Friday, 26 November 2021


More figure drawing.  Today's model is EvaE, making her debut.

I came in today with two objectives, both around reverting back to techniques that I've used successfully in the past.  The most important one of these was to apply the water using a sculpting mindset rather than a colouring in mindset.  There was definitely some progress on this front, most noticeably on the shoulders but also the breasts and left arm.  The legs and right arm aren't quite there yet.  Still, there's a big improvement.

The other objective was to use a lot less colour and show a lot more white.  This didn’t work out so well but if I can keep sculpting shapes rather than colouring them in, I'm a little less concerned about using too much colour.

The colours today were bark, violet, iris blue, poppy red and leaf green.  I keep finding myself drawn towards that left arm and at how the green and blue work well together.  Green, blue and bark are a definite winning combination.  If red or purple are to be added to this, they need to be added in very tiny ways.

Where this one suffers, though, is in the proportions.  Even though I used a grid method to get the shapes down, the waist and hips look much too narrow.  That's even after I applied some artistic license to widen the hips and to tip the waist up slightly more sharply.  Notice, by the way how the waist and hips tip in the opposite direction to the chest.  That's called contraposto and it's pretty essential to figure drawing.  Anyway, yeah, the waist and hips look too narrow.  Or maybe the waist and hips aren’t the problem and it's just that the right side of the body below the breast needs to be a bit narrower.  I'm still not sure.  Hands aren't great either.  What did work in the original drawing, though, is the twist in the body, with Eva's right shoulder thrust forward.  The success there is partly down to making the shoulder a bit bigger but also to me adopting that sculptor's mindset.

Overall, though, this is a marginal fail so won't be going in the shop window.  Bad hands, bad proportions.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

The Allman Brothers Band


An idea came in the night to me.  It was to use inktense pencils to draw some sort of skyliney landscape but negatively, leaving trees and buildings white but only colouring part of the sky around the edges.  Part of the building could be coloured but only if there was something like a tree in front of it, in which case the only bit of the building that was coutures would be the but just around the edge of the tree.  The subject of the landscape could my house, or maybe of a Cambridge college.

Anyway, that was the dream.  I deviated from it on all sorts of ways, starting with the subject.  I couldn't find a good landscape subject, so I went instead for a photo of The Allman Brothers Band.  The photo is from the early 90s and looks like it's from the same photo session as the covers on the First Set and Second Set albums.  From left to right we have Jaimoe, Allen Woody, Dickey Betts, Greg Allman, Warren Haynes, Marc Quiñones and Butch Trucks.

I started off the way that I was expecting my landscape to work.  I just went randomly around the outline of the one big shape using all my brightest colours: sherbet lemon, sun yellow, tangerine, poppy red, chill8 red, fuchsia, violet, bright blue, iris blue,vsea blue, teal green, field green and apple green.  I then deviated from my plan a bit by filling I. The gap between these pencils and the edge of the paper using Earth colours: mustard closest to the colours, then baked Earth and finally willow at the edge of the paper.

Then I added the water.  With such a big area to cover, there was the danger of paint drying too quickly for  the whole shape to work together.  So I watered it in outwardly radiating stripes.  I painted in one set of alternating stripes, then filled in the gaps.  I think they work.

Then I looked at the painting and thought that the white shapes looked too white and underworked.  So I decided to add some quite faint details,  I started with any facial hair or any long hair that wasn't touching the edges.  This I did using the yellowish colour that was in my still wet brush.  I then added some faint lines to this in poppy red and, still not entirely happy, then added some random things like belts, hands in pockets and trainer decorations, which was just enough to make these white shapes start looking like people.

It,s possible in a painting like this to actually get some good likenesses.  The three in the middle look pretty good to me.

Overall, I rate this one as successful and am putting it up for sale.  The craziness of the idea, the radiating lines, the likenesses and the subtlety of those marks in the figures all seem to work.  It's good to do something different with the inktense pencils once in a while.

Sunday, 21 November 2021


I have a new model today.  This is KylieB. I thought she looked cold in the source photo, so I thought I'd make the photo cold too and avoid all my reds.

So for colours, I started with willow in the darkest areas, then leaf green, then mustard.  I thought at this point I needed some more dark areas that weren't green, so I brought in baked Earth.  Then I filled in the background with iris blue and sea blue, which looked like the two coolest blues in my set.  I marked in edges and creases with willow,  I also threw in some mustard in the foreground just for the hell of it.  I decided at this point I needed some blue in the figure, so I spotted in some little bits.  I also wanted something in the figure fighting back against the cold and didn't want to use reds,  he’d for the purple and added this in the darkest places.

I then added the water and realised that the purple was a mistake.  So, after letting it dry, I added some bark to all the darkest areas and added the water.  This improved things slightly.

Still, it goes down as a marginal failure.  There's some great mixing and cauliflowering going on in places but the background is too uneven and pencilly and the darkest bits don't blend well enough into the lighter bits - they have sharp borders and look too much like outlines.  I've also realised that I've dropped a good habit that I need to bring back again.  In my best figure drawings, my water strikes have been following the curves of the body, adding volume.  But for some reason I've stopped doing this.  My water strikes have all been applied with a colouring in mindset rather than a sculpting mindset.  I need to stop doing this.  I've written an instruction to myself on a piece of paper that I've put in with my pencils.  My next figure painting will be much better.

Anyway, yes, this is a flop and doesn't go in the shop window,

Thursday, 18 November 2021

H2 2021 Poll

I reckon it's that sort of time.  I've created another of my biannual art polls.  If anyone can spare a couple of minutes to vote, I'd be very grateful.  You just scroll up and down 41 artworks, highlight as many favourites as you want and hit send.

This should be interesting; there really is a bit if everything in there.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

The Christ's College Maths Fellows 1982-86 Collection

And here are the four of them together in all their glory.  They feed off each other and the likenesses all improve when they're together.  I feel emotional and nostalgic looking at these four all together.

The individual portraits can be found at:

They're up for sale.

Professor Frank Kelly CBE FRS

Last up in the Christ's College Maths Fellows 1982-86 collection is Frank Kelly.  He may have been lecturer for my course on Markov Chains: I'm struggling to remember.  But what I do remember his supervisions on probability, statistics and optimisation.  He explained everything well and he would drive us really hard.  When we submitted answers to questions on example sheets, he expected us to answer every single question when other supervisors turned a blind (blinder anyway) eye to any laziness.  Academically he's into random processes, networks and optimisation, which I think means he's the go to guy when road, rail or telecom networks are being developed.

