Painting an oil miniature (ACEO)

I thought I'd share with you the process of creating a miniature oil painting.

So far all of my miniature oil paintings have conformed to the standard ACEO measurements. So to begin with I must explain what an ACEO is...

What is an ACEO?

ACEO stands for Art Card Editions and Originals. They can be created using any medium at all - the only stipulation is that they measure 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. ACEOs are highly collectible and can be displayed on a mini-easel

or in a small photo frame. Many collectors display their collections in a photograph album on the coffee table, where they can be admired by visitors and readily enjoyed by the owner every day.

How I create my ACEOs using oil paints

To begin with I cut out some canvas paper to the required size of 2.5 inches x 3.5 inches. 

Next I tape my paper to a board. I use the back of an old watercolour pad as it is nice and light for lifting and moving around as I work, and tape on the back using a rolled piece of masking tape. Sometimes I tape round the edges instead, which will leave a white border that can look nice.

Then starting at the top left (because I am right handed), I begin to paint.

I invariably begin with a base layer. For this one I wiped blue oil paint diluted with Liquin across the paper with a rag and then lifted my flower petals using Zest-It Solvent.

Liquin is a medium for mixing with your oil paints. Add a small amount to give the paint a nice buttery consistency, and add more to give a more liquid paint. For the base layer I add more liquin. An added benefit of Liquin is that it speeds up the drying process.

Zest-It I really like the this range of solvents because it does not contain the nasties that are in turps. I only use turps if I am painting outside, and if I am using turps then I wear latex gloves.

After a couple of day's drying I then add the details.

I don't paint dark to light as most oil painting tutorials would have you do. I find that working light to dark means that you can maintain the freshness of the highlights much more easily and can get more done in one session.

Unfortunately for you I got so carried away with this stage that I forgot to take step by step photos - this is the only stage I photographed.

I use photos a lot to assess my work. I can see from the photo above that I have missed some of the branch under the buds.

Here is the finished painting.

Now we play the waiting game. I would normally leave it on the board for a week or two but I wanted to show you it on the mini-easel so I carefully took it off the board holding only the edges, and now it is sitting on a mini-easel where I can enjoy watching paint dry. It will need to stay on the easel for a couple of months. 

And finally, after 6 months, I can varnish it! 

It is possible to test for dryness before the 6 months is up by rubbing a section of the painting with turps on a tissue, but to be honest I don't want to risk damaging it, so will just leave it be.

Thanks so much for dropping by, I do hope you enjoy reading my blog. Why not leave a comment to say hello so that I know you called? 

Watercolour Portrait of my Teenagers - Step by Step

For Christmas just gone I promised my in-laws a portrait of my teenage children. What with one thing and another time is passing so quickly - if they're going to get it before next Christmas I need to get cracking!

The hardest part of the whole process was getting a half decent photo of the two of them together! Several hundred photos later (literally) I chose this one. Eyes open, both smiling and shows their happy playful relationship.

To begin with I sketched out an outline with very faint pencil. Sometimes I paint without an initial drawing but when it needs to look just like the photo I do need to draw first.

When working in watercolour it's important to use a VERY light touch with the pencil so you may not be able to see my lines very clearly on the first picture below. Hopefully the close up in the second picture will show you more detail.

The thing that makes a portrait really come to life is the eyes, and the most important thing about the eyes is to retain highlights. The highlights in the original photo are very difficult to make out, but with a lot of squinting and a little imagination I masked two dots in each eye. I also masked out the metal buckle on Kate's shirt sleeve. Again I apologise if you can't make anything out in this photo!

To paint this portrait I have used Winsor & Newton artists watercolours throughout.

Day 1

I began by mixing a very watery permanent rose and raw seinna and painted an initial wash over all the  skin areas, using my brush to blend paint away to nothing above the hairline, and a tissue to lift out highlights on the cheeks, nose, neck etc.

Tip: if you print out a monochrome version of your photograph you will be able to see the highlights much more clearly.

I then strengthened this wash with a stronger mix of the same colours.

Several washes later I have a strength I can work with.

Six hours in total spent so far, and time to put the paints away for the day.

