Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Quick Brushwork Tip for Artists and Two Great Books to Read

The images in the post are works by the artist Harold Speed (1872 -1957).  I've referenced him before in my post titled The Optical and Conceptual: Components of Perception.  You can read that post by clicking "here."

Study for figure of Boreas by Harold Speed

Much of the time while I am painting, brushstrokes are constantly cutting across one another. Yesterday while I was painting I recalled a statement by Harold Speed from his book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials.  In the passage I was recalling he was describing “painting such details as the under eyelid…” And made the point that “Generally speaking, remember that you can only attend to one edge of the touch that you are making.  If you try and paint a touch that needs variety on both its edges, and you try and get the variety on both sides at the same time, you will fail to get either right. ” In essence when we place a stroke of paint we can only focus on the exactness (drawing and placement) of one of its edges at a time. To get the other edge to be exactly as we wish we can then recut into it with the next stroke of paint.  This is such a simple and obvious thought and yet it can be tremendously helpful at times.

Frank Pomeroy, 1898 by Harold Speed

Within the classically-based art circles I’ve been most associated with, Harold Speed’s two books, The Practice and Science of Drawing and Oil Painting Techniques and Materials, are well-known and widely read. If you are a representational artist and you’re not familiar with his books I would highly recommend them. The Practice and Science of Drawing can be read online for free here:

or here:

Even though I don’t necessarily paint in the exact manner prescribed by Harold Speed, I find his books are full of insightful material—every time I go back to them I seem to pick out some new bit of information. If you’ve got any useful insights or tips you’ve gained from reading either one of his books I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!


  1. Do you have a link to Harold Speed's Oil Painting Techniques and Materials? Thanks, Doug.

  2. I use to search and store out-of-print artist resources, and find the saving of favorites to my library an efficient means of storing a virtual library. Here is a link to the Speed book on drawing: