Technique and Equipment

Artist's oil paintPaul Cato uses only the finest quality materials for his work to maintain archival integrity. He insists on using premium quality oil paints for professional artists, made in the tradition of master craftsmen. His preferred brands are Rowney, from England, Lefranc & Bourgeois from France and Art Spectrum from Australia. The canvas he generally uses is a medium weight, 100% linen or 100% cotton canvas from the United States which is guaranteed acid-free and he prefers to stretch his own canvases.

Paul uses a combination of wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry in most of his paintings. He often works to cover the entire canvas with a "fairly comprehensive" base coat in one session but does not generally refer to this coat as an under-painting, as a lot of it could remain untouched in the finished product.

Working from top to bottom — or as Paul says, from distance to close-up — Paul begins with the sky then from the palest values of shadow in the distance to the dark shadows of the medium-foreground. Paul rarely uses anything bigger than a 1 inch wide (25mm) flat brush for applying oil paint so this is often a tedious process.

While the shadow values are still wet Paul works rapidly to paint in shadow-highlights and then full highlights of trees and rocks.

Any still water is usually painted at this next stage. Reflections of shadow tones will have been dragged down into the still-water areas. There's a need to work very quickly through this stage as the blends are critical and over-working usually causes problems. Once the shadow blends are complete then highlight reflections are painted in to complete the effect.

Approximate foreground shadow colors and any other major areas of foreground color can then be blocked in to cover the rest of the lower part of the canvas and then Paul allows himself to stop for a break. This procedure works with a canvas up to around 30" x 40" or so. For bigger canvases the work is sectioned so that the wet-on-wet technique can still be used in any number of sectors, one at a time.

Clouds are usually blocked in at the same time as the rest of the sky. Mist and lower clouds are blocked in and/or blended with the background shadow color. Shadows and highlights of cloud and mist are applied in the wet-on-wet phase and also later, either as a glaze or wet-on-dry — or often both.

About eight to twelve hours is generally enough time to begin the wet-on-dry application, while technically the layers are far from dry and effectively become as one. Now begins the work of painting in middle-distance foliage and working ever forward through the illusion of space with detailed trees, rocks, grasses etc. — all with appropriate shadows, half-light tones, highlights and more as required. If glazes are to be used then there must be sufficient drying time between coats and Paul uses the traditional 'fat over lean' system of using painting mediums.

A painting is never complete until Paul has left it awhile and come back to critique it. "I like to look at a painting as a prospective client would", he says. "I set the painting up under lights and step back. When I look at it I want to know if it 'grabs' me. I want to test the 'eye paths' I have designed into the composition. I have to be sure that the whole thing 'works' for me."

The typical range of brushes Paul uses in a painting are:

Paint brushes
  • One to three 1" Flat soft-haired brushes — usually Taklon fibre
  • One to three 3/4" Flat soft-haired brushes - as above
  • One or two 1/2" or 3/4" Flat bristle brushes
  • Two to four bristle filberts — sizes #3 to #7
  • One or two each of long-haired Taklon brushes — sizes #5/0, 00, 2, 4, 6

"I've done the whole Sable brush thing in my sign-painting days," says Paul. "Frankly, I am often working so far around the clock that I either forget, or am way too tired, to wash out my brushes. (Don't tell anyone!) I can use some horrible and harsh brush-cleaner on Taklon brushes in the morning if I have to — or just chuck them out if they're too bad. I couldn't possibly do that with my sables so I tend not to use them much!" Actually it is common for Paul to virtually wear out a bristle filbert in a single painting.