Orrery and The Dangers of Overconfidence


I went into this one somewhat overconfident.   I’ve been looking forward to this and as the microscope and callipers turned out so well this was going to be a bit of a treat.    The drawing came out well – took extra care over the ellipses and jumped in.

After a reasonable start everything began to go wrong.   I messed up my nice ellipses and things were getting muddy and indistinct.   After an hour or so I was ready to throw in the towel but after a bit of lifting off of some of the areas it was a case of throwing caution to the wind and ‘I can’t make it any worse so let’s just go for it’.

And in the end I’m actually quite pleased.  The shapes are good and there’s a lot of interest in the paint so sometimes it’s worth it to persevere.



11″x14″/16″x20″ matted

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Brass Callipers


More scientific instruments today although I suspect these were more general purpose measuring instruments.   The old brass has a wonderful range of color from almost white to dark browns and greens.  Hard to go wrong here really.   Very happy – I think they look great.

Brass Callipers


14″x11″/20″x16″ matted.

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Antique Microscope


I’m still noodling on the science theme and thought I’d go in a different direction just to see how things turn out.   Modern instruments aren’t particularly visually interesting for the most part but antique ones have lots of brass and twiddly things that look great.

Very pleased how this came out.   All those hard lines make it fun to decide which edges to soften and you can really go to town on the softening without losing the image.

The initial drawing.  Fairly tight as I knew things would get a lot looser when the paint started flowing.

The initial drawing.  Fairly tight as I knew things would get a lot looser when the paint started flowing.

Antique Microscope

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A Stage Further

I wasn't really feeling it when working on the bigger board so went back to real watercolor paper at a smaller size.   Colors are brighter definitely.

I wasn’t really feeling it when working on the bigger board so went back to real watercolor paper at a smaller size.   Colors are brighter definitely.


I left the previous stage to dry for over a day as I was worried whether the paint would stick well enough to put another layer on.   I think it’s ok but next time round I’ll put a couple more coats of the absorbent ground on.

I did a few digital sketches over the previous version to see how I could fit in other elements.   I was noodling with electron arrangements of the alkali metals,  a dna helix (maybe overdone?) and some common organic molecules.    


Not great.   It looks like I’ve just been doodling.    Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.   I quite want there to be a sketchiness/uncertainty to the whole thing which more reflects science as it is done in real life rather than how it appears in text books.

However, when I got down to actually continuing on with the painting it really didn’t need all these extra elements so I decided on the electron arrangement to appear behind and half hidden by the elements.    It works well at this scale but in the back of my mind I keep hold of the final size of 4×6 feet.    Will I need more elements at that scale?  Pfft – don’t know yet.

So where from here?   Originally I wasn’t going to put in all the elements but just have boxes.  As things are progressing I think they need to go in.  I need to work out a way of emphasizing some and pushing others into the shadows without everything getting too regimented.


Prep Work and a Test


This is a real departure.    First off I’ve been asked to do a much larger painting than normal.   About 4×6 feet in fact.    My first thought was that you can’t get paper that big!   I then remembered reading about painting on canvas that had been prepped with special absorbent ground so the watercolor would stick.   This is my first test on a 18×24 board with 2 coats of ground on it.   It’s different to say the least but I quite like the effect it gives.   I’m a bit worried that the paint isn’t actually sticking to it properly so more investigation will have to be done about fixing it permanently.

The subject is science with an emphasis on chemistry.   My initial thoughts have been a somewhat abstract periodic table surrounded by atomic diagrams,  molecular structures and a dna helix swirling about.     We’ll see how things develop.  I’m pretty confident so far.

Shipping Paintings – A Checklist

This is surprisingly involved.    

I haven’t done it long enough for it to be second nature (yet).   But all steps are necessary:

Before painting – make sure the mat will fit round the painting without leaving gaps

.    It’s taken me five years to learn to do this (and much badgering from James).   I have a set of paint stained mats in the studio for this specific purpose.   Don’t use fresh ones – they’ll end up with paint on them.  Also – use standard sizes.   I used to think this didn’t matter and the painting would dictate what size it needed to be.   I spent a lot of time and money buying custom mats.   I was wrong.

Take a good photo of the painting before shipping

.   Not an iPhone photo.    Use good lighting.

Flatten the painting

.    This involves placing the painting face down on a board, lightly spraying the back with water, covering the painting with a clean board and placing a heavy box on top.   Leave for an hour or so until dry and flat.

Mount on foam core using linen hanging tape

.    Again using linen hanging tape hinge the mat on top.    Keep checking throughout that the mat frames the painting correctly.    Don’t use artist’s tape for this.    It always comes off after a few months.   

Sign the painting

.  I  do this after the painting is sold and after the mat is in place.    You don’t want the signature half hidden by the mat.  We, of course, don’t have any paintings in this state in the house.  Absolutely not.

Add sticker

with website and name on the back of the foam core board.  

Place in acetate sleeve

.   Add business card to front of sleeve.

Print address label

.   Try and remember which way the address label sheets go in the printer.     

Print address label again

– write note to self about which way round the address labels go in the printer.    Promptly lose notes.  

Place painting in double thickness corrugated cardboard surround.  

Use good quality packing tape on all edges.   Double check tape is secure.   Then triple check it.

Affix address label and large pink fragile sticker

.    Realize sadly that the fragile sticker probably makes no difference.   Add another fragile sticker.

Weigh package

Go to USPS website

and print out shipping order. 

 Go to USPS office

and hand the package and order sheets to the nice person behind the counter. 


and go and have a cup of coffee in the coffee shop over the road.

This takes longer than the actual painting.  But all is necessary.