June 30, 2022
This week’s challenge is to start a portrait painting in colour. The notes below suggest ways of starting a portrait study in pastel and also in acrylic.
If your chosen medium is pastel you may like to start by drawing in the main shapes quite loosely with charcoal or a pastel stick. Remember to draw the axis of symmetry of the face if working a front view and also a line through the eyes from which you can measure the positions of the other features.
When seen in three quarter view the axis of symmetry through the face will be on a curve. If looking at a profile view look carefully at the position of the ear and take note of the shape of the whole head. Then look at the forehead in relation to the nose and the jawline and chin in relation to the nose. Ask yourself questions like does the chin recede slightly?
As a general principle work the large shapes first before homing in on the smaller ones.
When you are happy with the main shapes start to work in colour. Block in the main areas of shadow with a light touch using the stick on its side for these larger areas. You will define these as the work progresses so don’t apply the pastel too densely at first. Then draw in the mid tones and finally the palest tones and details.
I have talked about tone but your work will be in colour and working out flesh tones in pastel can be challenging. One reason I used conte crayon in white, black and sanguine on toned paper last week is that it is a half way house between working totally in tone and working in colour. With small additions of blue, red and ochre these drawings can depict flesh tones quite convincingly. Experiment with the colours in your box, cross hatching, overlaying (layering) and blending to find suitable colours for your portrait.
You may like to fix the work after the main areas have been drawn and again when the mid-tone colours have been established. When working on the brightest and lightest colours as the portrait nears completion either fix very sparingly or not at all especially if working on a dark toned support.
There are several ways of starting to paint a portrait, three of which are outlined below..
1.Under drawing in charcoal developed with transparent and opaque paint.
This is described in a previous post; link below. The example is of a young woman rather than a child but a similar method and palette could be used. I like to work with a relatively limited palette and this will give your work unity.
The following palette makes a good starting point and some mixes made with the colours below is illustrated in the blog post referred to above..
White, Crimson Alizarin, Cadmium Yellow pale, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber. (or similar)
Other primary colours, plus white and a couple of earth colours will also work well. The Burnt Umber was included as it gives excellent darks when combined with ultramarine. With portraits of young people you will need to keep the colours fresh and make smooth transitions of tone and colour over the face.
2. Tone the background then use paint and a brush to draw the basic shape of the head and place the features. Then develop the painting with transparent and opaque paint working from light to dark and on the large shapes first before tackling the smaller areas and detail..
3. Make a detailed monochrome under painting making all the tones a little lighter than as seen. Develop the painting by adding colour as layers of transparent glazes. The palest and brightest areas should be left till last and if necessary executed in opaque paint. This can be knocked back a bit with further glazes where necessary.
For this session we will concentrate on the first way of working. So have at the ready, a board or canvas support, charcoal, some acrylic medium and of course paints, palette, brushes and water pots.
June 24, 2022
This week is another drawing session.
To start with this week I’ll screen share some references and we’ll do a few warm up sketches before launching into a more considered drawing for the rest of the morning.Maximum time 5 minutes for each. I will share my screen with you so we can work from the same image.
Probably best to work in soft pencil or charcoal for this and do all four studies on the same sheet (A3 cartridge would be ideal).
For the more considered drawing perhaps try drawing a boy if you chose a girl last week and vice versa. Girls may seem easier because the ear is often hidden by hair. If drawing a profile take time to look at the position of the ear in your reference; it may appear further back than you think.
I mentioned the proportions of the head last week and that in older children these proportions are close to that of an adult. Quite often noses may be slightly shorter and less developed and the only way is to observe the particular reference photo or the sitter closely. Also even in adults these measurements vary a lot between individuals.
Just to recap;
When looking at the full face;
1. look at the over all proportion of the head; i.e. how wide is it compared to its height then draw the head shape, tilted if the head is tilted.
2. draw in the vertical axis of the head and note how this axis changes direction for the neck if the head is on the tilt.
3. Show how the head connects to the body looking carefully at the width of the neck
4. Draw a line through the eyes; this will help with proportions as about half the head will be above and half below when the sitter is looking straight at you and you are at the same height.
5. For the fast sketches place the features roughly then use tone to reveal the form of the head and features. This will be greatly influenced by the lighting.
With the profile face the vertical proportions will be the same but do look at the overall shapes you are presented with first, and then place the ear correctly with noting far back it appears and its relation to the hinge point of the jaw which is just below the lower point of the attachment of the ear.
The three quarter view is beloved by portrait artists as it gives some idea of both profile and full face views. The amount of information on the full face is miniscule if the view is almost profile and likewise information on the profile is short if the face is viewed almost from the front. the axis for three quarter views is best drawn as a curve which we will discuss. If you think of portraiture as another kind of still life you will understand that perspective is every bit as important in portraiture, unless you are going for a cubist style but that is a different course!
For the more considered drawing you may continue with pencil, three crayons on a toned paper or work in colour. Working in monochrome or a with very limited range of colour will help you depict the structures of the head and tonal studies will form the basis for colour work in the following weeks.
June 13, 2022
I find the age group between about eight and thirteen or fourteen is incredibly interesting. Facial features develop so that the adult in waiting can be glimpsed. All the facial features become larger and take up a greater proportion of the head. Baby noses begin to take on their adult form and facial expressions become more subtle, whether of wonder and delight or perhaps moody, dreamy or slightly rebellious!
In this first session we’ll remind ourselves of the proportions of the head, using conte crayon, pastel pencil or charcoal for some initial sketches before moving on to a more considered drawing. I would strongly advise drawing from a reference of someone you know and meet often. Even when working from a photograph your mind will fill in remembering the forms you have observed in real life that the photographic image may flatten. Try to work as if the subject is really with you as you draw.
