Saturday, 31 December 2011

The best of 2011

As the year draws to a close I find myself reflecting back on my art journey over the course of 2011. There have been those successes I have been very pleased with and proud of, and there have been those that I have not been pleased with but have learned a lot from. That's one of the nice things with art ... even when we mess up we learn something, so it's a win-win situation most of the time.

Reflecting on my highlights I have pulled out a few pictures I'd like to share with you again. Firstly, the one and only painting I've sold in exhibition ... "The Steelworker". I got into a real mess with this one because I cleverly decided to try candle wax to create the water on the furnace floor. It was a huge mistake so I tried to overpaint it. That's not easy with watercolour. Anyway, long story short, I wrestled with the wax and created mud on top of mud on top of mud. I became as close as I've ever come to not finishing a painting, but in the end I got there.

2011 was also the year I attempted my first ever portrait. This graphite drawing of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow was a major "dip the toe in the water" exercise. I didn't have proper blenders or tortillons and didn't really appreciate how they would be used, so I managed with some tightly rolled up kitchen paper. It was a learning curve of huge proportions.

This 'discovery' of being able to do realistic drawings in graphite led me on to trying various other subjects and one of my favourites of those is this Leopard, which I stupidly thought was a Cheetah. Duh! Still, whatever it was didn't detract from the enjoyment of gradually watching him come together, spot by spot.

I have always enjoyed drawing with Pen but haven't done any for a long while and these pencil drawings led me back to pen work, but at a new level. I experimented with cross hatching which I'd never tried before and confess to having a long way to go before I'm pleased with what I'm doing, but this drawing of Robin Hoods Bay didn't disappoint me.

But I felt that all of this very tight work was having a negative effect on my watercolouring (if that's possible - lol). So I tried my hand at sketching. I find it difficult to just 'let go' and let whatever happens, happen. But the more loose, free and easy, hurried sketching I did with my pens, the more I felt at one with the paper. Pen sketching and loose watercolours all came together for me in this very simple painting of the river at Staithes. A totally alien style for me, but one which I thoroughly enjoyed.

One of my 2011 highlights was to receive a request from a young couple who are getting married in April at Edinburgh Castle. They wanted to know if they could use my pen sketch on their Wedding Invitations. It is small moments like this that make you feel your work is appreciated for what it is, and that's important for us all.

I can sum up 2011 for me by saying it has been a milestone year. I conquered personal fears by stepping out and sketching in public and I've tried several different techniques and media. I have had the disappointments that have taught me lessons and the successes that have helped my confidence. Most of all, I have enjoyed sharing my journey with all of you, just as I have enjoyed following your own journey's. You are all an inspiration to me.

My goals for 2012? To consolidate on what I've accomplished in 2011 by trying to bring my new found confidence into my watercolour painting, to improve further with my graphite and pen work, and to try some serious work with Charcoal and Pastels. Most of all I intend to get out and about with my sketch book culminating in some watercolour painting en plein air. That is an ultimate goal.

Thank you for your support during 2011 and I wish you all the very best for 2012.
Happy New Year!!!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Oh no, Not again!!!

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

Candles were flickering, the light it was dim
The log fire was burning, the weather was grim
Outside it was fierce, with the snow and the ice
But inside was warm, cosy and nice.

When suddenly there came such a rattling clatter
Everyone startled … what was the matter?
Could it be reindeer on the pavements outside?
“He’s here, he’s here” the children all cried

But looking out through the cold frosted glass
T’was no sign of reindeer on pavement or grass
Yet the noise it continued it’s rat-a-tap-tapping
It wasn’t a hammer nor people clap-clapping

The mystery grew deeper, it wasn’t a car
Nor herds of horses, nor sheep going “Baah”
It was more like a woodpecker pecking a log
“Oh no, not again!!”,  it’s John on his blog.

  .... typing a sincerely, heartfelt THANK YOU to all my blog followers for the wonderful support and encouragement you've given me over the past year. You've helped me try new media and new techniques but most of all you've helped me see my own work through your eyes. My confidence has grown hugely during the last 12-months and that is largely down to you. 

Merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and healthy New Year to you all.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Some basic Maths

I'm absolutely delighted to have been presented with The Versatile Blogger award by fellow bloggers Sandra, Renske and Michael. It is a requirement of the award that I pass it on to 15 other bloggers and that I also state 7 facts about myself. I'm going to do that last part, but not the first.

Think about this award for a moment and do some basic maths. One person nominates 15 blogs. Each of them nominates 15 more. so that makes 225. Each of those 225 nominate 15 more, so that is 3375. And each of them nominates 15, which makes 50,625. I've traced the award back over at least 6 levels, and if every recipient nominated 15 more blogs, then my award is just one of 11,390,625. You can see where this is heading .... the next round will generate in excess of 170 million awards. Also, to be quite honest, I would struggle to nominate 15 blogs that I follow that aren't already recipients.

I'm sure that this sounds as if I'm very ungrateful to have received the award, but nothing could be further from the truth. For me, the true award is being considered worthy to receive it by my peers. I don't need a fancy logo with a title ... just to be named in Sandra, Renske and Michael's lists is prize enough. Thank you all.

As to 7 facts about myself .....

