Ink and Wash 2: Into the Landscape

August 9, 2020

Wind at Winskill Stones North Yorkshire: Art Pen, wash and rainwater!

In last week’s post the accent was on mark and line making and different techniques for drawing in ink and adding washes of more ink and/or watercolour or pastel and our aim was to produce an ink and wash drawing of a natural form.  This week we are operating on a larger scale and moving out into the landscape.  You have many techniques at your disposal and I would like to see you try a landscape from your own reference material; somewhere you know and either love or find interesting.  Best of all would be to work from life at a landscape near you!

Willows and Aspens on the Cam: Quink and Wash

Think about how your subject will be best depicted; whether the accent should be more on line or mark making or whether only an indication of line is needed and most of the “work” will be left to the wash to supply tone and colour.

Red Rocks in Morocco: Rotring Art pen and watercolour

Also think about how you will provide a sense of space and distance.  This may be important or not as we shall see from the rather eclectic group of images chosen for the Ink and Wash Pinterest board at

Claude Lorrain

Claude Lorrain’s Study of an Oak Tree ca. 1638 is rich in pen marks on the trunk and foliage but many of his ink wash drawings were almost solely wash as in his View from Monte Mario, where a river winds its way through dark trees against a backdrop of distant mountains.  The paper is white where the water reflects light most strongly and the composition relies almost completely for changes in tone for its effect.  In Trees and Rocks by a Stream ca.1635 there are beautiful calligraphic lines as well as washes where the tone of the wash varies from a very weak tea stain to something much darker.  I find his work has a timeless quality and he has much to teach us today. 

Samuel Palmer

Moving forward Samuel Palmer’s work is equally dramatic tonally but rather more graphically defined.  In Drawing for the Bright Cloud ca. 1831-2 look at how Palmer’s clouds depend on line as well as tone, how the middle ground is very dark and the tree trunks white against the dark and how carefully the sheep have been washed with different tones so we know exactly how the light is falling on them.  There is also an abundance of mark making on their wool and much patterning of foliage.

There are several ways you can produce light against dark;

Reserve the white of the paper; draw/brush round anything you wish to remain white.

Add White: When the work is almost complete add white gouache or even acrylic or white pastel/pastel pencil.

Scratching with a sharp implement taking care not to put a hole in the paper-always best done at the very end and only if the paper is heavy enough to take harsh treatment

Wax: At the very beginning either a line of candle wax which cannot be removed; experiment first on a small piece of the paper you will use to see how much pressure is needed when you add a wash and the wax acts as a resist.

Masking fluid; apply at the beginning with a ruling pen or old brush which must be cleaned immediately afterwards. Make sure the masking fluid is completely dry before removing by rubbing with a finger or soft eraser; not suitable for rough papers so again experiment first

PLEASE NOTE: Wax resist, or adding chalk pastel when a work is almost complete will work with waterproof ink, non-waterproof ink or watercolour.

Non-waterproof ink may lift when you add wet gouache or acrylic.  You may lighten areas of non-waterproof ink or watercolour by lifting out with a damp brush and clean tissue. You can wet the paper repeatedly to lift out but do not rub the surface or it wil become damaged.  Paper is at its most fragile when wet.

The other reference artists chosen are :

John Piper; images of rocky landscapes

Paul Nash; trees and woods in the landscape, carefully considered compositions and delicate lines The Pin labelled Paul Nash at Tate Britain has an image of The Wanderer.  Do look at how the line and colour work together producing a magical narrative landscape where the distant figure has trodden a path through the field.

Ceri Richards; trees and foliage full of wonderful lines and marks evoking a strong sesne of movement

Wu Gannzhong

Lastly I have included the Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong, who died in 2010 and is often thought of as the father of modern Chinese brush painting.  Like Lorrain he has made wash drawings that wholly depend on wash but also those where line is the key element.  The contour of the land is well established so that however abstract his work becomes, it still convinces us.  We are still travelling the path with him and I think his work also has that timeless quality.

Aim to produce;

One considered drawing of a landscape with rocks, trees or both.

Foliage of trees may be suggested with ink but always remember the side of your brush can be very useful whether in strokes or “printed” against the paper. 

Remember to mix some washes up in advance of starting the pen/brush drawing as you may wish to add some wash while the ink is still wet, if you are using waterproof ink. Also ensure that all your equipment like brushes and a sponge or paper towel are to hand.

If you have time for a second drawing, try to make one that is different in nature to the first.  For example the first may be a calm day and the second blowing a hurricane or at least windy.  The first may be monochrome and the second very vibrant.

Enjoy drawing!

Your Drawings:

Mountains in Burma: ink pastel and watercolour by Ann
A tree in Umbria: ink watercolour and pastel by Ann
Mountains in Burma: ink by Ann
Ink and watercolour by Barbara
Ink and watercolour by Barbara
Ink and watercolour by Barbara
Malders Lane : Quink washed by Jan
Malders Lane: Quink and watercolour by Jan
Hoylake Sea View: Quink and walnut ink by Jan
Imaginary landscape: Quink and wash by Heather
Tree by Heather
Ink study by Jane
Ink and watercolour by Jane
Woods: ink and watercolour by Jane
Ink and watercolour by Jane
A Landscape from China: India ink and brush by John
The same landscape as above with ink and watercolour by John
High Gorges, kali Gandaki in the Himalayas: ink and wash by Roger

Dead Tree on the Thicket: inkand watercolour by Vivienne

Boulder and Inscribed Stone: Rotring Art Pen ink and wash by Vivienne
An Imagined landscape: Unipen and pastel by Vivienne
Totem Pole Windsor Great Park: ink and watercolour by Maricarmen
Study for the Totem Pole: ink and wash by Maricarmen
After Piper by Maricarmen
Rocky Headland: Art Pen and wash by Angela
Upper Loch Torridon: mixed media with Rotring Art pen and ink, acrylic ink, watercolour, gouache, soft and oil pastel on cartridge paper, and it still looks like line and wash!
Bluebell Wood: ink, watercolour and pastel by Elizabeth
Pen and watercolour by Elizabeth
Pen, watercolour and pastel by Elizabeth
Castell Coch: brushed ink and watercolour by Liz
Llanddwyn Lighthouse: ink line, watercolour, brushed ink and rocks textured with a sponge by Liz
Cison di Valmarino in the veneto: dip pen, black Quink and wash with washes of compressed travel inks by Sandra
Stourhead stage 1: India ink applied with tape nib, thin twig, mapping pen and thinned ink applied with a brush by Malcolm
Stourhead stage 2: watercolour washes applied by Malcolm
Tree Roots: Quink, India ink, watercolour and pastel by Sarah
Coffee and India ink by Sarah
Overgrown Garden: coffee, Quink and India ink by Sarah
Lake near Cheapside : india ink, watercolour with wax resist on lake by Sarah

Ink and Wash 1

August 1, 2020

Lines, Marks and a Natural Form in Ink and Wash

Cold Sun Cool Water ; waterproof ink and pastel

Why Ink and wash and not line and wash? I had thought of calling this short course line and wash, but what about all those little marks, dots and splatters that so often add to the character of an ink and watercolour drawing? And what about the decision to paint an area of ink instead of a line? 

Wallflower: very fine nibbed pen and watercolour
Wallflower: detail

I’ve also been asked two other interesting questions recently:

Can you put down the wash before the line/ink?

Can you use pastel as a wash?

Of course you can. See first image!

I often think of the line element in a drawing as the narrative of a story.  It finds out the main players and arranges them.  This may be sufficient in itself. Look at line drawings by Matisse. At the other end of the scale look at the amazing reed pen drawings of Van Gogh, full of beautifully arranged groups of marks.

Fishing in Cold Water; Waterproof and non-waterproof ink, watercolour and yellow crayon resist

Washes of dilute ink, watercolour or “dry” washes of pastel add tone and atmosphere, and all the little marks can add further descriptions of the main players and introduce smaller ones.  These little marks may suggest the ageing process whether in a face or a piece of driftwood.  Shells and stones carry the marks of their history, growth lines or pits made by burrowing worms etc.  Likewise the barks of trees can bear growth marks, further enriched by the growth of lichens.and fungi; the minor characters. 

First of all we are going to consider mark making as it’s a good way to get used to using ink and different pens and tools, and go on to making drawings of natural forms and adding washes. Those of you who are already used to making drawings with a variety of tools, pens and inks may like to go straight to the drawing challenge for this week.

Marks can be patterns in the shape of the objects they depict; e.g. leaf forms or can be more anonymous, adding a texture rather than being ‘in the shape of’.  Although it is easy to think of a system of dots or a series of short strokes as being marks and long thin strokes of a pen describing the profile of a face, a figure or undulating hills as being lines, there is a grey area in between where the definitions break down. 

Plant Form; Waterproof India ink, drawn with wooden kebab skewer and washed with a brush and India ink and water; see how you can use “cauliflowers” happy accidents will happen!

Materials and equipment


Waterproof India Ink or an Acrylic black ink; these inks are made of carbon (historically soot) suspended in water with a shellac or acrylic binder which makes them waterproof when dry. Non-waterproof India Ink can also be purchased but you can gain very similar effects with waterproof ink by adding washes before it has dried. The carbon particles could not be ground fine enough for fountain pens and unless labelled as suitable India Inks should not be used in fountain pens as they will clog the nibs.

Quink sketch

Fountain pen inks are generally dye based, often of more than one dye and are solutions of the dyes in water rather than suspensions of tiny particles. They are very beautiful to work with and readily split into there component dyes. Sadly most are not at all light fast, so though useful for sketchbooks are not suitable for showing on a wall. Most reputable ink manufacturers will give lightfast ratings for their products but if your ink is not labelled as lightfast it probably isn’t. This is a particular sadness for people who like to use Black Quink.


Dip pen, twig or reed pen plus any other pen with water based ink that you have but not solvent based marker pens as these will bleed through the paper.

Watercolour brushes; round and if you have  one; a rigger, an oriental, a flat brush (all can make different marks)


Deep welled palette for washes.

Cartridge paper or other smooth heavy weight paper

Watercolour paper

Masking or Magic tape.

Cold land with Boats; waterproof ink, watercolour,and wax

Pen, brush and ink care.

There are a few guidelines you should follow when using a pen or brush with ink and they are especially important when using waterproof inks because of the shellac or an acrylic binder they contain.  These binders dry on nibs and brushes and cannot be removed once dry.


Dip your pen in water then wipe with a paper towel before dipping in the ink.  Touch the side of the nib on the ink jar side to allow excess ink to drip into the container (avoids blots when drawing).  Every few strokes clean your nib by swirling in water and wiping again with a paper towel.  This keeps the nib clean and prevents dilution of the ink.  When you have finished using the pen wash well with water and wipe carefully both outside and inside the nib and clean again till no ink colours the paper towel when it is wiped.

When using a bamboo or other reed pen NEVER leave the pen in water other than dipping in to clean it, as described above.  The wood will swell and the pen will crack and be useless.

Use a similar procedure with brushes.  Dipping your brush into water before just blotting on some paper towel before dipping in the ink will help to prevent staining and build up of ink.  It is just as important to clean your brush at intervals by swirling in water and even more important to blot before dipping into the ink again to prevent diluting the ink, especially if using a large brush.  After you have finished using your brush swirl in water and  clean under the tap gently with soap before rinsing and allowing to dry.

