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Keith Morton Demonstrations
Contact him at km_art@blueyonder.co.uk or visit www.saa.co.uk/art/keithmorton

Do visit. The results he produces in the days it takes to do a formal portrait are much more than can be done in a short demo.

1 June 2007
Portrait
24 April 2009
Still Life
3 July 2009
Portrait
8 July 2011
Portrait
Back to History Page

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Acrylic Portrait, 8 July 2011

I don't think this is going to be one of my normal write-ups.
There are reports on three of Keith's earlier demo's below. His approach is totally consistent so I strongly suggest you read the earlier write-ups. "We've heard it all before?", I hear, but there were certainly points that I didn't seem to have picked up. Perhaps, if you are anything like me, much of what you hear, however useful, gets forgotten.

Assuming you've followed my suggestion, let me just note the things that struck me most this time.

Set up the pose and the local lighting very carefully
Look for features, shapes, transitions and corners.
Make only tiny marks, by touching the side of the brush to the paper
Mark top and chin so that the head is about one stretched-out hand-span high
Eyes about half way up as a starting point
Line up angles, estimate short distances, measure larger ones
Draw a centre-line at the correct angle
Short, carefully aligned, straight marks gradually form shapes and curves
When you get to the chin it may not be exactly where you originally marked it (see the two marks)
Measure the width of the head, see how far up the face it comes and then reverse this process and mark it on the paper. It will look too wide!
Check angles and alignments repeatedly. "A millimetre is so important". Keith had to re-draw the whole back of the head because he'd got it a few mm too narrow!
Finish the drawing by lightly indicating shadows. 3/8" flat brush
Primary colours: 3 warm, 3 cool (see April 2009)
Pre-mix the colours on the palette, not on the picture. Creamy consistency. Dab it on
Colour lets you correct drawing errors
Mix from warm primary colours for skin highlights first
Cool primaries (quite brown) for shadows
Start dark, and when you lighten with white always add a touch of yellow
Keep checking and correcting angles and making only short marks (even for the flowers) - it almost seems like fiddling
He thinks continually of the colour circle. Knowing that his mixed colours are hues of grey he's always thinking which primary he needs to add to move it towards the part of the circle he wants.

Jill Guppy

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Some of the audience was close enough not to need the projected version of the demo.
The final result (surprise, surprise) was an excellent likeness. It amazes me how he gets this, relying, as he does, almost entirely on measurement of angles and on intuitive estimation of short distances. I suppose the secret, apart from years of experience, is that the tiny short marks can be subtly moved a millimetre or so, almost without noticing, so that the likeness slowly emerges, as it certainly does.

Wonderful. Thanks again Keith.

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1 June 2007
Portrait
24 April 2009
Still Life
3 July 2009
Portrait
8 July 2011
Portrait
Back to History Page

Acrylic Portrait, 3 July 2009

It was good to see Keith again so soon. Much of the evening reinforced what he had said in earlier demo's so I won't repeat unless it strikes me as particularly worth repetition. You'll just have to read all three write-ups.

June was persuaded to sit for us. I was surprised by the long time Keith took to get her head, and the light, precisely positioned. He obviously knew exactly what shadows he needed.

He had previously stretched some acrylic paper and slapped on some watered-down Burnt Umber. He seemed to have changed from his original preference for a greenish background for portraits. However, at the end he said that if he were turning it from a demo sketch into a more formal portrait he would paint in a greener background at the end to complement the tones of the face.

Out came his old round "Rosemary" brush and the little pot of crimson.
Measuring
Colour and shade A couple of tiny horizontal touches with the side of the brush, about a hand spread apart, defined the top and bottom of the head ("I find that's about the height of head I'm most comfortable with"). Then a third one where the face ended and the top of the head started (visible because he was looking from above).

The last mark before really serious measuring started was half way up the face, for the eyes.

As always, Keith's measuring was meticulous and the new marks tentative, particularly angles: the angle of the line of eyes; the centre of the face (one touch) and then, going across from left to right, the relative spaces between cheek (check resulting angles), eye, centre of nose, tear duct and end of eye. All with the side of the brush. Then the nose length (shorter than you think), the angle of the nostrils and finally the line of the mouth. One eye shut, one eye almost shut, feet in exactly the same place. Check positions, check angles, check a different way, correct the odd 1 mm error. "The less you see the better you paint."

