Tag: Portrait

A Bonnie Smile

It’s been a grim week, and arguably, little to smile about. Whichever way you voted last , I think the unfolding of political chaos, economic instability, the loss of the usual friendliness of tone in European politics and the really worrying increase in racist incidents, have not added up to a very positive week. If you were on the side of remain, this week has probably been much worse than that – I have friends that really feel they have lost a part of their identity and others that have more logistical fears about what happens now.

However, I have some cheer to bring to the table! Indeed, when I have been at the lowest points in my illness there has been no surer pick-me-up than a golden retriever’s smile:

Bonnie finished

In real life, it is my family’s dog, Sukha who provides that obliviously cheering zest for life. However, the smiling face above is that of Bonnie and was commissioned by her owner way back in 2015. You may remember that I got 80% there with the portrait in January this year:

Bonnie First Painting

And with such a promising start, I was terrified of returning to finish off the painting until I had a good run of health (by which I mean more than two consecutive days) so that I could be back in the ‘zone’ before diving back in. I always find this stage of painting the most stressful – so much time has already been invested and I’m already attached to as many aspects of the painting as there are parts I want to change. Looking at the stage I reached above, you may be thinking there wasn’t far to go. But, in fact, there was a huge amount of detail in the ears and around the muzzle that needed attention, and more challengingly, having painting it in artificial light during the dark days of winter, the colours needed much more depth and vibrancy. We are used to be able to change the ‘saturation’ of a picture with great ease on a computer, but I can tell you that such alteration stroke by stroke, shade by shade, is much more challenging in oil paint! I hope, if you compare both images, you will see the difference! All I can say is that I’m immensely pleased and relieved, and very much looking forward to delivering it.

And, indeed, if you are a fan of this Bonnie Smile then my local framers and gallery in Northallerton – Coastal Fine Arts and Framing – will soon be stocking prints of that and a wide range of my images as prints and originals. In addition, though these are both paintings I completed much earlier this year, I wanted to let you know that both Candy Crush and Tipping Point are now available as giclée cards. Some pictures translate more easily into reproduction than others and both of these paintings proved tricky to capture, both in their precise details and true colours. However, I now have really lovely reproductions, as both cards and prints – see below a lovely example of a framed Candy Crush print.


I hope to have Pied Beauty and Bonnie Smile products in stock soon too. In the meantime, I’m now turning my attention to a triptych of views of St Mary’s Battersea, inspired by William Blake: ‘without contraries there is no progression’. I have a very cute new portrait in the offing, not to mention a couple of floral works planned, inspired both by my new garden and our forthcoming wedding…

I’m hoping for a busy summer, and amidst the doom and gloom of politics and economics I hope we can all take refuge in beautiful art, beautiful nature and a Bonnie Smile 🙂


Young and old

I’m back to pencil portraits once more. There is something so satisfying about producing a likeness from such a humble piece of equipment, and a medium I can use as instinctively as thinking. I think there’s something fundamentally honest and essential about the pencil portrait – both in terms of reflecting the subject and the artist. I’m always amazed at how pencil, seemingly so one-dimensional, expresses my different moods and approaches – as I think is visible in the two portraits below.

Holding Rabbit, 6x6 Pencil
Holding Rabbit, 6×6 Pencil

The first was a wedding present, which I had been planning for a while, and was delighted to manage it before the day and send it along in my place. I had thought about using acrylic for this portrait of the couple’s daughter, but decided against it for two reasons: first, no one ever commissions pencil portraits! So, while the ball was in my court, I would take the opportunity! Secondly, I was able to finish this in one (albeit long) sitting, which is a bonus when I never know if I’ll be able to paint one day or the next. I had half-heartedly started working from photos with more ‘classic’ poses, and had rejected this view because of the hand partially obscuring the face. But I loved the cheeky, sideways glance and smile you see here, and so decided to go with my gut. The translucent smoothness of young skin was a challenge in terms of light and subtle shading, as were the proportions of the head, which are very different from those of an adult. But I really enjoyed this portrait, especially the non-facial elements, such as the gorgeous little hands and the folds of her stripy jumper.

Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith

The next portrait was the work of only about an hour, but shows the opposite character of pencil: much less exacting, much more linear and, I hope, more expressive. I hope it is recognisable as the characterful stare of Maggie Smith as Lady Violet in Downton Abbey. I used a burnt sienna pencil for this portrait, which hasn’t shown up well in the photograph, but was a real pleasure to use, and I think gives it a certain sense of antiquity thoroughly appropriate to the matriarch of Downton!

I am currently deeply appreciating a bit of looking-after at my parents’, and I hope to use the time here to revisit oil painting, with all the necessary equipment and space available. So, hopefully a return to colour in future posts.

One for the cat lovers, and a Sherlock preview.

