The Big One

It’s Challenge No. 4, and the painting which has been taking up all my spare time (not that there’s been too much of that) is finally finished. I think…

The Challenge this time which Andy and I set ourselves was on the theme of ‘Water,’ and we chose this fishing scene of my son and a friend. To be painted in acrylic, on a big canvas, 24 x 30 inches. We did our studies (mine’s here) and then gave ourselves a laughable 3 hours to see what we could get done on our respective paintings. It turned out that the answer was ‘not that much.’ However, we both decided it would be time well spent to press on and see what we could make of the scene, however long it took.

And it took hours. I have lost count, but I reckon I’ve spent at least 10 hours on this, over two weeks, although quite where the time has gone I couldn’t say. (As usual, the camera has bumped up the blues and whites in this pic).

Clapper bridge acrylic

Covering the big canvas was definitely part of that – I really underestimated the amount of paint it would swallow, and how long it would take just to get a basic covering of paint onto it, without even getting down to the details. One of the advantages of taking the painting more slowly was that I was able to be more critical about each session’s progress. I definitely learned a phenomenal amount. For example: how tricky it can be to get translucency and ‘believability’ into the water (I ended up layering paint, and then using a pretty dry brush to skid over the top); the importance of varying the type of stroke to show different textures; how to compensate for an over-exposed source photo which has made all the skin tones even whiter than standard English skin; and the difficulty of painting a face you can’t really see. I also learned that for big pictures I think I prefer painting on board rather than canvas. This is because the canvas gave a grainy final surface tricky to paint detail on, whereas the board would have been smooth textured and would have made the skin much easier to deal with (and particularly the faces) I’m sure.

So here it is, finally done. I’d like to put this one on the wall, I think. It’s a good memory of a very happy day, and now it’s also a symbol of another hurdle attempted. So that’s two reasons to be cheerful.




Some years ago we took a short break in Dartmoor, and spent one glorious afternoon at a local beauty spot in Postbridge. Famous for its clapper bridge, this is truly one of the most idyllic English scenes you could wish for. Our son made a new friend, who had brought a fishing net, and they spent a happy hour looking for minnows in the shallow water. (If you do take a look at the link above, you’ll see a photo of the stones they were standing on to fish, in front of the bridge). We were lucky enough to capture this moment as a photo, which brings back fond memories.

Now back to recent days. My painting buddy Andy and I were seeking a new ‘challenge’ to paint, and had decided on water as the theme. In the pile of images for consideration was this one. Daunting, but interesting. We decided that we should raise our game and have a go at it – facing up not just to water, but figures too.

Andy made a stonking first study in pen and wash, which deterred me from doing the same. Therefore I plumped for having a bash at the same subject in pastels, which would still let me try out the colours and composition in preparation for making an acrylic painting next week. I used Rembrandt pastels (kindly lent to me by my mum), on mountboard, which I quite like for its smooth texture.


Overall, I’m reasonably happy with how this one worked out. I may alter the cropping slightly when I make the painting, but this study did let me get my eyes and hands around the figures and have a good look at the reflections in the water and how I might treat them. Hardest this time for me were the skin tones, dark water tones, and the boys’ faces, the latter mainly due to the chunky nature of the pastels I was using. Getting the features in needed to be a matter of suggestion rather than explicit detail. I suspect the same will be an issue with the painting. We shall soon see!


Exercise Bee

Just a scant few minutes for painting today, so I thought I’d try out something I’d seen on Kate Osborne’s lovely blog. This is shameless imitation, for the sake of knowledge…but I like what I’ve learned! Kate’s video really was inspiring, I’d encourage anyone interested in watercolours to take a look at her site.


No underdrawing necessary here – it was straight on with the paint. New to me today was using a fan brush to pull the puddled paint outwards, which gives a really pleasing furry effect when you get it right. Today it worked best on the right hand bee, although I was too heavy-handed using it on the left hand bee, and forgot to use it at all on the centre chap.

I was also trying out some new QoR paints (a delicious present) and since I have fewer colours than in my normal palette (W&N) I was encouraged to do my colour mixing with pretty much just 4 colours – Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna and Indian Yellow plus a tiny amount of Pyrrole Red. Sloppy splashing on the paper made a bit of spattering a necessity, but what joy!

