Learning to draw and paint faces

Portrait class

Jun 27, 2012 by Asphyxia

Portrait class

Jenine and I enrolled in Suzi Blu’s portrait’s class.  We sat up late one night in front of the fire, watching the video of the first class.  It all seemed so complicated and cerebral and we were both thinking “Huh?”…. but then we decided to just quickly do a face, following the ideas Suzi Blu showed us, and see what happened.

Somehow all the confusion from the video and class notes melded themselves into something coherent.  Within an hour (oops, the after midnight hour), we both had a face.

Here’s mine.

Considering that all I’ve been able to do until now is a little U for a nose, and that all the lips I’ve been doing are completely stylised, I’m thrilled to have produced this.  It’s not stunning, but I can’t believe it came from my own hand, and that just the day before I did this, there was NO WAY I could have produced anything close to this.  Jenine felt the same about her face.  We both went to bed in awe…

Today I exercised

Jun 27, 2012 by Asphyxia

Today I exercised

I wish it weren’t such a notable event, to have exercised.  But there you have it.  I rode my bike to the pool, swam, stretched, sauna’d, washed my hair (shock!), and generally tended to my personal care.  It was so noteworthy that it warranted its own page in my journal.

Colour portrait

Jun 30, 2012 by Asphyxia

Colour portrait

The night after our amazing portrait discovery, Jenine and I set about adding colour to the faces we’d drawn.  This is a mix of coloured pencil, pastel and watercolour.  I liked it even better after using it as just another page in my journal and writing over her face with a piece of charcoal.


Jul 3, 2012 by Asphyxia


I did this page in my journal to remind me of the blissful time we had at Anglesea.  From left: Jenine, Paula, Jesse and me.  In truth we hardly got out of our jarmies, but on the few occasions we did get dressed, we wore something vaguely resembling the cute outfits above.  And I drew a rabbit on Jesse’s T-shirt to remind me that we were there to work on The Grimstones book 3 – all about rabbits.  We had a big rabbit theme going.

Portrait of Jesse

Jul 6, 2012 by Asphyxia

Portrait of Jesse

I was so inspired after my first portrait, that I just HAD to do one of my beautiful son Jesse.  I got a photo of him first, held the paper up to the screen, and traced the outlines so that I would have his features the right size and in the right place.

It looked pretty scrappy in the outline stage, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it together.  But I relaxed and did what Suzi Blu told me: cross-hatched holding my pencil loosely by the end, and I just scribbled away until it started to come together.

I also tried out her suggestion of a kneadable eraser.  I’ve never come across these before, but boy am I glad I decided to try.  I got some really nice highlights above Jesse’s lips and along his jawline, and even in his hair with this.  Wow.  I’m sold.



Trashed Mama Drawing

June 29, 2012 by Asphyxia

Trashed Mama Drawing

This morning’s drawing.



Trashed Mama drawing 2

Jul 1, 2012 by Asphyxia


Here’s another one.. this time in colour…

Food is Medicine

Jul 9, 2012 by Asphyxia

Food is Medicine

It is my belief that every single thing we eat impacts our health.  And every aspect of our health, strength and resilience is tied in with what we eat.  Here’s my tribute to food as medicine.

Elizabeth I

Jul 15, 2012 by Asphyxia

Elizabeth I

This is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.  I did this as a part of my portraits class.  I can’t claim any artistic credit for this since I did it entirely as an exercise, copying the artwork showed in the video.  I set the videos going and drew/painted/collaged at the same time.  The composition, style, concept etc all belong to my teacher, Suzi Blu.

That said, I’m pretty pleased to have executed this, technically.  I certainly didn’t have the skills to do this until recently, and I’m excited to think what I’ll be able to do with this down the track.  Here’s what she looked like at the pencil stage:

Elizabeth I 2

Mystical Portal

Jul 18, 2012 by Asphyxia

Mystical Portal

Recently, as he lay in bed at night, my son Jesse fingered my necklace, and said, “This looks like a portal into a mystical world.”  Since then the necklace has been named “Mystical Portal”, and I wanted to capture his words in this picture.  I love using the things children say as text for my artwork.

Just last week, as I cuddled him in bed before sleep, Jesse and I had a really long and beautiful conversation.  We covered topics such as relationships, what makes a person attractive – whether it’s external or internal beauty, how to keep friends and make friends… he asked if I’d been popular at school.  Eventually I said, “Shhh, go to sleep now.”  He turned over and snuggled down.  Then just before he went to sleep, he turned back and whispered, “Just one more question?”

“Sure…” I said.

“Who founded Video Ezy?”


