Showing up and very sloooow Quickposes!

Yes, sometimes that’s what it’s all about. This week, in spite of the rapidly approaching Christmas break, I have been diligently showing up, at the easel, the sketch pad, even the sofa in my front room!

These pieces, left to right, represent my work for the week, Monday thru Saturday… I missed a day, somewhere in there?! Hm, it wasn’t Monday and it definitely wasn’t today….no matter, 5 out of 6 isn’t too shabby at this time of year, for me!

The first piece was my Monday effort…live sketches of my sleeping cat. This cat, is never still! Her ears move, constantly, the whole time she sleeps, and she stretches and shifts about, she is the most suspicious cat I have ever owned and when I moved a little too much, she suddenly leaped off the back of the sofa, straight out of her peaceful slumber and disappeared upstairs! Ah well!

I don’t know about you, but, Christmas shopping really wears me down – it overloads my artists brain (you know, when you go in a store, looking for that special something or another and your head spins round in circles and you notice everything?) and makes me discombobulated. Anyway, whatever this kind of thing does to me, I have noticed that it usually takes away a good chunk of my ability to concentrate whilst doing art. So, Tuesday I came up with a solution that seems to be working, for now.

From time to time I recommend a website called “Line of Action” in this blog. Well, this time I am not, because it does not facilitate this particular behaviour that I am about to tell you about! Instead I went on the gesture website called Quickposes ( and, instead of doing what you are ‘supposed’ to do on there ( start the thing running and do a whole string of gesture drawings, using the references they provide) I chose the section labeled ‘random’ which allows you to have each picture up for as long as you like. When I am in this head spinning, discombobulated, state of mind, this is the thing that works for me….one image of my own choosing and for as long as I like…I just don’t need that racing against the clock, quick, quick, get a few powerful lines down and move on kind of thing, right now…I need to savour what I’m doing and not feel pressure of a clock ticking, mould the figure with my chalk and charcoal, feel the flow of the lines, that kind of thing.

Do you find this time of year is a big distraction from your art? What do You do to keep showing up? How’s it going for you, this year? Do you continue to show up, no matter what, or do you down tools and wait for January?Or how about this solution, do you tie the two things together and use the need to make gifts for your friends and family as an excuse to do as much art as possible in the run up to the holidays?! Hang in there, folks, we’re almost there! 😉





Anglo-American Greetings

Just playing a little here ~ Looking for new ideas for greetings cards! The beauty of art is that we can invent stuff that just doesn’t happen in real life – Like a Cardinal from North America on the same branch as a plump little English Robin! It appeals to my sense of humour, as an English girl living in the US! I wonder what they would think of each other if they ever met? America does have Robins, but they are nothing like these little guys (UK readers, imagine something the size of a Blackbird, but with red and brown on it!)  and also not nearly as friendly!

This was also a chance to take a break from my Christmas shopping and have a little play with those Nupastels, some more. Hope you are all managing to fit some art time in amongst the seasonal craziness? I am more likely to DO Art than blog about it, because when I am this busy, something has to give!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Joyeaux Noel, or whatever you choose to call it in your part of the world! 🙂 I hope it’s a good one! 🙂 (What art supplies do you think Santa will bring you?……….)

Nupastel Exploits

This one is quite a lengthy post, so, if you just want to look at the pictures and enjoy them….feel free!

The temperature has plummeted here in Pennsylvania and I have now hastily wrapped up my frantic repairing of my garden and lawn (post patio construction) and returned to my cosy little art studio. I am finding that I now have some fresh energy for art….plainly, downing my art tools for about 12 days and picking up a shovel and various other gardening equipment and doing something totally different and physically exhausting for every spare moment of those days was somehow creatively beneficial for me!

I have put some of that new energy into experimenting with my fairly recently acquired 96 colour (the full range!)box of Prismacolor Nupastels. Really, this started a little before my frantic gardening session, when I picked them up just because I knew I was having a hard time concentrating with a baby bulldozer revving its engine outside my window and the thoughts of potential plant murder and mayhem sending me rushing to this window and that.

My thoughts then were to show up and go through the motions and I chose the Nupastels because, well, the novelty made them potentially more FUN.

