New Studio!

I’ve been meaning to share the good news for awhile, that I moved from Manchester to Todmorden back in May this year during lockdown, and then moved my studio over as well at the end of July. It’s a great space that I really enjoy working in. Check it out:

I was originally planning to build a studio at the back of our new house in a courtyard area that we shared with our neighbors, but after moving in it soon became clear that that wasn’t going to be the best solution. Our neighbours are in their late 70’s, have lived their for 40 years, and built the whole courtyard themselves with its beautiful stone planters and Narnia lamps and creeping vines, and most importantly are convinced that they own more of it than my architectural plans say they do. And I just had no interest in being that guy that moves in and tears up their backyard and plants a tattoo studio there with metal music blaring out the windows and a bunch of tattooed freaks coming and going all week. So I went for a drive around town looking for another solution. 

It was a nice way to get a feel for the town and every one I talked to was super friendly and helpful in that way you rarely find outside of small towns. I finally found an opportunity right in the center of town just a few doors down from Tod Art Studios. I was originally hoping to find a space there but that turned out to be a dozen artists all sharing one room, but the guy that owned the mill turned out to have a 2000 sq ft space upstairs that he was planning to start converting before lockdown. So my inquiry gave him the kick he needed to getting things moving again. This is how it looked when I first viewed it:

The wide open space offered the benefit of allowing me to just ask for whatever size space I wanted, so I carved out 500 sq ft at the end of the room, with additional storage space of 150 sq ft under the low slope of the roof. So it’s twice the size of my last place, plus storage. It’s only a ten minute walk through the park from my house as well, instead of a 20 minute drive as in Manchester. I was a little worried that it only having one skylight would make it feel too claustrophobic but actually the high peaked roof and the lighting makes for a much more airy, spacious and calming place to work and my clients seem to agree that it’s a more relaxing experience for them than in my old studio in Manchester. I’ve also made up for the lack of windows by playing movies all day so you can enjoy such classics as Big Trouble in Little China, Mortal Kombat and the Mummy while I stick you with needles. 

I gave myself two weeks to get the room ready, starting with a base of plasters walls and a plywood floor. I managed to sand all the beams and stain them, paint all the walls and lay the floor in the first week with a little help from Stef and her Dad, and then had the next week to hang art work and build furniture and get everything in place. 

It was a pretty zen few weeks of DIY and it felt great to finally finish and get my first client in and start working. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it until I had a client in that had been to my old studio, but as soon as I started tattooing and felt my clients settle into it comfortably I knew I’d made the right decision. I’m always super grateful and honored to have clients willing to follow me when I move out of town as well so it’s been awesome to have my clients from Manchester keep booking in for more work in spite of the 45 minute drive to Todmorden. It is a beautiful drive though! I’m also about 20 minutes closer to my clients in the Harrogate/Leeds area, so it’s a win all round. Hope to see you here some time.

My First Portrait Commission

I recently finished up my first portrait commission in oils and really loved the project. This is Chris, an avid bird watcher, painted on an A3 wooden panel, commissioned by his partner Mary. I was really touched that she commissioned me for this after having only seen the rose painting I’d done a few weeks earlier. 

I learned a lot from painting this piece, and the main lesson was that I really needed to get my colours and values blocked in as accurately as possible before I started adding anything like details. I’m more of a natural draughtsman than a painter, so its hard to shake myself out of thinking of lines and details when I really need to be thinking in terms of blobs of colour, but I think I got there in the end. It just meant that I had to go back and continuously adjust the colours and values, and sometimes paint over hours of detail work that I’d added prematurely.

So this was day one, the block in phase:


Strangely I think I have a bit of a fear of going too dark early on, which I might be carrying over unconsciously from tattooing unnecessarily, since I can always paint over it unlike when tattooing. But this stage is largely about just getting the basic drawing down and covering the panel in paint. 

This is from day 2 and is the one that really tickles me. Those crazy eyes just make him look like he’s eaten some mushrooms along the way and is on a quest to spot some mythical bird. Here you can also see I’m going crazy on his eye wrinkles before I’ve gotten his skin tones right. 

Here in the next session I’ve done another layer on the bird and the leaves in the foreground, and also done some scumbling with a light green behind and over the leaves in the background to knock it back a bit and add some levels of depth between the leaves themselves so that he doesn’t just look like he’s stood in from of a flat piece of wallpaper. I’ve also darkened and varied his skin tones more. 

The following session was largely about tackling his hair and beard and eyebrows. I was really struggling with beard, until realising that while dry brushing and scumbling worked to add texture to the skin and foliage, hair really needs to be painted wet on wet, to give the sense of silky strands, and to help you get the fine edges and lines. Adding some tiny details like the white hairs in his eyebrows really helped to bring him to life and into focus. At this point he was just about there, and I asked Mary for her feedback. She said she loved it but that I might have gone a bit overboard with the wrinkles, and I agreed. They were just so much fun to paint!

