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.


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.

Drawing birds in the field

Birds have long fascinated me as subjects for art, but I painted from photographs, not observation. About four years ago I bought a telescope and started to draw from life.  I had been taught to use a microscope – look with my left eye and draw using my right – so this is what I do.  I am experimenting with techniques.

Most straightforward is a simple pencil sketch, sometimes with a splash of watercolour over it.

I am picking the water birds abundant in the West Midlands.  I’m interested in movement and shape, not in rarity.  Drawing with ink directly into water pooled on the paper sometimes works.

These common birds show a range of interesting behaviours.  Preening creates a fascination of surfaces.

Working fast in colour to capture the moment is challenging.

Two major challenges for me are, first, to get a sense of the animal moving through its environment.  The second is to rapidly sketch the patterns made by birds moving and roosting in groups.

Other field sketches of birds have been included in previous posts:

I am applying for a course to develop my field drawing skills.  Fingers crossed – oversubscribed and many good artists applying.





juvenile herons

With cold stiff fingers, I sketched a juvenile heron folding itself as small as possible against the wind

With failing light, I abandoned the hides and continued drawing at home.  I found I had omitted to put an SD card in my camera, so worked instead from photographs taken earlier in the year with more abundant foliage in the background.

charcoal and chalk pastel


This younger bird, again crouching among the undergrowth, does not share the appearance of sleek menace with the adults.

To finish this post, a field sketch again.  I had a minute or two to draw this adult as it stalked the undergrowth.  Moments later it made a kill and disappeared soon after.