Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Support for Beginners

Regulars to my blog will be aware that my art forum runs a periodic Picture Puzzle. This is where a picture is sliced up into a dozen squares and a variety of artists are each given one to copy. The dozen newly painted segments are then reassembled to create a unique composite painting.

A while ago, one of my forum members attended a masterclass being run by Fiona Pearts and Terry Harrison. During that course, the member talked about our forum and what it is trying to do by way of encouraging beginners. As a consequence of that discussion, both Fiona and Terry kindly gave their permission for us to use any of their pictures as material for our various projects. Having a 'proper' painting to copy rather than the usual home-produced photograph lifts the puzzle to a new level.
We are all very grateful to Fiona and Terry for their generous permissions.

The current project uses a painting by Terry Harrison called "Winters Day" and is shown here. Come back often and watch it taking shape.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Castle Door

Time is getting the better of me and I'm not posting anywhere near as often as I'd like to. Regrettably, this also means that I'm not getting any time for painting or drawing. Some time ago I returned from a holiday in Wales, with a camera bursting with photo's to be painted. Recently I returned from a week in Yorkshire, similarly laden with images to be transposed to canvas. Mind you, I did make time for this 'quickie'. It is an old wooden door in the wall of the ruined Knaresborough Castle. That is a fine old building. Completely in ruins, but beautifully kept with manicured lawns and some beautiful surroundings. The views out across the valley to the viaduct crossing the River Nidd, are nothing less than spectacular. It was the sort of place where you just can't put your camera down for a second.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Are you an Artist?

If so, my forum for Art beginners needs YOU!!! In my mid-fifties I unexpectedly discovered a modest ability with regards to drawing and painting. That's another story that I won't bore you with here. But my new found 'skill' (using the word very loosely) caused me to wonder how many others had latent skills that weren't being used. I created my web site and a forum for beginners, like me, who wanted somewhere to show their efforts and get helpful and supportive feedback. That initial goal proved fairly succesful but I think we are suffering with a bit of a catch 22 problem. It's a forum for beginners, and so has nothing to interest experts. On the other hand, the beginners get little feedback because there are no experts. That is where YOU can help. If you fancy offering help, advice and guidance to beginners then you could make a big difference in my forum. We run drawing and painting projects to test our skills and drag us into trying new things, and we display our efforts altogether on a single web page. This allows us to learn by comparing our efforts with those of our friends. (See this recent Painting Project). As a small group of novices we do quite well, but I can see how much better we could do if we had some experts amongst us. I feel that more beginners would join if there were experts on hand to teach us, and more experts would join if there was more going on. The forum is like a snowball poised at the top of a hill .... if we could get it rolling it would gather momentum and size quite quickly. Come and join us, and give the snowball the push it needs. Art Forum for Beginners

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Anyone can paint!!!

It is true. Anyone who can use a pen to write their name has the skill necessary to make shapes on paper. To what extent we can make those shapes into recogniseable images is another matter. But the mistake a lot of people make is in believing that painting is only enjoyable if an image is recreated to near perfect proportions. That is nonsense. Regardless of the quality of the final result, there is a huge amount of pleasure, enjoyment and self satisfaction to be found in the making of a painting.

My own first painting efforts were awful but, as you will see by following that link, I learned a great deal from each of them. I also discovered that feedback and encouragement from others made a huge difference both to my progress and my enjoyment. Like everything in life, we do tend to enjoy things more when we're sharing them.

And this is where a Beginners Art Forum can pay such dividends. My forum consists of just a few beginners and novices with no true experts. I have spent time in art forums consisting of hundreds of active members, all of whom are extremely competent, and it can be a very intimidating experience for the beginner. Now this isn't the fault of the forum or its members. Most of them are extremely friendly people. But it is very hard for a raw beginner to proudly show off their latest masterpiece when everyone around them is already extremely competent and all-knowing. To show off your latest endeavour amongst a very small group of people of similar standard is far less intimidating and far more enjoyable and encouraging.

