Quick Charcoal Portraits

Having found my charcoals the other day I thought I would make some quick portraits. The first one I did in ten minutes. It’s of a boxer. I called it Fearless

Next I tried a 15 minute portrait of a very happy young woman. Her big smile seemed infectious. I called this one Beautiful

My next sketch was another 10 minute sketch of a really goofy, off-duty British cop, which I called Goofy

My last sketch was of a beautiful, older Indian lady who seemed to have this beautiful light in her eyes. I took more time with this one (20 minutes). I called the portrait Light

Of all of them I prefer the portrait of the older Indian lady. Which is you favourite?

Dark Lord of the Sith

This is a digital painting of Ian McDiarmid playing Chancellor Palpatine in Star Wars. Although he’s a villain, he’s still one of my favourite characters, thanks to Ian’s superb acting work. Below are some stills from Star Wars “The Phantom Menace” (Image credit LucasFilm Ltd.)

My main reference for this painting was the top left photo (above).

I began with a drawing.

This was not made to be a proper drawing so much as a map for the painting which is why it looks a little bit funky.

Then I began to paint! At first I just scrubbed in some basic colours and tones to get the feeling for the main structure of his face and clothes.

Removing the map leaves us with this very rough sketch.

Then I began to refine the painting a bit at a time. I really enjoy this process as the details begin to appear. First I cleaned up the beautiful costume he’s wearing and then pulled together my very rough and ready rendering of Ian’s face.

Once I had things basically in the right place I worked on the details of his hair and facial features.

Finally I added a background and gave it some texture and tonal variation. This is the way I’m starting to move away from my autistic need to see each painting subject alone and seperate in a blank field.

My only job then was to pull the image into Photoshop and adjust my values. Here is my final painting.

He’s such a great character!

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the Prequal Trilogy as Chancellor Palpatine is confronted by the Jedi Masters lead by Mace Windu…

Mace Windu: In the name of the Galactic Senate of the Republic, you are under arrest, Chancellor.
Chancellor Palpatine: Are you threatening me, Master Jedi?
Mace Windu: The Senate will decide your fate.
Chancellor Palpatine: I am the Senate!

(Clip courtersy of qpsizzle’s You Tube Channel / Film Credit Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Jo Kenobi

This week’s art is a little fantasy sketch of what I might look like if I were both young again and a Jedi!

I took a picture of Lucasfilm’s character Obi-Wan Kenobi…


…and a picture of myself when I was about Ewan’s age in this promotional shot from Attack of the Clones.  Then I attempted to make a sketch of the two faces mixed together!


I began with some basic measurements.  Luck was on my side with this as mine and Ewan’s face proportions were really similar.


Then I sketched out the basics…

I expanded the eyes to give the whole picture a hint of manga styling and then put in some basic pencil shading…


I had this drawing like this in my sketchbook for a while.  Then, when I got my Mars Lumograph Pencils, I thought I would have a go at inking the picture and shading it with pencil.  Here are the final results…


I wish I were a Jedi!!!



Dog Family in Gouache


This is a painting I did over the summer for the husband of a friend of mine.  My friend sent me a range of pictures of the dogs, but not one picture with all three of them.  So I used the furniture in their house to get the dog’s relative sizes and then pulled 3 reference images into photoshop to make up the trio.

Then I was able to make a sketch and start the process.


After that I made a quick study to get a feeling for the picture…


Then I laid down my background and got to work…

I used purple for the shadow areas under the dogs to give the painting the feel that they are warm.

Here’s my final painting…


Reusing Envelopes and Jars as Art Materials

Art materials can be expensive. Sometimes this expense is really worth it. For me, good quality paint brushes and good quality paint are worth the extra money – control and water holding is better with good brushes and paints are more densley pigmented and less fugitive with good paints. However, it’s always great to find some art resources that can be found for free.


This summer I spent some time experimenting with this. It began when I was watching Star Trek Voyager and felt like doodling. I grabbed a cardboard Amazon envelope and my palette which had a range of paints left over from a picture I had worked on the day before. Then I just began to play with it. I was really happy to find that the gouache paint went on to this surface beautifully and, because the surface was a mid range tone rather than dark or light, it was really super to work with tonally.

This was my first adventure into envelope painting…

The next day I tried the same thing with an insurance envelope. This was a thin, low quality paper and it really showed. The paper couldn’t take any water without becoming wrinkled and discoloured making it hard to work on…

So I decided to only do this with cardboard. I grabbed some old envelopes and used my trimmer to make some small postcard sized canvases. Here’s my current pile…


This time I found the painting was even better because I had only reused parts of the card which were clear of printing and belimishes. It really was a fabulous surface to work on – and totally free!

