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Doing as we are told

Degas breaking the rules of composition and framing – The dance lesson

We’ve worked with lots of artists over the years who want clear instructions about how to draw or paint. At one level this is easy to answer, if you do this, this and this you’ll get that. Where it gets more interesting is that as artists we know there is no right or wrong way to do things. Sometimes doing the wrong thing is absolutely right and at other times doing as you are told can lead to complications you’d never imagined.

Indeed most of the historic artists we celebrate tend to have broken the rules and gone their own way in defiance of the prevailing trends. The thing is that what was right for others was not right for them and when making creative decisions the inner sense of rightness is the only one to be trusted.

One of the shortcomings of learning to paint by rote from an expert is that we may end up as a simulacrum of the other artist. For some of us, with limited time, that could be absolutely ideal. But what draws many of us to the work of other artists is that they have a quality that makes them unique. Very often that is because they are painting from the heart.

We all need a smattering of theory: there is nothing more frustrating than battling with a medium, unaware of the few simple rules that others work by or not achieving good proportion when one or two universal wrinkles will iron it out. Most artists will be consciously or unconsciously refining their technique throughout their careers, method and theory are the ground on which we build.

With sufficient command of the technicalities, the job then becomes about conforming the media into a work that honestly reflects our experience of what we see and feel. Being true to ourselves. The guide through all of this is a quiet sense of rightness which may require a bit of cultivation to become familiar with.

Being spontaneous may have been beaten out of us when we were young, speaking as we find is not encouraged in polite society and frankly most of us just want to fit in, so we don’t always honour the inner sense of rightness. It may at times be awkward but for some, that sense is their lodestar, not just in art but in life, love and politics. Something to note about this instinct is that it has no words; ideas and opinions tend to form in the verbal side of the mind and can easily obscure the sense of simple direction. You’ll notice that in a room filled with artists painting, words can become redundant; learning how to return to that sense of quiet purpose can be remarkably valuable. It’s one of the reasons we get so much from painting along with other artists, something is learnt which seems to be beyond the discussion.

If we want to paint from the heart and for our work to have the freshness of the painters we admire it can do no harm to notice and acknowledge when our ‘eye is in’.

The quick warm up drawings we do to get our eye in at the beginning of a session, if we believe the left right brain thing, certainly get us out of that part of our head which can talk but cannot draw and into the part that can. When our eye is in then we instinctively trust it.

The end of term

This is the last week of our summer term for tutored groups. We hope you’ve enjoyed the courses we have run. During the summer you can keep your eye in by joining us on Tuesday evenings, Wednesday afternoons or Saturday mornings, our full schedule starts again on September the 6th. The website will be updated with the Autumn courses at the end of this week, if you’d like to pre-book you can always drop us an email on

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Football’s going Rome…

Detail of Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci, who was rubbish at football.

On Sunday a group of plucky lads narrowly escaped becoming national heroes. I know nothing of football but I imagine they were a bit disappointed. To be fair, I was a bit despondent too, until I remembered that the Italian fellows must be besides themselves with glee, which is a rather cheerful thought. After all, I like the Italians: before we showed them how to kick a ball around, they showed us how to paint, I think that is a fair exchange.

Their exuberance and sensuality contrasted with the rather stuffy work being produced in Northern Europe, they kicked off the Renaissance and modern painting is generally agreed to have started with Titian and the Venetians, now part of Italy. So as a painter, I’m not going to ask for our ball back.


Our term ends on Saturday the 24th July and then for August we will be running Tuesday eveningsWednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. We hope that you will find yourself fully immunised on a beach in a green list country but if you do get left behind in Blighty, we’d love to see you in the studio or on Zoom.

Term resumes on the 6th September and we should have our tutored courses available to book on the website soon.

