Life Classes – 14 December 2016 to 7 March 2017

Life Classes

14/12/16 17.00-19.00

The challenge this week was two models, one male and one female. This gave us an opportunity to explore the differences between muscular and angular and rounded and soft with various media and mark making. Our male model was tall and slim, not unlike Egon Schiele, so I tried to use definite line with felt tip pen in our short poses to achieve strong shapes and almost branch-like limbs.
On the other hand, our female model was voluptuous and curvy, so I changed to the softer medium of conte stick and used more sweeping marks to define her.
Drawing the two models together illustrated the differences even with using the same medium. In the final long pose of 20 minutes, I could use John’s back as the background for more of a portrait of our female model which worked well from the viewpoint I had.


20 minute pose - black conte stick on paper

20 minute pose – black conte stick on paper


10/01/17 17.00-19.00

This week we had a treat of longer poses to enable us to work into our drawings more. As we have our classes in the sculpture studio, there were several half-finished or rejected cast figures lying around. For the 25 minute pose, our model John was positioned with a child figure, which although incomplete, made quite a touching image. We had to decide whether to make the figure look real or as it was, made of plaster. Although, this was not my intention as such, the boy looks fairly real and had the same treatment as John.

The 40 minute pose was really interesting as, again, a cast figure was included. It was of a woman, about to dive into the sea, however, when laid down on its side looked as if it was reclining. John then draped himself over the figure and as the light was fading, a lamp was shone on them to offer more highlights. For this one, I decided to use brown paper as a mid tone and black conte and white chalk for the darks and lights.


40 minute pose black conte stick and white chalk on brown paper

40 minute pose black conte stick and white chalk on brown paper

17/01/17 17.00-19.00

We had a female model this week, Sally was six months pregnant, so a lovely subject to draw. To avoid her having to pose in different positions, this week, the model stayed still and the students moved around her. We found our starting viewpoint and then sketched for 30 seconds and moved on to another view. This really got us warmed up and then we were able to make informed decisions where to stand for the longer poses. Moving up to the three-minute drawings we made more choices of view to decide our 10 minutes posed drawing, up to 15 minutes.


15 minute drawing - conte on paper

15 minute drawing – conte on paper

31/01/17 17.00-19.00

We had a new model this week, Reuben. He was able to achieve some quite dynamic shapes for a while, so we could explore more expressive poses. We had the traditional short warm ups and then a couple of longer ones at 15 and 20 minutes.


20 minute pose - charcoal, white chalk and putty rubber on charcoal tinted paper

20 minute pose – charcoal, white chalk and putty rubber on charcoal tinted paper


07/02/17 17.00-19.00

This week we had Reuben again. Always using our studio location to our advantage, some large geometric shaped pieces of hard board that were lying around made interesting props for our model to use.

The combination of dynamic poses and the geometric shapes made some fantastic short sketches possible. I mostly used black conte on paper but switched to sepia ink on water-colour paper after the break. Although, fun to use, these were not so successful, however, I enjoy trying different media and pushing myself. My favourites of this week were the 1 minute poses.

15 minute pose - sepia ink on watercolour paper

15 minute pose – sepia ink on watercolour paper

21/02/17 17.00-19.00

This week, inspired by the BBC Big Painting Challenge program, we were presented with long bamboo sticks and easels. These were limited in number so we took it in turns to use them, some more cheerfully than others, I have to say. Sticking with charcoal on paper until my turn, then switching to some jumbo, really black charcoal just before to get the feel of it. Once this was taped to the end of the bamboo stick, which was around 2 feet long, it was quite unwieldy to apply it to the paper. However, once I got the measure of distance and pressure, it was good fun and very expressive to use. It also gave me the chance to see both the model, Caroline, and paper at the same time without moving my head. I think this helped with proportions as they were directly comparable. Because of this, I used the stick to map out my composition for the long pose even though I switched to soft pastel to add colour.

