Tuesday, 28 February 2012


I had very nice feedback regarding Lottie's WIP photo so have now added the final whiskers and photographed the picture in a selection of mounts awaiting the final verdict:

With the stern words of Peter Barker (wonderful artist and fellow Blogger) ringing in my ears, I am trying to avoid truncating my animal subjects when portraying them. ... Peter has a strong dislike of heads being chopped off at the neck ... and doesn't hesitate to say so - he has given me some great advice over the last few weeks :-)

So with Lottie .... although I was working to my 'mid size' portrait I extended her chest further down the paper than normal.  This gives my client the choice of having the mid size mount where there is little background showing behind Lottie, or having a larger mount with more background/chest showing.    They have a lovely spacious farmhouse with lots of wallspace so I'm pleased to give them the option of making a 'larger' framed picture of the portrait.

this is how it looks with the smaller mount 18" x 14"

and in a larger mount - this is ivory with plum inner (but I also showed the portrait in a white mount with black inner) - to fit frame size 20" x 16"

Whilst awaiting a decision on Lottie I finished the coloured pencil portrait of Sophie-Louise.  Not really sure about this one; the pose that I liked in the photograph looks slightly strange in the cropped version but I finished it anyway.   It was a very quick coloured pencil work and if I don't have time to complete anything before the 10th March deadline for the UKCPS Keswick exhibition I may just submit this ... entries are drawn by ballot rather than selected by Jury so its always worth a try :-)

Originally I'd planned to use a square mount/frame but had a change of plan today and selected this frame which is a dusky pink/grey shade.   The mount/frame are just loosely laid over the drawing, hence the shadows.  

Monday, 27 February 2012


That just about sums up the day nicely I think.

Firstly the 'lost' items .... A complete folder of photographs taken at Port Lympne animal park has disappeared from my computer - presumably during the recent fiasco when the TechGuys were trying to resolve the many problems my computer was suffering from.  When the computer allowed us to, we backed up files/folders onto an external hard drive but it seems this one slipped the net.   It had 100+ photos of meerkats and lions/lionesses which I planned to use this Spring.  Sooooooo looks as though another trip to Port Lympne is called for, and hopefully the animals will be as obliging as they were last time.

The 'better loss' is the excess weight which is reducing nicely.  At this morning's weekly weigh in David and I each registered a loss of 11lbs since starting our healthy eating/drinking regime 4 weeks ago.  Our target is to lose 14lbs each before going back to Fuerteventura on 14th March, so 2 more weeks to shift the next 3lbs ... then we can celebrate with a curry at our favourite Indian restaurant on the island :-)

and the Wins ...... we went tenpin bowling for the first time in more than 3 years.   David and I used to bowl regularly and belonged to a couple of leagues but we had to give up when we moved to Whitstable - just too far to travel back to the old centre twice a week.    We have a small tenpin bowling centre nearby so we dusted off the shoes and balls and gave it a whirl.  I was a bit nervous about making a fool of myself but I managed a credible 160 average over the 3 games .... to David's 147 average I hasten to add YAH BOO!!!!!

No more work on Lottie the black lab today until I get feedback from her mum and dad about whether they want any changes made before I add final detail.

I've been 'playing' with a photo I took of my 16 month old grand-daughter at the weekend.   I did take lots of more 'usual' poses of her laughing but I kept getting drawn back to one picture where she is looking back over her shoulder at the camera and the light from the nearby window has emphasized lots of blue tones in her skin.     This is what I've been trying to capture today - coloured pencils on light grey pastelmat paper - at one stage she did look a little like a SMURF ... but I've toned the blues down a little so if her mum does happen to see my Blog she won't be horrified.    This is the first child/grand-child and everything has to be perfect ... I don't think this is a portrait she'd particularly like .... but its a challenge for me and may well end up in the bin yet   :-)

Sophie-Louise ... and yes, her eyes really are as blue as that!

Sunday, 26 February 2012


The weather here in Kent has been lovely this weekend.   Yesterday I managed to strip the rugs off of Roxy and give her a thorough 'scrub' - she is losing her winter coat and by the time I finished she must have been several pounds lighter as I half filled a skip bucket with discarded hair.   By the time I left the stables for the usual Saturday round of family visiting Roxy looked immaculate and I was very grubby and smelly!!  

