The Passionate Pedagogue

My third semester of giving life drawing classes starts today … and people don’t pay for me to tell them, “Draw figures for 4 years and keep up the daily practice.” (Although, I do mention that in the breaks, if somebody is so foolhardy to ask.)

That’s why I attempt to set up a curriculum every semester.

As last year I heard quite often (even if only from a few individuals) that they had been expecting more anatomy, I’m introducing more anatomy (even if I’m not the expert). I may have a few clever insights for the one or other and we can learn from each others mistakes.

Here’s the plan for the 10 week course:

  1. Explore proportions
  2. Gestural drawing, finding rhythm
  3. Ribcage and pelvis
  4. Shoulders, arms, hands
  5. Legs, bottom, feet
  6. Perspective for life drawers
  7. Portrait, the face, the head
  8. Light and shade
  9. Blind drawing, contours
  10. Facial expression

The topics currently fit very well to the models I’ve managed to get in advance and every session has a different model, which I think is grand.

To finish this post off, here are some of my latest gesture drawings, I have now drawn gestures for way over 500 hours. I started slowly in August 2014. I now often draw longer (90 second) poses, but this morning I tried out 45 second poses again.

Am I an Urban Sketcher

I chose to fly to Porto/Portugal in July for the 9th Urban Sketching symposium (Usk).

I told myself this could be a good idea to meet friends again and to meet Internet friends for the first time in real life, … but I hadn’t actually contemplated very much that this would also be an opportunity to make new friends, and new friends were made … plenty!

I came back feeling like a “real” Urban Sketcher, whatever that means. At least I feel I’m doing the right thing now.

I went to Porto with a rather complete set of tools, watercolours, aquabrush, pens, pencils (graphite and coloured), but ended up finding myself very very very comfortable with a fountain pen or a fine liner. The line monster got me. Colour was removed from the menu for me and I was completely happy, slowing down and just making lines, lines, lines. Then all of a sudden, I was writing on my drawings. Something I’d been quite frightened about up until then.

This change happened after spending hours and hours with fellow sketchers, listening, watching and exchanging ideas. I heard about the contents of a few workshops (as I had no workshop pass) and was influenced by peoples’ styles and just let go of what wasn’t working for me: colour.

(Note on Workshops: actually I’m quite happy I didn’t take any, I’ve had so many in my time, I believe it is nearly 20 by now and I enjoyed listening to my fellow sketchers talking about their new found knowledge.)

Before I left for the Smyposium, I asked Bernard Hornblower who had been to the last symposium in Chicago if he had any recommendations.

Here is the list of recommendations/tips and my remarks on them (based on my first hand xp):

