Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tough Task

This month's challenge from my friend Peter ( is a complicated image presenting a number of problems for the watercolour painter. However, it was just what I needed having been absorbed in preparation for the recent Art Fair. The opportunity to sit and think through what would be required to attempt this as well as as dust off the brushes.

The first thing to notice is the fact that the picture is shot against the light, rendering many of the important areas, like the face, in shadow. Secondly, the picture has great depth from front to back. Thirdly, there isn't a huge range of colours in the image.

Obviously, the key to a successful piece would be to ensure that the value range reflected the light conditions and give the impression of sunlight and shadow. Here the problem was getting sufficient depth of tone in the shadows and I found it very difficult to produce this in one pass.

Recession in pictures is always important and working from front to back with increasing amounts of pigment is a partial key to achieving this. With this picture there is a further complication in that the dried grass strip reads darker in tone that the paved area which can make for confusing aerial perspective issues.

Altering mixtures of pigment in fairly subtle ways was my solution to the colour issue, although I couldn't resist reducing the colour scheme of the seated character with his back to us in red and white stripes.

After all that I decided to do a little savage pruning of the vegetation and street furniture.

I'll leave my viewers to judge how far I've gone along the road of addressing the issues identified in my initial thoughts.

Photograph - Charles Reid at the easel

Charles Reid at the easel - Watercolour 16" x 12" on Rough paper

Monday, 22 November 2010

First Public Outing

I've been talking for some weeks about the fact that I had decided to exhibit at a local Art Fair and have related tales of the tasks involved. Well Sunday was the appointed day and I duly arrived with a car packed to the gunwales with paintings and various bits of impedimenta to support and display the work. An hour to set up prior to the arrival of the public and dismal weather conditions outside guaranteed to put off any but the real afficianados.

View down the hall prior to opening

The Carney Collection

What an interesting day. Numerous conversations with other artists and passers by were a fund of information about the prospects and the likes and dislikes of the public. There did seem to a general consensus that one off events are not the best way to attract sales, people seem to enjoy a number of browsing opportunities prior to making decisions about picture purchase.

Trying to second guess the taste of visitors was responsible for me loading the front of my display with watercolours, largely flowers and a couple of local scenes. However, I was to proved wrong on this occasion as there was more interest in the oils than there was in the watercolours.

Well there was a steady stream of people braving the elements and showing a real enthusiasm for the efforts of the exhibiting artists, but there was little evidence of purchases being made. In fact at the end of the day most were reporting 'no sales made'. So for me it was an even greater surprise to find that I had bucked this trend by selling four of my oil paintings. The paintings leaving me are the ones pictured below.

It will take a few days to process all of the feedback and reasoning why these rather than other pictures were the ones to move people sufficiently that they put up their hard earned cash to acquire them. A big thanks to them for the way they have appreciated my work and more than covered the not insignificant outlay in preparing for the show.

Wingate Quarry - 12" x 10" Oil on canvas board

Chemical Beach, Seaham - 12" x 10" Oil on canvas board

Gun Hill - 20" x 16" Oil on canvas board

Canyon Light - 16" x 12" Oil on stretched linen

Friday, 19 November 2010

All Framed and Ready to Go

Just finished the framing and other bits and pieces in preparation for Sunday's Art Fair. A selection of nine water colours and eleven oils are ready to be loaded into the car. Still struggling with ideas for how they might be displayed, the important thing is that they are ready. I'm taking along a comment book in the hope that viewers will leave feedback about what they see. If nothing else it could be a valuable learning exercise for me.

I'll post something about the show at the start of next week.



Monday, 15 November 2010

Tenerife Sketches

Home from a wonderful break, sun, mountains, family and good food and wine. What more could one ask for? Well, a bit of painting, in fact. Travel restrictions and baggage charges make it difficult to pack for a family holiday and painting break. This is definitely the time to ensure that a small watercolour box, well stocked and a couple of travel brushes get sneaked in to the case. Along with a couple of pencils and a sketch book it's possible to have a few rewarding hours making images and collecting small snippets of material to inform future work. There is also something relaxing about knowing that the contents of the sketchbook are not going to be the subject of critical viewing by others, they are a wonderful private record of impressions and places, that is unless you open them to the blogging community when you get home. The other thing is that there is no pressure to 'complete' a picture. Fragments and unfinished pieces are just as valuable as source material as a fully realised smaller picture.

The return home was the usual joy of chatting to the kids and the grandkids as well as being able to witness one of the most fulfilling 90 minutes of football.

