Red desert completed

Not a lot has changed since last week, but the added (and subtracted) details have done wonders to the finished result!

As well as the bushy clumps of “grass”  there are occasional spindly grass stems rising to knee height.  They are very thin but their presence – foreground centre and left – seem to push the desert back a mile or two.  Very gratifying.   I think the dark patch is the result of controlled burning some time ago, for the shed bark of the eucalyptus  litters the ground.  Putting it in has anchored the foreground which again helps to create distance.  Finally, I have removed one of the brighter clumps – they were a bit even – and feel that the composition is better for it.

Red Desert continued

Now to introduce some detail.  The initial painting has given me the essential painting, and it is possible to leave it at that.  That feels like the easy way out – insufficient rigour.  Right now, I want tidy up and tighten up, do justice to the huge impression this enormous red desert made on me.  This scene, so near the hotel in Uluru, has far more vegetation in it than we saw on the journey to Darwin,  most of it grey-green or straw in hue.

The air is clear so the distant trees look nearer than they truly are.   The option of a pale grey-green to distance them was ineffective as similar tones on the lit side on nearer trees confused the eye.  I tried mauve but that was too pale, so I darkened them with the very lightest touch of umber.

I have also ironed out some of the “hills” that had appeared in the background, while the left hand side of the painting is showing the trees and the rough, grass-like tufts in more detail .  These last sprinkle the desert so that it is scrub rather than sandy desert.  The bushes in the middle distance really are that strange shape, but not as flat as they appear here.

More to do as there are some light tonal values in the wrong place.  In fact I never know when the painting is finished until I get there!

New project awaits

I took a number of carefully composed photos with paintings in mind when I was in Australia last year and have done little about them.  There seemed to be so much going on in the latter half of the year.  New Year has given me a quiet space to make plans.  Thus I am embarking on a series of Australian paintings based on those photos, with a possible exhibition  in mind.  We will see how they turn out, but more painting will be a Good Thing.

This is the second picture, (remember the Gum trees?) and is of Uluru, not the usual view of the rock itself but rather of  the land nearby, just outside the hotel.

Of course this is far from finished but it does convey the redness of the gritty sands.  It is very difficult to describe how very red it is, or for the mind to encompass the extent  it covers. On this island, we have no single view that lasts for days as you travel through it, nor one that is such a startling colour.

I’m using pastel – I felt it best exemplifies the landscape, and these initial colour washes work well together.  The scene is a bit hilly at present but that can be addressed as I begin to work up the detail.  A good start to the New Year!

Lost in admiration

I’m wrestling with the aftermath of a heavy cold which has left my head full of mucus, and my painting thoughts decidedly stultified.  The best course seemed to visit the past and find a useful painting I can talk about.

This seemed a good one, on the face of a picture full of interest with splendid machines and a lively crowd.  Actually there are two pictures here and the dual focus is destroying the composition.  The title is “Lost in admiration”.

Just for a moment put your hand over the little girl in red and her friends and family.  Now the focus is on the traction engines and their admiring crowd especially the boy in the white jacket.  Deep maroon paintwork, the sun of the brass and the tyres, the long shadows, the crowd with their backs to the autumn sun, form an agreeable whole, and satisfy the eye.

Now hide that part of the painting and concentrate on the group of friends.  This is a good assembly, people of differing sizes and mutual interest except of the little girl who is “lost in admiration” of the mud squelching round her red wellies.  We focus on her, her red coat and boots, her bright hair, her serious concentration.

We have contending foci and an uncomfortable painting.  This is quite an old painting. Because they were all in the photo, they are all in the painting.  I could change her clothes to green or blue so as to avoid drawing the eye,  –  but I still like it the way it is and since it’s oil on stretched canvas I’m not going to do anything about.

MathsJam is here again!

I enjoyed the MathsJam I attended last year, but this year was better.  For one thing it wasn’t as cold outside (and there is some open air walking to be done), and, of course, I knew more faces.   Added to that, the talks, limited to 5 minutes – yes really! – were mostly more digestible for a non-mathematician.  I could follow the argument, though not reproduce it, join in the ever-present hilarity, engage in problem solving.   AND I got eight of the mathematicians , all of them “I can’t drawers”, drawing beautifully.  One of them even displayed lovely free-flowing line! and at least two wanting to know more.  Result.

I pootled about sketching people when they were engaged in puzzling, pondering, deep discussion, or just having a good time.   Bottom left sketch on this page is MathsJam to a T; the folk leaning over the balcony had been attracted by jingling bells (there was a Christmas Fair on downstairs).  Since you rarely have more than 30 seconds to get something down, it’s a good exercise in isolating the important lines.  Somehow nearly every time I started a face, someone stood in front of the victim or engaged them in conversation.

