Small still life

I had a few hours free recently, so I painted a small still life.  It consisted of a miniature spirits bottle that I filled with rum and an old pewter goblet.

When I first started to learn how to paint, I did lots of these small still lives on 15cm x 15cm or 15cm x 20cm boards.  They only take an afternoon and it’s a good way to try things without wasting a lot of time and materials when things go wrong, as they inevitably will.  More recently I have worked a lot from photographs, so it was good to get back to painting from life.

When I started learning to paint ‘seriously’,  I took a lot of the advice given my Mark Carder from  His ‘no-nonsense’ guide to painting realism was ideal for me and he even has tutorials on how to build studio equipment, such as easels (which I followed and am very pleased with the result).

Anyway, this was my subject.

I painted on a 15x20cm canvas covered panel, that had already had a reddish-brown ground applied.  There’s no particular reason for that, it’s just what I had lying around.  I wasn’t trying to create a masterpiece, just have a bit of fun.

The panel was stuck to a plywood board held vertically in my easel.  The basic structure was sketched in with a turpsy mix of blue and brown.

Unfortunately I took these pictures with my phone and the colours are way off.

Next I mixed up most of the colours that I thought I would need.  Lots of greys for the backround and the goblet and some yellows, greens and golds for the bottle.

I used my ‘normal’ basic palette of burnt umber, ultramarine blue, cadmiums red and yellow and titanium white.  You can mix an amazing range with only these five colours.  I also used some yellow ochre, though I probably didn’t need to.

I painted the background first, then the bottle and lastly the goblet.

After about 4 hours I ended up with this.

I was tight for time as I had to go home (to make the kids’ dinner!), so the goblet was really rushed.  I knew I could always go back over it at a later date.  Perhaps I will, but the point of the exercise was really just to get my hand in again and put in a few more ‘learning hours’.

I enjoyed getting the gold colours of the rum something like right and the long elegant shape of the bottle was satisfying to paint.

I think I am ready for a larger and more adventurous painting though.  Either a portrait or a nocturnal street scene.  Details to follow …

First solo exhibition

Yes, my first ever solo exhibition is underway.  If anyone reading this lives within a reasonable distance of Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, Scotland then you are welcome to pop along.

For everybody else … what can I say about it?

Firstly, it is evidence that I have enough work that I consider ‘good enough’ to be worth showing.

I want the quality of my paintings to keep improving.  Consequently it’s easy to think that my work “isn’t quite there yet” and that I should wait until it is better before showing it.  Obviously, this could go on forever so at some point I have to put it out there as it is.

Secondly, the venue is a community centre and not a dedicated art gallery.  In fact the building used to be the public library where I would sometimes go to revise for my school exams thirty years ago!

So there was no grand opening, canapés, free wine, string quartets or speeches.  In fact the organisation was stress free.  Some very helpful people from the centre hung the work and all I had to do was get some posters printed and distribute a few locally.

Thirdly, I have no expectations of what the exhibition will achieve.  As the centre is used for many purposes such as classes, clubs and even film nights, it’s certain that my paintings will be seen by a good number of people over the five week period.  Whether any of them will make a purchase – who knows?  Perhaps I will be surprised, maybe I’ll get a commission, maybe I’ll be invited to exhibit elsewhere or maybe nothing will happen at all!  The final verdict will be the subject of a future blog post.

As the exhibition rumbles I am having fun painting some small sketchy portraits such as this one of a former colleague from my time in France.

His name is Paul (nickname Polo) and is quite a character and favorite around the village of Saint Just le Martel, where we both worked (and he presumably still does).

2019 in Summary

To say that I have not posted regularly would be the understatement of the decade.  Indeed, I did not post anything at all in 2019.  So here are the ‘highlights’ to bring you more or less up to date.

Around May I took part in a group exhibition in the Cass Art store in Glasgow.  Our group was a bunch of people who met regularly to sketch in Glasgow, via Meetup.  The theme was “progression” and each artist was free to interpret this how they wished.  My take on it was the progression of a typical day in Glasgow.  I included a handful of paintings, of which this is probably my favourite.

George Street, Glasgow, 2019.

