Thursday, 19 February 2015

From dark to light by painting tutor Kevin Dean - painting on location, as seen in The Leisure Painter magazine April 2015.

From dark to light

The watercolour of this modest church was painted in the early morning, just as the sun rose over the beautiful city of Orvieto in Italy. A few days before I had spied it as a possible subject for a painting, tucked away in a small piazza close to the city wall, overlooking the surrounding countryside.

Orvieto is full of the most amazing and often very grand architecture, but I am generally  more interested in subjects that are a little hidden, less obvious than more showy attractions, the neglected allotment rather than the manicured garden, the alleyway rather than the high street. Camile Pissaro  put this idea very well when he said ‘Blesssed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing’.

Whenever I reach a new destination, I like to spend time noting possible locations - where I might sit on my fold-away stool, my paints and water   pot at my feet, will I be in shade or sun, am I safe from traffic and how noticeable will I be to passers by? Surprisingly, most people, especially in Europe, barely notice an artist working in situ and those that do, are almost always very complimentary and kind. Beyond Europe the attention might be more intense, but again, well intentioned. In Malaysia a shopkeeper gave me a large rattan hat to shade my head, in Trinidad a man directed pedestrians behind me, allowing me an uninterrupted view of my subject!

It all makes for a better interaction with the people nearby and for the occasion to be even more memorable.

Light is also a consideration, as contrast created by strong shadows or colour is essential to give drama to a painting. Which is of course, one of the great advantages of painting in countries such as Italy, as the light tends to be very bright. The painter may have even more chance of creating something with lively contrast in the early morning, or at dusk, when the light can often be at it’s most dramatic. Of course the shadows are constantly changing, but that just makes me work more rapidly, which hopefully gives the painting an immediacy and a sense of place, something I value more than flat, even washes, or carefully rendered detail.

I began painting watercolour using the traditional technique of laying a series of pale washes, gradually building the right tonal values.  After leaving Art College I found some freelance work, producing watercolour illustrations for a large format book about the British countryside. The publishers asked me to follow the style of   another of the illustrators working on the book, Brian Sanders. Apart from his fresh, lively brushwork I guessed Brian painted all of the dark tones first, without using the preliminary washes that I had been using. Although I wouldn’t compare myself to the inimitable Brain Sanders, it is an approach that I have used ever since. It’s also a similar way to how John Singer Sargent worked, (1856 – 1925). Although probably best known as a society portrait artist, Sargent’s luminous watercolours are often thought to be his greatest achievement.


Fig 1.

After quickly drawing the main components of the scene with a soft pencil, I paint the darkest tones first. This gives me a dramatic starting point and the confidence to apply bright colours and rich tones in the rest of the painting. I was keen to paint the intense, Mediterranean blue sky, as this gave me another opportunity of creating contrast against the white façade and statuary. 




Fig 2.

Colours were then applied to the walls and door. I try as far as possible to just put down the one wash, working wet on wet if more colour , or texture is needed, this helps keep the paintwork looking fresh and not overworked. More washes may be needed but as far as I’m concerned the fewer the better.  It was relatively straightforward to just use one wash of Rose Madder, along with a touch of French Ultramarine blue, on the walls of the church.  Other darker areas needed more layers but I always try to keep the number of  washes  to a minimum. I also began picking out a few details with a dip pen and dark brown, (waterproof) ink and scratched a few touches of candle wax on to the paving area to create a slight resist effect - once the paint was applied.


Fig 3.

With all the underlying colours painted, including a suggestion of the hills in the distance and what must have been hints of a waning moon in the sky, I mixed   French Ultramarine and Alizarin Red together with plenty of water, to paint the shadows.

The main shadow had probably moved by the time I came to add it, but I’d kept it’s position in mind, as I liked the shape it made.  Painting a large area of shadow using a very wet wash will invariably disturb the paintwork underneath, but if painted both quickly and without  ‘scrubbing’ the surface,   it should not cause too much of a problem.  

Fig 4

Something I like to do, is to make   monoprints based upon a one of my pictures, sketches or photographs, either making the print broadly the same, or changing the image completely. It’s a versatile and very painterly form of printmaking   and like watercolour, the results are often quite unpredictable, but using printing ink and a press, the colours and textures are always rich and satisfy.