25 minute pose - soft pastel on green pastel paper

25 minute pose – soft pastel on green pastel paper


28/02/17 17.00-19.00

Our treat this week was one long pose in whatever media we wanted to use. I broke out the oil paints and canvas in anticipation. Of course, we weren’t going to get away with it that easily, another BBC Big Painting Challenge exercise awaiting us first. On scraps of paper with ink and a big brush, we were to follow the rule of looking for 90 seconds and painting for 30. We had a few runs at this and it loosened us up for the long pose, I have no pictures of these as they were left behind. I made a couple of sketches to work out my composition before painting having previously coloured my 24×30″ canvas with a mix of burnt sienna, ultra marine blue and white acrylic to have a neutral ground both in tone and temperature on which to work.

A few reworks at the beginning to get the lean of the pose and positioning and then I was away. However, due to not being to get too far back from the canvas I noted that the proportions were slightly askew when the session came to its end. At home, I made adjustments with charcoal when the bent leg was too long, the forward foot a little misshapen and the head too large,  The head, I realised, because of the carnival mask the model was wearing, had been elongated from the forehead to its top and can be fairly easily rectified. The photo below shows the charcoal reworking and once adjusted in paint will be photographed and posted.


07/03/17 17.00-19.00

Our model this week was John. Our main projects were to be a 20 minute portrait and a 40 minute standing pose where John would be hanging on to a wire cable from the ceiling. First of course, a warm up exercise! Using whetted paper, a large brush and diluted ink, we were to paint a series of poses on one sheet. These were quick 1 minute poses where the main lines and gestures should be recorded. It was interesting to see the ink disperse on the wet paper, along with the colours that appeared at the fuzzy edges of the marks, in my case a blue/purple and yellow.

For the portrait I used soft pastels and a buff tinted pastel paper and for the standing pose, soft pastels and a aqua/green tinted paper. Initially, for the portrait, we tried a quick ink sketch in the same method as the warm-up, which was really effective and denoting light and dark areas of the composition.

20 minute portrait - soft pastel on buff tinted pastel paper

20 minute portrait – soft pastel on buff tinted pastel paper

40 minute pose hanging on to cable suspended from the ceiling - soft pastel on aqua/green paper

40 minute pose hanging on to cable suspended from the ceiling – soft pastel on aqua/green paper





Life Class – 6th December 2016


Life Class  17.00 – 19.00

It was a bit of a rush getting to class today – I decided to bring different media to ring the changes. Am I setting the scene for a “not so successful” session – possibly!

Caroline returned to be our model today. Our loose theme was Eve, complete with her apple. Our quick sketches, 2-3 minutes, entailed “Eve” reaching up towards the apple on a ladder – to be fair, there are no apple trees in the studio!

Seated pose - head back. 5-6 minutes. Charcoal on paper.

Seated pose – head back. 5-6 minutes. Charcoal on paper.



We then had “Eve” sat down having obtained the apple, leaning back, contemplating eating the forbidden fruit – possibly. This I found particularly tricky today, the proportions of my drawing were way off, with the head and upper body being too small – I think this is due to me being seated and my board being at an angle. No excuses, this has happened before, however, I failed to take this into consideration and made the same old mistakes!




Two seated poses side by side in different media. Left sepia acrylic ink, right black conte stick. 8-10 minutes each.

Two seated poses side by side in different media. Left sepia acrylic ink, right black conte stick. 8-10 minutes each.

A challenge of using different media for two seated poses on one sheet of paper was next. I had brought some ink and a stick of bamboo to draw with, so I used this for the first drawing. With the ink being water-soluble until it’s completely dry, I also used a brush and water to give some tone by moving the ink about. The bamboo is quite tricky to use (in the same way as a dip pen), but the effects are pleasing. With the second drawing, I felt more in control using the conte stick, however, it looks quite boring and safe in comparison. Proportions were a little better, but no feet!!!


