Self Portrait in coloured pencil

Saturday, 10 August 2019

A Short Break

A Short Break
It is over a week since I did any work on Bentley, the portrait in Turner acryl gouache. 

The reason is that I have a new border collie puppy. I was expecting to take a week off to establish house training. She is very good in that respect. But my week is getting longer. 
The problem is she torments my poor Jasper. He doesn’t mind when she pulls his tail. I do. I have to keep cleaning long clumps of hair out of her mouth. But Jasper objects to the way she bites his legs. 
He is so kind. I always knew what a lovely nature he has but his degree of tolerance astonishes me. 
So I am spending a lot of time rescuing Jasper. Luckily I bought a nice soft “cage” for my old cat to hide in when he wanted peace. So the puppy gets fastened in the cage when she gets overtired and hyper and starts leaping at Jasper. And I can only do jobs (like writing my blog) when she is asleep. 
She has woken up again now, so I will add a cute photo of her and go and put her out in the garden. 
By the way, the garden is no longer green. The first game she discovered was digging, then the rain started. I will leave the rest to your imagination. 

Friday, 26 July 2019



I have been reading a new article about dogs dying young of cardiomyopathy when they are fed on grain-free dog food so I want to add my tuppence worth. 

First let me tell you about the portrait of Jasper above. It was done in 2011 the summer before Bryn came to live with us. It is drawn in Derwent drawing pencils in black, white and touches of other colours on grey Canson Mi-Teintes paper. I gave the portrait to Jasper’s biggest fan, my friend Annette. 

To get back to the issue of grain-free dog food: Jasper has a severe problem with both rice and corn. 
Rice gives him such bad diarrhoea that he quickly becomes severely dehydrated. Corn gives him the added symptom of blood in his diarrhoea. And no. He has no problem with gluten. He can eat wheat or rye without any trouble as long as there’s no rice or corn mixed in. 
The trouble with ordinary dog food with grain is that they don’t specify which grains are in the ingredients so Jasper has to have grain-free food to keep him safe. 

However I choose a food with a high animal protein content. 

Many grain-free foods are high in legume types of protein including beans, peas and chickpeas. I learned at school that peas don’t have all the amino acids essential for animal life in the protein. Grains have missing amino acids too but they are different ones. I remember my teacher telling me that if I eat my beans on toast I would get all the amino acids I need. 
So clearly a dog food with peas but no grain is going to leave the dog with malnutrition. 

I have to watch out though. I had been buying one brand for a while and they brought out a more expensive recipe and I bought a couple of bags. (I had 2 dogs and there was a reduction in price for buying 2 at once.) I didn’t think to check the ingredients until both Jasper and Bryn seemed less well than they were. It had a lot of pea in it. I quickly ordered the cheaper stuff and, once the dogs were well again, I admit that I added small quantities of the expensive stuff to the regular food so it wouldn’t go to waste. 

Bryn was a cross breed Irish wolfhound. Irish wolfhounds tend to have a genetic heart problem and die suddenly with no symptoms when they are about 6 years old. I think it is a form of cardiomyopathy. Well Bryn was 15 years old when she died, so clearly a grain-free dog food with high animal protein content didn’t do her any harm at all. Jasper is 11 now and you wouldn’t believe it to look at him. 
He is a bit depressed since Bryn died and is clearly looking for a new girlfriend. I am getting him a little girl puppy. I am depending on him to teach her how to make friends with everyone she meets like he does. He taught Bryn.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Bentley is Progressing

Bentley is Progressing

I am still busy trying to organise my kitchen. It is important because I am getting a new puppy soon and I want everything to be hygienic for her. But I have been able to do some useful work on Bentley’s portrait. 
I have gone over the hairs where the dark and white meet on his head, and gone over the bits of his nose that were too dark. I used white and beige for that. It needs more touches of white when the paint has dried. Turner’s Acryl Gouache dries after 24 hours but the paint can be softened and lifted which is so useful at times for blending. I want clean flicks of white for the hairs so I will give it 48 hours. 
But tomorrow I will be able to work on his muzzle which had a wash of pale pink this morning. Also I will work on his nose which I dotted with beige this morning to bring out the texture. 

