Thursday, 6 October 2016

Step by Step Autumn Leaf in Watercolour

I am running an all day Brusho workshop (Autumn leaves and florals) a week next Tuesday so I am really hoping the leaves will have fallen by then and we will have some gorgeous colours to paint.

However, I am not too hopeful.... we do have fallen leaves in the area but they are all still green, with some turning slightly yellow so rather disappointing display at the moment....never mind, we will just have to "make it up" as I have with the colours on this step by step.

My leaf was still green so I just used it as a template for the shape and drew around it. In my classes I find this is the easiest way for the students to get a good result. Sycamore leaves do have a distinctive form and if they try to draw freehand they may not get the proportions quite right and even if they then do a fabulous painting they will still be disappointed with the final piece as the drawing wasn't right on the first place.

The colours I chose for this were Alizarin Crimson, Green Gold, Burnt Sienna and Purple

Colours all mixed on the paper, plenty of water, edges lost into the background and with my finger nail I have scratched in the veins. Then left to DRY!!

Now I can start to add some hard edges around the leaf so as you can see some are positive and some are negative with still plenty of lost and some soft edges too. The key to painting like this is not to add too much all at once and even where you do add an edge it is still possible to break the line you have just added. It is also possible to lose your edge completely if you feel you have added in the wrong area. Bit of splattering to the right of the painting... always helps to create a loose feel. Now I leave to DRY.

Next I have just worked in the centre adding a bit more paint to the body of the leaf... guess what, yes leave to DRY.

Here I have started to add a few more edges and this is where it is really difficult to verbalise how you should go about it. I have added a positive edge top right, slightly broken and added a negative edge just below right of centre. I have also darkened around the stem. I am trying to create the form of the leaf without adding every edge and and there is no right or wrong to doing this. If you want to create light then you will need fewer edges and then just faint ghostly ones. But if I was doing a full piece I would take time to assess what the painting needs and usually I place them on my sofa so I can see them both close up and from a distance and bit by bit it tends to become clearer where the composition needs work. This is also where it becomes difficult to say when the painting is complete and that varies greatly from individual to individual and again there is no right or wrong.

Here I have darkened around the centre of the leaf where the stem meets it and I also felt it needed a touch more paint where I had added the negative purple paint mid right (where you can see it is still wet) and I have also added a few more splatters. I think I will leave it there, I could work on it for hours yet adding more and more paint but I'm not sure if I would improve it and again if I wanted to do a "proper painting" I would still leave it now and maybe look at it again in the morning.

Just by adding little touches here and there, there is far less risk that you will ruin your work... it is when you go in heavy handed doing too much at once that you may take the piece beyond the point of no return. Here any little edge I have added can easily be both extended if I like or washed away quickly if I feel it doesn't work.

Would appreciate any comments to let me know if you feel that this has been explained well enough and has helped... would also love to hear if any of you have a go!!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Award Winning Artist Anthony Ogden

Well, what a night!!

I have taken over organising the demos and workshops for Horwich Art Society and had heard of this portrait painter from a lady who attends my classes. Things seem to be quite connected in the art world in the North of England with people attending several art groups and so news of someone who is really good tends to get passed around. Once I had booked him, I heard of him from several other groups too.

So who is the artist? He's Anthony Ogden and among other things he does live portrait demos in acrylic using a member of the audience in a 2 hour timescale. I had been told he captures something in his subjects so was really excited to see him work. One of the members volunteered to be the model and a fine job he did too!!

First was the sketch.....this was a joy to watch, he explained the general measurements of the human face, where the eyes are placed, the nose, ears and mouth etc and proceeded to build up a sketch of Tom's face. As he put the mouth in, the whole face just came to life and became Tom, it was quite remarkable how in one moment it seemed to be a generic face and the next, Tom appeared!

Anthony then described how he can approach a subject in two ways, one by doing a complete underpainting using washes and lifting out, or, as he did tonight blocking in the darks and shadows with a burnt umber using it more like a watercolour. He left areas white and built up the shadow as he could see them and then left the whole piece to dry before he started to add the colour.

