Canals of Venice: the Painting Partway

Canals of Venice partway

The story so far

I have been concentrating on the building opposite with all that orange rendering and patchy paintwork. The walls took me quite a while, as I used several undercoats starting with my favourite raw sienna and Naples yellow mix, which gives it some backlighting. It took several coats of dilute orange before it started to look orange, and finally I scrubbed orange pigment straight from the tube to get that patchy, water-damaged effect

I decided to finish detail the Gothic window. I do that sometimes so that I can look at something which encourages me to go on. I was pleased with it, once I had finished, says he who shouldn’t. I think I colour matched correctly the timber screen or whatever it is in the window. That took several coats of cadmium red over Burnt Sienna, which surprised me as that red is so strong. The texture looked like dry, flaky varnish so I hope I got that right. I used some blue in the windows which gave a pleasant relief to all that orange

Once I had put the brown shadow in, the window suddenly came to life. The carvings stood out, and the window under the screen took on some depth. So far so good

I then detailed the two windows on the ground floor, including the one with a rusty iron grille, which seemed to work quite well

I ploughed some cadmium red into the far left building which started to look authentic Venetian. I shall probably lose that when I mount the picture. How often does that happen

There is still plenty of detailing to do, which becomes tiring after a while which is why I have stopped to write this. I would like to finish and frame this for The Railings exhibition in Pirbright, as all my other work is at the Royal Surrey. May do possibly

Still no news from the Royal Surrey, but one of my paintings has been put on reserve on my Artfinder site, which indicates interest at least. I think one sale would be like a starting pistol for this year to finally get going.

I must not moan. I love painting and would continue to do it even if I never sold another picture, although what I would do with them I do not know!

Dewdrop on Leaf Exercise

Dewdrop on Ivy Leaf

Now that my exhibition work is finished pro tem and before I go away for a while, I thought I would look at some exercises that I have been meaning to do, yet never found the time

This one I owe thanks to Susan Neale who did this demonstration in the Paint magazine some while ago.

She mixed the leaf colour with indigo and lemon watercolour. I have to say, one of the most accurate dark leaf greens I have seen and I have included a real leaf in my picture to compare

Using her own words, more or less:

  1. Using the dark green mix, paint the leaf shape with a no 7 brush. Add the veins using a mix of white gouache mixed with the lemon yellow ( I did add a little of the pale green too)
  2. When dry, draw the dewdrop shape. Now with dark green colour add the shadow area at the top of the dewdrop. Soften the shape with clean water and allow to dry
  3. Paint the cast shadow at the base of the dewdrop, using a darker shade of green
  4. To finish, using the white gouache, apply a rounded dot to the top of the bubble and a highlight to the bottom end


As for my attempt, well, could improve with practice perhaps

A useful little detail if you can master it

Close up of dewdrop

I won’t be posting anything for a while so don’t get upset if I don’t respond

Marzamemi, Sicily : Composed Drawing


Using the boat photograph and various other photographs which I took at the time, I have put together quite a simple composition, which I hope nonetheless will be effective

As a drawing, it is none too exciting, but when painted up, I am hoping that these bright, Mediterranean colours will provide the stimulus

With the exception of buildings on the far shore, nearly everything is blue or white. Different shades of blue, too, which will be challenging ( please excuse that overworked word) to do successfully as a watercolour

Textures will be interesting too. The boats in the foreground look as though their hulls have been reinforced with fibre glass, not too professionally, so that consequently the surface of them is quite rough. How to achieve that with a watercolour painting, I am not sure, probably with gouache applied thickly to give an impasto finish. Anyway we can play around with that.

We only had a short stop off here. Just enough time for a coffee, in one of the lovely little cafes in the main square, which was charming, and a walk round the harbour, which is a mix of boat repair workshops, restaurants and boutiques. That may sound an unlikely mix but seemed to work well.

