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!

Find out more about the Society of Graphic Fine Art at


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.

DRAW 14 to be opened by Andrew Marr

October 6, 2014

Tomorrow evening Tuesday 7th October, the Society of Graphic Fine Art is greatly privileged that Andrew Marr will be opening the exhibition and presenting the awards at around 6.30pm.  This is the Society of Graphic Fine Art’s 93rd Open Annual Exhibition, and hotfoot from assisting with the hang and take in on Sunday I have seen at first hand this exciting show of fine art drawing take shape.  


I am sure our illustrious former members; Sir Frank Brangwyn, the first president, Dame Laura Knight, and Ronald Searle would be pleased to see such a varied and innovative display from contemporary artists, and wonder what they would have made of the ‘Remembrances’ of World War One, chosen as our optional theme this year which will constitute a significant and poignant part of the exhibition.  It must have been so much more raw in the minds of the students of Frank Emanuel’s etching class at the Central School of Art, who with their teacher, gave birth to the Society in 1919. Originally known as the Society of Graphic Artists, the Society’s first exhibition was held in 1921 with Sir Frank Brangwyn as President.

Anyone who has donned the white gloves and had the privilege of viewing Brangwyn’s Flanders lithographs at the Imperial War Museum, will know the power of those images.  Today I am impressed and thankful that war artists are now as engaged with the victims of war as with those fighting in war zones. The Society was so privileged earlier in the year to have George Butler speak to us and to see at first hand the drawings he made in Syria.

Visit the Society of Graphic Fine Art online to find out more about our artists and events and a feature on George Butler in the wordpress journal archive.

Woods and Forests

September 15, 2014

Trees are some of the most fascinating of life forms, and drawing media are perhaps the best way to reflect their linear growth and rhythm of movement.  Sometimes the life of the forest is halted abruptly as in the forest fires of 2011 in Madeira.  Only a year later, when I visited in January 2012, the undergrowth and shrubs were beginning to recover but the Eucalyptus and pine trees were an eerie, almost monochrome tapestry against the terracotta rocks. The sight is still fresh in my memory.

After the Fire: the Valley of the Nuns, Madeira
Pastel on terracotta paper 2014

‘After the Fire’ has been selected for the Society of Graphic Fine Art’s open exhibition DRAW 14 at the Menier Gallery, Southwark, London SE1 1RU from 6th to 18th October 2014.  The SGFA is the UK’s only society dedicated to drawing by hand in all media. For information on the Society’s events visit

‘After the Fire’ will also feature in Jo’s open studio during the Cookham and Maidenhead Arts Trail event 27th and 28th September (details at alongside other drawings of trees from Jo’s travels in the UK and abroad.

Argan Trees in the Anti Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Sepia Ink


Aspens on Sleeping Bear Dune, Michigan
Neocolor II pastel used dry and pencil


Willow and Aspens on the Cam
Black ‘Quink’ ink


Black ‘Quink’ fountain pen ink was applied to the paper with a pen and also diluted and washed with a brush.  The wet ink separates into its component dyes as each moves at a different rate on the damp paper, producing beautiful tints of amber and blue in places. Sadly such dye based inks are fugitive when exposed to light, so works produced in this way must be kept in reduced light conditions or reproduced as prints with light fast inks.

Silent Snow: on the Stour
Pastel, pencil and gouache on grey paper


Tower 42 and the Thames Barrier in 2001

Low Tide at Blackfriars

The watercolour above, completed in 2001, is now a historic record of the Thames and architecture from the South Bank looking toward Blackfriars Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Tower 42 is on the far right.  This painting, and the work below of the Thames Barrier with Canary Wharf and the Dome beyond, dating from the same year, will be on show at Jo’s studio for the forthcoming Cookham and Maidenhead Arts Trail on 27th and 28th September together with recent works. Details of all the venues and participating artists can be found at

Barrier, Wharf and Dome

Hand Drawn at Tower 42

September 2, 2014

From the Machinery Room to 595 feet above London 

In November last year 14 members of the Society of Graphic Fine Art, the UK’s only national drawing society dedicated to drawing in all media, visited Tower 42 to sketch in three locations.  Starting in an empty office suite on floor 32, we descended to the basement pump room before ascending to the sublime Vertigo Bar 595 feet above the city, where we drew in luxury watching the sun go down, illuminating the shard like a brilliant crystal and with a panoramic view of the Thames sparkling far below.  

Best of all is that yesterday we opened an exhibition of drawings, paintings and prints located on the podium level at Tower 42, based entirely on works accomplished on or inspired by the drawing day.  I would like to express my personal thanks to all at Tower 42 who gave us the opportunity and who made us so welcome at our opening yesterday evening, and of course my fellow artists at the SGFA who contributed.  

Having lived all my life near the Thames, in London, as a child, and now much further upstream where life is a little more rural I still take every opportunity to draw in London, fascinated by the constant changes wrought by demolition and construction.  My contributions to the Exhibition are below.

 Four Red Cranes
Mixed media;ink and acrylic 

From Tower 42 Upstream
Mixed media; soluble ink acrylic and pastel
Towards Canary Wharf
Mixed media; ink and acrylic
30 St. Mary Axe 
Mixed media; ink and acrylic


Brimham Rocks

August 20, 2014

Brimham Rocks 1

Anyone who has visited Brimham Rocks near Summerbridge, North Yorkshire, England, cannot but marvel at their sheer variety of form.  Softened in places by the overgrowth of trees and ferns, in other places they stand out more starkly from the ground.  

Brimham Rocks 2 
I call this one the Pot Belly rock.  Both lithographs were printed on Somerset paper.  Some of the rocks are balanced and/or piled up one on another.  All are of millstone grit eroded over time by water, glaciation and wind. 

From the Ice Age of Art

August 5, 2014

Motifs from the Ice Age

This drawing in ball point pen on a polyester litho plate was made from motifs drawn in my sketchbook at the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum in 2013. The male and female bison were carved from an antler.The tiny man carved in relief, with raised arms had a caption suggesting he was singing, dancing or praying.  The other objects, beads, the owl in flight and patterned ivories are made from mammoth ivory.  I felt so privileged to come face to face with objects made twenty or thirty thousand years ago.


 Food Chain

Another sculpted antler baton that interested me was of a fish that had swallowed a salmon.  Again I was amazed not so much that these ancient cultures knew about food chains but that they committed their observations so beautifully into carved objects.  Using my sketch as a starting point I made this lithograph, adding a fin and the fish predating tiny fish and just a suggestion of pond life in the water.  To add solidity to the fish/bird body origami paper was used for the chine colle.