Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Cherry Cherry - a new set of 'Kremer' Water Colours in Gray!

 I love black and white work, and think that giving concentrated time to understanding values will help improve colour work later on. So I was intrigued when Lisa, who I stood at the next easel to me last week on a drawing course, showed me this new set of water colour paints, in shades of gray. Who KNEW....?! The thing that is surprising here is that usually, no white is used when painting water colour, as it has a tendancy to 'fog' the colours, and stop them being transparent (which is one of the main charms of using this medium). So next morning I headed to the art store to buy a set to try out. Everything about them feels 'different' - some of the pans are sticky to the touch, others feel a bit rubbery, like putty.



They were nice to paint with, but I had to remind myself to keep switching 'colours' rather than using water to dilute. The consistency is thicker than usual, but some of the darker grays have a lovely warmth about them, with the paler ones veering towards brown-gray rather than blue-gray. There is no actual Black in the set, but the darkest gray is rich and sooty. I'm not sure if I liked them - but I do tell my students that they need to use a new medium about 5 times before deciding if they're our new best friend or not. The first time, we are more aware of what it CAN'T do, the second time we're a bit more prepared, and by the third time we can really get a sense of what it CAN do, and after that, we practice it.. So I'll do plenty more. 


Having said that, it was a treat to do a quick colour one afterwards!

Upcoming courses: Intensive portfolio course for college entry
Big Drawing Day at The Drawing Office, in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.
Draw In - symposium, Belfast 30/31st August.
Oil Painting workshop with Matt Weigle
Figure Drawing Workshop with Colleen Barry

For info email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk





Friday, 11 July 2014

Dear Susan... how to procrastinate, productively

Susan is a Distance Learning student of mine, who lives in Wales, UK. Once or twice a year she visits me for a drawing or painting weekend, to recharge the batteries and get kick started on a new set of exercises to work on at home.  Like many distance students, she has a busy life, and travels around the world with work, which is not handy for her art. Last month, she wrote in despair, very frustrated and upset about her latest artwork, had an impressive hissy-fit, and declared that perhaps she'd pack it all in, harUMPH. Joking aside, it was heartbreaking to read. Particularly as her artwork was great..! 
One of the amazing strengths that distance students acquire, is the capacity to stick with it, no matter what the interruptions. This is so very hard. This IS Discipline. My tip for anyone who hasn't been at the desk recently, and is about to resume - recap, revise and recoup before moving on to the next exercise. Refresh yourself by taking a small step back and start simple and small - it'll give you a better spring in your step to move forward. 
So this month I was thrilled that Susan's letter showed she'd turned the corner. With her permission, here is some of our exchange. I have not shown her crit, for that belongs to Susan - the words below show how it FEELS to produce, how it IS to produce and illustrates the rewards of continuing to strive. 
Dear Julie 
Distant Learning Course: Susan B. 
Bloc 3, Exercise 8: Pomegranates on Canvas, June 2014

I feel really pleased with myself. I got back to this exercise this morning – having got up really early to start work. I did find myself procrastinating, putting on a wash, emptying and loading the dishwasher… but I decided it was now or never. Either I do it, or I abandon the whole affair with paint!
I had already done an afternoon on the pomegranates three weeks ago. But, I had to go to Germany for a week, so today was my first free weekend since...
So, I pushed myself upstairs. Julie and her last crit were ringing in my head.
I decided I would look at what I had done three weeks ago, over a slow coffee; have a feel of the paint, and the paint brushes [I need new ones definitely], take my time before I actually do any painting as such.
The start was not so good – despite the effort to refocus the brain and the mind on this. I was rather unsure what I was doing. I thought - ring Julie – she said I could. I don’t know what I am doing here…. I don’t know what to do!!
But, as if by magic, - or now that I look back on it – as if by telepathy from Julie and her crit to me, I for the first time in my life stopped feeling scared!! Scared of the paint, the paper, the task, the output! For the first time ever I had this strong sense that I could in fact let go of all of that – and just paint.
What a difference that makes! I have so, so enjoyed my morning. I have discovered lots. First, although it may seem common sense to know this – I have just realised that what is first put on the page is NOT the finished product; it is important, because it defines the composition and the size of the drawing, and in this case the basic shapes of the fruit. But, it is not the end result. There are processes to be gone through after that and they take time, and they are just as important as the first session at a painting. In fact, it is after the first session is over and the painting is retuned to again, then the layering and the depth, and the richness of the painting begin to emerge. I have discovered layering. I know that Julie often says ‘there was a fair bit of layering’ when she shows you one of her paintings – but this is the first time I understood what she meant! Layering is wonderful – it gives depth and richness to a painting; I used to think that layering was all about putting on paint to fix mistakes. So, you layer over a mistake – and as I make many, - and am constantly frustrated by my inability to draw and to get the composition on the page anyway reasonable [such as not squashing the composition in to the end of the page, and leaving loads of blank space above that somehow has to be filled in!], layering had become for me a remedial action. And Stressful! But, today I discovered layering has a function in its own right – not to correct mistakes. It allows you to make the painting come to life, to enrich the colours, to give more tonal variation, to deepen the image! Ah, I am slow…..
However, I think that I go carried away with the layering idea – and now need to think: there is a difference between layering and turning it all into a mud brown. When to stop? 

