Self Portrait in coloured pencil

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.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Boots the Deerhound 2

Boots the Deerhound 2

I have been working a lot on some small pencil drawings of animals, but I got some work done on Boots too. I am enjoying working with pastel and pastel pencils. 
I mentioned in last week’s blog that when I used to paint exclusively in pastel about 20 years ago, pastel pencils weren’t good enough for my technique. But there have been such great innovations in art since then, that I took a chance and bought a full set of Derwent’s pastel pencils and I was very pleased with them. I think that one of the reasons that they are working well on this painting is because of the primer. It is gritty enough to catch the pigment. 
One of the best things about pastel back in the days when I was bringing up my 2 sons, was how you can just walk away and leave it while you deal with the next domestic emergency! Now I am living with dogs and cats I still have domestic emergencies. Moreover, it is so nice just to be able to pick up a pastel or pencil and make marks on the canvas without having to set out my palette and brushes. 
I have been working on the left hand side so I don’t know if the changes in the painting are noticeable. I am happier about the grass and the fluffiness of Boots’ fur against it. I have been blending the darker areas too. It will look more interesting when I have worked on his head. I am getting there. 
I am going to spray it with fixative so I can go over the details with oil paint. So in the end I suppose that I should call it mixed media. 

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Boots the Deerhound

Boots the Deerhound

I used to paint exclusively in pastel until I lost the use of my right hand thumb, which meant that I couldn’t grip a stick of pastel without it dropping on the floor and crumbling. So I changed to working in pencil. I used a grip that meant the weight of the pencil rested on the fork between my thumb and first finger. Then, as my thumb started to get better, I painted in acrylic gouache using a method similar to the egg tempera technique. I lay the colours on the surface without directly mixing or blending them.
Then I tried oil paint. My hand isn’t strong enough to manipulate the paint except in glazes, so I was feeling frustrated. I started to wonder if there was any way of painting pastel over oils. Perhaps I could hold a pastel pencil. When I gave up pastels, the quality of pastel pencils weren’t up to my technique. 
So I started to look around at ways of combining pastel with oils. 

I discovered that there is a binder to turn pigment into oils. I bought a bottle of it but I haven’t tried it yet.
Then I found a fixative that claims to fix pastel and other dry mediums so that they can be overpainted in oils. I bought some and tested it. I painted over the blue sky in an unfinished oil painting with Colourfix primer. I have used this primer to use coloured pencils over acrylic and that is a challenge so I knew that I would be able to paint the pastel on top of it. I made a nice blended blue sky and sprayed it with the new fixative. It worked. But I haven’t tried painting over that (yet).

I have been struggling with the painting of Boots. I wasn’t happy with the hedge behind him or with the grass against the shadows of the hedge. So I tried using pastel.

I was thrilled to find that I could use the pastel sticks without dropping them. I was working on the hedge for nearly 2 hours without getting my arm and hand tired. I stopped because it was time to spray it with the fixative. 
What I learned: to spray it lying down and it takes more than a couple of minutes to dry. I set it upright when I first sprayed it and I got a dark green run over the light green grass. I laid it flat and it was easy to wipe clean, but I won’t do that again. It was a good thing that it was only the hedge. 

I brought it downstairs and set it up on the easel and worked on it some more today. I concentrated on improving the grass with pastel. I also worked a bit on Boots’ fur where it curls over the grass. The white is brighter than it was but it still needs work. I added a bit of grey but not enough. 

I am adding 2 photos of materials. First I want to show my “palette”. My brother made it for me by routing grooves in a piece of nice wood. 
Second I use quantities of putty rubber or kneadable erasers; two names for the same thing. I bought 3 different makes because the manufacturers change their formulas sometimes and it is a long time since I bought them. I cut them into small pieces with a pair of scissors. I find that they keep better with a tidy edge, rather than pulling a piece off. The important thing to know about storing putty rubbers is to keep them in the dark. Light makes them turn hard. 
I don’t use them for erasing much. I use them as a blending stump. The kind of stump that I have bought in the past transferred dirt once I had used it once. But a small piece of putty rubber can be squeezed to a new point for days. You can get a really clean edge with it.
The fixative is SpectraFix Degas Fixative. 

