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

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!