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

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

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

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!