Emotions in Clay Portraiture with Jo Pearl

23rd January 2024

A sculptor based in North London, Jo Pearl works in clay for its tactile plasticity, its ability to record expressionist mark making and its transformation when fired. Jo is fascinated with the six emotions Charles Darwin saw as fundamental to human evolution: happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust and anger and showed a stop-frame animation of her work in clay which allows her to create an illusion of life and explore these emotions. She has exhibited collections of heads on this theme.


For the first few minutes of our workshop Jo asked us to take a small lump of clay, place our hands behind our backs and model an elephant in one minute! This was a great icebreaker, gave us a feel for the clay and resulted in some excellent elephants. Her aim was to encourage us to feel our way into the main topic of the workshop which was to make a small model head. By positioning a ball of clay on the thumb of our non-dominant hand and by manipulating, adding and subtracting clay with our dominant hand we could slowly fashion a head. Jo showed us a short demonstration of her approach to this task and moved around the hall to everyone giving tips and hints as the work progressed. The photos show work in progress and the final very impressive results. The range of styles and expressions was brilliant. The clay used was air drying and Members carefully wrapped their model heads to take home.




This was a very enjoyable evening, learning about Jo’s deep interest in how people communicate with facial expressions and her novel approach to working with animation of the stages of her work in wet clay. The practical experience of using clay was unfamiliar to many of the Members present but, as can be seen from the results, the workshop was a great success. Jo was thanked for sharing her experiences with us and for directing such a productive workshop.


Still Life with a difference

9th January 2024


This practical session was a last minute change from the programme and there were five still life setups around the hall but with a difference.

Members had only half an hour at each still life before moving on to the next setup. These were quick half hour sessions with no time to fiddle in the detail. It was suggested that a different approach should be used on each setup and that different mediums should be employed. The time allocated could be used for one piece of work or for numerous quick sketches from different angles.



This was the brief and the still life setups were great.

  • A gorgeous pair of red suede shoes displayed with a patterned scarf, cyclamen plant and bright pink shopping bag.
  • Gardeners corner with old metal watering cans, pots, lush plants and delicate ferns.
  • A bar set up with colourful wine and spirit bottles, glasses and accessories on a checked cloth. The spotlight gave it added appeal.
  • A collections of gourds and seed pods with a yellow theme on a purple patterned cloth, set off by a delightful yellow patterned jug.
  • And a few colourful cups and pots.

This was a very enjoyable evening and Members had fun using different mediums. Given the time constraints, the range of sketches and colourful artwork produced was impressive. Members who contributed to the excellent still life displays were warmly thanked for their help in making this evening such a success.


“Underwater World”

Workshop in watercolour with Bridget Tomkins
21st November 2023


On Tuesday 21/11/23 we hosted local artist Bridget Tompkins and enjoyed a bumper turnout at Cowbridge Hall! Bridget is a well-established local artist who specialises in both life drawing and watercolour painting, embracing a variety of subjects. She runs classes in the St. Albans area. Bridget is known for her trademark loose and energetic style, using bold washes of intense colour which are often splashed across the paper. These random effects then become an essential part of the composition. Bridget strongly believes in trying to capture the 'essence’ of the subject or scene rather than concentrating on exact detail. This method is used to convey freshness and light by leaving plenty of areas unpainted.


Bridget had spent a great deal of time and thought developing her tutorial to enable us to create a dreamy underwater image with watercolours in 2 hours. While watching Bridget demonstrate her techniques we were also able to follow steps as set out on visuals, which guided us through the various stages of sketching, wax & water application to blending of watercolours using brushes and other implements such as lolly sticks. Bridget encouraged us to use both watercolour paints and pencils, dragging the colour to create a sense of movement. Once the background had dried, we were able to apply colour and detail to the fish which resulted in a luminous and vivid scene. Our thanks to Bridget for providing an original and entertaining evening!


We received this message from Bridge after the workshop

“Thank you for your lovely messages & photos. I had such a good time last night meeting you all & painting away as well.

