Posca Paint Markers

October 4, 2017

Graffiti Spring (detail)

Recently I was invited to trial a starter set of 18 Posca Paint pens. Not having used these paint markers before and not being at all used to working with marker pens, my experiments were a bit of a voyage of discovery.  I liked the little caddy that contained the pens.  Once the wrappers were off it was easy to get the pens primed to flow.  Great to have all the nib sizes but nearly panicked when I found there was no brown, no grey, no dark red and no ochre or yellow green.  This was more than compensated for by the silver and gold and the inclusion of three brush pens.  The brush pens were great although only gold has been used so far. Glad the pump button at the end of the brush pen has a shield so that it can’t be depressed by accident if the cap for that end of the brush is left off.

  1. Scribbling and Blending

My first test was to scribble with the pens to find out their colours, covering capacity, and to get used to the ink flow on cheap copier paper.  Then I looked at the blending possibilities on a sample of 300gsm Saunders Waterford hot pressed paper and a much rougher sienna coloured Fabriano Tiziano which I sometimes use for pastel.  Blending was very limited on both as the ink sank into the paper.  Also in the case of the Fabriano paper especially, the pens damaged the paper surface when I tried to blend before the paint dried.

By coating the paper with matte acrylic medium I achieved much better blending results as the medium provided a non-porous surface so that the paint did not sink into the paper and remained wet just long enough for limited blending.  The medium dries clear so that the colour of the paper still shows through.

So with a relatively rough paper, treating to give a non-porous surface is essential.

Blue and green pens on sienna coloured Fabriano Tiziano Paper Left untreated, Right coated with acrylic matte medium

2. Layering

After that I tried some layering of colours choosing a dark green off-cut of mount board.  No attempt to blend was made but tests on a tiny piece suggested it had a smooth and relatively non-porous surface to work on.  First of all I established the large tree trunks with the broad chisel pen followed by blocking in the sky with the white chisel pen. After that I scribbled some light blue into the sky.  Next the tree branches were marked out with the smaller chisel shaped black pen using its broad and narrow nib edges to get some variation into the branch widths; see detail at top of post.  Finally all the colours and bullet shaped nibs were scribbled over the top to suggest the waterfall and foliage.  I called the piece Graffiti Spring!

Graffiti Spring

I chose a smooth very dark blue Canford paper obtained from Cass Art for the next two drawings, which when tested accepted layers of colour with no damage to the paper.  The first was a jelly fish made with the finer nibs and the second a cartoon style image of sea anemones.  I did long for a transparent colour to wash over the pens to make the image more 3-dimensional but may do this at a later stage with acrylic paint.

For my next drawing I decided to work from a sketch made on 22nd August at the current ‘Matisse in the Studio’ exhibition at the RA.  I was amused by two little ivory figures from the Lega region of the Congo.  The drawing was made on the same Canford paper but in brown.  One half was coated with a layer of black using the broad chisel pen.  The figures were then drawn in white and shadow areas of the figures indicated with the fine silver pen and a touch of light blue.  Outlines and markings were added with black and finally a tiny amount of Burnt umber watercolour used to ‘tidy up’ the figure on the right.  The title is Waiting for Matisse.

Ivories from the Lega region of the Congo or “Waiting for Matisse”

  1. Working on Wet Paper

For this I returned to comparing paper coated with a layer of matte acrylic medium with untreated paper.  First I tried looking at drawing into wet with blue and green medium bullet tips on Sienna coloured Fabriano Tiziano paper.

The untreated paper below was washed with water and the pens applied to the surface producing some beautiful feathery lines needing a light touch not to damage the paper.  Successful ‘dropping in’ of subsequent colour required adding more water.

Washing a similar paper that had been treated with acrylic medium, see below, resulted in an almost uncontrollable wash of ink from the pen and dropping in could be achieved as the paper dried.  Interesting back runs could be made and as the paint dried, in places the white chalk that makes the ink/paint opaque separated out, again making an interesting result that could be harnessed for future art works. 

Finally I made some more experiments working into white wet paper.  All were on an inexpensive NOT paper, Fabriano Accademia weight 260gsm.  In the first trial on untreated paper, I wetted the surface then applied lines of pigment.  This was followed by dropping in more pigment, rewetting the paper when required, and finally when the surface was dry, working more colour on to the paper.  Sadly even the initial lines badly damaged the paper.

I then made further trials by coating the same paper with matte acrylic medium as before and enjoyed controlling the washes and dropping in more paint.

The large pink drops were added when the paper was still damp.  The tiny pink and black dots black edges and little black square were added once the paper had dried.

My final experiment combined layering and working on wet paper.  The same white paper treated with matte medium was used.  It was nearly a total disaster as I failed to control my overly wet washes.  It was then the fact that I could wait for the paper to dry, select the areas I liked and overlay the rest with solid colour that I began to realise the merit of the good covering capacity of the pens.  I coated the areas to be eliminated with the gold brush pen and then blocked in the large leaf with the blue pen. Then with the green, red, pink and ultrafine black pens I completed the line work.