1.  Well into my 60's now, I am working part time and about to retire fully very soon.
2.  I am a keen amateur photographer and I would have a photography blog if I had time for another.
3.  My favourite saying is "Don't let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you will become".
4.  I am very shy and introvert which prevents me sketching/painting en plein air - but that is something I am determined to rectify in the new year.
5.  I hate the way other people's cats come into my garden to use it as their own personal toilet and kill the wild birds that I've encouraged down.
6.  I would love to spend Xmas in a log cabin in the mountains, snowed in with ample provisions and a roaring log fire.
7.  I'm an expert at taking some nice fresh watercolour pigments and turning them into mud.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


Though some of my blogger friends are very confident about their art and themselves as artists, I know that there are many, me included, who are less confident. I also see a serious lack of confidence in the beginners and less experienced artists who join my art forum. Sometimes I try and find some words of wisdom that might help them be more confident in their work and I am continually trying to find ways of boosting my own confidence levels. (Yeh, I know ... I should practice what I preach).

One thing that has driven itself home to me recently is that you, my blogger friends, always seem to like my work much more than I do, and I have been giving this a great deal of thought. I've concluded that this is simply because you don't know what I was trying to achieve - what mood I'd wanted to create; what small detail isn't as accurate as I'd have liked; what colour has dried darker than I'd intended; what 'rescues' I performed during the painting process; etc, etc. You look at my work and see it as you find it, with no preconceived notions or expectations. I look at my work and compare it pixel by pixel (figuratively speaking) to the image that I held in my minds eye before I reached for my brushes. It seldom measures up.

So I now offer a new definition of the word 'confidence' ....

Confidence: the ability to see your work as others see it.

Changing the subject completely, which I can do because it's my blog, a while ago I decided to make my own Xmas cards this year. I even said so here on my blog ... like an idiot!!!

 I thought about it all through September and most of October and actually made a start around the end of October just before the auditors arrived. Remember them?

Anyway, during the time of the audit I was distracted from really important matters, like art, and my Christmas cards got put on the back burner ... again. So yet again this year, I rush headlong into the festive season with a long list of uncompleted good intentions.

As you know, I've been developing a growing passion for pen work and, just as an experiment, I wanted to see how effectively I could sketch a snow scene using black ink on white paper. I had just finished a watercolour of a 'made up' scene for a possible Xmas card, so tried it again in pen. Both are posted here. Initially I wasn't at all pleased with either version but coming back to them many weeks later I am seeing them through fresh eyes. I'm much happier with both of them but I have to say I was really very pleased with the pen version. I refer to my comments above about 'confidence'.

I'd like to offer both as cyber Christmas Cards to all my blogger friends, old and new. Throughout my blogging experience you've been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement and not once have you said "John, that's crap!!!"  I wish you the most wonderful Christmas ever and I hope good old Santa brings you plenty by way of new Art supplies.
Merry Christmas.

Friday, 2 December 2011

A lucky shot

As some of you know, aside from my art I also enjoy photography. When I was holiday in Yorkshire in October, I spent some time in Whitby and went 'walk-about' to get some photo's. Having conquered the 199 Steps I headed out along the harbour wall. As I strolled along taking the occasional shot of a passing Seagull  and considering the best viewpoint for a shot of the lighthouse, I suddenly became aware of the sound of an engine.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw this Jet-Skier travelling at a fair rate of knots. There was no time to think about the best settings for my camera, I just swung round and took the shot. Given the speed of the Jet Ski, and the instant in which everything happened, I felt sure the picture would be rubbish, When I looked at it later I was thrilled to find that my shot was actually quite good. A few weeks ago I did a small drawing of a surfer and enjoyed trying to create the spray of the breaking waves. This picture appealed for the same reason.

This is the first drawing I've done with some new leads I bought for my mechanical pencils. The lead is by Pentel and is called Ain Stein. It is made using a new process which Pentel claim makes the lead stronger and blacker than ever before. I have 2B leads in sizes 0.5 and 0.7mm and can report they were a joy to work with. Highly recommendable.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


I'm right in the middle of my annual audit and am not at all happy. The source of my frustration is nothing to do with my books, records or accounts, but the attitude the auditors have towards trees!!! I have a company wide network of PC's and on it I run professional accounting software. I do all of my work using it, and often extract data into spreadsheets for further analysis. At home I have a business grade PC with a remote link to my office network. So whether I'm working in the office or at home, everything I do is computerised - so yeh, I have square eyes. lol.

The auditors arrived Monday morning, each with their own laptop slung sexily over their shoulder. They make themselves comfortable in the Board Room and set up their laptops. It's at this point that I would dearly love to hand over a memory stick containing the accounts together with all of the working papers, spreadsheets and schedules. I have it all ready for them .... but no, they want it all printing out for their file.

But that's only the beginning. One at a time (there are 3 of them) they come to speak with me about whatever part of the business they are looking into at the time. They pull a chair up to my desk, open their laptop and peer accusingly over the top of the screen as they fire at me their questions, furiously typing my answers into their machines. Cool, so they're not totally unappreciative of the need to embrace modern technology .... are they? Yes, they are!!! Once they have completed the 'interrogation' the report will be printed off for their file. On one occassion, during 'questioning' I pulled up a report on my screen to show them a transaction they were interested in. "Ooh good, can I have a print of that then?", he asked excitedly. "Yes ... just that page" I replied, pretending I wanted to be helpful. "No .... the whole report". "Whaaat???" I exclaimed "but it's 63 pages and you're only interested in one item on page 57". "Sorry, but I have to have the whole report so the item can be seen in context". How #$@%$*@ ridiculous is that?

