Edge of the World

Up from his hole climbs our mouse ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-nw ), and this where he finds himself, on the edge of the world.  The coast here is very rugged, being exposed to the full force of the Atlantic ocean, the waves take their tole on the cliffs. The geology here is sandstone and shale laid down in layers in an ancient lake and then pushed up millennia ago when land masses collided, so the sea wears away at the cliffs leaving strange formations exposed. 

For this illustration I wanted to show not only the layers in the rocks but also the layers of life and activity so I have sea level, cliff top where our mouse adventure is happening and the sky above were the swallows swoop around above it all. To start, as usual, I have sketched out in watercolour pencil on Bockingford watercolour paper.

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For the surf I have used a wax candle as a resist, It is not a particularly precise way of doing it but it gives a much softer edge than using masking fluid and on the watercolour paper produces beautiful textural effects.

I find getting the colour of the sea very difficult and it changes every time but eventually I settled for Coeruleum blue with a touch if Alizarin crimson to bring down the greenish hue and a lot of water so that I can build up the colour in layers giving the sea varied depth and softer edges.

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 Building up layers of paint and leaving it to dry in between, then adding more wax resist where needed and making the inside of the waves slightly darker.

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The rocks and cliff were painted with various shades of grey, brown and green made using Ultramarine, Alizarin crimson and both Lemon yellow and Gamboge hue.

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I filled the grassy North facing cliff with a green made from Ultramarine and Lemon yellow, dropping darker tones in before it dried for the shadows amongst the tufts. When it was dry I put in a few marks with the wax and then repeated the layer of paint.  I added the flower heads in Gamboge hue and when they were dry I used the wax on top so that further layers would not dim the yellow.

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I repeated the process for the foreground but using Gamboge hue in the green mix instead of the Lemon yellow, again allowing it to dry, adding marks and repainting.

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Next I added more detail to the rocks, our mouse and another mouse with slightly browner fur.

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And finally the swallows and a little more sea foam with white paint.

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Will our mouse be any closer to getting home and what is that other mouse doing?

Lucky Mouse

When we last saw our mouse he was being chased by an owl, ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-ni ) this is how he escaped.

Again these were painted right at the start and unfortunately I didn’t take any photographs of the process so I thought this time I would talk a little about the setting of the story and give you a glimpse of the finished page.   

I have said before about how the idea for the story came about, after we caught mice in humane traps in our home and  released them into the fields surrounding us.  We live on the North Cornwall coast in an old farm house, we are surrounded by fields and are close to the sea so I am surrounded by everything I need to paint for the story. The fields are filled with  sheep and cows, or planted with wheat or maize, or sometimes left empty to give them chance to recover. We can watch the plough in the Spring, the maize harvest in the Summer and the combine cutting the wheat  in the early Autumn.

The hedgerows fill with wildflowers, celandine and primroses, bluebells and foxgloves, red-campion, stitch-wort, speedwell, hearts-ease and many many more. We are visited by over forty different species of birds, including a red legged partridge and the pheasant that knocks on the door to be fed. The year is marked by the first song of the skylark, the arrival of the swifts and swallows and when they depart, the return of the starlings. There are deer, foxes, badgers, weasels, bats, voles, shrews and of course various mice. The list of insects is endless. For the sake of the story some things overlap that usually would not and indeed some of the creatures have greater abilities than usual, for example mice are not known for their good eyesight.

Then there is the sea and our rocky coastline with it’s own collection of wildlife and scenery. Being close to the sea effects the weather, we don’t get as cold as other parts of the country but the wind from the Atlantic can cause terrible damage.

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There are drawbacks to living here, the extreme weather is one of them.  Isolation is another, getting anywhere takes a long time and of course not all the usual modern day services reach this far but we think it is a price worth paying.

