The Pastel Academy -It’s Greatest Responsibility

The Pastel Academy -It’s Greatest Responsibility

Pastel Academy Online


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The Pastel Academy Online Blog

News, Views & Pastel Perspectives

Manufacturers Updates

The Pastel Academy –

Its Greatest Responsibility


I received two emails in the last few weeks (one from the UK and one from Capetown , South Africa)  which touched  on the same subject;

Is the Academy for someone who uses photographs for their work (in portraiture)?  

The thing is I can understand the question.  Why? Because how many art courses in a college or university can you name that works from photos?  The Royal Academy sure didn’t last time I looked.

So let me explain something now:    

The Pastel Academy is specifically for those who use photography for whatever reason, first and foremost!

But – But I wish I knew then what I know now!

Let me tell you why:

As an artist I ‘use’ photography.  Over the years as a portrait painter, much of the work being posthumous,  photography was crucial to my earning a living.  It was also crucial to my growth and development as an artist.     Another part of my portrait work was for various PR and recording companies in the UK and USA , and my subjects were famous to say the least (as were many of my personal portrait clients).   Musicians, actors, comedians, TV personalities – I painted very many.      Photography was crucial; and some of it was old creased , tiny black and white shots, of treasured loved ones departed.   Others were amazing publicity shots of major stars. The difference between chalk and cheese in quality.    I was in at the deep end with photography.

I did realise early on that the results I got from good photos were better than that the results I got from poor photos.     I eventually learned how to produce equally good work from poor and good photography.

So how did I handle it?   How did I manage to produce consistent results, that have always pleased my clients?

The light bulb moment – I was asked to teach


Well with hindsight I know when the turning point came in my art career – and it stepped up many notches in one leap.     I was approached to teach local educational authority classes.   But not in portraiture – in landscape.   The reasoning was simple they told me; it is easier to learn for beginners.        Well in fact that is perhaps true, but my experience in landscape was not as strong as in portraiture for sure.   So I was determined to get down to business and learn.    That was back in 1988.   Today I thank heavens for that moment.

It is learning about how to paint landscape that boosted my portraiture work to another level altogether.   And what I didn’t expect as a respected and passionate portrait painter was to find I was not only enjoying it, I was getting my eyes opened to a lot of things for the first time.    The world of nature, and the miracle of ‘light’.

It was some time afterwards I was able to look back and say – I was developing my Artist’s Eye.

Now why is that?  How does that work?   Well like I said at the time I didn’t even realise or even question it.  But I knew I was on a ‘journey’.

Portraiture can lead you along a very narrow path – it’s amazing the stuff it doesn’t teach you.


When you, as an artist, look at a photo of a face you are not usually faced with issues like tonal values,  colour theory, and perspective; especially if you don’t know, what they mean, or could mean, to that photo you are holding in your hand.  Some would say composition is not normally an issue either.    When producing a portrait, the photo tends to dictate the rules.   The photo is where the details come from too.  And you need a photo that is good enough to see those details.   And of course not too many artists do what I did and take life classes and work from the live model too.     For one thing, live classes are not often available outside the major cities.

Did I realise this as a portrait painter?   Not at first no.

However, there did come a time when I wished I could alter this or that about the photo;  extend this or change the colour of some things, and I would experiment.  The results were sometimes good and sometimes not so good!

Why is this so Important to ……..

This?    The lessons of Tonal Values are crucial.

And lets not forget drawing


And also let us address the elephant in the room right now – many portraits are now traced in some form or another and you don’t get to learn to draw well by tracing.   It is a convenient tool though for many to get on with the stuff many artists ‘think’ are more important – techniques.

For some time I thought ‘techniques’ were what it was all about.   Why?  Because they made my work look sleeker?   Something along those lines?  They made it look ‘professional’?   So  I studied various artists (Great masters) techniques,  but  I never did ‘ trace’ in any form,  so my drawing was always on point when needed.      I had been drawing since early childhood.  And when I started in portraiture my work was fairly large!   (Tracing paper didn’t come in those sizes I’m sure back in the 60’s!)        Drawing was something I loved, and still do, which is why I love pastel more than any other medium.

In fact, the first portrait I ever did was taken straight from a TV screen in the 60’s.   There were no videos back then and I had no way of ever knowing if I would ever see the face again in photos (which I eventually did – he became very famous).   A quick impression from the TV screen was my beginning. (I am currently writing about this for a book).

My first landscape – Oh Dear.


It was OK.   Just.  I copied it from a photograph.     But what was on the photo,   went into my painting.  No question; if the lamp     post was on that photo, I added it, if I needed it or not.      It wasn’t long before I saw a couple of other problems.        Where as my portraiture was full of life, my landscapes were dull and ‘dead’.     I wasn’t happy.   No amount of technique in pastel was helping me out here!

