Isolation learning…

A rare opportunity to learn something new presented itself to me today.

17th century barn purshaced as a flat pack.


This barn is being reconstructed by my future son in law. As part of the reconstruction process he needs in the region 800 hand made wooden pegs.

Richard showed me the process.

Personalised peg making stool.

He has made a stool with specialised foot clamp – which holds the wooden pegs firmly in place as they are stripped to shape with a draw knife. I learnt how to split strips of wood off a log and then trim them into one inch square sticks about 12 inches long. Like making kindling.

It was dark in the barn. But that’s the log I split slices off to make the pegs.
It is similsr to a ‘donkey’ drawing stool

I took about two hours to make 15 pegs. I was improving but was completely worn out. It was a most satisfying achievement, to make useful pegs that will be part of the barn structure for years to come …

Happy artisan.

The barn structure – so far.

Shape, versus Detail.

It’s all about the shape just now – for me – outline wins over detail. The obsessive observation of detail (and in this regard I am maybe thinking of hyper, photographic realism sort of detail) doesn’t see the wood for the trees. So drawn into the fine details that the bigger shapes are either lost or too dominant in the composition.

Snakes head

The shape is defining. The detail, though delightful, I believe to be secondary.

So a siluette can and often does encapsulate the object or idea. The loss of detail as happens with strong back light, is no hindrance to knowing what the subject is. It also allows room for the viewers imagination to play, wheras the super real is defining. A statement with less room for discussion.

Plover – Monotype

This plover image is a balance between outline shape and detail. The primary work, the siluette was complimented with most nessesary detail. White underside s and paddle shaped wings.

Sometimes –

Inspiration is a delicate, indulgence and sometimes we need to just work. It is a luxury to have inspired thoughts, ideas for creative working, they seem to come out of the blue – but can be traced., like dreams, to random connections of activity or events or notes, sketches, from long past or just this second. Ping.

Flowers from and in my garden.

This concertina sketch book is the second in a series, for painting observational studies of the flowers that grow in my garden. The first book took about five years to complete and was sold at a charity event last year. This one was hand made, by me, with good watercolour paper, to give myself another four or five or six years of inspiration free project. To work on and in when inspiration is absent. It is a relief to have a task ongoing that does not require that dammed elusisive inspiration.

Today. Anenome Blanding.

A versatile process…

When a drawing or painting is made onto a surface that allows it to be transfered to another surface – it can create a monoprint. If the surface that the drawing is made on is flexible, for example a plastic sheet. It can then be transfered to another surface, maybe a gesso board, or a canvas, a wall or a piece of paper. Size or surface is not restricted. This would not be possible if you needed to put the image through a press to get the print…

The ‘why’ is for you to fathom.

Perspex, plastic, glass.

I am going to use just my hand pressure to transfer the marks I make. The perspex and plastic could also be put through a press if I wanted, but the glass can not.

I used a sponge to cover the plastic with an even covering of ink. And the roller to cover the glass.

Rhythmic gentle pressure to cover as evenly as possible.

The subject, a seashell that I had picked up from the shore at Arbroath. I particularly like this object because it is not complete. Its sides are eroded to reveal the inner structure.

I am not using the press for these pieces so the process is entirely possible without big investment equipment. But it helps to have soaked paper – as that aids the transfer of the ink and better absorbs some of the detail. If the paper is too damp/ wet it can creat havoc. Just like with watercolours. The dryer the paper the more control and detail possible. But if the ink and paper are too dry you might get nothing shifting. And more damp encorages unpredictable, exciting effects and sometimes complete chaos.

Paper soaking in the sink.
The drawing on plastic.
The print.

The image is Lways reversed by printing, that is generally unforgiving of an unbalanced work. And of course makes the monoprint unsuitable for famous city skylines… Though there is always a solution. Draw the image onto tracing paper first, turn it over and use the reverse to create the monoprint. Any how, I never tire of what the mono print/ transfered mark does to a drawing/painting. It arbitrarily changes details and offers unexpected gifts, the smudges and accidental changes that occur through the process. Sometimes magical and delightful – and sometimes smeared and slippery rubbish, or even nothing, absolutely nothing at all.

