Thursday, 13 November 2014

Paynes Grey

A long time ago, an extremely accomplished artist I know told me not to use Paynes Grey but to make my greys using other colours, especially if needing it for shadow work. As time went on I found I was seeing this advice more and more but I couldn't stop using Payne's Grey as I found it such a useful addition to my palette.

One day I discovered the work of James Fletcher-Watson and just had to buy one of his books. With interest I read about his usual palette and was thrilled to find that it always included Paynes Grey. From that point on I stopped worrying about having it in my palette on the basis that if it was good enough for James Fletcher-Watson then it was more than good enough for me.

A couple of months ago, while catching up with my old issues of "Paint" I was taken by an article in the March 2013 edition by artist Alan Goodall. The article is actually about the All Weather Wonderpad, but my interest was more with his subject and technique. His featured painting was a Pen & Wash but he only used one colour ... Paynes Grey. His washes were built up by adding multiple layers of varying strengths and I felt compelled to attempt this myself.

So here is my version of the scene at Watendlath in the Lake District. This was a really useful tonal exercise and I thoroughly enjoyed building up the values layer by layer. I don't know whether it's my love of pencil work that makes me biased towards graphite shades but I'm really pleased with the way this grey monochrome painting has turned out. And yes, Paynes Grey will always have a place in my palette. ;-)

Friday, 24 October 2014

Forth Rail Bridge

I've often thought of drawing the Forth Rail Bridge but never seemed to get round to it. When I saw a photograph taken by my good friend Ingrid Ormestad on a misty, murky day I was intrigued at the way the bridge gradually faded away into the distance and appreciated the challenge in trying to capture that with pencil. This was drawn on Smooth Bristol Board. I know a lot of artists swear by it but I wasn't that impressed. I prefer more of a tooth but I felt the smooth surface was essential given the amount of detail. I think I need to try a few other smooth-surface papers.

I actually finished this drawing about three weeks ago but, just at that time, my 96-year old father became poorly. A week later, on October 12th, he passed away. Apart from the last couple of years as Alzheimers slowly started to take him from us, he has had a good life, being married to my mother for 68-years.

Now that my easel is empty and things are slowly returning back to normal, whatever that is, I'm thinking that my next serious drawing should be a portrait of Dad. Watch this space!!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Pen and wash ... again

I read recently that the best paper for Pen & Wash is Hot pressed, because of it's smoothness. I don't have any Hot pressed, but I was reliably informed that Bristol Board makes a good substitute, and that I do have. So I decided to do a painting on Bristol Board and chose this scene of Crail Harbour from a photograph taken by my good friend Ingrid Ormestad. I found it very interesting how the water stayed on the surface and was slow to soak into the paper, and I was able to draw much darker tones out of the ink than I usually do.

By way of comparison I then did this scene of New Road, Robin Hoods Bay using regular Cold pressed NOT. The darkest tones were harder to produce, but the water soaked in quicker making it easier to control.

Both were sketched using a Rotring Art Pen (nibbed) which I find a joy to work with, and the water was applied using Pentel Aquabrushes, which are as good in the studio as they are in the field. I found the drawing easier on the smooth Bristol, but the water application more controllable on the watercolour paper. I think I'll just have to get myself some Hot pressed paper and see how it compares. I'd like to think it will give me the best of both worlds. Watch this space!!!

I so enjoy this medium. I often think to myself that it's not 'real' painting and it doesn't produce 'hangable' work, but it's such fun ..... and surely that's what it's all about!!!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Contre jours

Thumbing through a back issue of the SAA's magazine "Paint" I came across an article by Paul Apps in which he explained how he did a contre-jour painting in oils of Venice. Contre jours simply means "into the light" and although this is something I've done in photography, it is something I've never attempted with my art.  I was very interested in the article and the evocative descriptions of the intense light on the water but tossed it to one side as I don't do oils.

However, the image stayed in my mind especially the bright highlights on the water and the muted, almost non-existent colours of the city behind, and eventually I mused "why does it have to be in oils .... why not graphite?". In my opinion, graphite is underrated and underused for landscape and seascape work so I decided I'd have-a-go and see what I could make of it.

I used artistic licence to darken the sky considerably from the light, twilit sky in the reference photo, and it's been necessary to darken the water too, in order to make those highlights sing. The end result gives a much darker picture but I'd like to think it's captured the atmosphere of a day drawing to its close.

This probably sounds like a very silly thing to say, but while making this picture I felt less as if I was drawing and more as if I was 'painting with pencil'. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


After a long abstention from painting I have finally taken up my brushes again. Regular followers will know that I enjoy working with Line & Wash and it therefore seemed the easiest way to ease myself back into painting. The first painting is an oval tub of Fuchsia's. Though I'm not a great gardener (pretty bad actually) I do have a passion for Fuchsia's. I have about 60-ish named varieties, and several plants of each, so that's a lot of plants. My garden is littered with containers and terracotta pots containing fuchsia's. This small oval tub with its weather stained wood and rusting straps contains a variety called "Snowcap".