In this example, I decided to isolate the church and surround it with what might be  an overgrown graveyard.

Fig 5.

The print is created on a perspex sheet/plate. I cut a paper stencil of the areas I wanted to keep white and laid this over the colours - already painted or rolled on to the plate. Once ready to print, the plate is put on to the bed of the printing press and a sheet of paper placed over it. Put through the press the image on the plate is transferred to the paper. It’s possible to paint more ink   on to the plate and to take further impressions, but each print is unique, hence the term monoprint . I often paint into the print further, using a mixture of watercolour and gouache.

It’s possible to make monoprints without a printing press, by painting or rolling paint onto a sheet of Perspex, or glass, using oil or acrylic paints. The print can be taken by hand burnishing the back of the paper laid over the printing plate.

Southsea Pier - woodcut 45 x 65cm. This was produced using another favourite printmaking medium, the woodcut or woodblock printing, cut from plywood and hand-printed using water-based printing ink.


A versatile artist, Kevin Dean has illustrated numerous books, magazines, designed textiles, wallpapers, ceramics and exhibited his paintings/prints all over the world. A graduate of The Royal College of Art, Kevin also designed much of the floral marble decoration   at   The Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi.

Kevin also tutors painting holidays for Authentic Adventures, this year he is leading a holiday in Cinque Terre, Italy 30th May – 6th June 2015.
 For further information contact 01453 823328 or visit


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Why I love Italy, by David Paskett painting tutor for Authentic Adventures

"When I am pretending to speak Italian, painting, walking the streets or sitting in a café in a piazza in Italy, I imagine I am almost the person I might be!"

David Paskett


A rainy day in Perugia by David Paskett

Towards San Giovenale by David Paskett


David will be leading the following Painting holidays in Italy in 2015:

26th September 2015 - Casentino, Tuscany

He will also be leading Painting Day Workshops in Gloucestershire.  

Why I love Italy by Sarah Edmonds, Marketing Manager at Authentic Adventures

My parents are entirely to blame for my love of Italy – we have travelled to Italy every year since I was tiny, and they have stayed in Venice twelve times and counting. They are totally fixated by it. It wasn’t surprising, then, that I embarked on an Italian degree, spending a year at the University of Pisa with a two month stint in Venice. In Pisa, I lived with six Sicilians, and learnt more about Sicilian culture and language than the Northern dialect and culture of Pisa! I can recall a memorable train journey down to Siracusa, the gentle jog jog on the tracks, the vintage carriage with black and white photographs of a bygone era and long, worn leather seats that we slept upon, watching the scenery change from Northern European to Moorish, arid, dazzling sunshine and lemon trees in the station. I hadn’t expected the overwhelming hospitality of the Sicilians – I was invited to dine with no fewer than six families. My friend Alessandra, with her beautiful auburn hair, explained there were a huge number of red heads on the island, Francesco invited me to spend the day at his fathers tuna factory – I had visions of the huge sides of tuna being stuffed with wads of money or drugs – all the while being ferried from one place to the other on the back of a Piaggio scooter. We hold the record for six people on a scooter at once. I didn’t pay for anything, “Sono un' amica di Francesco” – “I’m a friend of Francesco’s” was met with a nod – and “don’t worry, we’ve got this covered.”  They packed me back on the train a fortnight later laden with tuna, oil, sunflowers and a glow of happiness. Later I became a tour guide in Tuscany which cemented my love for the landscapes, people and food. I struggled with the language at first, but finally conquered it and began dreaming in Italian.

What really appeals to me about Italy, and Sicily in particular, is the lifestyle. For all its corruption, inequality and chauvinism there is an enviable relaxed feel about life. Shops are closed on Wednesday mornings (just because they can), they close for long siestas, they are not in a rush, family is still at the centre of life, and the passaggiata is still the most important part of the day. It brings the community together, you can show off your new handbag, your new dog or new boyfriend. Italians are incredibly vain, men are powerful, fashion is foremost. There is an undeniable charm – Italy is on our doorstep, yet the culture is quite different from our more reserved and modest version.


