At the End of Day 3: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop

Day three of of Alan McGowan?s ?Life Drawing into Life Painting? workshop saw us start with three 10-minute charcoal drawings, then onto limited palette painting with oils and an afternoon-long session.

Charcoal life drawing

Charcoal life drawing

Next up was painting with oil, using a limited palette of muted primaries: burnt sienna (“red”), golden ochre (“yellow”), and Payne’s grey (“blue”). Alan emphasized doing the initial drawing (with brush) in neutral colours, so that it didn’t overwhelm subsequent blocked in colour. Part of this painting was getting familiar with working with oils: getting consistency right (not too thick too early and not too thin), mixing even colours (no stray, unmixed bits), planning ahead for working wet on wet. Given my landscape painting involves fluid paint, encouraging paint to run, and I often work with only a single colour at a time (to eliminate the problem of acrylic drying on a palette), I found myself hesitating and second guessing. By the time the model took a break, I was still stuck in “muted colours” and the only light in the painting was the cloth against the chair. But I felt I’d learnt a lot by identifying some things I do habitually in my studio painting that I might do differently (on occasion, if not always).

Limited palette life painting
Halfway point in the pose.

With model Michael back in the pose, it was time to explore the possibilities of these colours, mixed clean rather than muted. At one point Alan demonstrated on the eyes/nose/chin what he meant by laying in the darks first, then cutting in with lights over this; I preserved this bit of painting, other than adding the light blue highlight as suggested, extending the nose a little and adding a bit of Michael’s beard, telling myself it was because there was more than enough else to be done within the time. Final change was to narrow the width of the head by adding background colour.

Limited palette life drawing
Even though, by the end of the pose, there was a long way this still needed to go, it’d come on a long way.

After lunch we started with oils on the long-pose painting, for which we’d done the initial drawing using acrylic yesterday. It doesn’t particularly look like it, but lot of time spent thinking “warm/cool” with the colour mixing. Looking at painting during model’s last break, I realized the angle of the shin didn’t relate to the bent knee; work-in-progress photos reveal how long I’d missed seeing it. Ended with realizing the forehead needed to be bigger, shifting the eyes/nose/chin down, so I put in darks ready for continuing tomorrow afternoon. Overall, a tremendously rewarding and satisfying day.

Long pose life drawing
An afternoon’s work (2.5 hours with model breaks).

Notes to myself:
• Think planes, changes in direction. Use for brushstrokes.
• It’s not a coloured-in drawing; apply deliberate brushstrokes where colour/tone occurs, working across whole composition all the time.
• Judge which surface is flat and which has the change of direction; shadow is on this. It may be the part in front e.g. bent leg against a torso.
• Put down darkest tones before light. Exaggerate/overemphasise somewhat, then carve into this with light. Reads far better than dark over light.
• Using a muted primary palette means you’re already part of the way there with skintones, gives a faster in to painting, rather than having to mute-down primaries.
• Include width of head vs width of torso in cross-checks.
• At end of painting session that will continue, leave it somewhere specific so know what you’ll start with next time.
• All parts of the painting must be contributing, even if not yet resolved.

At the End of Day 1: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop
At the End of Day 2: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop
What I Found Walking Along the Seashore at Gardenstown
Wirework: Memories of a Walk on Gardenstown Beach
Lost Your Marbles?
Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)
Photos: Walking on the Beach at Gardenstown

Lost Your Marbles?

My beach finds this morning included another sea marble and a handful of actual marbles that have been tossed about in the sea. It lead to me walking around today with variations on this headline bouncing around my brain: “If you think you’ve lost your marbles (through life painting}, I’ve found them.”

Lost marbles

Marbles Found in Sea at Gardenstown
One sea marble (bottom left) and nine marbles that have been in the sea.

Photos: Walking on the Beach at Gardenstown

Walking along the beach before art class. Tide out.

Looking back at the village; arrow shows where Creative Retreat's studio is. Staying in house a little further down the slop.
Looking back at the village; arrow shows where Creative Retreat’s studio is. Staying in house a little further down the slope.
Imagine every person with a camera photographs these
Imagine every person with a camera photographs these
Patterns, circles
Patterns, circles
Reaching for the burnt umber and cadmium red...
Reaching for the burnt umber and cadmium red…
Got some great reference photos of walking a dog on a beach
Got some great reference photos of walking a dog on a beach


Complementary colours on a white ground at Gardenstown Scotland
Complementary colours on a white ground
Detail from stream running into sea.
Detail from stream running into sea.

