One purple evening

Given the view we currently have, it’s ridiculous that I don’t do more landscapes. Still, in the great tradition of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s soon to be gone (well, perhaps) I knocked out not one but two relatively quick colour pieces yesterday evening, looking south across the Firth of Forth towards Edinburgh. Nothing similar tonight I’m afraid, Auld Reekie has vanished behind a curtain of rain.

Purple Forth in Pastels, 25 June 2015

Purple Forth in Pastels, 25 June 2015

Purple Forth in Oils, 25 June 2015

Purple Forth in Oils, 25 June 2015

Life drawing 12/07/2015

Sunday was my last life drawing session until Autumn, and in the days beforehand I was delighted to see/hear the benefits of drawing the nude extolled on both radio and online. First up, this splendid half-hour Radio 4 broadcast from a Brighton-based life drawing session (yes, I know, not the most obvious subject for radio, but it worked well) presented by Will Gompertz. The tuition, and the reverence given to the model, is spot-on and a delight, and it's fascinating to hear from two life models (including one of Lucien Freud's – here she is) on what it's like on the other side of the easel. Well worth a listen.

A few days later, life drawing made an unexpected appearance in this BBC Magazine article on how to mitigate against memory loss. Three test groups were tasked with either walking exercises, crossword/Sudoku puzzles or life drawing classes. At the end of it, guess which group showed the biggest improvement? A pleasant surprise, partly because I'd never associated life drawing with self-improvement, partly because my memory is frankly pisspoor. Clearly more sessions is the only solution…

Learning how to draw was not only a fresh challenge to our group but, unlike the puzzlers, it also involved developing psychomotor skills. Capturing an image on paper is not just intellectually demanding. It involves learning how to make the muscles in your hand guide the pencil or paintbrush in the right directions.

Anyway, to last Sunday and my own attempts at venerating the model & developing psychomotor skills. With the fast poses I normally work on cheap newsprint paper (left over from a house move years ago) but for a summer treat I dug out some unused sheets of A1 cartridge paper.

2 mins, XL charcoal, 12/07/2015

The XL charcoal worked an absolute treat on this, the contrast between light & dark far more marked than using the newsprint.

2 mins, XL charcoal, 12/07/2015

2 mins, XL charcoal, 12/07/2015

Onto the 10/15 min poses, I switched to oil paints. I'm in the middle of reading James Gurney's Color And Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (thus far it's a peach) and wanted to put some lessons on colour and limited palettes to the test. The results were middling to fair,  and I felt I was learning through my mistakes.

15 mins, oil paint, 12/07/2015

15 mins, oil paint, 12/07/2015

Similarly, an oil painting of the 45 min pose turned out flawed but with aspects I liked as well as stuff I can hopefully learn from. The colour of the body in light is a good one, but the shadow is too thin by comparison, although I think the actual colour works pretty well – it just needs a similar 'thickness' to the neighbouring colour.

45 mins, oil paint, 12/07/2015

Choons! I started off with Nerve Up, Lonelady's debut album which I bought after being so impressed with the recent Hinterland. It's cracking, wonderfully taut with a spiky guitar jabbing away furiously with the fast poses.


Followed by Jane Weaver's The Silver Globe, sold to me by a performance on Marc Riley's excellent All Shook Up online-only live music show – watch and be entranced.

And I wrapped up with the Buena Vista Social Club Presents… album, which doesn't seem to have anything to do with presents. Good music, mind, though I could've done without the attempts to throw turntables into the mix. Just keep it real.


Illustration Friday: Small

Took last week off from IFfing – had a nice idea, but no time/headspace to polish it up – so wanted to get back on the wagon this week. Given that lots of my earlier illustrations have played upon the small/big dynamic I was worried about repeating myself, and in a way I think I have. Only a few weeks ago I had very small person vs very big thing (snowman, in that case) seen side on, yet here we are again. Oh well. More time bashing out sketches would probably help add some variety to my drawings, but it's as though once I've got a particular idea in mind I want it down on paper (or screen) as quickly as possible.

Anyway, the idea for this came quite quickly, although I had a couple of days flapping around trying to make the ninja character's pose work. I ended up drawing the whole thing on the iPod using Sketchbook Mobile during commutes to and from work (oh, for the comparative vastness of an iPad Mini screen!). I like the starkness of red and black, and wonder whether I should've maintained a similar starkness in the rendering of the eye. I also feel I could've got more tension, more drama out of the concept of the drawing than I did. Still, it's done now. Next!

