Wednesday 29 September 2010


If I hear nothing (particularly from clients) I start to worry that something is wrong ... they don't really like the portrait etc .... I think secretly many of my fellow artists feel the same way?  we're mostly quivering insecure wrecks (apologies to any who aren't, of course) :o)

But its been a lovely few days for me ... I had an email from a client who commissioned a portrait of a chocolate labrador as a wedding gift for her son a few months back.  She was pleased with the portrait at the time, but has just been back in touch to say that the wedding went very well and the portrait gift was a great success and is hanging on the lounge wall of the 'happy couple'.

The lady for whom I've just completed two x double human portraits will be collecting them from me on Sunday so we can meet in person to discuss future portraits she'd like done - which is always lovely to hear of course.  (I can't show the portraits here as they are intended as surprise gifts in October)

I've also received the cheque from the London Gallery where my picture of a Ragdoll cat sold earlier this month

and the best news of all is that my stepson, Richard, is out of hospital after 22 weeks.    He was allowed home on Friday and will continue his recovery programme whilst living with his Mum.  We'll give him a few days to settle back home and will take him out for lunch next week.   So no more treks up to London 3 times a week to visit him in hospital :o)

Now ... back to reality.

I worked some more on the black lab today and emailed my client for critique/approval.    She asked me to make the dog's muzzle/mouth area more grey and to draw in a suggestion of an ear on the dog's 'far' side to balance it up a little.   The ref photos are taken in quite harsh sunlight so I wasn't sure whether the white I could see on the dog's face was glare or whether it was actually white hair.    I erred on the side of caution but its easy enough to adjust the colouring at this stage.

This is the latest version with the 'tweaks' - the picture is a little dark and in reality the white muzzle is a little more 'white'

and, yep!!!!  I've just heard back from my client that the 'picture is perfect' .... I was expecting to have to do several more minor adjustments to ensure the likeness is as good as I can get it ... but she's happy with this:

these are the pics of the previous version.

and this is one I posted just for fun .... this was photographed a couple of stages back - to show all the colours that went into creating the 'black' coat - though most of them have disappeared in the final version (but they remain in the background to 'lift' the black fur colour):

Now .... just to complete my day .. I need Spike the Hedgehog to make an appearance.   We've put a little tray of food outside with some chicken flavoured gourmet dog food, and some chopped unsalted peanuts - unashamedly trying to attract him and get him to stay as a permanent fixture

Tuesday 28 September 2010


No that isn't an instruction!!
Ever since we moved to this house 3 years ago I've wanted a hedgehog as I know our garden and the surrounding area would be perfect.

At our last home we had a large garden backing onto woodland and fields and we had badger setts in the garden (we fed the badgers every evening).  I don't want to get involved with the issues re. badger culling -v- Bovine TB - we had no cows close to our home and I loved feeding the badgers - especially when the youngsters came out to play).   Anyway, Badgers kill hedgehogs - so no hope of finding a hedgehog in that garden.  In this garden we have three sheds they can hide under, an area behind the 'proper' garden where the compost heap is - and we have lots of areas of undergrowth and fruit trees etc.   I applied to several hedgehog rescue centres offering to rehome one or two - but didn't get one response!

I was over the moon last night when, for the first time in weeks, I got on the exercise bike and started pedalling whilst idly looking out of the patio doors.  I saw a dark shadow shuffling around by the patio and when I checked further saw an enormous hedgehog ... I reckon he was as long as a patio tile (16") but according to everything I read they don't normally get bigger than 14" so either I've got a 'freak' or I misjudged his size in the gloom.   He was snuffling around the fallen sunflower heads/seeds.   I managed to get one photo of him before he ambled off.   I saw him again about an hour later then he disappeared.   I've called him Spike (not very original)

Hubby isn't so chuffed ..... this little chap has obviously decided to mark his territory.   He left hedgehog poo on our doormat at the front door/porch (and they are quite large offerings)!  He left more at the corner of our patio near our outdoor dining furniture .... so I hope it means he is going to stay.

David obviously has too much time on his hands as he's made up a sign or two which he plans to stick at strategic points in the garden ... hope Spike can read:

So I've been reading up on how best to look after garden hedgehogs .... must go shopping for chicken flavoured pet food, unsalted peanuts and mild cheese!!   and I've found instructions for making hedgehog feeders (to protect the food from cats or seagulls) ..... that'll keep hubby occupied for a day or so!