At the End of Day 2: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop

Second day of Alan McGowan?s ?Life Drawing into Life Painting? workshop saw us start with three charcoal drawings, both as warm-ups and to increase the number of drawings we do overall during the week.

Workshop Day 2:  Charcoal
This suffers from “head sits above shoulders” problem — straightening the neck and putting the head too high. You can see Alan’s light charcoal marks where he’s shown where it more likely is.
Workshop Day 2:  Charcoal
A lot unresolved, but I like the mood of this drawing. I do wonder if it’s because it’s dominated by line, rather than tone.

Next up, tonal painting with acrylics. My attempt went from “dubious but with a sense of light” to “decidedly dubious and now also dull” (my words, not the tutor’s!). I put this attempt into the “trying too hard” category, where I get so desperate for things not go wrong further that of course things do.

Workshop Day 2: Tonal Figure Painting with Acrylic-two-acrylic-tonal
So much for introducing light into my tonal study. The left-hand photo is where it was when the model took a break; the right where it ended up.

Then onto a colour acrylic painting. Colour…I can do colour, can’t I…?! Yes, but can I do composition, proportions, tone, considered mark making, warm and cool, colour and a living, breathing model…?

Workshop Day 2: Figure Painting with Acrylic
Oodles?wrong unresolved in this, and model’s beard definitely too blue, but a few aspects I like.

And finally the initial drawing in acrylics for an oil painting to be done over the next three afternoons. Idea is that if you end up in a murky oil-paint mess, you can scrape back to this acrylic start. The more I look at this photo, the more I see how his legs/arms need adjusting.
Workshop Day 2: Initial Start

Notes to myself:

  • Remember head and neck sit within the bowl of the shoulders, it’s not a lollipop stuck on top. Check position and check again! Think of dotted line joining the two shoulders, and what facial feature this goes through. For instance, bottom of chin or nose, or the mouth. Check relationship to spine and vertical relationships (with pelvis/feet) to check position.
  • Follow the progression: composition, gesture (armature), add the destinations (head, feet, elbows/hands) in probable positions, find the road between the destinations (focus on mass not outline), cross-check the map (check relations between body parts), adjust and repeat, and only when this is sound start looking at tone.
  • Add eyes, nose, and planes around eyes early on for a sense of scale overall.
  • Be deliberate, decisive, find and loose edges with considered looking.
  • Four considerations not two, especially with orange light on model from heater: warm highlights, warm shadows, cool highlights, cool shadows.
  • Most of the painting will be midtone.
  • Eliminate the unwanted light of the paper fairly early one, all the way to the edges; it distracts the eye.
  • Traditionally a dark background would be done with glazed layers not thick paint, which is reserved for light tones.
  • Turner’s known for his landscapes, not his figures.

? At the End of Day 1: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop
? What I Found Walking Along the Seashore at Gardenstown
? Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)

At the End of Day 1: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop

First day of Alan McGowan‘s “Life Drawing into Life Painting” workshop saw us working with tone only. Started with charcoal, gesture line and block drawings, then longer charcoal drawing.

Charcoal life drawings
Some proportions are awry, and needs an area of detail for focal point, but bits I like. Time was 30 minutes, I think.

Next up: graphite stick, white oil paint and solvent on acrylic painted coloured ground. Graphite with white mixes to cool grey. Wiping off paint reveals warmish ground. Get highlights with white or by wiping off; darks from graphite.

Start with graphite drawing, then go over with big brush with solvent, remembering that lots of graphite will turn very dark. Then smaller brush with white paint (50:50 titanium:zinc to give something with properties like lead white ie opaque where thick, transparent where thin) and cloth for lifing off. First time I’ve done this, and really enjoyed it.

Graphite and oil paint
Loved this technique. Solvent over the graphite is like watercolour pencil, but it “dissolves” more readily and the oil paint means it stays workable, which makes the lifting off of colour an ongoing option. Time was about 45 minutes.

Next up: Reductive painting technique, working from dark to light. On cartridge paper primed with 50:50 PVA:water to give a less absorbent, more slippery surface, cover with dilute Van Dyck brown hue mixed with solvent and linseed oil to give an even, dark layer (not a thin, transparent, glazed layer). Use cloth to wipe off paint, lighter tones. Solvent on cloth will take you back to white of paper.

