The harsh art critic

“Please don’t draw me Mum, you’ll mess it up and make me look weird”.

He has a point. Also, aren’t iPads great for keeping your kids immobile in one spot?!



Life Class

Life class is one of my favourite things.  For a start, it builds skills, lawd knows I need them.  And I think my contour drawings really have improved.  

I find painting easier than drawing, but I love both.  For those of you that are curious about how the whole nude-person-in-a-room-where-does-everyone-look- conundrum: there simply isn’t one.

For a start, the model knows what she’s doing.  She knows which poses will work for longer poses, which poses are challenging for us artists, and which of those are best for warm up or quick gestural poses.  So, she’s professional, it’s her job.  She’s not embarrassed at all, nor does her confidence make anyone feel uncomfortable.  When it’s break time, she puts on her dressing gown and chats in the kitchen whilst we have tea and biscuits.  She’ll take a look at our work, but not be horrified if you’ve not been very flattering.

It’s a very quiet, serene environment.  Apart from when we’re arriving and setting up, tea break and home time, there’s really no talking.  That’s not a rule, or at least not one anyone told me of, but we’re all just concentrating on what we’re doing.  One of the artists brings music to play, another brings her dog.  By the way, there is no teaching at my life class.  If you’re a beginner and thinking of doing a class, you might want to think about one with a teacher to start off, but it’s more usual that they’re untaught.

Though I don’t paint figures or portraits, life drawing very much has it’s place in every artists repertoire.  A friend of mine told me that at the Glasgow School of Art, regardless of what discipline you were studying, everyone was expected to attend life class.  That’s because you learn to observe and see:  shapes, relationships, spaces, light, dark and colour.

In practice, for me this means a constant internal dialogue where I’m saying things like…what angle is that, what negative shape is made in space between where her hand touches her head,  is that line there longer than that one over here….and a lot of squinting!  I am going to get more a lot of wrinkles from all the squinting.  It’s a small price to pay.

7 min, 10 min and 30 min poses, sanguine, sepia and white chalk on toned paper


30 min pose, charcoal & putty eraser on paper

It’s been a good week…

Week one - Jan 16

Top from left:  | Annie, 5 min pose, pen & watercolour | Tracy, 5 min pose, pen and wash |Tracy, 5 min pose, vine charcoal | My friends dog!  Class mascot |


…the highlight of which was going to life drawing class for the first time in months and catching up with a new friend and her dog.  Plus everyone else there is really friendly.

Crikey my eyes have been so tired since, from all the squinting.  We did about 7 sketches of various lengths over a couple of hours.  I’m still recovering!

I sat down at the computer about 2 hours ago to write a post about an abstract piece I just did.  Three different cameras and lots of bad photos.  Somehow I managed to edit it so the colours were true but now I’m so tired I can’t remember what I wanted to say, so this is short n sweet.

DIY Bachelor of Fine Arts PART ONE: DRAWING

Can I just say – this blog series, DIY Batchelor of Fine Arts, isn’t an actual course!  Vocational or otherwise.  Just thought I ought to make that clear.  No, not.a.course.  It is though, some offerings from me, sharing the resources I’ve used in my art journey so far.  If you haven’t already, you can read the introduction to this blog series here.

Part one is going to cover resources I used to improve my drawing, but the other thing I want to point out is that my learning wasn’t so slick that I neatly went from a to b to c.  I dotted around, partly because I didn’t know what I was doing, and partly because I get bored easily.  So what I’m saying is, I didn’t spend all my time learning to draw to perfection (and newsflash, my drawing is what I consider to be one of my weak points), then move on to colour, then composition, then watercolours, then acrylic, then oil painting, form an orderly queue please!  You get the drift.

Consequently there’ll be overlap with some of these posts – other topics might creep in under different headings.  I’m sure if you’re a clever sort you can come up with more structured learning set but I’ve got painting to do people!

Personally, I don’t see how you can put a good painting together but not give consideration to your drawing skills.  It does matter (even if your thing is abstract).  For a start, it’s about seeing.  Seeing things differently.  Shapes, lights, masses, relationships, angles.  The only way to improve your observation skills is to practice regularly.

I am the sort of artist that likes to draw from reference.  I cannot pluck an image out of thin air and draw it.  I have no idea how illustrators come up with cute fantasy characters.   I suspect they have something called “imagination”, he he.

Consequently there are some approaches to drawing out there that just do not work for me: those books that tell you if you’re drawing a cat it’s a circle (for the head) and an ellipse (for the body), and if you’re drawing a camel it’s rectangles for the legs and cylinders for the humps…what use is that?!  I mean, I agree that it’s important to understand about volume of mass, just as it is to understand about perspective to give depth, but for me this type of approach doesn’t work.