Here’s a close up of my third foray into reusing envelopes for painting…

…and my forth…

I then went on to make a fully painted, small sized painting of a tiny chihuahua on the same reused card the next day. (More of that in next week’s post!)


Another new learning for me this summer has been that my kitty cat doesn’t care if the water I am using for painting is green, or blue or pink, she will still drink out of it! This is despite her having a cat fountain and two fresh bowls of water in different places! So I did a bit more recycling and reusing. I tipped away the last bit of coffee from a jar, cleaned it out and now I use this for painting. It still holds about a pint of water, but I can screw the lid on if I get up from the table so she can’t get to it. I’m using my trusty old pint glass to hold brushes now instead.

She looks so cute and fluffy but she can be quite a pickle!

Digital Painting – Chameleon

For the last few years I have asked my son for feedback on my art. Basically I show him the picture and ask him to guess what my subject was. If he can guess it correctly I count it as a good’un. But I want to move further on and deeper into my studies, so I’m going to try setting myself objectives as I draw and paint, more than just the simple realism-based aims I usually work on.

  1. I want to think harder about my use of colour. Specifically for this week’s work I want to try using a classic 90% : 10% ratio of complementary colours (green : red) and I want to avoid over-saturating my work. (Colour is like a drug to me, but I frequently enjoy paintings with more subtle colour, so I want to have a try at painting more like that.)
  2. Secondly I want to be able to paint more confidently. So this week I’m going to use the freedom of being able to digitally jump back a few steps to particularly focus on the work I do after the blocking in. I often find the gap between the image of the finished painting in my mind and my blocked-in beginning to be quite daunting. I know what to do next at that stage; I just find it hard to push through and do it. I think lots of practise will help.
  3. I want to change up my constant attempts at realism for a range of different approaches. I really enjoy the art of a French Painter called Henri Rousseau. He painted a lot of animals and plants in jungle-like scenes and, like me, he was self-taught. So, this week, I’m going to try to paint a chameleon in my version of Rousseau’s style.

Here’s my basic outline of a chameleon. I looked at a reference for the animal itself and made up my foliage completely.

The I added a background so that my colour choices would follow my plan for colour in this picture.

I blocked in some branches and leaves, remembering to use plenty of red in my browns. This is close enough to red to work as a complementary colour.

Next I roughed in my main colours and shadows, trying to give my Chameleon and strong sense of form from the start.

Then I removed the line art. This was the stage of the painting where I generally find things tricky. So I focussed on filling in medium sized forms, values and colours in the same way as I’d just blocked in the whole animal, but working on medium sized shapes, like the stripes and the eye.

Again, as I coloured the edges of the stripes on my chameleon’s side I pushed the raw sienna colour on my reference to more of a burnt sienna, so that there was more red in the colour. I also pushed the cream of the middle area of each of the big stripes to a more pinkish cream. I was hoping that I could metaphorically smuggle in the red via my browns to balance and highlight the green a little.

Next I started working on the details on the face and the bumpy texture of a chameleon’s skin. I tried to hint at the texture, rather than drawing every little round bump. This bit still took a long time to do but my earlier work on texture is now beginning to pay off.

Once that was done I varied the values of my leaves to give the viewer a hint of the play of light around them and painted on some 3D style veins. I wanted the leaves to look regular enough so that they can be recognised by the viewer, but similar in style to Rousseau’s almost animation style painting.

My last job was to import this into photoshop and adjust my settings. I had been working in a dark room with a lit digital screen and this made my whole picture a little too dark. So I adjusted my levels to make the finished digital painting below…

And here (below) is one of my favourite Rousseau paintings The Dream, 1910, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Beautiful, isn’t it?!

Painting a Prince

This week I worked on a digital portrait.  To test my portrait skills, I wanted to try to paint someone who is very well known and has an older, idiosyncratic face.   I really love working with people who look a bit “lived in”.  I know it’s not the standard definition of beauty, but it’s what interests me.  I looked through photos of a number of famous people and, in the end, surprised myself by choosing Prince Charles.  He’s not someone I know much about except that he’s the British heir to the throne and got remarried to someone he had loved for a long time.

