Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I sold this pastel years ago to a local doctor at one of our Ludlow Art Society Exhibitions. She died and clearly her family did not rate it as a family heirloom because it turned up in a local print gallery. Judging by the price he was asking the owner probably bought it as part of a job lot at a local sale room.

I went into the gallery and introduced myself as the artist who'd painted it. I briefly considered buying it back to resell it but the gallery assistant said she liked it because she knew the location. Her appreciation convinced me that the painting had found a good home so I said farewell to it for a second time!

I keep a digital photograph of all my work so here it is adapted as a Christmas Card.


Saturday, November 17, 2012


I’ve dabbled with digital painting for a few years using Painter. I began with Painter 9 and progressed through upgrades to the current version Painter12.  Professional illustrators produce quite stunning images with Painter for a variety of applications. Painter though has a quite complex interface and it takes some time to appreciate and become familiar with many of its features.
My interest in it is as a means of exploring starting points that could be developed further by using traditional painterly techniques. An easy way to gain familiarity with the program is to explore the ‘auto painting’ feature. First copy a reference image into Painter and save it. Next open a new layer and start the autopainting tool. This will start to build up a clone of the reference image which in time would produce a clone of the reference source. The auto feature can be paused at any stage as the clone proceeds.

I’ve used a scan of a late pastel by Degas as the source reference and paused the process as a starting point for further development with Painter’s ‘Pastel Brushes.’ I don’t intend to do more work on it. The objective was to become familiar with methods that can be used with Painter.

Friday, October 12, 2012


For the past few weeks I’ve been preoccupied with drawing. Pencil studies of birds mostly and some sketches for future compositions. I find I have to draw up watercolour compositions – it is a medium which is not easy to change once you have started. Others though like to live dangerously by laying wet washes and extracting a ghost image from them – does Turner come to mind? Of course he had a good eye and could draw better than most of us.

Acrylic is a friendly medium which offers much more freedom. I began this on a hardboard panel prepared with an even base coat of dark brown/green. I composed ‘on the hoof’ putting down markers to place the ducks and making small adjustments to position as the work developed.

I’m using Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylics. They have a nice creamy consistency. I thin with a matt medium and a little water if I want to glaze over passages. When working quickly and freely the short drying time is an advantage. There is still much to do before I can say; “I’m happy with that” – my favourite quote from Alwyn Crawshaw.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

LAS Members Summer Exhibition

Yellow-Eyed Penguins on Doubtful Sound, New Zealand.


First Winter Blackback Gulls: Ostend.    Watercolour

These are two of five paintings I'm sending in to the Ludlow Art Society's Summer Exhibition.
The dates are:

Sat.18th to Sun. 26th August
at the Harley Centre,

Castle Square, Ludlow.
10.00am to 5.00pm daily.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Church Stretton Festival 24th July - 3rd August

Three paintings I've sent to the Church Stretton Festival Art Exhibition
Opening times are 10.00am to 6.00pm Daily
Tortoishell Butterflies: Watercolour
Nesting Kittiwakes: Acrylic

Arnside Oystercatchers: Watercolour

Thursday, July 12, 2012


The picture shows my submissions to the Ludlow Art Society Spring Exhibition which ran for one week opening on Easter Saturday. Now the local exhibition season has started in earnest.

After the recent event at Gt. Witley I'm sending to the Church Stretton Festival Exhibition which runs from 24th July to 3rd August. I'll be showing the Nesting Kittiwakes and the Avocets at  This event which didn't sell at Easter.

I have five more new pictures ready for the LAS Summer Exhibition which will be held at The Harley Centre, Ludlow from August 18th to 26th.

I hope interested followers of my blog will drop by to either of the above exhibitions. If I happen to be around please introduce yourself I'd love to meet you.

Monday, July 09, 2012


This watercolour will be my 5th and final submission for the LAS Summer Exhibition which is held on the last two weeks in August.

