No squidding

As a birthday treat for me, my husband and I had a day out in Norwich. We were originally intending to visit the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, which has some really interesting collections and is very conducive to sketching, but as it happened the Queen was visiting that day, so it was closed to us. Boo.

So plan B was to visit Norwich Castle Museum, look at the extensive collection of Cotman watercolours and Norwich School artists in their galleries, and then do a bit of sketching. It was a good plan. We were both captivated by the exquisite glass sea-creatures on display in one of the cabinets; anemones, octopus, sea slugs, jellyfish, all translucent and incredibly delicate. My sketch doesn’t do this octopus justice, and I took some significant liberties with colour too, trying to make the most of the Inktense pencils (still learning).


If only this had been a squid, then I could have made lots of puns about ink, and how many squid it cost to enter the museum, and so on. Only it’s an octopus, and I can’t think of any good art-related puns today for that. But feel free to post yours below…

Onwards, with a Smile

I’ve been trying to summon up the courage to get on with this portrait of the lovely Amy for some time. Then, having got stuck in, it’s suffered a few setbacks on the way, which hasn’t made the process entirely plain sailing, but then, whenever is this an entirely straighforward experience? And where would the fun be if it was?

Initially I chose quite a deep, Air Force blue for the underpainting. This gave me a lot of trouble with my initial drawing as I couldn’t see my pencil marks properly. I tried overdrawing in watercolour pencils, and once I could see what I’d drawn (and redrawn, several times) decided that it wasn’t good enough anyway. Lesson learned. In the end I abandoned ship and started afresh on a new canvas, drawing straight onto the white, which felt much better. The hardest part to capture was the mouth, trying to suggest the start of laughter which I knew was there. I spent a long time on that. Redrawing the lines meant that there wasn’t enough time to complete the portrait in one sitting (which I would normally prefer to do). So this picture was completed over about three days, in shorter bursts.

However, the advantage of returning to the painting over several sessions is that I’ve been able to step back in between stages and consider my next move, making adjustments as necessary. I think that’s been helpful, although I wonder if I’ve sacrificed a little spontaneity in the search for accuracy. Maybe it’s a case of swings and roundabouts.


Normally I hesitate to edit what I see, but in this portrait I did omit a necklace which I felt was going to detract from the face. Doing this required a confidence I didn’t feel, first imagining and then trying to convincingly paint the area which would have been covered by the jewellery – a good lesson, no doubt.

Since I’m currently painting portraits from photos I’ve taken, I’m really discovering how important the source image is. This one didn’t offer as much tonal contrast on Amy’s face as I’d have liked; a bit more lighting drama would have been good, so that’s something to bear in mind in future attempts. Also, painting people I actually know is a very interesting situation: on the one hand you can choose to bring to bear your experience of your interactions with them, and your knowledge of their personality, but then the ultimate aim of trying to capture the essence of the person, not just how they appear in a single image, can be terribly hard to achieve. It’s a very trying business!

The ideal behind painting these portraits from photographs is that I’ll eventually be sufficiently familiar with general facial features and perceiving individual characteristics to be able to sketch and paint faces more accurately and quickly from life. I do get the impression that this is going to be a loooong project – I’ll just have to approach it with a smile!


Oh, I’m a bad blogger…I’ve been doing some sketches, just haven’t been posting recently. Hey ho, that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Anyway couple of weeks ago my husband and I visited our staple in times of waiting for the car to be serviced; King’s Lynn Museum. It boasts a small but eclectic collection of interesting artefacts. This time I chose two rather contrasting subjects, each with their own set of challenges for my tiny 3x3in ‘funsize’ sketchbook.

First up, a diving helmet. Why not? I liked the spheres and ovals, and thought this would be a good challenge to do straight into pen. Oh yes, definitely a challenge. And the paper wasn’t very happy about the amount of Tombow shading I wanted to lay onto the sketch. But I enjoyed the process of wrestling with this one.


Having time for just one more little sketchette, I finally opted for this traditional shiny black telephone, which reminded me of my grandma’s phone when I was very little. Blimey, it was harder than it looked, full of subtle curves and concentric layered circles. Gulp. The shiny surface gave me some problems, as I was trying to shade with cross-hatching, which really didn’t work very well, so I ended up with a mish-mash of shading. Don’t look too carefully.


But all in all it was a good sketching session, and very nice to have a pen in hand for a small drawing or two after all the acrylic painting recently.


Try again

Well, I’m still brewing a portrait of my friend Amy, but I wasn’t sure about the pose from my last sketch (amongst other things) which made her seem rather haughty (which she certainly is not). Fortunately, I do have another photo taken at the same time, from another angle. So today’s exercise was to have a look at the general shapes, dimensions and shades in that particular reference, and see how that might work.