I thoroughly enjoyed testing the pens.  I found it quite a challenge working with a limited palette and think some of the other colours, especially a grey pen, would have been useful; I just used silver instead.  However I did appreciate the different nib shapes and sizes and love the gold brush pen.  The brush was well pointed and kept its shape even after being closed and opened several times.

Looking forward, perhaps a limited range of transparent colours would be useful to add subtleties of tone.

Because I use a large range of papers for my own work and for teaching, trialling Posca pens on different paper surfaces, wet and dry, was of special interest.  I learnt a great deal about a medium I might not have used at all and will certainly be using the pens in future, so I’m grateful to SAA and Posca for the opportunity.  When I make time I am looking forward to trying them on other surfaces, especially wood and stone, besides incorporating Posca paint pens into mixed media works.


Matisse in his Studio and African Art


Ivories from the Lega region of the Congo drawn with Posca Paint Pens

Visiting the “Matisse in his Studio” exhibition at the RA was definitely one of the highlights of my gallery visits this Summer.  I had seen several of the objects previously at the Matisse Museum in Nice but not his collection of African objects which greatly influenced his work from around 1905 on.  I was intrigued by the little male and female ivories from the Lega region of the Congo.  The markings on these were said to be related to the marks (dots and short lines), used for the background of his woodcuts of the figure, made in 1906.

I had been asked to trial some Posca Paint markers so have included the image above made later, on brown paper, using white, black and silver pens.  All others images are from my sketchbook record of the exhibition visit.

Ivories from the Lega region of the Congo

In the sketchbook page below, the relation of the brow ridge in the Muyumbo mask to the ” Standing Nude”of 1907 can be seen.

Sketches of standing Nude 1907, Fang reliquary figure and Muymbo mask

There is also a reliquary figure whose neck, body shape and marking  across the belly relate to the “Seated Figure with violet Stockings” of 1914; see the tiny sketch  in the right bottom corner of the page below.

Still Life with African Figure 1907 Jomooniw Figures

Thrree sculpted heads of Jeanette, 1910, 1911, 1913 in profile and front view

Lastly I sketched the three sculpted heads above, made in 1910, 1911 and 1913 but not cast till 1953 and 1966, which also show the simplification and changed features that may derive from Matisse’s observation of African art.


Walk on the Wild Side

April 21, 2017

Jo feels very privileged to be taking part in the Society of Graphic Fine Art’s first London Members’ show for this year, at the R K Burt Gallery in Southwark. The exhibition will showcase drawing in many media including printmaking, and all details are on the invitation below. Hope you will be able to visit this delightful exhibition of works on paper where “Wild” will be very broadly interpreted.

2017 R K Burt wild P1 invite


2017 R K Burt wild P2 invite


Inspiration from the Ice Age and Nigerian Sculpture:

April 20, 2017

I love museums and drawing in them. They allow me to travel in time and space.  I’ve just revisited the Ice Age from drawings made in the British Museum in 2013 at Ice Age Art: Arrival of the modern mind.  My sketchbook included drawings of the Lion Man sculpture made 40.000 years ago.  Mind blowing to find man not only had the imagination to ponder such an impossible beast but could already translate his thought into a tangible sculpture.

2013 lion man ice age art

The Lion Man about 40,000 BC

Deciding to make a more considered study in mixed media, I redrew the sketches of the lion man with a mid toned pastel pencil then made a dry wash of pale blue pastel over most of the sheet and began building up with more layers of pastel and soft pastel sticks.  After that I knew a dark background was needed and diluted India ink was laid in with a brush.

2017 becoming human P1080970

Becoming Human: mixed media

The pastel acted as a resist in places and I liked the effect and added another layer of ink, being careful not to lose all of the resist qualities of the pastel.  More pastel pencil was applied and the background enriched with transparent watercolour in tiny strokes of Alizarin, ultramarine and Prussian blue. Further lines were added with pen, pastel pencil and gouache, and finally a few washes of Alizarin around the legs.  The figure in back view developed a softness suggesting a metamorphosis from wood to flesh. I had no hesitation in retaining this, and hence the title Becoming Human, suggested itself.

2017 01 14 BM African300dpi

Sculpture: made by the Igbo people, Nigeria: British Museum

Earlier this year I returned to the British Museum, this time to visit the African galleries and drew a curious construction, mainly of painted wood and metal, a sculpture of separate parts screwed to a central pillar.  This was Igbo Nigerian and twentieth century, full of symbols of power and wealth; guns, European hats, horses, wild animals and equally wild face paint.  It did appear slightly menacing but at the same time celebratory so it did not surprise me to find this sculpture and similar ones are used as rallying points for dancing.  The colours used were white, terracotta, ochre, blue and black.  To develop a work for exhibition I chose to reverse the drawing and simplify the colour using black and white pigment pens over a two plate mono-print which provided a rich red backdrop.

