Friday, 21 April 2017

Notes from the Atelier.. at The Engine Room Gallery, Belfast April 2017

2nd April was A Very Big Day. With a lot of help from some friends, I set up a display of artworks by around 50 students in The Engine Room gallery, to give their lovely drawings and paintings a public viewing of works in progress. 

My students are a modest bunch, but every few years it is very good to allow their progress to be seen and appreciated, and it was fantastic for me to share their day to launch my book,  Notes from The Atelier.

David McKnight, my editor, allowing me to show off his photo at the back of the book!
(page 255, for your  reference!) 
 The Engine Room Gallery is a huge space, with a stunning view of Belfast City Hall. We had the use of two rooms, which gave us enough space to put up 35 tables. We covered these in folders containing paintings and drawings that students had done during classes.

Around half the illustrations in my book were made by my students, so some of those were mounted and displayed on long tables under the windows.
A broad sweep of one of the rooms in the gallery, before everyone arrived

All set up, raring to go...! 
Some student artworks, which were used to illustrate the book - by Sara Colhoun, Jayne McClenaghan, Ciara Clearn and Nisa Viney. 
More student artworks as in the book - Hilary Johnston, Sarah Bruce, Fernando Perez, Pat Pinlay, Nisa Viney, Alan Leacock. 

And from the book, artwork by Sara Colhoun, Alan Leacock, Sara Bruce and Emma McWilliams. 
It's one thing organising an event, but quite another not knowing how many people will turn up. I needn't have worried! The doors opened at 3, and the first visitors arrived a bit before that... 

Lisa doing a wonderful job with refreshments! In the background, Judith who made the lovely food. 
...and they kept arriving, and arriving and arriving, until the place was absolutely FULL!  I had past students who'd travelled from County Clare and Dublin, others from Ardee and Derry and my brother from London. People stayed for a long while, carefully looking through every folder, meeting students, and students meeting other students!  Gennie, from County Clare, said 'it was like meeting family'.

Fernando (centre), June (left) and Maeve (right, who came from London)
Dawn, Gennie (who travelled from County Clare!), Colin, Margery, Claire, Judith... 

Gennie and Alan catching up! 
I spy Liz, Jackie, Ainnien, Sara, Ciara, Margey, Erin, Emma, Alison...
Avril and Claire!
Christine, left, David McKnight (editor) and Barbara. 
A selection box of students at the drawing board
 David and I were kept busy manning the book stack, as many people had pre ordered and came to collect their copies. It was fantastic to see so many familiar faces - it was buzzing and happy.

Meanwhile, Judith Cowan was mingling with the crowd sharing the delicious nibbles she'd made, and Lisa and Nuala were washing and rewashing glasses to keep everyone refreshed!
Chad with Julie

Visitors taking their time to enjoy every folder - with the colourng-in table in the foreground! 
Display of Julie's paintings and drawings

Preparatory drawing next to finished painting, Julie Douglas
 For me, a very important aspect of painting is the process itself, and the preparation involved in creating something new. To this end, I displayed my sketch books as well as preparatory drawings and colour studies alongside some finished artwork - from an educational standpoint, sharing the stages of the process is almost more important than displaying the end result.  I believe also that it was the not-always-finished aspects of the students folders which everyone found so attractive. There is an honesty in the learning process which is not often celebrated. The display celebrated the act of observation in itself, and provided a platform for others to appreciate the effort and progress that each student has made.
Julie's table

You can see from these photos that I was 'saying a few words', and took the opportunity to ask everyone to play the Elephant game... 

I gave everyone a small piece of paper, which they held behind their back, then all together we ripped it into the shape of an elephant!!! Well, the looks on their faces... No cheating, no peeping, just ripping...
The serious expressions as everyone ripped out an elephant behind their back! 
This is a great (and FUN) way of getting everyone to join in, doing something creative with a surprising outcome. It involves visual memory, spacial awareness and is more tricky than you'd think!!
The concentration of ripping elephants... 
The elephant used in my book! An original ripping by Claire Bruce!
No two elephants are ever the same. Some have a hint of a camel about them, others have lost their trunk - but they are all authentic and charming and unique. I used Claire's rather wonderful elephant (above) throughout  my book.
Elephant shortbread, made by Judith Cowan
Paper elephants hanging along the window
The most tremendous Elephant Cake, made by Maria Wylie - delicious! It broke my heart to have to cut into this, but I shared it in classes the week after the opening, and it was really yummy!
Queen's Guitar Quartet, featuring my son Rory on the left
We were serenaded throughout the afternoon, with music from the lovely Queen's Guitar Quartet, and also from Manus Maguire, playing traditional Irish Fiddle. I'm so grateful.
Holywood Culture Club representatives on the left, Dermot and Tim!

 I can truly say that I have never felt so supported in all my life. The atmosphere was so loving, warm  and generous. The good feeling was tangible. Thank you everyone - to all who came, and to all who leant their artwork, thank you for making it a wonderful event. I admit that it was, at times, a little overwhelming to see SO many people - there were hundreds of you! As I look through the photographs, I see that there are so many that I didn't have a chance to speak to. Your presence was much appreciated. I hope these photos show the flavour of the afternoon, and remind you of the buzz.

David's inauguration to the Ali Cat's Motorcycle Club (for girls). 
I was really delighted that my friends in the Ali Cat's Motrocycle Club arrived for a look around just before we cleared up. A vision in pink! Kate, Ducati-rider extraordinare, in pigtails in the front row, has a painting in the book! Thanks for coming ladies, and no one got lost!

