The Studio Art School: Dorset

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By Justin Cooke, Jan 1 2015 10:23PM

A great way to learn about brushes is by looking at other artists at work.

Lets have a look at J M W Turner and Berthe Morisot

Turner (1775 -1851)

There are few contemporary accounts of Turner’s method; but one look at his paintings tells us that there is some pretty sophisticated brushwork at play.

What we know

We know that all artists who studied at the Royal Academy in London studied drawing. As far as painting is concerned, they largely had to teach themselves, from fellow artists or from books. A very common way was to learn by copying paintings by old masters such as Claude Lorrain.

Just a few things you should keep in mind about Turner.

•The Royal Academy school only taught drawing at that time and their approach was firmly rooted in the classical world of antiquity.

•His earliest paintings were watercolours and he was the master of watercolour

•He was in his early 20’s when he began to produce oil paintings and he consequently developed his own methods for both media simultaneously

•So by the time he came to do his most expressive later oil paintings, he had put in decades of work, honing his skills from drawing to watercolour to oil canvases.

As I mentioned we have few contemporary accounts but we do have a painting of him by an artist named William Parrot. It is now in the collection of Sheffield Museums. Unfortunately I cannot find a copyright free image of this painting that I could use here, however where there is a will there is a will there is a way. Here is a link to the Sheffield Museums page where you can see the image. If you click on it you should find this curious painting appear in another window

click here

And this brings me to the brushes!

Look at that hand full of brushes.

I have read many books which suggest that you don’t need many brushes; the range available being so vast that you should just buy the few that you will actually use.

What I would suggest is that the range may seem vast, but pick what you like and get lots of them. Make sure you have plenty of the same type that you like. By having a hand full of brushes you can keep one for a specific range of colours, one for say reds-orange, another for blue-violet and so on. By reaching for the brush best suited to the colour you want to apply you can avoid contaminating the paint on your pallet.

Because time is saved by not having to clean brushes constantly, the actual painting process can be speeded up. This is exactly what Turner needs when he is painting on Varnishing Day; refreshing…if not repainting a picture prior to the opening of the exhibition to the public.

If we look again, he holds a whole selection of brushes in his left hand…each ready and waiting to be used.

Berthe Morisot (1841 – 1895)

We know a little more about Berthe Morisot. We know who her tutors were and who she painted with. Between them, the Impressionists (of which she was one) did many paintings of each other at work. But the painting I want to show you is by her sister, Edma.

See the hand full of brushes again.

I thought I’d show you a few of my other favourite artists doing the same thing.

So here is:

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755- 1842)

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925)

John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is the second of three posts on brushes for oil painting.

By Justin Cooke, Dec 30 2014 09:22PM

Brushes I wouldn’t part with

Firstly, the technical bit.

These are some of the bristle brushes you might use. You will find them in various sizes


The metal ferule is round/cylindrical shaped. The bristles usually are of an even length


The metal ferule has been pressed so the bristles form a flat arrangement. The bristles usually have an even length in a square shape. The one on the right, I have trimmed. See below.

3.Filbert. Like a flat brush but the bristles have been pre-trimmed to give an oval shape. Why the name? well it’s thought the shape resembles a hazelnut (Filbert is an alternative name for a hazelnut).

The more you use brushes (particularly bristle brushes) the more they will wear down and adopt the natural shape specific to the way you use them. Much like an ink pen becomes unique to its owner.

Naturally, if you the pick up a brand new bristle brush you will probably want to trim it as close as possible to the shape you like and are used to. Scissors will now be a part of your painting equipment.

Many artists, myself included, have brushes so exquisitely worn – (you know the sort of thing, an unattractive stub of bristle) that they wouldn’t lend it to anyone. These are the brushes I use for drawing with paint. The paint is used quite dry and the brush behaves more like a soft pad. They are no longer best suited to applying paint. The only time I might use a brand new untrimmed bristle brush is if I am scooping large amounts of paint onto a canvas.

Everyday Brushes

Think of it this way. There are brushes of all shapes and sizes. Pretty soon you will know what you want for your everyday brushes; you will buy a fist full of brushes and prepare them yourself!

Here are some of my drawing brushes

These are some of my bristle drawing brushes, I also draw with soft hair brushes with a delicate, sharp point.

So why these brushes?

When I draw with them they give me the same feel as a stick of charcoal. This is a feel I am very used to. So it works for me.

Here is a warning though.

Just because you’re now trimming brushes doesn’t mean that you should dismiss the more pricy, quality brushes.

Yes trimming can help with a mass produced cheap bristle brush – but you cannot deny the real pleasure of those expensive brushes. You see, it’s not just the shape of the way the bristles are cut; it’s the quality of the bristle, the way in which they are fixed to the handle (whether it will moult hairs); the luxury of holding something with some weight to it. We’re talking craftsmanship here, and as with all top craftsmanship; you can feel the quality. Trimming these “specials” takes a bit of courage. Maybe…just let them wear in, naturally.

And don’t forget

All those stray bristles that poke out sideways from time to time….if you don’t want them…trim them. But keep a few eccentric brushes. Those scraggy, scruffy, character brushes…you’ve gotta love em too.

Here are some of my more eccentric brushes.

Also: Those beautiful soft watercolour brushes you may have…Don’t trim. Keep those scissors away! Try to look after the point as much as possible and just pick off any troublesome stray hairs. For more on watercolour brushes, see the watercolour brush pages. For more on using soft brushes for oil paint see part three of 'brushes for oil painting'.

By Justin Cooke, Dec 16 2014 05:04PM

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is one of the most versatile of the paints we use. Here are just a few tips...of which there are many!

