Squid in Watercolour

I had a go at painting a squid this week. Here’s how it went…

Basic structure in pencil
More details added
Completed drawing

I tend to use the same basic approach to painting as I do drawing, which is to draw/paint the bigger shapes first and the successively add small shapes. Below I’ve put on the basic overall wash and then add a few more detailed washes to add some darker pigment for shadows and darker skin colouration.

First wash of watercolour

Gradually I built up the washes until I was content with the final picture…

Joy and Sorrow

In the last week or so I’ve been trying to draw images which are more symbolic, rather than representational. Of the various things I sketched I picked these two since they are opposites in my mind.


The first, the octopus, for me symbolises joy. I love octopuses. They are such ingenious, unusual animals. I feel my heart get lighter every time I see one!

I wanted to make an octopus design for the folder of some work I’m doing to try to get well. I began with an idea in my mind but, unlike an octopus, I struggled coordinating all 8 arms! So I played around with it a bit…

Then I made a quick sketch…

Finally I reworked this sketch into a proper ink drawing…

I tried to really simplify what is a very complex animal into a basic form which would still be recognisable. This isn’t something I’m good at. I think I could simplify this design even more and people would still pick up that it’s an octopus, but it is as far as I went for this particular adventure.


I have 2 chronic pain conditions. This picture symbolises what one of those feels like…

While it’s not a pleasant image, it does capture the type of sharp burning pain which myself and other people with neurological pain can experience.


With this exercise, I found it harder than I thought I would to think up visually symbolic ways of showing feelings. I think my brain is very practical and realistic – rather than imaginative. Perhaps more practice will help.


I want to finish with some footage from the Dodo Kids Channel on YouTube. It is of a beautiful little octopus called Egbert. The video was definitely made for children, but I love it anyway – it just makes me smile!!! 😊

Ink vs Watercolour vs Digital

This weeks artwork is from a drawing I made a few months ago and took really slowly. It began with an A3 sketch…

Then I added some details…

…and finallly inked…

I used my Pigma Microns for the black ink and my W&N Brush Markers for the greys.

Here’s the final ink drawing…

But it just seemed too dull. So I tried adding some colour. I did this with watercolour…

…and with digital colour…

So which method wins, ink, watercolour or digital?

I think my favourite by the slightest margin is the watercolour. Overall though, I don’t think any of them really hit the mark. That vital “something” in a painting, which I can’t define, but can feel when it’s present, is just not there in any of these. I think the thing that pulls the watercolour slightly ahead of the others for me is, ironically, something I didn’t control, which happens naturally with paint.

I was using cheap watercolour paper, rather than my favourite Arches Hot-Pressed paper. So when I got it properly wet it buckled and stretched. This caused the paint to gather in the “troughs” of the paper leaving the “peaks” a little whiter. Here is an example of what I’m talking about…

In the larger pale yellow gap between features you can see darker cadmium yellow deep sections which are strung out like cirrus clouds. This was entirely due to the way the paint settles onto buckled paper.

On reflection I think it is nature’s hand which I love best in almost all art that I can think of. I see it sometimes in paintings of animals and plants, I see it in natural processes inside the paint like this, I even see it in the patterns and archetypes which walk through our books, paintings, films and TV series.

The Nest

I saw a beautiful, detailed picture of a wasp’s nest a few weeks ago.  I really loved the patterns the colony had made as part of their home.  Initially I planned to draw just the nest but I thought having a member of the colony coming straight out towards the viewer would give the nest context and make the picture more dynamic.

Here are some process shots of the development of my picture…

More detailed pencils
Ink outlines
Ink details

Before filling out the rest of the nest I enclosed an area in pencil which would show a highlight along the edge of the nest.  I wanted to see how I could change the pattern to give this impression and if it would work to make the nest appear more three dimensional.  In the diagram below I’ve highlighted the area I outlined in pencil in lilac.  To make the highlighted part of the nest look lighter I made thick lines thinner and dropped out many of the really thin lines altogether.

I think it works as a first approximation.  Next time, rather than just highlighting a single area and adding some deeper shadows on the sunless side I would like to see if I could spread out the highlight and have it gradually become lighter right across the surface of the nest and then go a little darker again. 

Anyway, as it stands, here is the final ink drawing I made…

(PS:  In terms of my health I hope I am slowly beginning to “turn the corner” now. Thank you so much for your kind messages. I am trying to get back to normal but that’s a longer journey than I had hoped at the moment.  I am now on some heavy duty psychiatric drugs for my mental health.  It was like having a soft down blanket lying over my mind at first but I am beginning to experience things more clearly in the last few days.   I do feel better on this medicine though and it’s controlling the worst of my symptoms. I’m still hearing and sometimes seeing things that aren’t there but it’s rarely the really bad stuff now and I can mostly ignore it.

  I think the doctors and other clinical staff have been really very good indeed. Their decisions seem sound and are helping me. I was discharged from the hospital team back to the community team on Tuesday of this week which sounds good but feels scary.

  I’m hoping to get my physical health a bit better soon too. I’m on long term antibiotics again for my chest which hasn’t been clear for months and my cardiologist is doing some tests so he can work out a plan. I have also finally got an appointment with the doctor from my pain clinic. So, things are looking up a bit after so many things were put on the back burner during Covid. I really do appreciate your support and kind words!

