Sunday, 19 January 2020

Trois Crayons

My artist's journey into portraiture has continued with more pencil and graphite work and then into the classical "trois crayons" (three pencil) method used by many renaissance artists.  I learned this first from a video by Gunhild Hope on sktchy art school (in the class 30 Faces / 30 Days) and have taken it forward in half a dozen drawing since and am really enjoying adding the touch of colour from the sanguine pencil and the toned paper.

The idea of trois crayons is that you do the main part of the sketching in sanguine pencil (sangine is the colour of dried blood) and then darken it where necessary with a black pencil and then add final highlight with a white pencil.

I obtained my materials from the Faber Castell Pitt Monochrome set of 12 items (available at great discounts from various art outlets). and I found that a good paper to use is the Strathmore Toned Tan.  I also tried Daler Rowney Ingres paper but founds it had too much "tooth" (it was too rough) and wouldn't give me the smooth drawing effect I was looking for - a shame, as its very high quality paper. 

This set has an interesting selection of materials.  The black and sanguine pencils are like pastel pencils but are oil-based - this means that they don't smudge as easily as an ordinary pastel pencil. The white pencil used for highlights is a normal pastel pencil.  In addition there is a brown pastel pencil , a charcoal pencil and a graphite 2B pencil (perfect for doing an initial sketch as its so easy to erase mistakes).  A putty eraser is include and also 4 square block chalk crayons - like Conté crayons, which are useful for large areas like backgrounds. Also, a 6B Graphite stick.

The only thing you need in addition to this is a couple of blending stumps (made of rolled paper and available cheaply on ebay).

Anyway, here are some drawings I've done with trois crayons.  These are all drawn from sktchy photographs.

I've really enjoyed doing these and I'd like to develop the technique further so I can do more detail in the drawings and get a more artistically refined result.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019


Winter is well underway in England at the moment although being on the south coast we get quite a bit of warmer damp weather to break up those lovely frosty mornings.  For me, I find myself quite pleased to get to December.  It always seems quite a short month and near the end we have Christmas - with all its many reasons for enjoying it. 

This is a pencil portrait I did which I've called "Waiting", suggesting the season of Advent when we wait for the festival of Christmas. It comes from a photograph I found on Pexels - a resource of royalty-free photographs which I've only just discovered.  This photograph was taken by Engin Akyurt who is a brilliant photographer with many images contributed to Pexels.  Thank you Engin! 

Google Photos never ceases to amaze me.  I was down at the beach last week and took a photo with my phone of the waves crashing on the cliffs.  A couple of days later, Google Photos gave me a notification that it had done something with the photo and when I looked at it I saw that they'd transformed it into something really nice by bringing out the colours in it and making it really sing. 

And finally, here's one more drawing I did last week - the model was Rick from sktchy. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

sktchy Art School

For the last three or four months I've been working through some pencil drawing course on sktchy Art School with tutor France Van Stone.  France is a highly accomplished drawer as anyone who's got her book Sketch will know.

France has courses on pencil and iPad sketching with modules on beards, eyes, wrinkles, cross-hatching and even one where she uses both drawing on paper and on iPad as a useful comparison.

I've learned so much from these course about simplification of materials (just a couple of pencils and a sheet of copier paper is enough!), building volume, proportions within the face, and so much more.  These courses are a reasonable price and of course you can come back to the video lessons over and over again.

There is also a useful community aspect to the school in that you can post your drawings and receive feedback from the tutor and other students.

OK, so the subject matter is a bit limited (portraits) but if that's what you want to learn about then sktchy Art School is a terrific resource.  Anyway here are four of my fifty or so drawings which I've done in the last few weeks.  They're all A4 size (about 8"x11") and are all done with just two pencils on mixed media paper. I'm reasonably happy with them but still have some way to go to.   

A lot of pencil artists try to draw in a photo-realistic style, with incredibly smooth textures and a considerable amount of blending.  I am pleased to say that France Van Stone likes to see the pencil marks and so do I. I see very little point in slavishly copying a photograph so that it looks like a photograph.  Surely a work of art should bring something else to the table than "wow, that's just like a photo!".  

Friday, 2 August 2019

The sktchy app

Well, having had a major birthday last month (one ending in zero) I finally got hold of an iPad - I've resisted all things Apple for a long time now, but I've had to admit that when it comes to art apps, its hard to beat.  In particular I wanted the sktchy app which presents you with a portrait photograph every morning for you to draw or paint.  I also wanted ProCreate - perhaps the best digital drawing app.  Neither of these apps are available on Android tablets or phones. 

I've loved using sktchy and have done a number of drawings from it in the last couple of weeks.  We went away last weekend for a couple of nights in the seaside town of Hastings, just up the coast from where we live. I enjoyed getting up early in the mornings and immediately looking up the portrait photograph of the day and trying to produce something on paper to do it justice.  Here are a few of my efforts.

Hastings itself is an interesting place with quite a few artists working in the town and a prestigious gallery called the Hastings Contemporary.  We didn't have time to visit but I would have liked to have seen the current exhibition by illustrator and cartoonist Quentin Blake.  