Friday, 7 September 2018

Marianne North

Marianne North

I have been experimenting with mixed media this week and it isn’t ready to be seen yet, so I decided to write about another of the books in my art library. It is right next to “From Hogarth to Keene” on the shelf and I thought I must share it one day, but I didn’t expect it to be this week. 

I hadn’t heard of Marianne North before I found the book “A Vision of Eden” in a second hand bookshop. It is part autobiography and part biography. She described how she learned to paint flowers. 
After her mother died they moved to London and often visited Kew Gardens which made her want to visit the tropics. She traveled Europe with her father and later many other parts of the world, and wherever she went she painted the flowers.
Eventually she had so many paintings that Sir Joseph Hooker offered to house her paintings at Kew, and she had a gallery specially built. Sir Joseph Hooker gave her introductions to botanists all over the world and they helped her access the plants she wanted to paint. She discovered many new species and brought them back to Kew. 
Having learned about the Marianne North Gallery, I couldn’t rest until I had visited it. I was living in London and had visited Kew Gardens many times (I loved the Palm House) but I hadn’t noticed the gallery. So I went and looked for it. 
The photo of the gallery in the book didn’t prepare me for the vision that met me when I entered the gallery. The paintings glow like jewels. 
I don’t know if you can read the text under the photo. It says that there are 832 paintings in the two rooms. 
Below are some more photos of pages from the book. One is a photo of the other room and there are photos of a few of the paintings to give you an idea of the impact. 
Do visit the Marianne North Gallery in Kew Gardens if you have the opportunity. 

Friday, 31 August 2018

Hogarth to Keene

Hogarth to Keene 

I have been in a reminiscent frame of mind this week. 
The line of Fliss’s tail kept reminding me of Hogarth’s “line of beauty” which is an S shape. So I went looking for my book “From Hogarth to Keene”.

Because I had polio as a baby and couldn’t run around with other children, I learned to read early and I spent all my free time reading. 
In our sitting room, where we entertained visitors, there was a display cabinet. The bottom shelf held books. There was a set of encyclopaedias in eight volumes called the Books of Knowledge and I used to sit on the floor by the display cabinet and read them from cover to cover. I was particularly interested in mythology but I read about everything. 

Another book that was on the bottom shelf was “From Hogarth to Keene” by Henry Reitlinger, published in 1938. I mention the year because I want to quote the first sentence from Chapter 1: Story-Telling. “Our grandparents lived in the belief, which few ever seriously thought of questioning, that a picture ought to tell a story.” 
The author goes on to say that fashions in art have changed, and then he says that drawing in black and white “is clearly the natural and Heaven-sent medium for recording the anecdotal and even the jocular side of life”. 
So the book is about black and white illustration and the artists who had a talent in those mediums. 
I wonder if it was reading this book that gave me the love of pen and ink drawing. I took the book when my parents died. It held such precious memories. I left the encyclopaedia though. The information was so out-of-date.

William Hogarth was trained as a line engraver but his talent lies in his paintings and the social comment in his subjects. I was fascinated. When I was living in London I made a point of visiting Sir John Sloane’s Museum to see The Rake’s Progress set of eight paintings. I recommend a visit. It holds amazing items besides the paintings. 
I photographed pages of the book with illustrations by Hogarth (see above). 

Charles Keene is not so well known. He has a vigorous style which I admire. I thought that as his name was in the title I should take photos of his illustrations from the book to show you. So here they are below. 

Don’t you think that the old woman’s umbrella is delightful!

Friday, 24 August 2018

Workbench Finished

Workbench Finished

Today I screwed the second wall table to the wall in my workroom/spare bedroom. 
I was using a wallpaper pasting table which is still in the room - the black thing by the window. It was a temporary solution. I couldn’t open the trapdoor to the attic and pull down the ladder without heaving the pasting table onto the sofa bed. So clutter piled up. 
I looked for a wall table that would fold down behind the loft ladder, and bought two. 
I used the pasting table to help me make and put up the table near the window. It wasn’t totally successful. You can see in the photo above that there is a gap where it is attached to the wall. Luckily it seems to be strong. But for the nearer table I decided I was going to add glue to make sure. 
I had to close up the wallpaper pasting table for lack of space so I racked my brains for a way of supporting the next table while I screwed it to the wall. I thought “What would Dad have done?” and I remembered the old kitchen stools that I kept because I used to use them for a sawhorse. Luckily they weren’t in the attic. I needed to stack some books on them to get them to the right height but I made it work. 
My Dad was the kind of father who teaches their disabled 4 year old daughter how to point a wall. He was a bricklayer. 

