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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thanks to all

It's been a very busy summer with excellent workshops at Perry. Many thanks to all who came and I am glad to have been able to share some of the beauty of this area with other creative people.
We walked and sketched and painted and made new contacts.
Thanks to Anglian Water for their support and the Wildlife Trust for all their input and info.

This lovely area with all its hidden corners and rich wildlife continues to be an inspiration!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Six Skies over The Water

Practice practice practice. It’s my constant advice (nag nag nag) to my workshop students. It can sound very repetitive but, really, it is the only way to improve. We need to practice all aspects of creativity, practise looking, practise thinking, and practise the skills that enable us to work in whatever branch of “art” we have chosen.

I probably do pick up a pencil most days to either write down ideas, sketch or draw and in between teaching courses I have been doing lots of experimental odds and ends which is why the blog has been a bit quiet.  What is so encouraging is when someone returns to a workshop having put in a bit of sketching time and can really see their own understanding and confidence grow as their skills improve.

After my last workshop I realised that I still have a problem persuading people to make tonal studies before starting their final work or just as an aid to “seeing.” They can be so helpful especially in watercolour where you strive to retain the lightness of the white paper. So, as some experiments for myself and to have a few samples, I sketched some basic skies to show how tiny monochrome thumbnails can be made into simple coloured images.

Reservoir Skies

The weather has been strange, cold, sunny, windy, cloudy, still, clear and breezy so there have been some good skies at different times of the day.

I have started walking by the Reservoir again and realised I how much I have been missing the sky vistas. In the house we are a little hemmed in by trees and houses but down by the Water you have an unrestricted view… just water, a strip of horizon and then glorious sky.

So these small watercolour sketches are based on pen and ink thumbnails  made in a tiny sketchbook from my walks. I am also trying some different papers. Not impressed at all with the Fabriano block which buckled badly. Some old Langton was better!

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 Busy morning sky over Perry


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Big clouds on a still morning lit from behind by sun.

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Strip of pale yellow in cloudy midday sky

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Smudges of brown rain in a grey sky… but hopes of brightening up.

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Evening sky with cumulus. Dark greeny blue behind clouds.

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Sunset over the Water, heavy night clouds hang over a bright strip.

Watercolour sketches approx 5 x 6”. pen sketches in 4 inch sketchbook.

I am much more interested in the marks, the colour and how the paint behaves on the surfaces and the happy accidents than whether they look like clouds or not.  And, if I took these colour pieces and used them as my source material for another set of paintings who knows what they might become? Chinese Whispers in paint is a nice concept.

What does “finished” mean

I sometimes hesitate to put things on the blog because it might infer that I am either pleased with them or that they are “finished” .. whatever that means. I am seldom pleased and “finished” can mean many things.  Sometimes I have just had enough, sometimes I have run out of time. Many times I don’t stop soon enough and sometimes things need more work. Often I have to leave things face to the wall for a week or so, then go back to them.

Sometimes a week of work results in a complete and utter mess. Sometimes a few lines are so beautiful I can’t believe I made them.. but then how do you define “beautiful”? 

How are your skies today?…Beautiful  I hope.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tuesday Walk and the Humming Pollen Tree

The morning is glorious, new corn shoots mist the rolling fields with pale green. There are tiny flitting chattering birds who fly alongside me, white, yellow and multicoloured butterflies, more and more bees, many beeflies and tiny dancing black flies.

In one of my favourite secluded sun drenched spots I find a willow, heavy with pollen laden catkins covered with bees and butterflies. I stop for a while to watch. To watch and listen, to the bees collecting pollen, to an owl in the nearby wood, to see the drifting shape of a buzzard pass overhead, to watch a flame tailed bumble bee collecting moss, to see the delicate long-nosed beeflies hover and dart.


A pollen drenched honey bee


A high flying buzzard


 Bombus lapidarius collecting moss


A Peacock Butterfly


A little solitary bee at the field edge


It’s a much loved place of mine, on an old road. In its summer flora it reveals odd traces of cultivation and there is a stand of ancient oaks nearby.

My sketch of the Humming Willow Tree on the old path, with its glowing catkins set against the dark leafless hedges and trees. There are a few hints of green appearing in the nearby hawthorn branches. Watercolour 5 x 7 inches.

I might choose this willow to be my main tree this year. Willows become more and more fascinating the more you learn about them. But today is a day to be out, to forget your troubles, to be warmed by the sun and cooled by a spring breeze.

