Slowing down the pace of life with artstagram sketches

I have a confession. I used to take hundreds of photos.

I'd see a beautiful scene and want to capture it immediately - I'd pull out my camera and snap away, but more often than not the photos would be nothing like the scene I had wanted to capture. Yes, proportions were (mostly) spot on, and yes the actions were accurate...but the mood? the atmosphere? the colours? No, these were nearly always disappointing

That old man cycling along the street? the teenager out with the dog? people punting on the river? Everyday scenes would be flat and uninspiring.

Nowadays I much prefer to take a little time over a sketch rather than snap a quick photo, it helps me to appreciate and really look at my world. 

Ink sketch, my local garden centre
Ink sketch, Cambridge UK

  •  Can't draw straight lines? Who cares - a wobble here and there adds charm.

Ink Sketch, Ormskirk, England

  • Struggle with perspective? Don't worry about theory - grab a pencil, hold it at arms length between you and your subject, close one eye and measure angles and distances between key points. And then draw what you see. It's only a piece of paper after all!

Ink Sketch, Ormskirk Motorfest 2013, England

  • Find it difficult to see lights and darks? Squint at your subject to take out some of the confusing colours.

Ink Sketch, Coronation Park
Ormskirk, England
Ink Sketch, Ormskirk, England

Most of all - get out there and practice!

Ink Sketch, Liverpool Philharmonic Rehearsals
Liverpool, England

I still take far too many photos, and do use many of them when I'm back in the studio, but my favourite method of painting these days is on the spot with my mini sketching kit.

  • I always carry a watersoluble pen, a water brush, a small tin full of 2.5 x 3.5 inch pre-cut watercolour paper, and a cardboard coaster to use as a mini drawing board.

Ink Sketch, Ormskirk Motorfest 2013, England

No longer do I sit bored in the doctors waiting room or whilst waiting to perform taxi duties for my teenagers

Ink Sketch, Cross Hall Brow, Ormskirk
Ink Sketch, Doctor's waiting room

I have to say, my studio art has also improved no end because of this.

And why the title "artstagram"? In my last post my daughter laughing said that instead of "instagramming" my life I "art" it!

So do you take lots of photos and never look at them again? Try slowing down the pace of life and sketch instead. Let me know how you get on...

I owe the wonderfully talented Polly Birchall many many thanks for introducing me to this pen (Speedball Elegant Writer). Polly's blog is one of my favourites, I always look forward to reading her posts - do have a nosey round her blog, it's well worth a follow.

Artstagram food

Sat in my local coffee shop with my teens I pulled out my pen, paper and waterbrush and sketched my daughter's coffee.

"It's like art-stagram" she laughed "intead of instagraming your life you 'art' it!"

And she's right - everywhere I go I take a small pack of watercolour paper, a pen and my waterbrush, and a coaster to use as a drawing board.

[instagram, for those who don't know, is a photo sharing network sevice]

Stephanie Guy Fine Art (sold through eBay)

I asked some of my fellow folksy sellers if they had any food related artstagram, and they came up with this little selection...enjoy!

Phoenix Projects
The Card Jeanie
The Crafty Bride

Stephanie Short Stationery

Derwent Artbars

A year after I added Derwent's Artbars to my arsenal, I have finally made friends with them!

Farmyard door £4.50

I first tried the artbars at an SAA (Society for all Artists) convention in Manchester in 2012. There were very many people there, room was hot, and for a village girl it was all rather overwhelming. I didn't stay long, but whilst I was there I watched a few people having a short workshop, and I tried out the artbars at a stand. I thought they had a lot of potential so bought the not-quite-starter box of 24.

Well when I got home I thought they were awful things! I really struggled to get anything decent - see my previous post here.

But in true British spirit, I will not be defeated. So when we were heading off to Cornwall for our 2 week summer holiday, I took a last minute decision to bring the artbars along for the ride. I already had my watercolours and my oils packed - I'm not sure what forces were at work to make me add the artbars, but believe me I'm very glad I did.

What fantastic weather we had! We were in the middle of that very rare thing, a British heatwave (the last one that I recall was in 1995) and as I reported in my last post on the subject, artbars work at their very best when they are warm. So each morning, whilst the teens snoozed, I took my breakfast and my artbars outside to the picnic bench and the most amazing view of Godrevy lighthouse, and painted. And painted. And painted.

Godrevy Lighthouse in Cornwall, England, £4

All of these are highly collectable miniature paintings. They are small enough to hang on the wall of a dolls house or display in a photo frame. An album of your collection on your coffee table makes an extremely good talking point too.

Beach £3.50

They also look great on a mini-easel.