Illustration Friday: Small

Life drawing 14/06/2015

After sneaking last month's session in on the last day of May, June's took place just a couple of weeks later. It was a welcome respite from a lot of potentially-good-but-exhausting stuff that's on the go just now, although I worried beforehand I'd have trouble focusing on the drawing. It's certainly impacted on my daily sketching (or lack of it) but once we were in the studio and the poses started, everything else faded into the background.

2 mins, charcoal, 14/06/2015

As with a fortnight ago, I started off with charcoal on newsprint paper (well, it's actually packing paper left over from when we moved house in 2011) – the cheapness of the paper stops me from getting precious about whatever I draw on it, so I loosen up and let rip without the guilt of potentially wasting a pristine sheet of white cartridge paper.

2 mins, charcoal, 14/06/2015

The 2 minute poses went pretty well, and for once I didn't blow it with the 5 minutes either.

5 mins, charcoal, 14/06/2015

5 mins, charcoal, 14/06/2015

For the 10 mins I tried using black ink and wash on some thicker, albeit tatty round the edges, white paper. Varying results, although this one's okay.

10 mins, ink, 14/06/2015

Then 20 minutes with white and black Conté pastels on black sugar paper, overdoing the tone as per bloody usual…

20 mins, Conté pastel, 14/06/2015

And finishing up with a 45 minute pose drawn using soft pastels on some genuinely lovely pastel paper. I hope I did the paper justice, although I did find myself getting lost in the myriad of colours and subtle shades on human skin that you only notice when you really, really look. In retrospect, I should've taken a less-is-more approach and restricted myself to just a few key colours, rather than flail around in the doomed hope of realistically depicting the body. Oh well!

45 mins, soft pastel, 14/06/2015

Musically, I started off with Faith No More's latest, Sol Invictus. Good stuff, although it didn't really provide the sonic adrenaline I like for fast poses (why didn't I play the new one from Joanne Gruesome? Why?!). That said, Black Friday and Superhero lit a fire under me, the latter coming on like the demented twin-in-the-attic of Public Service Broadcasting's Go.

Mid-section was covered with Braids' Deep In The Iris, which worked a treat…

Finally, Machinedrum's excellent Vapor City from last year. Months later, I still love tumbling into this stuff.

Lunchtime quickies

Although being a desk-based bureaucrat isn't quite the wild-haired bohemian artist career path I might have wanted, the location of said desk does allow me to get out onto Calton Hill in a matter of minutes and knock out a quick drawing or painting at lunchtime, weather permitting of course. Here's a couple from earlier this week.

National Monument, ink, 09/06/2015

The (unfinished) National Monument of Scotland:

The monument dominates the top of Calton Hill, just to the east of Princes Street. It was designed during 1823-6 by Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair and is modelled upon the Parthenon in Athens. Construction started in 1826 and, due to the lack of funds, was left unfinished in 1829. This circumstance gave rise to various nicknames such as "Scotland's Disgrace", "Edinburgh's Disgrace", "the Pride and Poverty of Scotland" and "Edinburgh's Folly".

Old Observatory House, watercolour, 10/06/2015

Old Observatory House – you can sleep in it!

Illustration Friday: Airborne

Bashed out the below yesterday evening – it didn't take much idea scribbling before I settled on something along the lines of what would constitute a space program for fish. Granted, there's no guarantee that the fish concerned is a willing explorer into the realm of the wetless, and you could take it as a more drawn out version of this cracking Far Side cartoon, but I prefer to think that fish is an explorer of the most intrepid kind, a voyager into the unknown from which there is nothing but the sound of inevitability, that sound being "pop". Godspeed, small fry!

image from

Drawn on Mischief for maximum scribble in minimum time, and while the temptation to keep working on it burns strong, I'd best let it go and spend what little creative time I have on something new. I should remember to not get too fussed about these drawings – for me at least, IF's a creative challenge, not a portfolio-building exercise.

Illustration Friday: Monster

So, last Friday, the Illustration Friday word came up – "monster." My imagination leapt off the starting blocks… and immediately slammed face down into the track, nose bloody, swearing profusely. TOO! MANY! POSSIBILITIES! WAY TOO MANY! WUHH! GOHHHH! NYYYAAAARRRGH!

I floundered and flapped, on paper at least, unable to find a focus. I needed to find a way to whittle down the bazillion possibilities, set some limits for my imagination to bounce off, so I pulled out J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (which I only learned today is going to be turned into a film trilogy... not bad for a wee slip of a paperback, but there's plenty of material there and it's scripted by the maestro herself).

