Category Archives: Advice for Artists

Oi! No painting in the Street

Ken Howard, Roy Connelly and Peter BrownAbove: Ken Howard, Peter Brown, Roy Connelly – click to view


This is a recent interview with Ken Howard RA in which he talks about the difficulties encountered when painting on the streets of London.  The problem is not one of perspective,  capturing the light or changing weather but of being moved on under the spurious excuse of ‘health and safety’.

I was pleased to get a mention in the article, along with Pete the Street – Peter Brown NEAC.

The Health and Safety Executive saw fit to respond with a letter defending common sense:

“Real health and safety is about dealing with risks that are likely to cause serious harm or even death to those in workplaces. I would urge you to challenge those jobsworths who persist in devaluing the real and important stuff by using “elf ‘n’ safety” as an easy excuse for spoiling everyone else’s enjoyment.”

You can read their letter in full here on the HSE website.

Finally, in a humourous response to the original story in the Telegraph, The Guardian newspaper found 10 ‘serious menaces’ in Trafalgar Square that were apparently missed by the wardens.

Posted in Advice for Artists, On Location | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Move along!

Ken Howard has been in the news this week.  He has been moved on twice recently while painting the streets of London. Details in The Telegraph.

Ken Howard painting at RichmondKen Howard painting in Richmond

I also paint in the streets of London. In my experience most people are very happy to see artists at work.  It seems to be private security, under the direction of CCTV controllers, that try to move you.

I usually try to stand my ground.  After a polite chat they will often relent and I can carry on with my work.

The South Bank however is a wonderful place to paint. I have found the management and security guards of The Southbank Centre have a friendly attitude to artists.  The buskers, artists, skate boarders and the Golden Carousel all add to the wonderful atmosphere and nothing beats a walk along the river on a sunny afternoon or evening.

Gallopers - oil painting of the South Bank Golden Carousel by painter Roy Connelly

Above: The Golden Carousel on the South Bank by Roy Connelly.
Oil on board, 10×20 inches. Private Collection.





Posted in Advice for Artists, On Location | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Figures in Paintings

Pissarro (left) and Monet

Two from Turner

Bellotto (left) and Canaletto

I often draw in the National Gallery and last week I spent some time studying figures from several different painters. These are some of the sketches I made of incidental figures. All of these figures, although not the main focus of the paintings, have a vital role to play. They add life and scale to the scene. Since the eighteenth century they have been known as staffage.

Below are some examples from my own work.

Above left: Little Boltons (detail). Above right: Pall Mall (detail)

Posted in Advice for Artists | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Ken Howard – Light and Dark

Light and Dark: The Autobiography of Ken Howard RA, is the latest book from Ken Howard.

Ken Howard Light and Dark cover

It is due for publication by The Royal Academy of Arts on 21 February 2011, and you can pre-order a copy here: Light and Dark: The Autobiography of Ken Howard RA I can’t wait to get my copy.

This is what says:

KenHoward (b. 1932) is one of Britains best-loved painters.His cityscapes and coastal scenes reveal a deep connection with Venice, London and Cornwall; his studio interiors aremasterly evocations of space and light. In this candid autobiography he reflects on work, travel, love and loss. Recalling his early days at art school and the achievements and acclaimthat followed, national service in the RoyalMarines and the artistic commissions for the British Army that took himall over the world, Howard evokes the professional and the personal with verve and humour.

Posted in Advice for Artists | Tagged , | Leave a comment

More Snow – A painter’s guide to staying warm.

I have been painting out in the snow again so thought I would pass on a few tips to keep you warm on your winter plein air painting trips.

The key to staying warm when you are painting in the cold is to dress in layers.  Several thin layers will trap more warm air than one thick layer and can be easily adjusted to suit changes in temperature.  Start with a synthetic (or silk)  base laser with long-sleeves –  I use Paramo‘s excellent and seemingly everlasting thermal clothing.  Next, a number of thin mid-layers, fleece jumpers etc, and finally a water/wind-proof outer layer.

A lot of heat is lost from your legs, so fleece-lined trousers like those made by Craghoppers and Rohan will really help to keep you warm.  Otherwise, get some long-johns.  A pair of waterproof over-trousers can be useful too if it is raining or windy, or just as an extra layer on very cold days.

Don’t forget to wear a hat!  Mine is fleece lined and waterproof, with a peak to keep the low winter sun out of my eyes.  Most importantly it has ear flaps!

I usually wear gloves to paint in winter.  I use thin liner-gloves. These are designed to be worn inside mittens or over-gloves but they are warm enough to be worn on their own and thin enough not to interfere with brush handling.  If it is very cold I will wear another thin pair over the top.

A thermal neck warmer is a great asset.  If your neck gets cold you tend to hunch up your shoulders – making it difficult to paint.  Avoid scarves if you don’t want the end to dangle in your paint!

The secret to warm feet in the snow? Make sure your boots really are waterproof.  If the damp gets in your feet are going to get cold.  I use Muck Boots which are completely waterproof and have a good solid sole.  Avoid ordinary wellies, they might be waterproof but they are not designed to keep you warm.  If you wear leather walking boots make sure they are regularly treated to maintain their waterproofness.  Thermal socks are essential and it’s important to make sure your boots are big enough – you should be able to wiggle your toes even with a thick pair of socks on.

