Painting Autumn Apples in watercolour

I was painting autumn apples on day 2 of the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge.

Following the discipline of practicing active observation in a form of listening with my eyes,  my attention kept coming back to a basket of autumn apples in the garden. They were originally put there waiting to be eaten, but to my mind that were really waiting for me to start painting autumn apples.

The rich reds and crisp yellows were a dream colour combination and I set myself the challenge of capturing the diverse range of reds (in particular) that I could see in the fruit.

Painting Autumn apples  (watercolour 14 x 9 cm)
Autumn apple basket (watercolour 14 x 9 cm)

Painting Autumn apples

This painting is as much about tonal values as it is about colour. Given the dominance of reds in the subject, its critical to get the tonal values right. Without that, the painting is flat and lifeless. My initial focus was on the bright yellow of the apple furthest to the back of the basket.

By luck (although I would love to say that I had the foresight to arrange them that way) the darkest piece of fruit was in right next to it which gave me a natural focal point. But, the yellow apple is too close to the centre of the page for my liking. Lightening the green around the stalk of the darker piece of fruit in the process of painting autumn apples shifted that point of interest enough to the left to give me comfort in the composition.

I started this with water soluble pencils to mark out the basket and the basic positions of the apples. A few of the marks are still visible from the pencils. I find it less easy to get the intensity of colour with them, so I went on to painting autumn apples with pure watercolour once I had got my basic positions right.

Here’s a photograph of the actual basket of apples where you can see the colours that inspired this little exercise in painting autumn apples.
Painting Autumn apples

Team Lenk

Abstracting the Landscape (watercolour 28 x 38 cm)
Purple Hills (watercolour 28 x 38 cm)

Earlier this year, I met Suzie Rice. She mentioned a family in her area who were having a really tough time. Their 14 year son had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Since February, Tristan has received 7 courses of chemotherapy, 18 blood transfusions and more. Needless to say, his family are all pulling together and supporting him so, as in many cases, Tristan’s illness has an impact on others around him.

Suzie told me that despite all this hardship, Tristan has spent his spare time raising funds for cancer research and has managed to raise over £3000 so far. Go Tristan!

If that’s not inspiring enough, the local community has come together to fundraise for Tristan and his family. They think that after 109 days in hospital, and the incredible energy Tristan has put into fund raising, he and the family deserve a treat. Team Lenk has been formed with the purpose of raising enough money to send the family on a holiday. They’re holding an auction of promises evening on Saturday 9th November as their first event. Bidding is open on their website for the auction and the list of auction lots can be viewed here

Although I won’t be able to be at the auction, I’ve donated a painting to their raffle. I offered Suzie a choice of three paintings and she selected Purple Hills. I’m very pleased to be able to support Team Lenk in this small way.  It’s wonderful when a community comes together to support a cause that’s close to their hearts. And even more so, when the focus of their fundraising are so inspiring.

I’m sure the Lenk holiday initiative will be successful and that the family will be able to enjoy a wonderful much-deserved time together as a result of Team Lenk’s efforts.

One More Daffodil (Day 5/30)

This 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge is certainly got me painting more. And it’s great to be part of something that so many artists are joining. There are over 400 artists taking part in Leslie Saeta’s challenge now.

One More Daffodil (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)
One More Daffodil (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)

Today is also a bit of a personal milestone – this is the my 40th painting in the Running With Brushes series.

I started out painting a very conventional floral – and then decided this daffodil’s trumpet deserved much more attention than I was giving it. So it’s now bold and glorious in it’s colour.

No time to write more today. See you again tomorrow.

Wordsworth’s Darlings – (Day 3/30)

Wordsworth's Darlings (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)
Wordsworth’s Darlings (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth

I WANDERED lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed–and gazed–but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.


He certainly wasn’t alone in his love of daffodils. They’re the sort of blossoms that just make people smile.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, clinging desperately to our last few days of summer: a little reminder that spring will be back in six months time, with all it’s promise of sunshine, warmth and lazy afternoons in the garden.

For those in the southern hemisphere who are shaking off the chill spikes of winter, and quietly revelling in the prospect of the next six summer months, here’s a little image of the yellow heralds of your hot hazy afternoons. Enjoy it!

This is my Day 3 painting of 30 Paintings in 30 Days. I’ve posted it to Running With Brushes for anyone who would like to acquire it and support Care For Casualties.

Five by Five: cat’s eyes

Cat's eyes in green and blue (watercolour sketch)
Cat’s eyes (watercolour sketch)

The end of a wonderful long weekend, and the end of my self-imposed Five by Five challenge. It’s been a great exercise. Firstly, it made me focus on painting every day, and on blogging every day, and it got me thinking about the things that make me smile.

My last five are:

– Horatio. I’ve posted photos of Horatio before and he has his own special category in the blog. Admittedly there are only two photographs of him so far, and neither could be painted because they would just look wierd. So, I did a little watercolour sketch of cat’s eyes to represent Horatio. He is on my list of subjects to paint and clearly (judging by this little sketch), I need more practice painting cats before I can do him justice.

– My job. I often bemoan the fact that I don’t have more time to paint. But that shouldn’t be taken as that meaning I want to spend less time on my work. (Rather that I just wish there were more hours in the day, or that I was more organised with the hours I do have). I love the work I do and wouldn’t change it for anything. My company works with great clients. We love dealing with every one of them. And on top of that, we’ve recently added investment research to the work that we do which is fantastically interesting.

– Knitting. I spent almost all of Monday sorting out thousands of balls of knitting yarn. No, that doesn’t mean I have a stash of yarn that counts into the thousands. Instead we’re closing down an online knitting yarn business we’ve had for the past two years. Perhaps once that has all been sorted out and put to bed properly, I’ll have time to get my needles out again. It can be a great way to relax.