I was really impressed with your society’s very positive ‘energy’ - a warm & relaxed atmosphere, you make it very pleasant for any visiting tutor. You have a lovely mix of people in the group, it’s so encouraging seeing them interacting with each other.

I hope the remainder of this year's meetings are fun & busy. And thank you for having me.“

Urban Architecture

Demonstration in watercolours by Alex Hillkurtz
14th November 2023


Alex Hillkurtz was born in England and grew up in California where he is a renowned storyboard artist for feature films, television, and commercials. He currently lives in Paris and enjoys discovering the hidden corners of the city. He uses the language of cinema to inform his images, moving beyond what one sees, and depicting what he wants others to see. He had brought along various sketchbooks and paintings to illustrate his style. Alex runs plein air workshops at beautiful locations in Europe and around the world and has recently published a book on his approach to painting architecture. For this demonstration he has chosen a photograph of a favourite corner in Paris which features a café with a bright red awning – one of his favourite motifs. The photo was taken at mid-morning with some dramatic shadows.


He prepared a sheet of Hahneműhle 300gm watercolour paper (high cotton content) by taping it to a board. He would usually stretch his paper but just uses masking tape for this demonstration. He normally uses Arches paper but is experimenting with this alternative. He draws a pencil sketch, mapping the general shapes and features of the scene. He speaks about his career and the impact this has had on his painting. He thinks of images from a cinematic point of view and aims to create an atmosphere to bring the viewer into the scene.

Alex applies a light underpainting to define some of the shapes using warm and cool shades, the lightest first. He applies a light wash of Raw Sienna to the dry paper for the sunlit area, preserving some white areas. Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna are used for the shady areas. He uses Daniel Smith watercolours primarily and some Rembrandt, squeezing tube paints into his palette in a definite order. (Alex has a painted chart of these colours in the order of his palette – to help in keeping track.) He prefers transparent pigments, with chosen opaque or granulating colours for their properties as required.

Using a mix of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna he lays in the pavement area, using diagonal strokes. The greys need to be subtly different. The red area is Pyrrol Scarlet applied boldly. Alex sprays and moves the board around to manipulate the paint. The pigment fills in the grain of the paper. He then uses a hairdryer before the next stage.


Painting outdoors can be tricky- heat, cold and humidity all seeming to conspire against a good result. Technique needs to adapt. Alex advises patience when leaving paint to dry – have a coffee, relax! Good advice.

Alex has a wide assortment of brushes, mainly Escoda and Raphael, some synthetic, some natural. He also has bristle brushes, a toothbrush and various scrapers.

Once the painting has dried Alex works back into the shadow areas. In his view these are very important as the deep tones bring up the lights. Using French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna and Quinacridone Red (similar to Alizarin Crimson) he mixes a variety of warm and cool greys. He adds an orange tone under the balconies while the grey paint is wet for reflected light, this bleeds softly into the grey. With a flat brush Alex blocks in shadows, darkens the red area and adds blue to the shadow on the white awning. He uses a granulating colour, Hematite Genuine by Daniel Smith, for the roadway, leaving spaces to indicate a crossing. Working around the painting Alex adds windows in a sketchy manner, details some stonework, using a dryish bristle brush takes off paint for windows, blots out unwanted paint and darkens areas to increase contrast (this makes the brights seem brighter).



The final stages include some penwork for balconies and ironwork, people in the distance, a red traffic light, splashes here and there using a toothbrush, very strong darks in doorways and fine marks using a knife for highlights. There comes a point, in Alex’s view, where the source material no longer matters – it becomes about the painting, being open to how the paint behaves and how the scene develops. What to put in and what to leave out is always a perplexing trial for painters. Alex’s past experience helps with the storytelling elements. The centre, sunlit area of this painting draws the eye which then travels to the intriguing cafes and surrounding area.

