diagramme 1

Final Part

Thinking in Blocks

The more difficult a thing is to do – the more method is required. Breaking an image down into broad tonal areas (as outlined above and below) is one method that makes it easier to analyse an image and easier to paint. Think broad to begin with and add layers of detail gradually.


The Portrait

The secret to portraiture (or any fine detailed painting) is patience and time. Portraiture is something that requires endless practice. It may seem an obvious thing to say but, we live in a different world from that of Velasquez. Our world, due to: the internet; social media; mobile phones; multi-channel TV; 24 hour rolling news broadcasts is a global world of “the instant”. We want to be able to do anything, see anything, go anywhere and we want to do it now. Unfortunately, painting is different.It does not lend itself to instant gratification.

The detail of the face must be built up gradually, subtly, with long observation. This is where the original investment in the under painting comes into its own. Its at this stage that you must have already established the exact positioning of every feature through your original drawing. If not, you will start to “draw” instead of painting. Remember, drawing and painting are two separate processes. With drawing you are busy comparing: establishing distances; length of lines; positioning etc. With painting you are layering colours and tones down and “sculpting and coaxing them into position to describe form, shape,shadow, highlight, colour, and tone. When it comes to the facial detail, each small area has to be carefully observed, then blended and assessed and re-assessed. it would be no exaggeration to say that after all the big broad areas of tone and colour are in place you should work on square centimetre areas one by one across the face until it looks exactly right.


Painting has been described as the last great craft. A craft is exactly that. It takes years of endless practice to recreate a piece of music by Bach or Mozart. It’s the same with painting. There is no instant magic formula. Velásquez lived in a different world. He was born in 1599 in Seville, in Spain. When we think of the “old masters” we are really talking about the art of white, European, men. Who lived in countries with little political or social resemblance to contemporary Europe. Their training would have regimented and academic. Spain (and most other European countries would have been almost wholly Christian (Catholic in the case of Spain) Religion was everything. All major commissions were of Christian subjects and paintings were made to the glory of God. No free thinking, romantic artists here (Romanticism; the idea of an awareness of the “beauty” of things using sense and emotion to create free-thinking images of your own, as opposed to reason and intellect was two centuries away.) Velásquez’s art would have been creating within that one context. Today we can go on Amazon for art history books and see ancient cave painting beside the French Impressionists or Picasso. All out of their original context giving the impression that everybody lived at the one time and were familiar with each others think and practices.

Today, we still have strong echoes of the “Romantic” artist, a tortured intellectual striving to create something lasting. For me that’s just a train of thought that would seriously get in the way of practical workshop practices and being able to paint at this level. Keep it real. painting is about a methodical achievement of specific goals. Learn your trade/craft/art. A friend of mine a very good and successful painter stated once that “I wouldn’t even talk to an artist who hadn’t at least fifteen years professional practice behind them” bit extreme, but I knew what he meant.

second final


The picture above is the painting about 85/90% finished. As we have seen. There are ways to do this. Each procedure must happen in sequence. An absolute accurate drawing is key to success. Once the foundation of the brown line drawing is in place. The oil painting stage begins with the artist thinking “broad to narrow” beginning with broad areas of colour and tone and gradually adding layers of detail.

velasquez painting


You may ask, why bother? This has all be done before? My answer is simple. You’ll be a better painter. It’s great practice. What musician would not benefit from trying to copy Beethoven, Bach or even The Beatles? The use of overhead projectors, putting in place a strong detailed drawing, studio disciplines of keeping brushes and mixes clean, sequential methods, practice and planning, thinking in blocks, working broad to narrow, all this establishes a “fence” around your thinking and focuses you on the task at hand. These are useful guides for any painter (or any project) Like any thing else worth doing, you only get out what you put in. There’s nothing simple about painting like this. If you are serious about becoming a skilled painter then practice, practice, practice.


Drawing the Past: Art: Columba’s Cross: Part 1

Drawing the Past: Columba’s Cross: Graphic Novel:

Part 1

cell colour version
Extract from Page 1 (below) Columba’s Cross


The first artwork above is an extract from the first page (above) of a graphic novel, Columba’s Cross. It shows a man sitting in a cell circa 1973. He has been interned in the cell without a trial. He is in the Maze prison and is under threat of torture. Although this graphic novel is not my first politically motivated art, the creation of Columba’s Cross and the drawing out of this scenario was a cathartic process for me.

