Spring growth? New paintings and video Q&A


A bit of ink & wash…..

Brancaster Golf Club House and Beach Shop. Ink & wash.

This was done using the ‘Pentel Pocket Brush Pen’.  I like it, and hopefully will use it more.  The fact that it’s designed for a pocket is not an advantage for me though, and I’ve taped a biro to the handle to extend it to the same length as my usual brush, holding it at the end of the ‘new’ handle most of the time.  It would be nice to have a bit more control of the flow of the ink, but at the end of the day it is a pen, and flows quite like a fresh felt tip. But if you press down the synthetic ‘brush’ tip flattens like a brush, so a wide mark is easily possible.  Quite fine lines are available from the tip, but will take some practise to get really fine.  In some ways this is similar to using my Black Sheep though.
The following was my first go with the pen, about a quarter imperial size, on the back of an old sheet from an Arches block, I think.  The pen itself I think worked a bit better for me on this rougher surfaced, harder paper, which I’ll bear in mind for future experiments.

At Brancaster Staithe. Ink & wash

(I’ve cut the bottom off as I’d made some ‘testing’ pen marks along there.)

Flatford Mill, Suffolk (ink & wash)

Finally, my third go with the ink & Wash, Flatford Mill, where I’ll be teaching my first course of the year in a few weeks’ time.  Very much looking forward to seeing and painting all the fantastic old buildings, fields and the river around this very inspiring, completely paintable location.

A couple more studio paintings.

Winter Farmland near Timsbury.

On hot pressed Saunders Waterford High While 200lb.

I have been trying out a few different things, as mentioned in my last post, even including stretching paper for a change.  It feels positive to do these things, as experimentation however slight can indeed lead to artistic ‘growth’.  I like the dry-brush mark I can get on this paper, as in the tree, and a bit on the ground.  It’s often said that you can’t get dry-brush effect on Hot-pressed, but it just depends how fast you move the brush.  Landscape artists rarely use Hot-pressed, and in fact I don’t personally know of a singe other painter who favours it.  I can’t do skies on this paper in my usual way, but that might be a good thing.  The paper acts completely differently, being very absorbent and too much so.  Well, it just needs a different tack, I suppose.  I can see myself continuing to use this paper at times, depending on the subject.

The Wide Open Space of Dundry Hill.

This was on same hot-pressed paper.  Second go at a sky, then, and beginning to get a feel for what I need to do.  Basically, work very fast indeed!  I don’t like it so much for painting the ground.  But, these are often just issues that come from using something unfamiliar that needs more practising with.

First plein airs of the year:

Dundry Village, Mist Rising in Bright Morning Light, en plein air.


At last!  Able to get back outside to where the inspiration is.  So, although it was worrying to have summer temperatures in February I of course made the most of this and managed to get out a couple of times during this period.  Firstly to a small village called Dundry, on a high hill overlooking south Bristol.  It has a very tall church tower, and my first painting here was from near the church entrance, looking towards the sun.  It was quite early when I started and there was mist rising, as was the case well into the afternoon.  It was a very bright sun at the same time, though.


Below, my second painting of the day.  Again, with the intention to experiment a bit I forced myself (it really is against my inclination) to work at quarter imperial.  I may have made the church tower even taller than in reality.  I was aware after I’d drawn the scene out, but left it anyway.  I do quite like to exaggerate certain characterful aspects of buildings sometimes.
Not a lot of colour in this at all.  It really came across as very silhouetted and again with a bright, misty light.

Dundry Church in Winter Light, en plein air (quarter imperial).


I visited Bath Art Fair to speak to a friend there and meet up with a few others.  I got to Bath very early to avoid the worst of the traffic and did the painting below rather quickly before the Fair opened. Although there was some sun coming and going, twas cold with an awkward gusty breeze, but I felt quite inspired to have a go at that view across the cricket pitch, next to the car park.  It didn’t turn out too well, so no need to show you the painting up close.  I’m just really keen to paint out whenever there’s chance.  I know not to expect too much from the first few plein airs of the year anyway (well, any other too!) but especially, it always takes a while to get back in the swing of it.

From Bath cricket ground carpark. Bit of a rushed, windblown job.

That can have an advantage… After the art fair the weather was still okay (not the forecast rain) so I went on to a spot the other side of Bath I had in my mind.  Had visited last summer and thought this view might make a good composition when there were no leaves on the trees.  Painting plein air in early Spring/late winter is great, when you’re lucky enough with the weather.

Claverton Pumping Station, en plein air (narrowly avoiding rain).