He then built the painting up using a fairly limited palette of Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, UB, Cad Yellow, Naples Yellow and White. I do have one or two photos but I was honestly so engrossed in watching this master at work I simply forgot to take any early ones which to be honest could have been finished at that stage as lovely monochrome works. However we were all impatient to see how he built up the colour and he certainly didn't disappoint as although he only described the final piece as a sketch, I and quite a few others liked the spontaneity and freshness of the sketch every bit as much as his other more polished are a few photos from the evening

And here is the final piece

I think you can see how he captured the likeness very early doors and it all seemed so simple but as others had told me he also captured the essence of his subject and as he said "Not a photo in sight!!"

The whole session was a breath of fresh air thoroughly enjoyed by all attending, all marvelling at the great craftsmanship we witnessed was a revelation and even had me wondering about getting the old acrylics out and having another bash with them and for all of you who know me on here that is definitely a great compliment to Anthony as I never thought anyone could ever tempt me away from watercolour!!

Do check out Anthony's website here 

You will see he is a truly "Fine Artist" and we are privileged to have seen him at work tonight!!


Tom's partner Liana liked the portrait so much she bought it and I was so pleased she did as it is a unique, wonderful piece of art and will now sit in its rightful place.....

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Back to Brusho

As I am running an All Day Brusho Workshop in October with an Autumnal theme I decided to get going with some examples. I am also committed to doing more plein air work and as the weather in the gloomy North West had been amazing the last few days I decide to get out and put my money where my mouth is!!

We have 5 different hydrangea bushes and despite one new blue bush already turning pink this bush in the same bed is a bright cerulean blue and shows no signs of changing apart from when we get towards Autumn when the petals get lovely tints of purple and sea green... it always tempts me to paint and I have had few goes but never with Brusho. As Brusho can be messy usually the only place I use it is in my studio where I can splish and splosh to my heart's content....however if I'm careful I can go outside and as long as I have a large towel to protect the stone I am ok so today seemed an ideal opportunity for a touch of plein air.

I did have a false start where I should have left more white in the flower head so quickly moved on to another piece. The other I will splatter with bleach another day and see what happens or I may use it to show how to use bleach at the workshop.

I was only going to use 4 colours, Lemon, UB, Violet and Emerald Green but as the painting progressed added some Sea Green as well. My aim was to keep some parts of the flower very light with the white of the paper showing and to build up the bottom part to give the impression of it being in shadow.

I did a step by step hydrangea painting a little while ago so included how to build the flower head up there, but briefly it is a case of creating little petals with dark centres in groups of 3 and 4, some overlapping some where you can see the whole set. I am not attempting to do a botanical study just an impression and so while I have the flower in front of me I am working around the piece doing little bits at a time, creating small hard edges using the basic knowledge of the flower to create a composition.

This is probably the hardest bit both to do and to demonstrate as it does take a bit of experience to know where best to place the marks and needs a lot of stepping back to view and contemplate. When I am demonstrating anything like this I do stress that it is up to the individual as to where they make their marks and I can only guide them. The same principles apply as in all painting ie variation in colour, line, tone, shape etc and sometimes I might place a mark somewhere and it doesn't look right which is why it is a very good idea to only do little bits at a time so that you cam quickly wash away if you don't like something.

All things considered I am really very pleased with this one as I think the light has worked very well and that was my intention.... as an aside it is worth remembering that it is a really good idea to start with an intent and keep that thought in your mind for the whole painting... helps make decisions through out the painting in this case always keeping the light top and right and keeping the dark to the left.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Best Laid Plans

I am trying to do a bit more sketching so this afternoon I decide to sketch the hollyhocks in my garden... they are huge and a sort of creamy colour with pink centres. Anyway I have never managed to produce a cream colour in watercolour and decided the white of the paper would be quite close so worked with that.

My plan was to actually do some botanical studies so that I could begin to learn the shape for when I would paint in my own style. I find that if you know and understand the shape of the flower you want to paint you can then get a sort of template in your mind, which is a way of painting it that works for you. I have my template with flowers like roses (learned from the Jean Haines way of painting them), pinks and carnations, hydrangeas, daisies, daffodils, gerberas, snowdrops etc and what you have to do is find the essence which makes it that particular flower. So I was going to find it by doing a proper study.... yeah right!!!

