Two Local Landscapes

Yesterday I worked on doing a couple of local landscapes.  What we lack in urban architecture around here we make up for in sheer natural beauty.

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Pen and Daniel Smith watercolours in HandBook Journal

This is the view of the hills from our bedroom window, it’s hard to get sick of this view which is always changing throughout the year.  The heather and bracken can go from purple, brown, yellow and green depending on the season.

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Pen and St. Petersberg Watercolours in Derwent Cachet

At the childrens’ request we went to the nearby beach which is hidden gem for these parts, at the bottom of some interesting cliffs which the twisted strata is clearly visible.  This was an amazing sketching experience as I was knee deep in sea water, drawing while the children splashed.  The sea gets so warm in this particular spot, like a bath.  I added colour after we got home.

Though neither of these are perfect I feel like I’ve made a bit of progress with my landscapes, despite not working on them for a while.  I did do little value sketches before working on the bigger sketch which I think helped a lot.  Looking forward to doing more of these in the future.

Cassart Make a Splash Challenge 1-4

The last couple of days I have been attempting to catch up with the Cass Art “Make a Splash” watercolour challenge to make 50 paintings by May 30.  That means nearly 2 paintings a day for a month for me.  I feel a little insane attempting it but the benefit is that I’m finally diving into paintings with ideas I’ve had swimming in my head.

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I’m attempting more of an illustrative feel for these than my usual sketches.  Learning to simplify and still make an image come across is so hard without pen for me, but I’m finding it a lot of fun trying.  Simplifying this landscape is one of my top challenges, I want to get a little more depth into this.

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So inspired by the spring leaves emerging on the trees lately.  I love these vivid greens (much more vivid than real life obviously), and playing with tree shapes.

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All the birds around here have been gathering materials for nests.  This is my first attempt at a piece that tells a story.

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Birds again (surprise surprise).  I love the elegance of barn owls, though making the chick cute was a challenge!  I actually liked the finished product enough to make it into a simple Mother’s Day card with some hand lettering.

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This wasn’t an official entry in the challenge, but the weather has been so fine today that I couldn’t help going out and sketching some of the beautiful spring trees I see from our garden.  It’s always good to practice since I”m sure I’ll be doing lots more trees in the next month!

Do you have any personal challenges coming up for May?

Fear of the Big Page

I’m not sure if it’s just me but I hate the idea of wasting materials.  My most expensive sketchbooks are waiting until I’m “good enough” to fill them, I dip my paintbrush into tiny amounts of precious Daniel Smith watercolours, and I cannot make myself use an entire sheet of A4 watercolor paper at once.  Maybe this is the curse of the beginner?  I’m hoping to one day get over this hurdle and recklessly fill an A4 (or larger!) paper one day to create an actual finished piece.

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For now I have been doing very small practice paintings on sheet folded into 4, so A6 size.  They are quick and so fun to do.  I get to try different techniques and see what works and just play with colour without fear.

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My ultimate goal at the end of this year is to have produce at least 1 finished work that I could hang on the wall.  I am in love with sketching and little practice paintings but I can’t say they are “finished”.  Maybe this is a reflection of my own personality that I find this so difficult to do?  Fear of commitment?

Any of you out there find it hard to work big?  Or to create what you would call a “finished” piece?  How do you approach a project like that?

Experimenting with Watercolour Techniques

The last couple of days I’ve been playing with the watercolours some more.  I had this idea to paint a card for my mother-in-law for Mother’s Day, so I practiced doing some using different techniques.

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Here is a peony using almost entirely dry-on-dry techniques which gives these crisp edges and a stylised look to the flower.  I liked the process but think my rendition is a bit heavy handed, particularly in those shadows and somewhere along the line I lost the sense of form.

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Here’s another done almost entirely in wet-in-wet.  I applied the darkest colour in the petal first and used clean water to pull the colour up gently to soften the edge.  I dotted some warm colours here and there too.  When it was dry I added a few shadows.  I love how this one turned out, but bungled it up with a really primitive leaf.  It makes me want to try more wet techniques.

