Wokingham Art Society
Max Hale demonstrations
Visit him at www.maxhaleart.co.uk
or www.maxhaleartacademy.co.uk (for courses, classes, workshops holidays, summer schools etc.)
or email maxhaleart@gmail.com
Portrait, March 2011 Still Life, August 2011 Return to Archive Children on Beach, 2014 Still Life, Dec 2015

Painting Glass Objects in oils, 15 Dec 2015
It was good to welcome Max back for a different sort of still life from what we'd enjoyed in 2011 (below).

Many amateur artists are afraid to paint glass objects but Max says all you have to do is paint what you actually see - ignore what you think you ought to see. Intuition is very misleading when there is both reflected and transmitted light.

Max is now very much into water-mixable oils. These are genuine oils but with an emulsifier added, so that you can refresh your brushes with water. Artisan was the first on the market but since then much better ones have been developed. Cobra, by Royal Talens, is so much better that he rarely buys any other.

He had prepared a canvas board by scubbing on a thin coat of a mid-tone greenish grey. The actual colour will affect the end result but is less important than the tone.
He took quite some care over the choice, placing and lighting of his arrangement. He had some clear glass and some tinted and several very different shapes. He placed these to give interesting overlaps and spaces. The negative shapes are as important as the objects themselves.

For oils or acrylics, don't use a pencil for your drawing: use thin oils, acrylics or even charcoal. He started by marking the horizontal and vertical centre-lines of the canvas in blue-grey oils with a smallish (short-haired #3) round brush.

Then he framed the arrangement in his minds eye to establish exactly where these centre-lines intersected the objects and drew them in: first the imaginary intersections and then the rough outlines of the objects themselves. This is iterative : several very quick attempts until the shapes looked right. Oils stay wet long enough for you to wipe away any unwanted lines, alhough they can just as easily be overpainted..
Still using very thin paint he started on the shadows, including the dark behind the table-top. In oils, you establish the darks first, only later gradually adding more lights. He repeatedly adjusted the shapes, building the tonal values but never putting on any thick paint.
Remember the old "fat over lean" adage. Thin paint first, thicker later. It is important that Max paints thinly not by using thinners or lots of water. He wets the brush, wipes it on a rag, picks up paint and works it on the pallette before taking it to the canvas
I realised then that he had switched to a #10 Filbert hog brush. Once the tones had been put down (including the negative spaces) Max gradually introduced some colour. But this was very subtle. He seemed to move very gradually away from the blue-grey he had started with. He made many short rapid strokes, dabs of the same colour in many parts of the canvas. "Never concentrate on one bit - work all over"
With this type of painting you gradually see it happen. A slight green tinge appeared in the recycled glass. Areas of lighter tone were established - never pure white but a lot of almost white appeaed during the break for mince pies, stollen and non-alcoholic mulled wine.. As he painted edges and highlights Max moved to a smaller brush.
In this way a "finished" painting gradually appears. Don't try to correct erors: stick to making small marks so that the error can be lost amongst other marks. At the end Max did actually make a few very tiny marks in pure white.
So ended the demo. It's amazing how much can be done in such a short time (although he would normally spend considerably more if it were available).

Thanks, Max, for another inspirational demo. Thinks: "I really must try to paint more like that."

Of course, there had been lots of asides. I've got some of these here:

To draw ellipses, hold the brush handle well down and practice drawing in the air until you are happy with the shape. Use your arm, not your wrist. For circles, hold the brush perpendicular to the canvas.

A good thing about water-mixable oils is that you can take them on planes.

The only green he buys is Sap Green.

Lay the brush flat if you want to pick out the texture of the canvas

Having the controlled lighting that is possible in the studio is good but the variation you get if you paint with natural light is "interesting"!


Thanks again, Max

Portrait, March 2011 Still Life, August 2011 Return to Archive Children on Beach, 2014 Still Life, Dec 2015
Children on Beach, water mixable oils
19 Aug 2014
After a 3-year gap since his last visit Max did no more than hint at his art school, commercial illustration and photography background. He now paints, teaches, demonstrates and arranges art holidays - all on his website (above).

He had prepared a 12" x 16" (?) canvas board with a mid-tone khaki acrylic background. Mid-tone backgrounds make it easier to balance the lights and darks of the whole picture. Any colour is good, although brown is probably best - with more green if skin is important.

Tonight he was using (and enthusing over) Royal Talens Cobra water miscible ('mixable' the Dutch makers call it) oils. He lays these out on his palette in rigidly defined positions round its edge, light to dark, leaving the centre free to work in.
Max works from masses of sketches, made to trigger his emotional memory of the scene. Someone in the audience saw a contradiction when he said he didn't work from "dead, inert" photos but immediately put one up above his canvas. His defence was that he had already showed us his mass of sketches but I reckon the photo was a clever trick to help the audience understand what he was aiming at, more than it was a source for Max himself.

He starts making "gesture" marks with a small short-haired brush to place things in the picture. Never pencil, just a thin paint that contrasts with the background (ultramarine or, tonight, umber).