After a short break, I returned to the easel to stand for the next pose. Initially, this was to be a pose to last until the end of the session. As I’d returned to my ink, bamboo stick and brush, I was quite happy with this – however, everyone else had finished after around twenty minutes, so we squeezed in another. As I was a slow coach on this one, I cheated a little and added more ink and sprayed with water to indicate the surface that the model was lying on.

Lying pose of 20 minutes. Sepia acrylic ink on watercolour paper, using bamboo stick, water with brush and spray.

Lying pose of 20 minutes. Sepia acrylic ink on watercolour paper, using bamboo stick, water with brush and spray.

Seated pose of 15 minutes. Sepia acrylic ink on watercolour paper using bamboo stick, brush and water spray.

Seated pose of 15 minutes. Sepia acrylic ink on watercolour paper using bamboo stick, brush and water spray.

The last pose was seated, I was standing – no excuse for the dodgy proportions this time! Again using the ink, bamboo, brush and water spray bottle, I sketched out the shapes but the scale was morphing in and out dramatically. With a call of 5 minutes to go, I scrubbed the ink all over the paper with a tissue, scratched out some form, added water and using the brush, tried to redraw, adding stronger lines with the stick. This was an improvement and maybe it could have been saved with a little more time. I have to apologise to our good-looking model for making her appear ancient and masculine. Next week is another opportunity – however, lessons have been learnt this week!





Life Class – 8th November 2016


Life Class – 17.00-19.00

Our middle class of the series of three. Today exploring tone with our lovely female model, who was unbelievably still during all the poses. We were again in Jason’s studio overlooking the Marina Rubicon in Playa Blanca – not sure how much work I would get done if I was there permanently!

3-4 minute reclining pose Black chalk on brown paper

3-4 minute reclining pose
Black chalk on brown paper

We had been encouraged to bring black and white water-based paint with supports of large cardboard off-cuts to facilitate quick drying. We began with a few 3-4 minute sketches to get going.






3-4 minute reclining pose Black chalk on brown paper

3-4 minute reclining pose
Black chalk on brown paper









3-4 minute seated pose Black & white chalk on brown paper

3-4 minute seated pose
Black & white chalk on brown paper

We had a quick break outside at this point to look at some new work of Jason’s – an adult man on a full-sized child’s swing mid momentum, with his jacket tails flying out behind him – fantastic! Along with that, a sunset over the sea that was beautiful beyond words! Back to it!





5 minute seated pose Black & white chalk on brown paper


Out with the black and white paint and a quick shuffle around to different view points together with the appearance of a few props. Working on large pieces of cardboard from cut-up boxes was interesting, it was extremely absorbent and the paint did seem to sink in a lot, but that encouraged a more liberal application of paint.




10 minute seated pose Black and white paint on cardboard

10 minute seated pose, holding a cast head, that just happened to be lying around
Black and white paint on cardboard

10 minute standing pose, holding a tree branch Black and white paint on cardboard

10 minute standing pose, holding a tree branch
Black and white paint on cardboard











30 minute reclining pose, in semi darkness with directed light on the model Black and white paint on cardboard

30 minute reclining pose, in semi darkness with directed light on the model
Black and white paint on cardboard

Next week we have elected to do one long pose – probably after a few warm-ups – and I think I’ll try to join some brown paper together and work on that. I enjoyed the black and white theme, so may get most of the subject blocked in with paint and then work into it with charcoal and white pastel after the break???

Here’s a link to this session‘s Facebook post by Betty our tutor.


Life Class – 1st November 2016


Life Class – 17.00 – 19.00

My first life class in Lanzarote! The wonders of the Facebook network has brought me together with a new teacher, class mates and venue!

Firstly, the venue! How lucky are we to be able to use a professional sculptor’s studio here in Playa Blanca, Lanzarote? Not only that he, Jason deCaires Taylor, has the commission for creating an underwater sculpture museum of people from Lanzarote. Many have already been submerged and many more are being cast and constructed at the studio.

