Monday, 14 October 2019

Graphite study for portrait commission

I always like to do a pencil study before I start a final piece of artwork. It helps familiarise me with the subject, and when it's a commission, it allows the client to see what the finishes item will look like, and gives them the chance to alter things. When it's a portrait, this is the time to decide if the likeness is true (and that means true to how the client 'sees' that person, not how I see them). 

I decided to show the finished study first, then you can scroll down to see the stages in reverse! In this case I drew a map of the face, then worked tonally from the eyes outwards. 
The whole thing took around 10 hours. 

For info on classes or portrait commissions, please email

Monday, 16 September 2019

Rose Painting Workshop with Kathleen Speranza, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 9th - 13th June 2020

I am delighted to be hosting a Rose Painting Workshop by the esteemed artist Kathleen Speranza in June 2020.

Garden roses are some of the most beautiful forms of the botanical world. They have been cultivated for centuries and bear little resemblance to the stiff generic varieties that are commonly available. In this intensive workshop, painters will have an opportunity to study their complex geometry and exquisite colour subtlety. The course will include an indirect method of painting and the introduction of a specific limited palette. A brief slide lecture on the hostory of the genre will inspire us as we explore this timeless motif. Previous painting experience is encouraged. 

Kathleen Speranza is an artist with more than 30 years of painting and teaching experience. She maintains a studio in Lynn, Massachusetts where she lives, and teaches workshops around the world. Ms Speranza is also on the faculty at Rhode Island School of Design and teaches Painting and Drawing to sophomores in the Illustration Department there. You can see more of her beautiful work here:

Your host, Julie Douglas, has 25 years experience teaching drawing, painting, and illustration, and runs Belfast Academy of Realist Art (BARA), which offers termtime drawing and painting workshops, as well as year-round workshops with visiting artists, including Michael John Angel (founder of The Angel Academy of Art, Florence), David Gray, Paul Foxton and Colleen Barry. Julie is a combination of enthusiasm, Irish hospitality, and fun; she will welcome you warmly and think of everything you need before you do. If you've been looking for an arty guardian angel, you have found her!

This five-day workshop is fully tutored. The day runs from 10am - around 5pm with a break at lunch time. There are cafes and deli's nearby, and students may go out for their break or bring lunch to eat in the studio, which is large and roomy. Refreshments are provided. 

The BARA easels studio comfortably fits 16 students each with their own dedicated lighting, wall space, chair/stool, and shelves. The second studio has large tables for flat work, tracing and cutting, with space for students to eat as well as a comfy seating area ('the parlour').

Cost: £700 to include instruction, tea/coffee, and some materials. A list of materials will be sent upon booking.
Deposit of 50% is required upon booking to hold your place.

To book a place on Kathleen Speranza's workshop please email

Terms & Conditions:
A 50% non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place. Full payment must be received by 1st May 2020. If booking after 1st May, full payment is due at time of booking. 
Minimum number of students is 15.

COST: £700 to include instruction, tea/coffee and some materials. A list of materials will be sent upon booking a place. 

Not included:
Accommodation, 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. 
If necessary, we reserve the right to replace the tutor in an emergency. 

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.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

New season, new YOU!

Summer is always very busy in the studio, with week-long and two-week-long workshops allowing students the opportunity to attend a more intensive class. Great fun. In August I held a Drawing and Oils workshop, which was folowed by two weeks with Maestro M John Angel, from the Angel Academy of art, Florence, teaching methods of the Old Masters.

Maestro, M John Angel, during one of his demonstrations at BARA
September sees the new academic term, and I am taking bookings for my regular weekly classes. These will resume mid September and I have some spaces available. The times are:

Tuesday mornings (10.30 - 1pm)Wednesday 11.30 - 2pm, Wednesday evening 7.30 - 10pm Thursday 10.30 - 2.30 and Thursday evening 7.30 - 10pm. 

Lovely little oil study by student May during the oils workshop
If you have booked a place already, you do not need to contact me, your place is reserved.

