All posts by John Fisher

A long retired graphic artist and writer who no longer works professionally but teaches occasionally.

Oil paintings

Although watercolour has always been my first love even in my art school days of long ago, I do the occasional oil painting and some pen and ink work. My mentor in all things oil is my son David who is one of Ontario’s best realism oil painters. I’ve gathered together all my alkyd oil paintings in chronological order.

“Wine & Cheese”Wine & Cheese_edited-1

My very first effort was this 8″ x 10″, based on a photograph taken by David. It was to be a long learning curve for me as in watercolour I paint from light to dark, and I had a tendency to “paint myself into a corner ” and forgetting that oil paints take up to six hours to dry. Even with this first effort, I began to love the vibrancy of oil colours and I determined I would try some more.

“The Snack”The snack_edited-1

This 11″ x 14″ was based on an earlier watercolour I’d done as an in-class exercise for one of my watercolour teaching sessions, but without the classic water-colour matt and frame it didn’t quite come off for me, but it was a learning experience.

“Salt & Pepper”Salt & Pepper_edited-1

Another 11″ x 14″ gave me experience with painting metal and glass, and I enjoyed this project as I have done many watercolours using similar objects. Image credit to Lillian Bell of PMP.

“Blue Ridge Mountain Steam”Smoky Mountains_edited-1

I decided to get ambitious and tried this 16″ x 20″ landscape. Weeks would often pass before I would able to get back to oils so I lacked continuous practice. This got a bit gaudy but I was learning how difficult larger oils can be. Image credit Jane Best of PMP.

“Preserving Summer”Preserving Summer_edited-1

By now I was planning a kitchen series, and this one gave me more experience in painting metal and glass. Once again the vibrancy of colour pleased me. Image credit Lillian Bell of PMP.

“Orange Juice”Orange juice_edited-1

My kitchen series was coming along with this 11″ x 14″.

Image credit Lililan Bell of PMP

“Cherries in Pewter”Cherries in Pewter_edited-1

Another 11″ x 14″ in my kitchen series. I was becoming more comfortable with oils and learned to wait overnight for my layers to dry.  Image credit Lillian Bell of PMP.

“Breakfast Reflections”Breakfast Refelections_edited-2

This 11″ x 14″ was tricky as I had to go back in so many times to put in highlights and modify errors of judgement about subtle colours. I’m a slow painter so these projects soak up many hours, but I find them enjoyable.  Image credit Lillian Bell of PMP.

A bowl of lemons

This project very nearly failed to get off the ground as I made so many mistakes and wrong judgements as I began this class exercise that I thought I’d have to start again. It’s not written in stone that every project go smoothly and even the most experienced watercolour painters occasionally come a cropper. I started this step-by-step demo when I got to the point of no return. I needed to slow down and stop “painting ahead of my brain” as my old mentor, Robert Long, used to say. I had been applying my shadows as clear 15Lemonswash and “losing” the edges before realizing that wouldn’t work. A lot of things weren’t working and I had to regroup and begin thinking before I painted. Photo image by Lillian Bell of Paint My Photo (PMP)

To see a step-by-step of how this watercolour was done, click here.



It’s been some time since I did a really detailed and complex watercolour, so I set up this still-life in the afternoon sunlight of my studio.These tulips in a complex glass vase just appealed to me although a passing thought was this might make a better alkyd oil painting, but I’m not sure my skills in that area were ready for such a challenge. Anyway, here it is. Image size 14″ x 17″ on 300 lb. Arches cold pressed paper, using W&N Artist Quality colours.

For a step-by-step demo on how this was done click here.


Realism versus abstract

Realism versus abstract

An age-old debate rose to the surface in one of my art classes recently, and it revolved around a basic disagreement on the role of realism as opposed to abstract or impressionist style. This discussion had been going on for decades and both sides hold strong opinions, but in the end art is about personal choice. I teach realism but have a healthy respect for other forms of artistic expression. I embrace the technological age and own an iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop computers. In my classes we often hook up the laptop to our flat screen television to view the step-by-step watercolours I have posted on my Flickr page here and we use digital technology as an aid in every step of our projects.

Our in-class controversy arose over the use of YouTube instructional videos demonstrating the use of Cling Wrap, waxed paper, bubble pack, salt and a variety of flashy gimmicks that seemed to promise instant results with the minimum of effort. In this age of instant gratification the tedious work of learning the basics is being eroded by such videos in my opinion. Our controversy resulted in a sharply divided class and two valued members dropped out. This was regrettable but probably inevitable. The teaching of realism in any medium involves patience, attention to detail, self-discipline, and a willingness to accept that learning is a cumulative experience. If the student leans towards a much looser style of painting the slowness of realism can prove irksome and demotivating.

