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Sunday 30 September 2012

Week 5 Visual Notes

Some colour.. well just a bit…I thought I would try to make a quick gouache colour note every day, based on the B/W sketches and my notes.

MONDAY: the morning drizzle turned into heavy rain


My early washed out sketch, it says “4 cormorants take off in this grey scene, it’s raining harder. 7.50 am”


Later the gouache sketch from notes.. black ducks and white seagulls, the horizon lost in mist. Looking west.

TUESDAY: A beautiful morning after the heavy rain.


I sketched a big anvil shaped cloud on the horizon over Perry. Two whiter than white swans flew across the lake surface.


The gouache sketch later from my notes. I forgot the swans!

WED: Nice early but the rain started soon after I left the house. No early morning sketch but later it cleared and I walked up past the water tower


Looking east from the road. Some rooks on the stubble.


Colour notes


Light in the wood




The gouache colour note.  I have been thinking about printing today so the colours are a bit blocky.

FRI: A slightly longer walk.




Gouache colour note, silvery green grey willows are so beautiful in the wind. 


SUND: A cold breezy morning. Our small inland sea has waves today.



and another small oil sketch based on Friday’s sketch…just to keep practising.

Tomorrow I am hoping to do another Sketchbook in a Day…:)

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Thursday 27 September 2012

Some Rooks

I have been sketching rooks today (a very favourite bird of mine) because I am hoping to make a lino or woodcut cut soon. I am not trying for a perfect rook drawing but more for “essence” of rook.


Listening to the food music of worms

I am actually going to base the linocut on this old drawing, above, which I had made for my  “The Food Music of Worms”  post, well over a year ago now. This rough sketch just seemed to capture my father’s poetic observations about rooks.
But the sketch is too scrappy and ill defined and I do need to understand rooks a bit better. I have spent many hours watching them as they strut around the stubble, make noisy and argumentative roosts in the tree tops and soar and glide on the breeze. I think they are splendid birds.




In this windy weather they always look tatty. Sometimes like a old bundle of black rags tied together, their long loose feathers wind blown and ruffled.


A drawing for a woodcut or lino cut will have to be simplified quite a bit to accommodate my inexperienced cutting skills. I am planning a series of local birds. The daily walks and sketches are making me realise how much I love them.

I will post my progress as the print develops. There’s optimism for you!

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Monday 24 September 2012

Week 4 Visual Notes

The sketches from last week…and a bit of a mixed monochrome bag. There are some pens and inks and some tonal sketches because, at long last, I have decided to try a few oil paintings. I made a few unsuccessful attempts in the past but after being both inspired and encouraged by my friend Brenda, queen of plein air and my friend Denise queen of fabulous feline paintings I have finally got going..well almost.
I’m starting at the beginning by looking at tonal sketches. It’s something I do anyway, for my watercolour and design work, but have slipped into undisciplined and haphazard bad habits, skipping steps and doodling on the back of envelopes.
This time I am trying to knuckle down and do things properly.. so on Monday I left my much loved pen behind and I took gouache with me.  I am using gouache as a half way house between the pen and oils. It dries quickly so no problem with smudging. Again they are quick studies on 5 x 7 card, although I have left it a bit late in the year to start my plein air adventures. Typical!  
MON Sept 17th


Brampton Wood tree.


The giant humbugs down the lane. Rolls of silage (?) wrapped in green and black striped plastic.

Lots of pen sketches for images see Burghley Sketching post.

WED Sept 19th 
A disused farm building down the road,  20 mins

farm bg

The Church yard, just 15 mins because it started raining and gouache is not good in the rain.  

church 1 bg

It’s sometimes hard to get across the importance and fun of tonal sketches..The mention of them can generate yawns.. I wonder why .. I really enjoy doing them. They do tend to become rather formal because you are looking for bigger shapes of tone, but it’s such good practise for seeing the lights and the darks.

