Sunday, 25 September 2011

Forty Shades of Green

Continuing my Woody theme obliges me to tackle some Colour myths, once again. And this time it's my favourite, Green.

It's not that green is my favourite colour, for it isn't. But I love the variety of greens. On my frequent walks in the woods I am always, always surprised and overwhelmed by the number of greens on display, which of course alters and multiplies with sunlight, the time of day and the time of year. From leafy arbours to the open fields at the side, the different array of greens is infinite. As I said in my post, Seeing Red, one word for a range of colours is ridiculously mean, representing a lowest common denominator word to over generalise a complex area. The naming of a colour (or Hue - I think the word Hue is better than the word Colour as it is less commonly used) influences how much (or rather, how LITTLE) we actually observe. Being lazy in language encourages us to be lazy in Seeing. Which impacts on our painting.
Here are a few greens for you to visualise - Moss-Green, Grass-Green (long wavy grass-green, then short newly-cut spring grass-green), Savoy Cabbage-Green, Spring Cabbage-Green, lime green.. I won't even START on leaves, apart from the obvious extremes of Silver Birch leaves and holly.

See what I mean? But considering our limitation of language, sometimes looking directly at the woods may restrict what we See. Look at the photos above - both LOADED with different greens. But I decided to shake the camera so everything became merged, and wow, a rather different array (albeit compromised) of greens, and Seeing, appears. I've put them on here sideways to help you to see not Trees, but GREENS. Please double-click on them to get the full benefit of this amazing palette... Delicious....

I think these look a bit like paintings, but they are photographs. 
This week, guess what? I am mostly painting... trees! 

Next Up - weekly classes in Drawing and painting, Belfast
Oil painting workshop
Bookings being taken for my next Portfolio Course.
For info on everything, email

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Prickley things, nuts & seeds, water colour in Moleskine Sketchbook

What's not to Love about Autumn...? It's full of gifts. 
I was worrying last week that the conkers are too high to reach, and the very next day, I happened upon another tree which was abundant, at eye level! And once you start collecting them, its hard to stop. Delicious. They are lovely to paint, even the prickly sweet chestnuts, though they don't last so long and go brown very quickly. All the more reason to keep painting them NOW...!

This photo is to give you an idea of scale - the paintings are a little bigger than the actual chestnuts.

Next up - weekly classes in Belfast, Weekend Oils workshop and Water Colours AND Monthly Teenagers Class. For info email
The Distance Learning Course is also running, and you can start that at any time. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Dappled light, Tree Number 1, Oil on Board 8in x 10in

I have a huge affinity with woods and feel comfortable and right when surrounded by trees, particularly when they are beside water. Trees are awesome and magnificent. Walking through leafy tunnels with sunlight streaming through the branches casting ever changing rays and shadows and pools of light sliding over the bark and the paths can be a moving experience. It is a feast, and one that should be indulged in daily. (There's a big hill going into my nearest wood, and sometimes I go on my bike, just for the thrill of the hill. ahem. Then have to go back later with the dog for a walk...)

So I have always known that I would have to paint trees. Here goes. Daunting when its a subject you respect so much. Here is my first attempt at portraying light in the wood. What I am interested in acheiving is not a highly finished image, so I consider this, and the next few that I try, to be Drawings. I'm working something out...

 ...I want to Explain the shapes of the trees by using the dappled light. But at the same time, I want the visual complicatedness, the confusion caused in the way the light licks over the tree, to remain. Those two aims are a contradiction - explain and confuse. As an illustrator, it is my instinct to visually unravel confusion and present an image in a clearer form.  I am trying not to do that.

I wanted to leave the foliage in the background loose. But couldn't bring myself to leave it alone, I had to keep fiddling. TSK. We'll see how I go with the next drawing...

Sometimes I stand watching the dapples move, like a private movie being screened just for me, a light performance. It's an amazing sight, sometimes it moves gently and carefully, other times quickly, like the light is liquid, running around the branches and trunk in a caress. It might last only seconds before diffusing and disappearing, so well worth stopping, or glancing up from your Teddy Bear Picnic.

Next up Portrait Drawing Workshop, Monthly Monday and weekly classes kicks off. The next Portfolio Course is at Half Term.

For info email

NOTE: Please do not copy this work. (don't even assume this is the Way To Do It - this is just the way I did it, this time) There are loads of wonderful trees out there, this one is mine. Part of your creative process is... finding your own tree.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Drawing, a contented heart.

Colour pencil is a much under rated medium. There are a few points to remember when using it. One is size - the larger you work, the longer it will take. Another is paper surface. The smoother the surface the more layers of pencil it will accept. Bristol Board is extremely smooth, and unforgiving. Unforgiving means that its not easy to remove marks you've drawn, but the slippery surface encourages cautious mark-making in the first place... Another element is the brand of pencils, and they're all different. The only way to know which brands suit you is trial and error. Some brands are waxy, some scratchy (like chalk scraping on board, aaaaaargh), some hard, some soft. Some are delicious. Some are yucky. Some are light fast, many are not. A useful rule of thumb is that the larger the range in a brand, the less the colours will blend together. Personally, I prefer a smaller palette that I can layer to my hearts content. What a lovely thing - a contented heart.

This drawing took 60 hours in total. The line drawing stage alone took 19 hours. I used an F pencil to do the line, which I rubbed out as I went along putting the colour in.  I am showing it to you as you might find it interesting. It is NOT so you can copy it. I drew it freehand - its the only way forward. Trust me, I know these things.

Caran d'Ache Prismalo 1 and Van Gogh pencils. The entire Van Goch range is light fast, but doesn't layer well at all. (grrrrrr....)

