Cynthia’s 9 PAOTWs

Cynthia took part in the recent nine weeks of the PAOTW challenge, which you can read all about by scrolling down. She put the nine portraits together and took a photo of all the paintings.

Cynthia had bought eight canvases measuring 8” x 10” but when she tried to buy a ninth canvas the same size the only size available was A4. Her son removed the canvas itself, cut down the stretchers then reassembled it to the size of the other canvases. The nine canvases together look brilliant, so it’s great that they’re all the same size.

Remarkably, all the portraits were painted with just four acrylic colours…white, yellow, red and blue. With this restricted palette Cynthia managed to paint all the varieties of skin tones of the sitters and the backgrounds. This proves we really don’t need loads of colours weighing down our art boxes, just four will do.

Cynthia has always used oils or pastels for portraits but will use acrylics again as painting with such few colours gives such a broad spectrum of colours. They are fantastic paintings, Cynthia, well done on all your hard work over the past few weeks!

Doreen’s portrait of Barbara Windsor

Doreen recently completed this beautiful portrait of the late Barbara Windsor. Created using soft pastels and pastel pencils for the subtle colours, Doreen used a graphite pencil for definition of the facial features. She says time passed quickly as she concentrated on getting the likeness of Barbara. It’s a lovely pose too, of a coy glance to the side. Marvellous work, Doreen!

PAOTW – Sunday 13th December 2020

The sitter this week was Dannii Minogue, Australian singer, songwriter, actress, tv personality and fashion designer. Dannii was at her home in Melbourne, sitting from 9pm to 1am Australian Eastern Standard Time, to fit in with the session from 10am to 2pm UK time. Instead of sitting in front of a window with daylight, Dannii had a studio light on her for 4 hours, thus meaning the light was constant and not moving or making shadows.
The M&C artists who painted Dannii did not know much about her, apart from knowing she is Kylie Minogue’s sister, so it was interesting hearing about her life. She originally came to the UK at the age of 19 for 3 weeks and finally went back to Australia 22 years later, where she now lives with her 10 year old son.

Dannii is 49 and has very smooth, unblemished skin and was made up beautifully. Some artists painting along at home around the world said they suffered from what the judge, Tai Shan, calls ‘the curse of the beautiful woman’. When a woman has such unlined skin it is hard to make her look her age or else the painting looks like some one else. Many artists said their paintings of Dannii looked like her sister Kyle, Kate Winslet, Emily Blunt or Gillian Anderson.

The artist this week was Phoebe Hicks (now Cripps) who was a PAOTY semi-finalist in 2017. Phoebe often paints portraits in oils but decided to use charcoal on 600gsm Sennelier card, as none of the other artists had used this medium in previous weeks. The charcoal she used are called Nitram charcoal sticks or batons, in several dark black shades. The sticks can be sharpened on sandpaper to give more detail, but Phoebe finishes the finest details with a black charcoal pencil and the lightest highlights in a chalk pencil. Phoebe draws the head shape first then starts adding details to give the face a shape. She doesn’t blend the charcoal into the paper with her fingers or a paper blending stump, but blends the different shades together with a totally dry hog hair brush to give a soft skin tone.

Dot drew Danni from the live session, using graphite pencils of various strengths on cartridge paper. The face came quickly and then she spent time on Dannii’s hair and the background in just over an hour. Dot enjoyed the session because both Dannii and Phoebe were friendly and were interested in each other’s lives. A great end to the series.

Cynthia chose a different pose and managed to get a screenshot of Dannii looking thoughtful. She used the same 4 acrylic colours of white, yellow, red and blue on an 8” x 10” canvas, taking about 5 hours over 2 days. The first photo is after the first afternoon’s session. Cynthia really hopes that PAOTW comes back on sometime, as it has been so popular and watched globally.

Steve again did two portraits, a remarkable feat each week as just one takes a while to do. The first is in coloured pencils on Bockingford watercolour paper. Steve decided to join Phoebe and use charcoal, so the second portrait of Dannii is in charcoal on Canson Mi-Tientes pastel paper.

Tracy enjoyed the session with all the friendly chat and painted Dannii in watercolours, taking about 2 hours in total. Dannii was sitting in front of a plain, dark blue or black curtain so there’s no fancy background this week. However, she painted behind Dannii in pure Indigo watercolour paint, fading it outwards, so that Dannii is framed.

Here is Phoebe’s finished charcoal portrait of Dannii. Posted on its own so you can see the beautiful skin tones that have been achieved by the dry blending with a hog hair brush and the details of Dannii’s eyes that make them look real. On an Instagram video Dannii was very emotional when she saw the finish portrait and is in immense awe of Phoebe’s talent.

