Internal Affairs: Internships in the McSherry Studio

Well, here I am, just after my first experience in collaboration with an intern. I’ve always had reservations about the whole intern concept and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be a a position to be able to employ anyone.  However, it turned out to be very successful, despite my misgivings. I usually work alone and usually in a kind of ‘just muddling-through’, disorganised fashion. I got tired just thinking about what I had to prepare for this student. Luckily, Sophie turned out to be much better prepared than I was and she showed such initiative and worked with such energy that the whole thing was a pleasure. She really has set the bar high. What convinced me to take her on in the first place was her initial email. She had obviously researched her subject; this was no generic, catch-all proposal message, like many others I have received. She knew my work, (all the way over in Holland!) and the tone of her letter was pitched perfectly. This is why I wrote the following text:

Art classes in south Dublin Learn paint oils alla prima
Art classes in south Dublin -with my fantastic intern.

I see internships in my studio as a collaboration. I would hope to learn as much from you as you do from me. I work as an independent illustrator/artist and art teacher which requires that I do many of the jobs for which other, bigger businesses have staff: On top of my artistic work, there is: Administration; invoicing; prospecting; teaching; pricing; debt-collection; web site building, creating shows, etc.. The work is constant and very varied -and often fun.

My expectations (and probably the expectations of any business, creative or otherwise) are:

  • Respect and courtesy: Please don’t approach me by impersonal email without having researched me and my work, your email will be binned without being read. A respectful approach will be heard: I will reply, even if I can’t take you on.
  • You’ll be representing me to people who I hope to work with or already work with: please don’t turn up looking like Edward Scissorhands! I might be impressed by your creatively stunning and committed individuality but I know clients who would not.
  • Show me that you can think for yourself and that you possess initiative. There’s no point in me taking on interns who I think I will perform tasks that I can’t do, only to find I’ve got to closely guide them along.
  • Know how to address people in formal circumstances like writing a letter or an email or when phoning. Your English doesn’t have to be perfect but the rules are the same in any language and besides, I’ll be there to correct the English where I can.
  • Never make promises you can’t or won’t keep. This is a cardinal rule for life. For example, try your best to keep to your deadlines, whatever they are. Like turning up at meetings. I once arranged a formal meeting with seven students. Only two turned up. It was a sunny day; we don’t get many sunny days in Ireland but, you see; that’s just bad luck, isn’t it? I turned up only to have my time wasted. That’s the world of work; turning up. Also, if you can’t make your deadline or if you’re going to be late, have the courtesy to phone in.
My least successful activity is marketing; generating interest and following up; something that a student of marketing and/or design could do much better than me.
In return, you’ll be treated very well; you’ll be praised highly for the good work that you do (unfortunately, this doesn’t often happen in the work environment as many bosses are complete tossers); I’ll make sure that you get the benefit of my experience in terms of mentoring; I’ll do whatever I can do to help you along in your career and introduce you to others who might help you along too.

2016 Art Classes start back: Jan 19 & 21

Art classes south Dublin Learn paint oils alla prima
Art classes in south Dublin. Learn to paint in oils in the alla prima style.

Happy new year to all my friends. I hope you’re all set for a productive and art-filled 2016.

The next 6 week term begins: Tuesday January 19 and Thursday January 21Book NOW by calling 086 247 0737 or email:



Tuesday morning 10am-12.30pm.  Call 086 247 0737 or email:
Tuesday evening 7pm-9.30pm Call 086 247 0737 or email:


Thursday morning 10am-12.30pm.  Call 086 247 0737 or email:
Thursday evening 7pm-9.30pm Call 086 247 0737 or email:

Payments for classes can be made by cash,  cheque, credit card and PayPal.

Art classes start again November 3 and 5

Art classes south Dublin Learn paint in oils alla prima
Art classes in south Dublin. Learn to paint in oils in the alla prima style.

The In-Studio art class will begin again right after the mid-term break: November 3 and 5 respectively. This will be the last 6 week term before Christmas.

I’m looking forward to having you all back -and to accepting new members, so book now.

You can see all the relevant information on this page. You can also contact Catherine on 087 280 8541 if you need to find out more about the class (Office hours).

We accept all Credit Cards.

Making Stuff Up: Using your Imagination in your Art

draw sketch imagination paint composition
Draw and paint from your imagination as much as you can.

I often tell my painting students that sooner or later they should all try to work from their imagination. For me, that’s what most of my studies lead up to.

So, sketching is very helpful; sketching and doodling. Great for getting what’s in your mind out into the world in a quick and convenient way. Life-drawing will equip you with the ability to render what’s on your mind; I just don’t think it’s enough to have all that craft ability and to not use it for expressing yourself in an imaginative way.

