Saturday, 31 January 2009


6 x 12 oils

Newfoundland has its own language in many ways. So much so that there is even a Dictionary of Newfoundland English printed. Many of the words have origins in England or Ireland with some French connection, and are simply derivatives of the word. Some - well some are just plain odd.

Ballycater is one of those words. It is used to describe the ice that forms from salt sea spray on rocks. You can see this on the coast during the winter creating wonderful patterns on the rocks.

This painting started with the on site watercolour sketch of the cliffs and sea at Middle Cove in Logy Bay. The sea was very rough and the spray worked its magic on the walls of rock.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Painting and Playing God

Here is the second in my meditation triptych series.  This one uses a detail view of the rocks that I was sitting on, made of serpentine.  Beautiful rich red coloured rock shot through with creamy white veins and patches of green.  It is lovely to look at and I have convinced myself that it colours the sand, I can see pinkish hues in the sand, I know I can!
The time of day for this painting is late afternoon, it is winter, the light is low and rain is coming.  There is a slightly ominous colour to the sky, the rain did come later in quite a big storm too so perhaps that accounts for the strange light.

This is the watercolour sketch for the larger painting.  The sketches in the earlier post, "Training Session", are for this painting also.  I find that by doing these I can calm my senses down and think about colours, tones, effects of light and what is happening in the picture.  Also what I want to happen in the picture, after all, by the time a sketch makes it to become a finished painting, destined for the framers and then the gallery wall, you the artist, are most defiantly the boss.  You can twist light, move mountains if necessary, smooth a cliff or ruffle up a forest.  It is your world, you get to decide what you want to show, to hide or to underline.  
Ah ha!  I have just worked out why I have spent my life being an artist.  I am very bossy, didn't get to be God so became the next best thing, an artist.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Frozen sketches

Its -12C with a windchill of -26 and I'm standing on the edge of a cliff at 7:45am watching the sun rise over the Atlantic ocean. Passing motorists think I'm insane and I'm thinking that they are the insane ones because they're missing something wonderful and only catching a glimpse out of the corner of their eye. I'm frozen. Partially with the cold and partially because I can't tear myself away from the view.

The cold wind finally wins and I head back into my car, having jotted down some basic shapes of land and sea with my Rapidograph, as well as taken some photos to confirm colours in my head for later. I add more detail in the car then put it away, waiting for my day at work to be over so I can really do something with this. Sketches serve as reminders of scenes and inspiration when I need to go back for reference for a painting.

I've been considering a series of photos taking them at the same place at a similar time each day for a few weeks or perhaps a month, to really get a sense of how the light affects the land and the water. As I drive past the water each day to get to work, it would take me a little longer to fight getting back into the mainstream of traffic, but worth it, I think, to help me understand the water and how better to draw or paint it.

Of course this time of year, its not great in terms of temperatures, especially this week, but warming up in a day or two.

This sketch is a view over the bay in Torbay, the next town to where I live. Torbay holds lots of inspiration for drawing and painting with places such as Tapper's Cove, once called Treasure Cove because of its association with pirate John Nutt and is supposedly haunted by a black dog and a little boy. Or Gallow's Cove, again associated with pirating or stories created around it.
The community of Torbay experienced three French Campaigns the first of which occurred in December 1696. These invasions contributed to the eventual construction of the Torbay Battery in 1781, which was manned by 25 troops from the 71st Regiment and Royal Artillery. The ordinance was eventually withdrawn in 1795.
The name Torbay comes from an area of the same name in Devonshire, England and was first mapped in 1615 by John Mason. The word is, of course well
known, being the old Anglo-Saxon "Tor" which means a tower, and in a secondary way, a tall cone-like mountain, presenting some appearance of a tower. Both places are geographically similar with wide-open bays that face in a generally northeasterly direction. An extract from Bishop Field's Journal states, "indeed there seems to be a little colony of Devon folk in Torbay."

