Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Art Class - week 1

Well the evening of my first art class in more than a decade arrived. For those of you who have just latched onto this blog, I must say at once that I am not the tutor, I am the student! After arriving early because a) I wasn't sure about the parking and b) didn't know where the classroom would be, I entered the front door of the buildings and immediately bumped into a young lady who turned out to be non other than the tutor herself. She led me through a door with a tiny piece of paper attached which said "Art Class" in very pale letters. Had I been on my own, I would never have read that!

The first job to do was to set up all the tables that had been neatly stacked away in the corner. By now, other members were arriving, and I with a terrible memory, was already struggling to remember their names, in fact even now I can only remember the names of two, but that is not to say that I will still have remembered them by next week! We all give our names to "Miss", and she starts by taking us through the basics about equipment and a few watercolour techniques. There is already an hour of the two hour lesson gone by now, so by the time I finish the initial sketch, there isn't a lot of time left for actual painting. But never mind, I did at least have time to lay in the first washes, the thrill of beautiful watercolours bringing the drawing to vibrant life in front of my eyes. It was no surprise that I was going to have to finish this one at home.

The subject I chose to paint was a photograph of a german shepherd dog. Portraits to me are the hardest things to paint, whether it's people or animals. This is probably because you have to get the proportions right if the finished work is going to look anything like your subject. I mean, if you are painting something like a tree, it doesn't matter if you get a branch slightly in the wrong place, but if it is something like someone's eye, it can be fatal!
I made sure my subject more than filled the paper as that would rule out having to think about the background. Most of the dog's coat was a subtle sand colour with almost black or dark brown areas. I struggled to get the sand colour, but this is where the tutor came to my rescue. She could see that I had a test piece of paper to try the colours out before commiting them to the finished work, which she approved of. "Miss" knew exactly the colours I needed to get the right shade, and gave me a useful tip to fold the test piece at the desired colour and place it up against the photo to check. She was spot on with the tone.

Back at home a couple of nights later, I added more detail to the work, starting with the eyes, which is something I knew I had to get right if anything else was going to work - I think it's the first thing you look at in a portrait. Fortunately the photo was very detailed and allowed me to reproduce them quite accurately. As for the dog's coat, I shuddered at the thought of painting every hair, which the tutor said she would do! As I am very much a fan of impressionism, this is what I opted for, and rather suggested hair strokes by adding just a few here and there. After another hour or so, I knew I had stop before the whole thing looked overdone and ruined.

In conclusion, I'm fairly happy with the work in general - especially the eyes, though I think I went a little wild with the coat by flicking the small brush a bit too much in places. The coat in the photo being really rather smooth.

So that's it, lesson number one complete. If you leave a comment, please be honest and don't pull any punches, as I am quite hard to offend these days!

images: (above) - finished work. (below) after initial washes at art class. Images © Frank Bingley 2010.


  1. Lovely sketch Frank - your WIP pic shows the progress beautifully - and in the finished one the eyes are absolutely great! Glad to hear you're getting back into exploring watercolours again - it's such a fascinating medium. Classes are a great idea, even the basic ones, as it awakens knowledge that has been slumbering for some time. Your London scene is great, beautiful composition, tonal value and colour control.

  2. Thanks Maree, I know what you mean about "awakening slumbering knowledge". Methods are discussed in class that jog your mind and you think 'oh, yes I'd forgotten about that but not how to do it', like when the tutor says we work from light to dark and build up the layers of paint for the darkest areas. I would have used the word 'forgotten', but you more eloquently and correctly put it as slumbering knowledge!

  3. Frank, I love the fact that you share not only the work in progress but how you reached the end result. And I enjoyed reading about your experience too! Hopefully next class will be more painting and less getting organised as is often the way on a first lesson. As soon as I saw the finished painting I was so drawn in by the amazing eyes - they look so alive! A great job!

  4. Sandra, thanks so much for commenting. One thing I didn't mention was the nose, which didn't quite look right. I think maybe it was in slightly the wrong place in the drawing, so if I followed the pencil lines, it was never going to work out right. Maybe if I took heed of your quest to try to loosen up, then maybe I would have overuled them a little.

  5. You have certainly caught the eyes Frank, wonderful! Like you, I lean toward impressionism and would find it impossible to put in every hair. In fact, aren't we always being told to not 'overly detail' a painting. I never intended to paint animals, but find I get lots of pleasure from doing so ... I hope you do too. Happy painting!!

  6. Ingrid, we had two lovely cocker spaniels as pets over the years - both lost to cancer. Both my wife and I took lots of photos of both dogs and after they were gone, we commissioned a local artist to do a painting of each dog. She literally drew every hair, and the result was so good that my wife broke down in tears on opening up the last painting. So I guess there are no hard and fast rules in this hobby.
    Interesting to note that you never intended painting animals, well neither did I, but this dog has gone a long way to changing my mind for me too. Once again, the art class has come up trumps for me, as we only had animal photos to choose from!