Triptych complete

So, I was on a roll with my waterfalls. I decided a third would make a satisfying triptych, and having not done much watercolour recently, decided I should have a go. It was more straightforward than I’d expected really, once I’d found the stinky old masking fluid and decided that it would just about do for my needs.

My focus was to try very hard to put in the full range of tones – I always struggle with getting really good darks into my watercolours, partly because I’m often too impatient to wait until everything dries and add to sections for good depths. This time I was conscious of that need, and worked at it; I think it paid off in the third image below.

Now I just need to find some wall space to hang them…

Cascade 1

A few years ago my sketching friend and I went to a workshop at Leeds School of Art. The focus was to study the work of David Tress and take inspiration from his work into our own art. In retrospect I really gained a lot from the session, moving away from detail and towards elements of abstraction.

With time on my hands I thought I could revisit what I’d learned, so I picked up a small, narrow piece of mountboard and looked for a subject. I found a photo of a waterfall in Wales which appealed and suited the dimensions of the card. By collaging packing paper and newsprint I created a textured base on which to paint with acrylic. I went a bit mad with colour (I thought at the time) but was pretty happy with the result.

It’s rough and ready, but I think it looks at home mounted on some brown paper.

Golden Opportunity

There is a pile of roofing slates in our back garden, they’ve been there for years, legacy of much-needed building work. It’s always seemed to me that they have potential for something arty, but I’ve struggled to find the right application.

I have tried drawing on it with a mini-tool, which sort of works, but is a very muted effect. So when I was tempted by some gold leaf in an art shop recently, I thought that I’d have another look at the slate pile and hope inspiration might be forthcoming…

There is a pile of roofing slates in our back garden, they’ve been there for years, legacy of much-needed building work. It’s always seemed to me that they have potential for something arty, but I’ve struggled to find the right application. I have tried drawing on it with a mini-tool, which sort of works, but […] Mountain sun slate

Sure, these mountains are a bit ‘Bob Ross‘, but you know, maybe it could lead to something. I definitely like the combination of the grey slate with the deliciously shiny (imitation) gold leaf, and the way the white acrylic stuttered over the contoured surface, lending extra texture. But did I mention that the leaf is a bit of a beast to work with? It is wilful, and flakey. Literally. More practice needed if I ever want to get very smooth, perfectly-edged effects.  I’ll be having a think on the possibilities.

Decalcomania, at last

I’ve been wanting to get down to trying the Decalcomania technique as seen on Dave Whatt’s blog for some time (well, at least a year). Yesterday was finally the day! For the original (and funny) instructions, see Dave’s post.

I dolloped my cheap black acrylic paint straight from the tube onto the smooth reverse side of a glass chopping board. A sheet of thin acrylic served as my initial ink squasher – this was gently smoothed over the paint and pulled off to leave textured paint on both surfaces. Then I laid a sheet of copier paper onto the paint, gently smoothed again, and peeled off. I was able to repeat this about six times, occasionally adding a little more paint here or there to change the look. I did a sneaky print from the acrylic too – waste not, want not.

The prints were of variable interest- here’s two which I rather liked for their interesting paint textures. One just begged to be converted into something a little less abstract, and with a small amount of fineliner a silverback emerged. I know I couldn’t have painted him this satisfyingly!

This was a lot of quick fun, and I suspect that as I start to explore printing there will be more of these… thanks, Dave, for the inspiration!

Everything’s Beachy

We are going through a process of changing some of the pictures we have hanging around our home. It’s pleasing to have some kind of a link between those in one area – maybe by colour, theme, or medium. And so I find myself with a little piece of wall space just asking for a sea/blue themed picture. Queue a trawl through our photo albums to find inspiration. I was attracted by a picture of this groyne in Hunstanton, a beach we have visited many times over the decades, and which holds good memories of clear, cold spring days.

Hunstanton groyne acrylic

I referred my source photo, making sure that I had a satisfyingly cropped composition with horizontal thirds. Helpful memories reminded me of how the sea and sand look here, as the tide makes its long retreat. Acrylics seemed the most fitting choice, especially as I wanted a bigger painting (A4+) and often struggle to achieve this size successfully in watercolour. I enjoyed building up the layers of paint with a flat brush, starting with the sky, moving on to sand. I do love a flat brush. Last to be added were the wooden posts and a smattering of pebbles (which were certainly more taxing than I’d expected).

Looking at this painting now, I’m not sure whether it’s finished. I guess time will tell.

Strange Bird

What is it? Who knows? But I can tell you how it was done. Quickly, and drawing with a pipette loaded with acrylic ink – an experimental technique currently being enjoyed by my painting pal Andy.

The bird was far more vibrantly coloured until the inks ran together (boo), but it’s all down to experience. I was very excited by the way the leaves turned out though. I can definitely see me having another go at this, the dribbly randomness of the line is liberating.

Fantasy bird ink

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.

The Big One

It’s Challenge No. 4, and the painting which has been taking up all my spare time (not that there’s been too much of that) is finally finished. I think…

The Challenge this time which Andy and I set ourselves was on the theme of ‘Water,’ and we chose this fishing scene of my son and a friend. To be painted in acrylic, on a big canvas, 24 x 30 inches. We did our studies (mine’s here) and then gave ourselves a laughable 3 hours to see what we could get done on our respective paintings. It turned out that the answer was ‘not that much.’ However, we both decided it would be time well spent to press on and see what we could make of the scene, however long it took.

