Abstract Sunset – Pastel


This week I played around some more with pastels.  My main aim was just to get the feel of the medium.  I quite enjoyed making the poppy picture I drew a few weeks ago and I found that it helped me to loosen up a little in my art.

I began with a very quick sketch using some hard pastel pencils…


Once I had my main elements placed I began to scrub in some basic background colour.  I worked this over the whole picture almost like an underpainting.  I’m working from dark to light so I made this layer is with slightly darker tones.


One of the things which surprises me with pastels is the intensity of the colour!  Once I had the pastels applied I rubbed the pigments into the paper…


After this I did a few more layers in the same sort of way, building up the colours and mixing my pigments to get the colours I wanted.  This is something I find tricky with coloured pencils and pastels; mixing colours on the paper.  I am beginning to see how to make it work.

Once I was satisfied with my background I began working on my foreground – the abstracted tree.  I used the hard pastel pencils and the soft pastels for this.  Surprisingly the soft pastels were more effective.

Here is my final image…


Looking at my final picture, I like the colour gradients in the sky and ground.  But the overall balance doesn’t feel exactly right.  It’s one of those times where you know that you need something but don’t yet know what that something is.  I will have to sit with it for a while and see if I can figure it out.


PS: It’s now the next day and I can see what’s wrong!  The tree is leaning out of the picture and looks very unbalanced.

Looking at the correction I wanted to make, I can’t do it using traditional methods so I’m going to see what I can do digitally.

I used  copy of my photo in Autodesk Sketchbook and had a little play with it to what was possible…


I used the same technique I used when I digitally made a Star Wars blaster from a photo of a real gun (here).  I basically selected parts of the painting copied them and then used them to make changes.



Here’s the final picture…


It looks more balanced now!  🙂  (I think it would have been quicker though to re-draw the pastels!)


Keeping it Simple with Gouache

After working on value sketches and simplifying shapes last week I wanted to put what I learned into practice. Gouache is a super medium for this. I really like it because it’s quick to paint, like watercolour. You can dry it off in less than a minute with a hair dryer. On the other hand, although it dries as fast as acrylics, when it’s dry it’s not fixed forever so you can reactivate it if you want to. (On top of that, due to a pain condition, I’m mostly painting in bed and both watercolour and gouache wash out of my duvet a lot better than acrylics or oils!!! Lol)

Norfolk Memories

My main aim was to try to simplify shapes as I painted and keep an eye on the values (how dark or light each colour is). The first picture I did was a view we had from a holiday cottage in north Norfolk many years ago. It was easy to simplify as I couldn’t remember all the details. I didn’t sketch beforehand because I wanted to think in shapes and not in lines.

So here it is…

About Gouache

This was the first sketch I’ve done in pure gouache for a while.  It’s a really interesting medium.  The amazing thing is that you can use it in two completely different ways.  You can use it like an opaque watercolour or, if you mix it up to a thicker consistency, you can use it much more like acrylics and oils but without all the fuss of using mediums or having paint that doesn’t wash out.  I often use some watery gouache in watercolour paintings where I want a less transparent layer but here I decided to go for the stronger consistency option and paint exclusively in thicker gouache.    Another thing I really like about this medium is that there’s no rush if you want to mix all the colours you need at the start of a session because even if it dries on the palette you can get it back to a useable state in seconds.  On the canvas too, you always have the option of reworking something, although there is a limit to how much you can do.

The limitations of gouache are not too difficult to deal with.

  • Because gouache paint can always be reactivated you have to be careful with parts of your canvas which are finished, but the same is true of watercolour.
  • Although you can put light values over dark, and dark over light, there is a limit to how much work you can do on one particular spot before the paint underneath starts to muddy the paint above which takes away the vibrancy of the final product.  Also, when adding paint on top of other paint I’ve found that stiffer synthetic brushes tend to dig into the layer below more.  Pure natural fibre brushes are much better at not doing this but they’re very expensive.  I use mixed natural and synthetic fibre brushes which are a decent compromise.
  • When the paint dries the light values tend to darken a little and the dark values tend to lighten so you need to always push the contrast in gouache paintings a little bit more to have a final picture with a full value range.