We're out tonight so I won't be able to tell whether Spike returns .... but watch this space

Monday 27 September 2010


I haven't been very productive with the art today I'm afraid but I did get a little further with the labrador.  In theory I should be able to complete the lab tomorrow, unless I decide to switch to the Shih Tzu cross ... whatever happens I should get both portraits finished this week and will be ahead of schedule (famous last words)!!

Unfortunately, I've only just photographed this and its very gloomy outside so the camera has picked up on (and emphasized) the blues/mauves in the black fur.  In reality they are much more subtle.

Sunday 26 September 2010


This afternoon we visited a rare species conservation centre that I didn't know existed - yet its only 40 mins drive from where we live.  It isn't well publicised.  Its a small centre, just 2 acres of land, but beautifully laid out and maintained.  The grounds are landscaped using plants from Australia and Africa and there are tree house viewing points, rope suspended bridges etc., and everything is clean and 'inviting'.   Its a privately owned centre/zoo and according to the Head Gardener (who proudly showed us around and pointed out his favourite plants) the owner lives in London and doesn't have a garden there - so likes this place to be kept pristine for his own enjoyment when he's in Kent (!!)

Unfortunately, from end September the centre will not be open to the public on a daily basis.  They plan to specialise in wildcat conservation.  So some of the animals had been moved out in readiness and we couldn't see bears or gibbons.  But the animals we did see were in great surroundings, looked healthy and happy and were keen to pose for the camera!   I'll be keeping an eye on their website to see what they do after September.  The plan is to offer 'special' days for photographers and artists, and corporate days etc.

Here's one of their Fishing Cats.  He looked rather like a domestic moggy, rubbing up against the fence - till he saw my camera and lashed out hissing and spitting .... served as a timely reminder that these animals are not pets!!  This was taken through glass so is a bit hazy

The sign on the cage warned that though these little guys are attention seekers, they will bite.  So being careful not to get fingers close to the bars I aimed my camera.   I forgot about my camera strap which was blowing in the breeze close to the fence.  It got grabbed by one of the monkeys who thrust his whole head and neck through the wire.  If you look at the second photo you'll see the link size is pretty big compared to the head size of the monkey.   We had a stand off for a few minutes until he relaxed his jaw and I could retrieve the strap.  For a while I had visions of pulling the little guy through the fence and taking him home with me :o)

And these Fennec Foxes are just too cute for words - they are tiny

I already have lots of photos of snow leopards from my visit to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation (Big Cat Conservation Centre) but I can never get enough of these gorgeous beasties:

Today, for me the stars of the show were the Asian smooth coated otters.    The adult pair was rescued by this centre in 2008 and had to be de-programmed as where they previously lived in Cambodia they had to 'perform' in order to be fed.  Now they are happy enough in their new environment to have produced 3 babies - the first captive birth of this species in Europe for 30 years.  One of the youngsters had to be hand-reared and lives separately from the rest as he was rejected by Mum.  These otters need to burrow and their 'enclosure' had lots of holes ... and lots of mud which they frequently wallowed in (making their swimming pool incredibly brown and grotty).   They were so fast ... most of my pictures had missing heads or tails as I struggled to keep up with them.  Here are a few (I'm still wading through the rest)

Here's one of the youngsters emerging from his burrow.   When their coats are dry they look quite cute and almost fluffy (but just check out the teeth .. I know I've got a few shots where the fangs are clearly in evidence and they are pretty awesome)

Look at the hands here ... I find this really spooky.  Although they are webbed, he has perfect fingers and finger nails 

The never stand still .... photographing them was a case of aim and click and see what you manage to get .. they are so fast

and I got several shots of the otters doing Meerkat impressions (!!)  It drove me to check on Google to see whether there could possibly be a relationship between Meerkats and Otters.  I think the answer is No, although this similarity has been commented on many times, particularly this habit of standing up and surveying the territory.

