September 17, 2021
This week’s challenge is to draw or paint the whole figure of a child, a child with another child, or a parent and child study. If you are fairly new to drawing I would advise drawing a single figure for your painting and to practice making as many small sketches of children whether from life or from photographs as you can, to train your eye to be accustomed to the fact that children’s heads are larger in proportion to their height than adult heads.
When painting young children either standing or involved with some activity it is useful to drop a perpendicular line from the highest point on your reference to work out the proportions of the body and the angles that the shoulders, hips and limbs and their relative lengths. Also put a perpendicular on your drawing paper. Some measuring will help you to see and draw taking into account any foreshortening that may occur as when an arm is pointing directly at you! If you prefer to draw completely freehand before painting, check the accuracy of your drawing by dropping a perpendicular from the same point as done for your reference.
As always also look for any clues from negative spaces that will help you get the proportions and lengths right.
With clothed figures, especially full skirts and baggy trousers try to imagine the limbs beneath them and their relation to the spine. Look at whether one shoulder is higher than the other and how this works in relation to the neck.
The little sketch above is of six year old Toby balancing on a wobble board. Note how in the figure on the left both feet are bearing some of his weight and if a line is dropped from his neck it would fall between the two feet. In the figure on the right most of his weight is on his right foot (left in the image) and a line dropped from his neck shows the neck to be positioned directly above the load bearing foot. Try to draw simple line drawings from life or ‘photos of standing children standing with the load shared between their feet, and also where the load is mainly on one foot. Then try to draw some children in the same way when they are actively engaged in a sporting or other activity where they are in motion.
If you have the opportunity and wish to draw a group of children together especially where their forms overlap, treat the group as one whole shape before homing in on the individuals. Work lightly at first so that you can adjust as you look at your subject more critically as the drawing progresses. Lastly make sure you take more time looking than drawing so that all the main shapes are correct before committing yourself to painting.
In the initial stages of painting look very critically at the direction of the light and how this affects the tones that reveal the form of the child. Look also at how light can affect the darkest local colours, for example even a black T-shirt can appear quite pale on the side that is turned toward the light but retain its dark appearance where turned away from the light source.
Lastly look at shadows cast by the child’s form; e.g. a shadow of the head falling on to the child’s neck and shoulder; shadows below the feet which will help anchor the figure to the ground; and in some cases the shadow of the whole figure against the ground or cast on a wall etc.
For examples of drawing and painting children look at the Pinterest Board below:
September 8, 2021
This week the challenge is to draw or paint a young child’s head in profile and/or full face. The features especially the chin and nose begin to show the character they will gradually develop into later. While it is often very difficult to identify and adult from a new baby photo it becomes slightly easier from the age of two or three.
Some wonderful examples can be seen on Jo’s Pinterest board at;
Your drawings and paintings:
September 1, 2021
This week we’ll consider making a painting or drawing a whole baby and suggest your subject is no more than one year old, or perhaps a better guideline would be between newborn and crawling, but not yet walking.
Babies have a tendency to thrash their limbs about when awake so it is often easier to work from photos but if you have a resident crawler, or baby that is starting to support himself do try and sketch from life, even if all that is achieved is a few hasty lines. This will help your observation and visual memory enormously. It will also help you to identify errors in more considered drawings at a very early stage.
However the easiest way with babies is to draw them while sleeping!
Do have a look at some of last week’s references again and perhaps practise drawing a few baby feet!
If you you would like to why not try a parent or even a grandparent and baby painting. Mary Cassatt painted many of these and a few examples can be found at:
August 26, 2021
Over the next four weeks we’ll look at drawing and painting babies and young children, looking at infant heads the first week then whole baby forms and go on to consider toddlers and young children to about four years old for the second two sessions. With drawing and painting babies and children the structures and tones need the same attention as in other portrait studies but an additional challenge is the soft touch needed to convey the softness and delicacy of children’s skin both with the tones and the colour.
Pastel, pencil, charcoal and watercolour will be used for the demonstrations but you are welcome to work in your preferred medium.
Drawing baby heads.
The facial features and skulls of babies are not fully developed and their proportions are different from adult heads. The facial features are smaller in regard to the space they occupy and only the iris of the eye is fully developed giving many babies that cute large eyed look. The nose being of cartilage grows at a different rate to the bone of most of the skull and at the baby stage the nose is often slightly upturned. The eyebrows are relatively lower than for an adult and the chin is smaller and tucked in so that it protrudes rather less than the lips.
1. Find a photograph of a baby’s face that is looking straight toward the camera and work out the proportions of the face from the tip of the chin to the top of the head. If you can see them also note the position of the top and bottom of the ears.
2. Do the same for a baby’s head seen in profile and also work out how the ears are positioned.
3. Draw and/or paint a baby’s head from your own reference. Note whether the features lie on a curve if the head is looking up or down and pay special attention to how the proportions of the various elements change. For example if the head is viewed from slightly below, more of the chin will be seen compared to the forehead and top of the head.