I give the same advice to anyone working on a landscape from photographic reference; try to draw as if you are immersed in the landscape again!
For this first week we’ll draw a head and shoulders portrait that is three quarter view or almost full face as in the drawing heading this post. It will also be useful to have a reference that is strongly lit from one side revealing the forms of the head and facial features.
If you would also like to make a profile view drawing of the same young person, that will really help you understand the form of the head. And what about the view of the back of the head? In a live portrait session I would encourage you to make several warm up drawings looking at the sitter from different viewpoints, so that literally all round knowledge of the head is gained.
I have prepared a Pinterest board of portraits of older children. The link is
Look at some of these examples in detail and imagine an axis running through the centre of the head and whether this is tilted. Note the position of the eyes relative to the top of the head and the chin. Also look at how the artist has shown how the light falls across the head. There are a couple of photographic works among the paintings and drawings. Observe these in the same way. In addition a few profile views are included. Again observe the lighting and the tonal values as well as the proportions and placement of the features. Measure the width of the head in front and behind the ear. This will vary significantly with even a slight turn of the head. Getting the ear placement right will help you make a convincing drawing.
As the first session will be drawing, observing the major areas of tone in your reference will be essential and should be roughly indicated at the earliest opportunity working from the large shapes before homing in on the detail. Indicate the masses of hair in a similar way before indicating a few strands of hair.
Learn to enjoy looking and assessing as much as drawing!
Make sure you have; cartridge paper, some toned paper like a warm fairly pale grey, some conte crayon, pastel pencils or pastel in white, black and sanguine, table easel and drawing board and lastly a good photo reference of your subject.
So I decided to include both!
June 1, 2022
This week’s challenge is to paint flowers that either spread like weeds or are arrivals from the wild, generally known as weeds! It’s very much your choice whether you paint them in situ; perhaps a sprinkling of buttercups and daisies in a patch of grass, rather like the poppies spangling the cornfield above, or at the other extreme make a delicate arrangement of your favourite visitors or freely spreading plants on one sheet of paper.
Either way, try to keep the colours clear and work some passages by wetting the water first before adding the colour and/or some wet in wet areas.
As ever the first background washes will be important for determining how you proceed. The Forget-me-nots above were painted in gouache over a dark ground. Do experiment with the strength of washes for the situation in your painting. For a lawn, blades of grass with a soft focus can be suggested with darker greens by deft brushstrokes into a wash while it is drying as in the right hand side of the image below. When the wash is dry more definite grasses and stems can be added wet on dry.
If you have buttercups, daisies, clover and other delights in your lawn you could paint them in a similar way to the meadow flowers above. After choosing your subject think about how you wish to represent any pale flowers against darker tones. If by lifting out, test how well the pigments selected for the painting work when lifting while still damp and also when dry. Staining pigments do not lift well when dry!
Painting around many small flowers often looks very laboured so it may be useful to reserve the white or pale areas with masking fluid.
If painting the white flowers with gouache, this is usually best applied when the paper is absolutely dry if crisp edges are required.
Lastly remember that Permanent White can be mixed with other watercolour paints to make them opaque so can be mixed with yellow for a scattering of buttercups or blues for Forget-me-nots against a dark ground. Again test the strength of the gouache mixes over a swatch of the colours they will be painted over in the final painting.
This should give some ideas for how to set about this week’s challenge. No one recipe will solve all the different challenges met in the freer kind of flower painting. The best way is just to experiment and explore the colours, mixing, layering, brushing and spattering etc. enjoying the journey and deciding on the best place to stop.
May 27, 2022
This week’s challenge is to paint a single rose or small group up to two and a bud. We’ll try two ways of working one largely wet in wet and also perhaps look at the use of masking tape in addition to the masking fluid used last week to make some interesting textures and compositions.
Much of the time will be spent looking and choosing the pigments best suited to your particular rose, thinking in terms of using no more than three pigments.
1. Look at tone;
Thinking tonally becomes even more important when painting single flowers so it is important to take note of how light falls on the bloom. In strongly directional light the darker side of even the palest rose may appear quite dark. Conversely the better lit side of the deepest rose may appear surprisingly light in colour. Observe how the light affects each individual petal revealing their spiral arrangement. If a flower is seen against the light as when placed in a window with the light behind it, the whole form may appear dark and almost silhouetted against the incoming light.
2. Look at the form and shapes;
Try turning your rose so that you are looking straight down at the flower and take note of the spiral arrangement of its petals. Then turn it slightly away from you and notice how different it looks, finally turn the flower so you are looking at it from the side. It may be helpful to make rapid sketches of your rose at these different angles to familiarise yourself with the shapes.
3. Choose pigments
Decide on the pigments best suited to paint your rose. Try to limit this to three. This will help unify the study and help prevent muddy mixes especially if you are able to use transparent colours for most of the painting. Try out mixing colours in the palette as well as seeing what happens when one colour is dropped into another while it is still wet.
The background may be composed of the foliage surrounding the bloom, a colour and tone which is observed or may be your choice. The hue and tone of the background will greatly affect the mood of the study. Another important element will be to decide on the tone and hue of the background which can greatly affect the mood of the painting.
Another interesting approach to have fun with the composition and the background is to apply some initial washes and allow them to dry and then apply low tack masking tape. The demonstration below is how last week’s composition has developed so far. This could easily be done with a much simpler study and can be very useful if your background is a window or edge of a wall.
In this week’s session I will start a wet in wet rose and while the first washes dry I’ll progress the posy, adding more washes, a few details and a little gouache. Some of the masking fluid was very free mark making so now it has been removed I have a rather different painting to develop!