This little work was a demo I did to show my students how you can paint an underpainting (a brunaille* in this case) if you’re not sure how you want your painting to turn out. I had no particular plan with this other than demonstrating how to achieve a result. I made it up on the spot because I’ve done things like this thousands of times.

Anyway, you can design the painting and add other details or subtract them as you go along -and it’s not going to affect your final work. The underpainting is like painting with a safety net; all the details and tonal values are worked out before any colour gets added. Then the colour can be glazed over it, eventually building up to opaque paint. Just make sure you keep you brushstrokes nice and flat -you don’t want to form little ridges in you paint as your transparent glazes could pool.

Tubes of paint used for this are:

Burnt Sienna
Pale Terracotta (also known as ‘Flesh Tint’) or Warm Bright Yellow from Sennelier.
Titanium White (you can get away without using this. I just used it for the shirt and the bright highlights in the eyes).

*Grisaille = A monochrome grey painting
*Brunaille = Warm monochrome painting

Of course, the other thing you should be doing to exercise your imagination is to draw: Doodle and sketch as much as possible. Buy a sketchbook that you can carry around with you and fill it up. I’ve written a book that will help inspire you to do just this. It’s called, ‘The Care & Feeding of your Sketchbook’ and you can find it here.

Oils and Acrylics Artist’s Paint: Difference Explained

oils palette colour paint brush tubes acrylics turpentine liquin linseed

Although they seem at first glance to have the same working properties, and they come in similar-looking tubes, oils and acrylics paints are very different from each other and these differences mean that they will cause you to paint in different ways.

The main difference is the binder -for oils, it’s usually a simple mix of pigment into linseed oil (or safflower oil). There may be some other filler, especially in student-quality paint, but we don’t need to go into that right now.

Acrylic paints are much more complex. The binder is an acrylics emulsion (a product of the petrochemical industry and available from only two manufacturers in the world. According to the rep for Golden Acrylics paint; these are BASF and 3M). Along with the pigment, there may be a humectant in varying amounts which help manufacturers even out the difference in drying times as different pigments will dry faster than others.

Another difference is in the way they cure once the paint has been applied: Oils cure by oxidisation -the linseed oil pulls in oxygen and hardens over time. Acrylics dry by evaporation and polymerisation. In other words, as water leaves the emulsion, polymers form creating a film of plastic containing the pigment. This can happen very quickly -a thin layer of acrylic paint can be dry within minutes. Even a thin layer of oil paint will remain workable for an entire day; great for working wet-into-wet, scrubbing out mistakes and creating a flow and softness in the artwork. It could be said that oils never dry; they just continue the process of oxidisation until crazing occurs and the paint detaches itself from the support. Neither of us will have to worry about that for our own masterpieces, though, as there are 600 year old paintings still in good order and many future conservators who’ll desperately need employment. It’s just too early to say how acrylics paints will fare over the next few hundred years. I suspect, judging by all the plastic crap floating around in the sea, that they’ll outlast humanity, or even the lifetime of the universe.

Because acrylics dry so quickly, the artist has to take a different approach to painting than with oils; often building up layers of paint. You can achieve a high degree of precision very quickly but you may lose out on all that lovely oleaginous softness.

Dilution and clean-up after painting in oils needs a solvent, such as turpentine, Sansodor or Zest-it. Solvents are often volatile materials, which give off pungent fumes, especially turpentine and white spirit, so they should only be used in a well-ventilated studio (that includes Sansodor, which might not have much of an odour but is still a volatile chemical). They can also be a fire-hazard. For acrylics, we use water for dilution and clean-up.

Acrylics can be used to imitate other mediums such as watercolour (by dilution of the paint with water) and oils (by use of acrylic mediums and retarders or painting extremely fast!). They never quite reproduce the spontaneity of either -mostly because they dry so fast and so thoroughly. Whatever about imitation, though, acrylics is its own thing and comes into its own by its inherent versatility.

What’s best about acrylics is the sheer range of paints, additives and textures that can be bought or created. Craquelure, gel mediums, iridescent colours, process colours, high-build mediums, impasto mediums. They can also be applied to a whole array of substrates other than canvas: paper -gessoed and unprepared, wood, glass -a seemingly unending variety. They’re such fun to use.

However, there really is nothing like the ease of application and the flow of oils. In comparison, acrylics seem to drag, especially when starting a painting on new canvas or paper.