Theatre? Graham Cowley, who often draws with us, has a play running called Staircase running at the Southwark Playhouse. It’s a comedy that harks back to a time when being tolerant of other peoples sexuality was optional. You can read more and book tickets here

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Mothing to See Here

Mothing to see here

We had a visitor in the studio this week, an exceedingly elegant lady who it transpires was a lime hawk moth. She was huge and plump with a seductively velvety belly. Most noticeably she was wearing distinctly military looking camouflage fatigues. If you look at the modern camouflage on the F16 below you can see that the two designers were thinking along the same lines.

Time was when art students were taught to sketch from nature, to make visual notes about natural forms and to become curious about the endless invention of the natural world. The enquiry would not only train the hand and eye as you’d expect but enrich the students visual vocabulary and connect them with a limitless resource. Going outdoors and having a good look at the rocks, plants and animals and possibly drawing some of them, can provide as much stimulation as any sane person needs to get going with their art and certainly inform their design. For the rest of us there’s always Google.

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Talking and Pictures

You may know the feeling. Notwithstanding a world class arts education, forty years of diligent practice, many sales and peer reviewed accolades, you discover that you haven’t a clue how to paint. On top of that you’re useless at drawing and everybody hates you.

Oh how easy it would have been if we’d just done what our parents wanted and become accountants or doctors. Even bad doctors can set bones and save lives whilst very good artists are often overlooked. For the physician the parameters are clear, fix the disease and you make the mark. Fix it or not and you still get paid. The mark for most artists is not a self evident truth about which all agree, the problems they try to solve and the solutions they find can be half-seen, fleeting and complex.

Creativity will not submit to order and control; like a cat it may choose to sit on our lap and purr or turn around and put it’s bum in our face. Whereas accountants have the certainty of arithmetic around which to build their careers, the only certainty artists have is that their chief tool, creativity, may come and go as it chooses.

And yet, is creativity, like love, an ever-fixed mark? Could it be that whilst it appears to come and go, this is just an illusion? Whilst the product of creativity is always changing, the feeling of creativity is always the same: open, easy, fluid, playful, fresh. What continues to change are our thoughts and feelings which have dubious value around our art: if we think we’re great, we often produce vapid crap and we know that negative thoughts can be kryptonite to our creativity.

As a youngster I was outraged that my school never taught me how to think. I found that Edward de Bono did and on top of that, he was one of the few people in the world who spoke about creativity. I used his tools to get through A levels and then to generate ideas when I was working in advertising. He would often suggest solving creative problems by introducing a random element. As a copywriter for example I would often select random words with a pin to include in problematic statements. Rather like working with a limited palette, the limitation curiously allows the mind greater freedom. Creativity does not resolve negative thoughts, it merely dances around them in a way that makes them irrelevant.

Edward de Bono died this week and whilst he may have been arrogant and controversial his ideas have been fantastically helpful not only to artists but also to doctors and accountants.

Most artists will have some method for returning them to the state of grace so necessary to their work. If you don’t then you could do worse than look at one of his books. (No, we’re not affiliated!)

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Post Covid Artists

Our studio, ready and waiting

Are you a Post Covid artist? And what would that mean for you?

Whilst not presuming to know any individuals personal reality, it seems that we have stared pestilence in the face, contemplated our mortality and carried on painting. Now, as the restrictions are slowly loosening there is a process of assessment, looking at what has changed through necessity and thinking about what might remain changed through choice.

We know that there are artists who would have wrinkled their nose at the idea of painting from a screen who now produce solid works that way. Others have put in place a robust studio routine which will stay with them for years to come. New mediums have been tried, new motifs entertained. Works have sold directly through Instagram, schemes like the Artists support pledge have sustained some and allowed others to snap up some good value originals. Galleries have been mounting online exhibitions and in some cases selling handsomely.

The TV companies have latched on to life drawing and helped to excite interest in drawing and painting and a lot of starters have had a first taste either from TV or on Zoom, where a plethora of models and organisations have been offering online sessions. It looks as if quite a few artists have decided to run workshops and teach too, responding to the enhanced interest in learning to draw and paint.

