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Drawing kit for a day in the woods

student drawings of treesIn preparation for my drawing workshops I spend some time thinking carefully about which materials to introduce my students to, which will work best for their level of learning, which will be exciting and fun to use, which will suit the location and tone of the day. I also like to make people feel like they have their own individual materials for the duration of the workshop, so I use small metal tins for the fragile stuff and bag it all up so everyone has the same selection.

Students also love to know what all the materials are, especially if there’s something they’re really taken by and want to buy for themselves afterwards.

So, here’s a list of what I offer on my Woodland Drawing workshops…

drawing materials

In the tin:

  • willow charcoal stick
  • compressed charcoal
  • graphite stick (watersoluble ones work brilliantly in the rain!)
  • conté crayon in white, sanguine (red) and sepia (brown)
  • kneadable eraser (also known as putty rubber)

Also in the bag:

  • charcoal pencil (combines well with charcoal stick)
  • pierre noir pencil (combines well with conté crayon but is lovely on its own too)
  • a wooden viewfinder

My favourite paper for drawing is Canson C a grain cartridge – it has different degrees of texture on each side and excellent holding capacity for dusty media like charcoal and conté. I also bring artist’s fixative to prevent student’s drawing from smudging. Hairspray will do the job cheaply while you’re practicing but it yellows over time, so if you want to keep your work, proper fixative is best.

Any good local art shop is likely to stock most of these materials or, if you prefer to shop online for them then Jackson’s have an excellent range and speedy delivery.

It’s nearly the end of November now and getting a bit chilly for outdoor workshops but I’ll be running more in the spring – if you fancy joining me, subscribe to my Studio Newsletter to get information on what I’ll be offering next year.

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Woodland Drawing Workshops

Drawing directly from life is a core element of my practice and spending time amongst the trees is essential in feeding my creative practice. Of course being in the woods is also a very grounding and restorative thing to do, with or without a sketchbook.

Tansy with a beech tree

For me drawing is a way of really connecting with the trees, a process of intense looking and considered dialogue with a living thing. I’m always trying to capture the aliveness of the tree I’m drawing, getting a sense of its movement and flow, its character. I approach it like I’m having a conversation, asking questions about its form, why it grew that way, what has influenced it. The finished drawings become a record of that conversation.

sketch of a tree

Given how much enjoyment and challenge I get from this process, it seemed only natural to start sharing the experience with other tree lovers this autumn through my Woodland Drawing workshops.

I’ve met many people who tell me they would like to be able to draw and in particular want to be able to sketch the beauty they notice while out and about. Often what holds them back from taking up a pencil and sketchbook is the idea that they must make ‘good’ drawings. They know that their drawings won’t be perfect and that fear of perceived failure stops them trying. We probably all do it in various areas of life, I certainly do – it’s safer to not try at all than to try and risk failure.

drawing in the wood

When I teach, I work hard to reassure people that there is no failure when it comes to drawing, only a series of experiments which you learn a little from each time. Every drawing will have something to teach you and every single one will have elements you’re not satisfied with. Learning to draw is a long process, a journey rather than a destination, so we might as well start travelling and see where it leads. After all, what’s the harm? It’s only paper!

a group drawing a tree

Trees make great sketching subjects – they are plentiful and easy to find, they are full of interest and they hardly move at all. However, drawing a tree can be a bit overwhelming to begin with because they are so complex, there’s just so much information to choose from. In my workshops I tackle this problem by giving my students some methods of eliminating the millions of details and focusing on what really interests them about what they see.

I’ve found that once people are immersed in the outdoors and supported by a mixture of structured exercises, demonstrations and guidance, they’re able to let go of the need to make ‘good’ drawings and embrace the idea of conversations and experiments instead. “Totally absorbing”, “So relaxing”, “The time just flew by!” are common comments – that’s the joy of using your brain in a creative way.

drawings at the foot of a tree

If you share my love of trees and would like to try drawing with me, just get in touch or connect with me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. I’m planning my next group of Woodland Drawing workshops for spring 2022 – to hear more about my teaching and get first chance to book a place, please subscribe to my Studio Newsletter.

