Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A Little Bit of Paint

At last, an opportunity to wet the brushes. The weather might be inclement but there's always the kitchen table and it doesn't take much searching to find a few suitable elements to make up a still life set up.

A really enjoyable session with my old mate Jed finishing off with the consumption of the bottle contents.

Still Life - Watercolour on rough paper 16" x 12"

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Back to Basics

There's been a lull in my production over the last few weeks with the previous post being my last effort and it was that post that got me thinking about the notions in this piece.

First of all, I was embarrassed about that last post, I thought it a sub standard picture, poorly executed and demonstrating my underlying lack of commitment to it. One aspect that I found particularly disturbing was the poor draughtsmanship. The obvious reason to me is my laxity in keeping my drawing skills up to their best. Like all skills, if not practised then they deteriorate and not being naturally gifted in these matters I need to work at them on a regular basis.

So back to the sketch books to review past exercises and begin some new ones. This post then is a necessary reminder to myself that I must take up the pencil on a daily basis and find something to sketch.

My hand holding the sketch book - graphite on paper

Self portrait - graphite on paper

North Creake Abbey plein air sketch- graphite on paper

Monday, 3 December 2012

November Challenge

Well this month my friend Peter, (, set a stinker or so it turned out to be for me. Being unable to paint much in the last couple of weeks I found myself reluctant to start on this piece. It all goes to show that there is so much of this activity taking place in the head rather than in hands. Everything about it became more difficult than I'm used to, the drawing had to be redone a few times, choosing an appropriate technique was a pain. I guess by now you will have discerned a little less commitment than usual. However, that's what this exercise is all about, getting into an uncomfortable area and giving it a go thereby learning a little along the way. 

Owl - Photograph

My apologies for not being able to identify the species of owl, the reference books are not at hand.

I decided to make a significant crop of the original image and treat it more like a head and shoulders portrait in an attempt to avoid tightening up and trying to get too photorealistic. I've ended up with a flawed image but one from which I've drawn a few lessons about adequate preparation and decision making.

Owl - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9"

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sweet Musette

A short hiatus to deal with the world and have a little trip to see some family had me returning to the brushes missing my irises. The selected bloom this time is called Sweet Musette. 

These blooms are a great subject to explore brush and paint technique and I'm learning a lot by working on them. It seems that some others are enjoying them as well with a couple of them finding new homes.

Sweet Musette - Watercolour on Rough paper 16" x 12"

Thursday, 1 November 2012

October Challenge

The latest in the monthly challenge series that I share with Peter Ward ( I set this one, a photograph from a recent trip to Norfolk largely because it would give an opportunity to have a go at a boat shape which I often find difficult. It would also have the challenge of capturing a feeling of light.

Old Boat - Photograph

I attempted to simplify the image, cutting out much of the impedimenta and boat fragments. My next choice was to make the buildings indicative rather than detailed. The last decision was taken after a break in the painting process. Returning after lunch with the intention of using the white of the paper on the boat deck to add other bits of detail I was struck by the way that the white looked okay in contrast with the other colours and thought that it might be an idea to leave well enough alone. I may return after  a day or two but for now I'm calling it done. What do you think?

Old Boat - Watercolour on Rough paper 16" x 12"

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Aspens - WIP

An old friend of mine got in touch to chat about painting and we got to talking about his love of trees in pictures. This got me to thinking about a little project I'd promised myself a while ago. Since my last visit to the States I'd decided that at some stage I'd get around to producing some pictures of aspens. I initially became interested in aspens through the photographs of Ansel Adams. At that time I was making a lot of monochrome photographic images and I spent some time seeking out attractive stands of trees including aspens or similar species like birch and making prints of my pictures.

Since beginning painting the interest had continued and I found many images in the collection of images produced by the plein air movement in the States. The aspen is a common subject over there. So  having arrived at the notion of making some tree pictures, it wasn't a big jump to decide on aspen as a suitable subject. So I had a browse through some images on the net and found a number by the West Coast artist, Kathleen Dunphy. I selected one of these and began a painting based on it. If in doubt use the work of an expert to emulate.

The painting is not yet finished but it is getting close. Any suggestions would be appreciated.  

Aspens (after Kathleen Dunphy) - Oil on canvas board 20" x 16"

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Yet Another Iris

My love affair with the Iris carries on unabated and this is the latest from my collection. I think there are a few little adjustments to make before calling it finished.

Gold Iris - Watercolour on Not paper 16" x 12"

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

September Project

The latest episode in the series of projects that Peter Ward and I set for each other. This month Peter sent me an interesting wild life photograph.