Ink When not using your ink even for a tea break put the lid on; it will evaporate over time. Store diluted ink in a small lidded container; individual jam or marmalade jars are ideal for this.

Examples of some of the artists referenced can be found on my “Ink and Wash” Pinterest board at

Van Gogh was a master at mark making with a reed pen and I am going to suggest you make some patterns of marks that suggest different kinds of vegetation as in his drawing “A Garden with Flowers” Arles 1888.

Small marks: waterproof India ink washed with watercolour

Warm up exercises

1.Van Gogh’s reed pen drawings of wheat fields and waves wonderfully suggest movement so try to create your own marks to suggest the way grasses or waves are blown by the wind.  Any sort of dip pen will work for this but do try a bamboo (reed) pen or twig if you have one.

Wave marks: India ink

2. After that try series of tiny circles, ovals, lines of little dashes, curls and spirals or just random marks letting your pen move swiftly over the paper and letting it touch the paper briefly and at the same time changing direction as you go.  Invent your own marks to suggest textures or massed leaves/plants.

Experiments with non-waterproof ink touched with watercolour

3. Mix up some dilute ink or some watercolour washes and test their strength before making some more marks and lines suggesting a piece of driftwood or tree bark.  Make two small drawings in this way then add some wash to one before the ink has dried.  Let the other dry completely before adding a wash with a medium round brush depending on the area of wash.  Medium size 5 to 8.

Use a smaller brush for small areas and larger one if working at a large scale.

Waterproof ink and watercolour; large and small ink marks

4. Make a watercolour wash and make ink marks into the wash while it is still damp.  Leave to dry then add further marks and lines.

5. Have fun with lines from your pen; try making slow smooth lines, try making rapidly drawn lines, try making lines that start and stop hesitantly, leaving the pen in contact with the paper while you change direction and move on.

India Ink spritzed with water before it had dried

6. See what happens if you spritz water at some India Ink before it dries.

The Drawing Challenge

7. The challenge now is to produce a drawing with ink and washes of dilute ink and/or watercolour.  Choose a natural form with an abundance of marks to inspire you.  Your drawing can be as abstract or representational as you like but it should have some sort of centre of interest.   A stone or weathered oyster shell with loads of pits, a piece of driftwood, a tree bark encrusted with lichen, a tree trunk with gnarled exposed roots or a frilly kale leaf would all be excellent subjects.

Poppy Seed Head drawn with wooden kebab skewer and using Quink, washed with more Quink and more ink dropped in before the wash dried

You could even make a large drawing of a small object like a walnut shell. 

Think about whether you want to let your ink dry before adding a wash of ink or watercolour.  Think about the lightest areas you do not wish to cover with wash and either reserve them by painting round them or apply a little candle wax to act as a resist to the wash.  When this has dried you may feel you wish to strengthen certain lines or add more marks till your drawing is finished.  You can add marks and washes in layers but proceed with caution as once added marks cannot be taken away.  Watercolour washes can however be lifted out but only successfully on watercolour paper, as cartridge paper has a much more delicate surface which is easily damaged.

How do you feel about using a brush to make some of the marks and lines for a second drawing?

Fast small watercolour sketch using brush and India ink washed with watercolour when dry

Again practice mark making on a separate piece of paper and get used to the amount of ink to load on your brush.  Try a round brush, making thicker lines by pressing down more and thinner lines by lightly touching the paper.  As well as small circular marks with the brush you can also make ’printed’ marks by laying the side of the brush directly on the paper; pressure on the heel(part furthest from the tip) of the brush as you remove the brush from the paper will make the mark broader there.

If you have time try other brushes, flat brushes, worn out brushes, rigger brushes and oriental brushes are all great for making different lines and marks. 

I would like you to send your favourite “experimental sheet” and one finished drawing for the review session, with details of the ink and colours used and a little about your reference material.

Artists for reference

Van Gogh; especially mark making

Samuel Palmer; line and markmaking

Ch’ng Kiah Kiean; line, wash, marks

Wyona Legg; ink and pastel

Your Drawings:

Line and Wash sketchbook pages by Ann
Line and Wash drawing by Ann
Grasses on the beach: ink and watercolour by Ann
After Van Gogh by Roger: India ink and fine bamboo pen
Garden Corner by Roger: Rotring Art pen and watercolour
Bryony and Shell by Vivienne: Rotring Art Pen and watercolour applied after the ink to give wash effects. This ink runs very freely when touched with wash and is very useful to create tone rapidly when sketching on location.
Garden Flowers by Vivienne: watercolour wash laid down first and allowed to dry, drawing ink applied with a bamboo pen and a fine metal nib
Abalone Shell by Elizabeth: Acrylic ink allowed to dry then washed with watercolour
Experiments with non-waterproof ink (Art Pen) and watercolour by Elizabeth
Maricarmen has made her version of a work by Sam Wilson using waterproof India Ink and watercolour. Look at how watercolour is used here for line and mark making and as a wash in some areas not bounded by ink.
It is a great combination of ink and watercolour.
Garden by Heather; great mark making with bamboo and metal pen with black Quink; varied marks and some washes and marks with water or more dilute ink.
Shell by Heather; washes laid down first and worked over with waterproof black ink
This time Heather drew with pen and waterproof ink before adding washes of watercolour
Poppies by Heather; ink and wash
Banksia Seed Pod by Barbara
Shells: Art Pen and watercolour by Barbara
Fountain by Barbara
Driftwood by Jane
Ink wash worked into with a stick by Jane
Two more studies from Jane, both with fluid lines but very different textures; note the mark making and varied thickness of the line on the left and the line that does not vary at all in width on the right and how the washes complement the line. The washes are flatter and have subtle colour and tonal changes. These and the two studies above them show very different ways of working with organic forms.
Oyster Shell: line and wash by Sarah
The line and wash complement each other beautifully.
Tree Roots: line and wash by Sarah
Experiments from Ruth: left Unipen and watercolour, right Unipen and pastel
Seaweed by Ruth: left Ink and watercolour, left ink and pastel
Couldn’t resist finding an abstract in Ruth’s work; this has a wonderful sense of movement, almost like a dance!
Hambledon Mill: line and wash by John
A Niche at Eltham Palace: ink and wash by Liz
Stone Ornament at Kew Gardens: ink and wash by Liz

Dream of the Ribbon Dancer by Malcolm: Ink and pastel . The line uses three nibs, a 6 mm “Poster”, and 3 mm & 1 mm “Tape”.
Experiments by Sandra
Exercises Left to right: top row; 1 cola pen and Indian ink 2 dip pen Indian ink watercolour
3 dip pen, Indian ink and wash when wet 4 dip pen, Indian ink.Let dry then watercolour
Bottom row; 5 watercolour wash + India ink whilst wet , when dry Rotring and brush
6 Indian ink with dip pen, rotring random lines 7 accidental ink spots brushed out with toothbrush and then dip pen to create steps. Allium sketch in India ink and spritzed when wet
8 accidental spots, spritzed. To me looked like a puddle on gravel path, watercolour and chalk
On the Doorstep, Sempervirens and Driftwood by Sandra: Ink, watercolour and compressed charcoal
Experiments from Angela
Sunflowers by Angela
White Hill Town by Angela: steel nib and wash using Manuscript calligraphy Ink
Shell by Jan: walnut ink; note Jan has used pencil to draft in some guidelines but has been very free with her pen line so that the work retains its energy. Also the work gains by the fact that these very useful lines have not been erased. They have become a beautiful part of the drawing process in this drawing and the one below.
Shells by Jan: walnut ink
Jan has translated one of her ceramic pieces into a drawing, with walnut ink.
Detail from the image above. Great mark making!

Cast Shadows 4: The Wider Landscape and Cloud Cover

July 12, 2020

Sun and Cloud near Malham: pastel by Jo with a bright middle ground

This week we are going to consider the wider landscape, especially the effects of partial cloud cover and the shadows of passing clouds.

Except for the pastel painting above the illustrations are photographs taken in Yorkshire, where the hills are such that cloud shapes can often be seen as shadows on the hills or gaps in the cloud cover bringing patches of extreme brightness to the landscape.  There are also more subtle cloud shaded areas where the clouds are not visible as whole shapes with clearly defined edges, but their shadows make their presence visible as dark grounds in the distant, middle or foregrounds. 

Farmhouse near Malham: note the bright middle ground which gradually merges into a darker background of hills and a darker flatter foreground.
View of the same farmhouse; this time with a bright foreground and middle ground and a darker background beyond the trees. Note the strong tree shadows and directional light from the left.

Images of works by the landscape artists referenced can be found added to my Cast Shadows Pinterest Board at

When there is wind and patchy cloud cover this makes things hard for the en plein air painter as the tones can vary in seconds and changes in tone can even mislead the eye into failing to read the topology of the landscape correctly.  This should never deter you from working outside and gaining that firsthand experience of the landscape. It does mean that whether sketching as a preparation for painting, or painting outside, you have to watch the landscape and decide swiftly on where the shadow areas are and stay with this decision throughout your study.  Cloud shadows can change far more rapidly than shadows caused by the elevation of the sun at different times of day.

Towards Winskill Farm

Starting with Caspar David Friedrich’s painting of 1810, Landscape in the Reisenberg we see a small low lying part of the landscape with a hamlet and church bathed in an island of light and dwarfed by the dark mountains behind in a similar same way that my photograph of Winskill Farm is lit by a gap in the cloud cover in the Yorkshire Dales just a few miles from Settle.  Do look at the post referenced, scroll down till you get to the image of Friedrich’s painting and read about our reaction of awe when observing dramatic scenery on a large scale, of particular interest to those of you excited by exploring the psychology of art forms.

Towards Winskill Farm twenty minutes later after a shower passed through

Two contemporary artists I have referenced are James Naughton:  Evening Glow in the Lake District where again pools of light are surrounded by the shadows of cloud cover on the land, and Jenny Aitken.    Jenny Aitken’s:  Showers and Sun, Derbyshire was a prize winning work in the Artists and Illustrators Artists of the year competition 2012 and I did see this work at the accompanying show.  Here we see a swathe of middle ground in sunlight with a dark foreground and suggested shapes of the cloud cover in the distance.

Clouds on the hills from Winskill Stones

Another artist who often features the shadows of clouds on the land is Oliver Akers Douglas and very often the whole shapes of clouds are evident as darker and more muted versions of the underlying hues.

Going back again in time an American artist Edgar Payne produced compositions from the Grand Canyon and many mountainous regions, and while the cast shadows in his works were very often from the rock formations he also took great care over  depicting the prevailing weather and cloud conditions as in Desert Rain.  I have learned a great deal about composition from looking at his works.

Lastly do look at the vintage rail travel posters;

1948 Harry Riley: Barmouth  North Wales for BR; shadows of clouds extend from sea and on to the sandy beach

1961 Ronald Lampitt for BR :  Hamlet in the Yorkshire Dales;  blue grey cloud shadows on the distant hills and dark trees against the light in the lower half of the image

Austin Cooper for LNER (London and North East Railway): another Yorkshire dales scene with cast cloud shadows right across the whole composition

Being aware of how many ways clouds affect what we see in the landscape should be helpful in your decision making, especially with regard to tonal values in what are so often rapidly changing situations. 

