Exercise: Head and Shoulder Portrait

My sitter was Tom. He was well trained, holding an exact position for a prolonged duration.

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While making these drawings I noticed that there were two light sources on his face – a warmer one on his left and a colder (more daylight) one on his right.


This is a result not of intentionally producing something surreal but a conundrum about broken colours. I know I can’t go from orange/brown to blue except via another colour… green perhaps… but this is in part what I saw – a face lit on one side with a warm tint and on the other with a cold tint – created by two different domestic lights.

If I had chosen warm or cold and painted this as a tonal study in that hue then the effect would have been more natural… even if that hue had been Cobalt blue.

If I look at the warm side of the face alone then I’m pleased with the effect – I can see the 3d shape in the shading.

If I imagine the warm side being much darker – almost black – then the blue side would look like blue light throwing the other side into shadow.

Thinking more clearly about this… what is the effect of a blue light (ie: more daylight than tungsten) on the skin? I perceived it as being a blue light but the actual colour of the skin might have been… what? A colder version of the warm side? More lemon yellow.

So I’m stuck on this… what in general is a more blue-looking version of brown? What does that mean?

Tom said little about his portrait, but his mother said it was “interesting”. I just said that this is how Tom looks to me!




My access to life models is via a life drawing group so I’ve attempted these during a session.

Queens Park Arts Centre, Aylesbury, 14 Oct 2017

These are A2 charcoal sketches on A2 sugar paper. The poses here range between 3 and 10 minutes. The model had tattoos which I’ve occasionally sketched in.


After coffee is a one hour pose which I divided up into line and tonal painting…


These took about 10 minutes each (both approx A2). I attempted only to outline the most definite features and filled in some darker negative areas.


I spent most of the time on this tonal painting for which I used just Paynes Grey and white. I had this ground prepared as a mid-to-dark grey.

It suddenly became very hard to get what I wanted. I may have benefitted from using a bigger canvas – this was also only about A2 in size and I perhaps would have found twice the size easier to deal with.

The first thing I found was that without the ‘style’ of using colour and bold marks I wasn’t sure how to handle the paint.

I also found that I couldn’t track where I was painting – I got lost.

A very difficult area was the model’s right arm and body – the arm cast a definite shadow on her body, which I have painted in, but it now looks quite odd as I’m not sure how I show a distinction between a shadow that is cast and a 3d shape… which also creates shading. When the shadow is in the neck area it just seems to work – the chin is perceived.


With 10 minutes to go, I didn’t feel I could add positively to the first painting so I did a very quick second one allowing myself to experiment with green and orange.

I was inspired by a local Aylesbury artist called Maggie Jewell, who is now dead, but my wife owns one of her works, so I’ve seen it a lot.

Here I’ve concentrated on creating the form by painting in the negative space.I chose a dark green (Hooker’s Green) to contrast the cushion colour which is actually orange in real life and I painted it in Pyrrol Orange.

The overall form has come out reasonably well for a 10-minute paint sketch and the arm shadow seems to be less problematic here… perhaps because I’ve been very bold with the shaded side of the arm itself which is, therefore, a definite solid.

Searching around on the internet I’ve discovered a modern American artist called Maggie Siner whose work:


…I enjoy because of its bold strokes and un-muddied colour. It’s also ‘alive’ because of these techniques combined with spot-on perspective and proportion.

In previous weeks at life drawing I’ve produced some tonal charcoal sketches – often the ten minute ones – which I think could be made into paintings…


These are both of the same model – the right pose in the first image was an early ten minute pose which I managed to capture tonally quite well.

The second image is my final sketch of the hour pose – by which time I new this pose quite well. It benefits from a bit of context as well as bold shading and good proportions.


This sketch was so quick there are very few marks on the paper but the effect is good.

I think there’s enough captured in these sketches to develop into paintings.

