Self Portrait in coloured pencil

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Gypsy Portraits Project - Progress Report

Gypsy Portraits Project- Progress Report
Portraits of Gucci and Arthur

I have been struggling to get on with the portraits for this project. I have been falling too often. I dislocated my knee at one point, which stopped me from sitting at my easel. It took a while before I could do anything but sit on the sofa with my leg up straight. 

I am completely recovered from that problem and I am getting on with the portraits much faster. I am working on a number at once. A lot of painting in oils is waiting for the paint to dry. It is particularly important for me, because I have post-polio syndrome and my right hand is weak. I can paint with no problem. My only limitation is that I have to rest my hand on the canvas, so if the paint is wet it smudges, and I get an interestingly coloured hand.

I am most advanced with the portrait of Gucci, the dog. You can see what a beautiful nature she has. 
I am having to learn how to paint grass! It doesn’t usually come into portraits. 
Yesterday I searched online for a video of how to paint grass so I picked up a few tips. But I photographed the painting this morning before I put the tips into practice. 
I changed the colours from the video. I have an undercoat of flicks of shadow green by Holbein Duo Aqua Oil. It is looking promising. I used the colour to paint the bottom of the canvas so now it is upside down on the top picture shelf. I like the Duo Aqua paints. Gucci is mainly painted in Duo Aqua using a lot of Paynes Grey and white with raw umber to warm up the sunlit areas. I used some Schminke Mussini caput mortuum for the shadows on her tongue with Schminke Medium W Gel to make it water soluble. I also used a little bit of Schminke Mussini Pozzuoli earth to modify the Duo Aqua alizarin crimson. 

I currently have six portraits on the go. Another one that was dry enough today to rest my hand on was “Arthur”. This time I took the photograph after I had worked on it. It’s back on the picture shelves now, to dry. Today I also sketched baby Billy but it is a faint sketch and wouldn’t show if I photographed it. 
Meanwhile here is Arthur on the easel:

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Conversations with Artists

Conversations with Artists

I have been having an Open Studio as part of the C-Art Festival. 
The first weekend stood out for me because my visitors were fellow artists who were interested in the water-mixable oil paint that I am currently using. 
This is what I told them. 
I started by buying Duo Aqua paints. I bought a lot of colours and I like the way they mix with water easily and blend on the canvas. They dry quite quickly, not as quickly as acrylics of course, so they need to be kept wet. They dry matte. 
However the colours, particularly the earth colours: the umbers, ochres and siennas, weren't the precise colours that I expected. 
When I took up portrait painting seriously I used pastels and the brand I used basically was Talens Rembrandt. I used the earth colour in the range of tints for different skin colours. So I expected that if I mixed, for example, burnt sienna with white that I would end up with a colour that would work well for a man who spent time in the outdoors. 
Another colour that I used a lot of when painting portraits in Rembrandt pastels was Gold Ochre. Duo Aqua doesn't include this pigment. So I looked for it in Talens water-mixable oils, Cobra. They don't include Gold Ochre but I bought a number of the earth pigments to try them. 
Cobra paints appear to contain more oil than Duo Aqua and they dry slightly slower. The pigments still weren't the exact colours that I hoped for. 
Then I did some research (on Google) and discovered that small amounts of ordinary oils can be mixed with water-mixable oils. As I wanted to mix small amounts of Gold Ochre with a lot of white, I bought a couple of Talens Rembrandt oil paints including Gold Ochre! That worked brilliantly for the portrait of my friend who has a very pale creamy complexion. 
Her portrait is nearly finished. I am waiting for it to dry completely so I can glaze another colour over her hair. She doesn't like it as I painted it but I am not going to paint it again. It will take too long. I hope that glazing it with umber will make her happy. I will post the result next week. 
After that success, I continued to investigate possibilities and I discovered that Schminke make mediums that mix with ordinary oil paints to make them water mixable. I bought a tube of their gel and a bottle of the liquid medium. And as I loved painting in Schminke pastels (they were like painting with butter!) I bought some Schminke oil paints. Their Mussini paints are of wonderful quality and they sell Natural Raw Umber, Natural Burnt Umber and Natural Burnt Sienna so I bought them and have fallen in love with them. I took advantage of a sale to buy some more interesting colours as you can see in the photo above. 
Schminke Mussini paints dry slower than the Cobra paints and may be more glossy but I am not sure about that. Time will tell. And if I have matte and gloss areas on my portraits, varnish will cure that. 
It is important to keep adding the medium or the oil paint and water separate out. But a bit more medium cures the problem straight away. 
Because the pigments are different in every brand, I have been making colour charts. They are not good colour charts, but they show the differences. 
Below is a photo of my colour charts taken under artificial lighting so the colours are nowhere near accurate but it gives the idea.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017



