An Introduction to Better Painting Practice

A Work in progress....

This blog consists of a bare bones structure at the moment, I have put in placeholder titles to give an idea of what to expect as I work my way through. In the meantime I hope you enjoy my introduction.

My mother was a portrait painter in the sixties, we lived in Africa so art supplies were limited and her material choices and painting processes were simple. She painted with Winsor and Newton oil paints, on painting panels made with a fibre board and covered with a canvas texture. She had turpentine and linseed oil, and perhaps some dammar varnish. She painting first with a thin turpentine wash, then with slightly thicker colour. Her brushes, compared to my collection today, were small and short haired. Because brushes were expensive she worked them until they became ragged and stubby, this, and the cost of the paint, constrained her to work thinly at all times.

Although she had studied in London at Camberwell Art College as part of the junior school, she only learned to draw there. With the help of a couple of books, she had taught herself to paint. Despite these limitations my mother became a fine painter, but I little work of hers that has survived in good condition. Those paintings that came with us to the United Kingdom did not do well in the damp climate. The surfaces dulled and yellowed excessively. The boards delaminated and split at the edges.

Not many years later I also watched my elder brother paint. He did some research into "old masters" techniques, but despite having access to better and more plentiful materials, particularly stretched canvas, his materials were not very different from my mother's. His work has also yellowed and some has cracked badly. He gave up painting and studied graphic design at the RCA, and has had a successful career in television.

I came to painting much later in life, my first degree being in graphic design. Finally I became more interested in producing "artworks" and after a few years of pastels my mother exasperatedly said "For goodness sake ...get started in oils!" The truth was I had actually had tried some years earlier. My results were so poor I was ashamed of them. Despite this, I knew she was right, I needed and wanted to learn how to paint.

This is really the beginning of my story as a painter and researcher. By the good fortune of having of a curious disposition, and some luck, I have uncovered a fascinating story of the materials and methods of oil painting. The internet has given us an unprecedented accessibility to historical texts and research, and new scientific and materials development. Painting conservators are able to study historical works with increasingly sophisticated instruments and we better understand how the great painters made their works.

This story, like any good mystery, has its villains and charlatans; there are deceptions, secrets, red herrings and revelations, victims, heroes and heroines. Of course there is no ending as such, and you and I may yet become part of the story.

One thing is clear. Paradoxically, despite all the information at our disposal, the technical quality of painting of most contemporary practices is the worst it has ever been.  Most universities and colleges don't know how to teach painting. Many 20th and 21st Century paintings are physically falling apart as conservators are struggling to keep them together.

This blog will hopefully do something to ameliorate the situation. It will record and share best practices from the leading thinkers and practitioners in the field. I will share information starting from the basic and build up to the more complex. The great benefit of an online platform is if any information is found to be incorrect, new discoveries and developments can be shared and updated. So do check in from time to time. Feel free to question or add to the discussion.

If I make product recommendations it will always be impartial. For the sake of transparency some may be available through links that pay me a small commission which will help keep this site running; these will have a star * so I'm grateful if you use them, but no worries if you don't. I use suppliers I believe offer good value for money and good service, if you find someone cheaper or better (or are unhappy with a supplier)  please say in comments and I will review and update. 

Through tags and the search box you should be able to refer and find posts of particular interest.

So here's to.... Better Painting Practices!



Blog Structure

Introduction to colour

Made of Stuff.

Intensity of Chroma, hues tints tones, values. Opacity, mass tone, drawdowns. Glazing, scumbling. Lightfastness. Handling and rheology.

More about Red

Red Minium

Vermilion, Chinese and French? Toxicity

Making hue recipe. Reading as red using glazes.

Top chroma.

More about Blue

History of Ultramarine, Issues with Ultramarine mixing, grinding additives.


Cobalt varieties

More about Yellow

Titanium Nickel

Genuine Naples

Lead Tin Yellow




All about Blue

Ultramarine, Green and Red, Prussian, Manganese, Cerulean, Cobalt, Cobalt teal


All about black.

Ivory, bone, chromatic mars etc

drying problems, cool blacks, warm blacks, painting thin.

All about White

Flake white, Calcium Carbonate, Chalks etc.

Zinc, Titanium, Baryite

The surface we paint on.

I will be adding information on preparing your own, economical plein air panels here shortly.


Today...canvas, primers


Better practice, why