Sunday, 28 August 2011

Magic Moments

First and foremost, my thoughts and best wishes go out to all my lovely followers and readers in the USA, particularly Joan in Long Island and BJ in Florida. Hope you and your families and friends are all ok over there and keeping safe from Hurricane Irene :)

I know the weather here is incomparable to what is happening across the east coast of the USA at the moment but we have had a few downpours recently and so my plein air activity for the weekend has been scuppered :( However, I have been playing and practicing with watercolour techniques and have managed to do a couple of reasonable small but finished paintings. I use Winsor and Newton pans and tubes for most of my work but I couldn't resist getting a nice big set of Jackson's own brand whole pans with my own choice of pigments. I really like them and, because they are mixed with honey, they are easy to wet and very similar to the Schmincke set I use for plein air.

This is one I did this morning using my new paints. The scene is from a photograph I took on holiday in Swanage three years ago. We had been for a long walk up to Durlston Head and were on our way back into Swanage town, The view of the bay as we walked down from out of the shade of the hiiltop woodland was gorgeous and I just had to get a snap of it. One of those Magic Moments.

Swanage Bay, watercolour, 9.5" x 12"

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Fields of gold and green

Despite the threat of rain from the weatherman it was absolutely glorious this evening so I  managed to get another sketch in on the way home from work. I took a slight diversion and headed off down a country lane to find a suitable spot to sit and paint. I managed to find somewhere tucked well away from curious neighbours or gun-toting farmers this time lol. This was done using my Schmincke watercolours in my pocket watercolour Moleskine.

Huntingdon farm landscape, Watercolour Moleskine

Monday, 22 August 2011

Out here in the fields

I managed to get a little more sketching in this evening. I just had to capture a nice bit of Cambridgeshire rural landscape and so I took a detour on the way home and sat by the side of a farm road and sketched the recently harvested fieds of gold and the farm buildings. I had to negotiate with the combine harvester driver on the way out of the lane and decided that I was starting to become an unwelcome guest. You know how farmers are - Get orrffff my land! Well I managed to get a nice sketch on one of the hottest days  we've had so far so it was well worth the hassle :) I've also rescanned the previous pages in my sketchbook to show you another sketch of  the lightning tree which I did yesterday plein air.

Farm buildings, Huntingdon, Watercolour Moleskine
The crooked house, Ely / The lightning tree, Hartford, Watercolour Moleskine

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The return of Moley

I've decided to take a bit of a break from big paintings and get back to what I truly enjoy the most - sketching in pen, pencil and watercolour. We made a trip to Ely yesterday and although it was a little overcast here in the East of England, the sun did appear long enough to allow us to see the magnificent cathedral in all its glory. Art materials were purchased as usual lol: a tube of white gouache, a stencil brush that looked useful (?), two pipettes for re-wetting paints, yet another Lamy fountain pen, and a pocket watercolour Moleskine.

I really blow hot and cold over Moleskines but I know a lot of sketching artists out there in blogland absolutely adore them. I dislike their waxy paper sketchbooks as much as they dislike my watercolour media, although they are good for pen, graphite and coloured pencil but I prefer all-media cartridge paper like in the Daler Rowney Ebony. The Moleskine watercolour sketchbooks, on the other hand, are very nice, but only available in landscape orientation - come on Moleskine, listen to your customers! Nethertheless, I decided to make a start in mine with a few sketches done in watercolour and watercolour pencils, using mobile phone photos for reference. I call it pseudo plein aire! Hope you are all having a great weekend.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Ruin with a view

Following on from the recent sketches I did, and also from the reference photographs I took, whilst on holiday in Dorset, here is another BIG oil painting of a very beautiful place. Corfe Castle was originally built during the reign of William 1, shortly after the Norman Conquest, but most of what can be seen today is from the reigns of later kings. Rather than go the way of many castles and just fall into disrepair, it was in fact victim of a previous period of unrest in british history and so is perhaps an apposite choice given the recent happenings here in the UK.

The castle was actually demolished by Cromwell's engineers, but not completely thankfully, in 1646  after it was taken from the Royalists following a long siege by the Parliamentarians. I'm a bit of a Cromwell fan, mainly out of pride for his local roots here in Huntingdon, but this bit of history came as a bit of a shock to me. Thank goodness his men did not raze it to the ground.

