Saturday, 22 December 2012


 Avon Valley Artists enjoying festive cheer at our last meeting in 2011. I'm the one behind the camera. We had a slight problem as it was found the oven in the kitchen was faulty - it didn't work so much of the food couldn't be heated up. Although not all are shown in the photos 20 members were present  - a good turnout.

From left to right, Sue, Pauline and Yvonne. Sue as well as being a member of the AVA runs Timsbury Art Group. Pauline also belongs to Whitchurch Art Group.

Father & Son 18" x 12" Fabriano Artistico 140lb (300gm) Extra White Not

I painted this at home this week. This is my second attempt, I scrapped the first one. I'm still not fully satisfied by any means as I'm  not quite getting the effect I want. I wanted a lighter effect, possibly the darks are overdone especially on the left hand bull. Too dark, too pale? It can be difficult to get the right balance. 

 After the initial drawing colours used were Quinacridone Gold (Daniel Smith PO49), Quinacridone Rust (Graham PO48), Cerulean Blue, the darks various mixes of Ultramarine Blue  and Burnt Umber, others were Raw Umber and Cadmium Red. A little white gouache at the very end when all was thoroughly dry. Isabey brushes the largest a No8..

Preliminary drawing for a self-portrait 16" x 12" Waterford 140lb (300gm) Not . I drew this a week ago and have still to set about painting it. I promise to post the result (well maybe) when completed.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Just a Sketch

At a recent AVA meeting the subject was Xmas cards - possibly my least favourite topic. I must admit I stretched the subject as wide as possible by presenting my effort as representing a design for a card (!) It is a small sketch and I repeated the recent Robin painting, although slightly differently as the colours used were not identical, principally as I forgot to bring the Translucent Orange from Schminke, rapidly becoming a favourite colour. This was done on a small Fontenay block that I discovered amongst my paper stocks.

12" X 9" Fontenay

I first made a drawing of the robin and then painted it using Cadmium Orange and Cadmium Red Pale plus some Quinacridone Gold for the red breast. The blue is Cerulean and the other colours Raw Sienna and Raw Umber. The eyes and bill include Ivory Black.

When  all was dry I added impressions of holly leaves drawing with the brush. I mixed up the colours using Sap Green, Green Gold and Hookers for the greens, adding Cobalt Teal Blue and  Perylene Maroon, letting them mix on the paper.

Brushes were the Isabey and Escoda retractables, mostly in the 4 to 6 range of sizes. Just a sketch, nothing more which took about forty minutes excluding breaks.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Texture and More

How does one create texture in a watercolour painting or should one wish to? There are various schools of thought about watercolours, one of which is  the `purity' one, beloved by traditionalists like the much-loved Edward Wesson. Wesson was against many of the modern trends, which have accelerated in the years since his death in 1983. To quote Ron Ranson in `The Art of Edward Wesson' (1993 David & Charles).

" He viewed with undisguised disdain those artists who threw water, grit or salt at their work, distancing himself from what he termed `Americanisms' - the use of masking fluid, body colour and scraping- out techniques"

Turner used scraping and scrubbing in many of his watercolours so....?

With many of today's artists using one or more of these techniques he would probably have had apoplexy.  Wesson is held up as the archetypal Englishman with his outspoken views and much quoted remarks, a high profile artist with a huge cult following. He is still promoted, especially by Steve Hall. I was once a Wesson enthusiast but less so nowadays as I feel possibly things have moved on. I may be wronging him, if so I apologize, but he seems  to belong to the era, common among some, who resist change in the name of `tradition'. Change for it's own sake is not all good but neither is tradition. On the other hand Americans, with a much younger history have a more questioning attitude and are more prepared to take chances and try different things. Any hackles raised yet? I hope not because I don't want to upset anyone, after all painting isn't about life or death.

I do not necessarily believe anything goes, as it is easy to have too much of a good thing and I personally believe - but there are artists whose work proves the exception - that watercolour benefits from simplicity, but even so to hold a rigid view of what should and shouldn't be done is equally wrong. It is all a matter of opinion and I take the view artists can do what they wish as long as they are prepared for the consequences. I am irritated by some artists who preach in a biblical manner, as though they are Joseph descending from the mount, and demand that everyone follow their edicts. Don't use black is one example - `The Prince of Colours' according to the old masters..