2017 Trophies African galleries BM 300dpi

Trophies: mixed media

The guns and wild animals suggested hunting, and together with the other symbols of power the title Trophies was born.  It was only today when I looked up the images on the British Museum site that I found on part of the construction I could not see, a baby was presented, so perhaps I should return to make a friendlier, family version.  Alternatively, it could be that the birth of a healthy child is another symbol of power as the continuation of the dynasty is assured.  As ever the history bound into objects is fascinating and I am curious to find out more.

Becoming Human and Trophies are two works Jo will be showing at a Society of Graphic Fine Art’s Members’ show Walk on the Wild Side at the R K Burt Gallery in Union Street, London, 25thApril to 5thMay.

Cookham and Maidenhead Arts Trail 2016

September 20, 2016

It was such fun to be taking part in the Cookham and Maidenhead Arts Trail, in CAMAT’s third year.


CAMAT showcases many different genres of local creativity from textiles and ceramics to painting and printmaking.


My contribution was a show of paintings of London and the Yorkshire landscape, together with more experimental drawings and prints, and plate lithographs derived from museum drawing mixed with a little imagination.



A selection of sketchbook drawings made in Spain, Nice, the Thames, the British Museum and on trains were also displayed.




























Part of the fun or challenge was hanging the works in a non-gallery space.  My studio is not suitable so I use the living space of my home.  The constraints of hanging works in a gallery are mainly the wall space and configuration, and lighting, but by and large one is arranging works with regard to how they impact on each other.  The walls are usually white and furniture is minimal.  At home one has the colour of furniture, curtains and carpets competing for attention with the art work.


Aiming for a relatively uncluttered look that is also welcoming is what I strive to achieve, even in my rather overly patterned and colourful living space.  One day I will whitewash everything and bathe the house in cool white light.

Images are of the hang at venue 17 of CAMAT, before my wonderful visitors arrived.  Images of the artworks can be seen on the gallery page of the web site.


Ceremonial Headdresses from Nigeria

August 31, 2016

fish headress sketches

My first drawings in the African Galleries of the British Museum were of a collection of Nigerian ceremonial animal masks.  More recently I was attracted to some equally wonderful Nigerian fish masks that are worn on the head like a hat. So I drew; fairly straightforward simple drawings on two pages, wondering how I would use them.  As usual they were left for months when I rediscovered them and decided to make a drawing of the fat terracotta fish on a polyester litho plate, incorporating some of the other ‘fish’ and their markings as a background of jumbled motifs.

2016 fish head dress 1 BM plate resizedi

The Plate

Some of the creatures were halfway between fish and crocodiles and made out of anything and everything from cardboard boxes to shirt buttons, string and feathers. What made them look even more fascinating and mysterious was their presentation.  The cast shadows, especially of the long fish forms, invited a sense of imagined movement.

2016 fish headdress 1 BM print web

Print: Ceremonial Headdress from Nigeria

The plate was printed last Wednesday at High Wycombe on what seemed the hottest day of the year so far!


Intuitive Drawing and Transferred Line

April 26, 2016

Intuitive drawings can be made with any drawing media. At a workshop held on 23rd April at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts Maidenhead, our focus was on transferred line drawing using a similar technique to Paul Klee. We kept to the idea of trusting our intuition to develop the drawings rather than having an end image in sight at the beginning of each visual ‘journey’. Some very imaginative works resulted. All images presented are of students and their prints made at the workshop.

2016 intuitive drawing comp 1

We began by inking up a piece of light weight paper evenly but thinly and laid this on top of the printing paper. Another piece of lightweight paper may be placed over this and drawn on so that the line is transferred to the sheet of printing paper below, using a ball point pen or stylus. Sharp pencils pressed hard can tear the paper. The line is similar to a dry point line, and if printed through on to heavy cartridge or watercolour paper, when the printing ink is dry, the drawing may be used as a wax resist for watercolour. Often the print is most beautiful left as it is or perhaps with a small area of colour. Paul Klee used a similar method for his ink and watercolour drawings.2016 intuitive drawing david comp

Drawing on the back of the inked up paper may be done spontaneously or a drawing may be prepared beforehand and traced. As long as the paper is thin this may be placed over the inked up paper and traced through. Another way, so that the original drawing is preserved and to allow experimentation with the same motif is to make a photocopy of the original drawing, ink up and trace through. Best results are when the tracing of the design is not done too laboriously so that some spontaneity of line results.2016 intuitive drawing maria

We also obtained excellent results by inking up Rhenalon plates thinly but evenly. Laying lightweight cartridge or printing paper on top and drawing on the paper. Both for the ‘paper plate’ method or by placing the paper to be printed on directly on to the plate, areas of tone can be achieved by hand pressure and using less pointed softer implements for drawing. Only plastic implements and cardboard were used for these drawings so that the plates were not scratched.

