Thursday, December 30, 2010


The snow brought a succession of flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares, to feed on our crab apples and holly berries. By Christmas Day the holly had been stripped of berries but some Crab Apples survived on the ground for the ground feeders the blackbirds and Chaffinches. The snow covered  ground brought one or two pheasant and the ubiquitous pigeons to clear up the seed dropped from the feeders.

Now the snow has gone things are strangely quiet just the daily visits mostly from Blue and Great Tits. I've got material for paintings that will keep me occupied for some time - so I'm happy!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Browsing the art shelves in my local library I was surprised and delighted to find a monograph on the Cumbrian painter Sheila Fell. She was a protégé of L S Lowry who supported her and bought her work. Her career as a painter was remarkable for a working class girl - her father was a miner. Determined to break away from life in Aspatria on the Solway where she was born she won a scholarship to Carlisle College of Art and then went to London to study painting at St. Martins.

This must have taken tremendous determination as she was virtually penniless. She met Lowry after one of her London exhibitions when he bought two of her paintings. He became a lifelong friend and thought her the best landscape painter of the 20th Century. It was Lowry who encouraged her to send in to the RA. "You must join the RA Miss Fell they are a nice bunch of fellows and they make a wonderful cup of tea." Lowry urged.  She was one of the youngest painters to be elected ARA and duly became a full RA and served on the selection committee.

Her inspiration was always the Cumbrian landscape where she grew up. ""I want to live till I'm 104. I've promised myself I will. It's what keeps me going when I worry if I'll ever have enough time to do all the paintings in my head." she told an interviewer. Ironically the remark was broadcast the day after she died after falling downstairs at her flat.

The link opens up a feature about her on the BBC Visual Arts Archive which carries a recorded item for download to 'Real Player'

Another link of interest posted by a member on Art and Artistry is:

Sheila Fell: a-passion-for-paint

Monday, November 22, 2010


It was familiarity with Charles Tunnicliffe's watercolour paintings which aroused my interest in drawing and painting birds. I got to know his work from his published illustrations but the first time I saw the originals was in an exhibition in the Oriel Gallery at Llangefni on Anglesey. His draughtsmanship and control of the watercolour medium was breathtaking. Robert Gillmor's collection of CT's drawings 'A Sketchbook of Birds' gives an insight into his working methods but I really wanted to read a book 'Bird Portraiture' which he published in 1945. I was delighted to buy a second hand copy quite cheaply from an Amazon bookseller and I wasn't disappointed.

CT recognised that birds even if you take them out of their natural environment are still have an intrinsic beauty just like flowers but he thought it important for the artist to interpret his bird subjects in terms of basic graphic elements. 

'It is with the creation of a very different kind of beauty that this book will try to deal, - that of line and form and colour on paper or canvas; a work of art in fact which, we hope will have its own particular claim to be beautiful, not because it has slavishly imitated the form and colour of the bird, but because it has used the bird and controlled it to create a new beauty.'

When you study CT's they owe little to 'realism' but a great deal to careful composition and colour harmony.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I've been fortunate this summer to be able to observe a young buzzard who took to perching on the goalposts on the village playing field. He arrived regularly about 8.00am and flew of when the field started to be used. While he was using the goalposts as a lookout he was still enough to be sketched through a telescope  When he took off to browse for ants with the jackdaws I had to take photographs.

This sheet of drawings was made from photographs I took. The one on the right was drawn with charcoal and for the left hand study I've used a 4b Carbon pencil. However you tackle them birds are a real challenge.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


This is a working study of nesting Kittiwakes. I photographed them through a telephoto lense from the boat going across to the Farne Islands. There seemed to be dozens of birds on the cliffs and I've composed the sketch by using four from two different photographs.

I've used a 160gsm Ingres grey pastel paper and I began the sketch using Carb Othello pastel pencils. I decided that using watercolour for the birds would speed things up. Using watercolour on toned paper is an occasion when body colour comes into its own. If you decide to try this you will be in good company Turner used the technique on a blue sugar papar.