Research – Self-Portraits

Norman Rockwell


This self-portrait is also self-parody, and should be seen with this:


The bookcover of the book which was re-produced in the Saturday Evening Post and used the Triple Self Portrait above as the cover for the first of those issues.

Like much of this art – especially that for the Post, it is full of visual jokes. It takes a while to sink in that this is a triple portrait… one of those is not the artist but a painting of the artist which is inevitably a painting of the artist painting.

I’m amused about the glasses – he paints himself wearing them to see himself in the mirror yet takes them off the image that he’s painted himself painting. It is a dig at his own vanity… or perhaps the vainness of other artists.

The subject smokes a pipe and there are dead matches scattered around from re-lighting it… and one seemingly smoldering in the bucket with his rags or newspaper.

The gold-framed mirror is perched in an improvised manner on a rustic chair where it looks out of placed to be used purely as a mirror rather than as an ornament. And pinned around his canvas are his preliminary drawings and his inspiration… four more artists’ self-portraits. There is always a lot going on in Norman Rockwell paintings.

If these artists inspire Norman then they’re good enough for me so… (Thanks to OCA Facebook VisComms group for identifying them for me!)

Albrëcht Durer (1471- 1528)


Two self-portraits by Durer – 1498 and 1500. Having visited Italy a few years earlier Drurer brought his Italian learnings back to Germany and these portraits, like many self-portraits by art masters, are a demonstration of the artist’s ability and style.

No tools of his trade are depicted. Moreover, Durer elevates his own social status by clothing his portrait in expensive clothes.

In the second portrait, he goes one step further an uses a pose which, at the time, was reserved for Christ – the very symmetrical full frontal portrait. The signature and inscriptions draw us to the eyes; the right hand is posed in a way that might remind us of making the sign of the cross…although I’m not sure this is a good contextual rading of the pose. The right hand is also the artist’s ‘tool’ so its visibility could be more of a ‘product shot’.

It might be possible to imagine this man as being very arrogant about his abilities… but it is also an issue of context. Portraits were the visual communication media of the rich of the time – there is an opportunity to re-write the truth by manipulating the painting. Depicting himself as a wealthy man may, in fact, be a brilliant ‘poker-player’s bluff’ – a self-fulfilling prophecy. As an advertising medium Druer has full control over the image he portrays of himself in the same way that multi-national corporations control how they are perceived in modern media using ideas like socially aware, non-polluting, successful, environmentally sound, etc.

I feel there’s a ‘flatness’ to these pictures. The subject does not look fully rounded and it suggests older paintings where perspective has not yet had its rules established. The view out of the window certainly makes good use of diminishing size with distance but it still looks a little forced – like it is in layers of distance rather than a continuous diminishment.

Rembrandt (1606 – 1669)


These two self-portraits are from 1649 (when the artist was 34 years old) and 1669 (when he was 63)… and it is the second one that appeals to me where the first does less so.

The younger artist appears nonchalant compared to the elder and it is as if the two look at each other – the elder version giving the younger one advice, who naturally does not listen.

Admired Lucas van Leyden – wears his ‘costume’ in the 1649 portrait – these clothes are from the 16th century. The pose appears to be taken from a 1509 Tition portrait (‘A Man with a Quilted Sleeve’). X-Rays have revealed a left hand, now painted out, which resembles a self-portrait by Durer. Overall he seems to be emulating his ‘heroes’ by painting himself in their image, literally. It is perhaps a form of flattery but also could be a way to usurp their talents – to claim for himself the status that they enjoyed.

The earlier work is less textured but there are interesting applications – using the stick-end of a brush to scrape lines in the collar, for example.

The later painting, dated in the year of the artist’s death when he was no longer the wealthy man he had been, reveals his age and condition through more than just the actual colours on the canvas. We are used to seeing screens – TVs etc – where the only variance that enables a picture to be produced is the colour at each spot. Painting interacts more richly with the world and this later self-portrait expresses through physical texture the nature of its subject. On close inspection areas of the face disappear into a ‘mess’ of brushwork and shadow – the mouth in particular – and yet the expression on the face is clearly portrayed – a kind of bitterness perhaps, but also a defiance like that of a man who will not reveal his thoughts at this moment.