The view here is from what I think is called the inner bailey (a good name for this post perhaps lol). It shows the inner motte/mound and the ruins of the keep, some of the remaining inner battlements and an inner gatehouse. All of this sits atop a much bigger motte/mound, surrounded by a massive outer bailey and the main battlements, and lies in a natural dip in the Purbeck Hills. The picturesque village of Corfe Castle, also famous for its more peaceful connections with Enid Blyton, lies in and around the dip and along the roads which climb the hill to the South of the castle. The view from the top, within the keep itself, is absolutely beautiful, looking down on the village in one direction and across the Purbeck hills to Poole Harbour in another. They certainly knew a lot about the importance of 'location, location, location' a thousand years ago!

Happy painting and drawing to you all.

Corfe Castle, oil on canvas, 12" x 16"

And for those who would like to see a little more of the area, albeit in a virtual way, here is the view as you approach the castle from the South, courtesy of Ye Olde Google Maps.

View Larger Map

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Big Picture - tweaked

Following some expert advice from Roger and Keith (thank you both very much guys), I've done a few tweaks to this one. The main tweak is to the group of figures. The heights of the two girls and the relative proportions of them and between them was all wrong (stop rushing Michael). So I went back to the original reference photo and pretty much redid this section of the painting, including the reflections, which I'm still not happy with, although that's more to do with technique (or lack of it!) than anything else. I also adjusted the values and colours of the distant hills to soften them a little. Overall, I think it works pretty well now as a finished painting and I'm ready to start on my next one while this dries! Any suggestions for the next piece are welcome, although I do have a particular subject in mind already :)

I used W&N Artisan oil paints and long flat hog brushes throughout. My palette comprised French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Indian Red, Viridian, Yellow Ochre and Raw Umber with tiny amounts of Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Lemon Yellow and Permanent Alizarin Crimson and bucket loads of Titanium White. I used a tiny amount of oil painting medium for some of the fine details.

I apologise for my later-than-usual responses to comments. Last night we went with friends to Newmarket in Suffolk for a spot of horse racing and betting, but mainly to see the one and only Tom Jones perform live. I watched him as a kid in the 60s with my Mum and Dad so this was truly magical for me. He still has an absolutely awesome voice and looks great - not bad considering he turned seventy last year!

Look Grandad! oil on canvas, 12" x 16"

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Big Picture

Well, after weeks, nay months, of talking about it I finally got around to painting a BIG picture. Yay, I hear you all exclaim lol. Ok, so it's not BIG BIG, but you try cycling with half a door under your arm! This is based on a gouache sketch I posted a week ago, which in turn is based on a photo I took on my recent holiday in Dorset. I used both the sketch and photo for reference.

The scene is the view from the rocky beach on the southwest of Brownsea Island, the biggest of three small islands which lie in Poole Harbour. The island is famous for being the place where Lord Baden Powell set up the first ever scout camp in 1907 and also for being one of the only refuges here in the UK for the native Red Squirrel (and no, we didn't see any, disappointingly). In the distance is Furzey Island which houses an oil drilling rig amongst the deep forestation, but I left this off as it did nothing for the composition :). Rising behind in the distance is the Purbeck  hills, a ridge of chalk hills, much of it heathland, which once continued to the Isle of Wight until the sea finally broke through to fill Poole Harbour at the end of the last ice age. From other view points on the island, you can also see across to a narrow peninsular of low lying land called Sandbanks, one of the most expensive places to live in the world! A very beautiful and inspiring place.

Look Grandad! oil on canvas, 12" x 16"

 Just to prove it's mine, here it is on the easel. The steel rule came in handy to check the freehand painted horizon was level - which I assure you it is now, although my wonky pictures may not help to convince you! I come from a long line of picture straighteners and so a wonky horizon would just not do. It would be the visual equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard to my eyes! Evidence of one of my other passions - attempting to play the guitar - is just visible to the left.

My first big oil painting

And finally, here is one I took at some ridiculous time of the day in poor light. This shows the initial sketch which helped me to establish the composition and check general tonal values. I did this the night before the main part of the painting. Although it's not strictly an underpainting, it helped a lot, although I had to almost completely redraw the group of people who had appeared to have grown in size since the gouache sketch. The actual real painting took about three and a bit hours in one session (interrupted only by dog walking duties) so I'm going to call this Alla Prima :-P.

Happy weekend to you all, Michael.

