Daffs or Narcissus?

Who knows? But they are always a cheery sign that Spring is well under way.

I started with a torn paper background from an old bag, then added fineliner and white gel pen for highlights.

A simple, quick, image of hopefulness.

Treasure box

At Christmas we were sent a box of shortbread. Although the shortbread was delicious, the box was even better – much too good to throw away. So it sat on my shelf, waiting. Finally, I knew what I wanted to do with it. A quick scavenge in the garden, a little blue ink, a touch of gold paint and gold leaf and hey presto!

So, from left to right we have a sprig from a plant of which I don’t know the name, a sycamore leaf, a dove’s feather, a portion of monkey puzzle tree and a skeleton holly leaf. All imperfect beauties salvaged for posterity. I just wish my handwriting was a bit more… perfect.

Watercolour, Waterfall

An experiment today in trying to be freer with watercolour. I ransacked our photos for a good nature scene, and turned up this one taken high up near the start of Yosemite Falls, a summer time view when the renowned falls are more of a quiet trickle.

Yosemite falls watercolour.JPG

Of course, in the spirit of experimentation I did what you should never do, and tried several unfamiliar things at once: A3 stretched paper; tube paint; Manganese Blue; a Chinese brush; squirting water on to the background. Some of these things worked pretty well – the brush was lovely, although it took a little adapting to as it is more willful than my usual red sable. The tube paint allowed for more depth than I normally manage, which is a very good result. Manganese blue I will steer clear of in future for skies as I felt it was a bit grainy for what I wanted. Squirting water – well, I did this on the first layer of water, mountain and sky. It was a bit unpredictable, took ages to dry off, and I still applied the darker shades of mountain too soon, hence the upward bleeding into the sky.

I had a good time making the water and its reflections. The boulders were a bit of a challenge. At the outset I’d imagined just suggesting them with cling film, but when it came to it I didn’t have the courage. So, they turned out more controlled than I’d hoped. I do wonder now whether I should have reserved some whites with masking fluid, but I thought at the outset I didn’t need to. Not to worry. The trees were hard though, I definitely think I need more tree practice…these ones are ok if you don’t look too closely!

Seeing Double

It turns out that I had not had enough of painting irises. These two watercolours were a follow-up to my previous acrylic paintings, using those paintings as reference for a change, as suggested by my Dad.

What I found was this: having already done the job of filtering nature through my eyes into two paintings, these sketches required a lot less thought when it came to working out the shapes and shades. This meant that I had more brain to devote to actually using the paint and trying to manipulate it to achieve the effect I was seeking. (I grudgingly acknowledge that this is indeed why proper artists go to the trouble of doing preliminary sketches. Shucks.)

The first picture has quite a graphic feel to it. I think I was still thinking in acrylics at this stage, and not allowing the watercolour to work its magic.

Iris watercolour2

The second attempt clearly uses more of the properties of the paint, to better advantage. I’d ‘got my eye in’ somewhat at this point. I’m still not sure whether I should have further darkened the background, as the busyness of the bloom and bleed effects somewhat detract from the flower, but then again, sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone. So that’s what I did.

Iris watercolour1

Light and Shade

There’s an apple tree in the garden I’ve been watching, waiting for the right moment to paint it. The blossom has been emerging, and is now at its peak, the most wonderful point before it starts to wither and drop, cascading over the ground. Time was of the essence, and yesterday I managed to grab a couple of hours to make a quick acrylic painting.

I’m trying out canvas board, as previously I’ve painted acrylics on hardboard which has a very smooth surface, good for smears and blends. This behaves differently, but the texture of the canvas provides an interesting surface, albeit one where the paint dries faster due to being absorbed into the fabric. I worked with a large, flat brush throughout, from sky to background, finally laying on the tree and shadow last.

Apple Tree Acrylic

Before starting, I had an idea in my head about how this picture might look. The one I’ve ended up making is rather different though. Why is this so? Well, the conditions in the garden weren’t right for the image I had in mind – the light was wrong, and the vibe wasn’t there. Sometimes pictures just evolve away from my plans, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it, as if they have a life of their own.