To inspire. That is one of the objectives of my forum. We have ongoing painting and drawing projects designed to encourage you to learn by comparing your own efforts with that of others. And fun projects such as our Picture Puzzle which are not to be taken too seriously at all. What do you mean, you wouldn't be able to paint a square for the puzzle? Bet you could!!! Some of the squares in that puzzle have been created by non-painters who joined in just for the fun of it. Honestly.

So if you've ever fancied having a go at painting, please consider joining the forum. Though we are not experts, we help each other along very nicely and there is not one member who won't tell you how much progress they have made just by being able to share and join in with others of similar standard. Encouragement, enthusiasm and enjoyment are there in abundance in a non-threatening, non-intimidating, warm and friendly environment.

If you want to know more before registering then please use the Contact Form on my main site.

Painting is a relaxing, enjoyable and rewarding pastime regardless of how good the end result. Have-a-go today.

Friday, 19 September 2008

No longer babies

Well, here they are, caught basking in the orange glow of the setting sun. They sit together in my Pear tree, comfortable in their 'togetherness'. Are they brothers, sisters or one of each? LOL ... although I have to admit, whenever I look at them I can't help but think "Laurel and Hardy". Whatever they are, they have been a joy to watch and I feel most privileged to have been able to observe their start in life.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Leaving the Nest


I looked in on the nest this morning and saw .... MUM!!! Then something moved a couple of yards away, and that's when I saw the youngster. Trying to walk along a branch, moving his wings much as tight rope walker uses his arms to keep his balance. I didn't want to get to close for fear of scaring him, and climbing my usual tree would have surely done that. The blasted sun was behind him, which made photo's difficult but, thanks to Spot Metering, I managed this passable photo of the young Pigeon contemplating the height of his perch, and the hardness of the ground below.

The movie, though small and dark, shows the awkward and clumsy manner he moves around, much like a human baby taking it's first steps. Tentative mini-flights from one branch to another, with tricky landings that almost have him toppling head first off the branch. I also love the way he sits on the branch 'twitching' his shoulders up and down almost as if practicing to fly in his mind.

I could have watched for hours but I was already late to the office, so had no choice but to leave mum and her youngster to their adventures. No doubt there'll be no sign of them when I get home this evening. I would have loved to have stayed long enough to try and record his first flight, but it wasn't to be. It's been a fascinating few weeks watching this chappy grow from an egg and I feel very privileged. I intend to make a web page on my site about the Wood Pigeons to which I shall add more pictures and video

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Only One

It's almost over now. This evening I looked out and the nest looked emptier than usual. Though it was nearly dark I grabbed my camera and went aloft. Sure enough, there is only one baby now. Looking very sad and lonely (though I suspect that's just me attaching a human emotion to a bird).

As he/she looked out forlornly over my neighbours garden, I fired off a few shots. The result is far from good as I had to use maximum aperture (f4.5 on full zoom) and maximum film speed (ISO3200). Still, it is one of those shots I'd like to have regardless of it's quality.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Pencil Drawing

If you're a previous visitor to my web site or this blog, then you will know that I'm a very late starter when it comes to painting and drawing. Sometimes my amateurish efforts leave me feeling that I'm making little progress, but at other times I feel as if I've really taken a big stride forwards.

This drawing of two Wine Glasses is one of those occassions when I feel as if I've done a reasonable job, and I'm very pleased. The drawing was copied from a photograph that was set as the August Drawing Project in my Art Forum for Beginners. If you don't think you can draw, but feel that you'd like to, then drop in and say hello. We're a very small group of like-minded individuals who get a lot of pleasure from helping and encouraging each other. It's not necessary to be good at art, to enjoy it. Have-a-go!!!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Day 11

Today I tried a new vantage point. Much more precarious than up the nearby tree that I have been using so far.This time I placed my step ladder about 10 feet from the base of the pigeons tree and balanced as near the top as I could. Not the best of situations for taking good photo's but I'm not disappointed with the shots I got.

