My Workspace

My Workspace

I have been asked on a couple of occasions to show my work space. As I am still working on the snow scene, this seems like a good opportunity.

As you can see, it is rather cramped. We live in a Victorian cottage, built 1889, which is charming but not intended for 21st century living. There is an extension on the back, built around 1980, but that extended the ground floor only, so the kitchen is a good size which is the main thing, but sometimes could do with more space upstairs. But it is enough

This is really the third bedroom which we don’t need so converted to an office. Computer, books and files are all here, and  I also paint here. I recommend an easel with a drawer, so that you can get the colours you need, ready to use. Nothing worse than rummaging through boxes looking for a colour with the paint drying on the paper.

I am rather particular when it comes to lighting too. I buy from a company called Serious Readers who specialise in lighting for people who do close work, and also for people with less than perfect sight. Some of their lights emulate daylight. The light that I use is brilliant but warm, which I prefer to daylight. As you can see, my window space is small and faces north. My neighbour’s hedge does not help!! The bulbs are low-energy despite their brilliance, and long-lasting, 25,000 hours as I remember. Mine is floor-standing but they do table models. Their web site will tell you anything you need to know

You can just about make out where I have laid out my favourite brushes on the side, and also my old white dinner plate which I use for mixing and which I prefer to a pallette. Brushes that I use all the time are the large hake for overall washes,and  a range of squirrel brushes which are a joy to use, as they hold so much water that you can paint on and on. Also they will come to a point despite their size, so you can use them for detailing too. I do also have a couple of detail brushes as well, and a square edged brush for straight lines

I don’t tend to go in for very fine detailing even with architecture, probably because I can’t but do admire people who can. My excuse is, that I have a tremor in my hands which is not to worry about, just a nuisance. I think it must be genetic, as my father who is close to 100 years old, writes like a lie detector, so that will be me trying to paint one day, I guess. Perhaps I will do Jackson Pollock look-a-likes insteadSome of my reference books

Just some of my reference books.

These books are like recipe books for artists, and just as well thumbed. Many of them are American, really excellent, from whom I have learned a lot, and maybe I will do a post on one or two in the future. Some of their methods are really interesting, especially when portraying texture in watercolour. Next are my favourite two authors, both British, coming up.Two favourite authors

David Curtis produces mouth-watering watercolours in gentle, gentle colours that somehow lift off the page. I can never get anywhere near his work. The other painter, whose work I often refer back too is, Rowland Hilder, now sadly deceased. He is known for winter landscape, especially in his native Kent, in south-east England. The landscape is fairly flat there, so big threatening skies are a speciality of his, some of which I have attempted, sometimes successfully I am pleased to say. He also did a lot of seascape especially around the Thames estuary, as he was also a sailor, and spent a lot of time in and around east-coast harbours

That pretty well completes my article on my work space. If anything I suppose, it does show that you can work in a confined space with just the basic tools. If you need to know anything else about equipment, if I can help then I will

Snow Painting: the Working Sketch

Snow Painting Sketch

This is my sketch, done fairly quickly, which, I think will give me some sense of direction. I need to use the photograph less now and my sketch more

The snow will be denoted by the paper that I shall leave white. There will be some masking out to be done, and as I don’t have a photographic reference for the snow, I shall have to be thorough in planning where the snow would lie. One thing that masking fluid is good for, is making a blobby line which does give the appearance of snow

I must remember to put snow on both sides of the roof. This is easily forgotten. I have certainly forgotten to show this on the drawing. Some will gather in the trough of the broach spire. Window ledges, tops of grave stones, buttresses, snow will cling to horizontal surfaces of these. The ground level must look uneven as snow piles up the wall of the church

I usually like to paint snow-covered buildings as though some slight thaw has taken place, so that the ridge-tiles and part of the roof show through. This makes a bit more interest and relief from all that white.

The church stands on high ground. I have exaggerated the gradient in the drawing, slightly, to increase the interest. Shadows, when I put them in, will tell the eye where the ground lies, and pick out the ups and downs. Also I have put a couple of houses in the background, which are dropped down behind the slope.

I usually put in some frozen looking bushes and dead-looking grasses, strategically, so that hopefully they will indicate that the ground slopes down towards us

So, plenty to do. Best get on.

Snow Painting

Pyrford Parish Church

Using the charming little church of St.Nicholas at Pyrford, one of the Woking villages. To give an idea of the sort of effect I want to achieve, the following painting of Wanborough Barn near Farnham, was done from a photograph without snow, just adding snow from imagination. We don’t get enough snow, I am afraid, to get good snow scene shots to work from, so we will just have to adapt what we haveWanborough Barn near Farnham

Wanborough Barn near Farnham, with added snow

So that is the task to be tackled next. I need a snow scene for my next exhibition, as usually they sell quite well.