Your paintings;

Winter Hill from St. Leonard’s Hill: pastel painting by Liz
Speen Bridge, Inverness: acrylic by Vivienne
Sketch by Ann
Watercolour by Ann
Watercolour by Ann
Watercolour by Heather
Pastel by Heather
In the High Sierras: oil pastel by Ruth
Connemara Coast: watercolour by Roger
Sunset over Lake Wanaka (Top) and
Rippon Vineyards, Otaga District the Crown Range New Zealand
by Elizabeth
Near Threlkeld, Keswick by Elizabeth
Farm near Malham: watercolour by John
Storm: pastel by Angela
Towards Mont Blanc: watercolour by Maricarmen
Vineyards in Rioja: watercolour by Maricarmen
Mumbles View: watercolour by Jan
Clouds over Lakeland Hills: watercolour by Jan
Holyrood: watercolour by Sandra

Cast Shadows 3 Moving Outside

July 4, 2020

Baie des Anges in Winter, Nice, (detail): acrylic by Jo

This week we move outside into the sunlight, a world of colour and tone still governed by the principles of physics.  The sun is far enough away that light falling on objects is pretty much from one direction but the angle of the sun in relation to the object determines its length so we have short shadows midday and long shadows morning and evening.  Even by moonlight the distortions that occur due to a one point light source near the object do not occur.  However as you will see from the works of Matthew Lewis this is very different where night time lighting is from a street lamp or multiple sources.

It would be good to look at subjects where shadows are cast against the ground or a wall and this gives scope for garden, countryside or urban settings.  All the artists referenced have been added to my Cast Shadows Pinterest Board

What we will look at in some detail is the difference between soft and hard shadows and ways to depict them.  The first reference artist I have chosen is Renoir, in particular two paintings.  The first is “ Women in a Garden” about 1876, where a garden path with bright flowers on the left leads to two figures, one with a white parasol.  The foreground is taken up with the dappled shadows of a tree we cannot see and on one side of the path is the cast shadow from a paling fence on the right.  Note the deeper tones of the shadows nearer to the viewer and the paler more blue shadow cast by the fence as it follows the path in the middle distance.  The foreground shadow has hints of the flower colours in the broken colour technique used and this could easily be emulated in pastel.  If you have a similarly shaded path it would make an excellent project for this week’s challenge.

Cherry and Crab Apple, Cliveden: pastel by Jo Note: broken colour

If you are working in pastel experiment with  different hues to make broken colour shadows.

The second painting is “The Jardin d’Essai, Algiers” painted in 1881.  The intricate pattern of palm foliage is echoed by their cast shadows on the ground.  Note the blue and purple colours in the shadows and their soft edges.

One of the most beautiful examples of soft and harder shadows in watercolour is a work called “Corfu: Lights and Shadows” painted in 1909 by John Singer Sargent and a great mix of watercolour applied both wet in wet and wet on dry.  If you have a wall on which a tree or shrub casts its shadow try and use similar techniques.

If you are working in watercolour it may be a good exercise to try painting shadows in the following ways, remembering that you may need more than one technique to produce your finished work.  I have used some cobalt blue and a mix of scarlet vermilion and light red for my demonstration but you will have to find the combination of colours that works for your subject. Start by mixing a large quantity of the two mixes you are going to experiment with.  Then divide some paper into four small squares.

Square 1 wet on dry, shadow colour first

Paint a shadow shape in a cool blue or blue/purple.   Leave to dry.

Paint a wash of ochre or a reddish colour over the whole square

Square 2 wet on dry, background colour first

Paint a wash of ochre or a reddish colour over the whole square.

Leave to dry then paint the shadow over the first wash.

Square 3 wet in wet and wet on dry

Moisten the whole square with a sponge and paint the shadow while the paper is still wet.

Leave to dry then add the background wash over the whole square.

Square 4 wet on dry and wet in wet

Paint the whole square with a wash of background colour.  Leave to dry.

Moisten the whole square lightly by dabbing not stroking with a sponge and paint the shadow while the paper is still wet.

Shady Lane on the Edge of Oumesnat, Morocco: watercolour by Jo: Note wet in wet and wet on dry technique in shadow areas.

Two other artists referenced this week are;

Matthew Lewis who taught Edward Hopper.  His night scenes of urban exteriors and interiors have an intense eerie drama and surely influenced Hopper.


Andrew Macara:  I have added his work just for the sheer exuberance of colour and joy it brings.  The shadows are painted in quite a flat way with the emphasis on shape and composition.  Do look at how carefully Macara has chosen the colours  for the shadows in each painting and how these relate to climate.

Tuscan Washing: sepia ink by Jo

Lastly here are a few photographs illustrating the kinds of subject matter suitable for this week.

Your paintings:

Drawing by Heather
Watercolour by Heather
In the garden: pastel by Shane
Drawing by Ann
Watercolour by Ann
Truffle in the garden: watercolour by Jan
Garden Shadows: watercolour by John
Watercolour by Liz
Bridge at Canterbury: ink by Liz
From top: Burano, watercolour; Rose by the Door, watercolour; Night Scene, pastel by Elizabeth
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Oil Pastel by Maricarmen
By the Compost Bins by Roger
Reference and Colour Sketch by Angela
Garden Door: watercolour by Angela
Monkey Pod Tree Hawaii: painted in acrylic with a palette knife by Ruth
Evening Summer Run under the A404 : watercolour by Vivienne
Graphite Drawing by Sandra
Watercolour by Sandra

Cast Shadows 2 Interiors

June 28, 2020

Vida’s Shadow: watercolour

This week’s project is to produce a painting of an interior that includes cast shadows so I’m starting by showing you one way of tackling shadows in watercolour.  It’s in place of the short live demo I would usually give my workshop participants and I hope it will be helpful. Artists for reference and some ideas for painting interiors appear later in the post.

There are several ways of painting shadows and the colours used will depend on what you see and how you wish to interpret what you see.  We saw last week that some artists choose to work in an extremely representational style while others are more inventive with colour and tone.  Very often you will only need one colour mix for a shadow, sometimes the colour of the object mixed with a colour that will mute the colour slightly e,g, a purple object may need a purple gray shadow.  In daylight on a bright day shadows are often bluish reflecting the colour of the sky.

The watercolour above is the shadow of my Mum.  It appeared while we were having lunch, not the best time to get the paints out, so a photo reference was used.  Below you will see three stages of making the painting.  If I had been tackling a shadow of a tree or a simple object I would probably have just used a brush and a much freer approach but I was working small (about 25cm x 15 cm) and wished to end up with a recognizable profile.


Vida’s Shadow: 1. First wash of yellow ochre 2. washes of ultramarine, crimson alizarin and a little ochre 3. edges softened more ochre added and texturing with small brush strokes of a similar mix but with more blue in places.

1. A light pencil line was drawn around the edges of all the shadows.  I noticed a distinct yellow halo to the shadow so I decided to lay down an Ochre wash over the whole of the shadow area and extending outside the drawn line. Because I wanted this to be soft I moistened the area to be painted with a sponge first.  Sadly the edge of the Ochre wash does not show up well on the image.

2. I then mixed a large puddle of Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and a little Yellow Ochre to make a muted purple gray wash.  This wash was taken over the whole of the shadow area which I softened in places with a tissue while wet, and also lifted out the lower part of the vertical shadow of the window frame.  When this had dried I took another wash of a similar mix over the shadow area  on the entire right side so that part of the shadow remained lighter in tone as observed.

3. I softened some edges of the head with a hardly damp brush and added more Ochre to the silhouette shadow and some of the window frame.  The wall on which the shadow was cast was a textured wallpaper.  I could have stopped after adding the Ochre but decided to texture the shadow using rapid strokes of a small brush wet on dry and adding more tone toward the right and bottom of the shadow. Most of this was done with a purple grey mix as before but more blue was added in places and some strokes of Yellow Ochre were added within the shadow area to unify the painting and give extra warmth.

When tackling an interior think of it as a landscape.  With landscape painting it is always important to think first of the topography of the land before adding its clothes of vegetation and man made enclosures, buildings etc.  With an interior, think first about the structure of the part of the room you will be referencing before you populate it with furniture etc.  Is it a straight wall or are you looking into a corner, or are you including the whole of an end wall and at least some of both sides? Does the ceiling play a part in your composition?  If there are windows and/recesses, or fires and chimney breasts place them next and then the lights, carpets furniture etc.

Thumbnail 1: fictional room with cast shadows (and wonky ceiling!)

To get an idea of the tonal balance before starting on a more considered work it’s a good idea to do a couple of thumbnail sketches.  The two examples are about three or four inches across. Just enough to get an idea of shapes, sizes and tonal values.  Thumbnail 1 shows a cast shadow from a window on to a floor and sofa, where the middle of the window frame makes a dramatic shadow.   There are also cast shadows in the rest of the room although not so dominant; the shadow under the chair on the extreme right and the diffuse shadow of the cupboard on the right.  The darkest corner is on the right as is the darkest wall, apart from the window which is the brightest area.


Thumbnail 2: Diffuse Shadows in my Dining Room

The brightest area is the sunlit window recess and the top of the sideboard on the left.  The shadows are all diffuse; under the table; under the chair in the corner; light shining through a window to the left before the doors opening to the dining room results in a diffuse diagonal shadow of the wall above the doors cast on to the carpet.


The Half Landing at Morar: watercolour sketch

The brightest area in the watercolour sketch is the window sill.  The pale yellow area filling the left window is a brightly lit outside wall.  There are cast shadows; of the pots on the sill; under the sill; round the radiator; on the carpet from the boxes and on to the skirting board on the right from the boxes; on the carpet from the wall and radiator; also more subtle shadows are cast from the handrail and newell post on to the blocked in bannister.  This situation is not as dramatic as in the first thumbnail sketch or the cast shadow of my Mum’s profile but these are the sorts of shadows you are likely to encounter in any interior setting.

The Challenge

This week I would like you to make a painting of an interior with cast shadows that form a major element in the composition.  Do start by making thumbnail sketches of possible compositions and also to check that you have understood the tonal balance with regard to the shadows, light source and objects, baring in mind that if strong sunlight is entering a room the wall with the window or door letting the light in is probably dark, and that the transparent glass allowing the light in is very often the brightest area so the greatest contrasts in tone may be on the same wall.  I would like to see the finished work and perhaps the thumbnail sketch that formed your ideas for the painting.  Choose either to work from an interior you know well; a room in your home for instance or make your own version of a painting by one of the artists references on my Cast Shadows Pinterest board.

Reference Artists; a slightly eclectic mix, of the contemporay artists do look at works by Karnes, Couloumy and Willis

The Copenhagen Interior School artists;

Wilhelm Hammershoi 1861 -1933

Carl Holsoe 1863 – 1935

Peter Wilhelm Ilsted 1864 – 1916

These three artists produced works with subtle colours with an air of stillness and mystery.  Hammershoi is the most well known and used the figure, often his wife Ida in compositions that provoke questions in the mind of the viewer as do some of the rooms.  Among the paintings are wonderful shadows cast by sunlight from windows.