There is a great similarity in the two pictures’ faces yet they tell each us something different. The older eyes are more centred like the pose is more settled. The younger man may just have glanced our way in that moment. Looking closely at the older Rembrandt’s eyes the glint is vanishingly small. In the farther darker shaded eye there is almost no catchlight at all – just a dull spec. This technique in itself literally takes the spark out of the life of the subject.

Compared to Druer’s self-portraits theses are more rounded impressions – the sense of a body filling space is there with great use of light and shade to create the shape of the subject. Durer perhaps approached this in his second more Christ-like self-portrait. Perhaps a hundred years of painting practice had demonstrated how this was done.

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)


Both appear to be 1889 – before and after cutting off his own ear.

A huge gap of 200 years after Rembrandt, after things like French impressionism’s heydey but before the 20th Century explosion of all possibilities.

Both show Van Gough the artists – holding his brushes and pallet in the first and stood in front of a blank canvas in the second. These are very different from the Durer and Rembrandt self-portraits. Van-Gough is portraying himself as he is, and perhaps not even as advertisements. These resemble diary entries – a visual record of the condition of the artist at key points in time. Although these are probably the most as-seen depictions so far they are the most stylised with Van-Gough’s characteristic varied-colour brush strokes dominating.

This is a modern and more familiar concept of ‘The Artist’ as a self-motivated practitioner who is producing art as he or she chooses rather than simply as a contracted act.

His gaze in both paintings is quite soft… it lacks the intensity of both Durer and Rembrandt’s like we are sharing this view of the artist with the artist rather than looking back at him.

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)



I have no idea.

I can see a profile and I am guessing that is the artist, and there are other shapes and I’m sure the bust of the woman in the title is represented in those other shapes but I don’t grasp quite how that works.

It is, for sure, an exciting image – there are vivid colours an a variety of line: notable orthogonal ones and, centrally, curving ones. There may be eyes and teeth and maybe a head.

The face profile could be a picture on the wall rather than a self-portrait, and perhaps we’re back to Norman Rockwell here – painting a painting of the artist.

In Conclusion

Having worked through the proclaimed inspirations within Norman’s self-portrait it points again to knowledge and humour. I can see that Norman Rockwell knew his beans: he chose artists of genius and madness – revolutionaries to look up to.

He also pokes fun at the hubris and vanity of artists, as well as celebrating the simple idea of a worker and his tools. The pipe will be included in the toolkit I expect.

The lasting message from the artist is…you see what I want you to see, I don’t just paint what is there.




Part 3


Self-Portraiture ✔

Mood Portraiture

Interiors and Portraiture


Drawing The Human Figure ✔

  • Line Sketches of a model as preparation

Linear Figure Study ✔

  • Painting of model in line based on above sketches

Tonal Figure Study ✔

  • Painting of model in tone based on above studies


Self-Portrait ✔

  • Light on one side
  • Mirror
  • Paint directly- Spontaneous

Head & Shoulders Portrait ✔

  • Plan a sitter (Thomas) 
  • (Take Photo for Computer later) 

Creating Mood and Atmosphere

  • Full/H&S/Self Sitter (Thomas?)
  • Result to be unusual or expressive

Conveying Character

  • Portrait/Self Sitter
  • Plan the characteristic first
  • Can paint from a photo to capture a fleeting image Violet/Sarah

Figures in Context

Figure in an Interior

  • Thomas at a computer (before 18th Oct)

Telling a Story

  • Like an illustration for an article…? (THINKS)
  • Violet presenting mummy with a picture?