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Training Session

Right, I am off training, keeping myself artistically fit.  It is a very cold winter afternoon.  The wind is howling and it will be dark soon.  I have dashed out to get my "fix" of the sea.  First of all scramble to the top of the cliff, it is a great view from there but when I get there it is way too windy to attempt to draw.  I struggle with my back pack and find my little camera, snap a few pictures of the surf.  It looks and sounds great from up here but the pictures don't do it justice.  So I call the dog, voice lost on the wind, she sees me flapping about and follows me back down to the beach.
It is high tide so there is no beach but I find a space to sit, out of the wind, tucked in between some rocks.  Now I wait and watch.  Trying to see, trying not to assume I concentrate on looking.  After doing this staring thing for a while I feel as if I have waves in my head, I am at one with the wave and have become flotsam and jetsum!  So suitably zenned up I get out my scraps of cardboard and start to draw.
I am using big pens and bits of cardboard box, sometimes I believe it is necessary to just look and draw, not for any other reason than to train.  Yes, that's it, training.  Like a runner or a swimmer would train hard all the time to keep fit, to try to be better. This is what an artist must do.  Out early or after work, fit it in... this is my training.
So that I keep on my toes and don't get fooled into doing anything other than looking and drawing I try using other materials, don't get precious about paper, this isn't for sale, not even to show anyone (except I have just shown you)  
Draw on anything, make your hand do what you want it to do, look more at what you see and less at your drawing, soak it up and breathe it in.  This is why making art is so good for you.  How can you worry about anything when you have to become so absorbed in your subject?
After a while I am too cold and need to head home where I will try to get some of the waves out of my head and into a painting.

Monday, 26 January 2009


Wavemechanics 365: 22I remember my very first painting of water. It was a view of the Thames out of the studio window (my mentor's studio) looking towards the under-construction Millenium Dome. It was AWFUL. Because I'd never tried to paint water and I was painting what I thought I saw - a big stretch of blue-green.

So it took me a while to move away from things on the water (boats, piers, bridges, etc) to painting the water. The method was twofold: learning to paint what I actually saw (rather than what I thought I saw) and actually sketching the water from life a lot.

Even now, I have to paint abstractly from coast trips I've actually taken. I paint where I've been, it's hard to paint from imagination though possible from memory to an extent. Painting from memory comes from familiarity - the more you've painted or sketched something the more mental reference material you have to draw on. But you still have to refresh the material every so often, the more often the better.

Though the sea is my love for now, I still enjoy the Thames River, and still always find something new from watching it. Ripples and waves are still a bit of an enigma, there's always room for improvement. And as you know the crashing sea waves boggled my creative mind over on Portland Island!

Something I started back in December is a 365 project, the popular "daily photo" activity on Flickr where people challenge themselves to take a photo everyday! (some choose self portraits, some random photos, some the same object every day) Mine was the surface of the Thames: Wavemechanics 365. Now I will admit straight off that I started the project before considering that I can't take my river with me if I leave town for a few days! haha! On that note, my 365 is probably going to end up a bit more like a 300.

But here's the fun part! I'm noticing completely new things. Seeing the river every day makes the tides so much more obvious. Colours changing with the sky and wind. Stuff floating by or not. Effects of boats. So I feel like I'm still learning.

And it's for you too. I decided when I started the project to make all the images Creative Commons copyright. You can use them, draw from them, jog your memory, or use them for elements in a larger work. So hopefully by the end of the year it will be a great reference library of water shots.

You can keep up with the images

So how does everyone else practice their water? I know a few of us draw local spots, like Lindsay and Vivien but what about straight studio work? Or perhaps you're too distant to get a real view every day? What's your technique to stay familiar with your subject?
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Aylestone Meadows, January

Pollarded Willows, Aylestone Meadows and Ulverscroft Brook, 11in approx Vivien Blackburn

A sketch of pollarded (viciously :>( ) willows in Aylestone Meadows - the area I've chosen to revisit throughout the year.

It was after 3pm and the late sunlight was golden and dramatic against the cool winter colours of the sky, reflections in the water and bleached reeds and grasses. I love these lights, so specific to a season, time or place.