At the weekend I wrote a long complex post to introduce the reason why I started the Gypsy Portraits Project. It was to use my talent for painting portraits to combat prejudice and Gypsies and Travellers meet prejudice. Gypsies come to Appleby-in-Westmorland every June for the annual Horse Fair, so I took a lot of photos in June this year and I am going to have an exhibition of the portraits next June during the Horse Fair. 
The reason the post was not published is that I was writing it on my iPad and it froze so I lost everything I had written! 
On Sunday, two Jehovah's witnesses came to the door and I told them about my passionate feelings against prejudice. We had a really nice dialogue on the subject and I told them the story of my cat who I rescued nearly 2 years ago. So I think that if I write that story it will explain my feelings about pre-judging. 

The cat was crying at the front doors in my road but nobody would take him in because they said he was aggressive. He attacked the resident cats and dogs and while he liked to have his head rubbed, if his body was touched he would scratch and bite. 
So I took him in. I already had 2 dogs and 2 cats so I struggled to keep them apart. But I persevered and soon realised that the reason he was "vicious" was that he was badly injured. Perhaps he had been hit by a car, because he clearly had liver damage. 
With food and shelter he healed quickly. I couldn't take him to the vet until I could handle him, but as soon as he had recovered enough he went to be microchipped and castrated. 
I called him Jet after a dog we had who had a lovely kind nature. I hoped that it would rub off. I don't know if it made any difference but he is the loveliest cat now. He is so courteous towards my other cats and he loves the dogs. He is still sensitive to being touched on his body so I am very gentle with him and don't pick him up. 
Misjudging Jet is not the only reason I find he is a powerful example of prejudice. He is a black cat and a few people seem to confuse the colour of his fur with racism. When someone says of a cat "I'm not racist", I think that is odd. 

Meanwhile I had been struggling to sit at the easel and paint. But I am fully recovered from my dislocated kneecap now. I had to take off some time to clean the house. It was so dirty after 6 weeks of not being able to do anything except sit on the sofa. 
So I am back to painting. I have been experimenting with different colours and brands of oil paint. For example, I had assumed that if I bought burnt umber, it would be the same colour no matter which brand it was. It isn't true. 
When I used to paint portraits in pastel, my basic brand was Talens Rembrandt, and they make Rembrandt oils which are not water-mixable but the colours are very close to what I am used to. I have found a great solution to mixing a wide range of skin colours. I have discovered a wonderful product made by Schminke, which is a gel that you can mix with oil paint to make it water-mixable. Schminke also make beautiful pastels so I think that I will add some of their oils to my palette. 
I am relieved to be able to get on with the portraits at last. And I am confident that with the new paint I will catch up the backlog. 
Here is how I am doing with the portrait of Mrs Lucas. I am reworking her skin colour. The standard way to paint in oils is to start dark and add the lighter colour on top, but I chose to paint light to dark in pastels to keep the colours clean and I am staying with the method that I am used to. I am also enjoying painting on canvas so the texture shows. 
I have to add some delicate shading to soften Mrs Lucas's eyes and I haven't even started on correcting the colour of her mouth, chin, and throat. It won't take long. I'm on a roll. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

Studio Changed

Studio Changed.
Yesterday my friend, Annette, helped me put up my picture shelves. She was in charge of the level and held the shelves steady while I wielded the carpenter's pen that I had bought. It's a felt tipped marker pen with a very long steel nib to be able to mark screw holes even through wood.