Drawing is very good for your health. If you use a daylight bulb all the time (day as well as night) it will stop you straining your eyes (personally, my eyes are supersonic, and I'm sure the drawing has helped). And when you get really engrossed in what you're doing, you can't think of anything else. So when all else fails:

Next up - Big Drawing Day, Portrait Day, Monthly Mondays, and Weekly Classes. 
For info email

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Drawing - Portfolio Course, an open letter to my college students

There are so many of you heading off to First Year at art college, in Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, Northern Ireland and England, and one or two have started this week already. I am thinking of you all and know there are lots of butterflies in your tummies. (I'll just make you a nice cuppa tea.). Lisa emailed asking for some tips, so I reckoned maybe you guys would like them too. Thanks for the work, thanks for sharing your fabulous journey, thanks for the laughs, thanks for the singing (oh yes, one group of you turned into a choir..!), now GET ON WITH IT..!!
 1. Remember, they want you on the course, they 
 weren't doing you a favour by accepting you...

 2. Deep Breathing. This will help to anchor you at all times. If you feel panicky just reach out for something (a stool or a chair or even the wall) and touch it, and feel rooted. Focus your attention on the object as if you were part of it and breathe in deeply and slowly, three times. There. Anchored.
                                                     3. SMILE. Head UP.

4. Remember you do know how to Draw. Most of your fellow students aren't so well equipped. 
5. If you don't understand anything, ASK THEM TO REPEAT IT. If you are given a brief, READ IT. Then read it again. And again and again. And one more time. And... 
6. Work your butt off. Because it doesn't matter about anyone else, the only one who matters to you is..YOU.
 7. If you need me for anything, I am here. Aw. 

8. You are CHARMING AND ENCHANTING. And delicious. 
9. Now, off you go and have the time of your LIFE!! You are the future, and the future is NOW!

 I got this reply from Ellen...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

St George's Farmers Market, Belfast.

I wasn't teaching on Saturday so decided to go back to the market to give myself an airing. It was so full I wasn't sure I'd get a table. I arrived at five to eight, moments before the cut-off time, feeling slightly guilty as the other Casuals had been queueing since 7 (though apparently someone gets there at 4am...) I'm lucky, all I have to do is pop a couple of boxes in the car, a sheet and some paintings and I'm off, but others are up all night preparing. Here's my catch of the day...!

I know not everyone likes fish, but I am irrestistably attracted to it.. Wonderful colours. 

My stand was next to Sweetie Sweets, which belongs to Amba. She's there every weekend, Saturday and Sunday and it was er, delicious being next to her, as she Hello!-ed to everyone passing by and encouraged them to sample her nutty biscuits (mmm) and cakes. The thing is, they didn't even taste overly sweet, just...fantastic. She made a chocolate cake with chilli in it.. She had been up all night cooking. 

Amba..                         ...and some of her goody bags... 

My stuff...
It was lovely to be there and meet so many people (from all over Ireland and America too) who are interested in drawing and painting. Next time, I think I'll DO some drawing.

Contact info for upcoming courses - or tel 07730 560517 in Uk                                 or from Ireland 0871330040

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Know your onions. Oils on board, 8in x 8in

Vegetables. I love looking at them, cooking them, eating them, and painting them. And onions - what a lot for the money. I mean, white, red, golden, silvery, green, Spring, scallion, sweet little shallots. Single, grouped in a box, in a bunch - ooh, a plait.. Skin on, or naked, whole or halved. Rings. Battered. Pickled. Eye watering, or sweet. This painting was only the second I did on board (after doing a few paintings on canvas). They caught my eye outside the butcher's shop round the corner - one of those lovely shops with a wide range of colourful fruit and veg on display outside. He does great rhubarb too.. (and sausages)

The thing I liked in this grouping is the little bit of red that had dropped in from the next box. As well as the papery quality of the onions. There is great value in painting a group of objects of the same colours. For me, learning to use oils has been about understanding the way that every colour has a different consistency, some are chalky and Dry, others are oily and transparent. Tsk. Painting a group of the same object allows you to become familiar (ish) with the traits and qualities of a limited number of colours, how they mix with others and, well,  how to mix at all, actually.... Practice makes perfect. Hopefully. Or maybe, repetition rams it home?

I was nervous about putting on the hairy end bits, which I added after everything else was done. But then I remembered, I'm only messing about, it doesn't matter if it doesn't work out, so took a very deep breath and put them in.  Phew... Hardly at all eye-watering...! I'll be painting this subject again. Soon.

Friday, 2 September 2011


This is an under rated quality in the creative personality. Ahem. All honest artists will admit to being highly proficient. And its a night mare. Until we learn to turn it into a dream.

The first step is acknowledging you're doing it, rather than Pretending you're Just Too Busy. It begins, often, at the desk. Sigh. Its a bit untidy. (= I can't see the desk at all. I only know its there because the mess doesn't reach the floor, its suspended on legs) Oh Yes, I must put the washing in the machine. Where was I..? Maybe now's the time to put my entire book collection in Alphabetical Order... Tsk, now I've done that, I think it'd be better if it was colour-coded. Oh, now I've tried that its so obvious that arranging the books from largest to smallest is definitely The Thing. My own personal best was when I set up my son to power wash the yard (I hypnotized him, the only way), then had to join in as it looked like so much fun...

So, even though its annoying, it's normal. The real truth, The Cure, is in the D's. Discipline. Determination. And a Deadline. Yup. If need be, make one up. (I want that done by 5 or you're not having any DINNER..) 
Meanwhile, I'm not speaking to my painting, so instead of struggling, I'm putting it off by priming some nice new boards. Which is Delicious. But also Denial..! Sometimes, the way forward is to make a bigger mess.. 

Course programme for Autumn now available. Email