Seascape Joy


I was procrastinating today and thinking what I really wanted to paint.  Then I remembered how I enjoyed the clifftop painting of a couple of days ago and thought ‘Yes!  A seascape!’.

This was an absolute joy to paint and came out even better than I’d hoped.   Seascapes can be tricky.   The subtle tones of the water leave you one chance and one chance only to put in the delicate shapes of the water and foam.   Not to mention remembering to leave white where white should be.    Some people use masking fluid or go back in with white gouache to add spray but, to me,  both of those detract from the clean effect of pure watercolor.   

As usual some intermediate shots :

I put in a rough drawing just to indicate where the main lines of the rocks should go.  No heavy pencil lines here as they detract from the water.   Good so far.   I softened the sky and the background sea around the main spray area leaving things pretty loose.

I decided to do the rocks in two steps.   First an underwash to state the main shapes and put in some varied color.  The darks would go in later to give them some form.   So far so good – the paint was granulating nicely on the paper giving some good texture and visual interest.

Next I wanted to just put in an indication of where the dark blues were in the waves.   Had to be careful here not to overdo the color otherwise you lose the fluidity of the water and it becomes solid.  Still going ok!

Next step was putting the darks in the rocks.   I kept things crisper in the middle of the painting and also softened edges away from the shadow edges.   Still going ok.  

However, all this was the easy bit.    The real challenge comes next.    To finish off the water I needed to darken up the dense part of the waves just enough to suggest water volume but not so much that they start competing with the rocks for solidity.    After that is an even more subtle step where I have to suggest structure in the white frothy areas with almost no color at all.    Both of these steps need a confident yet really light touch of the brush.   The brush barely touches the paper but skims across the surface leaving speckles of color.   And hardest of all you have to know when to stop – this can get addictive and there’s always a little voice saying ‘I’ll just do this’.  Was I up to it?

Well yes!!   Nothing is ever pefect but I managed to do just enough and he came out handsomely.    Sometimes all the frustration is worth it.


Our wonderful local art center
Post Road Art

 has a number of exhibitions throughout the year.    The next one is seascapes and landscapes so I thought I’d turn my hand to some sea and rocks.    Now historically this has been a danger area for me (What isn’t?   Horses, buildings, snowy owls – all pose all sorts of problems).    But hey!  Nothing ventured, nothing gained so off I went.

The drawing was uneventful.   just outlining the rock shapes and where they meet the sea.   The washes went in fairly well :

Not too light,  not too dark and some nice rough edges in the sea to allow for foam.

The next step was crucial.   Getting the final darks in on the rocks so they stand out against the top of the cliffs was very important.   At the same time I wanted to get enough variation in the rocks to suggest structure.    This went pretty quickly and came out  well.    

Next was the sea.     Always tricky.    Don’t overdo it as everything gets colored in and you lose the impression of foam.    Underdo it and you don’t get enough depth of color to show the form of the water.     Again the gods were smiling on me and this went well too!!

The final piece was the foreground.   I’d tried to get some thick paint on and drop water in to create texture but that obviously didn’t work.    One last try  – keep the board a little more vertical,  very thick paint with water and even thicker paint dropped in.    And it worked!    It’s been a good day.

I don’t think this will be my final submission for the exhibition but it’s a good backup if nothing else comes together.

French Villages – Disaster Edition

I knew going in that this was going to be a stretch.   But I labored on and although it’s by no means a success there are parts that came together.    The dark walls and ceiling have some ice rich color and texture and there’s some subtlety in the shadow areas that I like.    But definitely an experiment for me.

More Zbukvic Practice

Yes I’m a glutton for punishment.   I’m still on the path of getting to the heart of Joseph Zbukvic’s style.   This one is more successful than most.   The colors are nicely muted and most things are suggested rather than explicit.   The brushwork, especially around the windows came off rather well.   All in all I think this goes in the success bucket.

I have to say that the actual painting of this went really quickly.   There is very little detail in here apart from the odd piece around the roofs and windows.   Almost surprised me when I came to the end and thought ‘Yeah – it’s done!’.


Red-Crested Cardinal

I saw a picture of one of these recently and it has been on my list of things to paint.   The combination of the red head and breast with the white belly and blue grey feathers made it a perfect bird subject for me.    I made this intentionally very sketchy with only creating sharp edges around the head.   I’m very pleased – one of the best birds I’ve done in a while.

