Over the moon to report that the new studio is finally finished. We started the project over six months ago and while it has taken time away from painting, its great to have a space that is so comfortable and enjoyable to work in. I'm really pleased to be fully installed and have some exciting projects to get started on.
The picture shows the portrait space, with natural north light and an LED panel light for winter evenings. The mezzanine (accessed by the ladder) has proved amazingly capacious and means I can stash all kinds of things out of the way, leaving the downstairs free for working. A few friends have subsequently asked for my thoughts in relation to improving or developing their own studios. If you have questions about my new set up or want any advice, do get in touch.
I had a wonderful day yesterday visiting the private view of the ROI's annual exhibition, which I was lucky enough to get work accepted into. It was great to catch up with artists, friends and family there and to see the fantastic artworks that are included in this year's show.
My painting, 'Composition with Blowtorch' was completed towards the end of my academic training and it was so encouraging when the piece was accepted for the show.
I was drawn to this collection of old objects because of their varied textures and the dynamic shapes that could be made with them. While the picture was completed in the studio, I enjoyed pondering on their individual histories and imagined each of them in their 'prime' when they were used every day in busy workshops, on fishing vessels or in factories, how they slipped slowly into obsolescence, redundancy and abandonment, before making their way on strange and varied journeys into my possession and onto this canvas.
The Royal Institute of Oil Painters annual exhibition is at the Mall Galleries, London and runs until 8th December 2019. For more information click here.
While the new studio has been under construction I've been doing quite a bit of teaching in various locations. The image to the left is from a class I ran in Sussex which introduced sight-size painting in the context of still life. The sight-size method is where the canvas and the subject are placed side by side and judgments about proportion and colour are made by stepping back to a fixed position. The students produced some really fantastic work and learnt a lot about traditional oil painting techniques, and colour mixing.
The sight-size method, originally used in portraiture, is especially helpful for people new to drawing and painting. Properly understood, it is not merely a measuring aid but contributes to a philosophy of seeing in which the big visual impression is painted and the constituent parts kept in their proper relations. Used in the correct way it is a highly effective means of training the eye to judge proportion, value and colour and often unlocks a degree of naturalism in painting that has sometimes eluded students for years.
A year or so ago I visited G F Watt's studio, just outside nearby Guildford (pictured) and I find myself thinking back to it often, particularly since I am in the process of building and fitting out a studio of my own.
My new space will include an open ceiling space with three large roof windows allowing uninterrupted north light. The light from these is controllable with black-out blinds. There is, additionally, a window that faces west (and doesn't get direct light until late in the day) which will be fitted with both a diffuser blind and an additional black-out blind. A track system of daylight bulbs and and overhead rail for my LED panel lights will enable working with artificial light when required.
Making use of space over a new bedroom, the studio design includes a high level mezzanine storage area, where completed pictures and materials that are not used day-to-day can be kept out of the way, accessed by a ladder. There will be a separate drying rack, again placed up high, to keep works in progress safe.
The walls will be painted in a warm grey, to minimise unwanted reflected light and there is a good amount of length to the studio in order to step back and view work from a distance.
I'm planning to have a couple of tall units made and put on casters so they can be moved around easily, a large bookshelf and a hanging system to allow me to easily change displays of work on the walls.
Finally, the space is big enough that I will be able to use it for tuition in small groups, which I am proposing to start in spring - click here for more information.
Do you have any studio tips that I should incorporate, or things you wish you had included in your own working space. Let me know!
Watch this space for photographs of the completed studio.
For centuries, the best artists from around Europe would travel to Italy to make copies of Renaissance masterpieces. Van Dyck, Rubens, Velazquez and artists of the British School such as Reynolds, Raeburn, Romney and Lawrence - all made the journey to Rome and they considered their time there to be pivotal in their development as artists.
In a two day workshop at the London Atelier of Representational Art (LARA), I introduced a group of aspiring artists to the practice of making master copies. Students chose from a selection of classical and more contemporary portrait paintings and learned how to analyse the process behind their creation. Considering aspects such as choice of palette, brushwork and working method - students created their own copies of their chosen picture.