THURS Sept 20th

On a busy day it’s back to the sketchbook and 2 very quick sketches on a short very early walk.
10 min sketches


Crows on crow tree.


A surprise of cormorants and gulls who flew up from the hidden shore line, it was grey and still dusky over Perry at 7.15 am.

FRI Sept 21st

An equally busy day but on my quick morning walk I had seen this wonderful long tree trunk so later I cycled up to the Visitor Centre to draw it.  I spent a blissful half hour sitting on the grass listening to the birds and squirrels. It rained a bit but was well worth the trouble.


The long, pine branch was like some strange giant millipede creeping towards the wood.


A bunch of rooks were on the field by Church Hill. I love rooks and am planning a linocut soon, so need to do some more rook drawing.

SAT Sept 22nd

This is something of a breakthrough day for me. My first ever plein air work in oils. I know, it’s only 2 little sketches but it’s a start.  It seemed an awful lot of faffing about to get the stuff organised but it was such a beautiful day that it was now or never. I cycled up to the spot where I was yesterday and made two quick (20 mins each) sketches of the tree line, then turned round to face the water.


After the gouache I am finding it slippery and smeary and that it mixes too easily. But I guess if I can persevere I may improve.  
These are small, 5 x 7 sketches on card primed with acrylic.


The dark dark wood on a sunny day


Looking towards the water with a few people, a boat and a buoy.

SUN Sept 23rd

Two more small oils. I had sketched the first one in yesterday because of impending rain, which sure enough has arrived.


The lane to the reservoir.


Sky, from the water looking east, water tower to the left. Early Sunday morning. Fab sweep of white cloud before rain arrived.

I am not sure how or if these will develop but I will do some more.. after all, I have bought the wretched paints now :)
I have really enjoyed doing them. They are not perhaps the compositions or subjects which I normally choose… maybe a little too formal for me…but they are just as I saw them.

Sunday Stoat
Earlier in the morning on my cold grey 7.50 am walk, when I thought it was all going to be uninspiring, I saw a stoat ( or weasel?). I am not sure who was more astonished. Both of us were transfixed for a few seconds. It was utterly charming. I was standing still looking out over the water and it popped its head above the rocks, disappeared,  then like magic reappeared from behind another stone. It peeped out sideways from behind a small bush before scampering away. I willed my slow camera to snap just one picture.


 Sunday Stoat, Grafham Water Shore

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Saturday 22 September 2012

A Windy Day at Burghley Park

The next workshop I have planned for my group at Easton Walled Gardens will be “Fill a Sketch Book in a Day”.. yes, it’s a daunting prospect.. but the sketchbooks I have in mind are just 12 pages and not too huge .. 10 x7 inches. The point of doing this exercise is to “get on”,  stop procrastinating , make some quick decisions and work in a focused way.

So to see how possible or impossible it is I took a sketchbook to Burghley Park near Stamford on Tuesday. I arrived at 9.45 and left at 4.45. had approx 2 hrs for coffee, lunch and tea break and to thaw out, which meant actual sketching time was about 5 hours.

The Problems

1 I don’t know the place very well, so spent too much time wandering about looking at things.

2 THE WIND. It must have been the windiest day of the year. It howled out of the north west, cold and blustery. The way the great building and the public access is oriented meant it was impossible to find shelter. It whipped around every corner, sought you out even in the courtyard where it turned into a spiralling demon.  It constantly found, lifted and flapped all the corners of the sketchbook, blew my hair into my eyes and knocked over the water. If you sat in the lee of a big tree trunk the wind just split and whirled round it, to assault you from both sides.  The only saving grace was that it was sporadically sunny and did not rain.

In short, it was a typical, magnificent British autumn day. Leaves and birds tossed high in the air. Visitors holding their hats and bent at 45 degrees as they struggled round the park.

