Thursday, 29 November 2012


Watercolour on Fabriano Artistico Paper

I think that everyone can relate to this image. My students had a quiet chuckle to themselves when they saw this reference. I loved painting it. It is one of those images that one looks at in horror wondering how best to tackle all those chairs and limbs. But, being artists we can capture the essence of things and focus more on the most important shapes that will tell the story. The first thing is not to make the format too straight around the sides. The chairs do not need to be perfect. The right size, yes, and her weight needs to be supported. 

Because her pose is not the classical view, one needs to really on angles and shapes that make up her form e.g. use the apron to help get the proportions. Note how her back and the chair create a 'V'. Its all about the negative spaces. We used very simple tones for each object. 

The punch was created right at the end with the application of the creamy dark shadow that slotted all around her. I cannot tell you what a difference that made to a very wishy washy study so far. You have to push to the very end, so persevere. The added discord colour was applied in the form of cerulean blue which was dropped in whilst the background colour was still wet.

Yellow Pots

Oil on Canvas - slightly bigger than A3 and Unfinished

This was a class exercise that worked extremely well for everybody. As I have to demonstrate acrylics and oils in one class, I painted a mauve underpainting (in acrylics) on a large canvas and then divided it in half hence the unfinished edges. It gives the appearance of a sketch. It is good practise to learn how to finish one's shapes if they have to fade before the edge of your support. 

We then started blocking in the flatter shapes and then worked on selected areas of texture using our palette knives and brushes. Good colour mixing is still key and it is worth taking the time to premix some of the tones to save oneself getting into a muddy muddle later on. One also underestimates how dark some of the tones/shadows need to be to achieve exciting areas of contrast. A challenge was trying to paint the colourful wall around the doorway as it was a mix of blues and yellows. One can easily fall into the trap of painting a step-and-repeat pattern. The stones need to be different sizes and shapes. A palette knife made the task a little easier. 

Well done to all those in the class. I had great fun watching you progress with such enthusiasm.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Winemaker

The Winemaker - Oil on Linen Canvas - (Size to follow)

As soon as I saw this man, whose family have owned the same wine estate for many years, I knew I had to paint him. I cannot tell you how excited I was when I looked back at my photos and saw this shot. The light was shining right on him as he opened his first bottle of red for us to taste. He still has the indented line around his head from his cap and his shirt and trousers looked as old as he was. His wine cellar was rustic and full of delicious objects for any artist to paint. I also loved the strong emphasis on mustard yellow, which is a colour I don't see very often ... and just look at those nooks and crannies and deep shadows! I loved painting this scene.


Francesca - Oil on Linen Canvas 16 inches x 22 inches (private commission)

I am very proud of this portrait. It reflects a young woman who is stepping into a new phase in her life. It is a more serious pose and shows her at her elegant best. I hope Francesca and her family enjoy it in the years to come.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Celebrating the Old - Gindou Village

Watercolour (A2) - Fabriano Artistico

There was absolutely NO-ONE in sight the afternoon I decided to step outdoors. This little hamlet is on the outskirts of Gindou and is an absolute delight for the artist as it has so many old uninhabited buildings. All of them have bucket loads of character so it did not take me long to select this beautiful building. It was very hot so my paints was drying very quickly indeed. I started with an extremely loose pencil sketch and then went straight in with the golden yellows with my no30 cosmotop brush and continued through to the cooler colours. It helps to keep the colour palette simple when working outdoors. There is no point fiddling about with tiny brushes, either, when you only have a few minutes to set down a wash, so you have to take the plunge. It is so thoroughly enjoyable that the idea of failure does not even enter one's mind. A painting recorded from life is always special no matter the outcome.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The French Artisan

Watercolour on Fabriano Artistico - 40cm x 52cm

I keep my camera ready for just this sort of scene. We stumbled on and antiques fair in the Dordogne which was full of colour and interest. The scene of the Chairmaker with his two friends (one possibly a buyer) looking on was irresistible. I combined them with a section of the fair to include the rich, red carpets and copper pots on display. I enjoyed the pencil drawing and specifically wanted it to be visible so the lines are loose and hopefully descriptive. The watercolour layers were then applied (as few as possible) with a limited palette. I am very happy with this painting and hope to find more scenes like it.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Mairie - Something New

