life drawing/painting

I took the plunge and worked straight off with oils. I had about 45 minutes – wish I could have carried on all evening – felt I was just beginning to learn something in the last 15 minutes.


oil on hardboard approx A2 (prepared with white acrylic)

What I learned:

  • there are so many colours in flesh, and they change, all the time!
  • I knew from doing the Velazquez workshop that I should work dark first, but it didn’t seem to work this time around – paints got muddied.
  • however I was changing the colour because what I was seeing was changing. I started out seeing shadows as green, then blue…
  • I think I need to be bolder – put the colour down and trust it – though no rushing the colour choice either!
  • the couple of areas with pure colour actually work the best – the top of the man’s head
  • there’s a lot of white because I ran out of time though to be frank I also felt I had hit a brick wall and didn’t know where to go next. I felt the whole thing was going to be a murky muddy puddle if I carried on.
  • I shouldn’t be frightened to use the white for the brightest areas.
  • I really really need to stand way back to look at the work as I’m going. I tend to get totally absorbed and never stand back.

I am pleased with the composition and think that if I hadn’t muddied the colours it could have been interesting.

life drawing



Using a compressed charcoal stick on newsprint – aiming to go straight into tone rather than line – but sometimes forgetting that! Where I have begun to look more at tone, it feels easier to quickly get across the volume of the body than with line, which I suppose is obvious. If I can get my colours right, it feels like it would be just a step away to do this with paint…


weekly art class


Yay! I’ve finished the programme of drawing and learning to use colours (but with soft pastels only for now) and allowed to choose my own subject, want to focus on adding colour to life drawings.

This from a photograph (she was sitting on a stool which is why foot and some shadows are in hindsight a bit weird).

What I learnt:

  • more is better with pastels
  • aside from the lightest areas, a mid tone goes everywhere first before building up the lighter tones.
  • skin reflects all sorts of colours – lilac, greens, blues, pinks – I’ve added green and purple in to the mid tones here, but I think too tentatively…
  • I’m not very happy working from photographs, I’m long-sighted and I just feel too up close, I’m also not used it.

Next time:

  • aim for more looseness and be bolder with colour – this first attempt is a bit anatomical!



Sketch for a beech tree

A very quick project in response to a request for help from a fellow OCA student. I was hoping to use an idea I’d begun to develop in Drawing Skills, though the requested A5 size was a tad too small to make that work. I still used the same element of a line drawing, looking down on to a rugby boot from above.  The words read “when will we earn to tread a little lighter on this planet?” . I had wanted a barefoot print next to the boot but it would have made the whole piece too crowded.  I just hope it’s recognisable as a rugby boot (actually my husband’s football boot masquerading as rugby), otherwise it’s just an odd-looking shoe! The ‘brief’ is below.
“In settle, North Yorkshire a 150 year old beech tree is under threat of being cut down. It is not diseased. It has a preservation order on it. Nevertheless the rugby club adjacent has applied for, and been granted permission to cut it down because they say its roots are in the way of levelling the corner of the rugby pitch. There is a local campaign to stop tree being destroyed.  Tree lovers, of whom I am one, suggest an alternative way of levelling and stay of execution temporarily granted. The tree is on public footpath not on actual rugby club ground.
Here is my proposal: rope twined around endangered beech and other beeches along the footpath. 150 messages/poems/drawings attached to rope – one for each year of it’s life. 
Could you help? If so could you send me a drawing/message/poem for beech tree. I will laminate and attach to rope. Perpaps max size around a5 – smaller also fine. Any medium/any paper: eg ink/collage/oil/pencil/papier-mâché
I will photo all and put up on my blog and will also photo installation and put on blog”

life drawing






Working directly on to newsprint with conte crayon (dark orange with added brown, dark blue). Poses from 1-20 minutes.

I’ve made some headway in describing the shoulder area. It takes a sort of hunting under the skin for the bony landmarks, once I have these in my head it’s easier to understand what I’m seeing and make some sense of it on paper.