Elizabeth Woodville

Jul 21, 2012 by Asphyxia

Elizabeth Woodville

After my painting of Elizabeth I, I wanted to practise all the techniques I’d learnt, so I read up on the Tudor family, and picked another subject for my next painting: Elizabeth Woodville, said to be the most beautiful woman in England, Queen of Edward IV.

I remember Elizabeth Woodville from Phillipa Gregory’s book, The White Queen.  The book reads like a novel, and in fact it wasn’t until half-way through reading it that I realised it was based in historical fact, although Phillipa has taken a bit of artistic licence to fill in the gaps that have been buried with time.

Above is my super-quick pencil sketch of her.  Below is after I’d added colour:

Elizabeth Woodville 2

She might have been exceptionally beautiful in real life, but I don’t think she is in this painting.  Still, I reckon this is not a bad effort considering how new my portrait painting skills are.  I think I like her better in pencil though, even if it was quick and rough.

Blythe: legless behind the washing machine

Jul 24, 2012 by Asphyxia

Blythe legless behind the washing machine

I love Blythe dolls.

They were released in 1972, and retired from sales after only one year due to poor sales.  Since then they have become a collector’s item, and the few Blythes that still exist are shockingly expensive.

One night I mentioned Blythe to Jenine, and she said, casually, “I used to have a Blythe.”

My eyes almost popped out of my head.  I know Jenine sometimes buys frightfully expensive and utterly gorgeous things, but she owned a Blythe?????  I begged her to tell me everything. Where is she now?  Was she frightfully expensive?  How did she come to buy it?

“Oh, I think she cost about $3 from the local variety store.  She turned up in my Christmas stocking one year.  I’ve no idea where she is now.  Probably legless behind the washing machine.”

And then I realised: Jenine had an authetic Blythe, one of the real ones from back in 1972.  Wow!  And how tragic to think she was long gone, abandoned along with other childhood toys that were once treasured and now gather dust, spiders and washing machine lint.

So.. here’s Jenine’s Blythe.  This page in my journal is for all those dolls we loved and cherished as children, but have abandoned and neglected once we grew up and no longer needed them.

Edited later to add: I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the start of a theme I’d use over and over again in my work, treasured dolls and toys once loved but now abandoned and neglected.

Quick coloured pencil drawings

Jul 30, 2012 by Asphyxia

Quick coloured pencil drawings

Have you read Mixed Media Girls by Suzi Blu?  I asked my library to buy it and just received it recently.  It’s fantastic – very inspiring.  One of her drawings is this very sweet, rough, coloured pencil sketch, and it inspired me to do this quick sketch of Jesse and me in my art journal.  Suzi Blu encourages me to use colours I wouldn’t normally use on a face.  This is my first go at purple, blue and green shading around the eyes, and I’ve surprised myself by really liking the effect.  I’ll be doing more of this.

Quick portraits

Aug 5, 2012 by Asphyxia

Quick portraits

As a part of my art study, I’ve been practising doing quick pencil portraits and gluing them into my journal.  I did this one in just 20 minutes, for the graphite part, then added some coloured pencil in a second 20 minute block.  I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.  Again I practised using unusual (for me) colours for shading, such as purple, green and red.  I’m loving it.

Watercolour portrait

Aug 14, 2012 by Asphyxia

Watercolour portrait

As a part of my portraits course, I did this quick portrait to practise my watercolour techniques.  I think I have a long way to go before I feel comfortable using water colour, but this did turn out ok despite all my angst in creating it.

Home made notebook journal

Aug 20, 2012 by Asphyxia

Home made notebook journal

I feel I’ve really got the hang of how to make hard cover notebooks now.  I use recycled office paper inside.  I take 7 sheets, fold them in half, and sew down the middle to create a “signature”.  For this book I made 8 signatures, and then sewed the signatures together.  You are supposed to sew them very tightly, but I left them a bit loose because I often add collage to my notebooks, and this meant there would be space for that before the covers start to bulge out.

Once the signatures are stitched together, I rub PVC glue onto the spine, and then press a strip of fabric into it.  I line it all up nicely, put a weight on top, and leave it to dry.  While I’m waiting, I make the cover.

I’ve decided the very best covers are made from old hard-cover books, because they are both lightweight and very strong, and usually don’t tend to bend.  I salvage some unloved old childrens’ books, and cut a front and back cover a little larger than my signatures.  I cut a strip the same height for the spine, and measure the width to be the same as the thickness of my glued-together signatures.  Actually I make it a fraction wider, to give a bit more space for collage inside.

I make up the cover artwork on a piece of A3 paper.  For this one I used a quote I loved from the book “Enough” as a reminder to live in the spirit of enough.  I also used a petit doll I drew as a part of my art course.

I lay the A3 paper face down on the table, then glue the front and back covers into place, with the spine in the middle.  There is a 7mm gap between the spine and then covers.  Then I fold the A3 paper over the edges and glue it down.

