Zoom Workshop – Working from Dark to Light with Keith Ashcroft

Rough notes following Zoom workshop with Keith Ashcroft.   Friday 31/7/2020 from 7pm

There were approximately 30 participants from the UK, France, USA, Russia, Hong Kong and Australia.

Keith started off introducing himself and his background – he started working for OCA 12 months ago and is now working towards his first solo show.   He’s my tutor, so I do have some prior knowledge of him and I follow his art on Instagram. 

He then gave us a slide show going through some examples of paintings he had introduced us to in the asynchronous padlet.   I would like to look into the work of Justin Mortimer and Michael Borremans in more depth. (I don’t have images of all the paintings that were discussed in the slide presentation – so this won’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t there, sorry)

  1. Monochromatic underpainting – which was tonal, no colour and sepia.

2. One go painting – done in a day or similar.  Starts with an underpainting, looking for darks/lights, not trying for colour

3. Table painting (one of my favourites)– underpainting done in one sitting, using white of canvas, working up, building colour, uses thin paint.  The actual painting took 2 to 3 days to complete

‘Untitled’ Keith Ashcroft

4. Shelves painting- showed us the finished painting.  Describes the underpainting process and his choice of portrait or landscape orientation.

5. Chair with yellow background – brown underpainting, this took approximately a week.  He used raw umber, thick and thin paint/washes.

6. Red chair/green wall – this took him about 2 days, he said it ‘finished itself’. 

After the slide presentation he went on to show us the image he was going to use as inspiration for the workshop piece, which was taken from a slide. 

Swimming pool – reference photo

He purchased about 600 slides off eBay and uses these for a lot of his work, he answered questions from some students about this and copyright etc. It is an image of a pool, taken in the 70’s onboard a ship, children are playing in the water and at the side of the pool.     He showed us a true colour version of the slide, as well as a black and white image, which clearly demonstrated the tone and composition.  He also showed us a posterized black and white image, which flattens the scene as it is in extremes of blacks and lights, so it is reduced to just ambiguous shapes.  

He discussed the oil colours that he uses – Wallace Seymour oils – only 5 colours   Lowry White, Chrome Yellow, Raw Umber, Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson.   However he did use a Violet Grey, as well as Bohemian Earth Green and Adriatic Turquoise in the painting towards the end of the session. Hardly any white!

He uses brushes made by Rosemary & Co – a filbert No. 10 and a round No. 10.  His mediums were Orange solvent (Roberson brand) and Refined linseed oil.   He also uses a lovely stick! (similar to a mahl), cloths and a sponge squeegee. 

He squared off the substrate, which was Arches oil paper 55×43 in size.  He started the actual painting work at about quarter to 8, first using raw umber thinly diluted.   He carefully built up the main shapes.  I noticed that he had not really made the dark areas in the reference photo as dark in his painting and I commented about that – he said that because he’s going to put colour on top, it’s enough to show him.  This was the underpainting.  I could already see influence of Daniel Pitín and said as much.

At about 8, he started adding colour and also brought out his ‘black mirror’ to explain how he used this to check tone (I wasn’t sure about that aspect of the demonstration and want to know more about this technique).

One of the participants asked him why he doesn’t do an underpainting in acrylics and he basically said it’s his personal preference, he is more comfortable working in oils throughout the entire process.    It was exciting watching him put in the darks and also the use of the stick to get lines and angles correct, that was an eye-opener for a lot of us!   (I have to get me a stick).  It was only around half past 8 that he started to put in the blue tones.  One of his comments was ‘a painting often looks worse before it gets better’ – I can relate to that (although mine usually stay worse!)

As he worked on the foreground, putting in Bohemian Green and Adriatic Turquoise, as well as Oxide of Chrome Green, the painting started to come alive.  He said that the Arches (300gsm) paper can take a lot of layers (In response to a question from one of the participants). He has told me previously to look at getting Arches paper, because it doesn’t have the pseudo canvas texture. I have now run out of my other paper (the Galeria textured stuff), so I’m going to see if I can get some of the Arches and give it a go, it did look very robust from his demonstration.   He continued to work up the blues until around 9pm.  He stopped jut after 9 to take questions, I decided to leave at that point as I had asked a lot of questions throughout the demonstration. 

‘swimming pool’ WIP demonstration painting 31 07 2020 Keith Ashcroft


I was really pleased to have attended this zoom workshop and am grateful for the opportunity.  It must be quite daunting to produce a painting with a load of people putting in their oars’ worth of comments as you are going along – one person said it was like ‘painting by committee’.   

I found myself looking at the work from as far away from my screen as I could to get the perspective.  His painting is definitely best viewed from a distance to get the full effect of the tones and ambiguity.  It is a style of working that I want to try with my next coursework.   

What I found really interesting is how he has taken a reference photo and made the painting his own, it is not a copy of a photo, the painting that has been produced is full of interesting shapes and textures, varying tones and light points. It is completely abstract and very loose in style.

Keith mentioned that he would show us images of the finished painting at some point, I’m looking forward to that!   

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