Art Blogs

Tindall's of Tideswell

​In this drawing I used five or six pencil set up lines to get the proportions of the buildings then I used a fineliner pen to fill in the rest of the details. Next I added watercolour.

The final drawing has a much more informal feel to it as a result. I remember it was very cold and grey in Tideswell.

Tindall's of Tideswell

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall

​This drawing was done in Stephanie Bower's workshop Soaring Spaces at the 2016 Manchester Urban Sketchers symposium. I left my pencil setup lines in place to show how the perspective was arrived at.

Without ink lines this little artwork seems more painterly.

In Defence of Pencils

​When I started to sketch in earnest I encountered some prejudice against the humble pencil! But… I like to use a graphite pencil when I sketch or draw. Pencil is both flexible and subtle. 

For a while I tried going straight to ink to draw but it didn't sit well with me. I had too many restated lines and couldn't see what I was doing through the tangle of black ink my inexperience had created. My drawings weren't pleasing me; my art wasn't making me happy. I went back to using a pencil. 

In the early days I did a lot of erasing. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing but it did make me more likely to fuss and that wasn't good. These days I simply restate my lines and because I use a pencil the incorrect lines quietly fade away. 

The beauty of using a pencil is I can elect to ink in some parts of my drawing to add definition and focus. By inking only some lines I can take advantage of atmospheric perspective. Sometimes I pencil in only a few set up lines and complete the rest of the drawing in ink and then add colour. Sometimes I trace over all my pencil lines. Sometimes I do a pencil outline and add any detail with watercolour only. By using a pencil I can mix things up and that makes me happy. 

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Pencils are simply tools. Just like pen and ink. They deserve their place in the artist's toolkit.


​A short lesson on ellipses

While there aren't many true circles in the natural world (I can't think of any apart from the sun and the moon) there are plenty in the built world. From small items like saucers to big objects like towers there are plenty of round things. Since we mostly look at our world in perspective, rather than plan view, we see circles as ellipses.

This means as artists we get lots of opportunities to draw them. Even so, with all the practice I get drawing ellipses I find them tricky little things to get right. It's all to do with foreshortening. My most common mistake if I'm drawing a cup is making the ellipse a little too round so it looks like I'm standing up drinking my coffee rather than reclining in a cool and relaxed manner.

I sometimes draw the saucer ellipse inconsistently to the cup ellipse. This means the saucer looks like it's tipping up instead of being flat on the table. If that were the case my coffee cup would slide into my lap. Which wouldn't be at all cool.

Why does this matter? Well… in the overall scheme of things it doesn't. It only matters to me because I've set myself the challenge of nailing these tricky little ellipses.

Four things I've learnt about ellipses:

They are usually more elongated than I think

They have rounded ends not pointy ones

They are symmetrical.

The closer to my eye level the less round and more elongated they are

Tennis set or TV set

This type of cup and saucer with an attached side plate was called a tennis set before TVs were invented. I think they are a good idea but I have never seen a contemporary one. In this drawing the cup and its saucer look OK to my eye but the "side plate" seems to be tipping up. I'd run the risk that my slice of cake would slip off. That's an example of inconsistent foreshortening.


Lots of little ellipses. As I said, ellipses are to be found all over the place.

Go Green

My dear, late grandmother was afraid of green. She once had a beautiful green woollen coat but the moths got to it and ruined it beyond repair. After that Nana developed a fear of green. Of course, other things in her life had contributed to her state of mind. However, her superstition regarding green was firmly held.

One time she asked me to buy her some tissues. When I returned from the pharmacy with a box of pretty aqua tissues she burst into tears and refused to use them.

For quite a while after that I was a bit leery of green myself. But green is such a pretty colour I couldn't be without it somewhere in my wardrobe or decor. Green, after all, is the colour of new shoots; of life. It is also the colour of the Aussie $100 bill. I wonder if a fist full of $100 bills would have caused Nana to regard green differently. I suspect I would have been despatched to the bank to change them for bills of another hue.

Earlier this year I spent a week in Burnsall in the Yorkshire Dales, England. The view from my bedroom window was almost entirely green save for a grey barn. The scene was especially pretty in the late afternoon when that lovely golden light creates a special magic. I was inspired to capture the scene as best I could. I'm not across light the way Monet was but I had a go anyway.

Here is my sketchy green painting. Putting that much of one colour into a drawing was nerve wracking. I had to keep an eye on tone so that the sketch would "read". In the end I was pleased with the outcome even though there are some issues like the background house being out of scale; also the telegraph pole. Both should be smaller. I didn't quite capture the golden light either but that's the challenge.

