Stayin’ Alive

Like many artists, regardless of their mastery of the brush, pencils or pens, I am too drawn towards portraits – and just like most of them I fail miserably almost every time. Almost, because today I had a good day, which means it was a day when I managed to paint a portrait that I am actually pleased with.

Some time ago I purchased “Drawing and Painting Portraits in Watercolour” by David Thomas – a master of his craft – and I must admit it’s one of the few books of its kind that I actually read (not only browsed it, like I usually do). The guy is superb – a linework to die for, simple and incredibly expressive washes and an overall stunning result. Couple of step-by-steps and many tips and exercises, really recommend it to a
nyone interested in portraits.david-thomas But what this book has is inspiration – so much so, that I woke this morning up determined to paint a portrait (despite that I still have to do another landscape to finish a series of 15 for a charity event) and let me tell you that I didn’t lose too much time to get started.

For this exercise, I used a reference photo on the Flickr’s Creative Commons, by Joel Bedford (for which I thank him very much) – but I refuse to start a debate about the pros and cons of using photos as reference when painting. If they are good enough for Master David Thomas, they are certainly good enough for me.

I usually have problems with the proportions – no matter of what – they always seem to be skewed somehow, distances too big or too small, even though I practice long and hard. So much so that I actually started to believe there must be something wrong with my eyes! This time though, the differences were minute so I declared the sketch good for painting.

From all my previous tries, I realised the problem with portraits in watercolour is not the skin tone colour as much, but the tone itself, the saturation with colour, the correct contrast. As you know, watercolour dries into a much lighter tone so one has to be mindful of this. Personally, sometimes go a bit overboard and get a bit too much saturation and contrast (as it is the case now) but that I can easily rectify.

To get to the amount of colour that you see here I put many, many washes (I can’t remember how many) although I usually refrain to max. of three, and the colours were basically the ones Thomas recommends for a white skinned person – raw sienna, burnt sienna and cobalt blue (he actually recommends ultramarine, but I find it too striking). To this, I played into some rose violet and indigo.

I usually start with a nicely loaded background which will give me the base of the tones required for the painting – this time, having none, it was quite difficult to know when to stop loading with colour as to not get overwhelmed by a too strong contrast.

The last touches were the eyes and the freckles, with a small, 0 size brush.

The result is much closer to the model than any of my previous portraits, although it does remind me painfully of a very young John Travolta. Not intended, I can assure you, but at least it is a lively representation of a young man.

I hope to hear from your experiences into the difficult art of portrait painting. In the meantime, keep practising!

mishu bogan study


I started considering myself a ‘serious amateur artist’ when I was about half way through my self imposed challenge of painting/drawing one a day for an entire year.

Many asked how did I keep motivated, how did I find the time – considering that I also have a full time job. I was motivated by ‘publicly shaming’ myself – started posting on Facebook daily, no matter how horrible the sketch was – and also making a public promise that I would not allow to break. I was gobsmacked by the enormous support I received and the trail of followers increased amazingly. How did I find the time? Hope you don’t imagine I have some secret pockets filled with additional time because you would be disappointed. No, I just prioritized – very, very little came before my daily sketch. No matter what time I would get home, or how tired I was, I would do my sketch before anything else. In time, this meant a little over half an hour which, when you think about it, is nothing.

It was an amazing time for me and opened not only my eyes to new opportunities, but defined my style and my confidence was through the roof. So when the opportunity came to take another challenge, I didn’t think twice.

On the 1st of August I started a month of #doodlewash, with a list of ‘items’ to be painted for the entire month.

I actually thought a ‘script’ will do me good – no more time spend on what in the world I will do today, no more dilemmas – just do the sketch and brush your skills.


Half of the days were circling around food – now, I am certainly not the one to refuse food, especially favourite dishes, but I just realised that not only I have simple taste when eating, but I am not truly appreciative of any dish unless it reaches my mouth. Painting and drawing food had proved to be one of the most mind numbingly boring things I have ever did.

In my year spent sketching, I found out I can’t paint bats and reptiles because of the physical bad feel I would have during the time. I would literally get the creeps so badly I would feel sick (for the same reason, when I paint dogs I grin like an idiot). Food was a very unexpected ‘enemy’. Even hungry, painting food will excite me as much as a rusty nail. No, wrong again – a rusty nail has a lovely colour and a very interesting texture, made for watercolours. Well, you get the idea.

Bottom line is – why do we feel so strongly about some subjects? Why we are so indifferent about other? What makes a subject interesting? Is there a way to paint bats and reptiles with the same gusto as when I paint dogs?