A special thanks to all who helped me. From David McKnight at my side (correcting my spelling when I signed books) and Margaret McKnight who took lots of photographs, to Nuala and Michael McCavanagh, Lisa McCausland, Ciara Clearn and Rory Douglas-Smith who helped transport all those tables, folders, props, easels, books and bottles up the lift, for hanging up the elephants and helping with the display, I am so grateful.  You made an enormous task completely manageable and seamless. To Merlynne Knott for tidying up all the bits of ripped elephant from the floor, thanks! To Maeve Huttly and Gregor Douglas, Nuala and Michael and Rory, for helping take everything back down again, to Michael for helping me park the hired van (no laughing, it was a challenge!) and for getting it out again without even a tut, to Judith Cowan for making all those lovely nibbles, Maria for the cake, and for Clifford at the gallery for being so welcoming, I thank you whole heartedly.

I really look forward to doing it again!

Photos: Margaret McKnight, Michael McCavanagh, John McDonald and Joyce McWilliam.

Julie's book, Notes from the Atelier can be found here

For workshops and weekly classes email

Next up: drawing and watercolour workshop, portrait workshop and oils. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Michael John Angel Masterclass 2017, Belfast

Friday 18th - Tuesday 22nd August 2017, Belfast

Option one, Bouguereau, Girl with Pot

Following the success of his visit last summer, I am delighted to welcome Maestro back to Belfast in 2017. He will deliver a five day workshop guiding students through the full process of creating a successful painting in oils. An incredibly generous teacher, the workshop is a wonderful opportunity to benefit from the atelier system, with intensive tuition delivering knowledge gathered from a lifetime of experience. 

Course Description: 
William Bouguereau (1825–1905) is one of the leading lights in the 21st-century revival of Representational painting. To many people today, Bouguereau’s ability to draw and paint seems miraculous, but this ability can, in fact be learned.

In this one-week workshop, maestro Michael John Angel teaches the students how to begin attaining a firm grasp on the methods and techniques of Bouguereau and other 19th-century French Academy painters.

Option two, Bouguereau, 'Gabrielle Cot' 
The course begins with a few basic exercises and includes various illustrated lectures in proportion, gesture, under-drawing and oil-painting materials. During the five-day course, each student produces an oil painting in full colour, and throughout the workshop Mr Angel gives painting demonstrations that clarify each stage of the painting process.

Option three, Bouguereau, 'Cupid' 
Students will also receive various pdf handouts, with illustrations, that encapsulate the methods of painting and drawing in a realistic manner. Other pdf handouts will explain the different grounds, materials and mediums used in oil painting and describe the various layers used in a 19th-century underpainting-overpainting oil technique.

Further Workshop Details:
The workshop includes 30 hours tuition, from 10am - 5pm daily with a 1 hour lunch break. Students choose in advance one of the three artworks above to copy in the workshop. 

Individual and group critiques
Painting demonstrations by Mr Angel
Discussions on materials and techniques 

COST: £750 to include 30 hours of instruction, and some materials. 
A list of materials (paint and brushes) will be sent upon booking a place.

Michael John Angel, giving a demonstration in Belfast 2016
Mr Angel is highly regarded as one of the foremost figurative painters, and his paintings and portraits hang in both public and private collections worldwide. For the last 20 years, he has been the Director of Studies and senior instructor at the Angel Academy of Art, Florence. 

Students copying Bouguereau

Mr Angel has taught workshops in Florence, in Toronto and at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He also lectures at the Florentine campuses of several American universities and at various private schools in Rome and in North America. From 1982 to 1988 he was the Director of the National Portrait Academy in Toronto, Canada, and from 1992 - 1995 the Assistant Director of the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy.  As an ARC living master, Mr Angel is considered one of the most inspiring and successful teachers in classical and traditional art today.

 A short biography can be found at He is listed in the Art Renewal Center’s Living Masters gallery and is one of the ARC’s Board of Judges. As well as judging the ARC’s Annual International Salon, he is a judge on several other national and international painting juries, such as the Collection Beaux-Arts Réaliste, IlluxCon, and the Portrait Society of Canada.

Terms & Conditions:
A 50% non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place. Full payment must be received by 1st July 2017, and if that time has passed, payment is due upon booking. 
Minimum number of students - 10.

Not included:
Accommodation and flights, transport and all other personal costs.  Fees are non refundable unless the course is cancelled for any reason. 
 If traveling, it is recommended that you take out insurance to cover costs in the unlikely event of cancellation etc. 

Details of accommodation near the studio will be provided upon booking. 

For booking information and all enquiries please email 

Belfast is a vibrant city with a warm friendly atmosphere. If you are traveling for this course, you will find lots of things in the city to enjoy, in the days before or after the workshop.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Talking Drawing with Kim Leneghan, BBC Radio

Just home from a breakfast interview with the lovely Kim Lenaghan on BBC Radio Ulster. Well, I say 'breakfast', but 7am on a Sunday is way beyond breakfast for me... 

Kim said that she'd LOVE to be able to draw and paint, and showed me photographs of her lovely Lurcher dog, so I have challenged her to take a few lessons and we'll see if we can't get rid of a few of those self-doubting thoughts and phrases, and turn her doodles into delicious drawings! 

Here's the programme!

TODAY: Book launch and art display, The Engine Rooms, 5 Donegall Square South, Belfast. 3 - 6pm all welcome!