Max uses two types of brush: synthetic with a hard chisel edge (for hard edges) and softer hog (for softer edges). These are all flats or filberts - he's not keen on round ones.

Oils are put on "fat over lean", so the early layers are very thin (and even then can be moved/smudged more easily than acrylics can).
Colour comes later. First you need to get tonal values down, starting with the darker ones, then lighter and finally colour.

Strokes are short and deliberate ."Don't fiddle. Don't be tentative. Get the paint on". This means many separate marks, gradually establishing all the tonal values.

The whole idea is to get the shapes about right and then to sculpt them with the negative shape of the background. Oil painting seems to be a cyclic process of adjustment and re-adjustment. Max was constantly comparing colours on different parts of the canvas: "Is this red redder than that one?" and correcting accordingly

When he got to the sandy beach he recommended titanium buff rather than white to soften the yellow - put on with a "big furry brush".

The sky wasn't put in until the heads were ready to be sculpted into shape, but later he decided that both sky and beach needed to be lightened a bit.
For skin he recommended yellow ochre, lots of white and a touch of red (the amount depending on what shade of skin you are after). Facial features are not important in work like this - concentrate on the general shape and subtle blocks of light and dark.

It wasn't until after the coffee break that he started paying much attention to colour. At the same time highlights started to be flicked in with (softer) zinc white. Shadows are blues, reds and greens, not browns.

The last fifteen minutes were filled with many tiny touches all over the canvas - adjusting tones, colours, shapes and even positions. Each touch, individually, was virtually invisible but everything gradually improved and the work came more to life.

But there was even more to do so Max said that he would send us a photo of the finished painting.

So ended another excellent evening. There was talk of our getting him back to do a workshop for us - bated breath. Thank you, Max.
End of demo. Look out for final version

Portrait, March 2011 Still Life, August 2011 Return to Archive Children on Beach, 2014 Still Life, Dec 2015
Still Life in Acrylic, 16 August 2011
It was good of Max to step in at short notice when our original demonstrator was unable to come. He gave us a brief outline of his background: Art School (with an inspirational tutor in Ken Howard), some commercial art (illustration, and an excellent introduction to the value of working fast), some photography and finally the big decision to go out on his own with painting, teaching and demonstrating (also valuable experience, because it improves your speed and spontaneity).

Before the demo started he spent quite a time arranging his bits and bobs and lighting them to his satisfaction. Layout and lighting are vital in still life: to avoid awkward gaps, get levels right (why else the book under the big pot?), to have an interesting variety of shapes etc.

For acrylics, Max works on ordinary hardboard prepared with several coats of gesso and a dark ground.
 
He used no acrylic mediums, preferring to use paint straight from the tube, and a brush just moistened with water. A stay-wet palette makes the paint too wet and he finds that paint stays workable for a long time on a solid palette if it is stored in an airtight container.

For the initial drawing Max first marked the centre lines of the image and then discovered the scale: holding his arm at full stretch and measuring with his thumb on the brush handle. Surprise, surprise! He had laid everything out so that it was a simple 2:1 conversion!

He started drawing very roughly with the brush, concentrating on general shapes but repeatedly checking that the relationships between them were right:- gaps, negative spaces, intersections, angles (carried across with the brush handle). You'll notice that after I took the first photo he slightly moved the cup and the bottle to get rid of the gap and make the cup handle break the line down the edge of the bottle.

An interesting thing in this drawing stage was that for regular objects he often drew the whole thing - even the bits that were hidden. This is particularly important for the top and bottom ellipses - "Draw them several times in the air before you let the brush touch the paper".
Once he started filling areas in, tone jumped straight up to its vitally important position - much more than accurate colour. "Half-open eyes show up tonal differences".

He used a fairly wide, 3/4" or maybe 1", flat brush throughout, making strokes that rarely exceeded one and a half brush-widths in length. This meant that the whole process was one of dab-dab-dab, moving to different parts of the picture all the time.

Quite early on he began to notice the mass of different colours that were reflected in the shiny objects. You don't need to be accurate or complete with these. In fact he claimed that a photographically perfect image leaves nothing to the imagination - much better to make people intrigued by leaving much out and distorting colour, so that they keep looking for fresh interpretations of the work.

Max used the same broad flat brush nearly all the time, rinsing and wiping it frequently to keep the colours (and the palette) fresh. He avoids black for the usual reasons (that's his unlit shoulder you can see here!).
The initial drawing was painted with broad lines and it was not until he was about half way through that he had enough of the detail to want to make these edges more precise. He defined the shapes of the bottles by careful painting of the background.

Quite early on he started to put highlight reflections in (quite aware that he might paint over them later). But he continually flitted between highlights and shadows as he checked and re-checked angles and other relationships between objects. He kept stressing the need to look: "You should spend at least 2/3 of the time looking at the subject - not at the painting!"

Max is also convinced of the value of the easel. It makes you more active, you see the work from a better angle and it's easy to step back and see it from the distance of a normal viewer. An important side effect of this is that after you have taken one of the essential breaks in another room you see it with a stranger's eyes as you return.

