Monday 18 March 2019


As often happens with me, two articles that I have read recently chimed with and connected with my thoughts – in this case concerning drawing. The first was an online report of ‘Print Magazine’s’ interview with Professor D.B. Dowd about his book: ‘Stick Figures: Drawing As a Human Practice’. The other was a newspaper article by heart surgeon, Professor Stephen Westaby. Both were talking about how drawing is so much more than simply putting pencil to paper to make a pretty picture, but is in fact an exercise in manual dexterity, spacial awareness, a memory enhancer and a tool for seeing and understanding the world. In short, a contributory skill to almost any human endeavour and a vital part of our learning. To the above I will add a form (probably an original form) of Mindfulness or meditation.

Everyone can draw. Yes, you heard me right: everyone can draw. We do it all the time. Writing is drawing symbols that relate to letters and words. We can do that because we have practised doing it. We draw a map to direct someone. We can do that because we can see the way in our heads. Or we doodle to occupy or distract our minds. We do that beacuse the result (product) does not matter, it is the doodling (the process) that is the point. Even if you feel that you have no natural ‘talent’ for drawing, it can be taught and developed. We all drew as children and didn’t think about it until criticism (often self-criticism) came into play. The question should not be ‘why can’t you draw’, but ‘why did you stop?’

Can you draw a Stickman? it is not so hard to develop that using the Keyline approach.

I could have stopped drawing at school. I started to find people around me who were better at it than me. My doodling habit got me reprimanded, sent to the Principal, even put in detention. It was not until much later when learning to teach (horse-riding) that I came across the VARK system of sensorary modalities for learning information. VARK stands for Visual, Aural, Read/write and Kinesthetic and the theory is that we learn best through one of those systems. In fact I think we all learn in all those ways, but to greater or lesser degrees, and we learn to enhance our weaker modalities the more we learn.

I am primarily Visual (no surprise!), then Kinesthetic, Read/write and lastly Aural. I find it hardest to learn by listening. In school it was mainly ‘Chalk and Talk’ and I would find my attention drifting: caught by the view out of the window; the grain of the wood of my desk; the light on the hair of my classmates; basically anything visual. Doodling helped distract my main modality and allowed me to listen, but more than that, by recalling the doodle I could also recall the information delivered whilst I was drawing.Nowadays I still doodle "when I shouldn't be doodling". I draw at meetings; when I am stressed or anxious; when I need to think or 'ground' myself or to lose myself.

I repeat: EVERYONE CAN DRAW. The problem is that we tend to have a very narrow view of drawing as a linear outline with shading that is representational, and these days more likely photo-realistic. To me that is boring drawing. It has much skill in technique, but very little expression, originality or merit as Art. I can draw like that – I do draw like that – to work out the composition and tonal values for a painting, or to show to a client to confirm the content and visual of their commissioned painting. If you are now shouting at me via the computer think of this: the ultimate goal of photo-realism is that the drawing looks like or even surpasses a photograph. To achieve this (and you can’t just be good or very good, you have to be excellent) you have to focus on technical ability as the aim. Once you achieve excellence two things happen – 1) you have nowhere else to go and 2) your work is now indistinguishable from every other excellent photo-realist. But I digress. 

Everyone SHOULD draw. It is one of the great tools of learning. It improves hand to eye co-ordination. It helps develop independent thought and creative expression of ideas. It helps to learn problem solving. It helps build a good memory and visual vocabulary. Doodling has been proved to increase the memory of a list given at the time by 29%.  It gives a sense of peace and Mindfulness or meditation. It has been proven to help delay the onset of dementia.

It takes a bit of practice but Life drawing is an excellent discipline for learning and trying approaches: Tonal drawing
EVERYONE CAN DRAW. In all my workshops, in all the life drawing classes I have attended, everyone has been able to draw. They just have to find out HOW they draw. I have written articles for magazines and led workshops on five approaches to drawing and 10 approaches to drawing but there are many more ways to draw than that. Drawing is learning to see, learning to engage with the subject (the whole world) and learning your ‘drawing modality’ of translating that.