I was going to be teaching landscape, and I had to learn and quickly.   I was largely house bound with a young family and I turned to the Great Masters,  and studied.   I had a lot of books.   Those I didn’t have I got from the library.   I eventually took a History of Art, G.C.E.  ‘A’ level at my local college and I learnt.  To be honest I enjoyed it because of my practical experience to that date, it was a bit like joining the missing dots in my knowledge and understanding.

And I learned along the way that the stuff I didn’t know in landscape, was the stuff I didn’t know in portraiture either! 

Wow that was a big learning moment.     And then I learnt that artists I admired all seemed to know and/ or were taught (and that is the biggie) how to plan their work.

How to Plan my Work?    Really?


So it came down to two choices; continue to copy photos and paint portraits, or to learn what artists are taught and have been taught in apprentice programmes throughout the ages, the core principles of painting:    composition, tonal values, colour theory and perspective (the main ones).

One way or another, having had my eyes opened to what was possible, I could never go back.  It was the road to development or nothing.

Some years down the tuition line, I learnt from my students too.    Now I always start a new artist off in simple landscape and with the core principles of painting.    I have taught them portraiture too.     When the public attend an exhibition of my students’ work they see a whole different type of show to that of many local society or even national society shows in the UK.      Anyone with the slightest training in art will see when a painting has just been copied from a photo; warts and all.   It is often heart breaking to see such great use in techniques of a medium like pastel, but some or all of the basic fundamental principles of painting have not been understood by the artist.

Yes, I have been known to approach the artist and ask them to consider coming on one of my courses.    And many have and thanked me for it.     But I cannot stand to see talent wasting itself.

Do you know the value of one of these?

And why is this so Important?

My mission in the Academy

My mission is to do what I wanted someone to do for me back when I was a slave to photography.    I wanted someone to:

Show me how to do it better; do it properly; not waste time.

Teach me how to ‘use’ the photo, but make massive improvements to the portrait.

Teach me about composition in landscape and portraiture.

Teach me how to bring life into my paintings.

Teach me about colour, and how to design my paintings around a colour theme.

Teach me what I need to know to produce great backgrounds to my portraits.

Teach me how to understand simple perspective – to put people in my landscapes and get my roof lines right.

Teach me how to work outside in a meadow full of wild flowers, and produce something great.

Teach me everything and show me how to be good enough to teach others.

But above all how to ‘conquer’ photography, and make it work better for me.  Because so many artists reading this right now are also at home or struggling to fit art into their busy lives and need what I needed back then.  And many are women bringing up young  families just like I was back then.

(By the way how many more things can you add to that list?)

On to the Big Plan

It took me many years to learn how to ‘use’ photography to the greater benefit of my work.  It was vital that I did learn and it is equally as vital to you if you wish to take your art seriously.    And I know that many of you do.    What I have learned I will pass on to you because my mission is to make sure that the future of pastel goes forward in a healthier state and with a great deal more respect than when I started in the medium as a teenager.   And now I have the ideal vehicle to do it:

Which is of course – The Pastel Academy Online.

It has been a mission for me.    But make no mistake it is worthwhile because there is nothing else online, quite like it in ANY medium, let alone pastel.   And I can tell you now that I have had enquiries from artists in other mediums , and artists who have never even used pastel, who are interested in joining the Academy so as to be able to access the Core training in the Basic fundamental principles of painting.

In the next blog I send out at the end  of the month, I shall outline in more detail how the Academy works and its pricing structure.   So watch out for the next blog!

Meanwhile please do leave me a comment, and answer this one question;   Did this blog resonate with you?  In other words, do you see yourself in the story about my artistic growth?

6 Months In – A look Inside the Pastel Academy!

6 Months In – A look Inside the Pastel Academy!

Pastel Academy Online

The Pastel Academy Blog

The Pastel Academy Online Blog

News, Views & Pastel Perspectives

Manufacturers Updates

Quality Teaching at your fingertips!

The Pastel Academy is 6 months old!!!

See what is INSIDE the Pastel academy!!!


Well it has been quite a year!        Exciting, productive and really rewarding.

We launched in May and the first month or two I worked with our Charter Members, who as Beta Testers did a fabulous job testing the site and its functionality;  making sure all the videos worked and all the links went to the right places, as well as being the first to test the admissions procedures, and the enrollemnt processes.   So we had a lot to do and of course,  there were a few gliches to iron out which is exactly why we have a period of Beta Testing.      The Charter members of the Academy are an extremely important  asset to the Academy;  they are also now becoming experts  on the Academy!     One of them is now my highly valued Forum Moderator.

The video below is the first one that new members see as they are admitted to the Academy and is due to be updated in the new year, so I am letting you have a look at it here, because so many people have asked for more information on how the Academy works:


The role of our Fabulous Forum/Gallery]


The Forum is out point of contact.   Not just between members – which it is of course,  but I have also planned the Forum to be the place where I am able to set exercises, and advise and assess your work in progress and on completion.


So it is the beating heart of the Academy!
It is the one aspect of the Academy without which the one to one communication could not exist.   On enrolling all new members are invited to go straight to the Forum and say Hi and see what is happening.   If you miss out on the Forum you are missing out on so much of the benefits of the Academy.

