Unexpected violence

I normally think of myself as pretty calm, and suspect this comes through in my art. So what was going on the day I produced this doodle?

It began with the last page in a sketchbook whose paper I’d never really taken to. Finishing it would be a relief. I laid down a set of lines in Indian ink, drawn with a feather dip pen made on the spot. I applied blue ink, then drops of red, which I blew into spindly shapes. It began to have hints of landscape about it, reminding me of the walk up Mam Tor in Yorkshire. I encouraged this tendency with mark-making, a bit of silver acrylic, some white gel pen, a smidge of blue fineliner – even a bit of finger painting got involved. It was a real no-holds-barred experience. Sometimes these things just happen.

And suddenly, a title suggested itself: And Man Walked; and Farmed; and Fought.

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.

Comfort zone

Brace yourself, there’s going to be an influx of iPad sketches, because I’ve finally got round to finding out how to export them to WordPress (and it’s very easy).

For a couple of years I’ve been fooling about in idle moments with various free packages on the iPad. Mostly this happens when I’m too tired or have too little time to get ‘real’ media, and I just want to have a little play while sitting on the sofa.

Sketches 6

This sketch was made using the free Sketches app, using the basic watercolour and pen tools. It’s a composite of half-remembered scenes from our travels, a Tuscan-Yorkshire hybrid, and the purpose was to experiment a little with the app’s watercolour tools.

What I enjoyed was the transparency of the colour stripes, and the ability to eye-dropper ‘watercolour’ to give the roundish blotches suggestive of trees and shrubbery. And it’s so quick and easily altered, I confess it’s rather beguiling.

I’m pretty certain that the iPad won’t replace traditional media for me, but it does mean that I can be creative even when time and energy are short. And in my world, making something is better than making nothing, however you achieve that goal.


Leading lines

Another view from the lovely house in Alex, France. It was sunset, and the sky looked amazing through the huge picture window. I hadn’t sketched all day, and was suddenly seized by a mad urge to have a go – a bit of use it or lose it mentality. Anyway, I was struck by the sunset colour, and the way the line of washing led right to the cleft between the two mountains.

I had to paint standing up, holding my sketchbook, as I couldn’t get the right view from a seated position. I therefore tried to make it quick, for the double sake of my arms and the disappearing sunset. I ended up adding the washing line in with a white gel pen at the end, as it got lost during the enthusiastic painting of foliage. I call that a bit of cheating, but sometimes it’s necessary. All in all, I think it’s a funny little sketch, one small moment captured for posterity.



In the middle of this heatwave we’re having in the UK it seems a bit perverse to post a snowy scene, but I’ve a small backlog which must be blogged, so my apologies.

This scene was made after I’d been for a run along a track I know very well. I used my impressions of the view, rather than an accurate recording. The aim was to have a little experiment with my Dr PH Martin’s inks, using a coffee stain ground. I wasn’t sure what paper I wanted, and ended up on some textured acrylic paper which gave me plenty of opportunity to move the pigment around. I’m not a coffee drinker, and found the smell of the coffee very off-putting. I think I’ll use tea (which I also don’t drink, but which I think smells nicer) next time. I quite like the effect though.

More background was added in blue with water on a big brush. From then on it was all mark-making starting with a sepia fineliner and then adding sepia ink with a small stick,  a brush, and finally my fingers.

Running track ink

This picture was pure escapism and experiment. I’m not sure it entirely works, but what does that matter?

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.

High Contrast

We were lucky enough to stay in Annecy in the Alps for a holiday, a return to the haunt of my student year abroad many years ago. Our digs were opposite the rather futuristic Gare d’Annecy (train station) but with a wonderful view of the Parmelan ridge behind (which we scaled later in the hols). The scene required painting, not least for the contrast between the modern buildings and the immovable looming mountains.

Gare d'Annecy & Parmelan watercolour

This was the first watercolour I’d painted for a while, and it took a little getting back into. Everything turned out rather more purple than I’d intended, as I tried to capture the deep shadows cast by the buildings in the bright, late afternoon sunshine.

The glass and steel were both something of a challenge, and I shamefully chickened out of including the fast-moving people constantly passing into the station. I resisted the strong temptation to use fineliner to help me out this time, trying to add definition just with paint and brush. The speed that the paper dried in the heat was astonishing – I’m more used to the English weather where you have oodles of time to mess with the paint and often need to hurry up the drying process rather than slow it down. Yet despite the challenges, I’m pleased I sketched this view – it’s a good memory of a happy holiday.

It’s complicated

On holiday in Madeira, we visited the Monte Palace Tropical Garden way up the mountain. The gardens looked like they had been extensively rescued and refurbished in the ’60s and ’70s, with some rather (to our eyes) brutalist sculpture and landscaping, but with an Oriental bent. Everywhere had a beautiful view to unfold, but trying to squeeze one of those views onto paper in an hour proved a massive challenge. I chose to paint a water feature based on the idea of the Madeiran irrigation levadas, the attraction also being that there was an unoccupied seat conveniently situated at the top of the steps, looking down.

I started with a sketch in fineliner, which looked fairly promising. About halfway through adding paint, the full sun disappeared as cloud moved over. How I hate it when that happens! The changing conditions certainly presented a challenge, as did all the vegetation, perspective, shadows, etc, etc. It wasn’t long before I realised that I’d been rather too ambitious in my scope. Have I learned my lesson? Probably not…

Madeira botanical gardens watercolour

Messy business

Hmmm, long time no blog, eh?  Must try harder.

But I’ve not been entirely idle, I’m pleased to say. Last weekend my painting friend Andy and I went on a course at the Leeds College of Art. Titled ‘Atmospheric Acrylics,’ the objective was to look at the techniques used by the artist David Tress, focusing on landscapes.

We’d chosen this course as it looked like it might help us to loosen up our painting techniques in acrylic – we weren’t disappointed! The tutor wasted no time in getting us to scrunch up and stick paper (and anything else we fancied) onto boards to provide a basis for painting. We were encouraged to expand the boundaries of our boards, which was interesting – I think I might keep working on that idea.  I’ve never tried to mix collage and paint, and I found the process at first a bit bewildering, then, very quickly, liberating. The tutor expected that we would be churning out four to five pieces, from small to large, during our 5 hours on the course. That seemed ambitious at first, but the techniques we were using were very fast indeed. The tutor was excellent, and provided lots of welcome encouragement and advice where needed.

Big brushes, splattering, sticking, smearing and scraping – all pretty new territory for me, and I loved it. I definitely made lots of mistakes and errors of judgment, but it didn’t matter as the day was all about experimentation and freedom from constraint.



What did I take away from this experience (apart from paint spatters all over me)? Well, I think that I would be happy to use all the elements  – torn paper, expanded boundaries, splattering, broad brushwork – again. I’d like to experiment with incorporating some of these powerful techniques into my own style of painting. Should be both challenging and fun!


Just a tiny funsize sketch to fill in the time while waiting to collect my son from school. My first car, and so it’s a bit of a watershed moment – even though it’s really only half a car. Fineliner and black Tombow with a waterbrush did the trick.

Funsize Hedgerow