Another difference is that when using acrylics, there’s a colour shift as the paint dries. Acrylic paint dries darker than the out-of-the-tube paint. According to the same Golden representative, this is because of the refraction of light through the water in the acrylic emulsion. There is no such shift with oils. Oils has an inherent lustre, even if sometimes areas seem to be a little matt and dry-looking. Acrylics always dries matt. However, you can mix gloss medium into acrylics paints to get around this. You can also varnish your painting, of course!

Acrylics with a dry-brushed texture

The matt nature of acrylics is ideal for illustration work and reproduction as scanning or photographing can be made easier as there’s less refection from studio lights, flashes or the carriage light of your scanner.

A very general guide I use for myself is: When you want to paint a painting quickly; use oils; If you want to hang a painting quickly; use acrylics.

For the artist interested in selling their work; there’s another factor you may want to consider. There seems to be a hierarchy of value in mediums. Oil paintings seem to have a higher innate value than acrylics paintings. I know this is ridiculous but it appears to be true. Let’s forget for a moment about the completely arbitrary perceived value of the artists themselves. Although acrylics have been around since the 1950s, oils have been around for many hundreds of years and tradition mostly trumps novelty in painting sales.

Some final points:

  • You can paint in oils over acrylics but never the other way around.
  • You can’t mix oils and acrylics paints and expect a good or lasting result.
  • After using acrylics, clean your brushes immediately; once the paint is dry on your brush, it’s very difficult to remove.
  • Of all the painting media, oils is the most forgiving: start with oils.
  • In either case, studio waste should be treated with care and disposed of properly. Some of the pigments in all kinds of paint are toxic.

Take a look at the videos here for some more pointers about painting.

All Mixed Up About Colour: Help with Understanding Colour for Beginner Painters

acrylics colour color acrylics oils palette paint imagination illustration
The Brentford Job. Acrylics on paper.

Having difficulty with colour? People often do -and we’re all confuddled by the infinite variety of mixes that are possible. There are almost as many palettes as there are artists. And many teachers take a very categorical view on the matter.

In fact, what you’re mostly dealing with is just tradition. Artists working hundreds of years ago had only a limited variety of pigments available to them, and some of those are extremely expensive, to boot.

Ultramarine is a lovely blue, but it leans toward the red end of the spectrum. Thus, when you try to make a bright green by mixing yellow with it; you get a brown tinge. Cadmium Red leans towards the yellow side; hence, when you try to make a violet or purple by mixing ultramarine blue into it; once again it looks off. And so on all around the palette.

 So to get around this most basic of problems for beginners all you have to do is get scientific for a while. Just look at your inkjet printer. What colours is it using? Process colours, that’s what. Science has revealed which pigmented colours give the widest and truest mixes. Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black. It’s possible to make an entire and believable palette from just these.

That’s how the above painting was created (the colour part, rather than an armed robbery on a Vespa getaway!).

Traditionalists will recoil in horror, of course. But they always do. The traditional colours are beautiful and have innate qualities that are impossible to emulate. But they’re also yet another complicated layer of difficulty in an already complex endeavour. Since you can’t buy Process colours in oils, as far as I can see, I’ve researched what will get us closest.

Take a look at my short video on the subject on my teaching web site above.

If you need to learn about the basics of colour; simplify. Then you can branch out to really enjoy what glorious pigments are on offer. This is what I teach in my class; Methods to help you create paintings; not hidebound lore that confuses. My aim in class is always to unravel the entanglement of sacred technique.

You can see more informative videos on this page.

Art Classes Resume September 15 and 17

Art classes south Dublin Learn paint oils alla prima
Art classes in south Dublin. Learn to paint in oils in the alla prima style.

Art classes will resume on the week of September 15. As usual, classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays: To book or make enquiries, please have a look at this page for more information.

If you are looking for a relaxed and fun class where you will learn much more than just how to paint, you’d be welcome to join us. There’s also free freshly brewed coffee or tea (and biscuits!).

This is a 6 week term, running from September 15 – October 22. The subscription is €175. If you would like to secure a place, we would appreciate payment for the full term in advance.

I’d like to highlight that I can only run my classes on a full term basis -I can’t split terms as I can’t fill odd places.

My studio is run as a sanctuary for art and creativity; therefore, all payment matters arising during class hours should be directed to Catherine (she’s usually available close by in the house).

My Thoughts on Golden Open Acrylics Artist Paint

painting acrylics open golden imagination imaginative absurd surreal
The Strange Obsessions of Uncle Eugene. 10″ x 8″. Golden Open Acrylics on canvas.

I always say: If you want to paint an artwork quickly; use oils. If you want to have a painting ready quickly; use acrylics.

But there’s always something to make a lie of every aphorism. Some time ago I bought a set of acrylic colours by the US paint maker Golden. They market these as ‘Open Acrylics’. Essentially, they are slow-drying and make them a little more akin to oils in feel and drying-time.