We are surrounded by various body parts, moulds and, full sculptures outside ready to be installed in the sea. After submersion, the sea life claims the work as its home and the figures take on a whole new dimension forming a man-made reef of colour and texture – breathtaking.

Back to the class: This is the first of a series of three sessions, with this one looking at line. We could work in any media so I began with pencil, moving on to black conte stick and white conte pencil. This week we had John as our model, who was very tall and slim. Our tutor was keen to reference the “dog women” paintings by Paula Rego, which also merged with the Halloween theme of werewolves and scary poses. So our model had his work cut out!

Two minute "scary" poses LIne in Pencil

Two minute “scary” poses
Line in Pencil



As is usual, we began with a few 2 minute poses to warm up. Here I concentrated on gesture and stance rather than detail.






Five minute poses, one being timed and scared, the other being a "dog" pose after Paula Rego. Line in pencil.

Five minute poses, one being timid and scared, the other being a “dog” pose after Paula Rego.
Line in pencil.

After a quick break, we returned for a couple of longer drawings of around 10 and 40 minutes. The light was fading quickly and we had minimal lighting particularly on the final pose. The model had some subtle highlights but I could barely see my drawing – it was interesting to see where I felt I should enhance the darkness because of this.

Ten minute pose in a position common to sleeping dogs. Line in pencil.

Ten minute pose in a position common to sleeping dogs.
Line in pencil.

Sleeper by Paula Rego

Sleeper by Paula Rego




Referring back to Paula Rego, our model was posed in a position often adopted by dogs when sleeping.







A similar pose painted by Paula Rego as the inspiration.





Final forty minute pose in very subdued light with some subtle highlights visible. Black and white conte.

Final forty minute pose in very subdued light with some subtle highlights visible.
Black and white conte.


Portrait: Roy – 28/01/16


Portrait: Roy – 28/01/16 – One Session

A fellow class-mate came across Roy at a venue where he was reciting monologues in Dickensian costume. Thinking he would make an ideal sitter, he approached Roy and asked if he would mind sitting for the class and here he is…

28012016 - roy sketch

We were allowed to decide for ourselves how much of Roy we would paint e.g. head and shoulders, three quarters or full length. It seemed a shame not to make use of the costume Roy was wearing so I made a quick sketch to help me decide on the composition. Drawing freely on my paper, I then decided where to crop the edges, this informed my painting.

I had a prepared ground in acrylic paint with some fairly bright colour. I was pre-determined not to make this painting look muddy and dull. As per my sketch I decided on just over half the figure. In my drawing I had included Roy’s white gloved hands. However, during posing he had relaxed his arms down further, and, combined with a slightly shorter height to width ratio on my canvas board, there was not room enough to include them. As Roy’s jacket and hat were a very dark grey, not quite black, I decided to use Blue/Black pigment to keep the dark clean (still being paranoid about avoiding mud). This actually worked quite well and allowed me to add a little red and white to lighten the grey on the folds. Although I used a little green in the flesh of the face, I think I could have used some other colours in the shadow too. Trying hard to avoid making mud resulted in making the flesh a little too warm on the dark side. Something else to consider next time. There is a resemblance to Roy and the sculpting of the folds in the face were starting to work. Overall, a few pluses and a few points for improvement, on the whole it was a very enjoyable session.

Roy in Dickensian costume Approx 18x24" Oil on board

Roy in Dickensian costume Approx 18×24″ Oil on board


Research Point: Figures in an Interior

Research Point: Figures in an Interior

Look at some paintings of figures in interiors from different periods and choose two or three pictures that particularly appeal to you… At least one of these should be from the twentieth or twenty-first century. Consider what you think the artists’ intentions are and look at the technical and creative solutions that they’ve brought to the subject.

(NB The images reproduced here are for editorial purposes only and not for any commercial gain.)

