Friday, 14 June 2019

Going for gold - Oil portrait with time lapse!

I have been doing a lot of portraits recently, and have really enjoyed painting many lovely people. 

It's a real honour to spend time with the sitters. In my recent works, none had been painted before nor modeled previously and they all found it relaxing (well, the pressure was all on me, of course!). 

This painting is of my handsome friend Jonny. He was very happy for me to experiment with backgrounds. I started with plain grey, but felt that his head is so striking that I could be bolder. 

So, I painted a dark purple over the grey, then began leaf! Not the easiest of things to work with, but worth the effort for the amazing dramatic effect. 

This is the painting so far. I have yet to complete the hair and all those stripes on the shirt. The gold is, I think, looks quite contemporary.

Upcoming workshops with Julie in Belfast:
Life Drawing July 19th & 26th
Portrait workshop July 22 - 26th. 
For information please email 

Friday, 24 May 2019

Why small is the new big. Mini landscapes in water colour, student work.

 I have asked weekly my students what they'd most like to tackle in class, and their requests are varied, with a few surprises... The less expected answers include 'hands', 'sheep', 'cows' and 'birds' (does anyone know of a taxi dermist?!) (for birds, not cows or sheep..!). I am trying to work through as many suggestions as I can - last week we drew hands and this week it has been landscapes, in miniature.

Catherine M
 Why miniature, I hear you wonder...? There are many good reasons for starting small. One is COMPOSITION: Staring small allows you to focus on composition, identifying key points of interest rather than trying to put everything in. Landscapes can be daunting because of the scale of them in reality, so we must be selective about what we include, and what we leave out. Paring down information by working small really helps this.
Christine W.
Another good reason for 'small' is CONTROL: With water colour, one of the biggest challenges is controlling the behaviour of water over large areas. Working small allows you to observe the behaviour of water over small areas at a time, without the stress of trying to cope with large scale. 

Another benefit is to be gained from QUANTITY - working on several, not just one little artwork, take the pressure off 'the one'. Think of each painting as a draft, preparation for the next one and the next. 
PLAY: it is so important to be grown-up about the notion of playing, and let go of the actual outcome in favour of messing about! Lets call it 'playing, with intent', or 'deliberate playing'. Remembering that the aim was to learn about simplifying, I think they have done tremendously well. 
Sara C.
 The artworks here are by several students, who bravely played, and won! All images are no taller than 4 inches (10 cm) and were from photographs I had taken of the local area. Sara, above, moved on to using coloured pencil (bottom right of image) to tackle the lovely patterns in water.
Pat F
Carolyn G

Liz C

Hilary J - this artwork is in coloured pencil, on water colour paper. 

Ciara C

Ciara C - a closer view
Ciara's artworks, above and below, are beautifully executed and have a gentle illustrative quality about them.
Ciara C
Upcoming workshops include Friday night Life Drawing (7th June), and the summer programme is available  below. To be added to Julie's mailing list to hear automatically about extra workshops, please email

NEW** Portrait drawing and painting: Mon 22 - Fri 26th July 10 - 4.15pm, from photos, and with a model. Fully tutored, cost £600. 

August 22 - 26th: Drawing and oils workshop with Julie Douglas. This workshop will improve your drawing skills using pencil, charcoal and chalks, teach you how to create beautiful still life set-ups and you will produce an oil painting based on one of your own  arrangements. This workshop is perfect for all levels of ability, and is an excellent preparation for the oils workshop which directly follows, with Maestro John Angel. (see below). Cost £600 (materials list provided)

August 28th - September 5th: Oil Painting like the Masters. A workshop delivered by the Maestro Michael John Angel, from the Angel Academy of Art, Florence. Details of this can be found here:

Monday, 13 May 2019

Boots and ballet shoes! Student's drawings from Belfast Academy of Realist Art.

Last week I decided it was drawing time, and set out a variety of boots, shoes and ballet shoes. 
The first class used charcoal, and the rest of the week students opted for graphite pencil. The results were amazing. Here are a few examples. 

Charcaol drawing by Teresa L. (size A3)
When attending a weekly class, students have the benefit of trying lots of media, which broadens perspective and changes perception. The down side is that it's only once a week! 

Pencil drawing of work boot by Christine McC.

Christine hard at work. You can see here that the drawing was A3 sized and larger than the actual boot. This gives a dramatic drawing. 

Jane's lovely drawing of a boot.
Beautiful A2 drawing by Sara C. Great use of the page. 
Sara's drawing next to the shoes - larger than life!
 Students work very hard, and hardly grumble at ALL..! But for those times when a good grumpy sentence is really necessary, I've decided that a loud turkey-gobble is the best solution. So, instead of naming all the faults in your artwork and getting more and more agitated in the process, the new best thing is to do an impression of a turkey, using the most appropriate emotion to match your frustration. Not going the way you wanted?? GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!!! I know it seems ridiculous, but it WORKS!! The frustration gets out of your mouth, without increasing your self disgust, and everyone in the room sympathises before bursting into laughter.

