The Mouse Story is taking a little longer than expected, so much sunshine so it is harder to ignore the garden, after our very harsh Winter it is in need of much love and attention. In the mean time I have entered a cushion design competition with ‘Wraptious’, Using my Dragons from a while back , here are the five that I have entered.
For some time now a story I started about a mouse has been in limbo while other things were worked on. So now I am determined to complete my little book and thought that It would be interesting to share the process, it might take a while so here goes.
We sometimes have a problem with mice in the house, so we have humane mousetraps permanently set up in a few places where mice have been caught before, I check them every morning just in case we have had a visitor. There have not been any so far this year but in previous years we have caught quite a few. When we do catch one we take it up the road away from houses and release it into a hedge. The mice usually bound away but occasionally they have to be coaxed out and sometimes they run into the shadow of the person releasing them. As a family we have talked about what we think that the mice might get up to once they are released and what adventures they may have, so it occurred to me that these ideas would work nicely as a picture book.
So my story is about a mouse that we caught in the house and then released up the road and all of his adventures until he finds his way back to the house again. I have done some of the work a little while back so much of the research has been done and some drawings and even a few paintings but I will try to work chronologically so the story can be followed as it grows.
Even more mice
Lots of mice were drawn
And some painted.
Over the next few weeks I will be working on the start of the story, I have rough sketches drawn and now I need to translate them into finished scenes.
Rough Sketches 1 and 2 waiting to be transformed into finished pages.
We have lived just outside Bude for sixteen years now and have never regretted moving here, even when the wind is blowing so hard that you can feel the floorboards shake. The weather can change very quickly from fog to sun and back to fog again and sometimes the fog hangs around for days but when that sun shines in the huge blue sky and the skylark is wittering somewhere over the fields, it is the best place on earth. Most of what I have written about in my blogs has been based on my garden or the moors and lanes of Cornwall so I thought it was time to look to the sea.
The beaches in Bude, Summerleaze and Crooklets, are huge, when the tide goes out the sea is just a thin line separating the sky from the sand. Looking out west across the sea the next piece of land is Newfoundland 2,200 miles away, so our beaches feel the full force of the Atlantic. This helps to keep Cornwall warm, often wet and definitely windy but it also means that we have wonderful waves, therefore surfing is very popular here. Walking along the tide line and looking back at the cliffs in the distance is quite an unusual experience, the roar of the waves being the only sound the rest of the world disappears.
Nearer the shore there are wonderful rock formations and rock pools covered in limpets and barnacles and teeming with life. There are the dunes and the sea pool, the river and the lock gates to the canal. The canal still runs inland for a couple of miles and otters have been seen by walkers on the towpath, we have also seen kingfishers, herons and little egrets in the marsh area where the river runs beside the canal. At the back of Summerleaze beach is the castle with the museum and galleries and of course there is town it’s self.
Moving away from Bude just a few miles to the north are Northcott Mouth , Sandymouth and Duckpool, three more tiny settlements with beautiful beaches. To the south is Widemouth with it’s long sweeping beach, Millook with it’s crazy rock formations, and Crackington Haven.
Then further south still is beautiful Boscastle and then legendary Tintagel.
At home we look out over the sea and on a clear day can see down to Trevose Head and at night can see the lighthouse flashing there. Although the coast is still a mile away we hear the roaring of the waves and can watch the storms blow in from the southwest. There are some drawbacks to living here, we are a very long way from everything, it takes over an hour and a half to reach the nearest motorway and 45 minutes to the nearest train but I think that my biggest problem is that I am going to need several lifetimes to paint everything.
For the last two years we have had a regular visitor to our garden we call him Archie. Archie is a beautiful male pheasant, he started appearing in Spring last year, usually under the bird feeders picking up whatever the other birds dropped, so we started feeding him then too. After a month or so he brought a female along with him and then two females, they too are very beautiful close up with delicate lace like patterns on their feathers and a pinkish ring around their eyes. He would strut around the garden showing off to them and we hoped that we might get to see some of the chicks later but we never did. The females gradually stopped coming so we assumed that they were sitting on eggs but Archie kept turning up to be fed until mid Summer and then he to came less and less and then not at all. Then just into the new year Archie reappeared followed a few weeks later by a female. They are now so used to us that they stand out side of the patio door waiting, sometimes I am sure that they knock on the window sill to attract our attention. Archie fluffs up his feathers and does the occasional call but his Mrs ignores him and keeps eating. We are hoping that we may get to see some chicks this year but even if we don’t it has been wonderful having these beautiful birds become part of our lives and of course subjects for me to paint, and we really must come up with a name for the female.
Every year the flowers appear in the garden in a certain order and I have been here long enough to know what to expect next. The Autumn makes me feel so sad as all the leaves and flowers rapidly disappear, we don’t get much in the way of Autumn colour as the wind from the sea tends to shrivel the leaves before they have chance to change and then they are gone. However, we do usually have a few yellow primroses just before Christmas and even a few brave daffodils by the end of the year and then I know that within weeks the snowdrops will be up. There are many bunches of snowdrops around the garden but my favourite bunch are in the hedge by the gate and every year I want to paint them, this year I did.
