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

Mouse in the Country

Continuing with my mouse story this is where he finds himself after being brave enough to leave the safety of the hole in the wall, in a huge expanse of open countryside. Normally mice don’t have very good eye sight but for the sake of the story this mouse has amazing human like optical abilities.

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As usual to begin I sketched out the basics with watercolour pencil. With the moors in the distance and just a hint of the sea on the left hand side.

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Then working from the top down I painted the sky with Coeruleum blue and a touch of Alizarin Crimson, painting right down into the valley. I also used the blue to paint the sea, just hinting at the waves.  When the sky was dry,  I added a little more Alizarin and water to the mix and painted the moors in the distance, painting over the blue down into the valley. The closer hills were painted using a mix of the Coeruleum blue, Ultramarine and Gamboge yellow and a lot of water.

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The other fields were painted using the same mix but also with touches of other colours added  into the wet paint to make each field slightly different. In the two ploughed fields I added Ultramarine and Yellow Ochre just as the paint was drying and applied it in straight lines to suggest the lines of the plough. The field boundaries where left to paint later to stop the different colours from bleeding into each other. The group of trees were painted using Ultramarine and Prussian Blue with a little Lemon Yellow and I used a little of each of the colours to paint the cliffs and rocks by the sea.

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Using the same mixture that I used for the trees I made little marks on the moor to look like fields and trees in the distance. Then strengthening the mix I marked in the closer field boundaries, gradually adding Gamboge yellow the nearer I got to the front. I put a faint wash of yellow on the dandelion flowers so that I didn’t lose them amongst the green. The mouse is painted in the usual mix of Ultramarine, Alizarin and Yellow Ochre dabbing off a little underneath and at the front where the mouse is lighter. The tin building was painted with the sky colour and I used the mouse colour for the shadows. 

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For the green plants at the front I used various shades of Ultramarine mixed with Gamboge yellow with occasional drops of Prussian Blue and Lemon Yellow. To make the group of trees more three dimensional I added water sparingly to the whole group and then dropped in a darker shade of the tree colour. The Dandelion flowers were painted with Gamboge Yellow and then when dry some of the paint was lifted off with a damp brush to form the petals. Colour was added to the mouse’s eye, feet and tail. A hint of buildings in the distance, another layer of the blue to the sea, the centre’s to the Dandelion clocks, a neutral tint to the road and it was done.

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Next, Meeting the Locals

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A Mouse Sized Hole to Hide In.

The fields of Cornwall are bounded by Cornish hedges this may sound obvious but it really isn’t. A Cornish hedge is a wall. It may be just a wall or it may be a wall with a hedge on top or a wall with trees on top or a wall with a whole mixture of things growing on, in or through it. Sometimes you cannot tell there is a wall at all as it has become so overgrown and looks like a huge bank with a complete ecosystem growing on top of it. Here are just a few examples.

These are the type of hedges/walls that surround the fields around our house and this is where our mouse runs to after he has been released, they are the ideal place for him to hide.

As usual I drew out my illustration using watercolour pencils

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Then I added some of the wildflowers and grass.

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At last I could start the painting. I decided to paint the mouse first so that I could judge the colours in the wall better to ensure that the mouse would stand out. Each block of the wall was painted separately by flooding the area with water and then dropping in colour which would spread and merge together to create a natural effect. Then I sprinkled on a small amount of table salt  to make random patterns. 

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I will not go into what colours were used for each block (the blog would be never ending) but over all I used Coeruleum blue, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson and the same mixture of grey that I used for the mouse which is French Ultramarine, Aliarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre. The mouse colour is much lighter on the wall because it is just dropped into clean water and dissipates. 

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Once I had done a few blocks and some started to dry I painted the cracks and some of the spaces between them with a stronger version of the mouse mix.

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Then it was the grass and wildflowers which were painted using various mixes of green using French Ultramarine, Coeruleum blue, Lemon yellow and Gamboge Hue. The Mouse was finished using a very faint mix of Aliarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre for the ears and feet, the deep shadow mix for the eye with a white dot for reflection and the whiskers were drawn on with a gunmetal grey watercolour pencil.  

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Where does our mouse go from here?

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Mouse at the Gate.

The next part of the story is where the mouse is released into the wild fields of Cornwall.  Although we need to catch any mice we find in the house it is not something we enjoy but setting them free and watching them bound away is a wonderful experience. Just sometimes they don’t rush off, they sit and assess the situation or even have a quick wash so we stand very still until they eventually go. This is what developed into the story, as a family we would discuss what we thought the mice, we had released, would get up to and what adventures they would have.

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Thankfully this is the last illustration that includes the mousetrap, I am glad I will not have to draw that again. So having worked out the basics I transferred them onto the watercolour paper.

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 I roughly sketched in the details that I wanted to add, especially the dandelions that feature a lot throughout the story, the field beyond the gate and the ivy on the gate post, all with watercolour pencils so that they would mostly wash away when the paint was added.

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Then I finally got to start painting. Sky first using a very faint wash of Cobalt Blue with a touch of Alizarin Crimson. Then by adding just a little Gamboge Hue to make the green wash, I painted the field, leaving a few areas at the front to paint in the flowers later. While the green was still wet, with a tiny brush I dropped in touches of the Gamboge Hue to look like dandelions in the distance. The grey metal gate was painted using a stronger version of the sky mix but with extra red and yellow and further layers for the shadows. The trap was painted using very thin layers of Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre and Ultramarine, building up the layers depending on how much light was getting through and then the mouse using Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre.  While that was drying I tidied up the sketches of the ivy and the dandelions and then painted some of the spaces left for flowers in the field  leaving some white for the seed heads.

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The ivy leaves were next, they were painted using a stronger version of the field colour leaving some white spaces for the veins. When the leaves were dry the gatepost was painted by filling the spaces with a little water and dropping in various colours which spread and merged to look a little like stone with lichen growing on it. The dandelions were painted using Ultramarine and Gamboge Hue adding a little more of the blue for the darker leaves. The flower heads are a weak layer of Gamboge Hue followed by a stronger second layer to define the petals and the seed heads were painted with water and then just a little of the mouse colour dropped in just below the centre so that it spread to fade into the white. The shoe is Prussian Blue and the foot is painted with very thin Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre.

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Next I added a shadow to the gate post and to the ivy leaves. Then I started filling in the colours of the gravel and stones on the path using various mixes of the colours already used in the rest of the illustration. I put in a few low growing plants and grasses and finished painting the dandelions. Finally I added some white highlights to the mouse trap.

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Next time a mouse sized hole to hide in.

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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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