Friday, 28 February 2014

Lemons and ellipses and composition.

This week I gave my class a big challenge. Nothing new there then... I arranged a lot of white and off-white bowls on a dark cloth, and popped a couple of lemons inside. But the challenge was not about drawing, but about composition. How to select the most interesting section, and portray only that..? 

the set up
Students began by drawing on cartrige paper, with a time limit of around 30 minutes to get the whole thing drawn in. This caused some anxiety, as the arrangement was large.  I showed no mercy... And didn't allow them to use a rubber either. This meant that lines had to be free-flowing, with the whole arm contributing to the arcs required to draw round the ellipses, altering and ammending as they went along, leaving the 'wrong' lines in place, and carry on regardless. Phew! 
Stage 1, full drawing (student work)
The next stage was to place layout paper over the top of the drawing (layout paper is thin and semi-transparent, so you can see through it even though it is white), and draw small 'boxes' - squares/rectangles - then move it round the image to isolate interesting smaller sections and draw over them. 

Stage 2, on layout paper,  zooming in to select a varitey of cropping options (student work)
This cropping and zooming stage is very interesting. If the original set-up is busy enough, then often there will be potentially half a dozen possible variations of cropping. Zooming in creates a more intimate view point. Zooming out, therefore including more of the objects, is colder and less personal. Once each student decided which image they preferred, then they drew it out afresh on water colour paper (they couldn't directly trace as their initial drawing was not accurate enough - this was because of the time restraints of a two hour class). Below is the painted version of the students chosen composition. it was around 8 inches square. 
Below - this photo shows the first and third stages, before it was completed.

By T. Raju, student

Below the finished painting, which is so interesting, full of tonal values. By T Raju, student - he did attend for a second session, giving more time for completion.

Stage 3 - painting of the chosen favourite composition, water colour, student work

Third stage, by Liz C, Student

It is important to note that the paintings are not finished - the exercise was in composition, and the many stages involved menat that there wasn't time to finish painting, but much was learnt.
This is an interesting use of the background 'box, by allowing all the bowls to break out of the boundary. By Pat F, student 

lots of circles in the kitchen
One of the up sides of using food props of course, is the recycling. Tonight, as a break from college work, I used some of the lemons to make lemon curd (note - it is aways worth making time to make lemon curd), and chopped up another to tart up my drink. 

Up coming - Oil painting weekend workshop, Belfast. For info email

This summer - Julie is organising a Drawing Event called Draw In, which includes two 5 day workshops (in figure drawing and Oil painting still life) and a weekend Symposium of talks, demonstrations and workshops with artists P.J. Lynch, Paul Foxton, and Classical Realist painter  Colleen Barry (from New York). More info soon! The dates are 25th August - 5th September

Friday, 21 February 2014

Cutting your cloth, pencil drawing 5H, H, HB, 2B

I love fabric. Recently I dressed a mannequin in shirt, tie and fetching scarf, held together with a leather belt, and accidentally achieved a St Trinian's look (minus the stockings)... However, the effect was of contrasting textures and lovely folds of cloth.

I set it up for my students to draw, but after an evening class, I sat down to have a little go myself - I always hope to join in during the class, but I rarely get the chance. I got invovled more than I expected and decided to leave the mannequin up so I could go back to it. Little did I realise that this would take several sessions over the next couple of weeks. In fact, it got so that I didn't even really notice the St Trinans girl at the end of the table, until a neighbour raised a questioning eyebrow... 

By this stage (above) I was so invoved in the subtleties of the paler tones that I was tempted not to include the tie, as it would shift the balance of the drawing. But in the end, I decided I had to put it all in... 

Cloth on mannequin, by Julie Douglas, pencil on cartridge paper 

I didn't quite complete the left side, as I'd had enough. This drawing is in an A3 sized spiralbound hard backed book, which contains only B&W work. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

A musing Mark - Lovely buns! Cupcake in Colour Pencil, student work

Usually, I try to LOOK for appropriate subjects for my regular students to draw, but this week, I decided I wanted cupcakes, and a desperate hunt began.

Minor problem* number 1. Where to find them, immediately? Luckily, I have a few friends vying for the role of Oracle, and soon I had several leads.. I cycled off to the bakery nearest the art college, and wow! HUGE, slathered with sauce AND a cherry on the top. Cup cakes don't get much better than this...

and a little heart, for St Valentine..

Minor problem* number 2. They wouldn't fit in my panniers. So, I cycled home and went back in the car...

(*note - problems are only questions which help us find interesting and creative solutions)

This is Mark! (who is always amusing) 
As you can see from the photo above, I cut the paper down (we used bristol board, which is grain-free) so that everyone had the same size restriction as colour pencil is very slow. If we work large in colour pencil, it simply takes longer to do, and the students only had two and a half hours...

student selection

Selection of student work - delicious!
Even though everyone had the same sized paper to work on, it is interesting to see how everyone used the paper differently. Above right, Ciara's meltingly-lovely drawing is large enough to almost completely fill the page, by zooming in - this is effective as it reduces the amount of background area. 
By Nisa V. Student

Selection of student drawings - yummy!

