The Brush Killer

In the depths of February I find myself once again back in Salisbury, at the wondrous Sarum Studio, studying the Old Masters techniques with Nicholas Beer. I have commenced my painting training, and have 5 weeks of full-time brain-melting studying of portraiture and the human figure. It is unbelievably challenging and my mind is full of exciting new information. On day 2, the portrait is transforming better than expected, the figure painting less so, it should be a 10 day project but I only have 3 days, so all a bit frantic, still it is a great place to start the learning curve.

The painting technique differs hugely from my own in many ways, the main one is regarding brushes – For the past 10 years I have worked mostly with soft flat acrylic brushes, or very tiny ones. I am learning to use hog bristle brushes which are flat but rounded at the end, so there goes my ability to create straight crisp edges! Small sable ones are used for detail and highlights.

I never throw away brushes, which means that I own hundreds and hundreds of them, most have been at some point left unloved and abandoned after a painting session with the best intentions of returning later to continue painting or clean them.

I searched through my battered collection and dug out large quantities of old and abused hog brushes, most of which were rock solid with old paint and varnish. I then remembered my 5 litre tub of non-toxic water based paint stripper which I have used for my house renovation. With a little patience and squidging, I brought them all back to life. Nick wasn’t quite as impressed, my paint collection and palette instil horror in most who set eyes upon them, yesterdays comment was ‘are you really planning to use that palette?’ It was caked in an unsightly rainbow of multiple layers of paint – I hastily turned it upside down and used the clean side.

There is a way of wrapping wet brushes with tissue paper to get all the bristles tidy and in good shape, unfortunately time ran out and I just let them dry, and many had wayward bristles sticking out in various directions. I just about found some usable ones in the pile.
The technique involves a limited palette of just a few colours, which were the only ones which were available way back in the past, not having a blue is strange, instead, ivory black is used (not the most obvious name for a black) a lead white and only 3 other colours. You would think that mixing flesh tones with what would seem like only a few options would be easy but noooooo, it is not.
Another major difference are the painting mediums and thinners , my Zest-it ones have been banished, and I now spend my days slightly high on turpentine and some other traditional substances, which I must say, are fabulous to paint with. I am very happy there!

Here is the latest official Queen’s Gurkha Signals portrait.

Military Portrait in Oils for the Queen's Gurkha Signals 2016 by Annabelle Valentine

My New Old Friend

I have a new (old) companion in the gallery in the shape of an enormous double sided easel. I had been looking to buy an upright one with a crank arm to easily raise it up and down for a while, as the one I had previously borrowed had returned to its owner. This one came to me in a strange set of circumstances – I tried very hard not to buy it from a kind friend, as it looked far too special for me to actually own, but thankfully my protestations fell on deaf ears.
Wheeling it up through town tied to an old sack truck got plenty of attention with a few comments along the lines of how it looked like the stocks used in the dark ages, and what was I planning to do with it!


It seemed as though it would be too tall to set up in the gallery, and would be more at home in somewhere with a much higher ceiling but I have been innovative and screwed some kitchen drawer fronts together to sort that out, and can use one side for standing and one side for sitting. It is good to vary how I work when I do such long hours to avoid back ache.
Never buy an old easel, says my wise teacher, and his words echoed in my mind as I oiled up the impressive Victorian steel triple winding mechanism, which thankfully works like a dream. Although I had been assured that the large family of woodworm had been asked to vacate, I wasn’t taking any chances and retreated the whole thing, turning it upside down and rendering my gallery useless for quite some time while the fumes subsided. I returned a few days later to piles of dust underneath, where the wood had been totally annihilated by the little critters, it seems that there is less easel left than I had thought, but I think that adds to the character. Anyhow, once I have glued a split piece, I am guessing that it will last me out, despite only having 3 and a half wheels….


Fitting the handle and winding the whole beast up and down to precisely the right height to work at is such a luxury and will save me a lot of time previously spent adjusting and cursing the awkwardness of my other one whilst almost dropping canvases. No more reaching down at that uncomfortable angle to paint ‘just for a few minutes’ which inevitably turns into a lengthy and torturous ordeal for my back as I zone out, caught up in creativity.
It originates from an art supplier called C Roberton who set up a shop in 1810 near the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where my ancestor John Linnell trained along with Turner. Linnell had an account with the supplier from 1849 – 1887, who knows, maybe he saw it in there!