Alison working on her large and fabulous charcoal drawing.
Lesley's lovely drawing.

Dramatically large drawing by Pat.

You can see the pink boots in this photo - quirky!

Catherine working on her lovely drawing.

Catherine's drawing. 

A difficult angle, a pair of shoes in their box, surrounded by tissue paper. This is Glynis M's artwork. 
 I'm so proud of my students. Well done everyone.

For info about classes please email
Julie Douglas has written a manual on drawing, 'Notes from the Atelier' which contains over 32 exercises as she delivers them at her weekly classes. A hard backed book with over 500 photos and drawings by Julie and her students, it's the perfect home study or gift to yourself or your arty friend. Details here:

Friday, 19 April 2019

Paul Foxton's workshop in Belfast.

Sometimes in life we are lucky enough to meet people who share the same values and principles as ourselves, making the connection easy and comfortable. In my creative life I have met a few such kindred spirits. One of them is Paul Foxton, who I was delighted to welcome to Belfast Academy of Realist Art last week, where he delivered a colour mixing workshop to students from all over the world.

Paul introducing some of the group to the Munsell chips. 
His workshop ran for five days, and the first three days were mainly demonstrations, as well as mixing colour, learning how to assess value, hue and chroma, without actually painting anything at all. This mixing practice took place around the big table, so everyone could see everyone else's palettes and Paul had a great overview. Working together in this way de-personalised the struggle, and helps everyone understand what they're doing.

Once students showed a clear understanding of the process,  they began painting objects at the easel. 

Ciaran, working hard at the easel. 

Everyone worked very hard, and there were lightbulb moments all week! 

Some of Ciaran's colour studies.

The last night - only three students stayed over till the next day, so we celebrated with a meal out. L-R Girish, Alexei, Judy, Julie (me!) and Paul 
 I am thrilled to say that Paul is coming back again next year with a different workshop, and I will give you the dates as soon as we have confirmed them. 

For information on all workshops at Belfeast Academy of Realist Art please email

Up coming workshops include drawing and oils (22 - 27 April), portait drawing (25 & 36 April). 

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Practice Makes Permanent - oil portrait sketches (time lapse)

I've been doing a lot of portrait paintings recently, around 15 in quick succession. It was an interesting experience and I'm sure that it has changed my approach, for a little while at least! I wanted to work quickly, so set deadlines of four - six hours. I was lucky that I'd already planned a week away with an arty friend, so we were cocooned in a cottage for a week, with only paints, knitting wool and a 1000 piece jig saw (and some excellent Audibles). Blissssss!! Bliss, but very tiring. I managed to produce 7 paintings in 5 days. Would I do it again? You bet! (But next time I'll factor in a spa at the end to unknot my painter-shoulder..) 

The drawing, completed enough to transfer onto canvas.
For this portrait, I decided to take time lapse photos, and I've put the results below, both of the drawing stage and then the painting itself. I much prefer to work from life, but in this case it was not possible, so I worked from a phone - which is roughtly the same 'size' as a head would be if the sitter was right in front of me. I don't zoom in, except to check measurements. The drawing was done quickly and not brought to a high level of completion - just enough to know I had the likeness and correct proportions. 

Very basic set-up!! 
Click the movies below to watch the process (each film is around 17 seconds). 

The drawing took 45 minutes, the painting took just over three hours. 

For programme information about upcoming workshops in Belfast, please email
I have an oils workshop from 22 - 27th April, a Portrait workshop 25th & 26th April and Friday Night Life Drawing sessions every second Friday. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Portrait in colour pencil, step by step

The finished artwork.

This commission was from a student of mine, of both her grand children. I drew the grandson first (see here for the stages of that artwork, partly, I think, to put off the wooly hat! However, once I got to it, I realy enjoyed it. 
The next photo shows both the line drawing which I bagan with, and the first stages of the face. 

Apologies for the different 'white' paper colour in the photos. This is because some were taken in the evenings, some in the day. But they are close enough for you to see the process I use.)

I like to complete every colour and tone before moving on to the next area, and NOT do an all-over base layer. This is because I think the base layer approach, in coloured pencil, can make artworks look flat and 'samey'. For the strand of hair across the face, I gently apply the colour and carefully put the flesh colours right up to it. I don't remove areas with a rubber. The photos below show this a bit more clearly.

The wooly hat was jolly and colourful, but I left the details soft and suggestive. If I had made the hat sharp-focussed, it may have detracted from the face - and it wasn't a portrait of the hat! SO soft focus and generalities do the job better. 

Ths phone above shows the two portraits side by side. 

I use Bristol paper (but not 'extra smooth' as it is plasticy and slippery) and mostly Carna d'Ache pencils. 

For portrait workshops, and workshops in oil painting, life drawing and water colour please email for programme information. Classes are held at Belfast Academy of Realist Art, and there is a life drawing class two Friday evenings a month. 

Monday, 11 February 2019

Spring and Summer workshop timetable 2019

New dates for Spring and Summer Workshops.