Then I showed off my prowess with a drill. The walls in this house are of very coarse sandstone with pebbles in it. I was very lucky though and only glanced off a pebble in two holes. I suspect that the plastering was done by an apprentice because it is so uneven but it wasn't too bad on the level of the lower shelves which is how we managed to get three shelves in a row.

The wall higher up was more uneven and wavy. There was no way to line up the upper shelves that would look good. So those three are on different levels. Annette chose the positions. She used to be a window dresser in Edinburgh, Scotland, so she is an expert at this kind of design.

There is space at each end of the wall to hang framed portraits using picture hooks. That will be a permanent display so I will take my time planning it. It will include the portrait of Roger and the one of Bryn that can be seen on the wall behind the sofa in the photo below. 

I am so happy to have the picture shelves. I will be able to work on a number of portraits at once and have somewhere safe to put them while the paint dries. 

Gucci is on the top shelf and there is a portrait below her that is only sketched as yet. I have been struggling to work because my paintings were behind obstacles set there to protect the canvases from cat claws. No problem now. I have a lot of catching up to do before the Open Studio weekends starting on Friday 8th September. 

After the shelves were in place it was time to put the sofa out for it to be collected this morning early. When Annette had helped me with that she had to leave. I was tired but determined and I made the new IKEA sofa. It was finished at 9pm and I made myself a coffee and put my feet up. 
I put the green cover on it this morning for some protection from the animals. 
Doesn't it look neat? It is very comfortable and takes up a lot less space even though the seat is actually slightly larger. 

Monday, 31 July 2017

Studio changes

Studio Changes

I live in a small Victorian terrace house, known originally as a two up, two down. There is a front room and a kitchen downstairs and, when it was first built, there were two bedrooms upstairs. The toilet was in an outhouse. It wasn't even in the garden, but two houses down the hill. Near the toilet was the coalshed. 
By the time I bought the house, the back bedroom had been divided to make a bathroom. It was badly designed and I changed it the moment I had some money to spare. 

But I am really writing about my studio. The whole house is 11ft wide inside. In the photo above, you can see most of the width of the front room which is my studio. The door on the left leads to the kitchen and the stairs go up on the right. The length of the room is 13ft from the front window to the wall under the stairs, so it is 10ft free space. You can't use under the stairs for anything but storage without banging your head. 
Originally the front door was next to the window, but a former owner built a (very) little vestibule to help keep the draughts out. I added a stable door which is wonderful for talking to people at the door with no chance of the dogs getting out. (Jasper tends to toss a ball over the door for visitors.) Below is a photo of Jasper in front of the stable door. The dogs' leads are hanging on the wall by the front door. My front door is very yellow. 
The drawers to the right of Jasper, hold my paper and other art related stuff. The cupboard on the left of Jasper is my Butsudan. I am a Buddhist and chant every morning and evening. 

The dark coloured wall is recently tiled with cork floor tiles to protect my paintings from condensation. I have bought some picture shelves so I can change my art quickly and easily. They arrived today and I haven't put them up yet. I have to get the drill out from the tiny cupboard under the bottom stairsI also bought a new, smaller sofa to replace the one in the top photo. It is an IKEA one, and it is the smallest sofa I can find. 
One of the nicest things about this house, is that the front window is nearly north facing so I have great light for painting until the sun creeps round on midsummer late evenings. 
An even nicer thing is my lovely neighbours. 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Dufton Art in the Hills exhibition.

Dufton Art in the Hills exhibition
As promised, I am writing this week about my visit to the Dufton Art in the Hills exhibition. 
But first I must tell you that I solved the problems that I had last week. I stopped the cats keeping me up at night, and I found out why my knee wasn't getting better. I had slightly dislocated my kneecap. I popped back when I kneeled down on the floor and now it is getting better steadily. However it is a bit weak so I got very tired at the exhibition and I haven't done much today. 

