Richard Collins – Pet Portrait Diploma

My name is Richard and I have been studying the Pet portrait Diploma with the London Art College.

Art was far and away my best subject at school. This did not mean much as I was awful at pretty well everything else! It was also a long time ago, a time when my school considered art not an “academic” subject and so there were no “O” levels or “A” levels to be worked for and work did not appeal at that time. Yes I could and probably should have changed schools but I don’t intend going the “if only” route. Suffice to say I had other things on my mind at that age and by the time I was made to realise by someone I respected enormously that to get anywhere you had to graft, I was in my early twenties and already committed to the business world. This period however, left two lasting sentiments; firstly, despite my regular, maximum marks for my art homework the end of term mark, which was based on homework, was always lower than those not sitting at the back of the class with the lads as I did. The second was a portrait of my hero, Bobby Moore I produced then. I still have it now somewhere and still think it wasn’t bad for a teenager.

This is not intended to be a biography so fast forward to the time approaching my recent retirement. I worked for an excellent company that has a programme of preparing people for retirement. Having already taken up watercolours in a small way, I took funding for an art course and I selected the London Art College’s Pet Portraits Course which would combine my love of animals and my increasingly dominant hobby of art. I had, by this time, sold one or two landscapes but nothing of the volume or value to even consider changing my ‘amateur’ tag. Other hobbies in fact tied in nicely. Music I could listen too while painting and archaeology for which I was getting a little old for the physical demands of digging, although it had given me my fifteen minutes of fame when I found the remains of a stone age baby at Chedworth Roman Villa.

I found the Pet Portraits course interesting and enjoyable, however I was becoming very frustrated with the work I produced. Remembering all the advice from art instructional books about ‘keeping it loose’ and ‘letting it flow’ I was doing ok, but not to the sort of level desired. Then two things happened virtually at the same time. Firstly my domestic situation changed requiring my return to full time employment, the second and most relevant point was a huge “eureka” moment and it was Bobby Moore who helped. Although he had sadly passed away by this stage I decided to do one exercise in the same ‘style’ as that used to create his portrait, taking my time and going into great detail using graphite pencil, noting fur direction and facial contours. The result was the basset hound which you can see below. Ok this will not win Artist of the Year but it was enough to convince me to concentrate on character and detail.

Due mostly to work commitments I was unable to sufficiently advance in my chosen style until actual retirement came along and I started painting again, in graphite mostly and re-visiting the style I had chosen, although I was still very conscious of the seemingly constant message of ‘keeping it loose’. At this point my elder daughter inadvertently had a huge influence on what is increasingly becoming a new career. Her future mother in law has a wonderful caring dog through Canine Partners. If you haven’t seen one of these dogs in action it is worth putting yourself out to do so, they are wonderful. Well, the subject of a lasting memento of the dog came up and my daughter, in the type of fatherly love that is so blind to reality, volunteered my services – thanks Abi! I have never before had the responsibility of producing a portrait with sufficient accuracy to please the client and was very nervous about the outcome. By this stage my daughters had left home and I lived alone with my Labradors and had time to give the project my full attention. After and great deal of attention to detail as well as time, I produced the picture and nervously handed it to my son in law to deliver. The picture is attached with apologies for the quality of copy.


Well they loved it! Not only that but others saw it and asked for me to produce their pets in the same style. My daughters once again influenced things by suggesting I begin to charge for the service despite my own reservations about my ability and acceptability, surely no one would be interested. Well like a good Dad I did as I was told and people did indeed start to pay for portraits I produced. Not just dogs but also cats and horses and between commissions I have begun to produce wildlife portraits.

One element that I had not anticipated is the number of requests for portraits of pets that have passed away. On one occasion a gentleman requested a portrait of a spaniel that had passed away suddenly, as a Christmas present for his son. His plan was to leave it unwrapped, propped up, in the lounge. Apparently the son walked in to the lounge and burst in to tears! Although you feel for the owner in this situation, there is a certain amount of gratification to such a spontaneous reaction. On another occasion a cat portrait was assumed to be a photograph.

Not all commissions get feedback but those that do serve to increase the confidence and the desire to produce more. I no longer feel the need to be more ‘loose’, although I frequently go back to watercolour just for a bit of a change. I have been able to use my ‘style’ with coloured pencil, pastel and pastel pencil as well as graphite.

I have also discovered other artists with the same approach, the same style. The style does not lend itself to producing quick works or sketches but is none the less extremely satisfying.

