Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A simple way to improve your oil brushes

This simple method conditions you oil painting brushes and really makes a great difference to the way the paint flows. They also become more responsive, subtle, springy and are easier to clean.

Just follow the directions in the video below and the next time you use them, you'll see the difference.

Thanks to Maria Levigne.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Workshop in Tuscany June 3 - 10th

Improve your paintings while enjoying your vacation in Italy.

Discover how to paint a plein air in just 20 minutes.

Italy has always been the first choice location for artists who flock here from all over the world to experience the light, friendly people, good food and verdant Italian countryside. 

Tom J. Byrne will be demonstrating painting techniques to both beginners and more established plein air painters, using oils and watercolor this June 3rd - 10th in the beautifully converted Watermill at Posara along the river Rosaro. It offers very comfortable accommodation with a great chef, comfortable quarters and good company.

Painters will visit local beauty spots to explore painting opportunities with their easels and demonstrations will take place both in the villa and on site. From very quick study methods to more elaborate painting techniques. We will focus on composition. 20 minute painting studies in both oil and watercolor. Best practice in laying in a plein air painting. Under painting for plein air and alla prima in oil. How to use watercolor in wet on wet and color layers.


For more information visit the Watermill

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Sketching while the winds howl and rains fall

While some hardy souls are out painting in the high winds, cold rain and flying sleet others are nesting down with their books, pencils, sketchpads and inks.

Winter is a great time to doodle and doodling shouldn't ever be taken for granted. It's a wonderful way to limber up and refresh those creative juices.

Here are a couple of studies from this week, which has been windy and wet here in Tuscany.

A series of imaginary portrait sketches in pencil and another is a study of an orchid which I've been house sitting while her owner is away.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Painting in the crowded streets of Florence

Painting requires a lot of concentration and a certain amount of zen to do well.

So pleinairing among crowds in a busy square goes against the grain for most artists but it's a great exercise and can sometimes be necessary.

I recently joined a couple of other artists doing just that in Florence. We started easy, in the relative quiet of the Boboli gardens at the Isolotto fountain, which features in Dan Browns book, Inferno. It's presence in the novel attracted people who might otherwise not have known of it. The weather was tempestuous with thunder and some light rain but it mostly held off. We discussed the light and established the best view for the subject and began painting.

'The Ocean' fountain by Tom J. Byrne
Visitors to the garden were polite and those few who spoke to us were genuinely interested.
Niklas Elgmo with his completed art.

It was an enjoyable day. We were successful in our goals and worked with relatively little distraction.

The next location was Piazza della Signoria, which is a very different environment where you are challenged not just by the fast moving light but by the enormous crowds. The light appears to move faster because you are basically inside a sundial whose shadows are constantly racing. Statues which are brilliantly lit one moment can be obscured within a few minutes and brightly lit spaces can quickly fill with shadow from a pivoting tower or giant statue.

Foolishly, without planning and calculating the movement of the sun, I began a painting of statues in the Loggia. Although beautifully lit when I began, the shadows slowly crept over the forms and all the light was gone before I had completed the drawing. I also allowed myself to become intoxicated by the drawing rather than think strategically about what it was I needed to do, so the drawing took longer and was more detailed than necessary. By the time I was ready to paint, the shady area in which I had placed myself was flooded with so much light that the canvas was blinding. So my subject was suddenly obscured by shadow and my canvas obscured by light. I had to abandon that painting.

Timothy Atkins capturing a street scene.

Three of us returned the following day and set up our easels. I set up at the mouth of what seemed to be a quiet and unnoticed laneway to the left of the Loggia. Here I prepared to paint the statue of Neptune and the surrounding Piazza. This time I was careful with my light planning and composition.

Working quickly I laid in the shadows, keeping the details to a minimum. There were hoards of people everywhere but my little space was relatively quiet or so I thought.

Niklas Elgmo tackling the shadows.

Every half hour or so a tour guide wishing to evade the other crowds would bring their group through the alleyway and it was necessary to either move the easel or hope that no one would trip over one of the legs.

