All that glitters must surely be from Essex

All that glitters must surely be from Essex
Oil and glitter on canvas

Monday, 1 September 2014

The importance of a sky!

In the final days of my summer break before starting the new school year, I took myself off to the studio for a few hours today.  On the first day of September I found myself wondering how long it will be before I plug the heater back in for winter.  I love my studio space...but it is so cold in the winter, so I painted today in what I'm sure will be the last last of the summer light...and warmth!

Today my attention was on my St Botolph's painting.  Underpainting nice and dry, I began to add thin glazes of greys, blues and white to give depth.

Using linseed oil to make the colour more transparent
I ensured that the colour of the underpainting was still
visible underneath.

During the Reformation St Botolphs, like many reli-
gious buildings in Britain, was demolished.  The fires
of the Reformation destroyed buildings, purged heretics and swept away centuries of history, art, ceremony and belief.
Therefore the sky in this painting is so important as it is painted in a literal and symbolic sense.

To further reveal the underpainting, I used a cloth to rub into the wet paint - having mixed the paint with linseed oil, the paint comes off almost cleanly, showing the colour beneath.

Here I leave some of the cloth marks still showing, existing almost as a cut away to the colour beneath.

Using a fan brush I can blend the fresh layers of paint into the underpainting beneath to give a more subtle finish.

It is difficult to balance both a sense of serenity (to visit the ruins of the priory it is nothing if not a beautifully quiet and reflective place) with the recognition of the violent destruction that happened here.  That I suppose is the challenge of the whole painting.

To both convey a landscape's present and past in one painting.

I often find in my work, as used by landscape painters past and present;  that sky proves to be a very effective and emotive way of creating calm....but with a wicked sense of foreboading!!

 Like my other work in progress (Balkerne Gate, also in Colchester - which you can see photo's of in previous posts) I am attempting to capture the past, present and future of the landscape - to do this the sky has to be absolutely right on both!

Once I begin work on the painting of the ruins of the priory itself I'm sure that the sky will require more attention.

For today, this is where I left it, more photo's of it's progress to come in the following weeks......

Friday, 25 July 2014

Back in the studio....

It has been quite a while since I have been in the studio; my full time job as a teacher takes an awful lot of time and energy.  Creativity is a difficult and fragile thing; so after quite a few months that have been difficult to say the least...painting has been one of the last things that has been on my mind - even though I had found myself missing my studio space and the peace and quiet of painting.

And so today I went back into the studio, music on and that was it - it felt fantastic to be back painting again, and I am very focused on completing the two pieces I am working on at the moment.  Although both are as yet untitled they are a continuation of my "Essex" series.  One is of Balkerne Gate (see my previous posts), the Roman gateway in the wall around Colchester, and the ruins of St Botolphs Priory; again within the city walls of Colchester.

Both are fascinating landmarks with very human stories, which is why I am painting them.

So today I worked on the underpainting of the sky for the St Boltolphs piece...

I began by adding and then blending red, cadmium red, and cad yellow with then some brilliant yellow to lift and add light.  Into this I then worked grey and contiued to mix differing shades before finally adding a blue to give richness and add drama.

Once all colour had been added I then used a fan brush to blend the colours and take bake the brushmarks.  As this is the under-painting I didn't want the brushstrokes to be too visible as I will go on to paint transluscent layers of colour over the top at a later stage when it's dry.

So below are closer details of the surface of the canvas; I now need to leave it several days to dry before working into it any further.  

Keep coming back to see the progress.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

How to underpaint a Roman wall....and why you never never forget your flask!

After a very busy few months, it was back into the studio today to continue with my current 2 pieces, my pa of the Balkerne Gate and St Botolphs's, both in Colchester.  Having got half way to the studio before realising I had left my sketchbook at home with the work I would need to continue with the St Botolph's piece, the decision was made for me to concentrate on Balkerne gate for today.

In my previous posts you will see the work I have done so far on this piece, today was about the underpainting on the gate.

I decided to use the same Indian Red as I had used in the underpainting for the sky.

 It's a very warm teracotta colour, that I'm using to highlight it's Roman origins.  The brincks in the wall are still visibly red in colour but have changed colour due to erosion, time and pollution.
By hinting at the brickwork detail, although this will be painted over at a later stage, it will aloow me to follow some of the lines when I do the overpainting.