Now I have one finished cover, and a finished set of signatures.  To attach them is easy.  I glue the front and back page onto the front and back covers.  In the process, the edges of the fabric strip attached to the signatures get glued to the covers too – this makes it nice and strong. Then I glue down the second page and second last page.  Finally I choose some pretty patterned paper, cut it to size, and glue it over the top, so that the inside of the cover has appealing artwork on it.

Voila.. ready for writing, drawing, collage or whatever.  I find these notebooks in A5 size utterly appealing, solid, strong and enduring.

Queen for 9 Days

Aug 27, 2012 by Asphyxia

Queen for 9 Days

As part of my art study, this is an attempt at a water colour portrait, and I must say I’m thrilled with how it turned out.  It’s of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for 9 days, then executed for it despite the fact that she hadn’t even wanted to be queen in the first place!

Blue portrait

Sep 14, 2012 by Asphyxia

Queen for 9 Days

This is my favourite of the portraits I’ve done so far.  I watched one of Suzi Blu’s portrait videos, and then followed the techniques shown to create my own portrait.

My Art Kit

Sep 23, 2012 by Asphyxia

Here’s the supplies I keep in my art bag, which goes everywhere with me.

It’s great, because it has a pocket for my journals and folders on one side, and on the other side a pocket each for paints, coloured pens/pencils, other art tools (scissors, glue, black pens etc).  I can lie the art bag with those pockets facing up, unzip, and work straight out of them.  No need to spread my tools all over the table/house.  Which means that packing up is quick and easy.

It means it’s become very easy to do art in bed.  So what’s in my art kit?  I took it all out to organise my supplies, and snapped this pic:

My Art Kit1

The spotty folder has plastic pockets containing collage papers.  I often do drawings in the sketchbook, and if I like them, I tear them out and glue them into my journal, and finish them off that way.  The red folder contains scrap paper and art lists and scribbles.  The black book is my journal.

On top of the black book is a set of three water colour brushes – the handle is a tube that holds water – makes it very easy to do watercolour paints without needing to be at a table with a pot of water.  There’s also my tiny tin of water colour paints.

Beneath that is my set of prismacolour pencils – they give very intense colour.  Bottom right are my tools – various pens, graphite pencils, sharpener, eraser, ink and fountain pen.  I also keep an old facecloth in my kit, ready to wipe up spills, to blot paints for a textured effect, and to keep my fingers clean as I go.  The little white pot contains matte medium, for gluing my pics into my journal, and for creating a surface that coloured pencil and pen goes over easily.  The bottle with pink lid contains gel medium, which thins out acrylic paint and makes it transparent.

Bottom left is my set of acrylic paints and a tube of brushes.  Above that more important tools – scissors, glue and tape.  There’s also my palette, and a square of sandpaper (top right) which I use to sand back my paintings to make them look older and more textured.

And there you have it.  With this kit I can do an amazingly varied amount of art.  I have a separate box with supplies I use less frequently, but this is the guts of my every day art kit, and I love it.

The Hunger Games – Foxface portrait

Sep 26, 2012 by Asphyxia

Have you read The Hunger Games, or watched the movie?  I saw the movie and found it fascinating.  I immediately got the books from the library, and am reading them at the moment.  I think they’re great – really well written, fast paced, great characters, tight writing, good plot.  Ahhh!

In the movie I was particularly taken with a very minor character, Foxface.  We only get to see a glimpse of her here and there, but I was inspired to paint this portrait of her.


I’m trying to paint a portrait every week at the moment, to stay on top of my new skills from my art course.  I did this quickly in an afternoon and am thrilled with how it turned out.

Who would have thought that a whole lot of black for the nostrils and area underneath them would work, and yet it does.  I would never have thought to use green for shading on the face, and yet that works too – it ties it in with the background and doesn’t seem particularly unnatural.

I spattered the whole thing with paint, leaving blue and green spots of her face, and even that seems to work.  In the past I would never have dared to mess up my work in that way.

Homemade rubber stamps

Oct 2, 2012 by Asphyxia

As a part of my art course, I’ve learnt how to make my own rubber stamps.  I always thought that carving a stamp would be an incredibly complex and time consuming process, but it’s surprisingly simple.  You do need some basic supplies though.  I bought a lino-cutting tool and a block of rubber from an art supplies store.

After drawing my design and transferring it onto the rubber block, I simply start carving along the lines I’ve made with the smallest cutting tool, and gradually work my way up to the wider tools to carve out bigger areas.  Once I’ve done a rough cut, I start making prints so I can see where the line needs to be thinner, and where more carving needs to happen.  I keep carving and printing until I’m happy with the print.