Let me help you find your way.

Ruth will be teaching drawing at Pure Artwork Studios, near Banbury, North Oxford:
24th April 2019 ‘The External Mind Sketchbook’ (one day workshop)
25th/26th April 2019 ‘Stronger Drawing For Dramatic Painting’ (Ten Approaches to Drawing)

Thursday 8 November 2018

The final part of my Art A to Z - U to Z

Art A to Z

And so to the final part starting with . . .

. . . U is for Universals
As I research my work and teach I find more and more universals – themes and approaches that are not limited to art, but go across many disciplines. In fact a lot of my teaching practice comes from the dressage trainers that I had in my riding. How to learn, how to see, posture, preservation and promotion of expression, the ‘Art of Riding’ all contain universal themes with art, and from my discussions with my partner’s sister in the USA (a dancer and dance teacher), in ballet as well. In teaching and writing, I use examples from dressage, music, literature, even from golf! (which I don’t play by the way). One thing I have learned about universals is that they are truth, not opinions. Another thing I have learned is that once discovered, universals create connections between disciplines and practices that can lead to wonderful conversations between people, not only other artists from different genres and approaches, but also with people whose work, study and discipline seems totally unconnected to Art. I know nothing about golf, but I do know universals that exist in both art and golf and that gives me access to learning in a conversation with a golfer. Learning, not necessarily Art, is my favourite thing.

V is for Values

Image Cobalt Greys and Arabian Son Value sketch to painting

Values are the tones in a painting – at its basic: the lights and shades. I remember a lightbulb moment at school when I saw values in shading for the first time and started to understand how to render a subject. Now I know that values are so much more than simply rendering and that value exist in colours as well. In fact, when I taught my first American watercolour workshop, one of the participants wrote a blog saying that she was stunned to see in my demonstration that I used colour to define the form. It was only after much thought that I decided that indeed I did do this – another lightbulb flash   I naturally use colour as tone. Doh! - I should have worked that one out before as I am naturally a draughtsman rather than a painter, but that is the great thing about teaching – I learn too!

V can also be for Value Sketch – a simple sketch done using four tones before a painting to work out where the lights and darks will go. Simple, but valuable as here is the start of the design of the painting, where rhythms, transitions and inflections are noted that will (hopefully ) bring atmosphere and expression to the work.

W is for Watercolour

What else could W be for me? My love affair with watercolour sort of started with my illustration work as I have never liked acrylic and found gouache too coarse. Oils take too long to dry for the type of illustration that I was painting.

We have had our rocky patches. Watercolour can be an unforgiving partner, and is often seen as the hardest medium to dance with, but once some steps are mastered there is so much that can be done. From the palest wash to paint straight from the tube, the interaction of water and, well, colour can be awesome and inspiring. Sometimes to just stand back and let the pigment dance with the water and other pigment is incredible, but it takes a lot of practice to even start to understand ‘How Wet’, ‘How Much Pigment’,’ ‘How Much Choreography’. Maybe for me that is the thing. More than anything else, I love to learn, and with watercolour I learn more with every new painting – I don’t think that will ever stop.

10,000 hours? I passed that long ago. 100,000 hours? I’m probably approaching that after painting for nearly 40 years! I sometimes have little flirtations with other mediums, and enjoy my dangerous liaisons. I am actually planning have a fling with some oil paint for my latest series, but watercolour knows that I will always return to my painting soulmate.

Xylanthrax is the name for burnt wood most likely used for the very first forms of drawing on cave walls around 28,000 years ago. Xylanthrax can be the charcoal that you can use on your barbeque, but can also be the more refined version, also called Fusain but more commonly known as Vine or Compressed (artists) Charcoal.

Vine Charcoal is sticks of usually willow or vine that are burnt without air. Compressed Charcoal is made from ground burnt organic matter shaped with gum or wax binder into sticks or encased in wood to form charcoal pencils. Vine charcoal gives the greatest range of marks and tones, but is less stable than compressed charcoal ie it lifts off the paper or smudges more easily and has to be protected by a covering. It is also gloriously messy.  