I don’t have my easel in this room. It faces South and I like a North light for painting. But it is out of the way (usually) of cats and dogs so I can dust and feel able to do those jobs that I call setting up without getting hairs stuck on my work. I can prime and gesso the canvas and put in the structural lines before I take it downstairs and put it on the easel. 
I often add the structural lines to the reference photo in Photoshop and print it on plain paper, then I rub 9B crayon on the back of the paper and transfer it by drawing the structural lines keeping them straight with a ruler. It isn’t the same as squaring up. I do it to keep the angles right. I used to measure angles the regular artist’s way by holding up a paintbrush, but when I got post polio syndrome I couldn’t hold my head or my hand steady any more, so I developed a more technical method to keep noses straight!

My easel is in my front room facing the North. I have now got everything that I need to help me sit at the easel and paint. I have my new saddle stool that helps me balance and stops me getting backache. I have have the canvas rotating attachment so I can turn the painting to the right angle to make the strokes of paint easy to line up correctly. I have a brush holder with an assortment of different brushes and a brush cleaning system that is tucked away on the window sill behind the antique block plane that my father taught me to use many years ago. I am near the front door for when visitors or delivery people knock. 
And on the other wall I have my picture shelves where oil paint layers can dry. 
Don’t forget the dog bed and the chair for the dogs to keep out of the way while I am painting. They are very good while I am painting. The rest of the time I am expected to throw squeaky balls. 

Friday, 17 August 2018

Maurice Quentin de la Tour

Maurice Quentin de la Tour
The portrait above is of Marie Fel. She was a popular singer, still performing when she was 65. De la Tour loved her and judging by her expression she loved him too.

When I first started to paint portraits, I tried acrylics but I didn’t get on well. I was going to a weekly evening class and one of the other artists brought in a box of pastels that her grandmother had given her. I took one look and knew I had found my medium.

A few weeks ago a man who is interested in the history of art asked me which artist inspired my portrait style. So I immediately said Maurice Quentin de la Tour. I got my book, “The French Pastellists of the Eighteenth Century” by Haldane Macfall, from the book case, and showed him the images.

I found the book in a second hand bookshop. The prints are tipped onto blank pages in the book and I feel lucky to have found the book with all the prints in place. So many of those old books had the prints removed to hang on the wall. The book includes many Eighteenth Century pastellists, but it is clear that Mr Macfall considered that de la Tour was the star.

I am inspired by Maurice Quentin de la Tour because of the liveliness of the expressions he portrays. Most of his portraits tell me as much about the artist as about the subject. It is obvious from their amused expressions that he was an entertaining and witty man. 

Most Eighteenth Century Portraits by famous oil painters look more like furnishings for their patrons’ mansions (chateaux?) than interesting individuals. I understand the desire of the patrons to want to present an image for posterity, but I don’t feel sad to think that I can never meet them. In de la Tour’s case I feel that I have already met them. So he inspired me to emulate him, not in wit but perhaps in kindness.

A lot of Maurice de la Tour’s portraits are in the Louvre. I haven’t been to Paris to see them but I have seen and appreciated a portrait of a young man in the National Gallery, London. It was in an obscure corner. Pastels are undervalued. 

His most famous portrait is the one of Madame Pompadour (below) but there are many to see at this link which is where I downloaded the images on this page. It is free to download the jpegs and you can buy prints of the portraits from the site.
The site is a wonderful resource for looking at great art: 

