Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Oil painting demonstration - Stage 3

Review the previous stages

Oil painting demonstration - Stage 1
Oil painting demonstration - Stage 2

I worked again on this canvas after a long interruption. I was a little apprehensive to have lost momentum, but decided the best way was to just get started.

I laid the following colours on a glass palette:

  • Titanium white
  • Naples yellow light
  • Japanese yellow light
  • Cadmium yellow deep
  • Raw sienna
  • Vermillion hue
  • Carmine Alizarin
  • Cerulean blue
  • Royal blue
  • French ultramarine.

I started working on the boat in the foreground. I wanted to give some strength and depth to the painting and get more definition without going into to much detail. The paint mixes well as it contains oil and I used almost no thinner. For the lighter areas, like the top of the box in the blue boat and the front metallic structure, I applied some Light king blue.

The work on the water was done on the go, using the colours also used on the boats. As a general principle, I tend to go around the painting using the same colours in order to give some unity to the work. The glimmering aspect of the water was obtained by the different layers, breaking down the strokes, alternating dark strokes and lighter ones.

I mixed some Ultramarine blue with Carmine Alizarin to paint the rim of the cream boat with a dark purple. I generally don’t use black from the tube, I prefer to mix it.

The round orange buoys worked very well in the painting. They provided roundness that contrasted with the sharpness of the prow and, from the colour point of view, the orange and red spots vibrated on the blue/green complimentary sea.

I worked the top of the water with the edge of a flat brush. I applied some Naples yellow on the sunny area of the boats: the bench and the front of the cream boat. On the front of the boat, the paint mixed with the King’s Blue Light I applied before. Naples Yellow is a good alternative to pure white. Think of it as the colour of luxury letter paper.

When I worked on the light area of the water, I kept in mind the final effect I would achieve by glazing and I laid the foundations. I used all the blues on the palette: King’s Blue Light, Cerulean and Ultramarine that I mixed with Titanium white to grade them.

I then concentrated on the triangle of water between the reflexions of the boats. By making this area lighter, the boats would stand out.

After that, I worked on the reflexion of the boats to get the right tonal value. Again, I took into consideration that the final aspect would come with glazing.

I added the “telling details” that make boats: the boards on the side, the masts.

I stopped the session after two hours. The light declined and the colours became muted.

I put the painting to dry on top of the drawers. I could glance at it from time to time and think about the next stage. I already knew I had to work on the boat edge on the right, put more details in, more weight, without making it too distracting. I would rework the mast to put some light on them. I could not do this with the fresh underlying paint. The reflexion of the mast of the cream boat looked too blue. I had to make it darker (probably dark green) and more muted. I would add the registration numbers and the flags.

I was looking forward to the next session. Glazing would bring depth to the water and soften the passage from light to dark on the boats.

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Monday, 29 October 2007

The Proud Hen - Oil Painting

This hen was in the villa we rented in the South of France during summer. We had to feed her and make sure she had plenty of water. She did not return the favour: the only egg she laid during this time was no bigger than a table tennis ball.

The Proud Hen - Oil painting (6"x 8") by Benoit Philippe

Friday, 26 October 2007

Oil painting demonstration - Stage 2

You can review the previous stage in Oil painting demonstration - Stage 1.

I installed the 24” X 20”canvas on the easel and squeezed the following colours on my palette:

  • Titanium White

  • Cadmium Yellow

  • Vermilion Hue

  • Carmine Alizarin

  • Turquoise Blue

  • King's Blue

  • French Ultramarine

  • Blockx Green

Using hog brushes, I quickly went around the canvas with washes of bright colours thinned with Sonodor, so that the paint would dry quickly. My aim was to create a lively tapestry to anchor my colours on. The blue of the water should sparkle on the yellow foreground.

At the same time, the general tone of the painting are put in place: darker areas and lighter ones.

I then started the actual block-in process. I used paint with practically no thinner, apart from the one left on the brush when I clean it between different colours.
For this painting, I had a guest colour: Turquoise blue. The tube bursted and I had to use the colour (this is an example of happy accident).

This was a later stage in the block-in phase. I added darker marls on the top of the buoys and on the rim of the boats. I also applied darker blue tone in the background. The tinted background of the canvas still showed in many places, creating a warm/cool contrast.

Continue to stage 3.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Oil painting demonstration - Stage 1

If you want to see the final painting before the end of this demonstration, please go my previous entry on the Relaxing at Mevagissey Oil Painting.