The wing feathers are now quite progressed. In fact, in the last photo, one of the fledglings moved to the edge of the nest. I thought he might be getting ready to try his first flight, but he soon moved back inside again. Seeing 'all' of him for the first time, I was really surprised at how big he is already.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Day 8.

Not a lot of activity but I was lucky enough to catch them awake. I love the way they are top'n'tailed, facing in opposite directions. Is that a look-out strategy I wonder, or just because they fit better like that? There's certainly not much room for mum in that nest. I understand the fledglings don't leave their nest until about 28 days after hatching. It's amazing to consider just how big they will be by then.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Day 7

Day 7 and it's amazing how fast these chappies are growing. I'm struggling to get any meaningful pictures because they spend all their time screwed into little fluffy balls. However, as can be seen from the first of these shots, they are very alert. I walked to within a few feet of the tree and made a sort of clicking-clucking sound to attract their attention. Mum already had her beady eye on me, but it was a hoot to see one of the youngsters pop his head up to see what or who was disturbing his siesta.

From my higher perch, the second shot (into the nest) shows that the young are now too big for Mum to sit on, and she has to perch on the edge of the nest. It's also interesting to see that the 'balls of fluff' are showing a good covering of feathers already.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Having fun with art.

Any of you who have visited my blog in the past will know about the Picture Puzzle run by my Art Forum. For the rest of you, this is what it's about. We take a picture, which could be a famous painting or a photograph, and digitally slice it into squares. These squares are then distributed to various members who each then paint their own square. The painted squares are returned back, and the picture is gradually reassembled. The members do not know what the completed picture will be until it starts to finally take shape. It's a great way of sharing your art with your friends, and it's fascinating to see the different artists styles sitting next to each other in the same picture. The attached picture is the current 'puzzle'. If you're interested to know what it is, pop back from time to time and watch it unfold.

Day 4

Finally, a few photo's.
If ever there were grounds to chop a branch out of a tree, it must the one that stands dead-centre of all my photo's. Virtually ALL the action takes place behind that stem. Anyway, out of the hundreds of shots taken so far (God bless digital camera's), here are 5 that haven't come out too bad.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A Happy Event - Day 1

Yes, we have a happy event. When I checked the nest this morning I saw a hungry little head on a very long neck making his need for food plainly clear. Though already late for the office, I grabbed my camera and rushed up to my perch. By then Mum had half-covered him with her wing and it was hard to see anything other than her sitting on her nest as usual. Light was awful and focusing is difficult at the best of times, so I failed to get a good photo, however, enlarging one of my shots did reveal the first evidence of a fledgling.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Though I don't know how old the eggs were when I first discovered them, that was on Aug 16th .... 18 days ago. According to most references I've found, the incubation period is around 17/18 days. Even assuming the eggs had only just been laid moments before I found them, we have to be right on the brink of a happy event. I'd like to report that I'm pacing up and down my perch like a pregnant dad, but one step in either direction isn't a very recommendable move.

Stand by for an announcement very soon.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Not long to go.

I've learned that the average incubation period for Pigeons is in the order of 17/18 days. I have no idea how old the egss were when I first discoveed them but that was 10 days ago. I have to assume that they will hatch any day now and certainly within the week.

Whichever of the two Pigeons is sitting on the eggs (because I believe the two partners share the role), the other is never far away and being extremely vigilant.
A few yards from the Laburnum tree that holds the nest is a huge Pine tree that commands a masterful view of the surrounding area. The non-sitting partner can usually be seen there, standing guard .... day and night.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

An Egg-citing Discovery

A few days ago, on 16th August, I tackled cutting down a 20 foot conifer that has seen better days. Apart from only being green at the top, it was growing up into a Laburnum tree and the whole thing looked a mess. I hadn't cut very much off it when a Wood Pigeon fluttered away with a squawk and much flapping and was obviously in a bit of a hurry. This happened to me once before when I was climbing my parents Rowan tree to do some pruning. On that occassion, I discovered a nest just above my head. I climbed back down immediately and, thankfully, the Pigeon soon returned. So, I looked around carefully and, sure enough there was a nest in the adjacent Laburnum tree just inches from the part of the conifer that I had just cut off. The nest was now much more exposed to the elements than it had been previously and I took seriously the distressed manner in which the Pigeon had flown away.

