Daffs or Narcissus?

Who knows? But they are always a cheery sign that Spring is well under way.

I started with a torn paper background from an old bag, then added fineliner and white gel pen for highlights.

A simple, quick, image of hopefulness.

Roses are Red…

…But not in this case.bTwo of these blooms were actually a beautiful peach, the other white.

Originally I had considered doing this sketch in watercolour, but chickened out, uncertain of how to depict the deeper shades between the petals.  Instead, I remembered the lilacs and irises I had previously sketched in ink, and so my favourite Parker blue-black calligraphy ink and a small brush came into play, accompanied by a little pot of water for dilution.

I confess I was dreading the tightly curled petals of the lowest flower, but in fact they were not the biggest challenge – the structure of the more blowsy petals was where that lay. Originally, the plan was to put a dark background in (which would also cover up my messy mistakes), but I’ve held off doing so as I’m not sure whether this would add to the sketch. The jury is still out.

Hopefully before the season is over I will get my courage up and get on with a watercolour rose picture. In the meantime, this will do.


Some days…

Some days everything goes right. Then there’s the other sort of day. You know, when you’re just not feeling it. This was one of the latter.

The big white cross was supposed to be the dividing spars of a sash window. I was hoping they’d split the picture up into uneven quadrants, adding a bit of interest and intrigue. I wanted some reflection to be visible in the window panes, but with interior darkness providing a foil for the stark white flowers. But no.

And let’s not even talk about those horrible washes. I gave up. I don’t even want to go back and meddle with it to see if it can be improved. Moving swiftly on…

Poor orchid. Maybe next time.

Orchid window watercolour

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!

Seeing Double

It turns out that I had not had enough of painting irises. These two watercolours were a follow-up to my previous acrylic paintings, using those paintings as reference for a change, as suggested by my Dad.

What I found was this: having already done the job of filtering nature through my eyes into two paintings, these sketches required a lot less thought when it came to working out the shapes and shades. This meant that I had more brain to devote to actually using the paint and trying to manipulate it to achieve the effect I was seeking. (I grudgingly acknowledge that this is indeed why proper artists go to the trouble of doing preliminary sketches. Shucks.)

The first picture has quite a graphic feel to it. I think I was still thinking in acrylics at this stage, and not allowing the watercolour to work its magic.

Iris watercolour2

The second attempt clearly uses more of the properties of the paint, to better advantage. I’d ‘got my eye in’ somewhat at this point. I’m still not sure whether I should have further darkened the background, as the busyness of the bloom and bleed effects somewhat detract from the flower, but then again, sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone. So that’s what I did.

Iris watercolour1

Gold Leaf

My new metallic gold acrylic paint has been burning a hole in my pocket, so to speak. So I had a plan to use lots of it on a painting of another iris, inspired by a couple of paintings I’ve seen recently which employed gold or bronze backgrounds to great effect.

I used a canvas board, which is quite a new surface for me, but which has imparted some interesting texture to the picture. My initial sketch of the flower head was made directly on the canvas using a graphite stick. Once I’d laid in the background I soon discovered that my original composition was weak, as the flower head just floated squatly in the middle of a blank golden square. That would never do. I added the purples over a white base, including some deeper shades, enjoying using a rather dry brush to give a different kind of feel to the paint as the canvas texture showed through. Outlining the petals in black ink helped somewhat to give the flower a little more definition.

gold iris compressed

Standing back and appraising the picture, I had sudden thought to create some leaves by  using negative painting to create leaf shapes in the golden background. Although this improved matters, the composition was still missing something. Necessity being the mother of invention, I dabbed off some of the newly-dry purple paint with a cloth to blur the background a little, and then used my fingernail, to reveal the gold coating beneath, which I was relieved to see finally did the trick of bringing a bit more life and texture into the picture’s background.

I wonder whether I should have taken some photos while I was working of the different stages, but hindsight’s a wonderful thing.  I learned loads with this one, and also had the slightly reckless fun of experimenting to escape the difficulties I’d found myself in. Maybe that’s enough irises for a while now…


Blue Spray

The irises have been quite spectacular in the garden this year, and one dusk I was struck by how well the white irises stood out against the mass of foliage behind. I resolved to paint this, and thought acrylics would stand me in good stead, due to the vibrancy and depth of colour I struggle to achieve with watercolour. (Last year I drew the irises in pastels and then in ink; who knows what next year will bring?)