As with adults the eyes will be about one eye width apart. Unlike adults the baby nose and chin are shorter. As with everything when you are making a representative drawing draw what you see not what you believe to be there.
Next week we will consider the whole baby figure. However babies often play with their hands, sucking thumbs and chewing fingers, so also try to have a look at baby hands for this week’s session.
Some useful references can be found on the following Pinterest boards.
The first board (below) has useful guides to the proportions of infant to adult figures and also to drawing baby and toddler heads, hands and feet.
The second board (below) has a large collection of paintings and drawings of babies and young children. Some of these are simply beautiful studies. Others as in the Leonardo references at the end give information on the foetus before birth, and the drawings by Kathe Kollwitz give an idea of the plight of mothers and young children dispossessed by war and deprivation. Think about the study you wish to make, the character and mood of the child and circumstance. This will lead you to create a very personal work.
First it is good to make as many drawings as you can from life and photographs to give you a good understanding of the structures and enable you to be more credibly creative. The blog posts will mainly feature drawing and colour will be demonstrated during the practical sessions. Do send a drawing or finished painting for review this week, and any work made during the session will be posted for review the following week.
Your finished drawings or paintings:
July 13, 2021
Jackson Pollock quote:
« One day, a critic wrote that my works didn’t have a starting point or an end. He wasn’t looking to pay me a compliment but he did”, said the artist.
It is no surprise that some of the most famous artists with abstraction as the greater part of their work are either musicians or have both a passion for and knowledge of music. It is after all the most abstract of the arts and has a huge power to communicate emotion from laughter to despair.
Colour and music
These include; Rothko, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Pollock. Individual works are often described as sorrowful, rhythmic, playful, loud, adjectives you could just as easily use for music. Several worked in an abstract style with the conscious intent of finding in art and equivalent language to music. Klee likened the colours in a paint box to musical notes. Kandinsky heard colours. When he saw yellow he heard the exuberance of the trumpet. Pollock’s action paintings are full of the rhythm of his movements as he dripped his paint. Some of Klee’s works appear as symbols on lines almost resembling staves. Kandinsky used musical terms such as Improvisation, composition, fugue when assigning titles to his works. Klee’s most abstract grid paintings contained variations on a theme; rows of different hues would be reversed or more subtly changed to create movement.
Think of music that makes you feel; sad, happy, relaxed, excited, thoughtful, serene etc.
What colours do you associate with these?
Look at works by Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Mark Rothko, Patrick Heron and William Baziotes
Then use line and/or colour to make a work with a definite emotion in mind. This may be inspired by a piece of music, person or experience. It may be an emotion in the sense of sad, happy etc. or the thrill of a roller coaster, exhaustion after running, any experience that you feel inspired to translate into colour and/or line.
The Action painters like Pollock made a start and added each step intuitively. It is for you to choose whether to plan or just to start and see where you pencil or brush leads you. Music is useful as it has a rhythm that can be expressed by line. Try experimenting with music mimicking the rhythm first with a broad brush and then on the same paper with a narrow brush or a rigger. If you are feeling less brave try pencil or crayon.
During the session we will do short exercises exploring how different lines and colours can express very different emotions, followed by developing one of the resulting drawings as a more considered work.
Have the following ready ;
Inexpensive A4 paper (cartridge or copier paper); a soft pencil or dark coloured pencil; a dark or bright wax crayon; your choice of medium and an appropriate support for developing the painting inspired by your drawing.
July 6, 2021
Starting an abstract painting from observation or memory is something we looked at in passing when considering Paul Klee’s abstractions of the landscape and towns of Tunisia. Although many of these were based on loose grids they never lost sight of some of the motifs he saw. They were however considerably transformed.
Here are a few ideas you may like to explore this week. Choose just one and work on some of the planning ahead of next week’s session. Each one could constitute a sizeable project. Links to reference artists on my Pinterest boards are given in the text.
1.Simplifying a direct Observation or using a loose Grid
Find a landscape or building reference sketch (preferably) or photograph and work on simplifying the shapes till the identity of the place is considerably reduced. The final work should remind you of the place but should be far from a highly representational picture. The colours and scale of the parts may be changed but do not have to be. Figures or animals inhabiting the landscape should be be simplified in the same way and where there are groups of figures try representing them as one shape. If you didn’t make a grid composition in Week 1 that may be a good thing to try this week.
2. A Closer Look
Abstract shapes can often be found by looking closer; at natural forms where surface patterns emerge in minute detail and at reflections in water. This can be pretty much direct observation but the images can appear totally divorced from the bigger picture and painted as pure pattern and shape. Below are a few photographic details from the landscape.
