Michael John Angel 2019 Rosemary Brushes Workshop

I’ve been fairly quiet on here since my origin/destination excercises, reason being I was initially away on a family holiday for a week in the beautiful English lake district, near a place called Borrowdale where in around the 1500’s the very first graphite was discovered and mined. Following this the pencil industry began in nearby Keswick and there’s even a Pencil Museum and an optical illusions museum there, for all your art history and forced perspective needs.

The week after, I had the unlikely and unique chance of being able to attend a workshop hosted at Rosemary & Co - The Finest Quality Handmade Artists’ Brushes, in Yorkshire with Michael John Angel. I’ve not been to a workshop before and it was an incredible experience for various reasons. The focus was choosing a Vermeer and copying it. So, under instruction from the Maestro and with many demonstrations and anecdotes from him I painted a copy of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. The procedure:-

i. the underdrawing (we traced a cartoon the Maestro had prepared)
ii. the monochrome underpainting (grisaille)
iii. the big local-colour lay-in (dead-colouring)
iv. 1st-painting
v. 2nd-painting
vi. toning, glazing, scumbling.

We had 5 days (and hoped to finish each stage for it to dry for the following day) - so a little panic, a lot of quick learning and lots of liquin! By the end of day 5 I was able to get the first glaze onto the face, with the blue cap and brown cloak remaining at the second painting stage, so I still need more time to finish it off. But I’m pretty pleased with it so far, having had very limited experience painting in my whole life (I’ve so far only attempted under a handful of small paintings). Here’s what it looked like on the final day:-

I soaked up an incredible amount of information, help and hints, a fraction of which I wrote down in a notebook. So out of interest, here are a few of those notes, claims and tips for your perusal and discussion, and a picture of the maestro doing his rounds:-

Most modern gesso (and pre-gessoed canvas) is pretty much just white acrylic paint, golden gesso appears to be one of the only brands making anything like real gesso - and as such it has better absorbancy for oil paint.

So - I need to try this brand and see if I notice any difference.

Using chalk for underdrawing (orange chalk in my case) leaves far lighter marks which will disappear into the paint far better than charcoal.

Totally agree, this worked a treat.

Don’t add turps/mineral spirits to black, even mix in a medium it is more likely to make blacks sink in, you can use 50/50 linseed and liquin to help it flow. this also goes to a lesser extent for umbers.

This was demonstrated over a couple of days and proven to be true.

Maestro’s medium of choice is generally 2 liquin, 1 linseed, 2-3 mineral spirits. Always shake liquin bottle and any medium it is mixed in before use as it is an emulsion and will start to separate. Medium also has a tendency to make paint look lighter, but it will darken as it dries.

I went along with everything here and it worked well.

If you’re painting light colours, try and paint very opaquely as they are more likely to become transparent over time and show anything underneath.

Time will tell, but it makes sense and is worth being aware of.

Each day MJA would demo some techniques or principles as and when we needed it to get us to the next stage of the painting. He also showed us some in progress paintings of Bouguereau and Gerome which he had prepared in advance of a subsequent workshop, each containing several stages of completion for an overview of differing styles and discussing the advantages of each. There was a wealth of knowledge and experience on show and it was very impressive to witness at such close quarters.

If anyone has any thoughts or any questions I’m happy to let you know more about things. I might add to this post as and when cool stuff occurs to me.

I’m still buzzing from the experience and my mind is full of ideas and inspiration,
so now I’m back to the grind and my creative time is heavily restricted once more, I can charge onward to the late night shape replication excercises. I’ll be a good artist if it takes me forever.


Wow! Sounds like a wonderful experience Martin. I am so glad that you had the chance to take a workshop with Mr. Angel. I have admired his both his work and his commitment to teaching for years.

I would also like to thank you for sharing your experience here and some of the invaluable takeaways from the it. I know others here will greatly appreciate it as well!