I also discovered that by not being afraid of the painting – I could move my brush to make more bold lines. This may not make sense Julie – but I have discovered today that I usually keep to using the brush as a dabbing tool – ‘just a little blot only here - just in case’ approach. Today, letting go of the ‘having to have a painting to frame’ tyranny, I was able to stretch my hand out and make bigger lines, across the pomegranates so as to form the different surfaces, rather than being constrained by the ‘not too much of the brush just in case…’.

I had no idea that painting was so emotionally complex when I started all this – the exercise of painting is like a mirror in to our personalities!! It reveals all!!

I also like using canvas: it has a lovely feel and I like the springy surface. I used only a small canvas – which is less daunting. But, this sacrifices a sense of space. I still find it hard to put in any details with oil colours and with such small working surfaces.
Julie, I owe you big thanks. By keeping your crit in my mind today, I have broken through a real fear barrier! It may rise again, but, I guess now I know it can be scaled….

Susan 

Dear Susan
Many thanks for your WONDERFUL letter. So so delightful to read the difference in your words, in your emotion and your experience since your last letter. I felt great relief in reading. As a teacher, I truly have the best interests of my students at heart, so it was painful for me to read your last letter, so full of self judgement and despair. For you to have lost your balance, and consider quitting painting altogether would have felt to me like my failing - certainly not yours. However, all of this creative path is your own, Susan. No matter how I contribute, it is YOU that does it all.
:)
I guide and explain just enough to get your inquisitive genes flowing, I hope, because there isn’t a Right Answer to much of this. There are multiple-possibles, multiple-probables and lots of OOH, aHA!’s. Even for me who has been doing this for a long time, even for all artists who are striving to be the best they can be. Because at some point, we get it. At some point we realize that WE have to Look, WE have to See, WE have to learn to control our materials. And that’s what makes it a never ending journey of delicious discovery, and whether you are working in a room full of others, or alone in the back bedroom, it is a solitary personal journey. 
Now that I’ve written that, it dawns on me that THIS is why we procrastinate. I do it too. Though I am ‘wise’ enough (which means I’ve been procrastinating on a Professional Level for some time...) to understand the various degrees of procrastinating, and that they are a part of the creative process. Rather than feeling guilty about procrastinating, I think viewing it differently really helps. For example, what if:
1. Inability to get on with the thing that you THINK you SHOULD be doing, means that you aren’t in the right head-space to do it? What if there is something deep within us which resists ANYTHING, when we think we OUGHT to do it? 
2. What if we recognized that in some way we feel a small bit that we are selfish and that spending time doing something for pleasure is wrong..? 
3. Faffing about doing household chores is a form of head-clearing, necessary (for women, anyway) to preparing ourselves to enter the right energy?
4. What if we took a mental review of our own behaviour patterns and worked out our best-time-of-day? Once we identify that time, we can enjoy guilt-free-faffing, so long as we time it right. (I had a sad aha! moment when I discovered this for myself. My children were very young, and my time at the desk was limited and had been for many years, through looking after them. One day they were both invited to friends houses after school, so I was in my studio drawing. Then I noticed the bird song had a slightly echoey sound about it, which I hadn’t heard for a long time. Birdsong has different pitches at different times of the day. This was a late-afternoon sound, and it echoed around the trees. It struck me then that it was so familiar because it had been the sound of, the accompaniment to, my drawing. My Best-Time was from about 3pm onwards. If I was settled at 3, I could work like a train till midnight. And what time do the children leave school to come home...? 3pm.. Recognising this helped me enormously. I forgave myself for faffing. But I also altered my way of working, because I knew that I wouldn’t have access to my best-time for many years to come. So, in order to not have years of frustration, I prioritized my day - I knew that the things I HAD to do, I always WOULD do, even if late at night. So I did the drawings first. This is discipline. And it was a choice. It’s not the same in your case, but it isn’t MUCH different. Your time is very limited. But you ARE choosing!
