Portrait Party

This morning I went to a portrait party organised by Reading Urban Sketchers. Nine of us gathered together, sat in a circle, and took turns to pose for 10 minutes while everyone else sketched and painted.

10 minutes goes in the blink of an eye when you’re trying to capture some sort of likeness of a person on paper. 10 minutes stretches into hours when you’re sitting still and trying to ignore an itchy nose!

At the end of around two hours everyone had completed eight portraits and everyone had been drawn by eight other people. Furniture was moved and we managed to lay them all out on the floor so that each column was drawn by a single person and each row was all the portraits of a single person.

Some of us stuck to one technique or material throughout and some mixed it up a bit and tried out different approaches.

Everyone then took home the portraits of themselves. Here are all the lovely drawings of me curated in my high-tech gallery-quality display set up. I love them all!:

It’s interesting how no one image in particular looks perfectly like me but all of them together is definitely me. It’s as if my brain is taking features from each and piecing together a single representation. But it’s better than just one perfect image because here you have different angles and slightly different expressions. The result is more like a little animation than a still image.

And here are the eight portraits I completed today. I worked in pencil (0.9mm technical pencil and a giant graphite stick) and minimalist watercolour throughout:

I’d certainly be up for doing this again sometime and I think most people agreed. It was an intense morning but very rewarding and fun. Also, there were biscuits :)

Portrait Challenge

Every Thursday over on Twitter @StudioTeaBreak posts a painting, sculpture or other artwork from the past featuring people / portraits and invites anyone who wants to take part to create their own interpretation.

Some participants try to reproduce a good likeness in their favourite media, others create caricatures or switch the person for some other famous figure or reinterpret in a different style from the original. I’m probably in the first category – I normally try to create a good likeness of the original using either watercolour, pencil/ink or Procreate.

Studying good paintings from the past is a great way to improve your own artistic skills. I love to dive into the details – how do their simple individual brush strokes create sequins / hair highlights / cheekbone definition when you step back. Seriously studying the colour palettes is also fascinating – the colours you find used in skin and hair can be like rainbows sometimes. Also, when I first started drawing digitally the portrait challenge was a great way to learn my new tools without having to simultaneously make decisions about composition and other design elements.

I don’t do the challenge every week but maybe on average I’ve completed 2 month since my first back in November 2018. I’ve noticed over time that I’m particularly inspired when the portrait is of a woman and is in an impressionist or slightly illustrative style. Luckily, @StudioTeaBreak very often selects female subjects and they are not usually famous paintings or very well known artists and that’s perfect – I’ve seen a lot of amazing art and artists through this challenge that I might never have otherwise discovered.

This page collects together all the challenges I’ve completed and so is ever expanding, with new entries added at the top so you can pop back now and again to see the new pictures. The title of each section is also a link to either the original on which mine is based, or a separate blog post with more information and photos.

A girl wearing Breton costume

This is my Procreate version of an Elisabeth Sonrel portrait that you can see via the link above when it sold at Christie’s for £44,000, double the original estimate! If anyone wants to buy a print of my version then I’m very open to offers :) You can read more about Élisabeth Sonrel and her work here.

Pierre Wautier

Portrait of an Officer, possibly Pierre Wautier, painted by Michaelina Waitier around 1650. Follow the link to read more about the artist.

My version is a watercolour sketch in a new sketchbook – the paper reacts quite crazily to watercolour! but it’s produced some interesting effects in his hair.

Portrait of an Officer, possibly Pierre Wautier, painted by Michaelina Waitier around 1650

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, originally painted as an altarpiece in 1480 by Carlo Crivelli.

Pandam Paliya thovil mask

20th century, Sri Lanka, artist unknown. The original is Wood, jute fibre & paint. Mine is Procreate on the iPad

Pandam Paliya thovil mask by Nicola Schofield

Medea by Frederick Sandy

Originally painted in 1868, this has a wonderful gold leaf background and her expression is just wonderful. See the original and read all about it at the link.

Medea, painted in 1868 by Frederick Sandy

Moroccan man in green

Originally painted in 1932 by Zinaida Serebriakova. This charcoal drawing could have been done last week – the colours are so vibrant and the style seems very modern. My version was on the iPad and I tried to replicate the sketchy charcoal nature of the lines. I love this loose sketch style of working.