I now have a website and Facebook page both using the title “RWJCArt”. Finally I recently attended a small local event where I was able to exhibit my work and am anticipating a positive outcome following the interest shown, so much so that I have booked a stand at a large forthcoming country show locally. Most importantly I thoroughly enjoy my art and producing work that gives pleasure to others as well as myself.

Richard Collins
Pet Portrait Course

Emily Miller – Testing Derwent Pencils

My name is Emily Miller and I am studying the Illustrating Children’s Books Diploma Course with the London Art College. I’ve never really used more than a few pencils, using HB, H, and 2B when drawing and, in recent years I have leaned toward mechanical pencils, HB being my main companion – so I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity as a tester to experiment with the whole range of Derwent graphite pencils  and see if they could convince me back to the more traditional pencil again – and develop my skills as a student and artist.

My main queries about the range were focused around which pencils to use and why. And of course what makes them stand out amongst the vast quantities of pencils available.

My ultimate question, however, was – will I find out what the ‘F’ is about in the middle of the range of H’s and B’s?!

On receiving the pencils I was pleased to see three tins which covered the whole range, with an adequate overlap in each tin. So you could buy a hard, soft, or mid-range pencils in one tin if you prefer.

The tins have a nice feel and they are lighter than those I have owned in the past, which suggests an aim to reduce the carbon footprint (bonus) while still being adequate to protect the pencils inside. They also look fresh and nice, with pleasing drawings demonstrating the type of effect you could create (presumably) with whats in the tin. Appealing to those whose skills are already at that level, and motivating those whose skills are perhaps at a lower level, such as myself, to develop.

Opening the tins was a bit like that moment you open the big tin of chocolates in the early moments of the Christmas holidays – before the family grab their favourites. The slight scent of wood and the matt finish of the pencils all lined up was wonderful, and of course I couldn’t resist the urge to turn them all round so they were all lying with their print facing upward! Perfectionists heaven.

It was lovely to see the orange stripe at the bottom of each pencil, which reminded me of my trips to Derwent’s pencil museum in Keswick. Holding the new pencils I noticed how light they felt. Which was quite a nice comparison to the mechanical pencils I’ve become accustomed to. But they still felt solid and the traditional Derwent shape with the six sides feels nice to hold while drawing. So, I set to sketching out the shape of the cats eye I’d chosen to draw. Using the 2B (straight to my comfort zone!) for the outline and experimenting with the 9H for the reflection of the window. Remembering the scratchy sensation of the harder leads from my school days which put me off using them, I wondered if I’d end up ruining the drawing with one of those pesky grains that scores the paper before you realise it’s there. We’ll see.

I used a variety of the pencils to develop guides for the shapes beginning the work of drawing the tiny muscles in the iris. This is where the pencils started to show themselves, using the different leads helped to really develop the gradients and easily create the tiny shadows. The H range was surprising, the H, which I am familiar with, was as to be expected, but as I experimented with the harder grades, up to 9H, I really got a feel for the lightness they can portray, enabling detail and layering.

I spent about four and a half hours or more developing this A4 picture, and half of that was on the hair around the eye, which consists of pencil strokes in the direction of the growth of the hair. This was where the pencils came into their own for me, using the different grades to help layer the hundreds of pencil strokes needed to give the right effect.

Using the wide range of pencils really helped to push this picture from a potentially flat sketch to a much more accomplished picture and helped to facilitate my ongoing learning as a student. In the past I might have pooh-poohed the concept of using the various available lead softnesses to get the required effect, but I’m glad I’ve had the chance of experimenting and developing my understanding of this type of work. I used the whole range and really got a feel for them.

My questions have almost all been answered:  Which pencils to use, and when, comes quite naturally and is really pleasing. The range from light to dark gives you great scope to play around with the feel of the picture and really develop depth.

What makes the Derwent pencils stand out? Well, the overall look and feel appeals, and the light feel of the pencils. The feel of the pencil in your hand is comfortable and easy. The range available is fabulous, especially given that you can buy any of the three tins with a good range in each. Plus I didn’t experience that awful moment of a pesky hard grain that scores your paper, which was a relief!

Derwent say they have developed a pencil which responds well to use of a rubber – and in my experience on this piece I did notice that the lines moved easily when correcting errors and also to lift the graphite for effect, as I did around the iris muscles, for added depth was easy and the effect was pleasing.