Marzamemi is fairly close to Syracuse, the history of which is fascinating, and a chapter in itself. Around that eastern part of the island, we had spent quite a lot of time visiting spots used on location filming for the TV cop series Montalbano. If you are not familiar with the series it was broadcast from 1999 until now, something like 11 separate series, so very popular. Marzamemi was not one of those places, so something of a relief in a way. Don’t get me wrong, I have watched the series at home, and it is very good, and we knew what we were going to look at before we joined the tour, but there was a lot of it

As I say, I enjoyed watching Montalbano at home, except I would have preferred subtitles to a dubbed voice. Dubbing never works for me, always slightly out of sync, and you don’t have to be a lipreader to see the face doesn’t match the dialogue. I much prefer the Scandinavian crime dramas like “The Bridge” which we get which are subtitled.

But I am going off the point. Enough to say that Marzamemi was delightful and I look forward to doing this painting.

Still Life with Conkers: Finished Painting


This is the finished painting. Rather laborious but we got there in the end! Every now and then I quite enjoy tackling something like this, not botanical painting exactly, but painting a specimen of fruit or flowers, with some expression thrown in. Textures are tantalising, and making an object look solid on a two-dimensional plane likewise.

I hope I have succeeded. One or two conkers, I feel, I can pick up, but I will let others judge

I talked about the story of conker-playing when I last posted, and how sadly, the gentle art has disappeared amongst schoolchildren, thanks to the interference of the health and safety police. No need for me to dwell on that anymore, only to lament the passing of part of our heritage, which had continued effortlessly from generation to generation. Too easy to blame the iPad! Children that I know like traditional games and playing with their iPads

But enough ranting. Let’s get back to the painting and how it takes shape. I remembered to take a picture of an interim stage, so let’s have a look at that


This is the stage following on from where I left the last post. I have completed a couple more of the conkers, this time with their husks, just to make sure the recipe is actually working. It seems to be!

As a base coat, I painted all the conkers with a bright orange, leaving a soft white spot on each, where the bright light is being reflected. I had already used a pale green for the husks, and had they been fresh from the tree. I could have continued with more green, but they had already gone a yellowy-brown colour, so true to nature, that is what I am doing.

The finished conker colour, I achieved using a succession of reds and browns. I did this wet-into-wet, so it is hard to give a blow by blow account. It is rather like sculpting. Do a bit, stand back and do a bit more

I can tell you, that I used light red, burnt sienna and burnt umber. At the very end, I gave nut and husk a unifying wash of light red, which I think gave them the colour I was looking for. And there it is

Thinking ahead, I have two projects taking shape in my head. One is to carry on with the painting of Bosham Harbour which I drew up and went no farther with. The other is to look back at Notre Dame with Pigeons, and redo the whole thing, removing that ghastly marquee on the left, and also improve the weather, and make the whole thing brighter and sunnier, albeit still winter time

I could also be going to Germany soon for the Christmas markets, so may be able to bring some interesting subject matter back with me

All for the future………….

Conkers:producing the painting


I managed to dig back into one of my old reference books and remind myself how I painted my first conkers still-life originally. As you can see, I have just drawn the nuts with their husks from the photograph. I have also put a base coat of yellow/green over the husks, and for this I have mixed sap green with raw sienna, which I find produces quite a natural green, for want of a better word

They look unassuming, and quite uninteresting, do they not. So I thought, what I would do, would be to finish off one conker, one nut, completely just to see if I could still do it.

This was the method I used.

I gave the nut, a base coat of bright orange, in this case Cadmium Orange with a touch only of Cadmium Red, and then let it dry hard. I should have said that I left a soft spot of white paper, working from the photograph, to simulate the point where strong light bounces off a glossy surface.