The second painting is a sketch of a Narrow Boat I saw when walking the tow path of a stretch of the Grand Union Canal that passes fairly close to here. I find I can sketch plein aire much better than I can paint, so this medium suits me very well as I can do the line work in the field and add the colour back at home.

Finally, something completely different for me. In my forum we run regular challenges and this one was simply called 'Heat'. No pen or pencil here ..... just lots of wet yellows and oranges. It's entirely made up and looks more 'abstract' than anything else. Still, it looks hot, and that was the objective.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Stormy Sea

During a recent spell away looking after my elderly parents I fancied doing some art but wanted something I could pick up and put down every few minutes. I didn't want to get bogged down in detail so thought of subjects that didn't need any accuracy. I decided to try my hand at drawing a rough sea and waves crashing against the rocks. The reference photo I found using Google contained some buildings but, to avoid copyright issues and to keep things simple, I felt I could easily leave them out.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Longnor Market Hall

When on holiday in the Peak District last year we stayed near the sleepy little village of Longnor. In the centre of the village is a cobbled square and amongst the buildings surrounding the square stands this fabulous Grade 2 Listed building which was once the Market Hall. These days the Hall is a Craft Centre and Coffee Shop and if you're ever in the area it is well worth dropping in.

The last time I drew buildings it was of Robin Hoods Bay and I drew every detail right to the edge of the paper, leaving no white space (apart from sky). Somehow I think that made it artistically unappealing, probably because it was hard to see a focal point. So this time I have isolated the Hall from it's surroundings. I also decided not to use a ruler or straight edge and although I'm not unhappy with the straightness of my lines, a building such as this has razor sharp edges and that doesn't come across in this drawing.

One problem I had was of parked cars. I took a photo of the Hall with the intention of drawing it one day, but I couldn't get a car-free shot from anywhere. My photo was a fine reference for everything above 5-foot from the ground, but below that it was close to useless. However, I resorted to using Google Streetview to give me alternative views from different angles and despite the fact that it too contained unwanted cars, I was able to piece things together reasonably well.

It seems as if it's been a very long while since I last used my pencils for a serious drawing, and I really enjoyed doing this one. I think I may tackle one or two other buildings in this way.

Sunday, 8 June 2014


I drew a mirror for a current project in my art forum but dropped it putting it in the scanner. lol.

A couple of days ago, on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, I felt the urge to draw my own tribute to those who took part and made the ultimate sacrifice. My father went across 3 days after the main invasion but thankfully he came home ... so many didn't. It's a simple drawing and didn't take very long, but it was something I needed to do.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Plein aire sketching

For the first time in a long while I treated myself to a nice long walk. There is an interesting church in the next village. It is one of those buildings that catches my eye every time I drive past it, and each and every time I see it I tell myself that I must come back without the car to have a better look. So when I was thinking of where to walk, to the next village seemed like a good choice.

When I arrived at the church I spent a while sitting in the churchyard and strolling interestingly through the grave stones as I looked at the buildings architecture from every viewpoint. When I'd seen as much as I wanted to see I headed across the road and took up position leaning against a sandstone wall, which is typical for this area.

My previous attempts at painting en plein aire have not been good. I don't know whether it's the fear of being approached, or the lack of a comfortable chair and easel, but I always rush my paintings and splash paint around as if I've only got minutes to finish. So, on this occasion I decided to sketch the church with pen. Besides, I'm not painting at the moment and enjoying pen work, so I'd packed pens and aquabrushes into my backpack.

Unlike the 'panic' I feel when I'm painting, I felt quite comfortable leaning against the wall in the shade of an overgrowing tree. I soon became oblivious of the passing traffic, not that there's ever a great deal in the village, and carried on confidently sketching even when the occasional pedestrian ambled by. I found it awkward sketching while standing and wished I'd taken my small collapsible stool with me, but I managed okay and thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was a bright sunny day and I wanted to capture the shadows to give the church some solidity and dimension. In the first instance I tried hatching, but this is something I'm still not at ease with and I didn't like the effect. Thankfully my pen was of the non-permanent variety so I used my aquabrushes to add some tones. I have a couple of perspective issues but, all things considered, I'm not disappointed.

Oh ... yep ... the tower leans. I'm still working on those verticals. lol. ;-)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The joys of soluble ink

One of favourite mediums is Pen and soluble ink. Soluble (non-permanent) ink bleeds and runs when wet. It is useless (in my opinion) when used in conjunction with coloured washes .... but when used with plain water, the inky washes produced have a nice effect. Because I'm looking to find my comfort zone right now, it made sense to resort to a favourite way of sketching, so this is what I'll be doing for a while.

This first sketch is of Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland, one of the few places on my bucket list. I totally messed up quite soon into this sketch by placing one of the towers in the wrong place, but I decided to carry on since it was only for practice anyway. I also decided to try my hand at hatching .... something which I'm not very good at. I struggle to know which direction to hatch, and how heavily to hatch, but I'll get there. And I stupidly messed up the attempt to show some reflection on the water. I should have hatched horizontally, in wave-like short bursts. I'll do this one again properly sometime soon.