You could make an abstract painting based on a memory of a place or experience. Memories are often charged with emotion as well as being a visual mental record. The former was hugely important to Kandinsky and we will discuss that further during the last session when we take a brief look at abstract expressionist painters so you may like to leave this one till Week 4.
Kandinsky’s path to abstraction was rooted in love for his native Russia; village life, Moscow and the folk lore. Many of his earlier works show this vividly and the accent on colour and mood was clear. He heard sounds when he saw colour. For Kandinsky yellow was an exuberant trumpet and later in life he designed ballet sets for for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It is no surprise that some of his works were also titled in musical terms like Improvisation, Composition Fugue etc but there was also Deluge, …. and other exciting works that stemmed from different experiences.
4. Still Life
William Scott painted abstracted still life subjects reducing them to their bare essentials and playing with perspective. Far simpler than cubist paintings you may like to work in a similar way to Scott or emulate a cubist painting with a simple set up of your own objects
5. Figures and Animals; simplification
If you would prefer to work from figures or animals look at Picasso’s drawings showing a bull in a series of works in which the bull is reduced to very basic shapes.
Kandinsky made some drawings of a dancer reduced to geometric curves and angular lines. The lines and arcs described her movement as she danced. In the absence of a live model similar schematic drawings could be made photographs of ballet dancers, judo fights,or footballers etc.
A group of drawings could be put together so that that the lines overlapped or drawings could be made from groups of footballers or rugby players interacting. It would be easiest to design the work first then transfer it to the support for painting. You may also like to work out which lines would be the thickest and if colour was used to which areas it should be applied and how.
6. Contour and blind contour drawing
If you have any rapid sketches of birds, animals or plant forms from life you can use their shapes and rearrange them to form an interesting pattern that can be blocked in initially with flat colour. This becomes even more interesting where shapes overlap and you could work with transparent colour to show this or by changing the tone or colour of opaque paint.You could also make some blind contour drawings and use them in the same way. These are made by looking at the subject while you are drawing but not looking at your paper.
June 29, 2021
Chance and Recycling
Jean Arp, one of the leading artists of the Dada movement used chance for several of his works. He tore up papers and collaged them where they fell. Some of the works appear too ordered for this to have been the whole story and I suspect he may have put some torn shapes into a hat or equivalent and placed them on the support intuitively as each was drawn out of the hat in a random sequence. He also tore up a woodcut made in 1920 into several pieces and rearranged them on a support in 1954. For Arp this was the artwork. For us it may be or it may be that such methods could be employed as the starting points for developing an abstract painting.
You could certainly do this with a failed painting or with a copy of a suitable good drawing or painting. The pieces could be cut into regular pieces and rotated till you felt a successful arrangement had been achieved or you could shuffle them and place them in a grid in the order that you drew them out. You are in charge of whether to work mainly with chance or mainly with design and whether to develop the work further by adding other media.
The pieces could also of course be dropped on the support and glued where they fell. If a collage was not required it would be easy to make a series of photographs of several dropping events with pieces from the same art work. The resulting photographs might suggest an interesting painting or be art works in their own right separately or collectively. Old greetings cards, magazine pages etc. could be similarly recycled.
Exploring Negative Shapes
The technique below can be as designed, intuitive or suggested by a natural form as you wish. Anything from geometric shapes to tea cups or branching trees can be fun to investigate. They can remain as flat areas of colour or be blended for some great intertwining effects.
The paint left on your palette;
At the end of a painting session it is all too easy just to slide unused paint into a trash can or let it congeal uselessly on the palette. Why not just get a brush or palette knife and spread it almost without thinking on to a sheet of thick card or paper. (you are also allowed the think about it but not with the aim of making it look like a tree or a bird or a flower.) It may do but don’t intend it. It may turn out that it is your first Colour Field work! But my guess is that it may need further development.
Abstract Expressionists are subdivided into two groups of rather different artists
The Action Painters such as Jackson Pollock
and the Colour Field Painters such as Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman.
Although never listed with these American artists perhaps Patrick Heron should be included here for his colourful gouache paintings.
Practical:Our next practical session will involve using chance, recycling and intuition for beginning an abstract painting or drawing.
Choose to work on one or more of the following;
Aim to have a drawing/painting copy or original to cut or tear up, perhaps a large magazine image. It does become more personal to use your own drawing though. You will also need a support for painting on and your usual paints.
1.Old drawing/painting: either cut up and rotate pieces till they make an interesting arrangement or shake and draw randomly from a container laying them in a grid one by one in the same order that they are drawn out. You may collage the pieces and work over them with more paint or drawing or photograph/trace them and use the image as the basis for your painting.
2. Chance; dropping cut or torn paper on to a support, spatter with paint, remove the paper when all is dry and develop the painting intuitively.
