Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chinese vase still life - new video

 Miniature Chinese vase still life in oil by Andy Dolphin
Miniature Chinese vase
21x25cm oil on board. 
 © Andy Dolphin

I uploaded a new video last night giving a glimpse of the process I followed when painting my Miniature Chinese Vase still life.

As always, it's best if you go to Youtube to see the video in higher resolution.

Let me know what you think. If I get enough feedback, I'll look at uploading videos more often, so if you like it, share it widely via your favourite social media.


I've been doing quite a bit of op-shopping since shifting my focus to still life paintings. I now have a small but interesting collection of ornaments including cups, vases and candlesticks. Patience and persistence are key when looking for gems at thrift shops. Many visits result in no purchases at all but every once in a while there will be something that just begs to be purchased.

I popped into a local op-shop a couple of days ago and spotted a brass jug standing among the wood and metal bric-a-brac. I loved the shape and since I'm particularly interested in including brass objects in still life paintings, I had to have it.

Apparently these wide-mouthed pitchers are called ewers. This one, I believe, was made in India. It's solid brass, stands around 20cm tall and weighs over half a kilogram. Online values for seemingly identical ewers range from around $15 to over $90. I think the lower price is more reflective of the true value.

Brass is often lacquered to prevent tarnishing but the lacquer coating eventually breaks down in some areas, leaving a combination of shiny and tarnished metal. In this case, all vertical and upward-facing surfaces were completely tarnished while all downward-facing surfaces were still quite bright. Although this is fairly typical, I didn't really want to use it like this in paintings, so I decided to clean it up a bit.

Here's the before and after pics...

tarnished unpolished brass Indian ewer pitcher jug
polished brass Indian ewer pitcher jug

I removed the lacquer with lacquer thinners (this is definitely an outdoor job), then used car polish and elbow grease to bring the brass to an overall level of brightness. If this were a display piece, I would polish it further to remove remaining spots of heavy tarnish, then apply a coat of wax to deliver a mirror-like shine and a level of protection. But I don't want it to be too reflective so I'll actually leave it to tarnish a bit then hit it with a light coat of either lacquer or wax.

Keep an eye out for it in future paintings.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Woolorama wins!

I enjoyed great success at Wagin Woolorama this year, winning three prizes.

My studio painting Bantam Rooster took out first prize in the oil and acrylic category while my plein air painting Narpyn Cottage, winter morning was awarded second prize in the same category.

Bantam Rooster
30x40cm oil on board. 
 © Andy Dolphin

Narpyn Cottage, winter morning.
Plein air. 38x35cm oil on board.
© Andy Dolphin

Bantam Rooster also won the Agricultural Award. This means it will now have to travel to the Perth Royal Show in September to be exhibited and judged with all other Agricultural Award winners from around the state.

Here I am with Woolorama Art Award coordinator Natala King...

Andy Dolphin, Natala King, Wagin Woolorama

The major award went to Perth artist Casss Gartner for her watercolour painting An Early Morning Walk.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Miniature Chinese vase still life

I painted this little still life a couple of days ago.

 Miniature Chinese vase still life in oil by Andy Dolphin
Miniature Chinese vase
21x25cm oil on board. 
 © Andy Dolphin

The miniature Chinese-style vase was purchased two weeks ago at a local op-shop (thrift shop) and stands around 8cm tall. The flowers are synthetic and were picked up at a garage sale for two dollars.

I used a new full-spectrum, 6400K compact fluorescent bulb to light the set-up on this one. Full spectrum lamps give a much cooler, true-white light compared to other globes. It took a bit of searching to find a bulb but the local lighting shop tracked one down for me for $9, which is much cheaper than I'd seen quoted elsewhere for similar bulbs.

I used the same lamp to add extra light in the studio while photographing the painting and am very pleased with the result. I did hardly any adjusting in Photoshop at all this time. I'm going to look for a couple of lamp stands and get some more bulbs to make that process even better.

I did shoot some video of progress on this one. Hopefully it will be good enough to edit together and put on Youtube.


I completely forgot to mention that this weekend (Friday 7th & Saturday 8th March) is Wagin Woolorama weekend. I took out first prize last year and have entered three paintings again this year.

Fingers crossed.

If you are in the region on Saturday, or feel like a day out (it's about two and a half hours from Perth), I might see you there. Just follow the map to Wagin then follow everyone else when you get there.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blue vase - still life in oil

Over the last few weeks, I've been visiting op-shops and garage sales and picking up interesting odds and ends for use in still life paintings.