As well as having the right equipment it is also important to make sure you have food and drink with you.  A flask with a hot drink can be a life-saver, but don’t forget that even just drinking water will keep you hydrated which in turn will help your circulation and keep you warm.

After an hour and a half working on this picture my feet were just as warm as when I started and if it wasn’t getting dark I would have carried on with another painting.

Posted in Advice for Artists, On Location | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Materials and Equipment

I rarely paint inside, prefering to work ‘en plein air’.  This week I have been painting some larger studio pictures from my location studies so I thought I would share these photos taken around my studio.
Click to view full size. See below for details of my favourite suppliers of oil painting equipment and materials.

I always use the best quality materials when I am painting.  Here is a list of my favourite suppliers and what I buy from them:

Bird and Davis The UK’s oldest artists’ stretcher frame manufacturers and suppliers of best quality linen canvas.

C Roberson and Co High quality oil painting mediums and gilding supplies.  Founded in 1810 – past customers include Turner, Whistler and Sargent!

Cornelissen and Sons Artist’s Colourmen since 1855.  The best looking art shop in london. Brushes, goldleaf and other bits and pieces.

Gold Leaf Supplies Online seller of gold leaf and gilding supplies

Michael Harding Handmade artists’ oil colours

Old Holland Highly pigmented oil paints made to traditional formulas

Rosemary and Co High quality handmade brushes from Yorkshire

Winsor and Newton Professional quality artists’ oil colour

Posted in Advice for Artists | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A day of drawing


Yesterday I visited Room A at the National Gallery.  This little known room is rarely visited as it is only open for a few hours each Wednesday afternoon.  It houses around 800 pictures.  I was there to see the gallery’s collection of works by Eugène Boudin.  I made sketches of several of them – the one shown here is a beach scene at Trouville.

In the evening I visited the historic Life Room at the Royal Academy, for two hours of  drawing from the model with the New English Art Club Drawing School.

Next time you are in London on a Wednesday you know what to do.

Posted in Advice for Artists, Exhibitions | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A work in progress




Earlier this week I was painting the River Thames at Strand on the Green.   The top picture shows the painting a couple of minutes after I started.  I have used very thin paint to draw in the basic composition. 

The middle photograph was taken twenty minutes later.  With a dramatic and fast moving sky I needed to work quickly to capture it.  The trees are a little more solid but the river is still almost untouched.

The last photo shows the painting an hour later.  The trees and river have been worked on together, with a little more work on the sky. By this point the day was starting to brighten up and touches of blue were appearing in the sky.  It was time stop as I did not want to end up with one scene painted on top of another.

I was working in oils on an 8 x 16 inch board.   Click on each image for a larger view.

Posted in Advice for Artists, On Location | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tips for Travelling Artists

A good friend of mine has just returned from a trip to the Far East.  Not wanting to fall foul of airline baggage rules, he travelled out with his painting kit but no turps or white spirit. To help him buy some locally, he had translated the words for white spirit and paint thinner via the internet before he went.

After a long trawl through many shops, he was eventually offered a bottle of strange smelling liquid and off he went to do some painting.  Setting up in front of his chosen view, he carefully set out his paints on the palette and decanted some of his newly aquired “white spirit”. 

As he began to lay in the first washes of colour a strange thing started to happen.  The paint curdled then bubbled and eventually started to eat through the gesso priming of his board. Then it dawned on him – he was mixing his colours with paint stripper!

To save him from embarrassment, I won’t name him (yet!) but if you would like to share your tips for successful travelling with oil paints – or even share a few of your own disaster stories – please email me or leave a comment.

Posted in Advice for Artists | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Art of French Easel Maintenance

I own quite a few easels but the ones that get the most use are my French box easels. I have an Italian French easel made by Mabef and a French one by Jullian. The easel in these pictures is my Jullian half box and it is about 18 months old. It has to put up with a lot as it is in use everyday – often in the rain one day and in the baking sun or freezing cold the next, so I think is is important to maintain it regularly. Looking after your easel need not be too much of a chore and should ensure you get the most from it.

It can be surprising how much sand will stick to your easel if you paint at the beach. If you don’t remove it the sand will wear away at the threads so brush it off and oil the thread. I use 3in1 oil. You should really do this after each beach trip but I sometimes forget – until I feel the sand crunching in the threads!


Recently the front panel had started to pull apart from the rest of the box. To fix this I applied a few drops of wood glue to the dovetail joints and gently tapped it back together, then wiped off the excess glue and left it to dry overnight.

easel-2 easel-3

One problem with these easels is that the screws holding the hinges at the front of the box work loose and the top of the easel wobbles about when you are trying to paint. I keep a small screw driver in the kit to fix this but recently the screws no longer tightened up at all. The solution was to remove the hinges and pack the over-sized holes with thin strips of wood and wood glue. I let it dry overnight then cut off the excess wood flush with the sides of the box and re-drilled the holes. I replaced the screws with larger ones and this seems to have done the trick.



An addition that I have made to both of my French easels is the screw shown by the arrow in the picture below. This strengthens a joint that seems prone to coming apart, especially if you accidentally close the top with the drawer slightly open. Add one at each end of the cross piece.


French easels are usually made from oiled beech. To preserve the weather proofing of the wood simply wipe it with linseed oil once a year. And don’t forget to clean the palette occassionally.

Posted in Advice for Artists | Tagged , | 5 Comments