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four layers: ink drawing; basic shading; layer of colour with edits; finished artwork

I am now in my late fifties and like many of my generation, I experienced over thirty five years of a war zone through the Northern Irish “Troubles”. And, although I was never interned or imprisoned, as a Northern Irish Catholic during the conflict, the thought that I could have been, at any stage, was always there.

Sometimes when you see those deeply affected by the troubles on TV especially those who have been grieving for years you can’t but help but feel so sorry for them. I just felt based on my own experience that writing down what they feel, whether that’s in the form of a poem or a short story or a graphic novel, may help in some small way, simply putting down their thoughts so that they no longer exist solely in their heads.

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Individual coloured figures and details

For me it was the every act of committing those experiences to paper had a definite positive effect. I’ve had contacts from readers who have expressed how reading of my experiences helped them. I think it was Aristotle who said “the idea of losing our own troubles by immersing them in those of someone else” I feel that this may provide a little solace to others and (in some way) contribute to dealing with our troubled past here in the North.

There is some current thinking that reflects that this would be beneficial. Dr Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, outlined his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in a lecture called Putting Feelings in to Words. In a recent interview with The Telegraph he said:

Expressing yourself in print was “a sort of unintentional emotion regulation.
It seems to regulate our distress, I don’t think that people sit down in order to regulate their emotions but there is a benefit. I think it could play a role in why many people write diaries or write bad lyrics to songs – the kind that should never be played on the radio.”

final panel purposeful enquiry copy

“Dr Lieberman proved the therapeutic power of writing by scanning the brains of 30 individuals while they described distressing pictures. He found that the act tended to reduce activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain connected with emotion and fear and increased activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the mind’s regulator. This suggests that the mere action of writing about an emotion was a way of calming down the brain and re-establishing mental balance. Often the author is unaware of the therapeutic effect of the task, it was claimed.”

graphic columba 1
Black and white inked in individual drawings

The drawing of: old detention centres; policemen; prison officers; British Army soldiers; the old Bogside (an area of Derry) and Provisional IRA volunteers definitely brought long buried experiences to the fore, those drawings have also been a form of exorcism for me, the artist.

Giving long gone, ghosts flesh in the form of digital drawings, has also given me a sense that perhaps, these negative violent events could also be used, (not just by myself, the artist) but by others, as a way of telling difficult stories,providing a way of “getting them out” and presenting those stories in an accessible universal way – in the form of graphic stories, or as art works in their own right.

graphic columba 2
Black and white finished drawings. These were created separately, then coloured and included as layers in each individual panel

They say, “if you’re going to write, write about what you know” with that in mind, I set the novel in early 1970s when the conflict was at its worst.

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Drawings of: British Soldier circa 1973; Prison Officer; Soldier detail

There are many graphic novels set in war zones, World War 1; World war 2: Vietnam, etc… I don’t know if I could have completed the necessary research to set my story in any of those particular conflicts. But when I began this story I quickly discovered, that I really knew the fine detail intrinsically. I remembered the uniforms, the guns, the vehicles,from that period. All that knowledge just sitting there…

car front
Ford Cortina MK 3 1970s car make

car back

The British army, for example, changed their battle dress many times over thirty years. The standard uniform of the 1970s bears little resemblance to the contemporary one. I had all this useless knowledge. I was familiar with the fact that the army used SLRs (Self Loading Rifles). That was the one they had back then. It made sense, therefore, to set the story within a very familiar context.

snatch squad copy
British Army “Snatch Squad” Snatch squads were deployed during riots to “snatch” rioters for arrest.

As boys and teenagers we would have been familiar with stories of older brothers, uncles, fathers being dragged out of their beds at night by The British Army or the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), and taken away to holding detention centres and then disappearing into high security prisons. So, I was also familiar as to the form of those places. The security, the barbed wire enclosures, armed guards, brutal prison regimes and allegations of torture,and the rumours that they were staffed by religious bigots only there to get at Roman Catholics. All this would have been common parlance in the Derry of the early 1970s.