The Forum also boasts a wonderful Gallery feature.     The gallery not only provided us the means for me to post your exercises it is also where you post your results and ask for advice along the way.    The video below is one that members see when they arrive in the Forum – and it will give you an idea of how it works.   (It was made not long after the Academy opened  and refers to the Tonal Value Module which was the Academys first theme.     There are now other themes in the gallery.)

Members were encouraged to post their pre Academy work, which you can see below.

The Members Work

The training pages are the main focus for all new members alongside checking out the Resources section and other information.      Each Core Training Module includes a number of videos dealing with the theme – eg Tonal Values – in Landscape, Aerial Perspective,  portrait, townscape, still life and the ever popular Pastel Swatch exercise which explains how tonal values relate to pastel as a medium.   Included in this module is all the information needed for Graphite (pencil) , charcoal and ink.     These videos are accompanied by PDF’s where applicable.

Gold members take part in SIlver member modules when needed, and can also explore the Gold members Studio,    and check out the Gold Training as it is published.     The Gold training is about artistic development and progression and is an opportunity for Gold members to work within a series of projects in pastel,  some of which will be supplied by me and some which they need to source themselves.

Essentially the Gold training studio is where all serious Silver members will progress too.

Spanish pueblo

Estuary scene – charcoal

Kettle refletion – charcoal

Campo scene – charcoal

white flowers in complimentary colour balance

colours of white

colours of white

colours of white

Cottage in field

Sky -Andalucia

Spanish Archway

Blue pots complimenatray colour

Estuary scene – pastel

Coffee pot still life

Coffee pot still life

Campo scene -pastel

How has the Academy worked for our members?


‘Every thing I hoped for…and more! Heather is a great instructor!’ (Member Cindy Kohler)


It is one thing reading about Tonal Values and Composition,   but it is entirely another when learning through specific exercises!      Once you have assimilated these lessons – you dont look back.

(I have had many email me and say ‘ I dont need the basics – I know all that’,  and I have asked them to send a few pieces they are happy with to me via email.     Not once have I seen a portfolio that would not have benefitted massively by spending some time getting some of the fundamental training under their belt.)

The Basics – use them or ignore them.     They will be the reason your work progresses or the means to trip you up.

Most of the members had never worked in Black and white before – maybe a little sketching but that is all.      The charcoal method I teach was new to them in the main.    Working in graphite sticks and pen was also new to most.       The members loved working through the Tonal values exercises,  and many will continue to work in black and white in future; along with pastel of course.   Some are well up to exhibitable standard in their tonal work.     You can see for youself from the work on this blog.

What the Academy is doing for their painting knowledge and their confidence is wonderful to see.     The Forum has evolved into a fabulously supportive Art Group.  The best part of it?     The way the group have bonded and helped each other – and the wonderful comeraderie that has resulted is something I have never seen in real life class/workshops, because people dont get chance to get to know one another in the same way in real workshops.     The online route is indeed providing the valuable leaning tool I hoped it would be.     Go to the website to see some more testimonials.

‘If you are serious about learning to use pastels correctly and about bettering yourself as an artist, and are willing to learn about the basics which is fundamental to the whole process, then let Heather and the Pastel Academy Online guide you on a roller-coaster of a journey as you discover your “Inner Monet”. We put both the Fun and the Mental into fundamental’.

Fiona Shaw

‘Are you ready to stop playing with pastels and keen to learn how to use them properly? Try the Pastel Academy online. Expect a bit of work, focused firm but fair criticism and a lot of fun.’


‘As a beginner who had fallen in love with pastels, I had been getting frustrated about how little I knew and where to get good instruction. In the Pastel Academy we have been learning foundational principles of art as well as how to apply them to pastels as a medium. It’s fun, it’s hard work and it’s very rewarding.’


“I have been a member for a few months now and have learnt so much, different techniques, tonal values, different mediums and papers, now learning colour theory.

Heather has a wonderful way of teaching that everyone can understand, easy instructions, wonderful constructive feedback and advice. Fantastic reference material and most of all no pressure and lots of fun.”



Plans for the Academy in the New Year!




The Next Academy Theme is COMPOSITION




Learning  Composition through set exercises will give you the tools to turn many or those photos you are not quite happy with into a good and well designed painting.    Composition is the one subject that will develop the amateur artist into the professional.    A little like composing your own music – it makes the singer who sings their own songs be original and inovative.    The same applies in painting.


More to the point – knowing about Compostion will leave you less likely to make massive compositional errors!   And they are easy to avoid if you are taught correctly what they are.   


We will be looking specifically at Landscape, Portrait and Still Life composition .


Gold Level is about Pastel techniques, and is video and project based.  It goes far deeper into the pastel medium but equally works alongside the Core training – the Gold Level training based on project work and demonstrations from me will include training in Portraiture, Still Life and Landscape techniques.   We also have a Gold Level Group thread on the Forum.