  1. Bernard said, “Take your stool” -> Stuart says, “good to have it, especially if it’s light and can basically fit into your rucksack (get yourself a rucksack!). And you can always lend it someone who has no stool.”
  2. Bernard said, “Stick to the people you know” -> Stuart says, “Yes, I think I understand where this is coming from, but I didn’t stick to them and I made fabulous friends while I was there. It was like 9 days of partying.”
  3. Bernard said, “Get up early and draw in public, there may be teachers around. Get out at 6:30am” -> Stuart, “What? I was out all night, and I stayed in my hotel until 9am, where I practiced gesture drawing … I may have missed somethings at the venue though, but more about that below.”
  4. Bernard said, “Sketch walks are ok, even if 500 people may be taking part.” -> Stuart says, “Well, actually, they’re not that exciting. OK, I made a few friends and it was interesting to watch a few people draw/paint, but basically they weren’t all they were cooked up to be, not for me anyhow.”
  5. Bernard said, “Go to the venue in the mornings and get yourself watercolour on paper, every day.” -> Stuart says, “Honestly, it was too early for me, and I’m not a big freebie fan. And watercolour was left at my hotel early in my symposium career.”
  6. Bernard said, “You can get brushes at special prices at the symposium.” -> Stuart says, “OK, yes, a gorgeous brush is a gorgeous brush, but I’m not a real colour guy, and I don’t like carrying water pots around with me.”
  7. Bernard said, “Get your hands on the journals fast (at the stalls) because they’ll be sold out fast.” -> Stuart says, “Damn, I was a bit lazy there, I should have bought myself an A4 Leuchtturm1917, probably special price, but somehow, I wasn’t in the mood to buy stuff at the symposium.”
  8. Bernard said, “There will be water and snacks at the evening events” -> Stuart says, “Ok, yes, snacks, nothing else, ok, the water was laced with port wine, that was interesting.”
  9. Bernard said, “Decide fast if the evening events are good for you.” -> Stuart says, “I basically stuck to my inner circles and never went to a drink and draw. And I’m quite happy about it, I enjoyed the chatting and banter, I think I wasn’t at the symposium to draw actually.”
  10. Bernard said, “Take your favourite tools.” -> Stuart says, “Yep, and those were the G-Tech Pilot 0.4 (which I lost somewhere in Germany later), Lamy Safari F nib with Rohrer&Klingler ink (one cartridge full, and that was enough), Stabilo pen68 felt tip pens and 2 coloured pencils.”
  11. Bernard said, “No headphones needed.” -> Stuart says, “Correct! But it is still perhaps good to hide away a bit if you want to get some drawing done. Especially if every body knows you after making “hundreds” of new friends. “
  12. Bernard said, “Prepare and do some research on the town.” -> Stuart says, “Well, I bought a book, read a few pages, took it with me and never looked at it again. But I did watch a few tourist/travel guide youtube videos. Basically, I’d say I don’t need to do too much research.”
  13. Bernard said, “Take natural colours. Colours to depict the sky and water well.” -> Stuart says, “Well, colours … not really my thing, everything goes wrong when I try colours.”
  14. Bernard said, “There is free water at the venue.” -> Stuart says, “Well, a bottle of water cost 12 Cent in the supermarket next to my hotel. So I didn’t bother looking at the venue.”
  15. Bernard said, “Consider taking one sketchbook, you can always buy a new one.” -> Stuart says, “Yes, I need to remember that one. One sketchbook is by far enough. You get freebie sketchbooks, even after the goody bag, if you come to the venues in the mornings, they will be handing out sketchbooks. Need to remember that.”

And here is what I drew in Porto and how I’ve continued in Bonn:
View from my hotel window.

I set up a Facebook event before the symposium started

Out in Porto at lunch time with my “Birmingham” connection.

Second Facebook event I set up, only a handful of sketchers came this time, but all the cosier!

After waiting (with fellow sketchers) for hours before going up to register for the symposium, I sat between friends and drew a bit of Porto. Line is starting to prevail.

First sketchwalk on the first day of the symposium. Met some wonderful people here.

Sketching with some of my most cherished drawing “heros”. Now I think I understand, there is no olymp, we are all equals. I love it.

Chilling for 2 hours in the British cemetry (this drawing took me 2 hours). Wonderful things happened at the cemetry. I made new friends, wonderful friends.

Having some quality time on my own and later with a friend in an expensive hotel cafe. And drawing a panorama view of Porto’s sister town Gaia.

Second sketch crawl I went to, where I joined up with new people again. Writing starts to appear in me sketches.

Sktchy app meetup on last day at very last sketch crawl. Such a happy but also sad event (symposium finishing slowly). I lent a friend my stool. He enjoyed the change.

Last day, spent with a friend, drawing and writing.

Back in Bonn and copying photos and tiles from Porto.

Off for a bit of Urban Sketching in Bonn on Wednesday.

And again. On Friday.

And meeting with fellow drawers on Monday.

And going to life drawing on Tuesday.

Battling the Sketch-Sloth

Bank holiday weekend and hardly a sketch done.

Last weekend I was in Berlin and it started quite well, nearly every minute was filled with sketching. Perhaps I overdid it … and now I’m in a sketching hang-over? More likely I was too impressed by some of my first sketches and managed to intimidate myself into not continuing.

I’ve broken my gesture practicing streak again(!) but although I have continuously asked myself whether I’m doing this practicing the right way, I am certainly convinced it fires me up and helps me start my day on the right foot. So, six ay-em, early morning gesture drawings are back on the menu.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, I really need to start using my sketchbook for what it was actually made for:

  • trying out ideas
  • writing notes
  • practicing the following:
    • lines (line weight, length, line gesture, texture)
    • colour rhythm
    • composition
    • perspective
    • anatomy, people drawing
  • playing around
  • sketching

If a nice drawing turns up now and again, that’s fine with me.

