Siden Hill Wood and Marsh Lane Nature Reserve: July

201307 Marsh Lane 3b

This was painted on a piece of Arches rough paper on the same day as I had sketched the heron lurking in the distant reeds.

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Once again this was an exploration in mixing greens, mainly using cobalt and aurolean.  The slide show shows the field sketch with the same tonal values throughout fore, mid and background.  This week I reworked this, first building in deep contrasting darks using the colours I had already used but now mixed with paynes grey (cool) or neutral tint (warm).  The background was now far too dark.  I lifted the colour and softened the lines before reapplying wet and dilute washes of the blue and yellow separately.  I think those trees have receded as a result.  Careless blots became flying birds above the bridge.

It’s all learning.

Siden Hill Wood and Marsh Lane Nature Reserve: July

201307 02 heron

Herons are ambush predators.  I watched this one stalk the side of flooded quarry, wading out looking for fish, disappearing into the reeds hunting for nestlings and frogs. The threat was recognised.  A pair of common terns mobbed it as it hunted.

201307 01 heron

These quick sketches were more about the vegetation than the bird (with its unnaturally long bill!).  I sought to contrast the cool neutrals of the predator (ultramarine, burnt sienna and rose madder) with the cool greens of cobalt blue and aurolean.  I still need to find those deep dark cool contrasting greens to define the foliage.

Siden Hill Wood and Marsh Lane Nature Reserve: June and July

I rarely meet another person in the small woodland behind the flooded quarry works.  It is a perfect place to practice my skills painting the light filtering through foliage.

201307 Sidden Wood 01

Wheeling my bike, I stumbled across a man  camouflaged by the path, crouching with tripod and camera.  He was setting up a shot of a fox “that always crosses here late afternoon” as it moves out into the open fields bordering the wood. I quickly moved on, out of his way.  I came back by another path, outside the wood, to avoid disturbing him. But to no avail, I glimpsed him through the trees, packing up and leaving disappointed.  Then I realised my pad had fallen from my bike.  I  retraced my steps.  When I finally got back, there was the fox, walking through the woods, across my path and disappearing into the crops in the field.

201307 Sidden Wood 02

These two sketches were done within a couple of weeks of each other at the end of June, early July, with bright sun making shining yellow greens contrast with deep shadows. After advice on the course in June, I had abandoned phthalo blue and was mixing greens mainly with cobalt blue. Phthalo plus aurolean makes a viridian which while interesting, overwhelms the picture. Aurolean and cobalt blue makes a range of interesting tones that merge into rich or subdued neutrals with burnt sienna or rose madder.  What I am missing is the contrasting darks.

Siden Hill Wood and Marsh Lane Nature Reserve: April into May

201305 Sidden Wood 02

In other people’s watercolours, woodland light and foliage looks deceptively simple. In this sequence, I am struggling with it.

201305 Sidden Wood 03

The greens are built from phthalo blue and aurolean, the neutrals from variously rose madder, burnt sienna and ultramarine.

Siden Hill Wood and Marsh Lane Nature Reserve: March

201305 Sidden Wood 01

These next half dozen posts show small sketches in an Arches Carnet de Voyage pad from the nearby woods and flooded quarry works made in March, May and July. In the middle of this sequence comes some discussion on mixing greens based on advice given to me during the Seabird Painting Course.

Blade of rock II: guano platforms

20130622 St Abbs Head 2 b

I had one more day at St Abbs.  The evening before, I planned an experiment.  I would cover the paper in a simple wash and build in the shape of the jutting rock simply using white and sepia ink for the guano and shadows and teeming birds in the air and dotted on the sea.  The rest would be left with the wash showing through.

20130622 St Abbs Head 1

As the rock became submerged, it took a muted golden hue as shown.  I photographed this on site (lower image) before the next drastic step of putting in the shadow and reflection (upper image).  I think this deeper tone was needed to ground the rock but on reflection it should have been done more delicately.  I unintentionally obscured the fractal line made by the yellow spreading into the blue wash.

20130622 St Abbs Head 3

For completeness, this was my first attempt.

Blade of rock I: pencil

20130622 St Abbs Head 4b

Viewed from the cliff tops, this triangle of rock seemed to project at right angles and be suspended over the sea.  From the side it was like the marker on a sundial.  This was the roosting site for the various birds shown in the previous post.

20130622 St Abbs Head 4a

Blade of rock

St Abbs 21/6/13


Dotted with guillemots

Occasional razorbill

20130622 St Abbs Head 4e

guano covered platforms with guillemots

pairs of nesting kittiwakes

shag nest

Tone drawings IV: watercolour

20130621 Shag at St Abbs 3

20130622 St Abbs Guillimots and shag

The shags were nesting on the lower sloping surface of a great slab of rock isolated by the sea from the eroding cliff.  One, the female I guess, sat on the nest concealing the chicks.  Intermittently, the male would return and stretch and preen by her side.  Just above were groups of guillemots.

I carried on with painting from the earlier drawings in conte crayon.

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Tone drawings III: conte crayons and coloured paper

20130622 St Abbs Guillimots 1

The third and final day on St Abbs Head brought with it a set of experiments, learning from what I had tried before and also from observing other artists on the course.  Before picking up a brush, I explored picking out tones more simply on coloured paper with the limited range provided by a set of conte sticks.

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The guillemots on blue paper worked quite well – the blue paper provided both the highlights for the dark upper surfaces and the deper tones on the white underparts.

On the blade of rock opposite me was a shag, nesting, protecting at least two chicks.  Her deep dark glossy plumage provided a greater challenge.  Again, this seemed to work best on blue rather than orange paper – with white reflections, blue mid tones and black shadows.

I was not particularly satisfied with the results but still intrigued by the method.  As always, I look for means of rapidly making marks and filling volumes to capture the posture and movement of these beautiful birds.

Tone drawings II: guillemots

20130621 Guillimots at St Abbs 5b

This became my main challenge during those great days in June on St Abbs Head: to build shape by manipulating the tones, all while painting birds from direct observation mostly through a scope.

Through that painting trip, this was the only time when rain fell while I was drawing, at least until I set off home.  I am beginning to enjoy this challenge: using precipitation to moisten the paper and move the paint in unexpected ways without letting the lot slip off the edge in a pool of mud.