Friday, 5 December 2014

Life Drawing, Belfast

When drawing the human form, one wonders why one would ever draw anything else. These studies were drawn during Colleen Barry's figure drawing workshop in Belfast. Five days to study form, light, and anatomy - an endurance test in its own way, not only for the model who stays in the same pose all week, but for the artists who get similarly stiff and sore.

End of day 1

I chose a back view for a change, although the shadow of the head was lovely from the front. But  my favourite thing was the light at the top of the model's head and on his shoulder. And I like a blady head. This view required sitting below the model, on a studio 'horse' or 'donkey' - this is a long stool rather like a woodworking bench, which has a hinged board to rest your drawing board and paper on. Basically it's as comfortable as you'd expect, if you sit on a plank for a week. 
But a bit of suffering for our art is all to the good...!

Twenty minute poses
Drawing the figure is one of the most satisfying, connecting experiences.  It is in no way sensual, even though someone in the room is naked. The word 'naked' impies a vulnerability - a life model isn't vulnerable, they are Nude. Modeling is extremely demandng on the body - try standing still for half an hour and see how you get on...  So even though it is not a sensual experience, life drawing is in fact intimate. There is intimacy in studying human form, like a contract between artist and model. 
End of day 2 (though the artwork is not so dark as it looks in this photo)

Twenty minute poses
We started each day with short poses of twenty minutes. As you can see, Robert has an arsenal of diffuclt-to-draw poses.  He clearly has an understanding of creating shapes with the body, to provide the artist with new folds and relationships on the page. this is the sign of a skilled model. 
Each one of the above drawings took twenty minutes. (just in case you thought I did all four in twnety minutes...) 
End of day 4

Twenty minute poses
More twenty minute poses. These were lovely poses, but we all wandered round bewilderedly trying to find the most manageable angle to draw from. We resigned ourselves to the fact that there were no easy angles, they were all just differently difficult. Some of them would have been great for an all-day pose. 
The last day, day 5, I added the front view of the model. 
Drawing is an intellectual act. Be in no doubt that the problem solving nature of observation drawing is good for your brain, your eyes, your appreciation of nature - and learning to draw well improves the intellect. We should all be doing it, more of the time...! 

Upcoming workshops: Oil painting, Belfast, Big Drawing Day. 
For info email

Friday, 14 November 2014

Figure Drawing Workshop with Colleen Barry in Belfast 2014

Figure drawing is one of my favourite things. To have a whole week of it is wonderful.
I was deligheted to welcome Colleen  Barry to teach in Belfast, fresh from a two week course at the Angel Academy in Florence.

Students were from a mixture of past exprience and from many backgrounds - Fine Art, Animation and Beginners. To accomodate this variety, Colleen started each day with 20 minute poses, allowing plenty of practice in the all-important starting point of figure drawing. Robert was our model and he had an impressive (or depressing, depending on how you're feeling at the time!) portfolio of outrageously difficult-to-draw poses for the short drawings, and how we all scurried around the room trying to find the least-horrendous views. (Discovering of course that all views are equally difficult, but just in different ways!) 

But the main focus of the week was one pose, studying form and learning about anatomy. Robert was a fantastic model - I can't begin to imagine how painful it is to stand in one position for several days and I am very grateful for his professionalism.

Colleen doing a demo on form shadow verses cast shadow

We enjoyed watching Colleen demonstrating, not only about the figure but explaining about light, shadow, tone and form in general. Colleen is a gentle teacher, an incredibly knowledgable artist who is willing and able to spend time explaining so that everyone understands. She is a lovely combination of inspiring, and modest.  

One of the daily anatmony talks. 

Alice, Jeremy (aka Leonardo), Caroline (showing Peter how to sharpen his pencils), Peter, Sarah, Pat, Colleen Barry and jacinta) 

Julie, Jacinta and Alice, suffering on the wooden horses.