Saturday, 6 July 2019

More Work in Progress

More Work in Progress 

Building the kitchen cupboards tired me more than I expected. I am still having afternoon naps so I haven’t been able to work on Bentley as much as I thought I would. But I am getting on well with the work I have done. His nose now has texture, dark hairs are positioned in his fur and I have started on his muzzle. I don’t use black. I used sepia overlaid with dark grey. 
I need to touch in lots of white hairs. He doesn’t really have those dark lines over his nose. They mark the shadows of the cute little puppy folds of skin. Once I have dragged some white, light grey and light beige fur over them they will look like folds and not stripes. 
First I am going to lay some pink skin on his muzzle. Then I will get out the white paint and work over all the fur on his nose to get the shading right. 

Friday, 28 June 2019

Tidying my Workspace

Tidying my Workspace

Last week, including last weekend, I was improving my kitchen storage. I bought the Welsh dresser and the drawer unit from IKEA, and, yes, I put them together myself apart from the top of the Welsh dresser which I had to remove to make the top half of the dresser light enough to lever in place. Then I couldn’t lift it back into place because I have a problem with raising my arms above my head, so I had to ask a friend to do it for me. But I did the rest.
I had to move a lot of furniture around to make space for the new cupboards, so I had to find good places to put it. One trolley ended up in the catio. I don’t know what will happen to it in the end but for now it is something for the cats to play on.
I thought that life would be back to normal once I had had a rest, but it took much more resting than I expected. 

Today I have been cleaning the front room including my workspace. I have put the drawers with the pastels back behind the easel to make more space though the boxes of pastel pencils are still there. They don’t cut out so much daylight of course. And the light is the best thing about my workspace because it is a northlight. Talking of the light, I have clamped my light to the shelf behind my easel. I will move it back if it doesn’t work but clamped to the window sill it tended to foul the blind when I wanted to close it at night. 
I have added a metre ruler across the worktable to show how small my workspace is. 
I am waiting to get back to the portrait on the easel until I have finished the portrait of Bentley which I am working on upstairs (also with a northlight aspect).

Here is a photo of the two new units in the kitchen. Don’t be surprised at the cat barrel on the kitchen worksurface, or the cat bed on the dining table! I am not a crazy cat lady, but when I take an animal into my home I do my very best for it. And I have to have somewhere to keep them away from my easel. 

Friday, 14 June 2019

Latest Work in Progress

Latest Work in Progress

It is nice to get back to this portrait of Bentley in acryl gouache. The photo is of a small area to show how much more work I have to do to finish. If I show the full image you would think it is nearly finished but the minute I sat down and looked at it I could see that I still have a lot to do. 
When I am working in acryl gouache I use very small spotter brushes and lay the strokes of paint one at a time in layers. You can see a medium grey at the bottom right waiting for strokes of sepia and dark grey to build up the effect of fur. The difficulty is where there are white hairs lying over dark hair. 
Acryl gouache is lovely to work with because the paint doesn’t dry hard for a few days so mistakes can be lifted. Also it is opaque which means that I will be able to layer clean white hairs over the dark areas.
The nose is a completely different kind of texture. I expect that the spotter brush will live up to its name when I get there!
I should mention that the strip of white thick paper is to rest my hand on to protect the paint from grease.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Exhibition 2019

Exhibition 2019

I have been busy trying to finish as many portraits of Gypsies as I can.
It has been a difficult year but I have managed to have seven oil on canvases in this year’s exhibition. 
I have introduced myself as the artist to everyone who took an interest so I could explain why I had painted these portraits and why I feel that I have a mission to fight against prejudice. You would be surprised at the interesting people I have talked to. One was an American pastor but I didn’t tell him that I was a Buddhist! 
A lot of people love the portrait of the deerhound and wanted to buy it so I explained that I work on commission. I may have a commission coming. 
One man walked in and said “That’s Walter” (behind the dog) before he saw the label. You can imagine how pleased I was that I had got that good a likeness. He knows Walter’s friend Sue so I was able to arrange that someone can pick up the portrait on Sunday and give it to her. Walter died a few months after I took the reference photos. 
The furthest portrait is a “work in progress” of the deerhound’s owner so it was a nice talking point. I told people that the dog was gazing into the boy’s eyes. 
I have another portrait that I would like to finish enough tonight to add it to the exhibition as another work in progress. If I can get the second boy’s face painted and leave their clothes as the underpainting, it will look fine. 

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Doing a Portrait Over

Doing a Portrait Over

This is cropped from a double portrait. I thought that I had finished it last year and I was about to send it to the (other) sitter. But I didn’t like the gentleman’s expression. It didn’t capture his lively sense of humour and wisdom. So I worked over it with a new expression that does. 
He isn’t quite finished. I need to finish his clothes. 
Meanwhile his portrait is so much better than it was, that I have to rework his fellow sitter because she looked ghost like by comparison!
Must get back to the easel!

