Snowdrops

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 alizarin 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 strengthened 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.

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Moorland Inspiration.

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.

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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.

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Steep Tor, watercolour
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Bodmin Moor, watercolour

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.

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Dartmoor , acrylic

Starlings

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.

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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.

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Pan sitting in a hedge.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Pan in the Elder bush

The final four panels were the centre piece of my foundation degree exhibition last year.

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The Hedgerow Watcher, from a poem by Don Moore

https://hellopoetry.com/poem/1548247/the-hedgerow-watcher/

The Old Dun Cow

 

“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.

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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.

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Here is a link for the ‘Bellowhead’ version of “The Old Dun Cow”, that inspired the painting.

 

Christmas Cards

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Next on  the rear deer, I used salt on the paint to give him a shaggy winter coat.

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On the front two deer I used wax to resist the paint, to create the white markings on their backs.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 https://lovefromtheartist.com/artists/bude/alex-pointer

Cards are available at the above link.

Drawing

One of my long term projects is to create illustrations for a book of animal poems, it is something I drop in and out of when time allows. In the book the animals are having a party and each party goer has to perform their party piece, so my task is to illustrate the animals doing recognisable human actions (or extreme human actions in some cases). Because the animals are doing things that they couldn’t really do I have to imagine their positions. To enable me to do this I have to get to know how the animal works physically, I do this by drawing them, a lot. Drawing them enough times in different positions helps me to imagine how they would look doing unusual things. Practising in this way is also useful when I want to change the composition of a painting, it helps me to move wings and limbs and heads into natural positions.

 

  A few practice sketches of various characters.

Once I have the positions right I can transfer the outline to watercolour paper and create the final image. Below are just a few of the characters so far. We have a stunt diving duck, two beavers dancing a tango, an acrobatic tortoise and a sad clown buffalo about to receive a custard pie.

 

The Wren

In our garden we are lucky enough to have many birds visit throughout the year, the Wren is one of them, this spring they even nested in our Blue Tit box. They dart in and out of the stone walls and under the plants and occasionally we get to spot them perched on a branch or even a post singing amazingly loud for such a tiny bird. I try to photograph them but they only want to pose when I am without my camera so the few photos I do have are not very clear.

A while back I was considering trying to paint in the style of Tiffany Glass with its luminous colours and idealised landscapes, so I thought I would try to produce a series of paintings based on my Wrens with added  simple details about their lives. As I was doing a series of paintings I needed to work on them all at the same time, this way it is easy to keep the continuity.  I drew them all out before painting and then painted similar subjects together so that the colours would match, first the Wrens and then the trees leaving an area clear for the captions.

Once the main structure of the picture was painted I could concentrate on getting each one finished keeping the colour palette as similar as possible with the exception of one which needed a hint of evening with more shadows and a sunset like glow.

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To give the impression of back lit glass I used rich vibrant colours and inked some of the outlines, not every line but enough to suggest sections of leaded glass. Finally I added the captions with basic natural history information about Wrens.

 

The Unlooked For

I have a fascination with hedgerows and roadside verges and have amassed a huge collection of photographs of hedges, walls, banks, field edges and general clumps of tangled greenery.  They are miniature worlds of intertwined plants and scuttling bugs in various layers, mostly oblivious to the rest of the world.  These photos have been a great reference source in many of my projects especially when the hedges are the subject themselves. Here are just a few.

 

Whether it is Spring or Autumn there is much to see just beside the roads and lanes of the countryside, as the year progresses the same spot can look completely different and sometimes it is enough just to paint a small metre square section. In the Spring there are the leaves unfurling and the wildflowers in bud, I love to see the first Celandine, in the Summer  the banks are covered in flowers and insects with grasses rustling in the wind, in the Autumn  all the fruits and berries and the leaves turning red and even in Winter there are the dried seed heads and the frosted edges, and that is just the plants.  Usually there are insects and butterflies but if you are quiet and lucky there may be small mammals and birds. When I do paint places like this I think of them as the ‘unlooked for’ subjects, things that are around us everyday that we don’t notice and I love them.

This last photo is of a work in progress, so I can only show this stage,  it is one that I am painting when I have time to fit it around other things.  The subject is mainly Bindweed and Ivy but I think the some small creatures may be about to crawl in.

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The Peacock and the Meerkats

As I have said before, inspiration arrives in the strangest of ways. We visited Exmoor Zoo a while back and that is where we met this chap. He had flown down off a roof into the meerkat enclosure and was causing chaos. The adult meerkats had gone into full ‘repel the invader’ mode and the young pups were joining in. The peacocks feathers were raised, although he did not have the full display, and he stood defiantly as the incensed meerkats darted back and forth trying to scare him off. He, looking like a prima ballerina, stretched out that long neck and jabbed at them with his sharp beak. There was a stand-off until a keeper eventually persuaded the peacock to leave. So the haughty peacock and his obvious divine right to be where ever he wanted just had to be a subject to be painted.

 

Photographs by Chris Pointer

 

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As usual the image was first sketched out using watercolour pencil.

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The neck and chest were painted very wet to keep the edges soft, I used a mixture of Prussian Blue, Ultramarine, Lemon Yellow and a very dilute Purple Lake with Rose Madder to give a hint of colour on the head.

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Salt was added to the wet paint in places to give the feathers a fluffy look and I filled in the details of the head with more solid painting to emphasize the details of the eye and the beak.

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The tail feathers took much longer because they need to be painted individually and left to dry before a neighbouring one is painted so that they don’t bleed into each other.  Cobalt Blue was added to the palette to add a contrast to the mass of feathers. The feathers at the front are in stronger colours than those further back to create a feeling of depth.

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I think that at some point in the future I must paint the meerkats and their valiant attempt to defend their territory.