Friday, 27 November 2015

Draw In is BACK!! Michael John Angel and David Gray in Belfast 2016!

I am delighted to announce the summer workshops for July and August 2016.

Internationally renowned artists David Gray and  Maestro Michael John Angel will each lead a masterclass workshop in Oils, at Belfast School of Art.

Mr Angel, teaching

 Michael John Angel, known to his students as 'Maestro' is the founder and Director of the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy

David gray is an award-winning painter with a huge Youtube following. He teaches throughout America and Europe.
Magdalene,  work in progress, Michael John Angel
In order to have the best workshop possible, I invited each Master to choose what subject they would most prefer to teach. So Mr Angel is teaching painting the figure using the methods of Caravaggio, and Davd Gray is teaching Portrait Painting from a model. 

Both workshops will include demonstrations and techniques to be used each day.

Sleeping Muse, by David Gray 

For details about Mr Angel's workshop (Wed 17th - Sun 21st August 2016) please visit

For details about David Gray's workshop (Mon 25th - Sat 30th July 2016, six days), please visit

I have attended workshops with both artists, and highly recommend them as honest, knowledgable and willing to share their experience so that all attendees get the most from them. Most masterclass workshops that I have attended have had students of all levels - from those with only a small amount of experience, right up to professional artists. Without exception, everyone gains.

Some of my own students have asked why I would go to a workshop - I go because it is wonderful to have clear, uninterrupted time to devote to painting, and it is so valuable and interesting to hear each different Master's point of view. This is an enormous subject, and we'll be learning about it for ever.

Spaces are limited on these workshops, and the numbers are kept low to ensure plenty of attention. 

For info and booking email

Draw In is the title of initiatives by Julie Douglas to raise the profile of traditional drawing and painting techniques as a vehicle for improving creativity for everyone, in all walks of life. For a look back at the first Draw In, which included artists PJ Lynch, Paul Foxton, Julie Douglas and, from the grand Central Academy NY,  Colleen Barry, please visit

David Gray Masterclass 2016

The Portrait from Life

Monday  25th July - Saturday 30th July 2016, (six days) Belfast School of Art, University of Ulster, Belfast 

Nina, oil on panel, David Gray
David Gray is an award winning oil painter known for his still life and human subject paintings rendered in a style reminiscent of the French Neoclassical painters Jacque-Louis David and his student Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. 

Alla Prima portrait, David Gray

In this workshop, working from the live model David will take you step by step through the process he uses in creating his professional works. From the initial under-drawing through to final glazes, learn to build your painting in a series of layers that will help you effectively translate the observed model into an elegant and refined portrait. 

Each phase of the process will be covered in detail. Daily demos will be given and you will apply the lessons on your own canvas. Personal attention will be given to each student.  

Please join David for six days of intense study, of learning techniques and concepts for painting the portrait from life, as well as camaraderie, and hopefully a little fun, too.
Demonstration painting, David Gray

Demonstration painting, David Gray

Further Workshop Details:The workshop includes: 5 days tuition plus a one day demonstration session: six days in total. Tuition is  from 10am - 5pm daily on Mon , Tues, Wed, & Fri - Sat, with a 1 hour lunch break. In the middle of the workshop, day 4, Thursday, will be a full portrait demonstration by David, giving students time to rest and enjoy watching the entire process. Individual and group critiquesPainting demonstrations every day. Discussions on materials and techniques 
Cost: £750 to include 30 hours of instruction, tea/coffee and some materials (canvas will be provided as well as all flammable liquids so that students don't need to worry about those if flying). A list of materials (paint and brushes) will be sent upon booking a place.

Terms & Conditions:

A 50% non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place. Full payment must be received by 1st May 2016. This is non-refundable. Payment is made via the University of Ulster and a link will be sent to you upon booking. 
Minimum number of students - 10.