I have lots more photos and I guess some of them will be far better, but I need to sort through them all first.  Back to the drawing board tomorrow though.

oh... nearly forgot the best bit :o)

It doesn't seem to be geared up so much for childrens visits as many zoos/wildlife parks are .. and I loved this sign:

Friday 24 September 2010


The reference photos for this beautiful black lab are taken outdoors in bright sunlight so there is lots of 'glare'  which in some photos make her look grey and mauve and others grey and blue ... so I'm trying to compromise a little.  I don't want to lose the highlights but equally I don't want to lose sight of the fact she was a black labrador.

I'm often asked whether it is 'better' to draw black coated animals in graphite - as the subject is pretty 'black & white'.   My honest answer is that I'd almost always opt for colour - either coloured pencil or pastel -  as black fur/hair is made up of lots of different colours and it adds so much more interest to the portrait if I can work some pink/blue/mauve shades into the fur and 'lift' the black.    The colours may be very subtle by the time the portrait is finished, but I think its worth doing.

Anyway, here are a couple of progress photos from today

The mauve and blue 'underpainting' becomes less 'obvious' as the portrait progresses, but the colours remain as subtle lowlights in the overall make-up of the portrait - unfortunately, these photos were taken at different times of day in different light conditions so they make it hard for me to 'prove my point' :o)

and as I mentioned in yesterday's post ... I thought I'd tackle a very 'hairy' Shih Tzu cross with similar colouring so I can get the very 'mucky' colours out of the way at the same time :o)

This wasn't scheduled till October ... but this doggie is a bit of a dishevelled character ... hair goes in every which direction.  He is a much loved character - a rescue dog who stands just 10 inches tall!!   In reality I haven't got a clue where his left eye is, or what the eye colour should be (awaiting confirmation) so I thought I'd make a start by applying soft pastel very loosely to the paper and using a damp paintbrush to spread the colour.  I've never done this with pastel before, but I feel with this picture I don't have to be so precise, simply because the dog isn't 'precise' ... he's a character - his hair goes in all directions .. so what!!  The photo I'm working from doesn't show all of him but I've agreed with his owner to complete the portrait without showing his ears etc., as its an interesting angle and will make a change from the stereotype pet portrait I could produce (by referring to additional refs).  Using a wet brush to spread the base colour of soft pastel really gave a quick base coat for me to build on ... I'm quite impressed!!

Stage I .... very, very basic colours laid down ....

Stage II ..... more colours - still very basic.     If this method doesn't work out, I still have a couple of weeks to re-start and work on the portrait in my normal fashion :o)

But the light has disappeared now ... the weekend has started so I'm about to open a bottle of red wine and 'chill out' for the evening.  Hope you all have a great weekend

Thursday 23 September 2010


Both double human portraits have been approved (although they can't be shown until October) so they'll be wending their way to my client shortly.  I'm told she cried when she saw one of them as the resemblance was so good.   Can't be many people who can say they know they've done a good job when they make their clients cry can there?

The grey horse (Teco) portrait has also been approved.   His owner is back from holiday today and it transpires she lives fairly close to me.   Hubby will be driving through her part of Kent tonight and will deliver the picture en route ... so I'm regaining some work/storage space at home.

I've started work today on a black labrador who sadly had to be PTS unexpectedly recently and is greatly missed.  The reference photos aren't quite as good as I'd like but we've agreed that I'll work from the clearest photo and use others to enable me to make a few adjustments.    I've outlined her and noted the hair direction etc.  As usual I've made a start on the eyes so I get a sense of her personality whilst working on the rest.  In the main reference her ear is turned backwards so I've pulled it forwards onto her face more to soften the outline.

I have another little dog to complete in pastels also .. he is a shih tzu cross and also has a lot of black fur so I'll probably start on his portrait tomorrow so I can 'flit' between these two and get REALLY messy - all that black/blue/mauve pastel dust!!

Then it will be a case of clearing the decks and cleaning up the pastel dust in readiness for a triple child portrait in coloured pencil - a much cleaner medium!

Here's the lab ... Stage I.    I'm using Light Grey pastelmat which is very light (almost white) although it looks darker here as I photographed it late afternoon and the light wasn't good.

Tuesday 21 September 2010


This afternoon I went to see my picture framer.  I've been asked to  provide a frame for one of my upcoming portrait commissions and needed to photograph/price a few so my client can decide which style he likes.  His framing shop is not a million miles from the seaside resort of Margate and the sun was shining so David and I decided to 'play truant' and have a wander round the resort.    I must confess most of my trips to Margate beach were as a result of playing truant in my mis-spent youth when I could skip school and take a train to the seaside for the day!!

