Mixed Media Messing

As alluded to in a previous post, I have recently been forced into a clear up/out of nearly 20 years worth of stuff. While this might sound like it would have a negative impact on creativity due to diversion of time and energy (and during the most intensive week that was probably true), it has since led to a surge of productivity due to the distraction caused by reacquaintance with my ever expanding library of inspirational reading.

Two books in particular have driven me to obsessional making over the past week. The first is “Creative Illustration Workshop for mixed media artists” by Katherine Dunn, one of those wonderful spiral bound books full of fabulous photographs of this illustrator’s quirky work.


Apart from thoroughly enjoying drooling over her inspirational illustrations, the most helpful thing I picked up from her hints and tips is to “honor your muses” (page 48).  I find I can from time to time lose direction, caused by concern with what I think other people would value as suitable subject matter in my work (sometimes driven by an observer’s throw away comment and sometimes totally made up by my inner Critic). This never works well for me, as without full involvement and engagement in a subject matter, the resulting output is lacking.  While not everyone likes dogs, cats and life studies, if an abstract landscape (for example) doesn’t do it for me I’m hardly likely to do it justice am I? So with Ms Dunn’s permission I have for the time being put aside concerns that my art isn’t pleasing other people and am indulging in some work purely for my own amusement, entertainment and satisfaction. 

So, the first of this weekend’s finished outputs is this mixed media piece called “Hebe Dreaming”.  During the Summer months my Weimaraner can be found in the garden either flat out bathing in her sun puddle by the garage, or she can barely be seen as she stands with her head in our overgrown hebe, quite literally a hive of activity with bees, bugs and butterflies, just watching the activity around her.  When people ask me what type of dogs I have, they often don’t know what a Weimaraner is and I am forced to attempt a description of her colour using words such as grey, green, pink, purple, brown……. Basically, Weimaraners adopt the colour of the vegetation around them and this camouflage effect of her colouring was the inspiration behind the picture.

"mixed media weimaraner picture on water colour paper"

“Hebe dreaming” mixed media on watercolour paper

The second book that has grabbed my attention this weekend is “Playing with Sketches” by Whitney Sherman, another talented illustrator.


Whereas the previous book inspired me visually, this one has inspired me intellectually (?) having me working methodically through the exercises.  One task was to create a “tile” for repeat purposes by cutting up a simple drawing into four pieces and rearranging it to form a frame for another drawing. This is what I came up with using a fish as the original sketch, and creating a physical tile using a combination of ink, pen and collage, then digitally arranging and repeating by scanning the original into Photoshop.

"Something's Fishy repeat pattern"

“Something’s fishy” digital reproduction of mixed media on watercolour paper

I am rather taken with this technique, not least as for each exercise you get two pieces of work, one being the original tile for framing purposes etc and the other a digital piece where the applications are endless (at the moment I’m thinking the creation of a custom fabric via Spoonflower.com) so, dear reader, I will stop here as I have another “tile” to create before close of play today involving a chopped up and rearranged bunch of flowers and a poodle. Au revoir.

New doggy doodle for sale: “Bff”

Faced with a wet and gloomy Bank Holiday Monday and confined to the house to supervise an injured but still hyperactive Weimaraner, I have just finished a new doggy doodle.  Hand stitched on painted calico and cotton rag paper, and decorated with vintage lace, the theme and colour scheme is unashamedly girlie.  This unframed piece is for sale (£39 including UK postage) and measures 29 by 23.5cm.  Please E mail me if you are interested.

"hand stitched doggy doodle by Nicky Barfoot"

“Bff”: hand stitched doggy doodle on painted calico and cotton rag, decorated with vintage lace

Becoming a Loose(r) Woman

A fabulous long weekend spent at West Dean College on Dynamic Life Drawing with the wonderfully energetic Christopher Gilvan-Cartwright.  My aim was to re-ignite my love of Life Drawing, having become increasingly frustrated with this discipline in recent months.  Previous tutors have told me that I  need to “loosen up” so having read the wacky agenda for this course, I was hoping it would be the answer to making me a Loose(r) Woman!  I wasn’t disappointed.

The first evening was spent in the dark, drawing the delightful Frankie who was painted in neon paint and under a UV light.  Sadly, without a UV light, the output is not nearly as exciting but I still liked the use of pattern to create the illusion of a human body.

"neon pattern on life model"

Drawn in the dark. The picture really comes to life under UV.


After a morning of warming up with various exercises (continuous line, non dominant hand) and short poses, the second day was taken with a Frida Kahlo scene.  Funny how drawing fabric seems so much harder than the unclothed human body.  We used some pre-made backgrounds for these drawings.

"charcoal drawing of a seated, clothed female"

Frida Kahlo scene


Day three got messy with wet on wet techniques, painting ink over acrylic then blasting it off with a water sprayer, and using a long bamboo stick and ink to draw on the floor (while hoping not to draw on the ceiling) at a distance.  I really like the potential of the acrylic and ink layering technique but sadly without a large sink unit and a studio, practically I can’t see this happening in my dining room.

"layered acrylic and ink painting"

Messy but effective partial removal of ink from acrylic using water spray

The final day was using collage to depict a clothed scene.  Funnily enough despite my usual love of collage, this was probably my least successful day.  However, as is usually the case, I’ll put the work away and then will probably be more excited by it when I revisit in a few weeks time.

"seated figure in collage and drawing"

Paper collage (what to do with the drawings that don’t work!) and pastel pencil drawing

I now have a huge A1 folder full of stuff to inspire some follow on work and while “the leopard can’t change his shorts” (yes, I am a massive Terry Pratchett fan), I am definitely feeling much looser than I was last weekend 😉



Surrealism at West Dean College with London Drawing Theatre

OK, so I had a vague idea of what to expect today at West Dean College’s London Drawing Theatre workshop as I accidentally walked through it last year.  However, it still proved to be an unusual, and (intentionally to go with the college’s atmosphere/decor) surreal drawing experience, with the two hardworking life models (mostly wearing masks, headdresses, and painted blue!) blending into the fabulous and weird surroundings of the college.

The day was divided into three scenes/poses.  During the first we were encouraged to use collage to depict a mostly stationery scene.

"life drawing collage"

paper collage and felt tip pen on cartridge paper

During the second we moved between two corridor scenes (one shown below):

"seated nude wearing zebra mask"

felt pen on cartridge paper

and during the last, the models were moving around the college’s Oak Lounge and we mostly stayed still:

"pen life drawing of theatrical scene"

felt pen on cartridge paper