A Sad Tail

I had no painting planned for yesterday, but circumstances forced my hand when the cat brought in this lovely (and very dead) little mousy animal. It’s tail doesn’t look long enough to be a true mouse, but it was definitely not a vole either…

Anyway, it was beautiful and apparently unscathed, and it seemed to me that it would be a shame not to mark its passing with a watercolour sketch.  His tiny paws were somehow terrribly poignant, and it was a rare privilege to be able to look at every detail of his little nibbly face. As I painted, I wondered how many such Beatrix Potter must have drawn as practice, before she was able to put life back into them through her pictures.





Bay Day

While in Yorkshire we took a trip out to the coast near Whitby, the aim being to hunt for fossils on a very particular beach. However, since the beach was closed due to a landslip our well-laid plan required adaptation. The day turned instead into lovely breezy coastal walk in full sunshine, followed by a sketching session on the beautiful beach at Runswick Bay. The beach offers views of either houses clustered picturesquely on the cliffside, or the unspoiled semi-circle of bay. Two of our party sketched the architectural view, while I chose the emptier landscape, and the photographer went for variety. The teenager hunted for (and found) fossils. There was definitely something for everyone (and ice creams!).

On this day the water looked amazing. None of your customary British leaden waters here – the sea was a turquoise and blue medley, setting off the green-clothed cliffs perfectly. I was so pleased that I’d lugged my watercolour paints and papers with me (my fear is always that I’ll have the ‘wrong’ equipment for any sketching opportunity, so I do tend to pack rather heavy).

Runswick bay watercolour

Having first reserved a little white foam with masking fluid, I started with the sky, working down to the sand and cliffs. The sea was next and finally some darkening of the shore where the seaweed line was and the shadow of the adjacent cliff moving over the sand. As so often, it took a bit of work and layering to get the darks deep enough in both the cliffs and sea.

The breeze was whisking sand into my watercolour pans, but that’s always an occupational hazard of painting at the beach. Needless to say, our picnic suffered the same fate!

Back to Boughton

This weekend I was able to get back to the sleepy village where we’d sketched the week before, but this time I took my parents sketching. The weather was good enough to sketch under the tree I drew last time, which kept off the intermittent drizzle.

I had the advantage of knowing the site, and so I’d been giving a little thought to how I might approach it, which definitely helped.

The initial step was to try to establish the bounds of the picture – I knew I wanted to get the purple tree in the picture, and also the white house. Putting the outlines in with a quick pencil sketch ensured that everything I wanted to show was in the frame and that the perspective was ok.

Then it was on with the watercolours. I used a mop for the sky, then changed to a flat acrylic brush which saw me through the rest of the sketch, and which was particularly useful for achieving clean lines on the house roof and walls, and the strokes of the reeds.

Boughton pond watercolour

Since there was quite a lot of light on the water I masked the brightest highlights with masking fluid, ditto for the house fence which would otherwise have been pretty impossible to show. I completely edited out the many ducks (as, incidentally did my parents) – I just didn’t know how to tackle them without them making the picture look far too twee. Any suggestions on that?

All in all, I had a very good morning in a tranquil setting with people I love. Can’t be bad!

(Just squeezing this last pic in for the wonderful #WorldWatercolourMonth.)

At the Beech

Sketching today in a local village called Boughton. It’s a really pretty spot, with a big duck pond surrounded by yellow irises, which itself is ringed with a few mature trees and picturesque houses. A truly bucolic English scene.

The sun was beating down (yes, it’s finally put in an appearance) and there was a lovely bench in the shade under the spreading copper beech, where my husband had a good view of an extremely attractive cottage to sketch. He’s on roll with drawing buildings at the moment. I decided to brave sitting just in the sun to look slightly up into the tree and capture him working away. It was the interplay of light and shade which attracted me, and I was especially grateful for the white fence running along the house boundary which made the shade behind seem even deeper. I used a fineliner and black Tombow with waterbrush, on what for me is a fairly light (160gsm) paper – I find I can make the pigment glide across this smooth surface easily, and pick it up to use in other areas.

Boughton beech tombow

As I sketched I was visited by a mother mallard with thirteen ducklings trailing behind her – such a sweet sight. The dragonflies and damsel flies were zooming about in the sunshine, and all was peaceful. I’ve a feeling I’ll be back to sketch here again, there’s so much to see, and even a few choice benches positioned just where a sketcher would like them! What more could one wish for?


