Portrait: Ann – 28/04/16


Portrait: Ann – 28/04/16 & nn/05/16 – Two Sessions

Ann is to be with us for two sessions which will have about a month in between them. Therefore, this is the story so far…

Ann often wears “costume” for our sittings and this time she is a gardener, complete with hat, gardening gloves and secateurs (which are shiny and red and I can’t wait to add in!). I am tempted to add a couple of pots and a bag of compost to the composition in between Ann’s sittings.

As usual, we didn’t know who was sitting for us in advance, so my canvas board (20 x 24″), was prepared with an acrylic ground in fuchsia pink, blue and white in a random fashion. As I was working, I was imagining Ann surrounded by peonies! It was left up to us how much of the figure we incorporated into the composition, and as it was such a lovely pose, I really wanted to capture the entire figure. At the end of session one, I was pleased with the placement and proportion of the figure. I wiped out the face as it was getting too detailed and will look forward to that challenge next time.

Ann (work in progress) Oil on canvas board (20 x 24")

Ann (work in progress)
Oil on canvas board (20 x 24″)



Portrait: Volcan – 14 and 21/04/16


Portrait: Volcan – 14 & 21/04/16 – Two Sessions

Volcan is our Turkish sitter who visits a couple of times a year as his wife is a local girl. We like to think he brings the sun with him and it’s nice to have a Mediterranean complexion to paint.

Volcan Charcoal sketch on A2 paper

Charcoal sketch on A2 paper



Following on from our previous tonal exercises, we were asked to make a tonal sketch of Volcan using charcoal on its side and a rag to blend and manipulate our drawing. Again we were to try to avoid linear marks and just lay tones next to each other. I had some “chunky” charcoal which was extremely dark and didn’t really get around to lifting out any light. However, the object of this exercise was to become used to using the rag as this was to be our tool when painting.




Still within the first session, once we had an idea of what was required of us, we began our painting. I was using oils on an acrylic coated piece of mount board 34 x 43cm. A head and shoulders composition was our brief. Learning from our sketch we had only rags to use and the initial shapes and form was rubbed in and dragged around the support to form an under-painting. I enjoyed this as it was akin to finger painting, and, was a tactile and immediate response without a brush handle breaking the contact. Many of our class struggled greatly with not using a brush as this was their first attempt at this method. Interestingly, it was the ones that struggle with form and proportions that took to this technique, and, have subsequently used it again. It just shows it’s all horses for courses.

In the second session the next week, we continued to use rags (well, some of us did – the brushes did come out in some cases), we continued with our paintings. Volcan has very specific features, particularly his mouth shape, and at the end of the first session, I was pleased that I’d captured it. Unfortunately, as is often the case, this was lost in the second week. It is one of those infuriating things about painting, portraiture in particular, the push and pull of accuracy and likeness. In the end, I was less successful in this than I’d hoped – only the eyes were anywhere close. Maybe on Volcan’s next visit?

Volcan Oil on mount board

Oil on mount board


Portrait: Ti – 07/04/16


Portrait: Ti – 07/04/16 – One Session

Resuming classes after Easter Break, we had an intensive drawing class with Ti, who, again, has sat for the class before and always wore beautiful dresses. It’s a shame we weren’t painting.

This time we had an interesting challenge set for us. Using charcoal and putty eraser on white A2 paper, we were to make a tonal drawing, at first avoiding line as much as possible. Nothing unusual there one may think, except we had the lights off and curtains drawn. There was very little light to see either model or paper, so all we could see were the darkest tones. Initially, avoiding any detail, the darkest shapes were worked into the paper and, after about 10 minutes, a curtain was partially pull back to allow a small amount of light. From this we continued working into the drawing only with what we could actually see. This continued at intervals, gradually increasing the light and working back into the drawing focussing only on tone, both adding and subtracting. I really enjoyed this as it gave solidity and form to the figure drawing and the detail could be imagined and seen in the mind’s eye.