Sadly, that is the way it has been going all week. I protest and even greet them sarcastically with "Take a seat - have you come to cut down another tree?" .... "What do you do in your spare time - Oragami?". I even tried reducing paper usage by reducing the font size (too small to make notes against) and duplex printing to use both sides of the paper (not convenient for their files). I will be having a moan (which is something I'm rather good at) to the senior partners of the firm just for my own satisfaction.

And talking of computers, as if the audit isn't enough, my laptop decided to die on me a few days ago. Suddenly, inexplicably, it went off and can not be made to come back on. Though annoyed, I wasn't too upset because I am fairly disciplined with back up's and know there is nothing important on the disk that I haven't got somewhere else. I also knew the machine is only 3-years old and I took out an Extended Warranty when I bought it. However, the bad news is that the extended warranty expired in October, just a few weeks ago. I don't often swear but the air turned blue when I discovered that.

So as I approach the remaining days of the tree-hungry audit, witnessing a team of professionals spread their carbon footprint far and wide, I drop my broken laptop into the bin. It's not the greatest of weeks so far but I'm looking on the bright side ...... it will soon be the weekend and then I'll be able to do some painting. Hey-ho!!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A tight fight!

My natural style is best described as 'tight' and the long-term followers amongst you may remember that from time to time I try to do something to help me loosen up. I will try quick ink and wash sketches and sketches against the clock, for example.

Eilean Donan Castle
This Sepia Ink pen and wash sketch is a very good example of one problem I struggle to deal with. Many of my verticals lean to the right. Now it happens that my natural handwriting also leans to the right, very much so. I have always written in an 'italic' style with a very pronounced lean. When I am sketching with gay abandon (as gay and abandoned as I ever get), that sloping tendency shows through into my drawing. I know I can do something about it when I try to, but by concentrating on getting the verticals upright, my work becomes tight(er) again. I guess I just need more practice ... either that or a block under one side of my chair. LOL.

So, have you noticed the "Making art fun" picture in the top right corner. It's just a little thing we do in my forum and I'm really pleased I managed to figure out how to have it automatically updating here. My 'square' is the second from the right on the top row.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Raising the bar

For my recent birthday I put together a list of arty-bits that I wanted, as we do. What I didn't receive as direct gifts I purchased myself using money given to me for just that purpose. Electric Eraser, electric Pencil Sharpener, pads of paper, Fountain pen, ink, Pencil Wrap, and mixing palette.

The pièce de résistance was a book by Lee Hammond on drawing realistic portraits. Her work is outstanding and, as pleased as I am with my own drawing, there is no doubt in my mind that I can do better. I'm hoping Lee's book will help me with that.

Though I haven't had time to read the book in detail yet, I have read some parts and am bursting with enthusiasm to try out a few things. I've always been too impatient to work steadily through the practice stages of anything, so I dived in and had-a-go at this eye. It hasn't turned out too badly and I'm quite pleased overall, but I notice how uneven the blending is compared to what I can see in the book.

So yesterday evening I sat down to concentrate on nothing more than blending. I've come to the conclusion that there are no short cuts to a good result. Pencil on, blend, pencil on, blend, more pencil, blend ... layer after layer ... gradually building a smooth and even graduation. This simple sketch took me over an hour. The original looks better than this scanned version and I'm very pleased with the result, but I still have a long way to go. Still, I know I can raise my game when it comes to pencil work, so I've move my personal bar up a notch. Watch this space!!!

The final gift, which I bought with birthday money, arrived in the post yesterday. My first ever Moleskine Sketchbook. It looks great and I can't wait to take it for a spin. One thing I didn't get for my birthday which would have been the best gift ever .... more hours in the day. LOL.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Perfect remedy

I'm told it happens to us all, but just lately I've been feeling quite low about my art, especially my painting. On top of that, my watercolours aren't coming out too well as I seem to make mud with every brush stroke and a busy period at work is leaving me too mentally drained to want to concentrate on a detailed pen or pencil drawing. I feel myself getting more and more discontent ....

.... so I had some fun!!!

Hat Shop - Robin Hoods Bay
I knocked out a quick pen sketch of this fabulous little Ladies Hat & Bag shop in Robin Hood Bay (I was quite fascinated by the way the window had been shaped to fit in between the two flights of stone steps). After sketching I applied a watery ink wash. This is the first time I've tried washing with ink and it didn't behave quite as I'd expected, although I'm not quite sure what I expected. lol. I found quite small changes to the ink/water ratio made quite noticeable changes to the tone of the wash, hence the darker-than-I wanted steps. Though I hope to do better next time, I really like the effect and will be doing a lot more of these. I've also decided I must get some Sepia ink ... that could be even more fun.

Boats at Staithes
After that I remembered some advice I'd been given about sketching against the clock to help loosen up, so I decided to have a go at that. I allowed myself no more than 2-minutes for the sketch and 8-minutes to apply the paint. I was amazed how quickly the clock ticked as there was barely no time to think about what colours to use. Compared to my usual 'tight' style, this was definitely a case of splashing it about!!. The subject is the small tidal estuary at Staithes in Yorkshire.