So I went on to my favorite copyright free image site Pixabay and picked an appealing shot of Lochinvar, Scotland, and set about creating my own version on an 18″x 12″ piece of Strathmore Grayscale paper – a sort of mid-tone grey. Any of you who use this paper will understand when I say that it has quite a pronounced, regular, dimple pattern as its texture and, after a few sessions on this picture I started to feel like the pigment just wasn’t going down into the dimples and so was creating a very unfocused effect, that might work well in the middle to far distance, but, was no good in the foreground. So, I put it down for a day or two and almost just let it go, and sit on the side and be forgotten, (until the next time I had a fancy for the dusty little sticks…..)But then I suddenly remembered that actually Nupastels are water soluble. Some people dissolve entire sticks and use them as water-colour, some dip the end of the stick in water and draw with the softened pigment and some take a brush after the fact and spread the pigment on the paper. Trusting the robustness of the greyscale paper, I decided to go with the latter technique. There was some buckling as it went on, but, as it dried it flattened again. I have to say, the infill of the dimples, in the foreground made me a good deal happier with this piece and I also discovered that using a damp brush was great for blending the clouds, and some of the water. Aha! No wonder some people ONLY use Nupastels for their pastel work.

Anyway – since then, having discovered some of the secret (not really, it blatantly says on the back of the box that they can be used with a water-filled brush! but how often do YOU clamp the lid on tight and flip over a box containing 96 pastels in two layers?! 🙂 ) Anyway…..I have been trying this new technique out on several other mediums and subjects.

I tried watercolour paper, toned lightly with a dull green and then washed over with a big brush. For the punts on the Cam (Mathematical bridge and punting in the rain, viewed from Silver Street, Cambridge, UK – my own reference photo) I used a combination of various Nupastels and some brushwork, following up, ultimately, with touches of Sennelier LaCarte pastels, because they are so intensely pigmented and I wanted them to save what was a rather strange and somewhat muddy palette. Interesting picture and good learning was had, by me, but I am not sure if starting from white paper was a very good move and the reference was not the best, due to poor lighting….ah well.

Next, I tried some mid-grey Art Spectrum Colourfix paper. This one is a very toothy, but fine paper, almost thin cardboard, really – made in Australia. This time I picked a reference of a young girl (Pixabay, again – one of the best sites I know for random portraiture references that are copyright free) and a very limited palette of black, white and a few shades of grey Nupastels.  I laid down the landmarks and put in the tones and then, to finish up, I wetted a brush and blended the pigment, especially on the skin. There was a touch of black Generals Multi-Pastel pencil in there, for the eyes – it’s hard to be accurate enough for eyes with just a pastel stick, on this size of paper, though some people might just break a stick and use the edge, I don’t really fancy breaking my fairly new pastels into little bits! I really enjoyed this one – definitely on the line where expertise meets challenge and has a very fun party in zone-land – for me 😉 and I do really love how this medium lends itself to a more loose and painterly effect.

Finally the girl with the pink hat – This one is on a piece of green Canson MiTeintes. This surface is rather an old friend of mine and I was really just curious to see how robust it would be with the addition of water to what is essentially considered a Pastel and dry medium paper. I didn’t go crazy with the water and it buckled and then went flat as it dried, so, pretty good result. This was another one that worked well with a loose and painterly approach and a very limited palette and I enjoyed it a good deal for a couple of hours on Thanksgiving day (thanks for this one too, Pixabay; copyright free references are awesome!)

Maybe next week I will go back to my Acrylics – who knows? If you have read THIS far, I must applaud your tenacity and/or level of interest…..maybe you have a comment to make or a question to ask about Nupastels? I don’t know all the answers but I am happy to learn something new or pass on what I do know….either way!  Enjoy the journey!:-)


Dark November Reflection

Haha, really the reference is from January 😉 Tyler State Park, down by the covered bridge. But, the mood is appropriate for this time of year as the leaves finish falling and the naked trees stretch up into the sky. I was intrigued by the fact that they were so clear in the water and so hazy in the world above.

Water colour on Canson Cold Press, with paint from my W & N Field box and my set of 6 Aqua Squeeze pens – simple and a snap to clean up – Today it was a case of showing up and getting absorbed in a smallish painting for an hour of so, with good music playing and a space heater warming. A little ‘Zone’ time does you good!! ~ Pretty soon, here in the US, it will be Thanksgiving and then, the mad dash towards Christmas begins! I KNOW I’m going to have to wrestle with myself to get enough art time – How about you?

In Flanders Fields…..

by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Remembrance Day: Growing up in the UK, my Paternal Grandma, who lived through both world wars, always made sure that everyone in our family was furnished with a paper poppy for this all important day.  November 11th, today, was also her birthday, she was born in 1903.

I think it is important that we modern people, who may not have lived through such times, take the time to pause in our busy lives and reflect on the sacrifice those thousands of young men made, for us, that the world could be peaceful, free and safe.