I will be resuming Friday Night Life on 20th and 27th September. These sessions are one-offs but must be booked in advance. 
If you have been meaning to commit to regular classes, I encourage you to jump in and join a class. They are friendly, challenging and designed to help you improve very quickly. 

Gennie, with a little paint on herself! 
For all info please email 

Friday, 30 August 2019

Drawings of skulls, student artworks.

When two of your students tell you they have a collection of skulls at home, the sun comes out, and you ask very nicely if you can borrow them...

Strong and dramatic as a subject, they are interesting to draw and provide great shapes and negative spaces.
Marie, work in progress

Marina using charcoal for the first time! 

Marina's lovely drawing, completed

Lesley's drawing, with a touch of white coloured pencil on the brightest areas

Rosejane's drawing - this was a very small skull and a lovely study. 

Marie's drawing complete after two sessions. Wonderful!

Back row: Edel, Eve, Ann, Cathy, Lesley, Rosejane and Julie.
Seated: Ciara and Marie
Upcoming workshops: Weekly classes resume in September as well as Friday Night Life drawing classes. For info please email

All classes are held in Belfast Academy of Realist Art studios.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Portrait commission, graphite.

'Ben', size A3, graphite. 
I have just finished this portrait commission - the first of several commissions on my list. I have a portrait workshop coming up on 22 - 26th July. Please email for info

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Portrait drawing and colour study, 'Christie, graphite pencil.

One of the most important parts of my painitng practice is the preparatory drawing stage. If I skip this  step and go straight to paint, I am always sorry. And in many instances I will put the painting on hold, and complete a drawing study before returning to the painting. 

Why would you bother?? Because 'drawing' is 'information gathering'. 'Drawing' is familiarising your eye with the subject, both in shapes and in tonal variations, and on a subconscious level it helps you make ALL the decisions that you will have to make during the painting stage - but minus the colour. The better your drawing, the better your painting will be. Bearing in mind the millions of decisions being taken while producing a painting or drawing, it is NOT quicker to sidestep the drawing stage. Instead, it is more painful, as all the decisions are being made at once. 

These photos show stages of my drawing of my son Christie. A very handsome fellow, I know! 

The drawing took many hours over several weeks. The fabric took the longest time! I drew using 2H, and F pencils, on A3 cartridge paper. The next stage is the colour study, and this is the BEST fun! 

The point of a colour study is just that - it's not a mimiature version of the final artwork. This little painting, around 6 inches x 3 inches, took about 45 minutes of blobby heaven, and is much more detrailed than need be. I showed it to Christie, who thought he looked like he'd been stung by lots of Bees. Well, perish that thought! This is straight to paint, no drawing, just mixing colour and setting it down, keeping planes clean, and separate from each other. 

With all that preparation I am sorry to say that I have started the final painting twice, which is one time too many!! I oredered linen, but it was thickly toothy and I didn't like it. I put down an under layer, which took about 3 hours, but decided to stop. It's so much better to listen to your own gut - and quicker to start again early in the proceedings, than torture yourself for days before conceding. 

Upcoming workshops- portrait drawing and painting 22 - 26 July
Oil painting 22 - 26 August
Life Drawing Friday evening 19 July
Life Drawing weekend - Fri 26 & Sat 27 July
For info email

Friday, 5 July 2019

Friday Night Life, BARA Belfast.

Students at work while Jeff poses
It's not every day that models come along in two's, but tha'ts exactly what happens with Jeff and Debbie! This lovely couple have been life modelling for ages, and are great to work with. Based in central Ireland, they travel all over the place to model for artist and students.
Lovely study by Sarah M
 They came to BARA for the first time in May, and we drew Jeff, and Debbie joined in with the class to do some drawing, for the first time ever! (She is second from the right in the top photo)

A selection of student's drawings 
Wonderful colourful chalk studies by CMW - these are always the envy of the studio!
 The second visit later in May was Debbie's turn to model, see some drawings above and below.