These may not be great art but they've certainly put the spring back in my step. Ah, that's better.  ;-)

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fisherman's Cottage

During my recent visit to Robin Hoods Bay I went down into the village itself. Built on the cliffs it was a steep walk down ... and a steeper one back up. It is an artists paradise with a picture lurking around every bend. The narrow high street is of motorway proportions when compared to the narrow alleyways that comprise most of the 'streets' in Robin Hoods Bay. As I ambled along narrow paths that led up and down steps, I was enthralled at the way one persons garden would sit adjacent their neighbours roof and the shapes of some of the cottages is amazing as they were obviously built to fit into the small spaces available. Front doors reached by a flight of well worn stone steps was a common feature. This one was fairly well weathered and close to dilapidation with the black painted woodwork and steps showing the signs of times long gone.

At the time I took the photograph I was thinking this would make a nice watercolour but I have to confess that I'm not doing so well with my painting right now. I keep making mud and struggle to make the paint go where I want it to. At times like this I get frustrated with my art, and I never like to feel that way. Fortunately, I enjoy using pens and pencils so decided to try this one in pen. I'm glad I did because I think the subject lends itself very nicely to the medium .... and I thoroughly enjoyed every second.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


When on holiday last week I took a sequence of photo's of a guy 'riding a wave' on his surf board. Looking through my photo's a short while ago, I was looking at the spray being thrown up from the top of the breaking wave by the wind. I couldn't help but wonder how you'd go about drawing something like that, as you do ... so I just had to have a go. This is only a small sketch (6" x 4") but it served the purpose.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Back from holiday

Scarborough - South Bay
First of all, I must apologise to all you bloggers I follow regularly for not keeping up with your posts. I have been away on holiday and although I had some limited internet capability with me, there was not enough online time to get round the blogs. Anyway, I'm back now and I'll be catching up just as quickly as I can.

It had been my intention to do lots of drawing and painting especially to push myself to do some more plein aire work. Regrettably, it was so damp and windy that sitting outside for any length of time was not enjoyable. However, needs must, and although I didn't do any plein aire painting, I did manage a few quick sketches. The one of Scarborough was sketched looking through the rain splattered windscreen of my car as we sat on the harbour wall beside the Fishery.

I spent the week near Robin Hoods Bay on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. As a 'towney' wanting to appreciate the countryside, I decided to stay on a working farm for the week would be a relaxing experience. That said, there were no animals and I don't know what the buildings and machinery were all about but it looked more like a factory than a farm.

One of the things I'd looked forward to was a trip on the old steam railway. When the day came, it was a disaster. Having parked the car I went to buy the tickets and was very disappointed to be told that the steam engine had broken down so the train was being pulled by a Diesel. That's just NOT the same. Still, I couldn't do the trip on another day so decided to do the trip regardless. After a short wait we were finally in the carriage and pulling out of the station.

I was looking forward to seeing the best of the moors from the train and had my camera ready but the worsening rain and reducing visibility were making photo's less likely. Suddenly the train screeched to a halt and the guard ran through the carriage looking most concerned. Long story short, the engine had broken down in the middle of nowhere and we had to wait over an hour for another engine to come and tow us on to the next station. That was actually good news as I was already having visions of us all walking along the railway track to the nearest station. Thankfully I had my sketchpad with me and used the time to attempt a drawing of my camera. Eventually we were pulled to a station where we were told no more trains would be running and a bus would take us back to where we started. Cold, damp and disappointed we arrived back at our starting point several hours later.

Robin Hoods Bay
The highlight of the week was a visit to Robin Hoods Bay itself. The village is built into the cliff face and is a maze of narrow winding alleyway's between the quaint old smugglers cottages. It was fascinating to see how one persons roof was on the same level as another persons garden. An artists paradise as every step I took revealed an ancient doorway, steps worn by centuries of use, crooked windows and cottages built to abnormal shapes in order to fit them in, like 3-dimensional jigsaw pieces. Had I been on my own I would have loved to have sat and sketched all day long but as it was I contented myself with taking scores of photo's. I didn't manage to get as much drawing done as I'd hoped during the week but I have enough reference material to last me a very long time. Can't wait to get started. ;-)

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Good for the soul

Some times, for no particular reason, we just can't summon the enthusiasm to paint or draw. We've all experienced it. Some call it 'artists block' and others just that they aren't in the mood. Some times lifes little problems come along and knock us off track. Some of us are more resilient than others but we all have a point beyond which the pursuit of our art seems trivial and unimportant by comparison. This is where I am right now.

However, fearful that my 'mood' would only deepen the longer I allowed it to, I made the decision to spend a short while doing something arty even though my heart and mind just wasn't in it. Not wanting to think a great deal, nor get involved with setting up my stuff or looking for something to paint, I opted for the simplest, quickest solution and the medium I am most comfortable with. I picked up my sketchbook and a water soluble pen and took down from the wall a Wildlife calendar that had been sent to me last Xmas by my good friend Ingrid (Ochil Art). I sketched what I saw before me without any thought as to whether I would apply water later or just abandon it when I'd had enough. As I forced my pen to sketch shapes on the paper I felt more at ease with what I was doing and I started to get more absorbed by the art rather than other things.

The end result is far from a masterpiece (classic understatement) and some of the dark areas are too dark because I didn't give enough thought to how much ink to lay down to give me the right tone, but none of that matters. A little over an hour after I'd started, I put my pen down feeling more satisfied and relaxed than I had for many days ... and keener than ever to pick it up again.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

More than just a Planter

I'm very fortunate to still have both of my parents. They are getting on in years now - mum is 86 and dad is 93. They still look after themselves very well and only need me to drop in on them a couple of times a week. They celebrated their 65th Wedding Anniversary yesterday and I arranged another card from the Queen, which made them very happy.