– Aquilegias. They self-seed in our garden and come up again in early summer. They always bring the rest of the flowers following along behind them. This year I want a carpet full of aquilegias

– My sister who is was my first artistic inspiration and who can be relied on to always give me an honest answer to even the most difficult of questions. I would feel lost without her in my world.

Thank you for taking this five day journey with me. I hope it wasn’t too tedious. Tomorrow morning it’s back to work and the usual routine again. Hope you have time to paint something fabulous this week.

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It was Samuel Johnson who said, “The two offices of memory are collection and distribution.”

Pick Me! (watercolour - 66 x 18cm)
Pick Me! (watercolour – 66 x 18cm)

When selecting paintings for exhibition, or working out how best to group them online, it always makes sense to consider how the viewer will perceive them.  As part of my job, I have spent many years reading extensively on the subject of how we think, what makes us tick, how we see the world. The brain is a marvellous machine. Amongst other things, without us even being aware of it, our brains make logical sense of everything we see. We’re hard wired to look for the connections between things. Ever wondered why when someone says the word, ‘table’ we can’t possibly not have a fleeting thought of the word ‘chair’. It’s that connection thing. We group and associate what we see and what we hear. It’s one of the ways we make sense of the world.

The flip side is that, when we are presented with a number of items which are not logically grouped, our brains find it quite uncomfortable and we find ourselves thinking hard about what the connection is between the images. Unfortunately, when we’re doing that, we’re not thinking about enjoying what we see – we’re actually working quite hard in the background to solve a puzzle.

If you can create a collection, based on a common theme (subject, colour, style), the viewer’s brain can relax and focus on the painting in front of them. I’ve now got a small collection of shoe paintings – and commissions for more.  By grouping the shoe paintings together on one wall at exhibition (or on one page online), visitors could see a theme and start to think about how they liked it, and further, whether they would want to own one.

And as Samuel Johnson pointed out, as a general rule, collections are more memorable than single images.  Have you got any collections in your body of work? If so, what’s the common theme?

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January Give-Away: Blazing London

Blazing London (watercolour 320 x 110)
Blazing London (watercolour 320 x 110)
Blazing London (watercolour 320 x 110)

This painting was done during the riots in London. We were all watching something that seemed unbelievable.  The city was ablaze. The destruction was uncontrollable, and quite devastating. Above all that, it was an unsettling insight into mob-hysteria and the damage it can do.

But within hours of the final bricks being hurled, something rather heartening happened. People came from miles around to help with the clear up and the rebuild. I like to think that new friendships were forged, and that the communities involved became stronger and more capable as a result. A phoenix rose from those ashes.

The beginning of a new year felt like an appropriate time to give away this little painting of the city skyline with the images of growth and rebuilding sketched into the skyline.

This painting is a 320 x 110 mm watercolour and will come with a mount around it.

So here’s what you should do if you fancy owning this little painting:

– Just leave a comment on this post to say you’d like to be in the draw.

– If you’re on FB and you fancy going into the draw twice, share this post on FB and say you’ve done so in the comment you put on this blog post.

The draw will be done with on the 25th January. A special date for me as it’s my elder son’s birthday.

Happy posting!

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Storm in the Air

Summer 2012 (watercolour 13 x 17 cm)

This past month I’ve been working on two different scales – and I quite like it. Maggie Latham invited me to take part in her Small Works Challenge group on Facebook. The rules set a specific size (roughly A6) and required the works to be done without pencil or masking fluid en plein air. It was a great way if getting focused just on the painting and not worrying about getting everything perfect – resulting in some lovely spontaneous images in the group.

I’ve used this idea to create a series of small works for the exhibition at Whittlesford next week. It will be interesting to see how they are received. Here’s one I called Summer 2012 – it has been the wettest summer I can recall.

Summer 2012 (watercolour 13 x 17 cm)
Summer 2012 (watercolour 13 x 17 cm)

The beauty of the small works is that they give me an opportunity to try out a concept I can then paint on a much bigger scale. I  wanted to get the same feeling of rain in the air in this larger painting which came out looking a lot more brooding and dramatic.

Storm in the air (watercolour 38 x 48 cm)
Storm in the air (watercolour 38 x 48 cm)

I think I’ll work big and little for a while longer. I suspect the small works are likely to be a bit gentler on the subject – but perhaps that’s in the nature of the size and speed of work.

Here’s a quick pic of the two paintings together in the studio – just for a sense of relative scale:

big and little water colour paintings

Girls’ Best Friends

Girls' Best Friends - watercolour

I was working under time pressure last weekend. Time was running out. Exhibition season is starting and I didn’t have enough new work to show. Admittedly, there’s always the old works to show again, but it feels as if it’s time for a change.

Sometimes, despite the fact that it’s pressurised, tight deadlines produce some interesting results. I tend not to play it safe, and get quite experimental. This weekend was no different. I started a series of show paintings. There’s something about high heels in particular that women love. They have such elegant lines. Girls’ Best Friends was the outcome of me working on emphasising those lines and bringing out the structural feel of a pair of stilettos.

Working to a deadline clearly paid off in this instance: this painting was accepted for the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists Exhibition at The Peter Pear Gallery in Aldeburgh. The exhibition starts tomorrow and goes on until 16th October.

Girls' Best Friends - watercolour
Girls’ Best Friends (watercolour 38 x 48cm)

I’m stewarding at the exhibition on Sunday. I’ll write more about the exhibition after that.

For the artists amongst you, I’ve started a page listing online resources for artists. The list isn’t very long at the moment, but it will grow in time and if you have any to share, please let me know. It includes, art material suppliers, framers and art galleries, amongst other things. Hope it proves helpful.