Let them sleep. Carry the torch. Fight evil. Don’t forget.

I painted this in 2013 as an attempt to portray this powerfully inspiring poem visually and one of these years, I hope to do it again, in a different way….I want to put people in there, somehow. Something about elderly veterans mourning those they fought with, years ago – forever young, juxtaposed with a full and well lived life – those old guys would know something about carrying the torch, I bet.

Happy Birthday, Nana – you taught me well. 🙂

Acrylic on canvas board (In case you wanted to know!)

Alluring Inktober….

For some reason, ever since I told myself I wouldn’t ‘officially’ be doing it. I have found Inktober to be really quite alluring! My ancient pot of Parker ‘Quink’ is almost empty now and has been further diluted, several times!

I think the attraction must be that certain thrill of fear it gives me to boldly slosh ink on a pure white piece of paper – judging proportions by eye and using strong, rather gestural, lines. A mistake is something to be worked around, accommodated or ignored!  So different from the exacting requirements of portraits and skin tones (much as I LOVE them!)….an exciting game, really.  Artists MUST play as well as work – the secret is getting the balance right, I think…and everyone has their own unique balance of work and play. Don’t be unbalanced……

Here are three more inky exploits – the poppies probably should really count as mix-media, however, because the red is Acrylic paint….hmmm, I’m starting to think about poppies, it must be almost November.

“The Girl with The Lantern” was based on a reference photo that I shot a couple of years ago, modeled by my youngest daughter. Your own kids are an invaluable resource if you are a portrait and figurative artist!

The third one I am calling, “A Cup of Tea and a Hob-Nob”. It was posed for me by a very pretty cup and saucer, some imported Yorkshire DeCaf and a yummy chocolate Hob-Nob biscuit, which I have on regular order from Amazon (I ate it when I was done!). Mundane subject matter to someone living in the UK, perhaps, but, to me, here in the US, something a bit more special.

How are those of you who are participating in Inktober feeling about it at this point? Did you play by the rules or bend them to suit yourself? What did you learn? Did you have FUN? Do you think there should be months for other media also? I think there is one for watercolour, but how about Pastels? How about “Acrylic April”? I could definitely go for THAT! 🙂

A Lesson in Impasto….

Lately, I have found myself wanting to explore the technique known as Impasto, using Acrylic paint. Eventually, I want to incorporate it into my portraiture, but, before I do, I have to get the basics figured out….like when to use thick brushwork and when to use a trowel? and how much paint does this technique actually use? (a lot!) What kind of paint works best for me and what I want to do with it? How loose is too loose? and what level of detail should I be giving a piece?

I am not really one to be doing what someone else tells me to do, but, to find some answers I decided to do this rather fun, online, FREE, lesson, by Will Kemp of Will Kemp Art school…it is in 4 short videos, available on You Tube.

I like to set my (slightly paint stained!) laptop, up, next to my easel, on a small table. So I can ‘jump’ my eye, back and forth between the example on the screen and my piece of work. In case you are wondering, I do prop my computer up on an upturned plastic box, so, if I were to spill my water, there is a good chance the sudden demise of my trusty electronic friend would be avoided.

So, off I went, mixing large (for me) quantities of undiluted Golden Heavy Body Acrylics on my personal favourite choice of palette to date ( For any of those of you who are curious, I do not use any kind of fancy art supplier palette, instead I prefer to use a small, tempered glass, bathroom shelf (from Home depot…about $14!) with a piece of canva paper painted in a mid tone,close to that of my prepared canvas,  inserted underneath. This makes it easier for me to be accurate with my mixes and how they will appear when applied to my painting….important especially for an Acrylic painter because we are often already dealing with a quite significant (darkening) colour-shift as our paint dries!)

I like that when I follow a video tutorial, I can stop and start it many times, rewind and replay, pause it for while to catch up….I notice that when I am painting I am not actually listening to what a person is saying because my brain is too focused on what I am doing…… Contrary to popular belief, by those who are not artists and think we just grab a brush and splish, splash, produce something wonderful in ten minutes flat, painting is actually more of a whole brain exercise, especially when a lot of new learning is involved!

