Category Archive: Art Challenges: Ideas to try

Portraits of Older Children: Week 3

June 30, 2022

Last week’s demonstration started in conte crayon and finished in pastel
Five minute sketches from Week 2

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.

1. Pastel

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.

2. Acrylic

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.

Your paintings;

Pastel by John

Portraits of Older Children Week 2

June 24, 2022

Beth and the Magic Tiara
Conte crayon: black, sanguine, white
Plus small additions of blue and crimson pastel pencil
on Rembrandt toned paper; Industrial grey

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.

This is an adult; note half the head is above and half below a line drawn through the eyes. The eyes are approximately one eye width apart. The corners of the mouth are approximately vertically below the centre of the eyes. When the mouth opens the lower jaw drops elongating the face slightly. Distance between the bottom of the nose and the upper lip is quite variable and distinctive, as is the shape of the chin; some are much broader and deeper than others.

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.

Your Drawings;

by Norma
Black conte crayon on pale grey paper by Vivienne
Conte crayon and pastel by Vivienne
Tonal study by Liz
Pastel by Liz
Renie 1
by Virginia
Renie 2
by Virginia

Portraits of Older Children: Week 1

June 13, 2022

Growing Up
Sanguine and Sepia Conte Crayon
by Jo

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.

Nine Plays Fourteen
in my Mother’s Garden
(and nine is winning!)
Conte crayon and pastel
by Jo

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.

Your Drawings:

Pastel drawing by Virginia
This is a sensitive portrait showing us Tom’s complete involvement with the book he is reading. Virginia made two subsequent studies one of which was a better likeness, but I didn’t feel the connection between the boy and the book in the same way. A very hard choice to decide which of the two good drawings to include!
Conte crayon drawing by Virginia

So I decided to include both!

Pastel drawing by Virginia
Phoebe did not want her Photo to be Taken
Conte crayon on grey paper by Vivienne
Two very expressive drawings of Phoebe
by Vivienne
Girl after Sir George Clausen
Charcoal and pastel by liz
Boy in a Hat after Walter Langley
Charcoal and pastel
by Liz
Pastel by John
Pencil sketch by John

Watercolour Flowers Week 6: Growing like Weeds

June 1, 2022

Poppies and Weeds in a Corn Field
a very free sketch!

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.

My welcome spreading friends!
Detail of above, showing how the Geraniums and Astrantia were painted
Dicentra and Forget-me-nots
Forget-me-nots grow everywhere and at most times of year in my garden. Here they were against a dark ground so were painted in gouache by adding Permanent white in varying amounts to Cerulean Blue and in some places to Cobalt Blue. The pale stems were painted in a similar way with mixed greens and white.

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.

This meadow was painted in a similar way to the image heading this post except that white gouache was used with very free strokes to suggest a spangling of daisies.
Detail of the image above giving a better idea of how the gouache was added.

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.

Your Paintings:

In the Garden
by Sandra
Gentle Invaders
by Virginia
Detail of Virginia’s painting with its delightful observation of
Herb Robert and Pink Clover

Watercolour Flowers Week 5: Rose

May 27, 2022

Painted mainly wet in wet

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.

First washes, allowed to dry; these were applied to dry paper so little gaps could be left for the petals and work proceeded from the centre of the flower outwards with increasingly wet washes. In this case a sponge was used to lift out some colour around the rose.
Re-wetted most of the paper and added more dilute washes of red and blue
Further washes added as the paper dried, so that some brush strokes held their shape where the paper had dried. This is a matter of judgement and the best way is to practise.
I could have stopped there.
But I decided to experiment with some more opulent colour, so the paper was strategically re-wetted for a final time, softening edges in places and adding colour both wet in wet, and wet on dry. It was then definitely time to stop but hope you will see the different moods created by the different tone and colour.

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.

4. Background;

Pink Rose
Rich dark background
Pink Roses
Pale background giving a much cooler look.

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.

Initial washes made and lifted out the white areas; allowed to dry; masking fluid applied; allowed to dry; low tack masking tape applied and suggestion of a table top washed in.
This was painted into in places, allowed to dry thoroughly before carefully removing the tape.
Allowed to dry and more tape added.
Further washes were then applied.
Tape removed when the wash to the right of it had dried.

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:

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!

