What's On My Easel

What's On My Easel (13)

News and notes from my world of art.

Saturday, 26 May 2018 11:01

Drawing Portraits for Beginners

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I’ve begun teaching at the Playful Pencil in Oak Bay and it’s been great.


We’re learning about portraits – and at the same time, learning about drawing. This class is for those just starting out and learning what a pencil can do. We’ve just finished our first set of four classes. We’ve studied the eyes, nose and mouth and we’ve also done a number of warm up and value exercises. Each lesson starts with a warm up and an exercise and then we go on to a more detailed study of some part of the face. I provide examples of work to show how different artists find different solutions. All of my students signed up for the next set of classes, so I must be doing something right! If you’re interested in joining us, check out the Playful Pencil's website here.  Even though the upcoming class is “part 2”, it’s still appropriate for absolute beginners.

Tuesday, 06 February 2018 12:30

Experiments in Monochrome

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A while back I did this one-colour painting of my model, Emma.  It's really an exercise in careful brushwork, but it was quite a lot of fun to do.


First, I gessoed a board (gesso is a primer) and sanded it pretty smooth.  Then I gave it a coat of titanium white to make it slippery.  You could also use a lead based ground,  but I don't have any and once the titanium white dried, it was nicely slippery.  I just used one colour - raw umber, straight out of the tube.  I had a bunch of clean brushes ready, some Q-tips, rags and plenty of time.  This is a project that wants to get done in a day; it's best while the paint is still wet and can be moved around.  I hardly used any odorless mineral spirits - it loosens the paint too much and things start to get out of control, so I kept the paint rather dry.  I had an old tiny brush that got too decreped to use, so I chopped it off nearly at the base and now it's a handy littler scrubber.  It's just a stump, but it's good for pushing paint around.  I sometimes dip it in mineral spirits, wipe it, and use it to lift wet paint off an area...it's not quite an eraser, but works pretty well.

I used a variety of brushes, but kept them all pretty dry.  If they were damp with mineral spirits, they lifted off paint easier than they put it down, so I had to be careful. It was enjoyable because I only had to worry about values, just the darks and lights.  With no colour to worry about, I could focus on values and details.  I couldn't leave it alone!  Getting into that zone where you're sorta obsessed is wonderful...time just goes away!


Saturday, 05 August 2017 14:36

"Taking a Break"....Literally

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I submitted this painting, "Taking a Break,"  to the Federation of Canadian Artist's Spring Show here in Victoria this past April.  I was pleased that it won first prize!  But it wasn't a straight path from start to finish.


I had painted this a few months before the show and was never quite satisfied.  I finally put it back on the easel and spent some time making adjustments to her face (okay, I totally repainted it). I tidied up a few other details and then I was happy with it.  I find this happens to me often - I run out of steam and I put the painting aside.  Then, weeks or months (sometimes years) go by and I come back to it.  I find myself thinking, "that's not so bad...lemme mess with it a bit, see what happens..."  All I needed was a little time and distance apart, and I was ready to make a go of it again.

I think part of the success was the dramatic lighting...and I have a trick.  I use my front window.  Using a window makes great shadows and highlights on a face.  It's really just a big ol' lightbox - something photographers spend good money on.  Try it yourself - make sure your subject isn't in direct sunlight - you don't want any sunbeams, just soft, bright, indirect light.  My model for this painting is Stacee; I had her look out the window, but I made sure I kept half of her face in shadow - I wanted the drama.  

I also wanted the composition to be pushed to the upper third of the painting; I wanted the viewer's eyes to be pulled between her face and her hand with the glasses.  I think it worked out pretty well... and I guess the judges for the show thought the same thing!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 13:38

The Making of "Dream Life"

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Okay, for all you who see a work of art and wonder how they did it... here’s how I did it.


First, I sat my model, Dani, beside my living room window to take advantage of the lovely light coming in; she was flinging her hair back when I snapped the shutter. I like the inward-looking expression she had. So often I find the photos that are the most un-posed are the best. Now that I had a reference to draw from, I did the next logical thing: I looked for a frame.