Towards the end, smaller and smaller marks were being made, all over the picture, reinforcing shadows and highlights (but still with the wide flat brush)
As usual, as the painting moved towards completion I found all I could do was pick brief notes from his commentary:

Make sure the background colours are reflected in the glass

Make sure shadows tell the viewer that the objects are not floating in the air

Don't live with your mistakes - they're easy to correct in acrylic

The shadows in the curved objects are also curved. "Feel the curves and where they disappear, darker"

Paint shadows in a colour complementary to the colour they are on

"Don't stay in your comfort zone - experiment"

"Ah! Time's up. I think we're almost there!

If I'd been doing a studio still life instead of a demo I'd have spent considerable longer on most of the steps, especially the earlier ones (layout and drawing).

And so another inspiring evening came to an end, with Chris Parry saying what so many of us must have been thinking: "I really must try to paint more like that"

Portrait, March 2011 Still Life, August 2011 Return to Archive Children on Beach, 2014 Still Life, Dec 2015
Watercolour Portrait, 15 March 2011
There was Max with his sitter. A spotlight on her left. There was an easel and a piece of paper taped to an upright board. No preparatory drawing. A not very big pot of water, a few brushes and three or four minute specks of watercolour squeezed out onto a large white dinner plate.

Max said he planned to give his sitter a rest every 20 minutes or so. The first session was the drawing.
The paper was about 16" x 24": "Paint as large as you can", he said.
It was just taped to the board : "It will go all wrinkly but it flattens as it dries".
Tonight he was using Fabriano NOT, although he generally prefers the more expensive Arches Rough.

A harder pencil might be preferable in the studio, too, but he was using a soft, 5B or 6B, retractable one for the demo, so that we could see it.
He just started cold, sketching the outline of hair and neck, freehand. At first I thought he was not going to mention all the conventional "rules" for laying out portraits (you know: "this distance equals that one and it lines up with so-and-so") but I began to feel more comfortable when he drew in a centre-line and an eye-line ("to get the basic shape right") and introduced a few such comments, like the corners of the mouth being below the pupils. But these were not (unless silently or subconsciously) his main considerations.

"Look", he said. "Measure, horizontally and vertically". "Check relative distances". "Check angles". "Plot the relationships between nose and cheek, eyes and bridge of nose (both crucially important), cheek and collar, ear and collar". "Note how far back the ear is - much closer to the back of the head than you think - and do get its outside shape right". "Repeat measurements, just to be sure". "A likeness requires accuracy - it's just a bonus when you are working under the pressure of a demo".
I obviously wasn't in exactly the same spot as Max when I took the snap of her. It just goes to show how vital it is to return to exactly the same place when you are checking portrait dimensions. When Max was happy with the drawing he went round it with a rubber, cleaning up smudges and getting rid of unnecessary lines.

He concentrated first on getting darks down: in the hair, under the chin, behind the left cheek, in the shadow of the nose etc. Max is not one who thinks it necessary to imitate the natural colours of his model: the early darks were a mix of Alizarin Crimson and French Ultra but Cadmium Yellow was added for shadows on skin or more blue for the greyer areas. He worked very wet, using almost exclusively a large (1 inch?) thin flat brush - and worrying hardly at all about runs. Such a brush is just as good for thin lines and tiny touches as it is for wide strokes of colour.

Although he was concentrating on building up the darks, Max kept reminding us that they define the lights. Several times he realised that paint had reached into highlight areas. Prompt removal followed, with tissue or damp brush: "Make sure it's dry before you go back into it".
Confidence is everything with watercolour. The way he spoke of getting the darks established at the beginning got me worrying that they were not dark enough or not well-enough aligned with the accurate drawing. But I hadn't realised how many glazes he would apply.

To make lights brighter he repeatedly painted more darks around the edges of the lights, the brush jumping from one part of the picture to another to maintain overall harmony (and stop too much concentration on one area). As work progressed he produced a smaller box palette and clean water, and during the interval he even cleaned up the plate, so that fresh paint could be used. Cerulean Blue was added for the scarf and the brooch on the back of the head but, in to keep things cohesive, the same colour was also introduced into the shadows.

Visible pencil marks were removed and great care went into making tiny adjustments to eyes and mouth. The hair, the nose shadow and the background were re-glazed more than once, not just to get them darker but also to define the light edges more accurately.
Max said that if one in ten of your pictures is a success, that's good going. Be brave.
Keep changing your style, so as not to get into a rut, but limit your palette.
It's particularly important to paint when you don't feel like it. Paint the same subject many times.

A "real" watercolour portrait, as opposed to a demo, would normally take him 2 or 3 hours, non-stop,
twice the time he had available tonight. One in oils or acrylics would be 2 or 3 weeks.
This was certainly an impressive achievement in so short a time - and it gave us a most inspiring evening . . .

. . . and look: the runs don't spoil it!
Portrait, March 2011 Still Life, August 2011 Return to Archive Children on Beach, 2014 Still Life, Dec 2015

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