Diciplin n solitude

This time of restrained activity has the potential of positivity and good working practice. But as always that requires self diciplin. It is so easy to be diverted on a mild windless day by the garden . There are so many enjoyable tasks to do out there. That is not to say I don’t thoroughly appreciate and enjoy working in the studio… I love being in there, drawing painting, preparing – but the affair is complicated. It needs my full attention, it is demanding and rewarding, frustrating and anxious – whereas the garden is much less complicated and an easier friend.

Isolation – consentration.

This could be a time to turn a difficult situation into time positive.

Time to practice things we say we wish to improve… But never find the time.

Drawing with crayons.

Maybe sketching using different materials. The same view or objects over and over. Observing more and translating it differently – being led by the varying qualities of the medium. Wet or dry, sharp detail or soft suggestion, full colour, black and white or monochrome.

Practicing takes the pressure off. But another good practice is to revisit past works. To see if they resonate or rekindle a dialogue. If not, edit out any good bits and disguard the rest. I find lighting a bonfire with them works for me.

The tulips continue- with friends…

A drawing and painting class. The last in the studio before lock down…

Painting by Tina – Not complete. But still… Lovely.

We started with drawings. Working toward a good composition that could be translated into watercolour painting.

Three tones… Plus pattern.

The drawings were really engaging and most people worked on them longer than I expected. Starting with a linear composition and adding three tones of shading. Looking for areas of close subtle tones and also counterchange. Light against dark to dark against light drama and contrast.

Then painting in monochrome.

It was a really enjoyable lesson. The most difficult part, translating the sketches to the watercolour paper was achieved well in most cases.

The progress through the last few week was quite visible. Still maintaining good flat and graduated washes. Wet in wet. All that, as well as more complex subjects and composition. They did well. (And had a good time.)

Basics continued. With tulips…

Watercolour terms such as Wet in wet, wax resist, transparent, Opaque or body colour, make the language that is specific to its subject – and can sound pretentious and rather inpenetrable. But like all language that is specific – it is actualy pure and discriptive and really essential to describe the activity, if you have the interest.

Flat and graduated washes. Wet in wet, soft edge and hard edge.

Over the last two weeks we have covered these basic watercolour techniques and this week we pulled them together with the help of some cheerfully coloured tulips.

Bloomin marvellous, ( that’s my opinion not a technical term)

Good practice, lots of clean water. Fresh unfussy colours.

Some managed also to translate reality to something more delightfully fansiful.

All three classes this week responded well to the brief.

Some were more personal.
Some literal.
Some delicate.
Or dynamic.

My challenge is to maintain and even raise the level next week.

Back to basics – watercolour.

Classes have started again at Mill Farm studio. A new year and a fresh look at familiar techniques.

Graduated washes. , I believe to be one of the hardest watercour techniques. The need to control the ratio of paint to water, while using the right sized brush for the scale of aplication. Keeping an effortless look to the work while carefully reacting to what is happening.

Some colour pigments flow more evenly. Lighter toned colours are easier to graduate than dark, some colours stain and are unforgiving of any error. But no blood is spilt, only dirty water.

Every colour – Light medium dark.

We practiced painting flat washes and then adding water to the pool of colour to lighten the tone. The lightest colours can be so delicious. But a fear of being wishy washy, too pale: or even insipid, often leads to them being lost to a desire for bold, bright and eye catching.

Pale toned glazes.

By layering the palest of tones it is possible to build up to richer colours and greater detail. Starting with washes that underpin and unify the picture, the image can be developed and detailed while remaining connected, cohesive and convincing.

Winter Work

Walking in the landscape most every day. Watching for the small changes that signal the next season. A few Aconites have pushed through a debris of leaves and snowdrops show a slit of white at the spear head of the stem. 


Sketching outside is where I feel most connected. To the landscape, nature, to the elements of weather and most importantly to the drawing. I went out on Sunday to Breamar ( and beyond) with painting buddy Sarah. It was cool – but we found a couple of spots to sit out and draw the hills and river valley.

We always had the intention to visit the Fife Arms and it was a wonderful place to warm up, restoring body and soul. It is tartan, gothic Scottish, ancient and modern. Brimming with stuffed birds and antlers. And Picasso, Freud and Louise holding court.

The food was fab and worth every penny. A destination to lift the spirits.