Saturday, November 16, 2013


For most of the summer the field adjacent to my garden has been covered by a crop of maize. Now the maize has been cut and the stubble left until the ground is dry enough to plough. Immediately it has attacted the interest of Pigeons, Jackdaws, and Magpies.

The Magpies are the most interesting subjects and I decided to try a direct iPad sketch of a group of them browsing the stubble for worms and seeds. I've not used the iPad much for direct sketching sur le motif but I can see it has advantages over my usual sketchbook and charcoal method. It makes colour available without the burden of watercolour box, brushes, and bottles of water. So it's very handy for quick notetaking and you have a digital file saved for future reference.

With an iPad file you have a two choices. First to use it to create a digital print. If I think the file has possibilities print it as a limited edition of 10. These are offered signed, mounted and unframed. Alternatively the sketch can simply be used as the basis of a painting in a traditional medium. I think this will be the starting point for acrylic on board. I used Autosketch Pro to create the picture.

Friday, November 08, 2013


Year’s ago I read a book called ‘On Not Being Able to Paint’. The author was Marion Milner, a clinical psychologist who was also a keen painter. All I can remember was her advocating an exercise aimed at suppressing logical ways of observing and allowing emotional responses to take control. To do this she advocated relaxing into a state of reverie and allowing the hand to make marks.  She claimed that the results could be quite surprising. Sitting comfortably on a warm summer day in front of fine view could sometimes result in vigorous mark making that suggested a violent storm.
From time to time I try this method and adapt it to making marks which don’t represent anything other than being what the eye likes. I like to use a medium like soft pencil or Charcoal which can be used to exploit a range of design elements notably Line, Tone, and Texture. One of Picasso’s artistic objectives was to ‘realise forms’ and once a form is realised it is there to lead a life of its own.

Here are two examples which don’t represent anything other than forms. They’re what my eye likes but they may not appeal to anybody else.

Friday, October 25, 2013

DIGITAL SEASCAPE painted with the iPad

This is a seascape created from memory - though it owes something to the view across Cardigan Bay The treatment is characterised by a struggle to achieve subtle blending of colours and expressive marks which engage the eye.

To give the painting more interest I created a new layer and imported a flight of Oystercatchers. The birds were taken from a watercolour I painted of a view across Morecambe Bay near Arnside.

I copied a rectangular selection which enclosed the birds and pasted it onto the new layer. The tricky part was removing the watercolour background from around the birds to reveal the iPad painting on the first layer.

Monday, October 21, 2013


I went to Nature in Art last week to meet Shelly Perkins who is a Digital Painter and was the artist in residence. After all the publicity given to David Hockney’s use of an iPad I was surprised to find that Shelly’s computer set up is simple – she currently uses a standard desktop PC and a scanner.

She starts her project by making a set of pencil or ink drawings. These may be of leaves, flowers, insects, or other wildlife. Then she prepares watercolour studies for background features or animals and birds that will be important elements in her composition. These studies are her working drawings which she imports onto separate layers in Photoshop. Using the software she is able to transform her layers by resizing or applying transforms - rotations or reflections. Colour can be added or modified as well. Interestingly she often adds colour onscreen with a standard mouse.

The final step is to merge the layers and save the file for printing. Two examples of her work are given below. Visit Shelly's website to see the full range of her digital creativity.
Yarrow Spread Flat
The Ugly Duckling

Friday, October 11, 2013

TALKING ABOUT RON RANSON - and a few others.

I can't resist browsing in OXFAM bookshops and there's a good on in Hereford where I came across a clean copy of Ron Ranson's book 'Watercolour Fast and Loose.' He gained popularity by his using a 2in Japanese Hake to quickly dash in the main features of his watercolours. I remember he was a favorite with many Ludlow Art Soc members who often asked me  if I was going to buy a hake. I never did because one of our tutor members had directed me to Jack Merriot's 'Discovering Watercolour' - long out of print I found a copy in a second hand bookshop in Tewkesbury.

I always thought the title of Ranson's book was unfortunate - nothing of quality is ever executed fast or loose. For me dear old Ron doesn't rate alongside Trevor Chamberlain and I note he included some reproductions of Trevor's watercolours in later chapters of his book. In fairness to him though he did introduce beginners in watercolour  to a brush that develops confidence to boldly apply first washes and build on them.