Back to the exhibition, I went with my friend Barbara and she was enthusiastic about the quality of the art. There were examples of all mediums. We both loved these sculptures made out of cutlery. 

I hope you can see the humming bird on the left. 
I must apologise that I didn't write down the names of the artists. I apologise to the artists in particular. 
If anyone wants to know who they are I can find out for you. 

Pencil on the left and a photograph on the right. Both are equally full of atmosphere. 

This lady works in all mediums. I like the pastel of the dog's eye. 

This is brilliantly done, enhanced with stitching. 

Finally two of my portraits, and a painting by my friend which I like so much that I voted it as my favourite artwork. 

I have a pastel and an oils. The portrait in oils isn't quite finished. She asked me to fluff out her hair. It was rather flat on the day we took the photos. Of course I agreed, saying that I am better than Photoshop. I am pleased at how vivid the portrait looks. Remember it's my first attempt in oils. 

I love this painting of Jean's granddaughter in Dufton Ghyll. 

I wasn't able to finish the portrait of Gucci, the gypsy dog, in time for the exhibition. It is nearly finished except for the grass in front of her. I chose a photo that had been cut off at the bottom because I was holding the camera very low to get the photo at Gucci's eye level, and I couldn't look through the lens. I have used some of the other photos to see what I lost, including the grass she is lying on. 
My new camera can connect with my new iPad by wifi so I spent some time this afternoon trying to make it work. Next time I want a very low angle for a photo, I will be able to see what the camera is looking at on my iPad screen. What an amazingly useful thing. I also uploaded the photos above, into the iPad by the wifi. It was very slow. I won't use it for a lot of photos but it is useful for small numbers. 

Friday, 14 July 2017



It has been another difficult week. 

There is a belief that when one tries to do something valuable or important, obstacles arise. 
I thought that my badly bruised knee was bad enough but it has not healed as quickly as I expected because of misbehaving cats. 

Life normally has a gentle routine of painting and drawing during the day, interspersed with taking care of the animals. I have two dogs and three cats. 
The dogs are well behaved except when our friend Annette, visits. Then it is playtime and treat time. Annette thinks they are badly behaved with visitors but they know she is the only person with a pocket full of treats. 
Cat number one, Pumpkin, is best described as a "gentleman". He has impeccable manners and has the run of the house. I don't let him out. He is old now 
Cat number two, Fliss, is in the photo above with Bryn. I had her from a kitten and taught her to pay attention to me but I don't trust her to be left loose unsupervised, so she is shut in the spare room when I am working and at night.
Cat number three, Jet, is a rescue. He is feisty. He is opinionated. He has teeth and claws and is willing to use them. I can't work with him around. He sits on anything I am doing. This week he decided he will go to bed when he wants to and I have been kept busy stroking him for hours which has been stressful for my knee. And tiring. I have been getting to bed very late and I haven't got much work done. 

Last night Jet refused to be put to bed at all. I don't know where he decided to sleep eventually. He certainly spent hours outside my bedroom door making strange noises. As I expected, when I got up he was desperate for the litter tray which is in the spare room. He was probably very hungry too. I took the opportunity to shut him in for the day. 
Fliss was loose in the studio today. She was interested in the palette of oil paint. I was interested in keeping her tail out of the paint but I did get some work done. I had to scrape some cat hair off the painting. Luckily it wasn't a delicate piece of brushwork. 

This week I bought myself two more ceramic palettes with lids so I could work on three paintings at once. I like ceramic palettes more than any other kind. The paint doesn't dry so quickly or hard on them and they are very easy to clean. They each live in their own air tight food storage box. These boxes are also cat proof. 