Despite favourable feedback from the public, it was not a successful exhibition in terms of sales (nothing!).  This was despite a fair bit of marketing by the organiser.  The exhibition, being at the rear of the store, wasn’t ever going to attract passers by.  Whatever the reason, traffic through the exhibition was very slow.  I’d guess 5-10 people per hour, if that.

Still, it was all experience and the Cass Art staff were very nice.  Being artists themselves,  they were happy to chat and give advice on, for example, the use of Instagram.  That’s something that I haven’t yet put to great use.

From May until August art took a back seat as I planned for and then built my ecological tiny house in France.

This was an extreme logistical challenge as I had about 5 weeks on site to build a drive, get the water supply working and then build the house, largely on my own.  I would be camping on site, with my children, which had its own challenges.

I will be creating another website detailing the project but, basically the house was made from a wooden frame, on concrete pier foundations, infilled with a lime and hemp (hempcrete) and clad with wood.  Floor area is about 17m2.

The photos below give some idea of what it’s like.  

So the house was finished (the exterior at least) and it was back to Scotland for the start of the school year.

There would be another visit during the October school break in order to plaster the inside with more lime and hemp.

In future I hope to use the house as a base from which to explore the surrounding area and do some plein air painting. The climate and countryside are great and the very pretty towns of Bergerac, Bordeaux and Périgueux are not too far away.

My painting efforts in Scotland until the end of the year were somewhat ad-hoc. I spent quite a lot of time trying to improve my portrait painting technique, using the small format (20x15cm) boards that I tend to use for my ‘daily painting’ type work.

In all honesty, progress has been slow. Often the painting seems to be going well before I spoil it, typically by overworking and fiddling with details. At this time I began to experiment with a ‘Zorn’ palette of only black, white, red and yellow ochre. This was really useful for simplifying skin tones.

Below is one of my better efforts.

Cedric in typical pose, Saint Just le Martel, France, 2013.

So that about wraps up 2019! I just had to survive Christmas and New Year before starting some new projects.

Trains and tower blocks

I’ve spent months, on and off, working on a fairly large triptych of Glasgow, seen from the top of the new City of Glasgow College building.

It’s been largely tedious, if I’m being honest, as I started it in quite a tight style and am bound to continue in the same fashion.  Sometimes I get into the fabled ‘flow state’ when painting a section of it, but most of the time it’s a slog.

When it’s finished it will look quite impressive (I hope).  As for it’s artistic merit, well I’m not making any great statement.  If successful it will provoke the same feeling that you would get by looking at the vista for real.  Ideally in a more ‘alive’ way that a straight photograph.

From a ‘learning’ standpoint, it’s helping my colour mixing.  More specifically browns, blues and greys, which I hadn’t previously realised were so dominant in the city’s architecture.

Anyway, in search of some relief from the above project, I tackled a small painting in a deliberately looser style.

I’m not a train ‘anorak’ by any means, but I’ve always liked the pattern of the tracks as they recede into the distance and the clutter of the overhead lines.  There’s also an ‘industrial’ aspect of stations that appeals to me especially as they are bang in the centre of an urban area.  Furthermore, I get this train a lot and I have some empathy with this grimy vehicle as it shunts it’s way back and forth dutifully every day.

Result?  Yes, it was fun to paint this. It’s nice working wet in wet (applying fresh paint over a wet previous layer).

I do find a typical pattern when painting.  First enthusiasm – choose subject, decide composition, get the underpainting down.  Then it’s a bit of a mess, part logic, part instinct.  Encouragement when it seems to be going well and satisfaction when you realise it’s just about finished.  Then the kicker … it’s not quite what you hoped it would be.  Realisation that a better artist would have painted it, well, better.

These days though, I can more easily accept that it’s part of the process.  Going through this loop continually means that my work should, logically,  continue to improve.  For today, I am happy enough with railway carriage 314214.

Bordeaux Bicycle Girl

There are lots of cycles, skateboards and electric scooters in Bordeaux.  I think they help make the city centre a surprisingly quiet and pleasant place.  Anyway, this painting is situated on a tram line not far from the big theatre.

For these small painting I use oil paint on primed hardboard.  In this particular case, I scrubbed in the underpainting very thinly and even the subsequent layers were thinly applied.  I was using fairly soft synthetic brushes, which I don’t normally like, but they seemed to work well in this case.  The paint went on very nicely, with barely any dilutant.  A nice surprise!