Reference Photograph

Mevagissey is a small village in Cornwall with a nice harbour full of fishing boats. I took many photographs as I did not have time to paint or sketch. Above is the reference photograph I used.


I started this studio painting by making a small watercolour. Painting a watercolour of the subject helped to put some distance between the reference photograph and the final painting. Working in small format made easier to solve compositional problems and to have a feel for the direction of the painting. It is also interesting to see how watercolour and oil lead to different interpretations of the same material.

Stage 1 of the oil painting: Drawing

The canvas has been prepared with a tinted gesso. The canvas I used was already primed, but I prefer to have a medium value background so that lighter marks stand out when blocking in. I mixed some acrylic paint with white gesso: one part vermillion, one part yellow ochre and a touch of ultramarine. For this painting, I wanted a warm background as I knew the cool colours would be prominent.

I traced the two diagonals on the canvas to make sure that the boats were centered. I then traced a grid onto the canvas using a pale chalk pencil. For the drawing I use sanguine or sepia pencils rather than graphite pencils (that tend to make light colours dirty). These pencils are big enough to prevent you from dwelling into details. The colour is warm and disappears under the paint without smudging the colours.

Continue the demonstration to Stage 2.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Café et croissants - Oil Painting

Imagine being in the South of France (Assas near Montpellier to be exact), it is a summer morning and the sun warms the terrace. Ready for breakfast.

The bakery was 2 kilometres away, in the village, and is was to nice walk through the vineyard to open your appetite.

Café et croissant - Oil on panel (6"x8") by Benoit Philippe

Friday, 19 October 2007

You Said Pochade?

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" - June 2007. Follow the link to subscribe to the newsletter.

I came across the word “Pochade” when I bought my first pochade box, a few years ago. A pochade box is to the painter what the laptop computer is to the modern office worker. You can carry it everywhere; paint when you have only a moment and it leaves you no excuse if you are not painting.

The Grove Art Dictionary (Oxford University Press) defines a “Pochade” as a “Small, roughly executed oil sketch, painted outside, usually as a preliminary study for a larger, finished studio picture.”

You won’t find the word in more general dictionaries (like the 1872 pages long Collins English Dictionary) and the use of the word seems limited.

A full text search in the digital archives of The Times newspaper, covering articles published between 1795 and 1985 only harvested 3 matches. On 20th August 1924, the Beaux Arts Gallery in London advertised “THE POCHADE EXHIBITION. Small Pictures by Great Modern Artists”. The same advert was published again 3 days later. The third occurrence, in 1964, refers to a play and not a painting.

I turned to French dictionaries to follow the roots of this word. The 6th edition of the Dictionnaire de L'Académie française (dated 1832-5) reads:

“POCHADE. s. f. T. de Peinture. Espèce de croquis; dessin au lavis, exécuté rapidement, et où l'on se contente d'indiquer les masses. Une jolie pochade. Ce n'est qu'une pochade.” (Translation: “Painting. Sort of sketch; drawing with glazes, quickly executed, and where you only indicate the main planes. A nice pochade. This is only a pochade.”)

I would define a “pochade” in 5 points:

  • Small format painting

  • Quickly executed

  • Done on location

  • Capture the essence of the subject without details

  • Records an impression and may be used as reference for a studio painting

The word pochade is not in fashion, as well as the pochade itself. Why? First, the pochade is perceived as a study for more ambitious works, like a draft of a masterpiece to come rather than a work in its own right. Secondly, many artists like to keep them to themselves because they are more personal, spontaneous and form a collection of vignettes showing the evolution of the artist. Finally, as soon as the work gets bigger, it becomes a plein air painting rather than a pochade, even if the technique remains the same.

There is no reason to overlook pochades. Artists: get them out of the studio and let the pochade exist in its own right. Collectors: this is a great way to start small and build-up your collection.

Related posts and pages

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Bringing home your wet canvas

When you go out to paint on location in oil, one of the problems is how to get your newly painted canvas home without smudging the fresh paint.

There are a number of solutions to this problem. I will review for each of them the Pros and Cons of the different methods.

An obvious way of carrying one wet painting is to just hand carry it. It is posssible for a small painting. For a larger canvas, the grip is not comfortable because you can only hold the canvas by the outer edge and the back. Beware of windy days: the canvas will catch wind like a sail and if the wind is strong, your canvas may well end-up in the grass (generally on the wrong side).

Here are three alternative methods.

The French Easel

If you own a French easel, you can lock the painting in place on the easel and carry it back this way. It is better if the wet side of the canvas faces the lid of the easel as shown on the photograph.


