In one of the sculpture galleries at the V&A museum in London is Michaelangelo’s David. He does tend to dominate rather. However, there is also plenty of other stone-hewn flesh to sketch, and this time it was the turn of Crouching Boy, also by Michaelangelo.

One of my favourite ways to represent white marble is to work in white gel pen on a black background. It’s fun and a good mental discipline to have to add in highlights, rather than to leave them blank. Another bonus is that often you don’t need to spend very long to capture a credible likeness, as there never seems to be quite as much shading.

Sometimes I charge right into a drawing without circumspection. Not this time. When drawing just with pen it’s a risky business, as once you’ve committed there is no going back. I was on the last page of my sketchbook and wanted to do it justice, so I took care and time to think about the spacial relationships between the broad back, the head and the knee in particular. This pause for thought definitely helped in constructing the outlines.

Crouching boy white gel pen

The light in the sculpture gallery is rather diffuse, which means that it can be hard to see where the highlights and the darks are. It gave me some problems on the leg, trying to show the less defined muscles yet still leave enough shadow, but overall I’m pretty content with the way this one turned out. I would have been even happier if I’d been the sculptor!



After the heady bling of the Wallace Collection, we headed out to one of our favourites, the Victoria and Albert museum. It’s never failed us yet. Great for sketching, perfect for inspiration, it holds some of the finest examples the world can offer in the arts.

Very quickly on arrival we located a couple of museum stools (essential for sketchers), and found something to draw – a large display of blown glass birds in many colours. Titled ‘Perched’ by Turkish artist, Felekşan Onar, the birds were made with clipped wings, a comment on the plight of Syrian refugees landing in Turkey and unable to fly back home. Powerful and beautiful, poignant and sad, the display rightly attracted a lot of attention.

As a warm-up exercise it was a pretty good choice, but not easy. I’d packed my usual kit of fineliner, brush pen, water brush and Tombow pen, plus a white gel pen, white paper sketchbook and black sketchbook. My ‘luxury items’ this time were Inktense pencils. These came fully into play as I tried to represent the merging colours in the hollow glass birds.

Perched glass birds inktense

Starting with outlines in fineliner, I took a section of the display to draw, aiming to spread the simple shapes across the sketchbook page. It didn’t quite turn out that way as I lost some of my image off the right hand edge. Never mind. I do enjoy the way that the ink comes to life when you add water from a brush pen – the intensity of colour really ramps up. Adding a slight shadow under each bird turned out to be essential to grounding them on the page, which I felt was particularly fitting, as this was the point of the artwork.

Too Sweet for Me

This week being school half term, my sketch buddy Andy and I convened in London for a day of absorbing, and making, art.

Our first port of call was the Wallace Collection, which we’d never before visited. It is home to the Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals, and The Swing by Fragonard. These famous paintings suggested the potential tone of the gallery but, keeping an open mind, we hoped that there would be other, less saccharine, delights in store.

Well, the reality was that there was a vast array of ornate ormolu furniture, busts of various King Louis of France, and a huge collection of 17th and 18th century paintings. The surprise element was a somewhat incongruous display of armour from around the world. Self-Portrait in a Black Cap

We valiantly made our way through the Dutch Masters section, taking what we could from the undeniably skillful paintings, a few of which we found arresting and intriguing, including a Rembrandt self-portrait made in middle age – hard to ignore that compelling gaze.

It was useful to recall that these pictures predated photographic reproduction, and therefore had a role in documenting historical events, and also in displaying a narrative to the viewer, as well as being entertaining or sometimes flattering. Depicting ‘reality’ was undoubtedly important, and the delicacy of touch of the oils, the realism of the fabrics and skin, echoed the desire to truly capture a moment for posterity.

Fragonard, The Swing.jpgThe Swing itself surprised me, as it was smaller (and yet more impressive and detailed) in reality than I’d imagined. It’s definitely a fantasy concoction; the swinger’s feet are improbably tiny, and there’s something rather odd about the anatomy of her leg. Still, it doesn’t stop it being a favourite of jigsaw-makers and chocolatiers over the decades.

Anyway, suffice it to say that Wallace’s tastes were not necessarily ours. As we left, we realised we had somehow missed the jewel in the crown of the collection, the Laughing Cavalier, but that knowledge was not enough to stop us collecting our rucksacks and heading out to our next stop – the beloved V&A.



This little sketch is an oldie, a quick slice of some watercolour portrait practice I was doing in 2015. I think I pinched the picture from a magazine; I was captured by the look of  spontaneous joy on the boy’s face, and the feeling of cold imparted by his ruddy cheeks and bobble hat. Given how much time has passed since I painted this, this chap probably looks quite different today.

