Friday, 11 April 2014

Arts - food for the soul

I read a great quote the other day which said:
"You don't need to ask if you have a soul. You ARE a soul, you have a body."

And today I got a letter from a friend who is embarking on a drawing course, saying

Now I feel my soul dried. How amazing to read this expressed in such a way.  How interesting it is that no matter what we have studied or what our occupation may be (because this wasn't anything to do with history or sociology), eventually we acknowledge the calling to address our need to feed the soul.   It doesn't mean we've been doing everything wrong, but finding ways to ensure space in our days for some of all things, keeps the soul happy and reconnects us to... our self. 

Above, a page from the Nature Sketchbook Exchange project, my painting in Debbie's sketch book. 

Upcoming courses: Portrait drawing, this weekend
Oil painting workshop, portfolio course. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Teddy Bear's Picnic - tonal drawings, student work, pencil.

I asked my students to bring a teddy bear to class for drawing. It was so charming seeing them arriving, clutching their cuddly toys lovingly.. Great drawings, though pencil is difficult to photograph. This was such a popular subject - though there was nothing frivolous about it. The aim was to consider texture, and to understand that tone comes before texture

Sarah M, student

Ruth T, student

Sara C, student

Sarah B, student

Liz C, student

Upcoming workshops - Portrait Drawing 12th April, Oil Painting Workshop 26th & 27th April. 
Next Portfolio course is in June, email for details.

Draw In - summer drawing weekend 30th & 31st August with demonstrations and workshops by  PJLynch, Colleen Barry, Katherine Tyrrell and Paul Foxton, among others.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Draw In - a learning event to celebrate drawing! Belfast 2014

Home page from the website
I am delighted to bring you details about a drawing and painting event I am organising this summer on Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st August. Full details are here

A weekend of talks, demonstrations and workshops with some amazing artists from around the world,  including Illustrator PJLynch, Colleen Barry, who is described as one of the greatest painters today, Katherine Tyrrell who writes the fantastic artist resource blog 'Making A Mark', and Paul Foxton who is passionate about drawing education.

As well as the weekend, there are two five day workshops, in Figure Drawing with Colleen Barry and oil painting still life with Matt Weigle, who has recently graduated from the Grand Central Academy in New York. I attended a week long workshop last year at GCA, and met Matt on the course. I attended the GCA with the aim of improving my own work and also to invite tutors back to this part of Europe, extending their reach to a wider audience.

It has been an honour to gather these creatives together for this event - they are all interested in teaching and sharing their knowledge with you - students attending will feel empowered and go away with new and exciting skills.

The event is open to everyone, from beginner to more experienced, and all levels are catered for.

Please look at the website, and be inspired.

If you would like any more information about any aspect of the event, please email me on

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Portrait, Child, Charcoal Pencil, A3

I'd not used charcoal pencils before and was asked if I'd have a try. They are more commonly used to define a chalk pastel drawing, rather than for their own merits. So I drew young Aiden, who is Mr Adorable-Delicious, obviously.

I drew larger-than-life, as the charcoal pencils are farily thick, so I'd not be able to get the detail in if I worked too small. I used Strathmore drawing paper, which has a slight tooth to it, and set to work. The first marks were rather scarey, as the charcoal goes on... black. Eek. Softly softly, and lots of rubbing with a finger.

I bought a variety of charcoal pencils but mostly used just two of them (because I didn't like the others - too scratchy). I used Derwent' Light' and Faber Castell Pitt Charcoal, medium. The Derwent gave a good, pencil-type grey and blended on the paper nicely. The others were so black that they almost scored the paper. I used Faber Castell Pitt Charcoal Soft for the pupil in the eyes - i gave a dense rich dark sitting on top of the medium. 

All in all, good to try new things. In the end, I liked the scale and the risk of dealing with blackness. 

Friday, 14 March 2014

It's a matter of Tones.

This week my students have been marvelous. No change there then. I did an oil painting workshop and had lots of props left over, so used them for a water colour exercise for my weekly students. It was an aubergine and a lemon on coloured paper. The thing that is so intersting about these objects placed together is the huge range of tones - from the very bright lemon to the highlights and darks on the aubergine, with the paper in between.

This photo is a bit blurry, but it shows clearly what the brief was. Painting by Carolyn G, student

The task was to draw the objects, twice, on water colour paper, then do a one colour tonal study using Payne's Grey, and then a colour version. 
And how much suffereing was there...? Well, I couldn't possibly say, though on the whole students wimpered fairly quietly. The one colour painting took much more time than the colour one, which was interesting. 
By Thomas R, student (Thomas managed the colour painting in about 20 minutes!) 