So how did I do.. well ..OK. For me a hard working day is really 8 till 6 so time was very tight. I spent far too long wandering about trying to ignore the magnificent towering house whose complicated architecture was too overwhelming for today’s sketching. But it is mesmerising and demands your attention at every turn.  But that is for another day.. maybe.


Wind and petals 9.45- 10.00
Starting off and possibly the most poetic moment of the day. I am cold and hanging on to my sketchbook. The wind is whipping round my ears but as I sketch I am showered with petals from the rose garden.

2 bg

10.15 to 10.30 An old tree with wooden props.. nice curly shapes.


10.40 –10.55 The entrance to the Gardens. I liked the turrets and pennant.

11.00 to 11.30 coffee and warmth.


11.35  to 12.00 A rather pointless wobbly sketch of a bit of the building..but hey!


After too much wandering about I sat by a tree near Lion Bridge, 12.15-12.35 The couple walking reached the bridge and looked over while I sketched so I drew them twice. I liked the sweep of the land and the shapes of the trees.. could have done a bit more here. I also liked the lion at the end so walked on.


12.40 – 1.00 The lion from Lion bridge with dark cloud I have written. “Lion with Approaching Storm” this could be a “homage” to Stubbs.” (I do have delusions sometimes) 

1.00 to 2.20 hot soup and conversation.


2.20-2.30 A rather nice tree with  figure under it to give scale.


2.30-3.00 Some gorgeous fancy ironwork by the Ha Ha.

9 bg

3 –3.20  One of the magnificent tall chimneys and the statue in the rose garden.


3.30-3.45 some slightly more modest chimney pots.


3.45- 4.00 and I am running out of steam. Am sitting in the courtyard waiting for tea time but still being battered by the wind. These two men were waiting for their wives to come out of the shop

12 bg

4.00 last sketch …Tea and cake … everything stops for cake. :).

My friend Sue joined me for the day. We went off, did our own work and met for refreshments, show and tell, and mutual encouragement. She also made sure I did the 12!


This is a brilliant exercise for quick decisions, for getting down the basics, making notes, “seeing” many things and being inspired but I would really need longer than a 10 to 4 session especially if it’s somewhere unfamiliar. The pen is quite slow so I hope to try another sketchbook with some colour next week, do an 8 hour session and see how that goes. 

In themselves these sketches are nothing. Some have the germs of an idea and they will always remind me of an excellent day,  but as I have said many times the value of sketching lies in practising your artistic scales. It limbers up those stiff fingers,  coaxes the hand/eye/mind coordination to work a little better and fills you with ideas and possibilities.

It’s not about what you do,  it’s that you do it!
I was just clocking up some of those 10,000 hours that  I need.


Monday 17 September 2012

Week 3 Visual Notes

Almost a week of sketches, every day except Friday when I was away at Easton Walled Gardens for a workshop. 

MON 10th Sept:

A fabulous windswept day. I walked miles, wrote lots and drew little. But I brought this odd little thing back to draw.

fossil bg

An ancient shelly fossily thing from Devil’s Toenail Cove.

TUES 11th Sept:


The old railway bridge, a sketch out walking and a tonal sketch later.

WED 12th Sept


Very very cold early morning, fingers so cold I could hardly hold the pen. One sweeping dark cloud to the north west.


Back later to sketch “the dark thing” and white foam.

THURS 13th Sept


A stack of big uncompromising straw blocks. I was thinking how different from Monet’s romantic haystacks.


Clouds of rooks on the stubble and the spinney in the background

SAT 15th Sept:
Hot and sunny, a later walk


The half baled field. Lines of sweet smelling straw crackling in the hot sun.


Sometimes things suddenly appear. This big fallen branch is old, but was not there yesterday.

SUN 16th Sept:  early walk, grey and chilly


The wild geese on the field by the road,  just visible above the line of the stubble. 


The black rabbit on the track by the water.  This is the second black rabbit I have seen around here, but the other one was on the other side of the water.  I regard it as good luck!

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