There are plans also for an Affiliate scheme for members only to bring other good members into the Academy and in doing so earning a commission.     It is an excellent way to attract the right members and also to earn a good fee.    In some instances members can earn their monthly fees in commission!


So there are many plans for the Academy in 2018, which I will let you know as they arise.

The Academy Pricing will increase in the New Year


At the end of January 2018 the Academy prices will increase, in line with the end of the Beta period.    Of course current members and members who join prior to the increase will pay the current prices.

Also at the moment the Gold Level training will never be cheaper.    Even if you spend some time completing Silver training first as some members have,   it could be a good saving to go for Gold Training at current prices.     (Those members who wish to Upgrade to the Gold level – which is a natural progression – will be able to do that at a discount – prior to the price rise – so if you join now you will doubly benefit.)

So if being a member of the Academy is something you really want to do,  this is the best time to gain access at current prices!    You can even encourage your loved ones to treet you to an Academy Gift Certificate!   (see below)  To go to the Join Up page Click here.

Our Academy Gift Certificates


Have you got someone you would love to gift a Year’s membership to the Academy?  Or do you want to receive a Year’s membership for a very special Christmas or Birthday Gift??       Of course you would!!     I wish someone had done that for me so many years ago!

Your certificate is sent to you by email in high resolution Jpeg format for you to print off.   They can be actioned at any point the recipient wishes to begin within 6 months.

For prices and how to order click here

One way or another 2018 is going to be a busy year for the Academy – and could be a really artistically productive year for you too!

Beta Testing is on the way!  We launch on 31st May!!!

Beta Testing is on the way! We launch on 31st May!!!

Pastel Academy Online



The Pastel Academy Blog




The Pastel Academy Online Blog



News, Views & Pastel Perspectives

Manufacturers Updates

The Pastel Academy Launches on 29th May!!

Special EARLY BIRD Launch Announcement especially for people on this list – you guys have been with me since this journey began.

The Early Bird discount is for 10% discount off any of the membership levels – Silver or Gold, monthly or annual.    It is an offer in recognition for your support and encouragement over the past 20 months, and is my way of saying thank you for that support!


I know from  your mails and comments on the blogs that many of you are keen to join and to learn.  Some of you want to learn or refresh the all important basics.    Some are keen to learn more techniques and/or a new subject area.    One thing we all agree,   what you want more than anything is to be the very best artist you can be.

This is a recent testimonial from Beta member :    

Having been a beta tester on the academy and have helped work out some of the clinches that you get with every new website.  I have found it to be a well thought out and precise working site, I am a fairly knowledgeable using pastels however, I learnt a lot more from watching the videos and following the instructional worksheets, they are easy to follow and explained in everyday terms.

This is going to be a wonderful learning website for beginners and pastelists that are further advanced, I do believe anyone investing their time and affect will benefit tremendously and finish with a worthwhile smile on their face.

I do recommend anyone to join and enjoy the teaching lessons of Heather Harman BA Hons and to tap into her knowledge and experience as a pastelist artist.’

Les Gaston-Johnston

(other testimonials can be found on the Home page of the Academy.)

Check out the Sneak Peak video below:

So what makes the Academy so special?


Well for one thing it is a one stop tuition environment.   Everything is here.  Not just pastel expertese from a pastel professional, but also the fundamental basic principles of painting; not often to be found outside a college course.   So in that respect alone it is a ‘one off’ opportunity.

In addition there is a resource library, a pastels manufacturers directory and a mail order directory!   There will also be a direct link through to Jacksons Mail Order where I have negotiated a 10% discount for all academy members on your purchases!    That plus special items from manufacturers for our Academy Prizes!

But that is not all.   Inevitably what will make this Academy special is the artists that join us, and how much they will learn in the process.   As a dedicated tutor that is my motivation.

There are even Gift Subscriptions you might talk a loved one into buying for you!!

Future Plans for the Academy



It is in its infancy, and is growing both in content and members – which are performing the beta function at the moment; testing all areas!    It has been fun.

With regards to the membership; one question I am often asked is how many members do I want to attract?     The answer simply is,  I do not  have a true idea.   I prefer the idea of the Academy growing steadily rather than a heavy influx of members all at once!   But I dont know and I am prepared for whatever happens.     What I want is to attract the right members – those who will benefit from the Academy and will be a benefit to the Academy.    It is like a private club.  You have to be a member to take part, but members take part in different ways, but that is the true benefit of such a membership;  like minded individuals who are also supporting each other.    Like any educational ‘system’,  people, especially creative people, learn in different ways..    But luckily I have over 25 years art tuition experience.

One aspect that many of you have noticed and mentioned to me already is the Platinum membership.   It isn’t up and running yet, for good reason;  I shall be mentoring many new and experienced pastelists, and a proportion of them are gong to want to ‘go professional’ and the Platinum level is for those who want to know more of the business end of being an artist.  There will also be a proportion who want to become the future noted pastel teachers – and that is my reason for planning the Platinum level training.

Also there will be competitions and challenges planned regularly, for which I am curretly working on an online gallery function.