With that sermonising out of the way where do we go from here. This post is mainly about texture, of increasing interest to many modern day watercolour artists. The books I feature are not solely about this, as the titles suggest, but cover `techniques' and `tips' and `tricks'. This is straying onto dangerous ground as there are those who feel that tricks, especially, can be overused and `tricksy' paintings are to be avoided. It is true that many American artists have promoted such things for years in the American open-minded manner, so three of the books are American. I should add I'm not suggesting they are the most outstanding ones but are those I own. I'm sure there are others and several books, like the very good ones in the Search Press catalogue, include the use of texture amongst other techniques. I reviewed two recently, one by Robin Berry and the other by Diana Craig and Hazel Harrison.

81/2" x 11" Softback 158 pages North Light Books 1987 

This book shows `54 ways to create imaginative effects in your paintings'. It just about covers everything needed to create texture, various tools, liquids, natural bits and pieces and then some!  The only danger is overkill. Worth buying? Yes at the right price. A query on Abebooks, my favourite source of used books brought up many copies. Those from UK booksellers ranged from £13.48p to  £24.85p. But from the American booksellers prices starting at £5 including carriage. Amazon has `new' at £71.23p - can you believe this - and used at around £10 including carriage. 

Cathy Johnson has written several other books and a later one with a similar title, which increases the number of `ways' to 75.  Is this a better bet? Not having seen it I couldn't say but two reviews on Amazon were lukewarm.  Two is insufficient really to make any sort of decision. Check it out if you are interested.

8" x 11" Softback  128 pages North Light Books 1998 Edited by Rachel Rubin Wolf

This book is specifically about textures and takes the form of excerpts from previous North Light Books by 9 well-known artists like Claudia Nice and Zoltan Szabo. There is a lot of good stuff in the introductory part which covers many tecniques for texturing. Then  follows pieces from the individual artists, as stated taken from books previously published. It is pretty good and I'd certainly recommend it. Prices range from  £22.90p (UK only one) to £18.00 - £20+ (USA) on Abebooks. Amazon have it at around £15.98p for new with used £11.58p. A bit pricey perhaps at the higher figures.

8" x 11" softback 144 pages Watson-Guptill 1983 Edited by David Lewis

This is another good book but once again is a series of excerpts from previously published books, specifically by Charles Reid, John Blockley, Christopher Schink, Zoltan Zzabo, Richard Bolton, E.John Robinson and George Shook. It covers everything from materials and equipment, brushwork and handling colour. We then have five sections ranging from painting landscapes to seascapes with one specifically on textures. All top artists. The piece from Charles Reid is from his first flower painting book which was superseded by an entirely new (and far better) later book. Prices are incredibly cheap on Abebooks ranging from £3.39p ( only one UK bookseller inc carriage) to around £6 from the USA. At these prices a steal. From Amazon prices range from £19.55p new to  used (Amazon partners) £00.1 + £2.80p carriage (!!)

9' x 10' hardback 127 pages Collins 2007 

I have already reviewed this book so won't go into great detail. Although a contemporary of Wesson, Fletcher-Smith and others of that era, John Blockley used texturing in his landscapes and mountains/buildings. His daughter is following his lead and changing her style somewhat. A little bird told me that at least one of the galleries where she had previously shown was unhappy - quite disparaging actually - with her change of style but her new paintings had sold very well at her own recent exhibition in the Cotswolds. This is an excellent book and can be obtained new from Amazon at £11.51p (rpp £17.99p).

Two examples of Ann Blockley's latest work. The use of texturing is very obvious. I rather like these paintings - striking is one word that comes to mind. Note these are landscapes rather than flower paintings - reminiscent in some ways of her fathers original style. 