With some colour added to the floor it was time to bring in dome tomes to help give it definition and depth.  Black at this stage would be too severe so instead I began to mix Steel Blue, into the Indian Red.  This was the colour I had used for the sky, so Iwas almost painting the direct reversal for the foreground as I had for the background
I wasn't sure if this would give it too much of a purple hue, but i was pleased with the results.

I began working in the darker tones gradually as I didn't want to overwhelm the balance of the piece.
at this point it would have been good to stand back with a cuppa whilst I decided on my next move.  Only I realised not only had I forgotten my sketchbook but also my flask.  Now this was a crisis as far as i was concerned....I cannot remeber the last time I painted without a cup of tea or coffee and I can say it is not an experience I wish to repeat.  It is practically improssible to be creative without a hot beverage!!

Without much choice I had to power through.  I decoded to add some highlights, but not with white as this would be too much of a washout for the colours.  I wanted to keep it warm so began the hunt around my space for yellow.  it wasn't quite the shade i was looking fact i'm not sure what shade it was, but it was the only one I had *note to self, stop on the way home to purchase a better shade of yellow*.

When mixed with the Indian Red it actually worked quite well (but I still stopped ont he way home anyway!)

By using an the blue to give the structural defination, this will help me to add much more depth with the overpainting later and not lose the larger areas of tone when I add a lot more of the brickwork detail later.

So I left the studio today, pleased with how it's developing.  Next week i need to remember to take my sketchbook so that I can make a start on the St Botolph's piece and will NEVER AGAIN forget to take my falsk to the studio - schoolgirl error, Eve....schoolgirl error!

Monday, 25 November 2013


In my last post I shared that for the first time in a really long while, I'm going to be working on 2 paintings at the same time.

  Now...this isn't life-changing, it won't rip apart the fabric of time and space, but it is quite a change in process for me.  I usually like to give one painting a time my full and undivided attention.  For some strange reason I really want to get another piece underway so thought, whatever- go with.

And so I charged around the ruins, taking photographs of every corner, wall, and doorway.  It was a beautiful, bright and crisp November afternoon and the winter sun helped to create some effective shadows across the walls.

It was very atmospheric.  From the remains of beautifully crafted doors and windows I really got a sense of the place it must have been before the Reformation.  

Even after taking its final battering during the Civil War, there is still plenty left to conjure visions of its former glory.  Ordinarily, I would know within minutes, which part to paint, but seriously....I really have no idea.  

Over the next couple of weeks I will make some sketches to see if a particular part speaks to me.  

I am sure it will, but one thing is certain, after spending some quiet contemplative moments in such a beautiful place...

I can't wait to start this painting - I hope I can do it justice.

Come back in a few days for the first sketch!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

St Botolph's in the making

So, this weekend I have changed the way in which I work.  Ordinarily I work on one painting at a time. Logistically this makes sense as my studio space is not much bigger than a first class stamp, but I also tend to do this as I like to focus on one piece at a time to give it my full attention.  That changed this weekend, when for the first time since being a student, I have embarked on a 2nd work which I will work on at the same time as finishing my painting of the Roman Gateway in Colchester (or the West Gate/Balkerne Gate, see previous posts).

I have started the research for the piece the subject of which will be another of Colchester's great historical features, St Botolphs Priory, or rather it's ruins.

Next weekend I will take myself into town to take some of my own photo's and make some preliminary sketches, which I will include on here - there are a lot on the internet if you would like to see what it looks like, but I'm not including any here as I don't want to infringe any copyrights!

My research this weekend has taken me by way of when it was built, who was St. Botolph and getting some images of the Saint that I could include in the work.  Also some Latin Bible text, as my work will look at it's destruction during the reformation and subsequent damage during the Civil War.  Now, the remains of the priory are a rather dramatic and stoic feature behind the shopping area of Colchester.  Often shoppers can be seen sat having quiet moments of reflection amidst the bustle of the town.  It seems that some sites keep an air of their past even in the present.  

If there is anyone reading this local or otherwise who can give me insight into this sites past, or their own personal view of the place then I'd be very happy to hear from you as I would like to work it into my painting.

See it's progress over the next few months here......

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Like buses!

This past week has certainly been eventful!