Using thick paint

For this picture thick paint was used.

Tip: Use water only for cleaning brushes (which are then dried before being used again). The brush marks and the actual texture of the paint will then show.

Thin underneath, thicker on top.

Tip: Use thick paint over thinner layers to create this look. Water was used sparingly only on the under layers

Acrylic thinned with water.

Tip:You can use acrylic paint much like watercolour, as in this demonstration painting by Nicola. Here she shows how acrylic paint can be used in a delicate and luminous way; qualities usually expected from watercolour.

Building up layers without water

Tip: You can build up thin layers using a technique known as scumbling For this it is essential to keep brushes clean and make sure the paint is dry before working on top.

In this demonstration painting I showed how acrylic paint (because it dries quickly) can be built up in this way. I also showed that a particular brush is needed for this. See the tip on scumbling to see how it's done.

Painting in layers with water

Tip: Do not be afraid to use too much water but let the layers dry.

Layers can also be built up in thin washes of paint. As in this demonstration by Nicola.

By Justin Cooke, Dec 16 2014 02:44PM

Figurative Art: It's not to do with figures

Figurative art is a term we use for painting, drawing, and scuplture that is clearly derived from the real world. You could call it Representational Art. It is often used as a term to contrast Abstract Art. A picture being described as either Abstract or Figurative (or most likely, somewhere in between!).

So a figurative drawing is a drawing of a thing.

I know what you are thinking… can that thing be a figure? Umm… well yes it can. But it also be a tree, a box of eggs or a whole landscape.

If you are concerned with ideas and devices such as; use of pattern, the surface texture of your drawing, or optical effects of colour: then you are using abstract elements.

Figurative : Abstract

You will know from your own work, that as artists we rarely fit into those neat boxes: you will often find yourself at various places between the two.

Below is a demonstration I made for a lesson on drawing . It shows some of the different drawing techniques used by artists, when producing figurative drawings.

Beneath it, I briefly explain each method and give some recomendations where to see examples by artists throughout history.

Clockwise from top left.


Contour Hatching

Measured Drawing

"Taking a line for a walk"

Gestural Drawing

The fluid line


With this drawing method, areas are hatched with an even tone. Darker areas can be achieved by using firmer fatter lines, by placing lines closer together or as in this case by overlapping hatch marks. This called cross hatching

No outlines are drawn. The edges are merely described by changes in tone.

This is a quick way of sketching out doors using pencil.

You can see great examples by looking at some by David Hockney from the 1970's . The Tate gallery website has some great examples

Contour hatching

is similar but the lines curve to show the form of the subject; everything else still applies, including cross hatching which in this case can add to the feeling of volume and shape.

We are in the realm of some of the greatest artists here including Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo. But some of my favourite drawings are by Rubens and Watteau. If I could have my own at no expense art collection... it would include a Watteau drawing.

The example I have chosen however is by Rubens of his child Nicolaas. It is a truely stunning piece of drawing.

"Peter Paul Rubens, Bildnis seines Sohnes Nikolas" by Peter Paul Rubens - Unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Measured Drawing

Here is a very quick drawing of a head drawn to classic proportions. This is basically drawn using a formula of proportions and lines that have been learned by artists for centuries. A measured drawing can be made in a similar way. The process consists of finding lines and measurements that relate to each other and using them to plot out the basic elements of a drawing; this can be applied to any subject be it a figure or even a landscape. A subject observed and transcribed in this way can lead to a very accurate drawing. It can also be used to discretely mark out very quickly the basics of a drawing which could have a very loose, confident and bold drawing on top.

The Artist William Coldstream was a great advocate of this method when he principle and professor at the Slade School of Art, London 1945 - 1975. The Tate Gallery has some fine examples of his work.

"Taking a line for a walk":

I've taken a quote from from the artist Paul Klee here, but my drawing is much more of a scribble than his. For this method, keep the pen or pencil in contact with the paper as much as possible and draw lots of overlapping and intertwining lines. You need to kind of feel your way as you go. The more ink or graphite you lay down the more it should feel like you're modelling clay or shaping a ball of scrunched up wire; working a bit like a sculptor.

It is no suprise then that one of the best who drew this way was an artist called Alberto Giacometti; and yes... he was a sculptor.

Gestural Drawing:

My own term for this method is gestural drawing. For this, all those marks a pencil or charcoal can make become a vital part of the drawing, in much the same way as an artist uses a brush. This allows us to give the impression of mood and movement, even the weather. This type of drawing also allows us to free up and convey our feelings directly on the paper. When it works well it seems to be completely instinctive as we naturally include all sorts of marks and squiggles into our drawing

There are many artists who work this way. But I would like to let you in on a little secret. Little, because it is a very small thing. In the Victoria and Albert Museum London they have John Constable's 1814 pocket sketchbook. They have reproduced it on their website so you can have a virtual thumb through. These are'nt drawings for exhibition, they are for his own use. They are quick, llively and full of gesture. If you have not seen them before, have a look, you are in for a treat!

Here is the link

The fluid line:

Think Picasso, or the un-inhibited spontaneous drawing of a child. It is a huge challenge to draw this way, you have to just go for it! Try not to hesitate; and draw quickly with confidence. This example is drawn with graphite and is based upon Picasso's dove. In the class we use ink and bamboo pens for this.

There are films of Picasso drawing, some can be found on youtube. If you come across film of him painting or even making sculptures out of soft clay pots you will see the same amazing confidence. For most of us though, this can be a bit of a hit or miss approach giving all sorts of results. But we can take comfort... in one film of picasso painting even he decides his picture is not working. The next one he does however is of course stunning.

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