Category: A closer look…

Ant’s eye view

The flash of yellowish green, black, and a bit of red as you disturb a Green Woodpecker up ahead, flying directly away from you in that classic, undulating flapping flight. Probing for ants, a favourite food, this one was on my front lawn, seen from indoors. The bill is remarkably large and dagger-like, and if I was an ant, I might feel quite intimidated.
I was aiming to capture, from an ant’s eye view, that intense look in the woodpecker’s eye as it concentrates on what can be had below.

The finished image continues the paper collage series.

ant'seyeview_collage

 

 

A damp afternoon

Misty distant woods and field margins. Hares, pheasants and deer tracks.
The sound of running water, the ‘good earth’ aroma of autumn leaves.
As I wait for my washes to dry enough to carry on, it starts to rain.
Fine, soft rain, but enough to force me to abandon this painting.
The four hares in the field remain undisturbed.

damp-afternoon-sm

 

Two in the bush

Here are two common summer visitors to the UK. Common Whitethroats and Blackcaps are closely related, Blackcaps prefer woods and thicker cover, while Whitethroats prefer more open habitat such as hedgerows and scrub. There is a good deal of overlap, and I see both on my walks around and about here.

Both birds are not shy, Whitethroats seem to scold a passer by with their ‘char’ call, and often momentarily pop up from their cover to check you out. Blackcaps like to sing loud and proud from higher up in the trees, and again, will sometimes stop and give you the eye before continuing.

It was this inquisitive and no nonsense attitude I was aiming to capture. The simplicity of using torn and cut paper helps in illustrating their character and expressions, and as the view through binoculars is seldom perfect, with seemingly random free floating foliage covering most of the bird, (sometimes all of it!) I was keen to show that also.

whitethroat-in-the-nettles2-sm-collage-may-2015

 

blackcap-collage-sm-june-2015

Slow line, quick wash

Here are some line drawings from my sketchbook where I’m using a sepia coloured felt-tip pen to draw the scene. Quite a slow, deliberate process compared to my usual freer pencil drawings, and with a couple of these I found it useful to add some watercolour to ‘key in’
some of the spaces.

This first spread shows two drawings of a country road not far from home. I was interested in a graphic, linear shorthand to describe forms and textures. No need for a colour wash here.
country-roads-sketchbook

Cat’s Hill Lane, Ludwell.
I spent the Easter break with family in Dorset. I’ve driven past this winding lane countless times over the years and only now decided to stop and draw it. The couple walking their dogs came from behind me and strolled down the lane. I waited until they reached the shed before sketching them in. I added some colour to the verges and meadows, including the far field where the cows are grazing.
cats-hill-lane-ludwell

This drawing is of a small stream winding its way through a copse in the spring sunshine. The bottom of the stream here is muddy but in other places it is stony and moderately fast flowing. In many places the water is only two inches deep, but there are some deeper pools where small fish find a decent living. I edited out quite a lot of ‘tree bits’ and settled for just enough to describe the overall look of the spot.
stream-thru-the-copse-sm

At the end of this small copse, the stream emerges and cuts across the green lane before
falling through the roots of a tree in a mini, noisy waterfall and creating a deepish pool, before continuing on through the hedgerow. I got the watercolours out for this one.
stream-over-path-watercolour-april-7-2015-sm

The owl sees me

This image is a slight departure as I’ve used cut and torn paper to tell the story and simplify things. It’s the moment when you are confronted by the unexpected. On a late afternoon visit to the rough field behind the cottage this barn owl and me surprised each other around the headland shrubbery. I was aiming at capturing the suddenness of it all.

The paper is nearly all Ingres pastel paper with a piece of old oil painting block, now
too brittle to paint on. Although the landscape is described with torn paper, there were
still some decisions to make with placing and colours. I cut out a dummy owl from
plain white paper to position it until it felt right. Cutting the bird off the edge of the frame is crucial, as is the angle, it gives the sense of surprise and urgency I was after. In the event, the bird was quite indignant, and performed a mini hover and let out a harsh squawk, before flying off in the opposite direction!the-owl-sees-me

Into the Spring

Here are a few sketches from the countryside around me. With Winter now passed into Spring, the sun is higher in the sky, with brighter days lingering longer into early evening.
There is much activity, and so much energy around, with leaves about to burst open, birdsong and Hares having dust-ups in the middle of the green wheat fields.

This first sketch is of a sunny hedgerow leading up to a wood on the hilltop.
Although drawn back in February, the day was bright and the wind was kind.

winter-hedges-in-sunMarch 20th, late afternoon, a little weak sunshine and a cold wind. Still fully kitted out in hat, scarf and gloves (aiming to avoid any unnecessary discomfort) maybe I’m just getting old! This drawing is the same view from a little further to the right. I wanted to show the hedge curving uphill to the wood, from where a buzzard was mewing. Both of these were painted on the spot on 140lb paper.

up-to-the-woods-march-2015The two sketchbook drawings below started out as felt-tip pen sketches and colour was added back at home. I like this method as it forces me to simplify things and the marks become more gestural and stylised. Also, I can’t seem to be able to “paint” landscapes indoors, I have to be out there, in the moment.