Devilishly quick

Still at the V&A Museum, and by this time I was getting ‘sketched-out,’ showing a rather disappointing lack of stamina. We moved on to the Japanese gallery – I’m always drawn to Japanese art, the delicacy and wit which is often exhibited is an attractive combination. Any one of the netsuke or inro on display would be a treasured item; choosing which one to draw is a real dilemma.

I made one last loose sketch effort; an inro with a devilish face on its bead. The case gave me pause for thought, as it was quite detailed in its patterning but did not seem to represent anything particular. Deciding how (and whether) to represent that was the issue. In the end I opted for ‘suggestive’ rather than literal. Which was just as well, or I’d still be there drawing it!


I confess I dashed this off as fast as I could, in the trusted combo of fineliner and Tombow again. It’s enough to remember the item by, and looking back on it now I feel it has a luminous, shiny lacquered quality I quite like.

My Lady

Back at the V&A Museum, once David was as complete as he was going to be, I moved on to a 15th Century Italian bust of a young aristocratic woman. She was demurely looking down, and very beautiful. It never ceases to amaze me how well sculpture can represent flesh – something so hard conveying the softness and curves of a real body. That’s incredible art.

Unfortunately, my sketch makes her look rather snooty and sneering, poor thing. That’s the trouble with going straight into ink, there’s no convincing way out once you get it wrong. Although you can attempt to correct your mistake, often it’s just irretrievable…sigh. Anyway, I though her hair was particularly attractive, reminding me of the styles you see on Roman statues, and at least my drawing of that was more convincing.


While in this gallery we met an artist who was drawing the whole sculpture gallery. I was staggered. He was making a great job of it too – he said that he was going to use his picture as a demonstration to his students of how to successfully pull off a wide angle of perspective. I’d have liked to have seen that lesson. Anyway, he was a very pleasant chap, and passed on a technique which he uses, which is to dip a bamboo kebab skewer into bark ink to draw. I think I’m going to be trying that out sometime; it made beautiful, variable ink lines, and the ink went much further than you would expect. Lovely.


Gorgeous Hunk

…of marble, that is. Buff, and buffed to perfection.

On our big sketching day, the second port of call was the Victoria & Albert Museum. It’s probably my favourite in London, hosting the most amazing examples of the world’s art and design achievements, from the time man first set his hand to create something beautiful.

We were arrested by the sculpture galleries, where Michaelangelo’s imposing David takes centre stage. There was simply no question about what to draw first.


First I drew the main shapes in fineliner, then added the contours with Tombow and waterpen. I find it pleasing how the paint has separated to give blueish and reddish tones to the shades.

As you see, I made life difficult for myself with the positioning of David on the paper – he could have done with being either a little lower, or smaller and higher. It would seem an undeserved indignity to have given him only half of what he was due in the nether regions, so I opted for complete omission instead. A handy cop-out.

The afternoon light was excellent in this gallery, and provided lots of good shadows and highlights. This, combined with the museum stools fortunately to hand, made it a real pleasure to sketch here.


Eye Say!

My friend and I had a whistle-stop visit to London last weekend, armed and dangerous with sketching equipment. (And a licence to quill?) The plan was to first visit the Wellcome Collection in Euston Road to draw some of the weird and wonderful medicine-related items. I’d never been before, and was surprised by the range of items in Henry Wellcome’s private collection. Some of them were perhaps not what you’d want in your sketchbook for posterity…but others, well, here’s what I was drawn to:


What a lovely showcase of glass peepers it was! I immediately regretted my decision not to carry my watercolours, but was glad that at least I had the Tombows and a water brush to hand. Did you know that glass eyes aren’t necessarily full orbs, but sometimes half hollow spheres? There were a couple here, stacked on top of other eyes, in the front row, left and centre .

Passing up chastity belts and Chinese diagnosis dolls (amongst other things), my next attempt was a phrenology head. Not one of those fake ceramic ones, this one was a real skull which had been inked over with the areas, but the markings were very faded. The light levels were pretty low in the museum and so I opted for black paper with white gel ink.  It’s a little untidy and haphazardly shaded compared to my previous skeletal effort back in 2015, but I don’t mind that too much. In passing, I must mention that this museum provides little stools, so we were able to sit in comfort to draw – 10/10 for thoughtfulness!


So, this guy (or gal) had the last laugh with me at the Wellcome Collection. What happened next is another story…