You might not think that the next logical thing would be to find a frame, but for me it is. They’re costly and I do my best to reuse and recycle them; in my case ‘reclycling’ means the old art goes out and the new art goes in. The frame I chose was one I found in a thrift store and I just love it. It’s rather long and narrow and is carved with some scrolls; it’s somewhat feminine. I’d been saving it for just the right artwork and this one fit the bill.


Now that I had the frame, I designed the drawing to fit it by making it long and narrow. I mirrored the frame’s design by adding a small border around the main image. To do that, I used some tricks. You can buy very narrow masking tape at art stores; I had some that was just 1/16th of an inch wide. I masked off my paper with one ince green tape for the outside edge and used the thin tape to designate the border. It worked like a charm.


On to paper and pencils: I used a full range of pencils, from 2H to 8B, but I’m never happy with the darks made by pencils. The softer ones, say from about 7B, start getting waxy and the sheen and texture from them is very different from the harder leads. I decided to use a carbon pencil for the darkest darks. A carbon pencil is a cross between charcoal and graphite and is really dark. Use caution; it doesn’t erase very well.

For the paper, I experimented with Arches hot press 140 lb watercolour paper...and I didn’t like it. I wanted this drawing to be pretty meticulous with soft gradations and areas that appeared flat, meaning no pencil lines showed. The paper had little bumps that grabbed extra graphite and made her look like she had freckles. It looks okay from a distance, but from an arm’s length away it was frustrating.

The drawing itself was enjoyable to do. Her hair required extra attention because it played such a prominent role. I had to knuckle down and really study curls and tangles and fly-aways – I couldn’t just draw lots of wavy lines and call it done. Once finished, only one step remained: titling it. I pondered it one evening and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I had it: Dream Life.

Monday, 31 October 2016 14:49

On a Roll

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More wins!


I submitted two pieces to the Federation of Canadian Artists/Victoria Chapter and both got in... but even better, they both won prizes!  

This also marks the beginning of a new series exploring the addition of metal objects.  I had done collages many years ago with metal objects - such as hardware cloth, chicken wire and various tiny rods.  Often I sewed them on to the paper using my sewing machine. I liked the juxtaposition of sewing (somewhat feminine) with pointy, dangerous metal rods (somewhat masculine).


This drawing of my model, Kurtis, seemed a good candidate for adding thin spikey wires.  I was interested in portraying him looking a little reclusive with his defenses up.  The wires also worked visullay as fences, so it was a good match.  The jurors for the show must have thought the same, because they awarded it 3rd prize. I named it "Shields Up".

The painting I did right after the drawing was an experiment with crazy color.  I didn't start out making the model's face purple but it seemed to be working, so I went with it.  When I was done, I stumbled upon a cool feature of it.  If you look at it under yellowish light - like tungsten - the purple disappears and it looks like ordinary flesh tones.  But flip on a bluish light, like a flourescent, and WOW! ...is she ever PURPLE!  She has a bit of a look of relief on her face so I named it "Reprieve".  She won 2nd prize.

Thursday, 20 October 2016 12:37

Big Wins at the Sidney Show

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Every fall our neighboring town of Sidney has a juried Fine Art Show and every year I give it a shot.  Three years ago I got two pieces in, last year nothing was accepted, but this year was different!


This year I submitted three pieces and all three got in!  What a surprise.  Even more surprising, I recieved a phone call from the show, letting me know I won an award!  They couldn't tell me what I won, but they strongly encouraged me to attend the awards ceremony.  I did and it turns out I won Juror's Choice.  I was in store for yet one more surprise; my pencil portrait won Honourable Mention.  What a thrill!  As I perused the show later that evening, I learned that my two oil paintings had already sold! I went home that night on clould 9.  The three accepted pieces are displayed on my current gallery page; they are "Gathering Ghosts", "Some Considertions" and "Calm Within the Storm".

Friday, 23 September 2016 15:17

Painting in the Life of...

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I'm famous... or at least on the back cover


The Federation of Canadian Artists  - of which I am a member - has a quarterly magazine.  The back page is reserved for articles that describe the making of a work of art, and this issue features a painting of mine!

