Friday, November 30, 2018

Croquis Café - Artistic Physique

I love everything. And that can be quite distracting at times. I feel my energies have been quite dispersed lately, so I'm trying to get my life tidied up, in small ways at least. Rather than jumping around from life drawing to landscapes to urban sketching to drawing to watercolour techniques to florals to abstract etc etc, I'm going to try and concentrate on a theme/style for a week or two, then move to something different for another period of time. I know I would not be capable of sticking to one thing for the rest of my life, not even a month (unless it's a challenge!). That's not who I am. My only ambition really is to keep learning and become better. And the only end to that journey will be when I pass.

But I have been finding it hard to improve in anything as I could be working on three or four projects at the same time, not giving any of them the attention they deserved.

So for this week, it's drawing/painting the human body. It's not practical for me to go to life drawing sessions every day of the week, obviously. But since I've rediscovered Croquis Café, I can practise at home. All I need is half an hour a day, and surely that's feasible, even at this time of the year. Before I started, I did a tidy-up of my little art room (it's a very small box room and it gets messy very quickly).

The model for this session was called Artistic Physique. She is quite muscular, so it was interesting to try and show that aspect of her in my drawings. I used Derwent Inktense pencils and a little water to create shading. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Saturn is one of the models on Croquis Café, a very useful resource to practise if you can't go to life drawing class as often as you'd like! It's easier too, as it's 2D rather than 3D. Plus you can pause any time you want. Although I do try to stick to the times (1, 2 and 5 minutes). There are also photographs you can work from, which is useful for watercolour!

As you can see, I'm experimenting with different pens and papers. This is Posca markers on Two Rivers watercolour paper. And the face (no likeness whatsoever) is done with a Polychromos pencil.

I did the 1- and 2-minute poses with simple cartridge paper and Polychromos pencils. I enjoyed those the best.

I also tried a few other poses in another Two Rivers sketchbook I have. It's all cartridge paper and I've had it for a couple of years. I've used it a good bit, but I still have a dozen or so pages left in it. It's actually lovely paper - gorgeous with pencil and it can take a light watercolour wash too. I was quite pleased with how the drawing with shading worked out.

 I tried on a darker paper, but should have used a lighter pencil to make it pop more. I might go back to this one some other time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Smock Alley

Last week was the Dublin Book Festival at Smock Alley, and while it was busy in the beautiful indoors space, there was a nice little café just outside, the bus stop café it's called I think. 

At first I sat indoors, with a good view of the Four Courts and the quays across the Liffey. 

Then I moved outdoors - they have a good sheltered space with a nice view of Smock Alley Theatre. It was a bit cold, but I was well wrapped up and I wanted to make the most of a dry day. My perspective went a bit crazy as I moved. I should probably have done a sky shape drawing to start with - that might have kept things more controlled, but hey, I need to embrace the wonkiness, don't I?

At that point, I started to find it too cold and decided to go in for a bit. I switched to a smaller sketchbook and a fountain pen and I sketched this one standing up. I added a little bit of colour with a pencil afterwards, but I prefer this version. One thing I want to work on is how to create a focus in a pen sketch without colours. Actually that's something I need to address in all my sketching - how to give strength to the focus and how to push the rest further back. I know that step one is to identify my focus - I often start sketching because something or someone catches my eye, but then I'm like a magpie - lots of glittery things catch my eye and I have to put them all in - the lady reading the book, the round lampshades hanging from the ceiling, the gothic window, the piles of books, the young woman with the long hair, ... With this sketch, I remember them all so clearly, but I realise I am the only person who sees them, as I should have done 5 different sketches, where they can each shine in their own space. I need to start sketching faster to fit all of that in!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Duke

I should do this more often - arrange to meet a friend in town and arrive early so I can sketch for a bit! This was at The Duke on Duke Street. On a Saturday afternoon. It was busy but I got a good seat in a corner right by the bar, a perfect position to observe my subjects.

I know this is a black marker sketch but you might notice the Christmas bauble garland on the ceiling. I couldn't believe it - mid-November and everywhere in town is in full Christmas mode - the shops, the streets lights, the music, the festive atmosphere. Is it me getting old or is it earlier than other years?

Monday, November 26, 2018

Skin Tones

After the frustration of colours not working out the way I wanted in my last Life Drawing watercolours, I asked a friend, the talented emmajmemma, what pigments she used for skin tones. I had been using New Gamboge (PY97), Quinacridone/Permanent Rose (PV19) and Cerulean Blue (PB35), on the advice of some very talented urban sketchers based in California. But somehow that mix was a little too intense for Irish and Eastern European skins. Emma's secret weapon, she revealed to me, was yellow ochre (PY43), mixed with PV19.

