Category Archives: Masters

On Abstract Art

And without the title, “Portrait of an Englishwoman,” I doubt whether Mr. Lewis’s drawing would have suggested to anybody even the most violent and revolutionary of ideas on English femininity; but might have left them still puzzled whether it was a design for a new sort of magic lantern, or a railway signal after an accident.

Page 35,  Oil Painting Techniques and Materials by Harold Speed

lewisenglishwomanI am inclined to agree with Mr. Speed.


On “violently modern painters:”

It seems a pity even so simple a technical course as could be furnished by an ordinary house-painter as to a decent manner of putting on paint, has not been indulged in.

Page 64,  Oil Painting Techniques and Materials by Harold Speed

2016 Politics?

A loud-voiced manner is undoubtedly the popular one at the moment, and these crude voices are naturally intolerant of what they do not comprehend, and the more cultured manners of expression are hateful to them.

Page 12,  Oil Painting Techniques and Materials by Harold Speed

p.s. this was originally written in 1924.

Harold Speed, Sassmaster

I’ve had Harold Speed’s book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials for ages; it was recommended to me by someone smart. After I learned that James Gurney was going to do a Book Club on it, I decided to read it finally. You should too because it is full of good information, not only on the titular subject, but also on art history and how to be a good artist in general.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of writing. Harold is just full of sass and I’m actually laughing while I learn. I am going to dedicate a series of blog posts to his attitude (and of course his extensive advice). To start us off, here’s a good one:

I am inclined to think that every age has the art it deserves.

Page 31


Sweet Zombie Jesus


Bovid I by Meg Lyman

9×12″ oil on board

Etsy link

When I ordered this super awesome cow skull someone on Etsy found in the desert, I was excited. I was not, however, prepared for the sheer size of the thing. I pulled it out of the box, said “WOW,” and cradled it in my arms for an hour. I love it way more than I should. I wanted to paint it as soon as I laid eyes on it.


Note: larger than it looks

I set up to paint it on a cloudy day, with no lights on, just the nice north light overcast coming through the window. This limited my time – good practice for plein air. Plus I procrastinated and started after noon, but that’s neither here nor there.


Daylight… almost… gone…

I paid special attention to values on this, which is something I’ve always eyeballed, to the detriment of every painting I’ve ever made. I dusted off the value finder card and actually matched my paint to the values coming off the skull. I was surprised by the things I learned doing this, as is often the case when I actually pay attention.

The first thing I noticed is that the lightest value coming off the skull wasn’t the lightest value on the card, and ditto with the darkest. I would have painted it with the full value range if I hadn’t known that.

I have four tubes of Vasari paint – I love them very much – and I wanted to use them all on this, so they drove my color choices. I set up an orange cloth to get some nice, warm reflected light in the shadows. Then I laid out some color strings, matching them to the skull with the value finder.


Color strings being born

My colors were Vasari Raw Sienna, Naples Yellow Extra, Silver Point, and Cerulean Blue, plus some Blue Ridge Turkey Umber for the darks and some titanium white. The first three values of light blue I mixed were 9, 8, and 7, out of 10 on my value card. I tried to follow the very subtle shifts in value on the light side of the skull, which were totally obliterated by the camera shot above. And the one below.


bad photo, sorry

So I know the photo is washed out here, but you can still see some of the value shifts if you squint. And you can see the second thing I learned today – the light blue values that looked pretty dark on my palette look absolutely white on my dark blue toned board. I’m certain the toned board would have caused me to push the value range too far on the light side of the skull if I hadn’t measured.

This stuff fascinates me! I bet that when I’m painting on a white surface, I do the same thing with darks – lose the subtlety of the value range because of the contrast with the ground. No wonder classical painters and the old masters toned their boards and did ebauche and all that fancy stuff. I had read about all that stuff but learning it the hard way really makes it stick. It also makes me excited to try it again next time.

p.s. this is one of those studies I was talking about – practice still life, plus skulls, will feature in a future larger scale painting. I promise.


Qiang Huang Workshop


Qiang Workshop I by Meg Lyman


Qiang Workshop II by Meg Lyman

As I mentioned, I had a workshop last weekend with Qiang Huang at the Whidbey Island Fine Arts Studio. It was a great learning experience, and like the other classes I’ve attended, I left feeling a strange combination of exhilarated motivation and bewilderment that I ever manage to paint anything worth looking at. After seeing great artists work, I have a very distinct feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s obviously not true, because I will slowly incorporate more and more of the things I learned from Qiang into my paintings. But for now I still feel like I’m painting with, as classmate Heywood put it, a sawed-off fence post.

I present these class works to you as they were when I left the workshop. The first one was about three hours (and a poorly-focused photo, sorry) and the second about six in 2 three-hour sessions – and the extra time shows. Plus, the master himself put a few strokes on the cloth in the second one! I could put some hours in retouching and fixing the things I see that are wrong with both of them, but I’ve found I learn better when I hold those errors in my mind. The unresolved issues jump out at me from the canvas and I strive to never let them show up again.

Speaking of canvas, I grabbed two Blick linen canvases on clearance for this workshop. It’s the first time I’ve used linen (as opposed to cotton) and I looooooooove it. It’s harder to find but now I crave it. Delicious, delicious linen.


Napoleon by Meg Lyman

8×10″ gouache and ink on board


This was a fantastically fun commission after Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass by master Jacques-Louis David. I know I didn’t get the horse quite right, but it works, and I actually kinda like the end result. It makes me want to do more master copies with cephalopods replacing the subjects. Might make them more realistic, though, so they fit in with the original painting…

What do you think are some good master works to practice with octopus?