Autoportrait, 2016, huile sur toile, 65 x 55cm

Autoportrait, 2016, huile sur toile, 65 x 55cm

Above is a recent self portrait. There are pros and cons to painting self-portraits:

Pros: The model is always on time. He keeps still. He takes a break and comes back to work at your bidding. He wears the right clothes. He does not waste time. He is quite good company even if he does not say much. He works for free.

Cons: You can not measure him up with a paintbrush or plumb line (if you start to do so, he rather irritatingly measures you back). He has a tendency to look at you intensely and occasionally appear a little cross or slightly crazy. He will appear to be holding his paintbrush in the wrong hand, have his parting on the wrong side of the head and his mole on the wrong cheek. You have to position him carefully in the light.

Now the direction of the light in a self portrait is particularly tricky. Below is a self-portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds which demonstrates succinctly the problem of having the light straight-on when you are trying to paint your image in the mirror.


Sir Joshua Reynolds by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1747-1749, oil on canvas, 63.5 cm x 74.3 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London

Here you have a young Rembrandt painting himself with the light behind him, thus avoiding the problem Reynolds had to face (pun intended). The effect is dramatic but we see precious little of the artist.


Rembrandt van Rhyn, Self-Portrait as a Young Man, c. 1628, oil on panel, 22. 5 x 18.6 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Below is Sargent placing the light to one side. This is sensible and means we can see at least half his face and he could also see what he was doing.


Self-portrait, John Singer Sargent, 1906, 70 × 53 cm Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I decided to be sensible like Sargent.

There is one other downside to painting self portraits – they do not sell well unless the artist is young, beautiful and preferably female. I imagine my children will inherit mine.

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Recent Still Lifes

When we have no model in the studio my students and I paint still lifes. I tell them to bring objects they find beautiful, inspiring or just have happy memories for them. I paint or draw alongside my students so that they can watch me and learn while they work on their own picture. Here are a few of my paintings of objects the students have brought in.


Conch, 2016, oil on canvas, 41 x 46cm

This conch came home from a trip to the West Indies but as it smelled really awful, my student had to leave it outside her home for several months to let the stench dissipate before it could be brought in to decorate the house. She now has the souvenir and a (very accomplished) painting of the souvenir.


Green Jug, 2016, oil on canvas, 51 x 41cm

These simply but strikingly arranged sedums and jug were brought in by a student who has an elegant eye for interior design. To capture this image we painted the sedums pretty quickly – most cut flowers tend to wilt or fluff up after just a few hours – hence the loose handling in the painting.


Pears, 2015, oil on board, 20 x 30cm

These organic pears lack the uniformity of colour, shape and size to conform to the ideals of most supermarkets but they looked more interesting with their little blemishes.

A tip when painting still life – stick to an odd number of items in the composition e.g. one apple, three apples, five pears. Even numbers do not work well.


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Artistic Influences

The greatest influence on my work has come from Charles Cecil whose school in Florence I attended. Charles would often talk about his teacher back in Boston (R.H. Ives Gammell) and how the sightsize method we were using did not just go back just to Ives Gammell but had a longer genealogy: Ives Gammell was taught by William Paxton who was taught in the 1890s by Gérôme and Bonnat (who taught the likes of Sargent in Paris).

In late 19th century Paris it was the work of Velazquez that had a profound influence on these artists – some of them, like Sargent, actually went so far as to copy some of Velazquez’s masterpieces. That influence (limited palette, loose handling and the use of blacks and greys) over the years, and through all these teachers, forged the essentials of the methods and techniques that I learnt and use today in my portraits.

Below are a few paintings by these artists which I have placed in inverse chronological order to show how both the essence of Velazquez and the sightsize method, which is mostly detectable in the handling, has been passed on in a long chain of influence.


Florence, Charles H Cecil, 60 x 50cm, oil on canvas


William, R H Ives Gammell


Louise Converse, William Paxton, 1915, oil on canvas


Portrait d’une jeune femme, Leon Bonnat, 1889

All the paintings above have in common what I call the Velazquez touch. The brushwork is loose (well, a lot more loose than the photorealism we see today) but skilled, the palette is limited to little more than five or six colours and all make use of blacks and greys.