3. Recycled paint; Use what is left on your palette by just painting it out on to a piece of card or paper, perhaps with some intent like putting the pale colours in the middle or the brightest colours in the middle or irregular bands of colour, varying the sizes of colour patches ( this happens naturally as more of some colour than others remain). Colour mixing also happens depending on the mixes on the palette and how much they become blended as they are painted out. This should be done prior to the session so that the development process can take place at next week’s session.
June 28, 2021
These are the results from everyone painting or drawing at Hurley in very different weather conditions from the previous week, while I visited all the drawing locations and took a few photos plus made the briefest of sketches. The view of Harleyford Manor was painted in 2000 from location sketches and was about 27 inches wide so a bit large to paint on site!
June 21, 2021
Why would any one paint an abstract work?
The fast answer is to express an idea, an emotion or reaction without direct reference to tangible objects.
The reality is that many abstract paintings do reference recognisable things but they are significantly transformed. Given that in painting objects are already transformed from three dimensions to two it does not seem surprising that abstract art at its purest has no relation to objects but that there is a continuum from highly representational art at one end, to paintings with simplified or altered forms, and at the other end more radical abstraction where the shapes whether organic or geometric bear no relation to objects.
However being set free from objects does allow the artist to express mood with colour, with jagged or smoothe lines, slow or fast lines, lines made slowly, hesitantly or at speed, or shapes that are geometric or organic with hard or soft edges.
The most useful analogy is with music, the most abstract of the arts. It is not surprising that many artists have written on this subject. Music can be described as joyful, frivolous, melancholy, sublime, romantic, loud, soft, tender. So it is expressive without direct reference to objects.
What else? Various kinds of music have different rules within which they are made made; scale, rhythm, pattern, variation etc.
Music is created by a composer and interpreted by musicians so that the often written score/composition can be made audible.
Any composition will be a result of the composer’s imagination, intuition and skill within the rules of his/her musical culture and that culture will develop as the composer’s thought processes discover new ways, new rules etc. only limited by his/her imagination and will to experiment.
Music has an audience which receives and interprets the music. Painting has an audience that similarly receives and interprets. Figurative (representational) art works can be appreciated for their skill, the stories they tell, and often evoke an emotional response. They obey rules to varying degrees; of perspective, tone, and shape of the objects within a composition.
Music does this without reference to objects, though natural sounds, of the cuckoo, for instance may be incorporated into the music. The artist may also wish to produce works which rely less on the appearance of objects, producing expressive works freed from tangible subject matter.
In this way Paul Klee described a paint box as the artist’s equivalent to a keyboard. He is deserving of study as possibly more than any artist Klee investigated the processes behind making abstract and imaginative works which may start with an idea or observation but do not have to. One can institute rules for development of the work or work very intuitively and over the next four weeks we will scratch the surface of some of these ideas.
The practical challenge for this week;
Reference the works of Paul Klee on the Pinterest Board at:
and Piet Mondrian at
Make your own rules and then create two or three small paintings with expressive colours to set the mood of each. The paintings may be as small as 6 x 6 inches if working in gouache or watercolour, and larger if working in acrylic and all should be variations using the same rules. You may of course work larger if you prefer.
Make your own rules and write them down, or use one of the suggestions below;
1.Work with a grid however loose or tight and use colour and texture to suggest a remembered place or event.
2.Make a square or rectangle. Fill it with the same geometric shape at different sizes. They may overlap and be at any orientation. Colour using a limited palette or shades of one colour.
3.Fill a rectangle or square with groups of parallel straight lines at various angles to each other. Each line should meet another line at each end. No lines should extend the whole length or width of the rectangle or square. Fill the shapes with a harmonious colour scheme except for one complementary area. Reference Klee’s work ” Forest Architecture” or “Castle to be built in the Forest”.
4. Similar to 3. but the lines may be curved
Use colour to set the atmosphere/mood of each painting. Your own rules may include using different organic shapes connected by lines or shapes or shapes that are enclosed or partly enclosed by other shapes. The possibilities are endless. After a few quick doodles go for one set of rules and stick to it.
During the practical session we will review the work and look at more intuitive starting points and how these can be developed.
June 8, 2021
Such a treat today to be sitting outside drawing subjects we have become familiar with using photo reference. Before publishing I added more tone to these sketches from memory.
The heightened contrast reflects the very bright sunlight we worked in. I’m now going to discover the ‘photos taken at the same venues which I know will have too much contrast, so no good as photos but a very good reminder of the importance of tone in composition.
Your Sketches and Paintings from Sunny Maidenhead;
May 23, 2021
The challenge this week is to make a painting of boats and/or constructions on the river including weirs, locks, boathouses from sketches made from the riverbank. If the weather makes working by the river difficult why not look at any photos you may have of boats threading their way through the twists and turns of the Thames. It’s more difficult to draw a moving target from life so becoming familiar with the structure of boats and their effects on the water surface is easier from photographs.