Frank was born in 1950, meaning he was in his very early 30s when I came up to Christ's for an open day. He looked and talked more like a 25-year old, though, and seemed really cool and chill.  It was meeting him that conformed to me that I'd be applying to Christ's.  And he's always been cool and ridiculously young looking.  He's now over 70 and looks like he's in his 40s.  Not only that but he looks like a a really cool guy in his 40s.  He was Master of Christ's college from 2006 to 2016.  What a time that must have been, being a student at the college with the coolest master in Cambridge.  I still, by the way, have a couple of handwritten notes from Frank filed away, one congratulating me on my first in my finals and the other thanking me and a friend for inviting him and his Jackie to our (premature) joint 21st birthday party.

Although I gave up on the probability and statistics after year 2, I did, of course, end up as an actuary, so rediverting back towards Frank's areas of expertise.

This portrait gave me real problems.  I had two really unsuccessful attempts at a portrait from a different source photo before changing.  Even with third third attempt, the likeness is pretty bad.  At times this one looked more like Frank Lampard or Tony Curtis.  In the end I finally settled for this one though.  If you co
ver up the mouth (again!), the likeness improves.  Maybe I just struggle with people smiling, which explains why I can't draw a guy who always likes to smile for photos.

There were some small hints of blue on one side of Frank's face in my source photo and green on the other, and I needed no encouragement to include some blue and green in his hair and skin tones.

This one's not going up for sale as an individual work but will instead be included in the Christ's Maths Fellows 1982-86 collection.  I'm also going to put this one up on the Christ's alumni Facebook page and am looking forward to seeing what the reaction is.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Professor John Wilson

Allow me to present Professor John Stuart Wilson.  Our first pure maths supervisor and the guy that dragged us all kicking and screaming from freewheeling A level pure maths into the rigorous world of university pure maths.  It was a painful process, I can tell you, but we made it through.  He was also an excellent university lecturer: I attended his course on vector spaces.  His specialist area in maths, though, is group theory; this means that our paths diverged from about midway through my second year.  He's actually quite a gentle soul at heart. I remember a conversation with him at a mathy dinner when he was struggling to get over to me the beauty that there was in pure maths.  If we had the same conversation today, knowing all that I know now, I'd be firing back with the beauty in applied maths: the way that expected return in equities disappears in the Merton-Black-Scholes theory, the way that a weird solution that Paul Dirac found to a differential equation led him to predict the existence of antimatter, that sort of thing.

Anyway, like Doctor Maunder a couple of days ago, Doctor John is really into his classical music.  He's actually a composer, which you have to respect, and which I've reflected in those musical notes hovering over the portrait.

Did I say Doctor John?  That's how we all referred to him behind his back.  Someone spotted a letter in Private Eye about herpes that had been sent in by someone calling themselves Doctor John and they wondered whether it was our pure maths supervisor.  And the name just stuck.

Anyway, about the portrait.  I was working from a black and white photo, so decided to start off with grey tones.  I thought this would bring out some of the white highlights in his hair but it also clashes against the personality of someone who only believed in black and white.  I added a few proper flesh tones to the greys later on.  And I added a dark background, which helped me improve the shape of his chin.

Likeness-wise, if you cover up the mouth, the eyes and hair are unmistakeable.  The mouth isn't quite right though.  Probably a mistake to have him smiling.

This one will be included in the Christ's Maths Fellows 1982-86 collection.  The collection will be put up for sale but is too niche for there to be any reasonable likelihood of it selling.

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Doctor Richard Maunder

Second up in the Christ's Maths Fellows 1982-86 collection is Richard Maunder.  This guy was an absolute legend.  He was a pure mathematician, into stuff like algebraic topology and manifolds.  Not my sort of area at all but, in my early days before I dropped all the pure maths, he delivered a great lecture course on group theory and was my pure maths supervisor for a while.  I liked how he showed us enough of the maths for us to be able to fill in the "mathematical rigour" in between the lines.  He had a great dry sense of humour too.  I can't imagine him ever being negative about anything. 

But I can't talk about this guy without mentioning his other big interest too, which was classical music.  He played all sorts of instruments, he would compose music or finish off the work of other composers and (get this!) he would build his own musical instruments.  It's only now that I've found out that the harpsichord that would sit against the wall of his room where he gave supervisions was one that he'd built himself.  And he was such a modest guy that at mathy drinks and dinners we'd only talk about maths.  It's a shame I never got to hear him talk about his music.

As for the portrait, my source photo was in black and white and very close up, so I've done a close up and repeated my technique from the Emilio Largo portrait and used three shades of blue.  Unlike with the Largo drawing, though, I've not drawn in outlines, instead adding a contrasting background colour.  The good thing about leaving out outlines is that I can subtly change the outline by creeping in a bit with the background colour.

The likeness is only vaguely there - leaving out the hair makes things difficult.  But there's something of the character there - a little bit of joy.  Once the four portraits are put together, he should be recognisable.

Doctor Maunder died in 2018.  If you knew him, you'd know he's resting in peace.

Professor Peter Landshoff

It's time to start a new portrait collection.  I was feeling a bit short of ideas and a bit out of form so thought I'd do portraits of the four maths fellows from my days at Christ's College, Cambridge, 1982-86.  The idea is to just get a bit better at portraits without the pressure of having to come up with something that I can sell.  Because, let's face it, nobody's likely to want to buy this collection even if it comes out perfectly.

First up is Professor Peter Landshoff.  Doctor Landshoff (as he was, back in the day) was the only one of those four fellows to be into applied maths, let alone mathematical physics.  So he was the one whose interests most overlapped with mine.  Unfortunately, though, he was the only one of the four not to be a supervisor (that means the only one not to provide tutorials to two students at a time).  My only real contact with him was to ask whether he'd be prepared to put his student entertainment budget towards the Christ's mathy dinner, and he was always willing to do this.  And while I never had any Landshoff supervisions, I did enjoy his lecture course on Electrodynamics in my first year.  Oh, and he co-wrote the go to book on quantum electrodynamics.  A top guy.

I tried to continue the good work from the Bond villains collection by including some unorthodox skin tones.  Today it was pink and lime green, although the impact of them has been damped down by greys and flesh tones.  Likeness-wise, there's definitely something if him there and I think he'll be easily recognisable once grouped with the rest of the squad.  There's a little bit of my Knights Templar headmaster coming through as well though.  This also happened in my Doctor No.

Anyway, Professor Landshoff's not for sale.  The Christ's Maths Fellows collection may go up for sale at some point but without any expectation of being sold.

Friday, 12 November 2021

The Returrn Of Thea

It's been sixteen days since my last bit of artwork.  Sorry about that.  I've been playing some correspondence chess, watching the T20 cricket and reading an especially long John Irving novel that I wanted to finish.  So I'm a bit out of practice and am expecting to serve up a clunker.