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Honestly Anthony, I can’t say enough good things about the whole thing. You’d have a lot of common ground with MJA:- as well as being dedicated to furthering artistic educational excellence, you also share a methodical and practical approach combined with the humanity, passion and skill required of true artistry. He’s also delightfully quick to dismiss anything that appears on his BS radar :slight_smile:

Some more stories from the workshop:-

As a segue from the Vermeer studies MJA did a demo one evening of how he would generally approach a portrait from a photo. He made some rough marks on the canvas indicating where he’d like the top and bottom to be, then to all our amazement, reached for his ruler, measured the height and width of the reference, did some quick mental arithmetic to convert this into a ratio and applying this to his previously chosen height marks worked out exactly the right width to mark on the canvas. Then step by step, a “give it your best guess” very faint vertical centre line for the features, brow line, base of nose, etc. explaining his every mark and decision, he laid in the big shapes, he’s all about designing the areas, S curve here, C curve there, but at this stage keeping very vague and with fat blurry brush strokes before closing in on anything more detailed, even showing us what he would do if he’d made a mistake, how to make a judgment call on whether to move an eye higher or lower a forehead for example, and in around 20 minutes he had a clear and excellent notan and likeness which could have then been taken to a finished portrait. Rosemary & Co looked to be having this whole event filmed (by a pro crew) so I hope this video clip appears at some point.

Here’s the finished sketch, with a bunch of folk touching it as if to absorb some of his power (not really, we were interested to find out how fine a weave canvas he was using, from memory it was a bit like 320 grit sandpaper).

He used raw umber for this, and went with Rosemary Ivory series brushes for pretty much everything, mainly filberts and rounds. They are an excellent brush, somewhat stiff with a good spring; and he wasn’t averse to really scrubbing the paint into the canvas with them, but then he could also achieve incredibly soft stroke free finishes on the most sensitive glazed layers with the same brushes, which is really impressive. It just highlights the merit of having very precise pressure control, and this is from someone with limited sensitivity in his fingers from a degree of lead poisoning (from making lead white in his younger days) he wont touch the stuff nowadays decreeing it the worst white ever!

And here’s his Bouguereau example I mentioned earlier:-

So he’s pointing out the very roughly painted foot of the first layer “don’t be precious about it, go over the lines!” (as it makes the whole painting blend in subsequent layers and prevents any sort of “cut-out” effect or overt contrast in less important areas). You can see his cartoon of the girl at the bottom left in raw umber, outlines reinforced with a mid-tone. Then more finished and refined legs demonstrating later stages of the painting. He’ll take this whole thing to a finish in the following workshop so people can see the whole step by step process unfold.


I got a shot of the cartoon the Maestro had prepared, you might find it interesting as to which lines and marks he found necessary and which he left out, like the ear for example! And how rough it is, there’s no chance of getting caught up in the details too early here.

Here’s the Gerome demo he had prepared for the following course, he’s pointing out the specific area he’d taken to a later stage of form modelling.


Very interesting stuff Martin. On the subject of use of mediums, it has never occurred to me to use them for any reason. Anthony has said on other occasions, that it’s best to use them sparingly, I think, if at all. Why would you say you need a medium?

Also if you have time, could you elaborate on how points of the process iii, iv, v and vi are different?


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As a disclaimer which all should take note of, I am very new to this, so this is just my accumulated knowledge so far, from having only really seen MJA’s method for this particular style of painting there’s no way I would generalise and say this is how it’s done. But he’s pretty good right, so as best as I know so far here’s my take on this particular method:-

There are a few reasons I would use mediums, one of the main reasons I found is that with certain paints (old holland for one have quite thick, high pigment load umbers) getting the paint to flow sufficiently off the brush (particularly for longer, more painterly strokes) using a medium is going to help a lot. (for umbers and blacks you would go 50/50 linseed/liquin - as mineral spirits = sinking in) I would also stress that MJA would agree with you that you want to use as little medium as possible, dip the brush, wipe it off, just so there’s enough to enhance the actual paint flow. He was repeatedly reminding us how bad for a painting too much oil was.

Each step of the process was essentially a building up of refinement layers. so the dead colouring you would focus on the big shapes and local colours, barely blending edges together. this could come together pretty quick and give a good impression of the picture in context. setting you up for an easier job next stage.

1st painting would be a more controlled effort to get value (MJA places huge importance on value) and chroma correct, with attention to push towards a good finish.

2nd painting - you’re pushing for a decent level of finish here, watching edges and turning form, and it’s easier because the previous layer is there to fall back on for placement and keep the overall scheme coherent.

toning/glazing/scumbling, so this is obviously the cherry on top bit, so you can add the finer details, make tweaks to anything that needs your attention.

I know that it did seem to a point like I was just painting the same painting over the top of itself, again and again. Like why wouldn’t you just start with the top layer, right?!