However if you have the opportunity, it’s much more rewarding to work outside with a sketchbook. Start with the static objects and develop your confidence, and then try drawing the main shapes of boats and their wakes as they pass by,as swiftly as you can. With a little practice a real notion of movement can be achieved.
A few photographs of local parts of the Thames with moored and moving craft are below.
Think about the river and its banks, the relation of the boat to the water surface (the waterline, reflections and if moving the bow wave and wake, or if a motor boat how the water may be churned up by a propeller at the stern). The patterns of waves may extend far beyond the immediate vicinity of the boat.
If you attempt to draw or paint a lock, perhaps looking down from a bridge as you can at Maidenhead. Try drawing the large shapes of the lock first so that you get a feel for for its structure and aim to show its perspective. That will help you when you place a boat in it. Think of the lock as a big rather long box so the end away from you appears smaller. Then look at the water level in the lock and how the boat sits in it.
There are also occasions where boats are included as only a small element in a river landscape work so just as observing and drawing from human forms, observing and drawing boat forms will help you to be able to just ‘drop in a boat’ to enliven a composition.
Also included are boathouses and a couple of old rather abandoned looking dredgers and the turbulent water of the weir at Maidenhead.
With the weir draw its underlying structure lightly before indicating the frothy water tumbling over it. Hopefully we’ll be sketching outside but if not feel free to use any of these references or find a boat scene you would like to paint.
Some examples of paintings of boats and locks etc can be found on Jo’s Pinterest board using the link below:
Your Sketches and Paintings:
May 16, 2021
The Weather forecast is miserable for this week so here are some photographs of river birds and a few cows for inspiration, a contingency in case of rain on Tuesday.
As anything that moves is a challenge in real life, becoming familiar with bird and animal shapes will be helpful before sketching them outside. We can work in real time together either from the following references or using your own. We’ll choose a bird or a cow and make rapid thumbnail sketches in real time; four or five to a sketchbook page so don’t think too large. I will be using a stopwatch! You will see from the reference that you should be able to make several sketches of the same or a similar bird in different poses.
Where birds in groups overlap each other, as in the cygnet photos it can be useful to treat them as a single shape and then sort out the individuals. They move in amazing ways, with mother swan looking out for them all the time.
After a few warm up sketches we can move on to a more considered drawing or painting, making a good start that can be finished during the session or in your own time afterwards. This work may either be a painting that has the creature as the main subject, or a work where the beast or bird is placed in its landscape setting.
Most of the heron images are from the water garden at Cliveden where the carp fry are easy prey for a hungry bird. I watched and sketched this one before resorting to record his antics on camera. but sadly never caught him actually catching a fish.
Your paintings and sketches:
This week’s drawings include two minute drawings and two minute blind contour drawings, where looking at the image but not the paper was permitted. There are also 30 minute or longer drawings from the Canada Goose image posted just before them.
Drawings below were 30 minute drawings from the image above
Two minute drawings and blind contour drawings:
May 4, 2021
Over the next six weeks we’ll be drawing and painting anything that can be seen from a riverbank. The first session will be online but if you do have the opportunity to sketch your subject by the river and paint afterwards that would be brilliant. We’ll start by considering water, waves and reflections and go on to explore the riverbank vegetation, birdlife, bridges, weirs and locks that can be seen locally.
Some words that sprang to mind when thinking about water were flowing, calm, reflection, spray, fierce, roar, crash, wet, wave, ripple, current, whirlpool, eddy. By the Thames locally, the extremes in appearance of water going over the weir at Maidenhead and the wonderful reflections of trees in the very calm water that can be seen from the towpath just a couple of hundred yards upstream, reveal what a varied and challenging subject this is.
We may often notice the reflections of boats, trees, poles etc. in and on the water but the sky is perhaps the most important element, being reflected not only in calm water but in every ripple and almost always brings an element of fleeting and shimmering light to the surface. The Impressionists found good ways of depicting this, using strokes of different colours and tones alongside each other to create shimmering effects.
If you can, get to a riverbank and watch the water. Better still make some sketches of what you see. Take two L-shaped pieces of card with you so you can use them as a view finder. These are more versatile than a camera as they enable the isolation of very tall thin slithers of the landscape or extreme panoramic views, as well as squarer and more conventional landscape shapes for your composition. In the sketchbook try several small sketches in different formats concentrating on the shape and tones of what you see.
If you can’t get out this week try exploring different compositions within one photo reference.
I am forced to admit this photo was taken from a boat and not the bank but the various crops show the great choice we have from the quite dark composition of crop 4 to the light airy feel of the original photograph.
Start to think in terms of shape and tone. Instead of thinking I am drawing a tree and its reflection say to yourself,” I can see a large dark oval shape. Below it is a similar dark shape that fragments into elongated light and dark shapes when the wind blows.” If you can stay long enough, observe different patterns on the water surface as a boat passes, and when there is wind or no wind. Try to translate these into drawing. Can you observe differences in size between ripples near you and those further away?
