Aloof yet mournful

I greatly appreciate that life model John Benge messaged me in response to my posting this picture on Facebook.  He says his stage instructions were the white horse should appear aloof yet mournful.  In Twin Peaks, the pale horse appeared only to one character and as a harbinger of death.  I guess the horse foretells tragedy but is itself not involved, hence its demeanour.

2016-01-29 Dr Sketchies (16)

Twin Peaks was a short lived surreal series broadcast a quarter of a century ago living on through its cult status with many fans.  I watched no more than an episode or so.  I think I felt faintly shamed that I could not get to grips with it, like I had failed a test in contemporary culture.  Twin Peaks was a great theme for Dr Sketchy’s anti art school session in Birmingham last Saturday.  This was a twenty minute pose by John Benge.  The drawing was roughed out in soft pencil then reworked in black, blue and brown fountain pen ink with water, with final colours applied in conte crayon.


Experimental drawi …

Today I learned that the Warwickshire Cricket Ground executive suite serves excellent sausage, onion gravy and mash.  Tonight was the last experimental drawing class of the term but I was having a cracked tooth repaired.   I was gently steered to the most expensive of several options, the dentist working to keep the eagerness out of his voice.  Home: my wife had baked a celebratory cake.  What, she musesd over the icing gun, should I write for someone forced from her job by a bullying manager?  (Later, I see the answer was “good luck”). My son was still awake talking loudly to a reindeer.  On Saturday, we agreed, we will make the reindeer a bed from a shoebox.

The last art I did was an ink sketch of Briony, the life model.   I have learned that I need to build the image then destroy it before rebuilding.  This did not get far enough at the time. 

Since then I’ve been thinking about colours, dividing the paper into quarters to some extent based on the colour wheel.  I tried this out on the ipad

So keeping to the formula, I painted over the original while waiting for my mouth to recover sufficiently so I could eat.

When it dries, I think I will draw back in in pastel.

life drawing

Thanks as always to Briony – a great model with regal poise.

Someone described my blog as a “mixture of joy, despair and hope” which made me laugh.  I can say I was despairing after life drawing last weekend.  I had clear ideas and couldn’t persuade the gouache to work the way I wanted – it wouldn’t lift off the prepared surface to create negative shapes nor build to create layered colours.  The preliminary sketch above was the best thing to come form this session.  Huh!

Here are a couple I did earlier.


experimental life drawing

Yesterday, in the life drawing session, I followed a class plan intended to help free us of some of the constraints on our drawing.  I covered the paper in a variegated wash in acrylic ink to form a ground.  In gouache, I blocked in the warm light spilling across the lower limbs and lifted out from a white wash to form the head and torso.  Then, before the break, we were told to partially destroy this. I washed over it in dilute sepia ink both covering and smudging the still wet gouache.

My plan then was to add back the minimum of marks.  I meant to find the key highlights and depth of shadow and mark just these, looking for contrasts in hue and tone.  How easy to be seduced by detail though.  I started to draw into this with pastel, standing too close without breaking between making marks to just look.

I am happy enough with this outcome and pleased with this experiment in mixing media.  However, I can see how a more subtle, more expressive drawing might have been achieved with fewer marks.

In parallel to this process, I had sketched rapidly in charcoal to get an idea of the main shapes.

Life drawing

Here are two attempts of the same pose from different angles.  In the first I continue to explore the combination of charcoal and gouache.  Unlike the previous post on experimental drawing, I fixed the charcoal before painting over it.  This results in a quite different effect – the paint sticks to the surface instead of skating over the carbon layer.  Once again, I am trying for the contrast between the opaque and transparent use of paint.  I think opaque medium is called body colour, but ironically, I used this for the background.


The following week, instead of continuing with this, I opted to start from scratch in pencil and work solely in transparent watercolour.

Conclusion … start with a bigger brush and work more consciously light to dark.

experimenting in charcoal and gouache

A week ago, I began a life drawing in charcoal on rough watercolour paper.  It proved difficult to build the contrasts because the tooth grabbed the grains and prevented me lifting tones with putty.  So I painted over it with gouache.

In retrospect, I needed to use more white in the mix or dilute the pure colours more.  However, I liked the graininess of the charcoal showing though the paint.  These next doodles were done later to explore these effects.



I was aiming for subtlety of colour, retaining the charcoal tones.  I based the second pair of doodles on a photograph in a book on the siege of Stalingrad.

I went prepared to use this approach in life drawing yesterday.  However, I followed instructions, painting the paper a mid tone to start, then building the picture with gouache white highlights then deeper grey dark tones before drawing into this with pastels and finally charcoal to give depth to the shadows.  I didn’t have time to re-model her torso properly.

I’ve begun to make more self-conscious use of warm and cool colouring to suggest depth.

getting colour to work

Previously, I’ve sloshed on water and acrylic ink to create my initial drawing and underpainting of tones.  I redefined the forms by  overpainting.  I changed the tonal balance with opaque white.   On this inked sketch, I placed colour with gouache or watercolour.  Sometimes this worked but often no shapes emerged and it was a mess.  I posted the better ones of course.

However, at the end of last year, I tried to work more systematically, with a pencil sketch setting out the forms and then layering in the watercolour.  But I have no system, no sense of direction.  What happens is more by accident than judgement.  I have perhaps lost spontaneity but not yet gained better control of the medium.

This week I restart life drawing classes (actually last week but I had a deadline to hit, defending a grant that supports us developing a cancer vaccine).   If anyone has comments or advice, it is really most welcome.

Reclining male nude

This was an early attempt at life drawing.  I used what has become my favourite medium, at least for now, the combination of sepia and paynes grey inks sloshed into wet paper.  I drew directly in ink, covering over my corrections to define the shapes.  I enjoy the spontaneity of this whereas my recent attempts to use a wider repertoire of colour have failed badly.  A lot to learn still.

life drawing classes

Is the human form the oldest object of artistic endeavour?

This painting was done in a drop in life drawing class in the Midlands Arts Centre  The group was led by Paul Bartlett.  Briony (thanks for allowing me to post this image) is a great model.

My style is haphazard – building the initial shapes in acrylic ink then overlaying that in gouache.  I started in the middle and found I had no space for her head by the time I reached the edge of the paper.