So that led to some experimentation and colour swatches. I found that adding some Buff Titanium into the mix can help me reach the paler colours without having to add as much water. And then Lavender (a mixed pigments paint from Daniel Smith) to create subtle shadows. Daniel Smith's Lavender is a favourite of mine. I use it a lot in Irish skies (with Buff Titanium actually), so I don't know why I hadn't thought of it sooner for skin tones.

So, I've made the necessary changes to my skin tones/life drawing palette and I'm all ready to test it in real life!

The colours in my palette are, clockwise from top left: ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, potters pink, buff titanium, lavender, new gamboge, perylene marroon, monte amiata natural sienna, PV19, pyrrole red, burnt sienna and cerulean blue.

And while I was at it, I tried a little self portrait, testing a number of red pencils I have. I found that the Faber Castell Eco works nicely for drawing and it stays steady with watercolour on top, and on the paper on which I tested it at least, it doesn't repel the watercolour, which some pencils or pens can do!

It's Snails, Jim, but not as we know it.

I still have lots of bits about Japan that I wanted to share with you, but at this stage, I'm barely keeping up with day-to-day life, so it's going to have to be quick!

If you're squeamish about your food, leave this page. But it's probably too late already, as your eye has glanced down the page and seen the pictures below!

I am Belgian. I have been eating snails all my life. I have eaten lamb's brains, and frogs' legs, and plenty other delicacies!

But a snail this big? Never! My Japanese friend was keen that we try foods that we might not know to order on our own! I have to admit that when I pulled the snail out of its shell, the dangly bits didn't look too appetising to me! So what did I do? I ate it of course, starting with the dangly bits, which were actually the tastiest, softest part of the whole thing - the foot was a little chewy, but I managed - with the help of a glug of umeshū! I'm glad I tried it. Would I order it again? 多分

A few days later, we were presented with another snail, much smaller and daintier. おいしい

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Powerscourt Church

One of my resolutions after that rainy day was to pick myself up and go back again! Well, I did, not exactly to the same location as it was still drizzly, but to a nearby church and graveyard. I've often driven by that spot and meant to stop, as it's very atmospheric.

This time, I went with minimum supplies and I only stayed to do the one sketch (using the same Two Rivers sketchpad). And I wrapped up well.

I decided to use the time to experiment with a technique from Liz Steel's Edges, drawing only changes in plane. I added a little watercolour while I was at it. I think it's the first time I've ever drawn a Celtic cross - they are not easy!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Powerscourt in the drizzle and wind

If I have one piece of advice for any artists out there who care to listen  - don't take new watercolour paper out for plein air painting in November in Ireland. I did. And it caused me much frustration. Oh, and the second piece of advice: don't even try to deploy your light-weight easel - you will end up with bruises.

The thing is - I love plein air, I love the challenge of sketching outdoors in the winter, I love the light in Ireland when the clouds are rushing through the sky. But a strong breeze and a drizzle? Really? What was I thinking?

So the new paper was an A4 plein air pocket book by Two Rivers - it alternates TR rag hand-made paper for watercolour and cartridge paper. I had never painted on good Two Rivers paper before, except for one direct watercolour Life Drawing in studio, and I was excited to try it in the field. But it really didn't turn out the way I had expected.

The thing about that paper is that it's got a lot of sizing I believe, and the paint sits on top of the paper, keeping its beautiful vibrancy rather than absorbing fully into the fibres. My experience on that drizzly November day, however, was that the pigment seemed to disappear off the page (no vibrant colour for me) and yet, the paint sat on top of the paper, refusing to dry (that's the Irish weather for you!). I had another pad of watercolour paper that I know well, and it behaved as normal, so I switched to it for a while. But I was keen to experiment some more, first with the cartridge paper, which is actually quite nice, if you don't put wet ink on the verso, as that will bleed through. I tried some sketching, and then some more watercolour, which turned out disastrous. At that point, I got so frustrated that I packed my bags and drove home and felt sorry for myself for the rest of the day.

So what lessons did I learn?

  • Don't bother with easels in the winter in Ireland
  • Always wear rain trousers for plein air in winter in Ireland. Even if there is no rain forecast
  • Test new paper fully before expecting to produce a masterpiece (indoors and outdoors - the backgarden can be interesting too!)
  • It's better to pack up and go home than to stick at it for too long. The frustration goes exponential by the minute
  • Reduce the amount of art supplies you bring out if you need to walk, even for a short while
  • Don't give up because one painting went wrong.
  • Take it as an opportunity to experiment
  • Pick yourself up, and go again the next day
So, here they are:

This is the one that broke my spirit. A complete wet mess that wouldn't dry - the pock marks are a combination of rain drops and the roughness of the paper and the sizing that stopped the paint from absorbing.