My Dad has always enjoyed woodwork. He doesn't do the proper stuff ... joints, mortice and tenons, etc ... and tends to 'knock' things together with a hammer and nails. But his leaky shed at the bottom of his garden is his sanctuary and he spends hours and hours knocking out bird tables and nesting boxes. A while ago he was saying he wished he could do something else, but didn't know what.

I was pruning a tree shortly after and had an idea. I took him some branches of varying thicknesses and asked him to make me a Planter that I could put a few of my fuchsia's into. He looked puzzled but said he'd give it some thought. A week later, this is what he presented me with. It is about 18" long and 5" wide, and the 'coal tender' behind the 'drivers cab' is the perfect size for a plant pot. It has sat proudly on my patio since that day. It is looking weathered now, which adds to it's character, and many of the twigs are losing their bark. But it is a treasured possession and will always be so much more than just a Planter.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is one place I've always wanted to visit. It is too far North for me to do it in a day trip so I need to take advantage of being in that area. Despite a holiday many years ago in the North Yorkshire Moors and another some time later in the Durham region, both within and hour or two of the Island, I haven't managed to get there. The nearest I managed was in 2007 as we were travelling back from a weeks holiday in Scotland. We passed within 20-30 minutes of Lindisfarne, but there wasn't enough time to make a worthwhile detour. So the island remains one of those places I just long to visit.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne Castle sits on top of a volcanic mound known as Beblowe Craig. The castle was built in the 1550's following the dissolution of the monastries by Henry VIII, in defence of the realm against attack by Scotland and in pursuit of their Spanish allies. The island is reached via a tidal causeway that is completely submerged when the tide comes in. I think the boyish sense of adventure of being in the castle when the tide comes in, totally cut off from the mainland, is one of the attractions for me.

Ingrid provided a photograph of the castle for my Art Forum's latest Painting Project, and this is my effort. It's been a while since I last had time for a painting and I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Another sketch.

As is so often the case, yet again I have found myself without time for any serious drawing or painting. I am not one of those loose painters who can quickly splash some paint onto the paper and create a masterpiece. I so envy artists who can do that. To produce anything even half decent I have to mark out some pencil guidelines first, and then the painting itself takes me ages. And when I am drawing, everything takes so long, especially if it's a tricky subject and I decide to do a grid. I know from the feedback I get in my art forum that I am not alone.

Lindisfarne - Water Soluble Pen - A5
Rather than not do any drawing when time is short, I am pushing myself to sketch. A sketch can be very quick and doesn't require the fiddly precision of a proper drawing. In addition, there is nothing better for building confidence than going straight onto the paper with a pen. When sketching with pencil I can't help but reach for the eraser when I make the smallest slip, yet when working with pen, that is not an option.

A sketch doesn't have to be 'good' to be a worthwhile exercise. Take this sketch of Lindisfarne (Holy Island). Although not a great picture it was superb practice at interpreting perspectives, judging proportions and recording the shapes of the buildings. The pen required a confident approach and by using water soluble ink and a wet brush, it also forced me to study the tones in the scene. The picture took just a little over 15 minutes to do and, best of all, it was FUN!!!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bloody cats!!!

I arrived home from work this evening to see the tell tale signs of a problem I detest. There were a number of feathers strewn across my front lawn. After I'd parked the car and dropped my briefcase into the hall, I went for a look round. Sure enough, I found what I'd expected ... a headless, well mutilated body of a pigeon.

Some of you may remember that a couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to witness the activities of a pair of pigeons from their courtship, through their intimate moments, nest building, egg hatching and finally first flights of the fledglings. The pigeons always hang out on pairs and I was acutely aware of this pigeons mate standing forlornly in the middle of our drive looking lost. As I cleared up the remains, the lone pigeon sat quietly on a nearby fence ... still ... watching. What was going through it's mind?

I know what was going through my mind!!! If I knew which of my neighbours had allowed their cat to exercise it's natural instincts in my garden, I would have taken the mutilated corpse back to the neighbour and told them to shove it where the sun doesn't shine!!!

My apologies to any of my followers who are cat owners, but I am seething right now. So much so that when I sat down a few hours later to pickup my sketch pad and pen, there was only one thing on my mind.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Fuchsia - coloured

Fuchsia "Blackie"
I stood the ink drawing of the Fuchsia (see previous post) on my shelf where I could see it as I came and went into my 'study'. I always do this as it helps me to see them through the eyes of others after a while.

Anyway, the starkness of this sketch has been screaming at me to add some colour. In the end I gave in and washed in a weak Cadmium Red on the Sepals, and a weak Purple Lake to the corolla (petals).

In truth, the sepals should be much more vivid and the corolla ought to be very dark, almost black. Even so, I like this much better and have decided to do a proper painting of this flower when I can.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


Fuchsia "Blackie"

I just haven't been able to do any drawing or painting lately and just had to do something. You know what it's like ... that itch just has to be scratched, no matter what.

With very little time I decided a quick pen sketch was the order of the day. Besides, I like the challenge of going straight onto the paper with ink. It is unforgiving and is a great confidence builder. As my regular followers will know, I'm rather partial to using non-permanent ink and a wet brush.

