Silver and Gold

The boys in my life wanted to go mountain biking; I didn’t. So I went with them to Shouldham Woods and made a picture instead. I had 45 minutes in which to find a location and actually do the painting. The time limit meant that I didn’t take as much care as I might have liked when finding a spot, but nevertheless I liked this view because it offered a pretty picture of a variety of trees, with some beautiful newly-golden-leaved silver birches in the distance. In this case I opted to use some masking fluid to preserve the white trunks; the time it took to dry was time well spent, as I quite like the unevenness of line this has produced. There was a lot of variation in greens, and I made a conscious effort to mix greens rather than use what I had in my paintbox, which I think has probably given a better result. As always, achieving the depth of colour for the Scots pine and the shaded areas took several goes as I’m never brave enough first off.

Shouldham hedgerow watercolour

I wasn’t very happy with this picture when I’d first completed it, but a few weeks on I feel rather differently about it and am now quite pleased to have it in my sketchbook.

To Hand

This is a simple little funsize fineliner sketch, made on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, while waiting while my son played in his brass group. Uninspired by what was around me, I opted for the closest of subjects, that which was literally to hand. Looking back on this sketch, I really like the broken, wiggly line over the knuckle, and the darks under the fingernails and in the palm.

Funsize Hand

I suspect this will be the last of the Saturday sketches (although there are a few other I haven’t posted yet) because I’ve been invited to play in the brass group too, as they’ve just lost their second trumpet. My ‘dead’ time will be filled in future with a lot of puffing and blowing, instead of scribbling. However, my funsize sketchbook will continue to travel with me, because you never know…

On the Line

Yesterday was a beautiful day, with light breezes, big scudding clouds and intermittent warm sunshine, a good day for sketching outside. Inspiration was slow in coming, but finally I decided to have a go at the washing line, attracted by the lovely purply-blue shadows being thrown onto the gravel and the shed.

In the end this picture took an awful lot of fiddling with to arrive at this stage. I struggled with the sky because the paint dried even faster than I’d expected and, even with lifting out, the clouds are rather lumpy. Getting the foliage dark enough to contrast with the sunlit areas seemed to take ages and many goings-over; in doing so, I did get to try out my new W&N Neutral Tint, which seems a very useful addition to the palette. On the plus side, I am pleased with the colour of the shadows of the washing, and also that I managed to get the paint edges crisp and dark enough not to have to use my fineliner to add definition.

Washing watercolour


Gift Horse

This weekend I wanted to sketch geese, so I packed up my sketching things in a rucksack, grabbed my bike and cycled off to the field I pass on my run, where two plump geese normally roam free. But it was not to be; on my arrival the geese were nowhere to be seen. My suspicions are that they have been ‘enjoyed’ by their owners.

It was time to be adaptable. I’d come out to sketch, and that was what I was going to do, regardless. So when the horses which also live on that pasture came over to the gate to say hello, I knew (with a feeling of trepidation) that I’d have to try to draw them.

I’d never properly drawn a horse. In fact I’d barely even looked hard at one. These two girls were friendly and hung their heads over the fence until they understood that I wasn’t going to hand-select them the finest grasses, and that realisation came about ten minutes from my arrival. I had to work very quickly indeed, which is  a bit of a strain when you haven’t drawn something before and you’re not at all familiar with the shapes. The best I could do was a few hasty fineliner sketches before the pair wandered off to the far reaches of the paddock and left me filling in some of the gaps with watercolour. The effect is rather cartoony, and not what I had in mind!

Horses watercolour.JPG

As I hopped back on my bike to leave, I was flagged down by a little old lady who normally waves at me when I run. She’d been secretly watching me sketching and asked to see what I’d done. Edna was very discerning in her comments, and told me that she was top of her art class at high school, although she’d never drawn as an adult – her years as a farmer’s wife didn’t leave space for art. Now 80, she told me that still gets out in the garden and hand-feeds the local wild deer. She’s spry as a bird, and she gave me a tour of her woodland behind her bungalow, and made sure I admired her lovely new owl box. I came away very happy that the morning’s sketching had brought a new acquaintance.

However, since I was sure I still needed to know much more about equine anatomy I searched for photos online and made a few practice drawings in ink using a brush pen. I can see some improvement over the morning’s watercolour sketches, and I’m  a little more comfortable with the shapes now, although there’s still a long way to go. I get the feeling it might be a while before I have the courage to sketch any more horses.


It’s been a week where death has been more evident within my horizons than usual. Three days ago a lifelong friend tragically lost his wife (at just 43) to aggressive cancer, and the following day our fit and active neighbour sadly passed away following a routine operation. Yesterday one of my chickens disappeared, we think to sustain the family of six fox cubs living in the next field. And today I returned from my morning run to find a freshly dead rabbit on the doorstep, courtesy of the cat.

Although the impact of some of these deaths will be felt more strongly than others, it all reminds one of how risky the business of living is.