Red-Crested Cardinal


11”x14”/16”x20” matted.

The combination of the red head and breast with the white belly and blue grey feathers made it a perfect bird subject for me.    I made this intentionally very sketchy with only creating sharp edges around the head.   I’m very pleased – one of the best birds I’ve done in a while.

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Horse Wrestling – The End

Well here is the final thing.   I think I’m pretty pleased with this although as always it has to sink in for a few days to know for sure.   This has been the most complicated commission so far and was a lot of work.   Definitely worthwhile though and now I can paint horses noses like a pro.

Let’s have a quick look back as to how I got here.

My first attack was just a quick sketch to see whether my horse drawing ability had improved :

Not perfect by any means but much improved from even a year ago.    This encouraged me so I ventured into a color sketch.

Hmm.   Not quite what I had envisioned.   A bit too sketchy for a commissioned work I think. 

How about if I include some background (straw clutching here) :


 Nope. Back to the drawing board.

So let’s expand the subject matter a little I thought.   Include a couple of extra riders and see how that works out :

Oh good grief no.    I like the shadows on the white horse and nothing else.    Let’s try something else.    How about just a torso shot?

Ok so we’re going in completely the wrong direction.   An intervention is needed here.   This is obviously not going anywhere.    Need to completely rethink and try and remember how to paint.

At this point I put down the brushes for a day or so and came back fresh.   I decided to tighten up the drawing somewhat and go back to the 3 horses and riders.    This started to look a lot better :

   MUCH happier now.    The drawing is better, the painting is better,  the brushwork is better, and the horses really do look like horses.     So what changed?   One thing was I really took a lot of care over the drawing.    Carefully observing all the shapes correctly and taking some time over it.  This made it a lot easier to apply the paint and keep it loose knowing I didn’t have to correct the drawing at the same time.

But I still wasn’t completely happy.    I wasn’t sure that the ‘three in a row’ look was the best so into photoshop (actually gimp) I went and played around with the arrangement.  Pulling them all together in a clump felt a lot better so I went with that :

Yup.   This is the one – let’s do this.

The final change I made was to increase the size of paper I was using.    Everything up until now had been on 11″x14″ paper.    I upped the size to 18″x24″ and made the painting portrait.

So the plan was :

 – Careful drawing.

 – Decide which edges to lose ahead of time.

– Be careful painting the horses heads and legs – these bits are the most important on a horse.

– Keep the faces recognizable as human but not of anyone in particular.   When I’m painting from photos and haven’t met the people in person I find it very difficult to get a likeness.

– Make it look like a painting.  Not sure what I mean by this but it’s basically to make sure all the shapes hang together and everything is part of a whole with no areas of the paper left out.   This doesn’t mean paint on every square inch but rather that every part relates to every other part.

By this morning I was almost there.   All the horses had gone in well as had the people.  Increasing the image size had helped enormously and I was pleased with the final composition.

The very last thing was to put some bunting in across the top.   It was actually quite tricky to keep this loose but flicking a lot of water about helped here.


Horse Wrestling – Take 4

Finally getting somewhere with the horses.    I went back to more of a contour-like original drawing which gave everything a bit of life.   I don’t know whether this is the final thing yet but we’re close.   

Some intermediates :

The drawing.   Looks a lot better at this stage  – I need to remember not to get too stiff in the painting.

I did the horses and riders one by one.  First the central figure.   The faces are so small it was impossible to get a likeness.   This may be a good reason to do a larger version.

Second horse in.   I’m feeling pretty good here.    Thankfully I didn’t screw up on the third one.

Horse Sketch

I have a commission that I really want to do a good job on.   Well of course I always want to do a good job but this one is, ummm, tricky.    Horses.   Horses with riders.   Not straightforward and even Mr Zbukvic says horses are the most difficult things on the planet.  So today was horse sketching day.     Not fantastically successful but progress is being made.   

And we have a video!    First time doing a time lapse on the iphone.   This was very professionally propped up on a coffee mug next to the water jar and came out well considering.

It’s very strange to watch this.   It looks like I just draw things and then color them in straightforwardly.    It is abolutely nothing like that in real life.    It’s a constant stream of decisions, problem solving,  mistakes,  going over stuff.     Also – next time shoot from the left hand side.  Will have to get the tripod out.