This was an exciting glimpse into the city which inspires so much of Alex’s current work. His narrative was fascinating, full of tips and information on materials and techniques. The final image was gorgeous, warm and inviting. Alex was warmly thanked for providing such an enjoyable demonstration and for sharing his energetic and thoughtful approach to working on a town or cityscape.

Expanded weaving session

Experimenting with mixed media
Workshop with Elizabeth Murton
31st October 2023

Tutor's resources

Elizabeth Murton is an award winning multi-media textile artist. She works in a creative and dynamic way – researching, drawing, crafting materials, talking with project partners and engaging people through events. She has a studio in Digswell and offers tutorials in various techniques on the internet. Elizabeth opened the session with a very interesting introduction to her work and practice – one intriguing example involved a huge warp weighted loom set up with fibres anchored with stones (ancient technology = contemporary sculpture).

Many of Elizabeth’s projects involve unorthodox weaving techniques and materials but this workshop focussed on teaching the basics. Members had brought a variety of frames and materials (yarns, textiles, paper) and Elizabeth had brought along resources to get everyone started on a simple piece of weaving.

The first step was to set up the warp threads either wrapped around a frame or using a piece of strong cardboard with notches cut at either end to accommodate the warp thread. A strong thread or yarn is essential for this stage as it needs to be under tension.


Members then made choices of materials and colour scheme and began to weave rows of yarn, ribbon, paper or torn fabric (the weft) through the warp threads, either using each thread or odd numbers to form a pattern. One Member used cut strips of cardboard, another an unravelled bath scrunchy (anything goes!) and very soon work started to take shape.



Elizabeth spent time with everyone, giving tips and advice and by the end of the evening some had completed their design. As can be seen from the photos these were colourful and varied in form. One was a free standing woven “sculpture” and there were some fringed wall hangings. Others would definitely be completed later.

This was a fun and enjoyable workshop – a new skill for many. Elizabeth was thanked for her help and inspiration and for introducing us to this very traditional craft with such a new twist.

One of our members went on to cut up a
couple of old, much loved shirts to form
this work which he displayed at the
Critique Evening the following week.

He titled it “The shirt off my back”.

The diagonal design and colour
scheme were much admired.





Painting the Mayor

Untutored Workshop
17th October 2023

Each Autumn we are delighted to welcome the Mayor of Hertford for a portrait workshop. This year’s Mayor is Councillor Vicky Smith and she was an excellent model for our painting workshop. Members often try to complete these portraits in their studios and are invited to display these at Hertford Castle at the later date.

The photos below show the work in progress, in various mediums. The Mayor was warmly thanked for coming along for this portrait evening.




Atmospheric Yorkshire Scene

Workshop with Mike Rollins
10th October 2023

Mike Rollins is a professional award winning artist, demonstrator and tutor based in Hertfordshire. His style of painting is a mixture of traditional and expressive techniques and though he uses a variety of mediums, he often finds acrylic paint better suits his needs. He trained as a scenic designer and often thinks of his subjects as though they were stage sets, open to rearrangement for dramatic purposes.



Tonight’s project is to replicate one of Mike’s paintings, a rather bold image based on a photograph taken of a group of houses positioned at the top of a hill, with rough grass leading up to the buildings and an intense long shadow cast down the hill from a low sun behind them.

Mike began his demonstration by quickly sketching in the forms with a fine brush and ultramarine paint. He then filled in the shapes of the houses, the cast shadows and trees etc along the horizon with a strong mix of the same paint. This quickly established the dark tones which would subsequently be overpainted. The image of the photograph was projected onto a large screen and Members began to follow Mike’s steps with their own paintings. Next he laid in the sky with pure white paint on the right hand side and cerulean blue on the left, blending and adding some depth to the sky. Mike likes to use pure colour and the next step was to add a bright yellow “undercoat” to the field leading up to the houses. He worked swiftly with broad strokes and encouraged us to use the largest brush for these initial areas. These early stages can be seen in the photos below.