Moroccan man in green Originally painted in 1932 by Zinaida Serebriakova

Joan of Arc by Albert Lynch

I love the muted colour palette and delicate lines of this portrait. Getting into the details of the metal armour was the most absorbing part. A really lovely painting. This has been one of my favourites in terms of both the drawing process and finished portrait.

Hat with Bird: Anne Estelle Rice by JD Fergusson

The original of this was painted in 1907 in oils.

I decided to try and paint it using digital watercolour brushes and techniques. Getting digital art to look like realistic watercolour is a tricky business. I’ve tried a few brushes that claim to be watercolour but they’ve looked nothing like it. Then I came across this tutorial by aaaronorg and after an initial doodle try out I could see some potential.

Hat with bird is the first time I’ve tried to give it a go properly and though it’s still got a way to go, I think I’m moving closer. You can see some wonderful colour bleeding effects aaaronorg achieved in various examples on his blog

Lucky New Year Dream by Isoda Koryusai

My version of ‘Courtesan Dreaming a Lucky New Year Dream’, woodblock print, ink on paper by Isoda Koryusai, about 1775. This version done in Procreate, very simply, just with the standard pencil brushes.

Based on Lucky New Year Dream by Isoda Koryusai

Portuguese Soldier

A stylised, graphical interpretation of the detail on a salt and pepper cellar carved around 1600 featuring Portuguese soldiers. Four identical pieces exist, carved from ivory and might have originally been part of a set. One is currently found in the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

Portuguese soldier

Leon Bakst by Amedeo Modigliani

My version of a modernist portrait of Leon Bakst by Amedeo Modigliani, originally painted in oils in 1917. Leon Bakst was himself an artist and art teacher in Russia around 1900.

Lev Bakst by Nicola Scofield

Dr Albert Barnes by Giorgio De Chirico

painted in 1926. The original is quite sketchy and I went for an extreme version of that here.

Dr Albert Barnes

Self portrait in blue by Marguerite Vallet-Gilliard

This one was fun. The original is a self portrait by the artist and I found myself wondering what they would think about all these random people creating their own versions and then displaying and commenting as a group all on one day. Would they think it was a wonderful idea to get people to be more creative? be flattered by the attention? be insulted by the comedy versions? so weird to think about what might become of all our artistic content in a hundred years when we’re not around to object or have any input. I was going for a definite illustrative style with this one – trying out some new digital brushes – and I’m very happy with the result.

Marguerite Vallet-Gilliard

Ethel Bartlett by Laura Knight

originally painted in oils in 1926.

Ethel Bartlett

Corporal J. M. Robins by Laura Knight

Corporal J. M. Robins, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, painted by Laura Knight in oils on canvas in 1941

Corporal J. M. Robins
Corporal J. M. Robins WIP

Maud Wagner

Maud Wagner was a circus performer and tattoo artist. I love the photo this is based on – she has such a defiant expression. I had a few goes at this – I wasn’t quite sure what I was aiming at to start with. I’m super happy with this two colour version.

Maud Wagner

Ellen Mary in a White Coat by Mary Cassatt

The original of this is an oil painting oil from 1896.

Continuing with my Procreate and iPad endeavours here I tried a more painterly approach – starting by blocking in the big shapes and then working down to the details. Towards the end I was very engrossed and it felt very similar to the home stretch of a few watercolour paintings I’ve done in the past.

Ellen Mary in a White Coat
Ellen Mary in a White Coat

Selika Lazevski

Based on a photograph taken in 1891 at the studio of Paul Nader in Paris. Not much is known about her but what little there is you can read in the Paris Review article linked in the title

Selika Lazevski

Young Lady in a Boat by James Tissot

The original of this was painted in 1870, in oils on canvas. The little dog in the background is just perfect.

This was my first try out drawing digitally with the iPad and apple pencil. Here I’ve used just a single layer and the default pencil tool in Procreate to get a feel for drawing on the screen. Other than that though the process was exactly as I would sketch on paper.