Friday, 3 May 2019

Walter’s Scarf.

Walter’s Scarf

Last year, I thought that I had finished the portrait of Walter, but then I was told that he always wore his scarf. The reference photo had a scarf but it was all twisted round one side, so I had just painted over it. 
I need a new reference photo to be able to paint the folds of a scarf correctly so I asked a male friend who is the same age as Walter to model for me. 
The next thing that I had to do was scrape off the old paint. I couldn’t scrape it right back to the canvas but I got it back enough to see the texture of the canvas. 
Now I have done the first phase of the correction by applying some oil paint for an undercoat. 
When I look closely at a painting that I thought was “finished” some time ago I immediately find things that need to be improved. So I spent some time today adding some shadow to his hat after I had photographed his undercoated scarf and sweater. 
And as for his neck; I am sure that I can make that better especially as it got scraped along with the scarf so repair is definitely called for. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2019



I wanted to write this post after I read an article about the importance of immunisation. 

I suppose it rang a bell because I had polio when I was a baby. It left me with a paralysed right leg and general weakness down my right side (which nobody realised until I got post-polio syndrome and lost the use of my right hand). 
I was puzzled about finding a photograph to symbolise my problems then I thought of my saddle stool. You see, with my right leg being paralysed and skinny, my left leg compensated and is very muscular. This includes my buttocks which means that sitting on an ordinary chair is very stressful and even painful because of having to balance. The saddle stool is the only really comfortable seat in the house. 
So it lives in front of my easel so that I can sit and paint comfortably. 

To get back to immunisation, I have often heard children ask their mothers “why does that lady walk funny?” and their mothers commonly hush them and rush them away as if walking funny was shameful. Whenever I had a chance to interrupt the hushing, I would explain to the child that it was because I caught a nasty disease that they wouldn’t catch because scientists had discovered a way of immunising against it, and they should be happy to go and have injections to keep from catching nasty illnesses. 

I am so happy about the campaign to eradicate polio all over the world. There’s still polio in places where there is war going on and people are risking their lives to take the polio vaccine to these places. 

When I was growing up there was no immunisation against illnesses like measles, rubella, mumps or chicken pox, so I had to suffer through them and I was lucky not to have bad side effects from them. 
I remember the day when my whole class at school came down with rubella and we were comparing our rashes. That must be so infectious for us all to get it the same day. I hope that none of us got anywhere near a pregnant woman. 

When I was growing up, there was immunisation against diphtheria which is another frequently fatal disease that immunisation has pretty well eradicated. My mother caught that and was hospitalised when she was a teenager. She made sure that I had the injections against that, I promise you!

Friday, 12 April 2019

Gardening Break

Gardening Break

I have been using up my energy gardening recently. It is that time of year. 
The photo above is of a fruit tree. It is a cross between an apricot and a Mirabelle plum. There’s a few flowers on it but I doubt that there will be any fruit this year but it is exciting. 
The Miracot isn’t the only tree that I have in my garden. I have a hazel tree with a forsythia growing up through it which is so tall that it is trying to be a tree too! 
One year, I saved some horsechestnut conkers and one grew. I have that one in a pot to bonsai it. There is no way that I have room in my garden for a horsechestnut tree. 
I love trees but my garden is very small so I have been looking for small trees to fit in it. And fruit trees add extra value of course. They have flowers and attractive fruit and I can eat it! 
A very small tree is an apple tree, an Appletini, which I have planted in the catio. The space where the catio was built, had raspberries shooting up everywhere. I have been able to move some of the runners and you can see one just beginning to shoot up under the Miracot tree in the photo above.
Another good reason for having trees in my garden, is that trees sequester carbon and help wildlife. I don’t use pesticides. 
Talking of wildlife, I rescued a collapsed bumblebee by giving her a spoonful of honey. She put her tongue straight into it and later on she had gone. I left the spoon in case she came back. 
I have another area at the top end of my garden and I am wondering if I can fit another tree in there. I really want it to be a moss and fern garden so I am sure there’s a suitable tree if I can find one that doesn’t grow too big. 
I have planted alpine strawberries in the catio and I mean to add herbs (including catnip of course).
The photo of the catio below shows blackcurrant bushes. I probably won’t get many blackcurrants this year. The bushes were cut back in February to make space for the catio. 
I tried to photograph the forsythia but I didn’t get the focus right. 