Do take a look at Trevor Waugh’s roses, Pinterest link below: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/flower-painting-in-watercolour/trevor-waugh/
and another look at Shirley Trevena’s work at
Have some small pieces of cold pressed watercolour paper at the ready or tape off some areas on a larger sheet for your wet in wet studies of a single rose. There is then scope for allowing washes to dry while another study is started.
A hair dryer greatly speeds the process!
May 18, 2022
This week the challenge will be to make a painting with flowers of different sizes and colours in the garden. Perhaps find two or three large blooms, poppies for example with spikes of blue Veronica and white daisies making a soft focus backdrop. The colours in your garden may be more harmonious like foxgloves withe pale pink and purple Aquilegia.
In week 2 we looked at dark backgrounds for pale blooms but in the real world you will find flowers against backgrounds that are similar or paler in colour and you may also find flowers like pale Rhodedendrons and Azaleas where the leaves form a dark green backdrop for the blooms.
This challenge should result in a fairly free painting of the flowers but with close attention as to how various background shapes, tones and colours work harmoniously or discordantly with some large flowers seen close to. Do look at the works of Shirley Trevena: Pinterest Board link below
These works on one level are quite free but are also highly organised. See how she arranges the little painting of spray carnations where half the painting is dark against light and this is reversed in the top half. Your painting may not be this extreme but be very aware of how the flowers appear against different colours and tones.
Below is the iris demonstration given last week and how it developed into the painting heading this post.
Apart from the two iris blooms this was composing as I went along. One change in some sort dictated the next till I felt some sort of balance was achieved.
So far we have used very little in the way of a guideline drawn with pencil to map out the shapes so have gained a lot of experience in handling the paint with a brush. It’s now time for a slightly different approach.
This is the week where a tonal sketch before setting off on the final painting will help enormously in organising the composition with regard to the light and dark areas. It would also be a good idea to make another small study juxtaposing some of the colours you are going to use in the foreground with the smaller shapes and colours in the distance and play with the hues surrounding each flower.
When the sheet of of watercolour paper for the final piece is in front of you, make sure to mark the paper so that it is in the same proportion as the composition sketch or photo-reference chosen to work from. Do map out all the main areas and challenging shapes with pencil. Think about whether and where to apply masking fluid or a wax resist for the white/palest areas. It may be that it would be better to reserve the white of the paper by painting around the shapes to be left untouched and to used pigments that can be lifted out while the paint is still damp or after the first washes are dry. Note that “staining” pigments do precisely that and will sink into the paper so that when dry they are very hard or impossible to lift out.
As the painting progresses it may be that elements of the flowers and the background are worked at the same time. It can be great to leave some hard edges but there will be other places where it may be good to let wet paint bleed from one area into another. Make sure a damp sponge, “dry brush” (brush dipped in water then squeezed gently in some paper tissue) or just the paper tissue is to hand in case the flow gets out of hand.
Don’t worry about the end result, to some extent you will have to go with the flow, enjoy the process and have fun. Not sure whether this post will get illustrated but if not there is plenty of food for thought here and plenty to look at on the Pinterest Board.
May 13, 2022
As the lilacs are pretty much ended I was delighted to find a couple of headily perfumed blooms left to paint. The painting above was on a quarter sheet of Bockingford cold pressed watercolour paper which stood up to very wet washes, indenting wet paint to make veins in the leaves and lifting out areas to soften them and give and indication of petals.
The white of untouched paper shines through in the glass jar. This time I decided against masking fluid as I hoped for a soft look to the painting.
The three images below show how a smaller study was made on very damp paper working wet in wet then leaving the paper to dry before re-wetting the paper and adding further washes. Some lifting out was done while the paint was wet but the petal shapes were lifted out when the paper was dry.
This week’s challenge is to paint flowers as they grow in the garden using any of the watercolour techniques used so far and with the aim of capturing an impression of their character; how they look up at you as the pansies and little pink geraniums or how they point toward the sky like the iris in the photo below..
If you have time try to get out into the garden and sketch and photograph your favourite flowers. Make sketches of individual blooms, buds, stems and leaves to familiarise yourself with the shapes, and small composition sketches to explore the arrangement you may choose to paint. Iris and Weigela are blooming as are geraniums and Aquilegia so there should be plenty of colour around.
Before starting to paint explore the colours and brush strokes which will help depict the plant’s character and then review the composition sketchesmade outside and home in on one idea for the final painting. This may include just one or two plant stems relatively close up or with a backdrop of the same flowers or different plants giving an impression of a massed planting.
Experiment with colours and how they interact when mixed to find the hues and strength of washes you will need, erring on the side of making more wash and stronger washes than you think you may need. It is easy and quick to add water, not so easy to “drop in ” strong colour if it isn’t already mixed.
You may like to look at the following Pinterest board for some ideas on painting iris, link below:
May 6, 2022
The first part of this post is a recap of what we did in the last session. The second part explores painting pale flowers and backgrounds.
By increasing the pressure as the stroke is made and then decreasing the pressure as the stroke is ended and the brush lifted from the paper leaf shapes both thin and broader can be made with round brushes. We also used flat brushes to make a variety of marks resembling leaf shapes by twisting the brush as the stroke is made. Depending on whether the broad or thin edge of the brush is presented to the paper a variety of line widths can be made with flat brushes. Some of the best fun can be had by loading a brush; any variety and using it sideways as a printer on to dry or damp paper.
Below is a demonstration of a cornflower where flat and round brushes were used on wet and dry paper.
A wash of water was applied to half the sheet with a large brush and allowed to dry just a little. Colour was added as the paper slowly dried. Defined shapes occurred where the wash has been mopped with a “dry brush”, tissue or sponge.
When working in watercolour, especially when working on wet paper it is essential to have your colour washes mixed and at the ready, together with a sponge, tissue paper or to pick up excess paint as you proceed or to remove moisture from your brush so that the brush can be used to control very wet washes.
