Recycling parts of a failed watercolour painting into collage

Sketches from three years ago used as reference for this paper collage. Agamas, though absolutely
everywhere in Nigeria, never let you get close, and these two females looked down on me with
confidence, verging on smugness, knowing they could dash away at lightning speed.

agamas
Agamas on top of the wall. Drawn from life in the garden, Osogbo, Nigeria
agamas watercolour
Taking the sketches a bit further with some colour.
“Has he seen us? Yeah I think he’s seen us…”

I’ve recycled pieces of what was a ‘failed’ watercolour painting (we’ve all got them…), in this case
a landscape of a wheat field and evening sky, to hint at the texture and colour of the lizards atop
the garden wall in Osogbo. I omitted the actual wall, as I wanted to concentrate the viewer’s
attention on the lizards under the huge banana leaf. It may have been interesting to include
some shards of glass for a spot of urban realism, but I decided against it. For the impression
of bright sunlight bouncing off of every surface, it seemed ‘less is more’ was the way to go.

Agamas, collage 2017
Agamas, paper collage, 530 x 350mm approx. 2017 Placing the minimum of elements still seemed to take nearly all day until I was happy with it.

 

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

Freshly picked

These tangerines were freshly picked a couple of hours before I painted them, and then er, ate them. Unbelievably sweet and juicy, it doesn’t get better than that. I’m used to seeing these fruits but with orange skin, or should that be ‘old’ skin!
The tangerines below, neatly piled and with peppers and kola nuts, are for sale on the street, delicately balanced in a large enamelled tray on top of the roadside drainage channel wall.

Nearby is a plot of land owned by the family, and Jumoke is developing it as a cafe and art centre. Work had just started as we visited. The site has a pretty stream with characteristic large boulders, banana plants and a tall old palm, which will make an ideal backdrop for the thatched parasol outdoor seating that’s planned.

 

Opposite the site is a churchyard with mature trees and gardens giving the neighbourhood a relaxed suburban feel, and next to that is the Justice Development
and Peacemaker’s Centre, a Catholic charity. I sketched the poles and power lines while business was being conducted at the cafe site, and applied some watercolour later
back at base.

The marble, the scorpion and the kingfisher

It’s a sunny and hot morning, and we are off to Oke Okanla First Baptist Church
in Osogbo, which stands proudly at the crown of the hill in a south central suburb.
Our task is to supervise the tidying up of Toyin’s mother’s grave, Patience Aduke Lawoyin. It is a large white marble affair with an impressive headstone, situated at the perimeter wall at the far end of the plot down a gentle slope, slightly overgrown with traditional gravestones dotted here and there, many broken and with much litter.

1st-baptist-churchWhile we wait for our helper to arrive on the back of a ‘machine’, we start collecting old drinks cans, pieces of broken tile and general litter from around the site into an empty bucket sized paint can, itself a piece of litter! I’m grateful for my hat, and already thinking we haven’t brought enough water. A Woodland Kingfisher perches patiently on a wire across the road, and later presents a trophy to its mate,trilling loudly withy much excitement, on a horizontal branch of a tree in the grounds. I couldn’t make out the prey item, but guessed at a small lizard.

service-doorOur helper arrived and proceeded to start cleaning the marble with detergent. Standing close to two slabs of concrete lying near the wall and in bare feet, he suddenly jumped back and stabbed the ground with the scrubbing brush, impaling the small scorpion that had just stung him on the inside of his foot! This was a problem. Fortunately, there were some church members on site supervising the building of the new church nearby, and one of them was an expert in herbal remedies. In no time at all he had come down to the graveside holding a leafy branch, and after spitting on the affected area and scraping it off with a knife, he rubbed the leaves together with the venom from the scorpion’s sting forming a paste, which he then rubbed vigorously onto the affected area. The active ingredient was on the back of the leaves he explained, and that all will be well in a short time, and indeed it was. How fortunate that this healing plant was growing in the grounds!church-grounds

We quickly realised, as we lifted all our gear up off the ground and checked it over, that we had just been picking up random bits of rubbish pretty carelessly and not thinking at all about the potential danger…and so thank you, Patience Aduke. I may have freaked out if it was me that was stung! Many locals know the various medicinal properties of local plants, stings and bites are not uncommon, but it did provide a bit of drama. It seemed a long walk back up to the church pavement, looking carefully where each step was placed, together with a birder’s eye on the kingfishers. Somewhere amongst all this the sun had gone, behind clouds rolling in for another heavy thundery shower.kingfisher-and-roller

 

Osun sacred groves

Osun sacred groves are a UNESCO world heritage site, dedicated to the ancient gods
of the Yoruba religion set in a small patch (75 ha) of tranquil forest where the founders
of Oshogbo were said to have settled some 400 years ago.

We were accompanied by Kasali Akangbe Ogun, who together with the Austrian artist Suzanne Wenger and a team of local artists, restored the site from the 1960’s onwards, creating fabulous sculptures and shrines to various Yoruba gods and goddesses.

After the rain stopped, the birds started twittering, and we positioned a wooden bench under a gap in the tree canopy above, though occasional drips from the leaves landed loudly from upon high directly onto the drawing…watercolour in the rainforest, in the rain…doesn’t get better than that.

igbo-ifa-osun-main-entrance-smNature reclaims all that is hers and the sculptures benefit greatly from mosses and litchens, finding a home on the rendered clay works. Adds to the mystery and spiritual energy of the place.

kasali-sm1

osun-sculptures-smAs the patch of forest is a sacred site and therefore protected, there is much in the way
of wildlife, though difficult to see, and there are a group of quite tame Mona monkeys
that come to the entrance cabin to be fed bananas by visitors and staff.

osun-monkeys-sm1I tried to capture these monkeys very quickly before we left, constant movement and life energy…if only there was more time!monkeys

A house in the capital

Just arrived in Abuja, Nigeria. It’s evening, the air is heavy and warm. The clouds are rolling in steadily, shading the low sun. Opposite Jumoke’s house, Gospel singing is heard from a neighbour across the street. A dark sunbird perches briefly on the topmost twig of a vine on the wall before dashing off, and a group of Little Swifts wheel around the sky above the yard, their white rumps bright against the moody blue clouds.

For this rapid sketch I chose a side view of the porch, the architecture softened and complimented perfectly by the potted palms. Around the grounds, tidy clipped shrubs are set off nicely by the cobbles and weathered paving. A large clay pot sits in the gloom under the largest tree in the garden, waiting to be re-discoverd, its lovely hand crafted rings highlighted by the weathering algae.

abuja-house-smgarden-textures

The wet tropical climate weathers the concrete, plaster and paintwork. All in a day for those living here, but for me, having a thing for texture, colour and rustication as I do, I find myself pointing a camera at virtually everything…!weathering

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