Normally I would choose a hard landscape to sketch with pen, but I thought it would be interesting to try something softer this time. I'm a very keen Fuchsia grower with several scores of different varieties. The delicate frills of this "Blackie" (really a very deep dark purple) was just what I was looking for.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Lost my virginity ...

... or in other words, I've finally had my first plein air experience.

I promised myself that the next opportunity I had, I would try and be courageous and attempt something plein air. I have been inspired entirely by my blogger friends. I have long been a fan of Keith Tilley and thoroughly enjoy his exploits into the wild and rugged Scottish hinterland where he lives. The first urges to try it myself came from Sandra Busby's account of her day with Sue Pownall and I can imagine how wonderful that must have been. More recently, Michael Bailey's quick sketches have inspired me to finally make the effort. There are others whose blogs have contributed to the many small 'kicks' that have ultimately led to me losing my virginity.

Sketch 1 - Beach Gardens
My wife and I have just spent a couple of days on the east coast and the opportunity to embarrass myself in front of scores of strangers finally presented itself. Before I say any more I must say that ALL of the sketches I produced are poor. They were very hastily and nervously scratched out but for me the pleasure, satisfaction and sense of achievement comes NOT from the quality of the sketches, but from the challenge of drawing in public and the barriers I succeeded in breaking down. I am not a confident person and I have a low opinion of my art, so to attempt something in public was a double challenge.

Sketch 2 - Southwold Pier
While doing the first sketch of the Beach Garden at our holiday resort, two ladies who had been sitting nearby, passed behind me and one of them said "Wow, did you just draw that?". We exchanged a few brief pleasantries and they went on their way. Though they couldn't see much since I was using a small A5 pad, it was nice of them to comment and made my first experience a pleasant one.

The second sketch was done sitting on a cliff top bench high above Southwold pier. The bench was on the public pathway and scores of people were passing by. None of them spoke and I kept my head down, but I was aware of the passing eyes.

Sketch 3 - Beach Gardens
The third effort was a more serious attempt at producing a worthwhile picture, though it had to be done standing up, which I found particularly difficult. Again I used pen but this time on an A4 pad. I had my watercolour pencils with me so I was able to add some colour which I then touched up with my Aquabrushes.

My final effort was a very quick doodle of the view in front of me as we stopped beside a lake for a quick snack.

Sketch 4 - Lakeside picnic
As I've previously stated, I'm under no illusion as to how poor these are from an art perspective, but this exercise was never about the art. Whether or not I ever reach the stage of attempting a proper watercolour painting plein air remains to be seen, but I will certainly be making a bigger effort to carry a pen and sketch pad with me when I go out and about. To all my blogger friends who have inspired me, thank you. ;-)

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The church with the door

All Saints Church, Earls Barton, Northampton
Well here is the finished version with the washes added. In reality the area to the left of the church is a combination of dark trees, brick walls and rooftops. It looks very unattractive. This is where my 'need' to put in every detail as best I can often lets me down. On this occasion I've made up an alternative view in order to make a better 'painting'. I had considered not including anything there at all but then realised I needed somewhere for the sky to stop.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The church with the door

All Saints, Earls Barton, Northampton
I recently posted a painting of a door situated halfway up the side of a church tower and doing the painting caused me to think it would be nice to paint the whole church. On this occasion I fancied doing a Pen & Wash and I decided I'd like the pen work to be complete enough for the drawing to stand in it's own right, before the addition of colour. I think I've accomplished that, though I do keep getting the urge to add another pen mark here and there. One of the things I can't really capture properly are the different architectures. The lower section of the church is made of stone blocks, the upper section of bricks, and the tower itself is rendered. Hopefully the different colours will help in the final painting.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Old Lime Kiln

From time to time I have looked at a picture drawn in pen using the cross-hatching technique and thought it's one of those things I'd like to have a go at. For some reason, it is one of those things I never seem to have a go at. However, I recently visited Sue Pownall's blog and saw her drawings of the ruins. Yet again I was inspired to have a go myself and guess what .... this time I DID!!! Yaay!!

Old Lime Kiln in Yorkshire
Some time ago I did both a watercolour and acrylic painting of an old Lime Kiln I'd discovered in Yorkshire. It was the perfect subject for my first hatching experience. It is extremely similar to Sue's Ruin III, and I hope Sue doesn't mind the extent to which I am copying her. I do so through respect and appreciate of her skill.

It was a very interesting exercise and I learned a lot. There are certainly things I would do differently the next time I try this style of drawing but I thoroughly enjoyed the process and I will definitely be doing more of these.

Friday, 15 July 2011


Considering my next drawing/painting I reflected on how much I enjoyed drawing the Leopard with all of his unique markings and tried to think of another animal whose markings made it unique. There are several, but rummaging through some of my old photo's for inspiration I found this chappy.

Some years ago my family and I were driving slowly around the Woburn Safari Park here in the UK when a small herd of Zebra strolled aimlessly in front of us. It was a great photo opportunity. Zebra's are very social animals spending all their time in herds and they live in small family groups much as we do. Each animal's stripes are as distinctive as fingerprints, and no two zebra's are exactly alike. I'd like to think even this one's own mother would recognise him. LOL.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Door without purpose.

