Improve Faster – Draw From Life

Despite living in the UK where the sun is barely functional, one of my favorite things is to get out to explore a new place, find something interesting about it then break out my sketchbook and start drawing.

I’ve done a lot of art exercises since I began drawing in 2011, but those I’ve seen the most return from have revolved around drawing from life. It can be useful to learn from other people’s art, but at the end of the day, if you take too much from other artists, you risk making your art more style than substance. An artist’s style is a window into what they take as important enough to capture and emphasise in their subject. If you don’t study the world around you, but simply imitate other people’s art, it’s like you’re copying a copy. Each copy mutates away from the truth of the subject.

Life drawing sessions are one of the best ways to build your drawing skills. The human body is incredibly intricate as a subject. Models are often changed around every session and will take on a variety of poses, so you’re constantly observing the subject from a new angle. For this reason, life drawing is one of the best ways to build your observation skills – it’ll equip you to capture any subject efficiently. Continue reading “Improve Faster – Draw From Life”

Plunging Into Retail – Selling Art Through SDX

Setting up my art in SDX.

Last October I was looking through the Creative Scotland website for work opportunities and I came across the Scottish Design Exchange (SDX). SDX is a not-for-profit shop set up to help artists and designers get into retail – they provide exposure to the masses through a busy shopping centre. I found them at the perfect time, as they were looking to take in a new batch of makers right then.

There’s a real affection for this shop, as it’s completely packed with work from such a variety of creatives, and people know that they’re buying straight from the makers themselves.

Having had limited experience of selling art through galleries and shops, it felt like a big step up to get a hold of my own wall space in the shopping centre. I quickly made a budget for myself and got to work producing plenty of prints, cards and framed paintings.



When I got my hands on the first sales reports I found my prints were very popular, so the first couple months left me feeling very optimistic. One piece of advice from the staff was particularly helpful in the run up to Christmas: make your work available at various price ranges, so if somebody likes it they can buy something whether they’re looking to spend £3 or £200. For me, this means selling work as cards, open edition prints, limited edition prints and framed original paintings. Other creatives sell everything from custom clothing to badges and stickers.

In the months after Christmas, the shop’s been much less busy (which is another lesson to keep in mind in retail) but I’ve found the staff more than make up for this. Most of them sell their own art/designs through the shop and have been generous with their experience. They also occupy a uniquely valuable position in that they’re working from the centre of so many talented creatives. If they can’t help with something, they usually know a local who can.

Working with the SDX team has been fun and rewarding. If you’re checking out the Edinburgh art scene I’d recommend paying the shop a visit. I’m excited to see what else comes from our partnership in 2018.

Leave a comment.

Challenge Yourself: The 40-Minute Illustrations

#23 Scale of Life

Art is a way of exploring your inner and outer life. At its best, making art helps people uncover and come to terms with problems in the way they’re approaching the world. Creating is, therefore, a deeply personal act, and this complicates the work of any professional creatives. How can I be expected to make good art consistently, regardless of other motivating (or demotivating) factors in my life?

We can’t always make artwork that’s up to our standards as artists, but this isn’t necessary when you’re working to meet the needs of others. One way to better meet their needs regardless of where you are personally is to develop a consistent style, or approach to making. With consistency, we make a sacrifice: we subdue our desire to experiment to any great degree (outside of personal work); but we balance our output, so there’s much less which is below our standards.

One of the best ways to develop your own style is to challenge yourself to make a huge bulk of work – go through your creative process so many times that you perfect it. Continue reading “Challenge Yourself: The 40-Minute Illustrations”

Negotiate More Fruitfully As a Freelancer

Two years ago, a friend sparked my interest in negotiation, talking about a course he’d taken while studying law. I’d never thought about negotiation as a subject to study. Growing up in the UK, I had the idea that negotiation was just for haggling and hostage situations. I was wrong.

As social creatures, we’re constantly negotiating – with our partners, our friends and in business. Another way to say that is that we’re always trading with the people around us. People vary in their skillfulness here, and negotiation is a skill. It’s not easy to get what you want from others without risking damage to the relationship. Here are some of the most important things I’ve learned about negotiation: Continue reading “Negotiate More Fruitfully As a Freelancer”

Linocut Printing In Gardenstown

Oatcakes in the Cloister
Oatcakes in the Cloister
I spent a weekend learning the art of linocut printmaking from the masterful Bryan Angus in his Gardenstown studio. Inspiration came from the rugged coastline and my short-but-sweet time travelling.


 The town itself is an incredible place – a maze of idiosyncratic homes emerging from the coast’s red sandstone cliffs. The sea sloshes in front of people’s doorsteps. It’s a small town with few amenities, but so much character.

I found working in lino very strange compared to the usual brush or tablet artwork. It’s a very satisfying process, though, and one you can get completely lost in. Carving away your image, you slip into something of a trance. When you finally peel the freshly inked paper from your carved block, you get a print that’s always subtly different to any other – each one unique.

A few prints are available to buy here.

Do you work in lino? Or is it something you’d be interested in trying?

Leave a comment

Five Watercolours and Some Lightning

Five finished watercolour landscape paintings, by Ben Harley.

The difference between making art and making a living through art is immense. Two weeks ago during a storm, lightning struck my home and fried the electronics. I’ve had to live without internet or even a computer till now. And while there were days I was dying for a meaty slice of netflix, or some delicious youtube vids, mostly I was relieved. Continue reading “Five Watercolours and Some Lightning”

‘Vaccine Scare’


Vaccine Scare: preventable diseases are taking a heavy toll on Kerala.
Vaccine Scare

I did a recent piece based on an article in BBC Trending, exploring the anti-vaccine movement in Kerala. Preventable diseases, like diphtheria, are on the rise, while much of the vaccine fear is being spread by alternative medicine ‘doctors.’

Custom photoshop brushes used for illustration by Ben Harley.
Custom brushes used (left-to-right): sandy pebbles, watercolour stroke and woodgrain. Click to enlarge.


Thanks for keeping up! Thoughts or questions? Leave a comment.

Illustration Friday 2 – ‘Nose’

'Toucan Run' - contribution to Illustration Friday for the prompt 'Nose.'
Toucan Run

I took part in Illustration Friday again this week – the prompt was ‘nose.’ Who has a bigger nose than a toucan??

And painted this week:

Ink and watercolour - visible for miles around, the hill is near-constantly shrouded in mist.
Cluny Hill

This hill’s visible for miles around, nearly constantly shrouded in mist. I happened to be cycling by yesterday and stopped to whip up a sketch. Later, after the sketch and a rough painting, I made this, trying to keep it as loose as possible. I find Nujabes really helps with that.