Erddig Gardens

For our third sketching and painting day we met at Erddig, a country house not far from Wrexham.  It was a bit chill and rainy, but there were plenty of nooks, quite spacious ones in fact, to avoid the wind and showers.  The cars, carriages, bikes, trikes, etc., I decided could wait for a brighter day when the displays would be less gloomy, so I headed for the gardens.  Plenty of greens about, but it was the interplay of structure and planting which seemed to respond best to the uncertain light.

I was happy with the sketch I did in the morning.  I had found a relatively cosy seat with places to put my paints and water and was encouraged to dive straight in without any preliminary drawing.

It’s amazing what you can do if you try!   Brick and sandstone abound here, making a pleasing combination of colours.  I remember being attracted to them years ago when I first painted in these gardens.  The simple structures of these pillars with their distinctive banding got me off to a flying start and it was just a case of working outward from that firm foundation.  Through the gate, the garden was laid in with dull greens and reds.  These receded under the force of the brighter tones before the gate,  neat box hedging topped by a bright green creeper.  A rather shaky gate completes the sketch.  Considering that I was struggling to find the courage to lift a brush two weeks ago, I feel satisfied with progress.


A tonal study

This is an attempt to start painting again by  studying of observational skills, and I think it’s working.  I got the idea of doing this from Hazel Soan’s latest book, “Light and Shade in Watercolour”.  It’s the very first exercise she suggests.

I’ve painted this window before and was not impressed with the result, but this one is going better – not completed yet, but promising.

I’m using Cobalt and Burnt Sienna on A3 Kahdi paper, so it’s quite big.  The intention is to give room to develop the various tones, and concentrating on the relationship of the tones has taken my mind away from whatever was spooking me.  In fact, I’m rather pleased with it,  but I’m even more pleased that I am keen to finish it.


The Zoo again

There were far more children there today than I expected mid-week, but I had forgotten about school parties.  It made seeing  the more popular animals rather  a more crowded experience.

I had taken a few pastels this time to see if it made capturing movement easier.  Certainly, whole body shapes were done in moments.  Thinking about it in the quiet of the evening, the matter of scale is important – using pastels, I should have attempted bigger shapes, easily possible, and also easier to add form and some detail.    My best attempts were a 3 minute elephant and  a two minute buffalo.  Taken as animal sketches, they were just about adequate, but I would have been happier with a larger 10 to 15 minute effort.  So size in relation to medium was lesson number one today.

From about 3.30 pm onwards, as the school trips and families went home to tea, the Zoo became quieter and the animals showed themselves more readily.  Rhinos stood proud on top of the hill,

an elegant crane paraded along the fence,





and the red panda had a good scratch.

Since I have a season ticket, my plan is to drop in about 3 pm occasionally and try for a larger, more careful drawing.

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!