Click for PDF

Wednesday, 10 August 2016 21:36

Almost scammed!

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I was almost the victim of a scam.


I was emailed by someone who said he liked my art, and was interested in two paintings of mine. We exchanged a number of emails over the course of two months, during which we established how the transaction would take place. He said he'd send a check and when it cleared, he would have someone pick up the art – a mover who was moving his belongings to his new home on a nearby island. He said a check "from his financier" would be coming to cover the $2200 cost of the art. In the next email, he alerted me that there was an error in the amount, but I should deposit it and deduct the amount for the paintings and $100 for my time and patience. He never mentioned the amount on the check, but I found out when it arrived: it was for $4200.

I deposited the check that day and out of idle curiosity, I googled the return address on the envelope - 2713 N Park Ave in Philadelphia. Imagine my surprise to find it was an empty lot in a run-down part of town! Suddenly, the wool fell from my eyes and I realized it was a scam. He was unfamiliar with my art and its price, but said he discovered it online. He said he was moving to a nearby island, but his address didn't match any homes (thank you, Google street view!). His grammar wasn't very good - instead of using a capital “I” to indicate himself, he used a lower case.

It was interesting to look at my own behavior in retrospect. At the beginning I was totally skeptical, but as we conintued exchanging emails, I began to believe it was legit. He talked of sending me a check and that I should wait for it to clear. That sounded fair and square. It was all out of the ordinary, but who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth? He was buying art that totalled $2200 – and I wanted to believe it was legit.

There's a little sideline to this story. It's somewhat irrelevant, but it really irks me. He told me his son had just been diagnosed with cancer. He was supposedly with him at that time and asked for my prayers. What a weasel! Just another way to rope me in.

Here's some details about his method.

  • His initial email came through my website and a careful look showed it was sent to multiple recipients as a blind cc. (Obviously phishing.) However, his email had a spam rating of “0” - it passed muster with Google mail.
  • His email address appeared to be from a legitimate fiancial firm...in Turkey.
  • The information on the check appeared to be a legitimate company that sells meters in Canada. (I'm sure the company is real; the check was not.)
  • The check and envelope seemed thin and cheap... the check paper felt like copy paper and the envelope looked like it came from a drug store. The check didn't have a stub attached that company checks often do. The company is based in Ontario, Canada but the envelope was mailed from Philadelphia.
  • The check was with the Bank of Montreal, a legitimate bank, but the routing number didn't match (they're public knowledge).
  • The check was actually made out for $4200.15 (why the 15 cents?)

I got put at ease when he said to wait for the check to clear, but here's where you need to watch out. When the bank recieves the deposit, it will look like your account has the money. It doesn't. After receiving the deposit, the check percolates through the system; it goes to the bank of origin, who says: “That check's not mine!” and then sends it back to my bank who says to me, “Disregard that deposit we said you had!” In my case, that took a week. The bank makes an adjustment to your account – they don't send out bells and whistles to alert you, so unless you're looking, it's easy to miss. The bank rep couldn't tell me how long I needed to wait for the check to wind its way through the system – but the rep said, if the check didn't bounce after a month, it was probably good. That's a mightly long time to wait – but odds are good that you'll hear well before that...so give it time!

Let my near miss be a warning to artists everywhere. Don't send your own money! It seems so simple, but it's easy to get sucked in. Had I fallen for it, I would have been out two nice pieces of art and two thousand dollars. I filed reports with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center and the police department, but the best part is: I didn't get scammed.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 11:46

Does This Photo Make My Nose Look Big?

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Why yes, that photo does make your nose look big!

The problem with cameras is that they have lenses, and lenses introduce distortion. Just imagine a fish eye lens and you get the point.


You may find the stuff in the middle of your photo has done some wierd space-time stretchy-business and your great-niece's cute little button nose has morphed into an unholy alliance with Grocho Marx's. Even worse, it might be subtle. More than once I've started a painting using a photo as a reference and halfway through I'm thinking, “What's wrong with this picture?” It's distortion, or else the truth about your great-niece's nose has been hidden from you through the eyes of love. I'll vote for distortion.