That’s not to say I haven’t had some bad experiences in Italy (I’ve been mugged by the Leaning Tower, experienced racism in Rome with my Chinese friend, encountered arrogance, rudeness) but screeching along the cobbled streets of Sicily on a scooter – happy memories for me!

Sarah in Bologna - not on a vespa this time.
Vespa's everywhere



Click here for more information about: 

Painting Holidays in Italy

Photography Holidays in Italy


Why I love Italy - by painting tutor, Brian Steventon

Painting tutor Brian Steventon leads a painting group in Puglia


I was born in the Black Country, a small area on the edge of what is now the West Midlands. It was an area steeped in industrial history where all the major products that we all know so well were manufactured. The down side of that was the smoke and dense fog in the winter with an occasional glimpse of sunlight. Hence the expression washday Mondays as it was the day when the air was cleanest. So when I started painting its hardly surprising that I was attracted to light seeing as it was a rareity when growing up.


I first painted Venice when I was in my late teens using an Italian calendar photo’s as reference. I was intrigued by the place. We lived near canals but nothing a grand as what I imagined. After seeing the works of Turner, Whistler and then Seago it became a life long ambition to go there. My first visit was a taster taking in Rome, Sienna, Florence. I was hooked, returning to stay in the Italian Lakes, with visits to the Dolomites and Venice. I remember standing by the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal visualising that painting that I produced some twenty years earlier, amazing !! I have since returned to Venice to stay there and absorb its character and paint it. After further trips to Tuscany, I had to sample the Amalfi Coast, Naples, Capri and Pompeii. At this stage it was sheer infatuation but the more you get to understand it the more you fall in love with it. Then visits to Cinque Terre, Sardinia, Puglia all go towards enhancing that feeling.


I love their approach to life and the fact that nothing changes it. The friendliness of all the people you meet, their love of food and celebration, their incredible fashion sense and style. But I guess from a painters perspective it has to be the clarity of light, colours and textures of buildings, its atmospheric landscape and the grandness of its big cities. Once you have fell in love with it there is no going back, but who would want to !!!

Enjoying a day sketching in the masseria

Masseria - by Brian Steventon
Painting in the shade of the olive trees

Amalfi, Cinque Terre, Abruzzo, Casentino and Puglia in 2015.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

How to paint a still life in pastels by Christine Russell - Leisure Painter Magazine - February 2015

Natural Arrangements – How to Paint a Still Life in Pastels
Christine Russell - Posted on 04 Feb 2015

In last month’s article, I talked about still life in general terms and illustrated it with a variety of subjects, some modern, even quirky, others more traditional. Although quite different in character and mood, they shared one thing in common: all were painted in soft pastel.

Pastel does almost everything I ask of a medium; it creates areas of infinite subtlety, or of enormous vibrancy and strength. I am able to build up layers, allowing the integrity of the under layers to influence those on top. It is easy to make corrections, either by brushing off an area, however small, or by over painting. In this way, I am able to experiment with a particular colour or tone directly within the picture to see if it works – if it doesn’t, off it comes! Another advantage is that it is a dry medium so I don’t have to wait for an area to dry before working on it further.

I have an enormous collection of pastels, gathered over many years of working in this delightful medium. They range from harder, often square-profiled sticks, to those with a soft, velvety texture, composed of almost pure compressed pigment. All have their uses, although I limit my use of pastel pencils to the initial drawing out of the subject.

For this month’s demonstration, I will show you how I tackled an intimate arrangement, based around an old copper gill measure. The set-up was illuminated from low down and to the right, using an angle poise lamp. This gave strong light to the right of the composition, bright, concentrated reflections and deep shadows thrown upwards to the left.

I added the muslin cloth, grapes and plum to give contrasting textures to the polished metal, and to provide some interesting reflections in the pot. The importance of the fruit to the composition was further heightened by the red and green complementary colour scheme it provided. The muslin fabric was not just a bit player either; the contrasting light tone of the open-weave fabric helped to enhance the deep tones throughout the rest of the arrangement.

I enjoy painting copper. The deep, russet colours and the lovely glow that comes from it cannot fail to produce a rich, warm picture. Don’t be put off by reflective surfaces, just learn to paint what is in front of you. If you squint your eyes at the subject it will really help you to focus on the tones and subtleties of colour. If your rendering of the reflections is accurate enough, you may even find an intriguing image of yourself in your completed picture!