On the left is the watercolour paper, and on the right the cartridge paper. As you can see, I couldn't paint any detail on the watercolour paper, as it just turned into blobs of colour. It is atmospheric - it does remind me of the day, even if I'd rather not be reminded!

This one was on Saunders Waterford paper. I did add a second layer of paint at home and painted the tree at home. But you can see I was much happier with how the paint behaved here. The same basic colours were used - Buff Titanium, Lavender,  Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Transparent Red Oxide, Green Apatite Genuine and Ultramarine.

A pen sketch - the effect on the right is from the wet watercolour page opposite flapping on top of this page. I did have bulldog clips to stop my pages flying, but I had to close the book to walk back to the car and the paint was still not dry. The pink blobs are watery ink I splattered after I got home.

I added colour and darker values to the tree after I got home. You can see that the ink from the verso bled through the heavy cartridge paper. Funny that it can handle watercolour quite well, but not ink and water.

I added another layer after I got home. A bit too bright now!!! Maybe that's what this paper needs - plenty of layers. It's so strong it can certainly take plenty of rework, and it doesn't warp at all. So it's not all bad. I just need to get to know it better!

My original tree disaster is still a disaster. But I learned a lot from it. The paper is so strong that you can lift paint quite easily . And it can take several layers of watercolour without going dull!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Life Drawing - charcoal

I should have stuck to charcoal, but even then, I struggled. The 1-minute drawings worked out better than the longer poses, I feel. I need a few taught sessions to get back into it!

This is probably my favourite of the lot - the legs are a bit long, but that's better than too short, isn't it?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Life Drawing - watercolours

I'm going through a rough patch in terms of what I'm achieving, art-wise that is. During last week's Life Drawing session, I struggled with the demons in my head for most of the two hours, even when I switched to watercolours - one of these worked out ok, but the other two were overworked and not what I had in mind at all. Back to the drawing board this week!

I was very happy with the sweep of the arms behind the model's back, but then I ruined the whole thing with a purple leg!

I was experimenting with colours - using the cerulean blue pure rather than mixed. It turned out quite ugly in the end.

This one I was happy with - I was using new paper (a sketching pad by Two Rivers - more about that some other time) and the paint just settled beautifully and I feel I got my lights and darks working well together. Yes, I did run out of space, but that pad is smaller than the usual paper I bring. So I'll have to get used to it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Self Portrait

Since I've stopped going to the hairdressers to get my hair coloured, I don't get a chance to sketch self-portraits these days. But then, I decided to take the opportunity while I was doing my own hair colour. The environment isn't quite as salubrious as in a hair salon, and I didn't have quite as much time (as I have to clean the sink and the colour bottles before I can start drawing!). Plus it doesn't really look like me. But practise is practise. Even if the result isn't brilliant. And I have a few sketchbooks I'm trying to finish, as I want to get back into the habit of having just one sketchbook where I document everything!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Fountain pens and inks

When I was in school, I never cared much for fountain pens. I always ended up with ink on my middle finger. And I think you can still see the shape of the fountain pens indented in my finger, right beside the nail. Yes, I used to grip my fountain pen. And I still do. That is one of the habits I have found the hardest to fight in my attempt to draw more loosely.

For years, I didn't own one. Biros, Ballpoint markers, computer, ...  these were my writing tools. I didn't draw you see. I was always too busy. I found that the only time I could really dedicate to art was between Christmas and New Year. And even then, other obligations would often be in the way.

Thankfully in the last few years, I have made more time for drawing. And my weapon of choice is the fountain pen. I have a few that I love:

Lamy Safari: one of the first fountain pens I bought, and still an old favourite. Simple, reliable, works with watersoluble and waterproof inks (I use DeAtramentis inks mostly for waterproof ink, but also a lovely grey ink called Thea by Rohrer & Klingner that I bought in Porto - crazy when I think of it, that I travelled home with a bottle of ink and a wonderful watercolour painting in my suitcase - I had packed everything as securely as I could, and everything made it home safely, but it could equally have gone terribly wrong).

Sailor Fude: this Japanese bent-nib fountain pen is the one I use the most these days, particularly for working with watercolours. My favourite is the 55 degrees one for more expressive lines, although the 40 degrees pen is pretty good too. Watersoluble and waterproof inks both work in these no problem. But if you have waterproof ink in your pen, remember to use it regularly or it will get clogged up. This applies to all pens of course!

Pilot Kaküno: another Japanese pen - this one was recommended to me by a fellow-urban sketcher. The Kaküno is really cheap, and it's got a smiley face on the nib. It's designed for children. But I love its fine line, and the choice of colours available!