Not included:
Accommodation and flights, transport and all other personal costs. If the course is cancelled for any reason, a full refund will be made. 
 If traveling, it is recommended that you take out insurance to cover costs in the unlikely event of cancellation etc. 

Details of accomodation near the studio will be provided upon booking. 

For booking information and all enquiries please email 

Belfast is a vibrant city with a warm friendly atmosphere. If you are traveling for this course, you will find lots of things in the city to enjoy, in the days before or after the workshop.

Michael John Angel Masterclass, 2016

'Painting the Human Figure From Photos using the methods of Caravaggio'   

 Wednesday 17th - Sunday 21st August 2016, Belfast School of Art, University of Ulster, Belfast.

Michael John Angel painting St John
Mr Angel is highly regarded as one of the foremost figurative painters,  and his paintings and portraits hang in both public and private collections worldwide. Mr. Angel has taught workshops at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, in addition to lecturing at the Florentine campuses of several American universities and various private schools. From 1982 to 1988 he was the Director of the National Portrait Academy in Toronto, Canada, and from 1992 - 1995 the Assistant Director of the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy.  As an ARC living master, Mr. Angel is considered one of the most inspiring and successful teachers in classical and traditional art today.

                                                                Course Description:
Instructor: Michael John Angel

From Jan van Eyck, through Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Canaletto, Reynolds and Gainsborough, to Norman Rockwell and the present day, painters have always used the best technology available to them. Such technology includes the camera obscura, mirrors and photographs and is extremely convenient, but it is often used incorrectly.

In this one-week workshop, maestro Michael John Angel teaches the class the proper use of photographs, using a method similar to Caravaggio’s use of mirror projection. All photographs are provided by Mr Angel.

The course begins with a few basic exercises and includes various illustrated lectures in proportion, gesture, under-drawing and oil-painting materials. During the course, each student produces an oil painting in full colour, and throughout the workshop Mr Angel gives painting demonstrations that clarify each stage of the painting process.

Students have the options of working from a photo of the live model, or from a single-figure painting by Caravaggio.

Students will also receive various pdf handouts, with illustrations, that encapsulate the method of painting and drawing the human figure accurately. Other pdf handouts will explain the different grounds, materials and mediums used in oil painting and describe the various layers used in a 17th-century underpainting-overpainting oil technique.

Mr Angel is the Director of Studies  and senior instructor at the Angel Academy of Art, Florence. A short biography can be found at He is listed in the Art Renewal Center’s Living Masters Gallery and is one of the ARC’s Board of Judges. As well as judging the ARC’s International Salon, he is a judge on several other national and international painting juries,: the Collection Beaux-Arts RĂ©aliste, IlluxCon, and the Portrait Society of Canada, for example.

Michael John Angel painting Caravaggio

Further Workshop Details:
The workshop includes 30 hours tuition, from 10am - 5pm daily with a 1 hour lunch break. 
Individual and group critiques
Painting demonstrations by Mr Angel
Discussions on materials and techniques 

Cost: £800 to include 30 hours of instruction, tea/coffee and some materials (canvas will be provided as well as all flammable liquids so that students don't need to worry about those if flying). 
A list of materials (paint and brushes) will be sent upon booking a place.

Terms & Conditions:

A 50% non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place. Full payment must be received by 1st June 2016. This is non-refundable. Payment is made via the University of Ulster and a link will be sent to you upon booking. 
Minimum number of students - 10.

Not included:
Accommodation and flights, transport and all other personal costs.If the course is cancelled for any reason, a full refund will be made. 
 If traveling, it is recommended that you take out insurance to cover costs in the unlikely event of cancellation etc. 

Details of accomodation near the studio will be provided upon booking. 

For booking information and all enquiries please email 

Belfast is a vibrant city with a warm friendly atmosphere. If you are traveling for this course, you will find lots of things in the city to enjoy, in the days before or after the workshop.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Portrait commission, colour pencil on Bristol Board

I have just finished working on my portrait commission, and wanted to show some of the stages involved.