Without wishing to get too close, but also wanting to know what I was now dealing with, I grabbed my camera (which is never very far away), went back up the ladder and held the camera high above my head while I fired off a couple of shots into the nest. Thank goodness for a swivel LCD screen which makes overhead shots a cinch. The resulting photo's showed me what I had feared ... two eggs in the nest.

All I could think of was to back away to a safe distance and wait. Thankfully, after a few minutes the Wood Pigeon returned. I pottered around within view but never getting too close as I tried to educate her to the notion that I meant no harm. Once she'd settled on her eggs and I'd given her enough time to get used to the idea of having me 'in the neighbourhood', I carried on with the job of digging out the old tree ... and she seemed quite happy to sit and watch.

Then I had a thought and climbed to the top of another large conifer about 20 feet away. I took my secateurs with me and trimmed away just enough of the foliage to be able to peek through at the nest a few yards away.
I dare say the Pigeon knew I was there as I'm not the most nimble of climbers, but if she did, she didn't let on. I was thrilled to now have a first rate view down into the nest. I'm far from sure I will be fortunate enough to see the chicks when they hatch, but my vantage point is prepared and I shall climb up there whenever I can to see what's going on. Fingers crossed and watch this space!!!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Having a break.

My camera is still very much a 'new toy' and I like to sieze every opportunity to take some photographs. Since the first butterfly of the year, I have been trying to get a close up of one. I've often been seen chasing a butterfly around the garden with my camera in my hand, ready to call out 'say cheese' as soon as the little blighter lands on a flower. I've even tried waiting close to a butterfly-friendly bush such as Hebe or Buddleia, but always without success. Yesterday, to my huge delight, this wonderful Red Admiral fluttered past all the tempting flowers in the garden and settled on a rock. I ran indoors to grab my trusty camera and, to my amazement on my return, the little chappy was still there obviously enjoying a short break from his daily toil. I fired off a couple of shots on full zoom and then started to close in for something better. That was when he decided he'd rested enough and took to the air once more. I followed him hopefully across my garden but nothing would tempt him to settle again. Still, I got this shot so I'm not displeased, and maybe he'll came back to pose again one day. I hope so.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The Cavalry

A week or two ago I noticed a very large number of Black Fly colonising on my Runner Beans, Peas and few plants around the garden. I haven't had the time to do anything about it, but even if I had, I am reluctant to spray chemicals, even 'safe' ones.

Yesterday I went to inspect my 'veg' and the Black Fly didn't seem quite as bad as it had been. Then I saw the reason. As I watched, a 'Ladybird' appeared from beneath a leaf. A moment later, another one. When I inspected the plants more closely I found many Ladybirds munching away on those horrible little black flies. Hurray, the cavalry had arrived.

Now, being a complete ignoramus in such matters, I do need to look up why Ladybirds come in different colours and varieties. Most of mine are orange with black spots, there are a few of the traditional red with black spots, and just the odd one of the black with orange spot variety. I seem to recall reading somewhere that there is a variety of Ladybird that is not so nice and not so beneficial in the garden, but I can't recall the details now. I'll go and do some research as soon as I can but, in the meantime, if you know more about this then please leave a comment.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Year round garden

There is no way I could ever call myself a 'gardener' as I don't have a great deal of knowledge of plants or the conditions they all require, however, I do appreciate having a garden that always looks nice and always looks cared for. Since purchasing my current property, which already had a nicely laid-out garden, I have looked for ways to give it year round interest but with minimum effort. As a very busy working man I have too little time for tending to a garden and I quickly realised that summer bedding plants, as nice as they are, only fill the garden during the summer.

