Merry Christmas

Last Winter was the hardest we have had in all the 16 years that we have lived in Cornwall. There were drifts across the roads and the roads themselves were just sheets of glass. Every path and surface was coated in freezing rain and the wind cut like a blade but the Robin still sat on the ice covered crab-apple tree and sang.  So here is a watercolour tribute to that hardy little bird.

snrob1sm This is the view from an up-stairs window of my home. I have left a few things out, like telephone lines and a farm building to help with the flow of the picture. As usual I sketched out the design using a watercolour pencil, this time it was lavender in colour.

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Because of the snow most of the paper is left white and the paint, for the most part, is various strengths of the same mix, French Ultramarine, Prussian Blue and Alizarin Crimson. I painted the distant fields with an extremely thin wash of the mix and when that was dry started to paint the hedges in the middle of the picture adding salt to the wet paint to create the mottled snow covered effect. Starting in the middle gives me a base to work from so that I can create the feeling of distance by painting the back with a  weaker mix and the front with a stronger one.

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Then I painted in the distant fields and added in some stronger tones  for shadows, all the time adding salt to the wet paint.

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When painting the foreground I added a little yellow ochre to the paint mix and dropped in more of the stronger colour for shadows.

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When that was dry I drew in the top of the crab-apple tree.

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Then painted the tree with a much stronger version of the same mix

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Finally I added the Robin and some snow flakes.

The snow causes no end of problems, mainly because we have it so rarely and are therefore unprepared but I love it and I hope we have the same again this year.

Merry Christmas

In the Beginning

After a much longer break than anticipated I am back to the mouse book that I started quite a while back. Below are my sketches for the first two images, as I mentioned in my blog back in April,   https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-j7  ,   the story is about a mouse’s adventures after he is caught and removed from the house.

The first painting is of the mouse in the boiler cupboard, it seems to be one of their favourite places, we even found a shrew in there once which was very vocal about being removed.

As usual I drew out the image on Bockingford paper with a pale purple watercolour pencil so that it washes away once the paint is added.

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As the cupboard is dark I mixed Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and Lemon Yellow watercolour  to make a dark grey to paint the inside shadowy areas and the back of the door. To contrast the inside with with the outside I used a mixture of Lemon Yellow and Gamboge Hue to represent the light from the room outside. Once dry, I painted another layer of the grey to increase the depth of the shadows inside the cupboard.  The old piece of paper on the back of the door was painted with Yellow Ochre and a little touch of  Ultramarine.

Next was the pipework which was painted using Cadmium Red, Ultramarine and Gamboge Hue,  to make a dark coppery colour and for the joints I added extra Gaboge Hue for a lighter brassy look. The shadows were added using more of the grey mixture. For the mouse I used Ultramarine, a small amount of Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre which tends to granulate and gives a nice texture for the fur, and I dabbed off with tissue for the lighter areas. The mouse’s shadow was painted using the same grey as the inside of the cupboard and for the mousetrap I used a watered down version of the pipework mixture. Finally I added the little details and shadows and used a black watercolour pencil on the eye and around the joints of the pipes.

The second image is the same scene looked at from the outside of the cupboard, so the room is painted with the mixture of Lemon Yellow and Gamboge Hue and the dark cupboard with the grey mix. The rest was just adding a few details to the room with the mouse trap and the jar of peanut butter to hint at what the smell was that brought the mouse out of the safety of the cupboard.  This image also expresses just how small the little mouse was out in the big wide world.

Here are the two finished paintings, the start of the story where the mouse is tempted out and gets caught in the trap.

And here are the sketches for the next two images where the mouse travels in the trap and is released.

Archie

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.

 

 

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.

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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 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.