Category: Michael Mulready (mainly charcoal/pastel)

Light, shade and colour

For a short summer course this year, I decided to return to Michael Mulready to explore light, shade and colour.

This course was the 6th and last of all the courses I’ve attended so far.

For the above picture, and the following 2, I used the same drawing technique: Start from a painted solid blue base. Gradually build up the dark areas using pastels. Lighten the lighter areas with white. Repeat with more dark and light to obtain the required balance.

On the first day of the course, I was amazed that I had produced the above picture from start to finish in 2 hours. The physical picture is more vivid than comes across on the monitor: the blues and whites have stronger contrast. I thought the overall effect of the picture was quite striking compared to what I had produced so far.

This was a good start to the course, but I was even more pleased with my next drawing:

Using black, blue and some white, I was able to capture how the light fell onto the sides of the mountains, including the shadow cast by one on the other. Extra texture was given to the terrain by spared use of red and yellow. To complete the effect, additional white was applied to the surfaces to emphasize the highlights where sun might be hitting snow or rock.

Like all pictures in my blog, you can click the image to see a larger version. This one in particular can be better appreciated in its larger form.

I feel that the light and dark really bring out the solidity and depth of the mountains, and the subtle use of colour has made them beautiful. This is my favourite item that I’ve produced so far, as I’ve indicated on my about page.

The next picture was a much more gloomier affair:

This was good practice of how to handle light and shade in the sky. The resulting clouds have a nice bit of substance to them. In addition to the above picture, I produced a watercolour version in the class, but the result isn’t worth posting here.

For the next picture, we did something different. For this, we relinquished our control and let the paint do most of the work.

This was produced by applying lots of water to the surface of the paper, then holding it upright and dropping blue paint onto the top edge so that it naturally ran down the surface to give the base. Quite messy. Then the process was repeated in a slightly more controlled way with white and yellow to produce clouds and ground.

The next picture was a copy of a photo, using just chalk and charcoal to capture light and dark.

And the final picture was a copy of a colourful painting by an artist who I’ve forgotten the name of. As with previous pictures, this also used repeated application of light and dark, and colour layering. I like the colours used in this picture, but unfortunately I can’t claim responsibility for them.

So, that’s it for all the courses I’ve attended so far. In writing this blog, it has been very interesting for me to revisit all the items I’ve worked on over the last two years, all the concepts I’ve learned, and all the techniques I’ve practiced.

I already know what course I’m going to attend next. It will be different from what I’ve done so far. I’m anticipating it greatly, and will enjoy writing it up as I go along. I will post about it shortly!

If you have any comments or questions about anything I’ve posted so far, please share them.

Best wishes,


A short third

Following the successful conclusion of my second course, I stuck with Michael Mulready for my third. This was a short course continuing the themes from the end of the previous one – starting with another live model:

Next up was a change of technique. Georges Seurat developed pointillism. We didn’t try that, but we did try using very short brush strokes. This is based on a sketch by Seurat for his Bathers at Asnières.

Using this technique and dense dustless charcoal sticks, we ventured outside the classroom to The Scottish National Gallery. This is a detail of the right-most woman in Canova’s The Three Graces sculpture.

Then it was back to class to do another live model. This time, attention was given to capture the background drapes as well as the model.

Faces in charcoal

In the second half of the second course I attended, we focused on portraits. The first image we drew was Beethoven’s death mask.

Beethoven's death mask

We initially worked from the death mask image upside-down. This was a useful technique to force us to concentrate on studying the contrasts in the image, rather than relying on assumptions based on the subject matter. It is a technique that I’ve used in later drawings, not just of faces.

Here is another face, from an image of a sculpture:

And this is a copy of someone’s version of Jesus. Looks like Ross Noble.

Moving beyond faces, this is the hand and arm of a live model (a fellow student).

This is the first portrait I made of a live model:

This is a pastel drawing of someone else’s sketch of the previous lesson’s live model.

Perspective, light and shade in charcoal and pastel

Following the success of the first drawing and painting course I attended in 2010, I was keen to go on another course. The second drawing course was longer: 14 weeks over Spring 2011; held at St Thomas of Aquin’s.

The tutor was Michael Mulready. I have attended a couple more of his courses since this one, and will be attending more in the future. His lessons have been useful in exploring artistic principles.

The first half of this course covered perspective, light and shade. We used charcoals and pastels. I had no experience using these, but soon began to enjoy the quick expressiveness that they give. Unfortunately they can get quite messy too. A cheap unperfumed hairspray is a necessary addition to the toolkit so that the powder can be fixed.

We started with a basic exercise in perspective. Drawing boxes. This pattern can be seen in street scenes, with parallel lines of buildings. After doing this exercise, I paid more attention to such scenes out in the real world, to see how they could be painted.

This drawing of a barn (from a picture) exercised perspective. To draw it, we learnt to pick out the dark areas lightly first, and gradually build up from there.

Another drawing – from a picture of an art installation. This allowed me to practice of my handling of pastels.

The following charcoal drawing was made in the corridor just outside the classroom. We could take up any location, to capture the light and shade of the surfaces. I chose this point from the top of the stairwell. I enjoyed working on the reflections of the stairs in the large windows.

Stairwell reflection in St Thomas of Aquin's

This was quite an advancement from the still life paintings I was producing by the end of the previous course. And I was only half-way through this one. Next up was portraits and figure drawings.