So there is a lot happening – but the main take away for me is the opportunity to pass on my skills to a truely motivated audience.

So is your artistic future and Pastel’s future sharing the same destiny?



And so now – with the opening of the Academy just around the next corner,  I am asking you;   Are you going to join me on this journey into a new artistic life?

This is the thing.   I can pass on everything I know and you can have your part to play in the ongoing history of this fabulous medium.      If you go on to do that, all the years I have spent dedicated to the pastel medium will have been all the more worthwhile.  And pastel will have a bunch of artists who will take it into the future – with a good education!

Are you with me on this?   If yes, I will see you in the Academy!

The next time I write an Academy Blog – it will in fact be open!


Make use of your Early Bird discount!!


Click here to join the Pastel Academy Online

Meanwhile – check out this Academy Launch competition.





The Pastel Academy  – and How it will Benefit you.

The Pastel Academy – and How it will Benefit you.

Pastel Academy Online



The Pastel Academy Blog




The Pastel Academy Online Blog



News, Views & Pastel Perspectives

Manufacturers Updates

The Academy Journey.  

It has been a little like writing 5 books and producing dozens of mini movies and slide shows all at the same time!


I hadn’t looked at it that way until an artist/author friend visited recently and asked what it was that was taking all my time!   We both added it all up and it came as no surprise to me that it had been a lot of work.  Now if I had thought about that before starting on this journey I might never have started!.

The biggest challenge was conquering the computer based learning, the filming and editing and above all learning the skills needed to build the Academy website, and I needed to develop those skills because I live up a Spanish Mountain and web developers are pretty unheard of up here. In short, I compare this journey to having a baby!   And it is due to be born pretty soon. I have been grateful for your feedback to keep me on track and focused, because I know the benefits of the Academy will be many.

The first one will be the content and the sheer amount of fundamental painting knowledge that I am putting in the Academy.   I have done some research into what is available out there and what I am packing into the Academy is not out there

So here is a list:

Pastel the Basics,   Composition, Tonal Values, Perspective, Colour theory, Sketching, Beginners drawing (in planning stages),  and (Portrait Drawing in planning stages).

In addition there is a resource library, a pastels manufacturers directory and a mail order directory!

There will also be a direct link through to Jacksons Mail Order where I have negotiated a 10% discount for all academy members on your purchases!    That plus special items from manufacturers for our Academy Prizes!

Check out the Sneak Peak video below:


Art Education is becoming more expensive; sad but true


But – thanks to the internet I am able to offer you a great learning experience for a fraction of the price!  

The cost of being on a BA painting course however is not just the main obstacle for many.  It does run into thousands of pounds and is a luxury for many unless you are going to be working as an artist or int he ‘arts’.  Even then it rarely speaks to the artists who wants to be a representational painter, and most of you do.

The Academy Is taking me time; the past 20 months in fact to date to get it off the ground (online!)  and yes it has cost because I have had to dedicate time to it – massively, and I have had to turn down work to continue.  But I don’t do anything by halves!

It will take you time.   But not as much as it took me to learn it.   I will be passing on years of learning here, in the most effective way I possibly can, and finding the right way to do that has kept me awake many a night.

But the main value for many will be in it’s convenience!      You are learning from home!   No additional costs.    Workshops with professional and reputable artists are few and far between – depending on where you live.  But it is amazing how much the cost of those mount up – for the course or workshop fees, travelling expenses and often accommodation too.  Not too many people can afford the time to travel either.     But what I love is the fact that the academy will offer those of you who are home bound a fair chance of learning.


Is the Academy a Quick Fix?


It will cost you time – time which I hope you will be happy to spend, and it has its cost of fees too.  But it will be fun and profitable!

All worthwhile education costs in one way or another.  We can learn so much on our own but there does come a time when you realise that your art is, or is not, a fundamental part of ‘you’.   For many of you it might be a pastime, that you enjoy, but for others it is your creativity which is massively important to you.   Do you  feel unfulfilled without it?     Well you need to put some time and resources to one side for YOU.    YOUR time and YOUR space.   Invest in YOURSELF and it will pay dividends.

Some of you might even realise now that with a bit of help you could be so much better, and you really want to make a good living out of your art.   (In which case be careful the teacher you choose.   SO many just teach you to copy from photographs and little if anything  else .    You can do that yourself. )   Maybe they will teach you the techniques of just one painting.    Then you feel upset and frustrated when trying to apply them to another painting.

Some of you might wish to be a great (not just a good) art teacher.   Whichever you might be, the fact remains,  YOU are worth investing in.   Investing in your creative development as an artist, for whatever you reason, is to invest in ‘you’.    And you are worth it.   And that time spent should be precious to you.

My Facebook group, and a starting point


So when I opened the Pastel Artists UK Facebook group, I knew the people I was trying to reach.  The group runs as a support and advice group for pastelists and is out there as one group which is different for that reason.

The thing is of course a Facebook group can only do so much.   In many cases as I see questions asked , and responses given from the wonderful community we have built, we are only papering over the cracks of the knowledge needed to truly progress and grow.

