Monday, 17 December 2018

Hair and beards! Portrait drawing prep before painting, graphite.

Sometimes I will see a wonderful face, in the street, in a shop - even singing in a choir!, and I know I'd LOVE to paint it. 

The first time it happened,  over twenty years ago, it was a young woman with her mother, quietly browsing in a book shop in Rye, East Sussex. She had milky-white skin and very long, burnt orange wavy hair. She ALREADY looked like a painting. But I was too shy to approach her, and have regretted it ever since. So now, I just go for it, and politely compliment the person on their interesting 'head' (I notice that I tell them I like their head. Rather than 'face'), and would it be ok to draw them? So far so good, its always been a YES! 

Soft tones showing the gentle textures on the skin. 

On a recent trip to Bath and Wells, there was a lovely-looking gentleman staying in the same hotel. I mentioned my admiration of his looks to my traveling companions, and was almost immediately sorry, as they pointed him out so often I was nearly 'morto', as they say here. Just before we left, the lovely man was checking out, so it was now or never. 

"Er... excuse me, I couldn't help notice your lovely head..."

And so my new best friend is the wonderful Vernon, who was traveling with his wife and very happily sat for me. Here are some progress shots of my drawing study, and a small video. 

for scale - the drawing is on A2 paper. 

I enjoyed working on the flesh areas, but the beard is a challenge. It isn't finisehd yet, but I thought I'd share the progress so far. 
Hmm. The beard... 

Pencil is so difficult to photograph - the camera doesn't like all that white paper. So I did the video to try to show it better. 
And yes, it seems I have trouble speaking, thinking and drawing at the same time. 

More as I progress... 

Drawings by Julie Douglas, Belfast Academy of Realist Art (B.A.R.A.) 

Friday, 14 December 2018

Bravery and trust at the drawing board

Sometimes when I look at the drawings my students create, I am astonished at just how DIFFICULT the subjects are. Subjects which I set, of course! Tough. Stretching.

Suzanne B, student - a lovely set-up
But it's not only the level of trickiness which strikes me - it's the students themselves, and how brilliantly they respond when they see each week's offering... (Some hide their horror, some let it show!) Please remember that my students often have very little past experience. Some have not drawn for 30 years. Some have doodled at home without guidance, and attend out of exasperation or frustration at their lack of improvement. Some have no experience at all, but a desire. And others have attended for a little while and feel the benefit of the challenges I give them. All attend just once a week, for between two and four hours. A short time (and usually drawings are not completed in that time) - but they all improve, and accept the challenges.

Clive, student
So when I show you the work they produce, it's because I appreciate them and am proud of their achievements.  Appreciate their WORK, their frustration, their grit. And their staying power.

When I decide on a subject, it is chosen with a sense of adventure and fun. Excitement at a reflection. Pleasure at a shadow. Visual feasting, and enthusiasm for the puzzle-solving to come at each drawing board, by each student.

Recently the subject was cookie cutters. A great subject, fitting into what I would describe as the 'structural' category (as oposed to 'organic'). In other words - no hiding places! I made some ginger bread cookies too, but we decided to eat those rather than drawing them, even the crispy ones...
Alison S., using coloured pencil to beautiful effect. 
This arrangement was placed on the spotty paper, which provided the biggest challenge. If you look hard you will see part of the ginger bread cutter, and some ribbon. This took two hours of study, and while it is not finished, it is still beautiful. By student Kate.
Pat -this drawing was larger than most, around A3 sized. 
Glynis - in order to help her get less lost in the puzzle, Glynis marked R for red and Y for yellow on the stripes of her drawing. Every little helps! 
Ewa's drawing, with gorgeous warm colours reflected from red and gold paper, into the cutter. 
Teresa's drawing - Teresa is a new student and this was her first time using coloured pencil. A great start. 
A lovely water colour version. 
Alan S, lovely colourful start.
Sara's successful combination of graphite pencil and colorued pencil. 
Brigid's lovely drawing. 
 To make things more exciting, I added shiny paper into the mix. Students had a choice of silver, gold, striped or spotted paper, which introduced both colour and extra pattern to the subject. To be kind, I threw in some ribbons for extra impact. Students set up their own arrangement, inside 'cardboard corners', after experimenting with placement of colours for best effect, and got to work. Ouch!
Jim, coloured pencil with a little water added.

The best place to find shiny and patterned paper this year is..The Range! 
well done to everyone on a fantastic piece of observation drawing. 

Next up: Friday Night Life (life drawing 28th December 2019), Children's art (29th December 2018)

For info on all workshops please email

Friday, 23 November 2018

Autumn Squashes and Pumpkins from Helen's Bay Organic, lovely water colour paintings

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love pumpkins and gourds. Striped, distorted, gnarled or twisted and plenty of warts! This year I had a tip-off from my student Jim, who said 'I've found somewhere you'll LOVE'. He was so right - it's Helen's Bay Organic.

Hidden down a small lane, the muddy drive led on to a couple of small sheds stocked with brussel sprouts on the stem, kale, darkest purple cabbages and lots of varieties of pumpkin and squash - all neatly colour-coded and gasping to be painted. Behind the sheds was a series of polytunnels and long tables laid out with more vegetable, and over the hedge was a huddle of old tractors, quietly waiting for the day that I return to paint them! 