Assignment 3

  • Anything from Part 3… well considered and planned. (THINKS)

Assignment 2

The Assignment submission page is at: Assignment 2

I’m painting a still life in the style that I feel most strongly about – using expressive, relatively large brushstrokes with a limited number of objects. The outcome is to focus on the subject closely to produce a bold and striking picture.


I assembled a considerable number of objects for consideration.


After a number of eliminations I reduced it to these. The metal shots ‘glasses’ were particularly interesting visually but…


…I was looking for a bit of a story…


…and here I’ve found one. This is a personal memory – staying up all night talking to friends when I was a student (of the teenage kind). I’m a non-drinker so I had tea whereas my friends would dring actual alcohol, like wine. Orla… this might have been you?!


I need to put these into a setting… I prefer a blank background but there could be other ideas.


A lower angle is interesting. It’s also interesting how the wine bottle casts a shadow.

The story here is of an empty wine bottle and an empty teapot – perhaps it’s the morning and the talking is done.

It might be better to have the lid on the teapot… then where’s the bottle top? I don’t necessarily need one.

I would like there to be brighter colour in this… it represents a joyous event, not a sad one. It’s a celebration of good times and friendship rather than a dire warning about the vices of wine and tea.

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I found a red cap to use… this definitely is starting to have the same resonance as my carrot and radish…


The arrangement now sits on an old chopping board, which is standing in for a kitchen table… but it’s very bright… I’d rather it was a very deep oak table. I could possibly paint it or stain it darker for the purpose.


I’ve been doing Life Drawing in preparation for Part 3 and learnt that understanding of the subject is gained through drawing it… the mistakes made in scale, angle and proportion direct me to where I need to pay more attention to understand the shapes and tones that are there.

Taking a photograph does none of this, of course, it requires the reproduction through me as the instrument of rendering.

Importantly for this picture, and for all of Painting, I won’t be simply re-painting a perfect and identical reproduction of the object that I can see. I will be personally present in the reproduction by putting my own filter in the middle of the subject and the picture. In this specific case, I wish to emphasise the sense of a pleasant time had… a warm and cosy feeling.


Top, above: my first sketch is fast with XL-sized charcoal in black only. AFter drawing this my attention is drawn to the darkness of the teapot compared to the wine bottle. There is more tonal closeness that I have rendered here but overall the teapot is the darker object.

Bottom, above: I’ve ignored the overall tone in this one in favour of finding out where the shapes are. I’ve discovered the difficulty of the spout – it is a subtle curve and does not look right at all if it is not rightly reproduced in outline… it appears as an ugly teapot.


Closer investigation into the spout and its shape, and how that all relates to the overall shape of the teapot.


Drawing very quickly again I’m looking for what spontaneity produces. In this case, I’ve found the pockets of energy that are representable within the shapes themselves.They are both shiny objects and the various reflections are complicated. When I render a broad impression of them I discover that they leap out. This is a useful idea as I’m looking for how to portray joy and happiness, and the more dynamic energy from the reflections can be employed to help do this.



Blending in the long direction of the bottle. Hard outlines are important. The teapot surface is almost absent from the image – it’s the reflections that show up. Neither object is ‘rough’… hard or soft edges but not heavy texture.

Actual Paints

It is time to start using actual paints – this is, after all, the point.

I chose four colours which, from recent experience, I think will do the job of rendering the subject and give me the ability to vary the greens.


After a while I started to realise that the bottle needed a red mixed in with it in places – the green became slightly browner… perhaps the teapot is caught in the reflection.

I added Indian Red and experimented with the teapot.

By this time I had painted, vaguely, a lot of the scene so I roughly finished it by way of experiment, adding Cadmium red for the bottle top.


On the way, I found that I could use the green on the teapot to create the darker glazing and shadows, and the red on the bottle to do something similar.

For me, I feel it’s important to paint progressively thickly – painting into the wet paint to mix and blend as well as painting on top – still wet-on-wet but refraining from mixing in.

