Self Portrait in coloured pencil

Friday, 23 November 2018

Pastel Palette Box

Pastel Palette Box

I love my cats but they are a hazard in the studio. They are so fond of sitting on my work table which means trampling my palettes. 
My pencils are safe in boxes, and my oil paint palettes are in air tight food storage tubs. I paint my gouache portraits upstairs in my bedroom on my other easel. And that paint palette is also in a food storage tub. That left my pastels. 
Many years ago my dear brother made me a wonderful storage palette for my pastels. He got a nice chunky piece of wood and routed pastel sized grooves in it. It is brilliant. It keeps all my colours separate so my pastels don’t get dirty. 
I had the palette in a big box which sat on my cupboard. But then I got cats. Actually I got Fliss and Jet. Pumpkin never put a paw wrong. 
Although the box fitted nicely on top of the cupboard and would fit in the cupboard, it wouldn’t fit in the drawer where I could reach the pastels and they would be safe. I had to make a smaller box for it. 
So I bought a sheet of plywood and left it leaning against my bedroom wall for a couple of weeks. Yesterday I got my saw and a ruler and marked out the shapes and sizes that I needed. 
I also cut a piece of wood to hold my reference photos on the downstairs easel. I have one that works fine when I am painting on an A3 canvas in portrait mode but it is too big if I am painting in landscape mode. So I marked that out as well. 
All the pieces fitted beautifully into one end of the plywood. I have a nice tidy piece of plywood left. I may use it for paintings. 

I have my parents to thank for my practical woodwork skills. My wonderful father taught me how to use a saw (you let the saw do the work) and many other skills. My mother encouraged me try everything saying that I could do anything anyone else could do even if it took me longer (referring to paralysis left from my catching polio). So I have more confidence in my skills than many able bodied people. 

My sawing was slow but I got it all done. 

I had two problems with my new box, but they both had the same solution. 
The plywood was thin so my plan was to stick it with “No More Nails” glue. I have the glue but I can’t find the gadget that pushes it out of the nozzle. Maybe it is in the attic? 
The other problem was that the wood isn’t flat. 
So I used Sugru. I am a big fan of Sugru and always have some in. It is a glue that you can shape and it sets to a firm rubbery consistency after 24 hours. I used that to stick the pieces of plywood. I was generous with it because of the gaps with the wood being slightly bent, and the Sugru packets were a number of colours so I have a messy looking box (see above) but I don’t care and it keeps my pastels safe in the drawer. I will paint it one day. 

If you don’t know about Sugru check it out. I am not getting any money for advertising. It is so useful and I just like to be helpful. 

Friday, 16 November 2018

This week’s painting

This week’s painting. 

I was just thinking about what I have done this week. It has been a week of disruptions as usual but I did get on with the portrait of Bentley. However as I have been modifying the sheen on his head I don’t think it will show well in a photo. I also worked on a graphite pencil drawing of Jasper when he was a cute little puppy. It is nice to be able to work on a pencil drawing on these dark evenings when it is hard to judge colour. 
Then I remembered. I have been covering canvases in glitter. I am doing it for Father Christmas. He visits Appleby-in-Westmorland every year on the last Saturday in November so he can find out what the children want for Christmas and he gives them some sweets to take home. 
I didn’t see him last year but I heard that some of his visitors were disappointed by his grotto. So I wondered if I could help. Some years ago I bought 2 triple hinged canvases. They are big. They are 1.5 metres high and the full width adds up to 1.5 metres wide. I had an idea that I could use them, so I bought a lot of red and silver glitter and some blue glitter acrylic paint. 
I tried the blue glitter paint. It was pretty but I souped it up with lots of silver glitter and used it to paint the top halves of the canvases. I used 2 coats. Then I turned the whole thing over and mixed the red glitter in PVA adhesive and blobbed it on the bottom half. I gave that a second coat too. Once it was all dry I gave the whole thing a coat of acrylic gloss varnish. I hope the varnish keeps the glitter where it belongs because I worry that the glitter flakes may get in the river and the fish may eat them thinking that they are food. 
The canvas has been handed over to a man with a big car who can take it to Santa’s Grotto for me.
I still have to paint the second triple canvas with Sparkles this weekend. 
Do you think Father Christmas will like it?

Monday, 12 November 2018



I wrote last week about how I couldn’t work on my paintings because I had a bad cold. This last week I did very little because I was spending my time catching up with housework. 
The photo shows the corner of my bedroom where I used to do my best paintings before I moved my old cat in there and the room became full of scratching barrel, cat litter tray, food and water bowls... You get the idea. Also my latest rescue cat, Jet, is territorial and lurked outside my bedroom marking. I didn’t like it when he scratched the banister handrail. It gave me splinters in my hand. So I set up my studio easel downstairs and worked there despite the cats jumping on my work table. 
So, the old cat having died and having got over the worst of my cold, I did a lot of sorting out my house. 

