Getting loose with a knife – and some paint!

by Jacky Pett

Stephen Foster’s workshop on 13th May was his second this year, and presumably just as much enjoyed by us as it was for our predecessors!

This was entitled ‘Spontaneous palette knife landscape/seascape painting’ and Stephen gave short talk beforehand on methods and materials, showing examples of his work. Then he picked one to demonstrate the techniques of using a palette knife on a prepared board.

Looking from a distance, the way Stephen blurred and moved the paint around to create clouds and trees was amazing. It was even more amazing, as I saw later, his spiky trees emerging from the clump were really just rough squiggles in the paint when you looked closely. His clouds showed the scuff marks on the board, too, but from a distance, they looked fantastic.

Despite the word ‘spontaneous’ and Stephen’s advice that if we wanted a reference, to look at it once, then put it away, quite a few people carefully drew out their landscapes and proceeded to fill them in. Maybe they were being more spontaneous with their paintwork than usual. They were certainly more beautiful than mine, which I thought were a mess. But then this was my first workshop with the group, and the first time I’d used acrylic paint in nearly twenty years. Thank you to my table mates Bev and Valerie for making me feel at home, and also for helping me get the paint caps off!

Although we’d been around the room and admired each others work, we also got a critique at the end from Stephen, who went through each painting and made useful comments. I think they were useful learning points for us all, anyway. And I came away with plenty of ideas about painting with a palette knife that I hadn’t had before.

Thank you to Stephen, and to Bev for organising it. A good time was had by all, I think!

Digital art is still controversial

A respectable turn out for Paul Arnott paid great attention to the methods and artistic expertise involved in creating digital art. Other aspects of the medium remain controversial.

That seemed to be the reaction of a range of members afterwards.

Painting with stylus and tablet…

Paul Arnott kindly explained all about the programme he uses, a top-spec software system called Corel that has been in development since the early 2000s, and consequently has more bells and whistles (sorry, options) than Microsoft sticks into a spreadsheet programme.

In the first part he showed the way you can use such a program, and the differences between types of ‘brushes’ that the stylus on your tablet (such as the Wacom 6 one Paul uses) will generate on your screen. That led on to the computer enhances things like holes, and swirls, and (very useful) the way you can mask out areas by selecting and inverting them, a bit like masking fluid, but more sophisticated, and cleaner.

The second part, Paul created a lovely seascape from scratch, showing the uses of different features, and the way you can use different layers, which you can then move if it’s not quite right.

…and digitising pictures in the style of…

And then, having proved that digital art can be just as creative and demanding on the artist as any other medium, he ruined the illusion by demonstrating a programme that plays with photos to turn them out as, well, any artist you like. All you have to do is say ‘when’.

There are good things about this, if you are doing something for your own enjoyment. Why not have a picture of your favourite pet rendered in the style of Matisse? Get it printed for permanence, and hang it on your wall.


  • what if you used this to do a lovely landscape and passed it off as an ‘original digital artwork’? Who would know you’d done virtually nothing of artistic merit yourself?
  • what if you printed this, or indeed any of your carefully drawn/painted work on your tablet on your home printer. You might use ordinary inks on paper that might not be permanent… how could you guarantee the quality if you sold it as a painting?
  • What if you got the programme to do something with a photo in a style you thought wonderful, and you copied it in paint yourself. Is it original?
  • what if you used some other artist’s work as the basis for your digitising? Have you got the copyright? Have they?

Paul did mention the issue of printing, and showed one of his works that had faded in the light. He generally sends them for professional printing if he intends to sell them.

Ideas and controversy

Some of the members present got a lot of ideas from this presentation, others found it unevenly presented, and worrisome. On balance, maybe it won’t have helped the cause of digital art acceptance at our summer exhibition. Not yet, at any rate.

It’s a controversy that will run and run.