Two of my artist friends were having one of those conversations – you know, if you were on a desert Island what is the one thing that you would take, and they both agreed that I would take charcoal. They were right. I started as a draughtsman and drawing is ‘my thing’. (vine) Charcoal is the king of drawing. True it is hard to get tight detail with vine charcoal, but for learning to imply detail, for expressive marks, for one tool that gives the lightest stroke to the darkest, intense black it is unbeatable. I have reams of paper with charcoal Life Drawings on them waiting to (fittingly) become fire-starters for our stove this winter (fire born and fire died). While I do occasionally produce a charcoal drawing as an art piece to hang on the wall, 90% of my charcoal work is process not product. It is for the joy and the learning, the practise and practice of drawing.  Show me the way to the Island.

Z is for Ziggurat
What is a Ziggurat? For those that do not know, it is a stepped pyramid. It is also the name of the Graphic Design & Illustration business that I ran at the start of my career long before I became a Fine Artist. I can’t remember exactly how the name choice came about, but I do remember a lubricated evening with my accountant going through possible choices based on my surname. Buchanan is a Scottish clan title with two tartans and a clan location on the eastern bank of Loch Lomond in Stirlingshire, Scotland. Apparently, the lowland clan made whiskey and sweets and also bought and fattened cattle form the Highland herds. The name’s most likely derivation is ‘buth-chanain’ meaning the ‘seat (house) of the canon’, so probably had an ecclesiastical origin. Somehow seen through the bottom of a wine bottle that morphed into looking at      names of religious structures and we ended up with Ziggurat.
Nowadays I still use the term Ziggurat, but in teaching. I am an avid believer in learning and practising the basics. A concert pianist practices scales every day, a ballet dancer has ‘class’ every day, sportsmen and women warm-up running basic exercises, but artists . . . well we just paint. Applying the same rehearsal of basics that I used in schooling my horse to my artwork improved it tremendously, as did going back to class in the form of some workshops and in finding a great Life Drawing mentor in Andrés Jaroslavsky (The Corner Studio, York). I also have co-mentor relationships with a couple of other artists and as well as being sounding-boards, supporting and encouraging, we have days where we challenge each other to experiment or consolidate our learning. Teaching workshops myself also made me revisit basics, which is NEVER wasted time.
Back to the bible – do you remember the parable about the two men who built houses: one on sand and one on rock? The rock foundation house was harder and slower to build, but withstood the onslaught of wind and rain. I can extend that metaphor to the Ziggurat (although that was most likely built on sand as well – so more reason for a bigger, wider base). The height of the Ziggurat is determined by its base. If I only have a small grasp of basics, then my base layer, or bottom step, is small. I can only build up a small number of steps before I reach the top and can go no further without the whole thing tilting, falling or collapsing. By expanding the basics, I can make the base step bigger and build higher with more steps. If I find myself stuck or my creative practice starting to creak and crumble, then I know that I need to go make the base bigger, which means learning more which, as you may have discovered by now . . . is my favourite thing.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

O to T - the penultimate blog post in my A to Z Art Business Glossary

 the A to Z continues with O, P, Q R S and T . . .

O is for Oregon (at the time that this was written, I was preparing for a three-day drawing workshop that I was leading in Portland, Oregon, USA).
I am passionate about drawing. A book is on the way, though slow progress as it is developing alongside teaching workshops, preparing for exhibitions, writing articles for Art publications, the day to day running of my business, keeping up with commissions (that is my income) oh and actually getting to do some painting once in a while! but meantime: The thing about drawing is that it should be enjoyable. Sketching in particular should be fast, immediate and about catching a moment that can be developed later or simply for the joy of capturing a movement and attitude.