Now it is time to consider backgrounds both for dark and especially for pale paintings of pale flowers.
With a lighter touch a dark background to pale flowers can preserve a feeling of freshness as in the watercolour sketch of some apple blossom below. Here I did have a model in front of me and applied some colours using a round brush and very fluid washes on dry paper.
This was allowed to dry before dampening large areas of the sketch and dropping in colour. the shapes were refined using a small brush while the paint was still wet. Washes were allowed over the leaves in places refining their shapes. This time I stopped before the whole thing got too heavy and finally added some very pale yellow at the flower centre and a couple of pencil marks to indicate stamens. The result was lively and playful rather than accurate reflecting the joy apple blossom brings.
The point is that the background can often determine the mood of the painting and it is important that the way the subject is treated should be complemented by its background.
This week’s challenge is to paint pale or white flowers. Painting a background reveals the shapes of white flowers and is easier than painting pale blooms with no background. Colour, tone and how much to simplify backgrounds are all important factors to consider as well as deciding how free and loose you approach should be.
Inevitably you may question whether to mask or not to mask parts of the composition. Masking fluid can free you up to be more adventurous with the background but may make your flowers appear more graphic and less painterly. Painting around the subject may make you simplify more than was the original intention but that is not always a bad thing.
At the end of the day the only way is to experiment.
Some more ideas for painting white or pale flowers can be found on my Pinterest Board, Link below:
So first find some white flowers for the session and we’ll investigate ways to paint them in a way that has enough structure but still feels free and lively.
April 27, 2022
In this course the challenge will be to paint flowers freely in watercolour, using the brush for shapes and some really wet washes. Any under drawing in pencil will be kept to a minimum and the aim is to create some very expressive flower paintings rather than botanical illustrations.
The first two weeks will be spent on gaining confidence in drawing with the brush, suggesting plant structures with different brush strokes, applying washes either to to fill shapes or to paint around shapes. There will be a lot of dropping colours into wet paint or water and finding ways of controlling very wet washes and/or coping with and taking advantage of some of the happy accidents that occur on the way.
Complicated shapes may need a pencil guideline and we’ll practise filling shapes with water before flooding them with colour and also painting around shapes and making wet in wet backgrounds. This means it’s a good idea to think in advance about the overall composition, the colours you need and the tonal range. Keep the number of pigments you use low and experiment to find which mixes will suit the work best.
Your washes should be ready in sufficient quantity and in the concentration needed for the painting, before the first wash is delivered to the paper. Always mix stronger than you think you will need as the colours will often be added to wet paper and they dry paler than they appear when wet.
The execution may be quite fast and spontaneous but a bit of thought and planning ahead will be invaluable.
The three artists chosen for inspiration have different styles and by no means limit themselves to flower painting. One can learn a lot from studying their work so I have put together a Pinterest Board, link below referencing their work and techniques so do have a look. Each artist has a section within this board.
Trevor Waugh has a magical way of working with washes and has produced books on watercolour roses in conjunction with the RHS at Kew Gardens. Paul Riley‘s compositions of floral still life subjects are sometimes quite complicated, but a lot the techniques can be used in much simpler studies and one can learn a lot about drawing with the brush as well as working in broader wetter passages from his works. He enjoys using oriental brushes for linear work and mark making. I am sure many of you will know Shirley Trevena‘s imaginative compositions, rooted in observation but often with an unreal and exciting twist.
For this course it will be useful to have;
Brushes: One large round, one small round brush, a rigger brush and a flat (half inch or larger). If you have other kinds of brushes, great! They will all be useful.
Watercolour paper 300gsm or heavier: 300gsm will cockle a little when very wet so may be a good idea to stretch your paper or use a block for the more considered paintings but this is not necessary for the exercises.
A block to tilt your drawing board. This will be better than a table easel and we will be working flat some of the time and/or turning the paper round so this is much easier to arrange if a block of wood about six inches long and about 2 1/2 inches in cross section.
Watercolour paints and a palette with deep wells. If you intend to work large a daisy palette or a plastic bun tin palette will be useful, although for most purposes and up to A3 size I find my usual folding palette adequate. Tubes are easier than pans to work at a large scale and if using pans remember to flood your paintbox with water so the pans are moist and the colours can be lifted easily without scrubbing the pan with the brush. Some artists use a different hardy brush like an acrylic brush for lifting paint from pan to palette to lessen the wear on their watercolour brushes.
Also: water pots, paper towel, small natural sponge
A couple of flowers to inspire your brush marks and washes.
This first session we’ll make a lot of brush marks on to dry paper and on to paper that is damp or randomly spattered with water. When making these marks we will have flower structures in mind but the purpose will be to find ways of making marks and controlling washes that will give a lively and free way of expressing these forms in watercolour.
After the exercises an expressive study of your chosen flowers should be attempted. The exercises will be done in real time as they are demonstrated at the class session. Hope the illustrations will give you a few ideas for the session.
March 30, 2022
This week we are painting trees from a distance, perhaps a view from a window or from the ridge of a hill looking down on a wooded valley. Instead of being in a wood we are out in the open, looking down or up, to a wooded area or group of trees. The sides of the hills in the photo above are well grazed by sheep and the group of tall ash trees takes centre stage.
The challenge this week is to make a painting of trees in the landscape. Although the word is land-scape I prefer to split it rather differently to labour an important point. I like to think of the vegetation including trees becoming the cape or mantle clothing the lands, hence it is a good idea to establish the topography of the land before clothing it with forests or groups of trees.
It is also essential to make a note of the light conditions. In the example above light is falling very strongly from the left lighting up the slope on the right. The steep sided slopes would look entirely different if the light were from a different direction or on a dull day when the light is more diffuse. The most challenging weather, especially when painting outside, is a bright breezy day when clouds are scudding across the sky casting fast moving shadows as they pass.
