Today it is a Cornish hedgerow, forever changing and always fascinating.
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.
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.
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, ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-lG ) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next, Meeting the Locals
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, ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-kK ) they are the ideal place for him to hide.
As usual I drew out my illustration using watercolour pencils
Then I added some of the wildflowers and grass.
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.
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, Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre. The mouse colour is much lighter on the wall because it is just dropped into clean water and dissipates.
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.
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 Alizarin 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.
Where does our mouse go from here?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next time a mouse sized hole to hide in.