The arts community on Instagram has grown by more than 20% in the last year and it’s now routine to post your work there and accrue comments and likes, which can feel nice. Some artists may treat their feed like their website and post finished works, others will treat it like a window into their studio, where the artist is as interesting as the work.

The government view that creatives like dancers, should consider going into coding has been firmly inserted back into the orifice from which it emerged. We work with lots of dancers and none of them have become computer programmers! Indeed all the creatives we know have dug in and used the time profitably, affirming old practises and learning new.

If there is one thing that we may all share as post Covid artists, it is that we have had time to consider what is important to us. Knowing that is pungently meaningful.

Joining us in the studio

It has been so good to have people back in the studio. Our studio is Covid secure with PVC screens and good ventilation. The new arrangements mean that we can only have thirteen artists at a time so we are now never crowded. We used to like a good throng but now that thronging has become illegal, on the bright side, you’re sure of a clear view of the model and some personal space. We still serve excellent coffee in old fashioned cups with proper biscuits and cakes and our artists are a self-selecting bunch of excellent people, winningly friendly and fabulously talented.

So do think of coming to see us, Wednesday mornings and Tuesday afternoons have plenty of spaces available and all of the evening life drawing sessions have spaces too.

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Henry Hensche – Portrait of Loretta Bohaty

We know one thing about the virus and that is that we are better defended against it when we have adequate amounts of Vitamin D in our systems. The best source of that is to stretch out naked on a sunny beach and make our own from the warming rays of the sun. For most of us that just isn’t an option right now so we find another way. Dry pills and oily fish seem to be the thing, smoked salmon is no hardship when taken medicinally but I’d swap it in a flash for a glimpse of the sun.

Like the quickening of a creative urge the sun can rarely be relied upon, sometimes it’s there and sometimes obscured. As artists we know that in the absence of our mojo we turn to process, discipline and routine in the knowledge that turning this soil is the way to provide for future growth when the sunshine breaks through again.

The painting above is by the colourist Henry Hensche. Hensche would paint and teach in full sunshine so that the colours would sing and form the structure of the painting. Those of you who will be attending Erin Raedeke’s Master Class in a couple of weeks may be interested to know that Erin can trace a line through her tutelage back to Hawthorne, Hensche and the Cape Cod School, where colour came first. You can see the similarity in the way the colours are handled in the sliver of Erins work below:

You can still sign up for Erin’s Free Masterclass on the 15th February and the last time I checked there were two places left on the course which runs from February 22nd – March 29th, read more or sign up on this page.


Tuesday Evening Freya’s Fast Poses 7.00pm-8.30pm on Zoom

Adrian @modbodadrian

Freya will be dipping into the murky ponds of emotion and distortion this evening referencing Oskar Kokoshka. Kokoshka was deemed a degenerate artist by the Nazis, what’s not to like?

You can join us on Zoom from 6.45pm and get to know us and any other drawers before work commences at 7.00pm.

The cost is £8 but if you can convince us you’re a student we’ll give you a code to get the session for £5: drop us an email.

Click here to book

Wednesday Portraiture 2.00pm-5.00pm on Zoom

The second week with Amy as our portrait model. You can see a couple of works at the top the first one from Carolyne Megan the second one by Stuart Fairlamb

We’ll have a further three hours this Wednesday to finish her off. So to speak.

Zoom fee is £15 Please book here

The session fee will be reduced to £12 if you use the discount code PESTE2 at final checkout. This is optional.

Saturday Long Pose Life Drawing 10.00am-1.00pm on Zoom

Rebecca by Denis Purshouse

Rebecca by Simon

Rebecca is seated with one knee drawn up and a big mop of red hair – I’ve put a couple of works in progress above to give you an idea. The first is by Denis Purshouse who is going for the portrait view and the second is my own which is from a different angle in the studio (I find it tricky painting through the cameras!) but gives you an idea of the pose, from the camera her knees are pretty much pointing at you.