Mike began to add various greens to the foreground, loosely to give texture to the slope and then added layers of colour to the dark façade of the houses and the shadow area. His painting soon came together and Mike then began to circulate, giving hints and tips to Members working on their paintings. Artists had brought mostly acrylic paints with some watercolours and one using pastel. The paintings started to look more interesting as the work progressed, each artist having a slightly different style but following Mike’s guidelines on the colours and tones of this dramatic scene.

This was an exciting evening. It is rare to copy other’s work and Mike’s bold approach was new ground for some of us. Starting with the darks is an interesting approach. The final paintings show that Members achieved a sense of drama with excellent use of colour echoing Mike’s own painting.




Mike’s advice and help throughout the evening was warmly appreciated and he was thanked for leading such an enjoyable Workshop. Design.

Mindfulness with Clay

Workshop with Sarah Core
3rd October 2023


Sarah is an award winning ceramic artist who focuses on the physical and mindful process of working with clay. She works in community settings and runs Mindfulness and Well-being, Relax & Recharge and Pottery Wheel Experiences classes from her studio in Elstree and online.

Sarah welcomes us and gives each of us a slab of clay (about 1kg). We are asked to split this into half, put this to one side and then form 4 pieces of clay from the balance, one the size of lemon and three the size of walnuts. We put all these aside in easy reach and the session begins with meditation. We sit tall with feet flat on the floor, breathing slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth, focusing on the breath initially and relaxing, eyes closed. A calm atmosphere allows us to then take our focus though the body, beginning at the feet and working slowly through the body with the breath until our focus is on the head. With eyes still closed we reach for the large piece of clay feeling and responding to the cool texture with each relaxing breath. We allow our fingers to explore the lumps and bumps and begin to model the clay slowly into an abstract form with enjoyable nooks and crannies, our fingers and minds deciding on the shape. Then we open our eyes. The range of work produced was amazing. This was a very relaxing start to the evening.


Sara then led us through a further meditation session using an image of a spinning coloured disc of light. Again with eyes closed and focus beginning at the feet we were asked to imagine this disc as a rich dark red and slowly bring the revolving disc upwards, around ourselves with the colours progressing through orange, yellow, green, blue and ending with amethyst purple when our focus reach the crowns of our heads. This was a very slow and absorbing process.

Working with the clay again we flattened one of the small walnut sized balls into a disc which formed the base of a small pot. Again with closed eyes, we squeezed one of the other pieces between our fingers, making a lumpy coil, using gravity to pull it downwards. This was rotated, squeezed and shaped until it was about as long as our hand then (eyes open) applied to the base and with finger pressure attached around the edge. The other coil was then formed and applied. We had made a range of small coiled pots, some lumpy, some smooth and lots in between.


After another meditation which echoed the first session we picked up the last piece of clay, again with closed eyes, formed it into ball held gently in the palm of our non-dominant hand feeling the cool, smooth clay. Finding the centre with the thumb of our dominant hand we very slowly pressed the thumb into the clay, gently rotating as we began to form the thumbpot. Sara encouraged us to feel each stroke and be mindful of the shape that was forming, keeping the sides even as the depth of the pot increased. Again a great variety of different pots emerged.


Some members had rather gone their own way during the evening as can be seen from the photos but the majority kept with the programme. Sara offered to fire items if people wished but most returned the clay to Sara its original form for reuse.

Many of us had worked with clay before and enjoyed its calming properties but this workshop really brought home the benefit of relaxation as part of the process and the delightful feeling of moulding something worthwhile from such a forgiving medium. The meditation practice is something to take into our lives and Sara was warmly thanked for leading such a calm, thoughtful and relaxing workshop.

Saturday Life Workshops

WHY LIFE DRAWING AND PAINTING? – Some may say it is old fashioned, but practising Life Drawing enhances observation and accuracy. Interpreting the shape of the human body trains the artist to see almost every curve line and subtle undulation found in nature. The satisfaction of producing an acceptable image can be quite intense. It does not happen immediately and demands a great deal of practice to achieve.