As a result, I started to take cuttings from shrubs to increase their numbers, and also purchased a new shrub from time to time. Over the last few years, the space for bedding plants has reduced dramatically, and now I have very few empty places for the scores of annuals I used to put out every June. This has a number of advantages. Firstly the garden never looks empty even in the winter. Secondly, where there's a plant there can't be a weed. Thirdly, maintenance is reduced quite considerably. And finally, there is always something going on to look at and be interested in. It is this last point that has formed the focus of my latest web page ... "My Garden". The page shows flowers from every month of the year and there is no part of the year where there isn't something going on.

With my trusty new camera I am having great fun taking photo's of the ever changing display of colour in my garden and I will continue to post my latest photo's on my web page. Since my main passion are Fuchsia's and since they are beginning to flower about now, I am really looking forward to snapping lots of Fuchsia photo's over the next few months. I may even make a web page specifically for them especially since my pages about Fuchsia Cuttings and Fuchsia Care seem to be so popular.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

A happy sad event

It was a normal quite day in my office when the telephone rang. I picked it up expecting the usual business caller but it was my wife calling to tell me we had some unusual visitors in our garden - a duck and her babies. At lunchtime, with much enthusiasm, I headed for the car and drove home to have a look for myself. Sure enough, a female Mallard and 14 of the cutest, fuzziest, cuddliest little bundles of fluff you could ever imagine, were wandering around our garden.

My wife had put out the only thing she could think of for them ... a kitchen sink bowl full of water. A short time later we peered through the window and fell into hysterics when we saw the mother sat on the water as if she was queen of her own lake, while all the babies jumped up and down trying to get in. The bowl was only a little bit bigger than the duck herself and she certainly didn't have any manouvering room.

Fortunately I am the proud owner of a builders cement mixing tray. You know the things ... about 4 feet square, 2" deep and made of durable plastic. I put that down on one of our patios and half-filled it with water, so the babies could have a paddle too. Very soon the whole tribe were splashing around and having fun. It may only be an inch of cold tap water to us, but when you're a baby duck it's a big dangerous shark-infested ocean just waiting to be conquered.

Soon after, the family followed Mum across the garden and they all disappeared under a railed fence between me and my neighbour. We were concerned for the ducks because, like many city neighbourhoods, we have more than our fair share of cats coming into our gardens and I have found far too many birds on my lawn with their heads ripped off for me to realise that baby ducks who can't fly are very vulnerable to such threats.

We didn't see the ducks again that day, but the next day Mother Duck returned. Sadly, this time she only had one baby with her. We will never know what happened to the other 13. It is easy to believe they were slaughtered by a rampant cat but they could easily have been plucked into the air by marauding Magpie's who swoop overhead in plenty. Truth is, we will never know.

The day after that, Mother duck visited again ... on her own.

But fortunatley for wildlife, they haven't been given emotions such as grief and misery, and the following day the Mother Duck was accompanied by 2 males, squawking and quacking for her attention. The day after that, there were 4 males, and the next day 5. Isn't it typical that when there were children to tend to, the males were nowhere to be seen, but as soon as the kids are gone, Mum is flirting with every guy on the block.

Though it is sad to think of those 14 ducklings wiped out so quickly, it has been a joy to have been a part of their short existance. Mother Duck and her entourage appear to be daily visitors to us at the moment. I'm sure there's nothing unusual in this if you live in the country, but we live in a city and this is the first time in my 60 years that I've seen Mallards in my garden. It probably won't last long, but it's a thrill to see them and when they stop coming we shall always have the memory of the 14 ducklings splashing about on our patio.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Chestnut - a horse portrait

My forum's Monthly Drawing Project for April is a photograph of a horse. I know nothing about the horse other than I saw it lying down on a bed of straw as I walked near the Grand Union canal one cold and frosty January morning.

I'm quite pleased with my effort to draw him in pencil but I recognise two significant mistakes in the composition. I shouldn't have drawn the whole of his body and I shouldn't have tried to draw the straw he's laying on. The 'project' really calls for us to be loyal to the photograph, and that was therefore my first consideration, but as a portrait, artistic licence would have been better served by drawing his head and shoulders only, I think.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Enjoying Pencil.