Acrylic and Oil on Canvas - 60cm x 50cm

I am quite excited about this painting because it is the start of a new idea. I have a love for most mediums I work with and I am beginning to get too comfortable with certain approaches. With that comes a degree of predictability and 'safety' to one's work. I would like to develop a certain edge to my work which, having been given an opportunity to spend time in a studio, is something I would dearly love to achieve. I started this painting with a colourful acrylic background (chosen carefully to enhance the top layers) and then I proceeded to do a painted layer in line only aiming to capture the shapes, texture and idea of energy in the scene. More flat shapes were applied with a big brush in acrylics to build up a little depth and then I put a few of the lost lines back in. I then focused on the focal point of the painting. This is when I focused on the detail and chose oils to do it. (I chose the lady having her cigarette in the doorway - I just loved this as the town Mairie's are so seldom open - I really had to chuckle at what I caught on camera here).

I was caught up from beginning to end having done some 'line drawing', bold acrylic painting and detailed oil work. I am hoping to do a few more and create a series in this style.

Detailed Irises

Oil on Linen - 50cm x 50cm

I am curious to find a contemporary style over the next few years whilst painting in my studio. After a few failed attempts where I felt absolutely nothing for what I was doing, I decided to go back to what I feel most comfortable doing. I, therefore, cropped a section of one of my iris photographs and plunged straight in to a detailed oil painting (with the odd expressive stroke creeping in). I also thought it best to try the linen canvases available here in France. I bought myself a pebeo clear primed linen canvas and I have been very impressed so far. It was while I was painting the iris painting that some ideas started to form. Sometimes one has to relax the brain to allow other ideas to flow into it. Whoever said that being an artist was relaxing has obviously got no idea how agonising it can be. Saying all of that, it is still produces those rewards when you need them.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Warm Irises

Watercolour and selected acrylic inks on Saunders Waterford Paper

I always try to paint an expressive botanical between more serious studies. They are so freeing and enjoyable. I wanted to bump up the colour so I used some of my new acrylic inks here and there and I think they made quite a difference. Watercolours can dry a little flat and matt for my liking so I can see myself using acrylic inks quite a bit in the future.

I have shown 3 stages to this painting. The first was a light and loose drawing using a cinnamon pastel pencil followed by light washes to fill in negative spaces and get a feel for the subject. I then carried on building up the painting until I was happy with the overall balance of colour and shapes.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Coffee Morning in Sarlat

Watercolour with light application of Coloured Pencils

This is a painting that I have just completed. It represents one of the busy coffee spots in Sarlat. I used a bit of golden ochre this time as it is slightly opaque and seem to keep its vibrancy. I have a love hate relationship with watercolours in that the colours always seem to dry too matt and seem to loose their vibrancy when dry. There is always the question of when to put that brush down. I enjoyed this study and I will endeavour to do some more old historical buildings and villages in due time.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012


Acrylic Wash and Pastel Pencils on Spectrum Colourfix Paper

I thought it would be interesting to show you the start and finish of this project I did with the Farleigh Art Group (Surrey). He was such a great character with fabulous folds and creases all over the place. The tricky part of the drawing was the placement of the eyes and nose unit, so drawing is still an essential skill, even for those of you who love the loose and lively approach. The tricky area, where tone and colouring were concerned, was the mouth. We had to create more tonal variety to make it believable. Always bare in mind that, even if your reference shows you its own set of tones and colours, your artwork should be balanced with its own set of tones to carry it off. Our illustration was bound to be lighter and unfinished with this combination. 

The first stage consists of a loose pastel line sketch and an acrylic wash with a limited mid tone palette. As you can see, it is enough to frighten any artist so my group displayed a variety of zig-zag smiles at this stage. However, when one adds the pastel layer, which is more controlled and brings in those light creamy tints, then the picture comes to life. One can also be selective as to how much you add. Note that the ears have no pastel finish at all.

I really love this combination. I learn something new each time.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Majestic Tiger

Pastel and Acrylic on Spectrum Colourfix Paper

I always love teaching these workshops where we combine acrylic and pastels. The acrylic wash layer establishes an interesting and expressive underpainting which enables the artist to leave areas unfinished  and to avoid that all too familiar 'chocolate box' finish. The underpainting should ideally be made up of a limited palette and it can appear quite dull in tone. The fresh layer of pastel pencil should restore those brighter values and establish the highlights. It is worth the preparation and patience. 