Drawing the ‘White Horse’ at the start of the new year started me on an artistic train of thought. The reflective quality of white gives it peculiar visual properties. If you look at photos of white animals, their colour seems to suck up their shadows, leaving much of the contours to the imagination, or, in my case, to the page. Here, I’ve continued the theme with a white cat:

'Being looked up to', 7x5 Pen and Ink, £15
‘Being looked up to’, 7×5 Pen and Ink, £15

Not being a cat person, generally disliking their supercilious air, I enjoyed this unusual posture of feline supplication! I was also taken by the way this posture telescopes the whole body, with the whiskers radiating out. I tried to keep all the pen lines in the direction of the fur, and thus always drawing inwards towards those glassy eyes. But don’t worry, dog lovers, I think a Westie will be next in this ‘all in white’ series.

Altogether, it seems that I’m having a rather black and white start to the year, as I am still enjoying working on the pencil portrait, and inspired this time by the brilliant return of the BBC Sherlock:

Watson, 6x6" Pencil, £10
Watson, 6×6″ Pencil, £10

This portrait was done very swiftly, and lacks the depth created by varied pencil tones and by decisive lines. This is, yet again, I think, a symptom of working from photos rather than from life. One has only the 2D patterning of light and shade to work from, rather than a real-world knowledge of contour and shape from the actual presence of the sitter. At the behest of my Grandpa, I have spent time studying the portrait drawings of Holbein. They are really quite breath-taking because of the striking modernity of the accurately-captured human face. They seem particularly ageless because Holbein often leaves the period details of dress in vague outline, allowing the face to leap out of its Renaissance context. The real education for me in looking at these drawings has been two-fold. Firstly, the expressivity of well-chosen lines, analogous to the lucid lyricism of a sonnet, in comparison with the baggy reality of a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Second, Holbein’s drawings are boldly economical. A certain lack of assurance often leads to me want to cover the whole surface of a page with marks, as if the greater the expanse of pencil, the greater the likeness. HolbeinBut, as you can see with this portrait of Lady Heveningham, he creates a detailed and subtle spread of contour through only the most localised shading, and surprisingly pronounced lines of silhouette. I will be attempting a similar style over the weekend, and would even venture to commit to ‘a portrait a day’ in this vein, but the frustrating experience of the last few weeks suggests that gluten accidents are unlikely to permit such an ambition.

In other news, I have begun work on a commission to paint a tawny owl in acrylic. I have not yet attempted to paint a bird in acrylic, generally preferring the precision of coloured pencils. In my first attempt, I tried to paint ‘top down’ with minimal layering of paint. However, inspired by the work of wildlife artist Marcel Witte (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41wPGQ_EKE4), I am going to start again with a new tactic of building up from a completely black ground. Although I am not a fan of the hyper-realism of his style, I think the black under-painting gives a real depth to his work, which I hope to emulate.

Finally, I am now half way through a group portrait commission. This is my most major work yet, and so I have been taking it quite steadily, trying to allow myself time think about it between each painting session, so as not to miss any errors of likeness which would be impossible to correct at a later stage. I have also been taking a photo of it at each stage, as I find that seeing the painting on a screen refreshes my vision, and snaps me out of looking at it in a blinkered, one-track fashion. This means that, in my next post, I should be able to share with you the entire journey of the commission so far, step by step. Until then…

A Happy New Year, Strictly and that Avian Commission

Best wishes for the year of the horse! I had been planning a still life acrylic of festive fruits (pomegranates, oranges, nuts etc) to celebrate Christmas. But since I missed that festive boat, I thought I’d jump on the New Year band wagon. It was difficult to find a typically ‘new year’ subject, so I went for something specific to 2014:

White Horse This pen drawing really was a case of ‘less is more’. It was nerve-wracking (as nerve-wracking as art gets, at least!) to be working in such an absolute, permanent medium, while trying to preserve as much of the paper as possible. I’ve found that this drawing works well as a greetings card, which I could produce and sell at 5 for £6 or 10 for £10, including P&P. The original is also available.

Darcey BussellPredictably, considering the ongoing health problems over Christmas, I was able to do little else, save for an unashamedly Strictly-themed portrait of Darcey Bussell.I think the medium of pencil really suits the smooth complexions of both young(ish) women and children, and in this instance I hoped the monochrome finish would lend a rather classical, sophisticated feel to the more garish and colourful world of Strictly. 

It was lovely, in the aftermath of Christmas, to hear that various commissioned paintings had been well-received, and I am now in a position to share that ‘avian commission’ which I mentioned a few months ago.

Avian CommissionI really enjoyed this work. Having recently come across the Welcome Collection Science and Art project, (http://www.wellcomecollection.org/) I had in mind those scientific specimen drawings. However, while most of the old fashioned drawings of this kind extracted the subject from its surround, I decided to situate the bullfinch against a blue sky of equal luminance to the brilliant peach of its breast. This is a trick which Monet used to make his colours sing (and recently discovered by the neuro-scientist, Margaret Livingstone). Bullfinch black and whiteThe disproportionate power of these colours can be seen when the picture is reproduced in black and white, with the bullfinch seeming almost to disappear into the page.

A brief final word: though I am now on the mend, I have had to make the difficult decision to suspend my studies, and so will be working as an artist full time for 2014. Now, more than ever, I am extremely grateful for the support I have already received for my artwork, and the commissions I received in 2013. I will be looking for ways to improve my work and business in the new year, and would warmly welcome any comments, suggestions, criticism and of course, commissions!