Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Abundance of... Apples. (water colour leaves, student work)

On Tuesday, I tried  an experiment. My laptop had finally gone on strike (see pic below, all white-screen and no action....) so I wrote a blog post on my phone. This seemed all very sensible, until I checked what folks could see - it was all text and no pictures. Strewth.

The laptop, which was 'charmingly' described as 'aw, sooo retro..', by staff at the Apple Store (it's obviously geriatric at 5 years old, then),  had been telling me for some time that it's a bit tired (though it's used the word 'full'), so it wasn't a total surprise, but a bit sad all the same. It's lived a life,  has been dropped a few times, is rather tinged with charcoal and has a piece of masking tape holding bits of it together, but I love it so. It's like a faithful pet.

I wonder what makes us hang on to the Bitter End with machinery - is it the familiarity of working with it, or the evidence of my life that is stored inside it? I know for sure that when I get a new one, my life will be transformed and I'll wonder why I didn't do it sooner....

... now it's Friday. I've been to the Apple Store (have you got one near you?? Aren't they FABulous?! The leaders in customer service and smiling) I am now in that bridging place, where I'm all tooled up with technology, frightening myself in trying to become familiar with the all-singing-all-dancingness, so not normal service here yet,  I am waiting from the info from sad-laptop to be transferred to the new one, and the only apparently geriatric part is the user (er, that'd be moi).. I'd not be surprised if there's an App here to make my tea. (bag out please).

It's been an awesome Autumn here, with crunchy leaves still on the pavements and the days dry and mild. Here is some golden evidence from the season - a photo from the park and some lovely student water colours.

Ciara C, student
Linda B, student
Carolyn G, student
Liz C, student
Geraldine B, student
Up coming - oil painting workshops, Christmas vouchers for classes, and booking being taken for weekly classes from January. For info email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk
(and please be patient, in the light of my technology-challenges!) or call
0044-7730 560517

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Conkers, drawing and water colour, student work

This year was a good year for conkers. That means the trees were heavily laden, and that lots of conkers had prickly spikes. In wetter years there are fewer conkers, with no spikes,  which makes them less interesting to paint.

If you're a compulsive collector of natural things, like me, you get to know where nature performs well, so you can revisit frequently.. I am blessed that there is a conker tree at the bottom of my own garden - it kind of doesn't get better than that..

Collecting conkers can be a messy business. Lots of climbing and scrabbling in undergrowth..

(son scrabbling under the tree.. )

My students did so many wonderful drawings and paintings of conkers that I haven't room to put them all here, but I'll show you a selection. If you would like to see more student work, I am having an Open Studio in a couple of weeks, so email me and I'll send you an invitation. I am displaying portfolios of their works in progress, showing how students have progressed in their learning journey.

Nisa, student
Pat F, student
Glynis M, student - showing the benefit of attending two classes in one week, and drawing the subject twice. It really pays off to do things more than once. She did the pencil study at the bottom first, then the water colour.
Geraldine B, adding some colour pencil to the water colour.
Judith G, a lovely drawing and only her 3rd class!

Sarah B, student
Caroline, who has forgotten temporarily how much pain was involved in producing her lovely drawing..!

Going nutty! Sweet Chestnuts, Colour Pencil

Recently I received a lovely commission - the client wanted to buy a drawing I had done previously of a conker, and asked for a sweet chestnut 'to match'.  Fortunately, she asked at just the right time of year, for the autumn was getting itself ready to produce seeds, so I spent some time walking and driving around looking for trees. Eventually - after many miles across the city, which turned out not to have many Sweet Chestnut trees at all (as opposed to Horse Chestnut trees, which produce what we call Conkers) - I happened upon two fine specimens, right on my own road...! 

The next problem was that the chestnuts were quite high up, and none had fallen. But I had a deadline, I couldn't simply wait. So... after dark my son and I took the dog for a walk, and brought along a big bag, and the loppers. He climbed up the tree and bent the branches down, and I managed to 'release' one or two which just happened to fall into my bag... Except, there's a better one, 'lop', ooh, and another over there, 'lop'.. Until the bag was filled. All the shells were tightly closed, and it was difficult prizing them open - it was as if they were glued shut, until they were ready to come out. I got into them eventually so that I could show some of the nuts in the drawing.