In the end I didn’t do a card, I spent a long time trying different flowers and techniques but just didn’t feel confident in any one design.  I found the lettering daunting too.  It showed me that I’m not quite ready to share my art more openly in a piece like that, though I’d one day love to send art to my family and friends and even have one of my own works up on the wall.

I went back and did a very small landscape of our view in my sketchbook.  The hills were very damp and misty so I let the edges blend a bit and added some splatter for texture.

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Moving from Burn Out to Fun

Do you ever experience burn out?  I certainly do.  When working hard on a particular skill or subject (in this case landscapes) I find that I keep working going until I just find it too frustrating to go on.  I stop making progress, if anything things get worse.  At this point I let it go and do something relaxing, something that reminds me why I enjoy art in the first place.

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So late at night after countless failed landscapes I sat and drew my son’s bugle.  It is an old and battered thing passed down from his grandpa. I haven’t done this type of observational drawing for a few days and was surprised by how good it felt good to do.   One of those sketches where you just lose yourself and I was surprised by how confident my pen lines felt this time around. Maybe just a contrast with the struggle of painting?

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Another relaxing type of drawing I love doing is drawing from reference photos, particularly those great pictures you find on instagram.  This was based on a beautiful shot in London.  Again, pure relaxation, and I loved painting it in afterwards.

Finally after all of this I felt at peace again and wanted to try landscapes.

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Again this is based on a reference photo and I felt like I made such a lot of progress on this one, but the best thing of all was that it was fun.  I’m delighted to have a process that can work me through a funk or burn out.

When in doubt go back to basics and find what relaxes you.  Just have fun.

Views from my window

I feel incredibly luck to live where I do with two fantastic views out our windows.  I have been doing a lot of landscape work lately in my sketchbooks, trying my best to get a feel for these watercolours.




It’s amazing to me how just changing which colours you chose to mix completely alters the feel of the scene.  I am still using my limited Winsor Newton palette for these.  Sometimes mixing natural browns/greens and other times pushing those colours to see how far they can go.  I also like working very fast and loose (messy) mostly because I am so impatient to let washes dry.  I really admire those who can make loose watercolours look good and so effortless.  Can’t help but keep going over my strokes and muddying it all up.

Saying that, I do feel like I’m making some progress, and  although it feels like such an uphill struggle it’s a challenge that I’m enjoying.

Fast Sketches

This morning I had the rare opportunity to visit the village shop solo.  It was so tempted to stop and draw everything, but in reality I only had time to do a quick sketch of the hills.


I did a super quick 2 minute sketch of the basic outlines and shadow shapes while I was out.  I tried to give myself enough clues to finish the drawing when I got home and do the hatching.  Landscapes are always such a challenge, I’m trying to practice simplifying the shapes and not worrying as much about the details.


Here’s another example of a super quick sketch.  I had made a fresh batch of scones and was desperate to eat one.  I did a bit more wet and wet than normal, and particularly enjoyed doing the splatter for the texture.

Flowers, Pheasants and Fields

The first day of my Garden challenge went well, it always helps when there’s a bit of warm weather and sunshine.  Along with a lot of gardening I made a lot of attempts at capturing some of the flowers that are open in the garden this time of year.  My favourite are Hellebores, they are so elegant.


But however many times I tried I just never could paint them in a way that I liked.  Finally I decided to try drawing with liquid watercolour and brush and came up with a simpler illustration.


This morning I did some very quick gesture sketches of a pheasant visiting the garden.


And a quick attempt of the view from our kitchen towards the hills.  There was a touch of snow up on the fields in Exmoor.  Wish I had worked the colours a bit better but overall fairly pleased with the composition.


I want to take a local class on watercolour landscapes in April but hope to improve a little on my own before then.