Today would have been a lovely day for a walk along the beach but I have only got 9 days to go till the exhibition at Horsebridge Gallery (Whitstable) and I really need to crack on with work for it.   First I have to finish the labrador commission so I worked more on it today.   I made the mistake of spraying it with Fixative which dulled all the delicate highlighting I'd spent ages working on.  I should know by now that Fixative dulls some pale pastel colours quite severely and there were a lot of pale blues/mauves and greys used on this.   Usually I steam the pastel which works better but I had a bit of a Senior moment and reached for the Fixative can before the brain kicked into gear.  

I've re-worked some of the highlights but will call it a day now to avoid getting slapdash - tomorrow is another day and all that ...

Friday, 24 February 2012


I woke up this morning with a pain in the neck .... no, not David :-)     I think I must have slept awkardly but the ache continued so I've been doing very short stints working on Lottie's portrait with lots of stretching/exercises in between.  Having just about come to the end of a year-long course of treatment at the spine clinic I don't want to wind up needing more treatment.

So this is all I achieved today .... the muzzle area needs a lot more work but I'll leave that till the next session as there is a lot of detail to pick out in all those folds.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


I had a spate of commissions before Christmas involving black coated animals and its amazing just how far black pastel dust travels (or is it just more noticeable than other colours I wonder)?   I made a start on the black labrador pastel today and although I constantly clean my hands I still manage to leave a trail of black fingerprints wherever I go  .....

Not much to see yet but I'm working on Fisher 400 sanded paper and as usual I worked on the eyes first - these will be refined later as they will get dulled by pastel dust in the interim but I can't bear working around empty eye sockets :-)

I'm slowly contouring the face but now I've stopped for the day and taken a step back I can see several areas where the shading/highlighting isn't quite true ... early days yet and I'll be doing lots of tweaking and correcting along the way.     Fisher 400 is a light sandy colour so you can see that the camera has distorted the colour a little as I took the picture just as the light was fading this evening.

Incidentally, David and I were sorting some things out on the computers today and we had 2 laptops and a netbook running at the same time showing the same photograph (the reference for this portrait actually) - the colour variance was amazing and the image on the netbook was much shorter and wider than it should have been.

I know its possible to calibrate the computers but that isn't much good unless the client has done the same ... small wonder I've often been asked whether I could lighten/darker skintones/fur colours if what I'm seeing is so very different from what the client looks at.   

Still I guess there isn't much that can be done about the problem.   Back in 1995 I had my horse portrayed by a professional artist who I met at Hickstead equestrian show.   I sent her an assortment of printed photos by 'snail mail' and a few weeks later received the finished portrait - we had no digital cameras or internet in those days and I just had to 'take my chances' and had no opportunity to view Work in Progress pictures or approve the likeness prior to purchase.

Oh ... and this is the little puppy duly mounted and framed.   There's a bit of glare off the glass but I'm happy with the combination and fingers crossed he'll find himself a new owner at the forthcoming exhibition.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


We drove to a beautiful rural location in Essex today to photograph a black labrador which I'll be portraying soon.   The weather was lovely for February - bright and sunny and perfect for outdoor photography.  The journey was approx 2½ hours each way and we took the 'scenic route' and really enjoyed the break from routine.

The dog 'Lottie' was gorgeous.  A real working labrador full of fun and energy and no surplus fat.  I took lots of pictures and apart from the ones where she squinted into the sun, she was a perfect model - really photogenic.   Her mum and dad narrowed it down to 2 favourite pictures.  I'll be using the pose from one and the colouring from another and I can't wait to get started.

I didn't know it was Shrove Tuesday till I heard some discussion on the car radio about the best way to cook pancakes.    Academic really, they are forbidden foods in our current diet plan :-)   Next year maybe ....

Anyway, I haven't done any artwork at all today, and tomorrow I'll be doing my usual stint as a volunteer at the Pilgrims Hospice eBay office ... so here are some photos showing progress on the puppy I posted about yesterday.

I'm using pastels on Fisher 400 sanded paper and the image will be cropped down (losing some of the ears) to fit a 6" x 6" aperture in a mount/frame I've selected for it.

