A little koi

At Christmas I was given a lovely book on Sumi-E, the art of Japanese brush-painting. The author gives step-by-step instructions on how to use the tools, and offers advice on how to paint particular subjects. Unsurprisingly, the book includes a lesson on how to tackle koi carp, and this really appealed to me for a first foray into the technique.

Although I didn’t have traditional ink sticks to grind my own ink, I had also serendipitously received a very lovely Kuretake brush pen (which takes ink cartridges), so when I sat down to have a go, this was what I used.


I know I’ve a huge amount to learn about this style of painting, where the line and composition are everything. But hey, you have to start somewhere. Trying this little exercise was a very good experience, particularly the focus onĀ  achieving a variable line and ink flow with the brush pen. Next time I might try a smoother paper, and grinding my own ink…eek!

Teaching Superheroes

A good art experience at school is such a valuable thing; the right approach can set us up for an artistic life filled with robust experimentation, open-mindedness and enthusiasm, and appreciation for art in all its manifestations. Some of us will have been lucky enough to have been inspired by our school art teachers, but I suspect many others will have found their way to creative fulfilment despite the confines of their formal art education.

Without getting too political, it’s clear that ‘arts’ education in the UK is being marginalised, underfunded and undervalued by the government, yet still the vast majority of teachers remain passionate and dedicated to their subjects, striving to inspire young people. It’s why they are teachers.


A print by one of Mrs Jardin’s students

I came across Mrs Jardin’s Art Room on WordPress by accident, and found that I loved what I was seeing. I’m highlighting her blog here, because I find the work she’s achieving with her young students uplifting, and because I want to spread the word about how stimulating art education can be.

I really hope you enjoy your trip to Mrs Jardin’s class!

(P.S. I’m not a teacher, just a fan of teaching ‘done right’)


Twisted Painter

At the weekend my husband and I walked down to the local river to sketch. He, beingĀ  interested in perspective, drew a narrow boat. However, I found it unexpectedly difficult to settle on a scene, and after much dithering decided to go with a far smaller subject.

Rope watercolour

I plonked myself down next to a motor boat, attracted by the matte sheen on the metal thing-whose-name-I-don’t-know (not being a boaty type), and by the way the rather manky, green-stained rope looped and twisted around it. I’d brought watercolours, and I meant to use them. The metal part seemed to be fairly straight-forward, but I suspected (rightly) that the rope would be a bit of a challenge.

Interestingly, the cord colours were largely taken from the leftovers in the lid of my paintbox, a suitably dingy selection of greens, browns and greys. It sort of worked in the end, after much faffing, fiddling and darkening. All in all I think it was a fair effort at suggesting the rope’s texture without it all becoming extremely ‘tight’ in the details. In retrospect I wonder whether I should have suggested the plastic hull of the boat, but at the time I was too focused on the rope to worry about the background. Anyway, it really doesn’t matter now.

Bench Marks

Just a funny little sketch I did on my lunch break, with the materials that were to hand (lined paper and ballpoint). But I wanted to keep it, and record it here, because this workbench brought back the smells and sounds of the woodwork room on a sunny day; time travel in the blink of an eye. How is that possible?

Workbench ballpoint

Late bloomer

I’ve not been doing so much watercolour over the winter, but there is something about Spring subjects which just cries out for it. When my husband chose this apple blossom twig from the garden to sketch it was, quite frankly, irresistible to me too.

Apple blossom watercolour

I always find flowers difficult, and this was no exception, but I did really enjoy having a go. The complex shadows of the glass from the two windows were attractive, but not so easy to execute… must get the watercolours out more often, I could use the practice!

Spirit of experimentation

What was I thinking?

Well, the idea for this picture began on a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with good friends. There was a large exhibition of Tony Cragg’s work, which had some fascinating sculptures, seemingly abstract at first glance, but from which faces materialised as you changed your point of view. These were gloriously intriguing, but the item which attracted me most was a charcoal drawing where the artist had very quickly overlaid outlines of vases, all originating from a single point. It had a great deal of dynamism in its simplicity. I was very taken by it.

This prompted an animated conversation with Andy, my sketch buddy, about how we might take that picture as a starting point for something further, a stepping stone away from the realistic and into a more graphic or abstract vibe. I knew I wanted to explore using more than one medium, and I had some acrylic inks which needed to be played with. Experimentation was to be the watchword.

I did a small preliminary drawing to see if the composition I had in mind might work – I thought it could. First then was to mask the edges of the green-tinted A3 watercolour sheet, and put down my base drawing in ballpoint pen. Although I liked the delicacy of the ballpoint, once I’d put on the acrylic ink (used onto wet), the lines were wholly overwhelmed, so I used Crayola crayons to bump up the outlines. The red band in the middle started with silver oil pastel, then briefly went very red indeed in oil pastel, and was subsequently scraped back again as I wasn’t happy with its dominance. I’m not sure what that band is supposed to represent; it just wanted to be there, so I let it in.

And here’s what transpired…

Glasses ink and biro

I had hoped that the masking tape would hold back the acrylic ink and prevent it from straying; obviously that didn’t work! But I quite like the way that the ink has crept under the barrier and spread in some areas. Also interesting was the way in which the different colours of ink seemed to behave in the water, with the tendrils of pthalo blue spreading much further. This might have been down to the order in which I laid the ink on the wet areas (can’t remember which colour went on first).

So, although I’m still not sure about how the whole hangs together, I definitely learned a lot on this one, and had a pretty good time making it.

On the Edge

The last sketch of Madeira was made on our final morning, sitting in the sun at the statue of Christ the Redeemer and looking towards Funchal. Just a few minutes’ concentration, spying on the cruise ships in the harbour and the houses perched improbably, and seemingly precariously, on the cliffs.

Funchal tombow

The picture was made in black fineliner and black Tombow on a new W&N sketchbook with extremely smooth paper (not sure yet how I’m going to get on with its lack of texture; time will tell).