Your Paintings;

Pink Rose
Painted wet in wet by Ann
Yellow Pink and Red
by Ann
Started with wet in wet washes and then developed with drawing media
More Rose Explorations
by Ann
Pink Rose
by Maryon
by Maryon
Red and yellow
by Mali
Apricot Rose (cropped)
by Mali
Pink Roses
by Sandra
Rhapsody in Blue
by Sandra
Yellow Roses
by Anne
Red Roses
by Anne
Soft Yellow Rose
by Virginia
Yellow Rose
by Virginia
Roses in the Mist
by Virginia

Watercolour Flowers Week 4: Composing with Flowers

May 18, 2022

Blue Iris with White Flowers
by Jo

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.

First washes
When dry masking fluid was added with a small worn out brush in the shapes of white flowers.
Further washes were added quite freely and very wet when the masking was completely dry.
When these washes were dry the masking was removed completely.
Stalks, yellow centres for the daisies were added and some very pale blue to indicate shading on the daisies.
Finally I added white gouache to heighten the contrast on the iris falls. I also added a suggestion of more white flowers, some no more than tiny marks, and some semi-transparent layers of gouache to reinforce and develop the daisy petals. More leaves were added and the white Tradescantia petals.
The colours of the Iris buds and and the fall petals were strengthened with further washes of Dioxazine Purple (Winsor Purple) with a dash of Ultramarine Blue.

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.

Your Paintings;

Foxgloves and Ox-eye Daisies
by Maryon
In the Garden
by Sandra
Still Life with Campanula
by Mali
Rose and Rhodedendron
by Mali
Exploding Poppy
by Anne
by Kate
Foxgloves, Campanula and Chives 1
by Ann
Foxgloves, Campanula and Chives 2
by Ann
Waiting to Open
by Virginia
Waiting to Open (detail)
by Virginia
This beautifully painted detail from Virginia’s painting above could be easily overlooked when seeing the whole painting at a small scale as above.
Just delightful!

Flowers in Watercolour Week 3: From dark Backgrounds to Colourful Blooms

May 13, 2022

Smell the Lilacs

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.

First very wet washes on dampened paper. The lilac blooms were lifted out from the wet wash with a small sponge. The more defined washes were added when the paper was almost dry. For really hard edges the paper needs to be completely dry.
When the first washes were dry the paper was more washes were added. Some wet in wet and some as on the flowers were wet on dry against the white but by wetting the paper below the blooms the wash had a soft edge below bleeding pigment into the leaves. Further washes indicated a darker tone for the table. More leaves were added while the paper was still slightly damp.
Finally petal shapes were lifted out out from dry paper and other areas strengthened, especially the leaves and table.

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..

Photo by Jo

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.

Photo by Jo

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:

Your paintings:

by Ann
by Ann
Tonal Drawing
by Maryon
by Maryon
Watercolour and Oil Pastel by Mali
Bearded iris
by Mali
Iris on panel
by Sandra
Watercolour by Sandra
Weigela round the Pump
by Anne
Yellow Pansy
by Kate
Pink Roses
by Vitginia
by Virginia
Climbing Rose
by Virginia

Watercolour Flowers, a Free Approach: Week 2

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.

Brush strokes and dropping more pigment into the wet paint on dry paper.
The top three brushes were used to make the shapes; two round brushes small and large and a small pointed squirrel mop. The small round brush was used to tease out the tiniest parts of the flower like shape at the bottom left.
The much larger squirrel mop below these brushes has an excellent point so although I usually use it when when working at a larger scale it is a versatile brush capable of making fine lines and adding small marks for detail.

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.

Painted on damp paper on the left and on dry paper on the right.

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.

Another wet in wet study on cold pressed paper.
While the paint was wet a blunt tool was used to score the paper so that paint filled the troughs to indicate veins on the leaves.

Now it is time to consider backgrounds both for dark and especially for pale paintings of pale flowers.

This started as an experiment on dry paper. A red circle of very wet paint was applied with a large round brush and rough lines were added radiating from the centre. While still very wet a wash of water was made around the red so that it touched the red in places allowing it to bleed out. Purple was dropped into the wet paint and more red and purple dropped into the centre.

It was then allowed to dry. Dark washes were added mostly wet in wet and with indenting to suggest marks on the flower as well as leaf veins. The dark leaf mixes were made using Viridian mixes with Alizarin and Purple and also Viridian with Burnt Sienna. The result of perhaps too many layers is a very dark painting of an azalea like flower.
Imagine: Dark Azalea

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.