Church Square, Los Gigantes - Watercolour sketch

Los Gigantes Cliffs from Apartment Window - Watercolour sketch

Church, Santiago del Tiede - Watercolour sketch

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Take every Opportunity

We're enjoying the sun and the leisurely pace, not really conducive to concentrated activity, but the paint box goes everywhere. And so the opportunity arose, a long lunch where time had no meaning but the itch to paint was still lurking. So, reluctant model in place, the pencil then the paint went into operation. Apologies to Sheila. I will get round to painting the cacti and Los Gigantes at a later date.

Sheila - Watercolour sketch

Sheila - Detail

Monday, 1 November 2010

October Project

Portmeirion - Photograph

Some weeks ago Sheila and I spent a few days in Wales, the weather was dreadful but we did venture out and visit some of the interesting nooks and crannies, one of which is the Italianate village at Portmeirion, something of a shrine for fans of the sixties TV series, The Prisoner. My guitar case still bears a sticker reading ' I am not a number, I am a free man'. Those were the days. Oh, do I hear the title to a song?

A big lesson learned in this, the latest instalment in the series of projects that Peter Ward and myself share. The lesson being to plan carefully before committing to paper.

I harboured the thought that I might try to loosen up a little further and planned to leave a lot more untouched paper, but in the dash to complete it in between framing and varnishing for the Fair on November 21st I found my self falling between a number of stools.

You can find Peter's version on his blog

Portmeirion - Watercolour on Rough paper 16" x 12"

I'm not sure that there will any activity on the blog in the next couple of weeks as we fly out in search of some sun tomorrow and internet access might not be convenient.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

More Still Life

Not having done it before, I'm finding the preparation necessary to present a range of paintings at the local Art Fair very time consuming. This, along with getting organised for the family wedding that takes place next week and the holiday that follows, is making it difficult to keep up with the workmen doing the repairs and painting before the winter sets in. Never mind, I don't want to sound as if I have much to complain about, the only real problem is lack of painting time, in particular opportunities for plein air work. Fortunately there are lots of things around the house that make interesting subjects for painting.

It seems that I've spent a lot of recent painting time looking at flowers, it's easy to understand how so many people specialise in botanical painting, they make fascinating subjects. One of the things that interests me about painting flowers is the tension between maintaining a loose impressionistic approach and the urge to try and capture in detail the beauty of the blooms.

On this occasion I had left my box and brushes on the kitchen table so decided to give them a cameo role alongside the flowers.

Still Life October 20th - watercolour on Not paper 16" x 12"

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

September Project

As part of the ongoing monthly project series that I share with my friend Peter, he selected this image as the subject matter for September. At first sight I found the task quite daunting then Having thought about it, I decided to heed some of the advice I keep giving myself and get rid of much of the intricate detail in the picture. The job then looked a lot more manageable.

Boats at Beer - Photograph

The first decision I made was to attack the figures as they are difficult in themselves and I'm not sure this was a great idea as I'm somewhat disappointed with the way that the central character sits against the boat. If I did it again I'd do something about the light direction and the colours used to give that figure a little more prominence. Another good learning experience.

Boats at Beer - Watercolour on Rough Paper 16" x 12"

The next month is going to be hectic, painting wise as Sheila has finally persuaded me to display some of my work at a local Art Fair and I've taken the plunge and booked a stand. However, this means that I've got to get on with lots of framing and organising how the pictures are displayed. The big problem I now have is selecting pieces that people might like and not hanging on to those pieces that I feel quite possessive about. The show is towards the end of November and I'll update the blog with news of how it goes.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Reformed Reprobates Painting Society

Yesterday was a lot of fun. I spent the day with my life long friend, Jed and along with our usual bouts of surreal story telling we knuckled down to do some painting and drawing. Our occasional art get togethers we have dubbed meetings of the Reformed Reprobates Painting Society. The name being the euphemistic title describing our alternative to the occasional lost days partaking of social liquid refreshment.

When I arrived at Jed's he had set up a complicated breakfast table as the basis for some still life work. Much as I love still life work this one was a real challenge, difficult drawing, difficult perspective and a beggar to get the inter linking of the shapes and sizes anywhere near correct.

However, recent excursions in still life had built up sufficient confidence to give it a go. This is a subject that I would have found daunting not too long ago but I had the distinct feeling that the many hours drawing were starting to show some dividend. Just goes to show, it's true what they say about 'practice'.

As always there are all sorts of things that strike me as needing to be attacked a little differently next time but I found this a very useful and interesting exercise with some pleasing aspects. All in all, a fulfilling day.

