The Phoenix and the New Job

Well,  I got the job I went for a few weeks back and today I passed the health screening from the County Council Occupational Health Department, so come September I’m going to be working again!  I feel really lucky because it’s a really super school and the job fits what I’m able to do at the moment really well.

In celebration I thought I’d paint something.  I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook of J.K. Rowling’s Chamber of Secrets again and, since I go off to sleep listening to these stories, my dreams have been full of phoenix’s.  So here’s what I dreamed…



I painted this in watercolour.  It was a new experience of the medium for me.  Although I was aware of the fact that I was working in watercolour I continued to paint as if I were using gouache which really changed how things went.  I build the pcture up in layers – a background colour and then firey feathers over the top.  Finally I wanted just a little more definition at the end and  used ink to add some harder lines.  It’s not a typical watercolour type subject but it was kind of fun to do.


Watercolour Rose – more playing with colour

Last night I watched a You Tube video where the artist, Birgit O’Connor uses a wet on wet blending technique where she moves the colour around using gravity.  It looks amazing:


I wanted to have a try with my new paints using this technique.  So I found a picture of a rose to use as a basic reference image but I knew that, apart from the shape, I was going to deviate from the reference significantly because I didn’t know what the paint would do.  It was fascinating to watch the paint mixing and moving – I got quite carried away with it and worked on this picture for a couple of hours which is a long time for me.  During that time I forgot to take any process pictures – I was just caught up in the painting itself.

My results were a bit mixed, but this is only the first attempt – I’m sure with practice I can get better.  Anyway here it is:


A Barn Owl from Memory – playing with colour

Rather than work through some more of my watercolour book I want to spend some time getting used to my new Winsor and Newton Paints.  My favourite animal is the Barn Owl.  Barn Owls are completely silent when they hunt.  The fly really  slowly, so much so that they seem to be just hanging in the air.  I once had the privilege of watching one in the Cambridgeshire countryside in the early evening just meters from me.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.  I hope I never forget it.

Here are some photos (not my work) of this beautiful creature:

barn owl in tree

barn owl in flight

barnowl on fence post

I have a collection of Barn Owl photographs (hundreds of photos) which helps me know the animal quite well visually.  So I decided to paint a picture of one without any reference – from memory.

Here’s the background, which I painted first:


Any here’s the finished painting:


Looking at it now I can see lots of improvements I would make if I painted this again – but he’s recognisably an owl!

So what now?

In the last week I’ve reviewed four books – a general painting book, a watercolour book, an acrylic painting book and an oil painting book.  Some have been better than others for a whole variety of reasons.  Of the four I’m going to spend time working with three of them over the next 6 months.  But more than learning about how to paint in various ways though I also learned about what different mediums are particularly good for.  For instance the abstract, geometric, very brightly coloured acylic painting I used to do was perfect for acrylics.

Jo Fox Contemporary Acrylics
Jo Fox Contemporary Acrylics

Now although I don’t know for sure because I’m not an oil painter,  my feeling is that oil painting is perfect for portraits.  There’s a luminous warmth to the way oil paint can be used which I’ve never seen in another medium and this seems perfect for drawing living human beings.  Then there’s watercolour which, in our watery world, is capable of drawing sky and weather and land in ways which I don’t think other mediums can match.  All of these things said, each medium can do much much  more than I’ve suggested.  There are beautiful watercolour portraits and wonderful oil or acrylic landscapes.  So this brings me to a central question.  What do I want to do now and in what medium?

(1) I was planning to spend some time working in acrylic again, trying to develop a more formal and rigorous technique.  But the Acrylics book I bought wasn’t very good for that type of learning and I don’t know how to go on from here without any teaching.  So I’m going keep the acrylics for more abstract and surreal type painting where there are clear sections of bright, graded colour.  F0r example I might redo this painting in acrylics but grade each section of the landscape gently from one colour to another (with corresponding changes in tone too).


I think this would work really well in acrylics and I could make the hills look much more three dimensional in interesting ways.   It might be fun.  But I won’t be concentrating on acrylic work.

(2) I definitely want to continue with watercolour.  It’s medium I found frustratingly, throw-it-out-the-window-in-disgust, difficult at first but now I am beginning to really love.  So I am going to use the brilliant watercolour book I reviewed…


…to improve my technique, along with some excellent tutorials on You Tube.  I’m going to move from student paint (W&N Cotman Watercolours) which I’m using at the moment, to Artists quality paints (probably from the Winsor and Newton range again).  I’m also going to get a board and learn to stretch my paper do all the other proper things I’ve not really bothered with yet like using gouche white and masking fluid. Once I’ve got my basic skills working well I want to try a wider range of painting with watercolour – trying to use deeper colour, having a go at abstract work and trying to make really accurate biological paintings which look photo-realistic.  I feel quite excited just thinking about it!