And to compare them to my trusty clutch pencils? Well, for use at my desk these pencils were light and pleasing to use. There is a confidence and trust developed in using the pencils. With a clutch pencil you might spend some time with small boxes of leads swapping one grade for another – breaking them in the process, and of course with the Derwent pencils that issue isn’t apparent!

Perhaps the only thing I’d say is the tin is a bit more of a faff in travelling than a mechanical pencil – especially as the lids detach which spells disaster in a rucksack. But that’s nothing a good pencil case can’t solve!

All in all this has been a really pleasant return to graphite pencils. Has it converted me back? Well they are certainly are a welcome addition to my ever-growing collection of art materials and I’ll be using them when I can.

Did the pencils give up their secret as to why there is an ‘F’ in between the H’s and B’s? As a pencil it did sit nicely in the centre, holding itself between the two camps. But sadly the pencils didn’t give up the answer to that eternal mystery and I guess I’ll just have to google it!

Emily Miller
Illustrating Children’s Books Course
London Art College


Fishy Friday…..

Student Belinda Cullen’s watercolour painting of fish really caught our eye and we felt it was very worthy of being on our blog this week. We love the confidence Belinda has with watercolour. She has created some superb wet in wet washes and allowed the white of the paper to show through on the shiny areas of the wet fish.

We also love the way Belinda has used the colours of the fish in the background which helps to create movement, interest and an almost a wet look to the entire piece. You can just imagine how slippery they are! We hope our students reading this are as impressed with this painting as we are! Well done Belinda!


Brenda Brown – Pet Portrait Diploma Course

Would you like to learn how to create professional pet portraits like student Brenda Brown’s beautiful painting below? Why not head on over to our online course page all about our Pet Portraits Course to find out how you could brush up on your drawing skills, learn how to paint and draw fur in a variety of different mediums along with finding out about running your very own business too. Sign up with us today…


Elena Peres – Pastel still Life

Elena Peres created these three pastel paintings for an assignment on the Pastel Painting Online Art Course we run which is a home study course.

The first piece of artwork which Elena created below of the single apple is a practice study which allowed Elena to understand the shape and form of the apple, the direction of light, how to create shine and shadow using her chosen colours.

From here she then created two final pieces of artwork of apples in a bowl. We are very impressed with Elena’s use of colour and her beautiful style of drawing. The compositions of both pieces are excellent.

We hope that showing Elena’s artwork today helps inspire our students and encourages them to pick up their pastels. We would love to what our students can achieve drawing and painting objects around them in their home, just like Elena has.

Charis Simpson – When All is dark….

Charis Simpson is studying our Illustrating Children’s Book Diploma Course with tutor Maggy Roberts. maggy sent us one of Charis’ illustrations for our blog….

Charis said…

“I have always dreamed about being a children’s book illustrator and this course seemed like the perfect step”

For the assignment, I was inspired a bit by Chris Riddell – particularly with the trees. I decided to make it black and white rather than grey scale and use line work like he does. I love his work! I think the use of quite a bit of solid black makes the drawings stand out. I tried to include elements of the poem in as well as some new elements that I have added. I wanted to have characters in the piece that would engage the child. I also wanted to include the scared little boy, as I had in the exercise… I thought a tent would work well and included his dog for company so he wasn’t completely alone! I uses black fine line pens and markers for the piece, scanning onto my computer for final touches. I was a bit confused as to whether I needed to add text as I know you said this isn’t  normally done… but I think I read it right that you wanted us to add it. Anyway I hope you like it! Thanks again for your feedback… I have really tried to listen to it as much as possible and follow the brief!

Charis Simpson

Kathleen Gordon – Botanical Painting

Kathleen Gordon has just finished her Botanical Painting Diploma Course, with a Distinction. Tutor Shevaun Doherty said…

“I really love her page of Zinnia flowers. She painted Zinnias for one of her previous assignments, but decided to revisit them for her diploma work, choosing to try out a completely different composition. This is bright, fresh and very contemporary. It’s always a good idea to revisit a subject- as you get to know and understand your subject, you become more confident, and can start to be more creative in your approach.

I also like her painting of clementines. Kathleen has really put a lot of thought and effort into the composition and the lighting of her subject, and her tones are superb as a result. I normally convert the images into black and white, so that I can see the tonal values easily. It’s something that I encourage my students to do too as very often it’s the tones of a painting that can be slightly off, not the colour. Her colour choices are also great- she has chosen some great transparent glazes to build up the rich colours on the orange skin. Inspiring work!”

Shevaun Doherty
Botanical Painting Diploma Course