Young Lady in a Boat

Léon Spilliaert

pencil sketch based on a Self Portrait of Leon Spilliaert from around 1907, who was a Belgian symbolist painter and graphic artist.

Leon Spilliaert

Only hope holds my heart

This is a plate from the Wallace Museum with an inscription of ‘Only hope holds my heart’. It shows a profile bust of a woman and was made by an unknown artist in Deruta, Italy, some time between 1515-1540. It was maybe made to mark a betrothal. I have a separate post on the drawing of this so if you follow the link in the title you can read more about it, see the original and lots of in progress photos

Only Hope Holds My Heart

Mrs Mounter by Harold Gilman

The original of this was painted in oils. My version is fairly thick watercolour. I painted this in many layers and took plenty of photos as I waited for each to dry so I have a whole separate post about this painting. follow the link in the title to read and see more.

Mrs mounter watercolour by Nicola Schofield
mrs mounter watercolour

Lucius Verus by Carlo Albascini

This was my very first portrait challenge, back in November 2018. The original is a bust sculpted in the 18th century. My version is a monotone watercolour.

painting of an 18th century bust of Lucius Verus by Carlo Albascini

Cartooning the Tory Leadership Contest

Contest background

Yesterday, Theresa May’s resignation as Conservative Party leader officially took effect. She’ll now remain in office as Prime Minister only until her successor is chosen. This will happen via party leadership elections from now until July.

on Monday at 5pm, those candidates who have been nominated and have enough official backers will go through to take part in rounds of voting where the contenders with the lowest percentages of votes are knocked out until only two remain. They will then go head to head and a new leader crowned in July.

Cartooning background

Until recently, my cartoon experience was limited to a few issues of the Beano and attempts to copy the celebrity caricatures from the radio times as a kid, followed by a fleeting obsession with The Far Side as a teenager. I never really ‘got’ political cartoons. It seemed like I either didn’t have a clue what they were about, or there were so many labels on everything that the drawing felt redundant. As I got older and developed some small interest in politics and what was going on in the world I realised two things:

* they are very specific to time and place

* they are not generally supposed to be “laugh out loud” funny

One good thing to come out of the craziness of Brexit and Trump is that I now have a huge appreciation for political cartooning. Done well they are little shining nuggets of perfect clarity and satire. They make me feel sane – someone else also sees the absurdity of everything!

I’m still not a fan of all the labelling you see in some though. I think that if you’re familiar with the topic then small visual cues should be enough to clue you in on what is happening to who and if you’re not familiar with the topic then labels don’t really help. This becomes very obvious if you look at some cartoons from other countries’ newspapers. No amount of labels will help me understand because I don’t know who those people are or why they might be slapping each other with dead fish. Or whatever. You get the idea.

One person I’ve recently started following is Stephen Collins. I love his ideas and his artwork.

Where are you going with all this?

Ok, so this is a long winded way to tell you about a book I recently bought and show you some little doodles. I recently saw someone recommending Cartooning the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm. It seemed interesting so I found a cheap second hand copy and gave it a go. It is a wonderful book! It reminds me of those museums created from private collections – floor to ceiling stuffed full of artefacts. I’m talking about the museums that have not one, not two, but 364 swords / hat pins / shrunken heads, all different sizes, shapes and styles, piled up together in a single glass cabinet. This book is like that, but for cartoons and individual cartoon features, postures and emotions.

5 stars. Highly recommended.

So, I’m browsing that and contemplating the thousands of different cartoon eye / nose / mouth combos you can make from a few lines and dots and at the same time I’m seeing an upsurge of people sketching politicians because of the crazy all encompassing nature of politics at the moment. I decided to join in. I would love to try some full blown caricatures at some point and there is a whole section of the book on that topic but I decided as a first step I would just see how much of a likeness I could achieve with simple shapes and lines.

The contenders

At this point (June 8th 2019 – Saturday afternoon), there are six candidates with the necessary number of backers to take part in the leadership contest. That seemed like a good number of sketches to start with and has an added advantage that if I display them together then they become more recognisable as part of the group than they would be individually. Here they are, in order of current popularity. I talk about each in turn below, but see if you can recognise them first:

It was so interesting drawing these guys! Some were super easy to get a likeness and others took a while and lots of redrawing with tiny changes. My eye was often not good enough to see exactly what was wrong but just that something looked a bit off, so there was a lot of trial and error. I realised that face shape was vital in all cases but after that it depended on the individual as to which feature was critical to bring the whole thing together.

