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?

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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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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