Above - the finished artwork. It's hard to photograph it - it looks a lot warmer in reality. The smoothness of flesh is created by using thousands of tiny strokes, with very sharp pencils. A blunt pencil creates a clumpy lumpy texture, but a sharp pencil give control, albeit slow and careful. 

I began a week ago. 

The first stage is, I admit, really weird-looking. I draw the whole image out so it looks like an Ordnance Survey Map, so that when I am working in colour, I don't need to make so many 'drawing' decisions, and can concentrate more fully on the colours and tones I need. 

I seem to start with one eye, every time. 

Above - showing the tiny strokes of flesh. The forehead is a challenge, especially when it is smooth and perfect. 

Creeping down the face - it looks rather like the colour is being poured on. if only it were that simple! I complete small areas at a time, so that I don't have to revisit the whole thing over and over. I do have to do a lot of comparitive observing, all through the artwork, and again  at the end, but generally speaking, as much work is done as I go along as possible. 

Pressure is a much misunderstood aspect of colour pencil. if you lean very gently, you are effectively doing a rubbing of the paper, and that is not what you want. You need to lay colour down with conviction, but without leaving any trace of your line. The exception to this is in the hair. You can see above that I lay the initial tones down more roughly, to get the paper colourse, before going over it again and again to build up a really rich dark colour. A lot of elbow grease here. Mixed in with walked to the park so the cabin fever doesn't set in.. 

Above - another view of the less-sharp pencils, roughly put down for the initial hair.

Many hours later (about 20) everything is almost covered. The white paper is beginning to look very cold, so I added a light warm ochre above the heads to soften it. (see top)

Next up: drawing and water colour weekend, 
Portrait drawing workshop

For info email

Monday, 2 November 2015

A Titanic Experience - The Big Draw in Belfast's Drawing Offices 2015

October is The Big Draw, a festival championed by The Campaign For Drawing, in the UK, to encourage and promote drawing as an activity that includes everyone.

Obviously, this sits extremely well with me, as I view drawing as one of the most important ways to connect with our own selves as well as communicating with others.

A festival like this is the perfect opportunity to shine a spotlight on drawing, and what better venue to get Belfast on the map, than the Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices?

The Drawing Office, 1912
These iconic buildings were where naval architects and draftsmen drew up the plans for the ships which were built here, including the Titanic. I have been honoured to have regular access to the building over the past couple of years for drawing workshops, in partnership with the Titanic Foundation, who are in charge of ensuring the buildings are cared for. Soon, major renovation work will be underway and the building will return to it's former glory.

Maeve and Siobhan, from the Titanic Foundation, helping with the set-up
Did you know that the word 'titanic' means Gigantic? Massive, enormous, fantastic? If we're having a BIG Draw, it might as well be titanic. Over 100 people, children and parents, arrived to make it not only a big draw, but a really big class too.

Tables were laid with long lengths of paper, like table cloths, and after listening to me reading a story, which featured Samson and Goliath, the two huge yellow cranes which tower above the Ship Yard,  everyone set to work, drawing on the same sheet. 

But that really did mean EVERYONE. It wasn't enough that the children were drawing - the parents had to do it too. After their initial hesitation ('What? Me? Oh no, I can't... I haven't... but....'), and a small bit of encouragement ('here's a pen', smiling face), Mum's and Dad's started joining in. 

Above, Dad is engrossed... 
This changed everything. No longer were the adults over-seeing. Now they were participating. In fact, the parents were so settled in that we had trouble stopping them! 

By George, aged 7

A peek at Bailey's drawing 
After an hour and a half, 8 large sheets of paper were filled, a Titanic effort, of fun and imagination. A very different type of drawing to what the original draftsmen were doing in this building, but imagination is the start of every idea, and the ideas were flowing today. There was a tremendous feeling of happiness and well being. H&W - happy and well!
H&W - happy and well! 

With Judith, my enthusiastic helper, and all the drawings of the morning

This link takes you to a video created by Paul Marshall. 

