Sketchbook Shakespeare


Ian McKellen as Richard III, Lyttleton 1990

In October I took part in a workshop entitled “Shakespeare through Artists’ Eyes” and was inspired by wonderful works such as Anthony Sher’s self-portrait as Richard III and Gustave Moreau’s Study for Lady Macbeth (see my Pinterest board for these and other paintings with a Shakespearean theme). Since then I’ve been to a couple of excellent national cinema screenings and seen Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet and Judy Dench and Kenneth Branagh in The Winter’s Tale.  I want to follow up this interest by painting characters from Shakespeare’s plays and plan to use this as a theme for the mood and atmosphere and character portrait exercises coming up.


Fiona Shaw as Richard II, Cottesloe 1995 – “I give this heavy weight from off my head.”

To warm up and explore some ideas I’ve spent the evening doing  quick pen and watercolour drawings/paintings in my sketchbook using material from the National Theatre 50 years on stage production (on DVD) and some You Tube footage. The exercise has caused to me to think about how important lighting is in theatre, how it builds drama, and also how very different the poses often are to ‘regular’ portraits. Some of these different viewpoints are much more difficult to capture because they are not familiar (e.g. Othello 2 where I haven’t captured the long neck and foreshortened jaw and nose at all well (I will try again).  I’ve achieved mixed results but I found the exercise rewarding and have gathered material and ideas I can develop further.

For me this approach is quite an exciting one. Watching great actors who communicate so much with their facial expressions and body language while listening to the poetry of Shakespeare’s prose, is a stimulating experience and a route into expressive painting. Working from video footage provides the opportunity to choose and experiment with subtly or widely different poses and angles in a way that might be difficult with photography.

All in all an evening well spent  observing, listening and feeling and trying to express it in pen and paint!


Othello-Adrian Lester

Adrian Lester as Othello, Olivier 2013


Othello 2 – “All my fond love does thus blow to heaven”







David Tennant as Hamlet – Hamlet’s Soliloquy – “To die, to sleep, to sleep perchance to dream.”


Hamlet 2 – To be or not to be, that is the question.”


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