So before you start blocking in that painting, really scrutinize your photo. Look at the area closest to the camera and see if you can percieve a sort of visual swelling. Compare areas in the foreground to areas in the background and see if there's a wierd size difference. And if you're taking photos, stand well back from your subject. If you need detail, take two photos – one from far back to get the whole scene, and other zoomed in to get details. And watch that nose.

Thursday, 21 July 2016 07:56

The Value of Squinting

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I've been chatting with folks who have stopped by the pop-up gallery I'm in and I keep finding myself teaching some element of art.


Yesterday I was working on a pencil portrait of a little girl and I found myself telling the visitor about the importance of values. “Squint!” I said, and he dutifully squinted. “See how squinting reduces the image down to darks and lights?” He nodded and a grin formed on his face. “The darks and lights are values. You can see if your darks are dark enough when you squint.” A part of my brain was following along and noticed that, actually, the darks on my drawing weren't dark enough. Better get that fixed right away. Then I said, “It's helpful to squint at various paintings and see the composition of darks and lights. Take a look at the paintings around here.” And he turned and looked with fresh eyes at the work in our gallery. And I picked up the pencil and got busy with my darks.

Monday, 18 July 2016 19:35

Sooke Fine Arts Show 2016

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I got in the Sooke show!  What's more, I got THREE pieces in the Sooke show!  I couldn't be happier.  (The Sooke Fine Arts show is one of two regional juried shows that is a challenge to get into...so getting all three of my submissions accepted is great!)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016 14:48

Drawing in Pencil

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I've just finished my month-long artist-in-residency at the Inn at Laurel Point. Although I worked on an oil painting, most of the time I did pencil or charcoal portraits, using a photo as a reference. They were relatively quick and they're less complicated: there's no colour to worry about!


To do a pencil portrait, I start by establishing the outer boundaries of the head, then start filling in the shadow shapes, using light pencil strokes. I hold the pencil way back, by the eraser end. (That's if it had an eraser; artist's pencils don't come with erasers, which seems to me to be just fundamentally wrong. Or maybe they're just mocking me.) Anyway, I lightly block in the shadows -- I'm not overly careful at this point. I'll use a kneaded eraser to clean up the shadow shapes. I'll keep doing this, putting down graphite, then erasing the stuff that looks wrong and eventually it starts taking shape. I'll use all kinds of tricks to see my mistakes – I'll turn the drawing and the photo upside down and compare them; I'll look at them in a mirror; I'll look at them through squinted eyes and I'll stand way back. Each time I'll see something I need to adjust, so I keep adding and erasing. When I'm pretty confident the eyes and nose and mouth are in the right place, I'll firm them up with actual lines – at this point, it's all been fuzzy shapes. Little by little I'll firm up places and keep making corrections until I decide it's done. If I've used grey or beige paper, I get an added delight: Putting in highlights with a white chalk pencil. This takes will power, because it's so much fun it's easy to go overboard and make a mess of it.

This is a sample of what I teach in private lessons. Starting with just pencil or charcoal gives you a great understanding of the structure of a face before taking on colour. Contact me if you're interested in any aspect of portrature; all levels welcomed.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016 10:55

About Town - Summer 2016

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About Town

I'm showing my work in two places this summer.


This June and July I'll be on site at two venues, drawing or painting and chatting with visitors. Please stop by!  And if you've got a wonderful photo you've always thought would make a good painting, bring it along and we'll take a look at it together.

 My schedule is listed below.


Pop-up Gallery - 634 Fort Street, near the entrance to the Bay Centre.  June 1 - August 7, 2016

"4 Art Studio Exhibit" - Four artists display their work: myself, Peter Van Giesen, Anne Bowen and Shoni Robertson

I'll be at the gallery and either painting or drawing on these days:

Sunday, July 10

Friday, July 15

Sunday, July 17

Tuesday, July 19

Friday, July 22

Tuesday, July 26

Tuesday, August 2

Sunday, August 7 


The Inn at Laurel Point - June 2016

Tuesday, June 7

Sunday, June 12

Tuesday, June 14

Sunday, June 26

Tuesday, June 28

Wednesday, June 29

Thursday, June 30