A very unseasonable one today, this is a design for a Christmas card from a couple of years ago. It is time for me to start thinking about this years cards, it always seems strange trying to feel festive in July.
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.
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.
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.
Then I painted in the distant fields and added in some stronger tones for shadows, all the time adding salt to the wet paint.
When painting the foreground I added a little yellow ochre to the paint mix and dropped in more of the stronger colour for shadows.
When that was dry I drew in the top of the crab-apple tree.
Then painted the tree with a much stronger version of the same mix
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.
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.
Every year I try to design at least one Christmas card and over time they have varied a lot in style and subject. Last year I chose a robin sitting in a holly tree with ivy growing through it but with not a hint of snow, this year I had to have snow.
The Holly and the Ivy.
I didn’t want something to overtly Christmas, so I picked a winter wildlife scene, I chose
deer as the main subject and sketched out a few until I was happy with how they looked and then transferred them on to the watercolour paper.
As usual they were drawn using watercolour pencils and then I built the rest of the scene around them. I like to start at the top of the paper and work down, this means that I am not reaching across wet paint so there is no chance of smudging. So I started with the sky which is a mixture of Prussian Blue and French Ultramarine and scattered salt on to it to create starry or snow flurry effect. I find that the Prussian Blue reacts to the salt very well but I use the French Ultramarine to warm the colour a little.
I added a very light wash of the same mix to the land in the background to give the blue tint of distant snow then when that was dry a second light wash in areas to suggest dips in the snow.
Next on the rear deer, I used salt on the paint to give him a shaggy winter coat.
On the front two deer I used wax to resist the paint, to create the white markings on their backs.
Then I used some of the weak sky mix to mark the hoof prints in the snow and to show the snow collecting in the undergrowth.
The trees are almost silhouetted in the moonlight so the distant trees and bushes were painted in grey just leaving areas to represent the snow and the tree in the foreground was given a hint of green. I used the weak sky colour to make the shadow of the snow on the branches.
Then I added the holly in the foreground which helps to give the design depth and re-enforces the image as a Christmas card. Then I thought I would play with it.
I drew a snowflake and put it into Photoshop, I hid the background and turned the snowflake white, you should just about be able to see it beside the blue one above. Then I added the snowflakes in layers to the card design, distorting some of them as they were added , so that there were now snowflakes in the background and in the front. Doing it this way If I didn’t like it I still had the original painting but as it is a Christmas card I think the snowflakes stay.
Cards are available at the above link.