I decided to start with one particular flower then forgot all my good intentions and the composition just seemed to grow and grow and before I knew it, I had filled a double page in my sketch book from top to bottom!!

Having said that I am really quite pleased with this as I love the colour combinations... all W&N, my lovely Turquoise, Permanent Rose and Green Gold. When you are painting white flowers, you don't need to keep all the flowers white in fact the painting won't work half as well as they will have a tendency to look stuck on to the bg. Though I drew this (don't forget I was meant to be doing a formal study as normally I don't draw flowers) I have still lost edges on the flower heads and leaves and this helps marry the flowers into the bg.

I started by adding the greens to the stems and leaves, losing quite a bit into the bg, and guiding the paint with water around the flower heads to keep them white. I also added the other colours to the bg and as the flower areas were dry the paint didn't flow (paint will only flow where it's need the water to transport it) so the flowers in the main stayed white though I did wet small areas to allow some of the paint to flow in especially on the bottom sides.

Once you have reached this stage it is simply a matter of building up the bg, painting negatively and positively around the piece until it is time to step back and see if it's finished. This piece is approx 4x8 so not a normal size for me but I will use what I've learned from this to do a bigger painting and probably keep to the same colour scheme... let me know what you think!!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

My Life in the Farnworth Household

Have come on to give you all a sneaky update about life in the Farnworth household.

I have had another little spell at the puppy trainers while my humans went to see their "son?" in Switzerland... now forgive me. but I thought that was my position so who this other imposter is I have no idea... there is also often talk of "another one" too, Chris they call him so am a little confused!!

Anyway all went well once again and I think everyone is getting a little happier with me.

Now as you may all have gathered I am a little obsessed with other dogs... absolutely love 'em and my humans say I don't have any radar for which ones are going to like me too (not a clue what all that means, I just see a dog and I'm in there!!)....anyway I was out in one of my favourite places last week when we came upon two dogs and I heard someone say something about Oh he's not too friendly but ok with spaniels, well that's all I needed and I bounded up to him and nearly had my head bitten off!! Well slight exaggeration but this pooch had hold of my head and I was waiting to see all the blood running down my face (nothing happened on that score but I did cry!!). My male human was about to kick this rather insistent dog away when he let go and I then got lots of treats from my own humans and the other minder....dogs like that should be muzzled I heard them say and I nodded in agreement, though not too hard as I was developing a bit of a headache!!

My head was swollen for a day or two and the sympathy and fuss I got almost made it worthwhile.....I was fine and didn't need the vets though I know they kept a close eye on me and I did have a couple of scabs on my head but they were quite small and am sure they won't scar me for life and affect my handsome looks!!

We then had another weekend away... I thought "Aye aye" as I saw them packing suitcases yet again, "What are they up to now?" so I followed them everywhere and even jumped in one of the cases... they weren't leaving me again, that was for sure!! So on Thursday evening we set off in the car for a fairly long journey but I did sleep most of the journey as I was fair worn out from my walkies that day. We arrived at somewhere I vaguely recognised but more importantly could smell the presence of another pooch whom I haven't seen for a while... my cousin cup ranneth over, a weekend with a family member (well by association and my human and his being related!!).

My humans then went off for a day and I was left with my "Auntie," for sure one of my favourite humans... she takes me for lots of walks and Rolo and I rampage around the countryside noses down tails wagging madly until we find an interesting smell. Well to be honest they're all madly interesting to me as my sense of smell isn't very sophisticated yet but Rolo seems rather more discerning and I kept hearing pheasant this, pheasant that... now what on earth is a pheasant? If it moves I chase it, bird, rabbit though I know I'm not meant to chase sheep and horses and especially not ducks in the reservoir!!

I've also had my first grooming session since we came home....not much chopped off just a little tidying up and against all the odds and predictions I behaved meticulously! I really liked her, she's called "Curly Tails" and we played, had some treats, a bath, blow dry and I even nearly nodded off while she was doing my certainly is a dog's life!

I was also attacked yet again, this time by a huge black labrador, only young like me and a rescue dog... well it was me that needed rescuing that day I can tell you!! He had me by the nose and I was hanging on for dear life!  Got a little puncture wound on the top of my humans said they hoped I would be learning to be a little more cautious before approaching other dogs, but most of the dogs I meet are really playful and friendly and who can resist me anyway.......