Zoom fee is £15

Please book here

The Zoom session fee will be reduced to £12 if you use the discount code PESTE2 at final checkout. This is optional.

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Indoors and outdoors

David Sawyer – Beddington Park in the snow.

We had a snow day! Suddenly Instagram was filled with images of grown-ups going outdoors with childish glee to revel in the crisp whiteness of it all. Us painters of course grasped it with both gloved hands. The compositional possibilities of having so many light shapes down where we’d usually find the darks cannot be allowed to pass unrecorded. This painting by David Sawyer was painted even as the alarmingly quick thaw was setting in, you can feel the fleeting nature of it.

Charles Patey, living in Norway, is used to snow but confinement, not so much. Whilst stuck indoors he has created this excellent tableau as a paean to his dormant life drawing group, The details are exquisite, do have a close look, the easels are Charles’ own design, we have twenty of them for our pop-up events but I also love the crud on the floor, probably the sort of things artists don’t notice in the way that organisers do! Charles goes back to the early days of this group and now runs a similar organisation in his native Norway.

And founder Alison Packer, who many of you will know from our IRL sessions, is now down in the South of France settling into her space there, which because of quarantine has to be indoors for seven days. She has dug out her watercolours and is beginning to become excited with what she sees around her. Here are some mimosas that caught her eye, and nose. She sends her love.

Confinement can cause reflection and re-evaluation, it’s like we’ve all been put on sabbatical. If all goes well we will find that out of the inactivity, we discover the urgency of new projects to carry us through to the new, clean, fully vaccinated, post Covid world – indoors or outdoors.


Free Masterclass with Erin Raedeke

Free Masterclass with Erin Raedeke is on the 15th February 7.00pm: read more or sign up on this page


Tuesday Evening Freya’s Fast Poses 7.00pm-8.30pm on Zoom


Wet media: splishy, splashy, scritchy, scratchy. Freya will be asking you to get your inks, watercolours and brushes out this evening because yes, you can draw with paints and inks. If you are looking desperately around your home for something that looks like a paintbrush, don’t worry, you can draw along in the spirit of wetness perfectly well with a pencil if that is all you have. Our model is dancer Hannah.

You can join us on Zoom from 6.45pm and get to know us and any other drawers before work commences at 7.00pm.

The cost is £8 but if you can convince us you’re a student we’ll give you a code to get the session for £5: drop us an email.

Click here to book

Wednesday Portraiture 2.00pm-5.00pm on Zoom

Amy will be our portrait model for this week and next. I think the piercing is a thing of the past.

Zoom fee is £15 Please book here

The session fee will be reduced to £12 if you use the discount code PESTE2 at final checkout. This is optional.

Saturday Long Pose Life Drawing 10.00am-1.00pm on Zoom


Rebecca will posing for us this Saturday and next. Rebecca is a dancer and almost always poses with her mouth slightly parted, as in the picture above, which brings a distinct charm to the proceedings.

Zoom fee is £15

Please book here

The Zoom session fee will be reduced to £12 if you use the discount code PESTE2 at final checkout. This is optional.

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A Finny Story

Following the announcement by our Dear Leader it seems that we will be confined to quarters for the foreseeable future. Zoom it is.
We heard mutters about restrictions being slackened by March but we’ve heard that sort of thing before.

What that means for us is that we will be unable to have artists in the studio. This is a great sadness to us, on a personal level we’re not immune to the effects of isolation and at a business level it prolongs a very hard year. We are doing our very best to keep going and we sincerely appreciate your support as we navigate what is going to be a bleak midwinter together.

We can of course help each other. Whilst Zoom is unlikely to be many people’s first choice it is very effective for distance learning and to practise, it adds in technological complexity but you do save on travel time and cost and you are encouraged to establish a home studio practice which is immensely valuable. It may just keep us sane and if our Zoom courses and events are well attended we live to fight another day.

Any teachers out there?