Day 2

Many people start with the eyes, however I like to think a lot about them before I begin. During the skin wash process I realised that I had the eye highlights completely wrong, so I removed the original mask and applied some more in the correct position. Good job I didn't rush in with the eyes at the start!

I needed to ponder those eyes some more, so I chose a different area to work on next and began on the purple Tshirt, using violet and cobalt mixed on the paper (not in the palette).

Next I added the green T shirt using olive green and ultramarine. This time I mixed in the palette. I love painting fabric - it's all about carefully observing where the shadows create hard and soft edges.

At this point I also felt happy enough with the eyes to add them in, painting out from the pupils and in from the outer edge of the iris. I started with raw sienna, then individually added olive green, cerulean blue and French ultramarine. The masking fluid is still in place. I have added a little definition to the eyelash line using a weak mix of burnt umber and ultramarine.

Finally in this step I added shadow to the purple T shirt using violet and cobalt mixed in the palette.

Total time spent so far = 9.5 hours. Time for a break.

Day 3

I began by choosing raw sienna, raw umber and burnt umber for Andy's hair, however when I had applied the first wash I was not happy with it - far too vibrant and unrealistic.

Andy has mousy brown hair, not straw yellow, so I lifted this layer off with a large filbert brush.

Much better as a base colour.

Whilst this was drying, I added a raw sienna wash as an underpainting for Kate's hair.

When this was dry I mixed burnt umber with ultramarine in two shades in my palette, and applied to Kate's hair. Then using a large filbert brush I lifted hightlights and blended where necessary.

Moving on to Andy's hair, I mixed a paler colour of raw umber, burnt umber and ultramarine. Using the same technique I gave Andy some hair. Then I added some individual hairs using a small round brush.

At some point during this session (before adding the hair) I gave both Andy and Kate eyebrows, and added shadow under the eye lids.

I also built up the shading and sculpting on the both faces, skin tones and around the teeth. It's important to keep a very light touch with the teeth, painting around them but not outlining them.

When the hair is thoroughly dry I will put some shading under the hair to make it rest properly on the faces.

Meanwhile, I removed the masking fluid from the eyes and softened the highlights left behind. I also redid the lashlines.

Another 3 hours have passed (total 12.5 hours so far) and it's time for another break.

Day 4

I asked Andy and Kate what they thought so far. They both liked it but Andy said "I'm not that shiny" and Kate thought her hair was too red. Useful feedback. 

To correct the hair I glazed her hair with a mix of raw umber, burnt umber and ultramarine blue.

I left the highlights on Andy's face to the end, as I wanted to balance the background wash and the highlights. It is easy to add more paint, but very difficult (if not impossible) to lift back to white paper once the paint has dried.

I also added some shadows cast by the hair. This helps to place the hair on the head.

Now for the background. I chose to use cerulean blue to compliment the eye colour. I dampened the background, leaving some places dry for interest. Then I covered the whole in a pale wash of cerulean blue - it's easy to add more later, and I feel it's better to add multiple washes rather than overpower the painting in one go.

I turned the painting several times during this process. Here you can see my easel with the painting pegged to a ribbon with mini craft pegs. You can also get an idea of the scale of the painting too!

Several hours later, once this had thoroughly dried, another coat of blue went on, concentrating on a deeper strength of colour in the top right hand corner.

15 hours so far.


I toned down the highlight on Andy's left cheek.  Then I removed the masking fluid on the buckle and added some shadow using French Ultramarine.

After 16 hours I think it is finished!

Day 7

Off to the local framing shop. I chose a simple pale gold frame with a double mount (matt) of cream with pale gold showing on the undermount.

I'm really pleased with the result!

If you would to commission a portrait, please email

Thanks so much for dropping by, I do hope you enjoy reading my blog. Why not leave a comment to say hello so that I know you called? 

Hornby Exhibition Patchwork

As I mentioned in a previous post, in May this year it will be 150 years since the birth of Frank Hornby, the inventor of Hornby Trains and Meccano.

To celebrate, there will be a weekend extravaganza in Maghull (near Liverpool) where he used to live, and as part of the exhibition there will be a big patchwork painting made up of art from different local artists.

Foolishly I volunteered to do a section before I’d seen the subject matter and the reference photo. Ooops!