Meanwhile I was in a position of being able to run a couple of live courses, or painting holidays a year, and write a few articles for the art press, and maybe add a couple of commissions into the mix and I had a really good living.   Along with a growing degree of professional respect and reputation.  A lucky place to be you might say?    But I wasn’t happy about the state of pastel tuition.

And so now – with the opening of the Academy just around the next corner,  I am asking you;   Are you going to join me on this journey into a new artistic life?

The Reputation of Pastel – will be in your hands.


This is the thing.   I can pass on everything I know and you can have you part to play in the ongoing history of this fabulous medium.      If you go on to do that, all the years I have spent dedicated to the pastel medium will have been all the more worthwhile.  And pastel will have a bunch of artists which will take it into the future – with a good education!

Are you with me on this?


‘Practice Makes Perfect’   Or Does It?

‘Practice Makes Perfect’ Or Does It?


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Practice Makes Perfect?  Or does it?


As the Pastel Academy Online’s pre launch phase begins (see next newsletter) I have had many more questions put to me about ‘why’ I am starting it.   Well maybe this blog adds a little to that understanding.


I can’t count the amount of times I have heard phrases like; The work of an artist is all about ‘Trial and Error’.  It is a case of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’.     

If anything is likely to get me frustrated it is those two phrases.  Why?  Because very day on my art Facebook groups, I see those phrases used more or less daily, and almost always they are used out of context.   Potentially good artists diligently practicing methods which are to say the least – not the best or most productive ones.

So this blog is going to ask you a couple of questions – more on those later.

Why Practice does not make Perfect.


You have been practicing for what seems like forever.

Now you feel you are at least proficient with what you can do.

You have learnt the hard way – by trial and error.

I know because this describes me – the path I took and by circumstance I was forced to take if I were to learn what I wanted to learn in my art.   But all I knew was that there must be a better way.

Did practice make perfect for me?     Eventually yes – but I was pretty lucky in the choices I made.  Very lucky in fact.  So luck had a lot to do with it.

Having learned the basics of the head structure and perspective,  this was a fruitful period of practice on self portrait drawings.   I studied facial anatomy books – which is the hard way.  Now I teach portraiture using the lessons I wish I had when I was developing. A good teacher will synthesize and condense the important lessons for you.

My Summer Portrait Seminar in the Ribble Valley; an annual seminar with a waiting list every year.     The seminars were 7 days with studio live study work during the day and a lecture programme on portraiture in the evenings.   Plenty of chance to pack in all the important basics which I wished I had been given when my learning began.

The Big Reality Check


Then there is the simple fact that should have there been better ways for me to learn – it would have come at quite a cost.   That cost would have been on a few levels.   For one thing money was tight.    When I started my studies in earnest, I was living in a northern town with no university, and no ‘degree’ courses possible in the area.  I was also a young Mum, and to make matters worse I didn’t drive.  So finding an alternative way of learning for me was – it seemed – impossible.  Of course there was no internet either.  So I went on a self-taught track, and supplemented my learning with evening classes in art history.

If given the opportunity – would I have done it differently?

Well put it this way, yes I would.  In a heartbeat.    The self-taught route can not only be lonely, it can lead you up the garden path – the wrong path.   It can also take an age to achieve relatively little in the process..

Oh in an Ideal World……..


Think about it this way.    A musician goes to the Royal College of Music, or one of the other reputable musical academies.    A painter is lucky enough to get a place in one of the top university art departments; the Royal Academy if they are lucky.    A budding dress designer gets a chance of a place at the Royal College of Art.    What have they all got in common?     Well clearly even having been admitted they have their first real accreditation – they are good enough to have got a place.  That knowledge is giving them a degree of personal and artistic confidence in the first place.

What else have they in common?  They are lucky – lucky to have secured this head start – and they are going to get the specific education they need – what I call the recipes; the methods and techniques which are the best practices.  The basic and fundamental stuff and when you have this quality input; specific focused knowledge – that is when practice makes perfect.   

Heather tutoring a Colour Theory class.

Heather’s Still Life Workshop; composition in StillLife Masterclass 2014.

The reality for so many of us


So you are at home – maybe with a young family, or looking after elderly relatives.   No chance of a place at the Royal Academy.  SO you ‘play’ and try and work out your medium and how it works,  and it’s the trial and error game.    Not so bad when you are young maybe, but as you get older ‘time’ takes on different meaning. There is less of it.     So eventually you might get a result – develop a technique maybe – that you are happy with and seems to work for you.

On your personal artistic growth scale you might have gone from 1 – 4 (on a scale of ten).   But how would you know?  By your own judgement?  You are not in a college with other students learning at the same time to compare your efforts to.


Beware the Praise of loved Ones!


