with the system - a simple PVC tube that works well. For me, it was too small. So I purchased larger PVC piping, put caps on top and bottom pieces and a joiner piece to make the holder and attached with a bit of Gorilla Glue .

I drilled holes for air drying of brushes. At the appropriate height I made a double hold that will slide over a screw attached to the back corner of the palette.

The base with the brushes attaches to one side. The top holds my maul stick, straight edge, palette knives and rubber shapers and attaches to the other side. Very happy. Cheap and simple.

The other one I like is the hanging brush holder available from Guerilla Painter.
This shows it hanging from my Soltek easel.

And finally, I had two Artwork Essentials systems that I also liked and they have a really good brush holder .

Hope this helps.

Sunday 22 May 2016

When there is nothing of interest to paint from the RV site.....

Cathy and I traveled in our RV from our Comox Valley home on Vancouver Island to Collingwood Ontario where we spend the summers.  We try to arrive at the next RV park so there is enough time for a quick sketch or plein air painting. Often as not there is just nothing of interest to paint, so I travel with a large selection of photos and refer to them. I haven't posted about my acrylic plein air set up in a while, so I thought I would combine the two.

We had a free no-travel day in Oliver BC with friends. Nothing excited me to paint and it was raining on and off. So I put out the RV awning get my photos and set up to paint.

I have owned or tried most plein air set ups. Because I paint standing and am fairly tall, I have stopped using pochade boxes - where the separation of the palette surface and the panel is very tight.  In stead I prefer a separate palette and panel holder. I now use the Art Box and Panel  and have one set for oils and one for acrylics. Simple, inexpensive and work well for me.

I hold my paint on a Masterton Stay Wet plastic palette - without paper and sponge. I mix on grayed-glass.

I use a plastic recycle box to carry my supplies strapped to a folding folding cart. A plastic board can be used to create a work table for holding supplies. I no longer back pack in to places to paint - body part problems.

I spent most of the rainy day making 12x16 sketches on linen glued to 1/8 door skin. This day, each was given an underpainting of quincradone violet. Thumbnail sketches were made to create the rough design. The sketch was transferred to the panel using acrylic marker. Each sketch took about an hour. We are now in Ontario where, when I get a chance, I will decide if any are keepers, frame and consider each and what need to be done next.

In spite of the rain, it was a fun day.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Time for a change

Its been a long winter of painting mostly large acrylic landscapes. I needed a change. So, for the week prior to our driving back to Ontario I got out my water mixable oils for the first time in well over a year and decided to try my hand at portraiture again. But this time I wanted to be loose, to almost paint the face like a landscape - large brushes, bold strokes, and fast intuitive painting. Most of my earlier portraits are too highly rendered for my taste today. They lacked "energy".

I started with a generic female face.

Then decided to try my hand, once again, at some family portraits - but not feel the need to be "correct" - still hoping for a resemblance.

Made initial sketches with water mixable pencils then finalized using acrylic markers. Began with a wash of acrylic quin. crimson and shaded in dark areas.

 All painting was done with large firm angular brushes (brights) - Opus Legatto and Rosemary synthetics. All done 8x10. Target was to complete from first drawing to finish of one hour. Most went overtime. All were done in one sitting. The sketch below, of my grandson, was the first, done the fastest and my favorite of the group.

My daughter in law and grand daughter under warm night lights - very abstracted. 12x12

I made another 6 pieces. Not great portraiture but great fun and nice to do some risk taking to see what would happen. Starting to feel comfortable working with oils again.

To answer an earlier question I use water mixable oils for the easy soap and water clean up - I don't have health concerns. I use it with water or odorless mineral spirits. I like Winsor Neuton Artisan Quick Dry medium.

Tomorrow, off to Ontario in our RV. Will be doing a painting demo on Sunday May 8 at Avens Gallery, Canmore, Alberta.