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!


Looking Up

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to be out for a mini art-athon in London with a friend. We met early at King’s Cross, and made our way over to St Paul’s. After suitable fortifications (almond croissant) and a quick catch-up we settled ourselves at the foot of a fountain in St Paul’s Cathedral gardens, and chose a view. No time to waste! My friend sketched one of the statues ornamenting the parapet, while I went for the famous dome, with some fearsome perspective from ground level. That Christopher Wren knew a thing or two about impressive buildings, and wasn’t afraid of a bit of gratuitous ornamentation.

I’d brought my Conte pastels with me, so decided to get them into play early in the day, in case I ran out of steam later. The sketching session was made even nicer by the drifting sounds of a brass group rehearsing somewhere nearby. I now think that atmospheric live music should be provided for all sketchers who would like it!

St Paul's pastel

Costume Drama

My last little picture done at the V&A museum last weekend was made in the Fashion gallery, my last port of call before wending my way homeward. It’s one of the busiest galleries, and displays a selection of European fashion throughout the last centuries.

When I saw a free bench in front of one of the display cases, I nabbed it. It was lovely to have a proper seat; the downside was that the lighting throughout the gallery was extremely dim to preserve the delicate fabrics.

In front of me were some 18th Century co-ordinated accessories, definitely made for a rich and discerning customer. These had evidently been treasured throughout their owner’s lifetime, and many more lifetimes before being put on display for us. The same coral-coloured floral damask fabric was used for the shoes and hat, and the corset was also co-ordinated. I didn’t have time to sketch the dress, but you can probably imagine that it was equally patterned and frou-frou.

C18th costume chinagraph

I whisked out my pastel pad, a graphite pencil, white and black chinagraphs, and a deep coral Conte pastel. It was rather frustrating working in the very dim light, as I couldn’t really tell what effects I was getting, particularly with the white, so a lot of it was guesswork. Also, I would have liked to have achieved finer lines, but the chinagraphs and pastel had other ideas. But, on the plus side, I quite like how the pastel colour on the textured paper seems to suggest damask, without adding any detailed patterning.

I’m sure the young lady who originally owned these items would have been astonished to find out how many people have appreciated them since she last wore her outfit!

Vaulting Ambition

I’m lucky enough to live within easy striking distance of one of the greatest medieval English cathedrals – Ely Cathedral. It’s fondly called the ‘Ship of the Fens’ locally, as it can be seen rising impressively out of the flat farmland for miles around.

Yesterday was an unexpected holiday for my husband and me, so given that the weather forecast was appalling, we decided to go indoor sketching at the cathedral for a treat. This plan became not entirely straightforward. As luck would have it, Netflix were filming an episode of their new series ‘The Crown’ at the cathedral. It was as if the circus had rolled into town – I’ve never seen so many pantechnicons, lighting rigs and men standing round with coffees in one place.  As a result, parts of the cathedral were out of bounds to visitors, but we still found an accessible corner from which to sketch.

I chose the view towards the altar, which was lit by a huge daylight lamp and looked spectacular, with the intricate fretwork of the wooden screen showing starkly in contrast, and the octagonal lantern tower above it.

Ely Cathedral ConteThe experienced sketcher will already know what happened next – as soon as I’d got my framework laid out, they turned off the lamp, so the view I’d hoped to capture had changed character completely. Next, the fire alarm went off, everyone was evacuated…and then, fortunately, readmitted. No fire, thankfully. So, once we’d got settled back in, some serious sketching was able to commence. About half an hour later the main lights were switched on, which did help us to see what we were doing a bit better, but changed the shadows yet again. Ha ha! They were certainly keeping us on our toes.

I’d chosen not to bring watercolours, thinking that they might be too much faff for the type of scene I’d be sketching. I ended up being very pleased that I’d chosen to use A4 grey cartridge paper and conte pastels instead – these gave me the perfect excuse to omit lots of detail (and believe me, there is a HUGE amount of detail in the interior of this cathedral) and focus on the bigger structural elements instead. I find it’s just impossible to get too fiddly with a conte pastel.

The net result is still quite a complex picture, despite my reductions and omissions. There are a number of areas where, architecturally and geometrically, this drawing doesn’t add up. However, I find that the overall effect does capture something of how the interior felt, and the sheer, overwhelming size and complexity of the building. As I’m reminded whenever I visit, those medieval architects knew a thing or two!


Feeling Blue

Long time no blog. But maybe I’m back in the game now that October’s over – I don’t know whether it was the transition of the seasons, or the half-term holiday, but I just haven’t been feeling like sketching recently.

Self portrait blue charoalHowever, I hope that’s all over now. When looking for some mount board recently I got my eye on this blue board, with a view to trying a charcoal/chalk portrait. I wasn’t fussed about who, which is just as well, as it ended up being me again. Funny how I keep being on hand to model when I want to sketch people…

I tried to keep the palette restricted, and ended up using charcoal (as planned), plus white and blue conte crayons. I dived straight in without any guidelines or prep, which goes a little way towards explaining why some of the elements didn’t end up quite as they should be. I was trying to concentrate mainly on higlights and shade, without too much faffing with the mid-tones. I’m not sure I’ve achieved this. The camera has, as usual, emphasised the whites more than is evident in the original, so what you see here isn’t quite how it looks in reality.