Here is Dannii’s very favourite painting (apologies for the automated subtitles on the screenshot) and the judges top three portraits. There are no portraits by the youngsters or a wall of portraits from the general public, as there has been no programme a week after the session. Please note the last photo from the Facebook page of ‘Artist of the Year’ which says to keep an eye on the page for any news of future portrait programmes…hurrah!

Pictures from the wall added 2 months later when series 3 of PAOTW started with paintings of Danni by the public.

PAOTW – Sunday 6th December

Lesley Garrett, CBE, soprano singer, musician and broadcaster was the sitter this week, painted by Tom Croft, a PAOTY contestant in 2018.

Tom is a professional artist and his name may seem familiar if you have heard of the ‘Portraits for NHS Heroes’ painting project. Early in the March lockdown Tom couldn’t get motivated to paint as the news was full of the spread of Covid-19 and the many deaths in hospital. He wanted to paint a health professional involved so said he’d paint the first person to send him a photo. From that one painting other artists said they’d paint portraits of nurses, doctors, or carers and in total over 14000 portraits worldwide have been painted. A book has now been printed and Tom is hopeful there will be an exhibition in the future. For more info on this project and to see some examples of the amazing portraits just google ‘portraits for NHS heroes’, look for the hashtag #portraitsfornhsheroes on Instagram, or go to Tom’s website at www.thomascroft.co.uk

When on PAOTY Tom’s oil palette was rather unusual as he just added the oil paint colours on top on the previous blob of paint. He still does this and 2 years on his paint towers are even taller! The first photo is from PAOTY in 2018 and the second photo from the live session.

He uses hog hair brushes with oils as he likes the way they add the paint to the canvas. He didn’t say what exact colours he was using, but as you can see from his paint towers he uses many colours, often mixing them on the canvas and not the palette.

There was a long break of about 40 minutes at the beginning of the session when gremlins got into the transmission, but once it started again Lesley proved a lively sitter who talked rather a lot and sang to us several times. Tom got Lesley to look up to her left, meaning she was now looking at her windows so there were several reflections on the surface of her glasses. Some of us tackled this problem by simply paining the eyes in full and then putting a bit of the reflection colour over the top.

Steve thought Lesley a great choice of sitter as she was so animated and enjoyed hearing about her family history. Especially moving was how her parents put themselves through adult education courses later in their working lives so they could become teachers and her father became a headteacher. That work ethic has rubbed off on Lesley as she sings around the world in non-Covid times.

Steve’s first portrait is coloured pencils on Bockingford watercolour paper and the second is acrylic on hardboard, using only Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre, Titanium White and Mars Black. Tom spoke about using grids to draw his portraits, so Steve did the same and found it useful when enlarging Lesley’s face.

Cynthia used white, yellow, red and blue acrylics for her portrait of Lesley, on a 8″ x 10″ canvas. She debated whether to paint the background as she prefers to leave the background plain. However, Lesley explained she had deliberately posed in her music room in front of her favourite wallpaper showing a bird freed from a cage, like her singing escaping from herself. It was a lovely story so Cynthia decided to paint the background too, which has worked out perfectly as the purple colour offsets Lesley’s lighter skin tones. Note the window reflections on Lesley’s glasses too.

Dot drew Lesley’s likeness in only half an hour, which is such short time in which to get a good likeness. Great use of pencils in many tones from light to dark, especially following the lines of Lesley’s curly hair.

Tracy enjoyed painting Lesley’s face in watercolours in about an hour and could not resist painting the wallpaper behind. That was in gold watercolour and black acrylic paints and it took about 2 hours as it was quite fiddly to get the shapes of the sinuous branches and leaves.

Here is Tom’s finished portrait of Lesley. Just look at all the different colours he put in her skin tones. The second photo is the portrait that Lesley chose from all the portraits sent in by the general public. Following those two pictures are the judges’ top three, the youngsters’ portraits and those from the wall.

December 2020

We should have been meeting this evening for our Christmas party with food, drink, a quiz or two to pass the time and wearing our very best Christmas jumpers and hats. Well, what a year it’s been, like nothing we’ve ever known before and hopefully won’t know again. We managed to meet a few times at the hall and the church and it’s good to know a lot of you have been painting and sending in your pictures for the blog for all to see.

If you want to draw and paint this month, here’s a few ideas

a Christmas card scene, a meal or snack as a still life in front of you, a drink of wine/whisky/bubbly, a wreath, a garland on a mantlepiece , a Christmas tree, a bauble or favourite decoration, part of the traditional Christmas story, a local church or one where you worship, birds feeding in your garden, a gloves/hat/boots still life, snow in your garden, a favourite wintry countryside view, a robin, Saturnalia celebrations, or a portrait of Father Christmas/Santa/Saint Nicholas. Any style, any medium, send Tracy the photos of your paintings and I’ll put them on the blog. Any pictures you’ve previously painted are welcome too.