I do remember trying to figure out the flesh tones, and trying to calculate just how dark the darks needed to be under the chin, in the mouth, eyes and nostrils – and how to make them. Interestingly, I think it’s the darks which have been the most helpful in pulling this little sketch together.

Child watercolourAlthough it’s far from perfect, there’s something about this I still like, and it makes me smile.

A gift

My lovely, longtime friend Anna makes beautiful up-cycled aprons from vintage and pre-loved fabrics. She wondered if I could make a lino design she could use for her bags and tags, something that would reflect her English background (she now lives in the USA)  and have a feeling of the outdoors and nature about it.

I had a few ideas, we bandied them about a bit, and then I confess I procrastinated quite a while (months, in fact). Eventually, and thankfully, inspiration struck as I was marvelling at the huge acorns the little oak in our garden had produced.

Anna is to be thanked for her huge patience;  hopefully she will find this little lino fits the bill, and that her cottage business continues to go from strength to strength.


Lots to learn

Etching. Hmm. Lovely stuff, but it’s no good having an etching press if conventional zinc plates and acetate plates are too expensive. School’s limited budget threatened to put etching out of reach for our students. However, this term we have decided to trial a roll of acetate (around 1mm thick) which is much cheaper and allegedly still offers a good result. That’s my queue for a little tentative exploration with drypoint etching. I’m a complete novice at drypoint, so it’s been a steep learning curve.

Here is an early experiment, which is far from perfection, but which taught me a whole heap of things, including:

  1. The transparent nature of the etching film means you can easily trace over a previous drawing (my sketch for last year’s Christmas card, in this case).
  2. Obviously the image is reversed when printed, so there’s a caveat to watch out for any lettering.
  3. The scratches I used for drawing were inconsistently deep, which gave a faded feel to some parts of the print. But, this could be useful in some circumstances.
  4. I used a diamond point to make the marks, but couldn’t easily see where the tip was due to the setting. This meant the drawing was really not accurate. Next time I will try a needle instead.
  5. I did not have any scrim/gimp for wiping off the plate once I’d rubbed it into the marks, so I used a scrap of linen. I don’t think it was ideal, and it took a bit much ink off in places. Also, it became clear that cleaning off in a direction perpendicular to the marks seems to help leave more ink where you want it.
  6. It’s good to dampen several sheets of paper at once, but I discovered that you should only blot them as you use them, otherwise they become too dry and don’t pick up the ink well.
  7. Caligo Safewash etching ink bleeds away from the scratched lines if the paper is a bit too wet. (But on the plus side, cleaning up is a doddle!)
  8. Remember to clean the edges of the plate, as well as the surface.
  9. I have no idea whether the pressure on the press was right or not. Perhaps when I’ve ironed out the other bugs this will become clear.
  10. I need a lot more practice, but this really has the potential to produce a nice result.

bird rose hip etching.jpeg

The good news is that I think this technique will work for our students, and offer them another (affordable) printing option to complement both their lino work and drawings. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they produce.

Bronze Babe

I don’t know much about Jacob Epstein – which could be easily remedied, of course. But I do appreciate the way that he handled bronze. This bust, entitled ‘Third Portrait of Oriel Ross’ is on display in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and principally it was the scrunchy hair textures which attracted me. Epstein had sculpted huge hunks of lively, wavy hair, its dynamism in contrast to the smooth skin of the young model. Her pose is confident, focused, and even slightly assertive. I like it very much.

Bronze has a most beautiful quality once the patina has developed – slightly golden-orange, and yet overall dark, showing the play of light on its surface. It never ceases to make me wonder that something so durable can represent flesh so well.

Epstein bronze.jpeg

I wasn’t carrying much in the way of materials, but did have my Inktense pencils, brush waterpen and a fineliner. A decent kit for such a sketch. I wanted to convey the bronze patina, with its glints of golden light; tricky especially as with the Inktense you are trying to predict how they’ll look when you’ve added the water and let them do their thing. Maybe there should have been more darks in there for a realistic result. Since I didn’t sketch this out in pencil before diving in with pen, I failed to achieve quite the correct proportions, but I feel that the more I take this approach the more I’m forced to look carefully before committing to paper, so I’ll persist with winging it.

In retrospect I quite like the reiteration and correction lines, and the intense streaks of colour, which have saved this from being a slavishly realistic representation and offered up something a bit different. Maybe our errors are where the magic really begins?