In as much as their praise and encouragement is given in the very best of intentions, you need to ask yourself this:   How long has it taken me to learn what I know so far?  Does my Mum or sister or Dad really know anything about what I am doing?     My father had a massive influence on my young teenage art ‘career’, but his idea of art was making it look like a photograph.    Did that help me?  No it didn’t.   But his views are widely echoed especially by those who have not read a book about art, and never intend to, like my father.  What my father gave me was encouragement and support, but his opinion on my work had little value.

So I was destined never to have an objective opinion for a long time.  And without that – we are back to our lonely position of doubt.  No wonder so many self-taught artists are lacking in confidence.

So Practice Eventually will make perfect – Yes?


All too often the answer to that is no.  Why?    Well the idea behind practice makes perfect is simply this;   like the kid in music school – they are taught the musical scales – and told to practice and practice.

The key is of course they were taught the musical scales in the first place.  

Having been given the tried and true recipe, yes practice will make perfect.  Without the initial information that you need, you might well be ‘making do’.


‘But you shouldn’t be just making the best of poor or ineffective methods – methods that are probably holding you back – maybe a collection of poor habits you have become accustomed to and that is even worse for your artistic development.’


I cannot think of a worse scenario than spending months practicing a method or technique that was doomed to fail in the first place. But you weren’t to know.    Stabbing in the dark is just exactly that – sometimes you will hit your target – sometimes – most times you won’t.  You might buy a book of another artists work and copy their style, and methods and you will make some headway, but at best you will only that one technique – and many practical art books are put out by artists who specialist in just one method – in one medium and in one technique, and very often using specified materials.      What you are doing in fact is a little like attempting to learn how to fancy wedding cake – without having learned how to make a simple cup cake and measure the ingredients first.    Trying to make a ballroom gown without a clue how to use a sewing machine.

More practice by way of my self portrait series and at this stage I was looking for ideas to bring something different to the sketches.  I was particularly interested in expression as can be seen!  All this was live in the mirror of course – it is the only way to develop real control over your portrait skills.   When I need to or have to I can turn these skills to working from photography – and can do so without ‘copying’ an image as much as interpreting it with a view to breathing life into it.

So is there any Merit in Trial and Error?


Learn the best practices and the tried, true and tested methods, and yes – then practice can make perfect.


In fact it is the Perfect practice that makes Perfect.


Well experimentation is a key principal of traditional art training.  Picasso is the perfect example.  But practice is most effective in the hands of the student who has learnt the basics and understands what they are practicing! When you are trying to learn the basics by trial and error – it is just an exercise in frustration and patience, and all too often, wasting time.    So for many trial and error is a pain, and when all is said and done – how do you know what is working?

So lets get back to that Ideal world……….


What are the best ways to learn and develop as an artist?    Ways that don’t cost the earth and give more results for your money? Well to start with try very hard to get some training in the basics in art.    That means stuff that isn’t medium specific – but applies to work in all mediums; composition, tonal values, colour theory, perspective.   Unfortunately, all too many developing artists go for details and technical tricks first.    And also they go to occasional workshops set up by other artists who don’t teach the basics – and frankly probably don’t even know them.  This is the one method, one way, kind of workshop – where a group of people get together in a room to all paint the same painting.   Fine – once you have learnt the basics!   But often this approach is poor educationally.


Then consider not trying to ‘Specialise’ too early.


I did, because I began as 13 year old who loved portraits.  IAt that age I was basically just following one path instinctively.   I eventually diversified, and wish I had done it so much sooner, but I got into the trap of trying to earn a living from my ‘art’, out of necessity – which works for a while.  But I wanted to improve as an artist – not become complacent with a few techniques under my belt.   Learning landscape has taught me the real important stuff I needed to develop my portraiture.  Strange but true! (I later learned that this is why top university art departments take the same approach.)

Have your ultimate goal in mind but step outside that single minded frame of mind when you can – you will be amazed at what you learn. Whatever you circumstance and whatever your relationship to your creative art is – I hope that some of what I have written here resonates with you.    And it is so important to push home the point – it is never too late to learn – and to improve and above all else to feel good about your work and how it is developing.


So as I said in the beginning of this blog – I have a couple of questions for you:


1.  Have you ever questioned the idea that some practice might not be productive?

2.  Are you also self taught?  Have you been frustrated by lack of guidance?   Have you learnt from books?

3.  If you have attended college courses, have you this far managed to get some tuition on the basics?  Colour Theory?  Tonal Values?   Basic Drawing?  Composition?  Perspective?  Or did you learn them at school?

Please use the comments section below and I look forward to hear your stories.


Click on this link for the download of the Leisure Painter article and look out for my new article in next months issue!


Meanwhile I am on my own learning curve – finalizing the launch details of the Pastel Academy!    News on the opening is coming very soon.    The first step will be to invite some beta testers!    So more on that in a couple of weeks.

‘Practice Makes Perfect’   Or Does It?

‘Practice Makes Perfect’ Or Does It?

  The Pastel Academy Blog     The Pastel Academy Online Blog News, Views & Pastel Perspectives Manufacturers Updates Practice Makes Perfect?  Or does it?   As the Pastel Academy Online’s pre launch phase begins (see next newsletter) I have had many more questions put...