With the schools being closed and online education being a bit patchy it occurred to us that we could support teachers who want to deliver classes to their youngsters but don’t have the space or equipment to do it. If you are a teacher, we could help you set up and deliver some classes from our, now well resourced, digital studio. Email us if that is of interest.

A finny story

Winslow Homer- Casting Number Two

Notes from an idle painters diary

As a naval child I grew up with the chilled brine smashing into my face and fresh mackerel on my plate. Later, as a schoolboy I lived by the gently roiling Thames, bothering gudgeon and bleak in the long summer months. I am no fisherman but I know enough about the routine of casting a line to sense the connection with the inner hunter gatherer in us all. Certainly enough to spin a tenuous creative metaphor.

The thing about fish is you cannot see them. You know they are there, sometimes they even ripple the water just to tease you, but you cannot be sure exactly where or at what depth or which bait or lure will be the one to snag them.

Experience teaches us their habits, the languid pools within which they lurk or their taste in wiggly worms or cheese or fly. Ultimately though we cast our bait where we sense they may be, there is always an element of faith and mystery.

As artists we may find this familiar. We can go through the motions: we prepare our surfaces, our colours, our implements; we try a new pen, sketch from a different angle, look and record but essentially we are casting our line into the creative pond, sure there is something there but unsure as to how to snag it. With the honest application of routine, a little time and patience it may be that we get a bite.

When the fisher girl feels the bite it is sometimes the gentlest of tugs, so delicate that she may feel she has imagined it. If she strikes too soon the fish will flee and the commotion will clear the waters for some time. If she judges it right her line snaps taut and she can feel the shimmering vitality of her quarry, she is awake and in the game. The fish must be played, if too eager the line may break, insufficient tension and the fish will gain the upper hand, all of her skill is required to land her prize.

The artist too can learn to sense that first twitch of the rod, they notice a shape or colour or juxtaposition and feel something rising up within them, a sense of possibility, the vitality of creative energy, a clarity of purpose. Gently now, just aware and curious and then with more certainty. When seen there is no doubt, the game is on. Some will get away: we scrape down, crumple and toss; but when we land a big one we learn where and how, we may well return to that glistering pool again.

To land the prize takes skill, that is a craft. To sense where the big fish play, that is art.

Having said that I think metaphors can be stretched a bit far at times as in this delight from beyond the fringe by Alan Bennet.

Happy New Year.

These courses still have places – hurry, starting this week!

Tuesday Evenings start 5th Jan – Introduction to Painting From Life with Alex Tzavaras
Wednesday Evenings start 6th Jan – Portraiture with Alex Tzavaras
Thursday Mornings start 7th Jan – Landscape with David Sawyer
Monday Evenings start 11th Jan – Introduction to Life Drawing
Thursday Evenings start 14th Jan – Intermediate Life Drawing

Most of our events are accessible from this page.

Tuesday Evening Freya’s Fast Poses 7.00pm-8.30pm on Zoom

Adrian @modbodadrian

“Drawing with flow and non-expectation” is Freya’s theme to commence the New Year with special reference to @arturdornellesferreira

This is creative life drawing where the emphasis is on experimenting and making the marks your body was made to make rather than conforming to someone else’s ideas about what drawing should look like.

You can join us on Zoom from 6.45pm and get to know us and any other drawers before work commences at 7.00pm.

The cost is £8 but if you can convince us you’re a student we’ll give you a code to get the session for £5: drop us an email.

Click here to book

Wednesday Portraiture 2.00pm-5.00pm on Zoom


Vivian is in traditional dress with some pretty punchy colours. She will sit for us this Wednesday to finish the pose she started before Christmas, so do join us to finish your work or, if you were absent before Christmas, pull up a chair and see what you can make of her in three hours.

Zoom fee is £15 Please book here

The session fee will be reduced to £12 if you use the discount code PESTE2 at final checkout.

Saturday Long Pose Life Drawing 10.00am-1.00pm on Zoom


Anna sat for a portrait last year, which we enjoyed and this Saturday she will be giving us a figure pose. She is tall and willowy.

