On our recent trip to the big smoke (not so smoky these days, fortunately), Andy and I stopped off at the Courtauld Gallery . It houses a very good collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art, and if that floats your boat it’s well worth a visit if you’re in London.

We’d lugged our sketching kits around all day, and decided to make good use of them to draw one of Degas’ bronzes – there was a handy bench in just the right place, which made her all the more appealing.

It was so interesting to take a very close and considered look at the statuette in the course of making the sketch. I hadn’t realised quite how solid the dancers he modelled were; this one was not a nymph, she was a real woman, curvaceous and graceful.

Degas dancer tombow

I don’t mind most of the imperfections in this sketch, and I think the scratchiness is quite characterful. However, as you’ll see I made an error on the position of her left arm, which I decided to ‘correct’ with white paint. It sort of worked…I’d have been happier if I’d got it right first time though!


One of a Kind

Recently I’ve been taken by the idea of printing, and most specifically ‘Monotype’ printing, where every print made is unique.

It’s a very spontaneous technique, and the method imparts a deliciously unpredictable but fascinating quality to the prints. As with most of these methods, sometimes it works better than others, and the trick is to get to know what will push the hand of fate in your favour. That’s the journey I’m embarking on.

Androgynous Monotype

There are two ways of monotype printing: one where you paint your image directly on  glass and print from it; and the one I used here, where the method is to ink up a glass plate (the smooth reverse of a glass chopping board) with printing ink and a roller. Water-based ink  is very convenient as it takes hardly any cleaning up afterwards. However, in the longer term I expect I’ll need to explore other options, especially if I want to add other media onto the base prints. But I digress.

Once the plate has been inked, carefully lay a sheet of plain paper (copier paper seems to work pretty well) over the inked area. Don’t press down anywhere! Next, draw an image on that paper with a pencil or ballpoint pen, making sure that your hand doesn’t ever touch the paper. Unless you’ve a super-steady hand, this will almost certainly give you some unusual lines, and maybe a bit of wonkiness, but that’s all part of the fun and the uniqueness of this method. You can’t rub out once you’ve made a mark, so either take it very carefully, or throw caution to the winds – your choice! If you want to shade areas, your finger will do a great job, just press on the paper in the darker areas, or shade with the pencil – both will give a different effect. A rather simple drawing with a minimum of shading tends to work very well, I’ve found.

When you think you’ve finished your image, it’s time for the big reveal. Peel off the paper, and TA-DA! Your monotype print in all its gritty, grainy glory.

Girl 1 Monotype

You can see that in the second image, I had too much ink on the glass, but I think I got it just about right with the first girl. Also, my roller is a bit eccentric, so the ink wasn’t as evenly rolled as I’d hoped, but I honestly think it all adds to the charm.

I finished off the session with a snoozing cat, because I like cats.

Cat cushion Monotype

I’m addicted now.

Decalcomania, at last

I’ve been wanting to get down to trying the Decalcomania technique as seen on Dave Whatt’s blog for some time (well, at least a year). Yesterday was finally the day! For the original (and funny) instructions, see Dave’s post.

I dolloped my cheap black acrylic paint straight from the tube onto the smooth reverse side of a glass chopping board. A sheet of thin acrylic served as my initial ink squasher – this was gently smoothed over the paint and pulled off to leave textured paint on both surfaces. Then I laid a sheet of copier paper onto the paint, gently smoothed again, and peeled off. I was able to repeat this about six times, occasionally adding a little more paint here or there to change the look. I did a sneaky print from the acrylic too – waste not, want not.

The prints were of variable interest- here’s two which I rather liked for their interesting paint textures. One just begged to be converted into something a little less abstract, and with a small amount of fineliner a silverback emerged. I know I couldn’t have painted him this satisfyingly!

This was a lot of quick fun, and I suspect that as I start to explore printing there will be more of these… thanks, Dave, for the inspiration!

