It’s always a great pleasure to work with a keen and talented student.

Tailoring the painting lesson

painting class resultsLea is a hardworking self taught artist. We spoke on the phone beforehand to discuss the outline of the lesson and what she wanted to achieve. The aim for this painting lesson was to create a figurative painting, concentrating on improving portraying proportions. I advised on attending regular life drawing classes to practice and to improve upon her existing drawing skills. She worked in acrylic paint for ease of drying, so she could take the painting straight home with her. She chose to work in black and white because of the vintage and dramatic feel. She was open to adding colour at some point but it didn’t happen in the end. She produced this 24 x 33 cm canvas from scratch in just over 3 hours, which is pretty good going. She was responsive and fast, though in future I would recommend students take at least 4 hours to achieve something similar.

Painting from a photo

Artist's model

For the sake of this one off class, I gave Lea permission to work from a photo from my archive. She chose one of my beautiful voluptuous models. I strongly advise students to work from their own photos (or to buy the license to work from someone else’s) to avoid copyright issues and to produce highly personal and original content. I mean, how would you feel if you saw one of your photos (in whatever form) circulating without your permission on the internet? Lea turned the image black and white, tweaked the contrast and had it for reference on her tablet while she painted. It’s easy to zoom into areas to see more of the details when working from a photo, though the artist has to eventually leave the photo behind and make the painting stand up on it’s own.

Enlarging the image

With the video projector on, in a darkened room, Lea enlarged the photo onto the canvas. She decided upon the composition – the cropping and placement of the figure and the orientation of the canvas. She used a pencil to plot the outline, cross hatched the shadow areas and circled the highlights.

Considering the painting as a whole

Art classes with Emma PlunkettThe primary task was to block in large areas with the same tonal values and to not get bogged down in painting any of the details at an early stage. To start with, she mixed and applied the mid-tones, then the dark tones and then covered the entire canvas to fill any holes in the paint. I insisted she paint fast and not think about it too much because we had a limited time frame to achieve our goal and also because it’s healthy not to be precious! I got her to take regular breaks throughout and to look at the painting from a distance or on the phone screen (which also creates distance). I encouraged her to build up the painting as a whole.

Painting with tonal values

Creating the correct tonal value on each shape is ultimately what painting is about. Taking each negative and positive shape and comparing it’s tonal value to the shape next to it. Having each basic tone ready mixed on the palette means you can see the tonal values next to each other. I recommend leaving a bit of the correctly mixed up paint to one side as reference, so you can come back to it and mix it to the same value again, plus you can also see how much darker or lighter you need to go for the next tonal value. The tones look different when on the palette, to when they are applied to the canvas (I don’t know why, they just do), so we make little tests on the canvas before committing to the tone. To adjust a tone, mix tiny amounts of dark into the light paint (trying to make a dark colour go light can take an awful amount of light paint and cause wastage). I got her to observe closely the light values in the shadows of the subject and make sure the dark areas have highlights next to them to create a high contrast ratio or to make areas pop!

The creative process

Art classes with Emma PlunkettOnce the canvas was covered, Lea started playing with the paint and enjoying the creative process. I coached her as she painted, suggesting she allow her brush marks to remain as raw and loose as possible because when each brush stroke was applied, the paint went on like she was writing her signature – with beautiful elegant squiggles! As she was deep in her flow, we spoke about how we love to loose ourselves in the creative process. We also spoke about the different ways to earn a living as an artist, about art theory, painting techniques, emotional blocks and about how art is a journey that keeps us going.


I took snaps along the way to remind Lea of the evolution of the painting, otherwise it’s easy to forget each stage and it’s handy to see how she patiently and considerately built up the painting over two hours. I kept an eye on the clock and set goals as she painted – for example I gave her 20 minutes to initially block in the background. I cracked the whip as we went along, pointing out areas where she needed to make adjustments, where she needed to create more contrast or allow a broken line. I gave her 15 minutes at the end of the painting session to tidy up any last details.

Conveying knowledge

All this knowledge has been past onto me through various teachers that I’ve had the pleasure to study under over the years, by practising and by trial and error. I don’t hold back when I teach and pass on as much knowledge as possible during the class. Everything I say is a suggestion and ultimately I respect that each decision is the artist’s to take or dismiss as they deem appropriate. I find that teachings are rarely wasted though, as they come back into our minds when we need them in the future and help with other artworks.

Art classes

You can buy art classes from me (by the hour) on my web shop. I’m happy for you to come to my studio in Barcelona or we can work online (if you can set up a camera so I can see your palette and canvas). All classes are tailored towards what you’d like to learn. Contact me to discuss your needs.

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