To make it even more perfect I'd have to suggest a shoulder and back massage at the end of each day - sitting on a hard wooden 'horse' for a week is not comfy.. ! I had a great tip froma  student I worked with in GCA, who recommended support socks for days when standing to draw. 
Colleen was joined in Belfast by her husband Will St John, who is a wonderful painter and sculptor - he spent time seeking out his family roots, in Comber, County Down! 

Ciara, who was kindly practicing the pose just in case Robert needed a break..!

The whole group, skeleton and all (giving Robert an affectionate hug). 
A fantastic week - I hope to display some of the drawings during the Belfast Festival of Art and Design in March. 

Upcoming courses - Oil workshop, Colour Pencil workshop, Belfast. For info email

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Draw in Symposium, Belfast, 2014 - an Extraordinary Experience

The last weekend in August 2014 was very special, for many many people. The Draw In Symposium was an incredible two days of open hearted sharing, with artists from many disciplines coming together to share their experiences, to swap stories and ideas, providing a lively, passionate, authentic creative experience for students of all ages and from all backgrounds. The place was buzzing, and everyone who was there was changed in some way.

L-R: Colleen Barry (from the Grand Central Academy, New York), Matt Weigle (also from GCA, NY) Aidan McGrath (architect and photographer, Belfast), Paul Foxton (artist, London), Peter Cooper (animator, Belfast), PJLynch (illustrator, Dublin), Shevaun Doherty (botanical artist, Dublin) and me, wth an L-plate,  introducing everyone to the sessions ahead. 

And while, in my teaching, I have regularly witnessed individual students having AHA moments of understanding, watched the great relief some experience in truly understanding something they thought was beyond them, and seen many people joyfully uplifted through their own progress, I have never seen it happen to so many people at once. It was humbling and hard to describe.

Me introducing Paul Foxton

I think it was the most profound, moving, inspiring and fast moving weekend of my LIFE. Such an incredible experience, so much knowledge shared. Amazing.
But it was so much fun too. Energetic and delicious!

PJ Lynch giving his portrait demonstration. 

Big screen was so helpful behind PJ Lynch. my son modelled for him 

Peter Cooper encouraging students to view his sculptures. 

Believe it or not, Paul Foxton is in the middle of this crowd, doing his demonstration. 
Paul Foxton
Shevaun Doherty, talking us through her wonderful botanic paintings, in the gallery. 

A bit of audience participation, playing with clay during Peter Cooper's demonstration

One of my figure drawing workshops

 On the first day we began with a panel discussion where the artists answered the questions I asked, each of them describing the relevance of Drawing within their own practice. This  gave the audience a glimpse into the practicalities and nitty gritty of creative development. We had demonstrations in Creature Sculpting by Peter Cooper, oil portraiture by PJ Lynch, Studio Practice with Paul Foxton, talks by Colleen Barry and Shevaun Doherty. In between all of this, students peered at the drawings and sketch books and roughs on display in the gallery.

My wonderful volunteers, Pamela, Katy, Rory, Niamh, Liz, Lisa (chief whip) and Judith. I couldn't have done it without them, they were fantastic. 

On the second day, PJLynch, Paul Foxton and I gave workshops (in portrait drawing, Studio Practice and Figure Drawing) and this was a marathon for the students AND us! I worked out that over 300 pieces of artwork were generated that day - that's a lot of drawing.

It was an extravaganza. And I look forward to doing it again!

PJ Lynch portrait workshop

Some lovely student drawings

By the end of the weekend, my volunteers were a bit the worse for wear... 

Here is just some of the lovely feedback I recieved from students:

From G.M. - A really talented and inspiring bunch of people - all gathered by you and infected by your enthusiasm. Well done on it all. The organisation, balance of presentations and goodwill engendered was fantastic.

From R.K - I just wanted to let you know what I thought of the weekend symposium which you organised. My sister and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and we came home fired up and even more enthusiastic to get cracking to find out if we can do it! I felt as if the whole course was set up for me alone, as you made it all "do-able". I loved the artists, so cleverly selected and I would love to have heard more and more and more about their practice. 
PJ Lynch was so fantastic and I could have stayed with the portraiture all day but then I felt the same about the figure drawing.