Just a word about St.Nicholas Church. It is an unspoiled but humble village church of the 12th century, retaining many of its original Norman features. Unexceptional apart from having a porch on both sides, which is unusual. It is built from local materials, naturally, using pudding stone and clunch, which is the hard form of the local chalk, used quite a lot for building materials in the area. In some parts of the church, not on the shot I have shown, the walls have been stuccoed over, which was done to give the appearance of stone

That should keep me busy for a little while. I will publish the working sketch just out of interest, just to see which way we go with this

Different people have asked to see photographs of my workspace. I have been taking some pictures and will run a post on that. Not very impressive as we live in a 19th century cottage, and space is at a premium, but it is always surprising how well you can operate from a little corner. Good lighting is essential, and the rather expensive lighting I use, I actually prefer to daylight

I will go into detail on that at a later date

Istanbul: Bosphorus Waterfront: the finished painting

Istanbul Bosphorus Waterfront

The finished painting!

I read somewhere that you have six seconds to catch a reader’s eye before they move on, so I thought I would put the picture first and talk about it afterwards

Once again the photograph has leeched out some of the colour. The painting itself is brighter and fresher than the jpeg, but for the moment is the best I can do

Quite a time consuming painting to do, but rewarding watching the finished view come towards you.

The palette was much as I foretold in one of my previous posts:

Phthalo Blue/ Cobalt Blue mix for the sky and water, with extra phthalo blue on the water

Raw Sienna/Naples Yellow as a base coat for all the buildings etc

Sap Green/raw sienna mix for trees

Transparent Brown/Ultramarine Violet for all shadows

Burnt Sienna for brickwork

Cadmium Red

I did use a little Permanent Rose as a glaze over the brickwork to give it a little zing. The burnt sienna first coat has to be rock hard for this. The result should look as though the sun is catching the building

For the white reflections from the boats, I lifted out the blue back to white paper, and then touched in some White Gouache or body paint, whichever you call it. Still watercolour but opaque

Fun to do, but nice to finish. This painting will go towards my exhibition at the Guildford Institute in May, which seems a long way off but really isn’t as I have much to do. I still need a snow scene for the exhibition and will be working on that next. As we so rarely have snow these days, I shall have to work from a photograph without snow, and put snow in. This is quite a test for the imagination, but it will be interesting to talk about, perhaps in the next post.

The web site has been busy over the last three months, which is nice. The only problem is I am selling paintings which were going in to the exhibition. Can only sell a painting once though, so best get working.

Istanbul,Djakarta and Ouagadougou

Following quickly on from the atrocity in Istanbul, we have further outrages and slaughter in Djakarta and Ouagadougou. Distant places but they affect us all.

These killings are not sanctioned by the Quran or the Prophet. This is the work of a fundamentalist clique who have warped Islamic teaching because of their paranoia. These people are psychopaths. They are hollow. They are motivated by social compliance

They have to be resisted by everyone globally, not just physically. That has to be left to governments. The ideology has to be challenged at every turn, because it is wrong and is not Islam, I am reliably informed

Our sympathies again to all who have suffered from this recent spate of bombings

As a postscript, the painting of the Bosphorus waterfront is still “work in progress” but is taking shape. So far so good

Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain and the Third Curse Of Euston

Head of William Feaver 2003

Head of William Feaver 2003 by Frank Auerbach

We went to the Frank Auerbach exhibition at Tate Britain today, which is on until mid March. I am not at my best with modern painting, perhaps because I lack perception, or that third eye which may be needed to understand non-representational painting. But nevertheless I like to go to exhibitions like these if only to broaden my outlook

Auerbach is reputedly the nation’s greatest living painter. The exhibition has borrowed his paintings from across the continents, many from private collections, and is the first time they have been shown together. He paints in oils and acrylics, and puts the paint on very thickly. Some of his strokes are in fact furrows in the base paint, so thick is it. I found that I needed a very long view, about five or six metres before the image came together.

His work looks spontaneous, yet we are told that he would sand back 30, 50 or even 200 times before he achieved the image he wanted. Nightmare for portrait sitters who had to keep coming back

His studio is in Mornington Crescent in Camden, that area of London associated with other famous painters from Camden, like Walter Sickert and Spencer Gore. Plenty of paintings by Auerbach of this area of London, but I particularly like this misty one by Spencer Gore

Mornington Crescent by Spencer Gore

John Sutherland writing in the February issue of The Oldie Magazine informs us that this area is under threat from HS2, the proposed high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham. Half an hour will be clipped from the journey time, and in return we lose part of London’s art heritage.

As well as losing Mornington Crescent, the construction of HS2 will have dire consequences for Camden Lock and Camden Market, which is sought out by thousands of tourists each year, not only local but from overseas as well, so famous is it.

He describes this as the Third Curse of Euston. The first was the destruction of Euston in 1837, then the destruction of the Great Doric Arch, over which Betjeman and Pevsner wept in 1962 and now HS2, in return for which we lose an important chunk of London’s art and architectural heritage

It just doesn’t seem right, does it?


Istanbul:our condolences


Our deepest sympathies to the people of Istanbul, for yet another terrorist outrage in your country today

We were there on this spot in October, so makes it feel closer. Crazy misguided people who can’t be reasoned with are a threat to us all. Somehow they must not win

Such a lovely city, Istanbul. People should keep visiting

Istanbul: Finished Drawing transferred to Watercolour Paper

Not very often that I am moved to include a quotation, but this one in last week’s Painter magazine, seemed very appropriate for artists, no matter what standard they have reached.

” Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art”       Andy Warhol

The drawing has now been transferred onto watercolour paper, seemingly without mishap


I have left the shading out, and just left the line work for guidance. The image has unfortunately cropped some of the drawing out to the left and right hand sides. I did actually achieve the length of 43 centimetres that I wanted.

I didn’t do very much masking out, just a few gulls hovering over the surface and two tiny windows on the Galata Tower which appear to be reflecting sunlight. The boats, I know are brilliant white, but I have chosen to go with the old adage” the darker the darks, the brighter the lights”. In other words if I can make the shaded sides of the boats dark enough, then the rest will appear white. That is the theory. I have done it before, but watch this one go wrong.

I have chosen the following palette, which if I include the mixes as one colour, then I will have a palette of six, which would be quite effective if I can stick to it

Base colour: Raw Sienna/ Naples Yellow blend which is my favourite hot colour for buildings

Shadows : Ultramarine Violet/ Transparent Brown blend

Burnt Sienna

French Ultramarine

Sap Green/Raw Sienna blend for trees

Cadmium Red for those foreground red spots like flags, life belts etc

Not that I am above changing my mind as I go along but that is the palette that I want to stick to. I shall get some detail done before posting again

Just changing the subject, the Frank Auerbach exhibition at Tate Britain finishes the end of this month, so I am hoping to go on Saturday, unless I get an urgent call from someone, wanting me to do something else

I don’t know anything much about him, other than he is Britain’s most celebrated living artist. He appears to paint unrecognisable portraits which seems to be a contradiction in terms. However, I am speaking without firsthand knowledge, so will go with an open mind and reserve judgement until after I have seen the exhibition. I am not very good at appreciating images that are not recognisable, which could be an indictment of me, of course. It will be interesting, whatever happens

Istanbul, Bosphorus: finished preparatory sketch

I said that I would publish the finished preparatory sketch, which will be my tonal guide for the painting stage. That doesn’t mean that I won’t change things as I go along. Not thrilled with the way that boat in the bottom right has turned out, which seems to be lost amongst a clump of trees. Still, that is the benefit of the tonal sketch on cartridge paper, which means that you can make and correct your mistakes, without damaging the surface of the watercolour paper.

Galata Tower finished tonal sketch

Now comes the laborious task of moving the sketch across to the sheet of watercolour paper, which will not make for very interesting reading, so the next post, I think, will deal with starting the painting.

Choice of colours will be interesting. There seem to be plenty of reds and greens which is nice. Definitely my old favourite of raw sienna mixed with Naples yellow across the buildings for some reflected sunshine, and brown shadows to heighten the bright bits

If I get this right, could be a nice painting. We will see

Istanbul, Bosphorus Preparatory Drawing

As today is the first day of the first month, I would like to wish anyone and everyone reading this post, a very happy new year. Perhaps I should wish you a fortunate new year, as inevitably this year will bring the usual mix of joy and sadness that we all share

Meanwhile back to the drawing board, quite literally….

I have made a start on the drawing using the photographs that I featured on the last post. It is not complete yet but is sufficiently in place, so that we can talk about it. This will be a tonal sketch, rather as I did for the Langstone painting, which means that the shadows will have been worked out well in advance of the painting stage.

On this occasion, I have used Derwent sketching pencils which are soluble. I have cross-hatched the dark side of buildings, and then washed over with clean water to give a shaded effect. These are much more convenient to use than ink. I had forgotten that I had them, so that was a nice find.

I will get the image up before we go any further.Galata Tower, Istanbul

The important building in the picture is the Galata Tower, which was a watch tower and which gives a panorama across the city. It was built by the Genoese in 1348, and replaced an earlier tower destroyed by crusaders in 1203. The Genoese were a merchant community in Constantinople at the time, and I guess this was their way of expressing gratitude for the hospitality shown them

I will only be able to use two of the three photographs, as I want to keep the finished painting within 40 centimetres. This is a pity, as I had hoped to include the splendid red Turkish flag shown between two buildings on the third photo. Not to worry, I still have dashes of red in the foreground with the life belts and the small flags on the boats. Maybe I can do a postcard study of the buildings holding this large flag, at a later date

In case you don’t know, and my apologies if you do, using some red in the foreground is a useful device for artists. It is an aid to perspective, as red comes towards you, just as blue recedes. Distant scenery turns blue, as you have probably noticed.

Let me repeat, that this drawing is not yet complete. I will post the completed drawing when I have finished it

I also have photographic references of the Blue Mosque, which should make a lovely study at some time. The last time we were in Istanbul, which was 2001, so a while ago, we went to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, which I believe is a museum now. We also went to the ancient cisterns of Constantinople, that masterpiece of Roman engineering, where the city’s water supply was stored. I try not to use the word “awesome” too lightly but that really was.

This time we went to the Topkapi Palace and of course cruised along the Bosphorus. Istanbul is still one of those places I would like to return to.

If you are following this demo, then thank you. I will complete the finished painting in stages and post as I go