Hertford Art Society runs Life Workshops in Cowbridge Halls, Hertford, SG14 1PG on the last Saturday of 9 months during the year. The only exception is the October Session which is sometimes changed when it coincides with the Members’ Show. Although these are primarily run for Members we welcome enthusiastic visitors at £17.00 per session, this includes coffee, tea and biscuits, available all day. The sessions are untutored and last from 10.00am – 4.00pm with a break for lunch. We work in in all mediums including prep work for sculpture. Bring whatever medium and equipment you require with you. The photographs below illustrate the exciting variety of work produced by the artists.

There are many different approaches to life drawing which become very obvious during the sessions. We are a very enthusiastic group of artists and in a relaxed atmosphere we learn from each other different skills and methods of working, as well as experimenting with different mediums etc. We do not have a set programme of poses, but usually include short poses and longer poses for artists who wish to produce a more finished piece of work. So why not join us if you haven’t already?

Workshops take place on the last Saturday of the month (except for October) for nine months of the year. They do not take place in April, August and December due to the annual Open Exhibition and holiday periods.

Life Models Workshops within HAS Winter Programme for 2023 - 2024 - 10am - 4pm at Cowbridge Halls, Hertford, SG14 1PG

  • Saturday 25th November 2023
  • Saturday 27thJanuary 2024
  • Satuday 24th February 2024
  • Saturday 30th March 2024
  • Saturday 25th May 2024
  • Saturday 29th June 2024
  • Saturday 27th July 2024

If you are interested please contact [email protected] for further details.

Collage Workshop - Animals

Led by Sally Hunter
19th September 2023


This workshop was led by Sally Hunter, a Member who has developed her own style of collage using photographs of animals and pets as a starting point. Her work has energy and personality; she often tailors the image to suit the pet’s owner. One portrait had elements of buildings and structures hidden in the form of the charming dog whose owner was an architect. Sally also enjoys creating portraits of people and landscapes in collage.

Members were asked to bring a chosen image and Sally kindly supplied paper, gluesticks, pencils, scissors and a stack of magazines.


Showing us some examples of her own work Sally encouraged a free approach using large torn or cut pieces of printed material in order to accomplish something worthwhile in the short time available for this session. We were advised to do a quick sketch in pencil and then think of a suitable colour palette. The joy of using a variety of magazines is that the most unlikely photographs or patterns can be torn and used in a creative manner in order to create the form and features of a chosen image.


The tables, chairs and floor quickly gathered bits and pieces as artists began to make choices and started work. The photographs show work in progress and illustrate the very different approaches taken. Text can form an interesting part of a collage, adding texture and variety to the coloured material. The chosen wording can even be part of the message.


Sally gave tips and suggestions as she circulated around and work progressed at an impressive rate. The work was gathered together at the end of the session, some completed, some needing further time, but it certainly made a colourful and exciting display. Collage is absorbing and challenging and leads to work that is very personal and individual. For many of the Members, this was a departure from their regular painting and drawing activities but everyone found it enjoyable. Sally was warmly thanked for leading this interesting and creative workshop.

Demonstration – Head in Clay

By Ben Twiston-Davies
12th September 2023

Ben Twiston-Davies has been a figurative sculptor since 2000. He has been a Visiting Lecturer in sculpture and drawing at the University of Hertfordshire, since 2014. His statue of Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the Garden City movement, was installed in the centre of Welwyn Garden City in April 2021 to celebrate the city’s centenary. Ben has recently completed a statue of Agatha Christie for her hometown Wallingford, in Oxfordshire.

Ben has visited the Society previously to demonstrate his approach to sculpture, to critique Members’ work and as a 3D judge. He was warmly welcomed back.

His first step was to invite anyone who would be prepared to model for him. There were several volunteers and Ben chose our Treasurer, Geoff Bennett on this occa-sion. Ben showed us the stand on which the clay would be moulded – bent alumin-ium rod which had been stuffed with some plastic (you could use paper) to create a firm centre and wound with wire to give a “key” and help the clay to stick and stay in place. He had a mixed pot of tools and implements (some from his kitchen!) of various sizes and a wooden mallet.