Edvard Munch; night interiors

Edward Hopper

Mark E Karnes; an American artist; wonderful monochrome brush drawings and paintings of his home and neighbourhood

Jan van der Kooi

Anne Francoise Couloumy; a little surreal

Suzanne Moxhay; combines photography with painted surfaces

David Hockney

John Lidzey; watercolours

Lucy Willis; watercolours

Your paintings;


In the Hall; pencil tonal sketch by Heather


In the Hall: pastel by Heather



Hall and Kitchen: watercolour by Vivienne: Note diffuse cast shadows at the bottom of the stairs and of the bookcase beside the stair, slightly sharper shadows of the coat on the bannister and stool and dishwasher in the kitchen.



Arched Window by Shane


After Hammershoi by Ann


Window Shadow: watercolour by Angela


A Window in Palermo by Roger: This painting includes a strong reflection and shadows. Note the diagonal reflections of the leaded light widows on the side of the frame, and that the reflection of the horizontal bars continue in a straight line only interupted by the window frame. Because anything reflected is seen as if receding into the distance note the decreasing size of the metal framework and of the plant in the reflection. The plant and candle both have their shadows cast on to the tiled window sill.  There is also a very strong shadow of the window on the sill bottom left.


Ben playing his new guitar by Vivienne: Note the strong shadow cast by Ben’s hand and arm on the guitar and sofa, the shadows cast by the guitar on to Ben and the sofa, shadow cast by his head on to his T-shirt and also the arm of the sofa on to the seat. There are a few other shadows too!


Sketch to work out perspective and placement by Jan

In the Drawing Room: watercolour by Jan


Two sketches by Liz


Girl Reading after Ilsted: drawing bt Liz

Sketches by Elizabeth


Chair in the hall: watercolour and references by Elizabeth


Watercolour by Maricarmen inspired by a painting by Jan van der Kooi


Armchair after Lucy Willis by Maricarmen


My Husband’s Shadow: watercolour by Maricarmen


Inside the log cabin, Yosemite: pastel by Ruth

Through the Door: photo reference and sketch by Sandra


Through the Door: photo reference, watercolour and pastel by sandra

Cast Shadows 1 Still Life

June 19, 2020

Cast Shadows introduction and Still Life



I love those Peter Pan moments when you tell a child that he’s lost his shadow and he looks in the wrong direction so you tell him to turn round and!



Fortunately Toby’s shadow returned a few seconds later or he might have been flying off to find pirates in Never Never Land instead of going on a bear hunt in the dunes.


What exactly is a cast shadow?  I understand it as the shadow made by parts of an object that obstruct the incoming light from appearing on surfaces other than the object itself.  This is obvious with the Peter Pan photo, not quite so obvious when it is the cast shadow under a nose (rather than the underside of the nose), more obvious when it is the shadow of a wide brimmed hat that falls over the upper parts of the face.  Cast shadows are not for instance the part of the head or hill that is away from the light direction.  A different surface has to be involved.


Blue and White Jug: watercolour by Jo,  The diagonal shadow cast on the cloth is a similar colour but deeper tone to the cloth and is a strong composition element.


Mostly cast shadows assist in making a composition convincing without being the dominant feature and in the four projects over the next few weeks we will explore this aspect and also how cast shadows may be vital, to the extent of becoming the major element.  Visually as seen in the images above cast shadows help to anchor the objects to whatever they are placed on.  Mary Fedden R A produced still life paintings including objects with and without their cast shadows, sometimes within the same work and those without really do seem to float in the composition.


Pears on Yellow Patterned Cloth: watercolour by Jo, strong sunlight, sharp shadows, rather purple cast shadows of pears


Cast Shadows and Still life

We can easily think of shadows as just being darker areas of tone but they also have colour and artists have exploited this and sometimes even invent shadow colours of pure but believable fiction.  Thinking firstly of the tones and shapes of shadows it is most important to establish the light direction in relation to the objects. And still life is a good place to begin.

Imagine a football on a table.  Lit strongly, directly from above its underside will appear dark and it will cast a circular shadow on to the table.  The size of the shadow will depend on how far the light source is from the table.  On a bright day outside, the midday sun will result in a cast shadow on the table approximately the same size as the diameter of the ball.  If the football is on a table indoors and lit by a single lamp much nearer the ball, the circle of shadow may be much larger.  Both the direction and angle at which light hits the object blocking the light determine the placement of the cast shadow and is why cast evening shadows are much longer than at midday.

This is relatively easy when the object is on a flat table and that is the only plane on which the shadow is projected.   If you have a vase of flowers or a pot plant, place it on a table to the side of a window on a sunny day so that a shadow is projected diagonally across the table and on to the wall behind.  Observe what happens if you move the vase or pot nearer the wall.  If you have an overhead light try putting the arrangement of flowers or plant directly below the light at night.  Putting a white or pale cloth under the vase will give a really dramatic effect.

In dull daylight or diffuse light in doors, cast shadows largely disappear and all that be seen may be a rather general difference in tone.


A Shadow of Lilies: Pastel by Jo: lit from directly above, Jo heightened the colours observed in the shadows


Secondly we should think about colour.

Two very different artists who exploited the use of complementary colours in cast shadows were Van Gogh and Wayne Thiebaud.  The cast shadows in Van Gogh’s paintings of boots and also of bottles and earthenware pots of his home country were conventionally as brown and neutral as the objects casting them, but in his works just a few years later in the South of France, we see the sun and instead of dark shadows we see luminous complementary cool blues against yellow grounds.  Thiebaud uses complementary colours in the cast shadows of his stylised rather Pop Art paintings of cakes, confectionary and even sardines.  These cool almost turquoise blues make us feel the cool of shade as the temperature rises.  They are not just observed they are also the shadows of the mind in a hot country just as neutral shadows are observed and their depressing drabness felt in less sunny climates.


Yellow Still Life (detail), acrylic by Jo: use of complementary colour in the shadow



This week’s challenge is to produce a still life composition that involves cast shadows so try placing a few objects where there is strong directional light either from a lamp or from a window.  If you are relying on daylight the shadows will alter through the day so you may need to do one of three things; work rapidly (one hour maximum); return at the same hour and paint for a limited time each visit; or lastly take a photograph of your set up but do not use flash as you will not capture the cast shadows and you may introduce some unwanted ones.

Arrange and Observe

Don’t be too ambitious, perhaps choose two or three objects of different shapes and explore how they appear.  Place them on a non-reflective cloth rather than a shiny surface to minimise confusion between shadows and reflections.  You may of course notice how an exciting cast shadow has just been thrown up on a wall in your home from familiar objects.  Then rush for your camera and sketch book, take a picture and draw from life if you have time.  Look at the shape of the shadows and observe the colours in the shadow, especially if the shadow is from a transparent or translucent object.  Also note whether the shadow has hard or soft edges.   There may be more than one shadow.  If so choose to depict the main shadow and the direction of light making that shadow.


The Shadow of the Jug: oil on board by Jo; multiple shadows, soft edges, different colours in the shadow on the wall


Observe differences in tone between the object and the shadow especially where these meet and any differences in tone in different areas of the cast shadow.

If possible record what your arrangement looks like lit from the side and what it looks like when lit from above.  Plants or flowers in vases can be fascinating subjects as the shadows can create a life form of their own, and can contain wonderful colours that can be exaggerated.

Another area to explore is to arrange an object so that it casts a shadow on to a curved surface or on to a folded cloth.

Draw and paint

It would be great if you could produce two drawings/rapid sketches of two arrangements with cast shadows and one finished painting in oil pastel or soft pastel, or water media (watercolour, gouache or acrylic).  One object may be a plant form.  Remember to look for the tone and colour of the shadows and whether there are both hard and soft edges.

More Ideas


Stranger than Fiction: pencil by Jo


Sometimes extraordinary things happen with shadows.  I set up my narrow bottle with dandelion head on a surface in my workroom and the sun threw an amazing cast shadow which contained an internal reflection from the bottle so it appeared like an illuminated shadow.  The roughly horizontal lines across the rest of the drawing are fiction but the shadow happened.

Once you are used to drawing and painting shadows as they are, it is great fun to play around with them; making a shadow in the right tone and direction but giving it a surreal twist by turning part of it into something different to the real shadow.  You may even like to be disturbing by placing a shadow on the opposite side of the object to where it should be.

History and Reference Artists:

Copyright issues make it difficult for me to publish the works I would like to illustrate this post so it is illustrated with my work.  I have put examples of works by the reference artists listed  below on my Shadows Pinterest board.

There are so many others but I hope this collection will give you some inspiration.

1659 Carel Fabritius:

The Goldfinch

1664 Francisco de Zurbaran: Still Life:

Note cast shadows on the cloth and of the handle of the vessel on the right and shadow cast by the upper right lip of that vessel

Van Gogh

1884/5: Still Life with Three Bottles and Earthenware Vessel

Note: tone and direction of shadows, composition, neutral colour

1889: Still Life: Drawing Board,Pipe Onions and Sealing Wax

Note: Tone of cast shadow not very different BUT use of complementary colour

Giorgio de Chirico

1919 Sacred Fish: in this surreal still life, like his paintings of surreal buildings and monuments the cast shadows form a hugely important element in the composition and is very different from his other still life style.

Salvador Dali

1924 Still Life: Sharp and soft edges

Giorgio Morandi

1919 Still Life: This metaphysical still life is completely different in style to the later style which he developed and kept to for several decades.  Note its precision and hard edged cast shadows forming an intrinsic part of the composition.  This is a still life of the mind not observation though the constructions are all built on the principles of what we know to be possible.

1943 Still Life: This still life is an example of the style we think of most; the skilfully arranged and observed arrangements of the objects Morandi  collected and seemed to paint with love.

Wayne Thiebaud

During the 1950s and 60s, painted cakes and other food and shadows using complementary colours

Gerhard Richter

1965 Kitchen Chair: oil monochrome, hard and soft edges, realistic unlike Dali’s

Mary Fedden

Who died in 2012 produced many still life paintings, some where objects with and without cast shadows were included in the same work.



Contemporary artists;

 Michael Naples

Avocado studies; may give you ideas for using simple objects

Chris Liberti

Some deceptively simple and some more complicated still life semi-abstract paintings; cast shadows, colour and composition

Eric Merrell

Thanksgiving: cast shadow from transparent vase

Jon Redmond

Plate with Apple

Alice Mumford

A rather impressionist handling of paint, one example of cast shadow and contre jour light

Elizabeth Geiger

Tea and port; crisp shadows make important contribution to composition


Your paintings;

Strong shadows by Angela


More subtle shadows in a pastel by Angela


Olive Plant: drawing by Ann, lighting from above


Still Life, drawing by Ann , note change in shadow position


Still Life: watercolour by Ann


Drawings by Heather; daylight 1pm and indoor light 9pm note; compare differences in the cast shadows of the leaves on the plant pot, the darker leaves against the light outside during the day; the paleness of the flowers against the dark outside at 9pm; the cast shadows on the wndow sill and the darker tone under the window sill during the day; the contre jour leading of the window and window frame appear darker during the day than at night when the light is falling from within the room.  All very well observed.