Precise minded ornithologists might give ‘Hen Bramblings in Winter Plumage’ as a correct title of the picture. But I’m reminded that Charles Tunnicliffe painted a colourful watercolour of fancy pigeons which he called ‘Angels and Archangels.’ So I think ‘Ladies in Winter Dress’ catches the mood of the painting and would be acceptable in an open exhibition.

I make increasing use of opaque bodycolour these days prefering mainly Titanium rather than the traditional Chinese (Zinc) White. I think it has to be used sensitively and not make the painting look as if it's been given a coat of distemper. There are several ways white has been applied to this painting - ranging from pure pigment for the white parts of the birds to general washes which can be worked on while still wet.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012



This is the final version of the ones shown in earlier posts. I'm making increasing use of acrylic in my watercolours - I like their strength and translucency. I've moved onto using Golden Open Acrylics almost exclusively they are never totally opaque. They do not flow freely like watercolours and I use them to soften and give 'body' to pale watercolour washes.

I suppose I prefer broadly stated paintings to precise detail - as Matisse said: 'exactitude is not truth.'

Monday, June 25, 2012


My favourite tool for sketching has been a Sepia Pentel Colour Brush. It had water soluble pigment which could be softened and blended with a Pentel wash brush. The range of Pentel Colour brushes seems to have been discontinued so I was delighted to discover an improved replacement in an Art Materials shop in Worcester last week.

This is the ZIG Art and Graphic Twin marketed by Kuratake.co.uk. Their full range can be found on their website. I've been trying one out on a sheet of A3 Canson.

The drawing shows a sketch of a jackdaw but the brush drawings were made with the brush end of the A&G Twin washed over with a colour brush loaded with plain water. I've doodled with the rubber marker tip which gives a fine even line. These can also be softened and washed over to good effect.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Great Witley is a pleasant village in the Teme valley near Worcester. The Festival is an annual event held in aid of the local Scouts and Guides Exhibition and this week-end there is an Art Exhibition where I send in paintings. The exhibition is held in a large functions room in ‘The Hundred House.’  It’s a very informal affair - tables are arranged round the walls with chairs on top and in front. Other tables are grouped in circles again with chairs on top and in front.

On receiving day – which was last Friday – your entries are checked and you are given labels to attach to your paintings. Exhibitors are then free to place their paintings on the chairs for display. One old hand brought his own radial easel to display two large canvases but most of us are content with the upholstered dining chairs with the paintings leaning against the backrest. All very informal and seemingly chaotic – but it works.  I found myself a circle with 3 vacant chairs and placed my 4th entry on the table above. The thought occurred that as more and more artists arrived some rearrangement would be inevitable
My wife and I went on to Worcester for some shopping – she was looking for a summer dress and I was tempted by a showerproof jacket from the Rohan shop. Two hours later on the way home I decided to drop by the exhibition to see how things were going.  Sure enough I found that my pictures had been rearranged. One watercolour had been moved onto the table and the space was on the chair was occupied by two small watercolours. I found that the culprit was John Horton – a fellow TWASI member who paints beautifully crafted watercolours of birds. So I was quite flattered to be showing alongside a superior talent.
This year’s exhibition I was delighted by a rare surprise. On Saturday evening I received a telephone call from a man who told me he had purchased my watercolour of Mevagissey at the exhibition. He told me how much he admired it and I thanked him and said I hope the painting would give him lasting pleasure.  Not often that situation occurs.
 I will be setting off shortly to collect unsold work at the close of the exhibition.  I’m pleased at this year’s exhibition to have  met some nice friendly people and made a sale which will help pay for my Rohan Jacket.

Monday, June 11, 2012


This is another version of the painting I posted back in November 2011 – then it had a flight of oystercatchers over the Sound.  I was never really happy with it so I have reworked it again. I repainted the Sound to hide the Oystercatchers. I’ve reworked the sky because the overcast evening sky didn’t work. Some tonal adjustments were made to the cliffs on Ramsey Island.

To create a new wildlife interest to replace the Oystercatchers I’ve attracted some Arctic Terns to fly in from the Farne Islands to complete the picture. I’m reminded of how Alwyn Crawshaw always ended his TV demonstrations with.  “I’m happy with that.” That sums up this post for me too.