Cheetah Family - Photograph

My first decision was to change the format to portrait rather than the landscape of the original photograph. That was the easy bit, the real challenges were in trying to produce something that captured the texture of the pelt and the many spots on it. Another enjoyable outing.

Cheetah Family - Watercolour on Not paper 14" x 11"

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Scolt Head

One of my favourite places to visit is the North Norfolk Coast, an area much loved by all sorts of artist. I've just recently returned from a short break in that part of the world and as usual taking an opportunity to paint was part of the plan.

I first became familiar with this part of the world when I decided to learn a little about oil painting and enrolled on a course at the Norfolk Painting School run by the estimable Martin Kinnear. Martin is expert in the wide range of techniques used by the Masters as well as being a fine painter. I can thoroughly recommend taking a course there or just a visit to see Martin's work. Alternatively have a look at the websites, and .

One of the delights of the area is the ever changing sky and this is emphasised by the relatively flat landscape. The picture here was made at a place I've painted in the past, Barrow Common. One of the few hills in the area it gives a great view down to Brancaster Staithe and across to Scolt Head. I've employed a little licence here by exaggerating the size of Scolt Head and reducing the number of buildings visible from my chosen spot in the hope of making a better image.

Scolt Head from Barrow Common - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Monday, 17 September 2012

New Brush and Painties

Apologies for the very bad heading to this post, a play on the title of an album recorded by an English band back in the seventies. Can anyone guess the artist and year? However, it is meant to indicate what's been going on at Chateau Carney over the last few days.

As you will remember from my last post I've at last succumbed to the lure of the wonderful range of art materials available these days. The main thrust of this post then will be to talk a little about the experimenting I've been doing. 

Instead of the swatches that I posted last week I thought I'd try to place the experiments in context and whilst not intending to produce a completed painting at least try to make the semblance of a picture. But before that let's look at some of the aspects I was trying to explore. One thing that's important in watercolour painting is the technique of placing paint and then softening an edge. Different pigments behave in a variety of ways when doing this. The first picture is a new pigment to me, Daniel Smith Amethyst Genuine. You can see that in this case the pigment has not migrated a long way and that is something for me to remember when using it again. It is an intriguing pigment, when viewed at an angle it appears to have particles that shine within it.

Amethyst Genuine by Daniel Smith

The next picture shows a section of a pigment called Moonglow by Daniel Smith. This one is in fact a mixture of two pigments, a blue and a red but what is interesting is the way the two pigments behave when in a wash. Effectively they separate and you can see both colours on the paper. This puts a new slant on the technique of mixing on the paper and ensuring that the colours retain their own individuality. In the picture you can see the pink/red colour migrating more quickly than the blue.

Moonglow by Daniel Smith

The next pigment on show here is another Daniel Smith creation, Sleeping Beauty Turquoise. This is a more straight forward pigment, nice and clean colour with a nice granulation settling in the depressions of the paper.

Sleeping Beauty Turqoise by Daniel Smith

The next picture taught me another lesson. I made a mix of Green Apatite and Indian Yellow to place some green on paper that was damp and what I found was that the Indian Yellow migrated out of the mixture and produced a yellow edge. I don't know why this surprised me having messed with chromatography techniques in a laboratory during working days. More work to be done where best to use mixtures and what effects to expect.

Indian Yellow goes walkies

The last picture is the source of all of the above extracts. 

Flowers for Learning - Watercolour on Rough paper 

I've been reviewing other bits and pieces in my painting kit and the brush has not escaped some attention. My favoured style of brush almost since starting to paint has been the sable brush. Recently noticing the numbers of artists using other types I decided to give some others a go. To be brief I started with some artificial and hybrid types and quickly rejected them as not holding as much pigment or releasing it as smoothly as my sables.

The next brush to try was the very popular Petit Gris used by many well known painters. I watched a couple of DVDs where they were the main brushes used by the artist and found this helpful in terms of the appropriate techniques to use. However, I found that even though I persevered it was not easy to shift between broad wash techniques and more delicate application. There was less control over the release of pigment than with the sables. They do encourage a loose technique and I won't consign them to the reject bin.

Once I'd confirmed my prejudices with regard to sables I decided to splash out and award myself a gift. I've had my eye on a Da Vinci Artissimo for some time and made up my mind that now was the time to dive in. A quick phone call to Jackson's and the die was cast.

Sable Selection - W and N size 8, Da Vinci Series 10 size 8, Da Vinci Artissimo size 2, SAA Kolinsky size 10, Da Vinci Series 10 size 12.