Apple Blossom: first 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.

Apple Blossom: dark background added mostly wet in wet and some of the washes continued across the leaves

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.

Left: painted around
Centre: masked
Right: wax resist

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.

Same flowers different look!
Left: background painted around the flowers
Right: masking fluid used on the flowers and the jar
The study on the left was of the same jam jar of flowers as on the right. The objects are more simplified and less accurate. Hints of colour have already been added.
The study on the right was carefully masked with masking fluid and washes applied when the masking had dried. Because the background was applied more uniformly and quite dark every detail of the marks made with the masking fluid are visible giving it a much more graphic quality. I was quite pleased with both and had I developed them further would have ended up with two paintings of the same subject but with a very different feel to to them.

Some more ideas for painting white or pale flowers can be found on my Pinterest Board, Link below:

White Tulips
Photo by Jo
White Lilacs on a Blue Cloth
Photo by Jo

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.

Your Paintings;

Iris and Libertia
by Maryon
Iris Study
by Maryon
Exploring Background Colours
by Sandra
White Bloom
by Ann
Small White Flowers
by Ann
Flowers masked before painting the wet in wet background
Choisya in Pink Pot
by Anne
Golden Rose 1
by Kate
Golden Rose 2
by Kate
Daisy Flowers
by Kate
Window Box
by Virginia
Apple Blossom
by Virginia
by Mali
White Flowers
by Mali

Watercolour Flowers a Free Approach: Week 1

April 27, 2022

Deep Red Primula
Wet in wet followed by dropping in more colour as the paint slowly dried. Final brush strokes applied when dry.

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.

Part of a more complicated set up where wet in wet washes were painted around the Honesty seed heads which made them look paler. The foliage was added with a medium sized pointed round brush when the background washes were dry.

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.

This is what happens when washes get really out of control: painted with a large round brush, colour dropped in and left to its own devices!
Bit better: same round brush used for flowers and a 3/4 inch flat for the stem and leaf shapes. Same pink as for the flowers dropped into the green while still wet.
Top right: start of a wet in wet rose
Bottom: leaves “printed on with a large round brush, brown stem/twig painted while the leaves were a little damp; berries added with the same small round brush when all was dry
Left: poppy seed head shape wetted with clear water, pale olive green added; brown dropped in when a little drier and pale parts lifted before all was completely dry
Detail of poppy seed head; see caption above

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.

Think it’s finished?

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.

Your Paintings;

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by Sandra
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A variety of techniques from Sandra
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A Sampler of Flower Shapes
by Ann
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by Ann
Watercolour painted wet on dry by Virginia
Posy in a Tall Vase
Watercolour painted wet in wet by Virginia
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Flower Shapes
by Mali
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Blue Flowers
by Mali
Flowers in a Glass Vase
Watercolour by Kate
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by Maryon
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by Maryon

Drawing Trees Week 6: In Open Countryside

March 30, 2022

A Steep sided Valley at Hubberholme, North Yorkshire
Photo by Jo

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.

Looking down on a Wood in Upper Wharfedale, North Yorkshire

See how the cloud shadows are falling on the land, and how dark in tone the area of woodland appears.
The same view as above but cropped differently. Think about how you may like to crop your reference for maximum impact. In this crop the gap between the trees where the road passes through becomes the focal point. What do you want to make the focal point of your composition? This is best established by making thumbnail tonal sketches before launching into the final work.
Looking down on a meander in Upper Wharfedale.
Note the diffuse light and soft shadows under the trees.
Towards the Langdales
See how individual trees can be seen in the foreground and those in the distance become more of a texture. Here it is very clear to see the importance of establishing the land forms first before working on the groups of trees in the foreground.
Sun and Mist at Pietracervara in the Parma Apennines
Seen early morning from my window.
Early Morning Mist Pietracervara
A slightly different view; the misty effects in both could be achieved by gentle washes and lifting out in watercolour.
Cloud shadows on the Apennines at Pianiletto
Across the Apennines from Pianiletto
Fresh greens and the last of the cherry blossom
Woodlands below Pianiletto
Coming to grips with the underlying slope into the valley here is more difficult so here I would concentrate on the rich textures and different hues and tones of this wonderfully mixed woodland. Greens dominate, but there is also yellow, russet, silvery and greenish grays, and slightly lilac tints with deep contrasts of dark trunks and spangled white; another tapestry of vegetation.