2016 intuitive drawing alvina comp

In the afternoon we used the Rhenalon plates to make monoprints and incorporated hand torn or cut coloured papers into the prints. Again we had no conception of the end result of our intuitive process when we began each composition.2016 intuitive drawing mono 12016 intuitive drawing mono2Many thanks to all who took part so enthusiastically and produced some very beautiful and some very funny prints!

2016 intuitive drawing elaine

See also;

Previous Blog Post: Destination Unknown a Journey into Intuitive drawing June 15 2015

Artists and illustrators Magazine Feb. 2009 Issue 270 page 66/67;

Jo Hall; Transferred Line: A Revelation

2016 annaP1060479

Seen and Imagined

March 16, 2016

This post is adapted from the artist’s statement accompanying her recent solo exhibition.

At first sight the exhibition ‘Seen and Imagined’ appears an eclectic mix of abstract, fantasy, and representational work. I think of it as more like a marriage of observation and ideas. In this post I hope to demonstrate how I drew on the observation and imagination of others, and my own observation and imagination to produce the works shown.

In the tiny lithographs from drawings made of objects shown at the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum, I drew on the imagination of artists of up to 40,000 years ago. The skills of these artists led to the production of both highly stylised and representational carvings of natural forms, animal and human, and also to the development of ideas of fantasy creatures such as the ‘Lion Man’.

PR020 web motifs from the ice age 2

Motifs from the Ice Age 2

In Nordic Legend: Fragments I played with imagery from Viking stones and fragments of the Sutton Hoo treasure to compose a work where all the elements from a Nordic Myth can be identified.

P002 web Nordic legend fragments

Nordic Legend: Fragments

The story tells of how Sigurd the Volsung and his blacksmith (the evil Regin in disguise) set out to slay a dragon (really Regin’s brother Fafnir) who was guarding a great treasure. Once dead the blacksmith asked Sigurd to roast the dragon’s heart. Sigurd burnt his thumb and sucked it, so when magic dragon’s blood touched his tongue he understood the chattering birds warning that his blacksmith planned to kill and rob him. AT ONCE Sigurd chopped off his blacksmith’s head and rode away with the gold!

The shapes in this work derive from the extended lines from a life study which suggested the rocking of a ship, so no wonder I was drawn to the myth of a sea faring nation. This process is intuitive in a similar way to that of ‘word association’ which I will call ‘image/thought association’.

2016 comp unnatural hist 1

Drawings from the Unnatural Histories Series;   Who am I,    A Walk in the Country,   Fish out of Water

The ink drawings which started as no more than a few scribbled lines and which developed into the series I think of as Unnatural Histories, represent a similar intuitive process.. The outcome of this approach possibly reflects my former career as a biologist and interest in the transferred line drawings of Paul Klee. I have a strong belief that our minds carry visual ideas that only surface when we find a way of tapping into the imagination.

2016 comp unnatural hist 2

More drawings from the Unnatural Histories Series;   Reef-phant,   Night Flight,   Anemmonite

Works such as Miro Goes Fishing and Lines and Stops also began as a few scribbled lines on paper with no predetermined end image in sight. The imagination process grew with the addition of each added line or area of colour. Decisions were taken on the journey of marks made, firing the imagination to create distinct forms or to leave the work relatively abstract. (See previous post)

Dry Valley between Goredale and Malham Cove, Yorkshire

Dry Valley, between Goredale and Malham Cove, Yorkshire: acrylic on canvaee previous post)

Land and cityscape painting and drawing form a large part of my practice, and although for these works observation is of huge importance, I like to think the imagination brings to life the emotion or idea the artist hopes to convey in each painting. Crossing the Dry Valley high up on the limestone, on the way to Malham Cove from Gordale was a dramatic experience. Its grandeur was only surpassed by my curiosity to know what lay beyond the bend. I hope to invite your curiosity too.

Ancient steps toward Winskill Farm from Stainforth, North yorkshire

Ancient steps toward Winskill Farm from Stainforth, North Yorkshire; acrylic on canvas

The painting Ancient Steps to Winskill Farm depicts steps cut into the limestone and weathered over many years. Even the locals seem to know nothing of their history. I wanted to feel again the mystery of the ancient steps, dark recesses in the rocks and tangled tree roots, but most of all to make that upward journey once more.

Our landscape is continually subject to changes in colour and mood so in Fog and Mist I chose, very deliberately, three pigments for each painting. I then made mixes, laying down small irregular squares of colour intuitively, each decision suggesting the next. The pigment choice was logical but the process of laying them down and the patterns that evolved was more intuitive.

A021 web transience

Transience: clear wax and watercolour

With Drift and Transience the approach was more experimental; simply laying or rolling in washes over wax applied rather randomly, then continuing in a linear manner with brush lines of colour till each work was resolved. The titles for these could only be given on completion.