It was a very challenging subject, made harder because the size needed to match the conkers I had drawn previously. Mark my words, I wished I'd drawn the original conker larger! Getting those incredible spikes had my eyes crossed sometimes. 

I could only manage a few hours per sitting as the prickles were mind boggling. In all the artwork took around 25 hours. Yikes! I got a lovely thank you letter from the client - it was a special birthday present, and the conkers and chestnuts had a personal, special meaning. It is such an honour to contribute to people through artwork, and I'm always relieved when the recipient is happy!

The light during the autumn is very variable, sometimes shadows are colourful and strong, other times very weak. Strong in the drawing above, weaker and more 'diluted' below.

A week later when I was walking the dog I stopped in my tracks... There, under the same tree, the ground was covered with chestnuts, as if someone had pushed a switch making the whole lot fall at once, with ALL the shells opened, naturally. Sheesh!

Of course, by then I was addicted, and filled my bag, again... And leaves, oh my goodness, the LEAVES...

Up coming courses - weekly drawing and painting courses, portfolio guidance workshops, oil painting workshop. For info email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk

The art of refreshment

A poem, to Tea.

Green tea
Weak black tea
Er... can I have coffee? With sugar...?

Such are the requests at tea time around my table. It used to be that a cup of tea was a cup of tea. Sometimes with sugar, sometimes without milk. But over the years, the herbal and fruity teas have become more popular, and in most of my classes, its rarer to have 'normal' tea. In this part of the woods, a good strong cup of tea is known as Builders Tea - you'd nearly have to mash the bag. For the builder-tea drinker, the notion of leaving the bag IN is beyond imagination..! And it's got that some of the coffee drinkers feel embarrassed to ask for coffee..

Refreshment, whatever the preference, is an important part of the drawing process. A regular break gives time for the eye to look away from the board, meaning you can look at things more freshly when you return. The walk to the kettle is good for stretching the body. My students don't get to put the kettle on (I do it for them!) so they indulge in some shoulder-rolling instead. The tea arrives and a slight break from the work arrives with it - and even though most people don't actually stop working, the cup sitting there is a small comfort, as well as a time-guide as to how far into the session we are. 

On water colour sessions, someone usually dips their brush in the cup in leau of the water jar (it's a little known fact that a tea cup is actually a MAGNET for brushes). 

After all sessions, there are those who haven't remembered to actually drink the tea as they were so absorbed in their work. Fortunately, no one has been tempted to drink from their water jar, even when the water has become temptingly fruity-coloured.. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Water colour, Belfast

Possibly the happiest class.... in the world? I think so.

The most interesting thing about it is that my classes are actually rather DIFFICULT. Students spend a lot of time Observing, rubbing out, altering and changing their minds, which makes them look pretty grumpy at times, take my word for it. Rosaleen, on the right here, is the world expert on sighing, or announcing, "I hate this..."  Yet a short while later will exclaim how she LOVES it, and in spite of the pain, everyone decides that was the most relaxing thing they've done for ages.

How can that be?

When something is taxing and difficult we have to focus on it completely, at the expense of all other thought. Once we settle our minds and begin to properly focus (as opposed to quietly panic), true learning begins and real understanding grows. It is this focus which makes the 'pain' enjoyable, and it is the growing which makes us a little bit addicted. If you are simply copying someone elses work, you don't get it. The striving and observing is the creative part, and THAT'S what makes the world go round!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Portrait drawing, Belfast

Yesterday I went to an untutored painting session, with a clothed model, to practice some of the things I learnt at the Grand Central Academy, New York, when I was there in August.

Clare, by Julie Douglas

Truth is I had a presentation to prepare for college - I'd done all the ground work but not yet assembled it. In the past, these preparations have gone on long into the night... So I hadn't time to do an all-day session, but decided I'd go along for the morning one anyway, and try not to feel naughty.. Imagine, using DRAWING as the best form of procrastinating!! (I recommend this. Instead of ironing and tidying up to avoid getting to your desk, use drawing to avoid the housework or any other cumbersome task..) 