Next Friday is the Private View of the Dufton "Art in the Hills" exhibition so I will be late writing my blog. I will take photos. The three portraits that I am struggling to finish despite knee and cats are to be in the exhibition. I have to finish them by Wednesday morning when a fellow exhibitor (and good friend) will pick them up from me to deliver them to the Dufton village hall. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Cat in the Studio

Cat in the Studio

I haven't been able to do as much painting as I hoped this week. I had a fall on Monday and landed heavily on my right knee. I was in so much pain and I couldn't walk never mind sit at the easel. By Wednesday I was able to do some drawing while sitting in my easy chair in the kitchen. That evening I was able to stand and transfer a new portrait onto a canvas. I paid for it yesterday though. My knee became so uncomfortable.
This morning I was able to get back to the portrait of my friend. I was playing with the colours. I am getting a skin tone that I am happy with, by mixing a lot of white with a small amount of gold ocre and a hint of light oxide red to take the yellow out of it. I am using water mixable oil paints, but the gold ochre that I want is an ordinary oil paint. Luckily you can mix small amounts of oil paint with a greater quantity of water-mixable oil paint without losing the water mixable aspect.
After lunch, I got back to my easel raring to go, to find Pumpkin asleep on the lid of the palette. I hope you can see him in the photo. So I went upstairs to fetch a ceramic palette. I had been using it for acrylics so I had to clean it. 
I like to use ceramic palettes. I like the ones with round dimples. The paint doesn't dry so fast and stick so tight on ceramic. When I'm not painting I keep each one in an airtight food storage tub. 
I want to mention my favourite brushes as well. I have a couple in the pot on the window sill. The ones with a white handle are made of memory hair. The brand name is KUM. I buy them from CultPens. I don't know if anyone else sells them in the UK.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Getting on with the Portrait

Getting on with the Portrait

I have continued to experiment with the skin colour as painted in water mixable oils.
I read that I could add conventional oil paint and it would still be water mixable as long as I only used a small quantity. I bought a small number of oil paints including gold ochre which I used to find very useful for skin. The new paints arrived today and they worked well. 

Portrait painters prefer that their subjects don't see the portrait until it is finished. My friend turned up unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon. I would have hidden the painting if I had known. She was worried about the "wrinkles". I was thinking about the lines on her forehead and it was later that I realised she probably meant the construction lines round her eyes. The portrait won't look anything like that when it is finished. Her mouth is tight in the reference photo but I will soften her expression a lot. 

I like the paint to dry off between painting sessions. So I have started another portrait, but because I was struggling with skin colour at the time, I chose to paint a black and white dog. The dog is a crossbred Jack Russell terrier and I caught a lovely smiling moment from her. 
You won't be able to see it clearly but she is pencilled into the hole in the middle of the painting. I paint the surroundings first because the fur/hair has to be brushed over the grass. 

Friday, 23 June 2017

Studio Changes


Studio Changes

I have been very busy fussing with changes to my studio for the last few months. 
There are two reasons. The most important reason is that I am starting a new project. I am painting a series of portraits in oil on canvas. I will have a solo exhibition of them in June 2018.
The second reason is that I have had a nasty rash on my leg that meant I have had to sit with my leg propped up on a stool since last October. Because of that I haven't been able to use my usual painting table where I paint while sitting on a gas lift bar stool. (I couldn't find a footstool high enough 😉) So I have been painting and drawing small portraits on the kitchen table. But I have commissions for some big portraits and I have my project. I will say more about that in my next post. 
The result was that I spent a lot time online looking at easels that would let me sit with my leg up. I bought a table easel that would hold a bigger canvas but I couldn't get on with it, and l didn't like the idea of painting in oils on the kitchen table. 
So I set up my old easel in the lounge and it was very crowded. This week, I decided that it is no longer a lounge. It is a studio where I entertain guests. I rearranged the furniture. There was a plan chest under the window which I moved to the other wall where there was an easy chair. The chair has been moved to the kitchen (in the way of the oven). The easel is now in the perfect place where it gets the north light. 
The photo shows my new setup with the portrait I am working on. It is my first attempt at an oil painting. I am using water mixable oils. There are a few different brands. The first ones I bought were Duo Aqua Oil and I like them very much except I have been struggling to get the skin colours that used to be so easy in pastels. I bought a few Cobra oil paints to see if that burnt umber was the colour I remembered. It wasn't. The Cobra paints are more oily and don't suit me so well. 
I checked and you can mix normal oils with water mixable ones so I have bought some but it will be ages before they arrive. 
Meanwhile I have managed to mix a nice skin colour with burnt sienna and Quinacridone Gold and lots of white. I thought the Gold was too powerful to be useful but a tiny bit takes the pasty pink out of the burnt sienna.
I have also been experimenting with different brushes. I like KUM Memory Point brushes for my gouache paintings and I bought some in different shapes and sizes to try.
The water mixable paints dry faster than normal oils and it is a good idea to have a palette with a tight lid like for acrylics. I don't imagine that the kind with a reservoir and a semi permeable membrane would work right but you might like to try. Let me know. 
While I was about all this paint shopping, I bought a Daylight bulb for my worklight which is turned on in the photo. It has been a damp dismal day. 

