Friday, 25 November 2016

Foiled! Student watercolour paintings.

This week at the drawing board was all about colour and pattern. Having put everyone through their paces last week by asking them to draw a packet of crisps (which, as you might imagine, gathered a 'mixed' response, but lovely drawings nonetheless..!), I decided that the natural way to capitalise on the lessons learnt from that was this setup of a lemon and orange set on tin foil.

OUCH? Well, not really... 


Tin foil can appear to be colourless and boring - but when we crinkle it just a little and put something bright on top - voila! Colour and pattern heaven! 


We began with a careful line drawing,  using the fruits as a safe anchor-point from which to connect the maze of patterns. You can see from margery's drawing below that the amount of observation and concentration required was rather like solving a complicated puzzle.
Margery's drawing 
Adding colour brought relief and an element of clarity. 
Margery's artwork after a couple of hours painting. 
While the fruits were painted first, the artworks were transformed with the addition blues. I hesitate to say that the blue acted as an excellent foil for the warmth of the yellow and orange, but it did so you will excuse the pun!  

Colin - this is only the fourth watercolour that Colin has done. Amazing! 


The results were a triumph of colour and the paintings are joyful! While everyone 'suffered' at various stages in this exercise, a lot was learnt and some were even keen to try the subject again! None of the paintings were completed due to time restraints, but they still look great. 



 I'm very proud of how hard my students work, and am grateful for the trust they put in me when they walk in the door and see what awaits every week. I thanked them during the class yesterday, and Pat's little voice said... 'Resistance is futile' !!!!! 

Next up: Drawing worshop Belfast, Children's workshop, Watercolour weekend. For information email

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Seasonal watercolours - little apples and gourds in my Moleskine book

I held a watercolour workshop yesterday, and it just happened that all the students who attended are regular weekly students of mine. My familiarity with their past experience meant that I was able to increase the pressure on them (aw!), knowing they would rise to the challenge, and also gave me the opportunity to sit with them and do a little bit of painting myself, in between demonstrations. In a workshop situation, this is Luxury Personified!

The table, showing my artwork next to the cake stand.

The students painted a lovely seasonal still life of yellow and orange Gerbera flowers with gourds and berries, and I decided to paint the remaining gourds which had been on display on a cake stand. I love gourds, and I also love the cake stand! The top and bottom plate have white spots, the middle plate has stripes.

Autumn colours in the garden, while I was setting the table for lunch.

I drew the objects freely and loosely - partly because I didn't have time to be overly careful (with more than half an eye on my students needs), and partly because I love being relaxed about watercolours. Of all mediums, I find watercolours the most instant and user friendly.

This is as far as I got during the workshop
 The Moleskine paper was fairly heavy, but it did absorb the pigment as I went along, requiring many more layers than I had intended. By the end of the workshop, I had about half of it completed, but the light had gone and I put it away till the next day.

A little while painting the following morning
 I painted for an hour or so, until I could resist the bright crisp day (and the dog, begging) no longer, donned my wooly hat and headed to the shore at Holywood. It was very cold but very beautiful.

White sails from Holywood shore

Across Belfast Lough from Holywood

Finished artwork. 
I spent another hour on the painting -the best bit was mixing the colour for the plate - a lovely mix of Lemon Yellow and Cerulean Blue with a touch of French Ultramarine here and there. 
I enjoyed working in the sketch book - it feels like a free space, and I may do an oil painting of the subject now that I've done this little study. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

The virtue of a block of days.

While many people make the most of attending a regular weekly class, it's another thing altogether if you can make time to do a workshop for two or three days in a row. It's amazing how much can be crammed in, with each exercise building on the previous one in a way which compounds learning, makes it easier to remember and pushes your skills up a notch or three. Another advantage of having a few days is that we can try a variety of drawing methods, from smaller detailed studies to larger, more free drawing using the whole arm. 

Recently I held a three day drawing workshop, which included working in pencil, charcoal and coloured pastels. 

Gavin's apples in charcoal - at A2 size, there was plenty of dramatic impact. 
Although we had used the whole arm to draw in pencil, when I introduced charcoal, things got a lot bigger! Charcoal is a great medium - it is faster than pencil, and allows us to deal almost immediately with the mass area of the subject, as opposed to the linear qualities of pencils. 

Mary working on her lovely charcoal drawing. 

Dawn's initial loose block-in. This is the end of the 'linear' stage with charcoal. After this, everything is about tone and lines are eliminated.

From charcoal we moved on to coloured pastels, using seasonal gourds to help understand form and tones. As you can see, the scale remained large - a case of the medium dictating proportion. 

Gavin's drawing

Mary's drawing

On the third day, we decided to venture into Oils, which was an unexplored medium for the students. 
We kept it simple and manageable by doing lots of mixing exercises before launching into a small black and white study. 

Mary and Gavin, getting to grips with oils 
 As you can see from the photos, I was pleased to be able to provide some of my sons old school shirts to keep the clothes clean. Recycling at its best! 

Next up, Watercolour weekend Belfast!

For information please email 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

David Gray's Belfast Workshop, part 2!