Observe and note whether there is a difference in tone between the sky and its reflection and do the same for reflected objects. As you can see from the photo taken on the Cam, the sky there was almost the same tone as its reflection but this is not always the case.
When you have found a composition that pleases you either paint or make a more considered drawing. Both the observation of the water surface and the composition exercise will be good preparation for the outside drawing/painting sessions.
Have fun and experiment!
Perhaps look at a few Impressionist paintings!
Your Drawings and Paintings:
April 19, 2021
This week you are invited to paint a figure including arms and hands but extending no further down the figure than about the waist. You may already have a suitable reference that needs no cropping or you may have a whole figure reference which needs cropping to carry out this week’s challenge. As a rough guide cropping works when it is not exactly at the elbow or cutting through part of a hand or foot. I have tried to show this in the illustration below.
You will however, always find notable exceptions from well known artists who perhaps have enough magic and experience to make the seemingly impossible work. Some great examples can be found on Jo’s Pinterest board, link below.
Week 3 Project
Choose a photo reference. Try to find a reference that illustrates the persons character or situation. You should feel something about the image. Decide by making thumbnail sketches, whether and what cropping would result in a good composition for a portrait that references the figure to about the waist. Try to include at least one hand. Some paintings of half figures have the subject at a table, sewing, drinking or reading. Make careful decisions about the background including only what is necessary or relevant.
As with the whole figure, work out the sizes of the dominant shapes and how they relate to each other. Look at the negative spaces. Either use a grid or at least a vertical and horizontal line across your image and your drawing so that you can check measurements and angles; making sure that your picture space is in the same proportion as the part of the image included in your work.
Really look at the posture of the person and ask questions.
Is the head at an angle?
Is the person looking to one side?
How does this affect the neck?
Can you imagine how the head connects to the spine?
Are the shoulders at the same height?
What are the arms and hands doing?
Are there negative spaces related to the position of the arms?
What angles are made by the arms and hands?
Are the arms bearing any weight as when leaning on a table?
Looking and answering these questions will inform your work.
April 6, 2021
Over the next four weeks we’ll consider painting rather more of the clothed figure than just the head and shoulders. Choosing reference photo is the first challenge. You may have one of a complete stranger or you may have or can take a picture of a family member reading a book or even asleep. At least they won’t be giving you a great big beaming smile. For this week include the whole figure either seated or standing in your reference. The aim will be to get really used to looking at the various elements of the figure because understanding figure itself will help us understand how clothing drapes across the body. Usually there are a lot of clues especially with more tailored and tight fitting garments but the particular pose that presents itself can also give invaluable clues that will help you make a believable portrait.
In subsequent weeks we’ll look at suitable cropping points so that successful compositions can be made of to the waist and also three quarter length studies. We’ll also consider figures wearing uniform, formal regalia or traditional costume less familiar to us, but for all of these a general understanding of the figure, its proportions and the way it moves will inform all the work done.
Look at the standing reference first; in an adult the head is about one seventh of the total height but in a child this ratio is considerably more. In the photo above it is between one sixth and one fifth.
Follow an imaginary line from the top of the head down the spine to the pelvis and think about what happens when you get to the legs. With a standing figure the neck will be directly above the foot bearing most of the weight and if the weight is being evenly shared between both feet will be directly above a point between the feet. If your figure is leaning against a wall notice if this changes anything.
Look at how far the arms extend down the body if they are down and how far again if they are folded or the angles made if they are on the hips or if one arm is on the hip what is happening with the other arm.
Look at the tilt of the shoulders and the hips if these can be identified. Thinking about how the body moves will help. Look at the knee in relation to the direction in which the foot points. If you stand fairly upright with your feet together and then turn one foot out a bit the knee follows it and so the knee points in the same direction as the foot. When sitting this is also the most relaxed position for the foot, but of course if you cross your legs you will find the foot has far more freedom but still feels more comfortable when pointing the same way as the knee.
Try to find out how your own joints limbs and back behave, then look at your reference again and think through what is going on.
With the sitting reference, look at the relation of the sitter’s form to the form of what they are sitting on whether it’s flat ground, a grassy slope as for the Afhan girl heading this post, or some kind of seat. It can be useful to make a sketch of the chair, bench or stool, but remembering that the soft parts of some chairs will be altered by the sitter as above. The appearance of the figure, especially the fore-shortening of the upper leg will be very different depending on whether you are viewing the person from the side or the front. The height of the chair in relation to the person’s leg length will also result in a very different posture for the sitter. If a tall person sits on a low bench they will either stretch their legs out or bend their knees up bringing the feet closer to the chair. Just think about things like this when looking.
You may like to look at how other artists have portrayed standing and sitting figures so do have a look at the following Pinterest boards.
For the seated figure:
and for the standing figure:
Then it’s high time to have a go!