Friday, June 08, 2012


This is a half-sheet watercolour on Waterford NOT composed from an arrangement of the Yellow Eyed Penguin sketches. After the initial pencil drawing I dampened the paper and laid a light background wash. 

As the work developed it became a study in the attitudes adopted by the birds as indicators of their behaviour. One had a fish in it’s beak another was preening and the others seemed to be alert. More detail work needs to be done on the heads and I have to work out how to exploit changes in tone on the water surface to unify the composition.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


New Zealand’s Fiordland has some wonderful locations. I took a boat excursion to Doubtful Sound. It was a day of heavy rain but that did not seem to upset a small group of Yellow Eyed Penguins that I was able to photograph with a 400mm lens from the boat.

I’m planning to make a series of studies from the photographs to  compose a painting. This is a page I did yesterday.

11th May 2012

On this second page I thought for a moment I had a ready-made  composition because of the way the sketches were distributed quite accidentally. 

But then the attitudes of the birds were so similar I began to think that they were taken from frames of the same bird. Does that matter? I don’t think it does really the same bird preening strikes quite a different attitude to when it is at rest. So I’ll look further at my reference material to see what other poses I’ve collected.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


I Had time to get back to the Lesser Blackbacks today. Most of the time was spent working on the birds. The feather patterns were intricate but they are the feature which makes the painting striking.

The primary feathers and the feintly defined plumage of the head and chest were first worked into a wet Chinese White ground then refined after it dried. I used this method because my batch of Fabriano Artistico HP – which I’ve had for some years – is very porous and soft blending of small brushstrokes was difficult because the paper soaked up the paint very quickly.  There is still work to do on the legs and and some touches of foreground detail.

Once the birds were almost complete tonal adjustment of the sea and sandy foreground was needed. It’s at the stage where I will place it in a temporary frame and live with it a while before deciding to send it to an exhibition.
After a month of relative inactivity following my total knee replacement it’s good to get back to serious work again.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


I was determined to celebrate May 1st by completing this painting of the Hawaian Geese. It was in danger of going off the boil because I’d diverted my attention to other work. Part of the trouble was that the ripples in the water – that I considered were an important element in the composition – took me out of my comfort zone.  So it became Acrylic to the rescue. 

When I show it I suppose I’ll have to describe it as ‘Mixed Media’.  I hate that designation – because it covers a multitude of sins – and would much prefer to use ‘Water Media’.   I‘ve tried using my preferred designation but it just confuses people.

That said incorporating Acrylic into my working method creates a wonderful sense of freedom because it extends your range of choices.  Traditional watercolour places its own constraints – notably transparency – which in its way is what distinguishes the medium and what most people look for.

The watercolour tradition however encompasses greater diversity. I remember Ken Howard RA wrote somewhere that, when using watercolour, he liked to play off opaque passages against transparent ones. This is a property that becomes possible by using traditional Chinese White. Acrylic offers even more opportunities to exploit expressive brushwork in a painterly rather than realistic fashion.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Last year on the seafront at Ostend I encountered a small flock of 1st. Winter Lesser Blackback Gulls. It was bitterly cold and windy – not the weather for hanging about.  I took several useful photographs

I had enough material showing the birds in different poses the problem with photographic references is how to make use of them.  Charles Tunnicliffe I know would compose an unruly flock into a carefully arranged design. That level of skill is beyond my reach at the moment. Lars Jonnsson however has made some delightfully simple paintings showing just two or three birds set against the sea.  Lars Jonnson wins on this occasion!

28th April additional note

The gulls were scavenging on the promenade near the ferry terminal so a more natural environment was needed. The rocky motifs were taken from some pictures I took on a visit to the Farne Islands.  I decided to place the background for this picture in first. The gulls winter plumage was quite subtle and delicate and I felt that a strongly stated background would be out of character.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


In May last year my wife and I spent a day in Brussels while on holiday in Belgium and were surprised to Peregrines nesting in a tower of the Cathedral. There was an observation post nearby where you could observe them live through a telescope.  I tried to make some drawings but had to stop when I noticed an impatient cue forming up to take a look.