The best thing is that I have my table easel set up again and Bentley is already being worked on there. 
I like this space next to the window with lots of north light. It is upstairs so I am not shadowed by the houses opposite and neighbours’ cars and vans. (I can cope with grey ones, but brightly coloured cars outside the window reflect strange lights on my portraits.)
You may have noticed the step ladder under the table. If you look at the top corner you can see blackish marks on the photo. They are caused by damage to the plaster from rain coming through the wall which has been fixed now. I will need the steps to climb up and repair it. I will do that after I have finished Bentley. I don’t want to drip plaster on him!

I want to spend more time painting. 

I only have two serious distractions. One is my pets, but that is a welcome and enjoyable distraction. The other distraction is housework. I am trying hard to organise my home so that housework is easier. 
I tried blocking in time to dedicate to artwork. That is the recommendation for getting things done. But it doesn’t work for me. I can’t concentrate on painting when there is dog hair all over the place. (One friend called it tumbleweed.) And NO! I am not getting rid of the dogs. 
So my solution is to schedule Housework time. That means that I have the rest of the day to paint. 

As for organising my house, I have plans to rearrange the kitchen. I designed the kitchen when I didn’t have any cats. I always had dogs but they were no trouble until I had to keep them out of the cat litter and stop them from eating the cat food. I am going to take the lower shelves out of the small alcove and buy a corner kitchen base cupboard which I am going to use to hide the cat litter trays and hopefully store cat food too. Then I am going to feed the cats on the higher shelves in the alcove. Meanwhile I will replace the storage space with a tall wide but shallow cupboard which will go behind the kitchen table. At the moment I have a desk behind the table and that will go in my bedroom to hold my best printer. 

I have other plans too, but they are waiting for the kitchen to be finished. 

Sunday, 4 November 2018



I didn’t post last week because I had a difficult week and didn’t do any art. 
Everything happened at once. One of my dogs, Bryn, became very ill (her legs collapsed), and my old cat died. On top of that I caught a bad cold. It doesn’t help a person recover from a cold when they are digging a cat’s grave in the rain. 
Instinct told me that the best way for Bryn to recover was to take her for short walks where she had something interesting to sniff. I used a harness with a handle on the back to support her. It worked and she has recovered. 
My cold took a lot longer to recover from. In fact I am still snuffly. There is no way that I can paint with a cold that bad. I was coughing non stop and I can’t paint in pastel when there is danger of it getting spattered. I vividly remember the day that I was painting a mother and child portrait in my dining room. My son was listening to a recording of one of the William stories by Richmal Crompton, and eating a cheese sandwich at the same time. He burst out laughing and sprayed greasy cheese all over my pastel portrait. I had to start the painting again but it was worth it because the second version was much better.  
So instead of fun stuff like painting and drawing, I worked on my end of business year accounts. 
I started thinking of filing. I always want a better way to file my projects and plans. One day I will find a perfect solution. I have digital filing systems but I have a feeling that I will do better with a paper solution. 
I went on my favourite website who stock my favourite notebooks. I ordered lots of notebooks in different sizes and some cards because I think a card index file might work. 
Then I looked at pencil sharpeners. 
I have been buying a lot of different pastel pencils and in the case of one brand in particular, I have a problem with breaking leads. I do drop the pencils a lot. I have a lot of different types of pencil sharpener. In every case the lead broke. I used a craft knife. That was better but it was still stressing the leads. 
I had read about a new design of pencil sharpener made by Caran d’Ache and I wondered if Cult Pens stocked it. And they did! 
So you can see it above. It is so easy to control. I hold the sharpener in my right hand with the pencil in my left, and use my left thumb to push against one fork of the sharpener to stabilise it. 
It is amusing that a new pencil sharpener should be the high spot of my week.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Craft Fair 2018

Craft Fair 2018

I decided to show my animal portraits and drawings at this year’s Craft Fair at St Lawrence’s Church, Appleby in the beautiful Eden Valley near the English Lake District. 
I was given a pew to set up my artworks, which was great because there was a ledge to hold my smaller works so I didn’t have to take so many easels down the hill. 