This is Thea, making her second appearance, and once again not being given full justice.  The pencil colours today we’re deep indigo, chilli red and leaf green.  I started with the indigo because there were some really dark shadows in my source photo that I wanted to capture.  I had ideas about this being mainly a chiaroscuro work, with indigo being the star and other colours being mere herbs.  It didn't go tha5 way, with more green and red in there than I was originally intending.  I tried to bring out the chiaroscuro effect more by wetting the indigo first and not letting go other colours bleed into it.  This was a big mistake and there are too any really hard edges on some of the indigo shapes.

I don't want to say any more about this one.  It's a no from me.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021


Ok, it's been a while but I'm back painting again today.  I suspect that it,s going to be too cold to paint outside until the Spring, so there won't be any oil pastels or watercolours until then and that I'll instead be cozy indoors using the markers and inktense pencils.  Anyway, today it was the inktense pencils.  Give a big hand to today's model Katya.  It's her first time so make her feel welcome.

As usual, I started with a pencil drawing.  Recently I've been trying to copy the photos by dividing the paper up into squares but today's was freehand and I think it looks OK.  Then came the colours.  Today it was deep indigo, then violet, then bright blue, then shiraz and finally leaf green, which is becoming a real favourite, adding exotic flesh tones while contrasting against the red.

After I activated all the ink with water, I realised that the bottom of Katya's bottom leg was wrong.  I think I'd treated a big shadow area on the leg as if it were a big shadow on the table.  So I added some more ink there and it's gone on maybe a bit too thick.

I also couldn't keep my hands off the huge empty area on the paper, so I added Katya's name just to be a bit different.  While it emphasises that the model here is a real human being and makes you wonder what she's thinking, I don't think it really works.  I'd have been better off leaving it empty.

Overall, not too bad for the first painting in a while.  But not good enough to go up for sale, being spoilt by the caption and the bottom leg.  A shame because this was a fantastic pose by Katya.

Saturday, 23 October 2021

Landscape Artist Of The Year 2022

I've entered Landscape Artist Of The Year again.

For my main landscape submission, I chose Hartlip Church In The Snow (

I was allowed to submit a second landscape and a third painting that doesn't need to be a landscape.  From memory, I think I went for Glean a'Chroin ( and I Am The Eye InThe Sky (

So three very different paintings.  I could have picked three similar paintings (and I suspect the judges like that) but that wouldn't reflect my diverse style.

Just as in previous years, I provided a link to this blog, so if you're one of the judges reading this, hello!  Feel free to click on the links in this post to find out more about the paintings I submitted.

In other news, I'm aware that I've not posted anything here for a couple of weeks.  Don't worry: more artwork will follow soon.  It's just that I'm currently having to spend a lot of time teaching myself machine learning networks and programming in Python.  Call it the day job.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Number Two

Remember Hartlip Church In The Snow from a month or so ago?  I gave it to Barbara next door as an 80th birthday present.  Well, her daughter pulled me to one side at the party and told me that the painting was now up on the wall, on one side of a bigger painting, and that she thought it would be good to have another painting on the other side, maybe of their house…?  So I've picked up a commission.

There was one constraint though.  This painting of the house needed to be in portrait format.  That ruled out any painting of the whole house.  So I homed in on the front door and took some photos laying down on the drive to get some three points perspective going on.  But then I realised the bit sticking out the front of the house looked just like the porch of the church.  Which gave me an idea.  Why not make these two paintings really go together by using the same set of colours and (let's really go for it) make it a snow painting?

So the colours, as for the church painting were cerulean blue, rose dore, raw sienna and Indian yellow: a mix of warm green and cool orange colour keys.  Winsor red also came in later on but,  wing another warm red like rose dore, leaves the keys unchanged.  And obviously, there's titanium white there too.

So, after putting down a pencil drawing, I masked out all the white door frames, window frames and trimmings.  I also masked out some white snowy bits on upward facing surfaces and put down a load of spatters for falling snow.

Then came the sky and some underpainting.  The underpainting included the big shadow on the house, the shadow of a car on the drive and some initial shadows and Indian yellow highlights on the plants in the garden.  The house I covered fairly randomly in all sorts of yellows, reds and blues.  It looked terrible but underpaintings always do and my confidence never slipped.  I spattered on mute masking fluid after the underpainting to get some different coloured snowflakes.

Then it was just a matter of putting two or three coats of colour over all the shapes, gradually creeping towards the colours that I wanted.  In the later coats, I was starting to get some 3D effects going on in the door and a tiny belt of detail/texture in the brickwork and the upstairs tiles.  The rose dore was being a bit of a pain with the red door, either looking too orange or too garish or both, so I found myself reaching for the Winsor red.  The two reds together got me to an acceptable door colour.  I also found that the Winsor red could get me to a better roof colour and to a nice dark for the TV aerial and the outdoor light.  The rose dore was good for the brickworks, though, so I think I needed both reds.

Then came the fun bit.  Off with the masking fluid, leaving lots of bright white.  To tone down the whites, I put cerulean blue on the most shadowy bits of snow and some watery variegated blues/reds/yellows on all the white bits of the house.

Did I say that was the fun bit?  No.  There was even more fun to come.  The painting looked good at this stage and worth framing but I knew from experience with the church painting how to make it better. I squeezed out a blob of titanium white.  With this, I first spattered on lots more falling snow.  Then I want over the top of all my existing snow.  Where there were cerulean blue shadows in the snow, these mixed well with the white.  And, yes I know I've said before that white isn't for mixing.  This is different.  Finally, I dry brushed more white onto the roof and drive using the edge of the brush.  And maybe added more snow in places too.

I think this looks great.  Michelle's happy with it so Barbara will be getting it for Christmas.  I think she's expecting a painting but has no idea what this is going to look like.

And I think that's me done with watercolour until the Spring.  It's just too cold out there.  It's back to markers and inktense pencils until then.

Sunday, 3 October 2021


Still pouring with rain outside: I think I might be done with watercolour and oil pastel until the new year.  So it's more figure drawing today and it's a new model, Thea.

The source photo had a lot of dark, shadowy areas, so I started with some quite thick shading in bark in those areas.  Then I put some willow pencils in the slightly lighter shadowy areas.  And then I got to the  usual point when I fancied putting in some colour, so I added sea blue to the right facing edges, fuchsia to left facing edges and leaf green wherever else I fancied some colour.  This included going over some edges in sea blue and fuchsia lines and adding all three colours to the shadows.  Here's what I ended up with:

I admit the pencils do look a lot heavier than optimal on this one.  I can already sense this won't be a masterpiece.  Anyway, the next step was to add the water following my usual rules: detail with the small brush first, try to make strokes follow curves, brush light coloured pencil marks into dark rather than the other way round.  And this is what I ended up with:

I wasn't happy with this.  There wasn't enough contrast between the dark and light values.  And in those dark areas the bark is dominated by fuchsia and sea blue.  So I took what for me is a very rare third step of adding a second coat of inks.  It didn't feel right to add more bark to darken the shadows, so I reached for the indigo, which is a dark colour that fits better with the other colours.