As usual I drew everything out in watercolour pencil on 300g Bockingford paper and then picked out the colours of the snowdrop leaves which helped define the different parts of the scene. The white of the snowdrop flowers I left unpainted along with a few areas of light behind the hedge.
Next I painted the fresh green of the stinging nettle shoots, this helped to differentiate between the front of the picture and the snowdrops in the middle. Once these were dry I started working on the back of the picture, picking out the major leaves with a light green colour which not only helps me to see everything easier but also gives a base for me to paint on the details of the leaves. Then, starting with the left, I blocked in spaces with a weak mix of yellow ochre and alizian crimson, being careful not to paint on the flower heads and to leave a few areas of light from behind. I worked from left to right so that I didn’t smudge any wet paint and I also put a clean sheet of paper across the rest of the painting to help keep it clean and white. The next stage was to paint the details on the larger leaves and to work the background in behind them.
Once the lefthand side of the back was finished I did the same for the right.
Then I added the details to the flower heads and worked on the foreground in the same way but adjusting the colours and the amount of detail so that the foreground looked closer. When the whole thing was done I added a few highlights and strengthend some of the dark shadows.
Since I painted this the snowdrops have gone along with the crocus which flowered soon after. More of the Daffodils are out now but are later than last year, the primroses are increasing daily and I am waiting for the muscari to brave the weather to add blue to the palette.
Living where I do in North Cornwall I am very lucky to be surrounded by dramatic scenes of rugged countryside. So much of my work has been inspired by this land and the things that live on it. Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor are just minutes away in a car and are places that I love to return to again again.
Above is a photo of Steep Tor, we were on a mystery trip, taking whatever road we fancied and ended up here. It is not somewhere you would set out to go to, just a few houses and farms but I am so glad we did. There are wonderful views across the moor, old tumbledown walls and buildings, fields strewn with rocks and boulders, the occasional animal and trees covered with moss and lichen, It is like walking into a Tolkien story.
So of course I had to paint some of it. The first is of Steep Tor its self, I tried to include everything, the boulders, walls and trees, even the old wire fences. The second is a view in the opposite direction, across the moors and woodlands , distant farm fields, a fast fox, and a rusty red roof. We went in very early March so the colours were still muted from winter but I think that helped with feeling of other worldliness.
Dartmoor is bigger, more open and less obviously inhabited, the only sounds were of the wind and sometimes the buzzards. Again being there at the end of winter meant not only were the colours less vibrant but, probably because it was freezing cold, there were no people about either.
I chose to paint a view of all the different colours of the winter moor, the field boundaries in the distance just hinting at human habitation.
The Starlings arrive a little after the Swallows leave, then again when the Starlings leave it is about a month until I see my first Swallow, they both chatter away happily on the telephone wires. The Swallows swoop around in small groups and look down on me as I work in the garden and even occasionally fly in and out of the open landing window looking for a nesting site. Starlings swarm across the sky moving from hedge to field and back again whole clouds of them settle in the trees at the side of the garden and produce a cacophony of squeaks, squawks and whistles. When the Swallows leave I am sad because I know that it means that Winter in on its way and the flowers in the garden will fade but the Starlings arrival cheers me back up with the sound of their happy chatter and the exhilarating feeling as hundreds of them hurtle past sucking the air along with them.
So I thought it was high time that I painted my noisy little visitors. As usual I took lots of photographs and did some sketches and decided that I would paint some of them sat on the telephone wires.
I drew them out and painted working left to right so that I could move on as each one dried without smudging the previous Starling, I am right handed so that is probably why I instinctively started with the largest on the left and worked away to the smallest on the right.
The tips of the breast and shoulder feathers where left white and I dropped in the purple and green while the paint was wet to hint at the iridescence. I also used salt to soften the look of the feathers and to give them more texture.
Working along the line I gradually reduced the amount of detail to help create the feeling of depth. I strengthened some of the greens and purples with thin washes and toned down the brightness of the white feathers by brushing over with clean water that picked up just enough colour from the other feathers to make the white less stark. Finally I painted the legs and beaks and added a few shadows.
When I finish a picture I leave it propped up where I can see it while I do other things, this gives me chance to think about it and to decide whether it is really finished or not. I came to the conclusion that the last few birds were an unnecessary distraction so having photographed it I digitally removed the last three. The original painting still has all eight but it is helpful to be able to see both versions.
Just over a year ago I was looking for an excuse to paint a hedgerow when I discovered a poem by Don Moore called “The Hedgerow Watcher”, It was exactly what I was looking for, a Cornish hedge, with many wildflowers and small animals in a Cornish landscape.
Here I will describe how I went about creating the first of what turned out to be a four part painting.
The poem is full of descriptions so that made it very easy to visualise the scene. To begin with I did some very rough sketches of what I was aiming at and then some sketches of other images I could find of Pan and of men sitting on the floor.