Sand Dunes £4.50

A few top tips:

  • Artbars work best when warm
  • After a few hours in direct (British summer) sunshine, artbars begin to melt. They are still good for using on the brush, but no good for picking up and applying directly. 
  • The grater will not work with warm artbars, but the dog shaped multi-tool does work well, and I find it to be easier to be more specific with adding texture using this instead of the grater anyway.
  • A waterbrush does not work well with artbars - mine doesn't deliver enough water and just got clogged up with thick not-quite-dissolved wax.
  • I start by picking up lots of colour directly from the artbar with a wet brush and applying it to my paper or applying directly from the bar to the paper and dissolving with a wet brush.
  • You do not need to use watercolour paper, a thick card will suffice. Once the first layer of wax is down and dissolved , additional layers will glide over the top.
  • Apply additional wax as required to build up your painting. You CAN put light colours over dark ones.
Seals at Godrevy in Cornwall £4

  • Add texture by either
    • wetting an area and grating wax over it
Wild Flowers £3.50

    • dissolving a small area of your artbar and flicking it at the paper

Cornish Moorland £3.50

    • building up layers of dry wax and scrape back using the dog-shaped tool

Poppies £4

I hope this was helpful to you. I'd love to hear about your experiences of using artbars - please leave your own findings on artbars in the comments below.

Oil Paint Colour Mixing Chart

I thought I must be sickening for something. My new paints arrived yesterday, and I hadn't even opened them! This is so not like me, I'm an "out of the shop and into the window" girl.

Today I thought I would do something useful and make an oil paint mixing chart to help me make colour choices when I do get going with the painting again. I really enjoy oil painting outside on location where firstly the fumes can escape easily, and secondly I have some inspiration in front of me - I don't know about you, but I'm hopeless at painting things straight out of my head!

I'm fairly new to oil painting and don't have a lot of colours. These are what I already had.

  •  Rowney (pre Daler) Georgian: 
    • French Ultramarine 
    • Sap Green 
    • Yellow Ochre
    • Lemon Yellow 
    • Lamp Black
    • Titanium White
    • Burnt Sienna  
    • Crimson 
  •  Daler Rowney Georgian: 
    • Burnt Umber 
  • W&N Artists:
    • Olive Green 

and my three new colours are

  • Daler Rowney Georgian:
    • a delicious Vermilion, 
    • Cadmium Yellow and 
    • Coeruleum

To make my mixing chart I took a pre-prepared gesso primed piece of A5 card. I then took my palette (a very high tech old ice cream carton lid) squirted out some colours, systematically mixed them with my palette knife, and put labelled blobs on a card. I didn't need to use too much paint, this is after all just a mixing guide. To each mixed colour I added white in a blob to the right. As well as creating a pastel shade, this will help me to distinguish between all the different darks that I made.

And what do you know, I was inspired to carry on and paint this sunset scene. Normality is restored!

Sunset ACEO using Vermillion, Cad Yellow and Burnt Umber

One thing I have noticed is that I don't have a decent purple. I thought I would be able to mix one from my new red and my new blue, but if I had applied colour theory correctly I would have realised that Vermilion (a yellow leaning red) and Coeruleum (a yellow leaning blue) would mix into a dark browny/purple - we all know that red + blue + yellow = brown don't we??

Can anyone recommend a good all purpose purple oil colour?

Indian Ink and Gouache Print Effect

Here's a fun way to use Indian Ink and Gouache to create a print effect.

Step 1: paint the flower shapes in white gouache 

Step 2: scratch out lines and dots with a craft knife

Step 3: Let dry!

Step 4: when it is thoroughly dry paint the whole lot in waterproof indian ink

Step 5: Leave to dry

Step 6: Leave to dry a bit more 

Step 7: Now the fun part – wash the whole thing under the tap and using a soft brush rinse away all the gouache. 


Click on any of the photo's to view larger images and buy if you feel so inclined.

Reworking a mixed media painting

It's my local church summer fete and art exhibition at the end of June. Given that this is only 2 weeks away, I decided that it was time to rework one of my local subject mixed-media paintings, ready to offer for sale. It is of a path through a bluebell wood on the land next to the church. I know that the composition is good, but the painting itself is definitely lacking pizzazz!

Here is the original work, finished two years ago:

Pale, washed out and the bluebells are non-existent! 

The original was painted using watercolours at the end of my first year of a two year watercolour course. Tissue paper was applied using watered down PVA and then some gesso was painted over in a random way to give the watercolour texture. A very fine technique and one that I will try again someday - but it didn't work in this case. I was too afraid of the colour, and didn't create enough contrast.

I could have tried to add more watercolour, but with the greens already laid down in the woods I would never be able to achieve the vibrant blues and purples of the bluebells, so I chose to rework the whole painting with acrylics.

I'm sure you'll agree the end result if very much improved!

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? 

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?