The final painting is at the top of the post.  The indigo has improved the painting but still feels like an outsider.  Maybe if I'd started with indigo rather than bark, everything would have hung together better. There are some other problems with this though.  The shadow area in the bottom left is too big.  With the inktense pencils, I need to avoid big, monotone, dark shadowy areas like this.  Just lighten them up.  Save the big monotone dark areas for the markers where they really add something.  And obviously the hand isn't great.  So not a success, this one, and it's not going up for sale.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Frank's Wood, Leith Hill, Surrey

It's getting cold and wet outside so the number of watercolour and oil paintings that I'll be doing the rest of this year is numbered.  Today I fancied having a go with the oil pastels.  This is my first go with the bigger, 12 inch by 9 paper.  It's a scene in Frank's Wood, inspired by a photo by David Hall that I probably found on the BBC News website.  I'm trying to track David down but have had no luck so far.  The David Hall photographer whose work this most resembles tells me the original work is not his; there's another David Hall photographer who I've tried to contact but with no luck so far,

Painting on this size paper is much easier and more fun.  It's all less fiddly. In can just get on with the painting.  I started by adding in rough lines with one of the pastels, then vaguely shaded in the trees, path, grass and bluebells with the sides of four appropriately coloured pastels.  And then I just went out and enjoyed myself.  For each of those four types of shape, I picked out at least three relevant colours from my box and dotted them in.  For the path and the greens, some places were lighter than others and reflected this by using different colours in different places.  Then I used my fingers and some tools to mix the colours together on the paper.

This gave me an underpainting.  This was never going to be the final result as I wanted some texture in the bluebells.  So during the next stage, as well as adding more colours to the trees, path and greens (in particular in any areas that were short of colour and too white looking), I dabbed in some bluebells with the intention of keeping them as dabs rather than blending them together.  I did end up blending some of the more distant bluebells, but that's just sensible: you can't have both the foreground and middleground in focus.  I also did a little bit of scraping underneath the bluebells in places.

When I stepped back, I thought the painting didn't hang together, with the trees, path, bluebells and greenage looking like a disconnected team.  So I added some blues to all the tree colours and suddenly everything looked better again.  The trees, bluebells and greenage definitely all work well together but I wonder whether I should have added any more colours to the path.

Anyway, I rate this one a success and it's up for sale.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

JenB, Taking A Breather

Not feeling inspired enough to dig out the watercolours or oil pastels today, so I've been doing some figure drawing with the inktense pencils.  This is the fifth time I've drawn JenB but I'm still struggling to capture her essence on the paper.

For colours, I tried a combination of bark, leaf green, fuchsia, iris blue and mustard.  I started with bark in the darkest places, then moved on to the red, blue and green.  I tried to generally have blue on surfaces pointing to the left and red on surfaces pointing to the right.  And green went wherever I fancied some extra colour.  The mustard was added at the end in the edges of highlighted areas (with the paper left white in the middle).

I added some extra colour in a second coat, mainly on Jen's right arm, which had been looking a little like an elongated flag of green, white and red, and on her face to try to bring out some features.  I'm not impressed with the face though.  I've cropped out the nose but that's still an ugly looking mouth - I think I'll crop out as much as possible of that mouth if I ever frame this one.

I'm going to put this one in the shop window.  I think the colours worked out well.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

The Bond Villains Collection

And here's the full set in all its glory.  Rosa Klebb missed out to Hugo Drax in the final cut, as already revealed.  And the second Blofeld keeps his place in the squad.

I think they all fit together nicely, feeding off each others' evil intentions.  The set is up for sale, framed.

Hugo Drax

And here he is, a late substitute joins the team.  As Rosa Klebb limos off in disgrace, on comes Hugo Drax, played by Michael Lonsdale in Moonraker.

The pose had everything I wanted.  Big black areas, negative shapes and something different to include (the fingers).  I almost made it to the end on this one without adding any impressionistic colours.  Then I spotted this and reached for the blue pearl marker.  I slapped a big mark on under the left eye and then reeled back in horror, realising that I'd picked up the sky blue marker instead.  But was it a disaster or a happy little accident?  The use of the wrong blue actually made my impressionistic colours bold and proud rather than subtle and meek.  I added more of the sky blue and then some pink.  Why not?

And I'm happy with the result at the end.  Hugo wins a place in the final eight at the expense of Rosa Klebb.  His red background is again chosen to add some variety to a collection that was looking slightly heavy on the blues, greens and yellows.

Rosa Klebb

I'm up early to finish off the Bond villains collection.  So here's Rosa Klebb, played by Lotte Lenya in From Russia With Love.  I'm a bit shocked to discover that Lotte was born in the 19th century.  That makes me feel old.

The gon toting pose and the red background were chosen specially to be different to other drawings in the collection.  I do like the pose, giving me the chance to include some sweeping curves.

And, although this does fit in nicely with the rest of the collection (and a version of the collection including Klebb is up for sale), I don't like it.  The likeness is the worst so far, and for someone with very distinctive looks.  In fact it looks more like a guy in drag.  This feels like a failure.  It's time to call for villain number 9 to take her place…

Monday, 20 September 2021

Emilio Largo

Next up in the Bond villain collection is Emelio Largo, aka Number Two (I believe).  He was played by Adolfo Celi in Thunderball.

I picked a photo source with a large dark area as usual but thought I'd do something different and stay away from the black.  Instead I put in all the dark areas with indigo blue.  I then followed up in all the next darkest areas with sky blue and finally put blue pearl in all the remaining areas that I didn't want to be white, trying to get a three dimensional effect in the cheekbones.

The worst thing about this one is the mouth which came out horizontal when it should have been sloping down to the right but I think I've done a decent enough rescue job there.  The likeness isn’t perfect, with Emilio looking a bit too young and Paul Newmanesque but I don't mind that: this is my take on Emilio and not a portrait of Adolfo.  The blue in the jacket looks good, with some sensible mark directions giving a 3D effect and looking like pinstripes.  And the whole blue monotone colour scheme looks great, imparting a 1960s vibe.

Overall assessment?  A big success.  Emilio walks straight into the Bond villains collection and sits at the high table.

Another Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Some new blue pearl markers arrived in the post last night.  Without these, I wasn't able to do any drawing yesterday as this colour so proving to be essential in the skin tones for this collection.

I've had another go at Blofeld.  I wasn't happy with the version I has, with the scar being in the wrong side of the face.This version isn't that great to tell you the truth - you can see where I've  overdosed a bit on black at the end in an attempt to rescue a drawing that wasn't going anywhere.  So the black's one problem.  The asymmetric top half of the head is another.  And then there's the green background which I chose to be different to there drawings in the collection but which doesn't seem to fit well with this portrait.