From studies of work by Pal Merse Szinyei , top and Robert Lawson, below.
As Pan is sat in the an Elder bush I chose to use the more upright of the figures, it also felt more exotic and would adjust better to look like the god. I added the horns and beard and made the cheek bone more pronounced, then finally added the faun legs and feet. Next I had to work out the size that would fit best, so I copied out various sizes and tried them on a rough sketch of the scene drawn out on the same size paper as the final piece. It sounds long winded but it saves problems later. When I was happy with everything I copied it out on to the watercolour paper and drew the Elder bush.
So that I didn’t loose Pan amongst the leaves and branches I painted his skin first to make him stand out. Next I painted the branches so that I could see where they crossed the body and where the leaves would be, adjusting as I went along. I tend to work from the top left to the bottom right to reduce the chances of damaging any paint, so once the structure was done I filled in from that corner down adding the detail as I went. When all the scene was painted I added shadow to give depth.
As I said earlier this was the first part of four, each 22 x 15 inches all four parts were painted simultaneously so as to keep them all consistent with each other, for example , Pan also appears in the last part so I painted both Pans at the same time so that there was no variation in colour.
The final four panels were the centre piece of my foundation degree exhibition last year.
“The Old Dun Cow” is an old music hall song from the late 19th century about a group of men who are in a pub when it catches fire. Instead of getting out of the fire the men stay to take advantage of the free beer and spirits, and the song tells of their antics. I first heard the song performed by the folk band ‘Bellowhead’, listening to the tale evoked images of the pubs customers and their efforts to take advantage of the situation and although people are not my normal type of subject I couldn’t resist trying to represent them in paint.
I started by trying to work out the layout of the scene which included four drinkers and a pot-man. To get as much of the story into one frame I have played with time to show as much as possible happening at once and rearranged the layout and the perspective to show the firemen through the window. To fill the space more effectively I tried moving the people about, for example the figure second from the left in sketch number 1 moves from standing to sitting in sketch number 2, and the one on the far right goes from sitting to standing. The cat moves from left to right and as you will see in the next sketch below the man on the floor turns so his head is on the right, not in the middle of the picture. It felt more natural to have the man on the floor this way around if he had originally been sat at the table with his friends and to have the pot-man standing on the right helps to show that he is separate from the group and that he has just entered the room. Sketch number 3 was to work out how to show the shock experienced by the pot-man and how he interacts with the drinkers. In the sketch below I tried the pot-mans head in several positions and worked out a few other details before starting the final painting, you will note that the lamps still changed position and the window and firemen were added.
Some of the other things that I considered were the style of clothing and the lamps. The clothes, I think, could be from anywhere between 1880-1950, the lamps caused me more of a problem. Would they have candles or gas lamps? I don’t think it would be electric. Then I worried that if they were gas lamps in reality there would of been an explosion. I decided I was probably over thinking the small details for an image depicting a comic song.
The final image was as usual drawn out with watercolour pencils and painted with Daler-Rowney Artists’ quality watercolour paints on Bockingford 300gsm paper.
Here is a link for the ‘Bellowhead’ version of “The Old Dun Cow”, that inspired the painting.
Every year I try to design at least one Christmas card and over time they have varied a lot in style and subject. Last year I chose a robin sitting in a holly tree with ivy growing through it but with not a hint of snow, this year I had to have snow.
The Holly and the Ivy.
I didn’t want something to overtly Christmas, so I picked a winter wildlife scene, I chose
deer as the main subject and sketched out a few until I was happy with how they looked and then transferred them on to the watercolour paper.
As usual they were drawn using watercolour pencils and then I built the rest of the scene around them. I like to start at the top of the paper and work down, this means that I am not reaching across wet paint so there is no chance of smudging. So I started with the sky which is a mixture of Prussian Blue and French Ultramarine and scattered salt on to it to create starry or snow flurry effect. I find that the Prussian Blue reacts to the salt very well but I use the French Ultramarine to warm the colour a little.
I added a very light wash of the same mix to the land in the background to give the blue tint of distant snow then when that was dry a second light wash in areas to suggest dips in the snow.
Next on the rear deer, I used salt on the paint to give him a shaggy winter coat.
On the front two deer I used wax to resist the paint, to create the white markings on their backs.
Then I used some of the weak sky mix to mark the hoof prints in the snow and to show the snow collecting in the undergrowth.
The trees are almost silhouetted in the moonlight so the distant trees and bushes were painted in grey just leaving areas to represent the snow and the tree in the foreground was given a hint of green. I used the weak sky colour to make the shadow of the snow on the branches.
Then I added the holly in the foreground which helps to give the design depth and re-enforces the image as a Christmas card. Then I thought I would play with it.
I drew a snowflake and put it into Photoshop, I hid the background and turned the snowflake white, you should just about be able to see it beside the blue one above. Then I added the snowflakes in layers to the card design, distorting some of them as they were added , so that there were now snowflakes in the background and in the front. Doing it this way If I didn’t like it I still had the original painting but as it is a Christmas card I think the snowflakes stay.