Wokingham Art Society
Demonstrations by Peter Keegan
Visit him at www.peterkeegan.co.uk
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Figures in Oils, 18 September 2018
Examples of Peter's other figure paintings
Peter came with a few paintings and other items for sale and had set his easel up with a photo of a couple of boys on a beach on his tablet computer and a piece of MDF primed with acrylic gesso. He had an enormous palette which dwarfed the tiny blobs of oil paint distributed around its edge.
He was using Michael Hardy oils: titanium white, a couple of yellows (lemon and ochre) a couple of reds (cadmium and alizarin crimson) and a couple of blues (cobalt and french ultra), with some "guest colours": burnt sienna, viridian, pthalocyanine turquoise and burnt umber. Michael Hardy paint is expensive but certainly worth it for a professional artist.

Peter describes himself as a representational painter, meaning that you can recognize what he is painting. This does not stop him using artistic licence and hinting at things rather than painting every detail.
There is a lot of blue in the scene so a fairly dark burnt sienna background would complement it. This was spread over with a big brush, staining the gesso so that excess paint can be wiped off with a cloth, leaving a surface that would not contaminate subsequent layers.

With an HB pencil Peter laid down the composition: lines for the edge of the beach, for mid-distance waves and for the horizon. He continued by sketching the main features of the two figures. "50% or 60% accuracy" he called it. He felt the composition (a nice stable triangle) would be better with the two boys closer together (in fact, he commented later that he had not brought them close enough, but it was too near the end of the the demo to correct it). After placing the boys he needed to re-define the horizon.
As usual with oils, Peter started with the darks. Using a mixture of burnt umber and ultramarine blue (a "black" much kinder than a ready-made one) he started painted them. Filberts from Rosemary Brushes were his favourites (a No. 4 was the workhorse).

He wasn't painting arms or swimming costumes or hair - just the darkest patches. What's more, he stressed that he was still drawing, checking relationships, correcting positions, assuming that the pencil marks were wrong. The photo had a dark blob between the two boys: actually the head of a third boy who had been buried, but he decided that a lighter sandcastle would make a better picture, so that got no dark..
Peter lightened and warmed the "black" with some crimson (and perhaps a touch of white) and put this in where there was a touch more light. He then mixed what he called "transitional half tone" from burnt sienna, red and lemon as he worked more towards mid-tone.

He never mixed paint on the canvas. Nor did he scrub paint on. The routine was invariable: mix the colour on the palette then apply the loaded brush deliberately just where you want it - normally making quite tiny marks but sometimes pressing very hard. He said he looked on it as sculpting.

When he got to the skin (mid-tones) he made these with lemon yellow and red, for the richer colour, and white, yellow ochre and red for lighter areas.
Even after the coffee break Peter reiterated that he was still drawing: correcting shapes and positions. "What can I leave out?" "I'm not painting a face - I'm making brushstrokes".

The sand colour was not so very different from the skin, just a little more brown.

Then the sky and the sea. Starting at the top with a No.14 flat brush and white-and-cobalt paint (still just put on and left) he came down into the sea with a darker, french ultra and viridian mix, more turquoise toward the beach and a lot more white over the top for the waves. All of these were placed carefully around the figures, but still adjusting them very slightly.
Finally Peter covered most of the beach with the sand colour and then dabbed in apparently ramdom touches of darker and lighter browns to give texture.

He could have done with more time (our coffee breaks do seem to spread rather into the second "half") so only a few minutes were available for "final touches": highlights, a bit of sand colour into the sky, modifying some shadows, blurring some of the edges (between bodies and sea, in particular).

It's not really finished but he will look at it back in the studio and decide if a little more work will make it saleable.
Thanks, Peter, for another great evening.
The end of the demo
Landscape in Oils, 20 September 2016
Tonight's demo will be in oils, his preferred medium, but almost everything he says will apply equally to acrylics - and much of it should interest watercolour and pastel painters.

Peter told us last year that portrait painting was his favourite type of work. It provides some 60% of his income, the rest being split between other types of painting and teaching (demos, workshops).

Portraits don't sell in art galleries, nor are they always what art societies want. Hence tonight's demo: from a spectacular sunset photo he had taken across Lake Thun in Switzerland.
He had a copy of the photo on his tablet computer, hung on his board alongside a sheet of taped-on white oil-colour paper.

He had put a strip of masking tape along the bottom of the paper, thinking that a wider format might suit the subject better (he could always strip it off and extend the bottom if he wanted).

The first thing was to decide on a background colour: cadmium orange seemed good so he brushed in a slightly thinned layer all over. To get this even and avoid contaminating subsequent colours he vigorously scrubbed the surface with a rag until it was effectively touch-dry.
Peter's big home-made palette had lighter, warmer colours on the left (titanium white, Naples yellow, cadmium yellow hue, cadmium orange and alizarine crimson) and darker, colder ones on the right (Terra Vert, cerulean, cobalt and ultramarine blues and some raw umber).

We had a vote about where the horizon should be. In the photo it was dead central, against the conventional golden section rule (although it's OK to break rules if you know what rule you are breaking). Some wanted more sea, some said leave it central and a few wanted more sky. So Peter decided to leave it almost central and be able to add more sea later if he wanted (by removing the masking tape). With a small brush and some slightly thinned dark purple he marked in the main features.
In what order should it be painted? Colour-by-colour or background-to-foreground? Sky background first, he decided, taking a big #14 brush and a mixture of unthinned blues with a touch of crimson. He worked from right to left, putting the paint on thinly enough for some of the orange to show through, gradually lightening it as he reached the left hand side.