Lastly I have made many small sketches of people on the Jubilee Line between Baker Street and North Greenwich. One of these was a beautiful young woman asleep, her black curly hair severely swept back from her face. I wondered what she would like to dream about. Her pleated swirly silk scarf suggested the life of the forest floor so here she is, in a tunnel below London, dreaming of the forest.I010 web forest dreaming


These are just a few thoughts on some of the 38 works on show. ‘Seen’ is easy to define as that which is observed. ‘Imagination’ is often thought of as the ability to evolve ideas, or to create mind pictures, not seen by the eye but nonetheless ‘seen’ by the mind. Rooted in conscious observation or begun more intuitively all works exhibited are thus both Seen and Imagined.

I would like to thank Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead for sponsoring the exhibition which continues till March 20th.






Destination Unknown: a Journey into Intuitive Drawing

June 15, 2015

My work is usually preconceived, carefully worked out with regard to composition, and usually has a very definite relation to objects observed, sometimes minutely.  But I also doodle.  Why? Search me!  All those strange lines, frantically scribbled and angular when irritated or smooth and round or just skipping gleefully across a discarded envelope are surely as expressive of character and emotion as any representational drawing I may make.  They are possibly not art, but they are far from mindless.  They make their journey across the paper without knowing the route they will take or their final destination.  Sadly with a doodle this is too often truncated by the end of the call and the paper scrunched up and trashed.


A019 th kite flying

Kite Flying by Jo Hall


Drawing has been described as the making of meaningful marks. It is the closest thing to a universal language from which meaning can be extracted in a split second of recognition. However I can start to draw lines without any plan to make a recognizable form or I can deliberately set out to draw an object. It is the former which often feeds the imagination, and trusting in continuing the drawing process, recognizable forms or totally abstract compositions may result. Questions will be asked along the way and decisions made as to the next line or direction. There will be an arrival point at which the artist feels the work is complete but there will be no preconceived end point and no prior plan for the journey.


A020 web cool sun cold water

Cool Sun Cold Water by Jo Hall


All kinds of fantasy images may emerge.


2015 Miro goes Fishing resized

Miro Goes Fishing by Jo Hall


Paul Klee was arguably the greatest exponent of this kind of drawing and the following is a quote from Robert Kudielka writing on Paul Klee in ‘Paul Klee: the Nature of Creation’, the book accompanying the exhibition of the same name held at the Hayward Gallery 2002.

‘His drawings in particular reveal that far from being driven by the intention to characterize, to describe or even formalize something, Klee started out with nothing but the point of his pencil and the impulse to set it in motion.’

Klee writes ‘The original movement, the agent, is a point that sets itself in motion (genesis of form). A line comes into being. It goes out for a walk, so to speak, aimlessly for the sake of the walk.

‘He (Klee) takes both his imagination and ours on a journey that opens up unforeseen landscapes, as he himself suggested in his ‘Creative Credo’ (1920). But the trajectory of the line could also lead to constellations that were directly reflective of the artist’s own intuitive hunches. In ‘They’re Biting’, (1920), small fish approach the lines of two anglers while larger ones lie waiting below, unimpressed. Or the hand of the artist, in sweeping gestures from left to right, could release the movements of ‘Veil Dance, 1920. But all these configurations would only be recognized en route and named at the end, instead of being intended and sought from the outset.


2015 paths and stops mixed media resized

Paths and Stops by Jo Hall


Suppose I decide to make expressive marks on a piece of ‘good’ paper, expensive paper, hand made art paper.  Will I let go of all preciousness and make lines according to my mood, or become self conscious, battered by the logical half of my brain full of anxiety about ruining a beautiful paper?  Small children can do this but they have not suffered a lifetime of judgment, criticism, rules, and failure (neither have I!).  It is not surprising that some of the greatest artists have wished to draw as a child draws in this regard.

Realizing the need to be free of such fetters I invited a workshop group to close their eyes for a few minutes, feel the edges of the board or paper, and make a few blind marks, thinking beforehand only that these might be frivolous, calm or angry.  They were then invited to develop the drawings intuitively, adding lines or patches of colour in ways suggested by what was already on the paper, adding to the drawing or painting until in their eyes an arrival point had been reached.

Pictures below are from the workshop held during the ‘Excursions’ exhibition at Bourne End Library, in May 2015.

Bourne End



June 9, 2015

My favourite form of gardening is taking tea in someone else’s garden with a sketch pad to hand.  The sketch is necessarily rapid as social graces prevail once tea is served but it’s amazing what can be accomplished while the kettle boils and the subsequent infusion process completes itself.  One can always use a water brush later to establish more tonal variation.

2015 05 26 Cynthia's garden

Sonia Delaunay: the Simultaneous Dress at Tate Modern

April 22, 2015

Jo Hall’s sketch of Sonia Delaunay’s ‘Simultaneous Dress’ of 1913 at Tate Modern

If you are excited by colour, textiles, fashion and costume design, the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at Tate Modern is a must see. The critics may be right that her painting reached its zenith with the ‘Electric Prisms’ series, but what determination when funds failed, for her to launch a fashion house and bring her art to a huge audience with designs that influence and inform the designers of today. It is also a stunningly presented show!