There is definitely a difference between a painting done in relative peace and harmony and one done in the more crowded public space

Mastering the art of finding an island of quiet within the milling crowds  is the goal. There is always one somewhere.

Piazza Della Signora. Neptune in oils by Tom J. Byrne.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Strategies in Watercolor Painting: A building in the Tuscsan landscape

When you prepare to make a watercolor painting it really helps if you use certain strategies.
Particularly if you have a landscape with a building in it.

Most people would focus on the building first and then paint vegetation around it. That's the direct opposite to what you should do.

In this video you can see how to prepare for a painting in watercolor using an easel and how using vegetation to frame your architectural elements helps enormously when it comes to choosing the values for the buildings.

Strategies in watercolor

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Painting San Niccolo along the Arno - Step by step en Plein Air.

Painting by Tom J. Byrne
Oil on canvas
12 x 16 inches / 30 x 40 cm
Location: Florence, Italy


The scene of the San Niccolo tower and the reflected morning light in the Arno is a popular one among artists and students of art, living in Florence. It pops out of the opposite riverbanks trees and is complimented by the remains of a mill at the weir opposite. The calmness in the water created by the weir creates beautiful reflections in the early morning and is best from 9am onwards. A civilized hour for a working artist to begin a painting.

The tower is illuminated while the trees are mostly in shadow and the waters reflections are like a slow moving ripple and are easily captured if the artist can work quickly and reduce them to their essence.

The first thing is to consider the changes in light which each day brings to the scene. Get involved by looking at the intensity of the light, clarity of sky, and strength of shadows. Look for colors in the darks but don’t try to reproduce them. Just be aware of them so that there is a tendency towards the colors in your darks. A hint of red or purple in the shadows can be your guide to the color tendency of the whole scene. Imagine how the scene is going to change by considering the position and direction of the moving sun. Try to animate that in your mind before you begin painting so that you can anticipate changes that are coming.

The painting process isn’t only about recording what’s in front of you. It’s about your response to it and if it doesn’t engage your imagination then the scene will be dull and uninteresting. When an artist feels that they have a connection they don’t worry so much about the details. They simply get into them as a process of painting. Having said that, experience and lots of painting practice help to get past the worry about ‘how’ to capture something that seems very complex and demanding.

So by way of ‘experience’ here are the steps I took in painting this scene.



Consider the scene here and look at it as mostly shadows with clumps of light sticking out. The camera can’t capture the movement of the light or the ever changing reflections in the water, nor the light in the shadows which the naked eye can see.

My first step is to mark in the position of the shadows on the canvas which in this case I’ve given a toned ground of pinkish red as the season is beginning to move into autumn. I am using a burnt umber and cad red to paint in the shadows position and will supplement this with other colors later. I don't do a charcoal drawing. Just marks with the brush and erase with another brush loaded with some medium.

The lightest lights are added in the sky and the waters reflections. So with the shadow marked in and the lightest lights the largest blocks of light and dark are indicated, which helps to put the other values in context.

Then I block in the main colors which will influence the impression of the painting. Not worrying about details I focus on the the fall and turn of light and get in at least 3 bands of values in each large form. From the lightest to the middle to the darkest to give a sense of the turn of light on the trees, for instance. These are my notes and help with predicting the position of the light a little ahead of time.

I won’t discuss the composition as I’ve described that in other demonstrations. Although there isn’t a lot of perspective in this painting I’m making the far banks colors a little subdued so that we have a sense of aerial distance.

It’s important to note the intensity and position of the shadows in the main architectural elements at this point. They draw the eye in and will be important later. So make them a little more intense than you might think is wise.



In the sky I’ve used a combination of cobalt, ultra marine, and a tiny bit of red mixed with white to make a greyish blue which moves from darker to lighter at the treeline. I like texture in the sky so am using a white from which I’ve removed a lot of the medium. I’ve painted in a lot of the foreground grass and it’s shadows. In the water I’ve very quickly describing the reflections at the edge of the far bank, the main lights reflected and the sense of movement.

