Autumn Undressed

It’s been slim pickings for art time lately; I’ve been busy, my head hasn’t been ‘in the right place,’ and I’ve lacked the motivation to just get on with it in the little slivers of time which are available. Yes, feeble excuses. These spates come and go, so I’m trying not to feel too disconcerted. It will pass.

I did at least manage a little funsize sketch while waiting to pick up my son from his volunteering session at the local Cat’s Protection League (love that name – makes me think of superheroes). The colours were glorious, a shower of copper on the ground, with a few remnants hanging in the bushes; autumn undressed.


3×3 inch, fineliner and Tombows


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


A couple of weekends ago my painting mate Andy and I went to an acrylic workshop. The premise was to learn how to paint focusing on light and shade through big gestures rather than fiddly detail. I was a bit anxious beforehand, having never attended a workshop before. As it turned out, the fellow artists were very lovely (with a wide range of painting experience between them), and the painting exercise itself was totally engrossing, so much so that time and paint flew.

I produced two pictures, both from photos which I’d taken, which I thought would meet the light/shade requirements. We had about an hour and a half per painting, with a technique demonstration before each.

The tutor painted a street scene in his initial demo. The closest I had in ‘feel’ was a photo taken in the woods, with light filtering through trees. I managed to be looser than normal for me, which was good, but using the big brush loaded with many colours simultaneously gave me some challenge when it came to depicting foliage. My colours, especially the greens, became rather muddy and pastelly rather than being zingy and bright. I also think that I could have changed the composition to improve the painting, but I’m not going to get hung up on that as there are so many other issues with it.


The second painting was based on a photo I’d taken of sweet peas backlit by evening sunlight. I wrestled terribly with it, and am still not overly happy with the outcome. Once again, in retrospect, I should have tweaked the composition. I found it incredibly difficult to adapt the tutor’s blocky technique to the rounder organic shapes of the flowers, and lost the plot a bit. Well, a lot. I ran out of time and didn’t get this into a shape where I could feel that it was working, although I can see now that there are areas I could improve if I chose. However, at the moment painting opportunities are too rare to want to return to fix ‘struggling’ paintings.


So, all in all, I found the day tiring, and a bit frustrating too, and came away feeling that I’d failed to capture the style of the teacher. However, with a bit of time and some reflection, and another painting done (watch this space), I realise that I did learn some interesting facts which I’m consciously putting into play in my acrylic paintings. Namely:

  1. Underpainting can be a real asset to a picture – I’d never tried this before. And now I know that I’d be best off choosing a colour I want to use, something which will contribute positively to the subject. I really didn’t like the mauve background suggestion of the second painting, which must be why I painted over almost the whole picture…You live and learn.
  2. Light is REALLY important. Duuuuh! I think I need to consciously try to make more use of it in my paintings. Letting the lights sing out just brings everything to life.
  3. Darks can be very colourful, and dark violet is a very useful colour. It was a new addition to my palette for the workshop, and I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do with it. But now I realise it combines well with ultramarine and maybe pthalo green, or burnt umber to make a very rich dark colour. I’m  sure that I will be using this again.
  4. Using very big brushes and large canvasses (A2) can be a lot of fun.

So, this workshop was a new experience, and I definitely gained experience. And in summary, although I had trouble imitating the teacher’s style, I realise that I am actually glad, because it hasn’t entirely swallowed up my own way of painting – that which makes my paintings mine. I reckon that’s a good thing.


A Sad Tail

I had no painting planned for yesterday, but circumstances forced my hand when the cat brought in this lovely (and very dead) little mousy animal. It’s tail doesn’t look long enough to be a true mouse, but it was definitely not a vole either…

Anyway, it was beautiful and apparently unscathed, and it seemed to me that it would be a shame not to mark its passing with a watercolour sketch.  His tiny paws were somehow terrribly poignant, and it was a rare privilege to be able to look at every detail of his little nibbly face. As I painted, I wondered how many such Beatrix Potter must have drawn as practice, before she was able to put life back into them through her pictures.





Still vaguely reflecting on abstract art this week, it popped into my head to make a picture with a grid as the basis. I had Paul Klee’s Sinbad the Sailor picture in my head at the time, which I admire especially for the beauty of its sea-coloured grid. A print of this painting used to hang above the fireplace in my parents’ house during the 70s, so I have it quite deeply ingrained in my memory. Obviously, the outcome is not very like ‘Sinbad’, but nevertheless, it’s always interesting to understand where the idea for a picture originates.

I originally wanted to use the outline of a day lily as the subject, but when I went to find one in the garden, the last one had just expired. However, the variegated privet-type bush was doing well, and I thought that would be sufficiently structural for my experiment.

First I drew the sprig outline in pencil, and then overlaid a (non-measured) grid of squares each around 1cm in size. From the outset I thought that this picture would fade into the background rather than filling the page, so in that respect things went as expected.

Privet pixel watercolour.JPG

I added the watercolour – three different yellow shades for the leaves, changing colour with each boundary line. I added in some cobalt blue to add a bit of interest and suggest the variegation. Seeking a complimentary palette for the background I opted for a selection of blues which I applied in varying dilution strengths. It was tricky to know when to stop with this part of the process. It seemed obvious that the darkest colours should be closest to the stem, but how far out to take the pattern? And how much white to leave? Impossible to really know. Deciding to leave the stem white seems to have been a good choice, as it provides a pleasantly smooth arc, cutting through the angular grid.

