Wednesday, 29 August 2012


A week ago I sat down to draw a Rose. I wanted to try and get some nice smooth blends so looked for the smoothest paper I have. What a mistake that was! I chose Extra Smooth Surface Bristol Board (250 gsm) thinking it would 'be the business'. I wanted to build up my tones gradually so started light with a hard (5H) pencil. All was well until I started to blend, and then I found the tortillons were leaving unpleasant streaks on the paper rather than giving a smooth graduation of tone. I switched to paper-based stumps but they were just as bad. I persevered, building up tones with more graphite, switching to a softer (H) pencil, and blending, blending, blending. The end result was very disappointing ... and I was disappointed in my own efforts because I've never been a workman who blames his tools.

To try and salvage the drawing, I went over it all again with softer (2B; 4B) pencils and eventually, after a very many hours and much toil, achieved a result that was 'passable'. But it was bothering me that I'd had so much trouble so I just had to try again. I was unsure if the problem was the paper, the pencils, the blenders or me, I didn't want to change everything or I'd never answer the question. I've always felt happy with the pencils, the blenders have always worked before, and I didn't want to change 'me' or I'd have missed the experience, so I looked for a different paper. This time I chose Daler Rowney Heavyweight (220gsm).

Apart from the change of paper, I approached the whole thing as I did first time around ... but what a difference. The tones built up gradually, as planned, and the blending was smooth and delicate. I felt in control again and things were happening the way I wanted them to.

I can only conclude that the Extra Smooth Bristol Board just doesn't have enough tooth for this sort of work ... and if I'm wrong please don't tell me 'cause I'm finally feeling happy again. ;-)

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

A few days ago I went out for a walk and followed a path that cut through a couple of nearby housing estates before eventually leading out into the countryside along the edge of a Wheat field. After about half an hour I found myself on top of a hill with a lovely view of the next village. I set up my stuff and proceeded to paint. I struggled mixing colours and felt as if I was slapping paint around in a haphazard fashion, so much so that after about 40 minutes I gave up. This wasn't what I'd expected after my last, more successful endeavour ... and the church tower looking more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa didn't help in the slightest.

Disappointed in my painting effort but determined to become more proficient painting en plein air I decided to try again. This time I started with a pen on the assumption that the black pen lines would hold the painting together. I found myself moving the pen around quickly and the result was much more sketchy than I'd intended, but I liked it better than the first and so I headed home.

Later in the day, still feeling disappointed that my first effort hadn't turned out as intended, I downloaded to my computer a reference photo I'd taken of the scene, and set up my easel. This time I felt much more in control. I was happier mixing the colours, and was taking greater care with my brush thinking more about lights and darks. I felt that this painting was working and my earlier disappointments soon started to fade.

This is the first time I've painted the same scene both indoors and out and it has proved a valuable lesson. I've learned that I must not expect 'studio' level results when painting in the field, yet I must somehow try and approach a painting outdoors in the same way as I do when I'm at my easel.

The journey continues. ;-)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

More Bridges

The good weather coupled with getting caught up with a few things, has allowed me to get out for another walk and some more plein air sketching. This time I went to some local lakes popular with the local angling community. The walk took me through woodland, along open paths alongside the lakes, past fields of hay so tall it must surely be ready for cropping, and past many families of ducks clearly not impressed at my ambling through their territory.

The walk also took me over some small wooden footbridges. One was made of sawn timbers but was surprisingly ornate in it's construction and looked almost out of place out in the middle of an overgrown woodland track. It had seen better days and many of the floor boards were showing signs of rot and I wonder how long it will be before someone puts their foot through it. I was intrigued by is diagonal design, stepping onto it from the side, and off from the opposite side.

Others bridges were less fussy and were nothing more than a few planks nailed together without any form of hand rail. They looked barely capable of holding a persons weight. It is most concerning because if someone were to fall from the bridge they would find themselves immersed in the fast flowing stream right up to their ankles. But I shouldn't joke. This one in particular crossed a stream that could easily have been stepped over, but the ramp up to it tells me it is there to make the area wheelchair-friendly and hats off to the land owners for making the lakes accessible to all.

I decided to set up under the shade of some trees looking up the hill towards Castle Ashby Manor and it's church. The manor is a typical 16th century manor house and was seat to the Marquess of Northampton.

From a technical point of view, I really struggle sketching while standing. Both bridges were done this way. I could have set up my stool but I wanted to try again while standing as it's definitely something I'm going to have to work at. I found the painting easier than last time. Not that I did any better but I felt a little more at ease and a little more in control of what I was doing. I do find it hard to concentrate on colour mixing and tonal values while out 'in the field', but I had a general feeling of 'doing better'. While sketching the ornate bridge a couple appeared out of the woods and made their way across the bridge. I stood my ground and carried on sketching ... and that is progress indeed.

Can't wait for my next walk.  :-)

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Robin Hoods Bay

Last year, when on holiday in Yorkshire, we were based just a couple of miles from Robin Hoods Bay, which is a quaint little fishing village built into the side of the cliffs. The first record of the village was in the 16th century and there is no evidence whatsoever to link the village with Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest. In the 18th century it was reportedly the busiest smuggling village on the coast of Yorkshire due to it's natural isolation. Wandering through the narrow alleys between the cottages conjured up a great sense of smugglers and hidden contraband. By the middle of the 19th century a thriving fishing industry existed.

King Street, Robin Hood's Bay - Graphite
We had to leave the car at the top of the cliffs and walk down the steep hill into the village.  I wandered through the narrow alleyways between the buildings, firing my camera almost continuously ... every turn revealed a new photo opportunity. One such alleyway brought me out at the top of King Street, just up from "Ye Dolphin" Inn. I couldn't figure out why the Inn sign had a painting of a galleon on it, rather than a Dolphin and I guess that will remain one of life's mysteries.

I chose Winsor & Newton Medium Surface Cartridge paper (130 gsm) because it has a strong grain when used with graphite and I thought that would help with the textures of the old buildings. It made it harder to get clean, sharp lines, but the tooth in the paper made the darks easier to achieve. I'm quite pleased with the effect as I think it really adds to the Olde Worlde scene.

Obviously I used artistic licence to omit various 21st century eye-sores such as Wheelie Bins, Television Aerials, roof lights and telephone cables. But one way in which 21st century did help was with one of the buildings which was badly obscured on my reference photo by a large "For Sale" sign. I was delighted to be able to use Google Street View to see what was there. lol.