I can’t resist the bend in a country lane. I think it’s because I’ll always wonder what lies beyond. With the field entrance drawing, using Naples yellow in the sky sells it as early evening, and the looming dusk atmosphere comes across pretty well.

sunday-lane-feb-2015-sm

evening-fields-march-2015-smThis picture was painted on another cold afternoon, but there was some sunshine. It’s a painting of not much at all, but the rows of young broad beans sweeping across the field lent themselves to the cause well enough. Apart from being a memory aid, I do see the
cold when I look at it, so it has a subtle something about it, so I’ve included it here.

bean-field-march-2015

 

Stebbing 235

Here are some sheds sitting on a bend in the road that were once the premises of a small village business. There are interesting details, such as the concertina sheet metal doors, the home made sign using old 3d letters from car license plates that faded from use in the 1960’s,  and rust has taken hold of the sheet metal and galvanised roof, but the site is still in use. I love this sort of thing. It’s a real gem.
concertina-doors

engineer1

kcv-brake
For my watercolour and ink drawing I chose a viewpoint from the grass verge opposite, as I was interested in the ragged edges of the tin roof and the willow trees behind that framed the buildings nicely. Starting with a rough pencil guide, I laid muted watercolour washes working over them in places with mid toned and then darker black ink washes to achieve the muted effect, finishing with some black dry brush textures and a few lines. I titled the drawing ‘Stebbing 235’ after the old telephone number.

stebbing-235-warercolour-pencil-ink-june-2014
Only when I’d finished did I see that among the wild flowers in the verge were these bee orchids. Fab.orchid

Blake’s Wood

This is Blake’s Wood, local nature reserve of predominantly Sweet Chestnut, Hornbeam and Oak. I’m in the small parking lot, using the bonnet of my car to double up both as an easel and a table to set out my gear. All quiet, sun low but still bright, the different spring greens now merging into similar mid tones as they mature. The faint aroma of the honeysuckle climbing up the tree next to the sign board is attractive enough, but not the subject of this picture. Instead it’s the evening dappled sunlight, the loud, warbling burble from the Blackcap who seems to circle me, first behind, then here, then over there.
It’s the light falling through the leaves and onto the ground. The sign board invites you to engage, you are here on the map…have you seen all the woodland creatures they mention in the text? Yes of course.

A stranger arrives and parks up. He comes over “can I see?” Yes of course. “Nice”. We chat about wildlife in general, and conclude we have both heard a cuckoo nearby, an ever rarer treat that was once much more common. With camera equipment and a natty camo t-shirt, Adam explains he’s off around the corner where there is some remnant heather heath, hoping to capture a shot of some adders that he’s seen there, bathing in the evening sun. Just great.

blakes-wood-watercolour-may-2014

 

When the sun shines

When the sun shines it seems to breathe life into the everyday, easily overlooked scene.
Being aware of this, some months ago I spotted this satisfying arrangement of trees and shrubs tumbling down the hillside, with a few poles and fences giving nice accents. Only needed some light and shade to model it I thought, preferably from the left.

Spring_Fields_watercolour
This is the result of painting for an hour or so. There is usually a moment, when I’ve blocked everything in, when I look at it and decide it’s just terrible and I should tear it up in disgust and just get back in the car and drive away, after all who am I kidding, right? Then after putting one or two flicks and shadows in, the picture (usually) starts coming together. I may have left it a little late in the day, towards noon, when lower angled shadows might have been nice, but I’m quite pleased with the outcome. I was after the bright, spring sunshine look, rendered in a fresh and simple way.

These elevated beach huts are at Frinton-on-Sea on the Essex coast. I really liked the battered but defiant appearance, and the very cool colours. Out of those that were painted, it seemed like only one or two were a colour other than blue/pistachio/cream….

beach-huts2-frinton-may-2014beach-huts-frinton-may-2014

For my large sketch I was interested in the repetition of the shapes and colours, reduced
to strips and blocks by the perspective, but the kids playing on the sand make the scene.beech-huts-frinton-bh-sunday-4-may-2014-watercolour

Rolling shadows

Here are two watercolour sketches of cloud shadows rolling across the new spring crops.
The high hedges of Holly Grove Road wind their way to the Hertfordshire village of Bramfield, passing farm cottages on the right hand bend, in front of a large field of rapeseed in full flower.
An irresistible yellow when in full sun, in shade the crop can appear almost greenish.
The clutch of roof angles together with the contrast between the purple-grey slate and
the saturating yellow caught my attention. There are calm pastoral scenes
still to be found in today’s agricultural landscape, but these pumped-up, urgent and vibrant scenes are now commonplace and dominate today’s countryside.

slate-and-canola-sm-crop-april-2014-wartercolour

On a Saturday morning in early March, the gently rolling fields near Tewin are silent, save for a light aircraft circling nearby and an early skylark rising to sing loudly behind me. The clouds pass by quickly, continuously changing shape, their shadows race across the land, throwing the field’s contours into contrast.
The tree covered green lane in full sun bends around and up to the wood, which is in full shadow just for a few seconds as cloud passes over.

shadows-tewin-watercolour-1-march-2014-crop