Tanya Raabe-Webber’s Portrait Master Classes

Artist Tanya Raabe-Webber ran a number of portrait master classes for young people last month.  Below are her reflections on what was a very successful and enjoyable workshop indeed:

I do love sharing my drawing and painting techniques with other people and seeing how they interpret their own artwork by combining technique and styles which is exactly what we did when I came back to Project Ability to run a week of portrait master classes with young people across Glasgow, Paisley and Kirkintilloch.

I introduced each group to four different ways of approaching making portraits. Techniques that I have developed over the last 30 years. Gosh that's a lot of time to be making portraits!

These included acetate drawing, portraying each other using paint on canvas, iPad observational drawing, and projecting these images on to canvas to create a collaborative piece.

The idea was to explore different ways of looking at ourselves and other people. This gave us different ways to see what line, colour and shapes do when we use to these to make portraits of the human form.

Our first technique was acetate drawings. We got up really close to each other’s faces so we could see lots of detail in our portraits. We also used different coloured marker pens to draw each other’s faces on the same acetate drawing. We then explored colour theory by projecting these drawings and discussing which coloured line stood out and which colour stood back. You decide! The combined drawings also gave us a more abstracted image that was often dynamic and made us laugh!

We then moved on to the main event. A painted portrait on canvas. I wanted to set the Gallery out just like an old fashioned art school. This gave us the feeling that we were real artists using artist’s equipment and materials. We had easels with canvas set on them with lots of paint and big brushes making us all feel like artists in an art studio. The idea this time was to stand at an easel facing the person next to you to paint a portrait of them. But this time the portrait was to be started straight away with brush and paint or drawing it up with black ink and brush. Some people went straight for paint whilst others went for drawing with ink. There were many confident and expressive portraits coming to light. Some worked on their piece all day whist others finished within an hr or so. We explored paint techniques, some used found objects to create textures whilst others wanted to learn more about mixing colours, facial proportions and getting it right.

Whilst some carried on with their paintings others moved into the digital world of drawing portraits on iPads. Drawing on iPads seemed to be very much a new way of making portraits that the young people and their teaches had not experienced. So we set about facing each other in a seated position and took it in turns striking a pose and letting the other draw from observing the sitter.


The last technique we used was to project some of the iPad drawings up on to a large canvas using black ink and eye droppers to draw with. This piece was a collaboration and a celebration of a collective. It's a montage of portraits that depict a great sense of natural raw talent, style and visual aesthetic of a young generation of learning disability artists in the making. It's visual language is at its best and in its most simplistic form. For me, is an absolute winner!
Thanks to everyone who gave their creativity, time and artistic responses so generously.

Lastly, the week’s master classes were a great way to celebrate my work and my exhibition at Project Ability.

I'll be watching out for the exhibition of the young people's portraits and no doubt will be commenting on it on Facebook and Twitter! 

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