Thanks again!  Jo 😁 )


My wonderful son has now graduated from University.  He got a very well deserved first!  Before he even got his results though, he also got himself a really good job. 

He had a chance at the job about week after he handed in his dissertation.  He had been planning a good rest and some chilling out on the beach after working so hard, but he said the job was too good an opportunity to pass up and went for it anyway even though he was really bone tired.  I think that took real fortitude. 

I couldn’t be more proud of him, and yet the thing that I admire in him the most is that, through all of these things, he remains a thoroughly decent, loving, courageous man who would do anything to help those around him.  I know I’m biased, but I think he’s the best son in the world.

I made this small painting sketch a few weeks before he graduated, but I was thinking how strong and independent he had become and, since my health was (and is) quite poor, how hollowed out and broken I am feeling.

I am trying really hard to get myself sorted out but it’s just really difficult.  I feel like a house of cards which will fall if any one card is wobbled a bit.  This week, after trying a bit too hard to clear my chest using some exercises from the chest physio, I think I must have irritated my throat.  Anyway I had a laryngospasm in the night, where my vocal chords closed and I couldn’t breathe.  In fighting to breathe I hurt my vocal chords which turned into an infection which then gave me bronchitis.  Then the coughing made my pain worse and the pain and the fever made my mental health worse!

I am quite lucky though, drawing and painting is still a very calming, soulful activity for me and it continues to be a refuge.

So I began this sketch with a pencil drawing…

Normally when I draw for painting I just get the main shape outlines done and then fill in the rest with the paint, but in this one I tried putting in a full tonal drawing and then painting over that.

Here is the finished painting…

I think having the tonal drawing underneath the paint was mostly quite helpful.  It pushed my darks darker.  It also gave me the feeling of the shape I was painting much more fully.  The only real negative was that my colour was affected by the darker pencil tones.  In places they  muddied things a bit.  So I lifted off some of that paint with my trusty kitchen towel (always a life-saver) and repainted those places.

Zebra in Ink

This week’s art is a Zebra sketched in pencil and then drawn in ink over the course of an hour or two.

Here’s the drawing in a little more detail…

Leaves – Mixed Watercolour and gouache

This week I played around with using watercolour and gouache together in my watercolour sketchbook. I tried to allow this sketch to become more impressionistic. I’m afraid I got so drawn in by the painting that I didn’t make any process photos – oops!

Here is the finished sketch:

PS: Apologies if I take while to get back to you at the moment or to keep up with reading the blogs I follow. I’m still unwell. I will do my best though. Take care!

Spirit of the Wood

I only managed to draw something small this week. It’s a traditional ink drawing with greyscale tones added digitally to the scanned image. I’ve called it the Spirit of the Wood.

It really began as a doodle, while waiting on the phone for 111 to answer. It was done on the back of an envelope! Fortunately I was able to scan it and clean the slight shadows of the envelope structure off the picture.

I was thinking about the idea that places can sometimes, almost, have a personality of their own. At the end of my road there is a big stand of Oak, populated by a family of crows. I’ve heard owl’s calling at night from there and seen bats flying around in the late evening too.

This drawing is a portrait of the spirit of that place.

Yesterday, for the second time, I saw a Red Kite hunting in the sky above that same stand of trees! They have an awesome call which is quite unmistakable. (I had wondered initially if it was just a really big Marsh Harrier at first, but it had the classic V in it’s tail and then I heard it call.) It was going for a pigeon.

Photograph taken by Prosthetic Head  Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

(PS: If you want to hear the Red Kite call, the RSPB has a page here where you can listen to it.)

Mandarin Fish – Ink

This week’s drawing is of a Mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus). As it’s scientific name suggests, it is a truly splendid fish with bags of character and gorgeous colours and patterns. While, in this drawing I wanted to capture the patterns, I like the animal so much that I think a detailed watercolour painting would be really lovely to do. I have some ideas for that cooking already in the back of my mind.

Here are a couple of pictures of the fish by a photographer called Luc Viatour (CC BY-SA 3.0):

Mandarin Fish by Luc Viatour (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Mandarin Fish by Luc Viatour (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I suspect that if they weren’t so very difficult to feed they might be the most sought after fish in the marine aquarium trade. Apparently they are particularly fond of Copepods (their natural diet on the reef in the wild) and quite resistant to being fed on frozen food like brine shrimp or bloodworm.

Copepod Species by Andrei Savitsky (CC BY-SA 4.0)

I have read about some aquarists who have managed to feed them on some frozen food by taking the time and gentle effort to teach them that the food is OK, but it takes a lot of skill and patience I think.

Here is the sketch I began with…

Before I got to this stage I sketched out the basic shapes to get the main structural elements proportionally correct but I forgot to photograph it.

Next I inked in an outline of the main areas and then added my ink rendering and textures. I particularly enjoyed making these three textures…

A – was the speckling on the tail which had a kind of randomised pattern to it which I really liked.

B – was a set of cross hatching marks in various directions which I like up close as a pattern but from a distance reads more like a simple grey scale area.

C – was the edges of the fins which were crinkled up and wavy in places.

To further push the impression of a three dimensional fish I then added some watered down black watercolour as a wash over the body of the fish. This also made the lighter coloured stripes stand out more.

Here’s the final drawing…