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.

Fine Art Prints – Rhine Trees in the Mist.

Rhine Trees in the Mist (watercolour 28 x 28 cm) Fine Art Prints
Rhine Trees in the Mist

I’m taking a new leap into Fine Art Prints.

A couple of months ago I was accepted for an ArtFinder portfolio.  ArtFinder has proved an extremely productive route to selling my work. The team there do a wonderful job of marketing and promoting the artists. They really earn their commission.

Now, for the first time, I’ve taken the decision to create limited edition fine art prints. The runs will be limited to only 25 and each will be signed and numbered.  Rhine Trees in the Mist is a 50 x 50cm giclee print. I was initially concerned about the quality of the printing – but when I saw the first one, I was thrilled.

Ever since I was a child I’ve loved trees. I was never happier than when climbing to the highest branches where I could see for miles. I love a sense of scale and the possibilities in a distant view. In this painting, a sense of mystery is  added by the mistiness of the soft background. The texture in the dips between the forested ridges create tendrils of mist rising up through the branches. This painting has a feel of the Bavarian forests about it which inspired the title.

More limited edition fine art prints will be coming in the next couple of months.

Rhine Trees in the Mist is available in the following formats:

Original painting – Sold

Limited Edition Giclee Prints on ArtFinder

Greetings cards on Red Bubble and Fine Art America 

I’m currently sitting in the airport in Johannesburg waiting to board my flight home. I’ve been away from home for four weeks on a working trip (and managed to see my parents and siblings along the way, which was a lovely bonus). Now it’s time to go home. I have exhibitions to start preparing for, and a family who might want to know that I’m still around. Tomorrow I will walk into my studio again for the first time in quite a while.  I am looking forward to getting my brushes back home.

Watercolour Exhibition – My Favourite of the Year

All Our Days by David Poxon (pure watercolour). Part of the RI watercolour exhibition
All Our Days by David Poxon RI (pure watercolour)

One of the highlights of the art year for me is the exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours at The Mall Galleries. This year, the watercolour exhibition runs from Wednesday 2nd April to Saturday 19th April.

Clearly you can’t expect every painting in every watercolour exhibition to be a Wow for you. It’s all subjective, after all.  But I have found that this particular exhibition invariably has many works on show that inspire me.  I make sure that I go to exhibitions of works in other mediums from time to time, but for now, this medium remains my passion.  -So my favourite watercolour exhibition is still on my ‘treat myself’ list for the year.  I think it’s a combination of the light, the translucence, and the immediacy of the pigment on paper that entice me.

Some of my favourite artists will be showing in the watercolour exhibition.

Look out for works by:

Mat Barber Kennedy
Anne Blockley
David Poxon
Shirley Trevenna
Naomi Tydeman

These are just a small handful of the talented artists whose work will be available to view.

David Poxon (who received the Winsor and Newton RI Award at last year’s exhibition) very kindly sent me the a photograph of his painting “All our Days” which will be in the exhibition. He said of it, “Found this subject in an old Quaker chapel in the Scilly Isles, the life possessions of someone who had just passed, puts it all into perspective I thought!”

I first saw this painting on Facebook and was blown away by it. The light streaming down onto the box of possessions makes the point that the contents was precious to someone.

(In a small irony, I am currently in South Africa and have been spending much of this week helping my parents. They are starting to sort through and give away old books and collected items that have been accumulated over many years  of living in the same house. I am reminded just how difficult we find it to let go of possessions that represent a life time of memories).

Watercolour painting: Long Lost Letters

Long Lost Letters (watercolour 38 x 28 cm)
Long Lost Letters (watercolour 38 x 28 cm)

Old things are great subjects for watercolour paintings if you want to play with a bit of texture. I’ve been travelling for the past 2 weeks with a limited amount of kit, so any texturing needed to come from the image itself and the way I treated it in pure watercolour.  No added mediums this time.  In addition, I limited my palette to only three colours: Prussian blue, burnt umber and a Daniel Smith’s Lunar Black.

I noticed a photograph on a friend’s Facebook timeline a few weeks ago and thought it would make an ideal reference. When I asked who owns the photograph she told me it was posted on a public site with no reference. I’ve taken the liberty of using it as a reference with some minor adaptations.  If I can ever track down the owner, will of course, give them credit for the reference picture.

To some extent, this painting resonated because it hooked into my theme of Precious Artifacts (they don’t have to be new or in perfect condition to be considered precious). And also because Doug’s Dad’s Watch was a recent painting of an old item. I love the sense of history these articles from times past carry with them.

Future watercolours

I have a few more photographs lined up for Precious Artifacts paintings – and they all have their own associated story. I may not have much painting time while I travel, and if I do, I suspect I will feel the need to try and capture something of my surroundings while I am here. But the personal articles that have been chosen will be painted, and they will all appear here in future posts.

In the meantime, here is Long Lost Letters – an image that appealed to me because it made me wonder what documents had once been created by it. The keys, now broken and in some cases, missing, may have composed great love letters, contracts, business letters, or even perhaps an epic novel.

Precious Artifacts Paintings : Doug’s Watch

Artifacts paintings: Doug's Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)
Doug’s Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)

When I put out an email to a few friends about the Precious Artifacts paintings series, Doug Shaw was the first to respond.