Last weekend was Open Studios at Cuckoo Farm and it was a great weekend.  Lots of people arrived to see the artists, work and studio spaces we make a mess of...well not all of us, but I certainly struggle to keep it ordered!
It was great to meet people and discuss the why's and wherefores of my work.  Which, to me keeps you thinking about the work and why you're doing it.  It was a really successful weekend for me as not only did I sell a painting ("Gunfleet" pictured below) but also 2 prints AND I managed to really stuck in with my newest piece.

So from the terracotta under-painting, I began to paint in the sky using dark blues, with a hint of white to add small areas of light and depth.

By painting over the terracotta but leaving some of it showing through it really did create the richness I was looking for (thanks Constable!), but also keep a key colour showing through.  This painting is about showing the layers of a landscape, it's a Roman wall so i don't want to just paint it as it looks now but also convey it's past.
So I continued to add a range of blue's until I was happy with the result and the balance on the canvas.  by using a blender brush I was able to soften some of the strokes to create a dramatic sky.

So, a successful weekend, but it didn't end there....a few days later I sold another of my pieces (All that glitters must surely be from Essex) with Saatchi Online.  So like buses, I wait months for a sale and then 2 come along at once!!  I hope that this can continue - just a taste of what life as a professional artists is like.  Painting, sales, packaging.....I love it!  And can only hope that whoever has bought All that glitters, wherever they are in the world, they enjoy welcoming the painting into their home as much as I enjoyed making it!
So here is where I left my newest piece, keep coming back to see the rest of it's progress.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Corner cutting and drawing in the dark

With canvas procured I went off to the studio today with a spring in my step and Paloma Faith blasting out of the car.  After a lot of planning and research I could get underway.  I have to admit I envisage this work to be on a larger scale, however the constraints of boot size and with no access to a larger vehicle, I had to go with a size that I could get to and from my studio space.

So without anymore delay I'm staring at the slightly overwhelming sight of a blank canvas.  It doesn't matter how many times in my life I have started a new piece, I always find the sight of a blank canvas daunting. BUT, that soon disappeared as this was the first chance for me to give my new toy a whirl.  I've bought a tracer, and before you start thinking "cheat!", I'm using it to project my own drawings onto larger canvases.  I am corner cutting yes, however it saves a lot of time and frustration measuring and scaling up and I am happy to use technology as a part of the process.

So the next question was composition; in my preparatory sketch of the Roman gate it was landscape, but I wanted the painting to be portrait.  So how much to include.....
Apologies for the quality of the pictures above, but I was taking them on my camera phone in the dark!  After a lot of walking from one side of my studio (now when I say walking, my studio space is rather bijou, so it is more like taking 2 steps!) to the other, tilting my head one way, then the other and talking to myself an AWFUL lot, I decided to go with the composition on the right.  I thought it more dynamic and envisaged the whole composition working better.  I preferred the proportions of sky to gateway and floor here.  If you have read my previous posts you will know that I am creating a layered landscape.  I will not only be painting but also collaging and including images from Colchester's rather colourful past.  Rather than painting just a snapshot of a place in a particular moment in time, I will be getting under it's skin; almost like an archaeologist scraping away layers of time.  I'm a geek and proud, so this work taps into my love of history and research.  See....geek!!!!

With my composition decided upon, then started my next challenge....find a pencil!  How does an artists' studio not have a pencil in it?! I really have no idea what happened to them all.  I finally managed to locate a "Birdworld" pencil that had obviously been bought for me at some point...probably as a joke I can't really remember, but it was sharp and that was all that mattered.  I started with the outline;

......and then eureka!! Whilst stopping for a quick chocolate break I found 2 graphite sticks...hurrah!!  I then began working the darker shades into the surface and giving it extra detail.  I'm working in the dark with the projector and can't really see a thing, so there's no way I can paint like that.  I needed to get as much detail into the drawing as possible to be a guide for the layers of paint that will follow.
I kept the mark making quick and loose as when I come to paint, although working from my original sketch (see previous posts) I want to still have freedom.  With too much information it will constrain the brush strokes and the painting will loose it's energy.

So after 20 or so minutes, working into the image and adding more to the left hand side, making the gateway disappear off to the left hand side of the canvas, I had enough information in the drawing to be to begin drawing on my next studio session.  Here's where I left it and will post the works progress here once the painting is underway so stay tuned.