"Most people think of drawing one way, as a linear outline, starting at the top and then continuing through the full silhouette. It is entirely possible to draw like this but it is a difficult approach not to mention narrow. Because the reality is that there are many ways to draw. 
In drawing workshops I ask people to work through a series of exercises based on Ten Approaches to Drawing, which was originally based on my life drawing experiences - if we use these approaches in Life Drawing, then why not apply them to other subjects?
The Ten Approaches (though there are actually many more than just ten) help to generate drawing ideas for beginners who are hesitant to explore and gives students with more background in drawing more ways to use their skills and discover and strengthen their natural style . . ."

You can read the rest of this online article, written for the ArtistsNetwork, here:

P is for Process.

(At the time of writing, my A to Z had been disrupted by B for Block, R for Real-Life and F for Feeling c***, but eventually came back with P for Process). 

The image is a painting 'Reflected Glory' from a few years ago with the sketches (yes I stood on the XC course at Burghley with my sketchbook and camera) and a couple of work-in-progress painting shots. If you look back to L for Life Drawing you’ll see how the 30 second warm ups help with drawing horses moving, and drawing horses moving helps with Life Drawing!

My creative process is to sketch from life or from my mind, then refine those drawings with (my own) photographic reference and use thumbnail sketches to work out a composition. Alongside that I often write in my journal about my thoughts and feelings about the subject – this is where seemingly random connections are made that help to move my ideas forward, so the writing is very personal ‘stream of consciousness’ type scribblings along with scribbled images – very cathartic, give it a go!

Some of my work and study (especially my Life drawing) is pure Process. Being concerned with Process not Product (I have to credit and early riding mentor: American classical dressage trainer Paul Belasik for that phrase), stops me becoming too focussed on the outcome and allows my creative back-brain to do more of the work. It is a form of Mindfulness – existing in the creative moment or like a sportsperson finding the ‘sweet-spot’ by being in ‘the zone’. It is a balance of thinking and not thinking, and finding the balance is always the hardest thing. But so worthwhile to keep trying.

Q is for Quarters
in my #atozruralbusiness #smallandsupercharged. My OH is always teasing me that I like to draw and paint horses’ rear ends - well as you can see not just horses! 

R is for Reproduction – already a blog post so follow the link to read the full copy . . .

This one took me a while for me to post. I was trying to cut the text to be able to post on instagram but failed in that endeavour so it had to become a blog post! The image is the proofing and quality checking for my ‘print’ (reproduction) ‘Breathe’. 

What most of us call prints are actually reproductions - to see some terms and explanations you can read the full text here:

S is for Sketchbook. 

I most always have a Sketchbook with me. For me it is where I go to sketch (obviously) both from life and ideas from my mind, to plan and develop drawings and ideas, to inspire myself, to lose myself . . . it is my Mindfulness and the only form of Meditation I have found that doesn’t make me want to scream and punch something.

My sketchbooks have won awards and are what people want to see at Open Studio events but are firstly an integral and vital part of my working creative process. 

Click on the vid to see a flick through of one of my current sketchbooks (I usually have 5 or more in various sizes on the go at any one time). You will see I have left blank pages where I will return to develop drawings into painting compositions, page markers for particular ideas and lots of writing. I also write and draw in a more personal journal every day. 

If you want to learn more I am leading an ‘External Mind’ Sketchbook Workshop for @pureartworkstudio in North Oxford, 30th to 31st October.…

T is for Transitions

Transitions are the movements between areas of tone or colour in a painting – more commonly known as edges. As I continuing learning about painting I find that transitions  are more and more important to me and my work. I already knew this in drawing (and in dressage), but it has taken a while (years) for me to understand and apply this in painting. 

Where is a hard edge or strong transition of tone? Where is that edge softer, where is there no edge at all? Working solely from photographs makes this harder as a photograph tends to flatten and coarsen edges, but it is in that flow and rhythm of transition that the painting gains atmosphere, expression and interest, so my photographic reference is increasingly put away at key points in my painting to allow the piece to develop without being constrained by an external visual source - as in my watercolour painting and charcoal drawing of Arabian horses. I am also working more towards using no reference at all, as in this demonstration piece at the 2018 Great Yorkshire Show. 

It is all in the eye!


