Banksia spinulosa

These striking “candles” are about man-high, borne on woody branches with thick needle leaves, close to the ground , for all the world like part of a giant’s  Christmas tree.  The colour  is bright, especially in shade, while the tiny flower stalks growing at right angle to the stem give a bristly appearance.  This is a return to watercolour, and it must have worked or I wouldn’t be showing it to you!

When I first painted in watercolour, I used a flat brush as the shape was familiar to me coming as I did from oil painting.  This seemed an ideal subject to return to that brush since everything is so angular.  The colour palette is Indian Yellow, Aureolin, and Burnt Sienna for the flowers and Prussian Blue with Aureolin for the leaves. Burnt Sienna was added for the real darks.  The composition works because of the strong contrasts so that the “candles” sing out, and the light, brushing their tops, is emphasised.  But painting is unfinished  – the sides are too clean-cut.We need the bristles!

I have scratched out the bristles with a craft knife, taking care to make my scratches at right angles except for the tops where they curve outwards.  They are only slight but show wonderfully against the dark background.   Some tiny horizontal taps of Burnt Sienna ruffle up the body of the “candle”, while the spiky needles have added darks all using the flat edge of the brush.  Played for and got, I would say!

Homage to Vincent

I was quite taken with the effectiveness of the directional strokes in the last painting and they led me naturally to Vincent Van Gogh.  I’ve attempted to copy his painting of the old peasant in his straw hat and blue smock twice, once in oils to try and work out how he painted (there is such vigour, such vitality in his brush strokes, and it’s not so easy to do as it looks), and once in watercolour (!) as part of my Meander Treasures (September 2017).   And I had a photo of A Hat …….

This is yet another example of so little saying so much.   Like Van Gogh, I have eliminated all background detail, and attempted no variation in tone either, the perfect foil for a simple image.  The hat and sunglasses, face, scarf and blouse are all simple shapes in block colour.   A warm, browny-red background thrusts the figure forward and sings beautifully with  cool greens and blue/white.  Lilac cream hat and green scarf  frame the half shadowed face.  Despite the eyes being lost in shadow (I didn’t even attempt them), there is no doubt she is looking at you in a friendly fashion.

The counter-change, the contrast of strongly dark and light tones invest the image with a presence of its own.  It ate up a lot of oil pastel, but I’m not repining, for I find to my surprise that this is a good medium to work in.

Looking down the Yarra

Here is another painting for my possible Australian Exhibition – I might even have them all done if this Solitude continues!  It is of three of us standing on a bridge in Melbourne looking down the Yarra river.  This is late July there, so Winter-time but sunny.

I’m using oil pastels.  I have been exploring what I can do with them to keep ahead of those of my students interested in this medium!  I’ve tried blending them, but my preferred painting method is to retain brush, knife or pastel marks.  I like the vigour they impart to a picture.  This image is nicely chunky so strong marks are exactly right, and the three people are very individual in colour and pose, the obvious focus .

The painting is done on mid green mount board.  I think it helps as there are no unintended bits of white to distract the viewer.  Strange, isn’t it!  I love those flecks of white in watercolour, but find them bothersome in any other medium.  The midtone disappears happily into the other tones.

The buildings and sky are blocks of colour, the pastel used firmly in one direction only (this is the sky, these are buildings,so there).   My new oil pastels go on thickly enough if I push hard    Looking at them again I think the white should be calmed down a bit so that the white hair stands out.  But the buildings are there merely to provide context and some perspective.  I haven’t put the windows in – oil pastels and me don’t do detail.    The figures are created in blocks of colour too, with high contrasts to suggest the sunlight.  Such blending as has occurred is the natural result a working one pastel over another.   How little one needs to define an image!  I recognise these people though there are no details to help; my most successful oil pastel to date.

Carrog Bridge – pastel

You will remember I found this unfinished painting when tidying the studio.  It seemed like a good start, more dreamy that the oil I did for the book, more softly coloured.   However it is practically impossible, even in pastel where exactly the same colours and tones are to hand, to recall the prevailing mood of myself and my audience – this was a demonstration – and, in addition, I have acquired new pastels and been through uncertain times painting-wise.

This is how I continued.    I breezed along forming the right hand trees, inserting the nearside bank, titivating the bridge, having fun.  When I sat back to look, I was thoroughly displeased with myself.  It’s not clear from this photo but the new trees  almost sock you in  the eye, the greens are so different and far too bright; the river looks like a canal; and I am decidedly unhappy about the grasses on the near bank.  They look like sausage fingers, despairingly climbing high to gain authenticity.    I seem to have used the same technique for ages and it’s time I found a new one.

I took a serious brush to the recalcitrant parts and removed the lot.  It’s not an improvement but it did wonders for my frustration.

Now  I tried matching the colours and tones I had originally used for the trees, and am thinking about grass.


I have a fire screen in my sitting room that I had decorated with a kingfisher(as you do) painted in acrylic.  This is the third or fourth incarnation of the screen as it changes every time we paint the walls a different colour.  It’s been pale yellow, peach, bluey-green, deep crimson and now lime green.  The  designs have varied with the decor,  gold chrysanthemums stencilled on the crimson being memorable.

This design was free hand, originally done when I was struggling to find the sweet spot in painting, and I was never happy with it.  The kingfisher herself was fine but the branch she sat on was just wrong.   I’d  shown a stem rising from the water, meeting her perching branch at right angle(?!) that then tailed off in an unconvincing way.

Lock down (I prefer “Solitude” as it sounds like I chose it!) led me to the garage for gardening purposes but also provided a tin secreting the remains of lime green paint.   Paint out the old and paint in the new.