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The Academy is Finally Becoming a Reality!

The Academy is Finally Becoming a Reality!


The Pastel Academy Blog



The Pastel Academy Online Blog

News, Views & Pastel Perspectives

Manufacturers Updates


is finally becoming a Reality!

Building the Academy


Twelve months ago the journey began, fueled by the knowledge that I needed a working tool to be able to reach out and teach all of you who want to learn, improve and advance in your artistic careers; in the belief that the end result has to be good for you, and equally as important for me; for the furtherance of the pastel medium.    To me it always seemed a little futile in giving over my life’s creativity to learning and specialising in a fabulous medium like pastel – if not to find some way to pass that knowledge and passion on to others.

It has been an exciting, if a demanding dream – but now the months of planning and building are beginning to pay off.  I have had little time to paint, but that was a necessary sacrifice in the short term. It certainly has been and remains a concentrated period of creativity in another way.

And without doubt I have been spurred on by your messages of encouragement.   Thank you so much to those of you who have written to me and also those who have replied in the comments sections of my blogs.  I was also pretty knocked out by how many of you took part in the survey earlier this year – your input was very important.


So the first task is to test the technical workings of the Membership site.   The role of Beta Testers

So now on to the serious subject of Beta Testers.  What are Beta Testers?  Well not only will they be the first members to enter the Academy (!), they will also be the first to test the Membership Site functions.

Possibly one of the main attractions of becoming an Academy Beta member, is the fact that as the earliest members, your feedback could actually shape the features of the Academy, by giving your input honestly and with an appreciation of the mission of the Academy in mind.  To be in on the birth of something like the Academy can be exciting and productive!   And I will be in there testing it all too, so for me it is also a chance to get to know my first members who are helping me to polish the site.

Beta Testers are in fact Charter Members: first members of the Academy, there will be a special enrolment price for you..  You will be offered the membership level of your choice with a large discount off (either the Silver or Gold Membership – Platinum membership opens later in 2017) – and that fee will stay the same for the duration of your membership!   The beta prices will be forwarded to you in an email in a few days.

So what do the Beta Testers Actually do?

Well they join the Academy prior to the Launch and they make themselves familiar with all the pages and resources.  They are of course also the first to test out the payment structure.  That really is an important test.   If there are any problems the Beta Testers will find them.

What Else do they do?

They test all the links between pages – check out that all the buttons take them to the place they should do.  They check all videos and resources.   They should run up a ‘snag’ list.     It is amazing how many little glitches or issues I might not be able to ‘see’;  which is natural considering how close I am to the site, so your fresh eyes will be valuable.

But equally as important – and this is the fun bit – you get to start the Community Forums.    With me.  The Forums are an awesome feature!

Heather tutoring a Colour Theory class.

Heather’s Masterclass Demonstration for Pastel D’Opale,  France 2014.


Oh yes and they are awesome!

There are a few Forums in the Academy but first of all let me explain why I have chosen Academy Forums over a Facebook page for instance.    As a friend of mine recently experienced, Facebook can at any time change their rules or even worse (as happened to her) they can close groups down, with no warning and even less reason.     And then of course there is the simple fact that a properly set up Forum is far better than a Facebook group, and private from the public gaze.

So the Academy Community is an important part of the academy experience.   There are many sub forums which make up the whole community experience, including:

  • A beginners Forum: beginners and improvers in their drawing skills/ and or pastel, where those just starting out and maybe a little less confident can make friends with others in the same position.
  • ‘Say Hello to the other Members’ so that you can be part of the Academy from Day One.
  • A General Discussion Forum.
  • A Core Training Forum; covering all the major elements of good paintings:  Colour Theory, Tonal Values, Perspective, Composition.
  • An ‘Ask for Feedback’ from the group Forum.
  • And more forums will be added as needed.

In addition, you will each have your own totally customisable Profile page where you can add all your weblinks and social media info.

So to be the first to populate the Community Forums is a great thing – and the Beta members will be doing that.

So What Am Looking for in a Beta Member? 


Now this is interesting.

I need Beta Members who are both familiar with computers and some who are not particularly computer savvy.  In fact, I estimate a good percentage of people I am writing to right now – might not be computer savvy.  You are equally as valuable to the Academy as Beta Members.

So if you want to be in the Academy at ground level, and would like to be a Charter Member of the Academy – this is your chance.

I am also looking for beta members who take the aims of the Academy seriously and respect the job it is being designed to do.  And from these Beta members there might also be some Academy ‘positions’ which develop – eg Forum moderators, customer service. etc

So How Do You Become a Beta Tester/Member?

I am looking for no more than 15 Beta members.   So this really is a ofgne and only time opportunity.

So if you are interested in being a Beta member simply send  me an email to  (or click reply on the newsletter that provided you with this blog link).     In return I will send you a mail with beta enrolment information and more information about the beta tasks.

It is estimated that the Beta Group might be invited to join in late November/early December 2016

More news soon.

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