June 28, 2021
These are the results from everyone painting or drawing at Hurley in very different weather conditions from the previous week, while I visited all the drawing locations and took a few photos plus made the briefest of sketches. The view of Harleyford Manor was painted in 2000 from location sketches and was about 27 inches wide so a bit large to paint on site!
June 20, 2021
With just an hour till coffee time everyone set about painting a watercolour sketch of the Thames at Hurley. This is a challenging task at this time of year, busy with all sorts of boats from motor cruisers to kayaks. There was always the option to finish at home or stay a little longer to complete the work or make another painting.
Because of the complexities of boat shapes this challenge necessitated considerable simplification of the shapes and a critical view of the tones. When you add in the fact that many of the boats were moving one can understand wanting to finish at home perhaps referencing a ‘photo. This is OK but there are a few pitfalls.
1.Always take the shot at the eye height you were drawing at. There is often the temptation to stand up if you have been working sitting down and the view will not be the same.
2. Photographs taken in the high light conditions we were on Tuesday, can have too much contrast. The shade areas often looking very dark and very pale areas being ultra white. No worries in your painting to leave the white of the paper for the palest areas. This will give your work a really sunny appearance. If you copy the darkness of your reference in the shade areas you should ensure the differences in tone have sharper cut off points than on a dull day. In sun all shadows will be crisper..
If you need to lower the tone of a whole area this is usually best achieved by putting a wash over the whole of the darker area, leaving just a few tiny paler areas rather than doing it by dabbing away with small brush strokes. Sometimes by referencing your photo and on site watercolour, it can be better to to work another picture taking these tones into account with the first washes as this can be difficult on site in very sunny conditions.
Exactly how dark to make your shadows can also be greatly governed by your intention. The reality as in the first photo below was that the shadow area behind the canoes was so dark it was hardly even textured. You may choose the dark to offset the colour of the canoes for a dramatic effect, or you may choose the softer effect of seeing more of the texture and colour of the background as in the modified second photo below .
3. There is also a temptation to add washes to the water that soften the edges too much. Last Tuesday the weather made for very clear reflections and waves and that should be reflected in your paintings. Again this was made difficult as in places the water appeared very green. Where a paddle hits the water you can always give a little sparkle to the splash by scratching out with a sharp point. Wait till the rest of the painting is complete before attacking the paper in this way.
This week we’ll be at Hurley again and probably in very different light conditions. Notice any differences especially if you visit the same spot to paint. We’ll also talk about colour, especially the water and reflections.
June 8, 2021
Such a treat today to be sitting outside drawing subjects we have become familiar with using photo reference. Before publishing I added more tone to these sketches from memory.
The heightened contrast reflects the very bright sunlight we worked in. I’m now going to discover the ‘photos taken at the same venues which I know will have too much contrast, so no good as photos but a very good reminder of the importance of tone in composition.
Your Sketches and Paintings from Sunny Maidenhead;
May 23, 2021
The challenge this week is to make a painting of boats and/or constructions on the river including weirs, locks, boathouses from sketches made from the riverbank. If the weather makes working by the river difficult why not look at any photos you may have of boats threading their way through the twists and turns of the Thames. It’s more difficult to draw a moving target from life so becoming familiar with the structure of boats and their effects on the water surface is easier from photographs.
However if you have the opportunity, it’s much more rewarding to work outside with a sketchbook. Start with the static objects and develop your confidence, and then try drawing the main shapes of boats and their wakes as they pass by,as swiftly as you can. With a little practice a real notion of movement can be achieved.
A few photographs of local parts of the Thames with moored and moving craft are below.
Think about the river and its banks, the relation of the boat to the water surface (the waterline, reflections and if moving the bow wave and wake, or if a motor boat how the water may be churned up by a propeller at the stern). The patterns of waves may extend far beyond the immediate vicinity of the boat.
If you attempt to draw or paint a lock, perhaps looking down from a bridge as you can at Maidenhead. Try drawing the large shapes of the lock first so that you get a feel for for its structure and aim to show its perspective. That will help you when you place a boat in it. Think of the lock as a big rather long box so the end away from you appears smaller. Then look at the water level in the lock and how the boat sits in it.