This is a bad photo, taken under strip lights which make contrast much greater and glare on wet paint. It’s a technique that can produce fabulously subtle, gentle tones.

Reductive life painting
Can’t remember how long we had, but at least an hour.

Notes to myself:

  • Make curvier lines on gesture-drawing (armature level of drawing), not so angular. Perhaps exaggerate somewhat to counteract subsequent straightening up of figure and check angle on torso more as working.
  • Use gesture drawing as armature, building outwards; don’t start at outlines.
  • Don’t be so heavy handed with the charcoal, being too dark too early and harder to rework.
  • Remember to look for lightest tones, and more variations in midtones.
  • Limit quantity of lightest/darkest tones and it can be more effective.
  • Put in shoulders and feet in pairs, not separately.
  • Balance gestural markmaking with small areas of detail.
  • Anchor figure to surface.

Related: Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)

Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)

I’m in Gardenstown on the east coast, at Creative Retreat, for a week’s figure painting workshop led by Alan McGowan, the artist whose Anatomy for Artists workshop I did in February. It’s a picturesque village on a steep hillside, a mixture of renovated, being-renovated and sea-worn. The buildings are crammed on top of one another, everything looks down onto and into everything, with numerous sets of steps inbetween.

Hard to live closer to the sea than this.
Hard to live closer to the sea than this.

Steep, cliffside vilage = Rooftops and more rooftops
Steep, cliffside vilage = Rooftops and more rooftops
Not lines of perspective
Not lines of perspective

Gardenstown 2014 web (9)

Red sandstone adding colour to the shore.
Red sandstone adding colour to the shore.
Now if only I'd had my tripod. (Lights on horizon are big ships.)
Now if only I’d had my tripod. (Lights on horizon are big ships.)

Gardenstown 2014 web (11)

Gardenstown 2014 web (10)

She sees shutters along the sea shore...
She sees shutters along the sea shore…
Shapes and textures
Shapes and textures

10 Things I Do With My Sketchbook

Following on from Lower Your Expectations When Sketching, here’s a list of things I typically do with a sketchbook (besides sketching in it).

Sketching View near Struan, Skye

1. Start a new sketchbook by writing my name, email and website on the inside of the front cover, in case I forget it somewhere, in the hope that whoever finds it would return it. I haven’t yet lost one, and hope I never do, but be prepared and all that.

2. Never start on the first page. Nor the second. Nor the third. There’s too much pressure for the early pages of a new sketchbook to have “good sketches” so I start randomly towards the middle or back.

3. Regularly work from back to front, rather than front to back. After all, there’s no rule that pages must be done sequentially like a book, and it supplements #2.

4. Add the date and location to pages, a small note in the corner. It helps put me back into that time/place, and helps me keep track of where/when given I don’t work sequentially in a sketchbook.

5. Use words. Writing descriptions of what I’m seeing or feeling, something I want to remember I’d noticed. Sometimes it’s because it’s faster or easier than sketching, sometimes because I’m out of time, sometimes because the words come more readily to me.

6. Use large clips, top and bottom, to separate wet pages. That way I can continue working without waiting for paint to dry, or worrying about pages sticking together.

7. Never tear out a ruined page, but keep it as a reminder there’s a balance between not giving up in defeat too early and being ready to start anew before I get too irritated with myself, to risk overworking some sketches if they’re not working, to push them further and see if I can rescue what’s already a dud, even if it ends up a total mess.

8. Tear out and mount sketches I think work well and may sell. (These go to Skyeworks Gallery, into my ‘originals on paper’ display.) Not every pleasing sketch; many I will always keep for myself and some I keep until after I’ve used it to paint a studio version. I do also take a photograph so I’ve always got a reminder of it.

9. Don’t worry about wasting pages by not working on both sides of each sheet if I am pleased with one overleaf. Sketchbooks aren’t really that expensive if you calculate it in terms of cups of coffee and slices of cake.

10. Don’t consider about how it might appear to others. I’m happy to let others look at my sketchbooks (these days; I wasn’t always), but my sketchbook is first and foremost for me. If it seems chaotic in places, well so is my brain at times.

Wirework Red Poppies

I had a request to make a pair of wirework red poppy earrings and while I was at it made a couple more pairs which, together with the poppy necklace I was also inspired to make, are available at Skyeworks. (They’ll also be added to my online shop in due course.)

Wirework Red Poppy Earrings Wirework Red Poppy Necklace