For so long as I've been enjoying art (6 or 7 years on and off), I have always had a special leaning towards pencil drawing, but I've avoided trying to do anything too ambitious. I've recently tried a number pieces that have challenged my limited capabilities.

The Duchess of Montrose contains more detail than I have ever attempted before. This engine has fond memories for me because it was one that I had in model form as a boy. It was one of the Hornby 00 range and I had quite a nice set up back in the late 50's, early 60's.

The fist is one I copied from an art book. The outline was not so hard to draw but I did find the shading to be quite challenging. The shading gives the hand solidity and dimension, as well as displaying the veins, and the whole effect is one of a hand being lit from above. It's not exciting as far as drawings go, but it was an interesting exercise nonetheless.

Finally, my jacket. It has a silky quilted lining and I wanted to see if I could convey that silky sheen in a black and white pencil drawing. Though I think others could have done it better, I am not disappointed with the result.

If you are a beginner with pencil or any other drawing or painting medium, you might be interested in visiting my web site. You may also be interested in joining my art forum. It is run for beginners by beginners, so we're all in the same boat and help each other where we can.

What happened to March?

Once upon a time I had this silly notion that I would keep a blog and post to it most days. It sounded like fun and surely couldn't be hard. Duh? Little did I appreciate that there's not always time in a busy day to sit online tapping out useless thoughts in the futile hopes that they may be read by anyone. When I do break away from my day job and household chores long enough to pursue something more pleasurable, my first thoughts turn to my web site. Is everything ok there? Have I been hacked? Have I had many visitors today? Does anything need doing maintenance-wise? Then it's into my forum to catch up on the posts. Read everything that's new, toss out a few comments in reply and check that no 'undesirables' are flooding the place with spam. Pastimes like Photography, Drawing and Painting seem to be harder than ever to make time for, and the blog ... well, it's now April and I'm staggered to see that I last posted in February. Clearly this is one of my pastimes that must be marked 'Must try harder'.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Latest Picture Puzzle

My forum's latest Picture Puzzle (number 4) is a change from previous versions. Previously we've copied an existing painting but this time we've decided to use a photograph. Choosing a suitable subject for this project is not always easy because it's important that every 'square' has something of interest in it. Large expanses of blue sky or green fields can be very boring if all you are given to paint is a blue or green square.
JWJarts Forum - Picture Puzzle Painting ProjectFor this first time with a photo, we are using a picture I took last summer of some of my Fuchsia's. It's not the greatest of photo's as far as photo's go, but it has sufficient detail in all corners to ensure that every artist has something interesting to paint. Not only do the artists enjoy the challenge of painting something, but the fact that they don't know what the overall final picture will look like adds to the interest. They also have much fun guessing who has painted each square. If you're a novice painter, why not join us - JWJarts Art Forum - for beginners by beginners

Come back often and watch as new segments are added to this months Puzzle Picture.

Monday, 28 January 2008


One of the things I love about my garden is the fact that I have something flowering in it every month of the year. It is an easy misconception that gardens are a 'summer' pastime, but nature doesn't stop working just because the season has changed.
From spring bulbs, through summer flowers, and on into autumn and winter. And don't the birds just love the late flowering spikes of the Mahonia in December.

But it all starts in January with the Snowdrops. Small, delicate flowers with the toughness of old boots. I have no idea which specific variety populates my garden, but I suspect it is just a basic common type. (If you know, drop me a line).

I always see small green shoots breaking through the surface of the ground around Xmas time, and by the first week in January buds are well formed. By mid-month, many are opening and by the last week of the month, they are in much abundance. They will last at least until the middle of February, and sometimes even longer.

This is where another of my hobbies comes into its own, as I rush off to fetch my camera to make a permanent record of what these little chaps are up to. I said "as tough as old boots" and I'm not exagerating. They grow pretty much anywhere .... in the shade of a large Apple tree, in a small gap between shrubs, in a rocky crevice and even by forcing their way through a gravel pathway. Even my Gnomes can appreciate the early beauty that Snowdrops bring to the winter garden.