The other common theme is the unity of image (what Charles, my teacher called the tout ensemble) which is also found in Velazquez’s paintings. This is when a painting works harmoniously as a whole. The effect is best achieved when there is quite a bit of space between the artist and the sitter, allowing the artist to see the subject as a whole and paint accordingly. When artists use the sight size method they are obliged to put plenty of distance between themselves and the sitter. Charles, who taught me the sightsize method, was so keen on getting me to stand back, he once pulled me out of the studio into the hall to about eighteen feet from my canvas and model to view the effect. It worked.


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Alpine Landscape

A few landscapes I painted recently in the alps…


Mont Blanc depuis le Lac Blanc, 2016, huile sur bois, 20x30cm


Le Lac Blanc (etude), 2016, huile sur bois, 20 x 30cm


Le Lac Blanc, 2016, huile sur toile, 41x61cm

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Yvoire – Landscape at Different Times of the Day


Yvoire aout 7h00, 2016, huile sur toile, 92 x 152cm

Yvoire, aout 10h00, 2016 huile sur toile,

Yvoire, aout 10h00, 2016 huile sur toile, 92 x 152cm


Yvoire, aout 14h00, 2016, huile sur toile, 92 x 152cm

Above are three landscapes I painted this summer on Lake Geneva. All are of a mediæval village called Yvoire painted at different times of the day from the same spot.

The first (early morning) painting is front lit which entailed my paying careful attention to colours. Early in the morning the village is a rich gold, an effect I painted using a glaze of yellow ochre and cadmium yellow.

The second picture was painted in the late morning. The light comes in from the left and shows more of the structure to the buildings. The wind picks up by late morning and  the occasional gusts ruffle the surface of the water in places. It makes for a more dramatic view.

The third, mid-afternoon landscape is back lit. Here my main object was to make sure of the values. The village is mostly in shadow and the variations within the shadows are minimal. I tried to avoid exaggerating these small differences by comparing them to the lights in the picture (the sky and water).

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Berlin Exhibition

From 26 June to 28 August I will be having a joint exhibition of some of my portraits in Berlin at the Galerie Friendly Society.

Ausstellung: Portraits und Köpfe – Portraits and Heads

26.Juni bis 28.August 2016


PortraitsundKoepfe_cleverreach_220616Am Sonntag, den 26.Juni 2016 von 15.00 bis 19.00 Uhr eröffnet die Galerie Friendly Society ihre 70.Themenausstellung “Portraits und Köpfe“, zu der wir Sie und Ihre Freunde herzlich einladen.

Präsentiert werden Arbeiten von Erik Mittasch (D), Louis Ryan (GB), Jan Scheirs (B), Inge H.Schmidt(D) und Georg Weise (D).

Wir würden uns freuen, Sie mit einem Glas Bowle begrüßen zu können.

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Whites and How to Use them

From Left to Right: Lead, Titanium and Zinc White mixed with Vermilion

From Left to Right: Lead, Titanium and Zinc White mixed with Vermilion

I own three different whites: Zinc White (unexceptional but non-toxic), Titanium White (of very limited use but cheap) and Lead White (great stuff, but expensive and really poisonous). They differ in their composition, in the effect they have on the other colours they are mixed with, their drying times, handling and legality.

Lead White

This is the granddaddy of whites, used from when oil paints were invented. It is made from a Lead Carbonate (2PbCO3·Pb(OH)2) and various oils (usually linseed oil although occasionally walnut oil). It has a thicker, stickier feel than the other two whites but flows comfortably with a little extra oil. When mixed with other colours it does not kill their chroma quite as much Zinc or Titanium White. Lead White is often sold as “Cremnitz White” and “Flake White”. When made with linseed oil, Lead White has a tendency to yellow if placed away from light. It is expensive. In the UK, it is supposed to be sold (with a health warning and a lot of small print) for restoration purposes only and, because it is toxic, in one or two countries it is illegal.

For painting portraits this is the only white that really works – it brings greater transparency to other colours when mixed with them compared to Zinc and Titanium White and enables artists to keep a vitality in lighter skin tones.