See how neatly I sit with my paws?

Are you coming to play?
Ok enough......I'm coming to get you!!

I have heard I am having another little holiday at my trainers... he called the other evening with my food and I simply sat lovingly at his feet until he could not ignore me a minute longer and had to submit to my doggy charms.....I have to say I don't have to try hard before they all succumb.

We have since been on another holiday where I was let out of my crate at night.... yippeeee!! I was a really good boy and slept in my bed by them, almost all night and the only thing which they didn't seem pleased about was when they let me out of the car and it was my downright duty to chase the free range chickens which were roaming the grounds of our new home for a few days.... Chester the chicken chaser I am now known as... well I just wanted to play having been "couped up" (get it??) during the long journey to the far North East of England and as my female human rightly said I would have had my lead on if they had known chickens were going to be around, I mean if it moves I chase... that's my motto!!

The other mishap I've had was at another of my favourite human's my other Auntie's where we went for dinner last week... well they had some interesting chicken but I seemed to have just my usual....this hard kibble they seem intent on feeding me... tastes vaguely of salmon and potato (not that I've ever eaten salmon and potato). Anyway as I was on lookout, I saw them throwing some dellliiiccious chicken bones into the bin and while they were all chatting and not paying me any attention I spied my moment and I was in there like a shot.... they were sooo good!! Well after that there seemed to be a lot of talk about ringing vets, watching when I poo (I mean can a dog have no privacy?!!?), looking for me going listless (no idea what that meant) and if dogs can pick up vibes and nerves I was getting them in bin loads....well they kept looking at me and seemed very interested in my excrement... disgusting it was to watch her examining for hard pieces of bone and blood. Anyway they seemed to settle down again after a couple of days and finally life seems back to normal though we seem to have had a lot of people staying recently, no idea who they all were but I did enjoy all the attention as they all seemed totally charmed... modest forbids but I do think they all fell in love...can't blame them really... I am just sooo cute!!

So I think that just about brings you up to date with life here at the Farnworths....will love you and leave you and get ready to start writing my next instalment.......

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Swtan Cottages Anglesey

I have been getting my schedule together for the new season at my art group and one of the topics is pen and wash so thought I had better start a few practices as pen and wash is not something I've done a lot of.

I painted this particular subject en plein air during my recent trip to Anglesey though I didn't take a photo so had to beg this reference from Joanne Boon Thomas.  I have also done a couple of Brusho paintings of the same subject. My main aim when painting this is to try and capture the feel of the hedgerow in front of the cottages and of course Brusho is ideal for creating all that lovely texture... a bit trickier with watercolour though I think I am quite pleased with how this has turned out.

I have used a slightly different palette than the plein air painting substituting the Quin Magenta for Cad Red and adding a bit of Cad Yellow as well as the Raw Sienna but stuck with the Pthalo Turq and didn't add any other blues. I'm not sure I like Cad Red with the turquoise as it tends to produce and dull brown but livened up with the yellows I think it worked fairly well.

First step with this was to do the pen drawing. Obviously you need a waterproof pen and I have several. I usually use a Sharpie but am beginning to think it maybe a bit thick and looks a bit clumsy. When I was on a painting holiday in Italy the tutor there carved matchsticks to a fine point and used those with ink which produces a lovely irregular line....might have to get some of those together for the workshop. In the meantime I used a finer pen which in the end isn't really visible, so I might have to look at that before the workshop.

This is the reference so a slightly different angle than the plein air piece below

 Plein air painting where I was standing slightly to the right of where the reference was taken and I didn't have the same view of the attached cottage to the right. My focus was also the cottages and not the hedgerow and so I created more of a vignette...I don't think I would have had time to do the rest!!

Here is the pen and wash for comparison

It looks so different!! But I am happy to see how different the focus is with nowhere near as much detail on the cottages and more attention to all the foliage. Would be interesting to see how the painting would look with the previous palette though I rarely paint the same thing twice using the same palette so doubt I will be giving it a go.

Friday, 9 September 2016

My Thoughts on Watercolour Paper

I get asked at every single workshop about the paper paints and brushes I use so thought I would do a blog about paper.


