Visiting the Boat Museum

We certainly had a good day for it! – sunny, with a slight breeze, so it was pleasant to be outside for the group’s first attempt at painting and drawing in the open air.

There was plenty to see, and all kinds of intricate machinery, pleasing buildings and boats, of course.   The site is extensive, so the group soon dispersed to find that certain thing to get them going.  I drew a series of interlocking roofs  with reasonable success, then I decided on some lock gates.  There are plenty of them to choose from, but like the lions at the Zoo, no sooner had I started to draw, when they moved, not of their own volition, just a narrow boat wanting to use them.

The angles are all important, and difficult to get right, but the other thing about canals and canal boats is the sheer length of pieces.  Those huge timbers  are twice as long as I’ve drawn them, though I am quite pleased with the angles.

Finding a comfortable painting position took time.  I found standing free to paint impossible, too many things to hold at the correct angle (those pesky angles again), but those huge timbers made a good table.

I was able to make a stab at the canal bridge –  again the boats moved as soon as I was settled!  The painting “reads”, the colours rather subdued considering the bright sunshine. Most of my painting to date has, of necessity, been indoors where it is possible to use which ever technique works best for the image you are painting.  The fast drying conditions needed extra thought – why this was a surprise, I don’t know – if the chosen method was going to be effective.  I had to really slosh the water on to achieve “wet-in-wet” so the page of my sketch book curved, (memo to self – take a painting block next time) but it dried fast so wet on dry became immediately possible.

It was an interesting and educational day!


Flowers again

Have you ever tried to finish a painting from a photograph, that you started live?  Most of my paintings to date have been from photographs, partly from necessity, and partly, (as I have recently discovered) from a lack of faith in my drawing abilities, so I haven’t needed to cope with this.  It hadn’t occurred to me that the transition required a new set of skills.

In using a photograph, I found the background, even though I wasn’t using it,  confused the flower shapes in a way I hadn’t noticed when painting from life.  This doesn’t happen when I start with a photo, probably because I have already mentally  simplified the image at the outset.  Then, there was the colour change.  I “know” my printer produces blued images, but as I rarely use the photo as more than an initial sketch,  I was not awake to the change.  My first attempts to complete the painting were more pink than the initial work.

If at first you don’t succeed ….

and I can’t claim this as success.  How wooden and solid the additions seem!  There is none of the airy, “leap of the page” lightness about them.  There is a lesson here if I can only fathom it.

The Zoo

I took myself to Chester Zoo to attempt some animal sketching.  It was very entertaining to discover how unco-operative  most of the animals were.  It was afternoon, and a warm day, so most of the animals were sleepy, even the more active ones were standing or strolling around. Perfect, you would think.

Well, no.  The sleepy ones were sunk into indeterminate woolly heaps, with no visible arms, legs or head.  I think they had been taking lessons from the hedgehogs.  The lions didn’t, of course.  I came upon the pride stretched out on a sandy patch quite near the fence blinking in the sun, or in his case stretched out on his side.  I set to, but the minute I put pen to paper, he opened one eye, yawned, stood up and flopped down again.  Whether he was irritated by all the people watching him, or  genuinely had an itch, I don’t know but he never settled after that and his ladies were no better.

One of the giraffes was steadily patrolling the side of his house, but I had barely drawn the head and neck, when he went indoors, and all his family with him.  The elephants were shy too.   The onagers were more co-operative, and I managed one or two sketches of them.  There is a theory that you can use other members of a herd to complete a sketch, but these fellows had no knowledge of that.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the afternoon battle.

The upshot of all this is that I will be taking my watercolours next time – yes, there is going to be a next time – as one brushstroke can say more than half a dozen lines, so I may be more successful.


Flowers Plus

Painting is beginning to fill my thoughts – though it is still having to fight the garden for top place.  My new friend sent me flowers as a thank you for introducing her to Hazel Soan, and one of Hazel’s demonstrations was about painting flowers.  I felt impelled to try painting them even though flowers is not one of my usual subjects.  And I have to say I rather pleased with the result so far.

It really does leap off the page, not just in the photograph,which can sometimes happen – a really enjoyable quiet hour.  Unfortunately, that was just before Easter when family activities and beautiful weather meant I had to stop there.  I want to finish it and took a photo to that end, but that quiet time painting from life has made me want to try it more often.  Of course, I am fearful of ruining it.

The old gate

My classes will not be opening till next September, though we are having three full day outdoor painting and sketching meetings in May and June.  At the same time, two other pieces of work unrelated to painting are at an end and …….. Hazel Soan has a new DVD and book on Watercolour which will need careful study.  She is so inspiring, and I have just introduced her to a new painter friend.  All these circumstances have arrived together just as I am beginning to see things I want to paint.  I hope and trust the block is lifting.

Here are two efforts which are the first results of the above, both overworked, and therefore under-thought, but I can see my painting brain awakening as I progressed from  one to two.    The most that can be said for the first one is that I had a go and enjoyed it.  The drawing of the gate is Wrong, no perspective and the flaming bush has grown in size and dominance.  I like the high light on the slender tree.  The drawing in Two is better, so there is a progression into the painting, the bush is bright, smaller and less shouty.    There is more interest in the tree trunk is the foreground, but I think  gate one is better than gate two.