Once I had the easel set up it really felt like I might be wasting my time, as it looked very much as if rain was imminent.  I’ve been in this situation enough times to know that I might as well press on, and see if I get away with it.  And I did, just about.
As I was just beginning the sky wash a few drops did land, but stopped almost immediately.  I painted this super quickly as I was still expecting the rain, and there was also nowhere at all close by to shelter if it did!   This, and my fairly low expectations of any success with the painting (as per my comment of early season plein airs) meant that I felt very free with the process in some ways.  I quite like the results I can get when this coincides with a bit of the necessary luck!

I discovered a brilliant farm subject on another day.  A great range of shapes in a variety of farm buildings, barns, trees and stuff.  I had a go one morning, but with sun directly in front I didn’t rise to this challenge in the way I wanted.  I will definitely be back for take two.  I can see myself visiting this old farm in each season, and from a few different vantage points. The sun direction needs to be considered.  A bit of a trek to get there, but a pleasant one.

A (perhaps redundant) farm somewhere near Dundry. To be revisited!


Art group & club visits

I now enjoy the darker time of year as being one where I try to prioritise visits to art groups for demos or workshops.  Whilst I also do some of these during the rest of the year I try to keep the outdoor months a bit more for painting out, and then there are the painting holidays during the ‘plein air season’ also:

Hmmm, what’s that?  Well, after about a decade of intending to, I eventually got around to trying out oil paints.  I bought a three colour palette (plus black and white of course) and pushed it all around for about an hour, the result of which was this, the first oil painting I’ve done since one very messy attempt at about 11 years old.  A made up scene based on a past watercolour.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  It was fun though and I intend to give it more of a go in future, using those opportunities when I get fed up with my watercolours and need a change!


Video Q & A

Firstly, thank you very much to those who have purchased my new video.  Also for your kind feedback, some of which I might post as reviews next time (anonymously attributed, of course).
I mentioned that I would happily respond to any questions arising from the video (available HERE by the way), and I’ve had a few come in, so here are the questions with my replies.
Feel free to send any more to me (by email please), and I will address them again in a future blog post:


Q1. I’m very curious as to your choice of paper.  Why use Bockingford?  All the other professional artists of the day seem to use Arches or Saunders.  I’ve spoken to some about Bockingford and they say they hate it!

A1. It’s not easy to answer this well briefly, but I will do my best.
A watercolourist friend of mine says Bockingford ‘should be banned’.  Humourously of course, but he kind of means something by it.  Well, a lot of people say ” I love Arches”, or ‘I love’ whatever paper they use.
For me I’m afraid I couldn’t actually say that I love any paper!  It’s the one part of my materials choice that I’ve never found a totally happy solution to.  BUT Bockingford (200lb Not, specifically, as the variations do vary a lot) I come back to again and again as my preferred, overall.
Quite a few professionals do use it, though it probably isn’t their number one choice in many cases.  What I like are various things, but connected mostly to the paper’s relative absorbency.  It isn’t surface sized, which makes it a bit of a rarity for watercolour papers of any quality.
The paint flows easily off the brush even when painting very fast.  Also, the particular look of the soft edges it can give is different to all other papers I’m aware of.
I could describe my ‘ideal’ paper, but I don’t think it exists.  The lack of surface sizing does mean that Bockingford doesn’t preserve clarity or transparency of paint so well as most of the cotton, sized papers on the market.  The sizing keeps the paint from soaking slightly into the surface fibres of the paper, which does happen a bit with Bockingford, and which is not ideal.
The paper is therefore best suited to a quick, direct, one or two (max) wash approach, rather than much layering/glazing/overpainting.
All papers have their distinctive attributes, being advantages and disadvantages depending on how you work.  I have tried soaking various cotton papers for quite a long time in water, and rubbing their surfaces to try to remove a lot of the sizing.  But it seemed to make virtually no difference at all, though I’ve heard the opposite!  I find the matter of papers quite frustrating and this has always been the case.  I think we all need patience to get to know how to use whatever paper is in front of us, and adapt our methods to it.  Easy to say, of course.


Q2.  You have a very personal color palette: almost all the other
artists I studied use Alizarin crimson, Burnt Sienna, Cobalt blue,
Cerulean blue, Viridian … in your palette none of this, but your
paintings are moods and amazing a lot!  – I would like to know why you use Phtalo blue Red Shade and not Green Shade: usually, being a warm blue Ultramarine, it is combined with another “cold” blue, which in the case of Phtlao is just the green shade… The same question for red: usually artists use Alizarin crimson to have a cold red next to other hot reds, which in your case could be Light red … Instead, if I’m not mistaken, you have a Cadmium red in your palette, an hoter hot red … – Also, do you use Light Red as a substitute for Burnt Sienna?