Most of all I feel affirmed and a little more confident (something I have spent my life giving others in teaching). I don't know how long that will last but I am determined to give myself a chance now that I have given up teaching.

I loved the course, the tutors, the people, the art of course and the craic. You were a breath of fresh air to listen to and see in action.

From J.F. - Well I absolutely loved the course and was really pleased I got to take part in it. I was there for the weekend only. My highlights were

  • Colleen Barry's talk - I felt privileged to be in the same room as her. 
  • P.J.s Workshop - Thoroughly enjoyed this and was very happy with my portrait. I'm a member of Illustrator's Ireland, as is PJ and I was feeling trepidation about doing his workshop. I draw cartoon people while he creates masterpieces so I was feeling a bit mortified but he was great and I really learned a lot.
  • Your workshop and I'm not just saying that :)  I feel like my drawing is very stiff so your workshop was EXACTLY what I need to loosen up and look at things differently - inside edges instead of outlines. 
            So thank you again for the opportunity Julie, I left feeling really inspired.

Paul Foxton made comments about it on his blog here

Photos are here on PJLynch's Facebook page

More photos here on Paul Foxton's Facebook page:

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Oil painting workshop, Belfast - painting against the clock

Bottle and plums, Julie Douglas, oil on canvas. 
It's always a treat to be attending a workshop, as a change from teaching. But the week-long oils workshop with Matt Weigle was very busy for me, making sure Matt had everything he needed to deliver the workshop in the way he wanted, making sure the students atending were getting everything they needed, and taking many phone calls along the way regarding the upcoming Symposium weekend. Oh yes, and fitting in as much painting as possible too.

Here's how we did it. we started with drawing...

Day 1 - drawing the arrangement to a comfortable size. A3 study, Julie Douglas 
Our goal over the week was to do one drawing, one small black and white tonal study, a small colour study and a larger full colour painting. Ok then... 
I drew on A3 paper, with the shadow box at my eye level. 
We photocopied our original drawings down to the appropriate sizes for our canvas, and transferred the image as Matt showed us. It was great to get painting, and the B&W was done by the end of the ssecond day. It was very small, which really forces you to be general - this doesn't compromise accuracy, it requires clarity and contrast and balance and broader decision-making.

So small...
Finished B&W study
to give you an idea of the scale
Day three - we outined our transfer of the larger painting, so as not to lose the line during the underpainting process. 

Outlining the transferred drawing on canvas for the final (larger) painting
We did the underpainting quickly, in an hour or so, then left it to dry overnight. In the meantime, the colour study was waiting. 
Underpainting for final canvas
I was always a good bit behind everyone else, and was regretting having chosen the glass bottle, as it had a bit more detail to paint (meaning it would take longer..). By the end of day three I hadn't started my colour study.

Day four - this is where I got even busier, and I wondered if I'd not finish anything. I didn't get to sit  at my desk till after lunch, but when I returned from taking a phone call, I discovered that Matt had prepared my palette for me. How very very encouraging.
I finished the colour study by the end of the day, in time for us all to go out together for dinner. 

Hurrying UP....

Colour study, done in an afternoon approx 21cm x 12 cm

Again, to show scale
my desk, and the transfer sheets
Friday - the pressure was on, big time. We had to stop by 5 at the latest, as the walls had to be removed from the studio to make room for the Symposium on Saturday. Some students had already finished and were working on a second large painting. Sob sob... 
Nearly done...

Marathon painting, watched over by the resident skeleton.

But you know, there's nothing like a deadline... and with moments to spare, I got the painting finished. No time to celebrate though, the porters arrived on time, and we began the big clear-up for the weekend of creative delights ahead... 

Finished painting, 30cm x 22cm Julie Douglas

Upcoming workshops with Julie Douglas in Belfast: Portrait drawing, Oil painting, Drawing and water colour. For details, email

Julie's workshops are friendly, focused and fun. Fully structured courses so you know you are learning. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Oils workshop in Belfast

It's been a very busy, very creative summer here in Belfast.

