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You are in: Ron Gribble's Artist Tips.

Ron Gribble's Artist Tips.

Ron Gribble is an established Oil, Acrylic and Water Colourist, with many national awards.

When would I use Acrylic, as opposed to Oils?

I will attempt, for the next few tips, to answer some questions. If you have any questions, you can add them to my list.

This is largely a personal preference for each artist, but I always remember that the Acrylic is transparent, while the Oils are more Opaque. So if the subject you are painting is better rendered by a transparent paint, use Acrylics. Ask yourself the question:
A. " Would the white of the board be a help or a hindrance? If it would be a help, then Acrylics it is. If it is not a help, then Oils it is.
E.G. A scene of rocks and transparent water. The white of the board can be very helpful in creating textures on the rocks, while the transparent nature of the Acrylics is wonderful for glazes to create the "looking through the water" affect.
B. Is there an advantage to having it quick drying? If so, Acrylics is the best option.

Do I need to paint my boards with Gesso?
If you are using store bought canvas panels or stretched canvas, then you don't but it will prolong the life and improve the flexibility of the final painted surface.  If you were to visit your local hardware store and ask do I need to prime and seal timber before I paint the answer is a big fat 'Yes'.   Surface preparation is everything when your painting if you want a finish that will last the years.
What is Gesso used for then?
It is for those who are preparing there own canvases, or using hardboard, or similar as a support for their work. It is ideal for tinting your painting.

What is Gesso?
Gesso is a sealing coat made from white chalk or plaster of Paris with a water soluble gelatine binder. On its own, it does not make a good base for Oils, as it tends to draw the oils out, and it is very difficult to work on. The brush tends to drag. Polymer Gesso is the better option if you can get it, as it is a better base for Oils or Acrylics. It is best if you lightly sand it to give a" tooth" for the paint to stick to.
Would a standard canvas last through time without Gesso?
A well Gesso-ed canvas  will improve a commercially produced canvas specially if your are painting in a heavy impasto style. In fact, most fabrics are nor going to last for much more than 25 years without losing up to one third of their strength. Linen and cotton are almost as bad as each other on that count. Polymer fabrics are the new answer. I will be well in my grave before any future restorer gets to care anyway!!

Odour free Turps. What can you tell me about it?
I do not know much of the technical details, but I know that my wife is happy for me to paint indoors at last, and that is all I need to know. It is obviously more expensive than ordinary Turps, but it is worth every penny. I do not have any health issues from breathing it in! I was giving a two day workshop last year in Blenheim, and the local newspaper sent a reporter. The resulting article was more about the stink of turps that she found than about our fine attempts at art. The fact is I had not noticed the smell myself, as I was used to it.  One fact about odour free turps and other cleaning solvents - is that the you may not smell the product but it is still there only masked - so it is still inflammable and dangerous  to your health - always use in ventilated work areas.

How do you mix a colour as dark as black, without black?? - Ron Gribble.

To continue with colour. How do you mix a colour as dark as black, without black??

I use a very dark blue, like Ultramarine, or Thalo, and mix it equally with a dark red, like Alizarin Crimson. These opposites tend to cancel each other out, and the result is a very dark neutral colour. You can add more of one or the other to make it tend towards hot or cold, or equal amounts to make it neutral.

One thing that I look for though, is to make the colour "believable". The two pigments are very strong, and need toning down with an earth colour. If you make it as dark an earth colour as you can, you will still have a deep rich, almost black. I use Burnt Sienna, and add little at a time until I have the colour I need. This idea with Burnt Sienna is a good one to remember whenever you are mixing any very strong pigments together.


1. Add little bits at a time. Mix it together, and add more. If you add too much of a colour, it is very hard to take it out again, but very easy to add more.

2. More colours is not better. Limit yourself to two or three colours max, and add tiny amounts of others to achieve the finished hue. Any more and you will have MUD.

3. Use a Pallet trowel, and NOT YOUR BRUSH! I never mix paint with a bush. You cannot get control of the colour by using a brush, as you have no idea how much raw colour still lerks in the brush, waiting to mix with something you do not want it to mix with. You will get paint every were and it will do your brushes no good at all as well.

4. Unsure of how to mix a colour? Try mixing a small amount first, and when successfull, mix up the larger mix.

Happy Painting,
Ron Gribble.


Lets look at colour for the next few months. There is so much that can be said about it. We all know what colour is, but how do we mix it? How do we control it? How do you decide what colour you want, and were? How do we use complimentary colours?