5. ‘A solitary personal journey’... No wonder you had to force yourself up the stairs. This is difficult! We set standards for ourselves! And on top of that, we go it ALONE?! Good grief, it’s a miracle that we manage it at all, no wonder our bodies procrastinate, for it is EASIER to NOT do it.. Yet, we so want to.. When we feel procrastinative, it is because at some level we know we are taking a journey into our souls. Gulp. And to improve, we have to be honest, vulnerable, open. Those are difficult, very personal things.                         
I am so proud of you!
When we have a long break from things which require skill, there is a fear about starting again. In this instance, the last experience you had was very negative, because you weren’t forgiving yourself, you were forgetting yourself. So your procrastinating was forgivably understandable. 
Because at some point, we get it.  Interestingly, we have to be a certain way into the learning experience before we get it. I think you have gone through a creative rite of passage. You went into the Black Hole, that make or break point, and chose to climb out and carry on. Welcome into the light. 
I am so proud of you!
Now I hope you understand what it means when I say that all artists are learning, always. I hope you understand what I mean when I say that it would be a mistake to assume the paintings in galleries look the way the artist had hoped, when they began them. Often, by the time artworks reach the gallery, the artist has moved on, glad to have stopped those paintings, as the next one will be better... 
Your pain is not over, but it will be frustration tinted with understanding, which is a fine thing. You need to keep the desire alive, the desire to stretch - it’s just that by now, you almost know too much...!! There is no going back! Allow yourself to have fun sessions, and challenging sessions, and recognize the joy in learning new things, over and above the completion. We’re a long time in the learning, we might as well love it! Your job is to balance difficulty-level with pleasure. 
I am so proud of you!
It is interesting to read about your Fear. Recently I have started mentioning fear in my weekly class. Someone was so tense, as they’d missed a couple of weeks (!!) that I could see they were hardly hearing my instructions, for their inner voice was loudly screaming. So I said that the worst thing that would happen is that they would have to start again in 10 minutes, but they wouldn’t actually DIE while trying. The difference that made was astonishing. They were instantly relieved, laughed, and did a great drawing.. What’s going on there then...?! In my absence, please speak to yourself. If you hear yourself say I can’t or I’m rubbish or anything else that I wouldn’t say to you, change it immediately. Soften it to ‘I can try’. ‘I love learning’. ‘I love this so much’. ‘This is going to be fun!’ You could even say, ‘Fear, you’re going to DIE!’ 

I am so proud of you! 
Julie 
For upcoming course info contact julie@juliedouglas.co.uk
www.draw-in.co.uk 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Big Drawing Day Out... The Mac, Belfast

There is something fabulous about a group of work colleagues spending time together doing something new... It means that people who might not usually work directly together have an occasion  to interact, and provides an opportunity to engage in unexpected new ways even with those you do work closely with in the office. 

 I was contacted by Noel from a local Product Design Company and was asked if I would teach a corporate drawing session, for their Day Out. He gave me a very clear brief. Some of the participants use drawing in their work already, but not everyone. So I was to design a session that would stretch everyone without intimidating anyone, would be educational to all levels of past experience, challenging yet fun at the same time... 

!!


Well alrighty then..!