Margate was one of the favourite seaside resorts for Londoners in the early 20th century - it was a bustling resort famous for being the first to introduce donkey rides, and deckchairs on its sandy beach - it also had huge funfair (Dreamland) which was one of the most popular attractions in England  .  In recent years tourism collapsed and the town got a dreadful reputation - its been a bit of a No-Go area for ages.   Dreamland closed, too many itinerants moved there, there was no work and the 'seafront' was full of seedy sex shops and tacky bingo/gambling amusement arcades.     I haven't been there for years.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how much work has been/is being done to rejuvenate the place.  It helps that  a £17.5 million Art Gallery/centre is being erected and will open next Spring - it will be one of the biggest galleries in South East England outside London.  The Turner Gallery is being built to showcase the work of  artist JMW Turner (who was educated in Margate and lived there with his mistress for 20 years) and his contemporaries.  Tracey Emin the controversial artist also has strong links with Margate and is supporting the cause.  

Whilst there are still a lot of 'tacky areas' in the new town/seafront the old town is looking really good.  Millions of pounds is being spent on attracting new businesses and to create a 'cafe culture'.  There are some fabulous houses and commercial buildings in the area which are being reopened as bistros and cafes and many of the streets have been pedestrianised.      Inevitably there are several small art galleries opening - attracted by Grants from the council and of course the anticipated influx of 'arty' people who will visit the Turner Gallery.  I believe that there are also plans to reopen Dreamland as a heritage fairground

I had a long chat with the proprietor of one of the new Galleries and he was really enthusiastic and easy to deal with.  He offers a framing deal for 'his' artists which reduces costs for them and his commission percentage  for sales was very reasonable compared with many.   I am committed to exhibiting some of my framed pictures at the Horsebridge Gallery in my home town of Whitstable in November but thereafter, I think I'll be dealing with this new Gallery as a potential outlet.  So exciting times ... and I need to crack on with creating more exhibition pieces in addition to the Commissioned portraits.

Here's a photo of the Turner Gallery from the back - the front of the building overlooks the sea.

Lots of these old boarded up shops are coming back to life as gift shops, wine bars and cafes in Margate's 'old town'

So fingers crossed that the town continues to turn itself around and attract the right sort of businesses and visitors.

Saturday 18 September 2010


Showing this for the last time (I promise).

As part of a horrendously busy day today, we travelled to Waterloo, London to collect my picture which had been hanging in the Society of Feline Artists Exhibition which closed yesterday.  

The chap I spoke to couldn't find my picture ... then having had a word with the Manager it transpired my picture had sold!!!    My first sale from a London Gallery (well any 'proper' Gallery if the truth be known) so I'm very happy.  

It wasn't a wasted journey as we needed to be in London to visit Richard in Hospital .... now I just have to wait for the cheque which will soon be winging its way to me!!   I've done more exhibition work than usual this year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I'm still learning the tricks of the trade and the hardest bit for me is remembering the deadlines for submitting pictures to the juries.   Will definitely try harder next year :o)

And  today it has been confirmed that I've gained Signature Status of the UK Coloured Pencil Society and am entitled to use the letters UKCPS after my name ... but I won't let it go to my head (honestly)

Friday 17 September 2010


Not sure if its a Blogger problem or whether my computer is throwing a wobbly, several comments are repeating on previous threads ... I've deleted most of them I think but ... just to test it:

You may remember I showed a photo of my garden recently on a gusty day when the potplants and ornaments had blown over.   The small sunflower plants never recovered so yesterday David cut them down but left the flower/seed heads on the patio for the birds to find.  

The birds were too slow ....  this little chap couldn't believe his luck.  When he'd eaten his fill of seeds he carried a couple of the flowerheads away and I watched him burying them in another part of the garden.   Well these particular sunflowers arrived courtesy of the birds and squirrels dropping seeds ... so looks like we'll have another good display next year!!