So now you have the sky, the far bank which is mostly shadow, the water and the foreground. 4 bands of value intensity. This is done as quickly as possible without much detail. It’s all creates a frame for the tower and other architectural elements. If I were to paint in the architecture first, the chances are high that I would obsess on the details and not paint the shadows in the context of the nature surrounding it.


The lights on the edges of the water on the far riverbank are important. They always exist when water meets shadow but don’t always have the same value.


Now that the architecture is framed and the surrounding are in place I can paint the buildings. I have my shadows so only the main light planes remain. On the main face of the tower receiving the early morning light, the fall of light should be considered. Lighter at the top, darker as it descends. In this case I didn’t do that so the face looks a little flat. 

However the dark drawing peeks through at the edges which makes this acceptable. I didn’t paint a lot of detail in the shadows on the face of the tower. They are just suggested. Intense shadow moving to lighter. 3 bands of color value are used. The value in the shadow of the tower is painted over the red, which is allowed to show through. In the weir arches and butress’ to the right of the tower we see the fall of light and turn of light as the values go from high to low. I’ve increased the chroma here using the appropriate colors in white to compliment the shadows. If you look into the shadows of the trees you will see a light purple popping out of the dark shadow. This note of color describes the reflected light coming off the water. See the trees on the right over the weir. Under the line of riverbank trees you’ll see that I’ve just dragged a green shadow value over the dark red that was used to describe the position of the shadows under the trees.


You can see here that the movement of the water is created by simply setting colors down beside each other in abstract forms. There is no attempt to describe ripples. The lights are a variety of intensities and red shows through where it is appropriate. It’s mostly the red which I painted to describe the shadows that we are seeing here. As the eye travels further across the water the more abstract the forms.
Now that the image context is in place and the architectural values are done I can add some more form and intensity to the shadows and lights. The focus is on values now. Making the forms which have already been described come alive without obsessing over details. If this were a studio painting, this would be called the second painting stage. You can see from the brushstrokes that I’m moving very quickly with the brush and respecting the position of the light without focusing too much on individual elements such as leaves except in the foreground tree which is slightly helps to emphasize the perspective.

In this image you get a better sense of the water and again can see that the red underpainting is peeking through, helping to create the sense of ripples and reflected shadow. Red and green are complimentary colors and one emphasizes the other so the shadows under the trees sing. By adding lights in the most eye catching forms on the far bank I lift the shadows.


This side by side view of the painting and a photo gives a lot of information about the paintings progress. The sharp eyed will notice the photo is taken later in the process because the shadows are longer (sun is higher in the sky). This is why painting in the shadows first is very important. It unifies the painting before you begin to add color. I haven’t labored over detail. Just enjoyed the process of quickly observing everything I’m seeing and recording the vibrancy of light.

The painting gives the impression of realism but doesn’t attempt to record every line or brick and aerial perspective is very strong right here because I wanted to create the sense of trees falling away in the distance behind the weir using lighter values.

Painting © Tom J. Byrne 2016.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Dear Tuscany Pleinair - Congratulations to Pat Mahony Getz

Our congratulations go out to Pat Mahony Getz for her successful sale of paintings from the Tuscan Landscape. Pat took part in last Septembers Plein Air event in Florence Itay and these scenes were done on the spot in the hills of Florence. 

"Dear Tuscany Pleinair, I am coming up on almost a year since I had the amazing opportunity to paint with all of you in Tuscany. I want to thank you for the experience. Last night I was part of a large landscape show in Davis, CA. I had one wall devoted to eleven small paintings of Tuscany. Many of the paintings I did during the week. Some were more elaborate that I either completed or started from scratch based on studies or sketches. The huge surprise was that when I walked in for the opening reception every one of my paintings had sold. I have not had something like that happen since the the mid-80's. Thank you for allowing this to happen. I will attach two images from the first day's workshop where we were experimenting with value. I tore the images from my notebook, framed them and voila!"