I might need to do a third Blofeld before pulling this collection together.

Saturday, 18 September 2021


Ah, Oddjob.  Played by Harold Sakata in Goldfinger, he was always going to be in this collection once I'd moved on to henchmen.

Once again, I picked a shot with huge expanses of black in it - it's so much easier to do these drawings once all that black is down.  I make no real effort to distinguish separate black shapes within the black.  I'd let the shapes blend into each other in watercolour, so why not do the same here?  But, on the other hand, I do try to follow contours in the direction I make the marks.  It's like cutting the grass at Wembley.  And this has made the black sleeve look good - you just know that there are creases in there.

I'm back to using impressionistic colours within the skin tones (rose pink, lime green and blue pearl) and they all look great here.  But just when blue pearl is beginning to become my favourite colour, the marker's run out and I don't have a spare, which is a pain.

The likeness is better here but not perfect.  The nose should be a bit wider and the line of the mouth should be sloping more down to the right.  Look closely and you can see where I've tried to correct this by adding more black.

I'm wondering whether it was the right move to put everything from my source photo into the car windows.  Could this have been more interesting if I'd just coloured the car windows in a single colour like orange?  Probably keeping the wing mirror as it is though.  We'll never know.

I do like this one, even if the black sleeve is claiming centre stage as the star.  It's not going up for sale as an individual drawing but is being added to the Bond villains collection.

Zbigniew Krycsiwiki

First up today is Zbigniew Krycsikiki, aka Jaws.  My definition of Bond villains has extended to include henchmen.  Jaws was played by Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.  Jaws was a great character.  He had a weird, flat footed way of running that I like to copy.

Just like with most of my marker portraits, it's the black that went down first.  I like source material that has huge black shapes in it so that I can kick of drawings chiaroscuro style and only add cater later in those places where it benefits the drawing.

I had some trouble with the eyes today, which was weird because I didn't need much detail in them, what with them being behind the goggles.  In the end, I just made everything really dark behind the goggles and added some highlights with a white gel pen.  This took several attempts and the paper was starting to show some wear.  I was having a nightmare.  Anyway, I got to something in the end.  And while I had the gel pen in my hand, I thought I'd add some stitching to the parachute straps and some white hairs/texture to the top of the head.  Both of these worked out well.

I don’t think this one has worked out brilliantly.   Maybe that's because this ins the first in the collection to not feature impressionistic ureagfeaturea in the skintones.  There's a lesson there.  Anyway, this isn't going up for sale as an individual drawing but is being added to the Bond villains collection.

Friday, 17 September 2021

Francisco Scaramanga And Nick Nack

And here's the second and last drawing for today.  Scaramanga and Nick Nack, played by Christopher Lee and Hervé Villechaize respectively in The Man With The Golden Gun.

This one had a lot of dark areas, giving me the chance of laying down some large black shapes, which is something I do enjoy.  There are some interesting big light green negative shapes in there too.  Somehow using markers makes me more aware of negative shapes.  There are also some interesting contrasts in there between straight and curved lines.  I put some impressionistic blues into the skin tones again - I keep seeing this blue everywhere.

Scaramanga isn't a great lookalike but there's some personality there in the eyes and mouth.  The smugness that follows a job well done.  Maybe there's a bit of Sean Connery in him, but you must admit Sean would have made a great Scaramanga.  Nick Nack gave me a few problems though.  I didn't like the expression on his face, so I’ve extended the black shadow further onto his face into areas where the shadows were quite light.  There's still too much Jimmy Krankie in him though, and there's no way Jimmy Krankie would have made a good Nick Nack.

Anyway, it's hard to say whether these portraits are successes or not until I put them all together into a collection.  Now that I've done one landscape and three portraits, I guess that I need one more landscape and three more portraits for a set of eight, so it might be a while before I can really judge this one.  For now, I think it's interesting enough to be added to the collection.

Doctor Julius No

Now that I've convinced myself these are my takes in Bond villains and not just portraits of the actors that played them, I feel liberated and am going to spend another day on them.

First up is Doctor No, originally played by Joseph Wiseman.  After studying a source photo and liking both the black in his artificial hand and the purple shadows against his neutral coloured top, I thought I'd limit the colours in this one.  There are just black, yellow, purple, two flesh tones and two greys in there.  The yellow and purple contrast nicely against each other and all the white in his face makes him look less than human.  He also reminds me of my secondary school headmaster (RIP Dr Crellin) - it's interesting to see these extra characters slipping in and contaminating these portraits.

I do like this one.  It's not going up for sale just yet, instead being added to the Bond villain collection that I'm building up.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Ernst Stavro Blofeld

These marker portraits always come in pairs, so here's another Bond villain - Donald Pleasence as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.  Except that my source photo has the vertical wound down the right side of his face missing, so I guess this isn’t from the film.  I had to go for this shot though, just because of the gaze, a gaze that I wanted to replicate.

There are some impressionistic colours in there among the flesh tones and neutrals again: this time red and blue.

While there's an interesting look in the eye, it looks unfinished.  But after examining the source photo in detail for ages, I couldn't identify any extra marks that I could make to improve it.  And the rest of the head is just wrong.  It's too chubby and there's no likeness.  Have I turned it into a self portrait?

This is another that's not going up for sale but that might end up in a Bond villain collection.  Goldfinger has a bigger chance of making the final squad than Blofeld though.

<Renamed from Donald Pleasence to Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Makes sense given the lack of likeness.>

And now I've just discovered that the source photo was a mirror image.  It doesn't make sense to add the scar to the ear eye as it's so wide open.  I had a go at adding it to the far eye but it's so obviously a mirror image.  I think I need to just redo Blofeld from scratch.

Auric Goldfinger

I might have only awarded that Emily Ball book one palette but it has got me mood to do some portraits and, in particular to try to get the gaze right.

First up is Goldfinger, played by Gert Fröbe.  I quite enjoyed this one.  I could see lots of light blues and light and dark greens in Gert's skintones, which meant I could throw in some impressionistic colours.  Some of the light green bits almost look good, which seems appropriate.

I still have that freebie magenta-coloured Tonbow marker sitting in my marker wallet with no allocated spot and the OCD in me won't be happy until it's been used up.  So I used it to add all those random squiggles in the background.  I think they look good.

It's an interesting portrait but I've not caught Gert's likeness or gaze.  If anything I get an Idi Amin vibe coming from it, which is weird.  This isn’t going up for sale but might at some point end up as part of a Bond villain collection if I can do a set of portraits that work well together.

