Saturday, 7 April 2018

A montage of student artwork from Belfast this month...

 A LOT of artwork is produced by my students and I thought it would be good to show you a mixture.  These are all from the weekly classes, where students have just a couple of hours to work.
The weekly oils class,  including Sandra accidentally painting her own arm..! Drawing is included in the class, and you see some pastels here too. 
Although everyone usually looks very serious in photos, it's only because they are concentrating - they're having a lovely time really!
Irises from a catch-up session, and a selection of subjects from other classes. The Thursday group are waving (either that or they're crying for help...). 

Paul and Alan (top), and Pam and Carolyn (middle) bravely turning up when all other students were snowed in. Artworks in coloured pencil or water colours. Cathy putting final touches on her fabulous glass painting. 

From sweets in coloured pencil to tin foil in water colour..

More lovely examples, from bananas to landscapes. 

Friday, 6 April 2018

Summer workshops in Belfast 2018

This summer Belfast Atelier of Realist Art is holding a variety of workshops with artists from around the world. The programme is designed to include workshops to suit all levels of experience - if you are unsure of your level, please just get in touch to be guided in the right direction. 

July 1st-5th: Intensive drawing and oil painting workshop with Julie Douglas. This popular workshop takes you through the full process of making a painting - from planning your arrangements, drawing it, transferring onto canvas, colour mixing and painting. You will produce several studies during the week, in black and white as well as full colour. A lovely intensive hands-on workshop, fully tutored which will improve your confidence and provide you with new skills. We will work using still life subjects and include looking at flesh tones if time permits. Cost £575 which includes all materials and lovely home-made lunch. 10am-5pm. 

Mixing and matching

Some of Tess's studies
July 21st-22nd: Drawing and watercolour workshop. A lovely weekend to improve your watercolour skills. We will look at location drawing, pen and wash and the best way to approach a painting when you're on holiday. Cost £260 which includes all materials and lovely lunch. 

July 28th: Portrait drawing workshop, with model. How to measure the face and use tones to create the likeness. Cost £130 which includes all materials and lovely lunch. 

Tess painting her oils
lovely student studies
 August 13th-17th: Drawing, composition and colour mixing: your foundation to successful painting with Julie Douglas. This workshop is designed to help your drawing skills in order to improve your paintings. Many people have doubts about their drawing skills, and prefer to go straight to paint. This doesn't pay off in the long run; students quickly find that their lack of drawing is holding them back. When we paint, we use our 'drawing eyes' regarding placement, proportion, relative values, composition, gesture, and balance. When we paint, we need to have our attention on the colour and mixing; if we can't draw, our attention is seriously diverted, so painting becomes more frustrating and seemingly mysterious!

This is the perfect lead into Mr Angel's workshop (see below), or any world-class atelier-based masterclass. Cost: £500 which includes some materials. A list will be provided upon booking. 
Examples of techniques,  work in progress (on the left, Mark is doing a bit of face-painting! oops!) 
August 19th-27th: PAINTING  FROM VERMEER, AND OTHERS: from underpainting to glazes, with maestro Michael John Angel, from The Angel Academy of art, Florence. I am delighted to be welcoming Mr Angel to Belfast where he will deliver a newly designed workshop, perfect for understanding the oil painting process, including colour studies and glazes. Cost £1280.00  Please book using  For details please click here (or copy and paste):

Maestro Michael John Angel in Belfast

Maestro Michael John Angel in Belfast

August 30th & 31st: The Munsell Colour System, with Paul Foxton. Paul is well known for his blog, Learning to See' and has an international following. I am delighted to welcome him to deliver this workshop. Cost: £250 which includes lunch and some materials. 

The excellent Paul Foxton 

Discount offers: If you wish to attend two or more AUGUST workshops, you will recieve a 10% discount for bookings made before 1st June. HURRY! 

September, Date TBC: five day drawing and oils with Julie Douglas and PJ Lynch. PJ and Julie have designed this workshop together, so that students get the best of both tutor's experience. We will cover life drawing, portrait drawing, portrait and still life using charcoal, pencils and oils. A full-on roller-coaster with the emphasis on learning in an enjoyable environment. 
PJ Lynch portrait demo in Belfast. Photo by David Bell. 

For information on any of these workshops please email

Michael John Angel Masterclass, Belfast 2018! August 19th–27th

I am delighted to announce that Maestro Michael John Angel will be teaching a workshop in Belfast in  August 2018. An incredibly generous teacher, Mr Angel will deliver an eight day workshop guiding students through the full process of creating a successful painting in oils. The workshop is a wonderful opportunity to benefit from the atelier system, with intensive tuition delivering knowledge gathered from a lifetime of experience. 

Your options for your larger, complete painting. 

Course Description
PAINTING  FROM VERMEER, AND OTHERS: from underpainting to glazes. 