The challenge is to get the contrasts right, and most avoided the very dark of the aubergine for as long as possible. But, until the dark is dark enough, the lights won't shine, so eventually, the layers built up and those contrasts really began to work well.
Not the best photo, but two lovely studies, by Ruth T, student

By Jayne McC, student
If we painted in black and white more often, our colour work would benefit hugely. Black and white forces us to observe tonal contrasts in order for our wrk to look 3 dimensional. Understanding tones helps us be less intoxicated with actual colours, allowing us the freedom to see far MORE colour than if we'd ignored the tones. 
Hard at work...

Up and coming - Friday homework club for teenagers. 

Friday, 28 February 2014

Lemons and ellipses and composition.

This week I gave my class a big challenge. Nothing new there then... I arranged a lot of white and off-white bowls on a dark cloth, and popped a couple of lemons inside. But the challenge was not about drawing, but about composition. How to select the most interesting section, and portray only that..? 

the set up
Students began by drawing on cartrige paper, with a time limit of around 30 minutes to get the whole thing drawn in. This caused some anxiety, as the arrangement was large.  I showed no mercy... And didn't allow them to use a rubber either. This meant that lines had to be free-flowing, with the whole arm contributing to the arcs required to draw round the ellipses, altering and ammending as they went along, leaving the 'wrong' lines in place, and carry on regardless. Phew! 
Stage 1, full drawing (student work)
The next stage was to place layout paper over the top of the drawing (layout paper is thin and semi-transparent, so you can see through it even though it is white), and draw small 'boxes' - squares/rectangles - then move it round the image to isolate interesting smaller sections and draw over them. 

Stage 2, on layout paper,  zooming in to select a varitey of cropping options (student work)
This cropping and zooming stage is very interesting. If the original set-up is busy enough, then often there will be potentially half a dozen possible variations of cropping. Zooming in creates a more intimate view point. Zooming out, therefore including more of the objects, is colder and less personal. Once each student decided which image they preferred, then they drew it out afresh on water colour paper (they couldn't directly trace as their initial drawing was not accurate enough - this was because of the time restraints of a two hour class). Below is the painted version of the students chosen composition. it was around 8 inches square. 
Below - this photo shows the first and third stages, before it was completed.

By T. Raju, student

Below the finished painting, which is so interesting, full of tonal values. By T Raju, student - he did attend for a second session, giving more time for completion.

Stage 3 - painting of the chosen favourite composition, water colour, student work

Third stage, by Liz C, Student

It is important to note that the paintings are not finished - the exercise was in composition, and the many stages involved menat that there wasn't time to finish painting, but much was learnt.
This is an interesting use of the background 'box, by allowing all the bowls to break out of the boundary. By Pat F, student 

lots of circles in the kitchen
One of the up sides of using food props of course, is the recycling. Tonight, as a break from college work, I used some of the lemons to make lemon curd (note - it is aways worth making time to make lemon curd), and chopped up another to tart up my drink. 

Up coming - Oil painting weekend workshop, Belfast. For info email

This summer - Julie is organising a Drawing Event called Draw In, which includes two 5 day workshops (in figure drawing and Oil painting still life) and a weekend Symposium of talks, demonstrations and workshops with artists P.J. Lynch, Paul Foxton, and Classical Realist painter  Colleen Barry (from New York). More info soon! The dates are 25th August - 5th September

Friday, 21 February 2014

Cutting your cloth, pencil drawing 5H, H, HB, 2B

I love fabric. Recently I dressed a mannequin in shirt, tie and fetching scarf, held together with a leather belt, and accidentally achieved a St Trinian's look (minus the stockings)... However, the effect was of contrasting textures and lovely folds of cloth.

I set it up for my students to draw, but after an evening class, I sat down to have a little go myself - I always hope to join in during the class, but I rarely get the chance. I got invovled more than I expected and decided to leave the mannequin up so I could go back to it. Little did I realise that this would take several sessions over the next couple of weeks. In fact, it got so that I didn't even really notice the St Trinans girl at the end of the table, until a neighbour raised a questioning eyebrow... 

By this stage (above) I was so invoved in the subtleties of the paler tones that I was tempted not to include the tie, as it would shift the balance of the drawing. But in the end, I decided I had to put it all in... 

Cloth on mannequin, by Julie Douglas, pencil on cartridge paper 

I didn't quite complete the left side, as I'd had enough. This drawing is in an A3 sized spiralbound hard backed book, which contains only B&W work. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

A musing Mark - Lovely buns! Cupcake in Colour Pencil, student work

Usually, I try to LOOK for appropriate subjects for my regular students to draw, but this week, I decided I wanted cupcakes, and a desperate hunt began.