Again, as with other Research Points in this section, I have found many examples that really appeal to me. As with the others, I have set up boards in Pinterest and added some of these feeling that I have been selective, however, now having to choose two or three from these is so difficult. I have realised that this is part of the process, as narrowing down which to use also makes me think harder about what I am looking at. This is something I also need to do when painting myself – learn to be selective and think about what I want to say.

Boy in an interior oil 1911 by Jan Mankes (1889-1920)

Description: Boy in an interior oil on canvas Painted in 1911. Jan Mankes (1889-1920):

Boy in an interior oil on canvas Painted in 1911. Jan Mankes (1889-1920)

This is not an artist I’m familiar with at all. Mankes was a Dutch painter who specialised in self portraiture, natural subjects and landscape. He died young, only 30 years old from tuberculosis, a common illness at the time.  This is particularly sad as he was a prolific painter and draughtsman and was evolving into interesting abstraction – who knows what he may have gone on to produce. The painting I have chosen is Boy in an Interior. It’s a simple title, yet on further inspection quite an unusual composition. There is definitely a nod to Vermeer and his interiors paintings, however, there are uncomfortable aspects. It is assumed that the boy is sat at the table but the chair is turned away towards the wall, the table doesn’t actually appear to be where you would expect. The light should be coming through the window you would think, and initially it seems so, yet there is no light on the boy’s face. I have read one account of the work and it suggested that the book that the boy is reading is a special one to the artist as it appears to be the source of light. This I can understand but again, there is no light on the boy’s face and it appears to be bounced beneath and in front of the book. I think this is a fascinating painting that draws the viewer into it and makes he/she work hard to decipher it. Not only this though, it is beautifully and sensitively painted, it has a limited colour range and is tonally interesting. I’m glad I found it in my searches.

Sleeping Woman  1961 by Richard Diebenkorn

Sleeping Woman by Richard Diebenkorn, Oil on Canvas Figurative Painting:

Sleeping Woman by Richard Diebenkorn

I was lucky enough to go the Diebenkorn exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this year. I had very limited knowledge of this artist too until then, and although he is revered particularly for his large abstract works, I fell in love with his figurative paintings. Not that there isn’t a large element of abstraction in these, there plainly is. This painting is an example of a fabulous cross-over. The interior is tonally fairly simple, yet it is easy to see the bench/seating that the model is lounged on. The strong diagonals are trademark Diebenkorn (from my limited exposure), and give a dramatic set for the character to play her part. The mirror gives another dimension to the figure and expands the interior without widening the frame of the image. Another painting I could look at for a long time and keep coming back to look some more.


I am desperate to add some Edward Hopper in here but let’s move on to the twenty-first century…

Andrea and Myrtle 2014 by Simon Davis

Simon DAVIS RP - Andrea and Myrtle 2014:

Simon DAVIS RP – Andrea and Myrtle 2014

This artist is someone I discovered at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition. This painting was displayed at the BP Portrait Exhibition 2014 and could be seen as a modern-day version of a Degas painting being a lady in her bathroom (with cat?). I have only previously seen portraits by him with no significant interiors, so I was blown away by the complexity in this one. There is such a sense of depth in this, considering that there are only two small rooms, however, the addition of the window takes the viewer further on and out of the picture and the tiled floors lead the eye in. There is an obvious second light source from the right in the anterior room that casts interesting shadows. The colours used make me think of early morning, maybe on a weekend as there is no sense of urgency in getting ready and out of the house. It’s a painting that makes the mundane and routine picturesque and beautiful.




Research Point: Portraits Conveying Mood and Atmosphere

Research Point: Portraits Conveying Mood and Atmosphere

Go onto the internet and find some portraits that convey a distinctive mood or atmosphere rather than simply a physical likeness.

(NB All images are reproduced for editorial purposes only and not for commercial gain)

Rembrandt’s Mother by Rembrandt

portrait of rembrandt mother - Google Search:

Portrait of Rembrandt’s Mother

Rembrandt’s portraits are always more than just paintings of people’s faces. He seemed to look deep within their souls and put what he found down on the canvas. This portrait of his mother shows a certain weariness but also a life lived. The illumination of her face is mesmerising with the warmth in the shadow that gives a translucency. It makes you wonder what she was thinking at the time.

