The Rock

My son Will posed for this on a baking day in Algonquin Canada earlier this year. I tried to capture something of the contrasting warmth and coolness as the sunlight saturates everything but parts of the boats and Will. I used cool violets in the shadows to suggest the warmth reflecting all around.

I like playing with the composition so, e.g. there is a triangle of primaries to anchor the picture (grass, cap, shoes), and the shape of the canoes are reversed in the distant tree line. As ever, it is deliberately loose and impressionist.

Will ‘collects’ rocks. Is he going to keep it or throw it?

Blue Beret


This is a composite portrait, derived from drawings and photos, of one of our regular models. It started with an initial 15 min sketch of the pose with beret. The scarf idea came later. It allowed me to use the full tonal range with its black lace, and Autumn colours and made me think of the black veil in Goya’s Dona Isabel.

I also tried to start introducing more daring colour to this traditional palette and there is an experimental play with violets and yellows throughout.


I recently visited the Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and was inspired to get back into portrait painting. I was braver with this portrait of one of our regular models. I tried to keep the planes and values clear and free and not blend everything into oblivion.


I have just completed this copy of a painting by Madrazo y Garreta of his model and muse Aline. I suspect from the shadow contrasts that he worked occasionally from photographs.

I came across this painter through Sorolla, his contemporary, who painted his portrait. Madrazo is a much tighter painter than Sorolla, whose portrait of Madrazo (below) is freer by contrast.

“Come on, Will”

If I had painted this a few years ago it would have contained much more colour. This painting though is done with the same restricted palette used for classical portraits: black, white and three primaries (see the Elizabeth Farren post below).

Oil on Canvas – February 2014

The composition relies on diagonal flow lines to tie it in, and triangles of light and dark as I try to mass the tonal areas.

I have also tried to work with extremes of finishing: the background sky is more detailed than the loose foreground.

The scene is my children on our last day at Lake Coniston in the Summer.

Elizabeth Farren

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of the actress Elizabeth Farren is a fabulous painting from the Regency period. It is unashamed in its dash and flair; in its excess.

I took a break from rendering life drawings to do an oil study of the head. Of course there is no comparison with the original, but to work at it I did a sight-size pencil drawing and worked from that as well as a picture of the original.

I worked it up relying on a traditional limited palette for flesh tones. The warm blue greens are achieved by substituting a cerulean blue for the harsher ultramarine .

Far from perfect, here’s the finished study

Oil on canvas paper

I genuinely think you learn something about how the artist achieved his work by attempting to emulate it. The main thing you learn is the gulf between natural talent and hard work!