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.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


This is a recovery of one of my ‘Possibles’ It is a watercolour I did several  years ago after a visit to Arnside on Morecambe Bay.  I tried to include a flight of Oystercatchers lifting off the sands, they were some distance off and they were badly placed and too small to make an effective compositional motif.

The landscape area worked well so looking at the painting afresh with a more experienced eye I thought it worth trying to repaint the birds. I restretched the painting and sponged off the oystercatchers.  It was impossible to remove all traces but by making the new group of birds larger I was able to cover up the old ones by making use of Chinese White as a body colour.

The paper I used was Fabriano Artistico Rough. I had a friend who swore by this paper and he produced some lovely watercolour landscapes on it.  I have to admit I never got on too well with it and generally took better to a NOT surface.


I read somewhere that Edward Seago instructed his executors to destroy 30% of the work left in his studio after he died. I’m not anticipating dying but as I was sorting through my stock of old paintings I remembered Seago’s instruction and started to consign things to the rubbish bin.

That was a mistake because my wife said; “Have you still got that painting of Glen Walford’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ ?”   Glen Walford directed several plays for the Ludlow Festival  she’d just received an email from Glen and she thought it would be nice to let Glen have it as a reminder  – if she would like to see it.  Disaster! I’d torn it in half and consigned the pieces to the waste bag. 

I used to go to Ludlow Castle and make sketches during rehearsals so I was able to turn some drawings in an old sketchbook. Then, fortunately I was able to retrieve part of the painting which had two of the main characters. Titania (Cathy Tyson) and Bottom (Matt Devitt). So my wife was able to scan them and add the copies to an email when she replied.

So no more destruction.  I sorted the work into two sets ‘Possibles’ and ‘No hopers’. I’ll maybe reclaim the Possibles and leave my family to decide what to do with the others.

Friday, February 10, 2012


This painting of a Stonechat was one of the first serious bird paintings I did over 10 years ago. Quite why I never continued exploring the genre then I can’t fully understand now.  Watercolour landscape was the chief preoccupation of most of my friends. The watercolour turned up again when I was sorting through some old work.

My wife and I suddenly spotted a pair of Stonechats on a drystone wall when walking over the low hills on the south side of the Mawddach estuary in Wales. We  and watched them for 15 minutes or so as they flitted along the wall occasionally darting from one side to the other. 

In my hillwalking days my sketching kit consisted of a pad of A3 cartridge paper and some sticks of charcoal. Sufficient to capture jizz – that is pose and movement – but I was able to supplement the sketches with detail from colour slides later.  I did watercolours of a male and a female intending to show them together at one of our LAS exhibitions. Surprisingly the female sold leaving this colourful lively chap without a mate.

Yes it's on Fabriano5 which I mentioned on Wednesday's post.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


Tidiness was never my strong point so I've been putting my studio store cupboard in order. One aspect of tidiness I am meticulous about though is storing  paper. Watercolour paper is so expensive that any sheet with an Arches or Waterford watermark is placed carefully flat on a shelf to avoid at all costs any damage to the surface.

I've always used papers with a Not Pressed surface for the quick free splosh style that once had me in thrall for landscape work. Having now taken a serious interest in painting birds I've found that a more precise approach  required. It needs a paper with a less pronounced grain. I was anticipating having to buy some Hot Pressed sheets which which would be more suitable. Then I made a lucky find when checking some sheets of Arches. There were some papers in the packet which were a different size - curious!

They were sheets of Fabriano 5 a paper that I haven't used for over 10 years. It has a smoother surface than NOT papers and I'd been convinced that watercolour landscape needed NOT surfaced papers. The widely used Bockingford  paper only has a NOT type surface developed to suit Edward Wesson.

Fabriano5 is a 50% cotton paper and a web search revealed that Ken Bromley Art Supplies stock it. I think it should be fine for my purposes so I'll be giving it a go.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


I rarely post to Artists Forums these days though I occasionally drop by some of the ones I once visited regularly.  Mostly they’re just chat with very little substance.  Last week I came across a post from a lady asking if it was OK to use watercolour in pans.  The paint from tubes was too runny - she preferred using pans but the paint dried and it was hard on brushes when you had to rewet the surface.

This generated a string of replies about how to solve this difficult problem!  Ever since my student days I was always told to use tubes and I would have thought that tutors running recreational classes would be giving the same advice.  So why does anybody need to discuss such a trivial matter?

Keith Noble RSMA – our current Ludlow Art Society President – came to one of the members’ plein air sketching days last year. He took out a pristine clean watercolour box looked at his subject and squeezed out the colours he needed. I was most impressed.  It was a Craig Young Watercolour box – he assured me it was not brand new –that  was the way he worked.  His watercolours sell for as much as it would have cost him to buy it.  Lucky man – I’d have to consider taking out a mortgage to purchase one.

I have a Holbein Box with a thumb hole in one half enabling it to be used as a palette.  It has a row of shallow wells to squeeze out colours . I’m not such a fastidious craftsman as Keith though – mine is rarely completely pristine clean.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


This painting started on a visit to the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast. It’s a well managed nature reserve and the cliffs are a haven for several species of sea birds. The boatman who ferried us over steered slowly under the cliffs to give good views of the birds.

This painting in – acrylic on canvas – was composed from a preliminary mixed media study which is on the Wildlife Page on my website. The cliff skyline was populated by gulls, Cormorants, and Puffins. Such a choice but I’ve just included a single Puffin who looks as if he’s curious about what’s going on.