Minor problem* number 1. Where to find them, immediately? Luckily, I have a few friends vying for the role of Oracle, and soon I had several leads.. I cycled off to the bakery nearest the art college, and wow! HUGE, slathered with sauce AND a cherry on the top. Cup cakes don't get much better than this...

and a little heart, for St Valentine..

Minor problem* number 2. They wouldn't fit in my panniers. So, I cycled home and went back in the car...

(*note - problems are only questions which help us find interesting and creative solutions)

This is Mark! (who is always amusing) 
As you can see from the photo above, I cut the paper down (we used bristol board, which is grain-free) so that everyone had the same size restriction as colour pencil is very slow. If we work large in colour pencil, it simply takes longer to do, and the students only had two and a half hours...

student selection

Selection of student work - delicious!
Even though everyone had the same sized paper to work on, it is interesting to see how everyone used the paper differently. Above right, Ciara's meltingly-lovely drawing is large enough to almost completely fill the page, by zooming in - this is effective as it reduces the amount of background area. 
By Nisa V. Student

Selection of student drawings - yummy!

Most of the photos were taken in the evening, so the quality isn't great, but you get the idea! 
An usuaul and challenging subject, as always. Meaning that, as usual, every class was punctuated by SIGHs, huffing, anxiety and a large dose of humour! A muse ing. 

Here are a few of the students, showing how to suffer for their art - they had to LOOK at the cakes, but not touch...! Note that the cakes were raised above the table-level, to give a more interesting view. all drawings were done as a careful line-drawing first, before colour was added. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sketch booking, naturally.

I have been invited to take part in a sketchbook exchange project, initiated by Shevaun Doherty, a botanical artist living in Dublin, and January was the great kick-off...

Fifteen of us thought it sounded like a great idea - we have the same type of sketch book, do a spread or two in a month, and post it on to the next person. Eventually our original book will come back, with contributions from everyone in the group. In fact, the books have an interesting journey in store, as they will be going round Ireland, over to Wales, through England an on to America and back again. (hmm, perhaps we'll have to consider hand-delivering to some of the far-away places..?!)

It all sounds perfectly reasonable. Until the book arrives, in it's blankness, and sits looking accusingly at you with a frown and a raised eyebrow..

I use sketch books all the time, but this is very different. If you'd like to see how everyone has started, here is the link

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Avoiding the Kiss of Death in your creative love affair

I recently had a  discussion with an artist who said that she was no longer excited by her paintings.

This seemingly sudden change in our passion for painting is not uncommon. While her artworks were  very well executed (they were representational in genre),  something had happened along the way which meant that they all looked the same as each other - they had accidentally become formulaic.

Others looking at the work would have been very impressed with it, but it reaches a point where it doesn't matter what others think, especially if everyone LIKES it. Is that surprising? In fact, the only thing that matters is the artists own view on the artwork, and remaining critical in a dispassionate way is important. At the beginning, we may desire to hear words of encouragement from others, which often comes in the form of 'That's fantastic', if we're lucky. As a beginner,  hearing these words is enough to spur us on to further efforts at improvement. But after a while, those words aren't actually the reward we thought we were seeking. And along the way, sometimes we get into a Formula for producing artwork, into a sort of predictable Style, and this is accidentally the Kiss of Death for our creativity.  In other words, producing it has become boring... A Formula is formulaic, obviously.

Becoming stylised (whether on purpose or by accident) means that we are no longer paying full attention to what is before us, our Observation skills are on low-alert and the process feels same-old same-old.

While students (and appreciators) may assume that the attraction to producing artwork is the artwork itself, this is a fundamenatally flawed premise.

The attraction to producing artwork is several-fold, and the nature of the attraction, like all forms of love, evolves with time and experience. Over-familiarity, or taking your eye off the ball, or taking things for granted, is a lack of attention. And a lack of attention is the beginning of neglect. If we neglect to behave as if we were still a beginner, searching and striving and stretching, then our artwork becomes predictable. And there it is. The Deathly Kiss. Shudder. We have a fair idea of what the formulaic-artwork will look like before we begin it, so we lose the element of surprise, we lose the Happy Accident, and we also lose the agony and frustration endured in the production of great artwork.

And those are the very things we need in order to keep producing. We don't Need the absolute answer to the image before we start, we don't need the result to be exactly predictable. We need a hill to climb. We are designed to Grow.

So it needs to become progressively harder.

I know. How annoying... But it's never boring. And it's never predictable. It's the opposite. It's exciting, FULL of possibility and it means our creative capacity to grow is never endingly expanding.

So if you think something was 'easy', BEWARE. That means you aren't paying attention.  And Paying Attention is the most delicious thing we can do. Sit up. And LOOK!!