Watercolour by Heather : strong sunlight


Reference for Heather’s watercolour


Colours in shadow areas become muted, taking a darker wash over the whole of the wall and curtain would have added drama and direct the eye to the window and plant. The shadows projected on to the window recess are beautifully painted.


Bowl and ceramic sculpture: watercolour by Jan : bright sunlight and huge tonal contrasts


Watercolour and preliminary sketch from Jan; useful to work out ideas, viewpoint, composition and tonal values


After Morandi: sketch and watercolour by John with the Morandi reference below


Two pencil and pastel sketches by Liz; one with a rather diffuse morning light near a window and one of a vase in strong afternoon sunlight with a sharper cast shadow


Pots in strong sunlight: pastel by Liz


Pencil sketch by Elizabeth

Cosmos: pastel by Elizabeth

Watercolour by Elizabeth


Yellow Vase: watercolour by Maricarmen; note the complementary colour observed in the shadow


Pears: watercolour by Maricarmen


Garden Seat: drawing by Roger; great shadow patterns, quite a challenge!


Pink Glasses: watercolour by Roger


Drawings by Sandra: same mug different hours 11am 2pm 5pm 7pm; Sandra has observed the shadows cast on to the mug handle as well as on to the table, and the shadows within the mug


Orchid Shadows: watercolour by Sandra


Watercolour sketch by Sandra


Egg, Cup and Plate: sketch by Ruth


Still Life Set up and sketch by Ruth


Yellow Jug: pastel by Ruth: Ruth has been inventive with the background and colour of the cast shadow, and the red/pink flowers make a colour bridge between the purple blue background colours and the and yellow jug.


Set up and pencil sketch by Shane


Still Life: pastel by Shane


Set up and drawing of Still life with Lemons by Shane


Binoculars and plant, and Pewter and Copper Ware; drawings by Vivienne


Still Life by Vivienne


Flowers from the Soul: create an expressionist floral painting

June 8, 2020


Pink Rose 2: watercolour by Jo

Expressionism began in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.  Its character was to reflect the world from a totally subjective perspective.  In art this meant creating works based on presenting an emotional response to objects or experiences rather than depicting physical characteristics.  These included outrage at the atrocities of war, but also the beautiful floral works of Emil Nolde.

OK that’s fair enough, but how is it done?  Emil Nolde 1867 to 1956 was a brilliant colourist with horrid politics  who produced floral paintings that were very far from botanical illustration.  They have a power and a deceptive simplicity but whatever emotion they convey they glow with colour, especially the works in watercolour.

One of the founder members of the expressionist movement,  Nolde’s flower paintings  are works born of observation but full of energy and colour, making us feel the flowers and their character rather than giving us a blow by blow account of every petal and stamen.  Sometimes it is the sense of movement, sometimes it is their rich texture, sometimes pattern or an exciting background colour but they glow with life.

Ranunculus and Clematis: pastel over watercolour by Jo

I have put together a couple of studies some rather sketchy,  just to show how you may think of srarting your own expressionist flower painting.  Colour is obviously important so look at your flower models.  What mood do they suggest to you?

Sunflowers: pastel over watercolour by Jo

Light and airy?

Rich and decadent?


Frilly and frivolous?

Sombre or sad?



What colours and colour combinations do these moods suggest?

What tonal contrasts go with that mood?

Just reflect on this before you start; a sort of art meditation!

If you Google Emil Nolde flower paintings you will find a huge number; feel free to choose your own flowers or to make your own version of one of his paintings in any medium.  Watercolour or pastel would work well.

Poppy: watercolour

My poppy painting definitely has a mood.  Below I have included three stages of a watercolour of the Phlomis blooming in my garden at three stages.  The mood of the painting changes as the colours become richer and darker.

Phlomis 1: watercolour

Phlomis 2: watercolour

Phlomis 3: watercolour


Have fun and create flowers from your heart!

Your paintings:

Orange Poppies and Hardy Geraniums by Angela


A flat watercolour by Angela


Irises by Ann


Iris by Ann

Iris by Ann


Sunflowers after Nolde by Barbara


Sunflower, acrylic by Heather


Pansies, watercolour and pastel by Heather


Roses, acrylic by Heather


Pansies, pastel by Jan


Flowers, watercolour by Jan


Watercolour Flowers by Jane


Pink and Orange Poppies, watercolour by Jane


Garden, watercolour by John


Pink Roses by Liz


Red Poppies, watercolour by Maricarmen


Poppy Bank by Roger


Jamaica Primrose and Hardy Geraniums, pastel by Ruth


Basket of Flowers by Vivienne


Waterlilies by Shane


Through the Window, watercolour by Shane


Watercolour by Sandra


Poppy by Sandra

Watercolour by Sandra


Thinking about Portraits 3: Three Quarter View

June 1, 2020


Pietro: Artisan and Collector, Bardi, in pencil


I tremendously enjoyed meeting Pietro in his Aladdin’s cave of a workshop, housing every kind of ancient woodworking tool, nails, and planes beautifully arranged among collections of old terracotta stoves and his magnificent sculptures made from ivy roots that once embraced trees in the local forests of Emilia Romagna.

The drawing above was made from a photo but I so need to make a colour portrait with a backdrop of his tools and collections.  The drawing is very much in the chiarascuro tradition of revealing the three dimensional form by the use of dramatic lighting.  The near frontal view and three quarter view give a huge amount of information about the sitter, including hints of the profile view as well as the frontal view.  It is probably the view favoured most by portrait artists and I recommend you to study portraits by Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Vermeer who all used chiarascuro lighting to reveal the form of their subjects.

Crown prince Toby: first grandchild in pencil


It is hoped the images chosen for this post will help you think about drawing young and old, how much else to include besides the head, and a nod to putting your model in context to tell a story.

Best of all would be for you to work from life asking a family member to sit, and arrange for your model to be strongly lit from one side.  Alternatively find a three quarter view photograph of someone you know or make your own version of an old master painting, again looking for a reference with strong lighting that reveals the form of the head.

Headset on the Jubilee Line; pencil sketch


Whether you decide to work from a live model, a photo reference or make your own version of an old master painting think about the general height and width of the head and how it connects to the body.  In three quarter view you wil see the neck rather differently in relation to the head and shoulders than with a head facing you directly.  Lightly place the eyes, bottom of the nose, mouth and chin, noting that one eye will appear closer to or even be partly obscured by the bridge of the nose.  The eyes will also appear slightly closer together.  Go on to place the ear; again the position of the ear will appear very different depending on how much the head is turned away from you.

Drawing from Life; charcoal pencil


Perhaps suggest the mass of the hair, ensuring you understand the underlying shape of the skull first.  Then work on very lightly shading all the areas that are not the very lightest with an HB pencil.  next work on the mid tones hatching with a slightly softer pencil and start to work your hatching to describe the form.  Then start to reinforce the darkest areas with some hatching and some mark making to suggest the textures you see; wrinkles, freckles etc.  Adjust all the tones paying special attention to under the chin and neck, the whole of the darker side of the face, shadows under the nose and from the hair etc. till you are happy.

Not everyone has a skeleton in their cupboards but if you can find the opportunity to draw a skull in side, front and three quarter view it would help to give you a very clear understanding of the spatial relations of the eye sockets, nose and jaw line.  Even with a very plump face it is the skeleton and its overlying muscles that give the head its over all structure.  Exploring the head tonally by drawing will give you great assistance when painting a portrait in any medium.

Doodle heads imagined: pencil


Try to continue with sketchbook studies from life whenever you can, but don’t be afraid to invent doodle heads and give your drawings a dramatic chiarascuro lighting.

Eva in Tuscany: soft pastel


The last examples in colour are not all three quarter but all are dramatically lit.  Eva’s hat provides a wonderful shadow over her face.

Claire: soft pastel on velour paper

Claire was painted in pastel on velour paper giving a very soft look.

Soft pastel painting from life


The last shows how colour can be used to indicate tone and shade much in the way some Fauve paintings were made.  In future posts I hope to explore colour and portraiture and also portraits that include something of the passion of the sitter in the way that a portrait of Pietro in his workshop with all his tools, sculpture and quirky collections would tell something of his story.

Your Drawings and Paintings:


From photo reference, in pencil by Jane

Almost front view from photo reference with dramatic lighting, pencil by Jane. Totally my rule of thumb: if you can see both ears the head is approximately full front, but as you can see here the side of the face on the shadow side is slightly narrower and we can see more of the ear on the lighter side, even a small rotation from absolutely straight ahead makes a difference. Also note how the strong use of light and shade (chiarascuro) reveals the form of the head and helps us understand the form of the nose, chin and brow with tone rather than line.  All very well observed.


Mary Beardsley drawn from television by Shane; this is great, I can almost hear her speaking. Look at how some deft tone has helped us make sense of the form, while the line gives us the shape of her features and head. The mark making especially round the eye nearest to us and treatment of the hair are direct and not overly fussy. Drawing from people that are moving is not easy even when already translated into 2D on a screen but often produces lively drawings!


Tania by Ruth in oil pastel and collage. Tania is a musician, hence the background; another lively portrait with well observed tones.


Barry in Lockdown by Maria; a very powerful image, the direction of the hatching giving a very sculptural feel to this portrait head. It looks as though Barry is looking up from the position of the eyes and the fact that we can see almost under his chin.


Another drawing from Maria: this time her version of a work by Lucien Freud, again with the head tilted up. This is very convincing as we can see the underside of the chin and nostrils, the eyes correctly positioned and the also the ear. Really good idea to try drawing like this with pen from life as well as from other artists and photo reference.


Drawings of Husband and Frida by Ann


Charles by Barbara


Paul Simon at 70 by Sandra


Chris by Heather; Good framework of shapes to build on; needs more tone generally except in the very lightest areas and a lot more tone round the eyes, across the brow ridge and on the dark side of his face.


Doris Lessingham by Liz from photo


John by Maricarmen; watercolour

Phoebe and Helen by Vivienne


Ben and Naomi by Roger


Paint a Flower in watercolour: wet in wet or wet on dry?

May 25, 2020

One of the best things about watercolour is that it runs and to get some of the most exciting results it’s a good thing to take a few risks.  As a bit of a control freak (where paint is concerned) I have found it as daunting as any one, but with a little practice I can now let my paint run without it getting out of control.  I have chosen flowers for this week’s challenge, simply because they are beautiful and abundant and offer good scope for trying some elements of wet in wet technique.

Red Rose: pigments; Crimson Alizarin, Blue Ultramarine, Cadmium Lemon

Much of this painting was made wet in wet and the lines were made by indenting with a cocktail stick while the wash was very wet so that the pigment flowed into the groove.  This could have been done with the handle of my brush. a fine embossing tool or any fine object that would dent but not tear the paper.


Pink roses in my garden; painted outside


Pigments for pink roses in my garden; Crimson Alizarin, Schminke Olive Green Permanent, Cadmium Lemon


One of the first considerations when painting flowers using any technique is to decide on the palette that best suits them and the mood you wish to convey.  The dark rose above was painted with Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine and Cadmium Lemon.   The very fresh looking pink rambler was again painted with the same red and yellow but handled with a much lighter touch and I used a Schminke Olive Green Permanent mixed in places with the red and yellow.  Unlike some olive green pigments this one is a fresh green which was exactly right for this rose.   Usually I mix my greens but there are no rules just observation and experimentation.