Monday 24 September 2018

More A to Z - I, J, K L, M & N

I is for Inspiration (and for Improving)
Obviously I am inspired to paint by horses, but I am inspired to paint and draw BETTER by the work of artists throughout art history. I’m not talking here about the wonderful mentors and co-mentors I am lucky enough to know or have known, though they certainly play their part, but the ones in the books on my studio shelves. I remember exactly where I first saw their work. The artists that have inspired me the most work in different mediums, different styles and with different subjects (interestingly very rarely horses) but all have a quality of light capture, brushwork, mood and atmosphere, economy of mark or something intangible that speaks to me. Looking at their work has helped me out of many a painting quandary and many a painter’s block. So (among many and in no particular order) here is my list of go-tos: Edgar Degas, Franz Marc, Marc Chagall, John Singer Sargent, Horst Janssen, Katsushika Hokusai, Käthe Kollwitz, Ralph Steadman, Frank Auerbach, Egon Schiele, Felicien Rops, Joseph Zbukvic, Günter Grass. Which artists inspire you?  

J is for Just A Card. 
Designer Sarah Hamilton’s 'Just A Card' campaign started when she saw a quote from a recently closed Gallery’s owner saying that if everyone who had complimented the gallery had bought just a card they would not have had to close down. I can’t remember how many times I have said similar at a show! So if you like a gallery or artist and want to keep seeing their work then make a purchase at their shop, a show, or from their website to support them. Even small purchases add up so . . .  If you want to see or purchase my published work, you can at or for more information about the campaign:

K is For Kismet. 
 ‘Kismet’ is my best selling print. The original (sold long ago) is a pastel study that I completed in 1995(!) using my friend’s mare Kizzy as a model. At the time I had not seen a painting or photograph that focused exclusively on the eye, but have seen many, many since. This does not stop me working on eye paintings and studies, but just makes me want to look for a different way of looking at the subject. The focus on the eye in 'Kismet' was not really deliberate on my part - I ran out of paper! You can buy the print at

L is for Life drawing. . .
I think anyone that knows me would know that in my world L is for Life Drawing (working from a nude human model). Anyone who thinks there is anything sexual or embarassing in that only needs to attend one class - they will very quickly get over themselves. Good Life Models are very skilled at what they do, often have an interest in art and usually have quite an Art Collection of gifted drawings by (often famous) artists. if you think it is easy, then try sitting still and holding a pose with energy and interest for 10 minutes. Some Life models can do that for over an hour. 
I have a passion for drawing and Life Drawing is THE BEST DISCIPLINE. From three minute, two minute or one minute warm up sketches and gestural drawings (see the top line of drawings) to 2 hour poses, it teaches proportion, mark making and helps to find a natural style. Life drawing, especially quick pose gestural work is very good practise for drawing animals, who have a tendency to not keep still, however much you ask them to. It helps to be able to find a good weekly class and I am lucky to have Andres Jaroslavsky @yorkcornerstudio nearby. Andres helped restore my confidence and has become a friend as well as a great tutor/mentor, knowing exactly when and how far he can push me to do better or go 'Faster Ruth, Faster!" (say in an Argentinian accent for the true effect). Life Drawing is my meditation, my mindfulness, my playtime, and my experiment zone . . . And we get chocolate with our cup of tea at halftime.

M is for Muse.

I have several muses for my art. In fact, of the nine muses in mythology, there is not a painting, or even an Art, muse - that role was down to a god(ess). For reference, the nine muses and their roles are:
Calliope - epic poetry
Clio - history
Erato - love poetry
Euterpe - music
Melpomene - tragedy
Polyhymnia - sacred poetry
Terpsichore - dance.
Thalia - comedy
Urania - astronomy

