Friday, 23 March 2018

Children's portrait commission, in coloured pencil step by step

It's lovely having portrait commissions, especially from people you know. In this case, a past student arrived on my doorstep and reminded me that I'd advised her to wait until her baby grandson was 3 years old before sommissioning a portrait, as he would have 'grown into himself' by then. So I assumed that he was now 3...  
'Well no, he's actually 5 already, but his younger sister is now 3, so will you please do TWO portraits?' Double fun!!
Below is the finished artwork of her grandson, on Bristol Board in Caran d'Ache coloured pencil.  and the images following show the stages I took to get there. 
Finished artwork, Coloured pencil, approx 19cm x 24cm. the client specified coloured pencil as her medium of coice. 
I began with a graphite drawing. This step is a perfect way to give the client an idea of size and the 'feel' of the final image - it also helps me to become more familiar with the face, and to work out the nuances of tones and likeness. All my portraits start life as a graphite 'rough', which I keep (unless the client wants to buy it along with the colour artwork). 

stage one, on cartridge paper in graphite. 

 Once the client has approved the rough, I move on to the final artwork. I used Bristol board for it's lovely smooth surface, as it really holds the colour well. I drew the whole thing as a line drawing first, then rubbed it back with a putty rubber as I went along, so that no lines show through the colour.
stage two on Bristol board. 
 I like to start with the eyes and work outwards from there. It's important with flesh to kep everything fluid and smooth, so as not to age the subject!

A few hours later... 
The photo above shows some of the layering - I have put a light umber colour on the forehead, and will pay a pinker colour on top to warm it up. The hair is getting a first layer too. I don't do a layer over the while drawing first - I layer smaller areas and work them to a finish is small increments as I progress.
The child is done, just the background to add. This can take several hours. 

As you can see, the cat loves being helpful at the drawing board... I will show the second portrait in the next blog post... In all the artwork took around 30 hours to complete. And - most importantly - the client was very happy!

For information on workshops, or commissioning a portrait, please email

Next workshops include: Children's holiday class, oils workshop, portrait classes, Father's Day drawing & water colour workshop.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Water colour: baubles, reds and missing friends.

My palette, looking the cleanest it has for years, and a few baubles hoping to be painted...
My line drawing. 

The finished study. 
Painting Reds in water colour can be challenging. Red pigments are inclined to dry looking a bit 'streaky' - it is such a strong pigment that not only does it stain the water that we paint with, it also stains the paper. This means that it is almost impossible to remove if you have changed your mind - it's permanent. For this reason, I try not to use it for the main subject matter until students have gained a little bit of experience with this medium.  
But we can't avoid it for ever! A couple of bright Christmas baubles fitted the brief nicely, and students first task was to choose which background colour they wanted to offset the reds. Not an easy decision, as the reds themselves appear differently according to the colour around them.

A student beginning the background wash. 
After the initial line drawing, the background was painted first, to get rid of the loud noise of white paper. If we didn't do this, it would be more difficult to get the tones correct in the baubles. As always, most folks didn't get the study completed as time ran out, but excellent reds were tackledand mastered throughout!
Lovely reds on this student's study. 

David's artwork, with lovely wash strips on the side. 

Another student example, with lovely contasts beginning to show between the red and the gold.

Sara's line drawing

Sara's study - not quite finished, but showing great reds. 

Working in a class of others on a regular basis, particularly when we all share a table together, is a very bonding experience. So when we heard that Marjorie had fallen onto the concrete steps outside the local museum and broken her hip, meaning that she'd be house-bound for several weeks, we knew we'd miss her. But she's a trooper (here she is below, waving at the class, from home!) and returned last week, on crutches. Welcome back Marjorie!

Friday, 1 December 2017

Reasons why it's good to ask questions... Knowing our onions and dealing with washes.

Last night my students were painting in water colour. Onions, in fact.  I'd asked them to include a background wash of colour (because white paper is harsh and doesn't always favourably support the subject), which often causes a little anxiety in the room.

When painting with water colour the important thing to acknowledge is that we are painting with WATER, with a little pigment added. It is safe to assume that it will take more than one layer to achieve a fairly 'neat' wash of flat-ish colour, and there are a few tactics which need to be employed in order to get the better of the materials!

The first is to make LOTS of the colour you need - I suggest that students create a lake on the palette. Some folks resist this, not naming any names (you know who you are!!), and at best manage to create a puddle - but inevitably they run out half way through... The down side of that is that it's almost impossible to recreate the same colour, and while you're frantically attempting to make a new puddle, the paint already half-way across the background is drying.. Nooooooo!

The following pictures show the difference between a pudde and a lake...
First, add some water to a clean area on your palette. Then introduce some pigment and stir very well.


This amount is a 'puddle' and won't go very far across your page.  Now is the time to bring a lot more water to the puddle. Use a large brush to almost ladle the water onto the palette. See in the photos below how it disburses the pigment which you'd previously stirred. This is an excellent reminder that we aren't painting with 'paint', but with stained water. As you add pigment, keep stirring to ensure that the colour is evenly spread in the water. By 'water',  I now mean LAKE. Add pigment until you get the colour to the depth of tone you want, and test it not by eye, but by taking a SMALL brush and painting a little tile on your page. It will almost certainly be paler than you expected, in which case add more pigment to the lake, stir again, test again.


The lake, which resembles a miniature swimming pool!
When you are satisfied that you have the tone you want, have two brushes handy - a small one for painting close to the objects, and a larger one for very quickly swiping the colour away.