Ben began by quickly pushing slabs of clay onto the frame to establish the relationship between volume and space. He used calipers to transfer the measurements of his model’s head to the sculpture, adding the features and elements, roughly at first, constantly checking and studying the emerging form. Within minutes Ben had the form established as can be seen from the first photo in the series below. He had brought his own tall stool for the model and moved this and his stand so that the model’s head and the sculpture were in tandem. He worked with establishing the silhouette from each of these positions, adding and subtracting the soft clay as he worked. (Ben mentioned a quote from Rodin, whose work he very much admires, which gave this insight into his work process also.)

Ben advocates using large tools in order to make big, not fiddly, marks and as he works he pushes the clay around with a large spatula or bats it with his wooden mallet to flatten some of the distinct planes which are a feature of Geoff’s face. Us-ing his fingers and thumbs he indents areas and says that he doesn’t follow a partic-ular process, moving from one part of the head to another instinctively as elements demand his attention.


Working with clay has its difficulties, keeping it moist and workable over a period being one of the most important factors as dryer clay shrinks and distorts particularly when working on large sculptures. Having created the clay model, Ben’s works are not fired but are used to make moulds for casting the figures, often in bronze. This is an involved and technical operation which is undertaken by Ben and his team.

As the head progresses Ben rotates the model, checks dimensions with calipers and angles/distances with smaller tools – chin to nose/corner of nose to outer eye etc. He transfers these measurements from the model’s head to the sculpture, making bold marks on the clay to aid his changes. Ben sprays the work from time to time.

Ben rather likes the lumpy texture of some areas, he feels these add character and life. He likes to exaggerate some features, almost as a caricature.


In the final stages of this demonstration Ben adds more clay to the brow area and makes some rough marks to indicate the hair. He turns the model to work on the profile, refines, re-measures, uses a smaller tool to define the mouth shape and ends by taking a series of photos of Geoff from all angles with a view to continuing work later in his studio. (Ben indicated that for commissions, a head such as this would probably take a couple of days to complete to his satisfaction.)

Although unfinished the clay head (created in about an hour and a half) had real presence and Ben had captured a great likeness. He complimented Geoff on being an outstanding model. Everyone stepped up to take a closer look at the final clay image. Throughout the demonstration Ben talked about his career and shared his approach to his work and to teaching. This was a very impressive and interesting demonstration and all the Members present thanked Ben for a very en-joyable evening.

Cast of finished Head - The material is Crystacal Lamina, to which Ben added a little bit of Jesmonite brand Terracotta pigment.

Hertford Art Society Summer Programme Weekend Away – Broadstairs, Kent

23rd – 25th June 2023

This year a small group met up in Broadstairs. The weather was stunning and we had perfect conditions for creating art en plein air. Highlights of the weekend included two very enjoyable sessions at The Chapel Bar & Bookshop, live music in the pub and bandstand, and a picnic on the beach. On our final day, we visited Turner Contemporary in Margate and had a dip with Anthony Gormley.

Left by Michael Radley. Right by Ray Ward.

Recent Summer Programmes have included a weekend trip and these have proved very popular. Broadstairs had a stunning beach and some very interesting architecture which gave plenty of opportunities for sketching and painting, as well as varied enjoyable social events. A “fabulous” weekend was the verdict.

Left by Sally Hunter. Right by Kate Tyrer.

Winter Programme 2023 - 2024

The Winter Programme 2023-2024 begins on Tuesday 5th September 2023.

These sessions are on Tuesday evenings from 7.30pm to 9.30pm at Cowbridge Hall, Cowbridge, Hertford SG14 1PG. Approximately half the evenings in the Winter Programme are for Members to paint or draw with tutor-led workshops, from still life arrangements, or with a life model. The remaining evenings are taken up with talks, critiques of paintings brought along by Members or demonstrations from a professional artist. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the non-practical evenings (marked with an asterisk).