Anyway, to end this blog, here is a small collection of last weeks drawings from Berlin, life drawing in Bonn and Bonn itself (I actually spent a few hours in town drawing yesterday … so much for being a sloth).


May the Sketching be with you


There was a time when I would post directly after returning from life drawing sessions. Now, I’m an Insta user and post continuously on Instagram. I did actually think, I’d post my life drawing lesson topics here every Monday evening, before moving out with them on Tuesday night. Didn’t happen.

To make a long story short, this is what I’ve been up to this year:

  • Sktchy, it’s an iOS app, where I’ve been spending some time daily, painting a small portrait each day or so
  • life drawing with felt tip pens
  • bit of mundane urban sketching with a biro (AE: ballpoint) in a self made sketchbook with pink pages
  • preparing for a few urban sketching trips (1st one takes me to Berlin tomorrow, next one to Porto in July to the symposium) … I can feel a blog post coming on again

Here are a collection of the latest sketches which have turned out:





New Year, New Me: how 2018 began

Time for a new blog post, I’d say.

I have a few more months to prepare before the next life drawing class begins in March. The course is already fully booked and booking had only just opened 4 days ago. Of course, 90% of the participants are not there to hear me preach about life drawing – I must be honest there.

For me the new year starts with a challenge: One portrait a day for 30 days. It wasn’t too hard keeping it up for the first 8 days. But then complacency took over … or was it 2 days of life drawing? … whatever … does life drawing count as portrait drawing? Anyway, I broke my streak. OMG! Worse things could have happened to me – to be sure.

A renewed urge to improve my gesture drawing practice follows me into 2018. The daily practice was starting to become a bore or “just” a chore (I just checked, I started gesture drawing August 2014) I have identified lots of areas ready for improvement and where liberties and short cuts are being taken currently, and basically where I’m just not trying hard enough to improve.

Here are the portraits and life drawing results of the first 2 weeks of 2018.

Putting it into Perspective

Have you ever tried to explain 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5-point perspective to someone?

Well, I’m going to attempt something like that next Tuesday evening in the Figure Drawing session I moderate. I want it to make sense, be helpful and do away with a mystery or two. This blog post will hopefully help me identify the crux of the matter and help me keep it either very simple on Tuesday or give me the knowledge I need if someone has a really tricky question. The quintessence of this post is that parallel lines must converge.

When you start learning perspective you hear a lot about vanishing points and the horizon line. I’ve always been troubled with that one horizon line which is always mentioned, and now I’m pretty sure, every set of parallel planes has its own horizon line. The one you always hear of is the one defined by the flat surface you are standing on when looking at your subject, or the flat plain you want your constructed object to stand on. I’ll come to the vanishing points in a second.

Then you have all those different types of perspective (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), which can be a bit overwhelming.

So here goes: Perspective is just a constructional help for us artists to emulate on a flat piece of paper the data our spherical(!) eyes collect when observing the real world. If you get the construction lines correct, the eye cannot tell the difference between our flat piece of paper and what I’m calling “the real world”. Great, right?

Now, the whole thing is just a mathematical problem which has been solved masterfully by many scientifically interested artist/researchers, e.g. in the renaissance by a few well-known characters.

For 1, 2, 3 and 4-point perspective, I’m going to put the main rule in a succinct sentence of my own and then try to make sense of it:

“Parallel lines always converge at the same point on their horizon line.”

Before I go into explaining that, let me mention that 1, 2, 3, and probably even 4-point perspective are only approximations of the real mathematical solution and therefore only work in a limited cone of sight. That means, if we were looking at the subject of interest through a cone (just a rolled up newspaper will do), then this approximation only works well for an opening angle of 60 degrees. That’s really ok, if you’re far enough from your model and are not tempted to draw all types of other stuff going on around you. (Ok, glad I’ve got that one out of the way for now … notice I haven’t even started talking about 5 point perspective yet.)

OK, so the sentence above contains the following words:

  • parallel
  • line
  • converge
  • point
  • horizon line

Let’s start with “line”, sounds simple. A line is constructed from two points. E.g. the two corners of a square, or any adjacent corners of a cube. So let’s imagine a cube around the torso and let’s look at the two top-most, frontal (anterior) points (the head of the humerus bone). By connecting those two points we construct a line along the top of the torso (thorax and abdomen). There are more such lines on the torso, we’ll probably get to one or two of them in a second.

