Sunday, 23 February 2020

Easter mice

I realise you are probably now thinking 'there is no such thing as Easter mice' and you would be correct, however, this year, in my house.... there will be!
With Easter just around the corner, I decided to make some little family gifts, using scraps of fabric, some stuffing and whatever I could find in my 'bits and bobs' box. I do love fabrics, and tend to keep pieces from clothing and all the off-cuts from various projects over the years.

Sitting in the studio, with the scent of daffodils and being surrounded with beautiful colours inspired these little mice.  
Do you remember learning 'blanket stitch' at school? I think other than basic 'running stitch' and 'cross stitch' its the first fancy stitch you learn, often on pastel coloured binca fabric ( I think that's what it was called) traditionally used to edge blankets, blanket stitch is perfect for attaching pieces of felt together or any felt like non fraying fabric. 

French knots for the eyes, another easy little stitch, and some hours later....

These little mice stand 5" tall, they are weighted at the bottom ( I know, that does sound rather clever) but I used some 'out of date' split peas which have been lurking in the back of a kitchen cupboard with a 'use by' date of 2017 on them. (never let it be said that I waste anything)
I used to enjoy making lentil and split pea soup, using stock from a ham joint, but sadly, those days are no more, so the split peas have been put to good use.


This is probably a better view of them. They are very easy to make, and I think they will be loved when they 'appear' in their new home at Easter. I may even make a couple more before then, I have my eye on some patterned fabric which I am itching to use.


I might have them as the 'treasure' at the end of a hunt.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Spot the difference.

You know when you see something, and you cant un-see it? That's what happened.

Its like those magic pictures, look at them a certain way and you see something different, and once seen, you then see it all the time.
My painting remained on the easel and each time I glanced across, I saw it.
I had a sneaky look, and it was still there.

This morning when I returned from my walk I just had to do it, opened my palette and altered the painting.
Below are the two photos, the top one is the before (the same as my last post) and the one below is the altered one.

I wonder if you spot the change straight away? Do tell me if you do!



Monday, 3 February 2020

The Greenhouse Lanterns

I love to see low winter sunlight glowing through greenhouses. On chilly mornings, it is as if they are all made of frosted glass as they glow like little lanterns twinkling in the morning sun. Frost laden wires guide the pathways in between the various plots drawing me this way and that.

The occasional excited bird songs are silenced as I approach the hedges adjoining the fields, but if I stand quietly their chirping begins once again and I no longer feel like a threat to them.

This is my latest painting and for those of you who would like to see how it built up, do read on. 

There are many ways to use acrylics, this is the process that works for me, if you have a totally different approach, that's great, please don't feel you need to change the way you paint, there is no right or wrong way.


I always stand to paint at my easel when I work on a canvas, and I walk backwards and forwards in order to judge the proportions.

Stepping back and looking again can really help to see any areas that may not look right. 

This first stage plots out where the main objects sit. The paint is very dilute, so much so you can see where it has run down the canvas.

Once the basic shapes are blocked in, I add the dark background areas and the dark area of soil in the foreground. 

I use directional brush strokes so that if any gaps are left at a later stage, these strokes will all help to suggest the surface texture or direction of the ground surface.

Then I begin to add colour. I saw a lot of mauve's and cool colours in the mid tone sections. 
Once I get to this stage, everything is where I want it and my tonal areas are all there, I now need to build up the painting, adding some details and of course the light. 


This was a lovely composition for me, I walked down that path right to the end (where there is a clutter of various chairs and make shift tables abandoned since last Summer) there are so many sections I want to paint, this is one I will no doubt tackle again, when the colours all change and the picture is totally different.

Monday, 27 January 2020

A frosty morning at the allotments


We had 2 consecutive frosty, but misty mornings this week. Once the sun peeks through, there is that most glorious period of brightness when the frost clings to everything, before it disappears.

I love those mornings, sadly the higher temperatures have now taken over so the mist seems to linger and those low grey skies have been with us for the rest of the week.

Frost is a bit of a painting challenge. Paint it too thickly and it resembles snow. Too dark and the tonal values don't work. This is the result of my effort. 

The frost was so thick on the grass, that the colour underneath was unrecognisable as grass. The soil still had that earth colour, and the fencing looked very light as the frost stuck to all the wire.






This is how I began.
I like to start by establishing my composition, blocking in the darks as I see them.
I'm using the colour Shadow, but you could use any dark colour that you intend to use in your painting.








I then introduced some Bluebell colour and Raw Sienna, suggesting distant hills and foliage as well as the mid-ground area, foreground dug-over soil and the track.

I really enjoy this stage of a painting, not knowing whats going to happen and continuing to notice little aspects of the composition as I look more and more.