I'm not sure whom he was quoting when he told us that a portrait is like a photograph with the mouth not quite right.
End touches The far side of the head (hair) needed repeated measurement and comparison with the height of the head and face - the head is always wider than you think. By the time the little touches of crimson had closed the gaps and introduced the shirt, he found that the chin was a good 3 mm out. His stream of consciousness reminded us, too, that the neck has a front and sides - "it's not a drainpipe". It's important to paint what you see, not "features" like eyes, nose, mouth.

With his thinned crimson and a wider brush (3/8" flat?) he started to mark areas of tone/shadow. Still often just tiny marks, like the underside of the nose.

Only then did colour, flesh first, start to come in - broad dabs now, instead of touches with the side of the brush. Flesh needs all three primaries and white
Actually he uses two sets of primaries: warm ones (Ultramarine Blue; Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow) in the light and cool ones (Prussian Blue; Alizarin Crimson; Lemon Yellow) in the shadow. Sometimes the colour of the surface requires the 'wrong' set to be used: for example the shaded lipstick was bright enough to need the warmer red.

Acrylic dried very quickly this warm evening and so Keith was able to mix exactly the colour he wanted and apply it over a previous coat without risk of picking up the previous shade. To get the colour right he makes frequent mental reference to the colour wheel to correct colours that were not quite as he wanted them.

To make sure that the painting is not too photographic he likes to move his brush across lines in the original (hair, say) as well as in the expected direction. He gave the result to June, who agreed with all of us that the likeness was very good.

A formal portrait would take a week or two but when you looked at his sample portfolio you could see how much more work went into such paintings. His enthusiasm keeps bubbling through: "Why didn't I think of that before?", "I've not tried it like this, but it really seems to work", "I'm putting features in first now, instead of the outline of the head". As always it was a great evening.
End of Demo

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1 June 2007
Portrait
24 April 2009
Still Life
3 July 2009
Portrait
8 July 2011
Portrait
Back to History Page

Acrylic Still Life, 24 April 2009

Arrangement Keith's early career was in commercial design but when a company he was working for went into liquidation he decided to make painting his future.

He gave quite some care to the lighting and composition of this still life.

A silver trophy and glass give interesting reflections and distortions. The apple gives colour. The black and white background and the apple were arranged so that edges were visible through the glass, making the refraction satisfy the eye that that is what it really was. Also, the big 'arrow' of black paper on the right pulls the eye into the picture. It is balanced by placing the trophy quite close to the left edge.

A small light, close to the arrangement, adds sparkle.
Contrary to his usual choice of heavy cartridge paper, Keith was working on tightly stretched acrylic paper (a present from Daler Rowney). He had prepared this by roughly covering it with a warm brown mid-tone background.

His palette of Cryla acrylic was one he uses for all his work:
three warm primaries (cadmium yellow, cadmium red and ultramarine blue) and
three cool primaries (lemon yellow, crimson and prussian blue).

The warm set is mostly for well-lit areas and the cool set for shadows.

Then came the drawing: watery crimson acrylic applied with a small (No.8?) round brush. The colour is not that important for still life but it is what he uses most of the time.
Darker backgrounds Everything was carefully measured by eye, marking the result of each measurement with a small dab with the side of the brush.

Having touched in the top and bottom of the trophy, Keith established that the radius of the top rim was 1/5 of the height. All other measurements were then based on this.

He measured verticals and horizontals and, most importantly, carried angles across by lining up the brush and moving it across to the painting. He finds curves so difficult that he builds them up from numerous short dabs at the appropriate angle.

Once the basic drawing was done, Keith started to establish the darker-toned areas, using the same watery crimson, but with a bigger (1/2 inch?) flat brush.
Then began the application of more realistic colours. He wanted to keep everything fairly dark and grey at first (limited hue) so that when he put in the highlights at the end they would really "zing". In fact all the colours at this stage were modified greys.

Keith's use of acrylic is fundamentally different from any watercolour technique. His college tutor advised him that one should 'mix the colour you want, with a creamy texture, and dab it on'.