It’s a train (well of course it would be) printed onto A4 paper and then chopped into 16 pieces. The result is a not-very-clear rather small reference photo. I have to create an A4 painting of my section in any medium. Argh!

I started out doing a needle felted version but quickly realised that it wasn’t working for me, so after a lot of thought last night I decided to do a pen and wash instead.

This morning that idea changed to charcoal and wash to reflect the dirty aspects of steam travel - and I'm rather please with the result:

I think it will look really good when it has been put together with all the other artists work.

Here is how I did it...

I began by cutting out an A4 sized piece of smooth hot pressed watercolour paper. I used Langton 300lb paper.

My reference photo was very vague, so I outlined the important features in black ink to allow me to work freely without needing to squint at it.

Then I folded the reference photo in half twice lengthways and once widthways to create a grid. Because it has to match up with other paintings on every side it is important that my scale is correct.

Then, using an "Ocean Deep" Derwent charcoal pencil, I sketched the outline.

Next, I added colour. I used Winsor and Newton Artist watercolours. My palette for this project consisted of  Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine (green shade), French Ultramarine, Cerulean, Winsor Green (Yellow shade), Permanent Sap Green, Olive Green and Burnt Umber. The greys and blacks were achieved by mixing various reds and greens.

You can see how messy my water gets! I always use three pots of water and wash my brush in each pot from left to right. The first pot takes off the most of the paint, the second pot gets it almost clean and the last pot is completely clean. This means that my paints are always clean in the palette - it is so frustrating when you think you have selected a nice clean colour to find that it is actually mud coloured because your brush was dirty.

I used salt on the cerulean blue pebbly area to give texture, and when this was dry I splattered a mix of blues around to give added depth.

Next I added more charcoal, both outlines and hatching. This time I used a "Dark" Derwent charcoal pencil.

A bit more charcoal and I'm done.

Thanks so much for dropping by, I do hope you enjoy reading my blog. Why not leave a comment to say hello so that I know you called? Feel free to link back to your own blog too.

Learning a new skill - painting on silk

A couple of weeks ago I went on a course to learn how to paint on silk. What a revelation! I absolutely loved it: the thrill of seeing those colours come together in a wonderful loose style is amazing. I was so happy I was positively skipping along the corridor inbetween the painting and drying rooms!

Once I have researched and bought some materials of my own I will be producing a tutorial or two so that I can share my new found skills.

Meanwhile, here are the framed results from my class

Dreams of Summer

Spring Bouquet

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Thanks so much for dropping by, I do hope you enjoy reading my blog. Why not leave a comment to say hello so that I know you called? Feel free to link back to your own blog too.


Meccano Collage Step by Step

Yesterday I started work on my Meccano painting. I wanted to create something that would appeal to a Meccano enthusiast - after all, there will be a few of them at the Maghull Frank Hornby Exhibition in May - but also something that would be suitable for a child's bedroom wall.

I also knew that I wanted to include a few pieces of Meccano, so I had to choose a surface that would be thin enough to take my Meccano screws, but be thick enough to hold shape. I decided that I would try one of the tough cardboard backings from my watercolour pad.

I began by priming the card with Acrylic Gesso, applied with a palette knife.

While the gesso was drying I began to prepare the background. I decided that Hornby data should be a feature of this work, so I printed some very old Hornby tables onto ordinary photocopier paper, and tore it into pieces ready for collaging. 

To get nice edges when tearing paper, you can draw water onto the paper using a brush

Wait for it to soak in

And then pull the paper apart along the damp line. It's very easy, and the paper tears exactly where you want it to.

Here are some of my papers, ready to go.

I wanted a yellow background, so before adding the papers I glued a sheet of yellow tissue paper to the gesso coated card using Gloss Acrylic Glaze Medium on both sides of the tissue so that the surface would still be OK to paint over with acrylics.

Using the same medium, I then glued all my papers in place, leaving some areas without papers, and then glued another piece of yellow tissue paper on top.

Then I painted some meccano models onto card and stuck these down with PVA glue.

And then I added my Meccano pieces. 

Oh doom and disaster, this was not at all the vision I had in my head.