The white plumage of the birds is basically pure Titanium White and the grey feathers are painted with a Cobalt/Titanium mix. Ivory Black was used for the tail feathers and eyes. I would never use a pure Kolinsky Sable for this technique. I always use Rosemary & Co brushes these days and I've used a Series 401 Sable Blend for the birds and the transparent washes on the cliff face. It's sometimes useful to have a more springy brush and I found Rosemary's Shiraz Round was ideal for the nesting material.

For this way of sketching I owe something to Keith Brockie the Scottish wildlife artist. I managed to pick up 'One Man's Island' a book he wrote as a young man when he had an artists residency on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth. It's a book of pencil studies of wildlife he observed in the field and worked up later in the studio. Charles Tunnicliffe worked in a similar way.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

GREY WAGTAILS  Watercolour and bodycolour 31 x 41cm on 300gsm Arches.Not.

This is a sheet of Grey Wagtail studies made from two skins. The annotated sketch is the foreground bird in the watercolour and the far one is based on the top right sketch. I'd never actually seen a wagtail turn its head like the centre right bird which was drawn from a second skin - so I've not made use of it yet.

Bird painters seem to fall into two categories - first there are those who make detailed anatomical studies for identification and recording. Angela Gladwell - who runs courses at Ludlow Museum - was trained at the RCA as a technical illustrator used to be very keen on this kind of painting. I did two courses with her from which I learned a lot and I acknowledge the help I received from her tuition. The second class of bird painters try to capture their subjects in their natural surroundings. So Peter Scott, Charles Tunnicliffe from a previous generation, and contemporaries like Lars Jonsson, Keith Brockie and Darren Woodhead point me in the direction I want to go.

Even if you sketch outdoors the real challenge comes when the painting has to be composed in the studio. In the past I'd observed Grey Wagtails in the rocky steam beds which fall down through the oakwoods on the steep sides of the Afon Mawddach. Some years ago I'd used the sketches - not very successfully - in that location. On a summer holiday in Yorkshire I did this sketch from the side of the River Nidd near Knaresborough that seemed a suitable setting - though I didn't see any wagtails.

Having done the research and assembled all of the elements the most satisfying stage, for me, is bringing them all together in the studio.

Friday, October 29, 2010


One aspect of the steam train era I get nostalgic about is the poster and carriage art. Before nationalisation the railway companies commissioned artists to produce posters to promote attractive destinations served by rail. There was once a fashion for showing prints of watercolour paintings in carriage compartments. Jack Merriott received several commissions both for posters and carriage prints.

Ceredigion Museum has a nice example of a poster designed by Merriott and the draft sketch design he submitted for it.


Here's a nice example of his watercolour of Mousehole, Cornwall used for a carriage print.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I've been fortunate over several years to have been given advice from more senior members of the Ludlow Art Society. One I remember with particular affection was Kath Edfryn-Jones - she was Welsh, she taught art at Hafren College in Newtown and her watercolour presentations were always very informative. I once asked her to tell me of a good book on watercolour methods. Without hesitation she  recommended 'Discovering Watercolour' by Jack Merriot. "You needn't bother looking at any other." she said. At that time I'd never heard of him and the book was long out of print.  Edward Wesson was everybodys favourite and Ron Ranson wielding his Japanese Hake was beginning to make his mark. 

I was lucky though and found a second hand copy of Jack Merriot's book in a Tewkesbury bookshop. The book grew from a correspondence course which Jack Merriot devised with his friend Ernest Savage. So it was carefully structured placing initial emphasis on good observational drawing. Successive chapters then dealt with three basic methods first Line and Wash. Secondly The Direct Method which involves a direct attack on the main centre of interest on dry paper. This is a method for responding to the excitement of the first compulsive eye-catch with strong colour. Finally he describes The Controlled Wash method where the painting is built up with superimposed washes on slightly dampened paper. It's the method most frequently advocated by contemporary watercolourists - notably David Curtis.