So my first job was to map out the very basics of my subject’s head and shoulders…

Next, rather than making a sketch, I made a map of the main edges and contours I could see.  It’s less an attempt to bring an immediate likeness and more a matter of measuring, and then drawing in boundaries for different areas of colour and different values.   It ends up looking really quite messy as I find I have to redraw a lot of the lines as I get my map closer to the reality of my subject’s face.  None of this map will be seen in the final painting.  It’s almost like trying to draw a “paint by numbers” drawing so I have a feel of where to put the main features.

Here is my map. I had to redraw this a few times as I kept feeling that the map was too wide when I based it on my measurements and then I’d narrowed it and find my measurements had been correct.  (I don’t use a ruler to measure all of this just direct proportions by eye or with my s-pen on the photo print out.)

After this I added to my map with some palette choices.  I did this very roughly – scrubbing in various bits of colour, partly to see what goes where, but also to work out if the colours can be brought together in some kind of harmonious fashion.  It took me a while to decide what colour his clothes would be to give the feeling I want for my picture.  The idea is, that if you squint at the picture roughed out like this, you’ll get an impression of the overall colour balance.  This stage took quite a while, playing around with the colour until it made some sense to me.

Once I was happy with my plan I got on and blocked in all of the colours I’d made very roughly.  I also drew in some very basic eyes and features in the right places.  Getting the eyes in exactly the right place is really important to the likeness of a subject, so I didn’t want to loose these carefully measured placements when I added all my basic colour.  (Thinking back on this, since I was working digitally I didn’t have to worry about this issue since I was painting on a different layer to my map.  I just got caught working how I normally would in traditional media.)

During the next few stages it was really just a process of gradually refining each part of the face and adding detail.  In this next screenshot you can see that I gave some structure to the Prince’s hair, but I also refined bits of his face as I worked.

I kept making small changes like this right through to the end of the painting…

My last actual painting job was to tidy up my rendering of his shirt and tie…

At this stage the painting work was done.  My next task was to bring this into photoshop and finetune my levels, crop the portrait properly and add a border.  Here is my finished picture…

I do hope you can recognise Prince Charles from my attempt at digital portraiture.  It was an odd feeling to paint a Prince.  I have never met anyone from the Royal Family.  I’m just an ordinary person.  It was slightly unsettling then to paint someone like this, since painting a face has an intimacy to it which can’t be avoided.  Still, Prince Charles does have a very interesting face, so I quite enjoyed it!

“Young Adults” Part 2 # 3 – Softball

This is the second of a three-part sketching series on Young Adults. The aim was to ink my drawings in the same way that I draw with pencil to try to get a looser feel and to draw people who are just being themselves.

This sketch is of a young woman softball player, looking quite relaxed, perhaps after having played a game.

I began with some structural lines…

Then I made a pencil sketch…

Next I added my ink ouline and cleaned off my pencil…

After that I added some hatching marks for the deeper shadows…

My final job was to add some ink diluted with water as a midtone. Here is the final drawing…

What I am happy with in this drawing is the subtle gesture of her centre of gravity (below, in red) which gives the sense of her standing in a relaxed way, along with the contrast of the opposing gesture in her arms (below, in blue).

I’m also finally finding it easier to draw hands more naturally. If I wanted to improve this drawing one of the things I would do would be to rework the way her T-shirt is hanging on her right (our left) which doesn’t read well to me. I think the lines need to be more curved. I also think it’s much tighter than the loose feel I was aiming for.



This week’s art is a pencil sketch of the wonderful Patrick Stewart in his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship, Enterprise.  (Oooo, I just got goosebumps from using that full title!)  I didn’t intend this drawing to go onto the web – it was just something I was doing while watching a few episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation in preparation for the new series Picard which has just come out.  After playing around with a couple of sketches I pulled up this rather dashing portrait photo from the web (All rights to Paramount / Viacom)…



…and made a proper sketch of it.  Apologies about the lack of process photos – I just got really involved with the drawing.

There is an odd intimacy which comes with painting anything.  Usually I really like it – especially with animals and plants.  It seems to strengthen my bond with other living things.  But when I do a portrait of a person I find I’m quite mixed about this “close” feeling.  Although I know, and very much value, Patrick Stewart’s excellent work, I don’t know him, the real person behind the actor, and so the intimacy feels odd and out of place.

Anyway, here’s to a smashing new series from a superb actor, Picard




It was done with graphite HB and B mechanical pencils on watercolour paper.  (Looking back it would have been better on Bristol Board but I used what was to hand.)  I do love drawing more mature faces – the beauty of the person seems to come through more.