Manatee Mama

This week, while waiting for some more pictures of Jim for the portrait, I made a line and wash painting of a manatee mama and her calf. I love the slow gentle nature of these animals and the beauty of their curvy body shape. I would rather swim with these guys than dolphins any day, although octopuses are still my favourite. I think I would give my right arm to swim with an octopus!

Here are my process photos…

I have a strong preference for scientific styled paintings of animals and plants which usually have plain white backgrounds. However having some kind of background really helps a painting find connection with it’s viewers. This week I tried to make a smaller background by masking off a smaller rectangle around my main subjects and painting in a varigated wash using yellows greens and blues. Peeling off the extra masking was such a joy – like peeling the plastic protector off a new calculator or phone!

I stopped to savour the last bit and ended up photographing it.

Once this was done I painted my manatees. I began with big washes over the grey / brown areas and green areas (where the animals get covered in algae) and then moved on to the details.

Here’s the final painting…


Since I’ve not painted for a few weeks I wanted to get back into the swing of it before attempting an important portrait of my son’s Grandad who passed away recently.

I began this painting just messing about with gouache on a watercolour background.  The foliage began life as grass, but soon became the kind of water weed found in freshwater rivers and lakes in the UK.  Then I sprayed it with some fixative (since gouache can be reactivated very easily by water). 

Once it was partially fixed I sketched on a fish like this…

I blocked in the underpainting of the fish roughly, giving it some warm and cooler colours…

Next I partially fixed the painting again with the fixative and then applied a more finished layer.  I also tidied up the my rendering of the weed too…

Finally I added all of my details and highlights and then painted in some weed in front of the fish.

Here is my completed painting…

When making this painting I changed my usual gouache process a little.  I added a spray of fixative between layers.  This partially stabilised the gouache so that the layer beneath wasn’t quite so readily activated by paint on top.  This method worked really brilliantly allowing me all of the freedom of using gouache without the hassle.  I will use this method again I think.


Up on the Moors

Very sadly, a couple of weeks ago my father in law passed away. He had been ill but we were hoping for another year with him. In many ways it released him from pain and suffering which is good, but I just miss him, a lot.

He was a good, good man and would do anything for his family.

Since this happened I haven’t been able to paint. The creative place where my pictures come from is just silent at the moment. I’ve let this blog just roll through the schedule I had already prepared and uploaded. But now I have run out.

I am planning to paint a portrait of Jim for his wife in oils or acrylics once I’m able. I think oils would be better but they will take so long to dry, so I’m going to try using acrylics in a similar way to painting alla prima with oils and I’m going to use a retarder to give me more time to blend.

Today I had a go at a simple digital painting despite the silence inside. Although I didn’t plan it, it does reflect some of the saddness I feel about losing Jim and seeing his wife Jane so sad at his loss.

Here are some screen shots of how the painting went…

I completed the painting in Photoshop. I adjusted the levels and added a border. Here’s the finished picture…

Quick Charcoal Portraits

Having found my charcoals the other day I thought I would make some quick portraits. The first one I did in ten minutes. It’s of a boxer. I called it Fearless

Next I tried a 15 minute portrait of a very happy young woman. Her big smile seemed infectious. I called this one Beautiful

My next sketch was another 10 minute sketch of a really goofy, off-duty British cop, which I called Goofy

My last sketch was of a beautiful, older Indian lady who seemed to have this beautiful light in her eyes. I took more time with this one (20 minutes). I called the portrait Light

Of all of them I prefer the portrait of the older Indian lady. Which is you favourite?

Emperor Penguins in Watercolour

This week I painted a family of Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) in Watercolour. I wanted each adult to reflect the two imperatives of penguin parents whilst bringing up a baby – to protect the chick and to feed themseves (and the chick). So I drew one looking down at the penguin and the other looking off towards the sea ready to take their turn to fish.

Here is my very basic sketch (apologies I drew this very lightly and it is a bit hard to see)…

And here is the basic drawing I made from my sketch…

My next task was to plan my colours. I did this by pulling my sketch into my android tablet, marking off some basic flat areas, putting in some colour and then playing around with the colour until I was happy. Here’s an animated gif (if I’ve done this correctly) of the process I went through to plan my colour…

Once I was decided on my colour choices I was just a quick and happy painting session away from a finished picture. It took a while for me to get to it though since I was unwell for a few days again.