In my next post maybe I'll offer a few suggestions for mixing greens – or not.

Burnsall, Yorkshire Dales

Go Green 2

Taxation time I'm late posting this because I had to do my tax which is due by 31st October. I used to get an accountant to do my tax. I have lodged my tax but it took longer than expected and I ended up being stressed. Maybe that's why I ought to pay an accountant.

Some thoughts on mixing greens

I mentioned last time that I'd offer a few suggestions for mixing greens. In any painting it's always important to have a range of tones so here are three tones of greens to have a play with. Most blues are granulating which I'm not overly keen on for foliage so these mixes are made with Phthalo blue and green.

Here are the colours you'll need. Phthalo Blue GS (pigment PB15.1) Phthalo Green GS (pigment PG7) Green Gold (pigment PG129) Quinacridone Gold – I've used W&N Your choice of mid yellow. I used Sennelier Aureoline PY40 A dark green Phthalo Blue (green shade) + W&N quinacridone gold + a teeny amount of alizarin crimson. NOT too much water. A mid tone green Green Gold + Phthlo Blue (green shade). This mix can also be dark but it is brighter than the one above. It needs to be wetter than the dark green mix to achieve the mid tone. A light bright green Phthalo Green + any mid yellow. Start with the yellow and add small amounts of green so that you get a nice "Spring" green. If you want to dull it down some add a touch of red.

Alternatively, Schmincke makes a colour called May Green that uses Phthalo Green and mid yellow (PY151 + PG7). Any of these mixes can be made stronger or weaker depending on the amount of water used. It looks to me like I should have diluted the mid tone little more. Neither Green Gold nor Quin Gold are pure yellows so they dull down the green mix making it look more natural. To make a green even more muted add a tiny amount of Alizarin Crimson. Raw Phthalo green is a most unnatural green but it mixes well with mid yellows. It does double duty by adding a little jewel of bright to a sketch if you include people and objects. A Phthalo green tee shirt or vase, say, look good. Raw Phthalo Blue also works to add a touch of bright. Just for fun you might like to try Phthalo Green with some Dioxazine Purple. Alizarin Crimson is close to Phthalo Green's exact compliment and so together they will mix to a neutral grey. However, the purple makes a close to neutral shadow colour that harmonises well and doesn't look as flat as a grey might.

A few notes:

Apart from Daniel Smith all other Quin Golds are mixes and not single pigment colour.

If DS Quin Gold (PO49) is used in the mix the green tends toward olive because there is a lot of red in PO49.

Green Gold works well with Phthalo Blue too. Using it results in a slightly lighter hue.

The pigment used in Phthalo Blue seems to vary between brands; some using PB15.1 others PB15.3.

Travel Art

In July this year [2016] I went to Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester. Because I was travelling from Sydney I wanted to make the journey worth the long flight by staying away for around six weeks and spending time in Finland, Estonia and Yorkshire.

These days when I travel I like to record my trip in a travel journal. Here are some of my sketches just because I feel like posting them. I get immense pleasure from my journal. I made it from scratch using a coptic binding method and a mix of watercolour papers that I like. It's lovely to have a record of my trip that I created in its entirety.

Strawberries with Elderflower Ice-cream.

First up is a sketch of my dessert the first night I was in Helsinki. In summer berries grow in abundance in Finland so they were on the menu just about every time we sat down to eat. We enjoyed a lot of really top meals in Finland. "Herkullinen" means delicious and it was. ​

Part of the China Collection

The second sketch was done in Tallinn in Estonia. I loved the old city but boy oh boy was it crowded. About 10 cruise ships arrive each day in the summer and from 10.00am until mid afternoon hordes of people throng to the medieval town. I escaped into the museum for some peace and quiet. I'm glad I did. As well as learning about the history of the ancient port I was able to see real Delft for the first time. Naturally, I had to record it. The vase with the butterfly isn't Delft. I just think it is pretty. I should add the museum was the only place I could sketch undisturbed. Outside the streets were both too narrow and too crowded to get a clear view to draw. Maybe I should visit in winter. I'd need a coat though.

Uspenski Cathedral

On my second day in Helsinki I thought I'd like to draw the dome of the Uspenski Cathedral. I'm not posting that drawing because it is pretty terrible. I just couldn't seem to work out the way the dome was constructed. As things turned out though, I got another chance to try my hand with the dome when we changed our travel plans and returned to the Finnish capital for a few extra days before coming home.