Doug chose a photo of a watch which had belonged to his father and then had a history of being unknown, discovered, then lost.  Doug has a great blog. I’ve followed his writing for some time and he always hits the mark on people and connections.

Read the story of the Doug’s Lost and Found watch in his words – he says it so much better than I can. Clue: The place name on the watch face is significant.

Precious Artifacts Paintings

If you’d like to be part of this, please email me a photograph of your Precious Artifact and a snippet about why you love it.

Japanese Mugs in Watercolour

Japanese Mugs in watercolour
Japanese Mugs  (watercolour 12.5 cm x 12.5 cm)

This pair of Japanese mugs mark the beginning of another painting series. I took this photograph for Tracey Fletcher King’s Cuppa With Friends project.

That action sparked two watercolour ideas:

– Firstly I decided to have a go at painting them myself,

– and secondly it spawned the idea for my new Precious Artifacts collection.

I have emailed a few friends (and may ask them to nominate a few other) asking them to send me a photograph of one item that is precious to them (not a person or a place – an item) along with a very short description of why they love the item. I really want to know the story behind the image. I will then paint that item (almost certainly in watercolour) and it will go into the collection. The style of painting may vary as will the size. All of these factors will be guided by the photograph and the item itself.

So if you’d like to join in, please feel free to email me a photograph of your item and it’s story. I’ve got a few to do already.

Now I need to give you the story of the mugs in the watercolour.

These mugs were bought for me on a trip to Japan. I saw them and fell in love with just about everything about them. They have no handle – just a dent for the thumb which you can see on the right hand side of the blue mug. Each one is a slightly different shape and they feel fantastic to hold.  There are iridescent coloured squares placed under the clear glaze so that they wrap around the mug, and there’s a wonderful black granulation effect from oxidisation during the firing process.

I am absolutely mad about the aesthetics of these mugs. The Asian melding of utility and style works perfectly. And they remind me of one of the best journeys I’ve ever taken. Everything about that trip was just right.

The next Perfect Artifacts watercolour will be done very soon. I’ve got two items in the pipeline.


Watercolour painting: Hogweed and Daisies

watercolour painting.  Hogweed and Daisies
Hogweed and Daisies (watercolour)

This loose watercolour painting was a wonderfully liberating loose exploration of colour.  Once the composition was planned and sketched in, the palette was selected for it’s vibrance.

The foreground provides a lush fresh green canvas for the summer hogweed heads and daisies. Then the viewer is led up the footpaths into the blue  distance to the farm buildings on the hill above. And beyond the farm banks of trees fade off into the distance.

Watercolour painting – the things I love

– Paint textures. Look at how the pigments have created wonderful shapes and grassy textures in the foreground of this painting.

– Soft focus – the blues in the farm buildings, combined with their imprecise edges give a sense of hazy distance

– Tonal values – the pathways that lead the eye up to the farm buildings take the viewer on a journey into the heart of the scene.


Landscape Painting: Misty Forest Walk

Landscape painting. Misty Forest Walk (watercolour 10 x 15)
Misty Forest Walk (watercolour 10 x 15)

This little landscape painting is a significant milestone for me. It is my 100th painting for Running With Brushes. Yes! That feels like a big mountain – and I climbed it.

This landscape painting  is a painting of two journeys.

It is a milestone on the way to the 1000 paintings goal, and there’s a journey in the painting itself as well. The gap in the fence creates a space for the viewer to step though, leaving the every-day grassy field to walk through the mist and up the pathway that leads over the hill – to who knows where.

I love putting pathways to somewhere unknown in my paintings, just to provide little glimpses of the possibilities that lie beyond. That’s the beauty of landscape painting.


Watercolour Sky Study – Pink

Watercolour Sky Study: Pink (watercolour 13 x 17 cm)
Sky Study: Pink (watercolour 13 x 17 cm)

The second of my watercolour sky studies. I was aiming for a very different mood in this painting. The sky study in blue has a more brooding stormy atmosphere. This painting still has storm clouds, but the pink in the sky and the more vibrant colours in the landscape element give it a warmer, less threatening feel. I’ve included more of the land element in this work which also slightly diminishes the scale of the overall image.

To compare the watercolour sky studies:

Here is the link to the study in blue.

I’d love to hear what mood you think each captures for you.

Watercolour Landscapes: Alpine Lake

These watercolour landscapes were conceived two years ago on a road trip to the Umbria Jazz Festival. We drove across France and through Switzerland on our way down. One overnight stop was in a ski resort which was open for summer activities. High in the mountains we came across a lake – with the most spectacular blue water I have ever seen.

Watercolour landscapes. Alpine Lake (watercolour 10 x 15 cm)
Alpine Lake (watercolour 10 x 15 cm)

Getting to the lake from the village involved a steep walk through down through the thick forest. For much of the walk you can look down on the lake from a distance, watching sail boats and pedal boats and people relaxing around the water.

Watercolour landscapes. Ice Blue Water (watercolour 10 x 15)
Ice Blue Water (watercolour 10 x 15)

Being high in the alps, the beaches that surround the water aren’t traditional white sand. They’re dark grey – almost like volcanic sand.

Watercolour Landscapes available at Running With Brushes

– Alpine Lake

– Ice Blue Water

– Waiting for the Cows to Come Home