 Now he knows how to plant stuff we just have to teach him  how to pull weeds and mow the lawn :o)

We have a long day tomorrow - visiting my horse, our Mums, Richard in hospital and collecting a picture from the London Gallery now the SOFA exhibition has ended.    So hope everyone has a good weekend and we'll catch up next week

Thursday 16 September 2010


I don't understand that expression, but 'Chuffed as a Maggot' was a favourite saying of one of the girls who worked for me in a 'previous lifetime' and it sums up how I feel at the moment!!

David and I visited Richard in Homerton Hospital (London) yesterday afternoon and we were late getting home.  When I checked our emails  I was amazed to find a message from the UKCPS 'Chairperson' telling me my 'Daydreaming Tiger' picture has been awarded UKCPS 'Reserve Best in Show' the 9th International Coloured Pencil Society Exhibition (Stamford, Lincs) which opened yesterday.   The picture was a practice piece which was destined for the bin but salvaged, cropped, professionally framed and entered for the h*ll of it.    

I can't quite believe the email yet ... so I postdated this post until I see more evidence!!   I would have been over the moon to have received recognition by way of a 'commended' award ... so, still expecting to receive a message stating that a mistake has been made .....

This is the Daydreaming Tiger - without frame:

Wednesday 15 September 2010


I was determined to knuckle down and start work on a new 'human' commission this morning. I worked out the composition and printed off photos - although I'll be referring to the computer image a lot as the reference isn't  as clear as I'd like so I'll need to  play around with settings to help me see detail.

Then I found the paper I needed had a faint creasemark in it - no idea if it was like that on arrival as its been stored away for several weeks.   It was my last piece of that particular colour.

I tried to order more online but found that my favoured supplier (who doesn't charge postage) only supplies the paper in multi-packs (which I don't need).  No. 2 favourite supplier sells the paper in single sheets but charges delivery ... so to make it more worthwhile I ordered a few more bits and bobs ... as you do!    I still didn't get to the price level which guarantees free delivery though.

Got to the final online ordering stage and was asked for my Customer No. and password.   Needless to say I couldn't remember these so had to hunt through old invoices/delivery notes till I found one that showed my customer number.    I tried this in combination with all the usual passwords ... Computer said NO!!   In desperation I phoned the supplier and spoke to a human who advised me that my customer number online is not the same as my customer number which they use on delivery documentation (# ! ?).   Never mind, I thanked her very nicely and entered my online customer number in the appropriate box ... none of the passwords worked with it.    So I had to send an online request to the supplier to notify me by email of my password (which they had changed as I'd had too many failed attempts).

Next time I think it will be quicker to drive 40 minutes to my closest art shop and buy the paper the good old fashioned way!!

I'm going for a lie down now .... :o)

Tuesday 14 September 2010


I've called a halt here and emailed a scan to Teco's owner so just awaiting her feedback as to whether she'd like anything 'tweaked' before I spray lightly with fixative.   Even with these sanded papers which hold pastel nicely I like to add a little extra protection against accidental smudging ... pastel paintings are a little vulnerable until safely framed behind glass.

Here's a slightly earlier picture I took, with a mount laid over the top - once I photographed it I realised I hadn't drawn the whiskers in ..... oops!   I've kept the photo though to illustrate how P'tang (Teco) will 'sit' in the mount/frame.

So .... nothing more to be done on this till I hear back from his owner.    The pastels will go away and I'll get back to the coloured pencil 'people' portraits for a couple of hours now.

Monday 13 September 2010


Since returning from our holiday I've found it very difficult to settle back to a routine and additionally we are making more visits to the London Hospital for a couple of weeks, covering whilst Richard's Mum takes some holiday.

I've also been 'tidying up' my order book and sorting out compositions for a couple of the portraits which have more than one subject.   I now have a clear idea of the order in which I'll be undertaking the commission up until Christmas.

Now that the excuses are out of the way :o)   here's an update on the grey horse who is called P'tang (his stable name is Teco apparently).  It may not look as though much has been done but I've been steadily building up the intensity of the white/grey coat using tiny, light strokes being careful to always follow the direction of the individual hairs.  I'm almost at the stage where I can begin to add the grey 'fleabitten' spots and brighten his mane and forelock .  Then a bit of tweaking on the headcollar and it will be time to ask for critique/approval from his 'mum'.    I'll continue working on him tomorrow and then will return to the 'people portraits' (which I can't show yet unfortunately).