Martello Tower at Aldeburgh

Martello Tower
Martello Tower at Aldeburgh (Oil 50 x 50cm) completed under the guidance of Stephen Higton

The Martello Tower at Aldeburgh, seen across the water, was painted in a workshop with my friend, Stephen Higton.

Stephen has been my oil painting guide right from the start. I did my first ever oil painting in one of his workshops and knew then that I wanted to do more at some stage.

Unpacked - First oil painting

Unpacked – First oil painting

The image was quite simple (which was good thinking on Stephen’s part as it was easier to focus on technique and not have to worry too much about composition).  I have a fondness for my ‘firsts’. The pastel from my first painting session hangs in our lounge and Unpacked has a home of a bedroom wall in our house.

Inaccessible Pinnacle (oil 24 x 30 cm)
Inaccessible Pinnacle (oil 24 x 30 cm)

As soon as I posted a photo of my first painting online I was asked to paint a commission of  the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Conscious of my inexperience in this medium,  I took a deep breath and had a go. Fortunately, the recipient was happy with the result and this painting now lives in Edinburgh.

Getting back to painting in oils after a long break was great. I always have the best intentions, but somehow my watercolours kept calling me back.  The martello tower photograph Stephen gave us as a reference had more complexity in it than either of the previous two oils I’d done. I wanted to capture the early morning light on the water, the scattering of boats and the moody, dark shape of the martello tower on the horison.

I’ll have to find more time for oil painting.

A little more about the Martello Tower at Aldeburgh:

Built to defend the UK against Napoleon, the martello tower at Aldeburgh is the northern most in the chain. Now owned by the landmark trust, the tower can be rented for a holiday. Trivia: Almost a million bricks were used in it’s construction.

Note to art lovers: Stephen and Mita Higton are holding an open studio on June 29th, 2014. Worth a visit if you’re in Suffolk.

Brushes & mark-making tools – Behind the Scenes

Expertise comes with time and a lot of practice. One of the aspects of painting that distinguishes an artist is their particular style of mark-making. For most artists this is one element of their work that develops over a period of working with different materials, and a range of tools.

Over the short years I’ve been painting, I’ve managed to accumulate a slightly embarrassing collection of brushes. I’m less addicted to buying new brushes than I am to to acquiring new tubes of colour – but only just. And I’ve recently discovered a couple of new mark-making tools that are quite unusual. But first I’ll show you the traditional tools I have in my studio.

Brushes and tools in my studio:

Watercolour is my favourite medium at this stage. I’m still enthralled by the surprises this medium brings.  I’ve been working mainly in watercolours so it accounts for the bulk of my tools for it. Every artist has a favourite blush. My favourite brush has changed over time. For a long time a size 10 kolinsky sable round brush was my go-to tool. Since then I’ve tried some great synthetic brushes which have good points and are quite robust and hold a good point. I’ve recently discovered a sable filbert which is fast moving into my small group of ‘most favoured’ brushes. My all time ‘can’t live without it’ brush is a size zero rigger. It’s just perfect for adding those last little details.

Watercolour brushes
Watercolour brushes

Other watercolour tools include old credit cards, toothbrushes, sponges (not visible in this painting) bamboo sticks, eye droppers and ballpoint pen outer sleeves. There are probably a few others in this photo, but those are the ones I use most often.

Last year I had a dabble with mixed media and acrylic paint. As you can see from the state of my collection of brushes for acrylics, I’ve not done very much of with them. This is a limitation of time rather than anything else. I’ve managed to prepare some canvasses so ‘watch this space’. The brushes are at the ready.

Acrylic Brushes
Acrylic Brushes

I’ve done a little more with oils, but still consider myself a rank beginner in this medium. As with acrylics, my main limitation here is time. But these brushes have been used once or twice and will be again.

Oil Brushes
Oil Brushes

My two main suppliers of brushes are Rosemary’s brushes and for the acrylic brushes, Escoda.

I’m always up for a experimenting with watercolour. On my recent trip to South Africa, I was looking for some hand and body lotion and wandered into Rain. While I was browsing I noticed these two items: which looked ideal for a bit of watercolour application. So I bought them both.

Alternative painting tools - Sponge and Porcupine Quills
Loofah and Porcupine Quills

Here’s what happens when you play with the loofah. The red in the middle of the page was paint applied to the loofah which was then rolled across the paper. The blue and green marks were made by dragging the loofah across the paper using quite wet paint, and the quin gold was applied very thickly and then dragged. I can see all sorts of interesting marks in this. Sadly, when I unpacked back in the UK I discovered that the loofah had been left behind somewhere on my travels. But now that I’ve tried it, I’ll be looking out for a new one.

Watercolour painting - Sponge Marks
Loofah Marks

The porcupine quills are interesting. They have very, very sharp points so you have to be quite careful using them. The other (white) end has a little bend in it – each one slightly different. Although the beautiful sharp points are great for sratching out and making very fine lines, it’s the other end that is the most interesting to work with.

