The small river Blythe has burst its banks and flooded its flanking meadows, rushing under and around the old packhorse bridge. The water was high in the Marsh Lane reserve, swamping the small islands which usually host roosting waterfowl.

I painted this last of all, as the light faded, by the end in near darkness in the hide.  On someone’s blog recently (forgive me for not remembering whose) I liked the texture of conte crayon under watercolour and tried this here.

Railway bridge in fading light

Before that I had sketched birds for about an hour.  Most prominent were cormorants perched  on what was left of an island, surrounded by wigeon making an eery piping sound in the gathering dusk.

I tried to focus on simple gestural brush strokes, capturing the bulk of the neck and shoulders as they stretched and preened.  I mixed a neutral of ultramarine and variously burnt umber or burnt sienna (note that the scanner has rather accentuated the component pigments).  I could not resist going back and drawing into the paint but should have known better.  In the damp air, dry time was prolonged.  My careful strokes oozed into the mass of underling paint and both the detail and the spontaneity of the initial strokes were dispersed.

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I feel this year has been a journey in terms of my drawing from life.  In particular, when I was on the Seabird Painting Course in June, I felt clumsy.  I carried too much kit but had no consistency or comfort in its use.  Now I have pared down my field equipment, using a limited palette of tube watercolours and relying mainly on squirrel mops that deliver large strokes that respond to the touch and come to a fine line.  I keep to rough paper, often using better quality surfaces like Arches as here.  I carry a small tin with a few sticks of charcoal, pencils and a black conte crayon and use these especially for fast notes and for my first sketches to loosen up.

12 responses to “Cormorants

    • Thanks for calling by. I am flattered by your comment. I followed you back to your pages. I enjoyed your plein air paintings but especially admired your compressed charcoal sketches in the life class. I think i might try this in the field. Happy Christmas by the way.

    • Thanks. I was painting these again today. Even more of a challenge was a visiting little egret. This was bright white, so i needed to use shadow and background to define it – i found it impossible to do this fast. It was very active, stalking preening wading and hunting. This was beyond my current level of skill.

  1. Beautiful! I am a real sucker for bird paintings, particularly watercolour, and these are gorgeous. Lovely texture!

  2. I think there is still a lot of spontaneity in your cormorants.. not overworked at all. They remind me a bit of the work of darren woodhead, love the expressive paint within the birdshapes. I really like what you’ve achieved there. They feel free, as if they’re about to walk/fly off the page.
    Also found your use of the conte crayon interesting. When I use it I usually work it in on top of watercolour washes. But I really like the way you’ve used the crayon first.. love that texture on and around the bridge.

  3. I really like the lovely spontaneity of your cormorant drawings. I have them here on the river and little egrets too so will try to capture them in paint. Like you, I am moving towards using a squirrel brush and rough paper and not being so tied up with tiny details. Great blog you have here.

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