For more information regarding workshops such as these (including another that I am running later in the year focusing on painting textures and textiles) please contact LARA here.
Billingshurst in West Sussex has a hidden gem in the form of the Sussex Sculpture Studios, run by Marji Talbot and hosting a wide range of courses by leading sculptors such as Hazel Reeves. Last weekend I taught a class on artistic anatomy to a group of enthusiastic painters and sculptors.
Anatomy encompasses a huge subject area - so when I teach it I like to focus on the practical aspects rather than naming and describing every single muscle. I'm interested, above all, in the features that create structure and surface form. Over the course of the weekend I introduced the key bony landmarks and the major muscle masses, but for the most part we explored ways of giving believability and solidity to figurative paintings and sculptures.
A query by email from an artist who is studying classical drawing and painting got me thinking, this morning, about my painting process and the materials I use. I suppose I have a somewhat idiosyncratic process which I’ve developed over the years. I begin with Raw Umber, Ivory Black and Cremnitz White - and use that (thinly) to get the drawing and approximate values down. After that I then often do the first layer or two of colour with a super-limited palette. For a portrait, that would normally be Raw Siena, Cadmium Red, Raw Umber, Ivory Black and Cremnitz White (which is a variation of what is often called the Zorn palette). Sometimes I’ll drop the Cadmium Red in favour of one or more of the earth reds (Light Red, English Red, Venetian Red, or Indian/Persian Red). I prefer Raw Siena in preference to Yellow Ochre - which I hardly ever use these days because I dislike its gritty texture (though some love it). Depending how I feel I’ll sometimes complete the entire painting in this type of limited palette.
If it’s another subject I usually just start with as few colours as I can possibly get away with - depending on what the subject requires. The reason I start limited is that I feel the fewer colours I use to begin with the more likely it is that the overall painting will be coherent. Plus I can get started in a more instinctive way when I don’t give myself too many mixing options.
If I do decide to move onto a wider palette (which I often do, once the overall rough colour scheme has been established) - I tend to go to the opposite extreme with a very wide palette. For that I use all of the following: Cremnitz White, Lemon Yellow (or similar), Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Violet, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Viridian, Raw Umber and Ivory Black. This palette gives an extremely wide range of possible combinations and it includes a ‘warm’ and a ‘cool’ variety of all three of the primary colours - plus one each of the secondary colours. Raw Umber, Black and White are used to adjust saturation and value. I find this quite handy since it enables me to really ‘think my way’ around the colour wheel. I can easily add complimentary colours to temper strong mixes or produce interesting neutrals - and it enables me to plan clearly in terms of temperature combinations. I used to be quite dogmatic and a bit scornful of wider palettes and synthetic pigments. However, when you look in books like Harold Speed and Solomon J Solomon, those accounts actually reveal that the highly limited palette wasn’t as universal as commonly supposed (at least in the 18th and 19th Centuries) and I believe that a lot of the anxiety around synthetics (but by no means all) is misplaced and ignores the fact that many have been very rigorously tested.
My medium of choice is refined linseed oil and odourless mineral spirits. I start the painting with just the mineral spirits and then go up to a 50-50 mix of the two for the bulk of the painting. I don’t obsess over fat-over-lean too much - but I just make sure that I never actually increase the amount of mineral spirits in any paint layer. A 50-50 mix for most of the painting seems to work well. Refined linseed oil isn’t really the best quality (cold-pressed or sun thickened would be preferable) - but they’re quite expensive. In the past I’ve experimented with stand oil, and tried Dammar and Canada Balsam. I used to mix a medium with these myself but I have recently been buying Michael Harding's ready mixed medium containing these, for reasons of laziness. However, I generally find that I dislike the sticky quality of this kind of medium and these days I rarely use it, except towards the very end of a painting or as a glazing medium.
(Image: The Artist's Palette - Lev Meshberg).
Coverage of my forthcoming workshop in Billingshurst. The course runs 15th - 16th June
To book contact: email@example.com
Ingénu/e, Spring 2019, p.75
Ben Laughton Smith
Contemporary works of art in the classical tradition.