Neither side is right or wrong. It’s a matter of personal choice and both sides have to agree to disagree. As a realist, I would argue that most people expect a work of art to resemble something they know, be it a still life with roses, a portrait, or a landscape. Within these boundaries there is room for personal interpretation, but YouTube gimmicks with Cling Wrap implies a loss of control over a project as the result is largely a matter of chance. Some would argue that is part of the charm of these techniques, and I can’t argue against that. It’s a matter of personal choice.

I will continue to produce, and teach, realism to students who are willing to learn the lesson of patience and the skills needed to turn out paintings that represent a high degree of realism. I wish other students well and hope they find teachers who can give them what they want.



Perspective 101

I haven’t given much thought to the actual theory of perspective in many years. As with most professional graphic artists I spent a lifetime following the rules learned eons ago in art school. Perspective sort of came naturally, and I was quite surprised to find many of my adult students knew nothing of a set of rules I has taken for granted.

We set about remedying this and the confusion was quite interesting. During the last four years of teaching adults watercolours I have often had to correct errors in perspective and show an example of vanishing points and horizon lines, but many of my students wanted to start at the beginning, and so we did.

We’re using an excellent little book called “Perspective” by William F. Powell (Walter Foster Publishing) 1989. I started them off with drawing a simple still life of white boxes and a cylinder, which proved to be difficult as we sit in a square and each student has a different viewpoint. To help out I photographed the set-up with my iPad from each student’s view-point and converted the image to black and white as we were using pencil only. I showed these on our large flat-screen TV so they could see the vanishing points I was describing.


The comments were interesting. Some students just couldn’t overcome their brain insisting a particular box was oblong and therefore had to stretch out just so. Once we established the vanishing point it became obvious the box had to be foreshortened. I had sneakily arranged the boxes to sit at different angles, thus complicating the task and the cylinder really took on a life of its own.

Working one-on-one we sorted out how to do this task and there were many good-humoured cries of anguish as erasers came out and mistakes were corrected. Our next session will include a still life set-up incorporating some of our learning material.

Part of my job as an art teacher is to teach my students how to “see”, as opposed to just looking. I posted this photograph for them as an example of “seeing” something that applied to what we had been learning. This laundry room counter was almost at my eye level, and I was struck by the way the lines all went to invisible vanishing points. The floor tiles in particular are a classic example of two-point perspective.

Laundry room


Pen and Ink

I recently took a six-week course in pen and ink by Ron Peter, found here, to brush up on my techniques and renew my pleasure at this very special medium.

Although watercolour has always been my first love since art school, I dabble in alkyd oils and pen and ink, but I had been away from pen and ink for some years and needed to get back to basics. I posted some of my stuff on the pen and ink section of Wet Canvas, and much to my surprise found it seemed to be an exclusively a male domain.

Ron Peter is a superb teacher and he took us through basic pen and ink techniques, composition, perspective, and the use of India ink wash. I was used to working in colour and it was quite a shock to discover how dramatically different the classic grey scale was when you removed the colour from your chosen subject. Suddenly you were left with blank white paper and the need to render texture, light and dark, distance and mood, with a variety of limited techniques.

Pen and ink illustrations have a long and respected tradition many years before the age of offset and rotogravure, but the digital age has reduced this delightful artistic form to a niche market. The patron saint of pen and ink appears to be Franklin Booth  whose style and approach reminds me of Normal Rockwell. 

Try pen and ink as I did. The upfront costs are quite minimal and you can be guaranteed many hours of creative pleasure.


This lovely old thatched cottage lends itself well to pen and ink techniques. Image size 7” x 10’’ on Arches 140 lb. hot press paper. I recommend hot pressed paper for smoother lines and better techniques. I move to 300 lb. hot pressed for larger projects.


This old barn door is from one of my watercolour paintings and shows some of the techniques of cross-hatching and dry brushing a larger graphic brush pen across the surface. Image size 5” x 7” on Arches 140 lb. hot pressed paper.

Rusting Truck-full

How to depict a rusting truck in pen and ink? I decided on the stippling technique. Image size 5” x 7” on Arches 140 lb. hot pressed paper.


This is a section of what is known as “Little Portugal” in Toronto, and is based on a photograph kindly supplied by Doug Danter. Pen and ink projects are best shown after scanning the art into a computer rather than photographing it, but my scanner wasn’t big enough for this 10” x 14” image on Arches 300 lb. hot pressed paper.