Mythologically speaking (at least in greek mythlogy) I work under the auspices of the goddess Athena, but am comforted that she was one of the most venerated of the Greek deities. Athena represented intelligence, creativity, enlightenment, and 'the arts', among many others that also included law and justice, strategic warfare and mathematics. The latter two I would say definitely feature in being an artist. Hephaestus, who was the Greek god of artisans and sculptors, did not see fit to include painting in his portfolio, though he did work as Blacksmith for Olympus. So us painters have to struggle on under a general 'the arts' goddess, However, I can probably claim Euterpe as a muse because I listen to music almost always when I paint or draw. My favourite band to paint to is . . . Muse (see what I did there?!). I do have pretty eclectic taste though, and a range of artists and musical genres feature in my itunes library. I have playlists for different stages of a painting: for bold, expressive brush-work; for smaller marks for detail work; to just get me going in the first place! Tapping into the music helps me to tap into the ‘zone’, where thought and feel work on a more instinctual level and the medium takes a larger role in the conversation between me and the paint. I have had people suggest that I have some synesthesia, which is the ability to see colour triggered by sounds. I am not sure I am that special, but I know that my best painting happens when I can over-ride the logical part of my brain and get into 'the zone' - see: Strategic Warfare.

N is for Narrative.

Some of my paintings and series are straightforward observational pieces but some have levels of narrative. This is planned out in great detail in my sketchbooks and preliminary work. I like books, films, music and artworks that work on different levels. In my own work, because the story and motivations are very personal I don’t like to force them on the viewer. Also I like the viewer to have their own relationship with the painting. The series ‘Innocence & Experience’ is a narrative series so let me show you a story . . . Just remember that Fairy Tales work on many levels! 

Tuesday 18 September 2018

E, F, G & H - the second part of my A to Z Art Glossay

E is for Editorial
When I am not drawing or painting (not been riding much recently due to lack of horse!) then I am most often reading or writing. 

‘The Artist’ magazine published two of my articles early in 2018 following a previous demonstration article in 2014, and am currently working on a series of articles on drawing and painting horses and other animals to be published next year. Keep following my social media pages for updates. Facebook and @ruthbuchananart on instagram.

The online Art Magazine the ArtistsNetwork commissioned a general drawing article which was published in August 2018  . . . Oh and I have the long-term aim of writing a book . . . Or two . . . Or three! 

F is for Framing.
My good friend and mentor, Les Packham used to say that a good painting deserves a good frame and a bad painting needs one! It is true that the framing can make or break a painting. I am lucky to have worked with The Whole Picture Company in Harrogate for many years, having earlier experimented with cheap framing which is just a false economy. Art glass is now affordable and makes a huge difference to the clarity as well as being anti-reflective and UV protective. I use fine art grade lightfast materials and my prints are professionally printed using light fast inks but any pigment will fade over time in direct light. 

G is for Great Yorkshire Show. .

For the past few years I have been invited to exhibit in the Art Show, a gallery space on Avenue H. The gallery is staffed by the artists so people can also meet and talk to the creatives behind the exhibited artworks. We also get to have arty chats amongst ourselves and I have made some great artist friends through exhibiting at this wonderful opportunity.

We all owe a large debt of thanks to Judy Packham who has organised the Art Show since the start, originally alongside her husband Les.

Encouraged by Les and Judy, I did my first demonstrations at The Great Yorkshire Show and Les was always front and centre to watch, give me feedback and encourage me. Les was a fantastic watercolourist, a wonderful mentor to me and is hugely missed, though I still have his picture watching over me as I paint in my studio.  My image (above) shows my 2018 demonstration - a watercolour of a horse's eye. . . painted without reference!

H is for Horse Trials. 

I must have a thing about the letter B - I have sketched, painted and exhibited at Horse Trials at Burghley, Badminton, Blenheim, Burgham and Bramham (amongst others not beginning with B!).

The combination of dressage, cross country and showjumping set in beautiful parkland with the backdrop of stunning architecture has made a heady cocktail of inspiration for me for many years and I have shown some of the results of that around the picture of my Bramham Tradestand. Can you identify any of the horses or venues? No prizes, but feel free to answer in the comments.

Exhibiting is also a wonderful opportunity to meet the people who follow my work and make sales and commission bookings that will provide for me to keep on painting. 

Keep following - more  in the A to Z next week.