Goats to Go

Watercolour and Liquid Ink on Watercolour Paper

I'm afraid that my warped sense of humour came to the fore when I completed this illustration during a workshop. The red splatters made the picture look more representative of an abattoir, hence the the macabre label. We did have fun though. Goats make wonderful subjects.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Puy L'Eveque - The Lot (France)

Acrylic on Canvas - 130cm x 90cm

What fun I had painting this picture! I am trying to take photographs of the stages en route so that you can see the progression and how the scene developed. I used a very big flat brush most of the time, but particularly at the start. I covered every inch of the white with purple/pink and violet. This stage is very therapeutic indeed. I then blocked in the town having given myself a basic idea where the water line was to go. As soon as I picked up the smaller brushes (which did help for certain details), the painting became too fiddly so I carried on for most of it with my big flat brush. The painting came together bit by bit - with small areas of the underpainting poking through. It is important to step back regularly and think about where you placing your next stroke. I intend to produce a few more in this style this summer.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Bright Irises

Acrylics on Cotton Canvas

I have absolutely loved painting in this bold, impasto style. The strong colours were applied as part of the underpainting and then the lighter colours were added as the top layer with parts of the underpainting peeping through. It is an exciting way to paint, and acrylics, with their fast-drying properties allow you to work in this way. Big brush and bold application of colour are key.

My Neighbours

Watercolour and Pastel Line Drawing

These characters are wonderful. I have a few more paintings up my sleeve. They supply constant amusement on our walks around the block. They don't have to say anything do they?

The Bread Queue

Watercolour on Saunders Waterford Paper

This is the sort of scene that are so French. It was a very cold Saturday in February and our local bread shop can only accommodate about 5 customers and the rest had to stand patiently in the cold with their baskets. It is worth the wait, however, as the bread is to die for.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Alphie & Figo and a Garden with a View

A Commission - Oil on Canvas 26 inches x 44 inches

I have recently completed this wonderfully challenging and complex commission and handed it in to very happy clients. They love their dogs (and let me tell you that they are such characters! I spent a good session outside playing with the two of them). The view is one they enjoy from their home and the garden is much loved. It is beautiful too and, for a painter, the roses added those much needed complimentaries for all those shades of green. I also enjoyed painting the shadows with hints of light illuminating a bench or hidden corner. I do want to thank Lucien Freud for giving me added inspiration during this painting process. I watched a documentary about him whilst painting this garden and it helped me to loosen up a bit. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A Hot Summers Day in Venice

Watercolour on Fabriano Artistico Cold Pressed Paper

This was another workshop day - Loose Watercolours. Great success all round so well done to all my students. I was really thrilled with what we managed to achieve. We started with very little drawing. The figure was the most starting point for me - all other elements can slot in behind and underneath the figure once he is placed. If one draws too much then a painting (especially a watercolour) can become too wooden. We built up this painting in layers (used a little salt for added texture) and then once the middle ground was resolved, we spent some time on the stripes on his shirt (a very important pattern not to be avoided). Once the shadows are added, then the painting really does come to life.  

Still Life with Pears

Acrylic on Canvas

I have just completed a series of workshops and this is what resulted from the Acrylic Day. It was such fun I must say. Everyone enjoyed it. One would think that pears would be straightforward but that is never the case. Painting round objects are more tricky than one thinks and the brushstroke direction is really important. Do not paint in circular movements, always stick to 'cross-hatch'. It is the clever use of light and shade that will make your subject appear round. We also enhanced our colours and tried not to neaten our edges - rather let one shape sit next to the other without a line in between. The use of acrylic did allow layers to dry so that we could 'fix' the odd highlight and so on. 


Irises in Oil and The Preliminary Sketch

As promised, here is the final painting and its preliminary study. Having had a break from the painting for over a week, I came back to it and noticed right away that it needed a few more splashes of light oranges and earthy pinks to link various negative spaces more successfully and balance the cooler blues. I added earthy pinks to the buds in the foreground, which has helped to enhance the diagonal line leading from the lower left part of the painting back up to the upper right hand corner. I am much happier with the third to two-third composition running along the canvas width.