Using a refillable brush-pen for this kind of sketching gives a very immediate, satisfying sketch. It’s prone to giving a deeper mark where you don’t want one though, and over the last few face sketches I’ve done I’ve counteracted this by using a white gel marker to add back some light. The effect is interesting, and I quite like it.

I think I prefer this view as a potential portrait,  to my mind it definitely conveys more of the sitter’s true personality and vivacity; maybe let the idea stew a little more…it doesn’t do to rush these things (or so I tell myself). A painting will come eventually!


New Year, New Gear

A belated Happy 2017 to all! May good ideas and happy moments come swift and fast this year.

I was lucky to be given some Inktense pencils for Christmas, and gave them a dry run on a little sketch of our fab yoga instructor, Amy. I’ll use this as a preliminary study for an acrylic painting sometime. Now, I didn’t spend enough time or focus on the actual drawing before getting stuck into the colours, being just too excited to wait. But forgive me – we all know what it’s like wanting to play with a new toy.


It was a fun session, and for all its faults, thanks to this sketch I now know that:

  • Making ‘realistic’ flesh colours from the selection I have isn’t entirely straightforward, but then, necessity is the mother of colour mixing.
  • The colours really are quite intense when the water hits them. That’s why I’ve used Indian ink over the background, to balance out and damp down the colour a little and allow the portrait to take centre stage. The curtains were overwhelming at first!
  • Getting real darks in just using the pencils is going to be a challenge – a lot more dark pigment needs to be laid on the paper than I was expecting.
  • You can’t easily add more pencil over wet pencil, without waiting for the paper to dry – the pigment just won’t either stick, or run properly.
  • A watercolour paper would be worth a try (this sketch was on 160gsm cartridge).

I really like these Inktense pencils; my job now is to understand their behaviour so I can get the best from them. Definitely more experimentation required!

(PS: for anyone who’s interested, Viv likes her portrait and is going to buy it! I’m totally chuffed.)

Viv Again

This painting has been brewing in my mind for quite some weeks, but finding time to actually get it onto canvas has been the sticking point. However, yesterday I finally knuckled down to it. Viv is one of the lovely ladies I do yoga with, and she’d kindly volunteered to have her photo taken so that I could practice portrait painting with ‘real’ people.

I’d done the under-drawing a few days before, and was quite pleased with it. So much so that it took quite a lot of courage to pick up the paintbrush and get started in paint, for fear of wrecking the whole thing. I had to remind myself that learning was the whole point of the exercise, and that sometimes mistakes just have to happen.


Which was just as well, because I then realised that I’d neglected to underpaint before making my drawing. Well, I wasn’t about to redraw the whole thing, so I decided to work with it as it was, and that did cause me some trouble. Underpainting would have made life quite a bit easier. I’ll try and remember that for next time!

A second note to self is that portraits seem to be harder (for me) when they are smaller – this one is 12×10 ins, which means small brushes. On reflection, I don’t think I like that very much – there’s so much pleasure to be able to make a big, sweeping stroke rather than a fiddly little tweak. So, next time I will go bigger.

Anyway. I began with the background, figuring that might give a better time with the hair. Next in line was the skin; it was evident that I’d learned a lot about skin tones in the previous portrait of Gill so the process wasn’t quite as scary as it could have been, although finding the right shades and colours is always a big challenge. Eyes and hair next – I do enjoy putting the eyes in, it seems to be when the picture takes on a life of its own. The hair was surprisingly tricky – how to make that elusive grey-blonde?


And then finally, the t-shirt. Oh dear. In real life this garment was black with a yellow collar and white geometric line design. The latter was never going to happen! I bottled out completely. But my excuse is that it allows the viewer to focus more on the face. Sneaky, eh?

There are two things I will change on this before I show it to Viv: the line between her face and the background on the right hand side needs tidying up, and the right shoulder needs to be narrower. Hopefully these will be fairly straightforward fixes. In summary, I’m pretty pleased with this one – I think it does bear a resemblance to Viv, and I hope she will think so too.

Autumn Undressed

It’s been slim pickings for art time lately; I’ve been busy, my head hasn’t been ‘in the right place,’ and I’ve lacked the motivation to just get on with it in the little slivers of time which are available. Yes, feeble excuses. These spates come and go, so I’m trying not to feel too disconcerted. It will pass.

I did at least manage a little funsize sketch while waiting to pick up my son from his volunteering session at the local Cat’s Protection League (love that name – makes me think of superheroes). The colours were glorious, a shower of copper on the ground, with a few remnants hanging in the bushes; autumn undressed.


3×3 inch, fineliner and Tombows