Clouds at Dusk

My second picture was an attempt to study a YouTube artist’s demonstration. She’s called Lena Rivo.  Her work is really beautiful with a very loose and distinctive style. I really admire the way she paints so freely.  I thought that studying one of her paintings would be really helpful in encouraging me to be a little more relaxed and use bigger simpler brushstrokes in my work.  So I watched her video late one night and then the next night had a go at painting the same scene.  Here’s Lena’s demonstration video…



Here’s what I came up with…


I think her stroke shapes are very different to mine.  Partly this is because I prefer a round brush while it looks like Lena is using a flat brush.  Partly though it’s probably to do with the way each of us paints.  Overall I’m fairly happy with my study, although I still prefer Lena’s work.  I really enjoyed working with gouache again too.


Seeing, Painting and Pain

Previously when working with acrylics I have painted big gradients of colour across geometric shapes and waves. Here are some examples…

I don’t have any larger resolution photos of these because I was painting for a job at the time so they all got sold.   😦

But now I want to experiment with acrylics again and see if I could get back into them. To do this, last week, I had a go at finding out what the paint can do.

This week I wanted to plan a painting which follows a different style.  I wanted it to have the style of the paintings above but be about real objects and landscapes.  Painting like this involves simplifying the subject and making some changes to improve the aesthetic of the overall piece. I have previously found this difficult because it feels like I’m metaphorically “short-changing” reality. But I have been assured by people who have actually gone to art school 🙂 that this is OK and not “a lie” as I used to define it!



So, I began by simulating a painting in my computer to see if I can see the shapes I want to paint in a given landscape.For instance, I had a look at this lovely photo of Betws-y-Coed from North Wales – I place I have visited many times and know and love. (This is not my photograph but came from a Wales tourist site.)

Then I painted directly into the computer using my drawing pad to make this…



It was my first try (and I admit I did get enthralled in playing around with textures so it’s a bit odd in places!) But it gave me a feeling for how I want to try to paint in acrylics now. I got to practice the “seeing” of the painting which is more than half the job – the rest is the more technical side of painting. It’s very similar to improvising in jazz. When I first started trying to learn jazz, in my teenage years, I really had no idea how to do it. But now when I hear jazz I hear the music itself, and then as I get into it, I begin to hear the way my own heart sings inside the song. It’s that which I play when I improvise nowadays and it’s the same with this kind of impressionistic painting. It’s not the landscape itself I’m painting but the echo of it inside my heart.

Then I had another go with this famous picture of Kinder Scout in the Peak District (again not my photo)…

This is another beloved place for me from years ago.

This is how the second simulation turned out (with no playing with the textures allowed!)

These were not finished pictures but sketches done in about 20 minutes each to see how things might work. I love doing sketches of things on the computer because I can do it much faster than with real paints and change things faster if I don’t like where I’m going.



Of the two I liked the Betws-y-Coed one best but felt that the Kinder Scout one would be better for a first try back into acrylics.  So I had a go.  This is the best picture I can get of what I’ve done so far. ( I kept getting lots of shine from my lighting reflecting in the picture of he painting.)


I decided to put a little sleeping fox into the picture but he counts as detail and I’ve not added any detail to the painting yet.  I’m still working on the shapes, tones and colours.



I had a very difficult time working with acrylics again. While I can quickly sketch at my computer and paint for a while properly at a table I have too much pain in the evenings to stay up for very long before I have to lay down.  I can’t do something as messy as acrylics in bed.  I can with watercolour, ink and gouache, but acrylics are a step too far.  So I’m going to give myself a break for a couple of weeks to get my pain levels down again and then perhaps have another go.

The Heron and the Depth Experiment


This week I worked on a watercolour painting of a Heron and digital painting experiment.

First the heron.  This was tricky because I wanted to try to capture the light that you get at sunset where everything seems to be touched with gold.  At the same time I wanted the coming darkness to be there in the picture too.

Here’s my attempt to capture this feeling…


Now for the digital experiment.  Although I don’t paint seriously with digital tools I often use the computer to try out ideas and play with new techniques I’m developing.  It frees me from the fear of wasting materials and allows me to change direction and even go back a few steps, so it’s an excellent tool for trying things out.  It’s also insanely quick.  I did the whole of this painting in about 15 minutes while I was waiting for Blizzard to update my World of Warcraft game!