The second sketch is of the 17th Century Market Hall that stands in the centre of Chipping Cambden, a small market town in the Cotswolds. Built in 1627, this building is famous for it's particular type of roof structure. Having completed the pen sketch I then used a very wet brush of clean water and let the wash flow with the minimal interference and guidance from me. Great fun!! Oh, when I signed this one I dated it 05/13, which just goes to show where my head is right now. lol.

For my next task I need to do something about my verticals. My handwriting leans to the right and has done for the whole of my life and I wonder if this is why most of my verticals lean to the right. When I make a conscious effort to draw them correctly, they lean to the left. This can be seen very clearly in the Market Hall sketch. Any tips or tricks will be gratefully received. ;-)

Friday, 16 May 2014

Dipping my toe in

After a long period of having no time for my art or blogs, I now find myself slowly returning back to my normal way of life ... whatever that was. My elderly parents have now been safely moved 150 miles away to live with my sister, and they are settling in well. And so, after a few weeks of trying to catch up with a lot of outstanding matters of my own, I find myself with the time to start thinking about art again. Actually, it's not totally accurate to blame my recent lack of art only on a lack of time. There have been odd occasions when I DID have some time, but then I found that I had no real interest .... my heart just wasn't in it. So it was a combination of time and emotion that kept me from my brushes.

As normality gradually returns and I find myself beginning to think more about art again, I find myself wanting to paint yet strangely lack enthusiasm. I think it's just a case of taking the first steps and easing myself back into things gradually, so to that end I have decided to dip my toes back in the water and spend a while just sketching.

I have always found sketching with pen, without pencil guidelines, most challenging. Those first few defining lines require a brave and confident start and forcing myself to sketch this way will do more for my confidence than anything else I can think of. Whether the ink is then supplemented by colourful watercolour washes or fairly pale coloured pencil work doesn't matter at this stage. The objective is to re-learn the art of making useful marks on the paper, to re-discover some degree of confidence, and to once again enjoy picture making.

And I will of course be visiting all your blogs, which have always been such a wonderful source of inspiration for me. See you there. ;-)

Saturday, 8 February 2014


A few weeks ago I decided to paint a flower. I thought it would be a 'start today - finish tomorrow' sort of painting, but boy, was I wrong. First of all I didn't have as much time as I'd planned and had to work in many short sessions as opportunities presented themselves. I don't like working like that, especially with watercolours. Secondly, and more importantly, I found it much harder than I'd expected and just couldn't get the colours blending together the way I wanted them. I found some of my glazes turning to mud and it took me a while to realise it was whenever I used Alizaron Crimson as part of the mix. I suppose all of you experts out there already knew this, but I didn't. Several times I 'lifted off' the muddy area's and tried again. I finally achieved a result I could settle with and so I'm calling it 'finished'.

But I think I've made a very bad mistake with regards to composition. To give the flower bloom a grounding I invented some foliage but I'm not at all happy with the way it looks. It's too contrived and I now think a single stem with just 3 or 4 leaves would have been better. Anyway, it's all about 'learning' and I certainly learned a lot doing this one.

On a positive note, it's not that long ago I'd have attempted something like this using single washes and going wet-in-wet, which is not something I'm good at. I feel that by using many layers I've achieved a much greater depth to the painting. It may be a more time consuming and fiddly process, but it pays dividends with something like this.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Tess and Sally

Back in 2006 I attempted a double portrait of my 2 dogs. I had owned them at different times, first Sally thoughout the 70's and 80's (she died in 1987) and then Tess from 1987 through to 2003. Sally was a joyful Jack Russell and a lot of fun. She became very protective of my daughter when she was born in '78, so much so that one day, as we were walking through a local woodland, a large Red Setter came lumbering directly towards my daughter who was only toddling at that stage, and Sally sprinted in front of the Setter and threw herself bodily into the large dogs throat. The Setter turned and scurried away.

Tess was a troubled Collie/Whippet cross that we found at a rescue centre. Her heavily pregnant mother had been found abandoned in a ditch and close to death. The mother didn't survive but the rescue centre managed to save Tess and her 6 brothers and sisters before she died. Tess was a seriously traumatised animal who shook with fear whenever a man approached and who curled into a trembling ball at the sound of a chain. Some months after bringing her home we happened to bump into someone who had taken one of Tess's brothers and they reported the exact same traumatised behaviour. Though it took many patient years, Tess eventually put her fears behind her and developed the most gentle caring nature.

But back to the portrait. It was one of my earlier pencil pieces and I hadn't discovered the art of blending, or even proper shading. Still, I was very pleased with what I achieved as the portraits looked like the dogs in question and the framed picture has been hanging in my lounge ever since. However, just lately I've been looking at it and thinking it's really not that good ... or at least, I felt I should have done better. And in the end curiosity got the better of me and I just had to have another go at it.

One of the main objectives of my web site and this blog, is to encourage beginners to have a go, and to enjoy the art journey. And one of the things I always say to beginners is keep all of your work so that you can look back in the future and see how much progress you've made. For that reason I display BOTH of my portraits together. The differences are very noticeable and the message is very clear .... though we may not always feel as if we are making progress, as long as we're drawing or painting, progress IS being made.

Looking back at old work shows us how far we have come, but doing the same picture again is even more revealing .... and even more rewarding.