(3) At some point, probably later next year, I also want to have a go at oil painting.  I’ll need to get some second hand materials as the old ones I was using were lost when I last moved house.  (They went into the loft and never came out again – honestly, lofts are like the Burmuda Triangle where I’m concerned!)

I’m also going to be moving house in the next few months which will also be exciting and challenging.  Once I’m settled I want to think about exhibiting my work for the first time and maybe selling it.

So lots of exciting things to come!  🙂


Dobby – A Watercolour Portrait

I decided to do a portrait today of a personal hero – Dobby the House Elf (from Harry Potter).


I began with a sketch. I don’t know if you can see it (below), but made him smile a bit more – I wanted a happier elf.


And then began to paint.  I approached the actual painting in a series of discrete washes, starting from light coloured ones and moving towards darker coloured ones.  (This is a method I’ve read about in a Water colour book:


So here are some photos of the painting as it progressed.

dobbypaint1 dobbypaint2

And here it is finished:



The Lightning Tree

Near where we live there is a tree which has been struck by lightning – aptly named, the ‘Lightning Tree’.  I managed to get a sketch of it the other day.  It’s not the best but for me it represents a step forward as this was the first time I have been able to relax while sketching outside.

This is the sketch:

lighteningtreesketchI saw a you tube video where the artist painted a silver birch last night so I thought I’d have a go at this subject for a watercolour.

This time I did use watercolour paper.  It was done in A3 which was nice because it gave me lots of room.  Despite that I made a rooky mistake and sketched my tree a little too high on the paper but didn’t realise until after I was already painting it so I had to live with it.  This is how it turned out:

lightningtree_fin_webI got the hang of the watercolours just a little bit more doing this but I can see that, if I choose to paint a lot more in this medium it’s going to take a LOT of work.  I enjoyed the way the paint only runs on the wet patches and not on the dry which was useful for controlling the movement of the water.  I also enjoyed the sharpness you can get painting fine tree branches and fine shadow lines. I find this kind of detail harder to achieve in acrylics.  The thing I found most difficult was that you can’t get out of trouble by over-painting.  With acrylics I tend to paint my way out of a mistake.  There’s not room for that in watercolour – it just compounds the error.  I’m not sure how I feel about water colours.  They are amazing but they are difficult too.

PS:  I may not post much for the next week as I’m not feeling very well.  Hopefully I’ll be back next week.   🙂

(All Images unless otherwise explicitly stated are © Jo Fox, 2015)

Oh my goodness, watercolour is difficult!

Last night I was roaming around on You Tube thinking about having some more arty fun.  I came across some watercolour demos which were fascinating.  I was amazed by the way the painters use the water to carry the paint and how quick and subtle and skillful some of them are.  Amazing stuff!  So I thought I’d have a go.  It was a bit of a leap of faith as I am, apart from one previous poor attempt, a water colour virgin.  However, one of the reasons I’m writing this blog is to stretch myself a bit and try things which are difficult.  For me painting with acrylics is like coming home, it’s like doing something I know well and love.  With water colour it’s very different.  I feel like I’m in the deep end in foreign territory where I am suddenly a painting mute.

So, first I got some things together.  Since I’ve only got three sheets of watercolour paper I wanted to practice a bit at first so I got out some thick charcoal paper in an off-white colour and some coloured pastel paper to practice and play around on.

gettingreadytotrywatercolourI tried working on the charcoal paper first because most watercolour work I’ve seen has been on lighter paper.

It didn’t start out well…

startsnowI wanted to paint a hedgerow in early spring when there’s been a late snow and the sky and snow look blueish white and the hedgerow looks brown apart from this tree with pink blossom.  I saw it a few years back.  That was the idea anyway.    🙂

I don’t know what that blank blob is doing in the sky or why the colour is all yuck but this is how it started.  Really I should have stopped at this point but I blundered onwards…

After I did this I felt quite sick…

paintingwithfennelteaIt’s fennel tea with my paint brush in it.  Maybe that’s a clue as to why my colour was all odd?  Note to self… keep your tea cup away from your water jar Jo – it’s too easy for you to get confused.   😀

Anyway, in the end it didn’t turn out at all how I could see it in my mind.  I’ll show it here for accuracy purposes but I’m far from proud of this one.

snowandblossomAhem…moving on.

Next I wanted to use the fact that water colour is great at representing sky and sea.  I decided to paint a boat in a calm empty seashore at night. (It had to be at night becuase I was going to use dark(ish) blue paper.)

It started out OK…

…and then went pretty horrible…

boat1So I started again, with a landscape picture this time…


By this stage I was at the point of giving up on watercolours and, because of that I think, I relaxed and stopped fretting about it.  It ended up a little better…

boat2I’ll have another go tomorrow on real water colour paper and see what happens.    🙂

(All Images unless otherwise explicitly stated are © Jo Fox, 2015)