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.

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.

Day’s End

It’s been a busy day, and I’m completely zonked, but I wanted to do a little something with paint. So here it is, once more not quite how I imagined it would be.

I’m not sure how to classify this, what with the torn paper, and the fact that each set of hills is set forward from the one behind using a couple of millimetres of mount board, so there’s a slight 3D effect. And, to quote Forrest Gump, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’

3d hills sunset watercolour






Big Bird

Dawdling and doodling at Girona Airport; it’s one of the most picturesque runway views you could wish to find, thanks to its mountain backdrop. This little funsize sketch was a challenge, particularly due to the foreshortening of the plane, and the irregular oval shape of the jet housings. Normally in my funsize (3x3in) sketchbook I go straight in with the ink, but caution got the better of me this time, as I could see that boarding was about to commence and I knew I had limited time to get this sketch down. So, I broke my own rules and used a few quick pencil guidelines first to make sure the form was approximately right. Then it was on with the fineliner and a little shading using a black Tombow and water pen. Happy landings!

Funsize Girona Airport

Memory Test

Today I wanted to paint something in acrylics. I didn’t have much time available, but felt that I’d like to experiment a little. I usually (almost always) draw and paint from a reference or actual ‘thing’ in front of me. The downside is that this can mean that I follow that scene or image too slavishly, sometimes to the detriment of composition.  I thought it would be a good exercise to try to conjure a scene from my memory, using just my impressions of that scene for reference. The aim was to produce something that felt as ‘real’ as possible, testing my memory store of observation and learning from previous sketches.

Mountains Memory Acrylic

I found this exercise such a challenge – so much harder than painting something that’s actually ‘there’. The composition wasn’t very clear in my head, and I was eager to paint rather than to sketch my picture first. This has meant that the resulting painting doesn’t have a clear focus, other than the channel between two of the mountains. I’m happy that the eye is led in, but once in, it sadly has nowhere much to go. The grass in the foreground was an afterthought, and it doesn’t add any value; in fact cropping the picture to exclude it does helps the picture somewhat.

Mountains Memory Acrylic crop

What did I learn? Well, randomness in mountain shapes is harder to achieve convincingly than you might imagine. Ditto for clouds – time looking hard at them in future will be time well spent. Imagining how the light will fall, and what kind of light it should be, is key, and this should be established at the beginning, not halfway through. I should have spent more time on working out my composition, perhaps including the suggestion of a village or a few distant buildings for a bit more interest. In summary, I think this picture should be filed under ‘Learning Process.’ It’s becoming quite a big section!

Pyreneean Sunset

On our penultimate evening in Spain, a fellow sketcher and I prepared dinner for the oven, then walked up the hill a couple of hundred metres to find a view to paint. It was about 8pm, the sun was setting in an unshowy, discreet fashion, and the layers upon layers of distant mountains were settling into purples.

Pyrenees sunset watercolour

We hurried to get the image down, as the light changed and the temperature dropped, completely focused on the colours and shapes. So much so that we didn’t hear my husband searching for us to ask if the dinner should actually be in the oven… He kindly used his common sense, and so everyone was able to enjoy their food, albeit on very relaxed Spanish schedule.


Snowy Glimpse

Sant Privat watercolour

While staying near Girona, we went for a long walk up in the foothills of the Pyrenees (from Sant Privat d’En Bas), attracted by the lure of seeing the Shrine to the Mother of God of Small Saucepans. Well honestly, who could resist? It was a long slog, relentlessly upwards, through the tree line before we reached the shrine, which if I’m frank had disappointingly few saucepans on display. However, we bore the disappointment bravely, and kept on ascending.

Nearly 3 hours’ upwards climb was rewarded at the summit with a wonderful view of a picturesque refuge with a backdrop of snowy peaks. We stopped for our picnic lunch (much needed) and I managed to grab 15 minutes in between mouthfuls to make this quick watercolour sketch. I’d have liked to better capture the sense of distance between the near refuge and the far peaks and mountains. The distant, snowy caps against the steely sky are by far my favourite part of this picture. It was pretty breezy, so fortunately all the paint dried quickly and we were able to move on…

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!

Mountain Moonrise

What with travelling on winding roads up into the big mountains, stopping to admire the astonishingly picturesque scenery and having refreshments (naturally), it was almost midday by the time we started our ascent on the Cime Pramper in the Italian Dolomites.

Pramper MoonThe guidebook suggested that this would be a relatively modest mountain walk; we are all reasonably fit, so we calculated we’d be home for dinner without any problem. In the end it was 1200m height gain and a tiring eight hours from start to finish, but the spectacular scenery spurred us on. From a mountain path beside a rushing stream, to wildflower-sprinkled alpine meadows and snowy crags, this walk had it all.

On the way back down, at about 7pm, we rounded a corner and right in front of us was this tremendous view. The mountain range was framed by trees and sunlit, with the moon rising behind it in a blue evening sky, and to cap it all, a golden eagle circling. What a moment to treasure. The photo I took and this subsequent picture don’t do its glory justice, but I’ll remember this scene for a long time.

Hillside Mist

Dolomites watercolourIt was misty where we stayed in the Dolomites, although warm. The cloud shrouded the tops of the mountains for three days, while it was sunny at lower altitudes. On the second afternoon I installed myself on a public bench  in the hamlet where we were staying, and tried to capture the feel of the place. This picture shows the abruptness of the mountains as they rise up, hazy in the background.

I took the chance to use my favourite colour, Payne’s Grey, in this painting. I really enjoy the way it spreads into other paint and water, and gives a neutral blue/shadow feel. My favourite part of this picture is the crunchy mountain edge where the paint has collected in a dark line and contrasts with the sky. That was a result of accident rather than design, but who’s counting?

Just to put me in my place, right at the end of painting I was thinking ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad’ when I managed to flip the contents of my dirty water pot onto the sky. Fortunately, and to my relief, most of the paint had already dried sufficiently to be unaffected. Phew.