Thursday 29th, 11am art session

As we are nearing Halloween, our subject on Thursday morning will be painting pumpkins! They are gorgeous objects. Some of you will have acrylic, others will have watercolour, use either and I will help you along accordingly.

Heavier water colour paper/ multi-media paper is useful as it will buckle less, but as is always the case, you can use what ever you have to hand. It depend more on your access and means and art making happens whatever you have available. If you don’t have any paints, you can still draw. Please feel free to contact me with any questions ahead of the session.

It would be great if you had a pumpkin to work from but if not, I have included some reference images in the pinterest board – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/MiddleDistanceArts/painting-objects/.

If you are working from your own photo, make sure it is as clear as possible and a good size – we want to be able to see all the darks and lights and all the variety in that gorgeous orange. 

You are welcome to use a jack-o-lantern carved pumpkin if you would like. I would like you to paint a background – you can make up a background to show off your painting to best advantage. Some of the examples have a lovely dark background which works quite well.

Get your tickets and I’ll see you on Thursday!https://billetto.co.uk/e/middle-distance-online-live-tickets-456087

Drawing as a practice

So what do I mean by drawing as a practice?

When lockdown began I was very glad to have drawing as a pastime. The immediate environment had become so small and many usual ways of spending time were no longer available. But drawing encourages engagement with your immediate environment, whatever that happens to be. I could sit on my steps and draw the weeds growing in the cracks, or attempt to draw the complex shadows on the ceiling in my bedroom. Wherever my eye fell, I could pick up paper and some kind of pencil or pen and draw, without expectation of judgement or success or failure.

I have included some examples above, from my lockdown sketchbook but they are just to show the kind of drawings I am talking about. The meaning for me of drawing being a practice is that I’m not doing it for the end result, though sometimes I am quite happy with the drawings I produce, but I am doing for that time when I am engaged in observations and mark making. The time is characterised by a kind of gentle and wordless visual thinking.

It is this that leads me to describe it as a mindful practice. We are present in what we are doing, thinking about it wordlessly, free of a fear of judgement, engaged with the practice of drawing.

That freedom from a fear of judgement is important. I will be teaching you to draw and also, critically, to lose that fear of your work being judged. Drawing as a practice means it doesn’t matter what people think because you are doing it for you, for that time spent working.

Lockdown may be coming to an end, but many of us are still looking for ways to enjoy what we have. As well as exploring this view of drawing as mindfulness and a practice, I will be teaching drawing observation and technique, because it can be frustrating not to be able to achieve what you want to achieve. And we will of course end up with some beautiful end products, some lovely drawings.

But the reason for doing it is to develop a drawing practice and to enjoy time spent in mindful observation of and engagement with our immediate environments. If you think this is of interest, please do join me for a free taster lesson by following this link to register.

Watercolour and landscape

Let the paint do some of the work for you!

I have always enjoyed using watercolour. I know it has a tricky reputation and to be fair, there are precise ways of working with watercolour that can be more difficult, but used loosely it is very easy and really good fun. The paint takes shapes as the water dries that can be really suggestive of the natural world, so it is great for landscapes. With a little practice learning about when to apply the next layer or brush stroke, it is easy to use these marks to your advantage. It’s like the paint is doing some of the work for you.

Below are two examples I did in the hour of the session, with the image I was working from.

The group made some really successful images, especially as it was a first attempt for most of them. As always, the way to really learn is to keep doing, but I think you can see from the images below that they have made a really great and satisfyingly atmospheric start.

Thea’s painting. I like the way the strong blue lines (which I think are the edge of an infinity pool) could be an abstraction of the landscape. Dreamy and tempting.
Eve’s painting. I liked how confidently Eve set out, letting the paint move on the page. It’s given the clouds fantastic presence and drama. We talked about how being a little softer and a little more abstract made the silhouettes of the boats, which were very dark and precise in the source photo, sit better in the landscape.
Tessa’s painting. The colour of the sky reflected on the wet sand is just perfect.
Melody’s sunset. Fantastic bold use of colour
Ivy’s painting. The cool colour palette makes this dreamily restful. The texture in the sky suggests overcast with clouds really well.

Working from the imagination, thinking like an artist

We had a really interesting session on Thursday 23 July on the theme of journeys. I asked the group to consider all the ways a journey might be represented as an art piece, and to choose something that was relevant to them. The solutions ranged from a beautifully sponged space journey, by Melody, youngest member of the group, through abstract infinity corridors, a game, pavement art come to life, to thoughts about a longer-term piece based on walks and photographs.

As we are only working together for an hour or so, I showed the group some of my old sketchbooks, to demonstrate how much time and how many iterations an idea can have before we make the final choices. And of course, even then, work changes as it is executed.

The best ideas, or solutions, aren’t always the first we come up with. Most artists will start with the initial idea, only to turn off onto a new path, a different direction, along the way. Those paths are found by playing around, sometimes by making arbitrary changes, just to see what happens. Afterwards I asked the group how they had found it:

As you can see from the quotes above there was a mixed reaction to this looser, less clearly defined way of working. Though given that the session is only an hour or so, that is fair enough!

I think in the end, several years at art school is in large part all about getting students to have confidence in their ability to navigate these processes, whereas people who are coming to art with a passing interest quite legitimately don’t have that experience. It is, perhaps, a bit of a mystery.