The images above should provide ideas for working from your own reference. Best would be from a place you have walked in or visited.

Your paintings;

Wind on the Meadow
Pastel by Maryon
Beyond the Trees
Acrylic by Mali
Tracks, Gates and Distant Trees
Watercolour by Heather
Deer and Trees at Windsor
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Ascot Heath
Watercolour by Sarah
Overlooking the Valley
Watercolour by Ann
Valley with Lake
Pastel by Anne C
Looking down the Loch
by Kate
Castle in the Woods
Watercolour by Liz
Below the forest: Glenbranter House 1
Watercolour by Virginia
Below the Forest: Glenbranter House 2
Watercolour by Virginia

Drawing Trees Week 5: At the Water’s Edge

March 23, 2022

Aspens and a Willow on the Cam
Quink ink by Jo

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.

Catrigg Force, North Yorkshire
Acrylic by Jo

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.

Trunks on the Beach, Covehythe
Pencil by Jo

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.

Trees on the Beach, Covehythe
Pencil by Jo

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.

December Sunrise on the Stour
Pastel and graphite pencil by Jo
This was an exceptionally cold first weekend in December a few days after the after the Stour had been in flood. This was the calm after the storm. Areas of thin ice glazed the river surface. Note how different the reflections look on the ice compared with their appearance on the flowing water.

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.

Your Paintings:

Between Gaios and the Paxos Beach Hotel
Watercolour by Sarah
Pastel by Anne C
Bridge with Trees
Ink and Watercoloour by Kate
In the Savill Gardens
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Watercolour by Ann
Watercolour by Ann
Trees by the River
Watercolour and pastel by Mali
Watecolour by Anne H
Lakeside Reflections
by Heather
by Liz
Winter Stream
Pastel by Liz
Virginia Waters
Quink by Maryon
The Tranquility of Loch Eck
Charcoal and pastel by Virginia

Drawing Trees Week 4: Woodlands

March 16, 2022

Stream running through Judy Woods

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.

Ancient Beeches in another part of Judy Woods
Photo by Jo

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.

A Winter Wood, Covehythe
Pastel on reddish brown paper
This painting spotlights a single tree with a backdrop of the other trees near the Suffolk coast North of Southwold. The most distant trees are almost a texture of overlapping strokes of pastel pencil. This is a small scale work about A4 size.

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.

After the Fire
In the valley of the Nuns outside Funchal, Madeira a tapestry of blackened Pines and fire bleached Eucalyptus was seen against red rocks about a year after the event. Below a green layer of he undergrowth was already returning.
Charcoal and pastel on terracotta coloured paper 50 x 70cm
May in the Woods, The Pines, Surrey
Another tapestry of trees, this time Pines and Birches
Pastel on brown/grey paper

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!

Your paintings;

Lane through the Woods
Watercolour by Ann
Down to the River
Watercolour by Ann
Forest Green Forest Gold
Watercolour by Anne H
Woodland Path at Bluebell Time
Pastel by Heather
In the Great Park
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Tree in the Forest
by Kate
In the Woodland
by Anne C
Conifer Wood
Watercolour and Pastel by Mali
Standing and Fallen
Watercolour and pastel by Mali
The Light Beyond
Ink drawing by Sarah
Long Shadows in the Young Wood
Watercolour by Sarah
Forest Walk
Pastel by Liz
Mixed media by Maryon
In Glenbranter Forest
by Virginia

Drawing Trees Week 3: The Struggle for Life

March 9, 2022

Willows: coppiced or lopped then left to grow, their trunks
becoming twisted and split as in the photo below.
Note the sense of movement in these forms.
Sketched by Jo near Flatford Mill on the Stour

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.

More Willows on the Stour
Part of the same walk as the sketch above
Photo by Jo
The same photo as above but in grayscale
Whether you are drawing or painting in colour, remember that the tones are vitally important to the composition. Note the palest and darkest parts of this image.
Stunted Hawthorn fighting its way out of the limestone
Photo by Jo
A Tangle of Roots
Ink and Watercolour
This is a tangle of overgrown ivy roots rather than the aftermath of a storm uprooting a tree. The challenge of depicting overlapping is much the same though.