 My students LOVED this subject. After selecting and arranging one green, one orange and one striped squash, they took the challenge of drawing, then doing the background, then moving on to the squashes themselves. Some managed it in one session, and many opted to return for a second class to finish.

Ann, above, and David, below, managed a one-class painting by being bold and un-worried.
Sara - graphite and coloured pencil
Sara, above, managed her time well by choosing a small section within her arrangement to bring to finished colour, and did the remainder in tones of grey using graphite. Choosing a small area like this is a lovely way to entertain the viewer - it's a window into how the whole page might have looked, and it also draws you right in the that coloured section.


Liz, above, and Sandra, below, have spent a couple of sessions on their oil paintings so far, with a few more ahead in order to bring their work to a finish. It's a great sign when students are willing and happy to stick with the one subject over several sessions. Sometimes it is quicker to work slowly. 
 All the water colour paintings below were done over two two and a half hour sessions. This means the painting is fully dry before adding more layers, and students had time to play a little, without the pressure of trying to finish quickly.


The second visit allows the opportunity to enrich background washes, and to put in more details in all areas.  After the initial wash layers, it's important to regard the painting more like 'drawing' - use less water, a smaller brush, and be specific about what information you are applying. General first, specific and with intent after that.


Julie B. 
As you can see, the colours are lovely and rich, wit excellent tonal contrasts.

 Pat, below, used a lovely approach. Like Sara, she decided to isolate areas to bring to a higher finish, and opted for circles, which is surprising and adds an element of fun! It gives a key-hole feeling which invites you to really stare. She did the left circle during the first session, and the right circle in a second session.

Jackie (after 1 session)
The painting above and below are two stages of Jackie's painting. Above we see how she left the painting at the end of the first class - washes in the background and on most of the rest of the painting. Below, a second session sees the work completed to delicious dark and atmospheric depths. A really excellent work.

Jackie (after two sessions)

Adam, from Helen's Bay Organic
Thank you to Adam at Helen's Bay Organic for the wonderful vegetables!

Friday, 9 November 2018

Drawing and Oils workshop, summer 2018

It's amazing what can be acheived in five days. In the summer I held a five day oils workshop, and wished I'd made it ten! With students from a mixture of backgrounds, from nervous novice to experienced-but-tentative and others who were working on previously-started paintings, my challenge was to stretch each individual and ensure that they left with much more knowledge and understanding than they had when they arrived. And it was such fun! 

Christine's set-up
Some students voice apprehension about a five day workshop, worrying if they will be too tired. In my experience, students ARE tired, but in the most satisfying and rewarding way, with many reporting incredibly deep sleep each night allowing an enthusiasm to get back to work again the next morning. 

Christine, working on the study drawing in prep for her painting)
We got so much work done - looking back, I am so proud of how hard the students worked. They began by selecting from a range of objects I'd provided and setting up an arrangement - and learning just how to DO that - then spent the day learning how to draw it. 
Judy's first-day drawing study
Over the next couple of days we moved on to charcoal, some grey chalks, an afternoon of portrait drawing with a model, then students choose another set of objects to create an arrangement to paint in oils. 
Judy's portrait study
Claire, modelling her fabulous chalk study of a torso
And even though the plan was to paint, student had to draw their arrangement first, lovingly and with sincere conviction. The more infomation we can 'draw' from the subject in pencil/charcoal before we get the paints out, the more familiar it will be, the better we understand the forms, nuances and light, and the more we can concentrate on the actual paint when we move on to canvas.
Judy's prep for her final painting
Judy's charcoal study
Christine and Judy, working back-to-back!
Christine's work in  progress - great drawing, great oil painting!

Claire's set up, her delicious drawing in prep for her final painting 
Claire's painting in progress
Claire's painting
Judy at work
Judy's finished painting
The only thing we didn't get to was working in colour. While this had been my original plan, in conversations with students as the week went on, we decided together that more drawing and more time spent perfecting the black and white painting was going to empower students more than rushing through an even greater number of works. Student learning is paramount. So next year, I'll make the workshop longer, so we can really get more done!
Judy, very happy with her painting

You can see in the photo above that each student's work space includes a black shelving unit. This is one of the most efficient pieces of equipment in the studio - lots of personal storage as well as a variety of height-options for arranging a still life subject. Putting bags in the bottom is less of a trip hazard and fewer items get lost! 

I got this lovely letter from one of the students after this workshop:

Thank you for a fabulous week of drawing and painting - I enjoyed it so so much and  have to confess  that on the first day when I found out that two others were art teachers I panicked a little but they were both so lovely that very quickly I felt we were all there learning together  and I didn't feel in any way inferior.   I learned more in one week with you than I ever learned at school art classes or the many and various evening classes I've been to over the years.  You made everything so clear and made me realise that slow and steady is so much more enjoyable and rewarding than racing to get to the finished piece.  Thankyou for your patience, humour, support and encouragement .  Thankyou for the wonderful hospitality, delicious lunches and for keeping us well topped up with tea and biscuits!! C. McC. 

For info on future workshops please email