The Sketchers

While we were staying at the lovely Mas Bernad  there were a few moments where I had my pick of unwitting models to sketch, as everyone was busy drawing or painting. That’s why the subjects are all looking down, with their concentrating faces on!

It was very good fast sketch practice, using just a few pencil guidelines and trying to let the paint work for me. In some cases this turned out better than others. As you see, I attempted to rescue the face on the bottom left by adding definition in black fineliner; I don’t think this was particularly successful, but sometimes you have to try these things.

The models were very kind and didn’t grumble at all about the portraits, however unlike them they turned out. I noticed that it was less of a struggle to capture some likeness of the people I knew best (the top two characters, Andy and Suzie) than to sketch Jackie, who I met for the first time that morning. The experience brought home to me how much subconscious processing our brains do with subjects, building up familiarity and a library of shapes and shades through observation over time, even before you think of putting pencil to paper. Food for thought…

First Impression

Pyrenees impression watercolourI’m back from holiday with family and friends in Catalonia, on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Our ‘virtuous circle of sketching’ has had the great effect of getting us all focused on drawing, painting or whatever floats each one’s boat. When the weather was warm enough our sketching adventures took place outside. When it rained we scribbled and daubed inside, and in museums and art galleries.Great fun.

Early on in the hols I attempted a little impression of the view from our rented house over the Pyrenees, and this is the result. Small, fun, and in no meaningful way accurate!


One of my oldest friends, who now lives in the US, sent me a wonderful hat for my birthday. A ‘Harf’ should be its name really, since it’s a clever design which converts to a scarf when you open out the gathering drawstring. We decided ‘Scat’ wasn’t a good moniker, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, my Harf is made from upcycled wool, which my friend carefully unravels from unloved sweaters bought at thrift stores and transforms into new, gorgeous knitted goods. I love the ethos behind this, the fact that she made it for me, and that it’s so cute too.

Since receiving the gift, I’ve been thinking about what to do for her in return. My friend loves tea (well, she’s English). When we visited her in Washington DC a couple of years ago, the condition was that we bring as many Waitrose teabags as we could conceivably stuff in our case. Therefore, my plan is to send her a home comfort package of teabags, with a thank-you note.

To this end I brewed up this little picture from my imagination, executed in blue-black calligraphy ink with a brush. If I was to change one thing it would be to improve the steam, but there you go.

Teacup Anna ink

The finished article only measures about 2.5ins square, so it’s ideal for a little card. (I have since rubbed out the pencil guidelines – I always forget to do that before photographing).

I was a bit concerned that the teabags might get impounded and drunk (or worse, binned) by ‘Homelands Security,’ but fortunately I hear that they’ve arrived safe and sound; my faith in the international postal service remains unshaken.

Glass Half Full

We’ve finally replaced our motley collection of tumblers with some which match, and I’ve been looking at them, on and off, ever since. I really love glass, the way it changes with the light and contents. These tumblers have a bubbly texture on the inside, and are smooth on the outside, an effect which naturally changes when they’re filled with liquid. When lit from one side, there’s a wiggly streak of multi-coloured refracted light which forms on the opposite side. It’s just begging to be painted – a beautiful gamut of greys, blues and yellows with a hint of rainbow.

Tumbler graphite.JPG

I thought that rather than going straight in with paint it might be a good idea to try out a pencil sketch first, to get a good understanding of the shapes and contrasts made by the bubbly texture. There was lamplight shining through the glass from the back left, the rest in low light. The glass looked totally delectable.

It turns out that this was quite ambitious, and my drawing shows that I definitely need more careful drawing practice with graphite. More definition would have been helpful, so I think next time I’ll use 2b and 4b instead of 4b and 6b as I did here.  I note that I need to buy a new putty rubber as mine has degraded and is leaving nasty sticky marks on the paper.  I also suspect the sketch would have been more pleasing if I’d added in a shadow to ground it, and perhaps suggested some of the paraphernalia which was also on the table at the time of drawing. Next time. On the plus side, I observed the glass very closely, and if I do decide to paint it in the future I’ll be able to draw on what I learned. It might take me some time to build up to this, though!