Initial raw umber sketch

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Night flight

One evening, as the light was fading and whilst the rest of the clan were dancing away to a band that were playing along the seafront in Swanage, I took a walk along the beach to get a few photographs of the waves. These two boys were paddling in the low water and I thought they made a nice addition to the composition. This was done in acrylic using a limited palette (I only have a handful of tubes!) on canvas paper.

'Look, I'm a seagull!', acrylic on canvas paper, 9" x 12"

What's in your bag 2

Some of you may remember my earlier post where I showed what equipment I carry in my minimal watercolour kit. As is always the case, and despite all the good intentions and endless reorganisation, I took far too much equipment with me for my recent holiday in Dorset. However, during the course of the holiday I started to refine what I physically carried around with me daily. Some of it was still 'just in case' but there were certain items I had to have and the rest stayed back in the car or caravan.

The first photograph shows what I had left when I got back home.  From the top clockwise: two small plastic water bottles, mosturising cream with sun filters, tin of six soft grade graphite pencils, pencil roll containing a waterbrush, eraser, sharpener, brush, graphite pencils, watercolour pencils, Inktense pencils (Indian, Chinese and Sepia Ink), 0.1 and 0.3 fineliners, Pentel pocket brush and a mechanical pencil, and finally wet wipes, tissues, field sketch box filled with Cotman watercolours, set of Sceptre Gold pocket brushes (6, 8 and 3/8 flat), Derwent 165gsm A5 sketchbook and my old precious W&N enamelled paint box filled with half-pans of gouache . Not shown here is a small ziplock bag which contains a sponge, a spare sharpener, a putty rubber, a plastic eraser, a pocket knife and a paper stump. I also have a small belt loop case which carries my phone and camera. Phew!

The second photograph shows my waterproof day sack with all the gear listed above packed snugly inside. The sack fits quite comfortably around the waist and as long as you don't overfill it you almost forget it's there. I know that I will continue to change and refine what I take but I'm getting to the stage now where I can eliminate a lot of the unnecessary bulk and weight.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Extreme plein air sketching

These are my last offerings for you from my week's holiday here in the beautiful county of Dorset :( The first one was a very bizarre experience indeed for me. I thought that sitting in a quiet country lane at 8:00 in the morning wouldn't attract too much attention but I happened to pick a place where the owner of a thatched cottage, just to the right of the one I sketched, happened to be an amateur painter too! He stood and chatted with me and watched me make almost every mark. It could have been a horrible experience but it wasn't and now I have no fear of onlookers and also know how expensive it is to buy hay for horses LOL! The second one was done under much less pressure while I was relaxing on one of the National Trust beaches in Studland, a strip of loveliness along the Dorset coast and a fabulous place to sketch. I just threw my watercolour pencils onto my beach rug as I worked!
Have a lovely weekend everyone, Michael.

Ulwell cottage, Watercolour, Derwent A5 sketchbook

Here is an almost identical view of the actual place on Google Maps. Judging by the lovely show of daffodils in the grass verges, I would say the Google car took this photograph around April time. If you pan the camera to the right, you can see the thatched cottage, the left hand side of which was the the home of the onlooker that watched me paint! If you pan the camera further to the right, you can see the rough track where I sat and sketched.

View Larger Map

Middle Beach, Studland, watercolour pencil, Derwent A5 sketchbook

Thursday, 4 August 2011

By the seaside

I hope this works since Blogger/Picasa seems to be broken at the moment and images aren't showing up on either my blog or any of my friends' blogs. Also, I'm on holiday at the moment and so I had to resort to using my camera since I have no scanner! So apologies if this looks a bit of a mess (or doesn't work at all).

These are a few sketches that I've managed to fit in over the last few days. I was hoping to do a lot more but I've been busy enjoying the sunshine, the scenery, the entertainment and the food and drink :) The weather has been excellent to date, although it has rained overnight and is just starting to clear up now. Hope you are all well, Michael :O)

Paddling with Grandad, gouache, 7" x 10"

Polka dot mother with baby, Derwent A5 sketchbook

Bournemouth Park, Derwent A5 sketchbook

Purbeck sunrise, Derwent A5 sketchbook

Knoll Beach, Studland, Derwent A5 sketchbook

People on the beach, Swanage, Derwent A5 sketchbook

Early morning sunlight, Ulwell caravan park, Derwent A5 sketchbook

Ulwell caravan park, Derwent A5 sketchbook
View from Bournemouth park, Derwent A5 sketchbook