Head of Da Vinci Artissimo

I must confess to having fallen in love with this new brush. As you can see from the photograph the size of the head is similar to that of the Size 10. It holds a bucket of pigment and releases it as smoothly as you would like and it points magnificently. What's not to love?

Isabey Petit Gris size 6

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Across Ullswater

A couple of posts ago I was looking at the green mixing problem and having gained a little confidence from the experimentation I decided to have a go in the fresh air. We spend little bits of time over in the Lake District and it's always a delight to get out in the fresh air in that wonderful part of the world.

We stay near Ullswater and there are so many stunning views along it that it's often difficult to choose a spot to paint from. This view can be seen towards the head of the Lake. 

The green mixes are combinations of Ultramarine and Cerulean Blues with Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow and Yellow Ochre. I found it helpful to make my mixes prior to beginning the application of paint. his gave me the opportunity to compare them on the palette board and speeded up the actual laying on of the paint.

Across Ullswater - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Sunday, 9 September 2012

New Paints in Box

I've been doing a bit of reading recently, books and blogs, and have been struck by the variety of colours and manufacturers that people use. Before now I've been fairly conservative in my selection of pigments using most of the standards that appear in most boxes, resisting the temptation to branch out. That is until the last few weeks. In a fit of artist envy I decided to have a splurge on a bunch of paints that until now had been a mystery to me. I was particularly attracted by what I was reading of Daniel Smith paints and on investigation was bewildered by the range. I've long been a Winsor and Newton man not seeing any reason to wander. So what to buy? Looking at the work of some artists that I admire I drew up a short list and sent for the selection. Exotic names like Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, Green Apatite Genuine, Amethyst Genuine, Perylene Maroon and a bunch of Quinacridones.

Having taken delivery of the new 'toys' I set about investigating what they were like. This is an interesting process as I'm coming across characteristics that are new to me. As an example of what I mean I've posted a few pictures here of some swatches made with one of the new ones, Green Apatite Genuine. I ordered this colour, having read that Yvonne Harry ( was using it as the basis of her greens in her wonderful flower paintings. The main characteristic of this pigment is the degree of granulation that occurs. Whilst many pigments granulate I've never come across one that does so in such spectacular fashion. It's giving me quite a bit of food for thought as to how I will use it in future. 

Green Apatite with Winsor Yellow

Green Apatite with Cadmium Yellow Light

Green Apatite with Burnt Sienna

In the photographs you can see the aggregations of small dark particles that deposit whenever this pigment is used. 

Playing about with swatches is interesting but the real fun is to be had in making images and so on to put the new paints to use. I decided to carry on with the Iris project and selected a bloom that might use some of my new acquisitions.

Iris - Watercolour on Rough paper 16" x 12"

Monday, 3 September 2012

Starting to Adjust the Iris

Having received lots of helpful advice when I posted this picture asking for help, I decided that it was about time I paid it another visit. All of the advice received had a point to it, although once I sat and studied it all it was clear that some suggestions could not happen at the same time as some others. This created another layer of problems to solve. What to do?

The first thing I decided upon was to begin glazing the background in the hope that I could calm it down a little without losing the texture and hint of some colour variety. I decided upon this as the alternative of darkening the whole background and losing all of the interest there seemed higher risk as it would a step that couldn't be reversed with any ease. The approach I selected had the benefit of being gradual and could be built upon, stopping as the desired effect was achieved. 

Next I strengthened the colour in the petal that sits behind the stem but not enough to compete with the two at the front. Hopefully this gives a sense of recession.

The biggest difficulty as I saw it was getting the upright standards to read sensibly. The original photograph had the front one in shadow with a little more light on the ones behind and the way I'd painted it there was too great a value shift between them. My preference would have been to start again and leave them all nearly white with subtle shadow work to emphasise the texture and ripples but getting back to white paper on such a scale was too much to ask. So I chose to close the value gap and attempt to create a little more variation in the front standard in particular by a little judicious lifting out.

Lastly I introduced a few touches of gouache to emphasise the white edges to the falls.

There is nothing really dramatic in what I've done and I'll set it aside again to reflect on whether more surgery is required. I'd be delighted to hear what you think of the changes so far. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Beating the Weather

Like most of us up here I'm tired of the poor weather as my opportunities to paint are usually falling on days when the conditions are anything but conducive to  painting outside. I'm afraid that I'm becoming a fair weather painter.

As I've reported here in the past I have an old school friend that I meet from time to time and we paint together. Another of these days arrived to be met with the usual torrential rain so paint inside it would be. Jed grabbed a few bits and pieces and created a grouping for a still life.