Empty Frame

We need a new picture for the large frame in our guest room – the print is looking very tired, but the frame is a good one and well worth keeping. I’ve been keeping my eye out casually for another print, but haven’t seen anything I like which would fit. It made sense to try to paint something myself, but it’s taken me quite a while to knuckle down. This is because I had some specific colour parameters (I want it not to clash with the duvet cover – duck-egg blue with hints of fuschia. Oh yes.) Plus, I was just plain afraid of doing something large.

But, finally, I decided on a picture. We have a photo we took on a lovely long walk on Stanage Edge in Derbyshire. It was a misty day, but the heather was in bloom which  I thought might be sympathetic to the colours I needed. So I grabbed myself by the scruff of the neck, cut a piece of hardboard 24 x 17 inches and got on with the job of painting.

Stanage Edge Acrylic

First I sketched out the landscape using a chinagraph on the board. Then, using a half-inch flat brush, I painted from the distance to close-up, so began with the sky, working forwards through the hills to the stones on the cliff edge. The sward and heather were last to go in. This order made sense for me, but I suppose other people might attack this differently.

My acrylics contain Phthalo blue and Cerulean, and I’m finally starting to know which one to use to get the blue or green I need, which feels like a step forward. That said, the receding hills were tricky as it was hard to judge whether they were too dark without the foreground being in for comparison. I’m still not sure. The rocks were also problematic, giving them believable contours wasn’t as easy one might think.

You know what? I enjoyed making this picture. It wasn’t easy, but I quite like the brooding aspect it has – that at least is true to Derbyshire! My favourite part is the light in the sky just above the furthest hills. Anyway, if I do decide to frame and hang this pic, it should do a good job of counteracting the rather twee duvet cover.

New Perspective

I was lucky enough to receive this book for my birthday, a very good choice by my husband, it turns out – I hadn’t even heard of it. ‘A Bigger Message – Conversations with David Hockney’ has received great reviews since its publication some years ago. (Just take a look at the Amazon reviews and goodreads)

I found it very accessible and, contrary to my usual greedy, gobbling approach, I paced myself so that I actually stood a chance of digesting some of the ideas Hockney explores. Bitesize chunks, with time to consider in between.

A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney

The book takes the form of a wide-ranging dialogue between the author and Hockney, giving an insight into the mind of the artist, his approach to art and his constant quest to represent the world and imagination. The dialogue roams widely, from comparing the use of different types of perspective (I’d never considered there could be more than one) and the limitations of photography, to how the iPad is changing art. There are plenty of pictures too!

I found the ideas gave me a new perspective (haha), and Hockney himself seems very engaging and a real ‘live wire.’ It was revealing also to hear the back story behind some of his pictures, which helped me to make sense of his progression in art and how he’s arrived at the style he has today.

I know that I will come back to this book, and I’ll be lending it to friends with an interest in art. If you get a chance to borrow a copy, I’d say ‘Yes,’ find a comfy chair and take the phone off the hook…

Jack Frost

The hardest frost yet this winter struck last night; when I came to the car this morning, the windscreen was a fantasy of organic leaves and waves. My photos are nothing special, but I just had to share the astounding organic etchings of the frost here. In the lower part of the pictures there’s a glow from the light of the low, rising winter sun.

Frost photo 1

My mind is filled with pictures of Japanese stylised waves, detailed pre-Raphaelite florals and acanthus leaves, feather and pounding waterfalls… let’s just glory in nature’s beauty at work again.

Frost photo 3

Feeling inspired?

Standing Right There

Yesterday I managed to rock up to Saturday music school complete with drawing materials and a sketchpad of appropriate size, which felt like a triumph after last week’s forgetfulness. I did, fortunately, remember my instrument and music too, although these are fast becoming a side-event at what I’m starting to see as my ‘weekend sketch session’.