Finally, I softened his eye wrinkles a little, and also darkened a few of the highlights on his face that were just a little too close to pure white, and had the effect of flattening his face a little, since it can’t all be that bright. And with that, I was done! I think the part of this piece I’m most proud of is the quality of skin tones that was created through building up several layers of paint and lots of fine brush strokes. I’ve started taking more oil painting commissions, so if you have any ideas for me, then please get in touch.  Many thanks to Mary and Chris for this great opportunity!

My First Oil Painting

I’ve been aspiring to try my hand at oil painting for at least a year now, and lockdown has enabled me to finally find the time to learn about the process, purchase the materials I need, and have a crack at it! I’m so glad I did, I really loved every minute of painting this picture. 

My brother Wyeth recently began a professional oil painting course, and he helped motivate me to get started when he was looking into it last year. Then I just started watching a lot of tutorial videos and conversations with oil painters. One that really inspired me was this conversation between realism painter Andrew Tischler and caricature artist Michael Fluharty. I went on to watch Fluharty’s portrait painting course at and a whole bunch of Tischler’s tutorial videos on YouTube. I’m really grateful that there are so many amazing painters putting out quick tutorials for free nowadays. 

So I finally got round to commandeering our incoming baby’s bedroom as my temporary oil painting studio, and got to work. I’m working on a wooden artist panel that I covered in three layers of gesso, and then lightly sanded and stained with a wash of burnt sienna, turpentine and Liquin Original medium. The first day was devoted to the blocking in layer and took about six or seven hours. At this stage its just about covering the entire panel in paint using roughly the right colours. I was really encouraged after this first day. It had literally been years since I’d had to worry about mixing my own paint since I’d been working digitally for so long, but it felt very natural and even by the end of day one you can stand back and see that you’re on the right track.

Day two I began the modelling stage, working my way from the bottom up, defining the rippling form of the leaves and trying to catch the way that their dark surfaces subtly reflect the blue of the sky in certain places. The Liquin Original medium increases the drying speed of the oil paints, so the underlying block in layer is pretty much set, if still tacky in places. This first attempt at modelling was when it really became clear to me how much easier it was to work in oil paint than it is in acrylics. The ability to blend your brush strokes so easily, and the vivid richness of the colours started to get me really excited about the possibilities for future projects. I also worked on this for about 8 or 9 hours straight, with a short break for lunch, and it flew by, whereas working digitally can sometimes feel like a bit of a grind. This painting seemed to draw my attention into it, rather than me feeling like I’m having to purposefully focus.

Day three I came back and finished the rest of the modelling layer, putting in another 7 or 8 hours. Here I was thinking more about depth, trying to bring certain leaves and rose petals more into the foreground by adding more detail, and leaving others lighter and less finely rendered to help them recede into the background. It was when I started the second pass on the rose that I really started to appreciate how much oil painting is like tattooing, and felt really encouraged that my skills from one medium seemed to be carrying over to another. I’ve tattooed a lot of roses in my ten years as a tattoo artist, and I was surprised to be able to work in almost exactly the same way that I would on skin but in oil paint, but without the added challenges of stretching the skin, wiping away excess ink, trying not to damage the skin and cause unnecessary bleeding, or even just having your time limited by your client’s pain threshold. Of course the wooden panel isn’t much of a conversational partner, but at least it holds still.

On the fourth and final day I began the detail layer. First I repainted the background, and then meticulously softened the edges of all the leaves and petals towards the background to make them appear out of focus. After a few attempts I found that the easiest way to do this was actually using a small, square brush and just dry brushing over the edge of the leaf with the background colour. I also tried to create more of a textured surface for the background, also incorporating some of the pinks from the rose into the yellow ochre and earth green blends, but finally decided that my visible, textured brush strokes were too distracting and brought the background forward, so I blended it all together into a softer finish with a large square brush. The rest of the work was done with a tiny round brush, and was mainly putting in small highlights on the leaves, and then adding in the veiny, delicate folds on the flower petals. Just as I had softened the edges of the background leaves, here I was also trying to really sharpen the edges of the petals in the foreground. 

All in all this took around 30 hours over 4 days. I never expected to take such great joy in painting a rose bush, since I’ve always been so drawn to surreal, imaginative fantasy and sci fi art, but we recently moved out of Manchester and into the countryside in Todmorden and being back in nature has been really inspiring, so I plan to paint some epic landscapes soon. The whole vibe of the moment is spring time, and new beginnings; we just bought our first house, I’ll hopefully be moving to a new art studio in the next few months, our first baby is due in October, and I’m just starting out with a whole new approach to art, so this rose bush with its little blossom peeking out from behind really captures a lot about where I’m at right now. Pretty sure I’m hooked!

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