Garden day sketch


Garden Day – Blue Vase II – Oil sketch on linen by Chas Spain

The poor garden finally got a much needed hack through yesterday. The rose bushes have been so generous this year but I hadn’t painted any during the summer and now they are mostly burnt by sun and battered by wind.

So I thought I would do a speed oil sketch of the last few blooms from the garden but taking on a few new ideas I’ve picked up recently. Number one: get set up well first, including setting up the palette and two: work faster and put the colours down once.

The objects in the sketch are all special to me. The Blue Vase was an engagement gift and the glaze has cobalt crystals exploded in it which is just beautiful but I’ve always hesitated from painting it. Also the convex mirror is a classic in art (think Jan van Eyck’s the Arnofini Portrait) –  I bought this one in Hungerford from an antique shop for 4pounds in the junk section. In the oil sketch the mirror is still a bit flat but, like van Eyck, I’ve got a little self-portrait snuck in. Also the scene was lit by a lovely new adjustable lamp my daughter bought me for Christmas which is great to use in my studio room.

I managed to watch some other artists work via the wonder of youtube during the holidays which are great encouragement. I really love Andrew Tischler’s site which has a superb mix of painting subjects. It’s lovely to hear Andrew as a Texan living in Australia bringing his American zeal to his paintings but with an acquired sensibility to the landscape and people of his home town Daylesford, which we locals can often take for granted.

All Andrew’s short films are very well made (the one of his pets is gorgeous) but the one that gave me lots of information was his portrait of David Cole – another expat who has chosen Melbourne as home. David is the paint maker (or pigment whisperer according to Caroline Baum’s article in AFR last year) of Landgridge Artist Colours in Melbourne.

First of all Andrew simply stretches linen on a hardboard with masking tape to create the oil sketch – so that’s what I’ve done with the Garden Day sketch. The short film also shows some of David Cole’s process of creating cadmium orange which is delicious, especially when it rolls through the mill, and then describes some of the chemistry behind the traditional and new organic paints.

The other artist I loved listening to is Mark Carder in his youtube on his favourite paintings. He particularly highlights works that are more spontaneous and not overworked, where the colours blend and that, despite being works of realism, have brush work which is abstract. He quotes Rembrandt as saying ‘paintings are for looking, not for smelling‘ – that is that they do not to be meaningful close up.

Once again the fact that Mark – as an American – goes straight to the landscape works of Arthur Streeton is a real tug on my heart for his sensibility of the Australian light and magic Streeton was able to achieve. Some of the works he highlights I’ve been lucky enough to see, all of the Streetons, the Degas and Rembrandt, but it was great to also be introduced to some other artists in this short film.

These paintings are ones I’ve laboured on a little – well a lot – more. It’s all learning so I don’t think this is a problem. But on the rose study below I ended up layering a lot more paint on the roses and just mashing up the roses on the left to get a luscious look. I think this worked really well.



Doing a quick sketch of the cobalt vase in the oil sketch is quite different to when I took on this elaborate Chinese vase. Not sure that getting it quite so perfect is worth doing but I enjoyed adding the glazing to achieve a real porcelain sheen. I appreciated Andrew’s film of his portraits in progress which shows how he corrects some of his compositional problems as he goes and this was certainly needed for the shape of this vase.


As David Cole, himself an artist, reminds us about the challenge of painting in the short clip as his portrait is being painted “It’s about actually looking and [realising] what you thought was in front of you and what you could actually see was in front of you are two entirely different things”.


10 thoughts on “Garden day sketch

  1. Such an interesting post, Chas. Although I don’t use oil (in fact have never have!) it was fascinating to see your learning. Those beautiful objects in your first painting….it is so important to paint things that tug at your heart. I also watched Andrew’s video, which contained so much in such a short clip. I quite envy that oil painters can block in large amounts of the canvas as they go!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Anne – it feels like an endless journey to learn how to paint in oils – although Michelangelo supposedly called it a medium for amateurs. (Very cruel on the struggling artist..) Unlike your meticulous work in ink and water where there is no going back!


      • I agree Anne they are luscious to play with. We had a bit of a bounty find near our house one day where someone was clearing a house and just left a box of art materials outside with the rubbish. There were two lots of oil pastels inside and you know they’re not cheap! I haven’t used them for a while but should get them out again.


  2. What an interesting post, Chas! I don’t paint in oils but I’ll definitely watch those videos. Only yesterday I watched one of Caroline Magerl, one of my favorite artists, making the preliminary charcoal sketch before painting a portrait

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know *exactly* where you bought that mirror, I’ve been there times without number, as I’ve from the next town over originally (Newbury) 🙂 I think you’ve done a really lovely job on all of these, but my particular favourite is the one of the blue vase; it feels quite solid, smooth and cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kate – that is crazy!! We lived in Newbury for about 12 years when I worked for the UK gov. You and I have to get together! Thanks for your comment on the blue vase – I’m very happy with how it looks now but it went through a few iterations.


      • Good grief! The world is even tinier than I suspected… When I lived in Dorrigo in northern NSW, one of my best friends there was a woman from Thatcham, who’d been to the same school, drank at the same pubs…. What years were you there?

        Liked by 1 person

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