Friday, 1 April 2016

'Dapples at Scrabo', oil painting 11in x 14 inches on linen.

Some paintings are fast, while others take their time to brew. In this case, I started the painting a few months ago (and documented the drawing stage through to the first layer of colour here ), and had many interruptions in its progress, with commissioned works, lots of teaching sessions and writing my book. However, I did finish it, I think (..but there's always the possiblity of having another visit at some point..), and here it is. It is part of a series of light dapples. I just love light.

sunlight on skin. 

The book is nearly all written - it's about what happens in my weekly workshops, and is full of illustrations of students artworks and demonstrations on how to approach drawing and painting. I can't wait to share it with you, and I"ll keep you posted! 

Upcoming workshop: oil painting 23 & 24 April, Belfast
For info email

Friday, 25 March 2016

Out and about, drawing at The Ulster Museum Belfast

This week I took my students for a bit of location drawing at the Ulster Museum. This is a wonderful place to draw. While it is certainly a hive of activity, it's large atrium allowing sounds to echo round the building and bounce around the walls, it is (contrary to what you might expect), a welcoming environment and students have no trouble zoning out the noise (or the more curious members of the public), and focusing on drawing.

Standing, L-R, Trevor, Carolyn, Sara. Seated, Mark and myself.

It is good to work away from a desk - being outside our usual comfort zone keeps us fresh and alert and of course the amazing variety of subject matter seems to be endless, from busts to animals to pots, canons, cars, willow sculptures, shells, ceramics and treasure from ship wrecks.

Demo time

Susan, Tony, Margery and Nisa

An extra bonus is the lovely garden which is overlooked by the cafe, so we can draw the trees no matter what the weather is doing. We began with some charcoal drawing, getting a bit messy, which was a good way to warm up and settle in.

Chad -  tree in charcoal
Work by Neill, Peter, Dympna and Karen

Front - back: Chad, Peter (Beaming), Dympna, Karen, Ben, Jackie, Neill
Peter's little sketch book drawing, his first time on location. Great!
And as it was the last day or term, we had to have lunch together, of course!


Saturday, 20 February 2016

Watercolour Study: Black and white, as well as colour

This week it was watercolour in my studio, with students attempting to complete two small paintings of the same subject, in just a couple of hours. This is a tall order, but time limits are an excellent way to speed up our decision-making - often we will be much braver and just cut out the worry-time, and get on with the painting.

This is my demonstration painting - both artworks were side by side in an A4 sized Moleskine sketchbook. I did the drawing first, and then drew the 'frame' around it, and not the other way around.

I did the 'Black and White' using Payne's Gray only, diluting it with water to get the lightest tones, and never using white paint. It is possible to use white paint in water colour, but it gives all the colours  a horrible greyishness, and stops it beging transparent. The transparency is one of the most delightful features of watercolour painting, so I don't use white. I started at the aubergine stalk, in a pale tone. It is nearly imposssible to judge the first tones correctly as so much of the paper is still white - white is a loud and dominant tone, which fools our eye! So choose a tone to get going, and remember to keep going back to check the relative tones, all through the course of the painting and altering where necessary. 

The advantage of drawing the 'frame' is that it neatly encloses the image. This is a tonal study, rather than a finished artwork, and I prefer drawing a freehand line, no matter how wobbly, rather than using a ruler. The second painting, in colour, was much quicker, seeing as I'd done all the tonal working-out already!

The whole lot took a couple of hours. Below are some lovely student examples of their work in progress.

Susan C, student
Trevor, student
Carolyn, Student

Next up - Colour Pencil weekend workshop, Life Drawing workshop, OIls weekend and Watercolour Landscape workshop.
For information email

Friday, 27 November 2015

Draw In is BACK!! Michael John Angel and David Gray in Belfast 2016!

I am delighted to announce the summer workshops for July and August 2016.

Internationally renowned artists David Gray and  Maestro Michael John Angel will each lead a masterclass workshop in Oils, at Belfast School of Art.