  • Fully integrated to the easel. You don't need any extra equipment.
  • The painting is firmly maintained in place
  • If you your easel on your back with the painting affixed to it, you still have both hands free

Not so good:

  • If the size of the canvas is larger than the easel, the wet painting protrudes on each side and you have to be careful not to touch the wet paint.

  • This works only for one canvas.
  • Will leave a mark on the top and bottom of the canvas, where the canvas is in contact with the wood of the French easel clamp.

Metal Separator Clips

These metal clips are an ingenious variation on the bulldog clip. To use an image, they look like Siamese bulldog clips. The photograph below will give you a good idea. The clips are inserted in between the two canvases and maintain them a centimetre apart. You will need two canvases of the same size (or at least with one equal lenght).

You can use two clips for small and medium canvases, but you will need four clips (one per side) for larger paintings, otherwise the sides without the clip risk to touch each other.


  • Fairly cheap

  • Small, light and easy to carry around
  • The paintings are firmly maintained in place

  • Leave minimal marks as the surface of the canvas as the part of the metallic clip touching each canvas is only a few centimetres long.

  • The metal is easy to clean.

Not so good:

  • You have to take two canvases with you (but you don't have to paint both).
  • No handle,

  • A little bit tricky to put in place. You must be careful that, when you put the first clip in place, the opposite sides of the painting are not snapped together.

Wooden clamps with handle

This product is and hybrid solution compared to the two precedent ones.

The wooden separators have a "T" shape and the canvases are maintained in place by a screw on brackets (see photograph above). The top separator is fitted with a leather handle.


  • Easy to put in place
  • Small, light and easy to carry around. Takes slightly more space than metallic clip, but still small enough to put in your bag.
  • Could also be used for oil panels (because of the screw)

  • Handle makes it easy to carry

Not so good:

  • You have to take two canvases with you (but you don't have to paint both).

  • Will leave a ten centimetres mark on each side of the canvas

There are other products available, but I have not tested them.

One last recommendation regarding the transport of your wet paintings: If you use your car, try to store them flat, make sure nothing will fall on the wet surface and line your boot with a bin plastic bag or any type of protective plastic sheet (wet paint seems to go everywhere without any good reason).

Now, enjoy your plein-air painting sessions and keep the paint on your wet canvas.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Brown's Extra Oil Painting

This is a painting of tourists sitting on the steps at Brown's, a bar restaurant on Queens Road in Bristol. I cropped a photograph I took late September and used it as reference material.

The Clifton area is very lively as it is closed to the university and the Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery.

The building itself looks like a Doges Palace in Venice, but I wanted to capture the people enjoying a nice break. I may do a larger painting of the scene that includes other people around tables on the terrace.

Brown's Extra - Oil on panel (6"x8") by Benoit Philippe

Thursday, 11 October 2007

60 Minutes to Better Painting: Improve Your Skills in Oil and Acrylic by Craig Nelson

This article is a review of 60 Minutes to Better Painting: Improve Your Skills in Oil and Acrylic by Craig Nelson.

Craig Nelson articulates in simple words (and with his paintings) the benefits of quick studies, by themselves, or as a test before attempting a finished painting. His approach is practical and it is easy to see the teacher behind the artist.

I already discussed some practice tips for quick studies in my article
Pochades: practice makes perfect that I wrote before I read this book. The benefits the author lists match my own experience: studies help you to break inhibitions, not to be afraid of mistakes, to learn the difference between lines and mass, learn brushwork and understand how to see.

Craig demonstrates the use of three time frames: 25-30 minutes, 40-45 minutes and 60 minutes. I would not go as far as having a timer in front of me when I paint, but setting a time limit (use your watch) is an excellent idea.

Example of demonstration in the book. You can see on the right corner of each image the icon with the time spent on a particular step.

The demonstrations are classic step-by-step ones showing the painting from start to finish. The added feature is a small icon showing the time spent for each step. I would not try to copy the demonstrations in the book.
The reader should rather understand the spirit, the main stages and the techniques used (like the “Two value statement technique” and “The block-in technique” which are well explained) and apply them to her or his own studies.

Numerous examples in the book will inspire you to paint your own favourite subjects and to seek new ones.

The parts I preferred in the book dealt with:

  • Composition: The book puts a great emphasis on composition, exploring cropping, simplifying, points of view and how to break the space in interesting ways. There is one page titled “Compositional clues” with thumbnails of different compositions arranged in a “Yes” and a “No” columns, with diagrams and short comments to explain the flaws and the strength of each composition. This page does not look fancy but contains so much information that you have to come back to it.