Ti Charcoal on A2 white paper

Charcoal on A2 white paper

After tea break, we all moved around so we had a different view-point. We repeated the exercise as before, but this time concentrating on the head and shoulders. The was great practice and made me really look at the planes of the face and form of the head. My tutor suggested I stop at the point below and maybe start another drawing in the time we had left.

Ti Head and Shoulders Charcoal on A2 white paper

Head and Shoulders
Charcoal on A2 white paper

Ti Small head and shoulders sketch Charcoal on A3 paper

Small head and shoulders sketch
Charcoal on A3 paper



The second small head and shoulders sketch was completed in the 15 minutes or so remaining of the lesson on A3 paper.








Portrait: Annabelle – 10 and 17/03/2016


Portrait: Annabelle – 10 & 17/03/16 – Two Sessions

A nice two-week sitting with Annabelle who has sat before and doesn’t move a muscle! As it was a double session, I had the luxury of having time for almost a full figure portrait. Using a nice sized 20 x 24″ canvas board, with a ground of mixed colours from a left over acrylic palette that included cadmium red, ultramarine, white and various mixes that was randomly brushed on. This gave an exciting and dynamic base that was inspiring to work on. I made a couple of sketches to firm up the composition, deciding on an approximate three-quarter length portrait. The first week, I concentrated on composition, blocking in, establishing colour ranges, tone and loosely establishing the background shapes. At tea break we were fascinated to hear about Annabelle’s exploits at being an extra on the TV drama Mr Selfridge. I spent my lunch hour scanning every second of the episode but, disappointingly,  I couldn’t be sure I saw her – that’s the trouble with a period drama, the costumes and wigs completely disguised her!

The second session was working on the details of the face, clothing etc. I also decided to leave some of the dynamic brush marks from the acrylic ground visible for added interest.

Annabelle Oil on 20 x 24" Canvas Board

Oil on 20 x 24″ Canvas Board





Portrait: David – 03/03/16


Portrait: David – 03/03/16 – One Session

It’s been a while since this class so can’t quite remember whether there was a particular theme here other than noticing the shadows under the hat.

David is a regular sitter and therefore keeps very still. I used A3 acrylic paper with a ground of burnt sienna, ultramarine and white acrylic, the portrait itself was oil. I decide to zoom right in and have David fill the page as the composition. As it was one session for this sitter, I worked quickly wet in wet.

Giving the background a nice sky blue, with light coming from the left from the window, gave the impression of David sat outside on a pleasantly sunny day with his hat shielding his eyes from the sun.

David Oil on A3 acrylic papaer

Oil on A3 acrylic papaer

Portrait: Les – 14/01/2016


Portrait: Les – 14/01/16 – One Session

First lesson back for the new year.  As we often do, we started off with a drawing session to get back into the swing. Les, our model, has sat for us before and knows what to expect. Our tutor wanted us to make three different drawings in charcoal, three different poses, one with Les wearing a hat. We each stayed in the same spot and Les changed his position for variety.

Les - seated upright Approx A2 - Charcoal (Head and shoulder positioning)

Les – seated upright
Approx A2 – Charcoal
(Head and shoulder positioning)

The approach we had to take, was to have a rectangular piece of paper placed on our paper to indicate the position of the head. The size of this rectangle depended on the size of support we were using. Mine was about the size of my hand span and wrist as I had a large piece of drawing paper. Les’ first pose was a straightforward seated position. As we were to draw head and shoulders, I placed the piece of paper slightly off centre vertically and in the top third horizontally. Once placed, we then could visualise the head and began to draw the level and shape of the shoulders, noting the collar of the jacket, neck and head. As we are always being told, the position of the shoulders helps describe the sitter and if they are incorrect, it will never look quite like them. Unfortunately, as I drew, I enlarged the scale inadvertently and the head went off the top of the paper a little.