It was a loft space, with plenty of room.  I chose an easel and fiddled about for ages deciding on just which spot to set it up for the best view - this involves negotiating with the person behind, lest you block their view. We got settled and the model sat down - she had chosen the outfit, and wore many layers of knecklaces. It was one pose for the whole morning, a different pose for the afternoon - if it had been one pose all day I would have got my oil paints out, but two and a half hours just isn't enough for me. So I was happy with my HB and a sharpener. 

Clare was an amazing model - I've never known anyone sit so still for so long. At her breaks, it was the students who did the most stretching, more than she did - standing at an easel is hard on the back, especially for portrait work as you can't afford to move any more than the model. By the end, I was racing to get it all finished. And I was... exhausted! I look forward to going again. 
Brilliant way to spend the morning, and the presentation was FINE! 

The only down side was the smell of turps, as one person was using oils. This was a terrible shame - there are plenty of odourless thinners available, and just for the record, all others are barred from my studio environment. By the last half hour I was feeling sick. So if you are working in a group situation, be thoughtful and use Sansodor as a thinner, and if you're not using HUGE amounts of paint, Vegetable Oil does a great, odour-free job of cleaning your brushes. 

Next up - intensive portrfolio preparation course, childrens half term art class. Belfast.  For details email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk

Friday, 25 October 2013

Dear Robert, you are a hero. Thanks.

Today I keep crying. It comes in unexpected little waves, catches me by surprise.

Robert Genn

Twice a week for many years I have been treated, blessed, entertained, informed and amused by the wise words of Canadian artist Robert Genn. When I check the emails, on Tuesday and Fridays I know he'll be there with a witty word or thoughtful remark. A 3 minute relevant read.

Robert's dog, Dorothy
He seems a charming fellow, he paints outside a lot, driving a little soft top with canvases propped up in the open boot, his big Airedale Dorothy sat next to him, blinking in the wind. He answers questions he's had from artists around the world, or waffles an amusing thought about painting or communicating or colour or galleries or any interesting arty thing. Intelligent, considerate, wise, dignified and respectful. As well as disrespectful, whichever he deems is appropriate at the time.

Today the email arrived, as it did to many many hundreds of others around the world, telling us that he is ill, with just a short time left to tidy his drawing board and prepare to leave the planet - rather sooner than he had intended. I had not appreciated how much I appreciate him - even though I have ALWAYS respected and admired him - until this announcement, and I suddenly realised that although I have never met him, our ethos is so incredibly alike, our attitude and thoughts so very similar, that sometimes it's as if he'd heard what I said yesterday, for here he is saying the same thing in a letter.

Robert and Dorothy

I am so grateful to Robert for all his insights and his generousity of spirit.  His observations of what makes up a life of creativity, his deepest musings on the strange and wonderful gift that a life of creativity is, have contributed to all of us more than we can ever know. I feel like I am losing a kindred spirit, an ally and someone who understands me.

Robert Genn

I particularly like this painting, which illustrates Roberts light heartedness... Driving home after painting outside, the canvas was caught by a gust of wind, whipped off the back seat of the car, and under the wheels of a passing lorry... When he retreived it, he rather liked the imprint of the tyre, felt it added a certain something to the image.. (If you look closely, you'll see it). 

If you have not read his blog, I heartily recommend that you do. I have never met Robert, yet I am in tears. How amazing that someone can have such a profound impact on another, for such wonderful, noble reasons.

Lets celebrate Robert Genn.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Unique Tutorial, a joint drawing project, accidentally on purpose.

F, 2B on Strathmore Bristol paper, vellum surface.
I had a panic email from an excellent student, having just finished her non-art degree, about to pursue her creative path.

 'Help', she cried.

 'Come for cake', I replied. 

She was on the next train. I anticipated a tutorial/chat for an hour or so, punctuated with a bit of location drawing, purely for our health. Things didn't go quite as planned.. 
Admittedly, I was just back from New York and the jet lag was, sigh, becoming part of the family (in a  'you'd not choose it, but you gotta live with it', kinda way). First stop after picking her up from the station was the art college cafe for tea. This was 10am. 