I wanted to see if I could use blending in a way which would give the viewer a sense of depth of field when they see a picture.  My aim was to blend the background a lot and as we get into the foreground blend less and less until, with the main foreground subject, I use no blending at all – just direct paint.

I based this experiment on a photo I took over ten years ago when we were walking in the South Downs just north of Brighton…


I started by sketching out the basic colours of the picture in Manga Studio 5…

Then I blended all of that…

The blending effects in Manga Studio were excellent and felt a lot like working in oils.  I was really struck by how like real painting this was.  (I also use a graphics tablet so I am able to draw directly into my PC.  Mine is a relatively cheap Wacom Intuos)

Next I put in some of the background detail…


Then I began work on the foreground…

There was a lot of detail here so it took a few minutes to get this done…

I used very little blending in this closer scenery – just brushed lightly over some of it.

Finally I painted my main subject and it was done…

I used some artistic licence to change the exact configuration of the foreground plants to something which felt right to me but generally tried to be fairly true to my original photo.

I think it worked to an extent.  I also used less saturated colours as I went towards the horizon which also tends to help.

I might try a landscape oil painting soon to see how it looks with real paints!


The Shape of Light on Water #2


This is another painting I attempted in my work towards learning how to paint water.

I saw a great video on YouTube by a really good watercolourist called Steven Cronin.  (Here is his channel.)

This is his video:


I thought I would try to follow his technique and see if I could paint a version of the same thing.  Please note this was just a study to help me learn how to do it.

His painting was using only one colour – a mix of blue and payne’s grey.  But I wanted to add a colour for the light rather than just relying on the white of the paper.  So I added a yellow.

Here’s my version:


I couldn’t quite get it like Steven Cronin’s picture  – I don’t have his control of paint from a big brush.  To try to work around this I made a few changes to the way I painted it.  I used a wet on dry technique after the wet on wet phase to give sharper edges to the hills around the lake and I used a wet brush on the almost dry forground to pull out some shadow reflections.   All of that said, I think it does bear a likeness to Steven’s work and I can read the image as a picture of water.  So that’s a step forward!

Thanks Steven!!!


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.


Fishing, a Baby and Some Rocks…

This week I didn’t have too much time for art (still recovering from my cold) but I did manage some simple stuff.

The first was a sketch of some rocks with water running over and around them.  I found it really challenging.  I would like to paint a watercolour of this and my idea was to try to do a value sketch so I could see where the complicated light and shadows are in such a situation.

Here’s the sketch, such as it is…



Then I went on to draw a relaxing fishing scene.  I got the idea for this painting from some work I’m doing with the children in school.  We’re planning to make sillouette pictures of the Great Fire of London.  I was thinking about that and then wondered if I could make a painting using sillouettes of fishing – my favourite relaxing passtime.  (I haven’t fished since the summer but if it’s not too cold and if we’re both well, my son and I might go out this weekend.)

In terms of planning this one was easy.  I just made a sunset coloured wash – all reds and oranges and yellows and then sketched my fishing scene over the top.

Initially I was going to ink my scene onto the paper over the wash but my pens didn’t take kindly to the paint and I didn’t want to ruin them so I painted the black stuff using gouache black.  At the end I put in some highlights using yellow mixed with some gouache white.  Here are the results…


The last thing I worked on this week was a Madonna and Child sketch in my sketchbook.  I got the idea from a Christmas card which somehow escaped my post Christmas clear-out.

I drew it in pencil and then inked it using a watersoluble multiliner.  Then I used water to move some of the ink to add some tone…


I like how most of this turned out, but you can see some errors.  For instance I used the water soluble pen in the baby’s hair to give it some texture when I should have used a water resistant one so that the ink there didn’t move when I toned the hair.  Oh well, as our head teacher has on her door…

“If you want to succeed, double your failure rate!”

PS:  Just to see what it was like I also coloured this picture digitally…


I used the Manga Studio watercolour brushes to add some texture.