So now you know where our story is set lets continue. We left our mouse running for his life trying to escape from the owl, luckily for him he falls down a hole. I decided that rather than painting a hole in the ground  I would paint the inside of the hole in cross-section so we get to see what the mouse would see. There are animal burrows in the ground and over time things fall down them. As these fields have been farmed for hundreds of years I imagined that all sorts of things would have fallen in and I tried to add a few of them along with the stones and roots and insects.  Having fallen in the hole our mouse needed to climb out, so I painted that as well. Also included is a little hint of what might happen next.

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This is how the whole page should look when the book is finished, as I played with how the hole is seen I thought the writing should be different too.

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Run, Owl!

The next part of the story was actually the first that I painted, even though it is in the middle of the tale. Whilst our mouse is trying to find his way home he is spotted by a Barn Owl and has to run for his life.

As usual the image is drawn out in watercolour pencil on the Bockingford paper.

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I was worried about painting the wings, I had not tried before, so I worked on them first, if it didn’t work out it was then easier to start again, luckily it went ok. Most of the wings are white so what I actually had to paint were the shadows of where they overlapped and then just a few of the patterns that cross the feathers. Lastly the hint of the coloured feathers on the back that cover the wings when they are folded. I used salt on the wet paint to give the mottled effect and added some of the little black dots that cover the feathers.

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Next, the shadows on the body and tail to give the owl a more three dimensional  appearance and the top of the head again with salt for the mottled effect. The eyes are dark and concentrate on the mouse and the claws are exaggerated to increase the awareness of the danger that our mouse is in. 

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For the mouse I tweaked the perspective to emphasise the speed and the panic  as he tries to escape and made the rabbit small as he disappears into the background making his getaway.

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And then the dandelions, I think I could paint them in my sleep now I have done so many but these were the first. 

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Lastly the dots of light in the owls eyes, it makes all the difference.

So what happens next? Does he escape? Yes, of course he does, see how very soon.

 

 

 

To Catch a Mouse

Continuing the Mouse Story, the next two images are going to be small illustrations of how our mouse was caught.   Below are the initial sketches.

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Initial sketches

The first one was transferred onto watercolour paper, this is just of the trap and the mouse.

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Transferred onto watercolour paper

My first step was to get a little paint down to hint at the surroundings. This was a thin mix of Ultramarine and Gamboge yellow to represent the green carpet, and then Yellow Ochre, with a tiny touch of Cadmium Red and Ultramarine to make the amber colour of the trap. The amber mix was very thin so that I could build up layers of colour depending on how many walls of the trap were being looked through. 

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Getting some paint on the page

Next I added the basic mouse colour which is Ultramarine with Alizarin Crimson and a little Yellow Ochre.

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Basic mouse colour

Then a very thin mix of Alizarin Crimson and Gamboge for the fleshy parts of the mouse with some of the fur colour dotted onto the tail while it was wet to suggest a few hairs. I added the eye and the rubber bumper on the trap.

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Details

The shadows were next assuming the light was directly above.

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Shadow

And finally a few details like the little end of the pivot on the trap and whiskers on the mouse.

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The mouse trap took quite a long time to get right, I had a lot of failed attempts, trying to get the angle right and to make it look interesting. Here are just a few.

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Then on to the next little illustration, this time with the mouse in the trap.

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Transferred onto watercolour paper

As before the image was transferred onto the watercolour paper, Bockingford as usual.

 

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Basic mouse colour

I started the painting by filling in the body of the mouse, this time using a little more Yellow Ochre to give the mouse a slight tint of the amber colour that would have reflected on him as the light passed through the trap.

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Painting the trap

Next I painted the trap, again with the thin amber mix.

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Painting depth

I added more layers to show where less of the light got through and also the shadow to the breathing holes. The white plastic trap trigger was toned down with just the slightest hint of colour in clean water as the light shining through does this. I also painted his tail just as I did in the previous illustration and added shadow to the black bumper.

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Whiskers

Finally I added the whiskers.

 

Here are the final illustrations shot in a slightly better light.

 

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Next time, freedom.

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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.

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.

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/