with Derek Batty

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Do I need to do anything to prepare for the pastels class?

Find time to sort through your materials! Get rid of all that pastel dust at the bottom of your box and make a note of any that need renewing.  I suggest taking the actual colour bits with you to Tindalls Art Shop so you can be certain of choosing exact replacements.   

I also find it helps to test out all the colours on a piece of nice paper, overlapping some, with some smudging and rubbing.  This is a good way of getting excited about pastels again if you have had a break from them.  It's all about colour, and being excited by bright immediate colour.  We use pastels in the class for this very reason - it is immediate and no fuss, compared to the chore of using paints. (All that unscrewing of caps and mixing on the palette eats away at the drawing time, whereas pastels are instant, and colour mixtures made on the artwork itself.)

What is the point of bringing a sketchbook?

Your sketchbook is to provide some continuity from one session to another, to give cohesion to your artwork as a whole, and to bring the outside into the class. I am often concerned that if you follow all the topics you will be bounced around the whole spectrum of art techniques and ideas.  Whereas I want you to develop your own approach.  So by having some sketches in your book you can remind yourself of what works for you (and also perhaps what does not work). It means you can repeat ideas, explore a theme at greater length and reinforce ideas.

Additionally your book should be hiding place for those inspiring postcards you picked up at that exhibition, and those photos you took when you were thinking about your artwork. Landscape, the sun falling into an interior, abstract reflections on the water,  faces and expression. This art reference is really useful when you need to give some direction to the colours you might use, or the background you'd like to invent, or how you want to interpret the subject. A large foldback clip will stop them falling out in the gallery, and will be useful when drawing in high winds to prevent the pages flapping.

Each week do at least one sketch in your sketchbook during the class time.  Perhaps devote a double page to this to fill up during the term.  You might even have a theme for your double page. For example 'the model at rest'. Then you can be busy during all those times of setting up the pose.  Crowd the figures together, overlapping if necessary, to create an inspiring impact.

The size of your sketchbook is up to you.  You will see young art students ostentatiously lugging around A2 or even A1 books. I suggest A4 or A5 size, since it is no use having a book that you leave at home because it is too heavy.  It HAS to travel with you always!  In the art gallery  make a point of sketching one or two items that have made a special impact. Remember to write on what they are and why you drew it.  If it is colour, make some colour notes so that you can colour in later.

Your sketchbook should get you thinking, priming your artistry so that you approach your work with informed motivation!
Q. I am interested in joining and was just wondering what kind of drawing content is offered. Is it still life of naked people all the time?  Abiola

What a good question!  And it reminds me of what a strange art world we live in!  First technical terms, then a bit of rationalisation.

1.  Life drawing is indeed drawing naked people, also called Life Classes, life modelling or drawing from life.  All these involve drawing nude people.  Not to be confused with Life Coaching,  Life Saving or Life Skills - these are totally different in meaning and mostly do not involve taking off all your clothes.  Still Life is something different also.  Still life is drawing objects such as vases or fruit.  It is a way of practising your artistic skill in a controlled setting.  The objects are static, the  light can be controlled and you can take your time.

2. Why do artists draw naked people?  How much time do you have for the explanation? This is the subject for a book, or a very long discussion.  Our western art tradition is based around the Classical art of Greece and Rome (c. 500 BC to 500 AD) which focused on the naked human form.  Renaissance artists revived the tradition and life drawing has been a core aspect of artists' training in the West since then.

Part of this tradition is drawing from observation, not from books, religious dogma or from instruction.  Find out for yourself, at first hand, what things look like.  And bodies often do look very strange, not what you thought at all, and so essential to see for real and to develop your confidence in seeing.

But it is not just tradition.  Drawing people is difficult.  And drawing people without clothes even more so.  If you get it wrong you can see that it is wrong and you work to correct it.  By contrast if you draw a tree incorrectly well, who cares, who will know? 

Drawing naked people is also exciting! Someone has taken the trouble to pose for you without their clothes.  You have to work to make their time worthwhile.  And often we can relate to the model.  In drawing the model we are actually drawing a part of ourselves.  We are able to express our thoughts and feelings through the model.

How I paint in watercolour. Two hours, condensed into two minutes fifty seconds. Things to look out for:  I try to separate colour or subject areas with a strong white border, reducing or eliminating the thickness of the white line later in the picture.  I am quite aggressive in my approach. In a frenzy to create something. Notice the colour test on the bottom of the paper. What you won't see is judging the dampness of the paper sometimes working wet in wet and other times allowing colour to dry before adding another layer.  

The attraction of watercolour is its luminosity.  The whiteness of the paper shines through the layers of paint.  White is never used in watercolour because this would destroy the transparency of the colour.  (However white is included in most watercolour sets because beginners otherwise complain.  So first thing you have to do after buying a watercolour set is to throw away the white!  Now, you are not going to mention Turner to me I hope!)



Q. Do you have any hints and tips for painting in watercolour?   Carey

Use a large brush and create an rough outline with the tip using a light wash.  A wash is colour which has been mixed with water, rather than straight from the pan.  

Think shapes, not lines.  You are creating shapes.  Shapes can be created with washes or, most effectively by leaving areas of the paper unpainted.