This photo was taken nearby - the willows in the sketch are just a little further along the path. The wall is the beginning of the packhorse bridge, going off to the left across streams and wetland.

When I took this second photo I've shown, back in the Spring, they hadn't been cut back - they may have been getting dangerous? but it's such a shame to see these huge trees butchered like this. My children climbed them when they were young and it will be a few years before any children can climb these and the whole area suffers from their loss. (Though I have to admit I loved drawing them),

The bridge in the first photo is a railway bridge and in the second is a Victorian bridge over the canal, which links to the 15C packhorse bridge that crosses the flood plain to the right. They are taken at about 180deg to each other from only a few yards apart. You can see the modern pedestrian footbridge across the brook, that joins the canal, in the foreground of the second and in the distance in the first.

Marshy land was the most difficult and dangerous for travellers to cross in the past and this was a very important bridge on a route for the coal from the mines in the north of the county as well as local traffic. When the canal was built it destroyed part of the packhorse bridge.

The whole area is a tangle of streams, rivers, pools and canal with a variety of bridges from the 15C to th 20C and flood meadows.

The sketch was done with Neocolor II water soluble crayons and a bit of white gouache and black conte pencil. It's about 11 inches square-ish. ( I don't do 'accurate'!)

Link to sketches of the meadows, waterways and bridges from the air here

PS another version of the willows here on my blog

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Water Witch

Horrid Gulch
8 x 5 coloured pencil

I sketched this image of Horrid Gulch in Pouch Cove a couple of years ago. Its a cropped view from the top of a steep cliff overlooking the jagged rocks and sea some hundreds of feet below. I always find it a bit creepy going there. Not because of its history, but because I don't do heights well and hate being anywhere near the edge of a cliff. This is why I didn't do a sketch looking down over the cliff. Winter provides weather restrictions here in terms of accessing places and I know I won't be able to create some of the pieces that I want until spring or summer. The historical aspect of Newfoundland's association with the sea interests me and capturing moments of that history in art will be very satisfying.

Horrid Gulch was where the Water Witch went aground on November 25, 1875 in a storm with 25 people on board, Alfred Moores, a resident, performed a daring rescue which saved 11 people. He allowed himself to be lowered to the ship by a rope from an overhanging cliff so that he could carry the people to safety.
All true-born Newfoundlanders pray hearken unto me,
And hear your messmates tell you all the dangers of the sea;
You all remember Pouch Cove well, and the true sons so brave
Who saved the crew of the Water Witch so near a watery grave.
Some of the words and dates in this song are a little skewed, but the event is clear and true. The descendents of these rescuers still live in this small seaside town of Pouch Cove, where I once lived. The plaque commemorating their bravery stands near a section of the East Coast Trail and leads to the cliffs that overlook Horrid Gulch.

This map from Google Earth shows the gulch and cliffs along the ocean where the Water Witch came to rest. When the weather improves and snow goes so I can access the trail again, I will go there and take some more photos and do some sketching and painting. The view is wonderful from this point, looking out as far as the eye can see to the horizon, with whales below and a strong breeze blowing.

Excerpt from the Newfoundland Express December 3, 1875

Loss the the Schrs. "Hopewell and Waterwitch" and nineteen lives

Two most distressing marine disasters, involving the loss of nineteen lives, with long make memorable the storm of last Monday night. The early part of the evening was moderate enough and about four o'clock a craft called the Hopewell left here for Harbor main with eight souls on board and a quantity of provisions, Towards dark a gale sprung up with heavy snow-drift, and at eight o'clock it was at height of its fury. The Hopewell ran on Biscan Rock, near Cape St. Francis, and in a very short time was broken up, all on board but one man going down to a watery grave. The survivor, named WAUGH, got on to a rock and there he remained all night and a great part of next day. When the Hercules neared the spot, on her round to Conception Bay , about noon on Tuesday, this poor fellow was s een waving a handkerchief; and Capt. BLANDFORD, of the Hercules, promptly manned a boat and sent her with a strong crew to effect his rescue. The waves ran so high at the time that they could not get near enough to throw a line within WAUGH's hold, and a second and third attempt were made before they succeeded in reaching him with a rope and life-preserver. After three hours spent in the utmost endeavors for his safety, WAUGH was pulled off on board the Hercules in most exhausted condition, but at all events, saved by the heroic efforts of Capt. BLANDFORD and his crew.