Still vaguely reflecting on abstract art this week, it popped into my head to make a picture with a grid as the basis. I had Paul Klee’s Sinbad the Sailor picture in my head at the time, which I admire especially for the beauty of its sea-coloured grid. A print of this painting used to hang above the fireplace in my parents’ house during the 70s, so I have it quite deeply ingrained in my memory. Obviously, the outcome is not very like ‘Sinbad’, but nevertheless, it’s always interesting to understand where the idea for a picture originates.

I originally wanted to use the outline of a day lily as the subject, but when I went to find one in the garden, the last one had just expired. However, the variegated privet-type bush was doing well, and I thought that would be sufficiently structural for my experiment.

First I drew the sprig outline in pencil, and then overlaid a (non-measured) grid of squares each around 1cm in size. From the outset I thought that this picture would fade into the background rather than filling the page, so in that respect things went as expected.

Privet pixel watercolour.JPG

I added the watercolour – three different yellow shades for the leaves, changing colour with each boundary line. I added in some cobalt blue to add a bit of interest and suggest the variegation. Seeking a complimentary palette for the background I opted for a selection of blues which I applied in varying dilution strengths. It was tricky to know when to stop with this part of the process. It seemed obvious that the darkest colours should be closest to the stem, but how far out to take the pattern? And how much white to leave? Impossible to really know. Deciding to leave the stem white seems to have been a good choice, as it provides a pleasantly smooth arc, cutting through the angular grid.

The jury is still out on whether I should erase my pencil lines or not – I’m currently thinking that they add a little something. But I reserve the right to change my mind on a whim… and I might have another go at this idea at some point, it was very interesting.



Ripple Effect

I’ve been talking to a friend about abstract art. The concept baffles me rather and doesn’t always sit very comfortably with my ideas of what makes an engaging picture; I can’t escape the hunch that an abstract should still have a ‘point,’ and I would say that I’m more of a ‘literal’ than ‘conceptual’ picture-maker.

However, something must have been triggered in my mind after our discussions, because in a quiet moment, when the rain was bucketing down outside, I had an idea for a picture. The aim was to use watercolour, to make a picture loosely based around drops landing in a puddle.

Blue abstract watercolour

I pencilled in the concentric circles (using a pair of compasses, I hasten to add – my circle drawing isn’t that good!). Next was working out the colour combinations of blues, warms and cools, trying to organise them so that the individual ripples would still be discernible. The red segments were last to be added, and it took me a deep breath to have the courage to put them in – but I’m pleased I did.

If I was to repaint this, I would try to allow the watercolour more freedom – I was definitely trying to control it too closely here. More of a splashy, wet, blurred effect between the colours could be nice.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back to revisit abstraction, but I confess it was an amusing little dalliance while it lasted.



Back to Basics

It’s been a funny few weeks. It’s been difficult to settle at anything, and I haven’t been making pictures which I feel have much value. This all came to a head after a disappointing outdoor painting session in Lavenham, and after that I decided I should go back to basics with watercolour.

I reviewed the early Stan Miller videos, which I’ve previously found to be quite inspiring. I first tried the portrait of the old man:

Stan miller man watercolour

…then tried the same monochrome technique for a picture of a young woman:

Blue thumbnail portrait

Taking the exercise further, I tried a tiny three-colour imaginary face (French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and Aurora Yellow). It was going to be a woman, but it appears to have come out rather masculine.

Colourful face watercolour

The last step was to go for it, repainting the woman in colour, still adhering to the 3-colour principle. This was fun.

In retrospect I think I should have left more white space, but this was just a little practice, so I’m not going to over-analyse.  I did the best I could with lifting out instead, where I wanted a little more light – on the hair, the jawbone, the nose and lips. I love the anarchy of painting in just three colours, and not worrying about ‘realism.’ Strangely enough, this really doesn’t seem to matter when the picture is done, in fact the crazy riot of colour adds something to the painting for me.

Colourful woman watercolour

The main thing was that after this session I felt so much more positive about watercolour than I had the previous day. Thank goodness, mission accomplished!

(Oops, just remembered, I should champion the wonderful #WorldWatercolourMonth here!)