Friday, March 15, 2019

Edgy about edges?

What are the essential elements that make up a painting? In no particular order, composition, drawing, perspective, values, edges, colour – all of these contribute to the outcome. Edges are arguably the least appreciated of these, but contribute greatly to the three-dimensionality of a painting that aims at being representational.
I was re-reading Charles Sovek’s “Catching Light in your Paintings” recently, in which he lists the four kinds of edges – Hard, Firm, Soft, and Lost.  Hard, and Lost, are probably the easiest on figure out.
Hard edges are clear, well-lit, in focus, and catch the eye.
Lost edges are valuable in all styles for taking bits of the picture out of focus, in contrast  with the bits that are sharp and meant to take the attention. Lost edges automatically occur when two edges share the same dark tone, even if the colours are different. I find them especially useful for getting edges that are on the shadow side lost in the dark background that l often use.

Soft edges occur when there is a transition of colour or value (tone) with no distinct margin – you can simply soften adjacent edges by blurring them or blending them together.

Firm edges are somewhere between hard and soft -  a distinct transition, but clearly neither sharp nor blurred.

The images below illustrate the different types of edge.

In the pastel with the Samovar and Tilly lamp, there are two light sources – the set-up is lit by a spot from the right, and the Tilley lamp has an internal light. 

The lemon is the brightest object, and as you go around the circumference you proceed from a Hard edge to a Soft edge – and internally there is a Soft edge between the half-tone and shadow. The reflection of the lemon goes from Firm to Lost. The samovar goes from Hard where it is highlighted, to Lost in the shadow, along its perimeter. Internally there are firm to soft passages. Likewise for the Tilley lamp, specially the top.

The Spanish coffee mill shows similar transitions in its edges to emphasise its three dimensionality.
I hope this clarifies the mystery of the edges!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tea for the Tillerman

Two diverse objects found in a French brocante. I can't resist brass, and the tea urn was a lovely large surface to paint. I associated the two, and put in a  lemon for a bright link and reflection.
First off, I scribbled in some undercolours with pencils and hard pastels.

Based on the undercoat, I chose a selection of pastels that would be the main workhorses for the next phase. As you might be able to make out, it's a varied range of ochres, yellows, and umbers, and draws from Artisan Pastellier, Blue Mountain (the square ones), Sennelier, Rembrandt and a few Caran d'Ache. You can make out a colour reference  on top.

Working from the top left, I started with the urn.

First overcoat on the lemon.

The lemon is large and bright, so  I needed to check its value and chroma against the mooted background colour (Sennelier dark greens 178 and 179). Also the light green in the lamp.

The lemon was too light in value overall, so that needed adjustment.

The background was completed, with a contrasting dark for the surface on which the objects were placed. Reflections were painted in, and this is when I realised I had a painting 42 cm wide by 48 cm high, with a lot of empty space on top. So I took off 6 cm from the top to make it square.

Tea for the Tillerman © Niall O'Neill

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Coffee in style

I found an interesting porcelain and silver ewer at a brocante in France and teamed it up with a coffee-mill that had similar white porcelain with blue flowers. The lace worked as a traycloth.
I started off with a pencil scribble.

Then I filled in the interior of the coffee-mill with Sennelier neutral greys, and the exterior with Rembrandt light greys. The wooden box, and the handle,  were mainly painted with CarbOthello pencils.

For the ewer, the silver top and the base were a mix of Rembrandts, and CarbOthello pencils 704, 708 and 728 - I found number 704 especially useful. 

The blue markings on the porcelain were a mixture of dark blues from Sennelier 465; CarbOthello pencils 770, 400 and 430; and Derwent pencils ultramarine 29D and 29 F. 

The porcelain itself was mainly Rembrandt light greys, with some petit-Roché neutral-pale tones. But I mostly kept the Rochés for the lace, with Sennelier neutral greys too, mostly in the shadows.

I started the background with Sennelier dark blue 177.  

Backgound continued with Sennelier dark blue 463 at the bottom with an overlay of Sennelier green 156. White was reserved exclusively for the highlights.
Coffee in Style, pastel on Pastelmat, 50 x 60 cms.
Coffee in Style © Niall O'Neill

Sunday, October 7, 2018


The Maclise Art Society have a monthly challenge to paint a theme, and the theme for October 5th was "animal". I was just back from France and had very little time to do anything, so I checked some photos of a female giraffe that I had taken a few weeks before in La Palmyre zoo, decided that they were too complex to use in the time available, and looked for a simpler image on the internet.

The photo I used was taken by Karen Pulfer Focht in Memphis zoo in 2008. I secured the photographer's permission to use the image.

You can see the progess from original photo, to using a grid app, and making use of the ground colour and texture on Mi-Teintes Touch paper. I finally painted the background dark blue (Sennelier 463) to conceal the grid lines. The final result is 10 x 8 ins.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


I have a fascination for small objects from exotic locations - China, Japan, Arabia, and this picture assembles a trio that I found via eBay - a cloisonné snail, a Buddhist altar, and a prayerwheel, probably Buddhist as well. 

The support is grey Pastelmat, 12 x 15.5 inches. I didn't record the earliest sketches, so this is quite advanced at this point. Sennelier were the main pastels used, especially useful for the turquoise prayer wheel - nos. 179, 184, 201, 250 and 347. 

I started to block in the background, to bring out the snail. The background will be dark blue Sennelier 463 and 464, and dark green 177, as it develops.
CarbOthello pencil 545 gave a sharp edge where needed. The red was Sennelier 266 and CarbOthello 325, an excellent match. Rembrandt gold ochres and further CarbOthello pencils were used to detail the snail and prayerwheel.

Tibet © Niall O'Neill

Saturday, October 21, 2017


At the end of May I went to France for a stay, and took with me
a sketch for a painting of hollyhocks, based on a photograph that I took in France the previous year. I selected in advance the pastels I would need to finish the painting. 
This is the photograph:

And this is the selection of pastels: the reds are mainly Schminke and Blue Earth Quinacridone Pink. Greens are Sennelier, and you might spot a large violet Artisan Pastellier among them.

Progress was mainly from top to bottom, and left to right, with the stems of the hollyhocks forming a useful divisional map in what was really a mess of abstract shapes.

You might also notice some spotting on the flowers in the early stages: this is because I used Sennelier Pastelcard for this painting, and while it is an excellent sanded support, it must not get wet or the tooth falls off! I had left a window open in the studio during a rain shower, and the surface got spattered. Luckily I noticed it before any irreparable damage was done.

Hollyhocks © Niall O'Neill

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mon pote le gitan

This gentleman was sitting quietly with his dog in the shade on a very hot day in Lacoste, Provence. He was wearing trainers, but had a fine pair of tooled leather boots at his side, one of which contained a bottle of wine. He kindly gave me permission to take a photograph., and I based this portrait on a cropped version of the photo.
This is the cropped photo, reduced in Photoshop to 16 colours.

I used this as a jigsaw of abstract  shapes to start the process in hard pastels and pencils.

This is the underpainting finished. I paid especial attention to the flow of the pattern in his shirt

The selection of soft pastels I used included flesh tones and golden ochre from Sennelier; blacks and blues from Rembrandt; reds from Sennelier, Schminke, and Roché.

Top half of the dog worked, and face commenced, keeping the top half and its colours away from the rest.

Beginning to fill in the pattern of the shirt with soft pastels, guided by the underpainting. Neck and beard also getting some touches.

The finished piece. I'm sorry I didn't ask his name.
Mon pot' le gitan un jour est parti
Et Dieu seul sait où il ballade sa vie
Mon Pote le Gitan © Niall O'Neill