When I'm in watercolour mode I often look at Trevor Chamberlain's plein air watercolours. They are usually very small 7" x 10" or 10" x 14" and display an attractive controlled looseness - where does he get it from?
There's an element of Merriot's Direct Method about them. I was pleased to discover Trevor acknowledged the influence of Jack Merriott in his early years in his book 'Light and Atmosphere in Watercolour.'  One of Merriot's wartime watercolours showing St Paul's after the Blitz is printed on page16.

This image of Merriot's painting appears on the Wapping Group of Artists website.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Here's the finished half-sheet watercolour. I've made use of Titanium White as a bodycolour because it is more opaque than the traditional Chinese(Zinc) White. I'm not someone who holds strictly to the 'pure transparent' doctrine. The use of white 'bodycolour' has always been part of the watercolour tradition and it's use enhances the possibilities of the medium. You can play off opaque passages against transparent ones as Ken Howard does and it can be used to create crumbly textures on rocks and old walls. Only when it is thickly laid on like whitewash does it look out of place.


This is a view near Siror done on holiday in the Dolomites some years ago. I've got a stretched sheet of Waterford on which I'm going to make the preliminary drawing for a watercolour.

The composition perhaps needs a little attention. I'm going to push the donkeys further back to simplify the foreground - I may include just one. Then I think the building needs more space so that will have to go further back too. Maybe a hint of peaks at the head of the valley would be nice.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Digital cameras are a great aid for the painter. I'm showing a way of using a digital camera to help paint a watercolour of a complex subject. The subject is the Trevi Fountain in Rome which gets so crowded I would find it impossible to paint on the spot. I had to resort to taking lots of photographs.

The first stage is to crop the photograph to find a good composition. I did this in Corel Photopaint an alternative to Photoshop. These programs also let you superimpose a grid. This is useful when you have a complicated subject. Here's a screen grab of the active Photopaint window

I set the grid size to one quarter of the width of the paper I was using. It's easy then to feintly draw the grid on the paper and make a careful outline drawing. Using a grid to transfer an image to paper or canvas is a well established method.

I painted the watercolour with the image displayed on a laptop. It's obviously not a straight copy. I've left out much of the background detail so that the focus of interest is the falling water. This was painted by first using masking fluid and later using 'drybrush' (ie with little paint on the brush and dragging it sideways rather than using the point.) This way you can exploit the grain of the paper to achieve a nice broken texture.I used a heavy Waterford rough.


These gulls were scavenging on the sea front at Ostend. It was December last uear, bitterly cold and I was with friends. Not the occasion for sitting sketching so I took lots of photographs. This sheet of studies was made in preparation for a composition. Trouble is I can't decide what species of gull they are. My best guess - based on the shape of the bill and the colour of the legs - is that they're immature Blackbacks.

This grey squirrell was under the apple tree in my garden - an easy target for a 300mm lens I took 6 photographs and based this drawing on one of them.

I've used Wollf Carbon Pencils - Artifolk sell them in sets of B, 2B, 4B, 6B and they make rich black marks. They don't go shiny like graphite when applied thickly. I was taught a very traditional technique in the Life Room - tones built up gently and gradually with hachures. It's a lovely way of drawing

Friday, September 24, 2010


This study is taken from one of Degas’ late pastels. He did a series of them at the end of his life when he was too ill to go to the ballet and his eyesight was failing. They are some of the best things he ever did.

I love these late pastels of Degas and I’ve made two or three studies of different ones using conventional pastels on Tiziano paper. Although this digital study doesn’t really capture the true feel of pastel it is a good way of studying the technique of a great artist – you’re not using up paper and chalk.

I suppose applying the computer in this way is a bit like using a flight simulator when learning to fly a plane.

For comparison I’ve posted another study this time in pastel. The source image is in 'Degas Pastels' by Alfred Werner and I've taked the foreground figure from the composition.

This time Degas used a more painterly approach which is reflected in the study. I can’t be sure what Degas underpainting was like but for the purpose of this exercise I used an acrylic ground on a heavy cartridge paper.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


He's a Burrowing Owl another bird from the collection at the Rare Breeds Farm at Kington, Herefordshire.

His species is native to Central America and he's about the size of our Little Owls.

The medium is watercolour and the background is suggestive of thelikely habitat.