This means that the paint is going on thick enough to cover the colour underneath (although gaps will still allow it to show through).
Initial whites
Sorry about the blurry photo (Sam Dauncey)
Dabbing with the brush He could offer no 'technique' for painting silver. The way is just to paint what you see and this he did, with myriad little dabs of colour.

Careful examination of small areas out of their context gives surprising results.

For example the 'black' behind the trophy is actually a dark khaki (because of the close-up lighting) and this same colour appears reflected in the glass and the trophy.

Even the white is pretty dark (reassuring, to give scope for contrasting lighter lights).

Nearly everything was dabbed in with the 1/2" flat, deliberately aiming to make the marks visible (not trying to indicate linear perspective).
It was then noted that the shadowed ceiling was reflected in the foot and inside of the trophy and in the glass: so we need the cool set of primaries.

Then back to a smaller round brush for lighter touches and some snippets of advice:

"If you make a nice mark, don't go back and reinforce it."
"If you don't like something, it is more often a question of tone than drawing or colour."
"To lighten, add a touch of yellow to the white"
"Remember, acrylic dries darker (not like watercolour)"
Before final lights
Running out of time (there was more to be done, especially perhaps in the background), the glints were finally touched in with pure white.

The effect of these final glints is remarkable, as you can see from the photo taken at the end of the demonstration, below, only a few moments after the previous one.

I've repeated the photo of the arrangement to remind you how much more life there can be in a painting than in its inspiration..
End of demonstration Arrangement

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1 June 2007
Portrait
24 April 2009
Still Life
3 July 2009
Portrait
8 July 2011
Portrait
Back to History Page

Acrylic Portrait and Workshop, 1 June 2007


A rough greenish background (good complement for skin colours) had already been painted over his stretched, heavy cartridge paper. Keith started with a tiny spot for the centre of Jean's chin, just left of dead centre and worked from there. Don't worry about covering the whole sheet of paper.

Keith used only three brushes: a round (No.8?), a flat (3/8"?) and a filbert (No.8?). His stay-wet palette was home-made, with baking parchment and an absorbent membrane (although the crimson used for drawing was wetter, in a separate pot).

Accuracy is essential if you want a likeness. It is virtually impossible to draw curves accurately by eye so Keith draws only short straight marks, with the side of the round brush, checking the angle carefully before each one. Look out of only one eye.

He checked dimensions frequently, measuring with the brush a recognizable distance that was the same as the required one and then doing the same on the paper. A cross established the centre of the face and the line of the eyes.

Eyes may always be half way up the skull, but eyebrows and lips do vary and contribute much to the likeness. Noses are shorter than you think (cross-check angles and dimensions and start with just tiny marks for nostrils). Beware of smiles: they usually mean that the portrait was done from a photo.

Once the drawing was finished, shadows were started, mostly with the flat brush but with the filbert, too, for smaller areas.

He uses 7 or 8 colours: white; an RGB set of warm ones, e.g. cadmium, to create a warm "soup" for bright areas; a similar set of cool ones for the shadow "soup".

Throughout the rest of the demo Keith continued to check angles and directions carefully and to apply paint with very quick short "creamy dabs". The chin line and one or two other doubtful areas were adjusted by extending the background slightly into the originally drawn lines.
A "real" portrait takes much longer than a demo. For example, in this case he would quite possibly have decided to glaze over the whole picture with a thin crimson wash and then go back in to correct the details and highlights.

During Keith's "Saturday Workshop", the following day, members painted from their own photographs. Thanks to Helen Davies, right, for these snaps (although I'm sorry not to be able to show you the photo that prompted her portrait).
As well as leaving his basic Portrait guidance notes
Keith afterwards sent the following more formal notes to remind participants:

The demonstration was sponsored by Rosemary Brushes who donated a set as a raffle prize
("as good as any but half the price", Keith said).

Keith also runs residential workshops. For information visit http://www.saa.co.uk/art/keithmorton
or phone him (0208 886 3149) for more details 

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1 June 2007
Portrait
24 April 2009
Still Life
3 July 2009
Portrait
8 July 2011
Portrait
Back to History Page

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