Mix up a large amount of a light wash as an undercoat for the main areas.  Which are the main areas? Keep it simple.  Allow the wash to dry.  Admire the sharpness of the edges and the simplicity of your design.  

As with pastel, reserve detail for the end.  Begin with a very large brush and end with a small one.

Applying a second wash will deepen the colour of the first wash.  (Remember to mix up enough watery colour so that the colour is even throughout.

Leave the highlights as white paper.  You can always fill in unpainted areas at the end.  Leave a white margin between colour areas to prevent colours seeping into each other.


Q. I recently finished a painting I would like to sell. I went to the art gallery in town and they need a complete description of my work, photos resume, etc.. All this process should take a month, that is really long for me.
Are you aware of places I could go to show my painting and if they like it they try to sell it (sounds simple in my mind for one-person companies).

Yes, it is always tricky selling paintings but you are in the right place for advice and experience. If you find an easy way then we all want to know! There are places in London where artists can instantly display their work for sale - on the railings in Piccadilly on Sundays I think. Ask  around in the group.

When emailing your pictures, it is useful to include size (height before width) and materials eg acrylic on board etc.  And framed or unframed. And price you want. Gallery commission may be anything from 20 - 55% so you need to do your sums. The greater the commission the more work you expect the gallery to do in selling, and the more chance you have of selling it.

But the best people to try first are those that you know. Friends and colleagues may well be pleased to own a piece of you! So direct selling is great - and that is why we all do the Open Studios!

A resume is useful for galleries / prospective purchasers so they have background about you. In your case you could describe yourself as "an up and coming artist". Good luck!
Q.  I feel stuck with my drawing!  Can you advise me?  Hilary.

Life drawing can be a deadly activity! Once you can draw a body reasonably well  what more is there? Here are three things to consider:

1.  Look at artist drawings and go to exhibitions.  When you find some art work or a style you like, try to copy it in the class.  

2. Review all of your artwork over the last year.  Aim to throw away one in ten drawings every time you go through them. (I am assuming you have kept everything as I instruct you too.)  Place the best pieces on the top, and the not so good ones on the bottom.  Do more work like your best pieces!

3. What is happening in your sketchbook?  Your sketchbook should reveal your visual and creative interests.  It should include drawings of all kinds, quick sketches, longer studies, drawings from memory, technique experiments, comments, written ideas, photographs and cuttings.

If you do these three things you should begin to feel your way towards some kind of direction in your artwork.


Q.  I need a large tube for keeping my A3-A1 size maps and material in.  Would Heffers/Tindalls be best? Or somewhere online as Tindalls is quite expensive?  Ellie

I am assuming it should be dust and water resistant - so a free cardboard tube with plastic inserts (which we get the canvas supplied in) would not be good enough. (Cardboard is also heavier than plastic.)

So check them out in Tindalls, King Street, Cambridge (formerly Heffers) and then see if you can find a reliable company on line. If you buy online you run the risk of it not arriving on time, and not being the quality - sturdiness, resistance to squash, decent straps etc - that you had assumed.

I think that if Tindalls have what you want you should just buy it!  It is likely to be with you all your life. Derek's tip though: try not to store your maps (or drawings) in the tube for long periods otherwise they can get impossibly curly.

Q.   I wondered if you had any recommendations for what sort of sticks/crayons etc might be 
good for the class. I like the vibrancy of the ones that Katy uses for her pictures but 
forgot to ask her what they are. Any help would be much appreciated. 

A.   There is a vast range of pastels. Most people prefer chalk pastels over oil pastels. Katy uses Unison pastels available at Tindalls (as above). I prefer Sennelier which are thinner and sometimes slightly too crumbly. (You see your 1.50 crumbling to dust on the floor!) Also the Rowney Soft pastel range is worth trying. And actually there is no substitute for trying them out in the shop.   I select individual colours on the basis of colour, intensity and texture (different pigments, different textures).  You might buy a set if you are starting out then supplement them with additional colours. With sets you inevitably find some colours you do not use - green for Life Drawers for instance - and other colours you are always short of - pale yellows and flesh colours.

Do not be tempted to buy cheap sets. The pigment is often padded out with fillers which make the colours rather pastelly(!)

Q. How best to stop the damned pastel stuff falling off my paper?  Jim

A. 1. Only draw on one side of the paper. Stack your charcoal drawings carefully, one on top of the other. Make certain that you never drag one out from a pile because this will smudge and ruin the picture. I keep mine in a paper folder with the year written on the spine of paper, and also details about the pictures such as the names of the models.

2. With some special pictures and those in sketchbooks, cut acid-free tissue paper and position on top with a smallest amount of pva along one edge. I cut a batch of A4 tissue paper for immediate use in my sketchbook.

3. If you intend to frame your picture, spray it with fixative outside on a calm day. Please do not use fixative inside the building. Fixative does seem to dull pastel colours very slightly. (Catriona's tip: after fixing you can do a few pastel touches just to brighten up any dullness.)

4. For easy transport from the class, lightly roll the picture. Unroll as soon as you get home and place on a flat surface so it can regain its flatness naturally. Always store flat, never rolled!

 If you have a Cambridge Life Drawing question write to me and I will try to feature your enquiry here