I didn’t quite do these things in this order but I would if I were you:


  •  Read Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  There is a whole right brain/left brain debate going on, which the premise of this book is set on, but frankly I don’t care.  It made sense to me, and my experience of drawing up to that point.  The main thing I love about this book though, is it teaches you skills to be able to draw anything.  It covers negative space drawing, blind contour drawing, value, line and comes jam packed full of exercises.  Her explanation of the picture plane blew my wheels.  My drawing really took off after that, because of this approach.


  • Craftsy have some very good, affordable art classes, and they often have sales.  There are a few drawing ones I’d recommend:
      • 10 Essential Techniques for Better Drawing with Patricia Watwood
      • Draw Better Portraits with Gary Faigin
      • Figure Drawing – an essential guide with Patricia Watwood

These cover drawing from a classical approach.  To me, it seemed to follow on from the Betty Edwards book, rather than conflict with it.  You may not be particularly interested in portraiture -but the class is more an exercise in drawing by value, lights and darks, and I found it immensely helpful.

Later on, I also purchased:

      • Sketching People in Motion with Marc Taro Holmes

I know I’ve harped on about the classic approach to drawing but I love quick sketching urban style too.  I like to be able to sketch quickly when I’m out and about and fill my sketchbook, like a visual diary.


– Juliette Aristedes is a most wonderful classical artist, and I have two of her books, which I found so useful, particularly the DVD that came with Lessons from the Atelier.  The other book I have is called Classical Drawing Atelier.


Will Kemp has an online art school and I just love this fella!  He’s not on social media, which is a shame as I could stalk him in person    let him know how much he’s helped me.  I confess I haven’t actually done his online drawing classes (perhaps I should!) but I have used his free videos on acrylic painting and can vouch for the quality.  But for him I would still be going round in circles.  He really set me on the right path – for me.


A word about Andrew Loomis….I don’t get on with his books at all, which is a shame as I have a few! And who am I to dis one of America’s greatest illustrators?  I love the style but my poor old brain just found it all too complicated, for the most part.  It gets very technical in places, and I don’t like the print in the book- very thick, makes it hard on the eyes.  However, he has done some very good instructional on hands, so I might revisit that at a later date.


the classic approach to cast drawing on toned paper
Using Gary Faigin’s technique to draw my daughter
Using Betty Edwards approach

Photographs.  They have their place.  I do use them,  but in a very specific way, which I’ll expand on in later posts.  Most advice is, draw from life where possible.  Especially if, like me, you are prone to being a slave to the photograph and get tied up in knots because it’s not exact.  For me, and I’ve learned this the hard way, art isn’t about perfectionism in that sense.  It’s about an essence, a feeling of a thing or place and expressing myself, and what I produce should bring something to the scene that is different from a photograph – or why bother with art at all?

You may not have time to do an extended classical drawing exercise every day.  Nor do I.  But you should carry a sketchbook, even a small one, in fact perferably a small one and take a pen with you (not pencil) and try and get a small amount drawn every day, even if it’s your coffee mug.  Or in my case, glass of wine 🙂  Cheers!


Peoples, I really do not know how I forgot to mention one of the most important practices of improving your drawing – especially as I have been consumed with it the past few days.  Life drawing.  Whatever your main subject interest is, nothing will help you see better than taking a life class.  The human body is something we’re so familiar with – until a beginner (or me) tries to draw it.  It is haaarrrd.   

A lot of life classes are not taught, so if you can’t get into one that is, I recommend you spend some time with Stan Prokopenko before you trot along to your local community centre.  Otherwise, you might be so disheartened your confidence might never recover.  Just getting an understanding of gesture drawing, essential for short poses, was a huge help for me.  Stan has a lot of free videos on his You Tube channel.

Prior to life class, most of my drawing was very drawn out (‘scuse the pun).  I’d take hours, shading and more shading.  So approaching a 5 minute pose was something of a stretch for me – I’d really not get very far before time was up.

I like to experiment with different materials at life class.  I like to do pen and watercolour or pen and wash for the quick poses, and charcoal for the longer ones (I’ve only just realised perhaps charcoal isn’t right for my short poses – and I work small, so what I end up with is dust.  A lotta dust).

Right, I think I’m done here.

Light (and dark) bulb moment

I just watched a really interesting article about drawing the human face:  it focused on what made a face recognisable.
Most folk, when drawing a face, overly focus on the particular characteristics of each feature, the eyes, nose, etc.  In this article, the author demonstrates by showing some old black and white photos that were lit so that there was a high contrast between light and dark on the faces.  He was able to show that actually it’s more about overall shapes and proportions that the fact that someone has almond shaped blue eyes.  By looking at the shapes the light and shadows make on a face, we can capture a true likeness of someone.  This makes perfect sense, as rendering any 2 D form to give an impression of 3 D requires the correct use of value to convince the viewer – light and dark.
I had a rifle through my photos and pulled out one of my daughter on a sunny day, where her face had significant shadow on it.  I found this approach so easy, and anyone who looks at this knows exactly who it is.