Friday, 10 August 2018

Portrait of Nobu

Portrait of Nobu

I painted the miniature of Nobu a very long time ago when I lived in London. I had a lot of Japanese friends then and Nobu and his wife and baby were particularly delightful. I did a number of portrait drawings of them and when I found some Ivorine (artificial ivory) in an art shop I bought it and tried my first miniature choosing Nobu for my subject. The size is 7 x 5 cms so don’t try and look at it at a bigger scale. 
The portrait has been tucked away for long enough, and as I was going to the framers to collect an artwork I tucked Nobu’s portrait into my purse. The portrait may be small but I want the perfect frame for it. I also found the scraperboard of Jasper’s eye to take to the framer.
The bad news is that the framers was closed for the week so I was in Penrith with nothing to do until the bus home. The bus to Penrith is at 10 o’clock in the morning and the return bus is at 1:40 in the afternoon. So I walked to the cycle shop at the other end of town and asked if they could get me a tricycle. I got a text today to say it is in the shop.
I think that I have mentioned before that I had polio when I was a baby and now I have post-polio syndrome which is when muscles that were a little bit weak get a lot worse. I am planning on strengthening my leg muscles by using the tricycle to “walk” the dogs. I will have a tricycle seat to rest while the dogs sniff so I won’t get into difficulties! My biggest problem is my balance and that won’t be an issue with a tricycle. 
I will even be able to go out and take photos again. Bliss!

Friday, 3 August 2018

Five Portraits in Oils on Canvas

Five Portraits in Oils on Canvas

I haven’t been able to scan these Gypsy portraits because my house has been so untidy that the scanner was buried under clothes and kitchen rolls (unused of course) among other things. But recently I have put a lot of time into organising things to make my household easier to run so that I have more time and energy for painting. 
The scanner and printers are in my bedroom and I have moved a chest of drawers in there so I had somewhere to put the mess which was sitting on the scanner and the two printers. I am still moving things from one place to another but the bedroom is clear. I have moved my acryl gouache paints downstairs leaving just my coloured pencils next to my upstairs easel. 
So today I did a bit of scanning. Having looked at the portraits again after a few weeks I can see many places that they can be improved. I am not the first portrait painter to feel that way. 
Here’s the other four portraits:

Friday, 27 July 2018



I have been struggling to paint since the Art in the Hills exhibition at Dufton. I had Boots on the easel but I knew that painting his fur needed flowing brushstrokes and I have been finding that my brushes catch on the canvas threads. I needed to find a solution. 
Then I remembered how I painted the portrait of Queen Elizabeth. 
I painted the portrait for the Golden Jubilee. There were celebrations all over the country. Many towns and villages were having street parties but Appleby-in-Westmorland couldn’t do that because the date coincided with the Horse Fair that year and the town would have been too full of visitors. So, instead, the Mayor read out a loyal address from the balcony of the Moot Hall, and I presented the Town with the portrait of the Queen. It is kept in the Mayor’s parlour. (I sent a print of the portrait to the Queen and asked that it would be kept with the loyal address.)
I started the portrait of the Queen in plenty of time. I was working in acrylics on stretched paper. Unfortunately I made a mess of it and the paper buckled so badly that I had to start again. The second version I painted on Graphic Film which is a “dimensionally stable” translucent polyester. As it is translucent I was able to trace the outlines of the portrait to save time, and dimensionally stable means that it stays flat even in humid conditions. 
I was going to paint the whole portrait in acrylics but I was very short of time by the time I got to her bouquet of flowers. I coated the acrylic surface with clear Colourfix primer where the flowers were to go. Colourfix primer has a tooth so I was able to finish the flowers in coloured pencils on top of the acrylic underpainting. It is much faster for me to paint flowers in pencil than with a brush. 

To get back to the portrait of Boots, I bought some Liquitex clear gesso and a big tub of Colourfix primer. I was puzzled about how to open the tub of primer but I had some left from working on the Queen. I painted the gesso over Boots body, and primer over his head so I could compare them. Next day I painted strokes of sepia paint over both areas. Both sides worked and I could make precise strokes of oil paint on them. The Liquitex gesso was smoother, but the instructions say to paint it on a non-oily surface which suggests that it won’t work so well on an oil painting. The Colourfix can be sanded smooth. 
So, in conclusion, I will coat the new canvases in Liquitex gesso but I will paint Colourfix on areas where I have already painted in oils. 
The only problem left is how to open the big tub of Colourfix. I think I know. 

Friday, 20 July 2018

Art in the Hills, Dufton

Art in the Hills, Dufton 

I have come back from the Private View of the art exhibition in the village hall at Dufton, Cumbria. 
It is a popular exhibition and I enjoy going to the private view and meeting so many artist friends. 
The photo above shows the three portraits that I put in this year: Arthur, Walter and Riley. 
I waited until the crowd was thinner to photograph them and I asked my friend to pose looking at them.