I did have a lot of fun using some dry brush techniques to make my baby penguin suitably fluffy. I also used a light yellow ocre/grey to add some shadows which “pushed” the baby into his parent’s feathers so the viewer gets the feeling of him being loved and cared for by his mum and dad.

Here’s my finished watercolour…

Mixed Media – Vintage Diving Helmet

I had a go at mixing Ink and Charcoal in the same drawing this week. It was really good fun. I really enjoyed the way I could add textures with the charcoal that I could never achieve with ink.

I began sketching in pencil, then added an ink outline and then added some deep shadows in ink too, like this…

Once I had my ink drawing I began to add shadow using a charcoal pencil and some charcoal sticks, like this…

Above was my first work through with the charcoal. I could see I needed to go darker in places and that I needed also to smooth things out with some blending stumps and tissues.

Once I’d completed the charcoal work I photographed the picture and brought it into Photoshop. I added a black background and then adjusted my levels. I did quite a bit of adjustment to get it to look right with the black background and to get rid of some reflection from my black ink brush pen which sadly has a shiny finish.

Here is the final image…

I like the textures and the strong contrast. It also made me smile to have things around the wrong way, with the water and fish inside the helmet and us humans looking in from the outside! While I was reviewing the image I thought it might make a big difference if I added some halftone reflections on the glass in the front window. So I quickly opened up Photoshop again and added them in post production!

Once everything was complete I also had a quick play with adding some digital colour…

I think it turned out OK, but I prefer the black and white image.

Which one do you prefer?


Line and Wash – Badger Cub

This week’s painting was done using the line and wash technique. It was of a cute little badger cub, transfixed by a bumble bee! Being a true Hufflepuff, I love badgers! They’re a very grounded animal. I just love their dirt snuffling ways!

I’m afraid I had a difficult week with my health, so this was quite a quick little sketch. I began in pencil then added some ink outlines and then inked all of his fur, like this…

Once the inks were completed I washed over my picture with watercolours to add a little more depth. Here’s the final painting…

Line and Wash Shoebill

This week I painted a picture of a really odd-looking bird. It’s called a Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex), because, unsurprisingly, it’s bill looks a bit like a shoe. I think it looks more like a clog. I wonder if Clogbeak will catch on? 😊

I used the Line and Wash method of painting for this picture. Basically it is a mixture of an inked line drawing painted over with watercolours. (Although I have seen people paint watercolour pictures and then add the ink lines later which is interesting.)

Here is a beautiful photograph of one of these birds. I absolutely love the feather definition the photographer has picked up on the back of the bird. The photo is by Hans Hillewaert.

© Hans Hillewaert Licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0

Here are some process photos of the drawing process…

Inks Part 1
Inks Part 2

Here is my ink drawing…

Once my ink drawing was complete I then set about painting. I began with a pale yellow wash over the background area. While the wash was still wet I dropped into it some Cadmium yellow deep (which is a gorgeous colour). I also played around with removing some of the colour in places with a paper towel so I could have a nice textured background.

Next I painted all of the bird apart from his eyes and bill with a very light Paynes Grey with a little French Ultramarine to make it a little more blue. I gradually built up my depth of colour and depth of tone in the darker areas.

Once that was done I painted his eyes and then his amazing clog-like bill. I finished off using some titanium white with a really small rigger brush to put in some highlighted feathers and some eye-shine.

Here is my final painting…

I think they’re really funny birds. As well as having a significant bite, they also clatter their beak when greeting a friend and bow and shake their head to show affection!

Here’s a YouTube video which shows a female Shoebill clattering her beak and greeting her favourite keeper with bows and head shakes. It’s a lovely video! (The clattering starts at about 1 minute 20 seconds and the bowing and head shaking happens shortly afterwards.)

Disgustingly, they also defecate on their own legs to cool down when they’re too hot. I don’t know if I would ever be hot enough to do that! They are also, very sadly, classed as a vulnerable as a species with only 5000 to 8000 left in the wild. This is partly due to the black market for their bodies (despite them being a protected species on CITES) and partly due to habitat destruction in their central African home due to farming and burning of the land.

A Hermit Crab in Watercolour

Over the last couple of weeks I have painted a cheerful little guy called Dardanus lagopodes, or the Hairy Red Hermit Crab. I used Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours on A3 Arches Hot Pressed Paper.

Here are my process photos…

And here is the final image…

I think he looks like a Geoffrey!