Mr Angel, teaching

 Michael John Angel, known to his students as 'Maestro' is the founder and Director of the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy

David gray is an award-winning painter with a huge Youtube following. He teaches throughout America and Europe.
Magdalene,  work in progress, Michael John Angel
In order to have the best workshop possible, I invited each Master to choose what subject they would most prefer to teach. So Mr Angel is teaching painting the figure using the methods of Caravaggio, and Davd Gray is teaching Portrait Painting from a model. 

Both workshops will include demonstrations and techniques to be used each day.

Sleeping Muse, by David Gray 

For details about Mr Angel's workshop (Wed 17th - Sun 21st August 2016) please visit

For details about David Gray's workshop (Mon 25th - Sat 30th July 2016, six days), please visit

I have attended workshops with both artists, and highly recommend them as honest, knowledgable and willing to share their experience so that all attendees get the most from them. Most masterclass workshops that I have attended have had students of all levels - from those with only a small amount of experience, right up to professional artists. Without exception, everyone gains.

Some of my own students have asked why I would go to a workshop - I go because it is wonderful to have clear, uninterrupted time to devote to painting, and it is so valuable and interesting to hear each different Master's point of view. This is an enormous subject, and we'll be learning about it for ever.

Spaces are limited on these workshops, and the numbers are kept low to ensure plenty of attention. 

For info and booking email

Draw In is the title of initiatives by Julie Douglas to raise the profile of traditional drawing and painting techniques as a vehicle for improving creativity for everyone, in all walks of life. For a look back at the first Draw In, which included artists PJ Lynch, Paul Foxton, Julie Douglas and, from the grand Central Academy NY,  Colleen Barry, please visit

David Gray Masterclass 2016

The Portrait from Life

Monday  25th July - Saturday 30th July 2016, (six days) Belfast 

Nina, oil on panel, David Gray
David Gray is an award winning oil painter known for his still life and human subject paintings rendered in a style reminiscent of the French Neoclassical painters Jacque-Louis David and his student Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. 

Alla Prima portrait, David Gray

In this workshop, working from the live model David will take you step by step through the process he uses in creating his professional works. From the initial under-drawing through to final glazes, learn to build your painting in a series of layers that will help you effectively translate the observed model into an elegant and refined portrait. 

Each phase of the process will be covered in detail. Daily demos will be given and you will apply the lessons on your own canvas. Personal attention will be given to each student.  

Please join David for six days of intense study, of learning techniques and concepts for painting the portrait from life, as well as camaraderie, and hopefully a little fun, too.
Demonstration painting, David Gray

Demonstration painting, David Gray

Further Workshop Details:The workshop includes: 5 days tuition plus a one day demonstration session: six days in total. Tuition is  from 10am - 5pm daily on Mon , Tues, Wed, & Fri - Sat, with a 1 hour lunch break. In the middle of the workshop, day 4, Thursday, will be a full portrait demonstration by David, giving students time to rest and enjoy watching the entire process. Individual and group critiquesPainting demonstrations every day. Discussions on materials and techniques 
Cost: £750 to include 30 hours of instruction, tea/coffee and some materials (canvas will be provided as well as all flammable liquids so that students don't need to worry about those if flying). 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 May 2016. This is non-refundable. Payment is made upon recept of invoice. 
Minimum number of students - 10.

Not included:
Accommodation and flights, transport and all other personal costs. If the course is cancelled for any reason, a full refund will be made. 
 If traveling, it is recommended that you take out insurance to cover costs in the unlikely event of cancellation etc. 

Details of accomodation 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.

Michael John Angel Masterclass, 2016

'Painting the Human Figure From Photos using the methods of Caravaggio'   

 Wednesday 17th - Sunday 21st August 2016 Belfast.

Michael John Angel painting St John
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. Mr. Angel has taught workshops at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, in addition to lecturing at the Florentine campuses of several American universities and various private schools. From 1982 to 1988 he was the Director of the National Portrait Academy in Toronto, Canada, and from 1992 - 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.