In the nearby village of Earls Barton is a very nice church, and it is the sort of thing I like to take Photo's of. Recently, while looking at some photo's, I noticed what looked like a door halfway up the tower close to the clock. I wondered if it was there to provide access to the clock, but that made no sense. Then I thought that maybe it wasn't a door but a shuttered window of sorts ... but it looks like a door. Intrigued, I made some enquiries and what I discovered is quite interesting.

This church is famous for its mixture of architectures dating back to c970 a.d. Apparently, it started life as nothing more than a keep (tower) and it was used as a place of refuge by local peasants to escape marauding bands of Vikings who sailed down the River Nene. At times of danger, the locals would climb a ladder to the keep and then pull the ladder up behind them. There was a small church close to the tower and many successive modifications to the church eventually brought the two buildings together. At one time, the local priest was known to give his sermons from the doorway to his congregation below. Architecture from every century from the tenth onwards is represented in the fabric of the church.

I understand that the door we can see today is the original door and now I know why it's there it no longer seems so pointless. Any one who likes to look at old buildings, especially churches, should put this one on their 'must see' list.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

My graphite favourites

As some of you will know, as an extension to my art forum I like to give artists the opportunity to Showcase some of their work online. I have just launched a new Showcase and have decided to make use of it myself on this occassion.

Rather than show off a cross section of my work in different mediums (media?), I thought about what pleases ME the most. LOL ... I actually reflected on how some of you displayed you own personal favourites around the New Year and I thought what a great idea that was. Anyway, I reflected on the 3 mediums that I use. Although I enjoy getting messy with watercolour and get a great deal of satisfaction from pen work, I chose my pencil work for this Showcase.

I feel that I have turned a corner recently with this medium and that makes me feel good about my art. Each of the pieces I have displayed are pleasing to me in their own way. I found a massive amount of satisfaction and achievement with my first portrait (Capt. Jack Sparrow) and took forward what I learned from that one into the next one of John Wayne. But of all of them, the picture that I like the best is the Old Shed. I'm not even sure I can say why I like it most, it just touches the spot for me and I get a deep sense of self-satisfaction and contentment (with my art) every time I look at it.

Though it hasn't been that long since some of the pieces were posted on my blog I hope you'll hop over to the Showcase and have a look. And, as always when I'm posting about the showcase, I'll remind you that if YOU would like to showcase some of your work, then please contact me.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Summer is here!

For a while now I've fancied trying my hand at drawing something silver. I like the way black and grey pencil strokes can combine on white paper to make an object look metallic and shiny. But though I've had the notion at the back of my mind for quite some time, I've not come across a suitable object to draw. By suitable I mean, takes my fancy.

Anyway, at the weekend, despite the frequent showers, we decided to have a barbecue and when I fished out all the paraphernalia what did I find but my stainless steel utensils. No, not silver, but the same difference as far as a drawing is concerned. "Ping" .... it was like the proverbial light bulb being switched on.

I was very pleased with the initial drawing of the objects but they didn't stand out from the background enough to 'shine'. Since lights come from darks, I shaded the background and that has worked just fine. This isn't one of my favourite pieces, but it was a great exercise .... and the burgers were good too.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Cotswold Chimney

As I explained in my last post, a couple of years ago I saw this chimney and it appealed greatly as a watercolour subject. Well, I've finally managed to paint it and it's proven to be an anti-climax. I imagine we're all the same with regards to getting satisfaction from our work - some pieces please us, and others we're not so sure about. For me, this is one of the others. I don't know why it is, but I didn't get an inordinate degree of pleasure from doing this one and I'm not very satisfied with the result. Could it be that the enjoyment of doing a piece has a bearing on how satisfying it is? It is quite remarkable to me that I found more satisfaction  from doing the 20-minute pen sketch, than this 3/4 hour painting. Oh well, 'tis done now ... onward and upward. ;-)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Love these quickie's

A couple of years ago I was in Chipping Cambden in the Cotswolds waiting for my wife and friend who had popped into a shop. Looking up I was taken by an interesting chimney stack and roof arrangement and just had to take a photo with a view to painting it one day. I still will, but I just came across it and decided it would be a great exercise with the pen. With the interesting perspective and many angles, to attack it without pencil guidelines was a great confidence booster. Taking just 20 minutes tops, it represents another satisfying 'quickie'.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

First Sale

I'm just back from visiting our local "Art in the Park" exhibition in which I entered my "Steel Worker" painting. Guess what? It has sold!!!
This is a first for me and I have mixed feelings over it. I thought I'd feel hugely excited but I don't. I'm very pleased that someone liked it enough to pay real  money for it but I am going to miss having it hang on my wall. Still, I had a count up and there are 70 paintings in the exhibition, of which only 14 have sold, and I find that very flattering, especially since we are only 2 weeks into a 6 week run. It's a big confidence booster that's for sure. I must make a bigger effort to track down some other exhibitions. ;-)

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Scratching the itch.