Of course, the secret weapon of tea is the chat. Once we had a sip, the tutorial was On. Her train to Dublin left at 3.30. She just made it. The tutorial lasted 5 hours and two artworks. Two amazing and unusual artworks which are truly beautiful to behold. Did we manage any location drawing? Nope. We sat in the same chairs and didn't budge, except for more tea. 

Best tutorial I ever gave. 
How's Niamh? AWESOME.
My view
Niamh's view
Guitar Oil Pastel, Strathmore Bristol Paper, Vellum surface.
My view 
Niamh's view. If you look carefully, there's a Heart in this. In fact, there are several.

Luckily for me, we worked in my pad. So I've got the drawings. But, half of them really are Niamh's. Multidisciplanary design, co creating at ground level. Delicious. (You can't tell what it is, because it's Niamh's path.) 

Jet lag has gone now, it stayed a month, longer than any visitor really should..

Up coming courses - intensive portfolio prep over half term, childrens art class,oils workshop and weekly classes. For info email julie@juliedouglas.co.uk  

Friday, 13 September 2013

EHOD - location drawing in Belfast

This weekend is European Heritage Open Days and I'm holding a couple of drawing sessions in two fabulous buildings as part of that.
I always visit a site before taking students, just to make sure there are good angles and if possible, comfy seats, and to do some drawings.

 For this view, no comfy seats, but we sat on the side bar of the bus shelter (on location, an ability to adapt is vital!), which proved extra useful when it began raining.

My student friend Jayne came with me (Jayne is addicted to location drawing, good woman!) and we couldn't believe it, when we put our drawings together they almost joined up! These drawings took about 40 minutes. 

 The other location was more challenging. Huge interior, very structural with few soft edges. What to draw...?? Eventually I spotted some cast heads up by the ceiling so thought I'd challenge my eyesight and draw one of those. I have to say this is the most uncomfortable I have ever been in producing a drawing, it was a total endurance test. I was, in fact, a bit lower down than the photo shows, wedged between rows of seat. After three minutes my legs were locked and my neck was really sore. But that was nothing compared to the torture of the thumpimg of the piano tuner, on the stage below me.

I soldiered on, and was surprised when I finished to see that it had taken two hours to do the drawing. The piano tuner finished moments before I did - as I was leaving, the maintenance folks were arriving, and were beginning the hammering required to lift the flooring. I was delighted to miss THAT!

If you'd like to come and do some drawing at the weekend (don't worry, I've found a good comfy spot for students, no pain at all) please email me for details and bookings. It is free but you need to bring your own materials.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Portrait Painting in Oils in New York #1...

New York was amAZing..!! In fact, I crammed in so much that it's taking me a while to gather myself.
I was there to attend a portrait painting masterclass - I learnt so much, from the tutors as well as the other students. Everyone was friendly, open and generous and I've been practicing since I got home. Because practice makes perfect..

I met up with my friend Jode, who travelled from Niagara Falls to join me on the course.

First stop, after walking through Broadway, obviously, was the Art store to stock up on supplies. Well, I could've spent a week in there. I've never seen so many brushes in my life.

 On Monday morning we headed to the Grand Central Academy, to the black-walled studio. The atmosphere was quiet and expectant. The first day was Drawing, and after that we painted, with a new model each day.

The studio on day two, with Ted Minoff (seated) demonstrating. As you can see, we made a big mess, and even though the room was large, when we all gather around one model, there's not much elbow room! My painting is second from the left. More in the next post.

Upcoming - I resume the weekly classes soon, Drawing and Painting in Belfast. For details email

Saturday, 17 August 2013

from the sketch book...

The sketch book is such an important touch stone, to create focus, assemble thoughts, or even to stop thoughts altogether. To try things, in an unpressured way. Practice. Polish. Perfect. Play. Ponder. Produce. And above all, Personal.

 Chillies - water colour, about 3in x 3 in. These are in my smallest Moleskine book. The remaining drawings are in an A3 sized hard backed sketch book. Head, Giant Deer and Bear, location drawing at the Ulster Museum.

Next up - I'm on my way to NYC for a portrait painting masterclass...