Music stand tombows2This time it wasn’t easy to draw the brass group participants – they’d arranged themselves so that I’d have to be very conspicuous to get a decent look at them; being of a relatively retiring nature when sketching, and not wanting to make anyone nervous while they were playing, I opted for an alternative subject.

I was attracted by the negative spaces and interplay of lines and intersections created by this group of music stands, which were waiting in one corner for the next ensemble to seize them. Their shiny metal frames were thrown into high contrast against the stacks of bright blue plastic chairs behind.

I made my initial sketch in sepia fineliner, and it made a reasonable drawing, but I decided to be fearless (or maybe reckless) and add some strong background colour. I was anxious as I did it, thinking that the sepia sketch might be a bit too fiddly and confusing to stand with a bold background; I’m still uncertain as to whether or not I like the result. It might have been more effective if I’d been able to achieve more white space, effectively giving a silhouette of the stands (rather than this more line-y, sketchy appearance). I also don’t really like the streakiness of the background. Still, it was a very absorbing way to spend 25 minutes, and another blank page filled.

Haring About

Today I found myself in King’s Lynn once again, waiting for the car to pass its MOT test, which normally takes around an hour and a half. The town’s not very big, and so once I’d had a scone, and done some small errands, I was free to find a good place to sketch. There are many lovely buildings in the town, if you’re of a mind for architectural drawing, but since I’d only packed my funsize (3x3in) sketchbook, I felt that would be a bit ambitious. Instead, I took myself over to Lynn Museum.

The Museum’s housed in an old Victorian church, and holds a small but very varied collection charting human activity from prehistoric times up to the early 20th Century. There’s a big exhibit relating to Seahenge, a large wooden ceremonial circle found on one of the Norfolk beaches (and subsequently dug up, preserved and on display), but that wasn’t what I was looking for today. I was initially drawn to the collections of smaller objects, ranging from Egyptian shabti to Roman brooches, and I very nearly set pen to paper…however, on turning around and looking for a chair, I saw this chap.

Hare ink and tombowI knew this was the subject for me. The brown hare is a common sight in the North Norfolk fields; in fact, their phenomenal breeding success recently has meant that measures have had to be taken to reduce populations. I still find it a joy to see the hares (we call them ‘turbo bunnies’) racing effortlessly across farmland, their long legs and ears looking impossibly large and yet streamlined.

This particular taxidermy subject was not wearing his years especially lightly. His ears were perhaps rather more crinkly than nature intended, and the fur on his legs was thinning and looked just a little saggy in places. However, I was grateful for the chance to get a really good look at his dimensions; I had never realised quite how long the forelegs are, or how far back on the body they appear when the hare is at rest. Even his whiskers are angled backwards – super-streamlining. Once I had taken these details in, this animal’s ability to cover wide spaces very fast made total sense.

I sketched out the drawing in my sepia fineliner, and added shading and colour using the Tombow markers and waterbrush. The museum was extremely quiet, so I had no interruptions and was able to get back to the garage on time, happy that I’d done something positive with the morning.


Despite my best intentions today, I left the house with my Tombow pens and waterbrush, but without my A5 watercolour sketchbook. When we arrived at the Saturday music school I realised that this was going to necessitate a change of plan. A hopeful rummage around in my (very large) handbag produced my 3×3 inch ‘funsize’ cartridge sketchbook (and sepia fineliner), so at least I had something on which to draw.

Funsize Drum kitI didn’t feel that the confines of this tiny sketchbook would let me sketch people comfortably. So, as I was whiling away the half-hour during my son’s brass group, I settled instead on drawing the compact drum kit standing ready in the middle of the rehearsal room, which, like me, was waiting for the next session. If ever there was a subject to offer practice at drawing elipses, this is it!

At the outset I thought I was going to restrict this sketch to fineliner only, but changed my mind and added in some highlights with the watercolour pens at the last minute. This was a little nerve-wracking, as I wasn’t sure how the cartridge paper would cope with the water. In fact, it proved quite resilient, and I’m pleased with the effect. Another memory duly logged in ink…