Uspenski Cathedral is Eastern Orthodox. It sits high on a rocky outcrop overlooking Helsinki. The inside is wonderful with decoration on every surface. Painted icons of the saints, framed in silver or gold, line the walls and the devout pray before them sometimes touching them with affection or even a kiss. They ask the saints to intercede on their behalf with God.

Uspenksi is much more tolerant of tourists than the Orthodox churches in Estonia. The Finns permit photography and aren't strict with dress codes and the wearing or not of hats. In Estonia I saw a warden clip a young boy over the ear for failing to remove his cap. The warden did this in between reading verses from his bible and crossing himself.

Here is the drawing I did of the outside of the cathedral including the dome, along with a photo of the inside that Paul took.

I took Nina Johansson's workshop at symposium. Her theme was Macro to Micro – A Visual Story of a Building. The aim; to sketch a building in its wider context and zoom in on smaller details. Here some of the smaller details are from inside the church. I have used a limited palette as suggested by Shari Blaukopf in her workshop. The colours are Quin Gold, Cobalt Teal and Perm Alizarin Crimson. Lastly, I did the set up according to Stephanie Bower 's workshop Soaring Spaces. My Uspenski drawing Interior of Cathedral Under the dome ​

Helsinki Cathedral

After sitting outside to draw Uspenski Cathedral I thought I'd like to have a look at the interior of Helsinki Cathedral which is Lutheran. Two houses of worship couldn't be more different. After the exuberance of Uspenski the Lutheran Cathedral was all cool restraint. Even though I was tired I had to draw the interior just because it was so different. It was also a soaring space which meant I could apply what I'd learnt in Stephanie Bower's workshop at symposium.

I ended up being too fatigued to finish the drawing that afternoon but went back the next morning. At 10.50 AM the bells started peeling and I realised there was soon to be a service. A woman chaplain appeared and proceeded to give a short service in Finnish, German and English. There was a hymn sung also in the three languages followed by a short history of the church. It was a nice way to spend the morning. Sketching (with permission – I did ask) and receiving a blessing as I did so.

Again I used the macro to micro approach. I can't remember if I used a limited palette or not. This time the visuals are reversed. My sketch is of the interior and Paul's photo is of the exterior.

If you're interested in seeing more of our visit to Helsinki, click here.

Helsinki Cathedral - a bit like a wedding cake

Helsinki (Lutheran) Cathedral

Wharves 1

The old town of Porvoo in Finland is very photogenic. Down by the riverside is a series of old wharves that I very much wanted to draw and paint. I found a shady spot on the opposite bank and set to work. A charming woman from Hong Kong stopped to talk with me. She was interested in what I was doing and admired my art which is always encouraging. In return I took some photos of her with the wharves in the back ground.

I decided to add paint back in my hotel where it was more comfortable to work. I was pleased with my drawing and looking forward to capturing the colour and sunshine with my paints. Alas I failed. The end result is OK. It gets 5/10. Like a comment on one of my university essays "there's nothing wrong with it and nothing right with it".

The afternoon sun shone very brightly on the facades making the red coloured timber look very strong and flat. I painted the wharves like that but failed to capture the intensity of the light. My wharves looked flat and uninspired. There's a paradox. A surface that looks to be a flat uniform colour can't be painted a flat uniform colour. It doesn't look natural. I wanted to know why. To find out, I used the edit function in iPhotos to look at photos of the wharves in black and white. It showed what I suspected but couldn't see with the naked eye. The colour of the paint on the facades had subtle variations in tone. I should have painted them with subtle variations in my paint.

I also made the mistake of trying to fix the problem. That really isn't a good idea with watercolour. It only makes things worse. The end result is that the wharves are a dirty orange instead of a deep rust red. And… it looks like a dull day when it was really a bright afternoon.

I'll just have to return to Porvoo!

Wharves at Porvoo

Wharves 2

I was walking around the harbour foreshore of Sydney with a Meetup group and saw, off in the distance, a row of colourful wharves. I knew I'd have to return to draw them later in the week.

I find the pitch of the single gabled roof a very appealing aspect of wharves. These Sydney ones are painted in clear, bright colours with a contrasting white trim. I find that combination very attractive too.

After my disappointment with the drawing of the Porvoo wharves I took my own advice and slightly varied the colour of each facade as I painted it. It was a bright, sunny blue sky day typical of Sydney in late Spring. I'm much happier this time around.