There are also occasions where boats are included as only a small element in a river landscape work so just as observing and drawing from human forms, observing and drawing boat forms will help you to be able to just ‘drop in a boat’ to enliven a composition.
Also included are boathouses and a couple of old rather abandoned looking dredgers and the turbulent water of the weir at Maidenhead.
With the weir draw its underlying structure lightly before indicating the frothy water tumbling over it. Hopefully we’ll be sketching outside but if not feel free to use any of these references or find a boat scene you would like to paint.
Some examples of paintings of boats and locks etc can be found on Jo’s Pinterest board using the link below:
Your Sketches and Paintings:
May 16, 2021
The Weather forecast is miserable for this week so here are some photographs of river birds and a few cows for inspiration, a contingency in case of rain on Tuesday.
As anything that moves is a challenge in real life, becoming familiar with bird and animal shapes will be helpful before sketching them outside. We can work in real time together either from the following references or using your own. We’ll choose a bird or a cow and make rapid thumbnail sketches in real time; four or five to a sketchbook page so don’t think too large. I will be using a stopwatch! You will see from the reference that you should be able to make several sketches of the same or a similar bird in different poses.
Where birds in groups overlap each other, as in the cygnet photos it can be useful to treat them as a single shape and then sort out the individuals. They move in amazing ways, with mother swan looking out for them all the time.
After a few warm up sketches we can move on to a more considered drawing or painting, making a good start that can be finished during the session or in your own time afterwards. This work may either be a painting that has the creature as the main subject, or a work where the beast or bird is placed in its landscape setting.
Most of the heron images are from the water garden at Cliveden where the carp fry are easy prey for a hungry bird. I watched and sketched this one before resorting to record his antics on camera. but sadly never caught him actually catching a fish.
Your paintings and sketches:
This week’s drawings include two minute drawings and two minute blind contour drawings, where looking at the image but not the paper was permitted. There are also 30 minute or longer drawings from the Canada Goose image posted just before them.
Drawings below were 30 minute drawings from the image above
Two minute drawings and blind contour drawings:
May 11, 2021
This week we’ll think about working outside, developing work from sketches or diving into a painting if you are feeling brave. The world outside can seem quite daunting if you are not used to working in the open and the complexity of some scenes can be overwhelming unless ways can be found to home in on a subject and isolate it from the surrounding “noise”.
Using a camera as a view finder is one way but limits you to composing with one shape. A better way is to take two L-shaped pieces of card which you can view the landscape in endlessly varied formats. Quite a good idea to tape these together once the desired subject and format has been found, preferably with a removable masking tape or similar.
To home in on a suitable composition it’s a good idea to make a few composition and tonal sketches first. Exploring a scene in this way focuses the mind on what most interests you and aids observation and drawing skills enormously. Last week we explored photographs in a similar way.
Below is a way of recording shape and tone in a sketchbook. Charcoal pencil was used in this case but if I had used pencil three or four small sketches could be made on a sketch book page.
This time make small sketches not worked up drawings to decide on the composition. This is a good exercise whether working directly from the landscape or preparing for a work to be completed in the studio. There is a good case for making both tonal sketches and making colour notes, not necessarily in the same sketch. If there is time separate sketches of any details you may need for the final work can be made. A camera of course is useful but because nature does not always arrange itself in the most interesting or pleasing way, small personal sketches are often a good guide to what should and should not be included.
A silly example would be if I wanted to make a picture of a coot with its reflection. I would think very hard before including or excluding a sign in red paint behind the bird saying DANGER WEIR which was only slightly camouflaged by a nest in front of the sign. If the sign and its reflection was making the painting much more exciting than just the bird, putting the bird in context with that part of the river, it may be good to include. If it did no more than draw attention away from my principal subject or led the eye out of the picture the sign would have to go. Then again I would have the same problem with the coot if my focus was river signage.