Portrait or Bust

Sir Henry Cole, educator and promoter of the role of the arts within industry, is on display in the National Portrait Gallery in London. He’s not particularly good looking, but he did offer a good sketching opportunity, which is not to be sniffed at.

Sir Henry was situated in the midst of a group of young people who had been brought to the Gallery to observe and copy some of the world’s greatest portraits. It looked to me like they were doing a grand job, and I mentally took my hat off to the teachers who had instigated and encouraged this.

As they departed, I took my place, examining the dramatically lit bust before setting pen to paper. However, it dawned on me a quarter of the way into sketching that the ruff around his neck was his beard! I reflected on that terrible thing, fashion, and even he looks rather alarmed at the thought.

Portrait Gallery Ink

Having sketched Sir Henry and his improbable beard, I reconvened with my sketching friend Andy and we both took in the portraits on display.

Some of the newer portraits on show caught our attention. I can’t say I liked the portrait of Princess Kate, and the real thing looked even more glossy and airbrushed than this image suggests:

Image result for princess kate portrait

I wonder what her true opinion of the portrait was?

In contrast, I thought the portrait of Ed Sheeran had something very appealing and human about it, whatever you think of the sitter’s muscial talents…  🙂

Image result for portrait ed sheeran

Our overall favourite was Boldini’s portrait of the rather vampish Lady Colin Campbell, who looks like she might be up for a party at the drop of a hat. The unbeatable sophistication of yards of black silk and a few roses, eh?

Gertrude Elizabeth (née Blood), Lady Colin Campbell, by Giovanni Boldini, 1894 - NPG 1630 - © National Portrait Gallery, London


Everything’s Beachy

We are going through a process of changing some of the pictures we have hanging around our home. It’s pleasing to have some kind of a link between those in one area – maybe by colour, theme, or medium. And so I find myself with a little piece of wall space just asking for a sea/blue themed picture. Queue a trawl through our photo albums to find inspiration. I was attracted by a picture of this groyne in Hunstanton, a beach we have visited many times over the decades, and which holds good memories of clear, cold spring days.

Hunstanton groyne acrylic

I referred my source photo, making sure that I had a satisfyingly cropped composition with horizontal thirds. Helpful memories reminded me of how the sea and sand look here, as the tide makes its long retreat. Acrylics seemed the most fitting choice, especially as I wanted a bigger painting (A4+) and often struggle to achieve this size successfully in watercolour. I enjoyed building up the layers of paint with a flat brush, starting with the sky, moving on to sand. I do love a flat brush. Last to be added were the wooden posts and a smattering of pebbles (which were certainly more taxing than I’d expected).

Looking at this painting now, I’m not sure whether it’s finished. I guess time will tell.

Birthday Inklings

Two of our friends (married to each other) have birthdays on consecutive days. The perfect excuse to make a pair of cards which might look nice together on the mantelpiece.

It’s been quite a while since I used ink and a brush, and I fancied having a little play. I sketched the outlines, each image no larger than about 6cms. Next I added water inside the lines with a clean brush, and using a different small round brush stroked in blue/black Calligrapher’s Ink (W&N) and watched the magic happen. Because the images were small, it took very little ink to get the right kinds of bleeds and spreads. This technique is so  satisfying when it works.

Swan ink

Black cat ink

Fingers crossed they like them!

Airport Reportage

Luton Airport isn’t the most inspiring place, generally speaking. But it is a good place for people-watching, even if you can’t guarantee they will stay still for long.

Waiting for our flights to France, I was able to pass a few quick minutes sketching fellow passengers – good practice for fast sketching. I have realised that it pays dividends to have a really good look at the person, then try to imagine what their face would look like from other angles, before setting pencil to paper. This gives a bit of an advantage when they move (which they surely will).

I probably spent about 10 minutes each on these small sketches, and am fairly happy with what I learned. Working fast is de rigueur, and pencil is ideal. I definitely need to do more of this (although I wouldn’t go so far as to make the airport my destination)!