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.