Saturday Life Workshops will recommence on 30th September 2023 and non-Members are welcome - see details on Life Workshops below. The Members’ Show will be held from Friday 27th to Sunday 29st October 2023.

Painting and drawing

In the West Garden of Hatfield House
20th June 2023

At the kind invitation of Lord and Lady Salisbury a limited number of Hertford Art Society Members had the opportunity to spend an evening in the West Gardens of Hatfield House as part our Summer Programme.

The spectacular house, steeped in over 400 years of history, has extensive gardens that offer 40 acres of tranquillity. Built by Robert Cecil, in the grounds where Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood, Hatfield House is home to centuries of historical treasures collected by the Cecil family.


The picture perfect Gardens date from the early 17th Century, when Robert Cecil employed John Tradescant the Elder to collect plants from all over Europe for his new home. The trees, bulbs, plants and fruit trees, which had never been grown before in England, have crafted the inspiring and fragrant gardens you can explore today.


The gardens at Hatfield House have evolved into a gardeners’ paradise. The West Garden s peaceful with its scented garden and fountains and it features a massive yew hedge, inside which are spring bulbs, geraniums, iris, shrubs, herbaceous plants, roses and annuals.


Around 20 Members arrived at approximately 6.30pm and were escorted to the West Gardens. The choice for painters was almost overwhelming. It was a beautiful evening, the plants were stunning and everyone enjoyed the chance to paint in such gorgeous and historic surroundings. As can be seen from the display of paintings and drawings, this was a very successful evening.


We would encourage anyone to take the opportunity of visiting Hatfield House and Gardens which is open Thursday to Sunday until 31st August 2023.

Dance and Draw Workshop

Butoh Dance demonstrated by Fabrizia Verrachia
11th April 2023

Butoh (舞踏, Butō) is a form of Japanese dance theatre that encompasses a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement. Following World War II, Butoh arose in 1959 through collaborations between its two key founders, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Common features of the art form include playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, and extreme or absurd environments. It is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion.

Butoh is an attempt to uncover the dance that already exists, it must emerge from within, and not be imposed from without. Butoh uses 'reduction' to great effect, for example, stillness and slow motion are well known to audiences of Butoh.


Fabrizia Verrachia runs workshops and retreats in Butoh, Indian Temple Dance and Yoga and she described Butoh as a way of moving energy and expressing contrasts – dark / light, sublime / grotesque. The spirits of trees, nature, wind, air are explored with the dancer’s dramatic inner world being expressed in the dance. Among the movements she demonstrated were:

  • Meditative walk – a very slow walk with your ancestors behind you and the future ahead, a walk through a meadow trying to spare the flowers, or on hot coals, or through thick mud, the dancer feelings these different experiences and expressing them through subtle movements and responses.
  • The Wave – imagine you are part of the sea, caressing all you come across on your travels.
  • Seaweed – lying on a sandy seabed being moved by the water like seaweed.
  • A Flower – opening and closing as it grows and changes.


Fabrizia demonstrated these and other moods with slow, graceful movements at times or frantic, jerky postures at others. She had chosen to wear a ragged bodysuit and leggings with a Japanese monk’s cape picked up on her travels. This outfit perfectly suited the surreal mood of the evening. Initial sketches followed these movements, trying to swiftly capture the body shapes and mood. Fabrizia then held some short poses during the dance, 2 minutes to translate the essence of her pose into a sketch, sometimes 5 minutes allowed an image to form. This was all about movement and the best plan was to forget about the image and just enjoy the beautiful performance and let the sketches come. After a break, we enjoyed two longer poses as Fabrizia modelled for us. This was a strange, exciting evening.


This form of dance was new to most of us and it was fascinating to watch the portrayal of life experiences and moods expressed in this way. Fabrizia was warmly thanked for sharing her love of this dance form with us. The sketches give some idea of the graceful shapes and movement in her performance.

