Sunday, January 26, 2014

Drawing Workshop Summary

Picture the Natural World. 

It was rather disappointing that there were only three people booked for my drawing workshop on Saturday. Both myself and the organisers had hoped for more; we wondered whether being just after Christmas, and the January sales, that it was a case of most people pulling in the purse strings this month and not splashing out on 'non-essentials'. One of the organisers mentioned that doing such events was a new venture for them and maybe they should think more on their marketing of such events. Whatever the reason, the positive to come out of it was that having a small group means I can get round the students more often and if necessary spend more time individually. And I was very grateful to those that did book. They were a lovely little group and it was a real pleasure to meet them.

Bonnie, the Curator of Natural Sciences at Bristol Museum, was one of my contacts/organisers. It was through her that I was able to borrow 6 taxidermy specimens for the workshop. She was to be my assistant for the day, but as the numbers were low and manageable by just me, she joined the three students to take part in the workshop, making the group up to four.

There was a mix of abilities... someone who was just starting to draw, someone who had done A level art but not much since and was looking to be inspired back to drawing more and someone who drew fairly regularly looking to improve.

It was a short day, with so much to cover... starting at 11am and finishing at 4pm, so we cut the lunch break to 30 mins giving as much time as possible to the session. I was showing them four of the things I use when drawing, ways in which to get my drawings started quickly and enable me to get proportions and postioning in before I do any detailing. There are of course many things/ways/techniques I use but from experience I have found these four are some of the most useful to beginners or improvers.

The first part of the day we looked at basic building up of an animal shape and using 2D reference, including the pitfalls of such references. 

Then the second part of the day we looked at using 3D reference and sketching from life with exercises to increase speed, confidence and observation.

Some of those exercises were challenging, yet each of the students applied themselves to the task and could hold their heads high at what they achieved. At the end, to show I wasn't a complete Task Master, there was half an hour of free drawing.

The response from the students seems to have been good, saying that they found it enjoyable and challenging, yet positively so. I hope that they each went away with a little more confidence, inspiration and a few ideas to practice to improve their skills at home. At least one of the students asked Bonnie if they would be doing anymore such workshops with me; so I hope that in future I can do more there perhaps.

The room we were using at the mShed was a good size with lots of light, especially from the floor to ceiling window that looked out over the harbour area of Bristol. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Drawing Workshop

There's a few spaces left so, it's not too late to book a place on my drawing workshop at the MShed tomorrow. You can turn up and pay tomorrow, but to guarantee a place, it would be best to book.

Please contact the Mshed for more information and to book.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Artists and Illustrators magazine Feb 2014 issue

Back before Christmas, I was approached by the editor of the A&I magazine, after he saw two images I had posted on my blog 'In The Footsteps of Elephants'. He asked me to write a short article on how and why I chose to paint the two images at the same time. 

The article is now published in the February 2014 issue (which is out in January). Due to some editing for the article to fit the space, an alteration was made in the last paragraph that wasn't run by me for approval and as a result it reads...  '... and provided the chance for a colour to dry on one painting as I worked on the other.' This would actually be wrong in the context of the painting process I was describing in the article as I was working wet into wet over a very short space of time and as such there would be no time for the oil paints to dry.

The following is the wording I sent to the magazine for this article.

Double Trouble. Why would I want to paint these two images at the same time?

I don’t normally work loosely, but this past year I have been occasionally challenging myself to do just that. To stop myself from my love of ‘fiddling’, I work with a time limit (around 4-5 hours) to start and finish a painting. These two studies of an elephant calf, were one such challenge.

I wanted two paintings which could be displayed as a pair, looking ‘the same, but different’. So it seemed natural to paint them together, to keep a sense of continuity happening between them. If I painted them on different days I may lose that, so I did them both on the same day.

I ‘sketched’ in the two calf poses using burnt sienna diluted with Liquin to make it flow easily from a rigger brush (size 0), no preparatory drawing, just straight in with the paint. This gives me a sense of creating ‘freshness and spontaneity’ and it’s worth getting the proportions right at this stage, as trying to correct the form latter in the painting can kill that spontaneity feel.

I had mixed more than enough of each colour on my palette to do both paintings; using the same colours on both helped create a natural connection, along, obviously, with the composition, lighting and setting. Conscious of my self-imposed time limit and desire to avoid detail, I worked fast, wet into wet and having the two canvases side by side on the easel made it easier to keep an eye on how the two ‘sat’ together as they progressed.