Paper weight varies but you should be painting on no less than 300gsm (140lb). A lot of artists will suggest you stretch this weight but I never one time I didn't have enough boards to prepare the paper on and was always running out so I got used to painting without stretching and neither do I tape down. I might use bulldog clips to hold the paper to my board but I want to be able to move the paper around and gently tease it back into shape if it does start to buckle.

You can of course buy a heavier paper and most manufacturers make 640gsm (300lb) which you do not need to stretch no matter how much water you use.


There are 3 basic types of texture: Hot Pressed (or smooth); Cold Pressed (or NOT meaning not hot pressed) and Rough (described as extra rough in some  makes).

Hot Pressed (HP) has a  really smooth surface and used for those wanting to create lots of detail, paint dries quickly on the surface and there is not as much granulation. Often used by botanical artists as they are looking for a very smooth finish, sometimes with many layers with no granulation and of course want to create lots of detail.

Cold Pressed (CP) paper a good all round texture, provides some granulation and the paint doesn't dry too quickly. Probably the most popular surface and often used by beginners.

Rough (or extra rough paper). My favourite... harder to create lots of details and more unpredictable but good for expressive mark making, granulation and unexpected things happening on the paper. Allows for moving the paint around as drying time is longer ....the paint sits in the valleys of the paper so you can work with it for longer.

Surface is really a matter of personal preference and you need to choose a paper which best suits the way you paint and will best allow you to get the sort of look you want. For the style I have which is a looser interpretative way of painting rough paper is ideal and I now find it very difficult to paint on a smoother surface as hard edges are constantly appearing where I don't want them and they are much harder to get rid of than to create!

As for which product to use, different manufacturers produce different surfaces and all have good qualities and again this is personal preference. I use Bockingford extra rough 140lb for all my demos and workshops and for my own work either Bockingford or Saunders Waterford Rough 140lb. Both papers are produced by St Cuthbert's Mill in England. Both papers have very good lifting properties.

The one thing I would say is that paper is the most important thing for you to get right when you are painting. Inferior paper which is not designed for watercolour painting is a waste of money and using it for practice is false economy.  It will neither teach you how to paint on proper paper nor help you in your struggles to paint in watercolour. So you need at least 140lb with the texture of your choice and you need to do all your practicing on the same paper. Every paper needs getting used to, so while I know it can be expensive (I buy in bulk and I also use the backs of practice sheets, demos or failed painting), you need to learn how the particular paper handles the paint.  That is why practicing on poor paper is a waste of time... it might teach you how to paint on that particular paper but will not prepare you for the time you wish to paint on good paper. I must add that not all (though most) artists agree with this point of view and some will tell you brushes are the most single important component and others will say you need artists quality of paint.

To conclude, this is my point of view only and  I must add that not all (though most) artists agree with the view that paper is the single most important component,  some choose brushes and others, artists quality paint. However this is the opinion which I have formed from seeing what happens when not only I but also my students use cartridge paper, and other cheap papers which are not fit for purpose (one reason I don't tend to buy sketch books for painting and make my own), watercolour painting can be enough of a struggle without having to fight the paper too!!

Some places sell trial packs where they offer a selection of papers with different textures and makes for you to try. These are a really good idea as you can then decide which suits you best. Some manufactureres will also send out free trial packs with a selection of their own brand (St Cuthbert's Mill will do this).  Admittedly the paper size is only small but again it will give you an idea of what to buy.

I hope that takes away some of the mystery over choosing the right paper and I will add my thoughts on paint and brushes at a later date....any questions, please ask in the comments below, thanks

Sunday, 14 August 2016

First Portrait of Chester

I don't know why I haven't painted him before, it isn't that he's not photogenic and I hadn't got any good photos. I just haven't got round to it.

The other night he was a very naughty puppy and pinched a crisp off hubby's plate! After being duly chastized he was sent to his bed and sat staring at his master for about 15 minutes when he must have decided enough of that and promptly turned his back on hubby and sat staring at the tv. I took this photo shortly after which is his "oh so loveable face" thinking how cute and naughty he could be at the same time!!

I had painted my grandpup Archie a couple of times but Chester's fur is a different colour and I wanted to use a different palette... well not so different but a different complimentary so I chose purple as my rich dark and also added a touche of UB and the other colours were burnt and raw sienna and alizarin crimson...