I never owned Ron's book and I was tempted to buy it for old times sake but – no – I was seduced by 'Nature's Engraver' a biography of Thomas Bewick. Just shows I can rarely escape from an OXFAM bookshop without buying something.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Hearing a dull thud as something hits our ground floor windows is a frequent occurrence. I was alerted by a rather loud thud thump last week as I was having breakfast. I rarely bother to take immediate action as usually they are caused by blackbirds chasing other birds from their territory. So I let the dust settle – so to speak – because the unfortunate bird will often   have a broken neck; or if it us still alive I place it in a shoebox with a few seeds and if it is going to survive it will be ready after an hour or so to place under a hedge and freedom.

A peep through the lounge curtains indicated there had been a major incident – feathers were carried by a light breeze across the lawn.  As I rounded the corner of the house I disturbed a Sparrowhawk who had opened the carcass of a Wood Pigeon and already had sampled a good portion of the breast.

By tidying away the carcass I missed an opportunity to observe what would have been more interesting behaviour. An hour or so later the Sparrowhawk  returned only to find some other thoughless beast had deprived him of his meal.

Saturday, August 03, 2013



Nidara was the Hindi name – meaning Fearless – given  given to the female snow leopard cub born at Dudley Zoo. Sadly she died of a stomach infection after 6 weeks. This is a quick study of her.

The sketch was drawn with Autosketch Pro6 on my iPad. I started with a screen capture of a video frame taken from a BBC news item on ‘Midlands Today. I imported the frame into the base layer of an Autosketch file. Subsequent stages of the image were painted on new layers which were built up independently of the captured video frame. Finally the video frame was removed and the sketch saved in PGN format.


I paid a visit to Twigworth Hall last week to see the SWLA Five Decades Exhibition. It’s a display of members work organised to celebrate the Society’s 50th Anniversary. The exhibition is a breathtaking show of past and current members’ work. It was good to make acquaintance with a fine Charles Tunnicliffe watercolour of a flock of Lapwings. I may have seen a print of it in ‘Tunniclifffe’s Birdlife’ but any book illustration cannot compare with seeing the original.

I’m currently a big fan of ‘The two ‘Darrens’ that is Darren Woodhead and Darren Rees. I’ve blogged about Darren Woodhead following his appearance on ‘Springwatch’ he also tweets regularly on Twitter. This exhibition was the first time I’d been able to study one of his full-sheet watercolours painted outdoors infront of his subject. I was immediately enthralled by how he simplified the subject to accommodate the nature of the watercolour medium.
I first encountered Darren Rees’ work from a copy of his book ‘Bird Impressions’. He is another artist who works from field observations and the book illustrations consist of quick direct pencil and watercolour sketches. The painting he is showing in the exhibition is a more considered painting in acrylic – a pleasant surprise.

I’ll just have to make another visit to take a second look

Saturday, July 20, 2013


I'm back in iPad mode and using Autosketch Pro6. This study of a Little Owl was made after a recent visit to  the International Bird's of Prey Centre at Newent, Glos. It was one of the birds they were flying and I've made use of sketches and my own photographs. I'm planning a set of prints in signed limited editions for showing later this summer.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dudley Zoo revisited.

After a wet Sunday visit with TWASI members I've  just made a second visit to try to sketch their newly born Snow Leopard cub. He prove to be elusive and vanished into a back room in their 'house'.
Maybe the sea of faces peering through the viewing window scared him. Will have to try a screen capture from the BBC website to work from.

Currently I'm adapting a method used by Ralph Thompson (look at his book 'Dance of the Brush' or trawl the web).  Here is a page of quick studies.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Members of TWASI ( The Wildlife Art Society International ) members visited  Dudley Zoo last Sunday (23rd June 14) as part of the Society's on going programme. It was a wet affair.

We set off to explore before meeting up in the cafĂ© for lunch. Having no umbrella sketching in rain would be difficult so I made for the reptile house - a good choice because it was dry and warm! Reptiles tend to be secretive and small but an Iguana posed very nicely against the glass front of his apartment.

I did a quick brush drawing on the spot and another when I got home using photographs. I rather took to him and may try to work up a painting from the sketches in due course.

In spite of the rain it was good to meet and chat to other members so it was an enjoyable day.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Birds Have Fledged - life goes on.

The young Blue Tits left the nest box last week. I was away from home so I missed counting them leaving. The nest box was clean - no unhatched eggs or dead chicks - so I assume eight or nine must have fledged.