Below are a few more of Jo’s photos giving examples of the sort of reference you may like to work from.
The images above should provide ideas for working from your own reference. Best would be from a place you have walked in or visited.
March 23, 2022
This week’s challenge is to paint a picture of a tree or trees at the water’s edge or even standing in water. Look for reflections and also how the tree is physically related to the land and the water. Are it’s roots exposed at the shoreline? And is it by a stream, a lake or on the coast?
The ferocity of the current caused by a flash flood may uproot and drag trees downstream, especially in a narrow gorge. Branches or whole trees may remain lodged on the banks. The picture below is of Catrigg Force in North Yorkshire where a tree has been tossed across the stream below the fall. The gorge itself is full of tall beech trees reaching for the light above.
The drawing below shows the ravages of winter storms on the Suffolk coast. Tree trunks roll around on the beach at Covehythe where whole roads lined with trees have fallen into the sea. The trunks are often sawn off as here and only the lower part and roots remain. Seeing these on a misty February morning was an eerie experience.
Looking North there were whole trees strewn on the shingles below the cliff and more trees can be seen clinging on before meeting the same watery fate.
I would like to see your paintings the reflect the mood of the place which will be related to the weather and time of day as well as to the landscape. This may be much more successful if it is a place you know well or have at least visited. A lakeside tree in calm weather may suggest peace, or if their is a breeze and a dancing in the trees perhaps a playful atmosphere. However, if the sky is dark and storms are raging you may be depicting a more dramatic scene.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous don’t be afraid to use your imagination. If you want to depict a storm with a flash flood and branches flying I suspect there will be few references in your photo collection or sketchbook, but you may have recorded the aftermath, so you could think about how it would have been during the storm.
Decide first on your subject and think about the aspect you wish to convey, then try out some rough sketches from your reference pictures before embarking on the final composition.
March 16, 2022
This week’s challenge is to paint or draw trees in a woodland setting. The woodland floor may be a significant part of the painting as in the pastel painting of Judy Woods above. This is a mainly beech wood on a slope, with many ancient trees with haunting shapes and and exposed roots. It seems to breathe mystery.
Another mysterious wood with an entirely different character is Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor. Here stunted oaks encrusted with moss and ferns emerge from boulders of granite.
Over the last three weeks we have been exploring the shape and structures associated with a variety of trees. In a woodland there will be other considerations as the background may be full of the myriad twigs and small branches of more distant trees. There may be an under-layer of shrubby plants and the floor of the wood is often far from featureless, so part of this week’s challenge will be finding a way to describe the backdrop for the main trees in the composition.
Your work may have a single tree or a group of trees as it’s main focus or as in the two examples below be a tapestry of the tree shapes and colours.
Perhaps start by coming to grips with the shapes of your chosen woodland, by doing some small preliminary sketches. Think about the composition possibilities at the same time, then plan out your final composition. Think about which medium would suit your purpose and how you are going to use the medium. Also look at the tonal range; is it generally light and airy or dark and mysterious. Then think about the colour. Ask questions; which colours predominate and are there any small areas of colour that add to the composition by their purity, or by their contrast in tone and hue to their surroundings. In the photo of Judy Woods the little speck of a red anorak draws our attention and at the same time gives a sense of scale!
March 9, 2022
Storms, Lopping and other Struggles for Survival
Very few trees reach their perfect natural form. They are either hemmed in by others, damaged by storms and animals and of course, lopped, pruned, and coppiced by people.
Project : Draw a tree that has been caused to struggle for survival by; a challenging environment, lopping, a harsh prevailing wind, lightning damage, being uprooted etc.
Trees stuck by lightning can literally be torn apart but wind damage can be just as severe and result in the tree being uprooted and the tangle of roots made visible. Like branches these root tangles overlap and thread through each other even more so than branches above ground.If a tree near you has come down do get out with your sketchbook and a camera. Make sketches and/or photograph from several viewpoints before homing in on a composition for your final drawing.
The drawing may be a whole or part of a tree but should tell something of its history; probably a whole tree where it has grown with a distinct list to one side because of a prevailing high wind, but in the case of a fallen tree, perhaps just the exposed roots. Either way try to make an interesting composition.
Other suitable subjects would be stunted trees growing out of stoney ground, or choked by Ivy.
March 3, 2022
This week we’ll get close up and look at more of the textures and structural details of trees. So we’ll look at their natural marks, bark patterns and branches, and also at healed wounds.
If you are fortunate enough to have a garden with trees you may like to embark on a project discovering its marks and structures. Perhaps start with the trunk and it’s bark and any scars from lopping or pruning, and observe how the patterns of bark change where a branch develops.
See how many small branches emanate from the stubs left behind when a branch is cut off. Sometimes this leads to huge thickenings as in the drawing of the Spanish Chestnut trunk above.
If you don’t have a garden try finding a tree nearby or work from photographic reference.
Project : Make visual notes of at least two of the following in your sketchbook and then make a considered drawing of a part of the tree that sustains your interest. It’s not a comprehensive list so feel free to add your own ideas.
1.Branches: observe whether these follow any sort of pattern, or in the case of palm or banana trees how do the leaves emerge and what happens to the dead leaf bases?
2.Bark patterns and marks as they appear on the main trunk and branches; also some trees shed bark pieces, some of the pines do and pieces can be gathered and drawn indoors. More detailed studies of these can appear quite abstract.
3.At branch points sketch how the pattern of the bark changes where new growth emerges
4.Scars and new growth
5.Exposed roots at the base of the trunk
6.Make notes of other life like lichens and moss that cover the bark in places introducing different textures or patterns.