I met a friend, Sarah Reid, there and I took a photo of her by some of her pastels. I admire her pastels very much. Unfortunately my photos have not shown them at their best because of reflections on the glass. I did my best to improve them by playing with the dodge and burn tool in the Artstudio Pro app on my iPad and using the Pencil. So you can get an idea and go and look at her website for a better view. 

Sarah with her paintings 

Friday, 13 July 2018



I have finished Arthur except for tidying up the left edge. Because I am painting on canvas, I am taking the paint over the edge so I don't have to frame it. The portrait is resting on that edge while the other three edges dry. I am using quick dry medium but I still have to wait a couple of days for it to dry well.

It is interesting to see a photo of a painting because something often pops out that doesn’t show in the painting. I notice that in this photo, his eye on the right is a bit too light, so I have darkened it since. 

There are a number of ways to get a new look at a painting to see what is wrong with it. An easy one is to look at it upside down. It isn't always convenient to turn a painting upside down of course, but it is easy to look at it in a mirror. I keep a hand mirror nearby. 

My usual fault is getting angles wrong.  The mirror shows if I have got things lined up right. But it isn't perfect for portraits because faces are not symmetrical. If you draw a line through the eyes and another through the mouth, they are not parallel. Everybody has one eye higher than the other. It isn’t usually noticeable and it is common to tidy up portraits and make them symmetrical. I wasn’t satisfied with that. I challenged myself to depict the asymmetry in such a way that the portrait looked more like the person and not as if I had messed up and done a bad drawing.

I mentioned my disability in my last post about buying the saddle stool. One of my problems is that I have no awareness of the angle of my head, which means it is impossible for me to measure angles by holding up a pencil. So I square up my reference photos and my canvas or paper to match. But I don’t square up evenly. I start by taking a line through the eyes, then I draw parallel lines wherever I fancy putting one. It is easy to do on image apps with layers because I just duplicate the layers and move the lines where I think they would be useful. Then I turn a line 90 degrees and add perpendicular lines in the same way. 
If I didn’t have an app that will do it, I could do it with a set square. 

Talking of the saddle stool, it is working out better than I expected. I am no longer in pain when I sit, and I can walk when I stand up. 

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Saddle Stool

Saddle Stool

When I want to concentrate on painting at my easel, the most important thing is what I am sitting on. 
As I am disabled, (I had polio when I was a baby giving me paralysis in my right leg) my gluteus maximus on my left is much bigger than the one on my right. This means that I am lopsided when I sit. Sitting can be very painful, giving me, not backache, but waist ache. So I buy a lot of working chairs, in hopes of finding a comfortable one. My last purchase was a lovely chair but a disaster for me to sit on. I kept tipping sideways and my waist and leg ached with the effort of trying to stay vertical. 
I have been thinking about getting a saddle stool for a long time and yesterday this noble stool arrived (photo above). So far remaining vertical is no problem at all. Getting on it can be awkward because of the hump at the front. Does one call it a pommel on a stool? But I am getting the hang of it and once I am in front of the easel I feel secure and can concentrate on painting and not pain.
The cats are giving the saddle stool dirty looks. It isn’t good for curling up and sleeping. 
I have returned to the painting of Arthur. I am improving four of my portraits in oils on canvas to put into the Art in the Hills exhibition in Dufton Village Hall later this month. The portrait part of the photo has got bleached out by the sunshine so you can’t see what alterations I have made, but I have added a mixture of burnt umber and prussian blue into the shadows and Arthur’s shirt has come to life. I am so pleased with it that I am going to add some prussian blue to the shadows on his face. 
Because the exhibition is coming up soon, I have bought some quick drying mediums. I have 3 different makes to try. First I bought Winsor and Newton Artisan fast drying medium but I didn’t like the smell. So I have bought bottles of Holbein Duo Aqua quick drying liquid, which doesn’t have a smell, and Royal Talens Cobra quick drying medium. I haven’t opened the Cobra one yet because I read that it causes yellowing and also I prefer the consistency of the Duo Aqua paints so it is natural for me to use their medium first. 
You may well prefer the Cobra paints if you come from painting in traditional oil paints. I started by working in dry pastel and the Duo Aqua paints have a drier consistency. I even blend them with my fingers on the canvas sometimes as I would in pastel. 
The reason why I stopped painting in pastel is that I got post polio syndrome and couldn’t grip my pastels. Post polio syndrome is when bits of me that had been working (in this case my right hand) stopped working. I have recovered to the point where I can hold pencils and paintbrushes, and I have tried pastel pencils which have improved a lot since the days when I painted exclusively in pastel, but pastels have to be framed and framing is expensive. Oil on canvas doesn’t need to be framed, which is an important consideration when painting for an exhibition. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