Most of the photos were taken in the evening, so the quality isn't great, but you get the idea! 
An usuaul and challenging subject, as always. Meaning that, as usual, every class was punctuated by SIGHs, huffing, anxiety and a large dose of humour! A muse ing. 

Here are a few of the students, showing how to suffer for their art - they had to LOOK at the cakes, but not touch...! Note that the cakes were raised above the table-level, to give a more interesting view. all drawings were done as a careful line-drawing first, before colour was added. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sketch booking, naturally.

I have been invited to take part in a sketchbook exchange project, initiated by Shevaun Doherty, a botanical artist living in Dublin, and January was the great kick-off...

Fifteen of us thought it sounded like a great idea - we have the same type of sketch book, do a spread or two in a month, and post it on to the next person. Eventually our original book will come back, with contributions from everyone in the group. In fact, the books have an interesting journey in store, as they will be going round Ireland, over to Wales, through England an on to America and back again. (hmm, perhaps we'll have to consider hand-delivering to some of the far-away places..?!)

It all sounds perfectly reasonable. Until the book arrives, in it's blankness, and sits looking accusingly at you with a frown and a raised eyebrow..

I use sketch books all the time, but this is very different. If you'd like to see how everyone has started, here is the link

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Avoiding the Kiss of Death in your creative love affair

I recently had a  discussion with an artist who said that she was no longer excited by her paintings.

This seemingly sudden change in our passion for painting is not uncommon. While her artworks were  very well executed (they were representational in genre),  something had happened along the way which meant that they all looked the same as each other - they had accidentally become formulaic.

Others looking at the work would have been very impressed with it, but it reaches a point where it doesn't matter what others think, especially if everyone LIKES it. Is that surprising? In fact, the only thing that matters is the artists own view on the artwork, and remaining critical in a dispassionate way is important. At the beginning, we may desire to hear words of encouragement from others, which often comes in the form of 'That's fantastic', if we're lucky. As a beginner,  hearing these words is enough to spur us on to further efforts at improvement. But after a while, those words aren't actually the reward we thought we were seeking. And along the way, sometimes we get into a Formula for producing artwork, into a sort of predictable Style, and this is accidentally the Kiss of Death for our creativity.  In other words, producing it has become boring... A Formula is formulaic, obviously.

Becoming stylised (whether on purpose or by accident) means that we are no longer paying full attention to what is before us, our Observation skills are on low-alert and the process feels same-old same-old.

While students (and appreciators) may assume that the attraction to producing artwork is the artwork itself, this is a fundamenatally flawed premise.

The attraction to producing artwork is several-fold, and the nature of the attraction, like all forms of love, evolves with time and experience. Over-familiarity, or taking your eye off the ball, or taking things for granted, is a lack of attention. And a lack of attention is the beginning of neglect. If we neglect to behave as if we were still a beginner, searching and striving and stretching, then our artwork becomes predictable. And there it is. The Deathly Kiss. Shudder. We have a fair idea of what the formulaic-artwork will look like before we begin it, so we lose the element of surprise, we lose the Happy Accident, and we also lose the agony and frustration endured in the production of great artwork.

And those are the very things we need in order to keep producing. We don't Need the absolute answer to the image before we start, we don't need the result to be exactly predictable. We need a hill to climb. We are designed to Grow.

So it needs to become progressively harder.

I know. How annoying... But it's never boring. And it's never predictable. It's the opposite. It's exciting, FULL of possibility and it means our creative capacity to grow is never endingly expanding.

So if you think something was 'easy', BEWARE. That means you aren't paying attention.  And Paying Attention is the most delicious thing we can do. Sit up. And LOOK!!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Stunning Six-Packs, Chalk pastel

Recently I raided the nearest shop display retailer and stocked up on some burly fellows for drawing. Well, bits of burly fellows. 

Sarah M

Anne H - who told her husband she was drawing her perception of him..  aw!

My students rather loved them.. Their drawings are astonishingly good, and I'm really proud of them.
Here are a few examples, in Compressed Charcoal, size A2 on tinted sugar paper.

by Joanna D

By Pat F, a wonderful drawing. 

Tomas R. (clearly, a self portrait..) 
Of course, the temptation to 'wear' the drawings was too great to resist, though (ahem)  I DID try to discourage such frivolity, for gooodness SAKE...!! Here's Carolyn looking very fit (her partner was a little worried that next week she'd be drawing the 'lower half', as Carolyn 'neglected' to mention to him that the model was plastic..

Admittedly, some of them were an astonishly good fit - as Ruth discovered, much to her embarrassment! 

Jeremy, being gorgeous. 

The star of the show was Kathy, who more than amazed herself with her drawing, below. At one point she announced that her man was 'lacking in muscle tone' ( how very worrying), but she soldiered on, with fabulous results. Kathy has only been attending the class, as a complete beginner, for a few weeks.
Kathy L

The chalks used were 'Jakar' Compressed charcoal, which looks like this:

Up and coming - weekend workshops in portrait drawing, oils and drawing. 
Watch out for news of my Summer Drawing Event from 25th August - 5th September with visiting tutors from  Ireland, UK and New York.

If you would like to be on my mailing list for information on workshops, contact