Les - seated upright and sideways, with hat Approx A2 - Charcoal (Head and shoulder positioning)

Les – seated upright and sideways, with hat
Approx A2 – Charcoal
(Head and shoulder positioning)


The next pose was incorporating the wearing of a wide-brimmed hat with Les sitting sideways on his chair and resting his hand on the back. Initially, I placed the piece of paper more centrally on the horizontal. I sketched in the shoulders with the rough shape of the hat overlapping it. I then became aware that I would not have room for the resting hand. By moving the paper over to the left and making use of the marks already made on it for the hat, I could easily judge the new hat and shoulder position. After getting used to this technique, it became very useful to plan the drawing on the paper.


Les - seated, leaning forward. Approx A2 - Charcoal (Head and shoulder positioning)

Les – seated, leaning forward.
Approx A2 – Charcoal
(Head and shoulder positioning)




The third drawing had Les, minus the hat, leaning forward in his chair in what may be called an enquiring gesture. Placing the piece of paper to the right of the drawing paper and at an angle gave me the position for expressing the pose. I felt this worked well although I probably should have angled the back of the head a little more. The face itself was a good likeness, backed up by Les’ stating that was him! Always a bonus.




Portrait: Ann – 26/11/15 and 03/12/15

26/11/15 & 03/12/15

Portrait: Ann – Two Sessions

Session One

Ann, our model, arrived wearing a fabulously coloured satin dress with a full skirt that draped beautifully. Ann was tiny in stature and opted to sit up very straight-backed. After mapping out the main shapes and composition as usual and beginning the under-painting, I considered the background. As the pose was fairly formal in appearance, and the chair was covered in a striped fabric in oranges, ochre and muted green, I was inspired to use a bright background to liven up the image. The dress was purple so using a loose mix of cadmium yellow and red gave a vibrant orange. I allowed the dilute colour to run and mix on the board and added some dark umber to balance the tones and brightness.

At the end of session one, I had the bare bones of the figure, composition and colours down. The likeness was starting to appear – I felt this was a good place to stop and be ready for the next week’s session.

Ann - end of session 1 Oil on canvas board 40x60cm

Ann – end of session 1
Oil on canvas board

Session Two

In between the sessions, I propped up the painting in a position at home that I could review it away from the model. At this stage, the painting had been worked on quite evenly, however, looking at the face, I realised that the flesh and background were too similar in tone. Without actually painting, (always dangerous for me with the model), I rubbed back the colour around the face to make me remember I needed to address this area next time. I also noted the hands were a little oversized and that the legs needed adjustment. The skirt needed more variation of tone, particularly darkening the lower section. I really liked the fabric over the chair – it seemed to be good and solid and gave the impression of the chair beneath. I would have to ensure that this was not lost when the rest of the painting was worked up.

The whole painting needed to be given more solidity. The tones on the dress were modified and enhanced, this gave the legs more shape beneath the fabric. Highlights were added to the face and the neck was strengthened. This was important as it emphasised the straight posture and put some tension into the ligaments of the neck. The hands were resized and the feet were modified. The background around the face was brightened which helped draw the profile with more strength. Unfortunately, as often happens, the likeness evaded me with these alterations, the upper lip was particularly key to this. Ann’s lips were slim yet well-defined and from my viewpoint, was against the light from a window so difficult to see clearly. Moving around so that the profile was against a dark, I could see the shape but ran out of time to rectify it. My last stroke of the paint brush was to give a bright dash to the fabric on the chair. I am particularly pleased with the fabrics although the likeness is minimal.

Ann - Session Two Oil on canvas board 40x60cm

Ann – Session Two
Oil on canvas board


Portrait: Ann’s Daughter – 19/11/15


Portrait: Ann’s Daughter – Single Session 09.30-12.30

I’m ashamed to say I can not, for the life of me, remember our model’s name! She is the daughter of one of our students, Ann, and is 37 weeks pregnant.  We had been told previously that our model was heavily pregnant and I was quite excited about painting her. However, I made an error of judgement regarding the size of the support, I was thinking that it is only one session and chose a small support again. This proved to be limiting as I wanted to paint at least a three-quarter figure to take advantage of the “bump”. Our model also had a striking face and was beautifully natural with strong bone structure and I was envious of others who were concentrating on the face only.  I still wanted to paint a three-quarter view but wanted to model the face too. I got to half way through the morning and at tea break time, I decided to paint over a previous painting that was 40x60cm to make a second portrait. My other struggle with the small support was that again, it was a recycled oil painting and I had used oil paint as the ground. To make the colour more opaque I had mixed in titanium white, unfortunately, this had not dried sufficiently prior to the class and was making my portrait quite chalky.