A point about the prices I've quoted. Abebooks is primarily a used book site and in my experience is excellent. I have had many books from the USA, some from the UK and one from Australia. UK booksellers tend in most cases to be expensive and in the worst examples a rip off. American booksellers tend to have better stocks and prices are much better in most cases BUT carriage charges can vary from acceptable to ridiculous. Stock on Abebooks is constantly changing so may differ from that quoted. Amazon's service is first class but once again they occasionally quote ridiculous figures and prices can vary week to week.They do have many excellent offers so it's a question of selection. In my experience Amazon partners are quite good and as you pay Amazon you are protected if something goes wrong.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


This is my latest portrait. For some time I have been collecting interesting photographs , mostly from the weekend colour magazines. This is from one such photograph. 

 Initial stages

`Robbie' 16" x 12" Waterford 140lb (300gsm) Not

I first made a careful drawing using an 07 2B mechanical pencil.  I try and get the features in the right place and the right size, often using a mechanical aid like a steel ruler or my brass variscaler. I refuse to wear a hair shirt and try and do it without aids. There was a recent article in The Artist magazine describing the growth of Atelier-type drawing schools where the emphasis is on super realism. In it the use of plumb lines to ensure accuracy was described. My understanding is that the old masters used all sorts of drawing aids. Generally I don't get it right first time and have to make some changes. When I haven't got things quite right  out comes the eraser. I stress I don't aim for a super realistic image but it is nice if the subject is recognisable.

With that completed out comes the paint. I spray the paint with water from a small spray bottle about 20 to 30 minutes prior to painting, that is if I remember to do so - not always the case. As seen in the top image I used a combination of Cadmium Red Pale, Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna, mostly the red with only small amounts of yellow. Cerulean is used for emphasis and to darken where necessary. Colours mostly mixed on the paper. I have been trying to be less precise and going for a`cruder' approach than in some of my earlier work. With this in mind I studied the portraits in Charles Reid's last book `Watercolour Solutions' and also viewed his painting of the man in his latest `Figurative Watercolour' DVD. Attempting to follow CR's teaching I did not leave an abrupt line between the face and hairline in the initial wash, but strayed beyond as this would be covered when the hair was painted. I realise by now I should know these things off by heart but unfortunately regression can set in all too easily.

The hair was painted using various dilutions of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna - lighter/darker as required. There is some Raw Umber in there and I added white gouache when fully dry, quite thickly in places. For the white I have been trying Galeria Titanium White and also Vallejo Acrylic Titanium White Gouache as an alternative to the standard white gouache.  This is something I've seen Yvonne Harry do but so far have not reached a final conclusion which is best for me.

I re wetted areas of the face and added both Cadmium Red and Cerulean to get stronger tones. The very last thing on the face was to add small white highlights on the pupils. His jacket and shirt are mixtures of Ultramarine, Cerulean and Ivory Black.

My usual brushes, the Da Vinci 44 No2 and Isabey Nos 4, 6 and 8, the small retractables used for detailing the eyes. If you wish to paint portraits in the general manner of Charles Reid then I recommend his last book `Watercolour Solutions' and the DVD `Figurative Watercolours'. You don't have to copy him exactly - very difficult in any event - and he himself says you shouldn't try.

Friday, 7 December 2012


This was the subject at a recent AVA session. In my case I just happened to see a photograph in the Guardian newspaper about offshore tax avoidance which highlighted the tiny Caribbean Island of Nevis - 20000 companies supposedly based there in a single building, actually just a postbox!. The photo was of two fishermen and their boat on the beach.

The early stages

18" x 12" Fabriano Artistico Extra White 140lb (300gsm) Not

My initial approach was to make as careful a drawing of the boat and the two fishermen as I am able. The rest just involved a few pencil lines for the land on the horizon. I first painted the sky, although I returned to it later with Cobalt Blue and a diluted solution, where I added some Burnt Sienna to grey it for the lighter areas.  I also added stronger Cobalt at the top after wetting the paper. Colours were Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Raw Sienna, some Phalo Blue (Cyan - Maimeri) and I think the red was Quinacridone Fuschia (Daniel Smith PR202). The skin colour of the man on the left was Cadmium Red and  Raw Sienna with some Cerulean for the shaded areas. I think that's it although I've probably missed something out. 

As this was at the AVA I used my Escoda and Isabey retractable brushes sizes 12 down to 4. I am fairly happy with the final result as I rarely do such subjects.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

November Challenge

For November it was my choice. I chose a photograph of an owl, I'm not sure what species it is.