This blue vase was one of the things I collected. It is a very dark, yet intense blue with a gold and silver foil pattern on one side. The small cream-coloured ceramic pot is one I picked up at an op-shop years ago. The flowers are synthetic, but if you don't tell anyone, then I won't mention it either.

Blue vase
25x30cm oil on board. 
 © Andy Dolphin

I almost never do still life paintings but I want 2014 to be the year where that changes. This painting is the first step in that journey. I started it at 8pm yesterday when the mood suddenly hit, and I was done by 10pm, with a short break half-way through. I had already set it up the day before.

I don't consider it finished but I'm happy with the overall feeling of it as a "proof of concept".

The palette is quite limited: ultramarine, permanent crimson, cad-yellow light, yellow ochre and burnt sienna.

The lighting for this was supplied by an old domestic compact fluorescent globe but I got a new full-spectrum compact fluoro yesterday that I hope to use in future.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

400-Day Clock Digital Still Life

I was playing around this afternoon trying to assemble an interesting still life setup using one of our recently-acquired dome clocks.

I don't have a lot of useful ornaments or bric-a-brac to populate a still life, and February is a dreadful time to go looking for colour around the garden, but I did find a petunia that was still holding onto some flowers. Using the still-life stand I built last month, I added a few small vases and even some lemons and got to work arranging.

I spent hours trying different arrangements and lighting, taking photos as I went. With no time left to start an oil painting, I did this digital painting of a close-up of the clock pendulum.

Schatz 400 day anniversary dome clock pendulum - digital still life painting
400-day dome clock pendulum
© 2014, Andy Dolphin

Friday, January 31, 2014

As an aside...

For years my wife, Janet, expressed her interest in "dome clocks". We looked around from time to time but never saw any for sale in the places where we expected to find them.

Then, a few months ago, I saw one at the local auction house. It was a genuine wind-up clock - though it was without a key. I had no idea if it would work or not, and I knew nothing about these clocks, but I got it cheap. At the very least it would make a nice ornament and I even foresaw the possibility of including it in a still life painting at some point.

kern MIV 400 day anniversary dome clock
Kern MIV Anniversary Clock
circa 1962

Once home, I set it up on the bookcase and tried to get it to work – without success. And so began my education in "400-day" or "Anniversary Clocks" (as it turns out they are officially called, because they only need winding once a year, in theory) and my fascination with these time-keeping devices was born.

To cut a potentially long story short, the clock started working after a month or so, with just a little perseverance on our part. It's been running mesmerisingly non-stop now for two months. This, apparently, is something of a victory as these clocks are renowned for being exceptionally difficult to work with, to the point where many experienced clock repairers simply refuse to have anything to do with them. As a result, they are often found for next-to-nothing in thrift shops and flea markets.

Shortly after buying this clock, I had discovered the location of another unwanted, unworking anniversary clock so I approached the owner and he gave it to me. A few parts were detached, but present, and the clock hadn't run for a long time. It was clear someone had tried and failed to fix it.

I worked methodically through the steps I had learnt to date. I assembled the detached parts and got the clock turning as it should, albeit for a very short time. Ultimately I had to dismantle part of the clock, make some adjustments and reassemble – then it started to work. A few days later I decided to give it a bit of a shine.

Schatz 53 400 Day Anniversary Dome Clock
 Schatz 53 Anniversary Clock
November, 1954

It's early days for the second clock (life was not meant to be this easy when dealing with these devices and I know it has some deep-seated issues we'll need to work through at some point) but we now have two "functioning" 400-day clocks.

They are marvels of finely-balanced engineering and works of art, in a rather "steampunk" sort of way.

Now I want more of them. I have the urge to completely dismantle, service and rebuild anniversary clocks – for fun.

I'm not usually mechanically inclined but something about these clocks appeals to my inner-geek. I have a need to learn everything there is to learn about what makes these things tick, if you'll pardon the obvious pun, but the two clocks we have are behaving too well to risk upsetting them.

I also have the inclination to include several of them in a still life setup, so this article really is about painting after all.

If you happen to know where there are some of these unwanted treasures, whether in an attic or a secondhand shop, preferably within "easy" reach of southern Western Australia, Yanchep to Augusta to Bremer Bay , please drop me a line at

Thanks for listening, now back to normal programming.