  • Lighting effects: The part on creating light effects is very well done, concise yet clears, on the possibilities offered by different lighting conditions (flat lighting, sunlight, low angle light and night lighting as well as atmosphere in lighting).

  • Editing: How to simplify, edit out elements or add them to balance the composition in a finished painting done from studies.

The chapter on colours is limited to the minimum. It contains a short explanation of the full palette, the limited palette and analogous colours. This is not the core of the book, but it gives you enough clues to go and explore.

The last part of the book discusses how to use quick studies to execute more refined paintings in the studio.

Overall, 60 Minutes to Better Painting: Improve Your Skills in Oil and Acrylic is an excellent book that you will keep in your art books library after reading it. It does not try to cover all grounds of painting with oil or acrylic, but gives you a logical path to practice using quick studies and it delivers on the promises of its subtitle: “improve your skills in oil and acrylic”.

An immediate effect of this book is the urge it gives you to paint. I executed the
“Watching the movie” study as a result of reading this book and it comforted me in painting pochades and quick studies.

Favourite quotes from the book

“Remember: color is always about relationships, greys vs. intensities, warms vs. cools, darks vs. lights”

And this tip on finished paintings: “Probably the most important aspect of finishing a painting is not to finish it too quickly.”

About the artist and author

Craig Nelson has been painting for 30 years. He graduated from Art Center College of Design with distinction and won many awards. He began teaching in 1974 at Art Center College of Design and then at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco where he is Director of Fine Art, Drawing and Painting.

You can review the artist’s paintings at
Craig Nelson’s website.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Thinking about Benoit Philippe Art Studio Limited?

Artists of the past, since medieval time, employed assistants and apprentices in their studio (Rubens counted many, included the gifted van Dyck who made a name for himself). Some contemporary established artists still have assistants who take in charge part of the execution of the work and deal with anciliary activities.

Most of us work and create alone, so why should you think of yourself as a business employing a skilled workforce?

In the book
E-myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber promotes the idea of creating an organisation chart of your business with the different functions. He explains how the exercise is valuable, even if you are a one-person business. It forces you to work “on your business” rather than “in your business”.

In Mark Forster’s book Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play, he gives an additional reason to do that from a productivity standpoint: “Employing yourself gives you a degree of detachment from your work”. He gives some compelling examples of how we do things easily for friends that we struggle to do the same task for ourselves. There is a French saying that reads “Les cordonniers sont les plus mal chaussés.” (Cobblers wear the worst shoes).

Mark Forster's blog has an excellent article titled “Employ yourself” on this topic. He explains that if you dread doing your accounts, you should appoint yourself accountant for a day per month. During this time, this is your job for your artist company. So, it becomes harder to evade. You also know that at a precise point, the accountant will leave and the artist will be able to create without bookkeeping worries at the back of his mind.

Taking my own practice, I found five areas:

  • Operation (which includes the actual artistic creation)
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Sales
  • Support (Information technology, legal, etc.)

What is the point of spending time dreaming of your large organisation if you are a one-person only practice? There are multiple benefits to this exercise:

  • It forces you to look beyond the creative side of your artist practice: It is easy to neglect the business aspect of being an artist. When you have completed the organisation chart, you realise that painting is only one strand of your trade.

  • You can identify gaps in your business practice. Once you identified the different roles, you can write the job descriptions with the activities and tasks assigned to the different members of your organisation. If one person has a job that you are not currently doing, you know this is a gap you must fill in. Below is an example for what the Marketing function could cover.

  • You can allocate your time more effectively: How many hours do you need to dedicate to the business side of your practice? How many hours per month you need to accomplish the projects allocated to your different functions?

  • You can train yourself more efficiently. Once you know what activities you are covering, work on a training plan in the same way you would do for a business. Do you know about accounting? How good are you at PR activities? etc. This way, you have a chance to escape the “Jack of all trades, master of none” syndrome.

  • Clarify your goals and action plan. By writing down who’s doing what in your organisation, you can better define priorities in a balanced way.

  • Make your goals achievable by breaking them down: Aspirations and visions are great to lead you where you want, but you must translate them into projects and then define the next action to get each project moving. Each member of your organisation should have at least one project with one defined next action. Big aspirations (e.g. “I want to make a leaving from my art”) can look daunting until you bring them down to earth and anchor them into reality with a next immediate action you can take to move in the right direction.

