Rendering Clouds and Rhinos

(N.B. I create and schedule all my posts ahead of time in the school holidays and then just make minor adjustments before they are posted by the WP system. Unfortunately I am quite unwell at the moment and waiting to see if I need surgery so I can’t do this right now. Instead, I’ve decided to just let the system publish my posts automatically without the extra editing I usually do just before they go out. I apologise for any errors and for any problems I have getting back to people who comment while this is going on.)

My Quirky Friend

This week I played around a lot more with gouache. When I first tried this medium, a year or so ago, I found it quite tricky but I don’t think it’s actually difficult, it’s just quirky and idiosyncratic. Once you get to know it, it reveals it’s fun side. I guess it’s a bit like having a quirky friend. They might seem a bit odd at times but once you know them you see how lovely they really are. I really love friends like that!

The Joy of Totoro

So I began this week looking again at how different painters render clouds. I should really have gone straight for Monet’s The Seine at Argenteuil but I’ve recently been re-watching a lot of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films and I was really caught by the background artwork in My Neighbour Totoro. I wasn’t really doing a serious study but just sketching in my regular sketchbook. I was just full up with the joy and beauty of the film itself. This is what that sketching turned into…

I didn’t really get the cloud colours right, or the shapes for that matter but it was so much fun playing with the paint and re-experiencing the joy of the film through sketching! I worked from back to front in the picture so I could put the next layer I was working on over the edge of the previous layer.

Rhino Studies

Later on in the week I began thinking about Rhino’s and how they’re heading towards extinction. They’re magnificent, strong animals but can be unpredictable and cantankerous. Although I wouldn’t want to go down to the pub with a rhino, I kind of admire their fierce “sod-you” attitude. So I painted a couple.

I began with this one…

Which looked like this painted…

I liked the deep colours. Gouache gives a painter such a range of strong colours it’s tempting to use really saturated hues all the time just because you can. On reflection I thought my rendering here made the skin look more like that of a hippo, sort of rounded and slimy, especially up near the ears. So I had another go and this time I went for more realistic colours so I could concentrate on more subtle shades and hues.

Here’s the sketch…

I used an under-painting on this to get my eyes around the main darks and lights…

Then I went for the final picture…

I was using this study to practice rendering 3D shapes with paint and to learn to use more muted colours and shades. I am happy with some of it and would like to work on other bits a bit more next time. I like the shape just behind and under the animal’s eye, where the face has a concave look because of the bone structure. I was also pleased with the hints here and there in the shadows of the range of violet and blue shadows I was using in addition to the shaded local colour. On the other hand I’m not that keen on the ears or the bottom of the front horn. Neither of these parts of the image scan as well as I had hoped.

Learning Curves (Caution: maths fun ahead)

I’ve been painting for most of my adult life now. I wonder if I will always have things I would like to change next time in the work I produce? I’m aiming to get each picture just how it is in my mind, but they’re always a bit different. Wanting to paint a perfect picture feels a bit like trying to approach the speed of light. It’s fairly easy to make progress when you’re a beginner but the better you get the more energy it takes to improve. It’s like the graph of 1/x. As x goes up, y gets closer and closer to zero but never gets there, like this…

In fact I think with art it’s more like this brilliant graph of a curvilinear asymptote…

How cool is that!

I really hope the learning never stops, I love the ride on this mad slope.

“The Storm” Painting – Watercolour and Gouache

Today I made a painting using both watercolour and gouache.  It was quite hard to do.  I used watercolour fo the sky although it actually took several tries to get the sky how I wanted it.  The first ones ended up like this:


Goodness – what a mess!

I think I found it particularly hard because I’ve been working in gouache for a few days and with that medium, like with acrylics, you can, to a certain extent, paint your way out of trouble.  Not so with watercolour – either you make it or you don’t.  Clearly, at first,  I didn’t make it!  😀

Anyway, after throwing a couple away I managed to get the balance between water on the paper and paint density on my pallete right (ish).  As you can see on my failed sky above, I used masking tape to mark my horizon.  I found this really effective.