16" x 12" Fabriano Artistico Extra White 140lb (300gsm) Not

With such a dark subject I thought long and hard how to approach it. To attempt a very colourist approach seemed inappropriate so I essentially went for a middle way. I first made a loose but reasonably accurate drawing not getting too much into detail. I used a conventional pencil with a 2B lead. Rather than finish this in my usual two hour session - including breaks - I worked on it in short periods over several days. 

At the time an Acer snake bark maple in my garden was discarding its leaves and I collected several. I firstly painted the head as this was to be the most detailed part. When painting the background I coated the leaves with paint, reds, oranges, browns and yellows and used them as a stamp. I then tidied them up a little with the brush. I also splattered colour into the background both on dry and wet. I used granulation medium in the background. I generally paint with the board in a near vertical position so the paint runs and mixes.

The body of the owl was partially painted at the same time as the background and was finalised right at the end. The eyes look rather like two black holes and I added some small white highlights 

There are quite a lot of colours in here with several blues, reds and greens. Frankly I can't remember all of them but Lunar Blue, Green Gold, Cobalt Teal Blue, Moonglow, Quinacridone Rose, Perylene Maroon, Quinacridone Rust, Quinacridone Gold, Sap Green and Hookers are all in there somewhere. These are mainly Daniel Smith and Graham paints with the exception of Green Gold which is Rowney. There is also some white gouache on the owl and the branch it is sitting on. I don't think the result is too busy but you are welcome to disagree. To make the painting the greens and browns of the photograph would, in my opinion,  made it very dull colourwise.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Green-Gold - Pigment Yellow 129 ( PY129)

This is an interesting pigment which is given the `Top Forty' accolade by Bruce McEvoy of Handprint. It has never been a `must have' palette colour but is beginning to appear in an increasing number of ranges, although to date neither Holbein, Rembrandt, Schminke or Maimeri  offer it.

As usual naming isn't consistent, as apart from those who call it Green Gold, Winsor & Newton, Daler Rowney, Da Vinci, variations are Green Yellow (Lukas), Brown Green (Sennelier) Azo Green (Graham), Golden Green (Old Holland), all the same pigment PY129! To complicate matters Daniel Smith's Green Gold isn't, but a mixture of three pigments PY150, PY3 and PG36,  two yellows and a green. However we then find another Daniel Smith paint, Rich Green Gold, which is PY129! The Australian company Art Spectrum have two colours with PY129 as one ingredient with PG7 as the other, Australian Green Gold and Sap Green Permanent. It does not appear in any student ranges.

With that out the way I'll once again refer to Bruce McEvoy of Handprint. 

"copper azomethine green (PY129), commonly the ingredient in "green gold" paints is a lightfast, semitransparent, staining, mid valued, moderately dull yellow pigment,".......Unrated by the ASTM, manufacturer tests rate it as having "very good" to "excellent" lightfastness". Bruce agrees. 

The thing about this colour is that in tints it shifts from a yellow green  to a beautiful light yellow. I don't actually find it dull in the latter case, perfect for the colours of early Spring. Bruce rates it excellent for all genres, but especially for landscape and botanical painting. It also mixes well with several; other colours depending on what you wish to achieve. The Handprint information while still very valuable is not as up to date as one might like but even so is still worth consulting .

Bruce states that if you are an advocate of the `split primary' palette then `copper azomethine' is the perfect lightfast, transparent "cool yellow" pigment to pair with it's lightfast, transparent "warm yellow" twin, nickel azomethine yellow PY150. This is Nickel Azo Yellow from Daniel Smith and Graham, Transparent Yellow Winsor & Newton, Translucent Yellow Schminke, Yellow Lake Sennelier. This latter pigment seems destined to enter most ranges although not yet universal. One of my members  Rui rates the Schminke paint highly. Any additions or corrections to the above welcome.

I have used Green Gold, mainly Rowney, for some time and also have the Winsor & Newton version. My use has been primarily in Spring foliage but Bruce suggest mixing with Qinacridone Magenta for portraits. I'll have to give that a try.