As you probably guessed, I really don’t have the answers. Somebody smarter than me (Betty Edwards) , wrote a book about “Drawing with the right side of the brain” in which we are taught to not judge our subjects based on what we know, but based on only what we see. I guess I am just not there yet.

But if you know the answer even to a single question, please do share!


sketchbook challenge 2014-2015
sketchbook challenge 2014-2015

Creature Comfort

One of the scariest experiences for any budding artist is sketching and painting outside. This is it – usually closeted creatures, so shy that not even our families can see us working – we are now required to go outside. Not only that, but we have to paint in plain view of complete strangers, to be completely and utterly exposed, vulnerable to possible sneers of contempt and nasty comments of passers by.

From the very beginning, I want to tell you you’re wrong. People are kind and if they don’t think your drawing or painting is good, they will just pass you by. Also, don’t think that if you don’t receive a compliment from every single one, your artwork is rubbish. People are also very aware that you need your space, your concentration and more often than not, they will chose not to break it, even if they would like to tell you how much they love what you do.

I used to believe I will be utterly trashed by strangers while painting outside – that my drawings would be proved wrong, out of perspective, too sketchy or God knows what. After few very terrifying sessions, I got used to it and now I  really couldn’t care less of what one thinks about my artwork. When I am outside, I only focus on my subject.

But this is something most of you know (if would still have questions like ‘how did you actually crushed the self-consciousness?’ let me know). My problem with painting plein-air (or out with the elements) is the lack of basic comfort. I might be just lazy, but for me comfort is an almost guarantee that my painting will turn out good.

Is very frustrating because I dream about going out and about with a box of paints and just painting to my heart’s content – there’s nothing like it and this is one the first reasons why I started painting. When photography wasn’t enough anymore.

I had to devise a set-up that would ensure my plein-air painting success. I can’t paint standing (at least not for long), so I would need a chair. My easel -originally created on a photo tripod, now I have a Winsor&Newton one (still prefer the hobby-crafted one, the ‘professional’ one just doesn’t work for me). That’s two bags. Now for the paints – I work with three different sets of St Petersburg ‘White Nights’ watercolour pans (my own selection of colours) so I would need at least two of them (each of 24 colours). I also use some various tube paints – so I would need my paint box and a separate palette. Then I would need some space to have them all besides me – bought a plastic folding chair. It’s tiny but does the job, providing me with about 15% of my ideal space requirements. Water – have a plastic beaker with me from the beginning, and a bottle with about 1 litre of clean water. These together with the paints, brushes (about 4 of them), paper towels, masking tape, my coffee (as indispensable as the paints) go in my backpack. My board and paper, table and chair in a separate canvas shoulder bag and another bag for my carry-on easel. Easy enough you might say. Yes, I don’t bend over carrying it, but I look like a donkey with an oversized charge and after an hour or so, I found that my legs tend to bend at unusual angles.

And when I finally, finally find my spot? I spend at least another 15min to set everything up, to realise that either I forgot something essential or that I need to learn some serious joggling because I cannot possibly deal with three different palettes on a tiny table that barely supports one (risking the precious water in my beaker). Somehow I reach a stasis when I just paint. For about 10min because I have to stand. The small folding chairs are atrocious and give me a back pain. Then I paint some more – if I am lucky, I get almost to the end and I am thinking ‘Just a bit more patience, don’t hurry because you know how bad you’re messing up when you hurry needlessly’. Then I have to pee. And that’s the end of the show from me. Because, as many of you know, is gorgeous to paint out in the wild nature, but there are not many toilets around there. (I am honestly welcome ideas on this subject from experienced plein air painters)

Yesterday I painted in the gorgeous Hampstead Heath park (more like a nature reserve) in London. Had to rush my leaving for the above mentioned reason although thankfully, with a finished painting. Got everything on me and mentally checked for toilet spots and happily trotted towards one.

For those of you who don’t know, Hampstead Heath is an park of 790 acres of  ancient forest, ponds and rambling, hilly nature and the bottom line is that I got lost. I walked/climbed with my 10-15 kilos charge for about one and a half hour and almost shamed myself. When I reached the toilets I almost cried. I won’t bother you with details of how I negotiated my bags in the tiny cubbicle, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

When I finally exited the park I could hardly walk and today is no exaggeration to say that I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. And my painting? I could do so much better at home, in my favourite chair! See for yourself:



So, where are we then? It’s clear I need a better setup, because I just love to paint outside. But is it worth it, if the end result is not satisfying? As artists, do we really need to do this even if we deliver poor quality artwork or is better to stay in our studios and do what we know best? It’s a difficult choice, but I would really want to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, keep up the good work!