Watercolour painting - Quill Marks
Quill Marks

I’m enjoying this new tool. My next post will be a painting I did using the quills as one of my main mark-making tools.

Liebster Award

Liebster Blog Award

I had a lovely surprise yesterday. I got a ping from Judith Farnworth letting me know that she had nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award. Judith’s art blog covers an astounding range of painting subjects and genres so it’s always a good read. Coming from her, this is high praise.

Thank you, Judith


In keeping with the rules of the Liebster Blog Award, here are my five nominations:

1. My first nomination must go to Maggie Latham. Maggie’s blog is a constant inspiration. Her 31 Days of Colour series is a great reference tool and she’s constantly sharing her enormous knowledge of watercolour painting. Maggie has just started sharing a new series of posts featuring her tropical watercolour washes.

2. Olivia Quintin is one of my fellow One Hundred Wash artists who I was lucky enough to meet for a couple of days last year. I’m looking forward to Olivia and Alain’s return visit when I can show them some of what Cambridge and London have to offer artists. Olivia’s paintings are always thrilling. Her use of colour and the mix of hard and soft watercolour techniques make her paintings something really special to see.

3. Catherine Hopkins amazes me with every blog post. Her degree of accomplishment across every conceivable handcraft is formidable. Catherine can sew and knit to an astonishing degree of professionalism – and with astonishing speed. She reviews books on handcrafts, and in her day job, she is a high-powered lawyer in London.

4. Laura Moore – I recently interviewed Laura in my Meet the Artist series. I have included Laura because she is absolutely passionate about her watercolour painting and her passion shines through every post. Her enthusiasm and her willingness to share her progression through her process of accumulating skills in her toolkit of watercolour techniques is fabulously generous and her blog is always worth reading.

5. Kelly Medford – Finally a newly discovered blog. Kelly Medford is an American oil painter who paints in Rome. Kelly’s blog is a wonderful combination of travel and art for those of us who would love to travel and paint – and who can do so vicariously through Kelly’s blog.

The greatest challenge in selecting these five bloggers was in ONLY selecting these five. The creative world is full of wonderful bloggers and artists who generously share their thoughts and their images. I would love to have nominated more, but them’s the rules folks.

I hope you enjoy exploring the blogs of these five Liebster Award bloggists.

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Artists & Illustrators First Annual Exhibition

I had a real ‘joining the dots’ moment when reading Katherine Tyrrell’s Making a Mark post early in February. Naturally I had seen news online about the fabulous winning works in the Artists and Illustrators annual competition, and marvelled at the skill of the artists.

Katherine’s post included news of the exhibition of these works at the Osborne Studio Gallery, on Motcomb Street. That’s when I realised that the gallery is on my regular route during my weekly London days. I frequently make a point of stopping and looking in the window to see what’s on display.

Diary note to self: Go to the exhibition; which I did, today.

Until I read about this exhibition, I hadn’t realised that the gallery is spread over two floors. When you wander downstairs, there’s the added discovery that it has an enchanting little garden behind it. It’s a proper Aladin’s cave down there.  As you might expect, the winning paintings are indeed even more extraordinary in the flesh.

The much-written about Physalis II by Linda Alexander is gloriously large and vibrant. Looking at the images online has a Wow factor – even more so when the size and real intensity of colours can be seen.

(Side note: Please forgive the quality of my photographs. They were taken with my phone and do not do the paintings justice.)

Jenny Aitken's Shower and Sun Derbyshire (top) and On the Wall, Tintagel (bottom) - Acrylic on Canvas
Jenny Aitken’s Shower and Sun Derbyshire (top) and On the Wall, Tintagel (bottom) – Acrylic on Canvas

Another painting that grabbed my attention was Showers and Sun Derbyshire, an acrylic on canvas by Jenny Aitken. This and Physallis II are on exhibition but are NFS.  All the other paintings from the competition are available for sale, although I did see a number of red dots in evidence.

Although all the paintings from the winning artists have something special about them, I was particularly drawn to a few: The remarkable portrait of Len by Mark Fennel reveals a dishevelled image of old age, which elicits feelings of empathy and concern in the viewer. Two enchanting watercolours by Jan Harbon, Fall, and Jane Austen’s Garden are fascinating in their fine detail and beautiful delicacy.

Jan Harbon's Jane Austen's Garden (left) and Fall (right) - watercolours
Jan Harbon’s Jane Austen’s Garden (left) and Fall (right) – watercolours

The exhibition runs until Tuesday, 19th February so there’s still a full week to get in there if you want to see these exceptional paintings.

[On a side note, I was interested to see on the gallery’s calendar for the year, an upcoming exhibition of works by John Tierney who is described as being a ‘Criminology professor, musician and painter’. It’s great to see evidence that the world can cope with someone being analytical and an artist at the same time. Not only that, seeing an artist with a professional life outside of art, still being taken seriously by the art world is something I find quite encouraging. We can be multifaceted people, after all!]

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