Examples of some of the sketch-studies from the beginning of the workshop

In this newly designed workshop, maestro Michael John Angel will  concentrate on working from the general-to-the-specific: guiding students through several small sketches (such as those above) from a 3-value plan to a roughly-painted colour 'finish'. The course begins with 
a few basic exercises and includes various demonstrations in proportion, gesture, under-drawing and oil-painting materials. The subjects for these (which will be supplied by Mr Angel) will be varied and include figure, portrait and landscape. We will also produce a simple rendering of a figure from a drawing (see example below). 

Once these are completed, students will move on to their larger oil painting in full colour (of the option you have selected from those listed above) using the techniques we have been learning. Throughout the workshop Mr Angel gives painting demonstrations that clarify each stage of the painting process. This will include the glazing process, which we will study in the exercise below. 

Students will also receive various pdf handouts, with illustrations, that encapsulate the methods of painting and drawing in a realistic manner. Other pdf handouts will explain the different grounds, materials and mediums used in oil painting and describe the various layers used in a 19th-century underpainting-overpainting oil technique. Mr Angel will be painting much of the time in the studio, which gives students the fantastic experience of understanding brush handling, paint mixing and so on, by watching as well as listening. Demonstration pieces will be available to purchase at the end of the workshop. 

The daily routine is as follows: days 1-4  (Sunday - Wednesday) studio 10am-5pm. Thursday is a day off. Days 5- 8 (Friday - Monday, studio 10am-5pm. NB: Studio will be open from 9.15am to allow preparation time.
(If students wish to have access to the studio on Thursday, we can discuss that during the early part of the course, but students will need a break in order to complete the eight days.)

Class of 2017!

Maestro at work.
Mr Angel is highly regarded as one of the foremost figurative painters, and his paintings and portraits hang in both public and private collections worldwide. For the last 20 years, he has been the Director of Studies and senior instructor at the Angel Academy of Art, Florence. 

Mr Angel explaining techniques during class in Belfast, 2017

Mr Angel working on a beautiful demonstration painting.
Pauline at work
Gennie working
Judy, checking her work upside-down! 
Nearly finished! 

Mr Angel has taught workshops in Florence, in Toronto and at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He also lectures at the Florentine campuses of several American universities and at various private schools in Rome and in North America. From 1982 to 1988 he was the Director of the National Portrait Academy in Toronto, Canada, and from 1992 to 1995 the Assistant Director of the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy. As an ARC living master, Mr Angel is considered one of the most inspiring and successful teachers in classical and traditional art today.

A short biography can be found at He is listed in the Art Renewal Center’s Living Masters gallery and is one of the ARC’s Board of Judges. As well as judging the ARC’s Annual International Salon, he is a judge on several other national and international painting juries, such as the Collection Beaux-Arts Réaliste, IlluxCon, and the Portrait Society of Canada.

What is the difference between attending a workshop in Belfast, compared to elsewhere? Well, it's the Irish welcome! Students (and maestro!) love coming to Belfast. The locals are friendly, and you will be well looked after by Julie Douglas, who will do her best to accommodate your creative needs. Julie has been teaching drawing and painting for many years and is therefore your best hands-on co-ordinator. She will liaise with local art suppliers to ensure the correct materials are available and she also arranges group evenings so that students get to know each other. This is great fun and a bonus, as many students come from all around the world. It's good to make friends. One student from Dubai said "Julie thinks of the details that make all the difference". Julie has been honoured to collaborate with Mr Angel on several workshops and expects that this one will be the best yet! Hope to see you there! 

At the Italian restaurant...
The last night! Julie Douglas (left) with Maudy. 
A very happy group, at the end of last year's workshop. 

Further Workshop Details:
The workshop includes 42 hours tuition. Class runs from 10am-5pm daily (see above for the day off) with a 1-hour lunch break.  
Individual and group critiques
Painting demonstrations by Mr Angel
Discussions on materials and techniques 

COST: £1280 to include instruction, tea/coffee and some materials. 
A list of materials (paint and brushes) will be sent upon booking a place.

Terms & Conditions:
A 50% non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place. Full payment must be received by 1st July 2017, and if that time has passed, payment in full is due upon booking. 
Minimum number of students is 10.

Not included:
Accommodation and flights, transport and all other personal costs.  Fees are non refundable unless the course is cancelled for any reason. 
If traveling, it is recommended that you take out insurance to cover costs in the unlikely event of cancellation etc. 
If necessary, we reserve the right to replace the tutor in an emergency. 

Details of accommodation near the studio will be provided upon booking. 

For booking information and all enquiries please email 

Belfast is a vibrant city with a warm friendly atmosphere. If you are traveling for this course, you will find lots of things in the city to enjoy in the days before or after the workshop.


'Drawing, composition and colour mixing: your foundation to successful painting' with Julie Douglas August 13 - 17th. This is the perfect lead in to Mr Angel's workshop. For info please click here (or copy and paste):

'The Munsell Colour System' with Paul Foxton, August Thurs 30th & Fri 31st August. Paul, based in the UK, writes the famous blog 'Learning to See'. For info please click here (or copy and paste)

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 keep 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 lay 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 in 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.