Jeff Murphy Demonstration, Saturday 16th May 2015
Still Life in Oils

ImageJeff is president of Sherbrooke Arts Society, a responsible, articulate, confidant teacher and a very fine artist. His chosen style is tonal realism and he traces his skills back through many generations of influences to Max Meldrum and the tonalists school. Today Jeff chose to do a still life with chrysanthemums. The set-up deserves careful consideration. You may have to leave it up for several days so the natural items have to last, be they flowers or fruits. You have to set it up where it will not get in the way of your daily life. Not all of us have a separate studio. He made a diorama box around his arrangement and shone a single light in from the side. Image

He had to have a clear path back and forth ten feet from his canvas which was placed adjacent to the flower arrangement. Such is his technique that he walks kilometres in the course of doing a painting. This is because he insists on looking, squinting, from that distance, deciding on one feature, stepping up and adding it, stepping back to check, and doing that all over again and again. He advises against trying to do too much at once or working at the canvas without stepping back.
His palette was a metre semi-circle with hand holes in the centre. He starts by mixing a dark grey, stands back and measures his proportions and scale, stepping up to put dots on the canvas to mark where edges of tone finish. There is no outline drawing. He scratches in areas of light and dark as glimpsed through half-shut eyes.
He says that the darks reveal the light. The first paint goes on dry so that he can keep control of it. Once the medium is mixed in, it becomes fluid.
He has piles of rags to wipe back on the painting and to keep his brushes clean. Brushes are round and filbert, nothing very small as he does not like too fine a detail. The brush is held long. If you have a colour on the brush, look around to see where else you can add it. This gives a colour harmony to the painting.
At this early stage there are just masses, no attempt to make leaves or petals look like leaves or petals. Don’t try to get things right too early, he says. Leaving the flowers unfinished he gives attention to the background, working with big brushes, moving them in different directions to give a more interesting surface. He adds stand oil to the pigment. This will give a permanent surface when it dries, so don’t start using it until you are satisfied with the picture. Look at the picture in a mirror. This will show up any faults.
He recommends Diggers brand turpentine from Bunnings rather than expensive art shop stuff. Likewise he is happy to use inexpensive brushes.
Afternoon tea was a welcome break, as he believes in keeping your mind fresh by observing a strict timetable. Back to work he used a light yellow to highlight the points of the petals. The question of when to stop was discussed and he observed that Meldrum would not have taken it any further. The result was a very painterly still life which was greatly appreciated by the large audience.

Report by Colin Browne


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