Brimham Rocks

Yep, ‘Brimham Rocks‘, both literally and metaphorically for me. This is a significant sketch from 2013, when I’d recently started using watercolours. It records a really lovely day spent with friends in Yorkshire. The morning was spent at a climbing wall in Harrogate, which was great fun, followed by a walk and some ‘real’ climbing for our son (then aged 12) on the Rocks, let by the lovely Rhiannon.

I got out the sketchbook and sat myself down to wrestle with the scene.  My sketch buddy Andy tells me that this was the moment when he (also present and, at the time, a lapsed artist) asked himself why on earth he wasn’t doing likewise. Soon after, he picked his pen and brushes back up in earnest, and continues to employ them with gusto to this day.

So, this sketch is a very welcome memory of a really great day out, and the pinpointing of a significant turning point in someone’s sketch history. I’m still delighted about that. For me it’s a reminder that actions have consequences, sometimes demonstrably positive, whether or not we know it, or intend it so, at the time.

Brimham Rocks watercolour

Keep it simple, stupid

Still on holiday for this sketch (I’m eking them out). The chair had been calling to me for a couple of days. I liked the shape of it, the simplicity, moulded from a single piece (probably plastic) and upholstered in grey tweedy fabric. I knew I didn’t want to paint it. Somehow a line drawing seemed right, and fortunately it came without too much bother. I had fun with the slightly broken lines, and especially with the fringe on the cushion. I like the sparsity of the chair compared to the complexity of the plant and stool. Fineliners rule! (well, sometimes).

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Day of Rest

While we were in the Haute-Savoie we did a lot of mountain-walking – that was a big part of why we’d chosen to visit the Alps. However, I have my limits, and was really feeling in need of a day of downtime, while my husband was itching to do a very ambitious scramble. Happily, we negotiated to go our separate ways one day, so we both had some of what we were hankering after.

Having waved him off to defeat death on the Dents de Lanfan, (credit due here to a fellow WordPresser for lots of photos – thanks!) my day was spent reading and sketching. Not very high risk activities really. As luck would have it, this little tractor was parked at rest just within view of the rental house; I’d been eying it up for a couple of days, and so I sat in the midday sun and sketched. In fact, I got a little bit burnt, despite the sunscreen, as I just wasn’t quick enough.

For once, I took care over the composition of the picture – something I’m rarely disciplined enough to do. And this circumspection did in fact pay off. I was really pleased with the outcome, and I like the way this little tractor in its shed looks like a book illustration. It’s a salutary lesson to me that I should just take some time before starting a picture to imagine where the boundaries are and how it’s going to sit on the page.

Interestingly, I also took a different approach with the watercolour, starting with an ink drawing and adding colour, whereas all to often I start with a watercolour and then try to correct or enhance it with fineliner. The whole suddenly seemed much more intentional and effective. Food for thought there. I’ve also learned that my travel palette consists of very cool English colours, certainly not always the best for showing southern European heat. Maybe I should invest in  a hotter selection of half-pans for taking away to warmer climes. Christmas is coming…

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Leading lines

Another view from the lovely house in Alex, France. It was sunset, and the sky looked amazing through the huge picture window. I hadn’t sketched all day, and was suddenly seized by a mad urge to have a go – a bit of use it or lose it mentality. Anyway, I was struck by the sunset colour, and the way the line of washing led right to the cleft between the two mountains.

I had to paint standing up, holding my sketchbook, as I couldn’t get the right view from a seated position. I therefore tried to make it quick, for the double sake of my arms and the disappearing sunset. I ended up adding the washing line in with a white gel pen at the end, as it got lost during the enthusiastic painting of foliage. I call that a bit of cheating, but sometimes it’s necessary. All in all, I think it’s a funny little sketch, one small moment captured for posterity.

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Hammocking about

One of my favourite places is the Haute-Savoie in France.  A formative year there as a teaching assistant, as part of my French degree, meant I fell in love with the place. A trip back there is always special, and sharing it with family and friends even more so.

We stayed at an Air BnB in Alex, a hamlet in the foothills of the Alps. It was a fabulous home, with a beautiful view of the mountains, and a perfectly-situated hammock for taking it all in. The hammock got plenty good use over the days we were there, as is right and proper. It just had to be drawn.