Choose to work either from a standing or a seated figure and make a few thumbnail sketches first, before launching into your first painting. Work so that you make note of the tones in the composition as well as the shapes of the forms. Try to imagine you are in the presence of the sitter and that the figure actually exists in three dimensions rather than the two dimensional image you are referring to.
After that decide how much space your figure will occupy in your painting. Look at the overall height and width of the figure and how much of the background and what of its features you wish to include or exclude. Sometimes an indication of the space around the figure and the objects within that space helps the composition while at other times there are things in the background which are irrelevant and may detract from the main focus: the figure being portrayed.
The medium is up to you; pastel and acrylic are possibly more forgiving than watercolour but whichever medium you choose once you have established the main shapes, take note of the tonal balance as well as the colour. If you choose to work in watercolour you may like to Google the portrait watercolours of Charles Reid, and Hans Schwarz, and of course Singer Sargent also produced some wonderful watercolour portraits.
March 10, 2021
This week’s portrait challenge is to paint someone wearing a hat or headdress. All the illustrations for this have been made in pastel or by making a tonal under drawing in charcoal, fixing it really well then adding layers of colour.
For an adult face quite dense layers of charcoal may be laid down to describe the forms of the face and mass of hair. For a child’s face a more delicate approach may be needed and it would be better to start with a drawing in pastel or pastel pencil using similar colours to those that will be used to finish the work.
Some examples of portrait paintings where the model is wearing a hat, hood or other and fascinators definitely come into the class of other! can be found on the Pinterest board that can be accessed by the link below:
When making a tonal study it is essential that the drawing is accurate. If the photograph is a front view or slightly three quarter view try to observe the following. Not quite so possible if the model is wearing a wide brimmed hat or in profile!
Look at the general shape of the head. Note whether it is tilted sideways and how this affects the axis of symmetry. Perhaps drop a vertical down so that it crosses the head between the eyes. Then drop a line from the highest point of the head to the tip of the chin, you will be then be able to see how much the head is tilted and you will be able to either make the eyes level if the head is perfectly straight, or at the correct slant if not.
Although if someone is looking straight at you the middle of the eyes appear about half way between the tip of the chin and the top of the skull, this alters when the head is tilted upwards or downwards. When looking up there will be considerable foreshortening so the eyes will appear nearer the top of the head but the ears will appear lower and you will be able to see under the chin and up the nostrils.
When the head is looking down with the chin tucked in, obviously you will see more of the top of the head and all the facial features will be rather differently foreshortened. The eyes will appear lower, the ears higher and the nose may overhang the mouth. The lower lip may disappear and only a little of the chin may be visible.
Usually a photographic reference will not be as extreme as this but do note the position of the head in relation to the head and shoulders.
Also note the width of the head in relation to it’s height and the position of the ears in relation to the point where the lower jaw articulates with the rest of the skull. It’s a good idea to feel this on your own head and also to examine the rather fundamental fact that a head, although roughly rounded has a curved frontal plane and curved sides. It is possible to think of the sides starting where the temples and cheek bones make a rounded corner. Again feel your own head and it will be easier to think about the structure of the head when you are drawing.
Leaving you with a final thought; remember that the hair is on the head so be generous with it! And if the model has very little hair you have the perfect chance to get the head shape spot on!
March 3, 2021
During the next few days the portrait will be completed and published. A lot more work is needed to resolve the features and soften and blend the skin tones. Some information on working in pastel will also be published.
Palette of colours used was: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Crimson Alizarin, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber.
Both cool and warm skin tones can be made with this very basic palette. It will also provide for some near blacks by mixing Ultramarine with Burnt Umber. Try adjusting Burnt Sienna with the other colours to provide for a very pale complexion, a mid toned complexion and a dark complexion.
Although the addition of a few more pigments would be useful for example a warmer red like Cadmium Red Pale, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber and Raw Sienna and perhaps Viridian, a remarkable variety of complexions and cool and warm shadow areas can be made from this basic palette.
February 9, 2021
This week I just took a little time exploring how two reds, one closely related to orange, Vermilion and the other Alizarin Crimson, closer to purple, mixed and related to two very different greens, Sap Green which is much more yellow that Phthalocyanine Green which leans toward blue.
You may have different greens and reds in your paint box. Take some time to discover how near to orange or purple s each red is and how near to yellow or blue each green is.
Viridian, Phthalocyanine Green, Cobalt green and Prussian Green are all examples of greens nearer to blue. Sap Green is a more yellow green and Hooker’s Green is much bluer than Sap Green but more yellow than Phthalo Green.
Vermilion, and Cadmium Red Pale are much nearer to orange than Crimson Alizarin, Quinacridone Rose and Magenta and you may have other reds which are somewhere between the two.
Before homing in on the green and red pigments you choose for your painting subjects this week find which combinations will be best suited by experimenting a little.