<Renamed from Gert Fröbe to Auric Goldfinger.  Makes sense given the lack of likeness.>

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Drawing And Painting People: A Fresh Approach, Emily Ball - Book Review

Where to start?  I guess I could tell you it's a 144 page paperback.

The title suggests it's about drawing and painting people and when you look at the table of contents and see there are chapters on drawing the head and the gaze, that backs it up.  But I don't think this really is about drawing and painting people.  There are people in most of the paintings in the book but not in many of the exercises but this is about a different style of painting.  It's about throwing away all you learned about proportions and perspectives and realism and just reverting back to the innocence of painting like a pre-school kid.  Some of the paintings in this really don't look like the work of serious artists.

Was there anything useful in the book?  Well, some of the exercises are probably worth a go.  And the idea of messing about with proportions and moving background elements around is interesting, although if I were to do this, I'd want to do it in a way that ended up looking like it had been painted by someone aged over ten.  I guess the chapter in the gaze was interesting, with its message that getting the gaze right was just as good as achieving a physical likeness - this hit the spot for me as my marker pen drawings often get the gaze but not the likeness.  On the other hand, apart from one of the exercises, I could find little or no useful advice on the gaze.

There was one weird moment, when Emily talked about a painting needing to be a poetic response to the subject rather than a record of what was in front of me, when I almost flipped over from being a disbeliever into believer.  It's the same feeling I've had in the past when I've almost become religious.  Weird, weird feeling.  In neither case did I flip over though.

In terms of inspirational paintings, this book was sparse.  I think there were about ten paintings in there that I liked and that used techniques that I might incorporate into my own work.

Look, this book isn't for everyone.  I read in a review somewhere that anyone thinking of buying it should have a flip through in a book shop first and I agree with this.  I'd go further and recommend that you also read some passages to experience Emily's writing style.  Some people will love this book, others will hate it.  I can't see anybody giving this one 2, e or 4 palettes: it's 1 or 5.  I personally didn't get much from it, and think it was a mistake to put it on my wishlist.  I'm giving it one palette (sorry Emily) but I do suggest that you take a look at it if you see it in a book shop - you may be one of those that love it.


Monday, 13 September 2021


There's a long story behind this one.  I didn't have much time to paint today but thought I'd been away from the brushes for too long so that I'd do something quick and easy that didn’t need much planning.  I decided to have a go at repeating the technique I used for Still Raining, Still Dreaming a few weeks ago.  But rather than using it as an excuse to use up some of the redundant looking tubes in my box of spares, thought I'd try out three of my regular colours.  I wanted to steer away from staining colours which restricted me to quinacridone magenta and a choice of two yellows and two blues.  In the end I decided to go for Indian yellow and French ultramarine which put me in the key of purple warm.  Obviously titanium white made an appearance later on though.

So I sprayed the paper and squeezed a peaful of each of the primaries onto my porcelain palette.  Then I sprayed the paper randomly and used a palette knife to put the paint straight onto a horizon line through the middle of the paper with no water added.  I sprayed the paint again and tipped it around a bit to see what happened.  I say to see what happened - the real objective was to work out which half of the paper would be the sky and which half the foreground.  After a while I worked this out, then started pushing some of the paint around in an attempt to create a bit of foliage.  I ended up with that purple thing in the top right.

At this point I probably should have wet a brush and pulled the existing paint around into interesting shapes.  But I made the mistake of adding more paint instead - some for the trees in the top left and lots of it filling out the foreground.  I sprayed on more water and pulled the paint around, trying to get some interesting foreground shapes but the damage had already been done and I was starting to create mud, which takes some doing, let me tell you, when you're only using three transparent colours.  I threw on some salt but it only had any effect in the top right of the sky.

So it was time for a rethink and a rescue plan.  This was a job for titanium white.  l'm starting to really like this colour.  It will never end up taking a slot on my palette because I use it straight from the tube a lot of the time.  And I did indeed start with the paint almost neat and added fallen snow in appropriate places, which meant on the trees, on the purple plant (and in the nooks between leaves in particular) and along the tops of little hillocks in the foreground.  It took a couple of coats to get the white as opaque as I needed it in the more important places.  And on some places, the snow picked up a little colour from what was underneath, which I didn’t mind a bit.  Then I watered the white down a little and spattered it everywhere. After standing back and looking at the painting, I added a little bit more snow in one spot to make it all easier on the eye.

And then I stopped.  I'm glad I didn't stop earlier because the titanium white ended up doing an amazing rescue job.  Where, before, there were muddy colours in the trees and foreground, those areas have somehow become colourful again, with all three primaries shining separately and working well together.  I don't know how this happened.  But something else weird has happened too.  Those snowy banks have ended up looking more like choppy water waves, with that plant in the top right looking like a wave breaking in some rocks.  It's an ambiguous painting.  Is it snow?  Is it waves?  I'm just going to call it Sastrugi.  Sastrugi are snow waves, which seems appropriate.  Algernon and Jimi couldn’t come up with any better names today.

And overall, whisper it but this looks OK to me.  I like the ambiguity, the colours within the waves, the dirty whites and all those colours in the sky.  It's up for sale.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

The Cities Were Abandoned And The Forests Echoed Song

It's been a bad day at the office today.  I wanted to use some of the lessons I learned the other day after sorting my paintings by colour key.  I looked through my folder of painting ideas and found an autumnal photo of some vines against a foggy background that I'm guessing was a BBC news stock photo for wine-related stories.  I thought that this having lots of orange in it but no blazing sun would work well in t(e key of orange cool, so my three primaries were Prussian blue, Indian low and rose dore.

I drew the scene in pencil first.  This was a mistake for two reasons.  First, I should only have added the drawing after the underpainting (otherwise it's too hard to see the pencil marks) and, second, I shouldn't have drawn in leaves to colour in: I'd have been better off adding fairly random leaves.

Anyway, the underpainting went down next, including the wall and buildings.  I messed up here as well.  8 sjhpuld have put down the wall and buildings and then followed up with the fog.  Instead I did them both together and the wall and shed just don’t look like there's much fog in front of them.  Any way, the background started off as quite neutral colour.  While it was still wet I sprayed some water on it, then spattered in the three primaries and tipped the watercolour block around a bit.  I wasn't getting much exciting stuff going on, so I must admit I did mix in the primaries by brushing over.

And then everything else was added in glazes.  I couldn't see much of my drawing, so this didn't come out anything like as good as I'd planned.  First I put down. Indian yellow for all the leaves, grapes and branches.  Then I added the rose dore to the branches and most of the leaves.  Finally I added Prussian blue to the grapes, the branches and just a few of the leaves.  After that, I did a load of tinkering.  I put Prussian blue into the darkest shadows on and neap between the grapes, negatively painting the grapes in places.  I went over all the grapes with a thin, unifying, green glaze and all the branches with a thin, unifying neutral glaze.  I tried some extra yellow glazes around the left of some of the grapes in an attempt to make them look more three-dimensional.