It's a while since I've done one of these and it made for a pleasurable couple of hours and kept the brushes wet. When we finished, the bottle contents seemed to evaporate. 

Still life - Watercolour on Not paper 16" x 12"

Monday, 27 August 2012

August Project

The latest monthly excursion for Peter Ward and myself. This is one from a photograph I'd taken a few days before the start of the month whilst walking in the Lakes. There seemed to be lots of foxglove pictures around particularly from the prolific Jean Haines. So it should be interesting to see the variation in approaches to this subject.

Foxglove - Photograph

Foxglove - Watercolour on Not paper 9" x 12"

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Annual Trip to BP Portrait Exhibition

Every year I make a trip to London to meet up with an old friend of mine and to visit the BP Portrait Competition that is hung at the National Portrait Gallery. I think it would be fair to say that my friend, Graham, and myself are  not short of some strongly held opinions and this exhibition usually gives us the opportunity to express them. In that respect this year's renewal was no disappointment.

Our routine is to independently view the pictures then meet up to share our feelings about what we have seen. This year there were a number of themes to our discussion. First of all is the matter of technique, there being a significant number of photo realistic works where evidence of a painter's hand was difficult to discern. Secondly, there was only one picture in the exhibition where the subject had even the semblance of a smile and thirdly the question of what constitutes a portrait.

Let's look at some of these issues. The first picture here is one that epitomises the technical issue. The quality of technique in this painting is jaw dropping in terms of paint application and drawing. Would that I could even conceive of acquiring such skill. The detail everywhere on this canvas is fabulous but it does pose the question of how does it differ from a well taken photograph?

Mr. Lascelle Barrow - Aurelio Rodriguez

The next picture again is another realistic piece but this one poses another question. The clue is in the title. Salmacis No. 3, tells us that this is probably one from a series of pictures. It also includes a name in the title that may or may not mean anything to the viewer. This was probably the reason that the curator felt the need to append a paragraph to the picture's label making reference to the Greek myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. The question then became one of how did this picture convey issues arising from that myth? This is where it is easy to level the charge of pretension at the curator. To be fair to the artist I made a search on arrival home to find out if there was anything to substantiate the irritating text on the wall of the NPG. Here I found images which were part of the series indicated by the number in the title. Placed in that context the image began to make sense, something that didn't happen with the single image on the wall.

Le (Salmacis No. 3) - Ivan Franco Fraga

I am going to leave the rest of this post for the reader to think upon rather than visit the prejudices of Graham and myself upon you. This selection of paintings were ones that we found of particular interest, all of which show the hand of the painter in one way or another. I'll leave you with these and the question of what constitutes a portrait?

The Postman - Frances Bell

Portrait of Anita Bell in her studio - Agata Wojcieszkiewicz

Today You Were Far Away - Ian Cumberland

The Dialects of Silence (Portrait of Michael Longley) - Colin Davidson

Joachim - Nathan Ford

Paul Ruddock - Eileen Hogan

Jane - Leo Holloway

Tony - Elizabeth Thayer

Footnote: On retiring to the nearest hostelry we came to the conclusion that once again the judges had got it wrong and were deserving of our opprobrium for their selection of so many portraits that failed to move us.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Any Suggestions?

Can anyone help with this little problem?

I began another painting of an Iris using the book I found courtesy of a post on Yvonne Harry’s wonderful blog (

In the photograph I selected, in fact another picture of the variety that I painted for my last Iris picture, it was obvious that the front standard was in shadow but the rear standard had some light on it. This presented the obvious dilemma of getting the balance of values right and getting it to read so that the standards are correctly placed.

Attempting to solve the value problem has involved me in making a number of glazing passes and up to this point I don’t think I’ve succeeded. Here is where I would like a little assistance. Can any of you make suggestions as to how I might improve the balances in this painting? I didn’t help myself by putting in the variegated textured background without adequate planning.

Over to you.  

All the gear

Another Iris WIP - Watercolour on Rough paper 16" x 12"

Thursday, 16 August 2012

How Green is my Valley?

For a variety of reasons this has been a bad year for oils. All of the usual excuses apply, time, commitments and the rest. So I was sat musing the other day and thought I'd be just as well trying some sort of activity when I posed myself the question, 'How good are your greens?' Like lots of other artists I'm no great shakes when it comes to mixing greens, so having decided to try and improve my foliage I then asked myself, 'What to paint?'

I had also been thinking earlier in the day that it would be pleasant to return to Tuscany as it's a few years since I'd been there. One of the glories there is the range of greens, particularly in the spring. So I dug out a sketch book from my last trip there and lighted upon some sketches made around the area of Badia a Passignana. In passing, this demonstrated the importance of making sketches and holding on to them, they make the most wonderful source material.