The bright highlight on the teapot came out very well – it is white surrounded by yellow, then blended to red. It’s inspired by Turner’s Houses of Parliament on fire which evoked a bright glow using the same kind of stages: white-yellow-red – the blackbody radiation spectrum.

I love the spontaneity of this style; working out the ways of combining the colours before painting the actual picture is important to prepare the way it will be done – although the brush strokes are applied with flowing gestures, they should each be carefully considered so as to render the intended picture. This is also essential in order to make sure that the outlines of these vibrant and dynamic objects are defined in order to show that they are glass and ceramics.

Very pleased with this stage.


Further investigation – I discover how to get closer to the colour of the bottle which is a ‘green’ bottle but a very yellow-green. I understand the nature of the specular highlights now – there are white ones and green ones… the latter are reflections on the inside of the bottle which are filtered twice: once as the light passes into the bottle and once as it passes out again after being reflected. The white ones on the outside are not filtered except at the edges where they are dimmer and tinged green slightly.


In this painting, I’m looking at a few things…

  • What are the different areas of the bottle? The teapot is visible through it but makes the bottle dark
  • Where are the highlights? They are white and yellow… outside and inside but quite ‘organised’ due to the single light source.
  • What is the range of colours? In this painting, the green colour is not right but, nevertheless, I’m going to need black to make the very darkest areas (not achieved here)
  • What should my pallet be to achieve this? I’v added another paint colour – Terre Verte – which is a dark yellow-green… and lives up to its name by having an earthy feel like military uniforms.





On the right here I’ve experimented more and found the right range of colours and used black to get to the deepest shades.

This subject has a great tonal range, although a lot of it is in the middle, there are touches of darkest shadows and brightest whites that give the glass and ceramic its smooth texture.

To paint this I’m going to need to paint from the back to the front in layers and areas… defining the parts of the bottle through which the teapot can be seen, for example, and straight away defining the outlines of the objects in a few base colours. I’ll be mixing into these on the canvass to help create the glassy effect.

There’s great scope to heighten the excitement in the picture by using the presence of the reds and greens together. Even though the main areas may be full of movement and gesture the edges of the bottle will need careful painting in with black and dark green to create the shadow and hard edge in the end.


A quick study to get familiar with the proportions.


The wine bottle.

I’m in two, possibly three, minds about this

  1. It looks a bit real – this is a surprise. I’m not used to producing art that looks real. It’s a long way from a trompe l’oeil – it’s not going to fool you but… it does a bit and I’m attracted to that… but…
  2. That’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for bolder, visible brushwork that contains the realism despite the obvious paint.
  3. I want to finish it so that I can move onto what I’m actually intending to do / but I want to leave it now and start over in another way.

I think I’m effectively afraid of my own style, butI’ve discovered something in doing this… I was worried about laying down a flat area of green to define where the bottle is so I tried to paint the areas. But actually, my technique relies on a base of wet paint to paint into, mixing the paint in as I go. I need that first layer just to get started.

I think I will finish this one but I want to paint it again… this time laying down the bottle shape in a medium-strong green of the overall bottle colour then working into this to create the shape with bigger bolder brushing.

As my wife points out… the shoulders are not even – she knows about red wine bottles.


This is not the technique I used for the wine bottle but I’m trying it for the tepot – a base for the one object that allows me to concentrate on the rest of the details.


After much huffing and puffing it’s complete. But it’s not the picture I intended to create.


There are some nice details… the teapot has taken on a shiny look to a degree, but I’ve still not been bold enough with the brush and paint to create the brushwork look that I’m chasing.


The red cap for the wine bottle is done very simply and looks right when I stand back.

I’ve got some worries here – that the brushwork, if I find it, will negate the shiny look. I don’t think this is actually the case – I just have to make sure I paint the shiny spot using the brushwork.I’m worried that the bottle will never be right because It’s quite hard to judge.