  • Keeps you focussed: This comes back to a comment already made. By separating roles, you can concentrate on the task at hand for a given role. You avoid the situation where the artist is in charge of the accounts and the sales person manages the finance.

  • You can write procedure manuals: This idea is also at the centre of the “E-myth Revisited” which recommends applying to any small or medium business the turn key concept used in franchising. In a nutshell, you need to structure your business in a way that would enable anyone to step in and run it. How do you do that? By documenting every aspect of your business into procedure manuals that, when followed step by step, will give a predictable, consistent and high standard of service. You may think that painting is such a personal skill that this is not relevant to an artist. But what about your marketing manager, your account, your supply manager?… To give you an example, you can write a checklist on how to create and upload a new page onto your website.

It’s time to put the idea into practice. Take an A3 sheet of paper and put your name in a box at the top of the page. Underneath, write “Artist, CEO”. Then create your organisation and start working on your business.

Worth reading

E-myth Revisited

Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play

Mark Forster's blog : highly recommended.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Relaxing at Mevagissey Oil Painting

This is an oil painting of two fishing boats in Mevagissey harbour in Cornwall. I went there in vacations and took many pictures in the harbour. I like the strong composition and the coloured reflections on the water.

I took some notes and photographs while working on the painting and will do a series of posts demonstrating my working process with oil.

Relaxing at Mevagissey - Oil painting on canvas (24” X 20”) by Benoit Philippe

I have done in the past several watercolours showing other views of the harbour that you can see in my Watercolour Portfolio.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Visit to Bristol´s City Museum & Art Gallery

I recently went back to Bristol´s City Museum & Art Gallery. The museum is a typical city museum with collections of fossils, minerals, natural history, eastern art, world wildlife, Egyptology, archaeology. It also counts seven galleries of fine and applied art.

The Art galleries have a few treasures worth the journey. They have a good collection of classic paintings as well as contemporary ones. I however spent most of my time studying the impressionist paintings in the collection:
  • Eugène Boudin, “Harbour scene”. This harbour scene is based on some wonderful grey harmonies. The artist captured the essence of the boats with their white sails and riggings. This small painting must have been started on location and finished in the studio, as Boudin used to work. It retains the freshness of a painting executed from nature. The notice had and interesting piece of information regarding the relationship between Boudin and Claude Monet and the influence Boudin had on the great impressionist painter. Boudin persuaded Monet, then 17 years old, to work with him from nature during summer 1858. Monet declared: “My eyes were finally opened an I really understood nature; I learned at the same time to love it.”

  • Alfred Sisley “Entrance to a village” (c.1880). The subject is representative of Sisley’s works: the centre of the painting is occupied by a tree. Two ladies are walking on the road and, in the middle ground, the roof of a house is the only orange touch In the painting. The brushwork is very loose and free. The clouds are vibrant with pink and purple shadows.
  • A large pastel by Pierre Auguste Renoir “The Two Sisters” (c. 1889).You can see a reproduction of this pastel here. This is a rather spontaneous pastel, not overworked. The figures have the roundness of the girls painted by the artist in other works.
  • Georges-Pierre Seurat “Sunset” (c. 1881). This small work on panel predates the pointillism period that made Seurat famous. In the background on the right, a house is lost in the vegetation. In the foreground, two trees are anchored into a blazing field. The work is based on a contrast between the ultramarine trees and the orange creamy warm clouds. It is also interesting to see how the painter used the grain of the wood to create texture in the foreground.
  • Edouard Vuillard, “Interior with madame Hessel and her dog” plays on an unusual composition. Most of the surface of the painting represents the floor and the piece of furniture and the figure are pushed to the upper end of the picture, giving an impression of space. This picture was painted on unprimed cardboard that shows in some areas of the painting. The unprimed surface also gives a mat finish to the painting.

Location of the museum

Bristol's City Museum & Art Gallery,
Queen's Road,
Bristol, BS8 1RL
Opening hours
Open 7 days a week, 10am - 5pm.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Watching the movie - Oil painting study

Watching the movie - oil on panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

I painted this quick study while one of my daughters was watching a movie on TV at the week-end. That gave me around one hour to complete the painting. I want to do more figure works and this is a perfect way to get started.

I liked the way the light from the window was hitting from the left side, spreading blue light on the reflective leather surface of the sofa.

Armed with my pochade box (see my pochade setting
here), I used a MDF panel toned with a cool grey and a set of hog brushes. I barely sketched the proportions of the figure using a small brush, then started with the head and developed the painting from there.