Once I’d painted the sky I began to paint the land using gouache.  I wanted to emphasise the effect you sometimes get when a storm is building where the sky appears dark and thundery but the land is bright and luminous.  To push this effect hard I decided to paint a yellow land – like you get in late spring when the oil-seed rape is in bloom.  I knew I wanted trees on the left but I needed a focal point too so I chose to paint a little church.  It’s odd because in my mind this painting was set in England, in Suffolk, where I have seen such a landscape (without the church) and yet the church I painted was one I saw years ago in Wisconsin in the US – it was made of wood and painted white with a lovely light blue roof.  Inside it was just plain white and full of sunlight – beautiful.  I think because of these memories it made a good contrast for me between the dark of the storm and the light of that particular building.

This is how the picture turned out:

Dark Light Landscape_WEB

I’m pretty pleased with it.  I think I’m always kind of drawn in by blues and yellows when they’re put togther.  They make up my favourite colour combination.  I also like it that the palette is a little restricted – no reds at all.  I enjoy that in a painting too.

All of that said I am beginning to be challenged by a question in my artistic adventures –

Should I follow this blossoming love of gouache or stick with watercolour? 

The gouache painting feels natural, almost native to me, as a means of expression, but it’s not a medium I known as well as watercolour and you can’t paint skies like the above with gouache (well I couldn’t anyway!!!).  I find watercolour very demanding but extremely rewarding.  However, with gouache I feel like, with some work and dedication, I could paint anything which is very exciting.


PS:  I am very pleased to say that I found my camera today!!!  I had stored it at the bottom of an old broom cupboard (why – I have no idea??) but now I’ve got it back.  It is so good to have a decent camera again and not have to struggle with my phone anymore.  🙂

foundmy camera

The Golden Age of Steam

I’ve always loved steam trains.  I love the smell of them and the way the train rocks and the sound of the wheels and the engine.  In a couple of weeks time I’m going with my son and a couple of friends from Church to the Harry Potter Studio Tour.  I can’t wait!!  I’ve hear that you can now see the Hogwarts Express there too!!!

HP Studio Tour

So thinking about all of this I downloaded some photos of a number of steam trains and had a go at painting one today.  I’m still feeling quite under the weather, but I love painting and I miss it when I don’t do it for a day so I had a go.  My thinking was that I would not put it up here in a post if it turned out too bad!


Most of the way through I was thinking that it wasn’t really a good job. I was massively frustrated with my lack of detail but I kept myself to a process where you paint the main shapes first and then the shapes within the shapes and then the shapes within those shapes adn then start joining it together with shadows and light.  It really showed me today how painting is an act of faith, becuase at first it looked nothing like what I was going for and, given that I was still feeling unwell, I made a lot of mistakes too – blobs of paint falling onto the paper, painting sections of colour when the adjacent section wasn’t yet dry and getting the paint bleeding through and generally mucking it up all over the place.  However, my trusty kitchen roll got me out of most of that and what I couldn’t repair I painted over.  The end result is OK but to me feels a bit flat.  It doesn’t have that jump-off-that-page beauty which I always a feel a big red steam engine should have.  That said at least it does look like a train which is more than it dod at the beginning!


Here is my pencil contruction work for the sketch:


Here is the sketch itself:


And here is the final painting:

Steam Train_FIN_WEB

Holiday Painting #1

While I was on holidays in the West Country I did some painting.  Before I went I pared down my art equipment to something small which I could carry – although it doesn’t look very small when spread out here!


The first picture I did was just a few yards from the centre.  Here’s a reference photo:


I did this one on a watercolour postcard so it took just a few minutes.  For my taste the colours are a bit bright adn the whole thing looks a bit too twee.  But it was a good exercise to get my painting head on.