Breakfast Table - Watercolour on Not paper 16" x 12"

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Value, value, value

A few weeks ago my blogging buddy, Peter Ward, posted the photograph below along with his painting of it. Peter is engaged in an interesting project making a set of paintings of native americans from old photographs.

In my comment on his picture I mentioned the fact that the wide range of values in the photograph were not part of his picture plan. Peter asked at the time how that might be done so I decided to have a bash myself using the same source picture.
Apache Brave - photograph

One of the difficulties with watercolour is representing the darkest values without using thick paint and little water and thereby losing one of the great appeals of the medium, its ability to convey a sense of luminosity. Making the darks interesting is another challenge and that requires sensitive use of mixes to retain inherent value and colour interest.

My own work often suffers from poor value range and I have spent some time thinking about ways to improve it so I relished the opportunity to give this project a go.

Whilst only partially successful, poor drawing and some insipid passages, there is a reasonable value range without getting to the darkest end of that spectrum. So all in all I think it needs a bit of dark boosting. The danger in attempting that would be to turn the darks into a muddier broth than I have at present.

Apache Brave - watercolour on Not paper 11" x 9"

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Belated August Project

This is last moth's project that my friend Peter and I have attempted. His version can be found on his blog. This comes from a photograph that I took of a favourite location, Souter lighthouse. My sketchbook attempt and the original photograph are in my July 4th post.

At the time I passed the photograph on to Peter, he commented that he preferred another photograph where he thought that the elements linked together in a better fashion. This got me to thinking that I should try to make better links in my first composition. The solution for me was to include the diagonal path to take the eye up to the skyline and the end of the wall in front of the lighthouse. I couldn't bear to leave the seat out of the picture as it provides some foreground interest and a balancing shape across the picture from the lighthouse. The final image has some obvious inadequacies but nevertheless was an enjoyable piece.

Souter lighthouse - Water colour on Rough paper 16" x 12"

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Chained to the Kitchen Table

Well the pot of flowers was still standing on the kitchen table so it seemed rude to ignore it and go out this morning, besides which Sheila was hatching plans to get me off to B and Q for Seniors Reduction Day. So, quick as a flash the water pot was filled and the paints laid bare. So here is today's effort.

My main point in learning while doing these still life pictures is the value of sound brushwork, particularly with regard to the softening of edges. Hopefully this is a skill that I'm beginning to improve.

Still Life August 25th - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9"

Monday, 23 August 2010

Still at the kitchen table

Another day of rain so back to the kitchen table with another bunch of flowers. I'm going to have to apologise for the photograph - no light outside in the rain. Consequently the image is not as true to the actual painting as usual.

The main flowers are white roses and I feel that I've not got them to stand out as well as they should. I thought of surrounding them with the darks of leaves but wanted to avoid the obvious framing that would result. There are other aspects of the piece that I find unsatisfactory, probably resulting from a lack of concentration. Still another enjoyable excursion with the wet stuff.

Still Life '23rd - Watercolour on Rough paper 12" x 16"

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Still struggling to get out with the oils but enjoying messing about with the watercolours at the kitchen table. It's really relaxing in the current humid conditions to sit rather than be carrying the plein air kit. Must be getting soft.

I find that watercolour can be a medium that frees you up if you let it. After recent struggles with tightening up splashing the water about is quite liberating and the results are fun, anyway Sheila likes them so maybe one or two others might find them interesting.

Watching the weather forecast, I must get out with the oils.

Sunflowers - Watercolour on Rough paper 16" x 12"

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Back to the Drawing Board

Well the flowers were still on the table top and as I looked at them from a different angle I thought why not? In this attempt I tried to lose a few more edges but I'm not sure how successful I've been in achieving that. Nevertheless another enjoyable couple of hours.

Still life August 12th - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9"

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Trying to Loosen Up

Regular readers will know that one of my constant struggles is the need to loosen up my application of paint and try to become more impressionistic. In some senses this is a reflection of my inability to produce photographic type images even if I wanted to. My years as a photographer had me understanding that if you want a photograph use a camera not a paint brush. Even though I have the greatest admiration for painters of great technical skill I find myself drawn to looser styles in other people's work. Hence my wish to move in that direction. The problem is the beginner's curse of trying to put too much into each painting and the subsequent tightening of stroke and line.

Below are two efforts from this week. The first is a plein air sketch done on the green outside Durham Cathedral. I was interested that after application of paint I felt the need to firm up a few lines with the pen.

Durham Cathedral - Watercolour Not paper 10" x 8"

The second is another table top still life.