A2.  Yes, colour choice is a very personal thing. I would really like to ‘paste’ my latest article (coincidentally on Colour) from Leisure Painter magazine here as it would answer your questions perfectly, but I’m not allowed to do that, and it is a four-page article, so again, this is not an easy one to answer well concisely, but I will try!…
Phthalo (in my case Winsor Blue) is – compared to Ultramarine – a cool blue in both the Red and the Green shade options.  The Green Shade option is just a bit too close to actually being a green, for me.  You discover these things out sometimes only when you begin to mix them with your other colours.
You mention other artists often having Cerulean.  I have the Cobalt Turquoise and this is useful for occasions where I want a cerulean-like hue.  I then mix that with Ultramarine and get a close enough result.  My palette is based on convenience, and keeping the number of colours as low as possible.  I’m not so bothered about being able always to match the colours I see.  I have those few brights (and the thalo is also a stark colour when it isn’t greyed slightly) for highlights, manmade subjects and so on, so this is why I have the bright (incl Cadmium or other similar scarlet red) colour.  I suppose that Light Red is quite similar to some brands Burnt Sienna (depending on dilution) and I may therefore use it in a similar way to how other artists use B S.  I use Raw Umber in a similar way to how many painters choose and use Raw Sienna, and Indian Red is one of the few colours which I’m attracted to principally because of it’s exact hue.  The pigment is very opaque, so not very popular these days, but (I could write a lot on this colour!….)  firstly, since I don’t over-paint with it this is at least less of an issue for me.  I do use it in some situations as a ‘substitute’ for how other painters would use Alizarin, as it is a crimsony colour, albeit a more earthy one.  I have not been able to find a close substitute (more transparent) for my palette once the colour is mixed with my others. I often utilise two alternative colour mixes for quite neutral greys (again therefore, not needing an extra paint on the palette such as Paynes Grey or Neutral Tint), these being Indian Red & Winsor Blue, or Light Red & Winsor Blue (and occasionally Light Red and Ultramarine).  Indian Red and Ultramarine give me a nice range of warm and cool ‘purples’ which I then add into greens and so on.  Cad Red I only use for those occasional ‘bright’ highlights, such as an English phone box or post box.
If I want a brighter green colour I just use my ‘bright’ yellow option (Winsor Lemon) with one my blues, including the Turqoise.  I’ve never felt I needed Viridian or any other tube green.  I rarely work hard to precisely match colours I see, and also am often happier to compromise generally on matters of colour than on other aspects of painting.  It often isn’t necessary or desirable to match colour, though I don’t go out of my way to change colours vastly either – except when it’s helpful to!
I’d better stop here for now on the subject of colour (it can go on forever!) but I hope this is helpful.


Q3. I just can’t get those soft edges as you do on the bottoms of cumulous clouds.  They always end up hard!

A3. This is normally due to a couple of different possibilities – 1, timing (& speed of painting) and the properties of your paper, or 2, how & where you’re wetting the paper.
As I mention in the video, you need to practise this method repeatedly on whatever your favoured paper is in order to learn the necessary timing.  Most often people aren’t working fast enough to get to the pre-dampened areas before they have dried out.  Try this: Make the wet areas even wetter to begin with.  Work faster with a bigger brush, compromising on the ‘shaping’ of your clouds.
The other possibility is that you’re not covering a big enough area initially with the clean water when pre-dampening.  This can mean that when you paint into the damp area the paint flows all the way to the edge of it and therefore it becomes a hard edge again.  What you need to do is wet a larger area – go further above and further below your ‘guide lines’ of each cloud.  Just be careful not to go into the damp area from above when you’re defining the hard top edge!
It does take a while for this method to become second nature, so keep doing the simple exercise of just one cloud and work up to something more complicated.



Finally, one of my buyers kindly sent a photo of the painting they bought, to show me it framed.  They’ve gone for a float mount, utilising the deckle edges of the paper.  I think this one was quite a rare (for me) Saunders Waterford sheet, so the edges were a bit nicer than with Bockingford.

Happy painting til next time.




Comments On This Post

Patricia Brander 1 year ago. Reply

Thanks for an exceptionally useful blog. Being able to compare the photo with the painting is an invaluable lesson on how to simplify the subject. You are always inspiring, best regards, Patricia Brander

    Jem 1 year ago. Reply

    Thank you, Patricia! Very pleased you enjoyed the blog and found it useful to read.

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