Australian Fine Artist

Archive for March, 2015

Tonal Studies in Grey – 3

Third in the Series of Five Monthly Workshops with David Chen

Mixing Grey Tones and How to Make Them Better

Last month I talked about how colours when used in a grey tonal paint should relate to each other. If you use a high key colour, unless you are deliberately planning something really different, it would mean  high key colour does not relate to all the other colours in the painting. For example, if you wish to put a red or pure yellow (EG: Cadmium Red or Cadmium Yellow) object in to a grey tonal painting, you would “knock back” or reduce the intensity of the red with green and the yellow with purple (complementary colours) so that they suit or relate to the rest of the painting. How much of these complimentary colours you add will affect the resulting colour, so in many cases a tiny dab goes a long way.

When mixing for a mid or grey tonal painting, how many colours can you mix together to get that mid tone? Well, a lot. It can start at as many as five and go to seven or nine. remember, you are knocking back colours to get a soft, looking through the mist effect. Just imagine you have a light fog, or the gala of sunlight as you may see it through a window, creating that effect of blurring items.

These types of paintings rely on the colours harmonising with each other. That doesn’t mean there is no contrast, it means that you use it wisely and sparingly to help create depth and edges.

Tips for mixing on the palette:

  • Decide on a dominant colour and mix a nice puddle of it on your palette
  • When deciding on colours for objects in the painting, reduce their values
  • Always try to paint warm colours against cools to help create depth



Try getting out your paints and experimenting with mixing these colours on a clean palette, in varying proportions, to see how many greys you can get.

Try five or more and keep going. Here is another starter for you (it was one of my background colours for my still life):

Yellow Ochre
Cobalt Blue
Light Green (a mix of lLemon Yellow, Prussian Blue, Golden Yellow, Yellow Ochre)
Burnt Sienna
Titanium White

See what colours and tones you can get from this mix, there can be a lot!


Remember that in tonal painting the use of knocked back colours and cools against lights will create perspective and depth pushing things into the background, creating space and atmosphere, we use slightly more colour (or slightly higher key and/or warmer colour) to bring foregrounds forward.

David still wants me to push my use of colour and mixing further, but it is improving. This is involved process and takes time to learn to mix paints with confidence. My thoughts are to not give up and to not be afraid of experimenting with your palette to see what you can create. The only failure is being afraid to fail.

I will be posting more about this subject in coming weeks as I learn more myself. Tonal painting is a very under-used and underestimated method, grey tones are in some of the most famous and beautiful artworks in our galleries. Look for them on your next visit as see how the use of grey tones has linked colours, created atmosphere and been used much more that we expect.

Tonal workshop-dchen-4


If you would like to go on the waiting list for workshops with David Chen, you can contact him though his website at:

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

Portrait Painting-3

Third of Five All Day Workshops with Artist David Chen

Painting from Live Model Alla Prima

Today’s model was a familiar face from my time at Chisholm during the past three years. Craig has modelling for life drawing classes and I have also drawn his portrait in the past. The task today was to work on his curly ginger hair, fair complexion and more mature facial features.

The age of the person can make slight differences but most if not all of us have the same features on our heads – eyes, nose, mouth, ears, chin, cheeks, forehead with the muscles and bones underneath that define these. Whether they be European, Asian or African in racial background, or any mix of these. This will determine the shape of the skull, the brow, nose, cheek bones, shape of eyes, lips and skin colours but the  overall structure of the skull is the foundation of your painting and still the same. (more…)

Geoffrey Bartlett

Artist Talk at McClelland Gallery

Geoffrey Bartlett has a retrospective exhibition at the gallery covering forty years of his work beginning with his early work from his years at RMIT.

Geoffrey came from a rural background in the Shepparton area. His parents moved around a fair bit as he was growing up due to his father’s work managing Maples department stores. The advantage of his work there was brining home pieces to repair or rebuild, giving Geoffrey the opportunity to learn how to build things and the interest that led to his career as a sculptor.

Family at the time of the early 1970s tried to talk Geoffrey out of a career in art, as in those days a young man was encouraged to get a steady job to help raise a family and supply a home. He was determined to follow his passion, however and after university was working with other artists in a rented space in Gertrude Street near the CBD of Melbourne.

Geoffrey used found materials and resourced materials wherever he could find them. His work was very large, seeming to grow as he kept experimenting. His travels to the USA and Japan informed his practice and he came home with new ideas on design and materials. These are evident in the changes in his work through his career.