So this became a painting of two sides – object and shadow, light and dark. The blossom is all sweet, frisky and frothy; the shadow in contrast is almost menacing, without being intended that way. I initially thought it was going to me more ‘realistic’ than it has turned out. Strange.


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.

Karma Camellia

OK, so this was an experiment which was only a partial success. I had in mind to use white tissue paper on a black background, to build up layers of increasing opacity and whiteness to suggest contouring. The original concept was to depict a marble statue. However, I was at home, didn’t have a good photo of a statue to work from, and didn’t want to use someone else’s picture. Instead, I dug out a photo of a white camellia, taken a few years ago on a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where there is an amazing conservatory full of camellias. I thought that would work.

Camellia collage & pencil

I cut out the first layer of tissue, then, without sticking it to the background, proceeded to layer on further pieces. I think this process is just visible, still. But I was disappointed by the lack of transparency in the first layer, as not enough of the black was showing through for my liking, to add the darkest parts. In something of a dudgeon I slathered a bit of Pritt stick on the back, and stuck what I had to the paper. Too later, I realised that the glue had increased the transparency sufficiently, but because I hadn’t spread it smoothly it wouldn’t be good enough. I couldn’t get the tissue off again without tearing it, so I resigned myself to having to take a different approach.

I found some black tissue, cut it to shape, and stuck it in a couple of places where I wanted the deepest darks to be. This was no good though, too dark, so I tried to peel it off, and damaged the white under layer in the process. Oh dear. I was getting a bad feeling about the whole thing.

Finally I resolved to put the darks in with coloured pencil. It sort of salvaged the picture, although you can still see where the previous failures took place. By this time I’d rather lost patience, but I accept that I learned a lot. The final picture isn’t great (it looks a lot better from a distance!), but that’s life. I know I could have done better if it had been either collage or coloured pencil from the outset, rather than a dubious combination of both as a band-aid fix. Next time…

Interestingly though, this piece got me thinking about famous artists and the huge catalogue of works, scribbles and sketches which they have undoubtedly created in their lifetimes. I’m sure many of the ‘greats’ had experiments, and days where they felt rather less than joyous about the results they’d achieved – but they kept them, nonetheless. Some of these less successful attempts must have ended up in art galleries across the globe, treasured as much (or maybe more) because they were created by the hand of the master than as pictures in their own right. Knowing that established artists also have ‘off’ days and odd experiments is a great leveller. We can still learn so much from their explorations, and equally from our own trials and tribulations. How strange ‘art’ is.


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.




Pyreneean Sunset

On our penultimate evening in Spain, a fellow sketcher and I prepared dinner for the oven, then walked up the hill a couple of hundred metres to find a view to paint. It was about 8pm, the sun was setting in an unshowy, discreet fashion, and the layers upon layers of distant mountains were settling into purples.

Pyrenees sunset watercolour

We hurried to get the image down, as the light changed and the temperature dropped, completely focused on the colours and shapes. So much so that we didn’t hear my husband searching for us to ask if the dinner should actually be in the oven… He kindly used his common sense, and so everyone was able to enjoy their food, albeit on very relaxed Spanish schedule.


Home from Home

This sketch was made outside in the April sunshine, as I tried to capture the scene from above our holiday rental cottage, taking in the wonderfully wide vista of mountains and woods.

The usual problems associated with working outdoors came into play; the breeze dried my paint faster than I was expecting (but only in some places!), the sun came in and out, the shadows changed, and I accidentally sat on a prickly plant. Beetles swam in my water. I belatedly and regretfully realised I’d neglected painting in watercolours while I’ve been playing with Tombows and suchlike. Ah well. Nose back to the grindstone!

Mas Bernard watercolour

Regardless of the technical issues with this picture, I’m very pleased to have captured a record of where we stayed; I know that in years to come this will conjure up some very happy memories.