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Painting light with oils

New work is emerging – painting light with oils

It’s been an intense few months in my studio, while I’ve been immersed in developing a new way of working in oil paint. New materials require trials and experiments, so I’ve been doing my best impression of a methodical person, testing all the variables of substrates, grounds, paint brands, mediums, mark-making tools and finishes. The time (and money) invested is now paying off and I’ve found combinations which are enabling me to say what I want to in paint. I now know what I like, don’t like and hate with a passion – this will make it so much easier to express myself in new but hopefully still familiar ways.testing oil paints

Colour choices

I’ve bought a lot of new paints and tried a LOT of combinations. Earthy colours and natural pigments like slate or oxides have appealed most to me from these trials. I’ve been particularly excited to discover a ready-made oil paint using charcoal as the pigment, since I realised making my own in any amounts would take more time than I’d like.

colour swatches in oil

I’ve decided to restrict the works to an almost monochrome palette, using colours which suggest ‘beechness’ but don’t attempt to depict it. I plan to use subtle glazes to deepen the colours and enhance their glow.

Reductive painting

I approach my charcoal works as if I’m drawing with light, so it made complete sense to work with paint in the same way. Reductive painting simply means removing paint to create lights rather than adding it to create darks – it’s a very tonal technique with a broad range of mark-making possibilities.

removing paint with a clothIt also means I get to paint with my fingers, so I’m still in that particular comfort zone! Guiding me on the studio wall are images of lithographs by Eugène Carrière, a master of ethereal monochrome work and images by early Pictorialist photographers which remind me to keep those tones simple whenever I get too wrapped up in details.

Here’s what my reductive painting technique looks like in action…

and here’s a quick view of the paintings drying between layers…

The arrival of a title

As they’ve been gathering in the studio, the word ‘Grounded’ has linked itself with this new series – in my mind it seems to sum up both the qualities of the trees they are inspired by and my reaction to being in their presence.

ancient beech tree in autumn

These old veterans are relics of a former landscape in an ancient woodland at Kinclaven, Perthshire. Massive, stoic and stunningly beautiful, they’ve given me enough ideas to keep me working through whatever the winter brings.

I’ll be continuing work on my ‘Grounded’ series over the next couple of months, in preparation for my solo show at Linlithgow Burgh Halls next February. If you enjoy seeing snippets of work in progress, I also post video clips on Instagram – come and say hello there.

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What’s inside my studio?

inside Tansy Lee Moirs studioInside the artist’s studio

There’s often an air of mystery about our studio spaces – are they tidy, chaotic, paint splattered, spilling over with curiosities or clinically organised and austere? How much does the space reflect the work, or the personality of the artist themselves?

For me, my studio is like a physical expression of what goes on inside my head. There are areas of accumulation and hoarding, far too many unrealised ideas, areas which are super efficient and lots of objects in transition. Most importantly, it’s a multi-functional work space where I feel totally comfortable and at home.

garden studio in summer

My studio is literally at home now too. After renting a wonderful space (8 storeys up looking across the Firth of Forth) at Edinburgh Palette’s St. Margaret’s House for 9 years, I made the move to a purpose built garden studio in 2017. I miss the community but definitely NOT the commute!

A new artist friend Alison McNeill came to visit me this week, looking for some ideas for her own garden studio project (have a look at her beautiful work on her new website here). Her excitement at seeing how I’ve used my space and her questions about all the fixtures and fittings made me realise just how much work has gone into setting up the space to suit my needs, so I’m going to make more effort to share some of my learning in future blog posts.

A look around my studio space

While I get round to doing that, you might want to have a little nosey at the studio as it was last week, when my pal and creative collaborator Steve Smart came to do some filming. By the magic of his 360° camera, you can now zoom around and in and out of the space – pretty clever stuff eh? (If you make the image full screen you can zoom in)

 

If you don’t want to wait for more blog posts (it may take a while), you can read about my former space at St Margaret’s House here. I’ve also written about some old but still very much in use storage solutions here too.

If you’re considering some of my art for your home and would like to see it in person, you can contact me to arrange a studio visit.

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Completing 100 days of chiaroscuro

100 day project completed!

For the last 100 days I’ve been studying light and dark in art, ‘chiaroscuro’ being the arty Italian word for this – loved by the old masters and still well used by contemporary painters, photographers and film makers. 100 is such a satisfying number and I’m surprised and delighted to have been able to keep going till the end – if you’d like to see the complete works first head here, or if you’re interested in the debrief, read on…

Some highlights

It would be hard to choose a favourite day but there were some that stick in my mind as particularly rewarding, either because of the mastery of the original artist, the way my materials behaved, or just the way the image chimed with my mood at the time. Incidentally, my favourite title of a work I copied was Joseph Wright of Derby’s ‘Two boys fighting over a bladder’ – bold!