Th incorporation of a different view from every angle in his pieces and careful placement to make the best use of light and shadow created by his pieces, has added new dimensions to his work. Moulding wax over a metal substrate and casting in bronze to add to the natural materials and steel constructs has given Geoffrey the opportunity to make works that seemingly float or flow. They have lightness and movement that defies the materials they are made from. There is also a delicacy to many parts of the work, nearly like the web of a spider, floating amid the sold wood framing around them.

The use of the concept of a frame reappears in his work over and over, a constant theme which Geoffrey bases design on and then branches out from with the addition of other design aspects such as winding staircase themes.

Although based on a style of painting that I personally am not too attracted to, the Abstract Expressionists, I find Geoffrey’s work engaging, interesting and very creative. I love his use of colour and the beautiful shadows that are cast from many his works. I enjoyed engaging a couple of school groups in discussions about his work and what they could see in it. They were able to introduce me to fresh ideas from young minds about what was displayed.

Geoffrey was a polished and interesting speaker who didn’t mind talking about himself and what motivated him as an artist. His work will be on display at the McClelland Gallery for a while yet and I encourage art students, artists and art enthusiasts to have a look at the exhibition, especially if you have a passion for sculpture. There is a very well presented catalogue book about the exhibition and Geoffrey’s story available which is also worth considering. I am currently reading and enjoying it.

Volunteering as Artists

The Value of Bringing Your Expertise to Volunteer Positions

As artists we may underestimate the value we may have to galleries and the National Trust in Victoria. I think we all need to have a think about how much we really know and how much we can offer.

Even if you act as a guide, preparing for an event or even helping to keep a beautiful National Trust building clean, your knowledge about how to take care of art, your care and meticulous work practices can be of service. There is also the advantage of often learning more about art history, the care and archiving of art and antiques that comes with these volunteer positions. This doesn’t take into account the new network of people you will be engaging with and new friends you may make.

Many artists work alone in their studios and need to get out and mix with other artists and the public. Exposure to other types of art, talking to people and learning about our arts heritage is a great addition to the knowledge base of any artist.

I can highly recommend volunteering. It can bring you new skills, be great fun and may lead your career in a new direction that you may not have initially thought of.

If you live near a regional or local gallery or National Trust building why not get in touch either in person or via phone or email and ask how you may contribute?

I am now studying full time for a Bachelor of Fine Art and Visual Culture (double major) on line, so am making sure that I can keep my volunteer work going and even more have signed up for something a bit different to my McClelland Gallery Educational workshops by applying to Mulberry Hill which is very close to where I live. This National Trust home has a huge arts background which I am keen to learn about and be involved with. By volunteering there I network more with the local arts scene and artists as well as “paying it forward” by helping out.

A Little history of Mulberry Hill

Mulberry Hill is renowned as the home of Sir Daryl and Lady Joan Lindsay. Designed by Harold Desbrowe Annear, this magnificent American Colonial style-home was built in 1926 as an extension to a pre-existing 1880s weatherboard cottage.

Sir Daryl Lindsay was the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria from 1941-1956, and was knighted for his services to Australian Art in 1957. In addition, he was an accomplished artist, and assisted in founding the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) in 1956, being its inaugural president for seven years.

Lady Joan Lindsay is most recognised for her novel, “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” and wrote several publications, as well as being an artist. Lady Lindsay’s autobiographical text, “Time without Clocks,” is a reminiscent text detailing the Lindsay’s lives together with wonderful descriptions of Mulberry Hill and social commentary about the arts and social history of the time.

The house and its contents, a collection of Australian art, Georgian furniture and glassware, and Staffordshire ceramics, was bequeathed to the National Trust by Sir Daryl and Lady Joan Lindsay.

Currently at McClelland

The 2014 Survey is now on at the Gallery and open to the public. Whilst volunteering you may be a guide through this huge arrangement of sculptures from established and well known artists, or may have the opportunity to show a school group some of your favourites from the Survey. There is also the opportunity to work in art workshops for kids which are always fun. Volunteers also learn new skills and can look in at the current exhibitions in the gallery building as well as attend artist talks.

Mulberry Hill and McClelland Gallery are always on the lookout for new volunteers so give it some thought if you can spare some time in your week.

Their web addresses are below for contacting them.

McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park:

Mulberry Hill:

Portrait Painting-2

Second of Five All Day Workshops with Artist David Chen

Painting from Live Model Alla Prima For this workshop we looked at the method of measuring out the face with the “fifths method”. This method of dividing up the major areas of the human face is used widely by artists who work in law courts for quick rendering of those in the room, police artists for making an indenti-kit likeness as well as some in the medical field. (more…)