By sketching the rabbit in fineliner and watercolour I hoped to bring a small positive from one of these sad stories.

Dead rabbit watercolour

Life can be terribly brief, and uncertain. So make a sketch, whittle a stick, write a poem, or compose a piece; know you’re leaving something of your spirit which will endure when you are gone.




A Bit Risque

On a visit to Grandma’s house, I spied these creamware creamers. Curvaceous and pretty, I thought they looked a perfect pair. But you can imagine the sniggering (not least from Grandma) when I said I’d like to draw Grandma’s little jugs.

A ‘funsize’ sketch (3x3ins), naturally, done in sepia fineliner and brown tombow watercolour marker. So here they are, and I’m rather pleased with them; I think Grandma liked them too.

Funsize jugs ink & tombow


My husband is learning to draw and wants to start to sketch people. When I suggested he could do worse than have a try at a self portrait, he commented that he thought it felt a bit vain to do so. That surprised me; I hadn’t looked at it that way. I countered that I think our own faces are the ones we are know best, and that at least we’re always available to model for ourselves. Anyway, in my limited experience, self portraits are rarely flattering, given the fixed stare, frown, clenched jaw and compressed lips which result from the intensity of effort involved.

It was a series of self portraits in pastel which prompted me to kick off this blog just over a year ago. It was a good adventure, and one which taught me a lot.  I’ve done a couple in watercolour since, but today was the time for a proper selfie in acrylic.

I got the mirror rigged up, paints out, and off I went – starting is often the scariest bit. The board (30x40cms) was prepped by a light sanding and then propped on my tabletop easel. Having sketched the basic features in pencil, I worked from the background forwards. For once I did have a plan for the background, inspired by the black glass of the oven behind me (I like to paint in the kitchen).

Self portrait acrylic apr 16

The skin tones really gave me food for thought, how to mix the right colours; it took quite a bit of trial and error, and I’ve still come out somewhat more tanned than I am in reality. The shadows on the face were especially challenging. What colour is that? The chin is definitely a bit odd (I might revisit that). The bit I like most, and tellingly which took least effort, was the ear. If the rest of the painting was as loose and yet still as convincing as that I’d be really chuffed. I found that the acrylics actually dried a little too fast for me to achieve the smoothness of skin tones I was hoping for. I can see how oils would be a bonus here. Yet the acrylics do offer a sort of coarseness which is appealing.

I’d hoped that using my 3/4 in flat brush throughout would help me to paint more loosely, but in fact it created some problems where detail was necessary, particularly round the eyes and nose. Rightly or wrongly, I persisted. I’d be interested to know what brushes other people use for portraits, all advice gratefully accepted!

As has been the case with every selfie I’ve done, this sort of looks like me, but doesn’t really. Having looked at my previous attempts I think that I am getting better at this business, although my stern expression seems to confirm my opinion that self-portraiture is a very serious business indeed.


The Sketchers

While we were staying at the lovely Mas Bernad  there were a few moments where I had my pick of unwitting models to sketch, as everyone was busy drawing or painting. That’s why the subjects are all looking down, with their concentrating faces on!

It was very good fast sketch practice, using just a few pencil guidelines and trying to let the paint work for me. In some cases this turned out better than others. As you see, I attempted to rescue the face on the bottom left by adding definition in black fineliner; I don’t think this was particularly successful, but sometimes you have to try these things.

The models were very kind and didn’t grumble at all about the portraits, however unlike them they turned out. I noticed that it was less of a struggle to capture some likeness of the people I knew best (the top two characters, Andy and Suzie) than to sketch Jackie, who I met for the first time that morning. The experience brought home to me how much subconscious processing our brains do with subjects, building up familiarity and a library of shapes and shades through observation over time, even before you think of putting pencil to paper. Food for thought…


Our boy is 13, that magical age when you’re so grown up – except when you want to feel tiny again. His face is in that flux between boyhood and manliness, the jaw strengthening, the brows becoming bolder. I snapped a photo of him at the weekend, building a beehive with his Dad (that’s another story) – he’s looking hard at one of the pieces they’re in the throes of assembling.

Ted chinagraph

Wanting to do a quick study today, I used my photo as a reference, and sketched in my brown paper book. I used graphite for the initial sketch, and then black and white chinagraphs for darks and highlights. Once again, I like the texture and mid-tones the brown paper has produced.  I think that this one is recognisably him – the advantage of working from a photo where the subject doesn’t wriggle!



I thought yesterday was going to slip away without me getting a chance to make a sketch, but just before my son went to bed I managed to scribble a fast little one of him playing patience and listening to Harry Potter on his headphones.

Ted patience graphite

I had to scrabble around a bit first to find a soft pencil, it’s been so long since I’ve drawn in graphite in earnest. I do think my practice at drawing in ink is paying off, as I managed only to use the eraser for a little tidying up, and although there are some issues with his anatomy, as a very quick ‘live’ sketch I’m encouraged. Maybe patience is being rewarded?