Keep safe and well every one of you, and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Hopefully we will meet again very soon in 2021!

PAOTW – Sunday 29/11/2020

Journalist and presenter Jon Snow was the sitter this week, painted by Catherine MacDiarmid, PAOTY shortlisted artist in 2014 and 2018 and semi-finalist in 2019.

Jon has been presenting the Channel 4 news since 1989 and he showed us the camera and lighting set up in his study where he has presented the news since the lockdown in March. It was fascinating hearing about his long journalistic career visiting countries all around the world. He was asked questions of how best to start a career like his and he advised not being sent down from university like he was! He had been reading law at the University of Liverpool and was involved in anti-apartheid student demonstrations. Many years later he was thrilled to actually interview Nelson Mandela. We learned that Jon and his wife are enthusiastic amateur watercolorists and Jon spent much of the session with his head down as he drew then painted Catherine the artist.

Catherine used oils on a linen canvas with lemon-smelling turps to dilute the paint. She used White, Ultramarine Blue, Magenta, Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre, Lemon Yellow, and Burnt Umber for the initial lines on the canvas. Catherine starts a portrait from the eyebrows and nose and then works outwards, She calls the distances between the eyebrows, eye and tip of the nose ‘the golden triangle’. If you get those initial measurements correct then the rest of the features will fit into place. She laid quite solid looking daubs of colour on the canvas and then used a dry brush to smudge and soften the edges and got a very good likeness of Jon after only an hour.

Cynthia used the three primary colours and white for her portrait on an 8″ x 10″ canvas. She painted in short sessions over three days, showing that you can watch the programme any time, not just on the Sunday. Cynthia has caught the sparkle in Jon’s eyes and the liveliness in his face perfectly.

Juliet has sketched Jon in pencil, using dark and light strokes to give form to his face. She has paid particular attention to his eyes, making them the main focus of attention.


Steve has again created two portraits, one in coloured pencil on Bockingford paper and the other in acrylic on hardboard. Both very good likenesses of Jon and one very animated as Jon speaks to us about his life.

Dot has captured Jon’s serious side in pencils, taking about 90 minutes. She says the portrait wasn’t easy to do during the live session as he was looking down and painting a lot of the time.

Tracy painted Jon’s face in watercolours in about an hour and then focused on his rather beautiful, brightly coloured tie. That took another hour and where the tie looked silver-coloured she used the SAA’s silver watercolour paint. The paint looks grey in some lights but when the light hits it at a certain angle it is shiny.

Here is Catherine’s finished portrait, followed by two paintings that Jon himself chose as his favourites from well over a thousand the public entries. After those are the judges top three paintings and the paintings by the youngsters, the youngest being only 2 years old and she even drew the shape of his tie, amazing! Finally there are paintings from the wall.

November 2020 – DYOT

It was great that several members painted at home last weekend, either finishing off paintings from previous sessions, or painting new ones. It’s very satisfying when a painting is finally finished, especially if it’s been hanging around waiting to be completed.

Susan finished these watercolours of an Indian lady carrying sticks, a rainbow over a holiday cottage and an autumnal scene. Beautifully painted with saturated watercolours, all the paintings evoke a feeling of the place they represent.

Dot painted this charming wintry scene of children building a snowman. It would make a beautiful Christmas card.

Steve recently visited Sissinghurst and says this little robin flew around whilst they were sitting outside eating lunch and he managed to take a photo on his phone. Coloured pencils on Bockingford watercolour paper. Very well observed with so many variations of red and orange in the robin’s chest.

Here are 3 paintings on the “Wish I Was There” theme, set earlier in the year when lockdown had started and travelling to such places was restricted.

Christine’s watercolour painting is called “A Coastal Walk” and inspires thoughts of a Summer’s day walking along a coastal path, enjoying the warmth of the sun and sound of the sea.

Peter’s acrylic painting is called “Canadian Mountain Scene” and the the colours he used to give light and shade give an effective depth of field. The painting of the snowy tops of the mountains is particularly well done.

Angela D’s first painting was inspired a photo she took on holiday of the waterfall at Capilano in Vancouver, Canada. The acrylic paint she used works really well to give the waterfall and spray a sense of movement as it cascades down on to the rocks below.

Here’s another painting from Angela D, again in acrylics. Angela sets up a still life of objects around a reflective item, takes several photos, zooms in to create an image which has interesting reflections and shapes and then paints the cropped photo. A very interesting way to paint and the result makes you look closely at the picture.

Tracy enjoyed completing paintings that have just sat in a pile of unfinished pictures, some from a couple of years ago at least. All in watercolour they are from the Circus, Wish I Was There and Aurora Borealis sessions.