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.

Your drawings:

After the Storm
by Virginia
Growing in the Wind
by Kate
Pollarded Poplars
by Mali
Growing through the Railings
Pencil by Sarah
Cut Down
Pencil and Watercolour by Heather
Pencil by Ann
Urban Cedar, Windsor
by Maricarmen
Feaver Tree Roots;
Seen by a dry river bed, Umfolsoi Game Reserve, South Africa
by Maryon
Soft charcoal, graphite sticks and embossing tool
Struggling Out and Up
pencil by Anne C
by Liz
Shaped by the Wind
by Anne H
Lakeside Tree
by Anne H

Drawing Trees Week 2: Scars, Bark and Branching

March 3, 2022

Spanish Chestnut Trunk, Cliveden
Ink, pastel and white gouache on green paper

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.

An Ancient Healed Wound on our Apple Tree
Ink and coloured pencil
Years before this became our apple tree, a major limb had been excised and the scar overgrown with lichen and moss.
A feast of texture!

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?

Olive Branches
Photo by Jo

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.

Olive Trunk and Bark
Photo by Jo

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.

Your drawings:

Rhodedendron Trunk, Wisley
Mixed media drawing by Sarah
6B pencil, black ink and walnut ink, pastel pencil
Pencil by Sarah
The Ancient
Pencil by Ann
Pencil by Ann
Ancient Oak
by Maricarmen
How surreal: I feel the oak is watching us!
Prunus serrula, the Tibetan Cherry
Graphite on A3 paper by Maryon
Apple Tree Trunk and Main Branches
Pencil by Anne C

Heather has drawn from the same reference in three different media!

See below;

Pencil by Heather
Black ink on white paper by heather
White ink on black paper by Heather
Birch bark
by Mali
Branching out in Winter
by Mali
Trunk at Wisley
by Mali
Trunk and main Branches
by Anne H
by Kate
Base of Trunk
by Virginia
Exposed Roots by a River
by Liz

Drawing Trees Week 1: The Whole Tree

February 23, 2022

Ancient Olive
Pencil and Pan Pastel by Jo

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.

Sketch by Jo
Leaf masses drawn with side strokes of pastel

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.

Pastel and charcoal by Jo

Memory drawing

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.

Willow on Ray Mill Island
Pencil sketch

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. 

Stages in sketching a small Acer
Drawn with an HB pencil
Think about how you might draw a palm tree or a fir tree

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.

Young Banana Trees
Ink sketch by Jo

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.

Your drawings:

by Anne H
Pastel by Mali
Tree Lined
Charcoal and white pastel by Mali
Charcoal by Anne C
Remembered Trees
by Maricarmen
Winter and Summer Trees, Windsor Great Park
Charcoal by Maricarmen
Charcoal and pastel by Liz
Memory Trees
Charcoal by Ann
Tree by Ann
Willow by Ann
Spanish Chestnut on Pinkney’s Green
by Virginia
Trees from Memory (before session)
HB pencil on A4 paper by Maryon
Himalayan Birch, Summer and Winter
HB pencil on A3 paper by Maryon
Ancient Oak
Charcoal and graphite sticks on A3 paper
by Maryon
Charcoal by Heather
Charcoal by Heather
Pencil by Sarah (before session)
pencil by Sarah
Tree by Kate
Watercolour by Sarah
Watercolour by Sarah
Reflections by Kate

Still Life Week 6: Looking with David Hockney

February 11, 2022

Still Life with Tulips and White Gloves
Coloured Pencil Sketch by Jo

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:

Tulips with Jug and Spectacles
Coloured Pencil Drawing by Heather C
After David Hockney
by Pam
Flowers in a Glass Vase
i-Pad drawing by Maricarmen
Coffee with Flower
i-Pad drawing by Maricarmen
by Maricarmen
Hyacinth and kettle
Coloured pencil drawing by Heather N
Candle and Fruit
Coloured Pencil by Ann
Coloured Pencil by Ann
Cactus Pots
Pencil drawing by Virginia
After David Hockney
Pastel Pencil by Mali
Arm chair
Coloured Pencil by Anne
Red Pillows
Pastel Pencil by Mali
Pens and Pencils
Rotring Pen drawing by Sandra

Still Life Week 5: The Magic of Mary Fedden

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:

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:

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.