Hertford Choral Society Easter Concert

J S Bach’s St Matthew Passion
25th March 2023

Each year the Hertford Choral Society invites Hertford Art Society to illustrate their Easter concert with paintings to hang down the central pillars of the church in which the concert is performed – All Saints Church, Hertford. The concert is always a serious theological work, very often a Passion - the Christian term for the short final period before the death of Jesus Christ.

This year’s concert was J S Bach’s St Matthew Passion – glorious music, two orchestras, six principal soloists, 8 choir soloists and two choirs. It was a big production and met with huge acclaim.

Left to right, by: Alan Hobbs, Uday Chitragar, Lucy Dale, John Jarratt.

Left to right, by: Geoff Bennett, Ana Fleming, Alona Kushnirenko.

The paintings need to conform to a strict format to sit well on the church’s pillars – 4’ deep by 2’ wide; not the easiest shape to paint to. An additional challenge is the subject matter – not much action and what there is mostly despondent.

The HAS members who volunteered did a great job. Several newcomers to the task – Lucy Dale, Uday Chitragar, Lucy Dale, Alona Kushnirenko, Alan Hobbs together with three of us who have previously painted for the Choral Society - John Jarratt, Ana Fleming and myself, Geoff Bennett.

Spring Equinox Celebration

Still Life Workshop with Flowers, leaves and buds
21st March 2023


Members brought along some lovely spring flowers for this untutored workshop. There were tulips in a stunning white ceramic jug with soft velvety willow branches, daffodils, hyacinths and anemones in a variety of vases displayed on a bright magenta cloth (which was a gorgeous contrast) and one of softly patterned flowers.



Artists were free to sketch, draw or paint in any medium of their choice. This was a very enjoyable workshop. The artworks produced are colourful studies and just right for this time of year.



Mixed Media Workshop based on the Old Masters

Led by Marianne Dorn
21st February 2023

Marianne Dorn is an accomplished artist and Member of Hertford Art Society. During the course of the evening we would each study three different paintings of our choice and build up a multimedia interpretation of each. Marianne had set out several examples of her own work to look at before the session started and also a sketch by Frank Auerbach.

Auerbach was inspired by the Old Masters in the National Gallery and went there on an almost daily basis to stand in front of a painting to study it and make sketches. Aspects of these sketches then informed his own paintings. A study of a portrait could influence his landscapes and vice versa. Many of Auerbach’s sketches are on display in the Espresso Bar at the British Museum.


Marianne led us through the session devoting half an hour to each study. We had been asked to bring three sheets of robust paper, glue, acrylic paint kit, and pencils and three images which we would like to work from - Figurative paintings with a strong composi-tional element work best for this. Landscape, still life or pictures with people in them. Ex-ample painters – Cezanne, Constable, A. Gentileschi, Titian, Rembrandt, Turner, Rubens, Vermeer, etc. Marianne had brought a selection of photos as back up.

For the first sketch we focused on the structure of the composition, in the second we considered the energy of the painting and in the third we focused on movement.

During each half hour slot Marianne allocated a time limit for collage, drawing and painting, as well as a period for reflection before finishing each sketch. Some of us found working within the time constraints a bit of a challenge, but it was a really useful way of making us loosen up and focus on the really crucial elements of what we were trying to convey.


In each half hour session we changed the order of the media we were working in, for example starting one in collage another with drawing and the third with paint. This also made us step out of our comfort zones and adapt our habitual techniques. In the final sketch session which focused on movement Marianne encouraged us to physically recreate the movement in the picture through hand gestures and whole body movement.


It was a wonderful workshop and I am sure we all came away with a greater admiration of the Old Masters and feeling braver about being innovative in our own art. Looking at the array of our work at the end of the evening it was amazing to see what had been accomplished in three half hour sessions. The workshop was led with great enthusiasm by Marianne Dorn and was both challenging and inspirational. Many thanks to Marianne for all the planning that had clearly gone into it.