Demonstration "Gill Measure with Grapes"

You will need:

Surface -
Canson Mi-Teintes Touch 335gsm abrasive paper in burgundy (21x26cm)

Soft pastels* -
  • Black
  • Dark, medium and light brown
  • Dark chocolate brown
  • Deep burnt orange
  • Raw and burnt umber
  • Dark burgundy
  • Mid-tone orange brown
  • Bright reds
  • Burnt orange
  • Bright yellow orange
  • Intense red orange
  • Warm bright orange
  • Indigo
  • Deep blue grey
  • Mid-tone purple grey
  • Mid-tone green
  • Dark blue green
  • Olive green
  • Pale green
  • Pale mauve
  • Mid-tone purple
  • Pale cream
Faber-Castell black pastel pencil

* Colours are many and varied so use the colours you have and match tone as much as you can.

Step 1 - Initial drawing

I drew the arrangement using a black Faber-Castell pastel pencil. My aim at this stage was not to create a highly detailed drawing, only to place the arrangement on the paper as accurately as possible.

It is important not to use graphite pencil here, as it produces a mark, which is difficult to cover with pastel and will always show through.

Step 2 - Background

1. Working as I always do, back to front, I blocked in the background. For this I used a mixture of raw and burnt umber, with the addition of black for the shadow areas, worked in broad strokes.
2. Over laying the black shadows, which established my all-important dark tone to the left of the composition, I then added a little indigo and a very dark chocolate brown. These two closely toned colours gave me both warm and cool areas within the shadow and helped to intensify the dark tone.
3. I then gently blended all these colours with my fingers to give me a fairly neutral background colour and soft, but strong shadows. Establishing these dark areas at the outset enabled me to judge the tonal values throughout the rest of the painting.

Try not to draw around the shadow of the pot, as this will result in a hard-edged and unconvincing shadow

Step 3 - Blocking in the gill measure

1. Working from dark to light, I used very dark brown and deep burnt orange to block in the pot broadly, adding a dark burgundy shade to indicate the reflections of the plum and dark red grapes. At this blocking-in stage, I try to avoid hard edges so I overlay my strokes using the side of the pastel, rather than the tip. The burgundy shade of the paper was allowed to show through in places. This helped me to maintain the underlying warmth of the subject.
2. Since blended pigment is never as brilliant as undisturbed or overlaid pigment, I rarely rub pastel in with my fingers, or any other device. Instead, I prefer to work one pastel on top of another to achieve subtlety, at the same time, maintaining strength.

Reserve any blending with fingers or other devices for background areas only.

Step 4 - Building up and refining

To build up the body of the jug, I applied a mid-tone orange/brown into the dark area on the left side and to the centre. I then started to develop the inside of the rim, the mouth and the handle, using the same range of colours, together with a couple of harder pastels with good edges, in a paler shade of burnt orange, and a deep blue/grey to work on the rim. Finally, I added the highlights to the rim and handle with a light-toned, but vibrant yellow/orange.

It is very easy to become seduced by the highlights. Keep working up the darker tones and only when you are satisfied with the solidity of the object, add the highlights.

Step 5 - Reflections

1. Observing carefully, I continued to add the reflections to the body of the jug in downward strokes, which echoed the shape; in other words, narrow near the neck then gradually widening towards the base. From the neck up to the underside of the rim it was a similar story, but in reverse.
2. I now set to work placing the reflections of the cloth in a pale burnt orange (not white), indicating the folds with a mid-toned purple, and refining other reflections, especially those of the grapes and plum. I added touches of intense red/orange to the underside of the rim, before placing the main highlight in the same light yellow/orange colour used on the rim, which suddenly brought the pot to life.
3. The grapes were blocked in to left and right of the jug: the red grapes in indigo and deep burgundy; the green grapes in shades of dark blue/green and olive.
4. I applied two shades of brown in horizontal strokes to depict the wood grain on the table-top. This helped me to assess the tonal relationships, before I blocked in the fabric in a creamy, off-white shade. I used fairly light strokes with the side of the pastel so as to leave plenty of background colour showing through. This helped me to convey the texture of the muslin weave.