The orange sky was blocked in with a smaller, #12 brush. Then the distant mountains: a slightly greened purple, getting darker (more blue, more green and some umber) towards the water level. The sea is the same colour as the sky but slightly lighter and with more ultramarine, except in the bottom left corner which needed to balance the dark top-right clouds.
The water surface makes the orange reflection a slightly darker tone than the sky.

Peter used an even smaller, #4, brush to put more detail into the sky, letting it "skip and dance" across the surface, not picking up the blue underneath.

For the last half of the demo he discarded the photo. The time was spent restating areas where the colour was not quite right and making tiny marks all over the painting: sky texture; snow on mountainsides; ripples in water; softening some edges and, of course, putting in the sun and its reflection.

All the way through Peter was making helpful little asides, for example:
* When painting over a different colour lay it on thickly - scrubbing would mix the paints, dirtying the result
* To see what colour you really need, use a hole in a piece of card so it is not affected by adjacent colours
* With oils you can sometimes create an intermediate colour by blending existing paint on the surface
* Use a soft brush for blending
* To clean off excess paint from your brush use a rag, not turps or white spirit. If you want it really clean, don't use turps and detergent (and maybe even hair conditioner!) until you have got most of the paint out with the rag
* He recommends Rosemary Chunking bristle brushes but uses several brands of paint.
* Paint with feeling. Say something, don't just copy what you see.
Peter left several of us intending to visit his website, www.peterkeegan.co.uk,
to arrange for some more hands on experience with him.
Thanks again for another interesting evening, Peter.
Portrait in Oils, 19 May 2015
Peter arrived with a carload of examples of his portraits, leaflets, booklets about his services, courses, holidays etc.

Girding the loins

Bigger examples
Before the demo he'd nobbled Chis Parry to act as his model. He took photos of her on his iPad and chose one of them to work from (if you'll excuse a sentence ending with a preposition). She could then re-join the audience.

Although it is only 8 years since Peter finished his degree at Cardiff, he seems to have made a good job of establishing a reputation for himself. Look at his website.

A brilliant move, when he finished his Cardiff course, was to make a series of portraits of officials, tutors, students and ancillary workers that he had met there. The university bought the lot! It must have boosted his reputation no end.

He will paint landscapes and still lifes, but portrait is his passion (we originally asked him to demonstrate landscape but when Sue Smith saw his portrait work she changed the request - well done Sue).

He will work in charcoal or watercolour or, if necessary, acrylic ("dreadful stuff - dries too quickly") but, again, oils are his passion ("the ideal medium for beginners - so forgiving").

His portraits are mostly what the old masters would have called alla prima: one-sitting oil sketches (often, in those days, eventually given to the VIP sitter and hung away from public view in a bedchamber or study). The grand portrait was painted, back in the old master's studio, using this likeness.

Peter starts drawing with a brush, using a single-cream-texture mix of white, raw umber and french ultra (the only time he actually thins the paint, with turps).
One-to-one scale is convenient - a hand-span is equal to the distance from chin to top of forehead. Using his hand as a guide, he finds the best place for the head and then marks chin and top of forehead. Then a curve for the centre-line, a short line for eye-level (roughly half way down, but adjusted for the individual face), one for the nostrils and another for the mouth.

Careful measurement of angles and distances (using the brush handle and the hand) lets you start to block in the rest of the face. This is all done with the same thin paint and short straight strokes. Accuracy is vital, but no-one gets it right first time. The initial very pale outline was overpainted 2 or 3 times, each time more accurately and with a slightly darker mix of the same colour and thinner lines. Last, with the final mix, the darker areas of shadow were drawn.
Then colour, darkest tones first. On the light side of his enormous palette he had titanium white, two yellows (cadmium and ochre), orange, cadmium red, alizarine and flesh pink. The pink is a cheat to save time - for a commissioned portrait he would mix the skin colour, to get it exactly right.

On the darker side of the palette he had burnt sienna, sap green, ultramarine and umber.

His first (darkest) skin colour, in shadow, was a remarkably rich reddish-brown colour. As he worked into the transitional and, later, half-tone and lighter areas he added not just more white but also traces of green, yellows and blues.

The last 45 minutes were nearly all filled with tiny single touches with smaller brushes. Outlines were corrected, temperatures adjusted, glasses just hinted at, and details re-checked until, by 9:45, Peter declared he was finished.
Throughout, he amazed us by being able to talk as well as concentrate on what was a precision painting task. There was an endless stream of helpful comments: I'm sure I missed many of them but here goes:

To get a really good likeness you need to spend time getting to know the sitter.
You should have a clear idea of where you are going, before you start a painting.
Sitters wearing glasses are good news - the glasses can act as a sort of grid to which you can relate the other features.
To improve, you should practice, read books and copy artists you admire.
95% of portrait artists now paint with a laptop or tablet computer screen for reference, not a paper print. The computer can enlarge detail, remove hue (so tone is clearer) and make many other adjustments. It's not cheating - prestigious artists have always used the latest technology to help them get the impression they want.
The best size of brush is the one you think is a bit too big!
Acrylic dries darker; watercolour dries lighter; oils dry the same
Earth colours dry quicker - artificial ones (e.g.titanium white) slower
Use rose madder instead of alizarine for children's portraits
Oils can be removed with a clean brush moistened with turps, so you can adjust lines by that vital millimeter, one way or the other
Wipe excess paint off the brush when you are picking up new paint
There is more colour around the eyes, where the skin is thin
Only put a background in if it supports the painting
When is a painting finished? Never. It is just abandoned

Thanks, Peter for a most intriging evening. When is the workshop?
Chris Parry by the end of the demo

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