That was the summer …

Yes, I know that virtually nobody reads this blog (yet) and that is entirely down to me.  But for my own stuttering discipline, if nothing else, I thought I’d better write something.

Since my last post in May, a lot has happened (although that doesn’t excuse my lack of progress on the blog or website in general).

There has been school summer holidays, several trips to France, efforts to buy some French land and then get planning permission to build a cabin on it.  The result of which is I should be signing for my small part of south-west France in a couple of months (see below).

But all of the above is only tangentially related to art.

Speaking of which, I haven’t been completely idle.  Among other efforts there has been …

This somewhat-laboured-but-not-absolutely-terrible-Glasgow cityscape:

This much smaller and more satisfying painting from a trip to Bordeaux:

Plus quite a few still lives around autumn time, the best of which was this apple:

Plus a commission for a friend who is taking riding lessons:

Not to mention a bit of politics with this tribute to England’s precious prime minister:

On a more pleasing note, I sold a number of small painting to an art dealer, put aside a few more and will be participating in a winter sale of works at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre.

My stock of small paintings having been virtually exhausted, I am working on new subjects.  Alert readers may have noticed that I do not have a functioning online shop yet and this is something I must rectify once I have figured out what to sell.

Update complete!



Dad – Quick Portrait

It’s been a while since I attempted a portrait in oils, so that’s what I decided to do today.

The subject is my dad and I worked from a photo that I had already used for a successful charcoal portrait.

I am aware that my painting style is very ‘tight’, so I wanted this oil sketch to be a no-pressure exercise to loosen up.

It was a classic case of using a large brush to do the underpainting (using diluted ultramarine blue, burnt umber and burnt sienna) then progressively refining the image with smaller brushes and more vivid colours.

I did keep the brush size larger than I would normally use to try to avoid ‘fiddling’ and getting bogged down in detail.

As is often the case, I got somewhat lost mid-way through and my tones are a bit clunky and crude.  The finished portrait is far from perfect (I could have spent more time finessing it)  but it was a worthwhile exercise.

Oil sketch of the artist’s father. 8″ x 6″. Oil on board.


Clyde Cycleway

Glasgow cyclist on the river Clyde cycle track. Oil on 8″ x 6″ canvas board.

Who remembers all the cyclists that pass by on any day in a city?

I like being able to take an everyday (and quickly forgotten) scene and make it something more permanent (Edward. B. Gordon is a master at this type of painting and an artist who is well worth checking out).

There’s nothing particularly special or unusual about the above cyclist.  I did, however, like how he was framed against the green cycle track and the long shadows that he cast.  So from being a forgotten nobody, Mr Cyclist becomes a painted somebody.  Forever frozen on his bike ride through town thanks to a few strokes of my brush!

Coffee Pot

Coffee Pot and Glass Jar
Oil on Board, 6″ x 6″

This shiny little coffee pot belongs to a fellow artist in the studio and it has always intrigued me.  I like the proportions, the style and the polished surface.  So I finally paired it up with a glass jar full of coffee for this small still life.




Marshmallows in a glass jar. Oil on 8″ x 6″ board.

This was inspired by a painting of bubblegum balls in a glass jar that I vaguely remember.  As I recall, it was in a hyper-realist style.

My attempt at these marshmallows is in no way hyper-realist.  Even so, it was challenging enough.  It was one of those paintings where there is a risk of getting bored or just finding it too difficult and then abandoning it half-way through.

It was completed over 2 days, with most of the marshmallows being painted on the second day.  I realised there was no way I was going to be able to ‘suggest’ the mallows (short of changing style completely).  So I accepted that I was going to have to paint each one individually, more or less.

The hardest thing was figuring out what colour the shadows were, particularly on the white marshmallows.  I settled for various warm greys, with some reflected blue nearer the base.

It’s funny, when setting this up I ate a few handfuls of marshmallows (there were too many to fit into the jar!).  Now, when I see the painting, I can taste the sweets.  It’s the same with my other subjects, I can smell the strawberries, taste the rum and  imagine the scent of the cigar…

Below is a photo of the painting on the easel next to the subject.

Studio setup – marshmallows.