Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Rowan Foundation, Cambridge

On Thursday afternoon I visited the Rowan Foundation in Humberstone Road, Cambridge. This was as part of a link that is being forged between it and the Cambridge Drawing Society, of which I am a member.
The Rowan is a charitable organization that "offers work experience and training for people with learning difficulties". The hope is that we at the Society will be able to offer and share some of our artistic skills with students there.
On my arrival, I had little notion of what to expect , or how the afternoon was to be structured. After a brief introduction , I was shown a large supply of art materials. From these, I selected some pastels and paper and decided to do a quick portrait of Amie, one of the tutors. I am delighted to say that this caught the attention of the students who appeared fascinated by the process and quickly lined up to have their own portraits done. In the course of the afternoon, I produced 10 sketch portraits. It was an absolute delight to witness how excited and engaged my sitters were. Having caught their imagination, I will hopefully be able to build on this in the months to come.

To see the work that the Rowan Foundation does , please visit their website, or call in to 38-40 Humberstone Road, Cambridge.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Patchings National Art Competition 2010

Today, I delivered a portrait to Patchings Art Centre at Calverton in Nottinghamshire.

It is to host a National Art Competition sponsored by both the Artist magazine and Leisure Painter. 140 works have been accepted for exhibition, 70 in the professional category and 70 in the amateur.

I am pleased to say that my portrait of " Mrs. McLeod" will be on display in the professional section.Another painting I entered, "Makena", has been "Highly Commended" and will appear shortly on the Patchings website.

The exhibition runs from June 10th -July 11th.

The opening runs concurrently with the 17th Patchings Art, Craft and Design Festival (June 10th-13th). Attracting over 15000 visitors, it "comprises over 150 nationally renowned artists and craft designers demonstrating, exhibiting and selling their work. It has become one of the UK's most celebrated art and craft festivals."

For full details of the Exhibition and Festival, check out the Patchings website at

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How to create a charcoal portrait of a child

The materials I will be using are thin sticks of willow charcoal, charcoal pencils, black conte crayon, a putty rubber, cotton buds, torchons and a smooth cloth . I am working on pre-soaked and stretched Sanders watercolour paper (140 gms.) As watercolour papers go this is fairly smooth, but it has enough tooth to hold the charcoal powder.

Using the willow charcoal, I quickly rough in the basic shape of the head and position of the various features. Nothing is as yet fixed in stone. Willow charcoal can easily be dusted off and amendments made.

As I am fairly happy with the beginnings of a likeness, I start to strengthen the details and tones of eyes and mouth. This is done with a charcoal pencil ( medium). I also work on building up the shadows. I scrub the willow charcoal over the area and then soften with fingers, torchons or cloth.

I now pay attention to the background , blocking it in with compressed charcoal and charcoal
pencils (dark) The hair is begun.

From here it is a matter of simply refining the detail. To get the precision I want, in the eyes for instance, I use a sharpened conte crayon. But you have to be certain it is in the right place, for conte is a very difficult material to erase! I build layer upon layer to get the depth of shadow I want. On top of the initial willow charcoal, I use the charcoal pencils , stroking them in very gently and then smoothly blending with torchons or cotton buds. A mahl stick is another useful implement as I have often absentmindedly lent my hand upon a drawing and erased or smudged large areas. I also on occasions mask off the areas of the drawing I am not working on.

The finished drawing.

Charcoal is a particularly lovely medium for drawing children. It allows for both delicacy and detail.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Portrait demonstration

Throughout the year, I give portrait demonstrations to many art groups and societies. These can be great fun but also challenging in that you never know who the model is going to be. You hope that the person selected or volunteered will look interesting, striking, distinctive etc. But there is no guarantee. You hope also that they will be engaged in the process, be lively and willing to enter into a dialogue with you so that you become a sort of double act , a form of entertainment for the audience. Occasionally, I am allowed to choose from amidst the "shrinking violets" before me and I am glad to say that usually my instinct is right. But mostly, the victim has been pre-selected.
Over the years, numerous memorable things have happened. There was the time when the model, an elderly gentleman, instantly fell asleep and snoring loudly . No matter how much I cajoled or prodded, could I keep him in a state of consciousness. I cracked all my best jokes and anecdotes but the audience sat in stony silence and all that could be heard was the sound of sweety wrappers being unfurled. It was a "beam me up Scotty" night. I did struggle on manfully and produced a fairly decent portrait by the end of the evening. The group applauded loudly and said it had been extremely enjoyable and informative. Would I come back again? I smiled sweetly, grabbed my cheque and fled , vowing never to return within a 60 mile radius of the place! On another occasion, I was demonstrating to a group of over 80 people. Being such a large audience they decided to wire me up for sound. A very odd experience. Even odder when I forgot my "electronic" state and went off to the toilet and shared it with everybody.
This last Monday, I gave a demonstration to Hartest art group in Suffolk. I am delighted to say that none of the above horrors occurred. It was my third visit and so it was rather like meeting up with old friends. The banter was good with artist and audience winding each other up.

The artist at work.

I spent just under two hours on this oil portrait of Sue. I began by explaining about materials I would be using as well as techniques, proportions, tone, and colour mixing. With a large hog's hair brush and turpentine I roughly drew in the outline of the head and fixed the position of the various features. Then it was time to block in the main flesh tones, mid -tones, and shadows before concentrating on the finer details of the eyes etc. Working in this alla prima way there is only a certain amount one can do on the day, all of which was explained to and discussed with the audience. Below, is the painting at the end of the session.

To learn more of the techniques used see my various other blogs. To see me " in action " watch the video of me painting a portrait in 80 minutes in the "Tuition and Demonstration " section.

Friday, May 7, 2010

New Painting classes starting in September

In September, I will be starting my own private weekly classes. These will be held in the Old Reading Room in Weston Colville, near Newmarket.

Both will be held on a Wednesday and will run for 10 weeks ( September 1st-November 3rd)

PAINTING FOR PLEASURE 10-12 am. Numbers will be limited to 12. Cost £105

PORTRAIT PAINTING 1-3pm. Numbers will be limited to 10. Cost £125

For full details call me on 01284 810 460 or email

Stolen fish recovered!

The mystery of the stolen painting has been solved! According to the Cambridge Evening News, the painting of a" Duba Fish" was taken by a love sick teenager to give to his girlfriend. What strange things love drives us to do! On reading the newspaper's headlines over the theft,however, the aforementioned young romantic was filled with remorse and handed himself and the fish in. The artist chose not to press charges and , as the newspaper reported, the thief was "let off the hook!"
The artist in question rose to the height of stardom. A geophysicist working in Cambridge, she was however billed as a "Hollywood animator" and someone who had worked on "Gladiators" in London, much more eye catching than a trip to the Arctic! Where would we be without the sensational British press?

All in all a bizarre tale, worthy of any "soap".