Matt Weigle's oil painting workshop continued for five days at the end of August, and all the students loved it and  learnt a lot.

Matt spent two and a half DAYS setting up the studio space, so that each shadow box had just one light source and each box was lined with black fabric. The intension was for each students still life to be as uncluttered as possible so that we could get through each stage of Matt's workshop in the time, and finish a larger painting as well. Because Matt took such care in arranging the boxes, tables, easles and lighting, all the students had to do was select their objects, then hmmm and aaaa about placing them. Much huffing and pondering... This jug or that vase... an onion or plum...?

matt showing the transfer technique

By the end of the first day we had completed our drawing. Day two involved transferring it onto two small canvases and one larger one.
Matt doing a transfer
Image transferred onto canvas, from the original drawing

Our aim after that was to put down an underpainting on the larger canvas, complete a black and white tonal study, a colour study where we were simplifying the colours (relying on the tonal study as a guide) on the smaller canvases, and later in the week, begin a second layer on top of the underpainting as a final more finished painting.

Matt helping to get the placement right on the canvas, measuring from the edges to get some form of symmetry and balance 

Matt preparing the greys

As I said, Matt had a daily requirement for us, and this helped focus us and stick to the deadlines. Here he is preparing and demoing the black and white study
Demo of black and white study

Demo painting by Matt Weigle
Caroline, Laura, Gennie, Ruth, Suzanne and Liz

So Matt would do the demo then we'd work hard to keep up. He worked much more quickly than us.. The studio was quiet (apart from the wind whistling from outside), as we concentrated.

Gennie, demonstrating the special technique of holding all your brushes at once, just in case... 

Gennie's wonderful Black and White study
One of the things Matt wanted us to do was to outline our transfer drawing with black permanent pen (this had to be permanent even if wet with turpentine), so that we wouldn't 'lose' our drawing during the underpainting. Some students were a tad sceptical about this,  feeling that we needn't go to those lengths to preserve the drawing.. However, we humoured Matt and did what he asked... 

Laura and Benedict outlining their drawings in pen
...and boy were we glad when Matt showed us the next stage.. The underpainting was very speedily done,  and the turpentine thinned the paint so much that without the black lines, all the drawing would have been completely wiped off. Ahem... 

Matt slathering thinned paint on for the underpainting 

The loose underpainting, with black pen lines clearly visible. 
Susan, Ruth and Gennie
While the underpainting dried (this took overnight) we got on with the colour study, leaving the last day and a half for the larger painting.
Susan touching up her cloth
Matt having a word with Liz's painting...
Benedict, engrossed in her painting
Matt with Ruth, and her fabulous painting 

Suzanne's work in progress - fantastic colours 
Fionnuala's colour study and final painting in progress. 
Ruths desk... YUMM
An astonishing amount of work was produced during the week. The pic below shows Gennie's weeks work - she managed two larger finished pieces, because, well... some people work pretty fast! 

Gennie's marathon production!
The studio was quiet, but we had a good chat at break times..

And on the last evening we all had dinner together, joined by Peter Cooper (on the right) who helped Matt with his 'foreign language studies'.. Matt did a great job of learning to speak Norn Irish, and can say 'Brown' and 'Bout ye' in the correct manner beautifully. However, just as Peter was encouraging Matt with some colourful additions, Benedict, from Holland, who was sitting next to me, out of the blue said the most perfect 'YOU' I've ever heard..  This is good news, for I've adopted Benedict (though I haven't told her yet, it's a surprise!) 

         Below, some of the weeks work laid out to dry.

Matt was a methodical and careful tutor, wanting everyone to get the best from themselves. His teaching was authentic and sincere - we all had a fabulous week and hope to do it all again!

Next up - Drawing Trail around Belfast's Titanic Quarter as part of EHOD
Portrait workshop

For information email