Dog Days

Isn’t it strange how some things don’t change, and can connect us across centuries? Visiting the British Museum on one of the hottest days of the year, I was drawn to this Roman dog statue. It looked as fresh as any contemporary statue, just a hound being a hound. You could almost feel the heat of his breath and the texture of his fur.

Dog statue ink

There was no sitting room, so I stood in the sweltering gallery to capture him.  Before I even started I found myself ‘drawing’ the outline in the air over the paper, trying to get a feel for proportion and positioning. Using white pen ensures I look twice, or three times, before drawing, as all marks and mistakes are committed and irreversible. I like the fact that I’m initially forced to be very considered, but that once I’ve committed to the lines I can stop worrying so much and get lost in the shading, which is also a buzz as, in a reverse to the usual order of things, it’s a case of adding highlights and mid-tones rather than darks. It’s got to be good for the brain, surely?

Jolly Tricky

In the Cypriot section of the British Museum, two heads overlook a bench. This bench is irresistible to tired sketchers, looking to fill in a bit of time before viewing the fabulous Katsushika Hokusai exhibition.

So, while there were, no doubt, other items which may have deserved to be sketched, it was a case of ‘if you can’t be with the one you’d sketch, sketch the one you’re with.’ Any anyway, who can resist a beard like that? Hipsters eat your hearts out.

Cypriot heads tombow

The bearded statue was particularly interesting in one respect, which was his smile. It seemed the Cypriots liked a smiling statue, but never with teeth showing. It was rather a forced, stylistic smirk, it seemed to me, whereas the rather chunkier chap behind was veering towards a more Roman mien (and reminded us of Napoleon’s bust).

There were a few issues with this sketch, as it was the end of a long day, in a roasting gallery, and my water pen ran out whilst shading… but you know what, it was ok. Because the Hokusai exhibition was marvellous, and well worth hanging around for. If you have a chance to see it, I’d give it my wholehearted recommendation.



Our 14 year old son is a beekeeper, as of last autumn; an ambition he held for at least two years before it became reality. Amazingly, he was fortunate enough to win the beekeeper’s association raffle, which offered him a 10-week beekeeping course. He signed up to it, but was too young to attend on his own, so it fell to me to accompany him. I did not intend to take the course, but the organisers kindly agreed to let me sit at the back.

On the first evening I took my sketching materials, just a brush pen and book, and tried some very rough-and-ready images of the attendees. This is, sort of,  what beekeepers look like round our way. (Apart from the very large bee which has squeezed in at the bottom.)

Beekeeper heads ink

Sadly, there were no more sketches at subsequent meetings as I got gradually sucked in and ended up being a full participant… I’m sure that was their intention all along!


Whiling away the time while the car is in the garage for repairs, there’s nothing quite like a cuppa (or in my case a Diet Coke) and a chance to stare at the cake counter with the valid excuse of sketching!


This one was  drawn in fine brush pen (grey) and coloured with Tombow watercolour pens, spread with a water brush.

Lost my Marbles

When I set up this dessert bowl of marbles I was ensnared by the translucency of the glass, the vibrancy of the colours and the downright deliciousness of the whole thing. The sun was shining in through the window, lighting everything up, a painter’s dream, I thought.

Marbles watercolour

I had been given some beautiful Golden QoR watercolours which I wanted to test out, and I reckoned this would be a wonderful opportunity to see their intensity and vibrancy (I had previously been using W&N).

What I had in my head was so different to what emerged on the paper! With hindsight, maybe I might have been better off working larger so that I could be more free – this picture is only about A5 size. I didn’t entirely manage to capture the colourful lights and transparency, although viewing this in retrospect there are a few areas where I feel I had some success. It turned out a bit of a mixed bag (or bowl). However, the paints themselves were splendid, vibrant and punchy where needed, and it was a joy to be squeezing out a tube of intense colour rather than scribbling around in a half-pan as I normally do. They’ll be coming out to play again.

A little koi

At Christmas I was given a lovely book on Sumi-E, the art of Japanese brush-painting. The author gives step-by-step instructions on how to use the tools, and offers advice on how to paint particular subjects. Unsurprisingly, the book includes a lesson on how to tackle koi carp, and this really appealed to me for a first foray into the technique.

Although I didn’t have traditional ink sticks to grind my own ink, I had also serendipitously received a very lovely Kuretake brush pen (which takes ink cartridges), so when I sat down to have a go, this was what I used.


I know I’ve a huge amount to learn about this style of painting, where the line and composition are everything. But hey, you have to start somewhere. Trying this little exercise was a very good experience, particularly the focus on  achieving a variable line and ink flow with the brush pen. Next time I might try a smoother paper, and grinding my own ink…eek!

Teaching Superheroes

A good art experience at school is such a valuable thing; the right approach can set us up for an artistic life filled with robust experimentation, open-mindedness and enthusiasm, and appreciation for art in all its manifestations. Some of us will have been lucky enough to have been inspired by our school art teachers, but I suspect many others will have found their way to creative fulfilment despite the confines of their formal art education.

Without getting too political, it’s clear that ‘arts’ education in the UK is being marginalised, underfunded and undervalued by the government, yet still the vast majority of teachers remain passionate and dedicated to their subjects, striving to inspire young people. It’s why they are teachers.


A print by one of Mrs Jardin’s students

I came across Mrs Jardin’s Art Room on WordPress by accident, and found that I loved what I was seeing. I’m highlighting her blog here, because I find the work she’s achieving with her young students uplifting, and because I want to spread the word about how stimulating art education can be.

I really hope you enjoy your trip to Mrs Jardin’s class!

(P.S. I’m not a teacher, just a fan of teaching ‘done right’)