Your paintings:

The Bird Table 1
by Sandra
The Bird Table 2
by Sandra
Still Life with Fossil and Roses
by Mali
Tea on the Beach
by Maricarmen
Still Life with Farmhouse and Chickens
by Anne
Still Life with Cat
by Virginia
Still Life with White Bird and Pink Jug
by Kate
Blue and Green Still Life
by Heather C
Still Life with Jug and Melon
by Heather C
Into the Sunset
by Heather N
Still Life with pineapple
by Ann
Still Life with Cactus
Mixed media with collage by Pam

Still Life 4: Abstraction and Ben Nicholson

January 26, 2022

Vase and Saucer with Spoons and Oranges
Pencil drawing by Jo
This is Jo’s composition based on shapes from the photo below.
At next week’s class Jo will demonstrate a painting in colour using a similar starting point. The practical suggestions in this post will help you to make a composition including some of the cubist techniques used by Ben Nicholson.
Photo reference for the pencil drawing
Vase and Saucer with Spoons and Oranges

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.

Your paintings;

Still Life with knives
by Pam
Still Life with Red Flowers
by Heather N
Still Life with Spoon
by Heather C
Still Life with Harbour
Gouache by Maricarmen
Still Life with Red Sails
Gouache by Ann
by Ann
Still Life with Three Ceramics
by Mali
Still Life after Ben Nicholson
by Anne
Mug, Jug and Lighthouse
by Sandra
Jug, Egg Cup and Lighthouse
by Sandra
Jugs with Stripes
by Sandra
Flowers and Vases
by Kate
Still Life
by Virginia
Still Life
by Virginia

Still Life 3: Rearranging Matisse

January 19, 2022

Fruit Bowl with Oranges: An Acrylic painting by Jo that relies more on colour than form for its impact

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.

Jo’s sketch from Matisse’s way of moving his objects around to arrive at a satisfying composition; included apples cut from green paper; shell drawn on brown paper; ceramics drawn on white paper and string to mark the table edges
Very hasty sketch of Matisse’s final version; note cropped coffee pot and cropped apple on the right. As you can se I had a lot of fun with this!
Jo cut and painted papers in the shapes of all the objects, and then moved them around on a board which was painted in gouache choosing very different colours to the Matisse still life.
Jo’s final composition inspired by the development of “Still Life with Sea Shell”, 1940, by Matisse: the objects are rearranged and the colours of the table top and background have been radically changed. After gluing down the objects more gouache was applied. Jo has sought to retain an idea of “conversation” between the objects.

“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.

Your Paintings;

Still Life in a Window Setting
by Heather C
Fruit and Flowers
Acrylic by Sandra
Flowers, Fruit and Wine
Pastel by Mali
Still Life in the Spirit of Matisse
Acrylic by Mali
Still Life with Window and Chair
Oil by Virginia
Yellow Interior
Acrylic by Heather N
Still Life with Cockerel
by Anne
Still Life after Matisse
by Ann
Still Life with Cat
by Pam
Still Life with Embroidered Textile
by Maricarmen
Still life with Flowers
by Kate

Still Life 2: Learning from Morandi

January 12, 2022

All photos are by Jo Hall from her everyday objects

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.

Note hard and soft edges and where the handle of the small jug disappears into the shadows.

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.

Dark and light tones, hard and soft edges, muted colours.

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.

The egg cup appears darkly subdued into the shadow. The three forms together with their shadow could be read as one shape.
The egg cup has been moved forward and by its contrast with the surrounding shadow demands our attention.

During the session we will make either several watercolours or an acrylic painting in the spirit of Morandi.

Your paintings:

Still life
Acrylic by Mali
Drawing by Mali
Drawing after an Etching by Giorgio Morandi
by Ann
Still Life
Pencil over acrylic background by Ann
Still Life
by Ann
Still Life with Jug
Gouache by Sandra
Graphite drawing by Sandra
Gouache sketch by Sandra
Vase and Jars
Acrylic by Maricarmen
Bowl and Beakers
by Kate
Watercolour by Heather C
Drawing in 2B pencil by Heather C
Drawing in Pen and Ink by Heather C
Still Life by Anne
Still Life with Bottle and Jugs
by Anne
Bottles Egg Cup and Pie Support
by Pam
Still Life by Heather N
Still Life with Green Bottle
Oil by Virginia