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Mike Skidmore demonstrations

Portraits in Oils, 2002 Horse Portrait, 2011

Mike offers several types of art training including, in particular, 3-day workshops

See his Summer 2013 newsletter

More information at www.mikeskidmoreonline.com and www.mike-skidmore.com

Portrait in Oils: Horses (17/6/2011)
Mike had described much of his own background during his previous visit (2002, below) so he didn't repeat it all tonight.

He still normally demonstrates his techniques through portraits of people. But he has had many portraits of horses commissioned, so that's what we had asked of him tonight. These portraits would normally take much longer than a two-hour demo and this was the first time he had done one as a demonstration. So, unusually, he was working straight from a photo, right.

He had prepared a canvas by drawing enough 2B pencil lines to guide his painting and then covering the whole lot with several transparent glazes of Burnt Umber acrylic. But mild panic was showing - despite multiple coats the acrylic was going on patchily and not drying properly. He suspected that a student had poured left-over oil paint into his acrylic pot! "We can pretend that the background was supposed to be textured but my main worry is that I may not be able to work over it properly if it's not hard".
As an aside, Mike said that when he did want to slow down the drying of acrylics, he'd found that silk screen glaze was just as effective as ordinary retarder, but cheaper.
Mike underpaints his oils in acrylic.

The pencil drawing was now visible only at close quarters. He made a well-thinned darker mix (Burnt Umber, dark Cadmium Red and some blue) on his palette - a two-foot diameter folding garden table, oils on one half and acrylics on the other - and re-drew the outlines using a small (No.8?) round brush as if it were a pencil.

This was done quite carefully at first but he began to enjoy himself when he was able to use faster, longer lines for the shapes of the mane and the shoulder.
Mike referred frequently to the photo, looking for significant shapes and lines, deciding which to emphasise and which to leave out. "Leaving detail out of a painting can do a lot to stimulate the viewer's imagination and interest".

Perhaps because the glaze was not drying properly he went on adding darks and shadows, first with the No.8 brush and later with a larger flat one (1/2 inch?).

Then came white. This went on freely but still allowed the lines to show through, the brushstrokes following the direction of the hair. Because the brown underpainting was not dry the white picked it up, taking away its harshness. For finer detail, like the highlights of the buckle and reshaping the eye, he used a smaller brush. His brushes were mostly synthetic ones by Rosemary (and some mongoose ones).

When Mike introduces a new colour he gives it life by starting with a too-dark version and then lightening it gradually by glazing over it.
He managed to keep talking as he painted:

"It's important to enjoy painting - otherwise it will look contrived"

"Painting is all about thinking ahead"

"Use a limited palette" - I don't think he used more than about 5 colours

"Don't paint individual hairs - just paint lightly (quickly) in the right direction"

"In the early stages of a painting, tone is more important than colour"

Only now, just before the break, do more orange tints start to appear.
By the end of the break Mike had nervously decided that the acrylic had dried enough for him to continue in oils. So he turned his palette/table round 180 degrees to the oils side and mixed a new dark with Payne's Grey and Burnt Umber. This mix can be made cooler or warmer by using more or less Payne's Grey.
It was well-thinned with his "secret" thinning medium:
2/3 parts Damar varnish (gives gloss) 4 parts turpentine 2 parts linseed oil 1 part Venetian turpentine.
Panic ensued amongst those who had not met Mike before when he took a big flat brush and put this dark mix over the entire head, almost completely obliterating it.

But he immediately picked up a piece of cloth (and occasionally a Johnson's cotton bud) and started to rub much of the new oil paint away wherever there were lights.

Aside by Sam Dauncey: Due perhaps to odd reflections, these last three photos give the false impression that the mix included white - it was dark and almost opaque but quite glossy.
The soft-edged rubbing out of dark oil paint meant that the more sharply defined acrylic underpainting showed through but had started, subtly, to have more life and form.

Mike then poured some thinner onto the palette. When he mixed white into this, the white was darkened slightly by residual brown. He put this on in the direction of the mane, and for highlights in the buckle and the eye.

The final touches make all the difference. Shadows as well as highlights were added and the chestnut colour heightened with a little orange. Most of the time he held the brush at right-angles to the canvas and moved it only in the direction of the horse's hair, even if this was across an important line. So, during these last minutes he was making countless very short, fine strokes and frequently going back in with cloth and cotton-bud to soften both edges and over-bright spots.

The end of the demo

The final half hour of oils certainly did convert a competent but somewhat flat acrylic underpainting into a portrait with real subtlety and feeling.