You will have gained a huge amount of information about the tree in this drawing exercise and have found mark making equivalents for some of the patterns and textures observed on the way. Finally make a drawing of a tree, choosing not to draw the whole tree this time, but a part you find particularly interesting.
Heather has drawn from the same reference in three different media!
February 23, 2022
Drawing and painting trees is a huge topic but as trees are very often featured in landscape painting as well as being exciting subjects in their own right, it seemed a good idea to explore depicting their structure and character.
The first session will focus on strategies for beginning to draw whole trees. In week 2 we will take a closer look at; bark, burrs, and branching, then in week 3 draw lopped or fallen trees and exposed root tangles. For the three remaining weeks we will explore trees and their landscape settings for which you may continue with drawing materials or work in colour with pastel or water-based media.
Do look at the following Pinterest board, link below, for some inspirational ideas for drawing trees in literal, atmospheric and more abstract ways.
Some very basic notes on drawing trees are below followed by a list of the exercises for the first session. If you are already experienced in drawing trees just make a quick composition sketch and launch into a tree portrait using your choice of drawing medium.
We’ll start by looking at the overall shape of different trees and the first challenge will be to see how much you have already observed. Take a piece of paper, and from memory make small drawings of any kind of tree you can think of; e. g. cypress, oak, palm, fir etc. Do this rapidly then think about what gives each individual tree its character.
This may be;
The overall shape and symmetry (fir trees)
Angle at which the branches spread out (oak)
How branches are so flexible and long they bend downwards (weeping willow)
Way in which individual leaves fan out from the trunk (palm trees)
A mixture of some of the above characteristics and many more.
See practical session for materials and paper size.
Now look at a real tree, outside or from a photo, and observe it, questioning what gives this tree its particular character. The notes below don’t describe the only way to start a drawing but give a very straightforward method for coming to grips with a variety of tree forms.
Starting to draw
It can be useful to mark where the trunk is and indicate the main branches lightly and then mark out the general outline of the whole tree by a series of light dots and dashes. In this way you will ensure the overall proportions are right and the girth of the main trunk can be drawn the correct width.
When drawing a deciduous tree in Summer or an evergreen the next stage is to indicate the shapes of the main masses of leaves. These can then all be shaded lightly and more densely shaded on parts of each leaf mass that is in shadow. In the example below light is mainly from above. The lower parts of each leaf mas is darker than the upper side and the whole of the lower part of the tree is darker than the top. Look out for the differences in tone when one side of a tree is in direct sunlight.
Adding texture and detail
After that you may like to texture the foliage suggesting rather than drawing leaf shapes, and also texturing and drawing any useful detail on the main trunk and branches. For instance, when drawing a silver birch tree, it would be essential to add the distinctive dark marks on the main trunk and branches but may look fussy if similar marks were added to all the branches.
Only if you choose to draw a tree with really large leaves like a palm or banana tree will you be drawing individual leaves and associated structures such as dead leaf bases in any detail, so although the strategy will be similar you will be looking at the overall shapes of large leaves instead of clouds of leaf masses.
The best way to familiarise yourself with trees is to have a small sketchbook A5 or even A6 that will tuck into a pocket or handbag and draw with a pencil or ball point pen on every occasion you meet a tree, whether you only have two or the luxury of twenty minutes to sketch!
Use cartridge paper A4 or A3 and any drawing medium; pencil, ball point, pen and ink, conté crayon, thin charcoal stick or charcoal pencil,
1.Memory drawing: use an A4 or A3 paper and make several drawings of as many different kinds of tree as you can from memory. These should be tiny, two or three inch high thumbnail sketches, all to be made within about 15 minutes.
2. Drawings of two different trees or the same deciduous tree in winter and summer. This time work from observation, direct or from a photo reference. Take each drawing to the stage where the masses of foliage have been blocked in with directional shading or the tiny branch ends have been suggested. Both drawings to be made on the same sheet but still fairly small, between five and eight inches high. Take about 20 minutes for this
3. Make a tree portrait of the tree of your choice at a much larger scale to fill an A3 or larger sheet. The size may partly depend on the drawing medium i.e. smaller for pencil work A4 to A3 and larger A3 to A2 for a study in charcoal or conté crayon. If toned paper is used white may be used for the lightest areas. Working larger and for longer will enable you to draw more details. Add only what helps to communicate the character of the tree and strengthens the composition. Make sure the overall proportions and structure are in place before adding texture and detail, and constantly review the tonal balance of the drawing as you work. Larger paper may be used for a pencil drawing if you are working with very soft pencil in a loose way or have a lot of time to spend on a detailed study.
Spend between an hour to an hour and a half on this or longer if you are producing a highly detailed work.
February 11, 2022
For the last week the challenge will be to make a still life drawing taking inspiration from the coloured pencil and crayon drawings of David Hockney, born in 1937. He made a number of still life drawings in the late 70’s, sometimes of tables in restaurants and also of plants in pots, including a very representational drawing of a yellow jacket, hat and a suitcase on a chair.
Examples of these can be seen on my still life Pinterest board at
together with examples of Hockney’s etchings, lithographs and i-Pad drawings.
Some are relatively simple drawings, for example the two peppers, but note the proportion of white space and that it appears “right”. One deceptively uncomplicated but elegantly drawn composition is of a double bed with a green cover where an astonishingly even tone of green has been laid down.
It’s worth studying these works for the techniques used in drawing; where Hockney used line and where he hatched or scribbled or made other marks that show us what he was observing. Look for fast frenetic marks as in the drawing of peppers and where he uses slower marks.
Is it possible to tell what the artist is feeling? Look at that smooth green pasture of a double bed for instance. Look out for instances where Hockney works up some areas more than others, literally drawing our attention to what he thinks is important.