Using a round size 5 watercolour brush, along with the rigger, I painted similar elements at a time, such as the grasses, working on one canvas before doing something similar on the other. The time spent doing this varied between a few minutes for blocks of foliage/grasses etc to around an hour for each calf. Switching back and forth like this kept the colour and brush use almost identical, creating that ‘same moment in time’ feel not just in the time and location of the subject, but also on a subconscious level in the actual application of paint.

These two studies are to be part of my fundraising solo exhibition for the work of a small grassroots conservation research charity studying young bull elephants in Botswana – Elephants For Africa. The exhibition will be in 2015 at Nature in Art, Gloucestershire. For updates and information on this event please visit… or

Drawing Workshop 25th January

'Picture The Natural World'

As part of the programme of events held whilst the exhibition of The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is held at the MShed, they are holding a drawing workshop, with me as the tutor.

This workshop 'Picture the Natural World', will be showing you how to draw animals and is aimed at both beginners and improvers. Using several taxidermy specimens, we shall practise techniques I will show on how best to achieve a good basic drawing.

Click here to go to the MShed website for details on the workshop and booking.

MShed and Museum visits.

Yesterday afternoon I visited the MShed for the first time. Shameful, but true. I was there to meet the lady who was my contact for a workshop I shall be doing there at the end of the month. This will be a drawing workshop and is part of their Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition event; I shall write a separate post letting you know about that.

The L and MSheds are the old goods transit sheds built after the second world war (in which the previous buildings had been destroyed) in part of the Bristol Dock area. No longer an area for loading and unloading goods from ships, the sheds have been converted for modern use. The Bristol Industrial Museum opened its doors in M Shed in 1977 and the arrival of the National Lottery in the 1990s offered an opportunity for the Industrial Museum to be revamped and for the city of Bristol to gain a brand new facility telling in one place the complex and fascinating history of one of the country's most important cities, both in the past and currently. the Industrial Museum closed in 2006 and the new museum M Shed opened in June 2011. It's a Museum that is about the people of Bristol, both past and present, with items from the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery displayed to bring their stories to life along with computer screen for interactive contributions from the public. 

I had a quick look round prior to my meeting and spent some time listening to recorded readings of peoples diaries or letters referring to the Blitz on Bristol and also enjoyed seeing some of the old transport vehicles and many other artifacts like paintings, photographs, clothing, etc

My meeting was primarily for me to see the room that the workshop will be in and to meet Frances, who is organising the event. I was impressed with the size and light within the room, there is a lovely view over the docks so maybe I could even persuade some to try and sketch the gulls as they bob about on the water outside. We had a chat about basics like room layout and numbers of tables and chairs etc before I then had another longer look around the museum before I needed to head off across the docks and up the hill to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Here I was to meet Bonnie, who looks after the specimen collection. I was being allowed to borrow some taxidermy specimens for the workshop and was here to pick the ones I'd like to use. Bonnie showed me, in a very quick visit, their scientific collection, which was fascinating. I can see why she loves her job. As I walked around whilst Bonnie pointed out interesting specimens and talked of their history and importance to scientists, and how they prepare specimens for use or display after being stored.. I couldn't help but wish to be allowed a day in there to have a good look at the collection... looking at drawers of beetles, butterflies, skeletons and stuffed animals. In many was quite gruesome as it was in fact a room full of dead things, but incredibly fascinating and intriguing. Seeing the massive skull of one enormous hippo, the old Victorian skeleton of an Asian elephant, a mammoth tooth, a polar bear skeleton etc As an artist the insight into the structure of these animals was fascinating.

From there we went to the educational collection which is where I would get to pick my choices of specimens. I was looking for animals with different features on the bodies.. legs, ears, tails, torso, head etc, but also trying to get bigger specimens so that they could be seen easily in the workshop from across the room. I picked 3 birds and 3 mammals, everything else would be too small from the choices I had. I left very excited about the workshop and setting folks the challenges of drawing these items.


Happy New Year!

I know, I apologise, it's a bit late. I have not done well these last few months with posts to this blog... things got a little busy with the family and I just didn't have time to put aside for things like blogs, sadly

I hope that the New Year has started well for you and will prove to be a healthy and happy year for us all.

May all your endeavours and adventures be successful and that there's a good smattering of fun thrown in for good measure, as well.

My very best wishes for 2014.