Waterview Wharf Workshops, Mort Bay, Sydney


Sometimes I see something I just have to paint but I haven't been doing this painting malarkey long enough to feel truly relaxed and expressive. It seems, however, I'm being pulled to try. I took a photo of these flowers in the Yorkshire town of Pately Bridge. They were in a planter box on top of a dividing fence. The riot of pretty colours attracted me. I found the photo the other day and had to try to get something down in paint. This is the third attempt.

I didn't want to make botanical art which, although I love, takes a fair bit of time. I wanted to splash paint around. I find it hard to get that semi-abstract look between realistic flowers and crude blobs of paint. I'm happy enough with this small semi-abstract.

Painted on Saunders Waterford 300gsm. A5 size.

Painted abstract of flowers drawing

Bookbinding Posted on 23 November, 2015

Bookbinding Posted on 23 November, 2015Journal Stash I have quite a stash of sketchbooks but so far have not managed to find “the one”. I have a couple that are close to what I want but none that are exactly so. It’s either the size or the paper or both that I’m not mad for.

For everyday doodling and playing around the 6″ x 8″ spiral bound Stillman and Birn Alpha books are nice. I also like the Hahnemühle 6″x 6″ book. In both cases the 150 gsm paper isn’t robust enough for serious watercolour. It will take a light wash which is fine for regular daily practice but I’d prefer better quality paper for travel journals or work where I want to develop my watercolour skills.

At the moment I’m using a Daler Rowney 10″ x 7″ mixed media travel book with 200gsm paper. image

The paper is very nice but it doesn’t seem to have a lot of sizing which makes using watercolour trickier. I like the format of this book a lot. It has a two tone cover with a magnetic closure.image

The trouble is, it’s only available from America. I managed to get hold of a watercolour paper version in England in 2013 but that seems to have been discontinued. A nice book with 300gsm watercolour paper is the Arches Field Journal. Once again, this is only available from America. I can get an Arches pad here but it has a floppy front cover which is simply not sturdy enough for travel journaling or urban sketching. The Moleskine watercolour paper is very nice to use but I don’t like the size of the journals.


This is where bookbinding comes in. I spent a recent weekend doing a beginner’s course on the craft at a book bindery in Sydney. I made a fully bound book with a wrap around case to put it in. It turned out quite well but wouldn’t win first prize at the Royal Easter Show. There are a few little errors within its covers.image

Having hands on experience was invaluable. I now have sufficient knowledge to make my own watercolour journals with the paper of my choice which at the moment would be Saunders Waterford 190gsm by St Cuthbert’s Mill. I am allowed to use the bindery’s book press so will be able to create a fully bound, hand sewn book. Alternatively, I may make a wire bound version like the Daler Rowney books if I can find a commercial bindery prepared to do a very small run.

Here We Are Again Posted on 10 November, 2015

A health related incident at the end of May has seen me out of action for a while but it’s time to get this blog going again so here I am. I didn’t make it to Singapore so there is nothing from me on that score.

On to nicer things

In the middle of October, Paul and I went to Kangaroo Island for a week, followed by another five days in the Clare Valley. It was lovely in both places although they are very different. I used TravelPod to make a travel blog with narrative, photos and even a map. To see my Travelpod blog click here

I’ve posted some of my travel sketches most of which I did in the same travel journal I took to France in 2014. I struggle a bit with this journal. It’s an A5 mixed media Strathmore. While the paper is good, watercolour paint dries quite quickly on it unless it’s a very wet application. So far I’ve managed to botch two spreads but I’ve either papered over them or stuck pages together to keep the journal going.

The first sketch is of Pennington Bay which is a remote surf beach on the Southern coast of Kangaroo Island. The day we visited there were only twelve people and two dogs on the beach. I drew the scene in the Strathmore journal but left the painting for later. I hadn’t painted a surf beach before and I couldn’t get it to work on the paper in the journal. This is my third attempt which I ended up doing on Arches paper. Pennington Bay, Kangaroo IslandPenn Bay

The following spread is from the Strathmore book. The emu and the truck were drawn at Emu Ridge eucalyptus oil distillery; the pelicans, down by the water’s edge in the island’s capital, Kingscote.

I have been doing Marc Taro Holmes’ on-line Craftsy course on Travel Sketching. All these drawings started with a light pencil line, then some black fineliner pen followed by the addition of some dark accents with a black brush pen before adding paint.

As ever it’s important to to go easy with the various media and to let the paint DRY between layers.