It would be very easy at this stage to get carried away with the interesting little details, but I avoid that and concentrate on building up the painting.

I darken up areas, adding some of the foliage at the back of the composition, as well as branches and posts.
I do this to ensure that my composition is accurate. 
By adding posts, I can check that the proportions are correct by comparing their positions to that of others. Using imaginary horizontals and verticals to check where other objects are in relation to them.
For example, the scale of the shed, where the corner of the shed/roof sits, in proportion to the background hedge is vital.
Anything can be altered at this stage.
I can paint over anything, or even rub the paint off, if it is still wet.
If the shed is too big or too small, that too can be altered, so this is the moulding stage when the entire painting is developed.

I got so carried away with it that I forgot to take any pictures after this, until the final one.
Notice the row of dark posts on the right of this picture, then look at the final painting above, you can still make them out under the paint. I decided to give them less prominence by glazing over the top of them. 
I used a limited palette, and as I hope you can see from the frosty photo at the top, the colours of the final painting certainly reflected the colours on the day.

I feel like 2020 has now begun for me, after being unwell for the first 10 days or so, and feeling very miserable and sorry for myself, I am now back into my painting and enjoying it again.

I have just agreed to tutor a studio based painting course in June 2021... I know, its crazy  that the diary begins to get booked so far in advance.
I may even agree to an outdoor painting holiday in the future, but that probably wont be until the following year! And it wont be in the winter, that's for sure!

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Finishing the beach commission

Today began with a heavy frost, the promised sunshine was nowhere to be seen, but there was a glow to suggest a brightness would emerge soon, so Maggie and I had a lovely walk over the fields.
Maggie loves frosty mornings because everything smells so much sharper, so she spent most of her walk, nose pinned to the ground.
I love those misty mornings where the world is emerging in the distance and the sounds are muffled, but the ice cracks underfoot.

Once home, a cup of tea and one of those brownies from yesterday beckoned me whilst I stood and decided my next painting move.


I began with the Collie, using my number 12 Classic Sable and Lunar Blue (which I love) and Copper with a touch of Raw Sienna, starting with the head and working towards the right.
I used my finest embossing tool to tease out individual hairs whilst the paint was wet.
(these are such useful tools, they come in packs of 3 with 6 different size tips)

Sticking with the same colours I began with the head of the figure allowing the colours to meet and merge as I progressed down the shape, making sure no section dried before adding the next colour.
I will add a little more detail later, but not too much.


Next I add the dog in the foreground, using the embossing tool as before to suggest fur texture.
Then straight away I add the reflections in the wet sections of sand.

Then I have a little think and I begin to wonder if the sand sections are dark enough!

This is not the time to change your mind about this. I should have made them darker before adding the figure and the dogs, but the more I think about it the more I feel I should have gone darker in the first place.

So I paint a darker version of the sand colours on a small piece of watercolour paper and allow it to dry. Then I cut the paper so that the colour goes right up to the edge of my sample. I don't have any white outline showing, as this will distract me from the correct tonal value once I place it onto my painting.
Its important that I can see the colour and tonal changes when I mix my colours, so my palette with shallow large mixing areas is perfect.

So this is what I do.

I lay it on my painting and place it next to the dogs. I move it about on the beach section checking the tonal contrasts with what I already have and my conclusion is....
Yes, it needs to be darker!
This means instead of sweeping strokes over the painting, merging the colours and dropping in colours, I will need to carefully paint around the dogs and the figure, suggesting that the wash went behind it all.
This is not ideal, but once I decide its not right, there is no living with it.
No matter how happy I am with anything, if I see something isn't quite right, I always change it rather than live with a compromise.
This will mean some adjusting afterwards, but that's OK.

And this is the final result. I ended up having to alter the tonal values of both of the dogs, but I used that to add more depth and textures, so that worked out well.
I am happy with how this turned out and its new owner is thrilled, it will be flying over to its new home in Belgium later this week.

It was such a lovely commission.







Saturday, 18 January 2020

The start of a watercolour commission

After a number of very grey overcast days, today has been glorious. Wall to wall sunshine all day.
Yesterday, looking at the forecast, I decided I would paint the watercolour I have been meaning to paint for some time, so I got everything out, and printed out some photos (my computer skills when it comes to printing photos are dreadful, I struggle to print 2 images onto one sheet of paper, so this task took way more time than I ever thought it would) at least I would be ready to begin in the morning.

I began my day with a lovely walk across the fields to Lower Slaughter where the wheel on the water mill was sloshing around with the sheer volume of water cascading through it. Often I walk past it and its so pretty, but the wheel isn't going round, so this morning I stood and became quite mesmerised by it, until another dog walker with two very 'barky' dogs needed to pass by on the narrow path, and so we moved on. I am very fortunate with Maggie, she is a quiet, social little dog who trots along happily, tail up where ever we go.
Once back home I couldn't wait to begin!