From the left, at the far end of the pew (by my folding walking frame) you can see the portrait of Gucci in oils on canvas, followed by the portrait of Boots which is painted in pastel on canvas, then a pen and ink of my son with his horse. After that there are five drawings in pen and ink on graphic film. I drew the animals on the front of the graphic film, then I turned them over and put touches of colour on the reverse. Graphic film is translucent so the colour shows through. The wolf only needed his eyes and tongue enhanced to look good! Finally my masterpiece is the portrait in graphite pencil of my dog Bryn. 

I always talk of going down the hill when I walk into Appleby town centre because the town is in a valley with steep sides and I live near the top of the hill on the east. From my house I can see the top of the Church tower. It is a beautiful old Church in the centre of the community. I have been in so many churches that feel as if they are kept in mothballs during the week, but St Lawrence’s feels alive. 

The yearly Craft Fair is one of the events held to raise money for repairs to the Church and I like to support them though I don’t attend the church as I am a Buddhist. So this year I held a raffle. I offered a prize of a portrait by me and I managed to sell a total of 27 tickets. I was a bit disappointed as I hoped to sell at least 30. Hey ho! 
I have talked to the winner of the raffle and she wants a portrait of her cat who died. 

I also showed two of my old animal pastels. The wolf was facing the other way and I don’t think many people looked over the other end of the pew to see it. 
Here is a photo of the rabbit. I painted it back in 1997 in pastel on paper. If you think it is more whimsical than my usual style I agree. It was intended to be an illustration for a children’s story about a teddy bear having an adventure and this was when the teddy meets a rabbit. But I got bored with the idea so I cut off the part of the painting with the teddy bear and filled in the gap with the thistle.


Friday, 12 October 2018

Boots the Deerhound 4

Boots the Deerhound 4

I have finished Boots’ ear and eye. 
If you disagree it is because I still need to sort out his fur. His ear will look better when I have finished painting the fur on his neck, and as for his eye, I couldn’t see it in the reference photo because of the way a deerhound’s fur grows. I used Bryn as an eye model. One of her parents was a wolfhound so I thought her eyes should be roughly in the right place. She isn’t a great model. It worries her when I want her to turn her head sideways so I can see her eye in profile but I got there. Now I need to add Boots’ curly eyebrow. 
You can see the curls on his head against the dark hedge. I painted them in pastel pencils in shades of grey. I am enjoying working in pastel so much. I still struggle to hold pastel sticks so I have been experimenting with different brands of pastel pencils. 
I bought a box of Derwent pastel pencils 2 years ago but I found them a bit hard and they shatter inside when I drop them.
I hunted out pastel pencils that I bought many years ago like Bruynzeel, and bought some new ones in green and grey. They are quite nice. And I bought some new Faber Castell pastel pencils and I liked those ones so much that I bought a tin of the complete range. 
Looking on line for the pastels I discovered that Caran d’Ache make pastel pencils too. So I bought 3 to try. And I loved them. They are go on so softly and the colour is dense enough to cover the underneath painting. So I bought a box of the full range of 84. I thought about it for a few days because the box was a lot of money! But now I have them I know that they’re worth every penny. 
The Caran d’Ache pencil box is safe in the drawer of my new painting table. The tin of Faber Castell ones is on the top in danger of being sat on. See below. 
I must say a word about sharpening the pencils. I bought a selection of pencil sharpeners. Success with them depends on the quality of the wood casing of the pencil. It varies from pencil to pencil so it is safest to use a craft knife. 
Caran d’Ache make a pastel pencil sharpener that looks like a miniature potato peeler. I will buy one some day. I am curious about how it would 

Monday, 1 October 2018

Boots the Deerhound 3

 Boots the Deerhound 3

I had a number of visitors last week so the portrait of Boots is not as far along as I would like. At the same time using my pastel pencils is so much fun that when I did manage to sit at my easel I was working with enthusiasm and able to work for longer than I could with the oil paints. 
Remember from my last post that I primed the oil painting with Art Spectrum primer in clear so the painting showed through. I didn’t have to start from scratch. 
I have continued working on his back and side and I am feeling pleased that I am getting a nice soft fur texture that shows the rough coat of a deerhound. Boots isn’t wire haired. I think that would be harder to paint. 
Today I sprayed the work I had done with fixative. I was getting pastel on my hand when I rested it on the surface so I thought I had better do something about it before it got smudged. 
Tomorrow I am going to start on his head. 
I bought some Inktense coloured pencils to embellish the pencil drawings that I am working on to show at the Craft Fair on the 19th and 20th of October. So I added a couple of Faber Castell pastel pencils. I hadn’t tried them before. I was so impressed that I have ordered the whole range of 60 colours. They may arrive tomorrow. 
I am also working on Bentley, and on my pencil drawing of a wolf that I met and fell in love with, when he was 6 months old. I will tell that story after I finish the drawing.