                                                                Course Description:
Instructor: Michael John Angel

From Jan van Eyck, through Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Canaletto, Reynolds and Gainsborough, to Norman Rockwell and the present day, painters have always used the best technology available to them. Such technology includes the camera obscura, mirrors and photographs and is extremely convenient, but it is often used incorrectly.

In this one-week workshop, maestro Michael John Angel teaches the class the proper use of photographs, using a method similar to Caravaggio’s use of mirror projection. All photographs are provided by Mr Angel.

The course begins with a few basic exercises and includes various illustrated lectures in proportion, gesture, under-drawing and oil-painting materials. During the course, each student produces an oil painting in full colour, and throughout the workshop Mr Angel gives painting demonstrations that clarify each stage of the painting process.

Students have the options of working from a photo of the live model, or from a single-figure painting by Caravaggio.

Students will also receive various pdf handouts, with illustrations, that encapsulate the method of painting and drawing the human figure accurately. Other pdf handouts will explain the different grounds, materials and mediums used in oil painting and describe the various layers used in a 17th-century underpainting-overpainting oil technique.

Mr Angel is the Director of Studies  and senior instructor at the Angel Academy of Art, Florence. 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 International Salon, he is a judge on several other national and international painting juries,: the Collection Beaux-Arts RĂ©aliste, IlluxCon, and the Portrait Society of Canada, for example.

Michael John Angel painting Caravaggio

Further Workshop Details:
The workshop includes 30 hours tuition, from 10am - 5pm daily with a 1 hour lunch break. 
Individual and group critiques
Painting demonstrations by Mr Angel
Discussions on materials and techniques 

Cost: £800 to include 30 hours of 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 June 2016. 
Minimum number of students - 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. 

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.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Portrait commission, colour pencil on Bristol Board

I have just finished working on my portrait commission, and wanted to show some of the stages involved.

Above - the finished artwork. It's hard to photograph it - it looks a lot warmer in reality. The smoothness of flesh is created by using thousands of tiny strokes, with very sharp pencils. A blunt pencil creates a clumpy lumpy texture, but a sharp pencil give control, albeit slow and careful. 

I began a week ago. 

The first stage is, I admit, really weird-looking. I draw the whole image out so it looks like an Ordnance Survey Map, so that when I am working in colour, I don't need to make so many 'drawing' decisions, and can concentrate more fully on the colours and tones I need. 

I seem to start with one eye, every time. 

Above - showing the tiny strokes of flesh. The forehead is a challenge, especially when it is smooth and perfect. 

Creeping down the face - it looks rather like the colour is being poured on. if only it were that simple! I complete small areas at a time, so that I don't have to revisit the whole thing over and over. I do have to do a lot of comparitive observing, all through the artwork, and again  at the end, but generally speaking, as much work is done as I go along as possible. 

Pressure is a much misunderstood aspect of colour pencil. if you lean very gently, you are effectively doing a rubbing of the paper, and that is not what you want. You need to lay colour down with conviction, but without leaving any trace of your line. The exception to this is in the hair. You can see above that I lay the initial tones down more roughly, to get the paper colourse, before going over it again and again to build up a really rich dark colour. A lot of elbow grease here. Mixed in with walked to the park so the cabin fever doesn't set in.. 

Above - another view of the less-sharp pencils, roughly put down for the initial hair.

Many hours later (about 20) everything is almost covered. The white paper is beginning to look very cold, so I added a light warm ochre above the heads to soften it. (see top)

Next up: drawing and water colour weekend, 
Portrait drawing workshop

For info email

Monday, 2 November 2015

A Titanic Experience - The Big Draw in Belfast's Drawing Offices 2015

October is The Big Draw, a festival championed by The Campaign For Drawing, in the UK, to encourage and promote drawing as an activity that includes everyone.