Have a look at this week’s Pinterest board at
In each example make a note of how the red and green pigments are being employed and how they interact. Observe how red looks when surrounded by dark, pale tones, by similar hues and by complementary colours both pale greens, dark greens, yellow greens and bluer greens.
Choose only two from the following list and make two paintings incorporating one in each. That doesn’t mean to say the other items won’t be present but I would like you to have one main theme for each painting, just as a story may involve one main character and a couple of supporting roles. Don’t feel you have to do two paintings. One well thought out composition is really worthwhile.
You may use white pure in areas and in mixes, and your paintings may be representational or abstract. The medium is up to you. Try to make dark tones by mixing the appropriate reds and greens and use black only if essential.
Think very carefully about how many greens you wish/need to work with and how many reds. The illustrations will give you some idea of the scope of using only four pigments but you may wish to explore lots of greens in a painting and only one red for instance. Try to have a reason for your choices.
After a while it becomes intuitive to just go for the “right” colour knowing how it will appear on its own and in mixes, and you will definitely begin to enjoy using some pigments more than others. I firmly believe that individual colour choices and combinations form as much of the identity of an artist as the shapes and lines he produces. (“he” being used in the universal mankind sense here.) Think this has already been born out in the last few weeks by those who prefer orange and blue to yellow and violet and vice versa!
February 3, 2021
Red demands our attention even in the smallest quantities. The tiniest area of pure red can form a focal point as in the painting of the blue rug above. It’s like an itch that cannot be ignored.
Where blue may be sad or holy, red is fiery, passionate, romantic, celebratory. Blue is recession or depression, red leads the cavalry to advance. We need both the calm of blue and the jollity of red for a balanced colour diet.
Look at the way red is used in the works on this week’s Pinterest board at:
Look at the red dot in Matisse’s cut out “Icarus”. See how different reds interact in the abstracts by Rothko and Patrick Heron. Explore how Bernard Cathelin manipulates red in still life, portrait and studies of groups of figures.
This week for all the studies you may use any red pigment alone or in combination with other reds. You may use Magenta, Quinacridone Rose, Alizarin as well as the warmer reds cadmium Red Pale, Scarlet and Vermilion. It would be useful for these studies to have one cool red(nearer to purple) and one warm red(nearer to orange).
One way to understand your reds is to test each one by discovering how it appears surrounded by black , white or a different red. Make a note of which appear to advance or whether the same red appears different against different surrounding hues. After that try at least one of the following red/reds to make a composition. You may use back and white, mixed with the reds or as areas of white and black. These paintings may be abstract or representational, hard or soft edged.
1. Make a painting using one or more red pigments, black and white. This may be hard or soft edged, abstract or representational.
2. Make a painting with red as in 1. but a small amount of a related hue may be used, but only one; either a reddish orange or a reddish mauve but not both.
3. Make a painting with any colour but include one small area of red as a focus.
January 19, 2021
Yellow, the sunshine colour; just what we could do with today! Opposite purple on the simple colour wheel this is the colour intrinsically pale in tone, even the yellows that are nearer to orange are pale in their most saturated form.
Yellow paints in your box may range from the very pale lemony yellows nearest to green;
Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Light
To the middle yellows;
Cadmium Yellow Medium, Chromium Yellow Light
And yellows that are almost orange;
Turner’s Yellow, Chromium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Indian Yellow
You can do any of the suggested projects below with one pale or lemony yellow and one that is nearer to orange or at least in the middle range of yellows.
Have a look at the Pinterest board to see how other artists have worked with yellow as the principal colour in a composition.
Then try any two of the following (more if it’s pouring with rain outside).
1. Try making an abstract or representational painting, using any pure yellows. If you need to because you are using an opaque medium like pastel or gouache you may use white.
Do not use earth yellows such as the ochres. These are already de-saturated colours. By mixing yellow with black, or as we shall see next week with purple, you should be able to mix your own approximations to these.
2. Find how the yellows in your box mix with black and make a hard edged composition with at least some pure black areas, some pure white/white of the paper areas, and blocks of pure yellow and yellow mixed with black or white. This may be representational or abstract.
3.Make a painting with hard and soft edges with any mixes of yellow, black and white, abstract or representational. For textures as in the Sargent portrait you may consider using pastel instead of a wet medium.
4. Make a painting using the same colours as in 3 but you may add touches of closely related colours like a reddish orange or a yellowy green.
With your paintings try to find ways of sorting out major tonal areas. The dark and unsaturated colours will be the perfect foil to pure or almost pure colours. Be very aware of when you are using pure colour and when you are using de-saturated colour. Look at how pure colours seem to stand out from duller unsaturated colours demanding attention.
Watercolour Landscapes: back to basics, learning from the masters
7th September to 19th October
The Zorn Palette: painting without blue
Saturday 9th October
A Year in Pastel: landscape and natural forms
26th October to 30th November