Tag Archives: moleskine

Family Fun at the Laing Art Gallery

The Misses Vickers

The Misses Vickers after John Singer Sargent

I found myself with an hour or so to spend in Newcastle earlier today so I decided to pay a third visit to the Family Matters Exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery. As part of the exhibition which runs until 2nd September, they have a stunning oil painting by one of my heroes John Singer Sargent. I’ve already made some studies in my Moleskine Sketchbook of this painting and a small 8″ x 6″ watercolour (see above) but I couldn’t resist a couple more drawings in charcoal pencil.

Throughout the summer months the Laing Art Gallery are putting on a number of events for children which look like excellent fun for any rainy days that may crop up. There is a terrific exhibition of original pen, ink and wash drawings by Quentin Blake and an opportunity for children to do their own studies in the style of the popular children’s book illustrator.

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Moleskine Sketchbooks & Journals

John Singer Sargent Studies

John Singer Sargent Studies in Charcoal

Yesterday I finished yet another Moleskine sketchbook by making some further studies of the portrait work by John Singer Sargent. I’m a great fan of the Moleskine brand and have a growing collection of notebooks, sketchbooks and journals filled with important notes, studies, ideas and thoughts that are documenting my humble career.

The drawing on the left page of the Moleskine sketchbook of the male model was made using a Royal Charcoal Stick whilst the study of Vernon Lee, a close family friend of Mr Sargent, was drawn with a Royal Charcoal pencil, part of a drawing set from Ryman Stationery.

You may notice a very small watercolour of three attractive young ladies above the tin of charcoal pencils. This is a my study of a stunning oil painting by John Singer Sargent painted in 1884 titled The Misses Vickers which is currently on view at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The painting forms part of the Family Matters Exhibition which runs until 2nd September and was commissioned by their father Colonel Tom Vickers as a 21st birthday present for the middle daughter Mabel Francis. Her two sisters Florence and Clara sit to her left and right respectively. The exhibition is well worth seeing not only for the John Singer Sargent as there are lots of other great paintings to see.

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BP Portrait Awards 2012

Moleskine Sketchbook - Charcoal Studies

Sketchbook Charcoal Studies on Tube

The BP Portrait Awards 2012 Exhibition is currently on at the National Portrait Gallery.

Over the years I’ve received many a commission to do a painting of a client’s home. Sometimes this has been overseas in countries like Italy. I always enjoy travelling to see the property which is usually impressive and to do some sketchbook studies on location.

On Friday I travelled to London to get some suitable reference for a commission of a lovely house for a client. I was fortunate with the weather and managed to capture the sun catching the front of the building. I had a few hours to kill before my flight home to Heathrow so I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the BP Portrait Award 2012 Exhibition.

My favourite was by a young lady called Isabella Watling who received a fitting compliment in the Independent’s review of the exhibition, so she received my public vote.

“BP regulars like the annual game: choose your own winner. Here’s mine: for being not too proud, at only 21, to apprentice herself to Velazquez, Boldoni and Singer Sargent, for her romantic, and, yes, painterly The Importance of Being Glenn, for daring to enjoy the dashing and romantic, my vote goes to Isabella Watling. If she can do this now, what a lot could follow”.

There were some excellent paintings on view and it inspired me to continue my work for the day in my Moleskine sketchbook. Remembering a quote from John Singer Sargent “You can’t do sketches enough, sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh”, I did a couple of charcoal pencil studies of some of John Singer Sargent’s oil paintings on display in the National Portrait Gallery, then on the tube back to Heathrow I did the 4 drawings of various folk seated nearby which you can see above.

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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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Top Sketchbook Tips


If you want to start adding watercolour to any line work you are doing in your sketchbook, then you will need one with a decent quality paper. I enjoy using the “little black book” now branded by moleskine favoured by artists like Henri Matisse and Vincent Van Gogh.Sketchbook study of winter tree

Sketchbook study of Winter Tree

You can get one with a stiff cartridge paper which is slightly tinted that can take watercolour without buckling and they (moleskine) now do a sketchbook with watercolour paper in. The study above of a tree in winter was drawn on the spot whilst I was out walking my German Shepherd dog using a pen with waterproof ink. The colour was added from memory in the studio. This may well end up as a larger watercolor.

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Top Sketch Book Tips

Whether you are a keen painter or simply a beginner who has been given a box of watercolour paints for Christmas, here are my top 10 Sketch Book Tips to help improve your sketch book work.

1. Carry a sketch book and biro at all times so that if you have time to kill, you can quickly draw whatever is around you. Drawing from life sharpens one’s technical ability in terms of being able to draw and will increase one’s visual awareness.

I find the moleskine brand of sketch books very handy. They are small, discreet, have a decent paper inside that can even take paint and have a useful inside pocket for tucking things away. The advantage of using a biro instead of a pencil is that you can’t rub out mistakes. It forces you to think more about the lines you are making before putting pen to paper.

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