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

Lost my Marbles

When I set up this dessert bowl of marbles I was ensnared by the translucency of the glass, the vibrancy of the colours and the downright deliciousness of the whole thing. The sun was shining in through the window, lighting everything up, a painter’s dream, I thought.

Marbles watercolour

I had been given some beautiful Golden QoR watercolours which I wanted to test out, and I reckoned this would be a wonderful opportunity to see their intensity and vibrancy (I had previously been using W&N).

What I had in my head was so different to what emerged on the paper! With hindsight, maybe I might have been better off working larger so that I could be more free – this picture is only about A5 size. I didn’t entirely manage to capture the colourful lights and transparency, although viewing this in retrospect there are a few areas where I feel I had some success. It turned out a bit of a mixed bag (or bowl). However, the paints themselves were splendid, vibrant and punchy where needed, and it was a joy to be squeezing out a tube of intense colour rather than scribbling around in a half-pan as I normally do. They’ll be coming out to play again.

A Quick Glass

Recently I treated myself to a white gel pen, as I’d been seeing how useful it can be for watercolour sketching when there’s intricate highlights to be added. It sat on the shelf for a few days, biding its time. One evening I noticed how beautifully the light played on the cut facets of this wineglass. However, the glass was both too full and too empty for sketching at the time. So the next day I sat down to sketch the (now clean) glass, and obviously I was in the right frame of mind because the picture just tripped off the end of the pen.

wineglass jellyroll

What was most exciting was drawing actively with highlights rather than shadows. I also enjoyed the fact that the pen could give me different degrees of stroke, from a very fine, slightly transparent line, to a nice strong bright white. All round it was a very refreshing experience. I’m looking forward to exploring this further, perhaps combined with chalk or Conte pastel for broad sweeps of white. Hmmm, that’s got me thinking…

Three Pots

Before I did the recent horse sketches, I had been looking at many sketches made in brush pen, using Indian Ink, and I thought I’d like to have a go. I filled a brushpen with some W&N black, and searched around for a test subject or two.

First for the treatment was a pen pot, done superfast in my drawing pad which has quite a decent weight of smooth paper. The strange thing on the right which looks a bit like a small hockey stick is… a small hockey stick. I don’t know why.

Penpot brushpen

I rather enjoyed the way the ink went on, but was struggling to achieve any variation in stroke at this point. But the drawing seems to me to actually have quite a lot of character in its imperfections.

Next up for the treatment were unmatched salt and pepper pots. I thought I might have some fun with the transparency of the salt grinder, and the wood grain of the pepper mill.

This was also a very rapid sketch on the same drawing paper, and I started to get the feel for the brush pen. On the downside, I think I could have probably achieved a similar result with a felt-tip. I also think I got a bit fiddly with the details. With this in mind, next time I will try to do more to explore and exploit the variation in line thickness which the brush pen offers, and to further simplify the lights and darks.

Cruet brushpen



Clearly Tricky

During my little jaunt to the V&A museum in London, I visited the Glass gallery, where they hold collections ranging from the earliest surviving examples of glassmaking to the most contemporary pieces. I always enjoy marvelling at the glasswork, not least that such delicate pieces have survived intact, in some cases over the many centuries, but also at the creativity and variety of shapes employed by the glassmakers. It’s always surprising to me how sophisticated the ancient techniques for glassmaking were.

This collection of Roman glasses was a small part of a long cabinet of Greek and Roman examples. The shapes of the vases seems to be timeless, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar examples being produced even today.

Funsize Roman vessels ink & tombow

The particular challenge here was to try to convey the transparency of the vessels, which I found especially hard, as not all were clear glass – for instance, the decorated vase on the left was opaque but luminescent. The lighting, which was from downlighters in the cabinet, reduced the amount of highlight on the glass. It was an interesting problem. I found that adding the shadows, especially for the stemmed small bowl at the front, helped to suggest transparency. Once again, since I was travelling light, this was done in fineliner and Tombow blended with a waterbrush pen.

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!

Snappy Dresser

Yesterday was looking to be a sketch-free day, until I saw a vivid, vertical stripe of late afternoon sun hitting the old dresser in the dining room. I had 30 minutes available until picking my son up; I grabbed a sketchbook and the watercolours and dived in. I decided not to take a photo of the glorious tangerine light on the dark oak – I’d try to remember once it disappeared, as it surely would, and fast. I think that might have been a mistake.

Dresser watercolourThe light was still there, albeit changing, as I sketched the outlines in my sepia fineliner, but finally petered out as soon as I got the watercolours into play. The sun sets so quickly at this time of year. The dining room became too dark to work without a light on, and so what you see here is a concoction of my memory, made under artificial light. Hmmm. Not ideal conditions.

This picture is A5 size, so it was easy to work relatively quickly. I used a lot of burnt sienna and various blues to achieve the browns and shadows. Putting the orange in was fun, but I haven’t achieved anywhere near the glow of the wood in reality. Still, it was good to have a go, and get some more experience of mixing colours with a time constraint.