The tutorial probably took me a couple of hours and you can see the end result up above – a pleasing little study of some Scottish crofter’s cottages. Thanks Will Kemp! I learned a lot about edges and I did learn a lot about trowling and when to use a brush. I find it hard to do everything Will says I should with a largeish diamond shaped trowel, and have to resort to a smaller one (this painting is only about 8″ x 10″ so compared to what size I normally work at, this feels like keyhole surgery, to me! ) I also find myself picking up a brush a bit more than him, but, I do like the effect that visible brush strokes give to the work – very painterly! Now I will take what I have learned and apply it to a composition of my own and with a palette of my own and let’s see what happens next 🙂

Oh and if any of you are interested – here’s the link to the tutorial I used here…




Girl With a Black Hat

I’m calling this one done! It has been my labor of love, off and on, for much of the last month and now it has reached the stage that they all do where I am fiddling about with this and that and nothing is being gained by it – so – time of being done 11.59…am, October 14th 2017, brushes down, clean the palette, take it down off the easel, go for lunch! Feels good! I probably won’t look at it now for a couple of days and then I will look at it with fresh eyes and start to nit-pick again! Or else, once in a while that just serves to confirm that yes, I am done and there is nothing more to do to it 🙂

This one was actually supposed to be an experiment – my first attempt at a green tonal under painting. The technical term for this is a “verdaccio”. It’s not even on a real canvas, just a piece of canva paper.

Other technical details: The whole thing was painted on a mid-tone of Raw Umber. The palette was one that I am still favoring, that of Anders Zorn (Cad Red Medium, Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black and Titanium White….amazing how many skin tones you can get from various combinations of these colours!) Many thanks to Will Kemp (Will Kemp Art School) for teaching me that limiting your palette will go a long way to simplifying the process of mixing skin tones! I did add in a touch of Raw Umber for the hair. The tonal underpainting was in a nice, green called Terra Verde, straight out of the tube and mixed with Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid.

I have wanted to paint someone in a hat like this ever since I was blown away by a very awesome pastel rendition of a young girl in a hat – so when the opportunity and an appropriate reference photo presented themselves (think – warm, sunny, winter walk and rather reluctant, “teenage model”, in an unusually sunny and compliant mood, also!) –  Well:I got my wish! The only slight niggle with this particular photograph is that the sunlit skin was a bit washed out and I had to invent more colour and gradient for it….but… I think it works!

Hope you like it! 🙂

My Little~”Book of Faces”.

Today I am going to show you guys something a little different from my usual subject matter – Fan Art! Something that I have not thought about for a couple of years, but just popped back into my mind in a conversation I had recently with fellow blogger, Jon Amdall – Thanks Jon!  I have a small, 5″ x 7″ spiral bound sketch book that I originally got with the intention that I was going to draw 100 faces in it.

Back somewhere in my early days of doing faces I came across some advice, somewhere on the internet on how to improve your technical skills in this difficult and exacting subject area. It basically informed me that the best way to do this was just simply to draw lots and lots of faces.

So, I started out with my little sketch book….and….after about 2 pages of random faces, I just started to feel that it was…too boring! How could I really be sure that I was getting a good likeness? Unless I actually knew them, random people just weren’t going to cut it! It was just too hard to notice if the eyebrows were curved; just so, or the tip of the nose; just right, or the set of the mouth; in character.  So, instead, I started searching around on the internet for pictures of celebrities. I picked photos that I felt were true to themselves and had reasonably good lighting and took it from there. This was a MUCH more interesting way to go about it!

I will say that I have no idea who the original photographer is for the references I used – so I cannot thank them or give them credit for their composition. Instead I will have to make do with a general ‘Thank you”, to all who take these kind of pictures as their job and I hope you were all adequately compensated for these often iconic, depictions of these human beings. Let it also be said that I will NOT be selling any of these works or entering them in art competitions or anything like that, either. “Thank You” for each and every one of these practice pieces, photographers – you have really helped me to grow my technical skills and given me enough fun that I have continued to do this for about 2 years, in spite of my habit of putting things down and not calling them ‘finished’ and in my continually being distracted by my desires to take artistic detours into other media and subject matter.

I am at 82 faces in my little book ~ and I seem to have given up on it, rather, or maybe it has something to do with my recent exploits into acrylic portraiture? or life drawing? or colour theory? I just don’t know. Maybe it’s this blog that broke the camels back? (maybe blogging about it will inspire me to get back into it and finish?!) I just don’t know!

ANYWAY – I hereby present faces 64, 65 and 66, from my little book, for your viewing enjoyment. Who is it? Well, if you do not recognize Tom Baker (the 4th Dr – Dr Who) you must be not of my generation, not English and not at all interested in Sci-fi!! Being rather fascinated by the influence of the passage of time on the human face, I chose to draw him aged 20, 40 and 80 years old. (He still walks this earth at the ripe old age of 84, I believe). Perhaps I will post some more favourites from this book another day?

How about YOU? what inspires YOU to keep showing up and practicing YOUR ART?? 🙂