They eyes are drawn in first - as usual, and then I've started blocking in areas of colour/shade to define the contours of the face.

More detail added using pastel pencils.   At this stage I'm not sure whether to sharpen up all the little wispy hairs or whether to blend them in and go for a 'softer' look ....  

This is approximately where the picture will be cropped to ... sorry its a bit 'warts & all' with this close up photo - much better viewed from a distance.    I'll see how it looks in the mount/frame tomorrow evening and then decide what changes to make.    

Monday, 20 February 2012


Meet Blue .... completed in pastels on pastelmat

and a few WIP photos.   They were taken at different times of day hence the colour variations.    I used Pan Pastels for the background sweep of colour (many thanks again to Berni -co.director of Colorfin LLC for her generosity in sending me some samples last year).  Thereafter its all pastel pencil - a mix of Derwent, Pitt and Conte

I have been working on a 'cropped' head study of a puppy today.  At just 6" x 6" it is much smaller than my usual works and so took a bit of getting used to - I really do admire people who can work 'miniature'.    It is intended to fit a small square mount/frame I have at home and will be one I'll show at the forthcoming exhibition at Horsebridge Gallery, Whitstable (early next month).   I'm hoping to complete several small pieces which will be cheaper and hopefully more attractive to the visitors.   I'll post it tomorrow evening as I've lost the light today.

Off tomorrow to photograph a black labrador which is to be a belated birthday commission for my client.  So no art tomorrow as the trip will take up most of the day.

Sunday, 19 February 2012


We had bright sunshine for most of the day (but very cold temperatures) so made the most of it and went for a nice long walk to blow away some cobwebs!

Here's the latest dog - completed in pastel on Fisher 400 sanded paper.

As the light wasn't good I didn't stop to take Work in Progress pictures.

I am currently working on a cat pastel on light grey Pastelmat.  I have taken a couple of progress photos so will show those later.

The graphite portrait drawn from an old passport photo was tweaked a little more.  I've struggled to get the 'softer' look the client wanted whilst downplaying the shadows which are quite harsh on the original ref.  This latest version has been approved but I'm left with the feeling that I haven't captured the image he has in his mind ...  (apologies, the camera has emphasised the white highlights in her eyes - they aren't that dominant in real life).


Saturday, 18 February 2012


Why is it that as soon as we (David and I) embark on a healthy eating/weight loss campaign we get bombarded with special deals from local restaurants all trying to lead us astray.   A nice 'middle of the road' local one is offering two main meals and a bottle of wine for just £14!!   But we're resolute.   We've both lost 7lbs in the first two weeks and the next weigh-in is Monday ... we're not calorie counting, just following a low fat meal plan and seriously cutting down on alcohol intake - my target is to lose one stone (drop a dress size) by the time we go back to Fuerteventura on 14 March. 

Dress sizes were on my mind during the week.   On Wednesdays I work as a volunteer for Pilgrims Hospice eBay office.   Items donated to their High Street charity shops which are deemed to be 'better quality' are advertised on eBay so they reach a larger audience and attract better prices.   I have been photographing and listing clothing and many of the garments are vintage 60s, 70s and 80s.    

I find it amazing that vintage items with size label 16 would be the equivalent of a size 10 or 12 today.   One beautiful 60s 'mod' dress had a size 20 label.  When I measured it and compared the results with a current Marks & Spencer size chart it would have been labelled 14 in their store.    

So, I wonder if the UK's well publicised obesity problems would have been lessened if the clothing manufacturers hadn't been sneakily making sizes more generous.   How many of us feel comfortable in our size 12/14 outfits but would be horrified if the labels read size 18/20???   I'd have started my diet far earlier I'm sure :-)

Anyway - when back from holiday I made some adjustments to Charlie's portrait, his coat had undergone a few colour changes and I removed more of the hairs which obscured his lovely eyes in the ref photo.   The portrait was posted on Friday so will be with Charlie's mum on Monday (if not today).

There was a lot of backlighting from the sun in the ref photo which gave Charlie a 'halo' of bright hair which was fun to draw.