We started by working with hands behind our backs - a bit of ripping paper is a great way to start..! It immediately puts everyone on a level playing field as everyoe is working 'blind' - and, importantly, removes any preconceived ideas about what lies ahead. 


It was a great session, and we managed to cram about two weeks of exercises into just a morning. The best bit was musical chairs, where after drawing their chosen boot for 10 minutes, everyone had to swap seats with someone else and carry on working on that persons drawing... Gasps of WHAT???

They moved around twice, then ended up back at their original drawing to finish it off. A tough exercise, but really successful. All drawings were excellent, and everyone had no hiding places!


Happy bunnies! 

The cruncher for me was that Noel had said if they enjoyed the session, then I would be invited out to lunch with them. Fortunately, at the end of the class, he DID invite me, yay!
Thanks for lovely lunch.


Friday, 27 June 2014

Nature sketch book exchange project, Holywood stones.


And so, the sketch books are still going around the world, with each one taking on it's own character as we fill the pages, slowly slowly. 
So far, I have been doing things which grow, but I do so love stones. And they ARE natural..

Unfinished ring of stones, 18cm x 16cm showing the process involved. Julie Douglas 
 Some subjects really lend themselves to water colour, and stones - in spite of their solidity, which seems so at odds with the wateriness of water colour -  certainly work well.


More stones, 17cm x 13 cm, water colour, Julie Douglas
There's something about the blobby quality of working wet into wet, the unexpected random happenings of the paint as it moves before drying is very like the uneven patterns on stones. The difference between the first two photos, above, is that the top one is unfinished (so you can see how it is started), the bottom one has had more layers added once the wet-on-wet has dried, giving a crisper edge. The next images were for the sketch book project. 



 I went for a walk on the shore to find stones for painting. Beaches all have their own characteristic stones - some beaches turn up smooth rounded stones, some, like East Sussex have stones with enormous holes in the middle. Holywood stones are characteristically small and nobbly, like chunks of nougat (see above). So it takes a good bit of staring and patience to find vareity and interest. But, once you find one, there's another, and ooh - there's another. Pretty soon my pockets were full, and the coat was too heavy to wear!

A variety of shapes and sizes.. Julie Douglas

When I worked in the first couple of sketch books, ones which belong to other artists, I stuck a piece of my preferred water colour paper onto the pages, as I don't like the paper of the book itself. But this time, I just got stuck in, using the book itself. I had to use a lot more water than usual as the paper is so smooth and wants to absorb the pigment. I did the paintings while my students painted their own stones beside me. I have to admit, some of them were shapeless blobs for a good while (the stones, not my students!!), but when it's someone else's book, you have to just keep on working till it begins to look better.. Shadows vary according to the time of day I did each stone. 

I was happy to include one little heart-stone from my mammoth collection... 


Upcoming courses: Portrait drawing, intensive portfolio preparation, oils workshops. 
Later this summer - 23rd August, BIG DRAWING DAY at The Drawing Office, Titanic Quarter Belfast
Draw In - drawing symposium with some amazing visiting artists including PJ Lynch, Paul Foxton, Katherine Tyrrell and Colleen Barry (NY). www.draw-in.co.uk


For info email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk


Friday, 13 June 2014

Pink, makes the boys wink..! Peonies, water colour without drawing.


Going straight to paint with water colour is a refreshing and liberating experience. I find it relaxing. And if you are relaxed when painting, it shows in the outcome.

Sketch book studies for demonstration, Julie Douglas


In a class situation, going staight to paint means students spend the whole session painting, giving them not only a better chance of completing their artwork, but a fuller opportunity to try different techniques - more playing and experimenting.
This week I wanted my students to paint with a colour restriction. Limiting the range of colours is a great way to discover new tones and mixes, and it is also a good way to ensure the image holds together well.
I was seduced by some lovely peonies, which were a perfect subject for colour restricting.

The two paintings below show the starting points, and neither were taken any further. 
This shows how pale the first layer is. Red pigment not only stains the water, but also the page so a light start makes it easier to change your mind. 
The colours we used were Permanent Sap Green and Lemon Yellow for the stem, Permanent Rose for the flower. Later in the process students were allowed to try (I say TRY) Alizarim Crimson and French Ultramarine on the petals, if they needed it. 