Pilot Prera: an impulse purchase - a little more expensive than the Kaküno, but still very reasonable. It feels more grown-up. And glides smoothly on the page. A little bit sorry now that I didn't get the calligraphy nib! I also got three bottles of ink - it was a difficult choice, as all the colours are so beautiful!

What's your favourite pen?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sky Garden - from 1st layer to final painting

Back to painting florals in a loose fashion - I like this technique from Anne-Laure Jacquart (#FollowingTheWhiteRabbit), and I want to practise it more, learning how to define shapes after a loose wash without losing too much of the spontaneity.

Step 1: Loose wash, very wet, very loose shapes. This is my favourite stage - all colour and options open. A colour I don't use very often these days is Phthalo blue, so I thought it would be interesting to experiment with it. It's a very strong pigment. And staining. So I hadn't used it in a long time.

Step 2: Trying to define the shapes, without losing the more successful effects from the first wash. I may have gone too dark and hard edges already.  I might have to do a bit of lifting to recover soft edges. After that, I'm planning to refine the centre of the roses and just leave it at that!

Step 3: I added a warmer wash over parts of the roses, as I found the colours were a bit too cold for my liking. I softened the space above the roses. I redefined some of the leaves on the trellis above the roses. And I added detail to the roses themselves. Oh, and I also fixed the main rose's stem! All done.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Collins Barracks

I had been hoping for dry weather on Sunday, but unfortunately, after a glorious morning, the rain arrived in the afternoon. So my ambitions to sketch the beautiful inner courtyard of Collins Barracks had to be put on hold! Given that Sunday was the 100th anniversary of World War I Armistice, I decided to sketch in the military section of the museum. I found a good little corner out of the way from the visitors with a good view of a plane hanging from the ceiling.

A lot of the exhibits are in fairly narrow spaces, so there are not that many places you can settle yourself and sketch, as I found when I moved to another room and tried to sketch a set of rifles pointing an an instructions video - I had difficulty getting an unobstructed view, and yet I couldn't sketch the people themselves, as the exhibit wasn't that interesting for visitors to hang around for too long. So it's got a bit of an unfinished look.

So, when I was finished with those two sketches, I caught up with a friend and went to the coffee shop with her, where I could take out my watercolours and play for a bit. I resisted the temptation of cakes and just had a hot chocolate (probably as many calories as cake, but because it's liquid, it doesn't count!!)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Edges - Shoes

I started this online course two years ago, but then I got stuck. Life got busy. I didn't grasp the concepts. And I just stopped.
Life is still busy, but after 2 years of urban sketching, I feel more able to tackle this. And more importantly, I need to add this skill to my toolbox.
So I have started Liz Steel's Edges course again! And I have completed my first assignment!!
Changes in plane and changes in colour - shoes!
Next is an outdoor assignment, so I'll have to wrap up well!

Thursday, November 15, 2018


The reason I was at the cinema on Saturday was to see Marnie, the opera by Nico Muhly, based on the book by Winston Graham (and also the Hitchcock movie). It was my first opera in a few months and it was good. With the stunning Isabel Leonard.

PS: I loved the clothes too! (Click on the link for the lovely sketches!!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Odeon cinema

Last Saturday, I was at the cinema. I was early and had a hot chocolate and took my handbag sketchbook out and did a little sketch. I am trying to get back into the habit of sketching while waiting, so I have started carrying a small book with me the whole time, along with a few pens. On that occasion, I had three Marabu fineliners - red, blue and black. It's not my most sophisticated sketch, but it was a good way to pass the time, and practise my observation and drawing skills!
The idea of using different colour pens for different elements is something I took from Koosje Koene's DrawTip Tuesday videos.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Life Drawing - watercolours and pen sketch

After our charcoal warmups, we actually got to draw the two models together. Was it more difficult or less? I'm not sure. On the one hand, you have to capture two different people, bodies, personalities in the same amount of time you'd have for one. On the other hand, you can use the negative space between them to help you see the shapes better.
In my case, a further complication as I moved to watercolours at that stage, and the two models had very different skin tones.

This is the one I'm happiest with - We did a ten-minute drawing, then we had a break, and after the break we have the choice of continuing with the same pose for 15 minutes. I use that time to paint.

While my paint was drying, I sketched with a Sailor Fude in one of my sketchbooks. This was probably 10/15 minutes. Lots of mistakes and distortions. Plus it was hard to sketch while standing with my sketchbook on my arm.

I brought two watercolour blocks, so for the last pose (10 or 15 minutes?), I went straight to watercolour. That paper is rough watercolour paper, so the paint can skip, like it did on the left arm of the girl on the left. I think I should stick to cold pressed paper for this.
They look like they're sitting on the beach.