before the fall


Another session with acrylics: a colour version of an image from the esteemed (but now unaffordable) publication Sun & Air, taken before the vase was broken in two when I knocked it off the windowsill with a Dyson attachment.

One problem I’ve found with acrylics is that it’s hard to blend smoothly. I would mix up colours for the shaded side of the vase and try and blend them in to the lighter side, but instead of a smooth blend I would end up with a large patch of shaded area. So I’d make a lighter mix and blend back the other way, and end up with too much highlight. There are so many layers of paint, it’s got more relief than the cover of an airport novel. I need to work faster, or experiment with mediums.

Or follow the Marker Carder method and not blend at all.

palette space


A first attempt to mix shades of grey with acrylic to show how the appearance of a colour depends on the background. The three lines of grey paint blobs were intended to have the same range of shades from black to white. See how the grey blobs on a dark background appear lighter than the same grey on a white or mid-grey background.

One thing I found when preparing colours is that it’s important to have lots of paint and lots of space. Even painting these simple blobs needed more paint than I had mixed up. I tried to mix a second batch half way through but found the new mix was slightly warmer (in terms of colour) than the first. It’s better to prepare the right amount to start with than add to it half way through.

When making these colour steps, it’s easier if you have lots of space on your palette. There wasn’t really enough room to work within my ice cream carton lid stay-wet palette (wet kitchen towel covered with greaseproof paper). It’s just about big enough for a small sketchbook painting, but I really should be following Will Kemp’s advice about laying out a palette, and using Mark Carder’s method for preparing accurate colour steps.


acrylic cherry


First attempt with acrylics, following an online tutorial at the Will Kemp art school. It’s a lot of fun and very forgiving in that mistakes can be painted over but glazing and blending are still possible. And it’s a lot more physical, scratching away with cheap hog brushes.

The paints I chose were Burnt Umber, Azo Yellow Medium, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, Permanent Rose, Titanium White. After using watercolours it felt odd to lighten colours by adding white rather than diluting with water. I found it harder to get a bright orangey red, but that could be because I’m not used to mixing. The paint dries with a slight matt plasticy sheen which can dull the colours if viewed from the wrong angle, but maybe one of the gloss mediums will fix that. Used a pad of cold pressed watercolour paper for this, but will try the thinner HP later. Apparently this stuff will paint on anything, and these walls need redecorating, ….hmmm.

accurate weirs


Sketching Pulteney weir in Bath, using pencil rather than going straight in with pen as I wanted to try and make the main proportions as accurate as I could. The lines weren’t ‘restated’, they were rubbed out many times, obliterated and begun again. Something wasn’t quite right about it (besides being wonky and covered in smudges): the spire and dome didn’t look right, the buildings on the left looked too short…


Took a pic of the scene, and with the aid of Photoshop overlaid the sketch to check proportions: The pavement railings, pillars beneath and bridge arches seem to be ok, and strangely enough the spire is about right, even though I thought that was way out. The dome, however, has turned into St Paul’s Cathedral, and there’s too much space between the dome and buildings on the left.

It took so long to do this that there was no time to add any watercolour washes.


winged skulls


A work in progress, experimenting with techniques:

Flying skull death head snapped in the chapel behind Dyrham Park manor house, drawn with pencil (a nicely soft 0.7mm Pentel Ain Stein 2B, if you’re getting geeky), then scanned and printed (left), the back covered in 6B pencil then drawn over with a ballpoint pen to trace the outline onto another page (middle). The traced outline was then shaded with a dip pen with a mix of Winsor & Newton canary yellow and sunshine yellow. Took this pic as the next stage was to attempt some stippling with a darker ink, which would probably turn it to mush.

In some ways the cartoony one on the left probably looks the best of the three, even though that was just used for transfer. Ho hum.

The composition lacks some punch. More contrast needed, perhaps.


Mr Skullington has now been stippled. There’s a strange effect where the stipple seems to follow the lines of the underlying yellow/orange crosshatch even though I was doing it randomly. Maybe it’s something to do with the dried ink being slightly raised and attracting the newly-laid ink.

Still not enough oomph, somehow.  I was hoping it would be more Leonardo’s notebook.



Painted from a photo in watercolour, the colours in this haystack scene look a bit cool for a late afternoon in autumn, but that’s the trouble with working from a photo where all sorts of in-camera corrections have already been done.

Or maybe the light was that cool and neutral. Perhaps the reality we’re trying to paint needs a tweak to be believable, or perhaps we need to wait for the scene to change before we decide to paint.


master copy

sketches-scan1881 sketches-scan1871 sketches-scan1861

Copying pictures from an old copy of The Picture History of Painting that contains a number of rather heavily printed mono reproductions, which make practice pencil sketches that much easier as the image is already broken down into values.

It’s worth doing these copies just to feel something of the flow and graceful line that the masters managed to put on the canvas.

tree shade


Experimenting with areas of light, using some heavy (300gsm) Bockingford watercolour paper. It needed to be that heavy because I worked it to death, with some areas turning to mud. After all that abuse, the paint still lifted from the paper (shadow side of the trunk).

The main object was to experiment with the relative brightness of different areas: to make something look light, make the areas around it darker. Leaves on the foreground tree were blotched with a bristle brush.

sizing saints


Practising proportions with a pencil sketch of a stone figure, from a photo of Murcia Cathedral roof snapped some years back.

Getting the mid-point (advised in Dodson’s Keys to Drawing) is very useful. From the top of the head to bottom of the plinth it turns out to be just to the right of the knee, which was surprising. Must do more of that as proportions are a major weak point. Still managed to make the cherub’s shield look like a melted ice cream tortoise.

I read somewhere that these rooftop statues were often made deliberately too tall, so that when viewed from below they would appear correctly proportioned.

José Guadalupe Poseda


Whenever I use a dip pen and a bottle of ink I’m waiting for the moment when the bottle tips or the nib explodes. It keeps you on your toes.

This was drawn on cartridge paper using Indian ink, which bled through and glued together the next few pages.