This painting shows a build up of the second layer of tones, on top of a dried base-shape. 

The two images below show the beginning and end of one flower. This one I didn't use such a pale mix to start, as the final colours were so strong.

Julie Douglas

Julie Douglas


Upcoming workshop: Figure drawing, portrait drawing, Water colour for location, beginners drawing and portfolio courses. 

I am holding a drawing class in The Drawing Offices, in Belfast's Titanic Quarter. 
For details on all courses email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk


www.draw-in.co.uk






Thursday, 22 May 2014

Drawing in The Drawing Offices, Belfast, for Ireland's National Drawing Day

Last weekend I gave the first ever drawing class to be held in The Drawing Offices, in Belfast's Titanic Quarter. 

May 2014, students drawing the building
This is where the highly skilled draftsmen drew plans for the ships built by Harland and Wolff, including Titanic and Olympic.

100 years ago, draftsmen drawing the ships

Location drawing always presents it's own challenges specific to each site. This room is big and empty, which could have been daunting - it's aircraft-hangar-large, with lofty arched ceiling making people seem very small indeed. 

But, daunting it was not.  

This photo of me before everyone arrived gives an idea of scale, though it shows only a small part of the room. In reality, the size of the room is breathtaking.
The atmosphere of the room was still, with a delicious kind of calm. None of the students had been here before, and location drawing was new to most of them. As one student put it, its good to get out of your comfort zone. I tackled the enormity of the building by 'reducing it' into more manageable sections, which not only allowed students a user friendly introduction, but also gave us scope to appreciate the finer details of the room. From the reflections in the inner windows (which revealed layer upon layer of rooms, patterns and shapes including Titanic Belfast, the new museum across the way), to the paintwork on the walls. The paintwork is crumbling, but in such a beautiful way that it is worthy of a portrait in itself. 

The briefing


The concentration

happy students! 
Here are just some of the drawings the students did, in a very short time. 






It was a lovely afternoon, a fantastic experience and so appropriate to be drawing in The Drawing Offices.  I hope to have many more drawing days there in the future. 
If you would like to attend, please email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk 

www.juliedouglas.co.uk
www.draw-in.co.uk


Friday, 16 May 2014

Batchelor's Button (cornfower) in water colour, student work

Time - how long is it?       
                                                                                                                                                     Sometimes there is nothing for it but to change the boundaries of time... If we spend the same set amount of time on each artwork, then we can get into a bit of a rut. Either nothing will be finished, or else you will get into a formula so that you complete artwork within the time. The down side of the latter is that your work won't progress and you will ultimately feel less satisfied and frustrated. 

The gorse exercise in the previous post 
was an attempt to change the boundaries, by working on two paintings at the same time.  This week, I did it again, by starting students with a time limit of TEN MINUTES. 

You'd not believe it - they were too shocked to even MOAN! I set the timer, helpfully suggested they use a pale blue for the petals and a green for the leaves... GO! 

And after the first ten minute painting, we did another one. There wasn't a peep out of anyone.. And now, once everyone was warmed up, they were given the final hour to work uninterrupted. 

Pat F, water colour, student

I have not shown any 10 minute paintings here - these artworks all took the hour or so. The advantage of the warm-up painting is that it helps you get a feel for time. Doing several 10 minute painting means that suddently 20 minutes is quite a long time.. 

Shirley F, colour pencil - the top flower is the drawing, the bottom one is the flower! 

Sarah B, colour pencil. Again, the drawing is on top, the flower is on the right. 

Sarah M, student, water colour

Nisa V, or Speedy-Nisa as she's known in class (not), water colour

  I think the colour pencil studies were completed more fully than they would have been, without that rush start. The water colours have a freedom about them, because changing the boundaries allowed a 'letting go' of the possible outcome. Very little pencil was used, most of the drawing was done with the brush. No time to mess about!