...David's workshop ran for 6 days. With two models sitting all week, this meant we had a three day pose for each model, allowing us the opportunity to try two different painting techniques with plenty of time to complete both of them. Often, students assume that there is one 'correct' process to successsful painting, but in fact there are many ways to work so it is invaluable to try more than one approach. Yes, this can appear to be confusing - but my best advice would be not to rush ahead, but instead, do today's work today and let the process unravel... There is, eventually, a logic to it!

Our models were Monty and Rory, who both worked tirelessly and with good cheer. It was very warm at times  (yes, even Belfast can get warm!) which is always a challenge for models, but a fan at the feet helped them cool down. David's second demonstration was of Rory.

First demo of the second pose 
David is generous with every aspect of his painting skills, encouraging questions at appropriate times, and showing the intensity of focus required. He also emphasised the benefits of good observation drawing skills, describing them as fundamental to good painting.

David's initial soft block-in

Still part of the first demo of Rory, David adds a little more information but keeping everything soft

The end of the first demo, more details added and it is beginning to look like Rory.
Of course, watching a demonstration is all very well, but it is time at each easel which really counts. Demonstrations could last for up to an hour, but 'catching up' at the easel took longer. Each session was intense - full concentration required at all times!

Our turn to catch up! Note the fan at Rory's feet 

Dermot chats to David about his artwork

The next demo

David's demonstration painting progresses
 For this second painting, we did not begin with a grisaille, but instead worked straight into colour. This was not quicker, but just different. David promoted the process of painting using small 'tiles', taking care to mindfully mix a fresh colour for each tile. This makes for careful slow progress, using what he described as 'drawing eyes' to seek the colours required. Large sweeps of generalised colours were discouraged.

Work in progress

Bill, nick and Dermot

Nick and Dermot working on their paintings of Monty

Sari working hard

David's demonstration. He covered all aspects of the process, even though there was not time for him to complete is own work
Toward the end of day 6 - don't be fooled by those cheery faces, we were getting very tired!
By the afternoon of the final day, everyone was tired. Personally, when I"m tired I begin dropping things, so decided at around 3pm that before I dropped anything, I would call it a day. I packed my paints away and then got a bit of a second wind, so got them out again and almost immediately picked the wrong colour off my palette by mistake and put a blob of white where it shouldn't have been! I took the hint and packed up all over again - but all around me tell-take signs of fatigue were appearing. First,  there was a screech as someone sat on their palette (!), then a student's canvas fell of the easel to the floor, then a couple of brushes flew out of someones hand across the room... Ah yes, there is always a time to stop!

The full group, including David Gray at the back left, and models Rory and Monty sitting on the foor. 
 In true style, the evening was rounded off with refreshments, because hard work is thirsy work! It was a rewarding and highly enjoyable workshop -  a lot of ground was covered, with just the right amounts of frustration, enlightenment and success. Gathering of knowledge is a life long process and it was fantastic to have such an international gathering of creative folk in Belfast.

Thanks to everyone for participating so whole heartedly, and to David Gray for his professionalism and true dedication.
Janetta proving that painting is thirsty work!
Finally, the next day Mark 'didn't-we-all-do-well' McDonald brought his trailer back and helped me take everything away again - easels, chairs, stages, fans, kitchen sink.  Thanks Mark, you're my left hand man!
Who's idea was ths anyway...??! This is what pooped looks like! 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Preparation is almost everything.. David Gray's workshop in Belfast 2016!

In July and August this year, I organised two painting workshops in Belfast. The first was with David Gray, painting the portrait from life. Students traveled from all around the world - Canada, Florida, Finland, Greece, Italy, England, Dubai, Sweden and France as well as closer to home, Dublin and Northern Ireland. 
The amount of planning putting together this kind of event is on the side of Enormous, but as I’ve been teaching workshops for many years, the main difference was that it wasn’t at my studio, but in a lovely large venue in town. I am indebted to my student Mark ‘what-can-possibly-go-wrong?’ McDonald, who went above and beyond the call of duty - not only did he help setting up the studios (checking that every easel was useable etc), he also constructed two stages for the models to sit on, AND helped transport everything. We didn’t travel light. 

Mark strapping down easels, chairs and the stages in his trailer. 

Easels, extension leads, drawing boards, canvases, clips, spare canvas rolls, masking tape, paint... This was just the first of many trips up in the lift. 

Fighting the jet lag at Helen's Bay beach

David arrived from Seattle with a couple of days to settle in and to approve and amend the studio set-up. Here is he having a walk along the lovely County Down coast, and experiencing his first Guinness (under a very Oirish green light!)

David with a local Guinness - he wasn't this green really..!

And so, the workshop began. We had two rooms with a model in each, so we split into two groups,   spent three days painting one model, then swapped models for three days more. The first day was spent putting down the grisaille underpainting.

The first demo

The photos show the stages on David's demonstration painting of the lovely model, Monty. He encouraged everyone to keep going with the process to get the first painting complete, even when folks were frustrated (!), knowing that we had another complete run-through immediately afterwards. 

David roughly marks key points

David's initial 'map'
the beginning of the underpainting

Hopefully you can see David's careful 'tiles' here

The completed Grisaille

Day 2: the start of colour

Colout tiles

The addition of hair

Below - students hard at work.  

It was tiring work, and we relaxed together at the end of each day. 

Students Sari, Bill and Mick from Finalnd, Florida and Dublin!

Martine, Pauline and Dermot

Me with Nick from Dublin 

Images from the second half of the workshop in my next post!