Category: Painting and Drawing

Sunbird on the porch

I’m producing some small African bird paintings seen on recent trips
to Nigeria. Choosing as a subject the Variable Sunbird that came into
the yard at the house in Abuja, visiting the flowers (sometimes quite
noisily for such a small bird). As a starting point, I looked back through
my sketchbook notes and used some photos of the porch wall, heavily
textured and stained with algae.


I was keen to use the texture on the wall in the image

To try and keep it fresh and lively and not overwork things, I decided to
mock up a version in paper collage. This way I could work out the pose,
and placing of elements, but also my limited stock of coloured paper
forces me to simplify. Male variable sunbirds have iridescent plumage
that reflects brilliant metallic turquoise and green turning to purple,
but can appear plain black or even dull olive in certain light. I was after
nailing this early on, so when getting around to a painted version
using the collage as the main reference, I won’t get distracted with
unnecessary detail and ‘realism’. Hopefully I may even end up with
something I had in my mind’s eye to begin with…just for a change!

Trying out the basic shapes. I hadn’t decided very much at this early stage, although keeping it simple was important
sunbird on the porch
The texture of the wall was achieved by tearing off a layer of paper stuck over another. The effect is pretty random but works just fine.

The two-tone leaves, and diagonal cuts in the clay pot recall
some African textile style, and the whole composition ended
up being about colours and shapes, and quite poster-like.
I’m quite happy with it just now, but never one hundred
percent certain anything is finished, maybe that’s a good
thing though?


New and different

Below are two canvases commissioned as part of an environmental design package for a firm that creates bespoke electronics systems. Both pieces are quite large, about A0 size, (32 x 46 inches) and will be placed in a so called ‘break-out’ space.
The design was worked up digitally, printed and mounted and then worked on with acrylic paint with impasto paste, card and paper, achieving a layered effect. They were a lot of fun to do!

Canvas 1, 32 x 46 inches, digital and mixed media: heavily textured in places, this piece is all about thought processes and how a solution evolves.


Canvas 2: 32 x 46 inches, digital and mixed media: This piece is more restrained, but still has some tactile patches

After rain

In this watercolour the sun shines low in the sky. All is in shadow and at the top of the hill you can only really see bright light reflecting off the wet road, a small area of grass and shrubbery bathing in the sun’s intense warm glow and small specks of white light bouncing off of ivy leaves. There is no sound except for water flowing into the nearby ditch from a raised pipe.

More sparrowhawk action, this time at the bottom of the garden in the crook of cherry branches. This male was busy with his (obscured and unidentified) kill for twenty minutes or so, giving me the chance to attempt live sketches using binoculars. This was a bit awkward as I had to memorize what I was looking at and then draw it, then look through the glasses again. From the top of the page down you can see how I eventually got something lifelike and reasonably accurate… drawing around an abandoned sketch
of a sunning woodpigeon. Needs must.

Pheasants have a reputation for being a little dim, or slow, but maybe they’re just
cautious. This male dawdled across the road a few evenings back in between the four wheel drives and the farmer’s pick-ups. Slowly enough for me to have two attempts at capturing that swagger that says “I’m handsome and in control…oh wait, I could be roadkill here…best move it along…”terling-jan-17-2014-sketchbook-pencil

Quiet Places

On a sunny spring day in the UK, there are many colours and sounds that take you back, sometimes to childhood, sometimes just to last year. This bench is where I’ve had many
a strategy meeting or just a gossip over a cup of coffee, or tea and a sandwich. Like an outdoor conference room. These days it’s a place of quiet reflection on what is gone, and what can be.

