Tag Archives: charcoal

Portraits in Charcoal

Charcoal Portrait of Emanuela

Portrait of Emanuela

Drawing Portraits in Charcoal can be a very rewarding experience, especially when you are working from life. When I have a portrait commission, especially if it’s a child, I find it helpful to do a quick study in one of my moleskine sketchbooks.

Usually children these days don’t like to sit still for even just a few minutes so it’s nigh on impossible to do an oil painting from life of a child. One has to rely on photographs but there is a real benefit in having a couple of sketches to refer to as well.

This study in charcoal pencil of Emanuela is based on a much longer drawing made from life over three short afternoon sittings. It is currently on view as part of my 30th Anniversary Christmas exhibition at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

One of the links on this post is an affiliate link to a Moleskine sketchbook, a product which I personally use, available from Amazon. Another is for some charcoal pencils. If you click on the links and buy any of these products then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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Auguste Rodin’s – The Kiss

Auguste Rodin's "The Kiss"

Rodin’s “The Kiss”

In my previous post I described how I went to the National Gallery in Edinburgh to see Auguste Rodin’s famous marble sculpture “The Kiss” in March. I made a couple of sketchbook studies in charcoal then an A6 watercolour. After analysing my studies, I decided to do a 14″ x 10″ watercolour of The Kiss in the studio which came out really well.

I’ve since produced a larger 29″ x 20″ original watercolour of The Kiss which has been reproduced as a limited edition giclee print available in three sizes.

The painting forms part of my Spring Exhibition at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland which is on until Sunday 28th April. The first copy has already been sold. Whilst I was doing this painting, I was photographed by a street photographer called Victor Adams. Check out his blog here.

 

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Rodin’s The Kiss

Charcoal Studies of Rodin's "The Kiss"

Rodin’s The Kiss

Rodin’s stunning marble sculpture The Kiss is currently on view at the National Gallery, Edinburgh on a year long loan from Tate Britain. Last week I decided to pay homage to one of Rodin’s most famous works.

I find that one of the best ways to really appreciate art is to draw it so I embarked on a couple of charcoal studies in my moleskine sketchbook. I then did a small A6 watercolour study which I have since used in conjunction with the charcoal works to produce a larger studio painting in watercolour. This will be one of the paintings on view at my Spring Exhibition starting 13th April.

Almost two hours passed whilst I worked away in the gallery so I barely had time to have a quick glance at John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew before it was time to leave.

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Italia! Magazine

Watercolour of Susan in The Basilica San Marco

Susan in The Basilica San Marco

I’ve recently been asked to write some responses to the Questions & Answers section of the Italia Magazine. Readers are encouraged to ask any questions they may have about Italy. From time to time, questions about painting in Italy crop up. Here is one from the March 2013 issue from a lady called Valerie in Weymouth.

Q. I have been experimenting with sketches and painting on my recent trips to Italy, but am not sure which medium to use. How do you choose between watercolour, oil or charcoal sketches – for example, does one suit landscapes or cityscapes more?

For me personally, choice of medium when sketching outdoors is usually a matter of preference and to a certain extent practicality. Also one needs to have some clear goals and objectives as to the purpose of the sketching.

When working “plein air” in Italia I’m often gathering reference material which will be a source of inspiration for some future studio painting. I find watercolour the ideal medium to capture the colour, mood and atmosphere of both landscapes and cityscapes. A small box of watercolour paints with a sketchbook can be easily carried about in a jacket pocket or small bag. It’s not too difficult to find a place to rest the sketchbook on like a wall, a table at a cafe or a fence if you’re painting in the countryside.

Watercolour painting does demand more skill but working small makes it less daunting. Italian cities are great for their wonderful shops selling leather bound journals and sketchbooks containing hand made papers. Find a book with a heavy watercolour paper and fill it with your studies of city life, architecture or the distinctive Italian landscape. You will hopefully create a delightful record of your travels in Italia which you can refer back to jog your memory or use for inspiration to paint. An alternative to buying a sketchbook in Italy is the Moleskine brand which you can buy in the UK.

I find that working in oils is more arduous in comparison. The drying time of the paint is longer and you will generally have to carry a lot more equipment like an easel, a bag to carry paints, turpentine, a range of brushes and your canvas/boards to paint on. It can be done but it’s a little more demanding.

An alternative to watercolour and oils is acrylic paint which is water soluble and dries quickly. It’s more forgiving than watercolour, allowing one to paint over mistakes.

Working in charcoal can be rewarding if you are not concerned about recording colour but you will also need some fixative (or hairspray) to stop your drawings from getting smudged.

