A life in art is going to be challenging and every artist’s
experiences unique, there is no blueprint for success, no career path to
follow, no reliable advice to take. You have to learn through experience and
whatever course you take and decisions you make, you alone will be responsible
for your successes and failures.

I have now been painting full time for 34 years. In this
time I have worked with and without gallery representation, through agents,
on-line agencies, to commission, for Museum collections and exhibited in solo,
group and show-piece exhibitions and competitions.

Whatever conditions your career may have emerged within
circumstances will change. Galleries close down, your supporters move on,
collectors die or go bankrupt, fashions change, new technologies emerge, the
economy booms and busts, personal circumstances will change through family life
or health issues. Whether as an artist you can adapt to these changing
circumstances whilst remaining focused on your work is likely to determine
whether or not you can survive long term.

I believe that it is always important to remember why you
became an artist, who you are creatively, what your objectives are and to
maintain focus on that. For me those objectives are to produce the highest
quality of work that I am capable of over a lifetime.  I want to be able to place my work amongst that
of any great artists that have ever lived and for it to be comparable in
quality and effect.

In practical terms my strategy, such as it is, has always
been to produce the work without compromise and to trust that it will meet with
enough approval to amount to a career.

Professional decisions will not always be clear or easy to
make, after winning the B.P portrait award in 1993 I was offered and turned
down numerous prestigious portraits commissions, on the surface it was career
suicide but I was clear that at that time I wanted to work towards a Solo show
and if I got side tracked I would never get back on route, it is all too easy to
follow the agenda of your supporters but this can be fatal to your creativity.

Complacency and self-deception are great enemies in
painting. It is important never get carried away with praise and to have the
humility to accept when your work has failed, failure is the fuel  for improvement , if you are happy with your
work I think that you are probably either not trying or not looking hard enough.

I like to produce work which evolves slowly, concentrating
on complexity and nuance rather than obvious dramatic leaps. As I look forward
I have clear ideas about how I would like to develop my work and some specific projects
that I would hope to pursue. Making those happen within the context of changing
circumstances is both the challenge and the fun of being a professional artist.

Diana and the Prince of Fails.

Back in the day, 1994/5-ish, during a time when I was rumoured to be the future of British figurative painting I was invited to a shindig at the National portrait gallery.

At some stage near the back end of the evening I was approached by the NPG’s 20th century curator Robin Gibson, alongside him a very smartly dressed gentleman unknown to me.

Robin Gibson was a keen supporter of my work and I had got to know him a little over the years of my association with the gallery.

After some general chat, Robin casually asked me how I would respond if anyone ever asked me to paint a member of the Royal family.

As an idealistic young cove and a rabid republican (not in the modern American sense of the word) I said that I didn’t think I could consider such a commission. I seem to remember feeling a certain awkwardness enter the conversation and the be-suited gentleman observing me with a new coldness in his eyes but otherwise thought nothing more about it.

A few months later at another NPG event, I was talking to one of the NPG’s grandees who applauded my courage in turning down the opportunity to paint the most famous woman in the world, Lady Diana.

The be-suited gentleman was of course some kind of Equerry to Diana.

Possibly wasn’t the greatest career move of my life, but there it is.

Back to Black

Top Myth

Chiaroscuro or ‘Light-dark’ in art often refers to the practice of smashing some very dark paint next to some very light paint in the expectation of creating drama and spacial depth.

Disappointingly this rarely leads to the desired result. 

Surprisingly, too much contrast tends to flatten an image. 


To create the illusion of real depth in a painting it helps if the viewer can see into that space rather than be hit by an inpenetrable darkness.  

If  the viewer feels as though they can walk or reach into the painted space and know how that would feel it will help them to achieve a greater empathy with the subject .

Yeah but how?.

Think about the air itself around the figure, ‘feel it’!, what is the temperature in the room or landscape?. 

Pay as much attention to the relative warmth of the colours as you do to their tonality. 

Pay particular attention to the transition between the figure and the space around it,  How hard or soft is that ‘edge’?. 


Some opinionated arty type will often say that you should never use ready made black oil paint. That’s horseshit.

Personally, I think it’s better to say that you should be very cautious about when you use it and to apply great sensitivity when you do.

Sure, black can be ‘deadening’ to a painting and make it feel ‘heavy’ but maybe that’s what you want. 

In my view however the greatest difficulty when using black paint is in attempting to make subtle, nuanced blending. Specifically, a ready mixed black will tend to turn flesh tones into a muddy mess. That is why personally I very rarely, if ever, use it.

Top Tip

One alternative to using black is to combine Alizarian Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow to make a deep brown.  Several layers of this will achieve a ‘black’ and you can easily nuance the mixture to achieve the desired warmth.

Bonus Tip

A little cerulean blue mixed into the ‘black’ makes for a really cold darkness.

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