Upcoming workshops: Intensive portfolio preparation, Oils, Drawing the portrait, Big Drawing, Water Colour landscape. For info email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk


Drawing Symposium, a full weekend of demonstrations and workshops in figure drawing, portrait and more, with visiting artists including PJ Lynch, Katherine Tyrrell, Paul Foxton and Julie Douglas. 30th & 31st August, Belfast

Oils still life painting workshop, BELFAST - 25th - 29th August, with Matt Weigle from Grand Central Academy New York,

Classical Figure Drawing, BELFAST, 1st - 5th September, with Colleen Barry, from Grand Central Acadmeny, New York. 
 For info on all courses, email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk

Friday, 2 May 2014

Gorse, of course.. Water colour, student work

Sometimes, the next simplest step is to do something prickly... and to do it quickly.

Prickly, quickly.

Frequently, my students don't complete their artwork during a session as my emphasis is on providing the right tools to complete the job rather than try to finish something within a specific (short) time frame. Having the tools to understand what you are doing is an empowering experience.

This week, I decided to shift the boundaries and make everyone work quickly, on more than one painting at a time, and the objective was 'what happens when I do this?'. Which means, you'll never do it wrong.

Under my nagging (tsk, I mean instruction), students worked to understand the architecture of, the underlying structure of the plant, simplifying it to work out how to begin, and to understand that if these basic structural elements were not correct (even in a very loose painting), then the plant would look wrong. Lots of washes, wet-on-wet and layering. Yummy.





The amazing thing is that Nisa, one of my most careful students, who never finishes anything in class, is the only student who DID finish TWO paintings in the time. Prickly and quickly is perhaps the way forwards!


Nisa's speedy work!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Draw In The Drawing Office Belfast Titanic Quarter

Belfast has a long tradition of shipbuilding, and the new museum, Titanic Belfast, provides a wonderful insight into our maritime heritage, as well as the history of excellence in engineering, inventiveness, craftsmanship and draftsmanship of this city.

The museum was built right at the top of the slipway, and behind the original Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices, which are about to undergo major renovation.

On 17th May, it is my great pleasure to be taking students to draw in The Drawing Office, in the very room where plans were drawn for many ships which were built here, including Titanic. 

I will teach how to deal with working outside the studio environment, how to choose where to start and to become comfortable working on location. It will be fun, friendly and informative. 

This is part of the National Drawing Day of Ireland, whose aim is to allow everyone to have access to a FREE tutored drawing session, no matter what their artistic background or past experience is. I was delighted to host a session last year, in Belfast School of Art. Students who attended that day really enjoyed the experience, and learnt a lot of new things.



If you would like to come along, please email me julie@juliedouglas.co.uk to reserve a place and to receive details of times etc - the price is FREE but spaces are strictly limited. No past experience is necessary. 


Drawings of busts, by Jean R, student
Sketch book drawing of the front of the Drawing Office, with the new museum reflected in the windows, by Julie Douglas


Materials - all students must bring their own drawing materials.  Please bring a sketch book (no bigger than A3) and pencils, elbow grease and enthusiasm. I provide tuition, encouragement and buckets of praise. 

Note: This must be treated as location drawing, so be prepared for chilly weather. Dress for comfort! 


Upcoming workshops - oil painting weekend, portrait weekend, water colour landscapes, intensive portfolio course. 

25th Aug - 5th Sept - Draw In, action packed two weeks of drawing and painting workshops with some of the finest artists working today. Handson workshops in figure drawing, oil painting, portraiture and tonal studies, with Colleen Barry (NY), PJ Lynch, Paul Foxton, Kathering Tyrrell and more.

 Check for details at  www.draw-in.co.uk  

Friday, 11 April 2014

Arts - food for the soul

I read a great quote the other day which said:
"You don't need to ask if you have a soul. You ARE a soul, you have a body."

And today I got a letter from a friend who is embarking on a drawing course, saying



Now I feel my soul dried. How amazing to read this expressed in such a way.  How interesting it is that no matter what we have studied or what our occupation may be (because this wasn't anything to do with history or sociology), eventually we acknowledge the calling to address our need to feed the soul.   It doesn't mean we've been doing everything wrong, but finding ways to ensure space in our days for some of all things, keeps the soul happy and reconnects us to... our self. 


Above, a page from the Nature Sketchbook Exchange project, my painting in Debbie's sketch book. 

Upcoming courses: Portrait drawing, this weekend
Oil painting workshop, portfolio course.