Zoom fee is £15, in-studio fee varies.

Please book here

The Zoom session fee will be reduced to £12 if you use the discount code PESTE2 at final checkout.

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Planning in a Pandemic

Planning in a Pandemic

Agata Smolska – still life study with grey and brown, from a class with Clare Haward

We are in that curious liminal space between Christmas and New Year, nothing left of last year and not yet the next; like when walking the shore between the tides we find the flotsam and fragments of previous projects and the space to imagine the new.

I was once lucky enough to work for a Japanese company that saw this period as the perfect time for a thorough stocktake and rather than going for bracing walks and eating hearty food would spend their time in the warehouse sifting through dusty boxes. I was even invited to join them.

Whilst I’m much more of a bracing walks kind of person, taking stock is a sensible endeavour, and now, as the days grow longer and a sense of new beginnings is in the air; it seems a natural thing to do.

Planning is best done with both the head and the heart, it is the head which conducts the stocktake and structural projection but it is the heart that brings the energy for the new. As artists, we are great at anything is possible style creative thinking but not always the best at the thoughtful review of practicalities. With a new beginning we have to start from where we are, so this time, here, now, is the time to have an unsentimental unpacking of all that we are, throw it out on the floor and have a good look. When we can clearly see where we are, the next step becomes easier to discern and our plans have a better chance of being realistic.

Planning in a time of plague

We may have our hopes for the New Year but by Jiminy, the virus and it’s new strains have scuppered some of them! Whilst the schools are shut we have to be too. Whilst international travel is so complicated we’re holding off on overseas painting trips (although we have the end of April pencilled in). However, our brilliant tutors have worked out how best to support you remotely and the results they are getting are amazing. We will also continue to run life drawing and painting sessions using Zoom starting on Tuesday the 5th Jan and keep our fingers crossed for the future.

We hope that Christmas has warmed your heart and that we’ll see you somewhere in our New Year.

These courses have space available:

Tuesday Evenings start 5th Jan – Introduction to Painting From Life with Alex Tzavaras
Wednesday Evenings start 6th Jan – Portraiture with Alex Tzavaras
Thursday Mornings start 7th Jan – Landscape with David Sawyer
Thursday Evenings start 7th Jan – Intermediate Life Drawing
Monday Evenings start 11th Jan – Introduction to Life Drawing

Zoom sessions:

Tuesdays Freya’s Fast Poses restart on the 5th January at 6.45pm for 7.00pm on zoom – book here
Wednesday portraiture sessions start again on 6th January at 2pm – book here
Saturday morning life drawing and painting starts on 9th January at 10am – Book here.

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Why the Big Reset needs us artists

The Big Reset.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin – Water Glass and Jug

It should be clear by now that nothing will ever be the same again. Even after we’ve been inoculated beyond belief we will be addicted to online shopping and suspicious of people who want to go outdoors. There won’t be anything worth going outdoors for of course, all the decent shops, pubs and restaurants will have disappeared. Our employers, if we are lucky enough to have them, will be saving a fortune not having to waste money on expensive offices but to be honest, unless you work for the government, Google or Amazon, you probably won’t have a job.

So maybe now is a good time to be an artist. Artists don’t have employers, not just because some of them are unemployable; but they have scant regard for authority and little time for rules. Whilst they may get paid for the work they do, in an ideal world they don’t work to get paid. Artists work to a deeper rhythm, the shapes they make reflect their inner truth, the greater the verity the more likely the artifacts will affect others. And now is definitely a good time to be making things that reflect truth.

We live in frisky times, when change occurs the outcome is never certain. Those who have purpose and position, playing with geopolitics; they need us to remind them of what is true: those with their noses buried in their bank balances need artists to remind them of what is important and substantial and those who drudge need art to remind them of their own truth.

Artists have an innate ability to discover rightness and when they achieve harmony in their own work, in a small way they affect others and adjust the rightness of the universe.