Thank you, Mike, for an inspiring evening.
Frankly, not being a horsey man, I had come to this demo expecting to be less interested than I had been when he demonstrated portrait painting. How wrong I was: not least because Mike gave us valuable insight into how one can adjust ones technique if circumstances are not ideal (as here with the uncertain-drying acrylic) and of how there is refreshing sponteneity if one has not previously given this particular demo.

In the event, Mike admitted that more work was needed but said he would try to remember to let me have a photo of the finished painting to add to this page (with a Workshop reminder?). "Bated breath"
Write-up by Sam Dauncey


Portraits in Oils, 2002 Horse Portrait, 2011

Portraits in Oils (18/2/2002)

Mike Skidmore drove from Lechlade to give a demonstration to FCSA members on the evening of the 20th October 2002. One of the first bits of information he gave us was that Lechlade is the highest navigable part of the Thames.

Mike is a portrait painter who wasn't allowed to paint portraits at Art College. He stuck it out. Left. And returned to burn all his paintings in front of the College. A gesture he says that was fairly futile as he was the only person there. He then got a job packing books with all female colleagues, where he learnt much about life, and had a great time.

However, after avoiding the "Art world" for some time, he found himself in The National Gallery gazing at a Rembrandt. Moving around the portrait, as he said, to try and discover how masterpieces are made, he got into conversation with the only other person in the gallery.

By the time Mike left, he knew he had to return to portrait painting, and hasn't stopped since. This first mentor who explained so much to Mike is one of the reasons he gives demonstrations. Trading Secrets is important.
Mike started with a prepared flat painting of a Grecian (maybe Roman) urn on Medium Fibreboard. This was in acrylic paint. He prefers to use canvas in his studio but for demonstration purposes finds MDF more manageable. He made the following basic points:
Dark areas should be painted very thinly
Light areas need thicker paint application
He uses Paynes grey and burnt umber for under painting, and realises that his choices can cause controversy. He showed us very effectively that using oil glaze and white highlights creates a 3D effect
Skidmore Photo 1
His medium is made up of:
2/3 parts Damar varnish (gives a gloss)
4 parts turpentine
2 parts linseed oil
1 part Venetian turpentine. (This is very thick, important for Mike's style, and prevents the mixture from running).
Skidmore Photo 2 This mix is brushed across the whole painting, and the subject shaped by removing unwanted glaze with a cloth. Then a fan brush using a cross-hatching movement is used to blend any hard edges. Highlights (white) are applied using the same technique, and the finished painting certainly proved the artist's point. The 3D result was very clear.

The Portrait

How to use photographs (given that most of us don't have the luxury of a sitter):
Avoid colour photos. Use black and white. Think tonally
Have the photo at roughly the same distance as a model
- > - > - > -
Use finger and thumb to note the actual height of the head from your easel. (It looks very small)

Paint an impression

Note the highlights
Have an opinion about the person you are painting.
Everyone has a noticeable specific feature or attribute
Let model relax into usual pose. This can be induced by boredom!
The base drawing is in pencil sealed with white acrylic. This can be redone several times if necessary.

As with the urn, a glaze is applied and then lightly removed with a soft cloth, "following the contours of the face."

When a tonal portrait is done, colour is added using the following mix:

Cadmium red
Yellow ochre
or premixed from art retailer with added Paynes grey and burnt umber
Skidmore Photo 3
On the palette this controversial flesh mix should look 'dirty'. Check the colour on your hand. If it works it will also work on the canvas.

Using only three brushfuls of paint, Mike demonstrated his methods, using Paynes grey for shadows, and gradually lightening and thickening the paint for highlights and contours. To bring the eyes to life a mixture of Paynes grey ochre and white was used.
Skidmore Photo 4 Try not to get too intense with detail, and avoid 'fiddling'. (Where have we heard that before!) A tint glaze can make a significant difference to a painting.

If you want to do a self-portrait, ask someone else to choose the best likeness from a photograph. Mike pointed out that Rembrandt used ivory black/medium to glaze the entire portrait, afterwards wiping off what remain to enhance the brush strokes.

While delivering this wealth of practical advice, our demonstrator regaled us with acerbic and amusing anecdotes about his development as an artist. A very instructive and entertaining evening.
We've since enjoyed an excellent whole-day workshop (14/6/2003) which gave half a dozen of us the chance to practice Mike's techniques under the master's watchful eye - it's amazing how much of a demonstration one forgets. Sam Dauncey used heat-set oils, with mixed success (see Mike Skidmore's Workshop and Sam's part of the gallery - old men pictures), and got help from Correspondence about Heat-set Oils with the manufacturers.
Write-up by Laurie Clarke
Portraits in Oils, 2002 Horse Portrait, 2011

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