Monday, 11 September 2017

What do I want from a sketchbook ?



As a watercolourist my main concern is the quality of the paper. For my purposes, it should not be too thin and it should not cockle when water is applied to it. Neither should it bleed through to the other side. In short, I am looking for a reasonable watercolour paper rather than a cartridge paper.

The sketchbook should also be of a manageable size. If it is never likely to leave the studio then size doesn't matter, but for a sketchbook which is to be taken on location however near or far afield, it must not be too heavy or bulky and ideally should easily be held in one hand when in use. As I tend to paint standing up and there is not always a convenient wall to rest the book on, I want to be assured it will not droop at the edges when I am trying to apply a wash.

If such a sketchbook existed it would be a bonus if it looked good - after all,  it will be a faithful companion for some time, and a friend for ever.

So imagine my delight when I discovered the Stillman & Birn softback sketchbook in their "Beta" series.It has exactly what I long for, the cold press/NOT paper being 270gsm which makes it substantial enough to prevent drooping, and the binding makes it capable of laying flat enabling a free flow of paint over a double page spread if desired.

An extra bonus for me is that there is no compromise in the amount of paper. The sketchbook has 52 pages and its rounded corners makes it easy to fit into a small sketching bag without it becoming bent or creased. My favourite size for taking out and about is 5.5 x 8.5 inches.

If you have not yet discovered the Stillman & Birn range they produce a variety of sizes, weights of paper, textures and even colour. Enough for whatever style of sketching you enjoy.

In Britain, they are available from Jackson's Art supplies or you can go onto www.stillmanandbirn.com

Next, I'm going to try out the spiral-bound version...

Friday, 4 August 2017

Frustration is all part of the process



How many times have you heard someone say "I feel so frustrated. I'm not getting anywhere. Maybe I ought to take up something else" ?
How many times have you felt frustrated that your painting is not going well and you don't know why ?

Don't despair ! It happens to everyone, professional and hobbyist alike. It's a natural part of the learning process, and learning to paint is something which stays with us for life. Just when you think you have it sussed, you discover a whole new layer of meaning which needs to be investigated and understood.
No wonder we feel frustrated from time to time. It takes a while for new information to percolate through our brain cells and reveal its meaning. Each painting we do isn't the end of a journey, it is only a single step on our voyage of discovery.

It takes time to understand some of the lessons we learn upon our way. We all travel at different speeds and full understanding will come when the time is right for the individual. In this world where everyone seems to want instant gratification it is easy to become frustrated that every painting we do is not a masterpiece.

In time you will recognize that those moments when you appear to stumble are actually building blocks which are adding to your knowledge and your ability, and will take you another step along your path. Learn to enjoy the journey. It is all important. Take in as much as you can along the way.
Resist the temptation of so many who want to travel by the fastest means without seeing any of the treasures en route. They will understand nothing.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Painting outdoors



Painting outdoors is one of the most pleasurable moments a painter can have, yet many students are afraid of giving it a try as they see it as the "great unknown".
"I wouldn't know where to start" is the explanation I hear most often.

I can sympathize. The world is a big place and it tends not to come in handy 6 x 4 or 7 x 5 inch slices. The biggest problem and therefore the the most important decision is to decide what to focus on.
My advice (which I keep reminding myself as well as my students) is 'not to bite off more than you can chew' especially to begin with. Be realistic about how much you can expect to achieve in the time available.

In my view, I think it is better to attempt three or four small sketches rather than one large painting which is unlikely ever to be finished.

Which leads us to the next problem. How much to include?

This is as much to do with composition or design as anything. Why paint an enormous sky and acres of foreground when probably an old gate beside a tree will have so much more to say? Likewise, if there is a building involved, whether a charming cottage or a tumble down old barn, consider if a small section or corner will have more interest than trying to paint every detail of the whole building.

Painting outside implies that time is short any way. The light will change, probably faster than you can paint, so keeping it small and concentrating on one aspect makes sense.

Think of using the time to gather information. Spending time LOOKING is never wasted.

Remember, a painting doesn't have to be an exact replica of the scene in front of you any more than it has to be an exact copy of a photograph. There should be room for the individual artist's interpretation. You may end up with a little gem, a painting in it's own right, or have the finest first-hand reference available when you later enlarge or interpret it in the studio.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Morning meadow.



Morning meadow late June
7 x 10" watercolour

One of my favourite subjects to paint. Along the meadows there are always a number of views to paint at any time of the year. No two days are ever quite the same.

Shortly after painting this, the clouds increased and we lost the sun. Just shows you have to grab the moment. Tomorrow is another day, as they say, and there is bound to be something just as exciting to try and capture in paint. The hardest part is deciding where to start!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Iron age update



The Iron age Round house is making good progress despite some recent wet weather. It has been fascinating watching the posts going in and the walls taking shape. How did the original Iron age people manage to build such a tall roof without the aid of modern scaffolding ? Perhaps they made their own wooden version. Looking forward to the thatch going on.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Down in the meadow something stirs...



Across the fields in the meadowland criss-crossed by public footpaths in a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) lies a scheduled ancient monument dating back to the Neolithic age.
Recently some undergrowth has been cleared away and the ground prepared for a new building. But this is not yet another housing development given the go ahead as part of a local plan to meet the needs of current and future generations.
Far from it!
Here in this quiet corner of the countryside, an Iron Age Round House is gradually appearing post by post to help illustrate the history of this site and how it might have looked all that time ago.
I hope to sketch its progress.

Monday, 27 March 2017

All set for Summer!



So now it is officially British Summer Time (other countries presumably have to wait a while before Spring is over ) I am all kitted out with paper, sketchbooks and fresh tubes of pigment and ready to hit if not the streets, then the gardens and quiet corners of the Cotswolds and beyond


I have various set-ups from this pocket sketchbook and palette
when I want to keep things as simple and lightweight as possible,through a medium-size 5.5x8.5" sketchbook or 7x10" watercolour block and a medium size palette with a larger mixing area for when I have longer to sketch, and then my larger bag containing 8x12" sketchbooks and 9x12" or 12x16" watercolour blocks when there is some serious painting to be done..



Occasionally I will add an easel to this larger set-up, but only if I know I am going to stay put for a reasonable amount of time. There is no point in taking so many materials that you end up staggering from one place to another in search of something to paint and then being too exhausted to do anything!

I wish you all a happy summer of sketching in whichever part of the world you are!