After a demonstration that I did at the Downtown Hilton Art Gallery once, a chap said to me that he had observed that I spent 80% of my time mixing colours!!! That leaves only 20% for all the other things!! It seems to me that we should be devoting a similar proportion of time in research and practice for this activity.

I suggest that everyone should have a simple colour wheel beside their easel!! Go down to the hardware shop and pick one up. The colour wheel is very basic knowledge you could say. You left that behind at school, right? Then why is it that I see a very bad lack of the use of the colour wheel in paintings? Maybe, like me you did not fully realise the many ways that you can use complimentary colours to advantage in even insignificant areas of your work.

E.G. If you had an area of green grass that made up an area of detail in a painting. If you wanted to make this area have life and appeal, take the colour wheel and look at what is the direct compliment to the green. Depending on the shade of grass, it will be a warm brown. Place that on first, and let it dry. I use an acrylic. Now paint the green grass over the top, allowing the under painting to show through. Even an insignificant mid ground area can be made interesting and creatively correct.

Some of the paint and Hardware shops have colour wheels with many subtle variations, so that you can find the colour wheel that best matches the colour you are using, and then look for it's compliment.

One more thing. Try not using black, but use the compliment of the colour you are placing in that area, as explained above instead. Deep purples, blues, crimsons, browns are far more fun and are not dead like black. Think about it, black is the absence of all colour, it is not a colour, and should be used very sparingly. If nothing else will do, then go for it, but I seldom have had that situation. Black will dirty a colour, but if you want to darken it, you do not necessarily want to dirty it.

More on colour next month. We will discuss how to make a colour as dark as black, without making it an unreal, strong colour.

Ron Gribble

Application & Personality

If you cannot do more than a photograph, then why take a photograph in the first place and save yourself a lot of time and agony! This is to a large degree my personal opinion, but it is also the opinion of many top art judges who allocate points to what they call "application" and "flair". In brief, how was the Paint or other medium applied? With confidence? Accurately but boldly? Can we see the artist's personality in the way he applies the medium? Does this application contribute to the over-all mood of the work? 

Lets look at a portrait for example. Is it rendered with brush strokes that are bold and angular to depict movement, or youth, or vertical and horizontal to depict a more conservative subject?

I often see work that is very well done, but too photographic. The artist has used too little personal flair. This is a real problem when painting a portrait of a person or animal, that has to be absolutely accurate. Try one or all of the following;

After you have achieved the likeness needed, go back over the work and "loosen it up". That is, stroke in big and bold impasto strokes in places to take away the fiddly little brush details. Cover small brush strokes with larger ones, medium strokes with bigger and big strokes with even bigger ones. Take care, because there are places that you will just have to leave fiddly to retain the likeness, as in the eyes for example.

Soften up an area or two so that the main subject blends with the background. Take detail out of the areas that are not of immediate interest, such as towards the corners.    I have used a portrait as an example, but the same thing applies to everything, including landscapes.

Start Thin Finish Fat By Ron Gribble

Ron GribbleThere are very good reasons why artists do this. First lets define ‘thin’ and ‘fat’ Thin – meaning that the paint is put on the canvas thinly. This may mean that you have mixed a quantity of medium with it to thin it or it may be that you have simply ‘scrubbed’ it onto the surface so that is applied very thinly.

Fat – meaning paint that is ‘Impasto’ i.e., straight out of the tube and applied in bolder thicker chunks.

Why thin first?
I have two very good reasons that I can think of instantly, and other lesser reasons.

  1. If you lay down a ‘fat’ paint area you are limited to what you can do over the top of it. Try painting fat on fat and you will get mud when painting wet on to wet paint.
  2. By putting down a ‘thin’ area you are preparing the area for an opportunity to contrast with fat painted details on top. The more sedate thin paint adds weight to the “Shout at you “ fat paint.

Generally you should place early details on thinly and progressively get fatter and fatter as you progress, finishing off with bold highlights that look like they were thrown on, but are not.

In my next tip I will talk about ‘Application – Looks like it is thrown on’.

Happy Painting
Ron Gribble

Put the Darks on First

Ron GribbleThis theory is a very sound one for painting in Oils. But that is on its own will not be enough. As well as putting on darks first, start with thin paint and no detail, and work towards ‘Fatter’ and fatter paint and more and more detail. I will explain over my next three months.