But there were reasons for that, Vermeer for one would leave a whisker of the previous layer visible around the edge of a portrait when ever he added a new layer - this creates what Harold Speed referred to as “dither” where there’s a very hazy, double or more blurred edge around an object, which unless you’re up real close gives an edge effect quite distinct from blending or other softening techniques, MJA compared this to how your brain interprets input from both eyes at once, (you are smooshing two images with slightly different perspective together) so he hypothesised that this could hint at that same effect, giving extra power to the illusion of a 3d object existing on a 2d canvas which is what painters at that time were really pushing toward.

There are also instances where you’ll want a highly finished focus (on the eyes for example) but you could essentially leave the shadows or more bare areas in the first painting, or even dead colouring stage if they give the desired effect.


Thanks a lot Martin. Interestingly, in Margaret Livingstone’s book Vision and Art, she says that impressionistic works might look more 3D for reasons akin to what you are saying about ‘dithering’.


here’s another use for medium, this is a direct quote from MJA in an email he sent me:-

if one has made a technical mistake (with umbers, for example), they will dry lighter and greyer than when you painted them. This is known as sinking-in and can be rectified by “oiling-in.” To do this, one spreads a small amount of medium over the sunken areas, using a make-up sponge. One waits a few moments for the sunken-in areas to absorb the medium, then one wipes off the excess with a clean sponge (or a clean part of the same sponge). This refreshes the area and brings it back to its true colour.

One could use a brush to apply the medium, or a simple kitchen sponge, but a make-up sponge is best. It applies enough, but not too much. It’s important in an oil painting to minimise the amount of oil that’s in it. It is an excess of oil that causes the painting to darken and yellow after a few months.

This same “oiling out” technique was also used to prepare an area about to be glazed over, ensuring the paint would flow evenly into the thin trace of medium left coating that section of canvas. This wasn’t always done though, we even drybrushed a glaze on with black at one point.


Thanks for that. I still haven’t ever oiled out, but I’m probably not quite at the level to notice or appreciate phenomena such as sinking.

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I found some photos I took to illustrate various stages of the process, these are Maestro’s demo’s from each morning, he spent between 10-20 minutes on each (in between anecdotes), which is seriously impressive considering it would take us a whole day to apply these instructions to our own master copies:-

so this is the grisaille that MJA prepared, he showed us to use a value scale to make sure we were getting the right darks and lights at this stage, it was critical to get right at this point for the final result to work out okay using this technique.

this is after the first layer, massing the colours in and roughly blending the patches of colour together at the edges. MJA was deliberately careless with the edges here to encourage us not to worry too much about the details at this point, they would be painted over later, mainly the value and base colour was considered.

here MJA has begun the first painting stage - paying more attention to chroma (using a viewfinder/colour checker against our reference photo) blending more carefully and attending to form and edges.

I didn’t get any photos of this demo painting any further into it’s development unfortunately, but at least from these you get more an idea of how each stage differed and was built upon the work of the previous session.


Thanks for posting. Very impressive!

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I finally got unpacked from the workshop and put the finishing touches on my version last night. There are a hundred things I learned along the way that I would do differently next time, but I’m still very proud of it :slight_smile:

This is at the point I called it a night, paint still wet so I had to take the photo from a slight angle for the glare. You can see the reference photo I was using for comparison (MJA gave these photos he’d taken himself to us, there was a specific version of the painting he wanted us to use as it has had the glazes stripped off it in a botched “cleaning” job in recent history).

Took this photo this morning, daylight, no glare, straight on angle.


Martin was the color checker he used similar to the Carder one?

Good question.

“I know that it did seem to a point like I was just painting the same painting over the top of itself, again and again. Like why wouldn’t you just start with the top layer, right?!”

I know you answered this to one degree or another later in your post but using words that are not mine

" Paint on top of other paint is beautiful." One of those two incredibly talented painters, with names too confusing to spell out here, over at suggested donation said this. Perhaps referring to subsurface scattering or as Aviano would call it transmitted light. Or maybe the beauty that comes from passages at varying levels of finish forming a gestalt of high finish but the variety of surfaces adds to a greater effect of some sort. Who knows? Is it gibberish? I don’t know, but I do know this. “Paint on top of other paint is beautiful.”