I drew the image (as many of you will know I don't always draw but with portraits when I am looking for a likeness I do), then I masked small areas... the highlights of the eyes, the whites below the eyes and a few whiskers here and there.

 I painted the first wash on the eyes and nose first then when dry randomly applied water around his face dropping in the paint using a mix of the colours above. I did try and colour match him as the photo came out slightly pinker than he is in the flesh so the colours you see in the painting are a little closer to his proper colour as he is golden brown, I kept chasing him round with colour swatches to see if I was close and the match to the photos was definitely not quite the right hue for him. It does make me think about when I am doing commissions and all I have is a photo.....I have never had anyone dissatisfied with the colour but maybe that is because I always use an accent of something different which makes the whole thing more colourful anyway.

I worked around the head using both smooth and rough brushstrokes to depict the nature of his fur and adding my darks (a mix of burnt sienna, aliz crimson and purple with a touch of Ub added in parts). I work on different parts of a piece so that areas can be drying as I continue to work and tweaking the likeness as I go along. Once I feel the painting is almost there I remove the masking and work more on the eyes as stark white is sometimes too much so I soften around the whites.

I was looking to get what we call his "spaniel look" where if he was wearing a pair of specs he would almost be looking over them!!

So here is the cheeky little cocker spaniel....... Chester

Monday, 25 July 2016

To Crop or Not to Crop?

I have been wanting to do two things recently... first have a change in the size of paper I normally use (usually 1/2 or 1/4 imperial) and secondly paint a waterfall.

Whilst in Malaysia we visited an Art shop where I bought 5 full sheets of Saunders and a pad f Daler Rowney CP Aquarelle. This isn't paper I would normally use but it was the size which attracted me, 8x16 and I thought I could do some different compositions with it.

I'd had every intention of taking it to Anglesey with me and guess what, I forgot it!! Almost ruined my holiday I was so mad!! Anyway for those of you who read my Anglesey Blog you will know that I heard there was a waterfall at the Hidden Gardens, Plas Cadnant, which we visited on out last day and you will find one of the reference photos on the blog.

I cropped the image to make it portrait orientation and to place the focal point in the top third and set to work this afternoon on it. I know waterfalls aren't easy but if you simply leave most of them white with a few darks streaks in them you are almost there... all you have to do is the rest then.

The difficulty with this was drawing the eye to the top of the waterfall while keeping the foreground loose to the point where I now wonder if the foreground is a bit superfluous? I didn't want to add too much detail there though one idea would be to create more of a flow from the foreground up through the reflections so the the eye is guided right from the bottom of the painting...anyway let me know what you think...

Saturday, 9 July 2016

The Flower Festival

I do get some interesting commissions and this was one of them. I was invited to paint at the Flower Festival at one of our local churches in fact the one where I hold my art group sessions... I suspect that's why they asked me (am such a sleuth!!) so although I knew I had a few busty weeks leading up to the event I was curious to see what I could come up with... no pressure then!!

I had intended to visit the church prior to the festival as I had an idea that I might paint a vignette of one of the windows incorporating some of the florals in the foreground but time ran away with me and before I knew it the festival was upon me and I had agreed to visit yesterday  and do my painting!! Yikes!!!

I have to say the floral arrangements were nothing short of stunning and I was overwhelmed by options from little still life fruit and veg arrangements

to modern minimal arrangements
Anyway I was inspired by this little arrangement which formed part of a huge display of longiflorum lilies which must have been 8 feet high

I liked this because of the rustic, natural feel and it also wasn't too complicated for me to complete in the afternoon. So many decisions and considerations for for my little brain!

I started with the log and worked my way across the composition which was another bonus as that was already really good and I didn't need to play around with it. I can see now this photo isn't quite the angle I painted at as I was able to sit in one of the pews so was more in front of the arrangement rather than to the side, so here is my finished painting

I brought it home to tweek it a bit. Unfortunately the light was very poor in the church and only when the sun came out (which only happened a couple of times) could I see it properly so rather than leave it with them I wanted to see what it looked like in good light and have made a few minor alterations and now I am rather happy with... another phew!!