Fantastic beasts.JPG
"Fantastic beasts" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

I wanted to avoid any of the creatures actually shown in the films, eventually settling on a dragon which hasn't yet been depicted by infinitely more talented artists on a film production – the Hebridean Black dragon, quite possibly named after a black pudding.

The Hebridean Black is a dragon native to the Hebrides Islands of Scotland.

It has dark rough scales, ridges along its back, and a tail tipped with an arrow-shaped spike. The Hebridean Black has brilliant purple eyes and can grow to be up to thirty feet long. Its favourite food is deer, although it has been known to carry off cows.

The Hebridean Black is more aggressive than the other dragon native to the British Isles, the Common Welsh Green, and thus requires a territory of as much as one hundred square miles each. The MacFusty clan take responsibility for the dragons, and have done for centuries. (via Harry Potter Wiki)

Hebrides? Sold! I've only really drawn a dragon once before, a fair few years back, but if I ever want to become an illustrator before toppling off this mortal coil I'll need to be a dab hand at fantasy standards like that. I quickly settled on the image of a dragon perched high on the Cuillins, bashing through a load of photo research (initial plans to do a Norman Wilkinsonesque landscape with dragons fell through, though I'm still taken with the thought) until the Inaccessible Pinnacle became the obvious choice – not least because the Gaelic name is the incredibly dragonish Sgùrr Dearg. For dragon inspiration, I went straight to the work of John Howe, Alan Lee and Bob Eggleton, with the understanding my creation wouldn't be fit to breath the same sulpherous air as their wondrous horned beasts.

All sorts of thumbnails were scribbled out on paper before moving to the Mac. The last few illustrations have been drawn on Mischief, but this time I went straight to Corel Painter. Using a scan of one thumbnail that chimed, I roughed out the following:

Monster: Prep 1

Much gnashing of teeth followed as I tried my damnedest to make the neck work, because good god it certainly doesn't above, but I liked the rest of it. My commutes on Monday and Tuesday had my fingers jabbing away at the iPod screen scribbling away on Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile, initially to solve the neck conundrum, then to lay down a general colour scheme for the finished piece:

Monster: Prep 2

Then I imported the above into Painter and worked a whole bunch of layers on top, still retaining quite a roughness. As with the last few Illustration Fridays, it's an image that I feel deserves a much better finish than what I can give it, but alas I lack both time and skill, particularly in digital painting. But the more I do of these, the better I'll (hopefully!) get at such things, or so I tell myself when I'm tempted to delete hours of work unseen and tit about on Twitter instead. I like to think that there'll come a time in the future when I can revisit these illustrations and give them the finish they deserve, with textures, richer colours and a whole lot more oomph. The pages of ImagineFX remain a long, long way away, but a boy can dream. Even a 38 year old one.

Anyway, here it is. Hope you like it. 

image from

Life drawing 31/05/2015

That time again, and this month (well, last month) I decided to have a paint-free session. Working from a female model, I started off with that lovely condensed charcoal…

2 mins, charcoal, 31/05/2015

…before gradually moving to vine charcoal. As you can see, I'm still struggling to get the use of dark surrounding space around parts of the figure right, as the Mighty Yan does so blimmin' well.

5 mins, charcoal, 31/05/2015

Then some charcoal and chalk drawings on grey and black paper – I was pleased with the way the second one here turned out:

10 mins, charcoal & chalk, 31/05/2015

For the longest pose – 45 mins – I went with good old fashioned pencils on some lovely grey toned paper, using white Conté pastel for highlights. Nice!


As usual, all of the surviving work from the session is up on Flickr.

Soundtrack? Fast poses were driven along nicely by the second album from METZ - abrasive, narky, ace.

I kept the momentum going for the second hour with the recent four-track-but-long-with-it album from Follakzoid – really good instrumental Can/Neu-style rock, tracks in excess of 10 minutes that you can just dive into and lost yourself in. Get on that.

Last of all, the new album from Mew curled gorgeously around my brain, the perfect accompaniment to a gentle pencil drawing – I read Steve's review of a recent gig and damn near frothed at the mouth with envy.

Illustration Friday: Melt

Another illustration for Illustration Friday, again knocked out over a couple of hours using Mischief and a graphics tablet (Turcom H610, if you're interested). Worked out okay, though as with all these things I don't have the time/skills/ability to make it super shiny and finished. But the idea comes across at least, although the squished down size below loses a fair bit of detail. Click below to see it bigger, better, faster, MORE.

image from