It was all to no avail, really.  I ended up with the clunker that, to be honest, I deserved.  I did one last bit of tinkering, adding highlights to most of the grapes, some of the branches and the foreground shed in titanium white.  It took two coats to get them white enough and they do make the grapes look three-dimensional but I find the white a little stark against the colours behind it.

I suspect I may have been moderately happy with this a few years ago but not now.  It's not going up for sale.  With no decent Blackwood story names or Hendrix song titles springing to mind, this one takes its name from some Rush lyrics.  RIP Professor Peart.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

El Bandido

Today's painting started off from a reference photo of Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly  but I never could get any sort of likeness to emerge.  On the other hand, someone with a bit of personality did emerge eventually, even if he was only some generic Mexican bandit.

The thing I enjoy most about oil pastels is that I can keep tinkering as long as I like and it doesn't destroy the painting like it does with watercolour.  And I did a lot if tinkering in this one.  It was the tache and the mouth that caused me most problems and kept me coming back, although there may also have been a problem with the skin tones keeping darkening every time I messed with the tache, leaving me needing to apply more white to tidy it up.  One thing I didn’t have any problems with, though, was the nose: every time I reapplied pastel to it, it kept its 3D form.

Overall, I rate this as a slight failure and not worth putting up for sale.  The eyes are a bit skewy and I can't bring myself to forget that this was supposed to be LVK.

Going forward, this is my last oil pastel in the A5-ish size.  I'm now moving on to A4-ish, which will make details less fiddly and hopefully mean I produce better work.  In other news I'm starting to wonder whether air need a second set of oil pastels so I can use one set for landscapes and another for portraits.  Hmmm….

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Another Look At Colour Keys

This post has been planned for a while but it's only now that I've got enough data around to be able to finally put it together.

A while back, I did a post on colour keys.  If I do a painting that's dominated by three primaries, there are eight different combinations of warm/cool blue, warm/cool yellow and warm/cool red that I could use. I’ve given these eight combinations names and, for all watercolours that have been based around three primaries, I've been stating in the posts which key I've painted in.  What I'm doing today, though, is grouping together paintings by key in an attempt to identify common themes within individual keys and to just understand the keys a bit better.  Basically, I'm a scientist at heart (more of a scientist than an artist) and I want to look at some experimental results and learn things.

First up is purple cool, made up of warm/purpley blue, cool/purpley red and cool/greeny yellow:

Interestingly, these paintings are not always purpley.  If there's purple anywhere, it tends to be in some cold looking skies.  This key is capable of producing a wide range of colours (check out the two guys from the Hateful Eight in the middle).  On the other hand, look at the two on the right in the middle row - when used with a bit of finesse, this key is great for painting chilly village mornings.  And there are a couple in the top row that are a bit dark and show how important it is to control values in this key.

Next, purple warm, made up of warm/purpley blue, cool/purpley red and warm/orangey yellow:

There are some outliers there but it's clear that this is a fiery key, great for warm sunsets and for warm, inviting buildings.  With the yellow and blue being as far from green as possible, it should come as no surprise that there's not a lot of green in these paintings.  And I don't see a great deal of it here but there must be a great opportunity within this key to set up some great orange/purple clashes.

Next up, orange warm, made up of warm/purpley blue, warm/orangey red and warm/orangey yellow:
Another warm palette, but this time, with warm versions of all three primaries, it's much hotter.  It's a desert heat rather than a nice warm U.K. summer evening heat.  The one in the top right is an exception but this is because I didn’t use much yellow in it.  Again, the combination of warm blue and warm red mean that it's hard to get any decent greens.

And what about orange cool?  Cool/greeny blue, warm/orangey red and warm/orangey yellow:
The temperature has come back down.  These paintings feel cooler but they still have orange in them.  So if I want orange colours but not the heat of the desert (e.g. for autumn landscapes), I need to include a cool blue in there.  This key also seems to work well for churches if I want to make them warm and inviting.  And green is back; some of these paintings have just as much green in them as orange.

Then there's green warm: cool/greeny blue, warm/orangey red and cool/greeny yellow:
Not much green in there, is there?  To be honest, cool blues and cool yellows rarely make the best greens, I'd rather one of those two primaries was warm.  Maybe it's just that the cool yellow is raw sienna so often in these paintings rather than transparent yellow.  Raw sienna is more earthy, so the sort of yellow I'd go for if the main subject of the painting was rocks or buildings.  The best greens here are probably in the bottom left, showing that if I want to use the non-earthy transparent yellow within this key, I need to apply a delicate touch (something that may be lacking in the top right).

Where there's green warm, there must also be a green cool: cool/greeny blue, cool/purpley red and cool/greeny yellow:
With the cool versions of all three primaries, it's no surprise that the paintings in here are the chilliest looking so far.  There's more green around now than there was in the warm green key and they don't look garish: the cool red does a good job bringing them back.  The purple skies and shadows do a great job bringing the temperature down and there a some interesting green/purple clashes going on in places.  The two on the right were a big surprise to me today, with little or no green in sight despite the use of cool yellows and blues.

And then there are the two triadic keys, with more evenly spaced primaries.  First there's triadic right, made up of warm/purpley blue, warm/orangey red and cool/greeny yellow:
Only four in this key, which is a big surprise given how much I like keys in which greens can be made from a blue and yellow, one of which is warm and the other cool.  And how much I like triadic schemes in particular.  It's hard to spot a common theme through all these paintings.  If anything, maybe there's a message that the use of a cool yellow (and this has to be raw sienna, not transparent yellow) and warm blue in the sky cools down the ambient temperature -  the other key with this combination is purple cool.  Maybe compared to purple cool, this key is fighting harder against the chill?  In this key the houses seem to have the heating on whereas in purple cool you think everyone inside is wearing jumpers.

And finally, there's triadic left, which I suspected before starting would be my favourite (cool/greeny blue, cool/purpley red and warm/orangey yellow):
While these paintings look like they've all been painted in different keys, there's one big common theme here and it's that the colours are absolutely amazing.  The colours all seem to work together, benefiting from the presence of the other colours.  They blend nicely into each other and it's easy to drop extra bits of colour into washes to variegate them.  All these paintings have quinacridone magenta and Indian yellow in there and the blues could be Prussian blue or Winsor blue (green shade).

So what have I learned?  What do these keys have to offer?  Here we go:

- Purple Cool.  For chilly village mornings when people don't have the heating on.  Include some red in the sky.  Have some greenage.  Control values: try to keep the painting quite light.

- Purple Warm.  For sunsets and either warm summer evenings or chillier evenings with warm inviting buildings.  Not much green around.