Also study the structure of the compositions and where composition relies more on line and form and where composition depends more on colour and shape for impact.
These days we are probably more familiar with Hockney’s later i-Pad drawings of still life subjects and you are invited to take inspiration from Hockney for your coloured crayon or coloured pencil drawings. Worry not if you have no access to coloured pencils, just draw with a graphite pencil or pencil plus pastel or pastel pencil.
I hope to add my as yet unfinished work, inspired by the other artists we have taken inspiration from over the last few weeks, to this post. meanwhile I am very much looking forward to seeing your Hockney inspired drawings.
Your Drawings inspired by David Hockney:
February 2, 2022
Mary Fedden OBE, RWA, RA was born in Bristol 1915 and remained a popular and acclaimed painter till her death in London in 2012. Fedden knew from an early age that she wanted to be a painter and trained at the Slade from 1932 to 1936, a pupil of the theatre designer Vladimir Polunin.
After her time at the Slade Fedden worked on portraits and stage designs for the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, followed by teaching in Bristol till World War 2 broke out when she served in the Land Army, the WVS and as a driver for NAAFI in Europe.
She admired the early works of Ben Nicholson and his wife Winifred and also the still life paintings of Anne Redpath and the French painter Henri Hayden. She also received commissions for many mural works including one for the TV pavilion at the festival of Britain.
It was after the war that Fedden developed her own way with painting flowers and still life subjects and I believe was still greatly influenced by a sense of drama from her stage design days. Fedden’s still life works seem to me very theatrical, like little sets for the objects that they contain. These sometimes have landscape or window backdrops and the shapes are somewhat flattened as in Nicholson’s early works. She certainly breathes magic and wonder into quirky and ordinary objects alike. In one painting a teapot and an Auricularia has a background of an erupting volcano and a zebra in the middle ground! Such juxtapositions abound in her work and one can only imagine the stories behind them. Some examples can be seen on the Pinterest Board, link: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/still-life/fedden-mary/
Fedden did work in oil but favoured working in gouache, especially on rough textured hand made Indian papers. Her compositions were not set in stone from the beginning, rather she would make a few guidelines and improvise as she went along. She had a wonderful vocabulary of brush strokes and painted exclusively in the studio from the many drawings made in her sketchbooks. Do look at the short U-tube clip to watch her painting. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxOOKRhllPw
Many works also include some elements of collage. As well as quirky objects subjects often included a light source, a candle or lamp to dramatic or rather romantic effect as in “lilies at Moonlight”..
Looking at the works of Mary Fedden gives an interesting link with Ben Nicholson whose early work was one of her influences and next week’s artist, David Hockney who was one of her pupils at RCA.
For more of Fedden’s work see the link to “115 works by Mary Fedden” below:
Your challenge this week is to find an unusual gathering of objects and make a magical still life study from them. Think about the setting and especially the tonal balance in your painting as well as the colour. Suggested media: gouache, watercolour or acrylic with perhaps a collaged element.
January 26, 2022
Ben Nicholson was born in 1894 to artists Sir William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde. He attributed his interest in Still life to his father but trod a very different artistic journey, visiting the studios of Picasso, Braque, Hans Arp and Brancusi in the 1920’s and becoming intrigued with cubism. Cubist techniques of overlapping shapes and seeing objects from more than one viewpoint simultaneously, became firmly established in Nicholson’s still life work to a greater or lesser degree for the rest of his life.
He started training at the Slade in 1910 but left after a year. His contemporaries there included Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler and Edward Wadsworth. However, after spending time in the studios of Picasso and Braque, cubism became the main focus of his output in the 30’s. This was especially so during wartime when he and Barbara Hepworth moved to St. Ives. Ben was asthmatic so unable to join the services and for a time he and Hepworth worked well together and Hepworth said they were each other’s best critics. Nicholson’s compositions often took in other influences besides cubism as can be seen from either Googling his work or the Pinterest board, link below. Sometimes a cubist still life may have a backdrop of a Cornish landscape as viewed from a window
We are principally engaged with Nichoson’s still life work which gradually became more abstract. In the 20’s he painted a wooden box with a rather flat depiction of a jug and mug where shape and colour and flat darker tones make up the compositions inside the lid and on top of the box. In 1930 he painted a simple composition of a mug and a little bowl. The forms overlap but the way in which the stag decorating the mug is painted tells us another story. The stag is shown as a flat motif superimposed over the other objects and overlapping the bowl and background. It gives us a different view of the decoration than would be seen if we were looking at it as seen on the curved surface of the mug.
This overlapping technique can be seen even more clearly in Nicholson’s drawings of three pears where he has drawn one pear over another as if we could see all those edges when viewing the set up. Also look at his compositions of objects arranged on table tops. Then try one or more of the following;
Challenge 1. Overlapping
Find a small group of overlapping objects (e.g. a couple of mugs, a bowl with some fruit) and draw as if you can actually see all the edges that you cannot see. Fill the shapes with tone or colour to make an interesting composition.
Nicholson takes this idea a whole lot further towards more extreme abstraction. He plays with shapes placing them at different scales and places in his picture than they are in reality or even could be in reality. Notice how in the table top still life studies the table top is up ended. In other works, perhaps only half a bottle or vase is seen, or shapes are repeated, tilted or reversed, and elsewhere coloured rectangles of deep or pale tones are introduced.
Challenge 2. Different Viewpoints in the same Composition
Make a composition using the cubist technique of being able to see works in the same picture as if seen from at least two directions, for example, a piece of fruit on a plate where the fruit is drawn as seen but the plate is seen as if you were looking down on it, or do something similar to what Nicholson does with the decorative stag motif.
