Friday, 29 January 2010


I have been painting a lot this month. At the moment I am experimenting with underpainting. I frequently paint directly onto a white canvas but applying a wash of colour mixed with turpuntine can have a great impact on how the painting develops. In this painting of my old friends Sandy and Rebecca I painted the canvas with a wash of burnt sienna. It had to be transparent so as not to obscure the pencil drawing I had done underneath (when painting people I almost always carefully draw an outline in pencil first, it can save a lot of time later when you are trying to obtain a likeness). I mixed the burnt sienna with turps and used a rag to wipe back the paint when the pencil underdrawing was not clearly visible. I had previously fixed the pencil underdrawing with cheap hairspray, this stops the graphite from muddying the underpainting, I am surprised the turpuntine doesn't dissove the hairspray, but it seems to work fine.

Other colours can be used as a wash, I read recently about an artist who does wonderful portraits first covering the canvas with a mixture of flesh tone and grey. As you can see from the painting of Sandy and Rebecca, the underpainting enabled me to leave spaces between subsequent blocks of colour, saving me time and also unifying the colours in the painting. If you look closely you will notice that Sandy's shirt, hand and pint glass are captured very simply. I actually got a bit bored at this point and decided that if I put too much detail in the hand it might detract from his face...excuses, excuses. Even Sandy's face reveals a lot of the underpainting showing through.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Back to Salamanca

The Christmas holidays are coming to an end and I will be flying back to Salamanca via Stanstead and Valladolid tomorrow.  Two weeks at home with my parents has been relatively fruitful: I painted my brother, got lots of photos of central London, painted my brother's ex, and painted this painting of the National Gallery in London.  I had done a painting of Calle Toro in Salamanca which has been very popular on flickr for its reflections in the wet pavement so I thought I would try to do something similar of some of the sites of London.  Conveniently for me the day I went round with my camera it was raining so I got lots of great photos wet streets.  The painting took me about a day and I used oils on paper.  I think it could have done with a little more work but it is still wet so won't be travelling with me in my hand luggage.  I'll do another better one when I get to Spain.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Drawing people's children

People seem to highly value classic portraits of their children, even if they are not particularly interested in art.  I do a lot of drawings for friends from digital photos given me, for me they are good practice and save me forking out on Christmas and birthday presents.  For me children all look very similar but I'm sure their mothers don't see it this way.  For this reason I always draw a grid on the piece of paper and on the digital photo and transfer the image square by square.  It doesn't take very long and I usually draw the grid while I'm watching something on tv or listening to the radio, then it's very easy to transfer the photo onto the paper and one doesn't have to worry about making the baby look like sombebody else's baby, or worse...ugly and yet recognisable enough to be the couple's offspring.  I can see the parents going around for days worrying 'Does everyone see him like that?'.  All this lining up the paper does remove some of the expressive quality but there are plenty of other things to worry about after you've got the proportions correct: too much shading can give that horror movie edge to the child.  I find turning the photo upside down and squinting at it can help me see the overall areas of shading and avoid over doing bits.  Saying all this, it isn't really hard to achieve a likeness and I would imagine almost anyone could achieve something they could be proud of.

To shade the drawing in I begin with a hard pencil, maybe a HB, I then work in progressively softer pencils, becoming increasingly careful not to smudge the graphite.  By the time I'm using a 8B I usually have to put a sheet of paper between my hand and the drawing so as not to smudge it, by this time the harder pencil lines (and the grid) are almost invisible.  I use a putty rubber to remove the remaining grid lines and add the occasional highlight.  Finally I fix the painting with hairspray. 

Of the two drawings I've provided in today's post, the first is of my English student Mariana Galan's granddaughter, and the second is my driving instructor Oscar's baby.  I just passed my driving test in Spanish so as a thank you for putting up with me I drew his baby.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Pencil portraits

I enjoy drawing in pencil very much: there is so much less to worry about regarding colour and tone when using graphite than working in paint.  My friends also seem to appreciate my drawings more than my paintings: maybe they look more professional, maybe, like black and white photography, they just look classier.  Either way I get lots of people asking me to do black and white pictures of their children and grandchildren, as well as the occasional grandmother and grandfather. 

Here are two old men I drew freehand from photos in the newspaper. The first is actually of the owner of Harrods, Mohammed Al Fayed, but I wasn't interested in getting a likeness.  I had seen some interesting cross-hatching in a gallery in Edinburgh and I wanted to have a go at it.  If you look closely you can see I employed wavey cross-hatching to build up the shades, I think it turned out quite well.  The second was also an interesting photo I found in a newspaper.  I like to start a pencil drawing with a hard pencil and then move step by step to softer pencils as the drawing requires deeper and deeper tones. In this way I usually don't have to use an eraser as the hard pencil lines are almost invisible when you get to the 6B-9B.  However, I do like to use a putty rubber at the final stages to add highlights.  In these two drawings I wasn't concerned about achieving a likeness, but if I had been drawing someone's child I would probably have started by drawing a grid on the photo and paper to get the proportions exactly right, I don't want to offend any parents by making their babies ugly. I'll post some photos of children later this month.
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