Here are a few special ones:

oil study of a tree
An oil study from one of my photographs
After Ken Currie’s ‘Interregnum’
After a photograph of Rodin by Edward Steichen
After Rembrandt’s ‘Bearded old man’
a photograph of some flames
My edited photo of flames from my firepit

What have I learned?

  • A dive into the art historical archives is never a waste of time – as Austin Kleon’s smashing little book ‘Steal Like an Artist’ says, artists build their practice on the work of those before them, none of us are really ‘original’. I feel quite privileged to be able to dip into artworks from the past to feed my future. Thanks for that art ancestors!
  • Rembrandt was indeed a master – no surprises there and I’ve always been blown away by his work. Copying it gave me an even deeper understanding of his craftmanship and humanity and was a pure pleasure at all times.
  • Caravaggio took it a bit too far for my liking. I realise how ridiculous this sounds and in no way dispute his mastery as a painter and of chiaroscuro in particular, but through copying I learned that the stark contrasts between light and dark in his painting was a bit too clear cut for me, I like a little more mystery, more ambiguity and softer edges.
  • Vermeer repeated himself – the copies I made had so many similarities in the lighting and composition which I only really noticed through drawing. I fancifully imagine that his studio had the perfect spot where the light fell in just the right way and he just positioned all his models to take advantage of that, and why not?
  • Early photographers, particularly those who aligned themselves with Pictorialism, creating some fantastic compositions. Some of these were amongst my favourites to copy from. I loved the emergent quality in many of them.
  • Ken Currie makes such intensely powerful paintings and I really enjoyed copying from them to learn how, though my very limited scale meant that this didn’t work for some.
  • Composition is king – the images which had the most impact even at such a small scale were the ones which were from carefully crafted compositions and tonal arrangements. The ones which were less impressive were poorly cropped, at the wrong scale or just unconsidered. I had deliberately limited myself to a 10cm (ish) square which didn’t always suit my choice of source image, but had the advantage of being quite ‘do-able’ every day.
  • I should devote more time to cropping and editing my own photos, to provide a rich source of imagery to draw from. In the past I’ve had a bad habit of taking photographs of visually interesting things then ignoring them in the archive, like hoarding good books but not reading them. Reviewing with a particular purpose has been really useful. Must do that more.
  • I am totally in love with monotone oil painting – the works I made for this project have really given me a taste for more and on a significantly bigger scale. Summer = oil painting in my studio plan!

Things to take forward

In terms of my own art, above all I’ve learned about what excites me visually and what I want to continue to pursue. Emerging forms, dark ambiguity, subtle gradation, strong composition and tonal arrangement and a monochrome palette are all part of the recipe for future work.

The daily practice was sometimes a struggle for such a lengthy period, but I’m more likely now to embark on another long term project than I thought in January. It’s so good to see other people’s projects and follow their journeys, and sharing online definitely helps to keep up the motivation. If you’re thinking of giving it a go yourself, I’d highly recommend it – here’s the project page to help you on your way.

Read how the project started here, view the full gallery here or check out my weekly project updates on Instagram.

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Planning a new exhibition

I’ll be having a real-life, on the wall exhibition this June at Edinburgh Palette, my former studio complex and creative home in the east of Edinburgh – how exciting!!!

a colourful pastel painting of an old beech tree in winter‘On Tree Time’ explores the way trees adapt and endure in the face of adversity. It will feature a selection of new works on paper in charcoal, oil and pastel made during winter and spring 2020-21. The show opens Friday 4th June and closes on Sunday the 20th, so that’s 16 whole days where anyone who can travel to the area can come to see my newest work in person, have a proper chat with me and maybe even choose a piece for their own collection.

So much has changed over the last year that planning this exhibition feels almost like starting from scratch, even though I’ve been doing them for 10 years now. Private views and opening parties will need to be different, open door visiting may not be possible and hugs with friends, followers and colleagues will sadly be missing.

Some things will be the same though. For visitors, there’s the chance to get up close and personal with the art, to peer at the details as well as take in the whole view, to get a true sense of the textures, colours and energy of the work. For me, I relish the opportunity to show a collection of work with a coherent theme all together, the chance to talk about the story of the work with visitors, choosing favourites and great combinations, noticing rhymes and echoes, contrasts and creative leaps.  Sitting with my exhibitions has always been a favourite time for me to reflect on that body of work, review its successes and where it has fallen short of the idea. Almost always I come out of that process with new ideas sparked.

the outside of Edinburgh Palette St Margaret's House

One of the things that I like many creative people have missed so much is encountering the random, unexpected or surprising which can so often be the stimulus for new ideas. Alongside travelling to distant woodlands, it’s conversations with people not in my ‘bubble’ that I’ve missed the most. I’m so looking forward to talking to visitors about their experiences of trees and art, their knowledge and perspectives are always creatively energising.