I used a lightly sanded piece of hardboard, larger than usual (24 x 9ins), sketched out the flower spray, and began by putting in a very dark green background. As I began on the flowers it became clear that there was going to be more blue in this picture than I’d originally thought, but it worked quite well with the dark green. I enjoyed the fact that I was able to show the flowers in three different stages on one stem, and it was a delight to see everything come together as I added the white highlights and the little sparks of orange stamens.

iris blue acrylic 3

Maybe some lessons on how to photograph large, shiny acrylic pictures would be a good idea?

Late Easter

A very quick funsize sketch, made before this Easter flowering cactus (rather late) bursts into bloom. I enjoyed making a cypher of squiggles and ovals to describe the foliage, rather than being too literal. The buds of colour help enormously to breathe a little life into this picture.

Funsize cactus ink & tombowFineliner, with accents and shadow put in using Tombows.

Karma Camellia

OK, so this was an experiment which was only a partial success. I had in mind to use white tissue paper on a black background, to build up layers of increasing opacity and whiteness to suggest contouring. The original concept was to depict a marble statue. However, I was at home, didn’t have a good photo of a statue to work from, and didn’t want to use someone else’s picture. Instead, I dug out a photo of a white camellia, taken a few years ago on a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where there is an amazing conservatory full of camellias. I thought that would work.

Camellia collage & pencil

I cut out the first layer of tissue, then, without sticking it to the background, proceeded to layer on further pieces. I think this process is just visible, still. But I was disappointed by the lack of transparency in the first layer, as not enough of the black was showing through for my liking, to add the darkest parts. In something of a dudgeon I slathered a bit of Pritt stick on the back, and stuck what I had to the paper. Too later, I realised that the glue had increased the transparency sufficiently, but because I hadn’t spread it smoothly it wouldn’t be good enough. I couldn’t get the tissue off again without tearing it, so I resigned myself to having to take a different approach.

I found some black tissue, cut it to shape, and stuck it in a couple of places where I wanted the deepest darks to be. This was no good though, too dark, so I tried to peel it off, and damaged the white under layer in the process. Oh dear. I was getting a bad feeling about the whole thing.

Finally I resolved to put the darks in with coloured pencil. It sort of salvaged the picture, although you can still see where the previous failures took place. By this time I’d rather lost patience, but I accept that I learned a lot. The final picture isn’t great (it looks a lot better from a distance!), but that’s life. I know I could have done better if it had been either collage or coloured pencil from the outset, rather than a dubious combination of both as a band-aid fix. Next time…

Interestingly though, this piece got me thinking about famous artists and the huge catalogue of works, scribbles and sketches which they have undoubtedly created in their lifetimes. I’m sure many of the ‘greats’ had experiments, and days where they felt rather less than joyous about the results they’d achieved – but they kept them, nonetheless. Some of these less successful attempts must have ended up in art galleries across the globe, treasured as much (or maybe more) because they were created by the hand of the master than as pictures in their own right. Knowing that established artists also have ‘off’ days and odd experiments is a great leveller. We can still learn so much from their explorations, and equally from our own trials and tribulations. How strange ‘art’ is.


On Friday my husband and I were stranded in town waiting for the car to be serviced. The plan had been to do some urban sketching, but the weather turned so chilly that neither of us found the prospect appealing. Instead, we found a haven in the King’s Lynn Library, that wonderful refuge for both the curious and the confused.

After a quick scoot around in search of a ‘view’ I was attracted to this amazing waterfall of a begonia. The light from the window was illuminating the blood-red  reverse of its leaves, yet glancing off the green surfaces.

Begonia watercolour

I used a sepia fineliner to sketch out the shapes, and then dabbled with the watercolours. There was a lack of definition to each leaf at this stage, so I used a sepia brush tip pen to add a little more emphasis. Lastly, I used a flat brush to lift out some paint to indicate the veins on the leaves.

I’m not sure how I feel about this picture. I like the shapes and the cascade effect, but I would have loved to have achieved more colour impact, to better convey the glowing red undersides of the leaves. Maybe I could have used acrylics or  Tombows, but at the end of the day, when you’re sketching out and about, you must work with what you have brought!