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Technique v Paint Brand

Technique v Paint Brand

I have been having trouble with the portrait I have been painting because it is of an man with pronounced smile lines and dimples and the portrait is small on the canvas so there is no room for error. 
I am painting the portrait in water mixable oil paint on canvas with a very small brush. 
When I first tried water mixable oil paint I bought some Duo Aqua Oil by Holbein and I liked them very much but I wasn’t painting anything small and detailed. I had also bought a few tubes of Cobra paint by Royal Talens just to compare the colours. It is amazing how different burnt sienna can be from different manufacturers. I didn’t like the Cobra paint so much but ...
When I paint large areas with Duo Aqua paint, it is fine, but when I am trying to get a fine smile line in just the right place it catches on the tops of the weave of the canvas and I can’t get it in between the threads without using too much paint. 
After struggling for a few days, I thought about trying the Cobra paints that I had bought. Amazingly the brush marks went just where I wanted them. So I looked at the colours that I had and made a list of the ones I needed and sent an order for them. Yesterday I cleaned my palette and laid out the new Cobra ones. 
The colours in the photo from left to right are titanium white, light oxide red, burnt sienna, raw umber and burnt umber. These are the colours that I use to paint flesh. 
I love Terra Rosa colour that Duo Aqua makes which is the only thing that I miss. Light oxide red is a close match so I will learn to live without it when necessary. I can still use the Duo Aqua paint for less detailed portraits. 

Friday, 15 March 2019

Yawning Cub WiP

Yawning Cub, Work in Progress

My latest pencil drawing is a cub yawning as s/he comes out of the den in the morning light. I am using a 2H lead in a mechanical pencil on graphic film. Maybe that is why the 2H comes out so black compared to drawing on paper. I like the smoothness of graphic film and the fact that it doesn’t buckle if it gets damp. As graphic film is translucent, I often colour the drawing on the reverse. If I do it on the reverse of the Yawning Cub, it might solve the problem of colouring the roof of the den. But at the moment I am challenging myself to do it in graphite pencil. 

I have had another challenge this week. I was blending pastel skies and distant hills. I was working on canvas primed with clear Colourfix. (Colourfix is brilliant for mixed media and I am using it to underpaint and sketch portraits in oils.) Colourfix is gritty which is why it holds the pastels. 
Many artists work with pastel on a sandy textured surface but in the past I always worked on Canson Mi-Teintes paper. But the paper absorbs water and buckles which is the main reason that I started working on graphic film. I wonder if I can prime graphic film with Colourfix? I will try it some time. 
Anyway to get back to the gritty surface on the canvas, I was blending the pastel with my finger and it got very red and sore. The next day I used another finger to blend pastel on the next 2 portraits and that finger got very sore. The next day I sacrificed a third finger on a big painting of a boy on his horse. 
After that I decided to preserve my forefinger and look for a solution so I searched for Colour Shapers online. I believe that they are made of silicone. I ordered 2 in finger sizes and another silicone blender which looks good for large areas. 
Time will tell. Today I drew, and did some oil painting. 
I also took Jasper for a walk. We have been kept in by the bad weather and he was beginning to go stir-crazy. Dogs are so valuable to get artists away from the easel and into the fresh air. 

Here are the silicone blenders. The black one is harder than the light grey. I don’t know which is best. 

Friday, 8 March 2019

Portrait of a Caracal, Finished

Portrait of a Caracal, Finished 

I finished the portrait drawing of the caracal and I have started a new drawing of a cub yawning. 
The caracal is drawn in graphite pencil in 2H on graphic film. It is designed to frame in a 5 by 7 inch frame. It took nearly 20 hours to finish because once I had the pencil marks I had to soften them with an eraser. I used a Mono zero elastomer eraser and also putty rubber. 

I had a challenge photographing the “work in progress” through the dark days of winter. I have a very nice Daylight lamp to work at my easel so when it was too dark to take a photograph I naturally turned the light on. But the photo came out striped. It reminded me of how, back in the days of rolls of photographic film and cathode ray tube televisions, to take a photo of a TV screen it was necessary to use 1/60 speed or the picture would come out striped. 

I tried Wikipedia, then Google to search for an explanation of the phenomenon but as I didn’t have a clue about the physics of light, I couldn’t find anything. Then I thought of dogs. I remembered reading many years ago, that dogs couldn’t watch TV comfortably because their vision is faster than ours and they see the flicker. So I googled dogs watching TV and got a result. 