Some of the artists!

Thanks to everyone who came and drew, and thanks to Maeve, Siobhan and Catherine at the Titanic Foundation for their work in setting up and promoting the event, and to Judith Gordon for helping. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Portrait Drawing, graphite pencil

I have just finishsed work on the preparatory drawing for a portrait commission.

I don't always do such a finished 'rough' - it often depends who the client is, how well they know my work, and what their requirements are. I do enjoy this stage - it's a great way to get to know the pattern of the faces and sort out balance of tones etc, in order to create a good portrait (as opposed to a copy of a photograph, which is an entirely different thing altogether).

Finished rough with client-led alterations

Also, in this instance, the photographic reference was from a couple of years ago (as provided by the client) and this means the little girl's face has changed shape as she has grown. So it is necessary to use more recent photographs as further poeints of reference to ensure the portrait is a satisfactory mix of truth as it was when the photo was taken, combined with the truth of how the child is seen now. 

I like to start with the eyes, choosing one eye to be dominant over the other.

Once most of the first face was blocked in I moved to the second face. Children's faces are difficult as they are so much smoother with more subtle variations in tone across the flesh. 

At this stage, above, I showed the drawing to the client, as a sneek preview to ensure things were looking familiar to him. He was delighted and asked only that I take some of the fulness away from the jaw on the child - you will notice this if you look at the final drawing at the top of this page. I also softened the tones a lot on bothe faces and finished the background loosely. 
The size is 32cm x 35 cm. I will show you the colour version when it is done. 
Now I'm off to the post office to send the original for approval - fingers crossed! 

Next up: Two day landscape water colour workshop 
In November - Portrait Drawing workshop and Oils weekend. For info email 

The Big Draw - 
As part of the Big Draw 2015, I am holding a Children's Drawing session at The Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices in Belfast's Titanic Quarter on Saturday 30th October. The event is free. For bookings and info or call 028 9073 0490. 
More information here

Friday, 9 October 2015

Heaven is a place in Holywood..

.well, it was until I bought all the gourds in town, and now Heaven is in my house!

On display at the shop... I want them all!
Although I am not overly attracted to Orange things, in autumn it's an eye-catcher that can't be ignored - jolly, warm and hopeful, with the colour of fire. I love autumn, it's abundance of colour-contrasts, berries and seeds, a last gift before nature takes a rest. 

colour contrasts: orange leaves,  blue sky

As well as the leaves slowly changing colour, gourds begin to appear in the shops in the run up to Hallowe'en. With their twists, stripes and warts, they are like nature's joke - they aren't edible, purely for decorative entertainment.  
Abundance of warty temptations.. Be careful to check for mould as you want them to last as long as possible. 

They make the most brilliant subject for drawing and painting, and aren't offended if you add extra bumps and lumps. 

Safely at home 

Colour pencil drawing in my Moleskine Sketchbook
Warts and all

Drawing these is all about surface pattern. Great fun. 

Upcoming workshops in Oils, Water colour, portrait drawing and Colour Pencil. For info email

Friday, 7 August 2015

Back to the Airing Cupboard, Oil on board

It is a good idea for artists to meet other artists from time to time, to appreciate each others work and talk about our different approaches. Artists spend a lot of time working alone, so this sharing of experiences ignites new and varied enthusiasm and stops us going... nutty. It's always interesting to see how other people work - from the state of their studio space, to the music they lisen to, the lighting they prefer, their favourite brushes and of course the process they use to create their paintings. 

From time to time I visit my friend the artist Ian McAllister. His paintings are beautifully crafted, delicious mysteries. I took along a painting-to-be, of some little pumpkins that I'd arranged in my airing-cupboard-of-controlled-lighting, which I'd drawn and transferred in line to an art board. 
Ian's 'Dark Start' on the left and my 'Pale-but-interesting' on the right..
It's wonderful to see the very beginnings of another artist's process. As you can see from the two 'beginnings' above, we took the opposite aproach. Ian starts in fuzzy darkness (left), working with a really long brush and adding lights to the dense background. I (right), with my water colour and drawing history, am champion for wanting to preserve my drawing, lest I fall off the edge of the world or something..  So, lets mix it up, we thought... and slathered darks dollops of thinned down paint all over my drawing... 