I had that desperate urge to throw out a painting but no time to dip my brushes in water. I scratched my itch with a very quick sketch using my favourite medium, non-permanent ink and a wet brush. My 'instrument of choice' is an Aquabrush. Since these contain their own water they are perfect for taking out into the field. I find these quick ink sketches to be excellent exercises ... not only do they help practice our drawing skills but they're great at building confidence. When you're sketching with a pen you have to just go for it!!!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Old Shed

Here's a drawing of an old broken down shed that I've been working on during odd idle moments over the past week or so. I'm estimating it's probably taken me about 5 hours in total. I didn't find the shed itself particularly difficult but it was interesting trying to vary the shading and tones to create a 'weathered' look. But the biggest problem I had with the drawing was the grass/weeds. I didn't know whether to go for the simple sparse, "suggestion of" approach, or whether to attempt a detailed approach. In the end, I attempted detail, got lost, and finished up filling in with generic scribbles. Surprisingly. it's worked quite well but drawing grass is certainly something I'm going to have to look into. Overall I'm very pleased with the result.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


It seems like an age since I last did some drawing or painting, but a few days ago I had the opportunity to tackle a quick picture. Knowing how I get more and more embroiled in detail once I start messing with my pencils, I decided a quick excursion with my brushes would be more in order. I decided to have a go at this view of Glencoe in Scotland.

Discussing the location with my Scottish friend uncovered an interesting issue with the name. I had looked up some things online and found that the village of Glencoe was referred to as Glencoe, but the area of Glencoe was actually referred to as Glen Coe. Well, when I called it Glen Coe I almost got smacked. Thank goodness you can't send 'physical contact' by email. Anyway, I did some more checking and found sites like Wikipedia and organisations like Ordnance Survey using Glen Coe, but others like the Scottish Tourist Board using Glencoe. But as far as I'm concerned, if my friend says it's Glencoe, then it's Glencoe.

The painting is a very long way from being one of my best, or even good, but you know what .... it doesn't matter. I splashed on the paint, and even managed to get some on the paper, and had a thoroughly enjoyable hour or two. Whilst it's always nice to get a good result, the true enjoyment comes from the doing.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Stupid accidents!!!

I haven't been around for the past couple of weeks because my wife had a small accident at home that has literally knocked her off her feet. She tripped and tumbled awkwardly, twisting and straining her knee. She has serious torn ligaments and can only hobble around on crutches. Of course, this means yours truly gets to do all the housework, shopping, laundry, cooking, etc, etc. Even though I only work part time now, I've taken some extra time off work, but there's still no time for art, which is why my blog has stood still since the beginning of the month. After her fall, my wife said "I feel so stupid", to which I replied "aren't all accidents 'stupid'?".

Talking of stupid accidents reminds me of one my father had a couple of years ago. Though we shouldn't laugh at another's misfortune I have to confess to often laughing about this one. It began by my mother (86) getting out of the bath. As she stood up she felt a little dizzy so reached for the door handle to steady herself ... the door handle turned; the door came open; my mother fell backwards and landed in the bath. My father (93) came to the rescue; helped her to bed; and after a short rest she was fine.

You mean like this?
Now for the 'stupid' bit. Some time later, as my mother explained to my father what she'd 'stupidly' done, he couldn't believe that such an accident could have happened, so he said "Right, let's get this right ... you got out of the bath; reached for the door handle like this; and then ...." THUD!!. Yes, the door came open, my father fell back; and he landed in the bath ... quite heavily. He'd hurt his back sufficiently for him not to be able to get out of the bath and according to my mother, throughout his 'rescue' the paramedics were struggling to keep a straight face. When she finally laughed out loud, so did they ... and it took my father 2 weeks in bed and many more weeks discomfort to get over his 'stupid' re-enactment. I don't think he'll ever get over how stupid he felt.

Anyway, my apologies to my fellow bloggers that I'm not visiting your blogs as much as I'd like to. I'm not ignoring them and will catch up just as soon as I can.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011


When I came across the photograph of this big cat, I felt I just had to have a go at drawing it. Thoughout the process I've been thinking of this fine animal as a Cheetah, but I've been looking at other images on the net and am fairly sure this is a Leopard.

I know some of friends will tell me I shouldn't mention my mistakes but my blog, web site and art forum are aimed at beginners who may well find themselves in the same situation one day, so for them here are two things I could have dealt with better.

Firstly, I was working from a colour photo so I converted it to greyscale to help me get the tones correct. A leopards markings involve a brownish-goldy colour and black spots. By converting to grey, I lost the goldy colouring completely. Had I referred back to the colour version from time to time I would have noticed this. The second mistake was leaving the white whiskers until last. I completely forgot all about them and by the time I got to them they would have been difficult to do, so I opted for black whiskers.

I also used hard pencils for the first time. My normal selection is HB, 2B, 4B, 6B and 8B. For this drawing I  used 5H, 2H, HB and 6B. Fewer pencils but a broader range. I had expected the hard pencils to not produce a very black line but was pleasantly surprised.

Different pencils and two serious mistakes ... am I disappointed? No ... I am three more step along this wonderful journey of discovery.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Another portrait

Flushed with the success of my first portrait, and floating in the clouds on the back of the encouraging comments from my blogger friends, I've had a go at another one. John Wayne was my film hero back in my younger days, many lifetimes ago. I know he played many parts during his career but I always think of him as a cowboy.

While I have no intention of giving up on watercolours, I have to recognise how differently I feel when working with pencil. When painting I know I struggle. I find it difficult to make the paint do what I want it to do and although I've produced one or two passable pieces, they have been hard work and I've felt I've stumbled my way through each one. Pencil, on the other hand, feels comfortable to work with and I feel in control at all times. I feel I am at the limits of what I can do with watercolour, but I feel I am only just beginning to understand pencil and can take it a lot further.

What next? I've a long list of subjects I'm just itching to draw, so watch this space.