I have just finished another dog portrait which I'll post later.  Unfortunately the Vizsla portrait I planned to fit in next has been cancelled as her owner decided she would really like a portrait in oils (which I don't offer).   So next on the drawing board will be a cat and then on Tuesday I will be travelling to a client in Essex to photograph her husband's labrador (belated birthday portrait commission) and also her dad's dog which will potentially be a birthday commission in July.   That will take most of the day as its approx 200 miles round trip.

I'm hoping to make time to do a smallish coloured pencil work to submit for the UK Coloured Pencil Society exhibition at Keswick but the deadline is approaching rapidly so not sure if I'll manage that.    I've got a couple of exhibitions coming up in March and April and need to have some new drawings to add to the 'usual culprits' which I've displayed but not sold at previous shows - perhaps an opportunity to use some of ever-growing library of ref. photos I've taken over the last few years :-)

Friday, 17 February 2012

17/02: I'M BACK!

Well back online with a working computer that is ....     after two attempts to fix my faulty computer (which included twice replacing the memory, changing the motherboard and various other bits) we then spent the best part of two days with the Tech Guys remotely fixing the other problems which remained when they returned the machine to me.   Its now very noisy, but very fast!

The computer problems have put me behind with exhibition entries and blogging as I've just had to concentrate on the most essential commissions and admin.     So this will be a short post as I need to crack on with a cat pastel whilst the light is good.

Here are a couple of graphite portraits I've recently worked on.

This was commissioned as birthday present for my client's wife

Ref photo:

Graphite drawing:

and this portrait you may recall seeing last year when I made a start on it prior to tackling the Christmas commissions.

Sadly I'm told the lady has now passed away so there has been a lot of liaison with my client regarding the likeness.  The scanned image I was initially working from was very dark so he sent me the original passport photo and I've re-scanned it at higher definition to enable me to glean as much detail as possible.  I've 'brightened' the scanned reference photo here but with hindsight I wish I'd have made this a sepia drawing which perhaps would have been more in keeping.   

Just waiting feedback now ....    will post more completed art tonight or at the weekend.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

02/02: BACK AT WORK!

Well we're back from sunny Fuerteventura and really feeling the cold.

Picked my 'repaired' computer up from PC World on Monday.  The TechGuys (to whom we pay a monthly maintenance fee) had apparently replaced the faulty memory.   Appears they didn't bother to check the computer afterwards though.   20 minutes after reloading all the files we'd backed up onto an external drive, the computer went back to its old tricks of crashing (blue screen) every few minutes.    Needless to say we are less than chuffed with PC World and the TechGuys.   Speaking to a friend last night she doesn't have a good word to say about TechGuys having had two run-ins with them for a faulty TV and fridge-freezer.    Still, we have to give them another chance to redeem themselves I guess.  Watch this space.

Meantime, I'm working from an old laptop plugged into my larger screen and mouse.  Its strange typing on the small keyboard but viewing on the old monitor - doesn't take much to confuse me.  Its such a pain as all my 'commission files' are on an external drive so not easily accessible when I need to check clients' email addresses or refer to reference photos .... still at least I can work (after a fashion) and access the internet.  

But ... I have been busy.

I knew I had to get straight back to the drawing board on Monday morning as the first of my outstanding commissions has to be with the client by 7th February.   It has been finished and approved today so will be en route tomorrow.  Its a graphite 'human' portrait but can't show it yet as its a surprise birthday portrait.

I am nearing completion on another graphite portrait but this is one I'd made a start on last year before putting it to one side to complete the Christmas orders.

and, having had a break from the little Terrier I've had a fresh look at it and can see several areas that need tweaking.  I'll get back to that at the weekend as its pastel and I'd like to finish the graphite work first.

I think I'll be fitting in a Vizsla next but I have agreed to travel to Essex to photograph a black lab which is to be a belated birthday portrait ... just got to sort out a suitable day (and hope for better weather as I'd prefer to photograph a black lab in natural outdoor daylight).

David and I are also on a bit of a health kick .... we've both over-indulged over the Christmas period and our holiday so are cutting back on the booze ... no alcohol has passed our lips since the weekend :-) and we're dieting and using the exercise bike.   We've set ourselves targets of losing 1stone each (approx 6kgs) before our next visit to Fuerteventura on 14 March ... so hoping for a slow/steady weight loss ... then we can blow it all whilst on holiday :-)