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

Mouse in the Country

Continuing with my mouse story this is where he finds himself after being brave enough to leave the safety of the hole in the wall, in a huge expanse of open countryside. Normally mice don’t have very good eye sight but for the sake of the story this mouse has amazing human like optical abilities.

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As usual to begin I sketched out the basics with watercolour pencil. With the moors in the distance and just a hint of the sea on the left hand side.

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Then working from the top down I painted the sky with Coeruleum blue and a touch of Alizarin Crimson, painting right down into the valley. I also used the blue to paint the sea, just hinting at the waves.  When the sky was dry,  I added a little more Alizarin and water to the mix and painted the moors in the distance, painting over the blue down into the valley. The closer hills were painted using a mix of the Coeruleum blue, Ultramarine and Gamboge yellow and a lot of water.

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The other fields were painted using the same mix but also with touches of other colours added  into the wet paint to make each field slightly different. In the two ploughed fields I added Ultramarine and Yellow Ochre just as the paint was drying and applied it in straight lines to suggest the lines of the plough. The field boundaries where left to paint later to stop the different colours from bleeding into each other. The group of trees were painted using Ultramarine and Prussian Blue with a little Lemon Yellow and I used a little of each of the colours to paint the cliffs and rocks by the sea.

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Using the same mixture that I used for the trees I made little marks on the moor to look like fields and trees in the distance. Then strengthening the mix I marked in the closer field boundaries, gradually adding Gamboge yellow the nearer I got to the front. I put a faint wash of yellow on the dandelion flowers so that I didn’t lose them amongst the green. The mouse is painted in the usual mix of Ultramarine, Alizarin and Yellow Ochre dabbing off a little underneath and at the front where the mouse is lighter. The tin building was painted with the sky colour and I used the mouse colour for the shadows. 

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For the green plants at the front I used various shades of Ultramarine mixed with Gamboge yellow with occasional drops of Prussian Blue and Lemon Yellow. To make the group of trees more three dimensional I added water sparingly to the whole group and then dropped in a darker shade of the tree colour. The Dandelion flowers were painted with Gamboge Yellow and then when dry some of the paint was lifted off with a damp brush to form the petals. Colour was added to the mouse’s eye, feet and tail. A hint of buildings in the distance, another layer of the blue to the sea, the centre’s to the Dandelion clocks, a neutral tint to the road and it was done.

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Next, Meeting the Locals

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A Mouse Sized Hole to Hide In.

The fields of Cornwall are bounded by Cornish hedges this may sound obvious but it really isn’t. A Cornish hedge is a wall. It may be just a wall or it may be a wall with a hedge on top or a wall with trees on top or a wall with a whole mixture of things growing on, in or through it. Sometimes you cannot tell there is a wall at all as it has become so overgrown and looks like a huge bank with a complete ecosystem growing on top of it. Here are just a few examples.

These are the type of hedges/walls that surround the fields around our house and this is where our mouse runs to after he has been released, they are the ideal place for him to hide.

As usual I drew out my illustration using watercolour pencils

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Then I added some of the wildflowers and grass.

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At last I could start the painting. I decided to paint the mouse first so that I could judge the colours in the wall better to ensure that the mouse would stand out. Each block of the wall was painted separately by flooding the area with water and then dropping in colour which would spread and merge together to create a natural effect. Then I sprinkled on a small amount of table salt  to make random patterns. 

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I will not go into what colours were used for each block (the blog would be never ending) but over all I used Coeruleum blue, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson and the same mixture of grey that I used for the mouse which is French Ultramarine, Aliarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre. The mouse colour is much lighter on the wall because it is just dropped into clean water and dissipates. 

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Once I had done a few blocks and some started to dry I painted the cracks and some of the spaces between them with a stronger version of the mouse mix.

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Then it was the grass and wildflowers which were painted using various mixes of green using French Ultramarine, Coeruleum blue, Lemon yellow and Gamboge Hue. The Mouse was finished using a very faint mix of Aliarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre for the ears and feet, the deep shadow mix for the eye with a white dot for reflection and the whiskers were drawn on with a gunmetal grey watercolour pencil.  

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Where does our mouse go from here?

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Mouse at the Gate.

The next part of the story is where the mouse is released into the wild fields of Cornwall.  Although we need to catch any mice we find in the house it is not something we enjoy but setting them free and watching them bound away is a wonderful experience. Just sometimes they don’t rush off, they sit and assess the situation or even have a quick wash so we stand very still until they eventually go. This is what developed into the story, as a family we would discuss what we thought the mice, we had released, would get up to and what adventures they would have.

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Thankfully this is the last illustration that includes the mousetrap, I am glad I will not have to draw that again. So having worked out the basics I transferred them onto the watercolour paper.

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 I roughly sketched in the details that I wanted to add, especially the dandelions that feature a lot throughout the story, the field beyond the gate and the ivy on the gate post, all with watercolour pencils so that they would mostly wash away when the paint was added.

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Then I finally got to start painting. Sky first using a very faint wash of Cobalt Blue with a touch of Alizarin Crimson. Then by adding just a little Gamboge Hue to make the green wash, I painted the field, leaving a few areas at the front to paint in the flowers later. While the green was still wet, with a tiny brush I dropped in touches of the Gamboge Hue to look like dandelions in the distance. The grey metal gate was painted using a stronger version of the sky mix but with extra red and yellow and further layers for the shadows. The trap was painted using very thin layers of Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre and Ultramarine, building up the layers depending on how much light was getting through and then the mouse using Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre.  While that was drying I tidied up the sketches of the ivy and the dandelions and then painted some of the spaces left for flowers in the field  leaving some white for the seed heads.

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The ivy leaves were next, they were painted using a stronger version of the field colour leaving some white spaces for the veins. When the leaves were dry the gatepost was painted by filling the spaces with a little water and dropping in various colours which spread and merged to look a little like stone with lichen growing on it. The dandelions were painted using Ultramarine and Gamboge Hue adding a little more of the blue for the darker leaves. The flower heads are a weak layer of Gamboge Hue followed by a stronger second layer to define the petals and the seed heads were painted with water and then just a little of the mouse colour dropped in just below the centre so that it spread to fade into the white. The shoe is Prussian Blue and the foot is painted with very thin Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre.

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Next I added a shadow to the gate post and to the ivy leaves. Then I started filling in the colours of the gravel and stones on the path using various mixes of the colours already used in the rest of the illustration. I put in a few low growing plants and grasses and finished painting the dandelions. Finally I added some white highlights to the mouse trap.

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Next time a mouse sized hole to hide in.

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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.

The Mouse Story.

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.

 

 

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Some of these photos are a little blurry, the mouse moves fast!

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.

 

 

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.

Bude, My Patch.

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.

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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.

 

 

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