OK, next word: “parallel”. Two lines are parallel to each other if they lie on the same plain and(!) the distance between both lines does not change. So, let’s look at our constructed cube around the torso again. Every line you construct on the front of the cube (across the thorax or abdomen area) sits on the same plain. But not every line there is parallel to the one we identified first (the connection between the two humerus protuberances). That line defines the edge of the very plain we’re looking at (or is at least very close to it). Another line, parallel to this first one could for example be a line that connects the two nipples. There you have it, we now have two parallel lines (you can probably find many more). On to the next point.

Before we get to “point” though, let’s talk about “converge”. The trouble is actually that we can only draw those two lines parallel on our sheet of paper if we are looking at our model straight in the face. If by fortune we have a seat slightly off-centre to the model, then we can use our newly budding perspective skills and draw those parallel lines converging to some point on or even off the paper. Now, let’s not get carried away and start bending those lines, they stay as straight as they ever were, we are still approximating the torso as a cube. (By converging, we mean that the lines are getting closer to each other as they extend across our sheet of paper.) The end of the lines which lie on the part of the cube which is to be seen closest to us must be further apart than the opposite ends. This is an important point, and you should always notice whether the lines in real life are approaching you or receding from you.

When the (possibly imaginary) extension of the two lines eventually meet (either on or off the paper), then we have a “point”. Now this point will be shared by every single line which is parallel to the first two. This is the vanishing point.

Wow, let’s relax, we have now learnt 1-point perspective. But 1-point perspective can be used multiple times in one drawing. If you keep on finding new sets of parallel lines on the same plain, ones which actually cross other parallel lines on that plane (e.g. imagine a chessboard), then you will eventually end up with so many vanishing points that you will see a line: the “horizon line”. (If you select a plain which is parallel to the ground you are sitting on, then the horizon line is at the level of your own eye.)

The “horizon line” is where every line on a plain parallel to this “horizon” will end. Take a moment to imagine a few parallel plains, we have been looking at parallel lines up until now. The front and back of the torso cube are parallel planes, so they will share the same “horizon”. And the top and bottom of the torso cube are also parallel plains and therefore also share a “horizon”, even if it is not the same horizon as the other two plains.

And there you have 2-point perspective, it just creeped up on you without us noticing. When people talk of 2-point perspective, they are simplifying the above, but thereby hiding information. A cube can be cut into horizontal slices and therefore every line joining two new corners are not only on a side plain but also on a plain parallel to the ground. You end up with 2 vanishing points on one horizon line. Voila: 2-point perspective.

Similar simplification will give you a perspective model which is described as 3-point perspective. If you are close to your model and are peaking up at her, this model will help you abstract and construct one vanishing point far above the model. In reality, based on my sentence above, all we have here is a side plain with an orientation which leads to a new horizon line which is oblique to the vertical.

4-point perspective is also a simplified perspective model to help you construct lines which are converging to a vanishing point below the model. But now we know for sure, all we have here is a new plain with another horizon line, negatively oblique to the line we found earlier while looking up at the model.

All of this is, as mentioned before, only an approximation and if you really want to realistically construct the world our eyes report to our brain you need to fall back on 5-point perspective. The construction lines here are curves, and believe me, if you risk going down that path, you will start seeing curves and will begin drawing curves too. As soon as you want to step out of the “60 degrees cone of vision”-prison, this is one way you can go (it is not the only one, you can stretch the “rules” or just disregard them. There are more ways to represent real life than the way the construction of our eyes believe to be correct).

I know, I should and could add drawings to this post, but believe me, there are so many drawings out there on this topic. Don’t go and look. Try and construct it yourself (perhaps take a peek at 5-point perspective, as I only scratched that topic).

If you got this far, you can add n-point perspective to your CV.




Going in circles … and ellipses

Tomorrow night I’ll be introducing “circling” to the life drawing course participants.

The goal is to practice the “airplane line” and break out of habits and/or introduce new, well-balanced line making skills. The “airplane line” is when you land slowly and gently on the paper with your pencil/crayon, start making a thicker line in a controlled fashion (as if the plane is leaving skid marks) and then decide to take off gently again. Always consciously picking the point of landing and take-off.