Extract from Columba’s Cross: Page 2

Equally, on the other side of the coin we were also familiar with the other protagonists in the conflict, the IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army). Although, they were a guerilla army with no formal structure they did favour certain types of weapon. The central character, Colm O Neill, brutalised by his experiences in the Maze Prison joins the IRA…TO BE CONTINUED…

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Extract from Columba’s Cross: panel
Drawing the Past: Art: Columba’s Cross: Part 1


underpainting 2

Part 3

Developing the Under Painting

At this stage I am still using the acrylic Burnt Umber. I add more tonal washes and start to describe areas of light and shade. The techniques at this stage are identical to those used with watercolour. I am adding thin transparent washes so as not to lose any of the lines. These are subtle and built up gradually and patiently. All during this process I have a copy of the original close to hand.

underpainting 3

Here, I begin to fill in the dark areas of the background. So far, all of this has been done with one colour, Burnt Umber, accurately placed lines and a few transparent washes. Again, like watercolour, I have used just the background priming for the highlights. Already a lot of the original painting has been established. It’s all about planning, method and patience, taking each stage as it comes and not trying to get finished effects immediately. I believe that (in painting, as in life) the harder a thing is to achieve the more method is required. Slow, sure layered technique and thinking is the key here. This is the final stage of the drawing. The next stage is applying oil paints over our drawing…


Recreating an Old Master 1: Velasquez, Christ Crucified, oil on canvas

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The Painter

Diego Velazquez (1599 – 1660) was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).

The Painting

Christ Crucified is a painting of 1632 by Diego Velázquez depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus. The work, painted in oil on canvas, measures 98″ x 66″ and is owned by the Museo del Prado. Velazquez painted the crucified Christ using the accepted iconography of the period: four nails, feet together and supported against a little wooden brace, in a classic contrapposto posture.
Both arms draw a subtle curve, instead of forming a triangle. The purity cloth is painted rather small, thus showing the nude body as much as possible. The head shows a narrow halo, as if it came from the figure itself; the face is posed on the chest, showing just enough of his characteristics. The long, straight hair, covers a great part of the face, perhaps anticipating the death, already inflicted as shown by the wound on the right side. It lacks the characteristic dramatic qualities of Baroque painting. The influence of Classicist painting is shown by the calm posture of the body, the idealized face and the leaning head. On the other hand, the Caravaggism influence can be seen in the strong Chiaroscuro between the background and the body, and in the strong, artificial lightning over the cross.
It was most likely a commission for the San Plácido Convent sacristy. The painting was among the impounded items of Manuel Godoy, but was returned to María Teresa de Borbón, 15th Countess of Chinchón. After her death, the painting was passed on to his brother-in-law, the Duke of San Fernando de Quiroga, who gave it to King Fernando VII. The king then sent the painting to the Museo del Prado.

New Commission for St Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry, N.Ireland

In 2005 I was commissioned to recreate a version of Velasquez’s Christ Crucified for St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry. I decided that instead of the full painting I would focus in on a detail of the painting. This then would be the task…

The Detail

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I began with establishing both the size of the painting and the “canvas”. In this case I decided to use MDF instead of canvas. The MDF (although heavier) once primed, would provide a flat untextured surface suitable for the accurate reproduction of such fine, intricate painting.

STEP 1: The Board/ Size/Priming.

The first step was to cut the standard 8ft x 4ft MDF sheet down to 4ft x 5ft. This would suit the selected detail. Next came priming. The boards were initially primed with three coats of Matt emulsion (same paint as used for home decoration). I allowed for at least two hours between coats. After which I then primed over the top of the emulsion with three more coats of white gesso. Gesso is the standard material used by artists to prime canvas. It is a mixture of chalk and gypsum with a binder. This would create a very smooth surface for painting.


Recreating an Old Master 1: Velasquez, Christ Crucified, oil on canvas

Thistles & Wildflowers

Thistles & Wildflowers.

Thistles & Wildflowers