My next task was to mix up a range of greens and as a base I took the advice I found on a YouTube video by Marc Dalessio. He talked of making greens with French Ultramarine, Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Yellow and Yellow Ochre. Each blue/yellow mix has its own distinctive hue and can be varied by proportions, addition of white or complementary red. Once the mixtures were made it was just a case of making the sketch and selecting which was appropriate and where.

This was not meant to be an attempt at a finished work but more as an exercise to mix colour and reacquaint myself with the feel of the hog brushes and the slippery oils. An enjoyable session.

Badia a Passignana - Oil on canvas board 12" x 10"

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

July Challenge

The next in the series of monthly challenge photos that I share with my friend, Peter Ward. (

Peter sent this photograph of a canal scene  and I puzzled for a while as to how to approach the subject. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly the scene is fairly cluttered and it was difficult to decide what might be the focal point or indeed whether to have one or not. Secondly the image doesn't easily fit into the style that I've been working on recently.

Canal Side - Photograph

Finally I decided to crop the image a bit and to make the people in the boat the centre of attention by increasing the size of that element in the picture.

Having left little time to complete this task before the end of the month I'm afraid i dropped back into some formulaic techniques to get through it and have left myself a little dissatisfied on that count having failed to adapt some of the style aspects I've been working on.  On top of that  I realise there's another failing and that lies in the relationship between the canoe and the barge on the right hand side, their relative sizes don't read right. Back to the drawing board.

Canal Side - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9"

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Yet Another Iris

Well I did say that I felt a series coming on and here is today's effort. I'm learning a lot about softening edges and creating texture and shape with these so they are providing a lot of fun and enjoyment. As I look at their one there are a few wrinkles that could improve the piece and after a little bit of reflection I'll decide how to doctor them. I'm also in two minds as to whether or not to soften some of the main bloom's edges to merge into the background in places. Decisions, decisions.

Iris - Watercolour on Rough paper 16" x 12" 

Monday, 16 July 2012

St. Mark's Again

I'm still playing around with ways of making images that are looser than I used to and this weekend returned to a subject that I've looked at before. My sketchbook from Venice is a continuing source of inspiration for more paintings and this effort is a development of a piece I posted here some weeks ago.

St. Mark's Basilica - Watercolour on Rough paper 16" x 12"

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Something Different

This week's effort is a little different to recent work. I was chatting to some people the other day one of whom was a keen dog owner and I thought there was a subject I'd never tried before so I found a model in the pet of a couple who pop into the local. A quick sketch and a couple of photo later and I had the basic information to give it a go. I think the dog is a West Highland Terrier but I'm no expert so if anyone has a better idea it would be good to hear.

I treated this in the same way that I would a human portrait, starting with the central features, eyes and nose. After that the rest of the features seem to fall into place. An enjoyable experience. 

Now it's back to my Irises and Venice sketches. The current weather in Britain is playing havoc with my normal practice of painting plein air and I'm seriously neglecting the oils so this is becoming a very different year but nevertheless, interesting.

West Highland Terrier - Watercolour on Not paper 12" x 9"

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Another Iris

Last week I posted an Iris and got a great deal of pleasure from having produced it and I tim I mentioned that I felt a series coming on. I also mentioned that I had been inspired by a post by floral artist, Yvonne Harry. In her post she mentioned that she had used a photograph from a book by Claire Austin with photography by Clay Perry. A quick trawl on the net had me finding a new copy that the seller was parting with for less that £3, I jumped at the opportunity and paid the asking price with some alacrity. The book duly arrived and it is the most wonderful source material for anyone wanting to explore images of Irises.

Out with a 16" x 12" sheet of Waterford and down to work. This is quite a large size of paper for subject matter like this and also the particular approach that I was adopting. For much of the image I was going to attempt a nearly straight  technique allied with a really loose background. The bloom that I selected was predominantly violet and this presented its own difficulties. Creating variation in the depth of colour was worked on by building up glazes with occasional lifting. There was also an awful lot of edge softening during that process and keeping the paint moist over big areas until working on the edges runs the constant risk of creating runs. All good practice but very time consuming. My admiration for floral painters rose by the wash.

The background was done in the loose way mentioned in the last post, with a little salt and cling film.

I'm looking on this piece very much as a steep learning curve in managing the working of paint. As I look at it I think I might have made better choices about the choices of colour and the treatment of the major colour by introducing some colour variation. Still, an enjoyable exploration.

Iris - Watercolour on Not paper 16" x 12"