Here is an example of how goals and objectives are important to choice of medium. Last year I was making some studies in the Basilica San Marco in Venice. I used a combination of watercolour in one sketchbook to record the colours and a biro in another for some of the architectural details. The sketchbook watercolour  is one of several studies I made on that trip in preparation for an oil painting I have been working on recently of Susan.


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John Singer Sargent

Alan Reed's Charcoal Studies after John Singer Sargent

Charcoal Studies after John Singer Sargent

The American artist John Singer Sargent died this day in 1925. As well as being an outstanding artist, he was a gifted musician and fluent in French, Italian and German. I’ve been a great admirer of his work for many years and I often spend time deeply engrossed studying the many fine books written about this accomplished artist. For those wishing to find out more about Mr Sargent then I can recommend the fine volumes of work documenting his work written by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray. There are three comprehensive volumes on his portraits alone plus several on his figures and landscapes. Check out Amazon for further information.

The image above is a double page taken from my current moleskine sketchbook and  shows charcoal studies I’ve made of two of John Singer Sargent’s charcoal drawings. The original of Viscountess Astor can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery, London and was drawn in 1923. Mrs John Beals Mills was drawn in 1919 and can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As he grew older, Sargent tired of doing the formal portraits in oils that he was so well known for. At the height of his career he could command around 1000 guineas for a full length portrait which is about £100,000 in today’s money. A portrait in charcoal which he referred to as mugs would normally be drawn in one sitting. These would cost his client about £50 which is around £5000 today.

Sargent would often make his own studies of the great masters as he developed his skills, a practise which I adopted early on in my career. Over 30 years on, I’m still learning as I’m studying the work of outstanding painters. You can see other studies I’ve made of Sargent’s paintings on my website. Sargent died 87 years ago on the 14th April but his influence on art remains undiminished.

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Portrait in Charcoal

Dominic- Charcoal

Dominic in Charcoal

I’m currently undertaking a number of portrait commissions at the moment, mostly in oils but some in charcoal. Dominic was commissioned as a present for his 50th birthday in December 2011. I managed only one afternoon sitting with Dominic, however that was sufficient to capture a very good likeness of a man who ticks all the boxes of being tall, dark and handsome. After the sitting I was able to check all the aspects of his features for size, proportions and positioning from the reference photographs I took of him next to the drawing. I made a few minor changes and refined the marks I made during the sitting with my stump.

A stump is an artists tool, usually made of soft paper, (but can be made of leather or felt), that is tightly wound into a stick and sanded to a point at both ends. It is used to blend drawing marks made with charcoal, conte crayon, pencil and similar media. By moving it carefully over drawing marks, gradations and half tones can be produced. I like my charcoal drawings to look like drawings, rather than being too photographic, so I kept the use of the stump to a minimum.

I’m pleased to say that Dominic is delighted with his portrait and it is now framed and hanging proudly in their family room.

 

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John Singer Sargent

Sketchbook Studies in Charcoal

Sketchbook Studies in Charcoal

TIP 11. Studying the work of other artists is a great way to improve your artistic skills, however there are a number of different levels of study that one can tackle. I’ve recently purchased several books about the American artist John Singer Sargent which I have studying. My initial approach is to quickly look at the plates and marvel at the imagery. I then go back to the start and read the text which is always a help in understanding the context and social background in which the artist was working.

Finally, with sketchbook and either pencil or stick of charcoal in hand, I start to make observational drawings of some of the images in the book. Although this is no substitute for making ones own studies from life, it is a great way of gaining a much closer insight into some of the working methods of the artist. One can see how tonal values and composition have been realised as well as gaining a deeper appreciation of some of the mark making techniques. One can take this a stage further and copy their paintings too. I’ve done this in the past which you can see on my website.

Instead of being glued to the TV in the winter evenings, why not re-visit some of your own art books and do some drawings of some of the great masters works?

 

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Portrait in Charcoal

Margaret in Charcoal

Margaret in Charcoal

Although I’m best known for my watercolours of cityscapes, landscapes and seascapes, I’ve painted a number of portrait commissions, going back to the mid 1980’s. I’ve recently found myself being drawn back to the artistic challenge of capturing people’s portraits from life. This particular drawing of Margaret was made over three sittings in charcoal and was a preliminary study for an oil painting that can be seen below.

The oil painting took four sittings and I have to say that Margaret was a lovely model to paint. She was able to sit motionless for a couple of hours at a time and has beautiful features that are a delight to paint. Her family and those who know her say that both pictures are a very good likeness and that I’ve really captured her personality. I’m looking forward to painting her again soon.

Margaret in Oils

Margaret in Oils

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