First I needed to test if the Cotton Rag paper I was using would be suitable for masking fluid, as there are some breaking waves which I would like to include, so I painted a little test on the side of the picture, made a cup of tea whilst it dried then made a few colour trials on top of it. I'm sticking to a limited palette to keep continuity and unify the painting, so about 4 colours will be enough.

This is pretty much stage one.
Wetting the paper all over and working flat I drop the blue into the sky, continuing down the page in the sea and up onto the beach area in sweeping the bands of blue. Immediately I stroke in the colour of the sand from left to right, allowing the colours to merge slightly with the blue, leaving no part of the paper without colour.
I watch as the paint settles then add more colour strengthening it where I felt it was a little pale and adding a darker colour to the sand area. By the time I have added more to the foreground the top has begun to dry, so I can add the horizon and a darker section of water for the distance. I add more blue using a slightly brighter mix then stop.

You should just be able to make out the figure starting to emerge from the paper.
This now needs to dry, so lunch is called for, otherwise I might fiddle!



Next I use a dark blue and a little of the Copper beach colour and paint the rocks.
Then I darken some areas of blue and define some of the beach sections a little more.

I also add blue to the underside of the waves as this will help them to look as if they are rolling once I remove the masking fluid.
I decide not to leave the masking fluid on overnight, as the sample on the side was a bit stubborn to remove.
Wood pulp papers are far more forgiving when it comes to masking fluid, so Bockingford for example would be a good choice of paper. However, I wanted to use Cotton Rag High White as I love the way the paint absorbs into the paper giving lots of depth to multiple washes.

The paper must be absolutely dry before removing masking fluid, otherwise it can tear the paper with it, so I left it for ages and baked some chocolate brownies.
Once they were in the oven, I needed to tidy up and by the time I had done all that, the paper was dry.



I used to use a piece of cotton to remove masking fluid, but Terry came back from teaching in NC the USA in 2016 and brought back a rubber square of masking fluid remover. Its like an eraser, except it picks up the rubber off the paper. It mean less rubbing and seems to be gentler on cotton papers. You can see it pictured just above my palette.
So this is the stage I got to today.

We are due for sunshine again tomorrow, so I plan to finish the painting then. I have no idea how it will all work out, but I'll let you know.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

the minefield that is social media

Goodness me, has it really been that long since I wrote a post?
I must stop telling myself that I should only write something that people may want to read, that really does limit me somewhat, so perhaps I should write when I think I have something to say.
After all, people write stuff about nothing at all.

So other than walk the dog, and do a minimal bit of tidying up and paper shuffling, today I have done nothing.
My excuse is, that I have been poorly for the last 10 days, so I'm pacing myself and taking things slow. Like a long distance runner (only in my case, I'm walking)

I am bucking the trend here by admitting this, because it would seem that if you are on social media, then life is exciting, fun filled, busy and of course successful on so many levels. This goes without saying, so I shouldn't have said that. 

I do find SM confusing. I have only recently realised that when someone says DM me, its not some weird fetish of some sort.
People I don't know and have never met ask me to 'like' their page.
I find myself talking out loud to the screen saying 'why, when I have no idea who you are'? and I don't.
(if that's you, then you knew this already, but then, I doubt if it will be, because you are unlikely to be reading my blog)

It is a mystery to me the Facebook etiquette when it comes to clicking 'like'

I'm not sure how one would react to some posts, for example, someone I barely know posted regarding a relationship breakup that would appear to be on the acrimonious side as well as somewhat recent.
If the 'friend' (whom I barely know) is 'delighted to be rid of the b*****d and the person they are currently having relations with (although that wasn't exactly the way it was put) is now welcome to them..........who clicks 'like'? (and they did!)

(that was a rhetorical question by the way, please don't feel you need to answer it)

Does 'like' mean - yes, you are well rid of them, or does it mean 'poor you how awful'
Is 'like' some sort of encouragement? I hardly know you but I'm now gripped by your saga which is now unfurling and I would be delighted to keep reading about your misery?

Undoubtedly spurred on by these 'likes' the drama increased in its informative suggestions regarding the attributes or otherwise of the offending party and their various personal habits.
It became, over a short space of time what can only be described as entertaining, awaiting the next instalment a morbid curiosity.

This all reinforces my view that my posting a little photo of a painting we did in a workshop may not be as gripping as a 'social soap' but in 2020 if I have nothing to tell you, I may still have something to say.

If you have read thus far, then I applaud you for your perseverance and it only leaves me to wish you heath and happiness for 2020