Darks on First
Remember, you are painting the deepest darks first, were very little light is penetrating. Especially if you are painting a scene outside, much of this deep shadow could be some distance from you. Conclusion: Nobody, unless their father is an eagle can see detail in deep shade at a distance. So don’t put any detail in at this stage. Try to lather paint on with as little brush strokes visible as possible, just like painting the house – ‘Lay off’ the paint by gentle horizontal and vertical brush strokes, with a beard flat brush. This prepares the way to contrast some detail against the “quiet” area, when you lay on high lights. This works particularly well with distant details in landscapes. It will also, if your colours are wisely mixed, add to the depth, as it confirms the viewer’s subconscious expectations, that detail recedes with distance.

Next month, Start thin, Finish Fat, the opposite of weight watches.

Ron Gribble

Clean Colours in Your Work

Ron GribbleSpeaking of cleanliness, on previous occasions, the end result of all this is clean colours.

There is much to be said about colour mixing, that I could never cover on the Internet.

Try keeping each colour you mix to a minimum of colours from your pallet. The more variety of colours from your pallet that you mix, the closer you get to ‘Mud’. That is dirty in colour.

Ask the question of yourself very clearly - "Do I want a hot colour or a cold colour"?

If it is neither one nor the other it not only loses a great opportunity to contrast against it but it also is in danger of being boring at best, and muddy at worst.

If you decide on a cold colour go easy on the mixing of hot colours. If you want a hot colour mix, then don’t put large quantities of blues into the mix.

Of course there are always exceptions to every rule, but I have found the ‘Hot & Cold’ decision to be pivotal

Happy Mixing
Ron Gribble

Preparing to Paint On Location

Ron GribbleWe have been concentrating on basic house keeping tips lately, cleanliness and organization. This becomes doubly important when you go ‘Plein Aire’, that is painting on location. The wind will find any disorganisation and create havoc.

You will need Bull Dog Clips to keep your rag from flapping paint all over the general landscape.

If you clean your brushes firstly on a piece of paper to remove the excess paint. I use a portion of telephone directory, as this is very absorbent and remain bound down the spine even if after I have removed ten or twenty pages for my days painting.

Then secondly wash it in your brush cleaner and use the rag to remove the turpentine. Don’t put paint on the rag!

The pages of the book can be folded over and clipped down with a bulldog clip to secure it from the effects of the wind. If the rag does flap about, it’s only turpentine on it anyway.

I am off to paint my way around the South Island of New Zealand soon, so I will be fighting the same problems first hand.

Happy painting

Care of Brushes

Ron GribbleLast month we discussed brush-cleaning devise that I use, This month I want to stay with brushes.

Generally speaking, good oil painting brushes are not expensive, but it takes only a minute to prolong their useful life.

I try to remember after each painting session (not so easy when I am on location) to clean my brushes with clean soapy warm water, as follows.

  • Wipe the brush across a wet piece of soap until a good quantity of the soap is worked into the bristles.
  • Grip the ends of the bristles with one hand and with the other hand move the brush so that the bristles are splayed out and the soap can work right up to the ferrule.
  • Now Place the brush into a sink, and squeeze the soap back out by pressing the ferrule end of the bristle against the hard surface until you squeeze out the dirty soapy water. Rinse with warm water Repeat this until the soapy water that you squeeze out is no longer dirty.
  • Lastly repeat step one only, then gently mould the bristles nice and straight leaving a good amount of soap in the bristles. The flat can have a chisel edge moulded by squeezing gently between thumb and first finger.
  • Leave to dry, with the soap "training" and protecting the bristles. You will be able to transport these now without them bending over if they press against anything. The soap, when dry, can be broken out again, when you want to use the brush.

In Conclusion, think of your brushes as the instruments of your trade. Would a surgeon use a dirty scalpel? You must be confident of the brush mark that will get from a particular brush. If it has dry paint up the ferrule, You will not get what you expect, ant the result is loss of control, on the canvas.

I hope this helps

Ron Gribble

Brush Cleaning Tip

Ron GribbleThere are a lot of commercial brush cleaners available, but I will tell you about a cleaner you can make at home, out of two empty tins.

Before I give the details, I need to explain why a specific cleaner is needed. Why not just a jar of turpentine?

You need to be aware that turpentine only suspends the paint, which then settles down into the bottom on your container. All you are doing after the first clean or two, is stirring up sediment and forcing it up into the brush ferules.

So take a standard food preserving tin; make sure that the lid has been removed without sharp edges. Now take a smaller size tin, Like a baby food tin and place it bottom up onto a desk. Now, take screwdriver, with a medium width end, and with a hammer, gently force slots into the base of the tin. Don’t hit too hard, we only want slots and not holes. Not too close together or you will lose structural strength, but enough to cover as much of the bottom of the tin as you can. The shape edges should be inside the tin, and the smooth slots on the out side.