The second tactic is about the order of work.. MANY students automatically start at the top of the page then work downwards. This is a very difficult approach! Instead, I advise that you begin right at the subject itself. Load the small brush with the lake-mix to carefully go around the edge of a section of the subject (an area of no more than 7 or 8 cms!) then swap to the larger brush, fill it with lake-mix and work VERY SWIFTLY to push the colour outwards away from the subject. The aim is to keep all the paint wet until you have covered the background. If it is drying before you are finished it means you are working too slowly... Carefully around the subject then quick-quick-quick to take the colour outwards.

All was going swimmingly (sorry..!) although the first washes were all fairly 'streaky' - this is normal and can be over ridden in a second layer. But then Suzanne asked a totally brilliant question, which transformed the experience for everyone.  The question was:

'Why has my wash dried like this?'

I know, fantastic question isn't it?!! I'm sorry that I didn't get a photo of her artwork to illustrate the point, but I will describe it. Her wash, which was actually beautifully done, had dried with some areas darker, some lighter, some lighter again, and several dark rivers where the light and darks 'met'. Not the effect Suzanne was aiming for. I looked at it for a mement then said that she had obviously dipped her brush in her water jar before reloading with the lake. 'Yes, I did!' she admitted. The reason this is so marvellous is that several other students had also done this, effectively altering the lake with every application. Disaster!

But a disaster with a very simple solution. Before you begin painting with your lake-mix,  cover your water jar with a tissue and DON'T DIP YOUR BRUSH IN IT UNTIL THE WASH LAYER IS COMPLETE!

Hoorah! Suzanne's second wash was a triumph of paint-magic, and confidence was restored.

This illustrates how sometimes we do something out of habit which has consequences on our page, and also that many apparent problems things have a very simple solution.

Below are some gorgeous examples by students of their onions and washes. Do not be fooled by the lovely results - most students suffer to produce their artwork - it doesn't come out of the brush all by itself :)




Ewa, aged 15

Upcoming workshops - portrait in oils, 17th December, Belfast.

My drawing and painting instruction book, Notes from The Atelier, has now got over 40 five-star reviews on Amazon! Available on Amazon, or directly from me (which is a bit cheaper!). A lovely christmas present for the arty person in your life.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Drawing on location, at the Titanic Pump House, Belfast

You'd be forgiven for thinking that somewhere as industrial as the Titanic Pump House would be the last place you'd want to draw. Apart from the fact that it's oily, dusty and uncomfortable, it is also more than a bit chilly. But if you wear enough layers of clothes, and keep moving about a bit, the temperature is the least of your worries..! 

The start of my demonstrations
Industrial landscape

The space itself is full of pattern and shapes: the tops of the arched alcoves and windows are mirrored by the rope loops, the railings divide the visual area into sections and the limited colours are just delicious. And that's just what my students thought when they arrived, suitably dressed for the temperatures (it was colder inside than out!) - we were also glad that the cafe was right next door, and totally warm and welcoming! 

Standing to draw

Jim using his initiative to turn a wooden block into an easel!

Neill working in chalk pastel

Clive hard at work.

Using the machinery for 'comfort'!

Jim's lovely work in progress
Below, my drawings by the time we finished for the morning. 
White and grey compressed charcoal, immediate to use with strong results. 

My drawing and painting instruction book, Notes from The Atelier, has now got over 40 five-star reviews on Amazon! Available on Amazon, or directly from me (which is a bit cheaper!). A lovely christmas present for the arty person in your life.

Friday, 10 November 2017

water colour daisies, demonstration in class

Last week in class I asked students to do small drawings of daisies, then spend most of the session playing with the background. 

This timy painting started as a line drawing, then background added, with the flowers having a light wash of colours at the end. 

'Playing', when we are adults, can be very tricky!! We are accostomed to expect exact rules, or at least definite consequences, so that playing can seem...a waste of time (horror! The reason we 'work' is to fascilitate our 'play'). But playing within a small set of boundaries feels less open-ended, so in this session, the boundaries were to create a dark background, with dots of wet-on-wet in a paler colour, just to 'see what happens'. What could possibly go wrong?!

The full set, showing how small the paintings are.

I did a few examples in a small Moleskine sketch book, leaving them at various stages of completion - it is important to have a reference of early stages of work, otherwise we can forget how we started (a down-side of watching someone else work ).

This shows the detailed line drawing, and I painted the background first.
 So rather than producing one painting, I did several. Mostly I drew the flowers, and painted the background first. Working in this way means that you haven't spent ages on the details, which can make you less willing to risk getting messy! Risk is GOOD!
In this example, some of the petals have a wash of colour before I began the background
 Another good reason for doing the background first is that it gets rid of the white paper. White is not our friend!! It is loud and attention-seeking, and the soner we paint over it, the sooner we can make correct value decisions in the rest of the painting.
Petals first, background second

No drawing at all - straight to paint, working outwards from the centre of the flower
Workingstraight to paint is liberating and worth trying - the key is to 'blob' colour onto the page, then push is around, as opposed to doing a line-drawing with the brush.

Working across two pages keeps it light hearted and not prescious
It was good fun - playing is to be advised when learning to paint, but playing with boundaries is the best of all.

My drawing and painting instruction book, Notes from The Atelier, has now got over 40 five-star reviews on Amazon! Available on Amazon, or directly from me (a bit cheaper!). A lovely christmas present for the arty person in your life.