The jury is still out on whether I should erase my pencil lines or not – I’m currently thinking that they add a little something. But I reserve the right to change my mind on a whim… and I might have another go at this idea at some point, it was very interesting.



Plastic Fantastic

Cling film gets a bad rap. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one). I’ve been wanting to experiment with it for quite some time, and have never felt brave enough. However, a friend who recently went on an ‘Experimental Watercolour’ workshop had some great results using it, and I badly wanted a piece of that paint action.

At art galleries the pictures I’m most drawn to are the night scenes, and for a while I’ve been considering trying to create my own. In the spirit of experimentation, I thought I’d have a go, and work in the cling film magic too.

I started by sketching out a scene on stretched paper, and drew in an opportunity to create a rocky foreground. Before reaching for the paint, I masked out the moon, some stars, a few lights on the coastline and a little of the moon’s reflected light on the water.

Throughout the picture I restricted the colours, using Payne’s Grey, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Cobalt Blue.  Having wet the paper in the foreground I slapped on my four colours (broadly speaking two to the left, two to the right for a bit of variation) and laid on the cling film, crumpling it to get what I hoped would be the look of a rocky cliff. Impatient as ever, I was helped by the sunshine outside and didn’t have to wait too long to peel off. Wow! I was so pleased to see the results (and still am).

Night scene clinfilm watercolour

I swept in a mix of Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber for the main landmass, and Payne’s Grey only for the water. The sky gave me the most trouble, and was a mix of Payne’s Grey and Cobalt. I tried to add some drifts of cloud with salt, but the effect wasn’t right, so I ended up trying to remove the salt, repaint, and then lift off a little cloud with a sponge – same for the halo round the moon. Mixed success there.

When all was dry again, I removed the masking fluid, and added in a little hint of yellow on the lights, just to prevent them from being too stark a contrast.

It’s true to say that I had a real blast today. I will definitely be using cling film again!



Watercolour, Waterfall

An experiment today in trying to be freer with watercolour. I ransacked our photos for a good nature scene, and turned up this one taken high up near the start of Yosemite Falls, a summer time view when the renowned falls are more of a quiet trickle.

Yosemite falls watercolour.JPG

Of course, in the spirit of experimentation I did what you should never do, and tried several unfamiliar things at once: A3 stretched paper; tube paint; Manganese Blue; a Chinese brush; squirting water on to the background. Some of these things worked pretty well – the brush was lovely, although it took a little adapting to as it is more willful than my usual red sable. The tube paint allowed for more depth than I normally manage, which is a very good result. Manganese blue I will steer clear of in future for skies as I felt it was a bit grainy for what I wanted. Squirting water – well, I did this on the first layer of water, mountain and sky. It was a bit unpredictable, took ages to dry off, and I still applied the darker shades of mountain too soon, hence the upward bleeding into the sky.

I had a good time making the water and its reflections. The boulders were a bit of a challenge. At the outset I’d imagined just suggesting them with cling film, but when it came to it I didn’t have the courage. So, they turned out more controlled than I’d hoped. I do wonder now whether I should have reserved some whites with masking fluid, but I thought at the outset I didn’t need to. Not to worry. The trees were hard though, I definitely think I need more tree practice…these ones are ok if you don’t look too closely!

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…


Light and Shade

There’s an apple tree in the garden I’ve been watching, waiting for the right moment to paint it. The blossom has been emerging, and is now at its peak, the most wonderful point before it starts to wither and drop, cascading over the ground. Time was of the essence, and yesterday I managed to grab a couple of hours to make a quick acrylic painting.

I’m trying out canvas board, as previously I’ve painted acrylics on hardboard which has a very smooth surface, good for smears and blends. This behaves differently, but the texture of the canvas provides an interesting surface, albeit one where the paint dries faster due to being absorbed into the fabric. I worked with a large, flat brush throughout, from sky to background, finally laying on the tree and shadow last.

Apple Tree Acrylic

Before starting, I had an idea in my head about how this picture might look. The one I’ve ended up making is rather different though. Why is this so? Well, the conditions in the garden weren’t right for the image I had in mind – the light was wrong, and the vibe wasn’t there. Sometimes pictures just evolve away from my plans, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it, as if they have a life of their own.

So this became a painting of two sides – object and shadow, light and dark. The blossom is all sweet, frisky and frothy; the shadow in contrast is almost menacing, without being intended that way. I initially thought it was going to me more ‘realistic’ than it has turned out. Strange.


Silver and Gold

The boys in my life wanted to go mountain biking; I didn’t. So I went with them to Shouldham Woods and made a picture instead. I had 45 minutes in which to find a location and actually do the painting. The time limit meant that I didn’t take as much care as I might have liked when finding a spot, but nevertheless I liked this view because it offered a pretty picture of a variety of trees, with some beautiful newly-golden-leaved silver birches in the distance. In this case I opted to use some masking fluid to preserve the white trunks; the time it took to dry was time well spent, as I quite like the unevenness of line this has produced. There was a lot of variation in greens, and I made a conscious effort to mix greens rather than use what I had in my paintbox, which I think has probably given a better result. As always, achieving the depth of colour for the Scots pine and the shaded areas took several goes as I’m never brave enough first off.

Shouldham hedgerow watercolour

I wasn’t very happy with this picture when I’d first completed it, but a few weeks on I feel rather differently about it and am now quite pleased to have it in my sketchbook.