Interestingly, the sketch didn’t turn out to have the strong charcoal lined quality I’d imagined when I set out, probably due to the fact that I kept rubbing lines out with my fingers, leading to a smoother, slightly more contoured texture than I’d hoped for. On the plus side, I think that my previous self-portrait practices in pastels have really helped me today, particularly when it comes to speed of working, which feels like progress.


Back to roses again today – they are in full swing in the garden so it would seem a shame to ignore them. The bush that produced this flower is a particularly beautiful example. Its blooms vary from yellow to deep pinky reds; I’ve no idea what it’s called as it’s one we inherited when we moved to this house.

Rose pastelI plumped for pastels today, as I’ve been doing so much watercolour recently I fancied a change. This picture was done on mountboard, almost entirely using the Conte hard pastel set I have, The one exception was a light flesh Reeves soft pastel which I used for some of the highlights on the petals. The foliage gave me a lot of trouble. I felt I just couldn’t get the greens I needed with the colours I had available to me.

I might try these roses again another time this summer, if I can catch them before they all finish, either using watercolour pens or paints. We’ll see.

I think that by the time Christmas arrives I’ll have quite a wish list of supplementary art materials. Must remember to add green shades of pastel to it!

Snowy Day at the Beach

I woke up two days ago thinking about making this picture. Some time back I’d taken a photograph at Hunstanton beach when it snowed; the dusting had completely transformed the late winter afternoon atmosphere of the promenade, muting the colours and bringing a new dimension to the place. It seemed that it would be a good scene to try out in pastel as its composition was pretty good, and I thought I could play heavily on the blues and greys.

Hunstanton Snow pastelThis is my first landscape in pastel. It was quite a challenge, and I’ve been working sporadically on this picture over two days. There are lots of elements of perspective here, always a worry. Then there is the strange, semi-geodesic, 1980s-style building – nightmare. It was built of triangles set at different angles…shudder. Anyone with advice to offer on how to tackle this, please do let me know.

I enjoyed trying out approaches for the sky and sea, but the wet, shiny sand and dull, drier sand were tough. I’d like a cool dark brown/black pastel for my collection, but my local art shop is a bit short on stock at the moment.

As usual, I don’t think I made my picture large enough (9 x 24 ins), so putting the lamp-posts in was a delicate operation. The photograph has lost the subtlety of the colours, especially the blues, which is a shame, but the general idea’s there.

Certainly, this was an interesting project. And that’s what it’s all about…

Blooming Iris

The irises in my garden have been calling out to become a picture. I was itching to do them in pastels, so I snipped a flower stem, popped it in a bottle to hold it and began outlining. Things were going ok until I got to the bottle. I’d chosen quite an extreme angle and just could not get the long-necked, pot-bellied bottle to look right in the outline stage. I decided to abandon the bottle and concentrate on the main event – the flowers. Iris Pastels

After stepping away for a while, I got back to the blooms. The pastels went on in a pleasing way, velvety with rich, delicious colour. But as I moved down the stem I realised that the guidelines for the mis-shapen bottle were still going to be visible. I hadn’t originally planned to put the iris’s leaves in the picture (that’s why the iris stalk looks way too short), but they became a necessity. Even so, they still don’t cover up all my sins and the ghost outlines are still visible, more so in the photo than in real life, strangely. It’s all part of the process of gaining experience, I suppose. Live and learn.

Branching Out a Little

I’ve been wantinApple blossom Pastelg to make a picture in a long flat landscape format for a while, partly so that I can use it as my blog header. When I saw this apple bough laden with blossom this morning, I couldn’t resist.

I had a piece of blue mountboard waiting for something – turns out today was its turn. Since my collection of soft pastels is still very small, this picture was made using mainly the restricted pallette of harder Conte pastels. This turned out to my advantage I think, since the piece of board only measured 15 x 6 ins, so I was working quite small and I needed quite a bit of control over the definition of shapes

Overall, I enjoyed having a go at this. I’ve always found it a real challenge to depict plants, especially clusters of flowers – I think one of the keys is to build up a good repertoire of ways to deal with the repetition of petal or leaf shapes. I’m still working on that. Still, this has turned out cheerful and Springlike. Maybe I’ll pop it on my blog banner sometime and see how it looks.

Spring Greens (and Purples)

The garden is starting to look good as everything comes back to life, and I woke up this morning thinking it would be interesting to have a go at a pastel picture of a spray of green leaves. I was definitely full of optimism and feeling up for a challenge.

Firstly, I’m usuaHonesty flowers pastellly most comfortable drawing subjects with hard edges, not natural and organic beauty, so this was uncertain territory. Secondly, I wanted to focus harder than usual on composition (which to be honest is often the last thing I think of), as I’ve noticed that I could definitely improve in this area. Add to this the fact that I’ve only used pastels for portraits so far… so, I had a number of challenges on my hands.

In the end, it didn’t go too badly for a first bash. I like the play of the shadows on the table surface, but the actual flowers are too undefined and not how I’d imagined they would be when I started.  I’m fairly pleased with the composition, although I think the diagonal could have been less acute. All in all, a reasonable beginning.

Note to self: I must get some larger board as this size (12 x 14 ins) felt constraining with the bluntness of the pastels. Let’s go bigger next time!