Still Life August 10th - Watercolour on Not paper 16" x 12"

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Working on the Unfamiliar

This week has been consumed by travelling, visiting friends and family and catching the Picasso exhibition in Liverpool but also taking the opportunity to complete the task I had set myself along with painting buddy, Peter.

The painting task was to be based on the photograph Peter took on a recent trip to Bruges. For me this was to be a daunting task way out of my comfort zone, people and HORSES! Never having spent time drawing these beautiful animals I looked forward to pushing myself in a new direction.

Horse and Trap - Photograph courtesy of Peter Ward

As a start I decided to have an attempt at making a rough sketch as a way of making up my mind as to what I might need to do to try the painting. As you can see the sketch is all out of proportion and my first job was to be finding a way of improving that.

First draft sketch - Graphite on paper

I returned to the source photograph and did some measurement as a way of getting my head around the proportions that I would need to use to make it an accurate reflection of the source.

Getting to grips with the proportions - Graphite 0n paper

Using the measurements I drew up a grid in my sketch book and then proceeded to do a second draft.

Second draft - Graphite on paper

At this stage, feeling more confident about the proportions, I turned my attention to the other issues I felt needed to be addressed, the drawing and the difficult paint passages. The horse would be a major part of the picture so improving my confidence in drawing this would be a critical task.

Drawing the horse - Graphite on paper

The two main elements in the picture would be the horse and the driver so deciding on how they might be painted was the next job.

Driver - Watercolour on Not paper 10" x 8"

Horse - Watercolour on Not paper 10" x 8"

After the above preparations I'd reached the point where I had to commit to making the picture as planned.

Horse and Trap - Watercolour on Saunders Waterford Not 16" x 12"


This was a testing project that taught me the necessity of detailed planning. Without the planning I'd have got no further than the original, out of proportion, sketch. So from that point of view the result is an improvement. The area that was not as well planned, the background, could have had greater attention paid to it during the initial stages.

The other issue that arises is the way that the subject and my struggle with it drove me into a tighter way of working than I would have preferred. This is something that I need to think about prior to making another picture of this sort.

I got a lot of enjoyment from the project and feel that I made some progress in terms of drawing and planning as well as the application of paint. Lets hope the lessons stick.

Whilst the piece has numerous flaws it has provided me with valuable experience for future work.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Unexpected Hiatus

At the end of my last post, that seems like weeks ago, probably because it was weeks ago, I talked of picking up the brushes on the following day. It didn't happen. The last few weeks have been devoted to sorting out some necessary house maintenance issues and consequently I'm well behind with a number of painting projects, the main one being the production of a watercolour based on a photograph taken by my friend, Peter. Don't worry Pete it is now well in hand and will be the subject of my next post.

This week I had intended going across to Ireland to participate in Art in the Open, a plein air festival taking place in the Wexford area. A number of the very fine artists who post in the plein air forum of Wet Canvas will be participating and I really regret having to miss it, but it would be best that the house remains upright. Nevertheless I did find myself with a couple of days free of domestic duties and managed to head out and refresh my enthusiasm by looking at the work of others in a little trip to the capital. A phone call to a friend secured a bed for a couple of nights and so I headed south.

I was keen to see three different exhibitions and managed to catch them all. On arrival in London I headed for the Royal Academy where two of my selected were running. The first one was entitled Sargent and the Sea.

As readers will be aware, John Singer Sargent was a celebrated producer of exquisite society portraits and vibrant landscapes as well as beautiful loose watercolours. It's always a pleasure to get the chance to study his work. Having said that this exhibition is one that for the casual viewer may be disappointing, largely because it does not include a large number of paintings, the bulk of the exhibits are preparatory material, drawings and oil sketches with a few watercolours thrown in. However, that is why it is an important source of learning about Sargent's process and inspirational for the inexperienced painter.

En route pour la peche - John Singer Sargent

After the stimulation of the Sargent exhibition I headed downstairs in the Academy to tale in the annual feast for the eyes that is the Summer Exhibition. As is always the case, the Summer Exhibition, with over a thousand exhibits, contains things that excite and others that leave you wondering wherein lies the quality? This was no more evident as I stood in front of a canvas that consisted of a slogan and accompanying comment entitled "But I think I love you". During the few minutes that I stood there every person who passed by questioned the attraction or merit of the piece. The artist, Tracey Emin, the asking price, £125,000.

All I can say about the Summer Exhibition is that it is always great value as an event to see the widest variety of artistic endeavour, sculpture, print, drawing, architecture as well as a vast range of painting styles. A great day.