But that doesn’t mean it should remain one; that mystery is something I hope to tackle in Middle Distance Arts. Nearly all are able to find the visual world stimulating, and we are able to respond to that stimulus. Whether it comes naturally or takes some practise, we are able to go into our initial response, play with it, learn from it. We can all be art makers – sometimes we just need a bit of guidance, and the time to build some confidence to see how.

Tomorrow’s live session: An introduction to watercolour and landscape*

*Though you can use whichever paints you have, and a pencil if you don’t have paints!

Here are some reference images. I suggest if possible you chose one and print it to work from or download so that you can have two windows on your screen, if you want to watch the demo and simultaneously work from a reference image – rather than me trying to provide it from within Zoom. We seem to hit technical difficulties when I screen share so I think these will be the two best options.

I have done some demo films on the Youtube page which you may want to look at before we start. I will talk about the materials we use during the session, but there’s not much point in buying expensive things unless you discover a taste for it. I’ll be very happy to advise if you do wish to buy some materials.

Here is a quick, 15 minute sketch I did yesterday. Watercolour landscapes are really fun to do. There is something about the paint that just seems to suggest natural forms, and therefore, the paint does most of the work for you!

Thursday’s live session – meet the melibe!

You will need: Paper and pencil.

Optional: Eraser, watercolour/thin paints/inks, *watercolour paper

Super-optional: black paper for mounting cut out melibe when finished.

*watercolour paper is easier than regular paper. But you can use any paper, it just may buckle when wet. But that doesn’t matter – better to try with what you have rather than put off until you get more kit!

These amazing and beautiful creatures are called melibe. Tomorrow’s observational art making is going to be based on them. Even though they are so dreamy and surreal, we can still carefully observe them.

The lesson will focus on pencil drawing as not all participants will have watercolour or inks, but if you would like to use them, it would be a great subject. I will explain how we can use a water colour wash over line drawings, and how to blend colours to mimic the subtle shades reflected or picked up by these translucent beings.

If you would like to know more about these creatures, here is an article.

Tomorrow’s live session – Snakes and Ladders

Tomorrow, (Thursday 9 July, 11 AM on Zoom) guided by me, we will be making a collaborative work, in the form of a game, based on the snakes and ladders model. Each participant will create elements, which I will combine afterwards into a board.

Here are some existing examples to whet your appetites:

If you’d like to take part, here is a link to the ticket page. All are welcome, all ages, abilities, levels of experience – art making is for everyone!

Observational drawing – dreaded hands

It’s well known that hands are difficult to draw. There’s so much going on in a hand that putting together a good representation is a challenge. But we can help ourselves by forgetting all about that…

When we draw anything, and a hand is no exception, we will do it best by simply looking at what is in front of us. Get rid of the cartoon memory we have – a palm, a thumb, four fingers, all nice and straight and neatly arranged. Look instead, carefully at the collection of dips and hollows, curves and angles that make up the hand before us. Break it down into small bits of information, then cross-refer that information to the whole: What is this angle here? How does it lie in relationship to the whole? Is this bit wider than that bit? How wide in comparison to the whole? These words are to explain the process, but the observation can be wordless: simply by learning to look, to compare, to observe, our eyes and our mind are doing that work. It may help you to deliberately ask yourself questions, but the main thing is to get a little lost in the looking.

Even with that, I grant you, it can be hard to draw a hand, because it is a complex and subtle thing. But the group did really well, I was very impressed with their observations. And I was very proud of Maisie and Sol, younger group members, for having a second go when the first didn’t work out so well. Trying again is one of the best ways to learn as you are responding to what you discovered, vitally, in your first attempt – it’s one of the reasons ‘mistakes’ belong in the plus column, and thus are never a waste. When you make art as a practice rather than as an attempt to achieve an end result, all of your work is positive.

Like anything else, you will be better able to draw hands if you practice. The more you do it, the more familiarity you will have and the more you will notice. Alongside that you will become familiar with the ways to represent the things you notice – which little details of light and shade will help really form the hand, which bits you can afford to leave out.

We also talked a little about using ink pen and wash with a wet brush. This is a technique that feels somewhere between drawing and painting. And it can be a good way to loosen up your drawing style.


From the live session, Thursday 25th June, 11 AM on Zoom

Mask making was really good fun. We talked about the different aspects of masks, how they can reveal and conceal, how they can hide the wearer or make them stand out. And a bit about their cultural, sacred and entertainment uses.

As we are still mostly in lockdown, we worked with materials that everyone already had, but as you will see from the examples below, the group got very creative and three dimensional. I really love them!

Here’s a cheeky remake of Melody in her lovely blue and pink mask – she looked too like a superhero to resist!

I’m still waiting for a couple of photos to make a group photo of everyone in their masks, but will do that soon.

Painting objects – looking at light

Leading up to Thursday’s live session I asked the group, in preparation, to look at the way light falls on ordinary objects. At the beginning of the session we looked at some contemporary still life or object paintings. Most of the paintings I could find seemed to be of ceramic items or table ware – good subjects for looking at how light falls and changes across a surface.

Before we started painting we spent some time deliberately looking at our chosen objects. I asked the students to find 5 things, 5 patterns of light that they hadn’t noticed on first sight, just to wake up the habit of close observation.

It’s easy to see that they looked really carefully, there is some fantastic light and shade, and most have included shadows where their object is sitting too – bonus marks! A very enjoyable session.