More life

Right now, it seems that my sketching takes place mostly at the fortnightly life drawing sessions. Time seems to flash past the rest of the week with work encroaching into other time or leaving me too tired to think constructively about art. Life drawing is a fixed point in my calendar that at least means I keep experimenting with technique.


This portrait in water miscible oils (posted with permission) is not yet finished but it needs to dry before I do anything more to it.

I have used predominantly yellow, white, purple, and black, although I cheated and separated purple to blue and red to help contrast the outside and lining of the coat, and also to show the headphones.

Yellow, white, purple, and black are colours selected in 2014 by a (then) teenager called Kye Rowan to express the non-binary gender identity.  This is now widely accepted under the Pride rainbow umbrella. Yellow represents people whose gender exists outside of the binary; white, people with many or all genders; purple, people with genders considered a mix of male and female, and black for people who identify as not having a gender. A link to an explanation of the use of colours to show diverse gender identities and sexualities is shown here.

Here is the painting process, starting with some outlines drawn in my ipad then transferred to canvas that had been primed in acrylic cadmium yellow.

I contoured the nose in white paint then weirdly incorporated this into their face, creating a huge conk.

Here (below) I have shaved off a lot of the extra nose but the shape is still not right.

My 16yo daughter critiqued this and helped me reshape the nose in shading and contour. to reach this version. The nose may need shrinking when I come to the final iteration. At least this now feels recognisable.


Once again the life drawing session includes 8 poses ranging from two to twenty minutes. For these sketches, I draw invisibly with white crayon on white paper, then either painted over it in gouache, or wet the paper and drew into the damp areas with a darker crayon. The white crayon forms a resist to the water based pigment. The last step is putting in an outline, maybe, or darker colours or perhaps some background colour. It’s all an experiment.

Start with highlights

The first drawing illustrates the technique: on white paper draw in first the highlights in white that will variably resist pigment in the next stages. I am creating shapes with some randomness then enclosing the subject of the drawing in lines. The larger figure from the same pose on the same page is built conventionally applying colour and line first. I don’t know why I am doing this, but it’s fun and feels meaningful.


Here again are drawings using white conte crayon and clear water to create an invisible image on white paper, developed by dragging a darker crayon over the marks, so the pigment is caught by the damp surface while sparing the drier areas of the white crayon resist. Then I draw lines into this to find the image.

I was trying for an inside out self-portrait, drawing without seeing, running my left hand over the bony prominences of my face, kneading the soft tissues, while drawing with my right. In this first, the empty sockets are coloured with the after image of pressing my eyes.

In the second of two pictures drawn in yellow, I imposed a green line showing what a face “should” look like: preconceived notions more than observation.

In her book At The Existentialist Cafe, Sarah Bakewell offers a bullet point summary of existentialism: that it is concerned with concrete human existence, different to that being other things have because we make choices and create ourselves, though constrained within situations. This is what Sartre regards as our being free. Anxiety is inseparable from existence. Human existence is ambiguous, both boxed within borders and transcendental.