A quick glance at the catalogue showed it did not treat its readers to the back view of the ‘Simultaneous Dress’ she designed to wear to the tango ball room. Here and in the Portuguese markets she drew much inspiration from movement and colour that became part of her journey to pure abstraction.  Sadly I had no coloured crayons with me but working in monochrome I realised she not only cleverly juxtaposed colours but also textures, and flat fabric against ruched or gathered pieces.
I will be visiting again soon!

Sgraffito with Oil Pastel

April 19, 2015

Sgraffito workshop at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead

Sgraffito is a word derived from the Italian word ‘graffiare’ to scratch.  The boys and idlers of Pompeii may have invented graffiti as an undesirable way to scratch into layers of pale plaster to reveal their messages in the underlying darker plaster layer, but similar techniques have been used with enormous skill down the ages; in architecture, especially surface plaster decoration, ceramics and fine art paintings from ancient times to the present.

Oil pastel is a useful medium to experiment with this technique and also a great way to draw with unconventional tools, using anything from a plastic comb or nail file, to a lolly stick or flexible palette knife.  Most of these and more were used at a one day workshop I was delighted to lead at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead.

We began by rubbing in a base layer of pastel, covering the support well and then applying a second darker layer.  We then used a battery of implements to scratch into the pastel revealing the lower layer.  A more subtle result can be obtained by applying one layer of pastel and scratching or scraping back to the paper or board support.  More precise marks can be made by rubbing one layer of pastel over dried acrylic paint.

These are some of the participants’ works and experiments.
Sgraffito is a wonderful way to explore drawing and colour simultaneously and the results were vibrant and full of interesting marks.


We also tried dark and light surfaces


Sgraffito is an excellent way to  make the finest of lines with oil pastel and is particularly useful to add surface decoration or fine detail, or to add texture to a rather flat area.


Introducing the Oil pastel

April 16, 2015

Oil pastel is a great medium with an interesting history.

Orbital: Jo Hall    Oil pastel 2015

In 1921 the Sakura Cray-Pas Company was set up in Japan to develop an improved quality wax crayon.  This was a direct response to an attempt to give young Japanese children a medium allowing them to work freely with colour, replacing long hours spent copying ideograms in black India ink.  Sadly the product had a low pigment content, and blending and impasto effects proved impossible.  By 1924 Sakura developed a high viscosity crayon: the oil pastel, comprised of a mix of paraffin, stearic acid and coconut oil mashed and used as a binder for the pigments.

Till a stabilizer was developed in 1927, two types were produced; winter pastels where additional oil was added to prevent hardening and summer pastels with very little oil to prevent melting.  Unfortunately these pastels were too expensive for state schools and Japanese schools at that time were sceptical of self-expression in general, so cheaper coloured pencils were imported from Germany.

Commercially, oil pastels were a success, but not at all comparable to professional quality oil pastels available now.  These early products were intended to introduce western art education to Japanese children and not as a fine art medium.

However, Sakura did manage to introduce oil pastels to a few artists including Picasso, but during the second world war these became unavailable, so Picasso convinced Henri Sennelier, a French manufacturer of quality art materials, to develop a fine arts version. These became available in 1949; superior in wax viscosity, texture and pigment quality and capable of producing more consistent and attractive works.  They are many professional artists’ preferred choice today.

The information above was gleaned from Wikipedia where a fuller account may be found.

The photographs below are from a one day workshop held  on  February 14th at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts Maidenhead where we explored ways of working with this vibrant medium which can be blended, scratched into and is compatible with oil paint.

Participants were encouraged to experiment with coloured and white paper and find ways of blending colours.


Pam is working on bright green paper



Wood Tree Park Forest

Before Easter I led a course on drawing trees in soft pastel at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts Maidenhead.  Starting by looking at individual trees and small groups of trees we progressed to exploring the wood from within, trees in blossom, trees as part of a “Fauve” landscape and trees in a romantic or dramatic situation.  Some of the work was very expressive and I hope I have managed to include at least one piece from each participant.


Asteroids Time and Space

February 13, 2015

I have just been drawing asteroids with a ball point pen, after the Horizon programme featuring the dangers of small asteroids to our planet, shown again on Thursday 12th February.  This was of special interest as the Society of Graphic Fine Art’s optional theme for its 94th Open Annual Exhibition at the Menier Gallery in Southwark, London is ‘Time and Space’.  I’m still thinking about the time part!

Asteroids, Probe and Star

The images reminded me of pebbles on the beach, some smooth some rough, and that space has its own texture, more granular than the imagined homogeneous void. I drew various shapes while viewing, then worked into the shapes, the small tool disallowing any homogeneity and resulting in a rather organically grained surface.

For details about entering or visiting the Open Exhibition see the Society of Graphic Fine Art website at

Silent Tears

January 30, 2015

Silent Tears

The quiet tears and sad eyes of those who mourn, their lives torn by
life’s jagged course. While drawing this I began to think especially
about those left behind following violence. Drawn 23rd January.

