Tuesday, October 30, 2012


watercolour 16.5x18.5cm

I went for a jaunt yesterday up to the Hermitage – a wooded valley just below Blackford Hill – to catch up with the autumn colour. I was actually mildly annoyed because I had gone up to Perthshire the day before and hadn’t taken my camera. The colours were very interesting, and I was kicking myself watching the light change along Strathearn as the sun went down.

Anyway, I took some snaps that I could maybe use for reference later; and bish bosh, here we are, painted from the laptop in the comfort of home. 

It’s an astonishingly complicated subject. A tree or two has been edited out in an effort to simplify, but I really haven’t helped myself by using blobby watercolour, and excluding the use of acrylic or gouache whites.

Actually, I was mildly annoyed at myself again, for not taking my more robust grippy walking shoes. I just didn’t trust my cycling plimsolls along the steep bits and thought I’d better to stay on the prepared path rather than twist something I might need to get home with.

No doubt there is an Old Chinese Proverb about preparing for a journey, but I haven’t heard it yet…

Monday, October 15, 2012

White Calf

oil on papered canvas 25x31cm

This started off as an exercise in trying to simplify the trees in a wood, and I added the white calf to provide a bit of tension – I liked the paleness in the gloom.

The simplification really was quite simple – draw the trees in turn from the foreground to the distance until the space gets too cluttered, and grade the focus. Make it sharper in front and blurrier towards the back.

The calf went quite well, with one minor hiccough. I wanted the light on it to be greenish, but that made it look a bit radioactive, and once I’d thought that, I couldn’t unthink it. I solved this by conjuring up the thin white light (zinc white + drier) coming from the front. This emphasized the rhyme between the legs and the dark upward forks of the trees, so that was me quite happy.

Once the painting was finished, looking at the palette made me realise how far I’ve come in handling greens. Most of them here are very soft, and were made with various blue/yellow mixes – e.g. Ultramarine, Prussian, and Chrome hue, Yellow Ochre etc – and modified with touches of violet or burnt umber. The only ‘tube’ greens I’ve used are Chrome green (it’s fairly gentle and the opacity is great for making corrections), and Winsor & Newton’s Olive Green (a mix of Lampblack and transparent Isoindolinone yellow pigment) - very useful indeed as a shader and mixed here with Ultramarine Violet to make a soft black.

I should point out that there is no Pthalo green here at all. There are all sorts of tube greens sold out there - Permanent, Emerald, Prussian, Winsor, even the authentic-sounding Hooker’s and Sap – and most of them are phthalocyanine based. No doubt they are useful for something (?), but within a subtle palette they’re the Assyrian coming down like the wolf on the fold. And afterwards, you’ll find they’ve stained your brushes.

So, a delicate little picture, with a White Calf in a wood. Don’t get lost…

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cloud Sketches

watercolour 12.5x9.5cm

At about five o’ clock yesterday I saw these big cumulus clouds building up and couldn’t resist a quick sketch.

They’re both done in monochrome Payne’s Grey, and the first, darker, one was outlined (extremely) briefly in pencil before starting the wet stuff.

The lighter one was outlined with very slightly tinted water and then I broke the surface tension/hard edge selectively before introducing stronger paint. This encouraged flow into the damp areas to indicate the ‘mistier’ parts of the cloud’s outline – which the darker one lacks. As I worked the washes – keeping them pale, I (whoops) scraped off the top layer of damp paper and got a whole new layer of hard bright white which mimicked the cloud texture.

Oh Happy Accident…