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.

TUES Sept 18th

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

Leaf of the Day: Leu Garden Sketches: the trials of greens

Leu Gazebo Sketches.
These sketches were done over a few days at Leu Gardens..
(when I had finally found somewhere I was comfortable painting! As I said before, I have nothing but admiration for plein air painters) The next part of the course will be looking at mixing, and applying greens to botanical subjects so going out into the middle of lots of greens seemed like a good starting point. Also, as the pre-photo painter had to do, one should be able to produce a reasonable studio painting from information gathered from on-site sketches, without using photos at all, so this was another thought in the back of my mind for this week.

Initially I looked at tonal value. I have always found it very hard to convince students of the value of tonal sketches and I am sometimes lazy in doing them myself but they are so helpful.

This is the first tiny sketch I made as I went round the garden just looking at things I liked.

The next three were done two days later when I decided to concentrate on this view. The first two were done at different times of the day with different shadows on the gazebo and trees.


Early afternoon

Gazebo detail

The next few are colour studies. The first is my very first sketch of this view before I decided to use this for my greens trials. None are finished work and none are entirely successful but are useful to me. Occasionally an odd passer-by, no doubt eager to see a watercolour masterpiece, cast an uncomprehending eye over what I was doing. I just tried to explain that these are practise exercises ..like doing scales on the piano, a bit obsessive, a bit tedious, not really for public consumption but good for the practitioner ( I hope). I do seem to have some trouble in ever getting to the grand performance but that is not my concern at the moment.

The sketches vary in colour and tone but were very good for observing and mixing greens mostly from blues and yellows but with viridian too because I just love that colour… not a very strict scientific decision but hey.

1st Sketch, Monday

Matching greens

This one took a long time as I mixed and sampled each green to match what was in front of me, before putting it down. Although I say it myself it is a fairly accurate colour sketch. (I should have used better paper. It was just in my thin 70 lb sketch book paper )

These next three are just different colour ways with different green mixes.

Taking all these together now and applying some colour theory I should be able to come up with a reasonable watercolour sketch without having to resort to photos. I will have a go this week.

Other Sketches
I did find another view I liked and, inevitably, some more trees..

This is my favourite!

Leaf of the Day: Geranium

Today I went out early again and found a very funny little heron. It was stalking something very very slowly. Even the slowest photographer would have been able to get a good shot. I have never seen such incredible slow motion walking.
Unfortunately I didn’t have my sketchbook with me but took some photos. I will post these and others soon, linked to Flickr .
This geranium leaf is a small, very ordinary type, just two tones of green. Some geraniums were hit by the freeze but not too badly. I am not sure of this variety.

A word about the drawing
At the moment I am just using ordinary cartridge paper in a sketchbook for these first drawings, so, when doing fine shading, the texture of the paper tends to be picked up and the pencils can catch causing uneven shading. I will use Bristol board or a HP watercolour surface for the bigger and more complicated drawings. Many years ago I used to use Schoellershammer 4R which was a super hard surface paper for ink and pencil with just a nice bit of tooth. I am not sure if it is still available ..I think they have reissued the 4G .. ( very smooth) which I will try to find here. If anyone knows of a supplier I would be very grateful.


image 5″x6″

Leaf of the Day: Croton

Hmmm the croton! I have yet to fall in love with these. I found this lying on the path outside the apartment. The Big Ugly Freeze has done some damage and quite a few plants are looking sad. I am not sure if this just fell off or blew off as we have also had some Big Ugly Winds too, but no plant vandalism was involved in its aquisition. Its main attraction of the croton I think is the colour which of course you cannot see here.. (later will come colour) but this will give you an idea. Daves Garden crotons are splendid in colour and variety.

It poses an interesting problem for b/w drawing because the tonal values of the red and green parts are very similar in tone so making to difficult to render. I didnt do much as you can see .. these are big leaves and on Saturdays I have other things to do but it was interesting to see the markings and actually look at them properly. The patterns throw up endless possibilites for designers.

The Croton

Leaf of the Day : Euonymous

Due to the continuing Big Ugly Freeze I have not ventured far and the little communal garden outside has plenty of plants. The very first one I come to is the ubiquitous euonymous. This is the yellow and green variety and it needed a tonal drawing to show off its patterns. I am only using a sketch book with normal cartridge paper at the moment. I will need to get onto a finer surface for better work with less of the grain of the paper to deal with.