Dave West

On Monday, 25/03/2024, Dave West joined us at the Kilcoole Community Centre for a demonstration of plein-air painting. The event was planned to take place at the Cove in Greystones for a proper plein-air experience, however, the weather was just too bad for outdoor painting. Hence, the community centre accommodated all 20 of us very comfortably instead.

Dave gave us a short intro as to how he came to be a painter in Ireland, being originally from Wales. He had brought some oil paintings from his plein-air sessions and explained how these came about. They were truly mind-blowing. 2 Paintings in particular, both of mountain scenes, displayed how Dave uses light, shade and colour. One in dark, moody greys and browns whilst another, very similar mountain scene shows a bright blue/violet sky with uplifting and bright contrasting colours

With Irish roots and a keen interest in history, Dave also showed us works he created of old Irish houses (Drogheda looked fantastic) and a dilapidated shed, showing the beauty in mundane subjects.

The colours and lights and darks are just so good. You can see more of Dave’s work on his website (www.davewest.ie), but honestly, no website does justice to the true magic of his colours.

In terms of techniques, Dave uses canvas panels, primes them and underpaints with a rough coat of brown. He uses artist quality oil paints – currently his favourite brands are Michael Harding and Cranfield (a Welsh brand). Brushes all come from Rosemary & Co.

He tends to limit the number of colours in his paintings, using red, blue, yellow and white for most colour mixes, with dull versions of these for dull day paintings. Medium, mixed from linseed oil and spirits is used for thinning the paint if required and baby oil serves to clean brushes.

Dave demonstrated a quick tonal study and referenced how he loves the Hague School painters –  ‘the Gray School’, the magic of representation with very little colour. He generally recommends tonal studies and lots of small paintings as good practice, particularly since time is limited during plein-air sessions.

The real painting then began. It was broken down into roughly 5 stages, with small breaks in between stages to rest the eyes and brain.

He firstly drew the main lines with brush and mixed brown paint.  That was followed by identifying shadow shapes, again in brown. Then Dave looks for layers of depth. A landscape can often be divided into 3, 4 or 5 layers (foreground to background), which helps to divide the lighter and darker tones. Each layer then becomes an alla prima painting.

To help with identifying lights and darks, Dave recommends the Notanizer app (available on Google Play and the App Store). The app removes colours to various levels.

The shapes in the painting meanwhile are slowly tightening, light yellowish white was added to the lighter sides of the houses. Then the large boat was tackled, again identifying light and dark areas, adding shadows and light to bring shapes. Next up the mountain, the beautiful lines really only showing themselves once the sky was painted. It’s just magic to watch this show slowly unfold in front of you. What seemed an obscure shape, slowly formed into a beautiful mountain. (Little Sugarloaf)

Foreground also finished, details were added in the form of grasses, sand shapes and foam on the waves. Dave used brushes, but also a palette knife and the brush handle to scratch lines. Sometimes softening, sometimes sharpening lines. It’s just lovely to see such a competent artist working right in front of you, in total concentration, except for the spoken explanations in that charming Welsh accent.

Throughout, a huge amount of knowledge was shared with us, ways of looking at the subject, how to use colour, identifying and interpreting shapes, way too much to convey in a blog. But we all took away a lot of very useful information. And that’s aside from having a magical Monday morning.