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap by Vincent van Gogh

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap - Vincent van Gogh:

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap – Vincent van Gogh


This portrait by van Gogh tells the viewer so much just by the way it has been painted. The brush-strokes are thick, angular and convey the pressures and worries of this woman’s every day existence. To me, he hasn’t made her old in years but has etched every struggle to feed her family with meagre means. I like the way it appears van Gogh has painted all the canvas dark and put in the mid tones and lights over the top, sometimes allowing the dark to show through. This gives an overall depth and mood to the painting.








Mother and Child by Picasso

paintings of picassos blue period - Google Search:

Mother and Child by Picasso (painting from his blue period)

Picasso’s blue period, by its definition, is one of melancholy and sadness following the suicide of his close friend. He has taken this tragedy and sought out subjects in which to pour his grief. This painting is so simple yet heartbreakingly moving. The mother is turned away and the baby is clutched to her with a gentle fierceness.  There is nothing around them apart from what looks like a basket of clothes or maybe it’s where the baby sleeps.  Apparently, during this time, Picasso used to visit a women’s prison to draw some of the inmates, many of which had young children incarcerated with them. Could this be one of these women?



Party in Paris by Max Beckmann

Party in Paris - Max Beckmann:

Party in Paris – Max Beckmann

What a mixture of assumed moods and characters in this picture! Overall, I don’t really pick up much of a party atmosphere in this snap shot of a social gathering. There only seems to be three or four people enjoying themselves and one of those is the singer lost in his own world. Having said that, Beckmann has picked up on common characteristics of party goers. There are those actually enjoying themselves on the left. However, the boredom of the woman rear right having to listen to her assumed partner and his friend’s lengthy conversation – about politics probably, has noticed she has caught the eye of the single man on the left. The way Beckmann has put these two figures at the same eye level connects them. The couple in the middle are ignoring each other’s existence as they ran out of things to say to each other 10 years ago! The eagle-eyed social climber is keeping watch for potential useful contacts and the gentleman who really doesn’t want to be there in the bottom right (or maybe it’s the volume over melody of the awful singing?). What triumph in observing and then depicting the scene so cleverly, and, in a way that colours, positioning of the figures etc are balanced so perfectly. The more I look at this the more I see and like it.


There are so many portraits out there that are more than just paintings of faces – it makes me realise how much more has to go into the work.  It is also apparent that, although the observational and drawing skills that allow you to produce an image of a person are very important, it is not just these things and sometimes not even, that renders a likeness of the character or occasion. It is a conversation between painter and sitter that occurs, and, some remnants of that conversation should be visible in the painting that is produced as a result.

Life Class – 26 September 2015


Life Class – Kathy 09.30-12.30

First class back after summer was surprisingly full. Even our tutor was taken aback as he had prepared the room for the students to be around the model so that viewing was 360 degrees. However, we squeezed in, and as ever, I decided to stand at my easel so found a slot. As it was the first session I’d attended for a while, I chose to use drawing media and not paint this time.

We had a new model, Kathy, who was tall and voluptuous and very still – a gentle re-introduction. We had a fairly traditional session with some shorter poses, followed by a long one.

4-5 minute poses with spear Pencil on A2 paper

4-5 minute poses with spear
Pencil on A2 paper

The first few were around 4-5 minutes and had the prop of a spear, these are always a little tricky as I need to warm up and adjust to scale of the model etc. I failed to contain the entire figure within the paper, however, I concentrated on the stance and showing weight and solidity.