I’ve posted a link to the project website which contains a lot of interesting news of the birds.

Monday, April 23, 2012


I’ve been working on the Nenes today.  I decided to use the ripples in the water to group the birds together . The birds were mostly in shade created by the leaves on the overhanging branches. A little more work needed there and more on the water. 
I left the birds unfinished and they’re still as they were in the earlier post. I’ll be leaving them as a final touch.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


The family librarian – that’s my daughter who works at Newman University College, Birmingham – has  persuaded me to become Kindle convert! I haven't bought one of those little plastic things that appear sometimes on trains or in hospital waiting rooms . No I've downloaded the Kindle app so I can read the books on my laptop.

Started with the free ones like 'Winnie the Pooh' 'cos I like the pictures. Alice in Wonderland was another free one and Alice saw 'no point in a book which doesn’t have pictures or conversations.' Well now I'm now onto deeper adult stuff like 'Why does E=mc2' co authored by Prof Brian Cox - remember him from the telly? Fascinating book if you can cope with a little maths but no pictures – at least of the figurative kind – but at least Alice’s creator would have enjoyed the illustrations it contains. They are of the diagrammatic kind so you have to put your own visual interpretation on them.

So I’ve moved on to ‘The Wisdom of Birds’ by Tim Birkbeck. It’s a history of ornithology and it does have lots of coloured pictures. They are technically exciting but a bit wooden to modern eyes – they were after all mostly drawn from dead specimens. It’s surprising how ‘intelligent’ birds are in their own particular way.

Another free Kindle download was ‘Discourses on Art’ by Sir Joshua Reynolds. They are a series of lectures he gave to the ‘gentlemen’ of the Royal Academy of his day. I thought it ought to be compulsory reading for somebody claiming to be an artist.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


These are some of the Nenes I photographed at Slimbridge. There were small groups tamely wandering around but I caught these three in a narrow stretch of water flowing out onto the estuary. I thought at first I had a ready made composition once the overhanging branches and the far bank of the stream were put in. Now I’m not so sure.

Lately I’ve been looking at the illustrations in ‘Charles Tunnicliffe’s Birdlife’. He had a wonderful gift for composition – placing his groups of birds in a balanced design. There are the beginnings of a relationship between the three birds but the arrangement is not working properly yet.

Maybe reflections in the water will bring them together. Taking a break has made me realise too that the left hand bird is too small.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


With the Easter exhibitions out of the way I’ve been back in drawing mode for the past few days.  I’m planning a series of watercolours based on sketches which originated last year. I use an A4 sketchbook for quick sketches which aim at capturing characteristic features of pose and movement. The subjects are mostly garden birds which are never still so I have to use my photographs for reference. 

Given the  chance I could sketch all day. Drawing gives me just as much satisfaction as pulling off a finished painting. The next stage is to arrange the sketch motifs against a suitable background to make a satisfying composition.   For me the background has to reflect the bird's natural habitat.

Here are two examples. 

Monday, April 02, 2012


I've been framing work today ready to hand in at the LAS Spring exhibition on Friday. I'm using a frame I had in stock from an earlier exhibition - the painting came back unsold.

With both pastels and acrylics I like to use a linen or painted slip to separate the work from the glass. It makes a nice decorative insert if the colour is right. Traditionally gold was used for slips but in this case I've given the natural linen slip a coat of acrylic which picks up a colour from the painting.

I've taken the photograph without the glass insert. With acrylics it would be OK to not use glass if the support was MDF but with this painting I was working on a prepared canvas glued to backing board which is not so robust. So the glass and labelling will be the finishing touches to be added before Friday.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


This is the kind of subject which evokes the romantic English Summer Idyll. Country folk working in the  fields or more likely today a country gentleman in tweeds with shotgun and dog out to bag a rabbit or two.

I'm not a romantic. I'm more excited by my current enthusiasm - which is wildlife.  So I've added three rabbits making the most of the day before scurrying off to the safety of their burrows.