By deciding consciously to only draw in circles and ellipses, you need to watch yourself carefully first to make sure you’re not drawing potatoes, bananas and sausages, I found this to be a very hard exercise actually, I had to remain fully concentrated to keep my line from going off in all directions. Once you have reached a kind of flow or zone, the ellipses and circles start coming naturally and more and more can be found by just opening up to all possibilities.

You can stick to the contour or you can find circles which are much larger than the entire pose, but define the pose nevertheless. Some circles can go through the figure, some just sit on top of the planes of the figure. Additionally, while searching for the best fit, you are continuously testing, measuring and comparing sizes, form and orientation. The whole process should be non-stop, the thinking process occurs during the skating of the page and searching for the correct fit. This is like an eagle circling over its prey. Once you have your “prey” (i.e. size, form and orientation) you can press down harder and commit to the line. Then, without leaving contact with the page, go on search for your next prey.

The evening will begin with us identifying the 16 major groups of the figure as circles and ellipses and we will then move on to a sequence of 5 and 3 minute poses where we will attempt to draw the figure only using circles and ellipses.

As tools we will be using a medium soft graphite if available. I am currently in love with the Faber-Castel PITT oil based pencil (medium).

Here are a few of the poses I drew last week while testing this circling method. I believe this short practice has already helped make my line more controlled and has increased my attention to the value of the “airplane line”.

A new chapter begins

Well, 3 years and 7 months ago, to the day, I started going to life drawing classes.

It was February 11th, 2014. I remember the model, the atmosphere, my sheepishness and the first drawing I made on that evening. Tomorrow night, the same model will come to class, but this time, I won’t be drawing, I’ll be teaching (or attempting to, at least).

If you’d told me this back then, I’d thought you were crazy, but perhaps I’m the crazy one now. But … no … actually, I’m really looking forward to it. Not too worried even … as I know at least 10 of the 18 students and have been drawing and exhibiting with them over the past 3 and a half years.

I’ve been working up a small plan to work through over the 10 sessions we will have together. But most of the time, we’ll just be drawing (or in my case, watching the others draw … I’m sure I’ll get a few drawings done too). Everyone will be getting a little hand-out, so they know what they can expect over the duration of the course. There are a few additional topics I’ll be touching on, which are not mentioned in the handouts: measuring, tangents, negative space, cross contour. I’ll be bringing 2 or 3 books on sketching the human figure which will hopefully inspire one or the other and there will be biscuits and beverages.

The courage or craziness for this operation was probably spawned by my experiences in SketchbookSkool. One thing I learned was that everything is possible. 19 months ago I would never had guessed I’d be traveling around Europe, meeting other sketchers. Now I’m already packing for my fourth sketching workshop offered by Pushing Your Sketching Boundaries, this time in Berlin.

Good night and let’s see what tomorrow brings.


The biggest mistake you mustn’t make

In August, I was on Tenerife with my wife, L.

It was quite hot, I didn’t take many art tools with me and for me being on holiday for 10 days I hardly made any art at all.

What was the problem? I was listening to a voice in my head telling me that even if I tried to do something here and now, it wouldn’t look anything like what I would want it to look like … the paint brush I use all the time has past its prime … the watercolour sketchbook (300gr) is too precious … I don’t have the right colours to paint skin tones … there aren’t enough contrasts … it’s too hot. I was giving in to these nagging voices.

In the end, I managed to save myself to a certain degree, I jumped in the deep end and painted the sea (using sea water) and also made a quick and dirty sketch of the beach at sun set (which I didn’t like for a few days and now I really love and think I should delve into more often).

The biggest mistake(s) you mustn’t make:

  • listen to the nagging voices
  • tell yourself the art tools are the problem
  • convince yourself you’re not as good as you (think you) used to be
  • stop playing/fooling around

3 weeks, and then there was Life Drawing

Well, we managed to order two models today, and I kept the one company while the first one posed for 30 minutes.

Then I got the chance to do some drawing too (four 10 minute poses, one 15 minute pose and five 2 minute poses).

And this is after 10 days of Tenerife (our annual holiday on the Canary Islands) and 5 days of Rotterdam (Sketching workshop in The Netherlands). I’ll post something about those two events later.


Tomorrow I sign my new contract as a Life Drawing tutor, I’ll post what I’m going to be up to in a later blog post.