The following day I set of for the National Portrait Gallery to view the Annual BP Portrait Awards. This is another exhibition that is worth catching every year. Whilst it is much smaller than the Summer Exhibition, with just over fifty exhibits, it too always contains a few gems and it is interesting to compare your judgement with that of the judges. This year my pal, Graham, and I had no problem disagreeing with the judges. The first prize was awarded to the first of the pictures below.

Last Portrait of Mother - Daphne Todd

Both Graham and myself had a nagging suspicion that the winner was selected because of the brave choice of subject matter rather than the strength of the painting. There seems to be a fashion developing in the depiction of either disability or ageing and there were a number of exhibits on those lines. In many ways this trend is to be applauded because it creates positive images of less privileged members of society in an age where we are bombarded with identikit images of so called beauty. However, I take the view that the image must work as a painting first and foremost and this can come in many forms.

Consequently, I've posted a number of other entries for you to think about. All of these would have been higher up my shortlist than the actual winner.

Almus Quartet - Miguel Angel Moya

Sentinel - Lyndsey Jameson

My personal favourite is the above, a beautiful study of the joy of being a boy at play.

Gillian - Miriam Escofet

Paul - Nathan Ford

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Getting in some practice

As regular readers will know I've done very little work with watercolour in recent times and discussions with a couple of painter friends have had me feeling a bit guilty about neglecting the medium. Fortunately the commitment made to one of them to complete a painting by the month end has prompted me to set out the watercolour box and take what few opportunities arise to make a picture.

After a couple of plein air pieces I dug out a few bits and pieces to create a still life on the kitchen table and this is the result. Rusty in moving the paint around and clumsy in producing vibrant washes at present, it was still an interesting exercise. A bit of bedtime study is required before wetting the brushes again tomorrow. Loosen up, Mick.
Still life - Watercolour on Not paper

Sunday, 4 July 2010

New Challenge

My friend Peter Ward, whose blog is well worth a visit (, and I have been communicating over the last few days and are thinking about making some joint attempts at creating images from the same photographic source material. It could be interesting to see how our different visions produce different results. The idea came about when I decided to have a bash at a subject that Peter had already painted and I thought if I can sit and analyse what somebody else has done it might be a good idea to give it a go myself. It was also a self kick up the rear to get the watercolours out, they've been neglected of late.

Anyway you'll have to wait till the end of the month to see how we got on. In the meantime I've been out to look at some of my favourite haunts with a bit of this rare light on them and returned with lots of pictures of stacks and seaside furniture. This is one that could make it as a joint effort at some stage. I'd enjoyed the walk so much I couldn't resist a quick sketch when I got home. As you can see from the accompanying photograph I did a little bit of judicious editing to make a better composition, or at least that's what I hope.

Souter Lighthouse - Watercolour sketch 10" x 8"

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Sketching in Durham

Doesn't life get in the way of painting? Snatching a little time with the paints can often be a luxury. I'm coming to the conclusion that the car should always contain the wherewithal to grasp any available opportunity. Found myself in one of my favourite places yesterday with an hour to spare and fortunately in possession of a watercolour sketchbook and some paints. So I dropped down to the riverside and put the time to some use. Clearly the sketch isn't detailed but it serves well as a basis for further development. An enjoyable hour and a pleasant memory.

Durham - watercolour 10" x 8" on RWS Not paper

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Back to Cullercoats

The weather is good and after returning from the Lake District I caught up with my old friend, Jed, and we set out for an afternoon painting. Jed lives on the coast north of the Tyne and there are lots of fine locations to inspire the painter. Cullercoats is such a spot and is well known amongst artists as it once had a thriving artistic community with luminaries like Winslow Homer working there.

Whilst Jed got out the watercolours and pastels, I decided to work in oil as there are a number of ideas I'm trying to drum into myself, not least depicting credible recession in my pictures. The biggest problem I have is producing the correct mix of paints to apply without lots of post hoc adjustment. As usual the viewers will be the judge of how successful this attempt has been.

Cullercoats Bay - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Monday, 21 June 2010

Back to Watercolour

My friend Peter, a prolific watercolour artist in the South West, has been engaged in a project depicting Native Americans. He recently sent me one of his source photographs and having not had the watercolour box out for a few weeks I decided to use it as the basis of a picture using the sables and watercolours.

The result shows my lack of fluency and my forgetfulness about some of the sensible ways to make a picture coherent. The main flaw is one of ignoring connections of areas with similar value and the second failing to vary the edge relationships between hard and soft thereby making links and allowing the eye the opportunity to roam. Maybe another attempt is required to reinforce these ideas?

Peter's work can be found at , give it a visit.

Acoma Woman - watercolour on Not paper 12" x 10"