This will be the last of my Spring Exhibition entries. I've given it the quite mundane title of 'Evening: Teme Valley at Ashford Bowdler.' Still regret not calling it 'The Last Of The Summer Wine.'


Trevor Chamberlain is probably best known for his watercolours mostly done out of doors. There is another side to his artistic creativity which to me is just as inspiring and this is the way he paints quick oil sketches using a small pochard box. Very often these are quite small 7"x10" or 12" x 14."

Back in 2006 Halsgrove published a book 'Trevor Chamberlain: England and Beyond' that I couldn't resist. I was looking through it recently when I turned up this acrylic painting that I intend to show at the LAS Spring exhibition. I've tried to capture the same feeling created by TC's pochades. A loosely applied acrylic primer ground and forms expressed by means of colour rather than detail.

I'm not fully happy with it - it needs figures or something for foreground interest. TC uses figures - harvesting rice in Northern Iran or men cutting Brussels Sprouts. Farm workers in the fields is a motif which goes back to the 19th Century 19th Century Barbizon School - Millet 'The Gleaners.' - but I've only ever seen heavy machinery in use on these fields.

Can't explain the title either!

Monday, March 19, 2012

WOODCUTS - Little Terns

Woodcuts are a form of block printing where the raised surfaces of the block receive the ink to be printed on paper. Usually only two or three coloured inks are used. In ‘Little Terns’ a yellow ochre, a blue grey, and black are used. Printers inks are transparent so it is possible to create two or more colours by over printing. In this case ochre over blue then grey over the  ochre/blue.

I’m guessing but it seems to me that the White areas were cut away first then a light blue ink was applied to the raised areas and printed. The artist had decided on an edition of 100 so the first  colour would be printed 100 times.

 Next the lightest blue areas would be cut away and the ochre area printed. At this stage the main shapes of the composition would be established. There would be more cutting away to leave darker parts of the terns and the isolated shadow areas raised. These would be overprinted again with a slightly darker shade of grey.

Finally the whole block would be levelled just leaving the black areas of the birds and the border raised up. A final print of black ink finishes the job.

Friday, March 16, 2012

LITTLE TERNS: Woodcut print

Our holiday at Aldeburgh last summer coincided with an exhibition of watercolours and prints by Robert Greenhalf SWLA in a local gallery. I only knew his work from illustrations and reviews so it was good to see original work in a well-arranged exhibition. I made two visits and decided that if I had any holiday money to spare I would buy a painting.

Well choosing was difficult but I decided that the watercolours were well beyond the £200 I was prepared to spend.. That narrowed the field to the woodcuts. Some were on sale framed at £150. Others mounted but unframed were offered at £90. That meant that I could afford two prints and have change from my £200.

My favourite is the woodcut of Little Terns which I mounted and framed myself

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I've made some changes to the group of Oystercatchers in the first picture.  The original arrangement of the birds divided them into separate lines. I thought it might help if they were linked in some way. So I’ve raised a wing on two of the leading foreground birds to break into the open space between the two lines. I think this has improved the composition.

I’ve shown the picture double mounted ready to frame. I had to crop the image to get it level in the photograph. So now the mount is too narrow which looks a bit mean

For a half-sheet watercolour I use the following dimensions for the inner mount widths –Top and sides 8cm. Bottom 8.5cm. The outer mount window is cut larger to leave approx 0.8mm of the inner mount showing all round.  I use a 2.5cm wooden moulding for the frame.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


This is another old watercolour which has been restretched after having had the ‘bathtub treatment’.  It was painted on a half-sheet of 300gsm Arches NOT and Arches sizing never allows complete lifting off of colour.  I’m not sure what colours were used now but it’s well known that some synthetic colours are strong strainers notably Alizarin and the Pthalocyanines used to make a range of blues and greens.  Arches has a nice surface so it would be possible – using – light washes to bring up the colour again. I’m going for some major changes to enable me to add interest by including birds.

The original location was the Dovey estuary but although Herons and Egrets nest further up the river at Yns Hir the RSPB reserve I’m going to allow the tide to come in to show birds I saw at Minsmere and Aldeburgh last autumn.