Have been hoping to add  more colour but these were all quick poses, keeping my eye on the tones of skin though, seeing blues, greens, pinks.

life drawing


Stepping out of my safe zone of charcoal, I took images of nudes in fauvist style to inspire at today’s life class: Manguin, von Jawlensky, Matisse and Braque.





  • It was harder than expected
  • There are so many colours in skin, and they change with every movement.
  • After a couple of sketches in which I rendered the sitter in every colour of the rainbow, I understood that it’s more effective to highlight only certain areas.
  • The areas of colour need to be bold – being tentative is no good at all
  • Following the masters, I used purples and blues to marks the lines of deep shadow.
  • After the class, I watched Alistair Sooke’s Modern Masters: Matisse in which he quoted Matisse “colours don’t work in isolation” ….”colours sing together, like a chord in music”

I’m new to using colour but looking at these drawings now, I can see which colours sing together and which ones just seem to obstruct each other:

  • top image, shoulder: orange, green and blue are singing. The red and purple (on foot) are interesting but I’ve messed it up by adding orange after.
  • bottom image: the red and dark blue (hip and chair) is pretty awful. The purple and green (lower leg) sings

Note: It was also pointed out in the Modern Masters documentary that in his works that are crammed full of colour and pattern, areas of black or white break up the colour.


Next time:

  • think carefully about colours that sing together
  • be bold – cover a few large areas
  • consider background – look at some of Matisse’s backgrounds beforehand


Velazquez workshop

A 9-hour workshop in which I get to paint following the techniques used by Velazquez, and though it’s not been possible to find out the exact colours he used, our teacher has gone as far as boiling up a particular potion as our medium.

Day One


  • Cover canvas with very diluted wash of burnt sienna – straightforward enough, but I think I should have gone darker.
  • Print image on to canvas – draw image in charcoal on blank paper, rub charcoal all over the reverse, place charcoal paper on canvas and trace back around image. Image comes out very faint, a lot of the detail is lost. Once down I see the face needs to be narrowed and that the nose and eye aren’t quite in right position – hoping I can fix at painting stage.
  • Using a dark brown (Van Dyke) mixed occasionally with ochre red – start to build up areas of shadow. Very tricky – trying to add a second brush stroke immediately simply moves the paint around. Also find that I should have brushed away charcoal dust – it mixes in to make canvas dirty in parts.

Day Two


Beginning work on skin: using thin layers of paint to work as glazes on top of each other. When I finally get the hang of it I find I can use pure colour as a diluted glaze to bring out pinks and ochres.


Beginner’s mistake: I was working with the light behind me, reflecting off the very glossy surface. Now I see the corrections to the shadows on the face that I need to make: jaw line, eyes etc. The clothing has been much faster (and more fun). With the dark brown underpainting in parts I only need to glaze over with colour.

Day Three (and beyond!)


She’s done. By the end I admit I was pretty keen to finish and move on. While it was fascinating it also felt very restricting. A bit like painting by numbers.

However I did get a huge amount of practice in mixing colours and of course I learnt a great deal. Final learnings:

  • It’s not possible to add dark on top of light (if paint still wet) – I thought I could do that for the feather, but the paintbrush just picks up the white and the intensity of the dark colour is lost.
  • The feather was difficult, I don’t know what kind of brush was used for the finer points, it may just be technique…
  • When it came to filling in the background I started by changing the tone as I went, then realised it’s better to paint dark everywhere and blend in the lighter colours afterwards – in the end I just worked in with pure white – it was easy to blend to different degrees.
  • While at first I was trying to mix colours for the background (there are areas that go a colder tone) I then realised I could simply work blue in to the existing paint.
  • It’s tough to go back in to areas to change once dry – I was working on this once a week – especially if rushing! So there are adjustments to neck where the colour isn’t right. Also tricky to go paint the background in around the hair – but I used a very thin wash to blur – which is what seems to have happened on the original – the hair is quite blurred at the edges.
  • Velasquez has such soft blending, I got nowhere close.
  • Finally, the mistakes with the shape of the face (and eyes too far set) irritate me and it’s a reminder to step back and check before rushing in.

The original:


Velasquez, D. (1622). Sainte Rufine. [Oil on canvas] Seville: Fondation Focus-Abengoa.