With so much visual excitement, the riot of orange on the Berberis, the pink and green of the flowering blackcurrant, the golden conifers thrown forward by the copper beech tree in the background, I couldn’t resist a quick rendering of the scene. It was all too easy to get distracted and want to include everything. I started to fiddle. This is invariably fatal with watercolour, laying a wash and getting its value right first time is a hard lesson to learn. Still, I was only really interested in the journey past the shrubs and across the recently mown, sun drenched lawn, down to the bench beyond the long grass.
A quiet place, and a very personal picture.

the-benchAcross from the bench, in the far corner of the garden, is a neglected old toolshed.
The door has been nailed shut, and the ivy is overgrowing it, now even creeping across the broken window.
I was really attracted to the colour combination of the neighbour’s cherry blossom against the clear blue sky, the dark reds of the cherry plum tree and the fresh greens of the suckering cherry saplings in the foreground (no garden boundaries recognised by this tree). I’ve been meaning to do something with this for a couple of years now. The effect I was after was that of dappled sunlight and shade in a busy corner, but painting suggestively, without detail at all. I’m quite pleased with this one…forthright but restrained. I’ll even forgive myself for using pure cerulean …


Around the next bend

What’s around the bend? The very point at which the road (or river, come to think of it…)
disappears from view, the geometry of perspective rudely blocked by hedges, buildings, hillside or trees, there lies the fascination. Seeing what you’ve not seen before…could there be that perfect view, the dynamic and satisfying arrangement of shapes, or something new to satisfy the curiosity?

Toft's Chase 

This first drawing is taken from a sketch made on a very cold, dull afternoon in Essex,
and the second drawing is from over the border in Hertfordshire. Both views have a lane dipping down and then rising up and away around the bend, and both feature neatly trimmed high hedges and in the Herts lane, manicured and neat ditches. Not exactly wild and rugged landscape, but I seem to find our compulsion to ‘tidy up’ the countryside graphically interesting, which is maybe why I chose to use coloured pencils, to imitate that control…

Keeping it simple
The two sketchbook pencil drawings below are from my home turf in Dorset. This day there was warm bright sunshine, combined with a cold breeze and buzzards calling high up over my left shoulder.

In the second drawing, early spring Galanthus snowdrops were in bloom on the shaded grass bank, and as I stood in the middle of the road under a large beech, the shadows cast by its branches danced across the lane and up onto the sun soaked grass…

Water, water everywhere

A very wet July. Buttsbury ford, Billericay became a local attraction as the
rising water level rendered the road impassable for many days. Local
photographer Roger Whitlock and I payed a visit one evening. While Roj
set about capturing the evening sky I made this rapid sketch in watercolour
and felt tip, propping the sketchbook on my easel. I was interested in the
colours and the overall feeling of sodden, all pervading wetness, and that
river, road and lush vegetation all seemed to merge together.

I had no mixing water with me, but as I was stood in the wheat field with flood
water slowly rising up over my boots, I realised I could improvise! As a consequence,
the picture has a rough texture to it, which is the silt in the water dried onto the page.
Roj took this photo when I had started laying on the colour (See more on Roger’s
photostream by checking local photographer in the sidebar).

Alan by Roger Oct 2012
This pencil drawing was made a couple of weeks later, looking a little further
down the lane, with the river behind me.

The hidden beauty in grey

July 2nd 2010: A warm, sticky night. The heavy scent of honeysuckle in the air attracts a pine hawk moth, which can’t resist the light inside and flies indoors through the open patio doors. Conveniently resting on a flat surface, I take the opportunity to do a quick sketch with a biro and make some notes. Letting the moth outside, cupped in my hands, the strength of its flapping wings against my palms was so strong, it felt more like a small bird than an insect!

sketch book moth
Pine hawk moth at rest on my drawing board, quick sketch


Next evening, the moth was back, at dusk, just when it is hard to see straight ahead, but the skyline is sharp and the contrast is clear. Flapping then gliding, then flapping again, the moth danced over the honeysuckle in silhouette. A beautiful sight. I decided to make an illustration showing the moth at an exagerated scale in a suburban setting. Using charcoal would emphasise the soft atmosphere of dusk, when all edges seem to merge. The overall effect I was after was that of a period book illustration. After working out the layout of the drawing on a small scale in my sketchbook, I settled on a composition and drew quick studies of each of the main elements, honeysuckle, chimney, tiles.

The picture is all about atmosphere though, so I was careful not to include too much observable detail.

scamps planning the composition
gliding effortlessy across the honeysuckle, in silhouette
pine hawk moth, charcoal
Pine hawkmoth, charcoal, 40 x 59 cm


Close up, the beautiful irridescent greys and subtle browns of this animal were stunning,
effortlessly gliding acrooss the dusk skyline.  This is the picture of that moment.