Parting gift

This week a valued colleague has left for pastures anew.  For the last six years or so, Margaret has played a central clinical, psychological and spiritual role in support of  people with a life limiting illness.  I will miss her.  This was my own parting gift.

I had been interested in exploring whites and shades of blue and contrasting warm colours.

This is not a copy, but I did use images found in a wildlife magazine as a reference.  I acknowledge and am grateful for the photographer’s artistry and skills.

Back to the woodland theme: Booted eagle

I drew this last year.  I sketched in ink and blotted out to create textures before putting the colours on top.

I had seen the eagles as I drove along the main highway through Menorca.  I came off the road and followed as best I could, finding myself on the edge of a residential area.  A long way off was a dip in the land surmounted by a wood.   There was  clearly a group of eagles feeding on something in the dip.  Most easily seen was this one that settled in a tree.  I wasn’t set up to digiscope so took some patchy photographs, balancing a camera against the telescope’s eyepiece, and drew this as soon as I could afterwards.  The digital version has rather deeper tones than the original.

This is a much simpler sketch than my more recent attempt posted this week  Following some very helpful comments, I am thinking of returning to that sketch building with glazes constructed in simpler blocks, without the busy lines.


Pancake day

On the way home from school, they asked me why we have Pancake Day.

I talked about myth and metaphor, of feast and fast, of journeying into the desert, stones and sand, scorpions and snakes, of isolation, solitude, prayer and meditation.

Their response was  “so we can eat pancakes!”.  They talked of lemon and sugar, chocolate sauce and liquid toffee, cream and ice cream, of batter hitting the ceiling and falling on our heads.

“Knock knock” “Who’s there” “Philip” “Philip who” “Flip the pancake and don’t miss the pan!” (We’re not very good at knock knock jokes in our house).

I remembered that decades ago, in another life,  I had been asked to provide visual aids illustrating a powerful Biblical passage, used to mark the start of Lent.

Actually, the accompanying sermon was more striking, beginning with the preacher throwing off her cassock to reveal the most violent orange check shirt you can imagine, going on to deliver a high pressure pitch as Satan in the persona of an East London salesman (voices she knew well from her childhood days around Woolwich market).


I struggle painting woodland.  I have many failed attempts.  I want to capture the vibrancy of line and tone without obsessional attention to detail.  What I mean is that my attention span is too short for detail.

For this afternoon’s sketch I took as reference a photograph taken at Ham’s Hall nature reserve in the West Midlands.  I also was inspired (strangely and now unrecognisably) by someone else’s painting in which I was impressed by how many shades made up her grey.

I envisaged my own picture as made up of many shades of grey although this is not how it turned out, as you can see.  I may try this again.

I try to get a sense of movement and flow in my paintings, rather than that they are truly representative.  Tidying up today (so I would have room to paint at all) I came across this old sketch.  I seem to remember having in mind an image of rolling waves in shaping the undergrowth.

Comments, especially advice on building woodlands in watercolour, are most welcome.

As an aside, while I fiddled with the settings, my camera took this landscape in negative.  I liked the effect.

sparse painting

I stood on the sea wall and looked at the morning sky reflected across the mudflats.

Previously I had shaped in charcoal, drawing into this with gouache.  Then the whites had been achieved by correcting though liberal application of opaque paint.

This time I set out to paint this same composition in watercolour, using just the white of the paper to reflect light through the paint. The sky, initially white, seemed blotched with faint greys and yellows.  The mud flats, at first pale monochrome, were cut by channels into billows shaped by glazes of ultramarine and raw sienna.  The painting seemed too white, like snow, and lacked texture.  The deeper tones then were applied through neutrals that could resolve into greens and pinks.  Now the drawing was overdone and too dark.   White was restored and granular texture gained by a blade scraping away the pigments.

I made several experiments before this piece.

Cyprus rocks

In the centre of Cyprus is a high plateau, I think pushed up by tectonic activity as North Africa pushes hard against Europe. It is cool even when the lowlands are hot and covered mainly in conifers.  The rocks are eroded into steps and falls.

This painting was done in October after I’d walked these mountains.  This was done mainly in acrylic ink with a bit of watercolour added at the end.

While I continue to post archived paintings, I’m trying to paint a watercolour of the North Kent marsh using limited colour saturation and transparent media to depict the pale sky and reflections on the mud flats.  It is proving difficult and I’m on version 3 tomorrow.  Its the planning that takes time, the actual painting is quick.


Three weeks ago I drew in ink and graphite an abstract based on the forms of a swan.  Today I painted into it and over it.  I built on remembered photographs of smoke pouring from shattered cityscapes but this is not intended as representational art.  I do not claim it to be a great picture.  I painted in haste and in anger.

I had driven to work listening to the BBC correspondent Paul Wood.  He has spent five days reporting from inside the city of Homs, under siege and under artillery bombardment.  To quote:

” An eleven year old boy was brought in having taken full in the face a mortar blast which had ripped off all his face below about the middle of the nose and we just saw those shocked eyes staring above a bloody mess …”

“The man who wraps him in a white sheet and puts him in the ground … we asked him, have you had to do this for any of your relatives and he said well four of them, my son, my brother in law, my cousin, my uncle.  Very many families have been touched by this kind of loss …”

I know I live a comfortable life far from this but violent repression thrives on silence.  Perhaps, moved by this,  you too might paint in anger.


North Kent Marshes

Last weekend I enjoyed meeting friends from University whom I rarely see, ending with a long and entertaining discussion past midnight with my host’s son about the nature of science and knowledge.

I arrived late, diverted on my way down by a cloud formation like a great rent in the sky.

Coming off the motorway to follow this, I realised the sky contained about 20 red kites (and the side road filled with cars presumably belonging to other birdwatchers).  I only had about 10 minutes to watch these and no time to draw.

The next day was spent wandering the North Kent Marshes.    What was striking was the intensity and variability in the whites that made up the sky and mud flats.  This is the first sketch, drawn in charcoal and overlaid with gouache.  This week, I intend to re-draw this scene directly in transparent watercolour.

This gives me an excuse to post an old painting, this time done in watercolour (except for acrylic corrections to the light on the right side) of marshland south of Brittany.  I think I painted this about three years ago.

This illustrates a tension I feel in watercolour – my instinct has been to put in depth of colour, as here.  When I have used thin washes, the result just looks washed out.  However, the most beautiful of watercolours often employ the luminous quality of light reflected through pigment off the underlying white paper.  I guess this requires a clever selection of tints and contrasts to make white look exciting.  This will be my challenge when I re-paint the North Kent marshes.

Across the Marsh to where Ettinsmoor meets the sea

“They were on a great flat plain which was cut into countless little islands by countless channels of water.  the islands were covered with coarse grass and bordered with reeds and rushes.  Clouds of birds were constantly alighting in them and rising from them again.  Many wigwams could be seen dotted about …

Eastward … you could tell by the salt tang in the wind which blew from that direction that the sea lay over there.  To the North there were low pale-coloured hills, in places bastioned with rock.  The rest was all flat marsh.  Seen under a morning sun, with a fresh wind blowing, and the air filled with the crying of birds, there was something fine and fresh and clean about its loneliness.”

Reading this to my children, I was struck how evocative is this passage.  I remembered reading it myself for the first time when i was about eight.

How influential are are ones childhood books?  Today, I am thrilled by the loneliness of marshland and the wheeling and crying of massed waterfowl.

If you have not guessed this passage comes from C.S Lewis’ “The Silver Chair”.