Although I have chosen roses for the examples feel free to choose any flower but I would like you to paint from life and to use the brush rather than draw with pencil before painting.  This seems harsh but will lead you to a freer technique with your painting and/or improve your brush skills enormously!

Four stages for night rose

This rose started with a few arc shaped swirling brushstrokes that I gradually dropped colour into while the paper was still wet.  I worked out from the centre until the whole paper was wet.  I left this wash to dry before rewetting areas of the paper and dropping in more colour and lifting colour where needed.  I left the second wash to dry then added foliage on some wet and some dry paper. At this stage I was unhappy, left the whole thing to dry, rewetted some of the rose and much of the rest of the paper but left some dry and then dropped in some crimson Alizarin and Ultramarine which gave it a rich rather than fresh look.  I allowed myself to go on an untried journey, making mistakes but learning all the time.

The yellow rose below was painted with a much warmer palette of Indian Yellow, Cadmium Scarlet, French Vermilion and Burnt Sienna.  I came across this combination recently from the artist Trevor Waugh and would encourage you to look at his flower paintings and also those of Paul Riley.  When you have chosen your flower, try colour mixes with three or four pigments at the most to find which will work best.  Do look at the leaves and stem too as very often the colours in the flower occur in lesser quantities in the leaves and stem.  Experiment by trying out various pigment combinations and find out how your pigments behave on their own, in varying degrees of dilution, and then seeing how they mingle when allowed to flood into each other as well as how they act when mixed in the palette.

Clockwise: medium to pale washes of French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Indian Yellow and Scarlet Vermilion.  Sadly the Indian Yellow here appears too lemon; it is in fact a lovely warm yellow.

The same pigments mixed in the palette


Same pigments wet in wet

When working by dropping pigments on to each other while wet or dropping pigment on to wet paper the results are not always as expected; quite often the pigments mingle rather than mix as they do when agitated in a palette.  Dropping pigment in to wet paper creates a very fresh look especially useful for delicate petals.

First trial wash for the yellow rose. I loaded a large pointed round brush with a fairly dilute wash of Indian Yellow and made spiral marks that echoed the shape of the rose leaving some paper bare. I diluted the wash as I worked outwards wetting much of the paper. I then returned to the still wet centre of the flower and dropped in more yellow and a little Scarlet Vermilion.

Colours decided I then mix up quite a quantity of the washes I wish to use and have the same pigments squeezed out or on wetted pans so that more concentrated colour can be quickly lifted when needed.  When working with very wet colour always test the strength of your wash as watercolour always looks darker when wet.  Having said that go quite gently when working with pale flowers.

Suitable papers for this way of working are NOT or Rough watercolour paper 300gsm or more in weight.  If you are working on a small scale you may not need to stretch papers over 300gsm and this certainly is not necessary for experimenting with your colours.  If you work very wet for your final paintings either stretch your paper or work on a block unless you have paper about 425 gsm and above or are prepared to work with less controllable washes and stretch your paper from the back afterwards.

With roses I often start by loading a large pointed round brush with pigment and making strokes that follow the petals as they spiral outwards; a series of arcs that describe the form of the flower, leaving little gaps where the palest areas are and loading my brush with more water as I work outwards till, if I wish to drop a background in I continue till the whole paper is wet.

I may at this stage drop some pale pigment into the centre of the flower and the same or other pigments into the background.  As the wash dries I can continue to drop more pigment in, becoming gradually much more strategic about where, and lifting out pigment in places where needed.  It’s hard to put all this into words so I hope the images will help and give you some ideas about how you may like to work.

After getting the first wash down with at least some some wet in wet passages, I let it dry, then re-wet the paper where I want to deepen the colour by dropping more pigment in, or work wet on dry to add leaves and stems.  Another good tip when rewetting paper is to rewet a much larger area than you intend to deepen with more colour.  It is much easier to avoid unwanted hard edges.  It is also a good idea to work leaves with a large brush so that the shape can be described with one or two stokes.  The paper will still be damp enough for you to drop more colour or a different colour into your leaf before it dries. As with everything practice on another piece of paper first.

Deep Pink Rose; pigments; Permanent Rose, Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Lemon

Gradually build your painting up till you are happy with it but be prepared for accidents that happen with washes.  Also work in the knowledge that you can soften an edge after it has dried with a brush, damp natural sponge or a piece of tissue paper after re-wetting the area.  You can also lift out pale areas of petals and or background in the same way.

The number of pigment combinations possible is enormous but I do recommend you use only three or four pigments for the whole of each painting.  Try to find how many colours your can make from the pigments you choose and think about whether you need a cooler red or a more lemon yellow etc for your particular flower.   Experiment with all the pigments in your box then select your three or four.  At first I would not advise using black or Payne’s grey as such beautiful neutrals can be mixed, and result in a more unified work.

Don’t listen to the words, look at the pictures, observe your flowers, pick up your paints and have fun!

Your Paintings:

Aquilegia: watercolour and photo reference by Angela


Archway Rose by Roger



Roses by Ann


Delphinium and Poppy by Ann


Roses by Heather


Rose by John


Flowers by Liz


Roses by Maricarmen


Petunia by Rosemarie


Petunia by Rosemarie


Orange Rose by Sandra

Red Rose by Sandra


Pink Rose by Shane


Pink Rose 2 by Shane

Thinking about portraits 2 Profile View

May 18, 2020

Last week we looked at the head from the front. This time we are going to consider the profile view.  Four years ago I ran a short course called ” Eyes, Ears, Nose, Mouth, Face” in which we explored facial features each week, alone, and in context with the rest of the head.  For the last week we had a delightful model called Lea but for the first four weeks our models were each other.  The students kindly gave permission for me to photograph their work and publish on my blog or social media pages.  The drawings of Lea and Colin below, are among my favourites for their observation of the models and for their very different drawing styles.

Lea; in charcoal

Colin: in pencil

Below is what I can only call a photo-fit of a fictional face but note just as the eyes are about half way down the head in front view the same applies to the profile view.  All the features and the shape of the forehead are revealed in the profile view including the ear which may be seen totally or obscured by hair.  Often when someone turns sideways we are surprised to find a nose that is a very different shape to what was imagined from the front.  The information in profile view is quite different, lacking wholly the other eye and the other side of the face.  It is why the most informative view and that which is perhaps most popular among portrait artists is the three quarter view because partial information about the face in profile and full face is combined, but more about that in two weeks time.

Here are a few suggestions for this week’s challenge.

Try finding some photos, preferably of someone you know in profile view, and spend a while just looking before drawing, better still if you have someone at home willing to sit for you. Look especially at the shape of the whole head and the placement of the ear.  It may be further back than you might have thought.  Look also at the relation of the line of the jaw to the ear. See how different the eye looks in this view.  Look at the angles and shape of the nose and its relation to the eye socket and upper jaw.

When you start to draw sketch the largest shapes first and loosely enough so that you can refine the shapes as you work, always bearing in mind the relationship of the shapes to each other.  Start to block in tones as you go, lightly at first and as your drawing becomes better defined work on the tones making them communicate the forms more strongly.  Think about the underlying shape of the skull before adding the masses of hair.

This first drawing will have made you question.  Next try drawing from life or from photographic reference the eye or both eyes, the nose and the mouth in full face and profile views.  Also practice drawing several ears.  You may like to try making a silhouette head and placing the ear.

When you have tried some of these exercises make a painting of a of a head in profile.  If you prefer to continue drawing perhaps try making two further drawings one of a child and one of an older person in profile.  What differences do you notice and how do they affect the way you draw?

Your Work:

Hope by Shane


Richard by Jan

Richard: Jan has developed and reworked some areas of this drawing


Jan’s drawing of Richard at both stages for comparison


Young Man by Angela with reference

Angela’s reference was in colour but I converted to gray scale so that everyone can see the tones in the reference.  I would love to see another drawing or painting where the tones were as in the reference.  When painting tonally the shapes of the back of the neck and hair are “lost”; the similarities in tone merge the head into the background. Another important lost edge in this reference occurs under the chin.  These very soft almost indiscernible edges contrast with the sharply defined edges of the young man’s brow, nose, chin and front of the young man’s neck.  In drawing it is good to be aware of all the structures and edges and then to think about the lost edges that will help the portrait to sit within the volume that the work is depicting.  If too much emphasis is placed on delineating all the edges with sharp difference in tone between the background and the model, the artist risks the model appearing as a cut out on top of rather than part of the work.  The drawing here is helped by the texture of the hair which softens the tonal differences with  the background and also the well observed shadow in Angela’s drawing, under the chin.  Love Angela’s handling of the hair!


Drawings by Vivienne and Roger


Archie and Chris photos by Heather


Chris by Heather


Archie by Heather


Amy by Barbara


In the Garden: garden tools and features

May 12, 2020


Cynthia’s Garden; watersoluble ink

This week’s challenge is to draw something found in a garden; anything from a lawn mower to a fishpond, ornament, watering can, topiary shears and a ladder if you have a very grand garden or remember what it was like to visit one! or perhaps a simple bench with a backdrop of flowers.

Vida’s Garden; sepia ink and watercolour

If you usually draw in pencil, try ink and a wash or two of watercolour.

Matt’s Mower: pencil sketch

Rotavator: pencil sketch

If the weather is cold settle for doing a few sketches on the same page of a sketchbook with a view to painting a more considered work indoors with a warming coffee.

The Blue Shed: mixed media with collage

Hope these give you a few ideas!

Your Paintings and Drawings:

Garden Scene; watercolour by Maricarmen


Drawings by Heather

Summer House by Jan


Bird Bath; Ink line and watercolour by Liz


Lawn: watercolour by Ann


Water Feature: pastel by Ruth


In the Garden by Jan: pen and ink

Thinking about Drawing Portraits 1 Full Face

May 5, 2020

Lea: pastel detail

I have been asked to present a portrait challenge so I’m going to do three but every other week so that in between we’ll concentrate on the outside world of gardens, flowers and lawnmowers!  We’ll be considering full front, profile and three quarter views and if you get really hooked the back of the head, though that may get left till I write a post on hair.

When you set about drawing a portrait head there are several considerations;

How much of the sitter to include apart from the head?

Even if the head is viewed full front is the sitter’s body also facing front or is the neck slightly turned?

Which direction does the main light come from?

Lit from the side the contrast between one side of the face and the other may be dramatic.

How do the features sit within the general form of the head and what is their spatial relationship with each other?

What measurements should I make to help construct a framework to build a convincing drawing?

Then the most important question:

What is it about the sitter I want to communicate and what will be the mood of the drawing?

Below are three very different portraits made for different reasons and from different kinds of reference;

Mysterious Mr.X: pastel pencil

This small portrait in scribbled pastel pencil began as a thumbnail sketch of a convicted criminal in a Russian Jail.  I didn’t visit; he was featured in a television documentary.  There was no time for detail, just an atmospheric drawing of a person possibly with much to hide but with a grim determination to carry on in harsh conditions. He is tight lipped and his eyes though open are scarcely defined.