Added Effects

This is the final week of the term in which my class have been re-visiting watercolour basics –  it’s always good to revise, especially when, like me, you’re dissatisfied  with current efforts.  So we were examining what wax resist, different sizes of salt granules, using a natural sponge, scratching with a craft knife, and using the other end of the brush, can do for a painting. In the past, I have resisted such assistance, as I have resisted mixed media, being an delusional purist (if you can’t do it with a brush, you need to improve your brushwork!).  But that’s very silly, since tightens the work, and gives a totally false sense of superiority, and cuts down the fun.

I chose a collection of pebbles as the practise piece, as they have interesting textures, and colours.

You can see the wax resist – it’s just a candle – on the tops of the stones, giving a speckled effect.  What is less clear in the sponge work on the left pebble.  It was also a chance to practise wet-in-wet to make the pebbles seem rounded.  Quite a low key end to the term, but I think we all gained from a look at basic skills.

Fruit – joined up painting

Earlier on we saw what painting all shadowed areas in Ultramarine Blue could do to simplify painting even a complex picture (Light and Shade again – March 7th 2019).  This week we looked at another way into a painting by unifying the objects using a pale wash of Raw Sienna.  We were using fruit, so Raw Sienna is a good choice.  So much fruit has a yellow based hue, and it goes happily under other yellows, reds and blues, sometimes enhancing, sometimes creating secondary colours.  Above all, it creates unity.

The Raw Sienna wash swept (or crawled, depending on confidence!) over the fruit excepting only the strong highlights .  Next we washed in the appropriate colours of the given fruit, stopping short of those highlights, so that the previous wash acted a transition between the two washes. Shadows help the illusion of the third dimension, and you are now ready to titivate, or not, as your mood takes you.  Simples!



I was delighted to find an article in this month’s “Leisure Painter” about putting people in paintings.  Somehow a person, however sketchy, near the focus of your picture, maybe going towards it, helps the viewer be in the scene.

Stephen Coates is the painter and author of the article, and his very simple construction has helped those of my students who were really struggling, to draw people effectively.  I think most people know that carrot shapes make effective people, but he refined that idea.  First he gave four rules for vital statistics.  These are for “generic person”, some unknown person, male or female, walking down the street, but would make a good starting point even for a more detailed drawing.

So – the width of the shoulders = a third of the headless height;

the width of the head = a third of the width of the  shoulders;

knees are a third of the body ‘s(headless!) height from the ground;

and the groin is about halfway up the body (see above).

But here’s the clever bit –  if you sketch in three attached  SQUARES  arranged vertically on the page and draw your blunt-nosed “carrot” to fit the shape, you have the beginnings of your person.

The rest of the article goes on to describe how to make this person walk, etc.  It’s a great read, and if you are struggling with people, that article in “Leisure Painter” will certainly help.  Just remember to make squares, not rectangles!


We looked at how few colours were needed to make many other ones last week.  Now I want to build on that to work out how colour choice creates atmosphere.  This is my source.

Now, there are various resonances drawing me to paint this scene.   It’s a lookout place in Lisbon where people gathered to enjoy the Spring weather and the view over the river Tagus.  We first came upon it at dusk with a clear sky, and it reminded me of Alma-Tadema’s paintings, and of the scene in Kenneth Branaugh’s “Much Ado” when the soldiers, returning triumphant at dusk, strip off and plunge into pools that were surrounded by marble pillars.  But my camera failed me – or rather I failed it, as it’s a new one I don’t understand yet.  We returned a few days later in different weather conditions but I was sure a photo would help me revive the memory.

I planned a varied wash over the whole page, using  Indian Yellow and Permanent Rose,  to re-create the golden evening, then the figures and superstructure were laid in (dilute Ultramarine Blue).   These blue areas mark out those parts that I will continue to refine.

The figures are in strong silhouette.  Next,  I need to decide how dark the light areas in shadow should be in relation to the people.  As you can see, I have begun to make such judgements, though as yet no modelling is defined.  It’s early days, but the atmosphere is beginning to appear.  The image is too clear cut as yet,  – more thought about shade and deep shadow,  maybe a cloud or two?   If I  do more work on the painting this week …..


Colour and tone

This week my class were looking at tonal value – how dark or light a feature was – and colour mixing.

This exercise is so much easier if you are using tubes of paint!  We started off with Prussian Blue.  He’s a bit of a big beast, a very intense colour where a very little pigment goes a very long way,  but I was keen to help my students create an intense watercolour.  A dob of paint with very little water added to create  a deep tone  mixes to a creamy consistency, giving a luscious, brooding, greeny blue.  More water gives a mid tone, always remembering to  take the water out of the brush before dipping into the mix so as not to dilute it further.  Pale tones are approached from the opposite direction – a dollop of water with a small amount of pigment  added.

In this set of three, we looked at Permanent Rose and Aureolin the same way, then we mixed them variously, creating scarlet, oranges, greens, violets, browns, and blacks.

Then we looked at Ultramarine Blue,  Indian Yellow and Quinacridone Red in the same way, creating different reds, oranges, greens etc.

Finally we tried the Siennas, Burnt and Raw, with both blues to achieve intense but different blacks and greys.

Next week, we will be using one of these sets to paint people in a cityscape or landscape.  Here is my source.