This is my first try.  The awkward branch rising from the waters is gone  and the weak end of it now more vigorous.  But it looks cramped at the bottom – I hadn’t painted out the water and the final leaf is pointing the wrong way.  It is an improvement,  at least the leaves have the strength to balance the bird.  But the composition is still faulty.




This is better.  Compositionally the new leaf takes the eye back into the painting.  I think the water is less convincing, but I’m going to stop while I’m winning!

Incidentally, the bird is huge, about 10 inches high, and would frighten the socks off any fish below.  But the macaws on the curtains are not trivial and she needed to stand up to them!


Look what I found!

I was tidying the studio after finishing the big picture and found two efforts that need finishing.  One was fairly recent since it is one of my Australian paintings.  Do you remember the Sandstone cliffs I painted with a palette knife last October?  I mentioned the twisted tree perched on the cliff edge that I was dithering about.  I reckoned that I would leave it till the canvas was dry.  That way I could wash it out if I didn’t like it.

  I tried to introduce it using a palette knife, but it was in the wrong place and looked clumsy.  So,I washed it out with turps, just like I said I would.    If I’d done it with a knife when the paint was wet, like the grasses,  it would probably have worked.  A brush worked over the bumps of dry paint, and by introducing purples and blues and maroons throughout the battered, little tree, I was able to integrate the addition into the whole.  Then I darkened the sea at the horizon .  The tree seems to have improved the composition by linking the grasses on this cliff top we are standing on with the more distant ones.

The other finding was a pastel I started as a demonstration for an Art Group in Carrog.  Naturally, I chose to paint Carrog Bridge.  It’s such a landmark in the area.  In fact it was the first bridge I painted in my “Painting the bridges of Dee” saga.  This is a view from above the bridge looking downstream from a stony beach.

The pastel view is from the other side below the bridge looking upstream.  Different weather, different view, different medium so we have a different painting.

Lots to do.

In the sunshine – at last!

So this is what it looks like now.  And I declare it finished.

It’s a far cry from its beginnings way back in May 2017.  I remember enjoying returning to a big canvas – 4 ft tall and 3 ft wide.  It’s drifted out of focus as life took over.  There is a big gap in working on this between September 2017 and September 2019.  That I don’t remember, though I do remember the doldrums when no paintings worked.   Then  it received a huge boost when I was able to photograph the pair on the spot myself, relaxing in the June sunshine.

Here is how I started it just after my successful exhibition of “The Bridges of Dee” – the book is still available if anyone would like one, see the website – so there is a certain feeling of freedom about it all. Trawling through the blog posts about it was instructive for me as well as entertaining.   “Keep right on till the end”  has done me proud here.

The wave in oil pastels

There is a small hiatus with “In the sunshine” called ‘waiting for the paint to dry’, so I’m experimenting with my new oil pastels.   Tim had done a red pepper as his introduction to the medium so I thought my very red elephant would be a good venture.

These Sennelier pastels are very soft in comparison with the others, of both kinds,  which I tried last time.  I reckon I was over excited and used far too much pastel initially and blended (with my finger) too enthusiastically.  This produced a messy paper with little dots and smudges from my mucky fingers and any detail  I achieved – not much – was lost.  It’s all too clumsy.

So I tried again, using “Stormy weather” as my source.  this is altogether a better attempt.  I found if I broke my (new!) pastels and used the side, I achieved a lighter mark (in terms of pastel mass) but more even coverage.  I was then able to blend, using the white pastel with quite subtle effects since my underlying colours blended with each other and with the white.  The rocks responded well to this method.  I also found that an old store card  helped to scrap off oil pastel when the surface was getting over loaded.  It also enabled me to straighten lines like the top of the wave by pushing the pastel towards the wave itself.

I now have vague memories of a session or two using oil pastels with my tutor many moons ago.  He was very keen on showing marks, not blending them, so maybe there is a way forward there.


In the sunshine – closing stages

Now I have uninterrupted time, I’m hoping to finish this.  I’ve said that before, but this time I can see no excuse.  And I don’t need one either because I’m so much happier about the painting since I resumed action.

The trees behind the lady have grown; the faces are nearer completion;  I’ve made his head smaller; the railings are emerging shyly from the flowering bush; there is more texture on the walls; and more work on his shirt.  All these things are progressing as if on wheels.  But ….  I could scream with frustration.

I have also worked on his shoes.  I had them right – I HAD THEM RIGHT! Then I fiddled to make them more right.  How many times have I told my students “Don’t fiddle!”  Why don’t I listen to me?  The paint is still wet.  I think I’ll wash the work off with turps.  It will mess up the paving but that’s not difficult to put right.





Oil Pastel Exploration

Well!  They’re here.  The SAA never take long to deliver.  I only ordered these yesterday.

It’s official.  The more waxy pastels are the real thing, not the ones I used in the Lorikeet.  What those were, I don’t know except that they were sold to me as oil pastels. They weren’t dusty but they did throw a sediment which slid floorwards.

To pastures new ….

The book, ” A Beginner’s guide to Painting with Oil Pastels”  is highly informative and very easy to follow.  I don’t know how far I’m going with  this medium. The list of possible additional materials and tools numbers 23!   Nor do I know if  they will dent my love affair with soft pastels – somewhat unlikely, I should think.

A quick glance through the book told me what I know from other art materials.  There are varying degrees of quality in the pastels themselves.  Tim Fisher, the author, uses Sennelier (hurrah, that’s what I bought) which are more malleable.  The good news is that the pastels work on most surfaces –  including plywood, canvas and aluminium panels  – but Tim prefers Framers mount board.

However, before I launch into this new medium, I must answer the call from “In the sunshine”  and re-visit the south of France.