As well as being therapeutic and enjoyable, the drawing helped me solve my composition. I had a number of photographs which I had to put together and I wanted the painting to be bold. It saves a lot of time working it all out in pencil first rather than repeated scrubbing out o the canvas. The drawing is smaller than A4 so it does not take too long but it is worth the effort.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bonaguil Castle - France

Boniguil Castle - The Lot France

I have started building a portfolio for France and a future UK exhibition. Bonaguil Castle (a beautiful castle in a magical setting) was a definite contender. I managed to capture it in the sunlight (a rare chance as the Spring has been so grey and wet) and the vegetation was just beginning to fill out. This particular view was superb and I couldn't wait to paint it. I started with a very loose underpainting of washes and then built up selected areas of detail. I hope you enjoy it.

Irises - Spring Beginnings

Irises in Oil

I always have a tremendous urge to paint flowers when Spring finally brightens up the cold winter days. These beautiful irises opened up in the garden about two weeks ago. I photographed them, put a composition together (using a drawing) and then started placing them on my canvas. I started with a few colours to set the basic tones and now I am building up the shades of purples and greens using ready made purples and different pairs of complementary colours. 

This painting is still in progress and I will upload it on my blog when finished.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Nguni Cattle

Nguni Cattle - Oil on Canvas

I am in the process of theming a bedroom "The African Room" and it has turned into quite a creative project. This particular breed of cattle, with their beautiful colours and patterns, solid bodies and textured horns, make the most wonderful subject for the artist to paint. Leigh Voigt (a South African Watercolourist), has illustrated a book on Nguni Cattle and it is stunning. I was inspired again during my last trip to SA when I came across another oil painting of a Nguni cow. So, the idea stuck with me.

Unfortunately I don't have my own stock photographs of this animal, so after much hunting through websites, I finally came across this photo. I fell in love with it and, despite having three animals to conquer, I got on with it. A fabulous project. I blocked in the underpainting with acrylics and then started to layer with oils. Some areas are quite textured and I moved between medium and large brushes. The challenge was to make the whites interesting and to paint the patterns without making them too 'busy'. I found that I could still be loose and enjoy the odd area of detail. The focus for me is always about tone, edges and temperature as well as putting my own stamp on the painting by bringing in unusual colours and suggestion.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Memories of Family Gatherings

Watercolour on Heavy Saunders Waterford Paper

This painting resulted from an adrenalin fuelled demonstration for the Knockholt Art Group. I managed to find a beautiful reference of this old elegant dining room in a derelict mansion house. I have a love for old buildings and their interiors which has never waned. There is something mysterious, sad and intriguing about a building with history and memories. One isn't just painting something architectural, one is capturing the ghosts of the past. 

I started with a basic drawing at home (I was under a lot of pressure to produce a lot of work in 1 hour and 45 mins) so a head start is needed. I then prepared a few colours in my palette - use big wells (quin gold, permanent rose, cobalt blue, raw umber, winsor violet and so on). I loaded my huge no 30 cosmotop brush and attacked my paper with big strokes, building up the background and slowly working towards the stronger, darker objects in the foreground. This room was full of left over furniture and odd bits and pieces. Be excited about strange shapes. They add 'nook and cranny' shadows and edges to a painting. Just mouth watering!

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed the evening, and the Knockholt Art Group really helped by giving me enthusiastic feedback. It is magic when there is so much energy in the room.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

My Sketches & Notes

I have promised to keep my students up to date with my work even if they are random sketches. You might find my notes helpful. I hope so. These were done in pencil and ball point pen.

Buffalo Sketches

These three sketches belong to two separate buffalo studies. The first sketch was achieved using wipe-out and the second one (in two parts) has been constructed using basic shapes for placement and 'weight'. I have recently found that my students have benefitted from this 'loose' way of measuring in order to achieve more accuracy and the correct sizing on a bigger format. I suppose you could call it a an informal way of gridding up without being too tight. We then use 'wipe-out' and line work to complete the artwork.

Drawing - African Lady & Tibetan Man

Both portraits were achieved using the 'wipe-out' method where measuring is more about one tonal shape/highlighted shape being placed next to each other. I tend to start with the biggest shape and move out from there. One needs to practice, but it is a creative, expressive way to work and a delight as the image emerges from the paper. 

Drawing - A Cafe in Provence

The beauty about wipe-out is that you can start with a light tone and add one shape at a time. I started with the umbrella and carried on going. There is no need to stay away from more challenging scenes if you just go one step at a time and keep studying your reference. The clues are all there.