It seems that we humans need 16 to 20 images per second to see the picture but dogs need 70 or the image flickers. 
Well I don’t know how many images per second my iPhone’s camera app is “seeing”, but it wasn’t able to take a smooth photo. I went to look for an app that gave me full control of the speed at which I took photos. I found an app called Yamera. It took a smooth photo at a speed of 128 but not the standard 125. I didn’t try slower speeds as they would have been blurred unless I used a tripod. 

I took a couple of photos this afternoon to show but I didn’t use the new app. I compared natural daylight to my lamp. Here are the photos first with light on then with light off. 
Below is the link to the article about human and dog eyesight. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Portrait of Caracal: Work in Progress

Portrait of Caracal: Work in Progress 

The main problem with this drawing is the way that the cats keep sitting on it! 

I hope to finish it this weekend. 

I haven’t done much artwork for the last three weeks. It is three weeks today since one of my dogs died (of old age - she was over 15). First there was the burial, then the washing of bedding and toys. 

After that I had someone here building a catio for me. I spent too much time watching and leaving my easel. I tried to draw the caracal in the evenings but, as I wrote above, the cats demanded attention. I think that they missed Bryn so much. She adored the cats and they felt protected by her. 

The catio was finished a week ago. That is, the construction was done, but I had the “landscaping” to do. This involved carrying buckets of soil to build up raised beds. It isn’t finished yet. I am going to have it on two levels. I will grow catnip and oatgrass for Fliss. For myself I have a mini apple tree, and I am thinking of growing strawberries. A catio is a bit like a fruit cage and the strawberries won’t be eaten by the blackbird. They may be eaten by the dog though. Dogs like strawberries. 

Jasper, my other dog, has been trying to find a new dog friend on our walks. I am hoping to get a puppy for him (once I have caught up with my portraits!) Jasper is such a calm and friendly dog that he would be a very good influence on a puppy. 

Friday, 25 January 2019

Portrait of Young Wolf Finished

Portrait of Young Wolf Finished

I have finished the portrait of the young wolf. The actual drawing took me 47 hours although, as I took the photo in November 1999 you could say it took me 19 years.

When I met this lovely wolf he was 6 months old and he was being held on a lead. I was so honoured that he liked me. He took hold of my wrist very gently in his mouth. It was the highlight of my life. After he was put back into the enclosure with the other wolves he kept jumping against the wire mesh fencing towards me and I got splattered with mud all over my jacket from the wolf enclosure. The result was that when I got home next day my own dog wouldn’t come near me! It was quite a while before the smell wore off my jacket and Trixie got back to normal. 

Back in those days, I had an SLR camera and I had to wait for the film to be developed before I knew if I had any reasonable photos. I tried to paint a portrait in pastel from the above pose but it coincided with the time I went down with post-polio syndrome and I had to give up artwork altogether for a while. 

I have always wanted to get back to doing a portrait from this photo, but it got put away in such a safe place that I couldn’t find it! When I did find it I looked at it and thought how soft focus it is compared to the sharp, see-every-hair photos that I can take with my latest DSLR. It was hard to see his hind feet because they were the same colour as the autumn leaves that he was standing in. That is why the drawing took so long. I did my best. Such a darling animal merited it. 

Because of the poor quality of the photo, I chose to draw a small portrait in graphite using mechanical pencils with different grades of lead from 2B to 3H. I draw on graphic film because it is “dimensionally stable” or, to put it another way, it stays flat in a humid atmosphere. The Eden Valley, where I live, is frequently humid. In fact I remember one day I was out in the rain and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. 

I have two more photos of the wolf that I would like to use as reference for portraits. In one he is lying in the dead leaves so I will have to do that one in colour. Maybe coloured pencils?

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Work in Progress: Young Wolf 2

Work in Progress: Young Wolf 2

I took the above photo yesterday and then I started drawing again instead of writing this artblog. So there is quite a lot more of him done since then. 

I have been struggling to get the texture of his fur right. The reference photo was taken back in  November 1999 on film, so it doesn’t have the detail that I can take today even with my phone! 

I have been going over his head again and again, lifting off dots of the graphite pencil with a kneadable eraser, then re-applying using a 2H mechanical pencil trying to get the impression of soft fur with flecks of highlights. 

I so want to get back to this drawing that I will stop writing now. Watch out for an update.