I then worked a succession of reds and browns wet-in-wet, almost sculpting the shape of the conker, finishing with Burnt Umber for the very dark surfaces. I also put in the shadow and darkened up the right-hand side. I let that dry hard, and put a unifying wash of Burnt Sienna across the whole of the conker, and left it until the following day

The next day, I felt quite pleased with the result. This was probably the nearest that I had come to trompe-l’oeil, where something painted in two dimensions looks solid enough to be picked up. I am not saying that every artist would be pleased with this, but I was, and confident enough to go on

The paper I am using is worth a mention. It is made from pressed rag, and I believe comes from Pakistan. It is similar to hot pressed paper, so that the surface is smoother than the cold-pressed paper that I normally use. It was sent to me as a sample some time ago, and I never used it, but it has proved perfect for this type of work

I shall probably finish the painting completely now and post again when it is done



I painted “conkers” a few years back, and the painting sold fairly quickly, and can be seen on my website I thought I would do another version, so assembled this little still life from a neighbouring tree, a few weeks ago, and photographed it, to do later at my leisure. It is very important that the conkers are fresh from their husks so that the finish is nice and glossy in order to reflect the light. These are beautiful like polished mahogany

If you were a schoolboy in the 1950s like me, these were highly prized as they would be used every autumn in the game of yes,…conkers. They are, of course, the nut from the horse chestnut tree, the non-edible version. We would drill each one with a skewer, and thread them with string, tying one end off with a large knot. Then let combat commence. Players would take it in turns to bash each other’s conker until one split and fell off the string. The one left intact was the winner. Players would count the number of “kills” and accord them to their own champion, so it would be a “sixer” or “tenner” or whatever.

Competition was fierce and led to devious practices, like baking your conker in the oven to make it rock hard, or soaking it in vinegar so that it pickled. I was never sure that helped, but people did it nonetheless

Sadly, in this millenium, the game was banned by several schools, thanks to a jaundiced view of people’s safety. Headmasters thought a piece of nut could fly off and hit someone in the face! Anything is possible, but in my long experience of the game, nothing like this ever happened. Someone even suggested that players were at risk from “nut-allergy”!! Absolutely no evidence for that whatsoever. Incredible when one thinks of the disabling injuries from playing rugby or from boxing, which young people are encouraged to play

I haven’t seen anyone playing conkers now for years, probably because a generation have never known what it is, so the tradition hasn’t been handed down. I believe that the game of conkers has resurfaced in the United States, so maybe it will come back to us from across the pond.  Comments appreciated if you have any information on that

In the event, my interest for now is in the aesthetic as much as the nostalgic. I have made a drawing from this grouping, which is rather too faint to show, so I will get some colours together, and post another time about the painting exercise

Thames Estuary Sea Forts: Finished Painting

Sea Forts Thames Estuary

This is the finished painting

I had intended to post another work in progress shot, but as I got into the rhythm of the painting, it was as easy to finish, and more interesting to look at anyway

I had one false start, which normally I wouldn’t admit to. I decided the sea looked too pale and insipid, so I scrubbed back the bottom half of the platform legs, so that I could paint over the sea again and deepen the colour. Especially the area around the platforms needed to be darker even though it wasn’t in the photograph. I used Viridian mixed with a little Lamp Black for the sea colour, which works well I always think, with a nod of thanks to Rowland Hilder.

This alteration did leave me with two hard lines which normally I would have been able to blend. I have disguised them a bit with white caps, so not too bad

As for the structures themselves, I used Burnt Sienna with a little Crimson to get close to the colour of rust, and drybrushed as much as possible to look like rusty paintwork. The very deep shadows on the platforms I did with Ultramarine Violet, neat straight out of the tube with as little water as possible and straight over the rust colour. The barnacles at the bottom were painted with Olive Green, but still not dark enough, so I overlaid with the Violet.

There were some red marks where brackets had been fitted, which was probably red oxide base coat in its day. Again some Crimson, with a little free expression, seemed to get that effect.

This turned out better than expected, I am pleased to say. I have learned from it, and it was a welcome change from the usual scenes. Not a painting anyone is likely to buy, so pure self-indulgence really.