Zinc White

This is made from Zinc Oxide (ZnO). It flows quite well on the brush but has a tendency to cool colours it is mixed with. It is a very slow drier which some artists appreciate as it means they can correct their work in a more leisurely way.

Titanium White

This is made from Titanium dioxide (TiO2). It has a particular brilliancy in its pure form and is usually the cheapest of the three whites. Like Zinc White but more so, it tends to cool and adulterate other colours, giving a pastel feel to them, a bit like adding milk to a cup of tea. It is useful for painting skies as its deadening effect on blues and greys is less obvious. Also, as skies usually cover a large part of a canvas and Titanium White flows very easily, it is quicker and more convenient to use a Titanium White mix than with a Lead or Zinc White mix.

Above is a photo of the three whites mixed with a vermilion. You can get an idea of the general and relative effect each of the whites has on the colour. From left to right Lead, Titanium, Zinc.



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Open Studio

seosEvery year in June, artists across south east England open their doors to the public. It is a great opportunity to meet, talk to and see them at work. From 3th to 19th of June as part of the South East Open Studios project, my studio will be open at weekends from 10am to 5pm. For more information please visit the website:

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Painting Lizzy

Lizzy II, oil on canvas, 120x 80

Lizzy II, oil on canvas, 120 x 80cm, 2016

A year ago I drew a charcoal portrait of Lizzy; this time I was painting a full oil portrait. Generally, I find it helps to undertake a preliminary sketch or two before starting an oil portrait: it allows me to identify potential difficulties and get better ideas for composition. It also gives me a bit of time to get to know the sitter and choose a more suitable pose. That said, this time, it still took about two hours to come up with a pose I was happy with. Anyway, Lizzy is a calm, relaxed and very bright undergraduate in her second year at Durham University and that is what I tried to convey.

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Verticals, Horizontals and Curves

Corner of the Church of St Stae Venice Sargent c.1913

Corner of the Church of St Stae, Venice, Sargent, oil , 72 x 56cm, c. 1913, private collection

In his book Composition of Outdoor Painting, Edgar Payne mentions the effect of the direction of lines in a picture.  “The vertical line is emblematic of great height, stability and nobility. The horizontal line denotes repose and tranquility. The slanting [line] or curve indicates movement or activity and rhythm.” Here, I have chosen a few landscapes that illustrate what I believe Payne means. In Sargent‘s painting (above) the vertical lines dominate. He has chosen a portrait style canvas deliberately to add majesty and grandeur to the overall effect.

Coniferous Forest Sunny Day,1895, Ivan Shishkin, oil on canvas, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Coniferous Forest Sunny Day, Ivan Shishkin, 1895, oil on canvas, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Shishkin does the same in his forest painting above. The eye is drawn into the scene along the mossy banks in the foreground, and lingers over the sun drenched clearing in the centre, but the overall effect is one of cathedral-like stateliness.

The Mountains of Moab, John Singer Sargent oil on canvas, 65 x 111 cm, 1905

The Mountains of Moab, John Singer Sargent, 1905, oil on canvas, 65 x 111cm, Tate, London

This painting by Sargent is dominated by horizontals: the edge of the foreground, the horizon itself and the variations in the colours in the sky. These all give a sense of calm and repose. Sargent avoids dullness by leading us into the picture with  the features on the foreground winding their way into the middle distance.

A Dull Day, Stubble, Isaac Levitan, oil on canvas

A Dull Day, Stubble, Isaac Levitan, 1895, oil on canvas

The work above is by Isaac Levitan. Here again the horizontals dominate (clouds, line of trees, line of field). Levitan leads us into the picture with the cart track and gives us sense of depth with the bundles of straw in the foreground, the unharvested fields in the middle ground and the forest in the background. The sense of calm is a little threatened by the look of ready rain in the sky.

Seascape, Edgar Payne, oil on canvas, 63 x 76cm

Seascape, Edgar Payne, oil on canvas, 63 x 76cm

Finally, above is a seascape by Payne himself. It is mostly curves and diagonals denoting activity which is only to be expected given the subject matter. All the same, Payne adds some stability with the horizontals (clouds and seashore) at the top.

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