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:

Ultramarine
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.