Sea Forts Work in Progress


So far, I have put down a base coat of Cobalt Blue/Phthalo Blue mix right across. I fixed the horizon with a vague idea of coastline. One or two small details were masked out. There is a small buoy next to one leg of the first fort, which will be white eventually. One or two girders or rails facing the light will be pale blue when the mask is removed.

It may not appear so in the photograph but I have washed over the sea, with a dilute Cobalt green, and then rubbed in Raw Sienna at the base of the towers, as the sandbank is visible through the water

With the shadows on the metalwork, I have allowed myself to experiment and used a mix of Cerulean Blue and Ultramarine Violet, a combination I have not used before, but only read about. This makes a pleasant shadow colour, although whether it suits old ironwork is another matter. Some people put shadows in afterwards, and it is a personal choice. I find putting in shadows first gives me a dimensional image to start with, which I find helpful

I couldn’t get near the pale green colour of the paintwork on the towers. I used the Cobalt Green over the original blue wash, and will hope for the best. Time now to work on those delicious rust shades, which I hope will bring a touch of reality

I have absolutely no idea how this painting will end up

Estuary Sea Forts: Sketch

Estuary Sea Forts

This is the preliminary sketch from the photograph. Very quickly done, as I have dropped behind with this particular picture, probably because there is no deadline on this one. As I said before, I am just painting these forts for my own amusement

There is very little detail drawn in so far. This is just a basic framework put in with the grid ready to transfer onto watercolour paper, which hopefully will ensure that the perspective is correct, and that everything goes into the right place. I quite like finishing the drawing straight onto the surface that is going to be painted. It just feels more immediate that way

I have started to have a few thoughts on colour. I think I will go right across with a mix of cobalt and pthalo blue. Let that dry hard and glaze the sea with another coat of pthalo blue. The horizon line is quite low, so there won’t be too much of that

When that is hard, I could put in the shadows perhaps this time with a mix of cerulean blue and violet, just to show where they are. When that,too, is hard, give the metal work a glaze of pthalo green as a base colour. That should set me up for having a crack at all that rust and dirt and seaweed. The shadows can be deepened up with a dark brown

Once I get those base colours in, then things will get more interesting, I am sure

Thames Estuary Sea Forts

Pirbright 098

I have just finished the work for my second exhibition which I set up tomorrow in the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford, for anyone living close enough to go, this will be on for a month. All new work, so hopefully enjoyable

With that said and with a couple of weeks spare before I start my next commission, I am going to indulge myself and tackle something totally different, namely the Maunsell Sea Forts in the picture above. These are in the North Sea about nine miles out from the Thames Estuary, and loom like ghosts in the mist as you approach them

They were designed by a civil engineer called Guy Maunsell, and had a short but intense life during WW2. Built in 1942, they were erected on sandbanks, and commanded the estuary of the Thames, so they protected London and the Kent coastline from low-flying attacks by the Luftwaffe.

After a spell as a pirate radio station in the 1960s, they relapsed into disuse and as far as I know nothing is being done with them, probably because they are out of sight and so out of mind. There were seven of them, but one was hit by a Norwegian vessel and had to be taken down

We went to see them some years ago on a one-off trip organised out of London. This was on a paddle steamer called the Waverley, which originated from the Clyde as I remember, but would sail round the British coast and would organise excursions from various ports. This one was from London. We started in the Pool of London, sailed through Tower Bridge which was novel at the time, although I think cruise ships do this quite often now, and then chugged down the Thames, stopping only at the end of Southend Pier to pick up some more passengers. The voyage continued out into the North Sea , passing a surprising number of ferry boats at anchor, mothballed until they were needed. The forts slowly came into view through the sea mist. Very atmospheric indeed

I thought I would paint them one day, and have finally got round to it. Not something that is commercial, although I may get a surprise, but that doesn’t matter. This will be an interesting project in itself, tackling all those rusty surfaces, and hopefully capturing something of the mood which the photograph has missed somehowPirbright 091