1. Equipment for working outside; minimum for preparatory sketches
Sketchbook, drawing implements: pencil, pen, eraser, small camera and view finder, light weight folding stool
Optional: a few of any kind of coloured pencils or a small box of watercolours , brush, water, water pot; for making colour notes
2. Equipment for working outside; for painting directly from the landscape
Sketchbook, drawing implements: pencil, pen, eraser, small camera, light weight folding stool;
Watercolour painters: Watercolours, pan box useful if working at a fairly small scale as usually have an integral palette, water and water pot, brushes, paper towel (few sheets), small natural sponge (if you have one), drawing board with stretched paper/ heavy weight paper well taped down or small block of paper
Pastel painters: small box of landscape colours (Sienna, green dark, green bright, ultramarine blue dark and light, white, yellow, yellow ochre, crimson, cadmium red middle tone, dark grey or black, purple. These colours are only a suggestion. Handful of pastel pencils if you have any), pastel paper and a board, clips or tape to attach your paper, small can fixative spray, craft knife, pencil sharpener, Blu-tac or putty eraser, few sheets paper towel
If the weather is stormy the challenge will be to paint wildlife or agricultural scene from the riverbank. This could include willows, cows birds, nests waterlilies, reed banks.
Outside the challenge will be to make a composition including one or more of the following; trees, boats and boathouses, lock gates and their reflections, or a weir for the fearless! Be selective; one well painted boat or tree is better than a scribble of a fleet or forest! It would be good to take on board the tonal balance of reflections and objects. Reflections are not always darker than the real object but often are. See how the sky is reflected and how ripples catch the sun, as we will see next week sometimes very literally.
For inspiration visit my as yet unsorted Pinterest Boards at:
May 4, 2021
Over the next six weeks we’ll be drawing and painting anything that can be seen from a riverbank. The first session will be online but if you do have the opportunity to sketch your subject by the river and paint afterwards that would be brilliant. We’ll start by considering water, waves and reflections and go on to explore the riverbank vegetation, birdlife, bridges, weirs and locks that can be seen locally.
Some words that sprang to mind when thinking about water were flowing, calm, reflection, spray, fierce, roar, crash, wet, wave, ripple, current, whirlpool, eddy. By the Thames locally, the extremes in appearance of water going over the weir at Maidenhead and the wonderful reflections of trees in the very calm water that can be seen from the towpath just a couple of hundred yards upstream, reveal what a varied and challenging subject this is.
We may often notice the reflections of boats, trees, poles etc. in and on the water but the sky is perhaps the most important element, being reflected not only in calm water but in every ripple and almost always brings an element of fleeting and shimmering light to the surface. The Impressionists found good ways of depicting this, using strokes of different colours and tones alongside each other to create shimmering effects.
If you can, get to a riverbank and watch the water. Better still make some sketches of what you see. Take two L-shaped pieces of card with you so you can use them as a view finder. These are more versatile than a camera as they enable the isolation of very tall thin slithers of the landscape or extreme panoramic views, as well as squarer and more conventional landscape shapes for your composition. In the sketchbook try several small sketches in different formats concentrating on the shape and tones of what you see.
If you can’t get out this week try exploring different compositions within one photo reference.
I am forced to admit this photo was taken from a boat and not the bank but the various crops show the great choice we have from the quite dark composition of crop 4 to the light airy feel of the original photograph.
Start to think in terms of shape and tone. Instead of thinking I am drawing a tree and its reflection say to yourself,” I can see a large dark oval shape. Below it is a similar dark shape that fragments into elongated light and dark shapes when the wind blows.” If you can stay long enough, observe different patterns on the water surface as a boat passes, and when there is wind or no wind. Try to translate these into drawing. Can you observe differences in size between ripples near you and those further away?
Observe and note whether there is a difference in tone between the sky and its reflection and do the same for reflected objects. As you can see from the photo taken on the Cam, the sky there was almost the same tone as its reflection but this is not always the case.
When you have found a composition that pleases you either paint or make a more considered drawing. Both the observation of the water surface and the composition exercise will be good preparation for the outside drawing/painting sessions.
Have fun and experiment!
Perhaps look at a few Impressionist paintings!
Your Drawings and Paintings:
August 9, 2020
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!
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.
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’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.
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
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.
A Year in Pastel: landscape and natural forms
26th October to 30th November
Notan: Thinking in black and white
Saturday 6th November
Inspired by Ancient Art 1; The Romans
Saturday 11th December