Visiting the Framers

Visiting the Framers

I don’t often buy artwork. My house is so small that I need all the wall space to hang my own art safely out of the way. But I found an artwork that I just had to have. And this week I took it to the framers.
If you live anywhere near Penrith, Cumbria, UK, I recommend “Your Life as Art” if you have any pictures  that need framing. 
Not only is Adrian a very good framer, but he has an art degree and has worked in the arts all his life, so he is the ideal person to help choose which frame and mount board will set off the artwork to advantage. 
So if you have any framing to do, go and see Adrian Brunskill at Your Life as Art, 13/14 Devonshire Arcade, Penrith, CA11 7SX, telephone 07712569787 and see his Facebook Page

The artwork I took to be framed, is a collage by Shawn Marie Hardy. I love all her collages, but this one, “Hoovering”, had to be Mine! Not only does it have that surrealist quirkiness, but the balance and composition is brilliant. And it reminds me that when I have housework to do (especially vacuuming the dog hair off the carpet) at least I don’t have to clean the Milky Way!
Go and view her work and see if you find it as delightful as I do.

Adrian and I looked at lots of combinations of frames and mount boards. Finally we decided on a silver mount to reference NASA, and a slim black aluminium frame. It wouldn’t have looked right in a wide frame. That would have swamped the artwork. 
I am looking forward to seeing it framed. 

Friday, 22 June 2018

Update on Jet

Update on Jet

This isn’t about art. It is an update on the story of the cat I rescued, Jet. But you can see him in the photo sitting on my painting table among my paintbrushes. 

I wrote last August about rescuing Jet and explained that he was a major inspiration for using my ability as a portraitist to combat prejudice. 
I want to update his story and tell the world how impressed I am with his kindness. 
I named him Jet in memory of a very generous dog. He was a black Labrador belonging to my parents and when we would visit them with our dog, Juno, he would always save some of his food for her. I remind you that Labradors are noted for being food orientated, which makes them trainable, so his generosity was notable. My mother had a strong belief in the power of names, so when I rescued a black cat it was obvious to name him after dear old Jet.
I haven’t had much experience of cats until 10 years ago when I rescued Pumpkin. I believe that he may have belonged to the people who lived in this house before me and he was such a territorial cat that when they moved he came back and lived semi-wild in the back gardens. Pumpkin is a stately cat and was never playful. He is very old now - probably 20 years old - and I moved him into my bedroom this year. He is too old to guard his outdoor territory any more. Living in my bedroom suits him. He is eating much better and isn’t so boney. 
The next cat, 4 years ago, was kitten Fliss which is short for Felicity. I got her as a present for my lurcher Bryn, who loves cats. Luckily Fliss loves Bryn too. Fliss is very shy. When I had visitors in the winter she disappeared into the cupboard under the kitchen sink. 
Jet was different. For one thing, when I rescued him over 2 years ago, he bit and scratched anyone who touched him below the head. He also attacked dogs and cats, and I had 2 dogs and 2 cats. But it was the end of November, turning cold, and I had a scullery with a cat flap in the back door. I made a bed for Jet under the scullery sink and made a movable barricade using a clothes horse wrapped with cat netting so that I could let the dogs out into the garden safely. I told Jet that it was to keep him safe, and he accepted it. I know little of cats and their ways, but I treated him with respect and gave him the space to let me know how to help him. 
I quickly realised that his problem was that he had been severely injured. I was so impressed with his intelligence and his understanding that I was doing my best to help him. 
He has repaid me amply. 
I have watched episodes of Jackson Galaxy’s My Cat From Hell and I was interested to watch episodes where one cat was acting like prey and being chased and bullied. 
Fliss acted like prey but Jet never bullied her. Instead he has been patiently teaching her to play. He runs after her but he stops short when she goes into hiding. He is a big cat but when I put their food out he waits until she chooses which bowl she wants. I scatter treats and he waits for her to start eating them first. 
With Jet’s influence, Fliss is a changed cat. She has stopped running and hiding and she shares Jet’s playtime. She comes and curls up next to me on the sofa purring which she never did before. There is something about Fliss that makes me want to cuddle her and I couldn’t before. She used to cry and run away. So thank you Jet for whatever magic spell you used.
Jet is kind and helpful to me as well. I used to let him out in the garden but I stopped in the Spring for 2 reasons. We had a blackbird’s nest in the garden and every time Jet went out he brought back fleas. Now he waits for me to let the dogs out. He gets paid in treats and playtime. 