The Waterwitch which left here for Cupids, soon after the Hopewell , struck in the neighborhood, of Cape St. Francis also, much about the same time. There were twenty-five persons on board, and of these twelve, eight men and four women, went down with the vessel. The following letter from Rev. Mr. Johnson, Church of England Minister at Pouch Cove, shows how the survivors of the Waterwitch escaped and no praise can exceed the merits of the Pouch Cove people in the saving of these poor creatures and the care and tenderness with which they succored them. (See same letter under date of Dec 3, 1875).

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Low Tide. Kennack

Here is the finished triptych.  It has been a very good exercise, it really did focus the mind.  I am planning a few more and think they will make an interesting series.  

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Sketching as shorthand - the Dorset coast

For my first post on Watermarks I thought it serendipitous that I've just been on my latest cycle journey for my English Coast project. So last week I cycled part of the Dorset coast, from Poole to Swanage to Lulworth Cove to Weymouth and finally a whole day on Portland Isle. (Which I admit I didn't cycle, I walked the circular coast path around the island. Shh! Don't tell.)

I've posted some landscape-ish sketches on my my regular blog here but thought I would share the water based sketches here. Now the sketches I do are in a small passport-sized sketchbook (rather like a moleskine but much cheaper from Muji) and are very very quick unless it's summer. Heck, even then it can be too cold to sketch for long! Since I take a zillion photographs the sketches aren't to capture exact images but more as a visual shorthand so I can remember which elements of the view I would like to capture or emphasise in a painting. Often it's strong light and shadow, or combinations of horizontal lines.

First is my idea from Portland Island - the combined horzontals of the layers of Portland Stone in the cliff, the stretch of Chesil Beach (that strip of land you see on the water - it connects between Weymouth and Portland), and then haze of the mainland in the distance. I want to simplify all those lines into a flat composition.

Next is Poole Harbour. This is a funny one because I've been to Poole before and it was covered in haze. Wouldn't you know, it was again! But this time it was also low tide so I had a great view of the huge stretches of mud. My sketches were to quickly catch the texture and the different shades of haze at the horizon just in case the photos didn't quite get what my eyes saw.

And finally the rough seas at Portland Bill. I loved this and have been waiting for crashing windy waves like this for my whole project! Right out on the edge of the rocks at the lighthouse I took another zillion photos of the waves (never quite getting the full effect you see, of course a photo never will). There was an amazing hour of light with the sun beaming through but I knew the photos would get that. But what I pondered as I sketch in the pub was how to get that force and power? How to express the rising of those masses of water? So these couple of sketches aren't even shorthand but more experiments in hard movement, looming shadow, trying to get a sense of looming. These are as close as I get to purely abstract instinctive drawing. Just going for a feeling.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, 19 January 2009

another linoprinting experiment

experimenting with oil paint and coloured pencil, Vivien Blackburn
Another linoprinting experiment for me, again printed using oil paint (prussian blue) and finished with coloured pencils in purples, turquoise, blues, viridian and brown.
I'm realising I actually really like the more painterly feel of inking the plates this way, and the way that no 2 prints will ever be the same. Real printmakers will gasp in horror at this! the point of linoprints is to be able to produce lots of images that are the same!
I used the colours to enhance the mystery of the darker areas (that was the intention anyway :>) ) and bring out the light of the moon.
It would be interesting to do a print using chine colle* to provide the colours (that last e should have an acute accent but I forget how to get to accents). This would work better with a press though.
This is simply done on cartridge paper - I must also dig out some of the lovely Fabriano Rosapina printmaking paper lurking in my plan chest :>)

* chine colle (with accent) is simply collaged elements that are printed over.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Of Ice and Ink

This last week, Chicago has been in the deep freeze and here is a bit of ice from the Des Planes River. Only four more months till the Des Planes River Canoe Marathon.

