Contemporary portraits in oils with Rachel Mercer

Ref: SLW33257

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About this course

On this course, you will make three painterly portraits, working directly from a model. Using modern artists as inspiration, you will consider techniques in observation, brush technique and explore tone and colour.

Course Description

This course will examine and draw inspiration from 20th century artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, André Derain, Gwen John and Chaïm Soutine, as well as more contemporary painters including Alice Neel and Lucien Freud.

Through demonstrations and guidance, you can expect to familiarise yourself with the tools of the oil painter while learning techniques to improve fluency and accuracy in your painting. Making a monochrome painting on the first evening will embed the importance of tone and drawing with the brush.

On day two, you will be introduced to a limited palette, considering the fundamentals of colour theory when selecting the colours for the painting and learning to make colour substitutions. Structured teaching and demonstrations will be balanced with an approach that encourages playfulness and exploration while painting.

By the evening of the second day, you will have begun your third painting in which you will attempt to mix colours that are the closest approximation of what you see using an extended cadmium palette.

On the final day, you will put your colour mixing knowledge into practice and make your third and final painting.

By the end of the course, you will feel confident mixing tonal values and hues to produce fresh and vibrant portrait paintings.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • On this course, the College will supply some of the materials, including some A3 oil painting paper and three A3 canvas boards per student, plus studio safe solvent and linseed oil to share amongst the group.
  • The model who will sit for the course is also included.

What students need to bring

  • Sketchpad (A5 or A4)
  • 2B pencil
  • Rubber
  • Apron
  • Oil paint in the following colours; Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow (or Lemon Yellow), Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Blue, Yellow Ochre, Viridian Green, Lamp Black, Zinc White x2.
  • Other items:
  • Palette knife
  • Palette (tear-off palettes are fine)
  • Jam jars with lids x2
  • Linseed oil
  • Studio safe odourless solvent
  • Rags for cleaning brushes
  • 5-7 hog-hair brushes (long-handled), varied sizes (no smaller than size 8)

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good variety of art materials including, oil paints, drawing materials, sketchpads, A3 canvas boards, A3 oil painting paper, linseed oil, studio safe odourless solvent, hog-hair brushes (long handled and in a range of sizes 8 and above), palettes, tear-off palettes, palette knives etc.

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no sandals or open toes).


Rachel Mercer

Born in Cambridgeshire, Mercer studied at Cardiff School of Art and Design graduating in 2012 before being awarded the postgraduate programme at The Royal Drawing School. Since 2014 she has been a painter and educator working in London. She has exhibited in the UK, Athens and China and had work purchased for the Royal Collection by HM Charles III. 


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.