And it took hours. I have lost count, but I reckon I’ve spent at least 10 hours on this, over two weeks, although quite where the time has gone I couldn’t say. (As usual, the camera has bumped up the blues and whites in this pic).

Clapper bridge acrylic

Covering the big canvas was definitely part of that – I really underestimated the amount of paint it would swallow, and how long it would take just to get a basic covering of paint onto it, without even getting down to the details. One of the advantages of taking the painting more slowly was that I was able to be more critical about each session’s progress. I definitely learned a phenomenal amount. For example: how tricky it can be to get translucency and ‘believability’ into the water (I ended up layering paint, and then using a pretty dry brush to skid over the top); the importance of varying the type of stroke to show different textures; how to compensate for an over-exposed source photo which has made all the skin tones even whiter than standard English skin; and the difficulty of painting a face you can’t really see. I also learned that for big pictures I think I prefer painting on board rather than canvas. This is because the canvas gave a grainy final surface tricky to paint detail on, whereas the board would have been smooth textured and would have made the skin much easier to deal with (and particularly the faces) I’m sure.

So here it is, finally done. I’d like to put this one on the wall, I think. It’s a good memory of a very happy day, and now it’s also a symbol of another hurdle attempted. So that’s two reasons to be cheerful.



Onwards, with a Smile

I’ve been trying to summon up the courage to get on with this portrait of the lovely Amy for some time. Then, having got stuck in, it’s suffered a few setbacks on the way, which hasn’t made the process entirely plain sailing, but then, whenever is this an entirely straighforward experience? And where would the fun be if it was?

Initially I chose quite a deep, Air Force blue for the underpainting. This gave me a lot of trouble with my initial drawing as I couldn’t see my pencil marks properly. I tried overdrawing in watercolour pencils, and once I could see what I’d drawn (and redrawn, several times) decided that it wasn’t good enough anyway. Lesson learned. In the end I abandoned ship and started afresh on a new canvas, drawing straight onto the white, which felt much better. The hardest part to capture was the mouth, trying to suggest the start of laughter which I knew was there. I spent a long time on that. Redrawing the lines meant that there wasn’t enough time to complete the portrait in one sitting (which I would normally prefer to do). So this picture was completed over about three days, in shorter bursts.

However, the advantage of returning to the painting over several sessions is that I’ve been able to step back in between stages and consider my next move, making adjustments as necessary. I think that’s been helpful, although I wonder if I’ve sacrificed a little spontaneity in the search for accuracy. Maybe it’s a case of swings and roundabouts.


Normally I hesitate to edit what I see, but in this portrait I did omit a necklace which I felt was going to detract from the face. Doing this required a confidence I didn’t feel, first imagining and then trying to convincingly paint the area which would have been covered by the jewellery – a good lesson, no doubt.

Since I’m currently painting portraits from photos I’ve taken, I’m really discovering how important the source image is. This one didn’t offer as much tonal contrast on Amy’s face as I’d have liked; a bit more lighting drama would have been good, so that’s something to bear in mind in future attempts. Also, painting people I actually know is a very interesting situation: on the one hand you can choose to bring to bear your experience of your interactions with them, and your knowledge of their personality, but then the ultimate aim of trying to capture the essence of the person, not just how they appear in a single image, can be terribly hard to achieve. It’s a very trying business!

The ideal behind painting these portraits from photographs is that I’ll eventually be sufficiently familiar with general facial features and perceiving individual characteristics to be able to sketch and paint faces more accurately and quickly from life. I do get the impression that this is going to be a loooong project – I’ll just have to approach it with a smile!

Viv Again

This painting has been brewing in my mind for quite some weeks, but finding time to actually get it onto canvas has been the sticking point. However, yesterday I finally knuckled down to it. Viv is one of the lovely ladies I do yoga with, and she’d kindly volunteered to have her photo taken so that I could practice portrait painting with ‘real’ people.

I’d done the under-drawing a few days before, and was quite pleased with it. So much so that it took quite a lot of courage to pick up the paintbrush and get started in paint, for fear of wrecking the whole thing. I had to remind myself that learning was the whole point of the exercise, and that sometimes mistakes just have to happen.


Which was just as well, because I then realised that I’d neglected to underpaint before making my drawing. Well, I wasn’t about to redraw the whole thing, so I decided to work with it as it was, and that did cause me some trouble. Underpainting would have made life quite a bit easier. I’ll try and remember that for next time!

A second note to self is that portraits seem to be harder (for me) when they are smaller – this one is 12×10 ins, which means small brushes. On reflection, I don’t think I like that very much – there’s so much pleasure to be able to make a big, sweeping stroke rather than a fiddly little tweak. So, next time I will go bigger.

Anyway. I began with the background, figuring that might give a better time with the hair. Next in line was the skin; it was evident that I’d learned a lot about skin tones in the previous portrait of Gill so the process wasn’t quite as scary as it could have been, although finding the right shades and colours is always a big challenge. Eyes and hair next – I do enjoy putting the eyes in, it seems to be when the picture takes on a life of its own. The hair was surprisingly tricky – how to make that elusive grey-blonde?


And then finally, the t-shirt. Oh dear. In real life this garment was black with a yellow collar and white geometric line design. The latter was never going to happen! I bottled out completely. But my excuse is that it allows the viewer to focus more on the face. Sneaky, eh?

There are two things I will change on this before I show it to Viv: the line between her face and the background on the right hand side needs tidying up, and the right shoulder needs to be narrower. Hopefully these will be fairly straightforward fixes. In summary, I’m pretty pleased with this one – I think it does bear a resemblance to Viv, and I hope she will think so too.