Reflections from light-toned objects tend to be darker; the opposite is true of dark-toned objects. In the case of our jug, the warm colour of the copper surface will also influence the reflections, making them warmer.

Step 6 - Red grapes

1. On top of the deep red/indigo block-in, I gradually began to lighten some of the red grapes with a brighter red, beginning to shape just a few in the bunch. I further defined some by applying indigo to the undersides and to the left. I needed to keep in mind that this area was in deep shadow and therefore I shouldn’t over define or lighten too much.

Highlights are rarely white, especially when they come from an artificial light source. White has a tendency to appear grey in comparison with a pale peach or cream shade.

2. When I was satisfied with the colour and tones of the grapes, I applied a few highlights with a pale cream shade.

Step 7 - Green grapes

Using a brighter mid-toned green, I worked on the green grapes, in exactly the same way as the red. I then switched to a paler green that, not only lightened each grape, but also gave the surface a very convincing bloom. I indicated one or two little stalks in a light brown then applied the highlights, as for the red grapes.

The dark blue/green of the initial block-in serves to indicate the dark tone, beneath and behind the grapes. Instead of drawing circles for individual grapes and filling them in, try ‘pulling’ them out of the background, leaving the dark areas as shadows and for definition – your grapes should then look less like Brussels sprouts!

Step 8 - Plum

I blocked in the plum using the same colours as I used for the red grapes and by the same method, in other words from indigo and deep burgundy to lighter, brighter reds.

Step 9 - Plum, grape and table top

1. Before working further on the plum, it was time to tidy up the table top area. I applied further horizontal strokes, in the two shades of brown I had previously used at the block-in stage, working these colours around the plum to improve the shape. I went back into it, adding two little touches of reflected light, in green on the top, which was coming from the reflection of the green grapes in the jug and a warm bright orange from the jug.
2. With a very light touch, I lightly stroked onto the skin of the plum a pale mauve, which served as a convincing representation of the bloom, and finally, of course, the highlight.
3. I put in the single green grape out to the right of the composition then applied the shadows and little reflections in the polished table-top. The shadow colour was a deep, cool brown and the table-top reflections were applied using very light strokes of the colour of the object being reflected.


There is often a good deal of confusion when considering the difference between shadows and reflections. Shadows require a light source and something to block it, our plum and grape, for instance. The shadows cast will vary according to the position of that light source. The light source for our still life is positioned in front and to the right of the set-up. It follows, therefore, that the direction of the shadows cast by our plum and grape is diagonally off to the left. Reflections, on the other hand, are mirror images of the objects, so the reflections of the grapes and plum on the flat table-top are directly beneath. The reflections in the polished surface of the jug are distorted due to its shape – we have all stood in front of a fairground mirror!

Step 10 - Muslin cloth

Time to tackle the cloth! I had blocked it in very roughly at an early stage and had left quite a lot of background colour showing through. Before working further on the fabric, I added the two grapes so they would appear to nestle within the folds. I lightened the tops of the folds by adding some pale, creamy white and emphasised the folds with the addition of raw umber and a mid-tone purple/grey.

The finished painting

Gill Measure with Grapes, pastel, (21x26cm)

Christine Russell

Christine works in a variety of media. After a long association with The Royal Opera House, both on and off the stage, Christine left to follow her other passion for painting. In addition to her solo shows, she exhibits her work in a number of prestigious galleries including The Mall Galleries, with the Pastel Society and the Society of Women Artists. Her work has featured in books and publications. She is devoted to teaching and with her infectious enthusiasm, Christine gently encourages and inspires her students, from the complete novice to the experienced painter.

She leads painting holidays in many parts of the world with Authentic Adventures ( and in the UK at Marlborough College Summer School.

Future holidays include:

9th March 2015 - Painting holiday in Madeira, Portugal
9th May 2015 - Pastels Day Workshop at Pegasus, Stroud, Gloucestershire
27th June 2015 - Painting holiday in Abruzzo
3rd October 2015 - Painting holiday in Transylvania & Bucovina, Romania
26th October 2015 - Painting holiday in Madeira, Portugal