Postscript: my leg is getting much better now. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Drawing of Bryn Finished


Portrait Drawing of Bryn

I finished the portrait drawing of Bryn some time ago and immediately became involved in new exciting projects. And not so exciting problems to solve. So I just now posting the finished result. 

I am calling the portrait of Bryn "Elegance". I once had another dog, a crossbred boxer, who had a similar queenly demeanour. But Juno wasn't able to curl up into such a small neat space with her chin resting on her back. Bryn is such a feminine dainty soul who takes a great interest in hair styles (mine) and manicures (hers). She tells Jasper to stand in the corner while I vacuum, and she keeps the cats in order. She is 14 now and I am making the most of every day I still have her. This is why I wanted to commemorate her in this portrait. 

I worked the portrait in graphite pencil on Bristol board. I used mechanical pencils that have a good grip area for great control. But it still took me 57 hours to get that degree of detail. 

The main problem that I have to find a solution for is that I need an easel that I can sit at with my leg up on a stool because it is not yet fully healed. I have easels. I have a great one set up facing a north light but it is set up on a high table and I use it while sitting on an adjustable height stool. There is no way I can rest my leg on a stool! I have a regular studio easel which I have to stand at. The construction makes it impossible to put my leg on a stool with that one. So I spent hours online shopping for easels. I saw one I liked but it takes up a lot of floor space and my house is small. 
Then I remembered I had seen a thing to attach to the back of a drawing board to set it up on a camera tripod. Plenty of space under a tripod for a footstool. I bought that and a lightweight drawing board and I am going to use it to start my next portrait tomorrow. I will be working A3 size which is uncomfortably big for the table easel. I will be working in Acryl gouache which is a gentle medium so the camera tripod should stand up to it nicely. 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

New Portrait of Bryn in Graphite Pencil

It feels like a long time since I did any serious artwork. I have a rash on my left leg that means that I have to sit with my leg on a stool. I found it very difficult to draw with my leg sticking out to the left. It was putting me off balance until I developed some new muscles to compensate!
I also needed to buy a new easel that I could use on the kitchen table. I bought myself an easel that I can tilt and rotate, so that instead of me bending to shade at an angle, I can twist the drawing board round. 
I started drawing this portrait of my old dog, Bryn, last year. She is very grey now so I am using an old photo as reference, but the pose is still so typical of her. She is a very elegant lady. 
I am drawing on Bristol board using mechanical pencils in sizes .3 and .5 in 2B. I love using the pencils which have a special grip area, but, even more, I love using the leads which have nano diamonds so they are blacker than usual because nano diamonds lubricate the lead. 
The piece of card at the bottom of the photo is so I can rest my hand on the surface without getting grease on the drawing. Graphite doesn't stick well to grease. 
Now Bryn's face is drawn, I was thinking that it wouldn't have be long before I finished it, but I forgot about the lovely twirly rosettes of fur on her chest. They will take some time. I am so glad that I bought the new easel!