We stayed in a really nice apartment on the edge of the Country Park.  We saw a green woodpecker and a greater spotted woodpecker in the tree outside our apartment and a pair of badgers came around at night looking for food.   

The weekend was finished off by us replacing our elderly Vauxhall with a new(ish) car - a Citroen this time which is a treat to drive with all its various gizmos.  It makes me realise quite how old our Vauxhall was and how cars have moved on in recent years.  

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Thérese of Lisieux

I love the Normandy region of France and have been there many times.  I live near the ferry port of Newhaven and ships from there take us straight across the English Channel to the Normandy port of Dieppe.  From there it is only a short drive to some very beautiful parts of Normandy, not least the lovely Calvados country with its apple orchards and farm-based Calvados distilleries where the farmers let you sample their apple brandy.

The ancient town of Lisieux is interesting and contains a huge church - the Basilica dedicated to the Catholic saint of Thérese of Lisieux.  While I am not a Catholic, I have to say, there is something quite special about the story of Thérese and I can see why she inspires to much devotion, particularly among Normandy residents who now have their very own saint.  When you go to the Basilica and descend to the crypt you are confroned with a beautiful chapel dedicated to St Thérese, rich with colour and decoration.

Anyway, hear is a painting I did yesterday of Thérese's childhood home in Alençon (also in Normandy).

The house is open to the public and the website says (English translation), 
 . . .the family home of Saints Martin Spouse, also birthplace of St. Therese, opens its doors to get closer to them and find the authenticity of the time they lived. The visit accompanied by the house introduces the life of the Martin family - Saints Louis and Zélie, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and his sisters - to Alençon, thanks to five spaces: the reception hall with the historic gallery, the exhibition of personal objects, the auditorium, the house and the chapel. A film from the family correspondences presents the life of the family in Alençon, the only city where she lived in full, from 1871 to 1877.  
The staging allows to recreate the atmosphere and atmosphere of the family life of the Martin, and the youth of the little Saint. The chapel with its sculptures and frescoes evokes Saint Therese and opens on the conjugal chamber of Saints Martin Spouse, also birthplace of Saint Therese and place of the death of Saint Zélie. 

Whatever you think of this sort of thing, this is a fascinating place and very picturesque.  Well worth a visit to either Lisieux or Alencon.  

Sunday, 12 May 2019

A visit to Lewes

Yesterday afternoon (Saturday), Margaret and I went across to the nearby town of Lewes to join in the displays for M.E. Awareness Week. M.E. Is a dreadfully debilitating and much misunderstood medical condition affecting at least a quarter of a million people in Britain, yet something which is little understood by doctors and which has attracted little research funding. Margaret has suffered from it for 28 years now - an amazing length of time to be contantly feeling below par and with chronic pain.

There was a good if small group of people on the bridge over the River Ouse and the whole area was thronged with shoppers and other people enjoying a sunny afternoon in the town. The Green Party were also in the area handing out leaflets and I was glad to see that their leader, Caroline Lucas was there. She came over and chatted ot the M. E. People for a while which was nice.

Caroline Lucas beneath the yellow sign.  Margaret to the left looking at the camera
Afterwards, Margaret and I went for a coffee and then came home, she feeling much depleted by the afternoon's activities and in considerable pain. Despite this I am glad that she was able to go and she did actually have the opportunity to speak to Caroline Lucas.

In the evening I completed a painting of the first car I'd ever owned, back in 1968. I sold a Lambretta motor-scooter in order to buy it. It turned out to be a "rust-bucket" with many holes stuffed with newspaper and patched over with filler. I soon changed if for a Mini which while having problems of its own was an improvement.

Here is the painting of the A40.

Last week I also did two morepaintings - one of Montrésor, small town in the Loire Valley and another (at the top of this post) of a beautiful little building in Tréguier in Brittany. I love painting scenes from France as while I am doing them I am taken back in my mind I to happy times driving through that lovely country.


Thursday, 2 May 2019


Well, Easter came and went - this year I was following Tom Wright's book on the Gospel Of John, John for Everyone and had timed it so that the crucifixion and resurrection narratives fitted in with the festival.  At Seaford Baptist Church, East Sunday was marked by the adult baptism of two people who had both become Christians "from nowhere" - one in particular told us how a year ago he was struggling in despair with everything in his life going wrong and excessive drinking, but now everything was new and fresh.

Since my last post I've been doing an online course in drawing pencil portraits by the Canadian artist France Van Stone.  Its been really good learning how to build up volume and form from pencil lines.  Here are two of my efforts, firstly  Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Fleabag (from the BBC 3 series)

And another of the writer and speaker Jordan Peterson (I express no views on his opinions - he just had an interesting face).

Finally, to add some colour to this post here is a painting I did in the garden of our lovely Clematis Montana - the blooms last such a short time I felt I had to try to capture them.

For those who read my previous post in which I mentioned my newly-aquired tortoise "Hilary", we have definitely agreed that he is a male not a female as we first supposed.  The behaviour in the video below apparently proves it.  Some people say its territorial behaviour but who can read a tortoise's tiny brain?  Anyway, he's providing us with a lot of fun and its surprising how much we've taken to having him wandering around the garden (now totally tortoise-proofed - or so I hope).