Essex Art Club

Patron: Ken Howard, OBE, RA, RWS, RWA, ROI, RBA, Hon. NEAC.

President: John Tookey, PS.

Our Patron, Ken Howard


Ken Howard at our 2006 AGM

Photo by Tony Connor.



Santa Maria Formosa by Ken Howard.

Reproduced by kind permission of Ken Howard.



The Fishmarket, Venice by Ken Howard.

Reproduced by kind permission of Ken Howard.


Painting a Sensation

by Billie Figg

AGM time coming up. Sunday, March 4-

Brings back the treat we had last year when, unpacking a fortnight's worth of work he had brought home just the night before, our President Ken Howard told us he had painted the same scene from the same spot five or six times every day of his stay there!

Gosh, wasn't that going to be boring, some of us thought. But if same was the key word - the results were much too exciting to be samey. For what Ken's pictures were celebrating were the ever-changing wonders to be found in a single scene.

Looking through these 35 new canvases of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice,, what dawns on the viewer is that this artist doesn't simply paint the object he is facing so much as the atmosphere/weather/light values/ time and mood in which it is enveloped....and which - sometimes subtly, often dramatically and more or less constantly - change its nature. The result is a portrait of "a day."

"St Mark's was simply the vehicle," Ken agreed. "It could have been St. Paul's or the Guildhall. Recently it was The Salute in Venice viewed from the Grand Canal. The crucial factor for me was the day itself, which changed colour, character, mood - and in so doing changed everything I was looking at.

"When I was young I would spend hours trying to paint something that had already been changed several times while I worked. If you're concerned with architectural detail or topography that might be all right but if you're painting sensation it's not. So now, outdoors, I work no bigger than 24 x 18 in one wet because I realise I've got to work fast and get finished before conditions completely alter the feeling I am after."

With his haystacks and multiple views of Rouen Cathedral, Monet twigged the seduction of Series Painting over a century ago and Ken rues the fact that it has taken him until now to recognise its value for his own style. "Working on one scene for hours is not right for me which means that if I want to paint all day I need fresh canvases. Fortunately, with series painting, I don't need fresh subjects." Whatever he chooses is different with each canvas and, flamed up together in twos, threes or more, the images take the viewer through the series of sensations which reflect a day as it dawns, develops, flourishes and fades around the selected object or setting.

I suppose it is thanks to painting - to trying to capture an image before it transforms - that Ken's sensitivity to the atmospheres and tones generated by passing time and shifting weather are so fine-tuned. How many of us have the subtlety of observation needed to tap into the delicate tone changes of, say, a grey February morning, still less to paint them? Be that as it may, it's worth giving it a go. Think of the advantages.

"Once you have done your first study," points out Ken, "you've got your proportions and can get the basis of the next day's project drawn up the night before. You've resolved your compositional problems, identified and sorted your approach and materials." With these things decided. Ken is out painting by 8.30 am and often keeps going until 6 pm.

"People sometimes ask if I get bored by repeating myself but I can honestly say I have a buzz in my stomach every time I set up in St. Mark's Square. It's never the same twice. And I'm just as excited about a 6-panel series I'm starting soon in London's Mansion House area.

"Painting is not a question of recording facts, it's getting the sense of a thing so the value of series to me is that when you are painting and painting something you get to know it intimately."

If investing work with emotion and a sense of time and place appeals to you, then series painting could be your breakthrough. If so, here are Ken's tips on getting your harvest of wet paintings safely home.

1 - he glues 6 matchsticks to the back of each of his boards or canvases before working on them.

2 - he ensures all his canvases are in proportion to each other - e.g. 2 small canvases should equal the size of 1 large so that they stack evenly. (Ken gets his canvases and canvas boards from Bird & Davis. "They come white and a bit greasy but have a nice bite once you put on your ground, " he says.)

3. He mixes Burnt Sienna and Ultra Marine Blue in a jam jar to cancel each other into a nice grey for his ground.

4. After adding a bit of turps, he puts the top on the jar and shakes it to break down oil, then adds some ordinary white Dulux undercoat to give a quarter of a jar of what he then uses as "ground."

5. For the journey home he masking-tapes his matchstick-backed canvases and boards together in stacks with an unpainted board or canvas on top

6. If you will be piling smaller stacks on top of larger ones, make a cardboard box to fit them. And if a Howard-standard masterpiece doesn't come to light when you unpack your series, don't fret.  Getting to that level might take a month or two!

Bird & Davis are at 45 Holmes Road, NW5 070 485 3797

A version of this article appeared in the January issue of The Artist.



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Ken Howard was President of the Essex Art Club from 1989 until late 2012 when Tom Coates took over as President. Ken then consented to become our Patron.  He has an extremely busy artistic life but still came to many of our events and spread his excitement about art.  Whatever he talked about became interesting and exciting.  Who would believe that a talk about painting one view, San Marco in Venice, time and time again, up to six times in a day, could be interesting.  But it was.  I was there.  Look at Billie Figg's article, lower down the page, for more details.



Ken was born in 1932.  He studied at the Hornsey School of Art, did his National Service in the Royal Marines and then studied at the Royal College of Art.  He won a British Council Scholarship to Florence.

He was elected a Member of the New English Art Club, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours, the Royal West of England Academy and the Royal Academy, and an Hon. Member of the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.  He is a Past President of the New English Art Club.

Some Illuminating Comments by Ken...

"When I am in Cornwall I paint Monday to Saturday with a model coming in every morning.


At the start of the day you are full of belief in the thing you are going to do.....


Painting is very seldom an easy thing to do......  If you've had a really bad day, the last thing you want to do is get up and work, but if you've got a model knocking on the door at ten to seven, you've got to get up and you've got to start work again.  After about ten minutes you've got belief again and you think 'Yes, it may not have worked yesterday, but it's going to work today.'


Drawing is the basis of everything.  All the way through the painting you must be questioning the drawing, right up to the very end.  Otherwise you get the drawing right and fill it with colour.


As long as you get the effect you want, that's the important thing.  You can use a piece of rag, a sable brush, a hog hair brush or a knife - it doesn't matter what.


Paint what you see, not what you know.  What you know is not surprising and is very seldom true."



"Painting is no different from playing the piano: you've got to practise every day.

Painting is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration."


Watercolour Technique

In Ken's watercolour video he paints two pictures simultaneously. with one taped either side of his board.  This is to let the wet surface dry.

He paints his skies, and other parts of the pictures, by layering several different colours, one over the other, letting them dry in between.  This is the way he thinks he can capture the true colour of the Venetian sky.

He is quite happy to finish up with white gouache to recapture light areas that he has missed.





Ken Howard's Website


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