Big broad strokes, but the comfort-blanket of drawing is still visible. 

Above - we managed a good bit of darker tones on top of the 'slather' until the surface was too sticky to take any more, and I took my painting home to see how I'd get on.. 

Dried, lighter
The image above shows how it dried - the tones had sunk in much more than I expected. The idea was for me to try building up colour using glazes. 

I made lots of mistakes. Grr.. I did many layers, which at first were streaky and transparent and unsatisfying. I  did LOTS of layers, in colour, then wiped over it with black to keep it soft and fuzzy. This was verging on the traumatic at times, but I soldiered on...

The set-up 
My goal was to get real depth into the warm orange colours on the pumpkin, and eventually the richness I was after began to emerge, with the colours making the objects look solid yet velevety. Then I had a little accident.. 


Yes, I'd not lowered the top block of the easel to secure the board, which was thin and lightweight. So, JUST when I was happy with a days work, and moments before I had to go out to a meeting, the board tipped over and landed in my palette. The dollops were impressive! 

Clipped on! 

Of course, I wiped it off, along with the areas around the dollops which were still wet, and laughed at myself... I worked a while more on the painting, but evenually was fed up looking at it so I ceased. I learnt a great deal from this little painting - some of what To Do and lots of what Not To Do. When I put it away, I really didn't like it, but now, some months later, I dont mind it so much and appreciate having taken the time to struggle with it. Often, what we learn is invisible, but we use it in the next painting and the one after that and the one after that..

Monday, 3 August 2015

Portrait drawing and painting in oil (work in progress)

A note from my drawing board, to your Inner Voice (you know the one, that keeps saying you can’t do, it blah blah…)

Did you know that artists are Human too? It appears that many students think that artists are some sort of Other Species who get things right first time, all the time. Well, if only that were the case, perhaps artists would be less frustrated.. 

Even when we have been using a particular process for a long time, we can still make mistakes. But this isn't a bad thing necessarily. It just means we have to work out a solution and try again. 

Recently I began working on a portrait - it was to be in Oils, but I always start with a drawing.

Drawing study, pencil 
After working on it for a few days,  I transferred it onto canvas to do an oil painting of it. This is a relatively simple procedure which I have done MANY times, which involves tracing over my original drawing, providing a rough line drawing on the canvas as a guide to paint from. But this time.. Well, what a palaver.

Firstly, I couldn’t believe how PALE the pencil was as it went onto canvas - I could hardly see it at all. So I tried again, using a much softer pencil, with little or no improvement. After almost an HOUR I realised that I’m not supposed to use pencil at all, but paint… What was I THINKING??! So I started again, again. And it was a gloopy, lumpy MESS. This is the point that many folks just give up. But giving up isn't part of the painting process, so I wiped the canvas and traced it yet again. Still gloopy, but slightly less so than previously. Here it is...

Gloopy mess - if you can't see much, rest assured, I couldn't either... 
It didn’t look inviting as a surface to paint on, I can assure you. But I painted on it nonetheless. it's up to me to make it work. 

slowly working on top of the underlayer
Inching along
The colour isn't great in these photos, but it gives you an idea. 

This is where it is so far, with another layer to go on everywhere. 

Why am I telling you this?

So that you understand that even when you’ve been doing this for a long time, there are always times which hurt more than others. And the only thing to do is carry on, anyway.

There are a few more hours left to go in this painting, I just wanted to share the process. 

Upcoming workshop: portrait workshop, children's classes, Location Drawing and four day drawing and oils workshop with PJ Lynch. For info please email