Boris is out in front with 40 MPs supporting him. This sketch was super easy – round face, wide fat lips, mop of hair and no neck. The defining feature was his droopy eyes and they’re very different from any of the others. The nose is fairly generic.

Michael Gove is in second place with 27 MPs supporting him. This sketch is a bit of a cheat because he’s the only one with glasses so instantly recognisable in the group but perhaps less obvious on his own.

Jeremy Hunt is just behind Gove with 25 backers. He was really hard to draw! He has a fairly normal face so it was difficult to get a likeness. This was one where the face shape was very important. He has very defined cheekbones but trying to draw that from the front kept making him look chubby. I just kept trying slight variations until something worked. The other key was the mouth. The difference between what you see here and a version with the bottom lip as a closed shape is far greater than you’d expect.

My other half thought this was David Cameron when I showed him the finished collection 🙄 I didn’t think this was anything like Cameron, so of course I had to have a little go at him too…

Not perfect, but I think you can see he’s very different from Jeremy. Anyway, on with the contestants!

Dominic Raab has 21 backers, putting him in fourth place. Face shape, together with a thick neck seemed important in this one. The large slab forehead of course and the wide set eyes. I’m not sure though, how much the wide eyes were influenced by other drawings I’ve seen of Raab rather than my own analysis of his face. I drew Raab first, for no particular reason, but it was the version below. I redrew him as above after I’d completed a few of the others and decided they should all be full face views.

More than Dominic Raab this version reminds me of someone else, perhaps an actual cartoon character, but I can’t quite put my mind on who.

Sajid Javid is in fifth place with 16 backers. Head shape, nose and lips were the keys to this one I think. I drew his ears several times as I kept making them too big and pointy so he looked like either a leprechaun or Spock.

Finally, we have Matt Hancock with 11 supporters. This was extremely difficult because I’ve no idea who he is. Even though I used a photo as a reference I don’t really know if this is a good likeness. I realised that with all the others I’ve seen them speak on TV, I know their mannerisms, posture and tone of voice. Somehow this was a huge help when trying to get a likeness; I could sort of picture the sketch becoming animated and saying something typical of the person and if it didn’t feel right then I knew I needed to tweak some feature until it did. With Matt Hancock It’s like I’m groping in the dark for something. If he makes it through a few rounds then maybe I’ll see more of him and have another go.

11th June update

Yesterday, four more hopefuls got enough backers to join the contest so I drew the new ones and added them to the group – here they all are. 10 in total.

The four new hopefuls are Rory Stewart, Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey, and Mark Harper. Having not drawn any women in the first set I thought it might be different, or difficult. It was actually lots of fun and I enjoyed the long hair and not always drawing the same tie and suit!

12th June: first vote

The first round of voting by MPs took place on Wednesday morning. Three contenders; Leadsom, Harper, and McVey failed to achieve 5% of the vote and were eliminated.

Here’s the current situation – they are reordered by the number of votes they received. A green vote tally means they got through and red means they’re out.

MerMay the 4th be with you

It’s the 4th of May and I’m still not bored with this mermaid thing so here’s Yoda as a fish-tailed curiosity. My first thought was a Darth Vader merman but then Yoda seemed like he’d be more fun. It’s also free comic day today. I’ve never read any comics, except the Beano as a kid, so I’m going to go check out my local comic shop and see what sort of art appeals to me.


So it seems this MerMay hashtag thing is all month and people will be showing different mermaid sketches each day. I can’t promise that, but I did have to create this one – particularly on my mind I think with the local elections yesterday. I can’t be the first person to have thought of this but also I haven’t actually seen any other illustrations of Theresa with a tail. I was going to leave her with just a plain black tail to represent her leather trousers (plus the leopard “shoes” obvs) but then remembered that it’s Friday so incorporated the colour collective colour for this week (celadon) into the background and texture of her tail. I’m not 100% on the background but the texture is great.