Gold and Blue Macaw – Watercolour


This week I painted a Gold and Blue Macaw.  They are really beautiful birds and often have the most loving and friendly personalities.

I began with a sketch…


Then I added some masking fluid to the face area…


Next I laid down some basic light coloured washes.  I aimed their tone to be the brightest of all of the tones in each area.  That way I could layer other washes on top and gradually pick up my mid-range and dark areas…


Once this was done I got down to rendering each surface with progressively darker washes and then adding details (my favourite part of any painting!)

Here’s the final picture…


I quite like his yellow under feathers and head, but if I were going to do this again I would work on my portrayal of his left wing.  It just doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped in my mind’s eye.



Meru, mountains and mobility


So last night I was kicking back watching a film on Netflix.  It’s called ‘Meru’ and is about a legendary Himalayan climb on a mountain who’s top is called ‘The Shark’s Fin’



As a young adult, and right through my twenties, I loved walking and climbing in the mountains.  I did some walking in the Alps with family when I was 16 and then some tougher climbing routes in Scotland, North Wales and the Breacon Beacons through my twenties with friends.  From the very beginning I just adored the simplicity of the thing.

Anyway at 31 I got injured internally while giving birth to my son.  It was a neurological injury and consequentially took years and many operations to figure out.  Then in my early 40’s I developed a infection which lasted months and gave rise to post infective fibromyalgia.  When I had the pelvic problems alone my walking was restricted and I could no longer climb.  Once the chronic pain thing happened I began struggling to walk even short distances.

I don’t really miss the climbing nowadays at all – it seems to be too much like hard work(!)  but I still have a lot of sympathy for folk who feel driven to get themselves up these tremendous peaks.  I was drawn to it by the sensation of climbing itself, the burning of your muscles, the percussive kicking into the ice and the wild isolation, all of which gave me a sense of euphoria.  What I do miss now though is walking, the joy of just gambolling about wherever you want.

So this week I painted a picture of a place I visited in the Alps when I was 16.  It’s a valley called Val d’Anniviers in Switzerland.  (One of my God-Parents was Swiss and lived just outside Geneva with her English husband. I’ve known them all my life.  We have holiday’d with them, over there, a few times and they’ve holiday’d over here with us.  Very sadly we lost them suddenly in a plane crash in 2011 while they were on holiday in Botswanna.)  That holiday in Val d’Anniviers with both our families is my strongest memory of them.  I can’t think of the Alps without thinking of them.  So this is for them and their surviving daughters who were mine and my sister’s friends growing up.

Here’s the Swiss Tourist Board picture from that valley which I used as a reference (NB: Not my own photography.)


Many tourist type pictures are heavily doctored to make the places look pristine.  But this valley really is exactly like that photo.  It’s like walking through a real wonderland.  What the photo doesn’t show is the freshness of the air up there and the sound of the local cattle and goats with bells around their necks.  It’s was a real priviledge to have a go at painting this place.

I sketched out the main forms first (and changed them a bit to give me the feel and shape I wanted)…

Then I made a detailed ink drawing…

After that I played around in Photoshop for a while trying out different colour combinations.  My favourite two were these…


I couldn’t decided between them so I painted my final colours as a mix of the two.  I painted on different watercolour paper this week as I had some real issues with the paper last week.  It seemed to pay off as I had no further problems.

Here’s the final painting…

In loving memory of Nadine and Stuart. xxx

A Shin Hanga Heron

I had another go at trying to create a Shin Hanga styled painting this week.  It taught me a lot about how I need to find the vision of a piece of art before I start to paint.
As before I began with a quick sketch in my sketchbook and then planned how I would paint it.  I chose only one reference for the shape of the heron, but used six for the colours.  I worked out what colour I needed where and then made a plan to get that to happen.  Here’s my plan…
Then I started painting.  I began with a variegated wash in paynes grey and ultramarine with a little cerulean blue added towards to the top half of the paper…
Then I painted it according to my plan.
Here’s the final painting…
I’m not overly keen on this painting.  I think what is wrong is that I didn’t quite have a fully formed vision for the painting before I painted it.  I went straight into the ‘how’ questions before I was really clear on what exactly I wanted in my final picture.  I also made assumptions about the colours and didn’t think out the perspective I wanted with the shapes I have in the water.   In the Shin Hanga tradition an awful lot of thought is put into colour and tonal choices as well as careful work on perspective and reflections.  So if I want to make Shin Hanga styled watercolours I need to put in the same work, I need to find the vision for the piece and see it in my mind and heart before I start the technical side of the venture in actually painting the picture.  So that’s what I’m going to do next time.

BB8 – watercolour and digital effects


This week I painted a favourite of mine – BB8 – the little spherical droid from the sequal triology in Star Wars.

I began with a sketch…

Then I laid in my basic colours.  After trying a watercolour light grey background I decided to go for a rich blue.  I mixed my watercolours with white gouach to give them opacity and smoothness.  Next I began working on the shadows and dirt marks on the droid.

Here’s the finished painting…


It was fun and I got quite close to the reference image of BB8 I was using.  However it seemed flat and lacking in life.  To try to push the image a bit I decided to play with various digital effects to see what direction I could go in with the original painting.  So I scanned it into photoshop, colour corrected it for my irritatingly bad scanner and then corrected the tones.  Once I had it looking like it does in real life I began to try various things to see how I wanted my final image to look.