I was luckier with this group at one of the stand up tables in the coffee area.  They were very interested in the topic under discussion and apart from restless legs as they got to grips with said topic, they stayed put for five minutes!


More Wow!

Day two, and no let up in the speed of production!

We worked on more Hazel “ellies” as some people had missed out on it the previous day, then we painted this charmer.  The technique was the same but this time we used browns, Raw and Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna.  A light wash of Raw Umber covered all areas where we didn’t want to retain white paper, followed by Burnt Sienna, then Burnt Umber for the real darks.  Hazel pointed out that these were “lifting” pigments so it was no disaster if we inadvertently put paint where we didn’t want it!  This little elephant was having fun with his stick, and we were having fun painting him.

Then life got complicated as we moved on to a cafe scene, with big shady parasols and bright sunlight.  Hazel works her miracles by thinking ahead, and simplifying the scene.  So, you work out which pigments you need to create the painting – most colourful ones you can do by mixing, using three or four colours, though accents of brights might need small amounts of other single colours.  This way you create harmony within the painting, and save yourself from trying to match the exact hue.

First we used Aureolin to show sunlight catching foliage, etc, carefully leaving white shapes, then indicated shadows with Ultramarine.  Any transparent colour painted over that blue will show a darker version of itself.  Touches of pink added sparkle, then shapes and tones in the central area finished the painting.  I understood the principles applied but fell apart somewhat in execution, as my colours became muddy.  More concentration needed.

Finally, we essayed back-lit people, again something that Hazel has demonstrated often.  We were running out of time, and I didn’t finish my background, but here it anyway.

I have learnt so much – it’s still swirling round in my head – and greatly appreciate such a informative weekend.


I have just returned from a two day watercolour course with my favourite painter, Hazel Soan.  She is just as good a teacher as she is in her DVDs but the addition of her driving energy and high expectations made all twelve of us make more paintings in two days than I would have thought possible, at least eight full pictures each.

All the sessions showed how to simplify the scene, how to achieve results quickly and easily, so that the spontaneous nature of the medium was not compromised.  Each focused on a different aspect, beginning with the importance of  of tone to show perspective.  The London shot of Big Ben silhouetted against an evening sky (transparent orange and ultramarine blue only) encouraged deepening tones as we moved forward.  I was chuffed with the taxi!

Then we moved on to tone creating three dimensions – wet in wet  and wet on dry, soft and hard edges.  I think we all did pretty well on this exercise as the scene wasn’t complicated, each rock having its own attention.


On again,  this time to lemons ripening on the tree, more rounded forms and a plethora of leaves .  This time the paints were aureolin, indian yellow, violet and prussian blue.  The fruits were relatively easy, wet in wet, using the two yellows and violet.  I came apart on the leaves, losing the freshness, battling with the age old conundrum of pigment to water ratio.

Finally, released in to ele-land!  These three-colour elephants were one of the first things I tried when I discovered Hazel’s DVD’s. It is sheer magic to watch the pigments merge on the paper and give you a credible grey or brown beast.  And it doesn’t just have to be elephants!

First we created the shape in the chosen yellow, anything from ochre to lemon, introduced the chosen red into the wet wash , alizarin to cadmium, from the ground so that it bled upwards, then introduced the blue in the same way, prussian, ultramarine, whatever!  Finally just as it was just damp, a mix of all three indicated the final shapings.  Of course the chosen three colours will serve to create the background too.

So ended the first day.

Other ways with pastel

I’ve been working in pastel quite a lot recently, almost always rewarding.   There are so many ways of using them; the immediacy of the colour in your hand lends itself to experimentation.  I recalled one in my book “The Bridges of Dee” that I had particularly liked and hope you do too.

Look closely and you will see that it is composed of hundreds of tiny crosses.    I’d seen an article in a magazine about working in this way which sounded productive.

The sky is a mixture of pale blue, apricot, yellow and mauve laid over each other at random, and quickly, even paler ones near the horizon.   The juxtaposition of these complementary colours  creates luminosity.  The essence of the technique is to work at speed so that the crosses don’t become neat and laboured.

The bridge is a mixture of separately applied greens and reds, purples being added for the underside of the arches.  Turquoises  in the water sparkle against the orangy reeds (more complementaries), while the nearest tree is an exuberant mix of all the darks available.

It’s a lovely noisy technique, and comes highly recommended!



Gum trees completed.

A quiet half hour allowed me to finish this painting.  The main change has been a weakening of the shadow cast across the path in the foreground.  The other changes have been very minor, a strengthening of a highlight or shadow here or there, an extension of the path itself behind the trees in the background, the right tone and detail to edge the path, little things in themselves, but with an effect beyond their size.  I must have liked it for I have signed it!