On the way back I passed the place where a big dead tree fell across the path last year. It has now been chopped back leaving a waving stump. From one angle it looks like a cheery waving figure.. Old Man Tree we call it.


Waving Cheerfully on this lovely day.. Old Man Tree

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The White of Blackthorn

Things are beginning to blossom. White magnolia in the garden, white wild cherry blossom and in the hedges the white splashes of Blackthorn.

It has to be one of the most beautiful sights of English spring country lanes. Dark leafless hedges decorated with a froth of white blossom. The leaves will come later.

I walked by the reservoir today and along with pussy willows and first green shoots was a patch of blackthorn, one ball of white flowers against dark spiny branches.


Monday …White blackthorn flowers.. Watercolour 6” x 6”

Further along the track is a big oak tree.. leafless so far but lovely in its skeletal form. There is a large nest box. I have yet to find out what it is for!


And back in the Empty Garden good wildlife news, the hedgehog has reappeared, along with 4 different butterflies, yellow, white, a peacock and a comma, more  redtailed bees and the lovely black female hairyfooted flower bee.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Grafham Water Open Day

On Saturday 27th April I will be at the newly refurbished Visitor Centre for The Open day at Marlow Park, Grafham from 11.30 to 3.00. I´ll have some work with me and will be there to chat about the workshops! If you are around come along and say hello!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Early April Willow Sketches

Last week I had my first sketching walk of the year, not so much a walk as a stagger, but it was good just to get out in some almost warm sun. I went down to the nature reserve where they have been cutting back the willows. There is a curious look to the landscape. Fallen trees, half cut down trees, old pollards with new shoots and new pollards with nothing but stumps. The willows rise up out of swampy ground and there is an odd feeling of desolation, of a war torn landscape reminding me of some of Paul Nash’s bleak paintings. But here, rather than destruction, it is just life on hold, just waiting to get going again.

In fact you have to admire willows for their vigour and ability to regenerate after even the most severe pruning. In the sun the stems glow yellow, purple and greeny brown. Some are almost orange. There were a few catkins here and there.



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The stumps of newly pollarded trees and below the exuberant growth of whips from an old trunk.

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The old fallen willows are covered with an abundance of moss. In amongst the moss bracket fungi grow. Beautiful delicate things. I liked the shapes, the points of the fern fronds, the waved edges of the fungi and the random placement of twigs and one leaf.

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These were made a week ago on the 8th. I am sure things will have moved on by now. With more of a promise of Spring I will be out again very soon.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Willows: A Start. The whys and wherefores of a drawing


Starting the Residency with Willow

I have decided that for a part of the Grafham Residency I am going to make some work about the Willow tree. It is an iconic tree of this currently sodden, watery area and they line the Reservoir.
There are local names for some varieties, the Bedford Willow, the Huntingdon Willow. They are everywhere and there are many different kinds.  In one book I found 18 UK varieties.

As always with a project I start with drawing and research. The purpose of both are to get to know my subject. I can read and learn but I don’t think I really “see” unless I draw. 

What is the purpose of drawing.. for me

Drawing, for me, is all about learning. Initially it’s about trying to record what I can see.  Accuracy at this stage is important to me because the more accurate I try to be, the more I must study the subject. Through drawing I will learn about structure, line, colour and form, but most importantly I begin to discover what it is I like about something. And that is really important.

My first exploratory drawings of the willows are just a few leaves.  I am still not out and about much but I brought some tatty old leaves back from my shoreline walk about a month ago. Once inside they dry out,  twist and form wonderful curled shapes.


My drawing and models

My way of arranging them for drawing is to throw them onto white paper and see what happens. This works much better for me than carefully and deliberately arranging things. It is also the way my Filipino gardener friend Pedro, back in Leu Gardens,  plants seeds and bulbs. His handling of plants was one of great empathy, respect and understanding. He was well rewarded.


“ Three Willow Leaves”  pencil on hp paper, 10 x14 inches

So here is a drawing of the leaves. I loved the curling shape and the way the cast shadows tell of a shape you cannot see. The desiccated surface of the leaf makes the central vein more prominent and I could see the layers of the surface, some were peeling away.  Tiny bits broke off. These things are very brittle and fragile. 
The hours it takes are all a part of the slow absorption of the information. It’s a very peaceful process and totally absorbing.

I will be doing quite a few more study drawings and some sketches and colour notes.