Simon Bland

A Blog About Oil Painting

A painting of Seattle street in Magnolia by artist Simon BlandSunset on McGraw. 12x9, oil and cold wax on linen panel. 2017

It took a couple of tries to work out how to approach this street scene. I originally started it on a larger size panel, but scraped that back and decided to do it with cold wax on a small panel instead. The cold wax helped with some of the layering effects that you can see in the foreground and mid ground.

One of the things I like about this medium is that it is less slippery than regular oil paint. That lets you try out all sorts of different application techniques. I painted this with a plastic spatula and a brayer (a soft rubber roller).


Plein air painting of a ship in Puget Sound by artist Simon Bland

A Bridge Too Far (plein air). 9x12, oil on linen panel. 2017

I've done paintings of boats and ships a few times, albeit with varying rates of success, but I felt the need to do something different today.

To start, I did a loose outline drawing in charcoal (actually charcoal powder mixed with cold wax). No block-in. Then I went to work with gobs of thick paint and a painting knife.

The ship was at anchor off in the distance, at least half a mile away. That made it hard to see any detail: all I could make out were the big shapes.

And that's what stopped the painting from turning into a mess. I can get pulled into these kinds of things and end up trying to do too much detail. There was no chance I could do that when the ship was so far away.


Self portrait by artist Simon Bland

Self Portrait. 12x16, oil on linen. 2016-2017

I like to do a self portrait every year or so. It's a good exercise in observation, and the model is cheap.

Although I started this at the end of 2016, it took a long time to finish as I kept putting it back on the easel to noodle around with.

You might think that 'making it look like the subject' would be the hardest thing about painting a portrait, but for me it's getting the skin tone right. It can be stupidly hard. I keep trying to mix a "flesh tone", but make a color that looks like an anemic orange.

It always takes me some really close, hard analysis to get it right. When I have the correct tone it will often look like a gray on the palette and only become a flesh color when it's on the canvas.


A landscape painting with lots of texture by artist Simon Bland

Riverside Fields. 8x10, oil on linen panel. 2016/17

This painting was inspired by a couple of things - a blog post by the artist Anne Kullaf that I'd read some years ago, and the work of Philadelphia artist Mashiul Chowdhury.

I wanted to make the painting about the paint: using thick paint, scraping off and textures. Above all, the idea was to get myself out of my comfort zone.

An old painting served as the support. I sanded and wiped it down then went to work straight on top of the old surface. As well as adding texture, this let me scrape back the new paint in some places. For example, I used it in the trees to suggest branches.

It's easiest to see the effect of this approach in the sky. Usually I render this with thin paint to make it look light and airy. With thick paint the same space is made to look heavy and sultry.