Pisano Lions

January 29, 2015


My last Blog post neglected to say how particularly horrified the whole drawing community should be at the recent events in Paris.  Drawing is so important and precious.  Here are some soft touch lions, drawn at an SGFA Drawing Day at the V&A. In the morning I attempted an all too ambitious drawing of a pulpit by Giovanni Pisano. I returned to the cast collection post lunch, and discovered these lions that were propping up a pulpit made by his father, Nicola Pisano, around 1260 for the Baptistry in Pisa. The lions were fiercely protecting more vulnerable animals as the sheep and piglets etc. beneath them. Oh that humankind could use strength for protective instead of destructive purposes as Pisano’s strangely anthropomorphic lions!

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Paris Press Concision and Compassion

January 8, 2015

I am posting the drawing below to register my horror at the murders and consequent mutilation of the French press in Paris yesterday.


 The pencil drawing ‘Concision’ was inspired by Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’.  The war in sharp focus today is the right to freedom of speech.  I may or may not agree with all that is published in ‘Charlie Hebdo’ or ‘Private Eye’ magazines, but however outrageous the satire, it should be understood as just that. The ideas and cartoons are extreme stereotypes of the political, religious and cultural icons being lampooned.  In some cases one branch of society will say rightly so, while another may complain bitterly.  This is no reason to commit cold blooded murder.  The killings in Paris will only exacerbate existing tensions not heal them.   

The drawing shows a black Muslim woman discovering a mutilated body in a war zone.  Her jaw drops and her eyes protrude as she draws breath and recoils in horror. It would make no difference if a white woman were shown discovering a black corpse.  The mutilated arm might belong to any cultural, political or religious group.  Our reaction should be the same, horror followed by compassion for the victims.  It is my hope that this will be the case rather than the extreme reaction of revenge attacks on the the French Muslim population. 


The second drawing imagines a woman comforting her children after her husband has been killed.  Both drawings are entirely ficticious but I hope they illustrate the terrible effects of atrocities on those who have to live with the consequencies of such brutal acts. 

Art of Winter

December 5, 2014

Inspiration in soft pastel after JMW Turner: Snow Storm – Steam-boat off a Harbour’s Mouth 1842

Winter has always bitten into the body, mind and soul of man.  These were my thoughts as I set about planning a practical art course with winter at its heart, to be held at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead, Berkshire.  The aim was to help participants explore the theme of winter as seen by other artists, and to draw inspiration and a greater knowledge of techniques from them. Twelve artists of very different experience joined the group and were encouraged to make their own versions or work in the style of some of the world’s greatest artists.

Media used were soft and oil pastel, watercolour and gouache.
All illustrations in this post are by course participants who wish to remain anonymous.

Pastel paintings of streets in Leeds 4 and the River Thames at Maidenhead

The first artist referenced was Pieter Bruegel the Elder and we discovered the leaden skies and invented landscape of ‘The Hunters in the Snow’ 1565.  Here the physicality of winter dominated; the green-gray sky reflectd in icy water of the same hue and tone; the hunters returning with only one fox; and the figures and trees sillouetted against the snow covered countryside.  A great imagination was afoot here as Bruegel had indeed travelled over the Alps and into Italy, but the buildings in this work are all of his native Netherlands, with a backdrop of mountainous terrain.

We looked at three further works by Bruegel all set in the snow;

Firstly ‘The Census at Bethlehem’1566.  In place of the biblical inn, Bruegel depicts a local tavern where crowds of people are paying taxes levied by King Philip of Spain and destined for Madrid. A heavily pregnant Mary is seated on an ass as Joseph leads her unnoticed by everyone, toward the inn.

Secondly, ‘The Adoration of the Kings in the Snow’ 1667, where instead of the event taking centre stage, it is pushed to the far left bottom corner while the snow falls and the villagers go about their daily round.

Thirdly ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’1566, which parodied Herod’s brutal death sentence for all new born male infants at the time of the birth of Jesus.  In Bruegel’s picture the infants are being brought out of the village houses and killed by Spanish soldiers on the authority of the Duke of Alba.  At this time the Spanish persecuted any who would not convert to the catholic faith. Bruegel’s ‘Innocents’ are those who refused. The message of this painting was revolutionary and must have been very clear to his fellow countrymen whose country was soon to be split apart, the Catholic South becoming Belgium, and the protestant north, present day Holland.  Bruegel clearly links the harsh physicality of winter with the violent times in which he lived.

This artist made her own version of one work of most of the reference artists for the course, also adding some of her own compositions.  It was the first time she had worked in gouache or pastel which I found inspirational.

We then turned our attention to two works by Caspar David Friedrich. Two of his works were exhibited at Weimar in 1811, both entitled Landscape in the Snow.  In the first a cripple leans on his crutches between two trees which twist diagonally away from him.  The rest of the forest has been hewn down and only short trunks penetrate from the snowy ground.  It is a picture of complete desolation.  In the second, which hangs in the National Gallery, the same cripple has abandoned his crutches, is seated against a rock and looking up at a crucifix which appears among a group of green and flourishing fir trees.  It is not clear whether he is physically cured but his hands are lifted in praise and it is clear that he has been rescued from the winter of his soul.  This is reinforced by the Gothic church looming out of the mist in the distance and echoing the shape of the conifers.