I move between natural pigments traditional gesso (and a sealant usually shellac) and Goldens gesso. Honestly, sometimes if I don’t have the funds I’ll just use what’s on hand including acrylic gesso or just paper with polyurethane or shellac, but its not my favorite. I’m sure that is some sort of irrational bias with out any fundamental basis. Still, it exists and Im too old and grumpy to change. Once a layer of paint is on the surface and dry, it doesn’t make a difference. If using a hard surface I really really love the Sandable Hard Gesso by Golden. It really is fantastic. You can go super smooth if you want or anything in-between and honestly I like the way it handles those initial layers of paint. When outside, plain air painting or a figure study with limited time, it absorbs and drys quickly enough that it aids in the application of secondary and tertiary layers. It’s just so much fun.


I just looked up the Carder one, nope nothing like it, far more utilitarian and less over-engineered :slight_smile: So MJA had me cut some small square holes (1cm or thereabouts) in some decent paper (so it doesn’t bend too easy) and here’s how we were shown to do it:-

We’d mix up a swatch of our best guess at a colour for a specific area and put this on another strip of paper (I’m using a scrap of paper and a rough drop of blue for this example photo but you would use a longer, better bit of paper for creating more swatches and decent smudge of opaque paint to match against). We then compare this directly against the reference and can judge the absolute colour independent of context thanks to the white border it provides.

This clever piece of paper was also used first as a value checker in the exact same manner as above, but with a value strip along side rather than a swatch, it was initially tricky but very good training to try to deduce only value while completely ignoring the chroma in a photo.

As an additional note, MJA likes to use a white palette (disposable or paper plate these days “I’m too old to waste time cleaning palettes” - MJA) particularly when doing a grisaille, as this gives him a similarity of context to the white of the canvas. He did warn us that the white border of the colour checker or on his palette will make the paints appear darker than they are. (The reverse if using a black paper or palette, and grey has other misleading optical effects towards warm/cool, so sticking with white and being aware of the darkening effect is best).

And here’s how one might use it checking the value or colour on a none photographic reference or live model:-

Position it just off the edge of the painting surface. It is important to keep it parallel to the picture plane so it receives the same light as your canvas will (this also goes for a photo reference - which should be alongside your canvas in the same orientation too). Forgive the fact I wasn’t holding up a flesh coloured swatch along the side of the aperture, I had to take this photo at the same time.

That’s not all either, MJA actually had us make two of these so we could hold one up on our painting and one on the same spot on our reference and quickly A/B them with swift glances between the two. I hope I haven’t forgotten anything vital or got any of this wrong, it’s remembered to the best of my ability, the Maestro was such an oracle of experience and cunning tricks its almost inevitable I missed the odd gem along the way.

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You’re quite correct about the paint on top of paint observations, and that’s a good quote. I think there are a number of factors to this which warrant exploration/explanation probably opening a can of worms here, but my mind is on the chase.

  1. Oil paint becomes more transparent over time. This is why pentimenti are now visible in a number of old master works today. This would serve as a good reason to take care with the underpainting.

  2. It seemed because I was painting fairly opaquely that the underpainting probably didn’t matter so much, but then if the underpainting was good - you wouldn’t need to correct so much with opaque paint and let the good passages of the first layer hold their own.

  3. Layering of glazes and scumbles will have an effect where, even if only at the microscopic level, there are holes through to the previous coat of paint, which if themselves are transparent will continue to earlier layers and obfuscate matters further. Not even getting into glazing red over blue to optically mix purple.

  4. Is this why people paint on mirrors, to get maximum passage of light an glow bouncing through the paint layers, what’s next painting on LED lights or TV screens. Although any of these must be terrible surfaces for paint film to adhere to.

Thanks for your suggestions on the gesso, I definitely need to get some Golden stuff when I next get the opportunity and try it out.

MJA’s main qualifier for gesso appeared to be that the canvas had to be absorbent enough, but also smooth enough. Modern acrylic gesso’s are often like painting on plastic and you can get issues in your paint application from that, especially for an amateur like me - for instance it would make it easier to overwork the paint to the point where you’re pulling paint off the canvas because it will soon start to get tacky and stick to your brush more than the smooth non-porous surface.

I mean I haven’t had nearly enough experience with painting, let alone using different surfaces and gesso’s, but the Maestro did appraise the canvases that everyone had brought with them and while they were all usable, not one met his standards of preparation. As an extra tidbit he didn’t recommend using an oil based ground due to a common over-absorbancy of this and the associated sinking in and extra layers of paint it could require. As well as the time it takes to prepare and dry in the first place.


Interesting discussion and I like the inclusion of info. Very thought provoking. Thank you!

Thanks Martin, a great thread of information here!