Three views of same pose 10 minutes each Charcoal on A2 paper

Three views of same pose
10 minutes each
Charcoal on A2 paper

Next, utilising the fact that we were encircling the model, we had a set of three 10 minute poses. This time the model repeated her seated pose, turning for each, so that everyone could have three drawings from different view points. This was enjoyable, however, my third view was front on and this was the most difficult, as there was little light and dark. This had the effect of flattening the subject and therefore, I subconsciously widened the figure which increased the scale so didn’t fit the paper. Standing back I realised this and then became less precious about the drawing and more scribbly which actually improved it a little.


Our final pose after tea break was around 40 minutes. It was a lying position and the model was again in the centre of the group. This meant that wherever we stood, we had pot luck of a “good” pose – we did have the option of moving, however, I decided to take the challenge of drawing whatever I was given. It turned out to be an interesting view with foreshortening and lots of lumps and bumps! While drawing the figure, it became obvious how important the surrounding fabric/background was for showing the form of the body. I tried to work quickly, moving around the paper and not become too fixated on one or other part of the drawing. I was happy with the solidity of the image and lost and found edges here and there, although still didn’t quite get the feet on the paper in their entirety.

40 minute pose Charcoal on A2 paper

40 minute pose
Charcoal on A2 paper


Exercise: Telling a Story


Exercise: Telling a Story

Create a simple narrative, involving one or several human figures, and produce a painting that gives the viewer the clearest possible idea of what’s happening… The story will lie in how these figures relate – or fail to relate – to one another… Feel free to use photographs to help you, but bear in mind that simply copying a photograph is unlikely to create a satisfactory painting unless you go on to provide further interpretation and make what is in a photograph part of your own story.

I have been mulling this exercise over for a while, having read ahead in the course, so that I may have models or reference material available. I came up with four different narratives that may work in a painting – these I tried out in my sketchbook.  As we were to tell a story, I felt it helpful to put my ideas in frames across the page, in a graphic novel style.  Somehow, this made me think in a narrative way, even though each did not relate to the other.

Ideas in A4 sketchbook

Telling a Story
Ideas in A4 sketchbook

This helped me visualise my stories on paper, although, I only managed to completely discount the first one for a while and struggled to select my final subject. Eventually, I ruled out number three as it was more complex an image and we were asked for a simple narrative.  I still think, however, that it would make an interesting painting and have only put it on hold. Between number 2 and 4, I finally settled on the fourth, mainly because it had two figures and I thought the additional relationship angle would be interesting.



As I had no models for this exercise, I referred to a book called Facial Expressions A Visual Reference for Artists by Mark Simon (published 2005 by Watson-Guptill Publications ISBN 0-8230-1671-4). As I had already had an idea for the story around receiving bad news in a letter, I knew what kind of expressions I was looking for.  The story in my mind was inspired by the remembrance events of the Second World war and of course, modern-day instances of families receiving the dreaded Ministry of Defence letters regarding service men and woman who would not be coming home. I chose a couple of photographs of a man and woman in their sixties with appropriate looks of shock and sadness. Until writing this up, I hadn’t realised were actually related as they were pages apart in the book! A little spooky!

Telling a Story Reference photo 1

Telling a Story
Reference photo 1

Telling a Story Reference photo 2

Telling a Story
Reference photo 2











Telling a Story Preliminary drawing Coloured pencil on paper 10x12"

Telling a Story
Preliminary drawing
Coloured pencil on paper


Due to time, I decided to use a 10×12″ canvas board again, and, as there were two figures, I decided to map out the composition in coloured pencils in the same scale to ensure placement would be correct in the final painting. Hopefully, I have been successful in bringing these two figures together and creating the characters to tell the story. It certainly makes me sad when I look at the finished painting.






Again I remembered to take a few photographs during the work in progress stage:


As an experiment, I decided to work on the white of the canvas board and did not use a prepared coloured ground. This was a conscious decision as I had read that some artists prefer this for portraiture as it gives more luminosity to the faces. In retrospect, I think here, it has given less depth to the colour, however, it does also give an impression of the graphic novel appearance.

