Today it is a Cornish hedgerow, forever changing and always fascinating.
This is Port Loe a little fishing village on the South coast of Cornwall
This is Celeste, one of my folds paintings. The folds started as doodles and grew from a fascination of the shadows and highlights caused by the twists and turns.
A cornfield full of wildflowers. Sadly we don’t see these anymore, wheat or barley intermingled with poppies, cornflowers and buttercups.
Day 1 Kingfisher
Just for fun to fill the gaps between episodes of the Mouse story a hundred days of art, a different picture everyday.
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.
To continue with the Mouse story, we are following our mouse on his adventures as he tries to find his way home. This time he meets a rabbit happily eating away at the dandelions but not very forthcoming with information.
After drawing out the scene as usual in watercolour pencil my first problem was how to make the rabbit look fluffy. So I worked on mixing the colour required choosing watercolours that tend to granulate, in this case yellow ochre with ultramarine, a little coeruleum blue and a touch of Alizarin Crimson. The yellow ochre and the coeruleum being good for granulation if the mixture is right. I experimented with the mixtures until I found one that worked then damped the area to be painted and quickly applied the paint, then it had to be left to do its magic.
Some of the paint separates and the heavier granules sink into the indents of the watercolour paper giving a soft textural effect and damping the paper meant that the paint would fill the area leaving soft edges. I painted the rabbit first because that was the part of the painting that had the most chance of going wrong, they do sometimes, and if I had to start again I would not have lost to much work.
Next the mouse and sketching in of the surroundings.
Then as usual working top to bottom filling in the landscape. First, sky and distance.
Note the hint of an owl in the sky in the distance, I try to leave clues in the pictures as to what might be happening next. Then the middle ground, trying to merge everything slowly into focus.
Then the foreground with all the detail and the warmest colours. Finally the finishing touches, the inside of the ear, details on the eyes and face and last of all the whiskers.
I have not gone into any detail of the colour mixes in this picture as they have mostly been the same in the past paintings, any new colour mixes that I use in the future I will include in each new blog.
Any guesses what will be happening to our little mouse next?
It has been a long while since my last blog ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-mr ) but sometimes life happens. So to continue my mouse story, this is where the mouse sets about trying to get home, he tries to talk to anyone he sees. As usual I transferred the design onto the watercolour paper using watercolour pencils. The mouse is stood in the field looking up at some birds on a wire, you may remember the starlings from a while back, well they are the upper half of this scene.
The mouse was painted first again using a mix of French Ultramarine with a little Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre, doubling the layers for the darker areas. Then I gave the dandelion flowers a light yellow wash so that I didn’t lose them amongst the greenery and used a white wax crayon do draw little stars on the seed heads.
Next using a very watered down mix of the mouse colour I painted over the seed heads and dropped a touch of the stronger mix in the middle. The wax resist remains white and just hints at the little umbrellas attached to the seeds and the darker area in the middle is the old flower head. I mixed a basic paint for the leaves of French Ultramarine and Lemon Yellow and used this for the start of all the other greens adding either more Ultramarine or Lemon Yellow or Gamboge Hue, or Coeruleum blue and sometimes Alizarin.
It is a long process building up all the layers of green but it is just a matter of filling them in and adding shadows. I used the white wax crayon again on the flowers, little dots and lines to represent the petals and then painted over with the Gamboge Hue. The soil is little squiggles of various colours mixed with Alizarin or Yellow Ochre and tiny dots and splodges of greens for the smaller weeds and mosses, with added tiny pebbles.
The page in the book will have the starlings, https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-gk ,at the top so I have made a mock up of what I hope it will look like.