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  • Writer's pictureIrena Kolbuszewska

Artistic Coffee Break with Ian Fennelly

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

Artistic Coffee Break with Ian Fennelly / Teaching English through Art

This post is divided into the following sections:

1. Introduction

2. How this kind of post differs from the lectures you used to hear at school

3. Who is Ian Fennelly

4. Analysis of some of his works You will also find a short vocabulary section at the end of this post for words or expressions marked in italics.

For the last couple of months or almost a year, I’ve been active on Discord (Learn English Online server - I have my own event called Art Talk with Irena where I talk about one specific artist and analyze their work.

This is consistent with my idea of teaching English through Art. However, I know some people might not be very enthusiastic about it. Art is usually not the most interesting subject in schools, there are not too many passionate teachers who are good storytellers at the same time or who can explain someone’s work in an engaging way. So you end up learning about art because you have to, because it’s mandatory, not because you enjoy it. Actually, you probably find it quite tedious. And you don’t see how it could possibly have something to do with your life, as those artists lived in different times, expressed themselves in a different way than nowadays etc.

Fortunately, as much as those artists deserve not to be forgotten, we are not limited just to them. As I draw and paint a lot, I’m also involved in different artistic communities. For me, it’s easier to get to know people who produce great works of art and who are relatively unknown at the same time. I would even risk saying that they are probably unknown to most of you, my readers. Nevertheless, these people live in a similar way as we do, they walk along the same streets, they buy the same kind of bread, go to a supermarket, use social media etc. And they sketch – draw or paint. Or both.

About two weeks ago, I talked about one of them, a UK artist, Ian Fennelly. Have you ever heard about him? If not, that’s fantastic, at least no one has had an opportunity to encourage you to avoid this guy at all costs :) .

Ian Fennelly is from the UK, he defines himself as an artist and an Urban Sketcher. We can all tell what an artist is, but... What does it mean to be an Urban Sketcher? It’s simply someone who draws a scene in front of them, live, “on location”. They tell a story about what is going on in everyday life, “one drawing at a time”. The essence of Urban Sketching is to observe carefully the whole context that surrounds us and render it on paper as well as one is able to. Everyone can be an Urban Sketcher, be it someone who’s a beginner or a more advanced artist. There are no special requirements except to always draw live and not just one single object but the whole context. There is a tendency to sometimes bend the second rule, but it’s not possible to do it with the first principle: to always draw live what you see in front of you, not from a photo and not from your imagination.

As I said, everyone can be an Urban Sketcher, but some of them are obviously better known than others. One such artist is Ian Fennelly. It would be hard for me to describe his style, so I’d like to show you some of his works and point out some characteristic techniques or features.

Here’s his rendering of Pompeii. The perspective is very loose, playful. Not everything is straight, most likely not every single line is according to the perspective rules. However, we have no doubts what is in the foreground and which objects are farther away from us. Some objects overlap each other. He’s not trying to show every single detail but rather to draw our attention (in various ways) to the most important object. For example the (gate?) is painted in lively, warm colours, whereas for the remaining objects, he uses mostly cold colours such as different shades of blue. The items that are more distant from the viewer are painted more vaguely, without so much attention to detail and the colours are less saturated. Those items are also much smaller than the objects closer to us, just like in real life. Temples, cobblestone, mountains, they all fade away at some point, adding some mystery to the sketch. What is also quite interesting, there is a sort of path inviting us inside, our sight can slide through the main object (which could be a gate, but I’m not sure) to further explore the background.


Again, the same principles apply here: warm colours are used to draw our attention to the spot Fennelly wants us to focus on. There is a bridge leading to the church, the main “character” of this sketch. There are some lovely reflections which add depth to the sketch. The blue building on the right is sketched very loosely, almost carelessly, whereas the bridge and the church are shown in a more detailed way. The colours of the two buildings next to the chuch are also less lively, less saturated.

I believe you will be able to recognize similar techniques in other examples of Ian’s works:


Canal Scene, Venice


So what do you think about Ian Fennelly? What do you think about artists in general? Is it worth learning English by exploring art? Personally, I’d say it depends. Many of my students often say, that their main motivation to study English is to get to know new people from different cultures. If this be the case, it’s probably quite exciting to explore art in English to discover artists we have never heard of. Who knows, one of them might have passed by on the sidewalk opposite the place where you were sitting and eating your ice-cream dessert or taking a coffee break after a long sightseeing tour.


It’s mandatory – it’s compulsory. Something has to be done because of a rule or law.

You probably find it quite tedious – You find it (In your opinion, it is) quite boring and it takes too long. Notice that we put the adverb “probably” between the pronoun “you” and the verb “to find”.

To render something on paper – To express something, to show something on paper.

There is a tendency sometimes to bend the second rule – There is a tendency to allow people to do something that a specific rule doesn’t usually allow.

The first principle – The first rule

Some objects overlap each other – One object partially covers the other, its edge fits over the edge of the second object.

The colours are less saturated – Some colours are less intense.

The foreground – in the foreground / The background – in the background – The front part of a scene or picture / The part at the back of a scene or a picture

They all fade away at some point – They all disappear at some point.

Thank you for reading it until the end. If you like this post, please share it on social media, so more people can find it and make the most of it. If you like the idea of learning English through art and you would like to find out more about it, you are welcome contact me at

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