Lastly, another spread which features a wallaby. I’m pleased with this little sketch (which is from a photo) because I found my groove with the Strathmore paper. The sketch of the cottage where we stayed was done following the guidelines in Stephanie Bower’s Craftsy class on perspective.

Pages from my 2014 Travel Journal Posted on 7 May, 2015

Pages from my 2014 Travel Journal Posted on 7 May, 2015 This illustrated travel journal has been a work in progress. Everything was drawn in the place featured but colour and lettering were added either later in the day or after I returned home. It’s still not quite finished even though it’s not very long. I draw slowly and I don’t wish to spend all my travel time sketching. Sometimes I just want to sit a gaze at a view and marvel that I’m half way around the world from home and that I’ve gotten there mostly under my own steam.

The first picture is of where I stayed for ten days. It was a darling cosy little cottage in Broad Campden. The map shows the places I visited. This is only a tiny part of the Cotswolds but I managed to fill each of the ten days I spent there. Green Cottage and map of places visited Stanway House Gatehouse Coffee in Moreton in Marsh; a visit to Batsford Arboretum

After staying in England I headed to Avignon where I spent a few days before going on a small group tour into the heart of Provence. Scenes of Avignon Scenes from Provence

Urban Sketcher’s Symposium, Singapore, Posted on 24 April, 2015

Urban Sketcher’s Symposium Singapore 2015 Posted on 24 April, 2015 | Leave a comment I’ve registered and chosen my four workshops for the USk symposium in Singapore in July this year. It’s hard deciding which tutors and classes are best likely to advance my confidence and skills. My BIG interest is tone and getting my sketches and paintings to look like the sun is shining. For that reason I had to take Matthew Brehm’s workshop, The Structure of Light in Watercolour. I follow Shari Blaukopf’s blog and am interested in how she achieves what she does so her workshop Big Brush Colour: Capturing that First Impression was the next choice. I want to know how draw more lively scenes. Beginners, including me, start by drawing single objects then work their way towards more complex scenes which makes sense. No longer a beginner, I am confident these days drawing single objects, buildings, what have you and want to move on to capturing the busyness and bustle of place. Some describe this as telling a story through a sketch. This lead to a dilemma; do I do Marc Taro Holmes’ workshop or Suhita Shirodkar’s Capturing Chaos: Drawing a Crowd. As I’ve bought Marc’s book and enrolled in his Craftsy class I decided on Suhita’s workshop. Last but not least, I chose Richard James’s workshop. Then I changed my mind. Then I changed it back again. I like Richard’s stylised work. I’ll be wanting to learn how he draws straight lines while standing up. His workshop is called Capturing Singapore’s Lively Spaces. In Summary I have elected two more painterly oriented workshops and two about getting to grips with the bustle of a place. I have two female teachers and two male ones. There were two or three other teachers I would have liked to work with but participants are limited to four workshops.

After having decided upon my workshops I turned to getting my accommodation and flights sorted. That took a whole afternoon. I’ve been only briefly to Singapore and that was years ago so I wasn’t quite sure where to start as regards choosing a hotel. In the end I looked at the locations of my various workshops and that of the National Design Centre. Armed with that information I booked a hotel which is close to each of my events. After speaking to a friend yesterday it turns out to be a good location for some other sightseeing too.

The next thing is to check my equipment lists against what I have in “The Stash”. I’m at the stage where I DO need an excuse to buy more art supplies. It looks like I will have to get a range of tube watercolours and also some larger format watercolour blocks for the two painterly workshops. A much more satisfying purchase than the clichéd woman’s must have, namely shoes. Although I like a good pair of shoes too.

In the Beginning, Posted on 20 April, 2015  

Once upon a time I decided I’d like to try my hand at botanical art so I enrolled in a six week course. I thought it would be easy to paint an apple but it wasn’t. It was easy enough to draw the apple in graphite but quite hard to paint it since I’d never used watercolour before. I used up an awful lot of hot press Fabriano Artistico paper trying to get something resembling a Pink Lady apple. By the end of the six weeks I had managed to paint a competent apple.

I haven’t done any botanical art since. I turned instead to travel sketching and urban sketching and just drawing the every day which is why I call myself a global, urban, suburban sketcher. I have drawn in Fiji, the Kimberley, Kakadu, Spain, England, Norfolk Island, France, urban Sydney and Melbourne, suburban Sydney and Melbourne and quite a lot in my own home at the dining room table.

As for botanical art… well I may just start to dabble in that again too because it is very meditative drawing and painting something slowly and with extreme accuracy.

Pink Lady apple

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