Friday, 23 November 2012

Drawing on location, Giant Deer, Belfast

I took one of my classes to the Ulster Museum this week to do some drawing. The aim was to tackle a subject which was much larger than usual - so what better than the giant deer, with its incredibly long antlers..?

A3 cartridge paper, 2B and 4B pencil,  by Julie Douglas

After doing the bulk of the drawing I decided that I really had to continue over onto the other page - only later to realise it was actually the front cover of the pad. Never mind! It really does have a great impact on the composition, using the wide format to extend the drawing.

Opening the pad, doubling the width.

When doing a demonstration, there's always that moment where you wonder if everything will turn out ok, as working with an audience is a rather different affair. But, nothing like a bit of pressure to keep ones focus! As you can see, the antlers are REALLY BIG!

 Quote of the day from Hilary... I'd given her some suggestions as to what to look for in her drawing, and shortly afterwards she gave a big sigh and started rubbing out. She looked at me and said, 'You're not always right, but you're never wrong'!  That'll do!

Next up - Portrait Workshop with lovely Mama Kaz modelling (who won't be quite as static as the deer) (and her antlers are much smaller as well).

Sunday, 18 November 2012


I have always said that I have the best job in the world. (and only SOMETIMES have I said it through gritted teeth!) One of the surprising and delightful perks is getting paintings sent to me, from my regular weekly students, out of the blue, when they've been doing a bit of artwork at home.

Sometimes I'll get a text of a drawing or some sculpture, or an email of paintings. Always, its a joy, for knowing students are happy enough to practise what they've started in class, and feel confident enough to share it with me, is a great compliment. Thanks guys!

This week I got two water colours, pears from Thomas and a tree from Paul and last week, some face studies from Andy. A bit of practise at home goes a long way.

Upcoming courses - Big Drawing Workshop and
Portrait Drawing Workshop. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey.. Oil Painting in Black and White

Black and white tonal studies, but without using black - a very good way to begin understanding about mixing Oil paint, without the stress of exact colour matching.

This week my weekly students tried their hands with Oil Paint - most had never used it and were very excited at the prospect (I know, it's lovely to be so easily pleased!). Many brought their old clothes ready for the Big Mess, though I think most of the mess was on my hands, not theirs.

Apart from Sarah, who did a beautiful print on her.. er, arm! And one or two others, now I think about it, who slathered a good bit over their own noses!

Now my work room is festoooned with little black and white paintings, hanging up to dry. Delicious!

Upcoming workshops - Portrait Drawing Day with model, 25th November,
Big Drawing Day, Dublin 2nd December. For info email

Friday, 9 November 2012

How to find the right teacher for you.

Learning is a very personal experience, though many students regard it as something of a group activity, certainly a competition, and often anticipate a degree of personal failure along the way. An expectation of failure is in opposition to our make up, and a good teacher will help you find ways to succeed - help you to find ways to expect to succeed.

Therefore, an important element in everyones learning experience is the teacher you choose. (I appreciate that in a college situation you may not have any option, but outside of that environment, we get to select whose class we join). This is a very basic fact that SO MANY people ignore. If we want to buy a chair, for example, we don't go out and buy ANY chair, we are selective.  Or if you were looking for classical guitar lessons, you'd not want to sign up with someone who only teaches Rock guitar. The same should happen when looking for a teacher. (and while the language we use may encourage you to think you are looking for a Class, what you are really seeking is a Teacher. The Class is all the other folks who are also looking for a Teacher.)

Here are some questions to ask yourself, as a Learner.
In advance of enroling - does this person appear interested in my learning, or are they keen to sweep me along with something I am not interested in doing?
Is the teacher asking any useful and relevant questions about ME?
Is the teacher guiding me in a positive way before I enrol?
Is this class structured in any way?

Once you begin attending a class -
Do I feel comfortable and nurtured?
Have I learnt anything that I didn't know already?
Do I feel important in the group?
Do I feel welcome?
Do I understand what I am being told? Do I feel that it is ok to ASK, if I don't understand?
Does the teacher care?
Am I being praised - in other words, is any notice being taken of any improvements I am making?
Is this enjoyable?

What to avoid like the plague..
EVERYTHING that makes you feel uncomfortable. Everyone's interpretation of this will be different. Personally, I can't bear sarcasm from a teacher, or any language that humlitates of discomforts a student.  No one should be laughed at or humiliated in any way. This will seriously hinder any possibility of the student learning anything.
Avoid the teacher who can't answer your questions. If you aren't progressing, don't assume it is because you are hopeless, ask for help. If it doesn't come, ask why that is.

And when you have FOUND the right teacher for you, make sure you always book your seat in advance, and then tell everyone you know - for they may be looking for them too!

Currently, I am a student as well as a teacher, and its an interesting and valuable experience. The tutors are fantastic and I am so grateful. We can all recognize the teacher who gives way beyond what is expected and it is good practice to acknowledge their gifts as we go along. A great teacher GIVES, and it doesn't take a lot of effort to recharge THEIR batteries, by thanking them.

Three cheers for the great givers out there. Thanks.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Portfolio, water colour and presentation. (student work)

Recently my dear friend and long-loyal student Gennie mentioned that all her artwork was lying loose in a folder, looking a bit neglected. So I offered to assemble it all nicely in a portfolio to both preserve it, and make it easier to view. (The 'portfolio' in this case was a folder with clear sleeves bound together like a large book.)
There are so many good reasons to do this. Firstly, changing the setting of the artwork means that you, the artist, see it freshly. Your memory of it as a work in progress fades, compared to the more arms-length view you will have now - this means you see it more the way others see it. (ie without the emotion or pain of the production!)

Secondly, the way artwork is arranged in relation to other images impacts how we read it. Often, seemingly disparate subjects now appear to have a connection. The appparently radom become neatly flowing. Its not so much improving what you have made, but giving it a context, and a clear, clean way in which to look at it. 
Also, the personality of the artist begins to emerge, in a new and sometimes surprising way. Perhaps the strongest compositions were of subjects that particularly apealed to the artist. Perhaps a painting that was not liked so much at the time of painting will now take on a new resonance.

And any device which does that, as well as preserving it cleanly, has got to be a good thing. 

For students applying to college, presentation can actually make or break the work, harsh as that may seem. There is an art in producing, and another in presenting. Putting artwork together like this can take from two hours to a whole day. 
(Apologies for the poor photographs of such lovely work - these were taken in fading light, on my on-the-blink camera. Tomorrow, new camera!) 

Up coming workshop: Portrait workshop, Belfast.