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It’s been so wet lately on the south coast of the UK that I half expect to see adverts in the local press that read, “animals required in pairs for epic ocean going voyage”! Today is no exception, it’s been steadily deluging all night and all day. The sky is a dull leaden grey and it’s lit by that gloomy half light that you get when the sun has been taken captive by bad weather.

I’ve just finished my latest painting and as usual I’m feeling that dissatisfaction that seems to haunt most of my work at the moment. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not that good! It’s not what I want to achieve and yet how to achieve what I want, seems to elude me, tantalisingly close but always just out of reach.

I think part of the problem is that I seem artistically afraid of the dark. By that I mean that I seem to have a watercolourist’s way of applying colour. This shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise to me, as my first tentative steps into the world of colour were in watercolour when I was a boy.

As many of you know, the difference between applying colour in watercolour and applying colour in oil, is that a watercolourist will traditionally work from light to dark, but when you work in oils the received wisdom is to work from dark to light, applying the darkest colours first. I know this isn’t always the way, but in general I think that it is true.

My problem is that I seem to be pathologically averse to putting down dark enough shadows and contrast, which results in my having to endlessly darken subsequent paint layers to get enough tonal contrast. I don’t seem to trust the paints ability to cover all that darkness!

So I’m going to try out two different traditional methods of achieving this. The first is “grisaille”. This means effectively painting the whole work in black and white first to get a good tonal image and then overpainting with colour. Vermeer used this method for Girl With a Pearl Earring. Here’s a great example from: http://www.penroseart.com/vermeer02.htm


I’m currently working on a portrait using this method and if it’s successful I’ll post some pic’s. To be honest I’m not sure I have the patience, so it might not be for me, but if it helps break my tonal timidity I’ll try anything once! If that doesn’t work I can see myself doing some in-depth research into renaissance chiaroscuro.

Anyway… the latest work is a landscape. Yep, I know I once vowed never to touch landscape again… I may re-vow that vow again soon, but I love this part of Eastbourne. When the sun sets over the marshes it lights the tips of the reeds so beautifully that I wanted to have a go at painting them. Pure inspiration, not common sense, just inspiration and sometimes you’ve just got to follow that feeling even if you are uncertain of completing the task that you are inspired to do! Inspiration is a motivational force like nearly no other. If Paul Simon hadn’t felt strangely compelled to go to Gracelands then the album Gracelands may never have been made. Bob Dylan had a similar compulsion to withdraw before he wrote his best work. Inspiration focuses our minds and gives us the strength to withdraw from distraction and push on with a project that we can feel divinely appointed to achieve during one of those shaft of light experiences. So even if it makes no logical sense, an inspired idea is always one that should receive great respect and be given serious consideration.

That said, whilst I enjoyed the process of taking the reference shots with my youngest son (apart from deep frustration that a DSLR can’t capture what my eye can), I’m not sure that the resulting image was that great. However! I learnt something, and every painting (or experience) that teaches us something constructive is a great success!


Bits of it I like, but the uptight stuffyness of other bits I find deeply irritating. The old renaissance Tuscan proverb that says “every painter paints himself”, may indeed be true, but not necessarily comforting! We probably do “paint ourselves” in a way, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept that, or that change isn’t possible. I push on with each picture I paint in the hope that either I will change and my art with it, or I will find myself in my art and be at peace with who I find.

sunset detail

This bit I kind of like.