Sketchbook people. This is a mix of drawings from my sketchbooks, some are from life drawing, some are from photos trying to work out angles and positions. Others are from when I was trying to get the hang of how Bruegel painted his characters.
‘ Hoot’ This is in watercolour and ink, it started as a doodle, can you see the owl?
‘Home to Roost’, another of the miniatures, this time in watercolour and ink.
This is Mevagissey mooring in watercolour, wax and watercolour pencils.
Today it is a Turtle, two of them really. The original drawing and then after I have played about with it.
A sunflower in pencil. The slugs have eaten all mine so this might be the nearest I get to one this year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next I added more detail to the rocks, our mouse and another mouse with slightly browner fur.
And finally the swallows and a little more sea foam with white paint.
Will our mouse be any closer to getting home and what is that other mouse doing?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And then the dandelions, I think I could paint them in my sleep now I have done so many but these were the first.
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.
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.
The first one was transferred onto watercolour paper, this is just of the trap and the mouse.
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.
Next I added the basic mouse colour which is Ultramarine with Alizarin Crimson and a little Yellow Ochre.
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.
The shadows were next assuming the light was directly above.
And finally a few details like the little end of the pivot on the trap and whiskers on the mouse.
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.
Then on to the next little illustration, this time with the mouse in the trap.
As before the image was transferred onto the watercolour paper, Bockingford as usual.
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.
Next I painted the trap, again with the thin amber mix.
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.
Finally I added the whiskers.
Here are the final illustrations shot in a slightly better light.
Next time, freedom.