The thing that worked best was to push the tonal range a bit darker and then run a filter on it (I think I used Fresco).

Here’s the final digital image…


I like the way it’s pushed the darker tones far beyond my reference picture and given life to my flat gouche blue background.  Next time I paint I might try to push my original traditional painting more towards this kind of finish.  It might be less accurate but it has more life.

The Shape of Light on Water #4

This week I was looking at how water splashes.  I began by looking through about 50 different splash photographs to find what kind of water splash I wanted and to get a feel for the way water bends and focuses light.  Then I used a combination of the best five or six and adapted them into my final original design.

Here’s the start of the drawing.  I made an overall light sketch of the general areas and then completed most of the tones in each section before moving on…



Here’s the final pencil drawing…


I used my graphgear 1000 for most of it and filled in the greyer tones with another 2B mechanical pencil.

Graphgear 1000

As it goes I feel pleased with how it looks although my son couldn’t see it as a splash until I told him what it was so I’m clearly not quite there yet.  I do think it’s an improvement on last week’s effort though.

The more I look at the finished pencils the more it cries out to be painted.  Do I dare mess with it further?

Well yes!!!  If you can’t follow your heart in painting then where can you?!  I know it might be “hit by anti-aircraft guns” again but I’m going to give it a go anyway.


The Shape of Light on Water #1


I’ve been unwell for a few weeks.  Up until now my posts have been already written and scheduled weeks before they were published so it’s all worked automatically.  However now I have run out.  I am feeling better but I’m still waiting to see if my doctor will give me an operation so I’m not up to much in the way of painting.  (I was too ill for the surgery I was due to have earlier this week.)

So I’m going to post some stuff this week from last summer when I was inspired by a beautiful holiday on a boat in Norfolk.  None of the following pictures are really finished works – instead it’s a record of my progress in trying to paint water.

I became fascinated with the shape of water and the way light reflects from it while we were on the boat.  But, try as I might, I found water very diffcult to draw.  At first I couldn’t even really see clearly what I was looking at because it was moving and changing all the time.  So I studied still photos of bodies of water and tried to see the pattern.

My first go at painting this was fairly poor…



It seems to me that my boat is sailing on some gently rippling cotton material rather than water!  The gold paint was my attempt to salvage the painting, with little success.

Then I had a go with pencils.  I used Faber Castell Aquarelles.  With this picture I was looking to simplify the patterns I could see in my photographs so I limited myself to three colours.



I lost control of the blues in places and they’ve kind of leaked into the other colours.  I’m not sure if this worked with or against the likeness of water but either way I didn’t like it.  So I next decided to try the same picture again using gouache paint where I could be stronger with my colour boundaries…



In this picture for the first time I could see something of a likeness to water despite it being quite sylised.

Progress – hooray!


Next week I’ve got another painting on the same theme of water where I followed a tutorial / demo from a guy called Steve Cronin on YouTube.


Loose Feel Watercolour Koi


I’ve been fascinated this week with watching koi.  They are such graceful fish.  It’s very hard to know which is my favourite but a pure white Tancho with a circular red Hi mark never fails to make me gasp.  (This is a plain white fish with a red circle on it’s forehead.)

So I had another go at painting a Koi with watercolour.  I began with a simple sketch…




Then added some masking fluid and changed my Koi to a butterfly Koi…




Then I painted him…


I didn’t stick to any breed type as I wanted to let the colour flow.


Jellyfish Fun


I drew a small quick picture of a jellyfish this week in my sketchbook.

Here’s my sketch…

(22 minutes)

And here’s my painting…

(Which took about 25 minutes.)

I made a bit of a big mistake in that I didn’t use any reference.  I should have done but my pain was bad, so I drew the sketch in bed and didn’t get around to looking up reference.   I think it really shows too.  Ho hum – you live and learn.

Originally I used a deep yellow and purple colour mix but I think it looked better when I added reds and blues to it which is what you see here.

“I am Batman”

This week I wanted to draw / paint in greyscale – more of a tonal study.  I thought the Dark Knight (Batman) would make the perfect subject.

For this picture I used a variety of painting and drawing tools. ..

  • Pencil HB, 2B, 4B
  • Ink pens – W&N Brush Markers, Copic Multiliner 0.5
  • Ink and a brush
  • Charcoal powder and a tissue

I began with a sketch:


Then I began filling it in…

I used the brush markers and brush painted ink as a basic tonal layer and then used the pencils to create a smoother gradient on top.


I made up my own moulding of his headgear (which was brilliant fun!)

I kind of cheated a bit with Batman’s chin.  I’ve never painted the Dark Knight before but I’d had a go at Judge Dredd a few times so I used my version of Dredd’s chin!!!



Once my main subject was completed I sketched in my background.


I used similar techniques to draw my buildings in the middle background but kept the tonal range of them narrower and lighter to create distance and force Batman forward in the picture.

Then to make the sky I masked off the lighter area I wanted for the projected bat signal and then used a charcoal technique.


Instead of drawing with a charcoal stick or a charcoal pencil I scraped a stick repeatedly over a tissue to get some charoal dust on it and then used it to make a moody cloudy grey sky.


Finally I painted the bat signal in black and added some shading to the circle and it was done…


NB:  The picture is my own work but Batman as a character is the property of DC comics.