A few posts ago, Katherine suggested I post my ink flow results and I've posted a discussion on my blog if you'd care to take a look.

Friday, 16 January 2009


While painting I find that a kind of meditation occurs, brought about by the level of concentration that painting requires.  So as I was musing on this I came up with a plan, to do a series of paintings which would be flanked or complimented by close up studies or meditations. It seems a very useful exercise, focusing the mind, thinking about shape and colour in a more abstract way, although these are not at all abstract.
This is the sketch which I will use for the middle painting in this planned tryptich.  The place is Kennack Sands see here

So I have my plan, my sketch and now I shall begin work on the central painting... all the while meditating on the passing of a great master who died today.  Andrew Wyeth.  I shall be deep in thought.  In my mind I will be walking the lonely shore, listening to the waves booming and remembering a very fine painter indeed.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009


9 x 12 watercolour

The sea can be calm and glassy during the summer, but winter storms create a whole new beast. The power of the ocean can tear away wharves, move boulders that weigh more than cars, wash away roads and change landscapes.

Breakers, due to a storm surge, washed over Flatrock, the small town where I live, and caused 2 million dollars worth of damage one winter day in 2005. Not a day to be standing around watching the storm effects, but some did. This storm in 2007 was similar and you can see the remaining pillars of the wharf being washed over by the waves.

Capturing the movement of breaking waves is challenging as there are so many parts and values in them. Watching the repetitive movement helps fix it in my mind and lets me translate it more easily onto paper. I use a camera to catch the wave's crest and the various movements from a slow build out to sea to the moment it eases its grip on the shore and moves back out to be swallowed into the ocean again.

In this piece I should have used some masking fluid to keep the spray clean, but decided to see if I could work around it. I could go back in and add more spray with gouache or thinned acrylic, or even scratch some out with a knife blade, but for now I'll leave it.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Water so dark so still


Water so dark so still
Linocut on blotting paper

Colours intersected by water
a surface so still that
it seems to reveal all there is

Look, can you not see?
All that there is
to marvel at

Clear lines long lines
a breeze lifts
barely to hear
it lets the lake move
it breaks the lines
hides the trees

And nothing remains.

Check my blog for more info on the printmaking project here

Monday, 12 January 2009

The Ecology Park Pond Series - an introduction

Today I've got a formal introduction to my series relating to the Ecology Park Ponds near where I live
In summary:
  • I've created a map of the ponds and named all the different ponds and bridges so I can better describe where I'm located and what the view is of
An annotated map of the Ecology Park Ponds
(click for a larger version)
  • I'm going to keep a photo diary of the ponds - in part because I enjoy photography and in part because I find that looking at the ponds through a camera helps me a lot in sorting out what are good 'views' or 'crops' for my sketches and drawings. You can see the set relating to The Ecology Park Pond on Flickr
  • I'll be developing a sketchbook for the series. I think I'm going to be getting a special sketchbook dedicated to the series. Sketches will be in pencil, coloured pencil and/or pen and ink.
  • I'll be making a series of drawings of the ponds in different months and seasons. These will be worked up from both sketches and my reference photos. Initially in coloured pencil, I'm hoping to move onto pastel as the weather gets better and I can work for longer outside. I may also have a go with watercolour and who knows I may even try acrylic or oils!
  • A monthly perspective: I aim to do one particular view each month during the course of the project. I started off thinking it would be one view - but I may change my mind about that
annotated to show where the Ecology Park is

In addition, I'm also thinking of adding in odd sketches and drawings of other water and waterways in the area - which you can see on the map below (from the guide to rivers and canals in East London).
  • the pond in Victoria Park
  • the lake in Victoria Park
  • Hertford Union Canal
  • Regents Canal.