I’m worried that the bottle will never be right because It’s quite hard to judge. This is just lack of confidence because I have not done enough observational drawing in my life to rely on my own abilities.

Once more then… this time with more brush work.

Other things:

  • Adding green on top of the red to create the shadows worked to a degree… but not entirely. I think I’ll need black too to make some of these low lights deeper.
  • Although the colour of the teapot is reasonably close to appearance I’d like to evoke a bit more of an exciting mood so I think I’ll move that colour more towards a deeper red
  • The red cap and green bottle don’t create a proper vibrance because the green is not close enough to be a complementary colour, I think, and the tones are not completely the same. But it balances the composition to have that strong area of red on the other side to the larger teapot… so long as the smaller cap is more intense than the larger teapot, perhaps.

Final Painting

I’ve found with Life Drawing that if I draw a single pose several times I can control better what I’m doing with each iteration. So it is with this I hope. I’ve seen a glimmer of what I want to produce but I’m thwarted quite often by the inaccurate proportions and scales that I render. So this time…


I’ve gone back to making out the canvass (primed hardboard) using a charcoal pencil.


The sine bottle is going to be hard to use with the expressive brush strokes because of how it actually looks – it’s mainly a cylinder and all of the reflections from horizontally. I’ve decided I will build it up from the back painting the far side of the bottle and working my way to the front.,

This first stage of green is all about the two different tones where the teapot is (and is not) and getting a little downward texture to represent the far side ‘going around’ the bottle shape.


The teapot has now done what I wanted… it is energetic and bright. The highlights are still done by adding green to the red and mixing it on the canvas. The red is a mixture of Indian Red and Cadmium red with white and green mixed in for each brush stroke to create the texture.


The bottle nearly finished… just the very highest highlights and some more shaping to go.

Finished: (Rough photo, paint still very ‘wet’)


This is much better – far closer to the thing I’m aiming for. There’s a strong sense of reality yet that is supporting a representation that adds more than just the actual look of the objects. The directions of the brush strokes themselves add a new meaning on top of the recognition of the objects – an energy level and a mood.

I can imagine the identical arrangements painted entirely with long vertical strokes in muted colours suggesting a dreary and depressing mood.

There is no blue in this picture – I’ve used only…

  • Hooker’s Green
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Indian Red
  • Cadmium Red
  • Lamp black
  • Ivory white

I didn’t paint anything as a background or even a context because anything else I through to add would draw attention away from the objects. So instead the situation is not real but the arrangement sits as if on a surface.

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…or is it worse?

Pre-Assignment 2


I’m about to start Assignment 2. I need to find a still life subject so I’m reviewing my work on this part of the course so far to see where my interests are.

Assignment 1 was also a still life. I painted a collection of objects in a bit of a jumble.

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Contrast with my carrot and radish, which I prefer immensely. I love the simplicity of the carrot and radish – it is a picture I can look at and see its visual impact. I can drink it in. I like the richness of the colour and the visible brushwork that doesn’t let you settle on the details in the way that a photograph can.


I felt the same about this quick study for the still life using complementary colours – its simplicity was its richness and the absence of detail keeps it alive.


I hated painting these objects. I should choose better.


Here again is a painting where the detail stops at a certain level and is not missed. There were other aspects of this picture that I’d have liked to revisit like the colours in the flower petals but I enjoyed the mood – the brightness and the deep shadows in one picture.

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My radish studies and a still life from part one share both dark to medium grounds and bold strokes. They are also limited pallet – almost one colour – and both of these feel very satisfying.


I struggled with some of the textures of this picture and really needed to get a grip on the tonal values to properly reveal the 3D objects but I enjoyed it in much the same way as some of the others above.


This is my still life wish-list:

  • Dark ground
  • Restricted pallet
  • Strong/Bold colour(s)
  • High contrast (or large tonal range)
  • Few objects
  • Bold brush marks
  • Prefer natural objects
  • Paint them big