There was no sign of the blue tits but interest now is focussed on Blackbirds. Parent birds carrying a beak-full of worms fly into a nearby Yew tree.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


I’ve been an keen admirer of Darren Woodhead. I first came across his work in James Busby’s ‘Drawing Birds’ then became finally hooked when I saw his own books ‘Between Dawn and Dusk’ and ‘Up River – The Song of the Esk’ displayed in the bookshop at Nature in Art, Twigworth.

So it was fascinating to catch a brief glimpse of his working method on Springwatch Unsprung. Lovely direct watercolours loosely painted in front of the subject but which for me capture the experience of birding perfectly. It’s sometimes difficult to locate the bird in his paintings but then isn’t that a common experience when we try to locate a Chiff Chaff or Blackcap in an oak tree?

Darren regularly posts his current work on Twitter so he’s worth following.

Saturday, June 01, 2013


For several years there’s been a nestbox fixed to an apple tree in the garden. It is a homemade job and blue tits quickly took to nesting in it. The birds were late nesting this year but finally I counted nine eggs in the box. Taking a careful look yesterday I was pleased to be met with nine gaping mouths.

Last year was a disaster for the blue tits in the nestbox.  A split down one side of the box was widened by Jackdaws and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. The split was widened sufficiently for the Woodpecker to insert its beak and try to drag one of the chicks out by its leg.
A makeshift repair using a piece of insulating tape might have helped but I missed counting the number of chicks which fledged. At the end of the season when I cleaned out the box there were two eggs and the legless chick. I replaced the split side during the winter months so this year the birds have a smart refurbished box to enjoy.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I handed my paintings in to the ‘Nature in Art Museum, at Twigworth. Nr. Gloucester yesterday.  The Museum is housed in a fine old mansion near Gloucester. TWASI is fortunate to have the use of a Marquee set up on a lawn in front of the house for their annual exhibition. It makes a wonderful venue.
I found a team of members working hard preparing lighting in preparation for hanging work on the screens and erecting display stands for unframed work. Val Briggs checked in my entries and revealed that there had been over 290 works submitted more than last year – an indicator of the Society’s growing reputation.
A big thank you to all the energetic volunteers for the time and effort they have contributed to making the exhibition a success.
The exhibition runs from 24th May to 2nd June 10.00am. to 5.00pm. daily.
Do pay a visit there will be something for all artistic tastes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Years ago I bought a book which was part of a series of ‘Field Study Guides’ I was attracted by the dustcover which was covered with line drawings. The title was ‘Oaks and Oak Woods’ and the author was A.E.R.Ennion who was the warden of the field study centre at Flatford Mill in Suffolk. I still treasure my copy because it is illustrated with coloured line and wash drawings. He also wrote ‘The Lapwing’ which was the first book in the series.
The books have long been out of print and I didn’t realise until quite recently that he was one of the most influential 20th century wild life painters. Robert Gillmor described him as "... a man of great humanity, intelligence, energy and fun."
 The following links to pages on his website show examples of his watercolours.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Last Sunday's Countryfile programme contained a short feature about an old Somerset papermill. The presenter had collected some wild flowers and these were dropped onto the pulp and were incorporated into the paper.

The mill is where the high quality Two Rivers watercolour paper is made. Back in November 2011 Neil Hopkins - the owner - visited Ludlow and gave a demonstration. He brought some sample packs which sold like hot cakes!

I believed at the time that nothing could beat Waterford so I never bought any - perhaps that was short-sighted! If any blog members have used Two Rivers do tell us about it.

Follow the link to see Neil Watkins demonstrating.
click on a photograph to view it full size

Friday, April 26, 2013


I’ve just received the Summer 2013 issue of ‘Birds’ the RSPB magazine. Filled as ever with stunning photographs; there’s a particularly attractive shot of a Redstart on the cover. Digital photography has brought a revolution in the way wildlife subjects can be portrayed. The Redstart on the cover reveals more detail in a fraction of a second than is seen by the naked eye even after long study.
Photographs are a good source of reference for the artist but it seems to me that many artists are preoccupied with achieving laborious detailed realism because we are visually fed too much photography. Much of the enjoyment in painting both for the painter and the viewer comes from the enjoyment of the hand-made mark. All hand crafted media offer distinctive ways for the artist to interpret and exploit what he sees.  For me the expressive marks made by a moving hand are what make painting interesting. The starting point of expressive mark begins in front of the subject with a long stare.