A snap of some of the class, with Debbie bottom left
 I'm delighted that they will be returning in July. If you are looking for a model (or two!)

 they can be contacted via their blog

Friday 19th July 6 - 8pm, drawing Jeff.

Friday 26th July 6 - 8pm and Saturday 27th July 10 - 4pm Drawing Debbie.

For more info email

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Our daily breadsticks.. Pastel drawings BARA students

I was looking through an old A6 sized sketch book recently and found a little drawing of a plaited loaf.  And I thought aha, great subject..!! The drawing was done during a class, MANY years ago. When my children were small, I dond't have time for major painting projects, and the Sketch Book became the life saver - even though the maximum time I had was around 10 minutes during a class, it was enough to help me feel connected. With myself.

Little sketch book study, Julie Douglas 
So I bought lots and LOTS of part-baked loaves and rolls - the kitchen smelled fabulous!
Baskets of bread for the studio

The 'table of choices', from patterned cloth to croissants, seeded rolls, hot cross buns, jam and knives and spoons... 
The first challenge for the students was in setting up their arrangements. It's best to start with lots of options, then narrow it down to just three or four elements. The results were lovely.  They had a choice of tinted papers to work on - it is good to not work on a white surface all the time.
Cathy's pastel study 
Two sessions of work in this chalk study by Christine McC
Pat's oil pastel drawing 
Pat treid her hand at chalk pastels AND oil pastels. The image below is the chalk study - it has a softer look to it than the oil. However, the advantage of oil is a different intensity of tonal values. Note her brave composition, with the knife pointing out towards the viewer.

Pat's start in chalk pastel 

Catherine working on her pastel drawing

Carlo's chalk drawing. Nice and jammy.
A lovely chalk study by Rose-Jane
Upcoming workshops include portrait workshop 22 - 26 July, Oils workshop 22 - 26 August
Life drawing Friday 19th July 6pm, and a weekend session on life Drawing from Friday evening 27 July -  Saturday 27th July. 
For more info plesae email

Friday, 28 June 2019

All wrapped up - fabric drawings in pastel

Often used as a backdrop to a painting, cloth makes a wonderful subject in it's own right too.
I set up four options for my students - two were large white sheets wrapped around poles and secured with a knot, a tailor's mannequin with a cloth secured by rope and a shop window 'torso' wrapped in a table cloth. All needed the help of good lighting to make the shadows stronger and the highlights brighter, giving the extra contrasts needed to take a subject from bland to brilliant!

Catherine M, a lovely study in chalk pastel - and in just one session! 
While this is certainly a complicated subject, which really allows you to feel the brain cogs whirring as you try to fathom a starting place,  it's apparent lack of focal point and apparent lack of beauty means there is no distraction. It forces each artist to select a point that interests them - a particular fold, or a series of shadows, for example - and their attention to that allows the rest of the drawing to grow.
Full use of the page by Marie. This was her first session, and she plans to do more next week. 
 The results were amazing. Many students opted to continue their drawing for a second session.
Alison's work coming on well, with Paul hard at work in the background. 

My demo

Great drawing by Christine, who spent two sessions on this stufy

Lesley beside her lovely artwork

Lesley showing her maximum-pastel-holding technique!! 

Brigid's drawing, next to the subject

Brigid's drawing - a lot of work in just one session,

Chalk pastel by David, on larger paper.

Rose-Jane's lovely drawing, pastel

Christine McC - a huge amount achieved in just one session! 

Sandra's lovely drawing. You can just see which part of the arrangement she is studying, near the rope on the mannequin. 

Hilary, during her second session at the subject. Lovely use of composition. 
I feel so lucky to have such a great studio space. The hard floor makes clearing up so easy after using dusty chalks. It's much more challenging to use chalks and charcoal at home, unless you don't mind having multi coloured skirting boards..!

Upcoming workshops: portrait workshop July 22 - 26, Oil workshop August 22 - 26,
Life drawing sessions Friday 19 July 6pm,  Fri 26 (6 pm) & Sat 27th July (10 - 4pm).

For info please email