- Orange Warm.  The heat of the desert.  No green in sight.

- Orange Cool.  Paintings with orange that are not baking hot, eg autumn paintings.  Try a bit of green to contrast with the orange.

- Green Warm.  Jury still out.  Has been used mainly for buildings so far.  Need to try out this key with transparent yellow.

- Green Cool.  Seems OK for green paintings but also works well with no green.  Feels like a cool day late in the summer.  Good green/purple contrasts.

- Triadic Right.  Possibly for cool days when people have the heating on indoors.

- Triadic Left.  The most amazing colour combinations.  Try to resist the temptation to use this every time.

That was definitely an interesting investigation.  Lab coat off now, though, and back to painting today or tomorrow.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Hartlip Church In The Snow

A month or so ago, someone from the village church was asking about the possibility of me painting something they could use for the church's Christmas card.  So today I've been busy with this wintry painting and trying out some of the ideas from that Nita Engle book.

The primaries today were cerulean blue, rose dore and both raw sienna and Indian yellow.  With two yellows in the palette, this painting is in a mixture of two keys: orange cool in the warm places and green warm in the cool places.  These are colours that work really well for the church and that also did a great job on The Rose And Crown In The Sun.  Titanium white also made an appearance.

After finding a suitable reference photo (from the middle of summer with no snow) I pencilled in the picture.  Then I painted masking fluid over all the places I wanted there to be snow and over the flagpole.  And for good measure I also spattered some fluid everywhere for falling snow.

And today I started with an underpainting.  I used all four primaries, trying to have more red on the roofs, blue and red in the shadows and yellow around the lantern and Indian yellow in a few spots in the doorway and around top of the church where I wanted some welcoming warmth.  In the underpainting, I just assumed the sky would remain untouched afterwards, which it was.

Then I added several layers of glazes to the church and foreground, variegating colours, keeping shadows dark, trying to make the door welcoming, trying to distinguish the different coloured bricks in places.  I was tempted by the salt, so added one final thin glaze of raw sienna and threw the salt on but it wasn’t performing today.

When I was happy with the church, I moved on to the tree, dabbing in all four primaries separately with the Terry Harrrison tree and foliage brush and blending them together with a bit of water around the middle of the tree.

And then I got to the interesting bit: the removal of the masking fluid.  As expected the snow in the resulting painting was too white.  So I mixed up some watery neutral colours to paint over the snow in places and to try to make the snow three dimensional.  I used more blue and red in the neutral in shadowy areas and more yellow in it in sunny areas.  Things still weren't quite right though - it still looked like raw white paper with a bit of watery neutral colour on it.  So I reached for the titanium white.  I used it quite dry, adding it in places to the existing snow (on top of both the whites and the neutrals) and used it in quite textured strokes to drag existing piles of snow over the grass and footpath.  It felt like dragging the snow around with a shovel, which is a good thing.  I also spattered a lot of titanium white over the painting to turn the gentle snow shower into something more like a blizzard.  And I dabbed some snow onto the tree branches using the tree and foliage brush.

I really like the end result.  The dragging around of the snow with the titanium white at the end made a big difference, as did the titanium white spatters.  And the underpainting definitely made things look lighter above the doorway.

I gave this one to my churchgoing neighbour Barbara as an 80th birthday present, which counts as a sale.  The local church told me that they've not been given permission from the local group of churches to use this on Christmas cards.  Probably something to do with how all this group of churches always use the same pictures as each other on cards every year.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

How To Make A Watercolor Paint Itself, Nita Engle - Book Review

Everybody knew this book review was coming, but what's the verdict?  It's a 144 page paperback, first published in 1999.  It has a nostalgic feel to it, with a layout and font that was de jour twenty years ago.  Mind you, a 144 page art instruction book back then would probably have looked like a monster alongside all the 90-page pamphlets on the spinner racks.

As you'd guess, this is a book about experimental techniques but this isn’t a Jane Betteridge or Ann Blockley book.  Jane's and Ann's techniques are mainly about creating textures but Nita goes further than this.  As well as textural stuff with soap, salt, sticks, stamps, etc she also talks about experimental techniques to paint water and light.

First water.  I enjoyed all the sections in which Nita reminded us that watercolour was mainly water, so could be left to do its own thing if we want it to imitate water.  There's lots of stuff there on spraying the paint to make it splash around and on tipping the paper around to let it run.  Her stormy seas are amazing.

And then there's light.  Nita shows us how to create light by putting down thinly glazed underpaintings, spraying them and letting the water run around.  I've seen this sort of thing in demos in books by Ron Stocke and Joseph Stoddard, but in those cases the underpainting was one step in a demo, whereas here it,s the main focus of the story.  Ron and Joseph say "I did this…" or (worse still) "Do this" whereas Nirta says "We need this bit to be light, so we make it yellow, we need this bit dark, so we use reds and blues.  And we don't want green, so we have a band of red between the yellows and blues".

Nita seems to use a lot of masking fluid.  But I guess that's something you need to do if you want to reserve the whites but are flinging everything around like a Hungarian who's just scored at Euro 2021.  Come to think of it (being reflective here) the only times I've put down underpaintings I've not known what I'm going to paint.  Maybe I need to do a proper landscape with an underpainting at some point with whites reserved.  I may even do this for the local church's Christmas card.

There's other stuff too.  There's composition and making repairs to paintings that don't quite work.  And there's even useful stuff on equipment (I'm not sure I've ever said that before): the best squirting tools, best paint removal tools, best masking fluid (Pebeo, knew that already) and best source of bubbles.

Nita's writing style scores highly.  There's humility there: she talks as if every painting is an experiment.  She even points out that it's always pot luck whether salt works as a texturing tool.  All of her demos are demos and not a list of instructions (always something I notice).  And there's a "voice" there.  She doesn't talk like a robot.  It feels like a proper conversation.

The artwork in here is amazing.  Sometimes you look at a book and don’t like the look of the artwork, but that's definitely not the case here.  In fact this book only recently made its way to the top of my wishlist because, for a long time, I was put off by the artwork.  It looked too good and suggested that this book might be beyond my abilities.  Deep down, though, it's a book about experimentation with an emphasis on making the paint do all the work.  And the words around the artwork are enough to identify the particular features of the artwork that Nita wants to talk about.  It's just that, rather than learning from an artist that I can aspire to match (in terms of quality - I don't mean match as in copy) I'm learning from an artist that will always be out of my league.  I guess this means I'm not as inspired by the artwork in this book as the artwork in others.  More advanced artists than me, though, will be inspired by Nita's paintings: in Liron Yanconsky's review of the book on YouTube, he talks more about the paintings in the book than the techniques!

Still, I like this book and learned a lot from it.  It scores four palettes.