Challenge 3. Rearranging Shapes and Repeating Shapes at different Scales
Make a cut out of a jug, goblet or egg cup at two sizes. Cut two of each, one on pale and one on a coloured paper. Cut at least one shape in half and play with the shapes on your support till you find a pleasing composition.
Remember you can;
tilt or reverse the shapes; use the negative shapes from which you made your cut outs; fit one shape inside another where the scales are very different; partly overlap shapes.
Glue to a support (this should be a heavier weight than your cut outs: multimedia paper or heavy watercolour paper should be OK). If any of your shapes have been cut from white paper consider painting a background colour on your support before glueing the pieces down. When everything is stuck down and dry, assess whether more drawing or painting is required. This may mean altering the colour or tone or adding texture or pattern to some areas.
You may prefer to play with the shapes and then draw or paint a composition based on your preferred arrangement instead of making a collage. The important thing is to play with shape and scale, tone and colour.
Challenge 4. Make your own composition
Either use some of Nicholson’s techniques for your own composition or paint your own version of one of his works.
January 19, 2022
Rearranging Matisse sounds like heresy, but is in fact a useful exercise because it illuminates the possibilities that arranging and rearranging objects bring. Matisse had a different interest in still life to Morandi. Matisse consciously sought to communicate what he felt about objects, and as early as 1908 told his students, “To copy objects in a still life is nothing; one must render the emotion they awaken in him”, whereas Morandi writes “The only interest the visible world awakens in me concerns space, light, colour and forms.” Morandi was far more interested in communicating what he saw with his eyes.
The illustrations in this post include my version of “Still Life with Sea Shell on Black Marble” 1940. Matisse had some difficulty in finding a suitable composition for these objects and resorted to using cut outs of apples and string to mark the table edge before arriving at the final study. Matisse only ever intended this as a study for a final work but it is a method you may like to try. As you will see I have rearranged his objects after very rapidly noting the development of this work at the “Matisse in his Studio” exhibition at the Royal Academy several years ago. I also took serious liberties with the colour of the background and table top.
“Still Life with Sea Shell on Black Marble” is included in my Still Life Pinterest Board: Section Matisse, link given below:
Both artists used their objects as “actors” arranging them on “the set” and often using the same actors in different works. Both were interested in the relationships between objects but while Morandi searched for the nuances of light, shade and spatial relationships, Matisse also wished to bring objects and their associated memories into the equation. This extended to bringing a unity to arrangements of objects he had collected on his journeys or that he had grown up with, and throwing their surroundings and sometimes fruit and flowers into the mix. In Morandi’s still lives one never sees a still life before an open window or had any idea of how Morandi’s room was furnished whereas for Matisse the environment in which his objects existed often formed an integral part of the composition.
Matisse used vibrant colours purposely to communicate emotion, something totally alien to Morandi’s simplified but more observation based still lives with their muted colours depicting simple vessels. Curiously, Morandi’s work does give us emotion, as a sense of calm unity pervades his work without seeming boring in any way. However for those seriously interested in colour Matisse offers continual inspiration.
Matisse leads us through compositions that rely less on form as revealed by light than by shape and the juxtaposition of colour. Objects become simplified and patterns exaggerated so that we see emotion celebrated through a more abstract way of seeing.
Here are a few photographs of objects chosen for their shape and colour with some rearrangements! which may give you a few ideas for setting up. My ‘photos don’t include glimpses from windows or interiors but you may have just such a setting for your composition.
This week the challenge is to arrange colourful objects that may be everyday and/or have have personal significance for you and then make a colourful still life composition, using colour and shape in the spirit of Matisse. Alternatively you are invited to make your own version of a still life by Matisse.
January 12, 2022
From a medium sized sitting room in Bologna, overlooking a small courtyard with trees Giorgio Morandi (1890 -1964), lived and worked painting everyday objects. These objects inhabited his shelves and became arranged and rearranged for his drawings, oil paintings, watercolours and etchings.
He admired artists of the Renaissance, Giotto, Masaccio, Uccello and Piero della Francesca and also Cezanne, Chardin, described in Morandi’s words as “the greatest of all still life painters ” and Corot, who he though of as the master of stillness. This last seems of most relevance as Morandi’s paintings of simple things give a sense of timeless calm to the viewer.
The author Horst Bienick wrote “Giorgio Morandi only painted jugs and bottles all his life but in these pictures he said more about life, about real life, than there is in all the colourful pictures around us.”
The quotes above are from ” Morandi” edited by Ernst-Gerhard Guse and Franz Armin Morat published by Prestel 2008. You will find a selection of Morandi’s works posted on the Morandi section of my Still Life Pinterest board, link below:
All Morandi’s works are based on intense observation simplifying forms and understanding how light reveals forms and how shadows can hide form and soften edges so that one form melts into another. The photos are all of my everyday objects and were taken to illustrate this.
In a letter of 6th January 1957 Morandi writes, “The only interest the visible world awakens in me concerns space, light, colour and forms.”
The way in which Morandi simplifies forms is most evident in his pencil drawings. The line is slow and deliberate, tracing the contours of what he sees. Areas of tone are added with diagonal hatching. In the watercolours, areas of tone are washed in as seen, immediately simplifying the forms and lending an abstract quality to these closely observed works. Morandi pays equal attention to the spaces between objects and the shadows the objects cast, as he does to the care he takes with the objects themselves.
Try arranging a few everyday objects in different ways. make simple line and tone drawings. Where edges between objects cannot be seen treat them as one form. Look at the images below and note the difference that changing their arrangement makes. You may like to draw from these but if you can, find your own subjects and draw from life.
Notice the appearance of the egg cup in the images below and also what happens to the edges where one dark ceramic is close to another.
During the session we will make either several watercolours or an acrylic painting in the spirit of Morandi.