To try and make the best of the current limitations, I’m putting together a programme of online and in person events linked to the exhibition so, if you’d like to hear about these and be first to get tickets, make sure you are subscribed to my Studio Newsletter. Find out how you can visit here and I hope to be showing you my new drawings very soon.

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100 days of chiaroscuro: light and dark in art

Half way through my 100 day project

In the gloomy and restricted days of lockdown this January, I heard about the 100 day project on a podcast and decided that if there was ever a time to start a daily practice it was now. I set out to investigate how past artists have used light and dark to create drama and I did not think I was disciplined enough to keep going, but it turns out that I am more averse to failure than sticking to a routine! (Read about the background to my project here)

oil study of a tree

Here’s a selection from the first 50 days. Most of the works are around 10 x 10cm on paper or card. I’ve played with lots of the dry media hanging around my studio –  charcoal, graphite, sanguine, sepia, pastel, conté and I’ve also made some little oil studies of real and imagined trees using the wipe-out technique (after Carriere).

a copy of a rembrandt etchingcopy of Joseph Wright painting

Here’s hoping I can make it to 100 – it’s definitely getting harder now the evenings are light and travel and social restrictions have eased but I’m enjoying it too much to give up now.

You can view the gallery of the full 100 days here and check out my weekly posts on Instagram or Facebook.

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Experiments in charcoal

It’s no secret that artists absolutely love getting new art materials, regardless of whether we actually need any or not. In fact need has nothing to do with it. I think this collecting habit is driven by curiosity – what if that new brush is exactly what I’ve been searching for, maybe that new pastel is the perfect green for those mossy bits, perhaps that ink will make exciting splashy marks I’d never imagined possible?

In this spirit of discovery, I jumped at the chance to try some unusual types of charcoal when I came across Wildwood Charcoal showing their experiments on Instagram.

I usually use charcoal from art materials suppliers, mostly made by Coates and Nitram for sticks and Derwent for the powder. I’ve not been too fond of homemade charcoal for drawing before, as it’s been very unpredictable, pale and quite frustrating to draw with. However, I heard from another artist that the passionflower one was great to work with so I ordered a little sample pack and got to work on some arty experiments.

charcoal made from brambleMy exciting little package arrived nestled beautifully in sweet smelling straw, wrapped in carefully labelled paper – nice touch! I set to work testing them in a not very methodical way, just allowed the marks to flow as the charcoals suggested.

Passionflower was indeed a delight, luscious and black. Gorse on the other hand was scratchy and grey, but in an interesting way. Clematis was definitely a favourite for its depth of tone but also its texture – the outer layers being ridged and slightly crumbly, giving pleasantly surprising results. Wisteria had less personality and bramble (pictured above) was pretty brutal – the thorns still jaggy even after carbonising and the stem so hard it seemed almost metallic.

I came to the conclusion that passionflower and clematis would be a great addition to my charcoal ‘palette’, gorse would be worth further exploration and bramble would be excellent if I ever wanted to draw on a stone wall. Each species had its own distinct character which produced a drawing style particular to it. I’d love explore this further, working on more sustained drawings. Of course I’ve also got a list of other plants I’d like to try now – I’ve got a feeling that’s the first of many little Wildwood charcoal packages arriving in my studio.

 

 

 

 

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Featured artist in Herbology News

Cascade_680

I’m delighted to be this month’s featured artist in the beautiful publication Herbology News. Have a look here for a thoughtful and inspiring read with a deep connection to nature. Thanks to Editor Kyra for inviting me and to the design team for showing my work so beautifully alongside the articles. On the cover is ‘Cascade’ from my new ‘Rivers of oak’ series of charcoals.

 

 

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Introducing my 100 days project

100 days of chiaroscuro

I’ve decided to give the #100dayproject a go this year. Normally I think I would shy away from committing to doing anything for 100 days straight, but these are not normal times and I’m curious to see if I can stick at it.

100daystitle

My #100daysofchiaroscuro started on 31st January and runs till 10th May. I’m sharing my progress on Instagram every Sunday.

Chiaroscuro, an Italian word translating literally as light dark, is a feature of much of the art I admire from the 16th and 17th centuries and in contemporary art I like too.

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