The impressionists were much more concerned with the light and how surfaces reflect the colours of the sky.  For this reason Renoir reputedly believed that snow could never be white and that you could tell the time of day by the colours it reflected.  We noted how in ‘Snowy Landscape’ about 1875,  his brushstrokes of complementary colours were built up in layers so that the whole became a woven texture of colour.

Unlike Monet he did not relish the colder months and this work is one of only a handful that feature wintry landscapes.  Some of the most wonderful winter landscapes were made by Monet in the winter following the death of Camille.  When the thaw eventually began he painted 13 studies of the break up of the ice at Vethueil.  The varying colours of these are fascinating.

This pastel work was inspired by the colours in the break up of the ice near Vetheuil, as in one of the studies painted by Monet in January 1880


Pastel after Monet: Route de Giverny en Hiver 1885


Pastel works inspired by Camille Pissaro ‘Rue de la Citadelle, Pontoise,1873 (left) and Albert Charles Lebourg (right)

From the impressionists to L. S. Lowry is a huge leap.  Lowry’s sparse palette,mainly of white, grey, black and blue-grey factories belching smoke, warmed only a little by the red/pink of terraced houses and the odd tiny splashes of colourful garments where he does give us flashes of bright red, always seem to reflect a vision of northern winter.  His figures are most likely to be seen in warm clothing and walking on a white ground or pavement, and where trees are included they are leafless.  So why does his work seem so animated?  Like Bruegel he gives us the cold of winter but with the activity of many figures.  Like Bruegel’s figures they are never still but playing, walking dogs or prams, or trudging to work in the industrial cities. They are on a stage set by Lowry and the diminishing size of the figures and buildings gives a wonderful illusion of pictorial space. As with Bruegel, Lowry’s cityscapes are inventions of his imagination made up from the motifs that were so familiar to him..  He is reported to have said that he did not know, when he started ‘The Pond’ 1950 how it would develop.  One ‘development’ was that Harold Wilson chose it for his official Christmas card!

Inspired by L S Lowry; works in watercolour (left) and Pastel (right)

Moving forward to the late 60’s we reviewed mountains painted by Gerhardt Richter which faithfully copied monochrome photographs of the Himalayas and Alps.  This was a direct rebellion against abstract expressionism.  For our studies it provided an excellent way to realize how forms can be depicted in areas of flat monochrome.  Only one of the group attempted this but with great success, painting her version of ‘Himalaya’, 1968.

At this point we went on to examine some of the imaginative and extraordinarily atmospheric works painted by the contemporary artist, Richard Cartwright.  His paintings, mainly in pastel have a magical and luminous quality which was explored by three of the artists; see below.  You may like to spot the third from the composite picture of eight works near the beginning of this post.

Inspired by Richard Cartwright

Over the five Tuesday mornings of the course, participants also developed their own ideas and ways of working, but found just scratching the surface of the art of winter, by studying a handful of artists from Bruegel to Cartwright to be an enriching experience.  It certainly was for me.

To end with here are a few more of the paintings made in pastel over the last few weeks.



In the Gallery at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead, Berkshire


Andrew Marr, Ice Age Art and the SGFA

October 9, 2014

It was just brilliant on the 7th October to hear Andrew Marr speak on drawing and its importance as an enrichment of life and bringer of joy to all who practice on any level.  At the official opening of DRAW14, the 93rd Annual Open Exhibition of the Society of Graphic Fine Art, he was of course talking to terminally addicted artists, as well as to all the guests at the presentation evening.  We all hugely appreciated the time he spent with us so.

Thank You Andrew!

I was particularly excited by Andrew’s reference to the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum last year, which showed many beautifully observed carved objects from between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.  He went on to relate that study of these artifacts has shown that particular makers hands can be identified and that in some cases their improvement over time can be observed. This seems positively mind blowing to me.

On my two visits to the exhibition, I was overwhelmed to be in some sort meeting face to face with such ancient cultures.  This was accentuated by the small scale of the objects such that you really looked at the individual marks made.  As recorded in an earlier post I was excited by the incredible accuracy of observations of animals so important for their survival.  Some of the original drawings from my sketch book are below, including the one of the carving which inspired my lithograph, Food Chain.

Inspiration for Food Chain on the right
Food Chain





All those years ago these hunter gatherers must have seen birds that swallow fish as direct competition for a vital food source.  I found that particular carving such a wonderful mix of observation and imagination.




ice age women

Here are Ice Age women drawn naturally or reduced to abstract shapes
and Animals carved out of bone, ivory and antlers.
ice age animals
 We may not know why these objects were made or what they were used for, but we do know that the same creative spirit continues to breathe through all artistic endeavour today.