Washing up and dilution is still done with water.

Apparently, even when it seems that they’ve become unworkable (perhaps the next day), they can be made useable -or ‘opened’ with an additive that they sell (and which I didn’t buy!) So I haven’t tested this.

Whatever; this is my first go with these paints.

I started out with a ‘brunaille’ or monochrome underpainting with regular acrylics and used Open Acrylics paints to glaze the colour. However, I quickly returned to using these paints just as I would with regular acrylics and because of that, I found that the prolonged workability of the paint got in my way as I kept dragging my wrist over the painting and causing smudges.

In their favour, though, all Golden paints are loaded with pigment (Golden don’t do student quality paints as far as I know). They’re bright and intense and each tube goes a long way.

They don’t feel like oils or regular acrylics though; the texture is slightly goopy -sticky- rather than buttery

Although, these are great paints; really, these were the wrong paintings on which to test these colours out. I would have been happier using regular acrylics for this art. For me at least, Golden Open Acrylics would come into their own in a more expressive painting -an alla prima painting would have brought out the best in them. They’d be a great alternative to oils paints for those who have a problem with the solvents used in oil painting.

Edward-VII’s arrival at Lismore Castle. Painted in Golden Open Acrylics

I also might bring them on holiday with me, as acrylics can dry on the brush in the heat of a southern European summer and oils take just as long to set regardless of the weather.

In DUblin, Ireland, you can buy these in Evans’ Art Shop (online and in the shop itself) in Mary’s Abbey, in Dublin’s town centre.


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Portraiture Workshop in Terenure, Dublin. Sunday June 14th

Art classes south Dublin Learn paint oils alla prima style.
Art classes in south Dublin. Learn to paint in oils in the alla prima style.

A full day tutored workshop in painting the portrait. 10.30AM to 4.30PM with a one hour lunch break. 

Painting portraits is challenging but fun -and the right time to start practicing is NOW!

I will guide you through the process in an easily understandable way; and questions are welcome.

We’ll cover the following:
The structure of the head.
Mixing skin-tones and tonal values.
Colour temperature.


Where is it? 

This event will take place in the upstairs venue of Terenure Sports Club
54 Terenure Road North, Terenure, Dublin 6W, Co. Dublin

Phone:(01) 490 8322

Please bring your own easel. (There are tables for box easels and plenty of chairs) and painting materials

Coffee and tea available.

There a several venues to go for lunch in the surrounding area -and a bar for post-painting refreshments and analysis!

What should I bring? Materials list at this link.

Art classes in south Dublin. Learn to paint in oils in the alla prima style.

portrait oils composition dublin workshop art class
Working out the composition of a portrait in oils at my workshop in Dublin

Morning ‘Painting Improvement’ Workshops for the Month of June in Terenure Dublin

Usually, classes in my studio are held on a PER TERM basis. Terms are not split up. However, for the month of June, my regular classes will be finished for the summer and your own schedule is likely to be broken up too. In their place, I will be holding these morning ‘Painting Improvement’ workshops in my studio. 
Each workshop: €30. You can book these individually by clicking on the class of your choice. Bring your own projects (as long as they’re not over A2 size. Booking MUST be made prior to the workshop and please remember: There are ONLY 6 PLACES on each workshop: Book early to avoid disappointment! *

I will help you along with your project with advice, encouragement -and a practical demonstrations.

Bring your paints and a tabletop easel.  Coffee and tea with biscuits at 11AM. Hope to see you there!

Click on THE LINK of your choice below for further information.

There’s a map on this web site to get you here.

Art classes in Dublin, teaching oils, acrylics with small class sizes and friendly environment.. For beginners to intermediate painters who want to improve technique.

Morning ‘Painting Improvement’ Workshop. Tuesday June 9
6 Places only. €30


Art classes in Dublin, teaching oils, acrylics with small class sizes and friendly environment.. For beginners to intermediate painters who want to improve technique.

Morning ‘Painting Improvement’ Workshop. Thursday June 11
6 Places only. €30


Morning ‘Painting Improvement’ Workshop. Tuesday June 16
6 Places only. €30


Morning ‘Painting Improvement’ Workshop. Thursday June 18
6 Places only. €30


Morning ‘Painting Improvement’ Workshop. Tuesday June 23
6 Places only. €30


Morning ‘Painting Improvement’ Workshop. Thursday June 25
6 Places only. €30



  • Art Classes Ireland reserves the right to cancel the workshop if numbers are too low. People who have paid will be refunded in full.
  • Refunds can only be organized where attendees give at least 2 weeks notice to allow time for replacement.