Oranges and Lemons

For a while I’ve been thinking about doing another painting in acrylic, only I haven’t been sure what to try. I find acrylic a bit intimidating, and so far I’ve felt I’ve had to be ‘in the right mood’ to have a go. When I saw the light glancing off this glass fruit bowl, it seemed the time was right to get the acrylics out, and for once I had time. I had a bit of spare board kicking about, so getting started was simple enough – a plate, the paints, a little water and a flat brush were all I needed.

Fruit bowl acrylic

I began with the background, which is always a scary place for me. I decided on a brown/blue combination which I hoped would complement the oranges in the bowl. The jury’s still out on whether this was a good choice, but it’s too late to worry about it. Maybe in reptrospect I should have graduated the background from dark at the top to lighter towards the middle and bottom. Still not sure! The composition is also a bit odd, I could definitely do better there I think if I were to paint something similar another time.

I don’t know how it’s generally done, but I didn’t sketch the bowl first before painting as I knew I’d be painting the background over my sketch. Maybe a patient person would have made the sketch on top of the background once it was dry…I probably should have done this, but taking a risk is part of the thrill of painting. Surprisingly then, the bowl itself went on relatively simply. Having put in the background first really helped to quickly convey the transparency of the glass, and it was very enjoyable just adding in the darks and highlights to form the bowl shape.

The fruit was actually very hard to do. I don’t have enough experience of analysing darks and shadows, and this made getting the contours and shape of the citruses really tough. I tried blues, browns, greens…with varying degrees of success. Part of what I find I enjoy with acrylics is the ability to smear the paint around and into other colours; today that was both a blessing in some places, and a curse in others.

All in all, I’m ok with the final picture – it represents a beginning, and new possibilities and potential. Hopefully I’ll get the acrylics out more in 2016 and see what happens…

Did You Ever?

I popped into King’s Lynn museum today in the hopes of finding something interesting to sketch, and was not disappointed. When I arrived, the museum was full of four-year-olds on a school trip; there was a certain buzz and hubbub as you can imagine. Luckily, my arrival coincided with their preparations to leave, so I did end up with a more tranquil sketching session. And it was easy to find something to draw today, as this oddity caught my eye. I plonked myself down on the floor and took its strangeness in.

Funsize skate ink

Did you ever see anything like it?

This pair of ‘Road Roller’ skates dates from about 1920 and featured in a display about recreation. I only had time to draw one, and to me it looks like the love-child of an ice-skate and a bicycle. Obviously, the design didn’t catch on in the way that the more traditional roller skate did – they do look terribly precarious and also rather fragile in comparison. The wearer not only had to strap him or herself into the boots, but then to tie the wooden lats to their leg as extra bracing. The wheels have solid rubber tyres, and are very narrow compared to a standard roller skate wheel. I imagine the first few minutes on these was a pretty terrifying experience!

The drawing went into my funsize sketchbook (3x3in) with a Pitt sepia pen – two items which live happily in my handbag ‘on the offchance’, and which were perfect for today.

Rock stars

One subject I’m always happy to return to is rocks. Over the years my husband and I have collected stones, fossils, pebbles and miscellaneous ‘found objects’ when we’ve been out walking. Mostly they sit in little heaps unnoticed, but occasionally they trigger thoughts of different places and times.

This shallow plate was a gift from a neighbour, and it’s decorated with a beautiful iridescent glaze. It sits on the windowsill by my desk, and holds a little collection which includes a black volcanic pebble from Spain, a couple of fossils (including the one at the back on the left which is a section of plant stem), a chunk of basalt, a smooth piece of chalk, a thin slab of French limestone with small sea creatures embedded in it, and an twisted iron ring with vestiges of blue paint which came from a piece of agricultural equipment. I really enjoy the juxtaposition of these items and their colours and shapes together.

Plate of stones watercolour


When I sat down to paint this, it was an opportunity for a really good look at natural colours and textures. Amazingly, there is huge diversity to be found even in this small collection once you look closely. I didn’t manage to quite capture the range of colour, but I did enjoy trying. I had fun with the fossilised stalk on the left, by using the end of the paintbrush to mark into the wet, painted paper to create the striations, which worked pretty well. I also spent quite a bit of time trying to get my darks dark enough, often a struggle, especially with the shadows under the stones. I think I pulled it off, and really like the curved shadows cast by the iron ring.

The section which gave me the most issues was the shadow under the plate. I was working in artificial light which cast two shadows – one hard and very blue (almost violet) one directly under the plate, and then another bigger, lighter, hard-edged shadow which had a touch of yellow in it. I laid the bright blue in and got it completely the wrong colour (didn’t do a test first, naturally), which meant I then had to lift it out somewhat and overlay it with another colour, losing the luminosity I was hoping for. Then, in my haste and desire to get a hard edge to the shadow I worked from the edge of the shadow back into the main part, and created a darker edge which wasn’t right. I lifted some of this out (as you can see) and faffed around some more, but the net result wasn’t really what I was aiming for. That whole ‘knowing when to stop’ thing is so tricky!