Here’s my first stamp:


And my second, which is very customisable:

Paula's Pyjama stamp1

Paula's Pyjama stamp2

My favourite stamp so far is this “pretty girl” stamp.  By spending eight enjoyable minutes with my coloured pencils, I can colour her in and get multiple different effects:

Girl stamp1

What to give someone who is turning 91?

Oct 4, 2012 by Asphyxia

My grandma just turned 91 and she’s in damned good form.  Every morning she bends over and puts her palms flat on the floor, legs straight, she does the wheelbarrow yoga position, and a whole series of other exercises.  Her mind is 100% sharp, and she’s Ms Fashionista, with a walk-in wardobe the size of my lounge room.  As a child one of my favourite hobbies was dressing up in her cast-off clothes.  I hope I’ve got her genes!  (I certainly haven’t inherited the fashion part, but I’m holding out for health and longevity!)  Here’s the painting I did for her birthday:

What to give someone who is turning 91

Biro sketches

Nov 26, 2012 by Asphyxia

I’ve been trying out sketches with biro.

Biro sketches

Biro sketches 2

By the way, this isn’t really a self-portrait.  It’s an idea for a character for a book, and it’s HER self-portrait.

Biro sketches 3

These quick, rough scribbles in my journal really don’t take that long.  When I start they always look dreadful, especially when I begin the shading around the eyes.  But as I keep going, they start to come together, and by the end I usually like what I’ve done.

Biro sketches 4

I tried adding colour to this one.  I think I prefer my biro sketches without colour, but I want to experiment more.

My new journal

Dec 1, 2012 by Asphyxia

My new journal 1

I’ve been trying out a new kind of book for my journal.  I love making my own books, and this one was fun because I decided to experiment with real watercolour paper.  So far I’ve always just used office paper, which is cheap, and fine for writing, but buckles when I add paint to it.  I bought a few different kinds of watercolour paper to try, and stitched together this book, using a random selection of papers in each signature.

I’ve been frustrated by my previous journals in that the pages don’t stay open very well.  The spine is rigid and it’s tricky to lay it perfectly flat.  For this book, after stitching it together, I just used gaffer tape for the spine.  My glue didn’t adhere well to it so I think this method needs tweaking, but I love the way I can turn the pages right around on themselves, and it opens perfectly flat.  I also tried out a soft cover – this is just another sheet of watercolour paper.  But I’m not liking that.  It feels too delicate.  I think next time I’ll try hard cover but a slightly more robust soft spine than this one.

Here’s the back, collaged with my favourite paintings from my previous journal.

My new journal 2

Process Journaling

Dec 11, 2012 by Asphyxia

For so long, I’ve been doing pretty pages in my journal.  I’ve been trying to learn how to paint portraits, draw dolls, plan and chronicle my life in a beautiful way.  But now I’ve had another burst of process journaling – where the pages are about what’s inside that needs to be expressed, and I don’t worry about the finished look of the page.  I’m sometimes surprised though, and like the pages more than I thought I would.  My newly honed drawing skills are helping.

Process Journaling

I often start by just writing on the page, whatever is in my mind, whatever is bothering me.  Then I read it back and draw a box around key words or phrases.  I think about what imagery could represent what I need to express.  In this painting, the owl represents wisdom (that I need to get), the tree represents growth (that I need to do)…  Then I do my pictures right over the top of the writing, overlaying images on top of each other without worrying too much about composition.  After I’ve painted, sometimes I wet the paint and scrub it away again, to reveal the words underneath.

Process Journaling 2

For this picture, I drew with my left hand, rather than my right.  Gulp.  But I loved the effect!

Process Journaling 3

I don’t think I really like the finished composition of this page, but it got down the mess of my feelings in a big grid of symbols.

All these pages were done as part of exercises from my art school, along with bits and pieces of knowledge and skill I’ve acquired in my personal art journey.


I’ve been doing a burst of self-portraits recently.  I thought for a long time there, what could be more boring than a self-portrait?  But then Suzi Blu listed a set of writing prompts, to help us think about who we are, what we want from life, what makes us unique, what we need to say…  And once I’d done that, suddenly I had a whole lot of ideas for self-portraits that suddenly felt meaningful and important!


This is the first one I did.  I began with a photo I took of myself in the mirror, traced the outline so that the features were the right shape and in the right place, then kept the photo in front of me while I shaded.

Self-portraits 2

For the next one I started with a photo too.  I got the basic outline, but the lighting in the photo was terrible, so I made up my own shading.  The lighting was too bad to really get my features accurate so I made them up too.  This is more symbolic and representative of me than trying to capture an actual likeness.  But I like it way more than the previous one.

Read about the next part of my journey to become an artist.