Now place the small tin bottom up inside the bigger tin the smaller tin should fill about a half of the height of the larger tin.

Fill the larger tin with turpentine, until the smaller is only just covered. You will now be able to clean your brushes on the bottom of the small tin, and paint will drop through the slots and gather in the bottom of the larger tin. If you let it settle, you can pour off the turps and clean out the big tin every now and again.

Next month we will look at caring for you brushes. I trust this is a help to you


Get Set up Properly

Ron GribbleIf you cannot keep your work place clean and tidy, you will never paint a clean and correct painting.

In the next four months, I want to give you tips on how I keep from painting " Mud" coloured paintings. The secret is in getting organised and disciplined. So often in my workshop, I see people who get paint literally everywhere. So we will cover:

  • Pallets
  • Brush Cleaners
  • Care of Brushes
  • Colour Mixing – More colours, means mud.

In the studio I use a piece of glass. It cleans very easily, as the paint does not soak into it. If I am tinting my board a darker colour, I can slide a sheet of paper, tinted the same colour under the glass. This allows me to mix against the colour on my canvas.

The piles of raw colours around the edges (use the edges further away from you) will dry much slower on the glass. Use a large piece mine is about 1500mm x 400mm. Make sure there are no sharp edges, and use a painting trowel, with a bent neck, to mix your colours. Never mix with a brush this forces the raw colour up into the ferrule of the brush and you lose control of the colour very quickly.

Stop and clean up regularly, brushes and pallet.

Next month: We will learn about brush cleaners.

Happy Painting

Tint An Alternative Colour

Ron GribbleLast month I suggested that you try tinting your boards. A warm mid tone colour. This eliminates the need to cover the stark white when painting in oils. I use a mixture of titanium white and burnt sienna.

This month I want to suggest an alternative colour. Try a darker blue/purple. If you have a close look at the picture of Lake Wanaka, you can see that the background was painted in a pink colour and the other with a mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna and crimson. Lots of this colour appears all over the painting very deliberately. Not only does this technique eliminate the problem of covering the white board, but it also helps to bind the whole paint together into a common "Atmosphere".

If you try to mix the back ground colour in acrylic and let it thoroughly dry, then re-mix it in oil colour. Use this colour as your atmospheric colour. Tint every colour that you mix for that painting. The whole painting will have a distinct tint towards that original colour.

Now try a different colour! A hot colour or a cold colour! I have had the best results when I have chosen my subjects well. (i.e.: A hot colour for a sunset, a cold colour for a cold scene). Also keep colour on the dark side. A strong colour is fun. If you look closely at the Wanaka painting, you will see what I mean.

Good Painting
Ron Gribble

Try Tinting Your Canvas Before You Start to Paint

Ron GribbleUse an artist quality acrylic. You can try several options. The most versatile option is to choose a warm mid tone colour e.g. Try White: 80% Burnt Sienna (Umber) 20%

We will try other options later. Let it dry thoroughly before you paint your oil colour over the top.

Why tint your boards?
Because the stark white will need to be covered in the finished painting. It is stark, lifeless and demands attention if left showing.

Why a warm mid tone?
Every subject that we paint is affected by light. Light is warm. The mid-tone does not leap off the canvas as white does. So if you allow some of the original underpainting to show through thin layers of paint or just simply leave area’s unpainted, it doesn’t matter. It looks like warm light. In creating the illusion of the painting I want to eliminate as many problems as I can as early as I can. This allows me to render the subject in the loose "painterly" style that I desire.

Try it for yourself.

Ron Gribble

About Ron Gribble

Ron Gribble(born in TeKuiti, 1949) turned professional artist in 1980. He is now an established Oil, Acrylic and Water Colourist, with many national awards. Since 1991, Ron has stopped entering art competitions to concentrate more on teaching. He authored an instructional demonstration video, 'Painting in Oils' which now sells in Australia, N.Z., Britain and Ireland. He is a sought after tutor, demonstrator & judge. Ron's work has been commercially reproduced in the form of limited edition prints, calendars, coasters, placemats and postcards. Ron lives in Mt Roskill, with his wife Sharon and two daughters. His commercial art background has given him skills in sign writing, cartooning and drawing. As a result of many successful exhibitions, Ron's work now hangs in Australia, U.K., U.S.A., Japan and Canada. AWARDS: N.Z. Easter Show Art Awards; 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982. Tauranga National Art Award 1983; Waikato Trustbank Art Award 1989, 1990, 1991.


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