With the second painting, I just painted over the portrait from a previous week without a uniform ground. This was beginning to come on but I inevitably ran out of time. Therefore, not a successful session in outcome, but a valuable one in learning lessons for preparation and composition.

Our model at 37 weeks pregnant. Oil on board 12x14"

Our model at 37 weeks pregnant.
Oil on board

Second painting Oil on canvas board 40x60cm

Second painting
Oil on canvas board











Portrait: John – 12/11/15


Portrait: John – Single Session 09.30-12.30

Hats and shadows seem to be the order of the day. As it’s a single session, I chose a small support of approximately 12×14″. This is a recycled oil painting, therefore the ground had to be in oil rather than my usual acrylic. Luckily, this had dried in time for the class.

John, our model, arrived with a jaunty hat in a country/Australian style (minus the corks). It was important to make the head sit inside the hat, which was quite difficult as the hat itself was deceptively taller than expected. It was interesting to note that John’s eyes were not really visible and adding a fairly uniform tone under the hat’s brim modelled them with minimal detail. As it was a single session, the painting has a sketchy style. I was particularly pleased as John had a look at the painting and said “that’s me!”

John in his bush hat 12/11/15 Oil on mount board 12x14"

John in his bush hat
Oil on mount board


Portrait: David – Small, Tonal Oil Sketches


Portrait: David – Small, Tonal Oil Sketches

Our brief for today’s class was to bring two small prepared boards, large brushes and either oil or acrylic paints.

2 x 10×12″ canvas boards prepared with mid-tone warm ground
1 size 12 & 1 size 10 hog flat brush
Ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and Naples yellow oil paint

During our tutor’s explanation of the lesson to come, he related to a recent trip to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester where there is currently an exhibition called Sickert in Dieppe. Another student kindly brought in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. We were to pay particular attention to the figures and the technique of creating tone that Sickert had used. Our tutor summarised it as “scrub and dab” (patent pending?).

Using a limited palette (above), we were to work in darks and mid tones exclusively for the greater part of the time and save the lights till near the end. Working in thinned paint, the darks were scrubbed in, then the mid tones covering the entire canvas appropriately as we saw them on the model. We were discouraged from leaving the “lights” but to build layers so that some of the darks may even show through. As we progressed, we used less dilute paint and evolved into the “dab” stage. Sickert had used little marks and strokes of paint to build up the tones rather than lines and sweeps. (Also reminiscent of Van Gogh in his mark making). The first sketch took us up to tea break, and I unfortunately, ran out of time to put my lightest lights down but the technique was coming.

David Tonal oil sketch in the style of Sickert Canvas board 10x12"

Tonal oil sketch in the style of Sickert
Canvas board 10×12″

With the second sketch we were to adopt a similar approach regarding the darks and mid tones. Working for as long as possible to build up the structure of the face and shoulders before adding the lights. This time we were to make considered marks – looking at the model and making a definite decision as to where they should be placed. Using a long-handled brush, I tried standing at arm’s length whilst painting – this gave me a clearer view of the entire sketch to decide where to make marks. Standing back, assessing and then confidently putting down a mark was excellent discipline. I had seen Nicky Phillips (who painted the double portrait of Princes William and Harry), and read that Whistler had (as I’m sure had/do many other artists) adopt(ed) that approach. Again, I ran out of time to add the lightest lights, however, feedback from my tutor was that I had worked up the entire sketch equally so that all parts were are the same stage. A little longer and it may have been quite successful?

David Tonal oil sketch Canvas board 10x12"

Tonal oil sketch
Canvas board 10×12″