He is looking straight at and through us, his face strongly lit from one side.  The eyes are vertically in the middle point between the base of his chin and the top of his head and about one eye’s width apart.  These measurements are approximations for when the head is turned fully towards us and this is true for nearly all heads, human heads, that is!  In case the head is tilted a little it can be useful to make a feint line through the axis of the head before you start on drawing the features.  I usually start by getting an idea of the overall shape of the head, sometimes measuring its overall width and height. I then indicate the neck and shoulders. After that I usually tackle placing the features,  The eyes are usually in shadow so before marking out the detail I may work a pale layer of tone over the eye socket area.

Many people place the features with line, again usually starting with the eyes. Take care to look at the length of the nose, it is easy to make the nose too long.  One famous artist quote is that ‘ the nostril is always nearer the eye than you think!’ Also the relation between the base of the nose and the upper lip and the lower lip to the base of the chin.  Can you see the ears?

Lynn: charcoal, drawn from life

Place them and the mass of the hair if there is any!  Then work tonally to describe the form of the head and ts features, adding any detail you feel is necessary.  Look to see where areas of shadow are on your model or reference, especially under the nose, the upper lip, under the chin, the eye sockets and  under the hair line.When you go back to working further on the hair it may be good to show the flow of the hair with line work in places but it can look laboured if you try to draw every individual hair. This is especially so if the tonal mass of the hair has already been well indicated.  In the portrait of Lea below I scumbled masses of dark pastel so the hair became a texture. Always be guided by what you observe and use the appropriate technique.  Explore line and texture on a separate paper, imagining the kind of hair you wish to depict.

For your first drawings use charcoal or pencil, about an A3 or larger sheet for charcoal and a much smaller sheet for pencil studies.  You may like to make several quite small sketches in pencil, from different people or photos till you get used to describing various head shapes and features so that you become confident to tackle a more considered portrait.

Lea: pastel from sketches made from life and a photographic reference

Tackle a portrait of someone you know, perhaps a family member either from life or from a photograph.  Try to draw directly or scale up your reference by using a grid.  Use a grid just to place the main features then draw everything with as free and fluent a hand as you can.  But please do not trace your image as it may become wooden and not have your own personality in the line.  The way we draw is as unique as our signature.

For the portrait of Lea I decided to include her cape and the top of her dress to show off her beautifully braided black hair.

Just wish you could hear her sing!

If you have not tackled a head before don’t worry about likeness just go for making a convincing head!

Your drawings and paintings;


Maricarmen’s Grand-daughter


Portrait of Russell, Choir director, by Jan at a rehearsal


Sketches by Jane


Control the Virus: Vivienne’s sketchbook studies from the news


Roger’s sketch book studies


Ruth’s Uncle Brian who fought in Burma in WW2 drawn in coloured pencil and soft pastel


Heather’s Portrait of Chris


Heather’s Portait of Keith Richards


Two drawings from Ann


Ann’s Husband


Roger by Vivienne; from life


Vivienne: by Roger from life

Phoebe by Roger


Drawings from life and reference by Barbara


White Flowers, White Vase: What background?

April 28, 2020

It doesn’t sound as though this week will be the best for sketching and painting outside so bring some flowers inside.

This week’s challenge may be painted in any medium but if possible I would like you to select white flowers and a white or very pale vase or jug.  I have no sample painting but have explored with a camera one of the most important decisions in still life painting, the background.   The background tone and colour will help create the mood the artist wishes to convey, and photography is one way to record different backdrops for the same set up, especially if time is limited and decisions must be made and a painting done before the plants wilt!  The reward is that you can efficiently choose a backdrop, get the painting accomplished and have a record of possibilities as a reference for future work.

1. Start by setting up the vase of flowers with a white backdrop and table covering. Click!

Try to photograph the same view of the flowers each time so that you can compare like with like.  As you can see I added a bloom after the first photo so the images are not totally consistent but good enough for you to get the drift.  At the end of your exploration you may of course wish to change things before you start painting.  There is always something that needs a tweak!

2. Change the white for a mid toned background. Click!

3. See what introducing a small white cloth will do. Click!

4. Then find some richly coloured cloths, one of them with some patterns that include dark and vibrant colours like the patterned blouse. Click!

5. Try adding the same small white cloth under the vase again. Click!

6. Lastly Try a different view point. Click!

There are no rules, just play with the cloths till you find a set up you wish to paint and go for it.

My personal preference for the lilacs is the simplicity of the white backdrop, but that is today, on another occasion I may feel in the mood for something patterned and jolly.  As always think about the tonal contrasts in the painting as well as the colour.  I think that is why I am so drawn to enjoy painting the white set up.

For interesting table coverings and textures in subtle colours do look at still life paintings by Jacqueline Rizvi and Charlotte Halliday.  For some of the most beautiful paintings of lilacs reference Edouard Manet and if you are excited by colour, shape and pattern, look at flower still lives by Henri Matisse.

If you enjoy this challenge, try another floral still life exploration with brightly coloured flowers and investigate harmonious (analogous) and discordant (complementary) colour combinations.

Have fun !

Your Paintings

Mock Orange Blossom: acrylic

Vivienne has made an exciting composition with tone, using light against darker areas effectively. The curve of the table, shape of the jug and diagonal with the two tiles in subtle blues at the upper right, gives this painting a strong abstract framework.

White Lilac: pastel

Heather has very skillfully suggested the lilacs without drawing every tiny flower.

White Flowers White Vase: watercolour

A delightfully fresh watercolour from Angela


White Lilac; on black paper

Ann has given us a delightful pattern of flowers and leaves on a dramatic black ground.


White Lilac: ink and watercolour


Red flowers, Turquoise Jug: pastel

Ruth has made a bold statement with colour.  She has picked up the turquoise colour of the jug both in the tile and in the background behind the white backdrop, and in front of the tiled stand. This gives the whole painting a unity and at the same time our focus remains on the flowers and their dominating red. The white backdrop provides a great foil to the red flowers in tone and colour. The warm terracotta tile provides a complementary colour to the turquoise and links back to the warm reds of the flowers. This painting is all about shape and colour.

From the photo of the set up below you can see that the turqoise in the background and nearest part of the foreground has been invented and works brilliantly.

Set up for Red Flowers Turquoise Jug


Fruit Tree Blossom in Pastel

April 20, 2020

At this time of year those of us with a garden and an apple tree have the perfect model for this week’s painting challenge.  Start by looking at Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of peach and almond trees in bloom.  Also look at blossom trees painted by Monet, Pissarro or Sisley.  If you don’t have a live model in full bloom, use a photographic reference or make your own version of a Van Gogh or Impressionist work.

Crab Apple and Cherry Blossom

There is a fine balance between getting the essential character of the tree by getting the angles of the main trunks and branches right and the challenge of overlaying it with blossom and leaves in a way that does not appear overly detailed or fussy, but does give an idea of the tree’s character.  If the blossom is all the same tone it can appear quite flat so look at where the light is coming from and observe the shadow areas well.

Composition: You may like to make a tiny tonal sketch or even two or three to work out a successful composition and to observe the overall shapes and tones.  These should made in pencil and be no more than about 2 inches by 3 inches.  Remember to include suggestions of where background objects you wish to include, garden sheds, fences etc.  Also start to think about what you may leave out.

Paper: Choose a pastel paper that has a good enough tooth to take several layers of pastel.  This may be white or coloured.  I used a sandy coloured paper for the example above.

Making a Start: When ready to start on the final work I find it useful to start with the trunk and main branches, delineating them with a very light touch at first and observing the girth of the main trunk and the angles formed by the main branches.   I then like to indicate the outline of the whole mass of the tree with a broken fine line and mark out any other features I wish to include like fences, shrubs, a garden shed etc., again with a light touch.

Apple Tree: Early stage basic shapes drawn in, and first suggestions of colour.

When indicating indicate these first shapes it is sometimes useful to indicate these areas with colours and tones close to the colours and tones you see for each shape especially in the palest areas.   Whether working in a rather impressionist style with short strokes of broken colour or you decide on a blocking in approach after your initial drawing, try to keep the work fairly open by continuing with a light touch.  This gives far more scope for modifying shapes and forms as you develop the painting.

Apple Tree: colours and tones developed further

Develop the Painting: Look for colours and how they are modified across the form.  Shadow areas of blossom may reflect some of the colour in the sky. Look out continuously for colours that are reflected from one object to another.  At some stage you will want to go in with much stronger colour in some areas. The palest colours and vivid colour accents are best added last as then they will remain fresh and undisturbed.  As you can see from my middle stage of the ‘Apple Tree’ I don’t always follow this advice, sometimes preferring to add touches of the palest tones so that a balance can be worked between extremes of light and dark.

Apple Tree : final image

Do fix your work as you add layers of pastel, but after your last touches of bright pastel are added, fix very sparingly or leave the work out for a few days.  In our fairly humid climate the pastel will become somewhat fixed just by the moisture in the air. However if your work has to travel, a light spray is advisable with the nozzle no nearer to the work than 2 feet.

A complex branching system can be daunting but as you can see from the finished work at the beginning of this post it can be reduced to little dots and dashes of pastel.  I hope to finish the ‘Apple Tree in progress’ tomorrow or Wednesday and will insert the final stage sometime this week.

Enjoy the colours and hopefully some sunshine!

Your Paintings:

In Windsor Great Park near Cow Pond

Apple Tree: mixed media


Drawing with Bling: first experiments with Silver Point

April 13, 2020

This scene is inspired by a bridge and tunnel in the Ceno Valley, Northern Italy.


Unbelievably this is ACT 4  the fourth Art Challenge Tuesday since I was able to give classes.  Hope you enjoy this one.

Silver point was a very popular technique for drawing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  The drawings were made with a silver wire in a holder on a ground prepared with gesso, which provided a tooth for the silver particles to be deposited.  It is easy to experiment with silver point with materials you are likely to have in your art equipment and around the home.

Take a piece of heavy-weight watercolour paper, preferably Hot Pressed 300gsm or more, but NOT will do, or even a small off cut of mount board.  Apply two layers of Chinese white, or as I used, permanent white gouache; the first coat should be dilute and the second much stronger. You may wish to prepare paper with more layers of white; the aim is to provide a fairly uniform surface before starting to draw.  When dry the support is ready to use.  For a large scale drawing it is advisable to stretch the paper first to avoid cockling but for your first small scale experiments that should not be necessary.  The sketch above was about 7 x 10 inches and the one at the end of this post only about 7 x 5 inches.

The Family Silver: objects used for the drawings!

Next find your drawing tools; silver jewellery, silver spoons, butter knives and sugar tongs, even EPNS cutlery will work.  In fact most kinds of metal including gold will leave some sort of mark on a prepared paper. Drawing with silver leaves quite a delicate trace of the metal but after time this will tarnish and produce a darker and warmer drawing.  Start by finding what marks you can make with various tools and then make a drawing.

First marks

Woman with Veil


Silver point over permanent white gouache

The images are my first rather crude attempts.  I am also going to make some drawings with silver wire and surfaces prepared with a casein chalk gesso manufactured for use with silver point.  Traditionally, surfaces would have been sized with rabbit skin glue, then coated with several layers of gesso and sanded, so that an even surface was achieved that still had enough tooth for drawing with a silver tool.  Spoons and found implements do not give the control that a wire in a holder would, but do provide an interesting variety of broad and more delicate marks, so have fun drawing with your bling or the family silver!


