Abby Diamond Inspired Birds

By The Arty Teacher - December 30, 2020

When I saw the stage by stage photos by art teacher Robert Bagley, I knew they would be of interest to art teachers everywhere. They are inspired by the artist Abby Diamond who is an artist I have found to be very popular with students.  Diamond combines detailed, sketchy pen drawing with loose, freely applied ink.

Robert told me I made this work because I wanted to put my own take onto Abby Diamond’s illustrations of birds. I use her work to teach colour and the use of line to boys in my classes. 

I started this in what I consider to be a “traditional” way sketching up the essential shape checking the proportions on the way – building up the line work and then moving in with colour.”

“Moving forward, I started laying on some light patches of colour, then built the line work up with colour and line being added simultaneously.”

Seeing Robert next to the finished piece helps to give a sense of scale.  In the following pictures, Robert goes through the process again.  I think his students are lucky to have such a dedicated teacher.  It is by going through a process ourselves that we learn how to do it and therefore how to teach it.

Robert tells me “I had originally made a small artist study in a sketchbook, including a step-by-step analysis of the process. However, I felt I needed something a little bigger so young people in my classes can see the dynamic use of mark making and colour in Diamonds work.”

“Abby Diamond has a real fast and loose style that I find appealing because it can be made relatively quickly. The marks are exciting, scratchy and full of loose ink and splatters. For me this has an energetic quality that my students often miss. I want them to be able to see the confidence that Diamond displays in this fast and loose style.”

Robert went on to say “There is also the question of scale.  I thought it might be interesting to take something rather small and write it large. I like working large as I think art is quite a physical process at times. Standing and moving quickly gives me a sense of freedom too.” 

This really rang true with me as I often ask my students to stand up at the desk or move to an easel so they are using their whole arm rather than just moving their hand from the wrist.

A good debate to have with students about this work would be: are these paintings or drawings?  Robert says that he considers them to be drawings.  What do you think?

Knowing what media is used is useful.  Robert says “I used a big fat HB pencil some Pro Markers, Posca Pens, and a selection of Drawing Inks in my studio, Diamine drawing inks, a selection of FW Artists Inks and standard Winsor and Newton Inks.  They are made on large sheets of Fabriano Paper about 180gsm” 

Robert also has a clear idea of what his students should learn from this experience.  “I shall display them in my classroom and encourage students to:

  • Examine the speed of the mark making. 
  • Look at how colour can be washed on and built in layers.
  • Learn how marks can be kept and absorbed into the work.
  • Experience how forgiving a fast and loose style can be in relation to the subject.

Most of all I hope to be able to encourage the boys in my classes to make quick decisive marks that encourage their confidence, whatever the materials they use.”

Robert Bagley teaches at Southborough High School Surbiton, Surrey.  This is a state-funded secondary academy for boys. 

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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9 responses to “Abby Diamond Inspired Birds”

  1. Lucy Thompson says:

    Absolutely fabulous!

  2. Nicky Crawford says:

    I am about to embark on a new project looking at the work of Abby Diamond with Year 9. We are looking at creating expressive artwork, whilst exploring mixed media techniques and feel that Abby Diamond provides a great inspiration.
    your step by step images have been useful how we can break this down into stages and different lesson foci. i am impressed how you work at such a scale however with a class of 26, we will have to work smaller. Robert do your students work at the same scale as yourself?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      I’ll see if I can get in touch with Robert to find out.

    • Robert Bagley says:

      Hi Nicky.
      These were made as show pieces for my classroom. In terms of size my students work in A4 sketchbooks with watercolours and some basic drawing materials.

      Some students who make well observed work are moved up to A3 or A2.

      It is all a question of scale in terms of the tools for my big work I use graphite sticks, large brushes with drawing inks and a selection fat Posca pens.

      Scale it down for students they can use simple pencils, small brushes and finer pens.

      Hope this helps.
      Good luck Rx

  3. Robert Bagley says:

    I use it initially in key stage three. Year seven love them. I’ve used them with Key Stag four too.

  4. Robert Bagley says:


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