April 6th & 7th - life drawing weekend with model.
This workshop will include some warm-up posed of 20 minutes, then a long pose to make the most of the time. Fully tutored, materials are provided. 10am - 5pm.
Cost £250

April 8th - 12th: Colour mixing: the Munsell Colour Method, with Paul Foxton.                      
Paul is one of only three people in the world who teach this, and he is looking forward to returning to Belfast to deliver this workshop. There are a couple of places remaining.
Cost: £600 (materials list provided)

April 22nd - 27th: Drawing and Oils workshop with Julie Douglas.
An extended version of last year's workshop, you will learn to take control of your drawing, learn how to create beautiful set-ups, paint a black and white and a full colour oil painting.
Cost: £600 (materials list provided)

July 19 - 23rd: Portfolio course suitable for college entry,
or to up the standard of your work in an intensive environment. This popular course is back due to demand! Drawing in various media, painting and colour work, project development and individual attention to enhance your skills.
Cost: £600 (materials list provided)

August 22 - 26th: Drawing and oils workshop with Julie Douglas
This workshop will improve your drawing skills using pencil, charcoal, and chalks, teach you how to create beautiful still life set-ups, and you will produce an oil painting based on one of your arrangements. This workshop is perfect for all levels of ability, and is an exellent warm-up/preparation for the oils workshop which directly follows, with Maestro John Angel.
Cost: £600 (materials list provided)

August 28th - September 5th: Oil painting like the Masters
A workshop delivered by the Maestro Michael John Angel, from the Angel Academy of Art, Florence. Details can be found here:

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Oil painting, 'Vernon', step by step

There are so many photos here that I thought I'd show you the finished painting first! (to see the preparatory stages scroll below to the previous posts). I had two weeks from starting the canvas to my deadline, and while I thought I wouldn't manage it as I was teaching during the same period, I decided to go for it. 

Vernon, fully finished oil painting. 

The initial stages are always hideous-looking. The best way to describe it is that it's an act of faith. We paint towards how it WILL look, seeing everything as part of the greater process.  I transferred a line drawing trace from my pencil drawing onto canvas, which gave me a blotchy placement guide, then did a base 'wash' layer to lay in some tones, going very lightly on the face, only on the shadow areas. This is the stage where the amount of work ahead becomes dreadfully apparent. Gulp. 

First stage, not looking pretty, but a start. 
 Next evening I put in the flesh areas, the first layer of colour. The face and hands took about two and a half hours and were done in one sitting. Colour was laid in small 'tiles', and not rushed.
First layer of flesh

Between classes next day I whacked on the first layer of the coat... still 'tiling' but with larger strokes. 

                                  ...and scrubbed in some background colour (see below).

Saturday night and I had to address 'the hat', aaaargh...! Even in the drawing stage this had been a challenge, and I spent a few hours redrawing with pencil on the canvas, then layering in the pattern using raw umber before painting the lighter chunks in between the stripes. Then I slathered on some beardy tones. 

Huge palette, tiny dog..?! Faithful little Minnie keeping an eye on me.
I gave the beard a second look, and decided it looked like it had been stuck on.. So I darkened it a bit... 

 ...then decided I needed more flesh tones to work beneath it so painted more shadow-colours on top (see below). It looks like the photos are out of order, but they are not. So, I painted a beary area, then let it go by painting over it - always be prepared to remove, rethink and repaint.

I then gave the flesh (face and hand) a second (final) layer. 

Then it was Friday, so I crammed in a few hours before the Friday Night Life class, and tackled the Christmas foliage behind the head. Once I got into the swing of it, this was fairly quick, and quite satisfying/a relief to cover a large expanse of canvas.  

This pic also shows the chunky blocked-in hat.
Saturday was the Marathon day. I did 12 hours straight, with a one hour break in the middle for a cuppa tea and a chat. I painted a second layer on the coat... 

...and after dinner, which my son kindly brought to the studio for me (what a star!),

Dinner, cooked and delivered!!
 I could put the hat off no longer... 

I worked from the top, down. 
The 'secret' to working on something complex like this lies in what you're listening to. All day I'd had the BBC iPlayer in the background. I'd had the final of masterchef on, several episodes of 'The Twinstitute' (I can only have documentaries on, otherwise I can't paint!) and for the hat it was two hilarious programes by Billy Connolly, so I actually laughed my way through it! By 11pm I'd had enough and packed up. This is how it looked - all done bar the beard and the baubles on the left. 

I took Sunday off as I was tired.. And Monday was deadline day. I worked on the beard...

...darkened the background, tweaked the 'join' between beard, eyebrow and background, and completed the baubles. Just in time for the deadline! PHEW!! 

Upcoming workshops with Julie in Belfast Academy of Realist Art: Friday Night Life drawing, 1st Feb  6 - 8pm
Children's workshop, portrait workshop, pet painting workshop. 
April 8th - 12th: Paul Foxton gives his Munsell Colour Mixing workshop.

For info on all workshops please email