Lars Jonnsson advocates looking at a bird for six minutes before starting to paint it – good memory training? My current favourite wildlife painter though is Darren Woodhead. A watercolourist who works outdoors from direct observation. He can be found on Twitter or visit his website at:

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


This is a painting I'm planning to show in June. I've used acrylic on 300gm Arches Not. I'm feeling more at home with using acrylic well diluted as with true watercolour. One of the advantages it has is that it allows washes to be super imposed without fear of lifting what is underneath. The method requires a little patience and careful use of a drier.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

LAS Spring Exhibition

I've neglected posting to the blog recently having been preoccupied completing work before the submission date for Ludlow Art Society's Spring Exhibition. I blame my iPad which has led me astray. I did manage to persuade the Committee that iPad artwork should be accepted. By co-incidence it turned out that our Treasurer had sent in three works which he'd had printed on stretched canvases with a 38mm profile to avoid using frames. Mmmm. I prefer to describe mine as 'iPad Graphics and market them as signed limited edition prints on rag based paper. This is consistent with the way fine art prints have always been marketed. I've already shown my iPad entries and 'Dabchicks on the River Itchen' on previous posts. Here are two acrylics which I've submitted.

Details: LAS SPRING EXHIBITION Sat. 30th April to Sun. 7th April, Harley Centre, Castle Square Ludlow.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


John Ruskin was regarded by Kenneth Clark - former Director of the National Gallery - as one of the finest watercolour painters of the late 19th Century. A few days ago I came across a watercolour he painted of Brantwood his house on Coniston Water. This prompted me to try an iPad watercolour simulation. I worked from a half-sheet watercolour which I painted some years ago. It's a view from the southern end of lake looking towards the ConistonFells which make a fine backdrop. I wanted to try for the soft colours which are produced by thin transparent washes. Even working as I did on four layers it proved difficult to capture the same effect.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


One thing leads to another! I came across an article about David Hockney's iPad paintings in the Daily Telegraph app and discovered he works with the BRUSHES App. So I just had to give it a go. I've used it to add some finishing touches to the Hobby painting in the last post. I downloaded BRUSHES 3. It's a simple bit of software – easy to use. The only drawback is that the basic version does not have a layers feature but you can purchase it as an add on. Mr Hockney's iPad paintings made with BRUSHES are astonishing - an inspiration for anyone following the digital trail. For the moment though I think I'll stick with Sketchbook Pro which has more features and I'm getting used to it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hobby in long grass, Minsmere

This is another iPad painting of the Hobby this time using Sketchbook Express. I'm trying out different iPad drawing apps to find one which suits me. Sketchbook Express has more painterly features than Sketchbook Ink so the bird's feathers and the long grass are treated in a more interesting way.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

iPad Sketch made with Autodesk Pro

I was disappointed with my first iPad sketch made with Sketchbook Ink. I was working from a line and wash sketch and I lost my way somewhat. I decided the next attempt would be more considered. In this post I’m using Autodesk Pro – a more sophisticated app. It has a range of ‘brushes’ for producing different effects and it allows the use of layers which makes planning the work easier. I was working in front of the subject – a view across the Teme Valley – from the comfort of my living room. I worked directly rather as an oil painter might when sketching en plein air. I flood filled the base layer then worked on three extra layers for different treatments of each stage. It was late afternoon with mist forming and with backlit clouds. Nice atmospheric qualities which were beyond my grasp working digitally.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jackdaws on St, Catherine's Hill, Winchester.

This painting has taken a long time to reach completion. It was developed from preliminary studies that were the subject of previous blogs. I've used an acrylic primed board and and worked almost entirely in Golden Open Acrylics.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I’ve always had a soft spot for David Hockney; there’s no doubting his talent he was noticed early on during his later student years at the RCA. Sir Hugh Casson said ‘he drew like a dream.’ A recent BBC Country File programme showed him making use of an iPad as a sketching tool. Well out of curiosity I had to try my hand at digital sketching. I searched the Daily Telegraph mobile site where there was an article on sketching apps for the iPad and downloaded the Auto desk Sketch (ink)App. Here’s my first attempt with it – a reworking of a line and wash sketch sketch of a Hobby

Monday, January 21, 2013


Christmas New Year and birthday celebrations of of the way I'm looking forward to completing paintings that have been put hold. Finishing is a slow process with me I like to have paintings around in temporary frames because – for me – that is the only sure way to pick up the passages which are not working properly.

I've used Golden Open Acrylics on primed MDF board for this painting of Dabchicks Their slow drying properties are what appeals and the only minor failing of the colours is that they are transparent are except for the whites. But there are ways of working round this and glazing by using a gell medium is easy.