Your Drawings:

Jane’s Terrier: silverpoint

Delightful Lady; brave line work as this technique does not allow erasure!

Flower Pots

Virtual Tea Party: Paint a Cup and Saucer in Watercolour

April 6, 2020


Responses to this challenge would be a lovely way to contact your friends with a virtual cuppa.  You could even do this one in a garden setting if the weather’s good, part of an alfresco cream tea perhaps!

Getting the drawing right isn’t essential but if you would like to end up with a convincing structure there are a few things you should think about.  If you feel confident with the brush you may like to go straight in with paint but reading through the following and looking at the photos may help your observation skills and thoughts about the composition.

When you are very close to the object you are painting, it becomes more difficult to measure so when you have chosen your cup and saucer, put it down on a table.  Then make some observations.  Move your head/eye level up and down and you will see changes in what you see, so once you have decided on the view you like best, stick to it!


Photo 4. should read…. underside of saucer not visible!

So you have chosen your view.  The object is on a suitable cloth and you are ready to draw.

Ask yourself the following questions;


Where do you want to place the cup and saucer on the paper?

How important is the background(cloth, pattern, wall behind etc.)?

This may impact the size and placement of your cup and saucer in the composition.

Cup and saucer itself

What is the relative overall width and height of the cup and saucer?

How wide is the saucer in relation to the width of the cup?

Can I see the bottom edge of the cup?

How much of the lower surface of the saucer, if any, can I see?

Vertically how far up the cup does the widest point of the saucer occur?

At what point does the saucer disappear behind the cup?

How much of the inside of the cup can I see?

How is the handle attached?

In some ways it is easier to draw from a photograph but photographs can have unwanted distortions especially if you take a shot very close to the object.  These distortions can be largely avoided by taking the shot at a distance from the object and zooming in.

Draw the main shapes of your composition on watercolour paper.

It may be useful to indicate the mid-line of the cup and saucer with a feint vertical line.  This will make it easy for you to check that you have the widths of the cup and saucer symmetrical.  Some cups have wide tops and much narrower bases and all sorts of curves in between.  This vertical will provide a marker so that the symmetry of all the parts of the cup can be checked.

Concentrate on the largest shapes first, then add the details of fluted edges etc.  You may choose to paint pattern directly with the brush after putting in the main washes or to indicate the main areas of decoration very lightly with pencil.

Lit from the right side

Lit from the left side

Before adding washes observe how the light falls on the objects and note if there are any areas you need to remain absolutely white.  These may be very small; note the base of the cup, handle and part of the saucer rim and a couple of reflections in the photo above.  You can do this by either leaving the paper white or using masking fluid.  Slightly more subtle lights can be achieved by lifting out.  If lit from the side the difference in tone between the light areas and more shaded parts may be dramatic and obvious, but where the light is diffuse or from more than one direction this may not be so clear.   Start by washing in the main areas of tone and the background fairly lightly at first then add further washes till these are built up sufficiently before adding the pattern.

Diffuse light

Think about the background.  I chose to invent a wet in wet background .  You can do the same or choose to have a patterned cloth, or for the backdrop to take in part of the room.  Always look carefully at the tones and how they relate to the cup and saucer.  Look for shadows; the shadow that may be cast on to the saucer by the cup and the shadow below and/or to one side of the cup and saucer that falls on to the cloth or a wall behind.

Contre Jour

When the main areas have been painted, the detail of pattern can be added, and if gilded the last thing to add would be some imitation gold watercolour to lend a decorative touch to the painting.

Have fun with the paint and don’t take the words too seriously; just look and paint!

Your paintings;

Tones well observed and beautiful pattern painted freely with the brush

Blue Cup and Saucer; Handle looks really convincing and upper ellipses good, just needs a curve on the bottom of the saucer.

Cup and saucer with gold decoration


Draw a Flower at Different Stages of Opening: charcoal and pastel

March 30, 2020

This week’s challenge is to find a flower and draw it from bud to full flower.  You may still have daffodils and there are loads of primroses, periwinkles and flowering shrubs and very soon we will have tulips.  Look especially at the relation between the stem and the flower head and the axis of the flower.  The daffodil in bud follows a line almost straight from the stem  and then the stem bends down sharply as the  flower opens.  The trumpet starts as a cone behind the petals and is aligned with the new stem direction.  Look at how the petals attach near the base of the trumpet and how seen from the front the petal tips lie on a circle.  As you turn the flower head around the tips lie on an increasingly shallow ellipse till you see the flower in profile.

In June we’ll see the poppies emerge doing the opposite, their buds dangling till they open then turn up  to face the sun!  The daffodil example was drawn in charcoal on green Ingres paper and then layers of soft pastel were applied to finish.

The Response: Your Drawings

Opaque and Transparent Colours: Acrylic

This is the first of my art challenges for Art Challenge Tuesday which I hope to publish every Tuesday on this blog.  Hopefully it will be a good way to cheer everyone up till we can meet again face to face.  I have been running a course on watercolour and acrylic glazing techniques for my group at Norden Farm and will be running a similar course in the autumn for another group.

Sadly the isolation rules came in half way through the course, so the project below exploring acrylic glazing techniques has already been sent to that group by e-mail.  Below is a bit of a recap plus a few of the things we would have explored in the remaining Tuesday sessions.

Magic Pear: monochrome under painting in acrylic


Magic Pear: glazed with alizarin crimson, azo yellow and ultramarine


Acrylic: Opaque and transparent colours

To explore grisaille (working in monochrome) and glazing techniques we have been producing under paintings in greyscale and then adding layers of transparent glazes to colour them.  It’s obviously important to know which the transparent colours in your box are, so here are a couple of things you may like to try.

Number one may be a bit basic for some of you but have a look and do what you feel like attempting.


  1. Opaque and transparent colours

To find which paints in your box are transparent

Paint half a small sheet of thick paper with black and half with white.

Paint a stroke of colour across the white and black.

Opaque paint will obliterate the join where black meets white.

Very transparent colours that contain no white will almost disappear on black making the surface look rich and shiny.  Dioxazine purple and phthalo blue and green will do this.

However they won’t if the tube also contains any white.

To keep working transparently always mix your transparent paints with medium or water NOT WHITE.

Most yellows are either opaque or translucent.  Translucent colours become more transparent when diluted.


Judging how much to dilute pigments for glazing.

Sometimes you will require quite an intense glaze and at others you will want just the merest hint of colour to tint your painting.

You can practice different strengths of pigment by glazing on newsprint that either has text or greyscale images.  You need only glaze small areas but if you have time do glue the newsprint down on a sturdier piece of paper first with some acrylic medium.

When dry paint over with acrylic colour.  Try different colours and make a note of which colours are transparent when dry.

Diluting acrylic paints;

Do the same thing with more dilute pigments.

Dilute with water or acrylic medium.

Medium makes it easier to blend pigments and to control where the paint is laid down.  Acrylic mediums usually appear milky when wet but dry transparent. Diluting with water makes the paint behave more like water colour.

Always add a tiny amount of paint to the medium or water not the other way round or you may waste a lot of paint.  You can always add more but generally you won’t need as much  paint when you are tinting an underpainting than when working in colour from the start.

These are experiments so can be done on a very small scale.

They will help you find the right paint dilution for your purpose.

You can also experiment with overlaying different colours but always ensure one layer is dry before adding the next.


  1. Subtle and bright glazes

3a. If you have access to a photocopier you could photocopy a landscape or room interior in greyscale on to watercolour or other substantial paper.  It would be great to make two copies of the same image and glaze one in a very subtle way with very dilute glazes and a much more vibrant version with bolder colours and some more concentrated colour.

It is always best to use your own photos if possible.

After Hammershoi: acrylic under painting from sketches made at the RA

After Hammershoi: with very dilute glazes of alizarin, raw sienna and transparent burnt sienna

3b. Make two similar under paintings in greyscale for a simple composition, then glaze with colour to produce a subtle version and a more vibrant one.  Take care with the tones in your under painting.  Think about the fact that every time you add a layer of transparent paint that area will become darker.  Make sure you paint some white areas for the palest glazes and any areas that will remain white.  However, with acrylic if you haven’t got the tones quite right you can always repaint with white or the right shade of grey and add more glazes.

You could choose to make your versions of a Matisse interior for this exercise; judging the tones will be a challenge.  Or you could make your version of a Hammershøi interior.  His paintings are very tonal with very subdued colour, so getting the under painting right will be much easier.  It would be a good exercise to do one version with subtle glazes echoing Hammershøi’s use of colour, and a second with vibrant glazes of bright transparent colours.  Remember in either case you can glaze part or all of the painting and you can further modify the colour and tone by overlaying glazes.

The response: Your Paintings

Monochrome Under Painting and Same with Transparent Glazes


Sunflowers in a Basket: Acrylic under painting and finished painting with glazes

John was has added white to the petals and reglazed with yellow to make the flowers brighter. With acrylic it is always possible to modify your painting in this way, so if your colours look dull you can go in with a paler tone and reglaze, and you can modify again with further glazes of the same or a different transparent colour if shadow areas are needed where you have already reglazed.

A week in Nice

February 13, 2020



Hard to believe nearly a year has passed since I filled my sketchbook with drawings in Nice, and that I’ll be there again in just 12 days time.

Here are some happy memories from February 2019.

Cours Saleya in “Old Nice” a flower market before lunch and bric-a-brac in the afternoon


A balustrade in the Chateau Gardens


Trees in the Chateau Gardens


Nice Harbour, the entrance viewed from the Chateau Gardens



The Monastery Garden at Cimiez a short walk from where Matisse and Dufy are buried on the hill overlooking the city.


A drink before lunch in Place Garibaldi


Nice Opera, before the performance of a Sunday family concert of magical harp music by Dohnanyi and Francaix


Nice Opera

The Harpists


Waiting for the bus by the Old Port


Gardens by the Musee Massena


Lunch on the Promenade


Patterns at Villa Kerylos


Pine tree outside Villa Kerylos


Towards the mountains and Eze from Port St. Jean


Last evening, watching the bay from the blue chairs

This is one of several sketch diaries from in and around Nice.  Can’t wait to get there again and see my friend!

Black Gold Dragon Fish

January 19, 2020

The Dragon Scorpio

No this isn’t a new game!  Just a fun workshop exploring the possibilities of using black ink and gold watercolour (imitation gold) on white paper.  It also explored pattern and the drama of surrounding an image with black.  The dragon above is called Scorpio and started life as a brush drawing during the session.  The fish below was one I prepared earlier and the other two drawings were started while trying to put a few ideas together for the workshop.

Golden Fish with Spots

Dennis the dainty dragon needed a little more colour by way of alizarin crimson, manganese blue and viridian.  Hope you like his white socks!  I may or may not give him a black ground!





Later in the year I hope to develop some of these and other fanciful beasts as prints.

Many thanks to Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead  ( for the opportunity to run regular workshops and to everyone who came to enjoy the fish and dragon session.