Telling a Story "Bad News" Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Telling a Story
“Bad News”
Oil on canvas board

Although, it is not overly helpful not to have models queuing up to sit for these exercises, it has forced me into using my imagination. It has also made me draw on the many life and portrait classes I have attended in the past and has given me confidence to construct my own compositions. I have found it quite daunting over the recent years not to be able to draw or paint from life, and have felt that I need to see something/someone in order to draw it or them. Not having models has been quite a freeing experience.


Exercise: A Figure in an Interior


Exercise: A Figure in an Interior

…Another approach would be to work from a photograph which you can then locate in an interior that you’ve imagined or that you can paint from real life. You could paint a very interesting painting by depicting a stranger or a celebrity in your own living room… Skin tones reflect surrounding colour and shades… How will you locate your figure in the space? How can you suggest depth?

My initial thoughts as noted in my sketchbook were to portray the Queen doing the washing up in my kitchen, Marigolds and all, but decided against this. Another scenario sprang to mind, maybe she could be sat in our lounge in a fluffy dressing gown and slippers reading the papers, as if on a lazy Sunday morning? It then struck me, that she is never really off duty, so I thought I’d replace the papers with a lap top as if catching up on official correspondence in the modern age – after all, one is never away from the office with the internet nowadays, is one?

To achieve a rough composition for the painting, I found a pink fluffy dressing gown and tried out several poses that my husband photographed for me. I am a similar height to the Queen so this would also help with proportions whilst sitting. From these photos I chose a couple to sketch out as trial compositions, altering them slightly to make more sense for my imagined image.


A Figure in an Interior Preliminary compositional sketches Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Preliminary compositional sketches
Pencil in A4 sketchbook


The first sketch, I thought, was less interesting and the background was not complete enough to give a coherent image.  I preferred the second drawing as it seemed right in its situation. The head position was changed from the photograph to look to the figure’s left and at the lap top screen.





Next I had to find suitable images of the Queen in order to make the pose believable and in proportion. This proved harder than I thought, because of the thousands of photographs and images out there, they all seemed to be looking left of centre or were straight profiles. I wanted one of the Queen wearing her glasses as she uses them for reading, and of her wearing a tiara. I had to settle with a compromise, of the two sketches I made of her head, one was looking the wrong way but had glasses and the tiara and the other was looking the right way without the accessories.

A Figure in an Interior Preliminary sketches of the Queen Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Preliminary sketches of the Queen
Pencil in A4 sketchbook


I found the almost full face image more difficult to obtain a likeness, although it was useful for the glasses. The 3/4 to almost profile was easier, however, it was more severe an expression than I wanted. Many of the photographs I studied, and there were a lot, showed the Queen to have quite a mischievous smile and that would have been nice to use. However, in reality, if someone is reading, they will usually have an expression of concentration, which is what I went for in the end.


A Figure in an Interior Tonal sketch Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Tonal sketch
Pencil in A4 sketchbook


I then made a tonal sketch from the photograph, as parts of it were over exposed and therefore, lacking in information to paint from directly.








I actually remembered to take photographs of work in progress (see gallery).

The final painting when photographed, is a little harsher in colour than in life.  Some aspects I added are: enhancing lights and darks; adding red, white and blue pyjamas for more colour; a vase of flowers on the window sill – this added more interest on the right hand side of the canvas and lifted the whole painting; the tiara and reading glasses. There was a sense of the head being “stuck on”, this I rectified by lightening the neck and giving a cohesive look to the figure as a whole.  The lighting in this room is complex, with slightly off-set opposing windows, however, as it was morning, the window behind the figure let in the most light and the other, a more subdued light. I did find myself giggling whilst doing this and at the same time, hoping that they don’t still throw people in the tower for treason! On the plus side, I think I achieved my aim and although much more complicated that I had envisaged, was very enjoyable.  This is the first time I can remember, where I have used such a multitude of reference material plus imaginary aspects – great fun.

A Figure in an Interior Never Off-Duty Oil on canvas board 16x20"

A Figure in an Interior
Never Off-Duty
Oil on canvas board