Friday, 15 June 2018

Why I Embrace Cultural Diversity

Why I Embrace Cultural Diversity 

"The differences between people need not act as barriers that wound, harm and drive us apart. Rather, these very differences among cultures and civilizations should be valued as manifestations of the richness of our shared creativity" quote by Daisaku Ikeda.

I had some interesting discussions with the visitors to the "Gypsy Portraits, Changing Expectations" exhibition during the Appleby Horse Fair. Many of the visitors were aware of the caring aspect of Gypsy culture and believed that it was because of their close family ties. I told them that it didn’t just apply to family members and I told them what had happened when I was walking down to the church on Saturday morning. 
The short cut down the hill to Appleby town centre is a steep footpath (named LadyGarth) with a number of sloping steps near the top. I am so disabled that I have to use a walking frame with wheels at the front and sliders at the back, so I approach each step very cautiously. 
A lot of people were coming down the hill from the railway station and I was letting them pass me. 
Half way down the footpath is a seat and there was a family group of Gypsies sitting there. The man jumped up and ran to help me, though he had one shoe on. He had the other shoe in his hand. He helped me very efficiently. When we reached the seat I explained to him and his family about the exhibition and its purpose. 

Respect for older people is not confined to Gypsies of course. It is silly to think of a person’s culture as being anything to do with their genetics. I have lived in seven different counties in England and each area has its own attitudes to many aspects of life. As a child, I was aware of the difference in attitudes to certain aspects of life in areas just a few miles apart.
A person who influenced me powerfully was a girl who I met at Southampton University in 1969. Her family were Hindu, lived in Iraq and went to a Christian school. She had a broad understanding of the similarities underlying different cultures. She taught me a lot and I became fascinated, and wanted to learn more.
I lived in North London for 15 years and made friends with people who came from many different nationalities and cultures. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from them. 

As religion is a major source of cultural attitudes, I was particularly fascinated to learn how different faiths affected people’s way of life. When it came to Buddhism, I knew about priests and monks spending much of their time in meditation to attain enlightenment but I wondered what was in it for ordinary people. That seeking spirit caused me to ask Japanese ladies whom I met in North London about their experience of Buddhism and I was lucky to learn about Nichiren Buddhism and the wise sayings of President Daisaku Ikeda who is the author of the quote above.

Respecting and cherishing people’s lives and experiences has taught me an empathy that gives me the skill to paint portraits that capture the individual’s essential self. It is something more than character but I would never claim that I capture the soul. Capturing a soul must be something like pinning a butterfly. 

To sum up I will quote President Daisaku Ikeda again: "It is the spirit of mutual respect and the willingness to learn from others that bonds hearts together. In the words of a wise person, when you bow respectfully to the mirror, the image in the mirror likewise bows to you."

Friday, 8 June 2018

Gypsy Portraits Changing Expectations Exhibition.

Gypsy Portraits Changing Expectations Exhibition 

Appleby is crowded with visitors to the Appleby Horse Fair, and horses of all shapes and sizes. If you drive this way be very careful. I heard today that a small child running from between caravans got run over, and has a broken leg. We don’t want any more injuries. Children will always get excited and not look where they are going. 

My exhibition is set up and attracting positive attention from locals and visitors. 
This is a visual post. Here are more photos of the portraits.