I had with me a new sketchbook which I’d been given by my lovely colleagues at school – a square spiral-bound book from the Tate (luxury!). The paper inside was really nice for drawing in pen – just toothy enough, just smooth enough, and a good, heavy weight.  So, I spent a happy time looking out over the neighbours, checking out the fabulous view and watching their chickens roam as I sketched. They made it in, if you look carefully; tails up, heads down, hunting insects. Happy days.

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Weird watercolour

Using up watercolour testers can have surprising results. I’d previously rejected this background (where I’d been testing salt and bleeds) as I didn’t like the colours, or the way that I’d set them out on the page.

However, when I came back to it I could see…things. They were shouting to be let out with a fineliner. The tall, smirky lady with the bob was first to emerge, in on the joke, watching me work. Then the two deranged dancing girls on the right, oblivious and in their own worlds, followed by the sly, slightly disturbing bird-man with the bird’s head doll in his pocket. I think there might be another girl in the middle waiting, but she will have to stay un-drawn for now.

I don’t really know what to make of this, but it was a different path for me. Maybe I can put it down to the approach of Halloween? Or maybe it was just caffeine.

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Tip top

I do like asparagus. It’s beautiful, and it tastes good too. There is a downside, but we won’t talk about that here…

This bunch came from a local farm shop. They were huge, plump stalks in the prime of life, and so colourful they almost begged to be painted. And then eaten. Which is exactly what happened.

Asparagus watercolour

Learning lines

About two years ago I was getting ready to deliver a watercolour collage workshop; the outcome depended on students preparing varied backgrounds in watercolour. Naturally I created examples to show, but stashed the less successful ones away for another time.

It turns out that this was that ‘other time’. I was at a loss on a Sunday afternoon, wanting to do something creative, but being unable to invest much time. Flicking through a sketchbook I rediscovered the backgrounds, and decided a quick continuous line drawing would be fun, set over the top. A quick look on the internet for a free-to-draw face, and bingo, here he is. I didn’t quite manage one continuous line, but wasn’t far off. My favourite part is the hair, least favourite the beard (let’s be clear, I love beards, just not my rendering of this one).

Continuous line drawing is really great for making you look, and think about using simple shapes to describe what’s in front of you. It promotes creativity, and problem-solving (for example, how to show textures and depth of tone) and I really did enjoy this process. I could imagine stitching into this picture to build up further layers of line…hmmm. Interesting.

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Looking up

On a short break to Yorkshire we went with our friends to Lotherton Hall, it being just a short and pleasant walk from their home. We’ve been several times before, but have never actually visited the house. This time we ventured inside, covering our muddy walking boots with strange blue plastic bootees to protect the carpets. The Hall was a wealthy home which had not been updated since WWII, with elements dating from much earlier, and which houses several collections.

One of the inhabitants had been a collector of pottery, and there was a varied display of items from centuries old to the very modern. I rather liked the shapes and contrasting colours of these vases, and the fact that there was a handy chair nearby ensured that I settled to sketch them. I quite enjoyed the strange viewing angle, and for a while considered leaving the objects floating in air before deciding to add in the glass shelf. The shadows were very strange, due to the way the cabinet was lit. It was certainly odd not putting in any shadows at the base to ground the vases, other than the relatively dark areas underneath the pots themselves.

Once again this was done in fineliner and Tombow with a waterbrush. I really like this combination for fast sketching when I’m out and about.

Lotherton Glassware ink

Well, for whatever reason, WordPress has decided not to let me crop this image – I’ve been defeated three times, so have decided just to let it be. Apologies for the unartistic background in view. Hey ho.

Lake Kournas View

While in Crete we walked to a beauty spot, Lake Kournas, the only lake on the island. It’s firmly on the tourist trail, and in high season is full of beach umbrellas and tanned bodies. Fortunately it was way too early in the season to have to compete with the hordes. This did not stop my companions from swimming in the chilly water, to the amazement and amusement of a few southern European tourists. Brits of a certain age can be both hardy and foolhardy.

I opted for the much warmer pursuit of painting the lake and surrounding hills. I already knew that this was a picture likely to stay firmly in the sketchbook, so for the first time I chose to span my view across two pages, and I’m pleased I did. The buildings gave me some difficulty, as did the shrubbery on the hillside, but frankly when does watercolour not present some kind of struggle? I’m quite pleased with the outcome overall – the water really was this turquoise and wonderfully clear.

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