Decidedly disgruntled, I took myself off to bed to sleep on it.

In the night I had a brainwave - I would take off the small cars and replace them with a single larger one. I sketched out a longer car onto white tissue paper and then stuck it down, again using the Gloss Acrylic Glaze Medium.

I then painted this using my Acrylics and also added a new slightly larger and brighter Meccano badge. Looking better already. I then painted a red border around the whole painting to complete the frame.

I'm very happy with this now, I just need to add a hanger on the back and I'm done. It is slightly warped so I may need to fix it to a wooden frame on the back.

I hope you found this step by step useful. If you have a go yourself, enjoy creating!

Please do not use my design for commercial gain.

Thanks so much for dropping by, I do hope you enjoy reading my blog. Why not leave a comment to say hello so that I know you called? Feel free to link back to your own blog too.


Acrylic Ink on Canvas Board

Today I thought I would start work on my next piece for the Frank Hornby Exhibition.

My intention was to use vibrant and translucent acrylic inks to create a painting of meccano, one of his inventions.

I spent a couple of hours this morning carefully applying acrylic ink, using salt and vinegar to create texture in the background. Vinegar repels the ink and creates some wonderful results, but you must make sure that you wash it off very thoroughly or the acid will affect the longevity of your artwork.

I very diligently took photos at each stage so that I could show you how the painting developed - so far, so good. Imagine my horror then, when the ink washed right off the board!

I ran a couple of tests, and sure enough, the acrylic ink simply wouldn't stick to the board. So I have put away my inks for now until I want to work on watercolour paper or stretched canvas, both of which I have used without problem before.

Please share your experiences in the comments box below - I'd love to know if (and how) you have been successful with acrylic inks!

Hornby Trains

In May this year it will be 150 years since the birth of Frank Hornby, the inventor of Hornby Trains and Meccano.

To celebrate, there will be a weekend extravaganza in Maghull (near Liverpool) where he used to live, and I'm delighted to have been asked to paint a couple of pictures for the exhibition.

When I get an idea in my head I have to get cracking with it before I burst with anticipation. I don't own any Hornby trains and couldn't find any Hornby photographs that I could use without infringing copyright, so I decided to begin with this: a locomotive on the West Coast Wilderness Railway in Tasmania. I found the reference photo for this painting on a wonderful website called Paint My Photo - where photographers and artists meet. This is a superb resource full of copyright-free photographs for artists to use as they wish.

In this blog post I'll show you the stages of producing my first painting for the exhibition.

I began by lightly sketching the outline of the train and track, and masked out the highlights on the train and the track. Next I added an initial light wash of green for the trees and blue for the sky. Whilst the trees were still wet I randomly sprinkled a little table salt and then pressed some cling film on top to give texture.

Next I added blues for the gravel and then sprinkled with salt.

Then I began to add colour for the train and carriage, lifting colour with a tissue to get a steamy effect around the bottom of the train.

When the paint under the cling film was dry, I removed both it and the salt and then repeated the process to strengthen areas of the trees and a bush in the foreground.

Whilst this was drying I began to more clearly define the train.

I continued to add colour and depth. It's very important to maintain a contrast between light and dark - this is what gives a painting that 3D effect.

At this stage I also began to add blues and purples to define the steam, remembering to leave a lot of white too! I used blue and purple instead of grey for interest.

Next I added definition to the areas that had been masked out, and added a touch of definition around the background - splashes of blues and greys in the gravel, grasses to the right hand side, and further definition in the steam using some negative painting and some dry brush strokes.

OK, I'm happy with the painting, now for the mount. I looked at various shades of blue, cream and white, and decided on a pale blue and a cream.

Blue helps the train to really stand out, but blue alone is too dominant.

So I added a cream, just leaving some blue to show through.

And finally, I chose a large natural wooden frame in light oak.

Finished.....or was it? Darling Husband spotted an error late last night - the lamp was not connected to the train! Here it is with the connecting piece added in.

The only thing left to decide is how much to charge for it...and to start work on my next piece!

Thanks so much for dropping by, I do hope you enjoy reading my blog. Why not leave a comment to say hello so that I know you called? Feel free to link back to your own blog too.