Obviously, this sits extremely well with me, as I view drawing as one of the most important ways to connect with our own selves as well as communicating with others.

A festival like this is the perfect opportunity to shine a spotlight on drawing, and what better venue to get Belfast on the map, than the Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices?

The Drawing Office, 1912
These iconic buildings were where naval architects and draftsmen drew up the plans for the ships which were built here, including the Titanic. I have been honoured to have regular access to the building over the past couple of years for drawing workshops, in partnership with the Titanic Foundation, who are in charge of ensuring the buildings are cared for. Soon, major renovation work will be underway and the building will return to it's former glory.

Maeve and Siobhan, from the Titanic Foundation, helping with the set-up
Did you know that the word 'titanic' means Gigantic? Massive, enormous, fantastic? If we're having a BIG Draw, it might as well be titanic. Over 100 people, children and parents, arrived to make it not only a big draw, but a really big class too.

Tables were laid with long lengths of paper, like table cloths, and after listening to me reading a story, which featured Samson and Goliath, the two huge yellow cranes which tower above the Ship Yard,  everyone set to work, drawing on the same sheet. 

But that really did mean EVERYONE. It wasn't enough that the children were drawing - the parents had to do it too. After their initial hesitation ('What? Me? Oh no, I can't... I haven't... but....'), and a small bit of encouragement ('here's a pen', smiling face), Mum's and Dad's started joining in. 

Above, Dad is engrossed... 
This changed everything. No longer were the adults over-seeing. Now they were participating. In fact, the parents were so settled in that we had trouble stopping them! 

By George, aged 7

A peek at Bailey's drawing 
After an hour and a half, 8 large sheets of paper were filled, a Titanic effort, of fun and imagination. A very different type of drawing to what the original draftsmen were doing in this building, but imagination is the start of every idea, and the ideas were flowing today. There was a tremendous feeling of happiness and well being. H&W - happy and well!
H&W - happy and well! 

With Judith, my enthusiastic helper, and all the drawings of the morning

This link takes you to a video created by Paul Marshall. 

Some of the artists!

Thanks to everyone who came and drew, and thanks to Maeve, Siobhan and Catherine at the Titanic Foundation for their work in setting up and promoting the event, and to Judith Gordon for helping. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Portrait Drawing, graphite pencil

I have just finishsed work on the preparatory drawing for a portrait commission.

I don't always do such a finished 'rough' - it often depends who the client is, how well they know my work, and what their requirements are. I do enjoy this stage - it's a great way to get to know the pattern of the faces and sort out balance of tones etc, in order to create a good portrait (as opposed to a copy of a photograph, which is an entirely different thing altogether).

Finished rough with client-led alterations

Also, in this instance, the photographic reference was from a couple of years ago (as provided by the client) and this means the little girl's face has changed shape as she has grown. So it is necessary to use more recent photographs as further poeints of reference to ensure the portrait is a satisfactory mix of truth as it was when the photo was taken, combined with the truth of how the child is seen now. 

I like to start with the eyes, choosing one eye to be dominant over the other.

Once most of the first face was blocked in I moved to the second face. Children's faces are difficult as they are so much smoother with more subtle variations in tone across the flesh. 

At this stage, above, I showed the drawing to the client, as a sneek preview to ensure things were looking familiar to him. He was delighted and asked only that I take some of the fulness away from the jaw on the child - you will notice this if you look at the final drawing at the top of this page. I also softened the tones a lot on bothe faces and finished the background loosely. 
The size is 32cm x 35 cm. I will show you the colour version when it is done. 
Now I'm off to the post office to send the original for approval - fingers crossed! 

Next up: Two day landscape water colour workshop 
In November - Portrait Drawing workshop and Oils weekend. For info email 

The Big Draw - 
As part of the Big Draw 2015, I am holding a Children's Drawing session at The Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices in Belfast's Titanic Quarter on Saturday 30th October. The event is free. For bookings and info or call 028 9073 0490. 
More information here