Commission of Ormskirk Parish Church

Ormskirk Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul is a local landmark. Many people driving to the Southport seaside on a sunny day will have driven past and cursed it, as it is a major bottle neck on the route from Manchester!

Here are a few interesting facts from the church website:

There has been a place of worship on this site since before 1170 which is the approximate date of the oldest part of the building, the Norman window in the Chancel.

The Chancel arcade dates from 1270 and the base of the spire from 1430. The great tower was completed in 1570. This is one of the only three churches with this feature of the tower and spire and is unique in having them both at the same end.

The building was greatly restored at the end of the 19th century. It has beautiful stain glass windows and carvings. Recently there has been further work done to the interior to create a more welcome entrance.

I've been wanting to paint this church for a while now, so was delighted to be asked to paint it for a lovely lady who already owns two of my local paintings. She will be giving this one to her daughter for her birthday.

Here's how I did it.

Sunday Afternoon
I began by taking several photos. It is a very difficult church to photograph as it is raised from street level, so I took my camera and my step ladders into town. I got some funny looks I can tell you!

Here is the view that my client chose:

Sunday evening
I sketched the outline of the church onto 300gsm "not surfaced" watercolour paper.

I used a black waterproof Pilot drawing pen with a 0.1 size nib for all the sketching in this piece.

As you can see, with all the lushious Spring growth my view of the church on this photo is not clear at all (!) Another visit was required.

Monday morning
I packed up a camping stool, my pen and my outline drawing, and headed off to the church grounds. I spent a happy morning sketching in the details. Luckily the rain held off and it was reasonably warm!

I used some artistic license to cut back and remove some trees to make sure that the church will be the focus of the painting.

Monday evening
I reinforced the sketch with more pen.

It is vital to plan a painting like this rather than jumping straight in. I realised before I began that if I wanted to maintain the freshness of the spring greenery then I would need to reserve some areas of the trees, so I loosely masked where I wanted the leaves to be using blue masking fluid on a small flat brush that had been protected with washing up liquid.

I also masked the apple blossom on the small trees, the highlights in the windows and the notice board on the outside of the church.

It is important that masking fluid is completely dry before you start to paint otherwise it can rip your paper when you try to remove it, so I left it to dry overnight.

Tuesday morning
Out came the paints. I used Winsor and Newton Artist quality paints throughout.

A quick examination of the pen work showed me that I had a problem. The value of pen in the bottom right hand corner was far too strong.

Luckily I have a magic eraser - and it really is magic, you just dampen it and very very gently dab it on the area you want to erase. It's far too easy to damage the paper so if you try this, tread carefully. You can get expensive art magic erasers but I just bought mine from the cleaning section of the supermarket - it's exactly the same thing.

Here is the picture with the heavy pen lifted off.

To paint the sky I began by wetting the whole of the sky area with quite a lot of water. I let this soak in for a minute or two, and then applied cerulean blue mixed with a touch of cobalt. I lifted the clouds in the sky while it was still very wet. Cerulean is a staining colour, so you have to be quick and lift it before it has a chance to soak into the paper too much.

Whilst still damp, I dropped in some cobalt / ultra marine under the clouds to give them depth.

The sky was going to take a while to dry, so I left it for an hour. When I came back I painted the grass using winsor yellow and olive green, mixed on the paper.

Next I used a hairdryer on the front and back to finish drying the sky (I didn't use a hairdryer straight away as I didn't want to disturb the granulation process). You will notice that I don't tape my paper down while painting - I like to be able to pick it up and turn it around quickly to help the water flow. Using the hairdryer on the back helps to flatten the paper again.

Onwards with the building. In real life the church is rather dirty - again I employed my artistic licence and cleaned it up a bit! I used a wet-in-wet technique and built up the structure using yellow ochre, French ultra marine and burnt umber, the latter two mixed in various strengths in the palette. The Spire is painted in very pale raw sienna.

When I was happy that I had achieved a 3D effect on the building I moved on to the trees. The trunk was painted in burnt umber / French ultra marine and olive green. Then when the paper was thoroughly dry, I removed the masking fluid by gently rubbing it with a clean finger.

I added the dappled leaves by wet-in-wet layering of winsor yellow, olive green, olive green / crimson and winsor green (blue shade) / crimson mixes. I stopped and checked my values (using the camera to condense the image) at this point:

And then completed the first tree. I also added in permanent rose for the apple blossom.

The next tree in the foreground was built up in the same way, using more of the winsor green / crimson mix to bring it forward. The far background tree and bushes were added using paler versions of the same green mixes.

Wednesday Morning
No paints required today, just touching up with the pen, reinforcing depth and adding definition where needed - some brickwork, a few tiles, round the windows, some shadows, and some definition in the leaves and bark of the trees. And of course add the all important signature!

Then into the mount:

And email off a photograph of the finished painting for approval.

Phew - smiles all round, my customer was delighted!

Thanks so much for dropping by, I do hope you enjoy reading my blog. Why not leave a comment to say hello so that I know you called? 


  1. I love this painting it's really beautiful and it's fascinating to see it through the various stages and read how you went about creating it. Thanks for such an interesting blog!

    1. Thanks Margaret. I'm glad you like it and delighted that you enjoy reading about how I work, it makes all the time and effort spent writing about it worth while and spurs me on to write about the next one too :)

  2. Thanks - that was so interesting! I really enjoy reading about how people go about their art.

    1. You're very welcome Moonriver, it's nice to know my ramblings are appreciated :)

  3. This a lovely painting, I love seeing the stages of development.

    Jan x

  4. Such strength chopping down trees and cleaning all that brick! Great to see your progress and what a good result. Is it true that two sisters couldn't decide on whether to have a steeple or tower so the church had both or is it a myth.

    1. And boy did I work hard Polly!

      I'm afraid the two sisters story is indeed a myth - the spire was built in the 1400's, and the tower was added in the 1500's to house the bells from Burscough Priory.


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