Category: Painting and Drawing

Pike in the pond – mixed media collage

Taking a break from the current spell of plein air oil painting, I switched mediums to work up the sketches I had made of pike, lurking almost motionless in the weeds. Difficult to spot as they look just like debris hanging midway in the water column. Irregular stripes along the body mimic waves of refracted sunlight. Perfect camouflage.

Medium sized Pike, sketchbook drawings

I used an old ink drawing of a landscape that had ‘failed’ some time ago and set about tearing up pieces of it being careful to include dark/light patterns or irregular marks. A patch of winter trees against the sky would serve as weeds in this collage. Laid out in an A3 sketchbook, the angle I chose for the fish is pretty much how I viewed it from the bank, and helps to suggest the fish is just hanging around at a slightly upward tilt.

Work in progress, mixed media collage

The only colour in the picture is the brown paper strip, complete with shadow, strategically placed to suggest the water surface. I find working this way very liberating, placing the pieces where it feels right, and not being too bothered about the literal.

The cropped version adds a little dynamic back into the composition. I reigned in the dappled stripe effect and added a suggestion of a shadow on the silty pond bottom.

Painting in between showers

Three new paintings of local fishery ponds that have been left pretty much to nature. Apart from our designated nature reserves, places like these can be the closest we get to wilderness here in the UK.

In May, the very lush growth and new leaves on trees present a range of greens that I find challenging.
I usually mix greens with French Ultramarine and various yellows and reds, and added manganese blue with the third painting. As a result there is a certain azure quality to it, set off by the pink ground to the canvas, a change from my usual sienna ground.

Pond 9: Willow and Poplar. oil 16 x 12″

Painted en plein air in between showers, and at different times of day,
I’ll leave the subject now and return when the spring has changed to summer.

Cloud Over Pond 8, 3may 12 x 10 plein air oil painting
Cloud Over Pond 8, 3 may 12 x 10 oil
Spring morning on the ponds oil, 10 x 8 plein air oil painting
Spring Morning on the Ponds, oil, 10 x 8 28 April 2022

Pike in the old cress bed ponds

I’m painting ‘en plein air’ at some local ponds. See here. They used to be cress beds fed by an upstream spring, then abandoned to the wildlife for years, then stocked with fish for a time. Between brushstrokes and showers I’ve been looking into the thirteen ponds with binoculars to cut through the glare to see what i can see. In most there are schools of Orfe (Ide), and one pond in particular also have a few Crucian Carp, Tench and Pike.

Sketches of Pike in the very weedy ‘pond number 12’

The Pike are various sizes from tiny youngsters (used to be called ‘Jacks’) up to about fifteen inches or so. There may be some larger, of course. Camouflaged with pale irregular bands on the body that concentrate towards the rear. This cleverly imitates the rippling sunlight through the water. They hang motionless at a slight angle in open water in the sun looking like a dead stick. Once you get your eye in, they are easier to spot. The binos help enormously of course. The ponds themselves have different characteristics, such as very weedy, very silted up and so on. The fish don’t seem to mind.

This swan family have chosen a very weedy pond to hang out.

Set yourself a challenge

New year, new paintings. Attracted outdoors by a welcome break in the flat grey days we’ve been subjected to,
the bright sun streamed across this lane, sparkling off the wispy young hazel growth and bathing the near bank
in sunshine. Essentially looking into the light, my challenge was to convey this drama with little tonal value changes for the most part, and try to describe the brightness.

I decided to rework the hedge when back indoors the following day and re-establish some values. A few flicks of white for sunlight catching the branches is easily overdone, I think I got away with it. Win Green Hill in the far distance helps the feeling of depth enormously.

Winter sunlight, Brookwater Lane. oil on canvas 10 x 12 Jan14, 2022

Rapid plein air sketch developed further indoors

It’s March 2, 2021. Spring has been showing itself for a while once more. There are new buds, small birds are more noticeable, the sun is higher in the sky – when we see it – and you can feel the energy in the air.

Time for a quick sketch with a broad black marker on an A4 cartridge pad, looking up from a gully in my local wood. Keep it simple. On the ground the bluebell leaves are through the leaf litter a good two inches, not yet forming a green carpet.

Looking up the slope the trees beyond catch the light from over my shoulder, a metaphor for the whole experience, maybe.

I worked on this further when back indoors. While I like the pen drawing, and the gouache version (right), possibilities opened up when I began cropping in to the image in Photoshop, concentrating on the upper section. These are quite lively semi abstract images and might lead to further development.

A little mixed media

Every now and then it’s good to loosen up and try something different. Here are some recent sketchbook pieces with gouache, coloured pencil, charcoal and some collage.

Sunset in treetops, Mixed media sketchbook collage, 13 x 10 inches, Jan 2021
Bush End ice and snow, mixed media sketchbook drawing, 13.5 x 11 inches, Feb 2021
Winter on the Hill, mixed-media collage 11 x 11.5 inches Feb 2021

Painting en plein air Hertfordshire

Marden Hill, Hertfordshire

Marden Hill, between Welwyn Garden City and Hertford. An area of largely unused paddocks and meadows popular with dog walkers and the occasional birder. Overhead, Red kites are now common, and Ravens soaring in pairs is no longer a rare site, as in much of lowland Britain. I was fortunate to disturb a Redstart on autumn migration in the low, berry laden brambles that cluster around some remaining fence posts. Nuthatches quip in the high beech trees and oaks that sit on the high ridge, exposed to the wind.

Still very warm in September, the exposed trees on the edge of the wood drew my attention. Several trees had fallen, leaving a gap that threw those that remained into relief against the sky. They seemed to stand defiantly at angles competing with each other, rocking in the breeze.

I made this quick sketch in gouache and coloured pencil on a red ground, aiming to record the late summer afternoon mood.

Going back several times to the same spot, producing a pencil sketch and then painting in oil on card (old backs of drawing pads, primed with acrylic, can be very useful when you are fresh out of ‘proper’ canvases or panels).

The afternoon sun streamed through the wood, catching the top of the young tree in front of the tall, swaying beeches.

I like to visit the same location in different weather conditions, time of day and even seasons, to get to know it well – picking out likely spots to paint or draw. This area, with its scattered mature trees planted with intent many years ago, now has the look of a forgotten landscaped park.

There will be more to be had here.

A garden still life

It’s early summer, the weather is good, time for a warm up painting or three before I sling all the gear in the car and try my hand at a few en plain air landscapes. Looking around in the garden for potential subjects I noticed a red chair and big yellow plastic bin calling attention to themselves under a fruit tree that sails across at an angle, on which I’d hung a basket of lobelia. There’s a nice balance where the viewer’s attention is kept by the colours and angles, with the shadow of the tree taking you back around. I moved things around slightly here and there until I was satisfied with the placement of the objects, and then started to loosely sketch onto an 8 x 10 inch canvas. It was then that I noticed the patch of long grass and nettles behind was a bit bland, so I placed an aluminium pot there to ‘fill the void’.

set_up_and_blocking-in

I usually cover canvases with a thin layer of raw sienna to avoid painting on white. After a simple pencil line I go over this in very thin ultramarine to roughly indicate the main spaces, and then thinly block in the dark areas. I’m also using my oldest and much loved wooden sketching easel which I’ve repaired a few times. It’s not too stable out in the open in even a slight wind, but you make do. Hanging a heavy kit bag on it helps a lot.

I’m also using a very limited palette of just two blues (ultramarine and cobalt), two yellows (lemon yellow and yellow ochre) and two reds (light red and cadmium red) plus white. I can mix everything I’ll need from these, even using the white sparingly. It’s good discipline too, and will help me avoid using too many unnecessary colours. I prefer turpentine to any other medium, not just because I just love the smell!

Stages Garden still life wip oil on canvas 8 x 10

Garden Still Life, oil on canvas 8 x 10 inches
Garden Still Life, oil on canvas 8 x 10 inches

As I was working just outside my own back door, I took my time and completed the picture in six sessions of about half hour each, over a couple of weeks. Partly because the shadows had to be in the right place and therefore the sun had to be shining! I spent nearly as much time looking and assessing and making decisions about what comes next or what to change as I did actually painting. This is normal for me, it’s an all consuming experience. I was careful to describe the aluminium pot in just a stroke or two, and the yellow bin didn’t need much work at all, you can see the stain of the raw sienna on the canvas easily. The only area I’m not too sure about is the patch of nettles but overall the finished painting is ok. On to the next one….