DS watercolour paints on Moleskine Folio Watercolour; Rosemary #2 brush; 15.75x15cm.

A second copy of Albany Wiseman’s Derelict Farmhouse in his The Artist’s Sketchbook (London, David & Charles, 2002, p.51).

Several conclusions:

  • sky: wet-on-dry today: I have to attribute the hard edges to the paper and its sizing (I’ve suspected all along that Wiseman used 300gsm for this study); mine has more granulation;
  • I’ve used DS Sap Green almost exclusively today: the background hills are ‘pure’ and everything else involves a mix with that green; the foreground would be improved with the granulation provided by DS Potters Pink;
  • I’m more certain today that he uses a cooler green than my DS Sap Green (Wiseman’s hills are much more convincing than mine as a consequence) – but I’m not obsessing over trying to replicate the exact colour so much as imitating the brushstrokes;
  • I am pleased with the transparency of washes sufficiently ‘watery’ to show pencil lines; however it’s obvious from the ‘beads’ he’s left in the foreground, they could possibly have been more ‘watery’ still;
  • there’s much more work to do with improving the visual interest of the mid-ground and I think one way of imagining that a little better would be do a pencil drawing of the entire scene, adding what I think Wiseman might have seen only to have subtracted it in his watercolour;
  • I keep seeing new things, despite having gone over the original book illustration of 10cm square – I’m today seeing blue lines as ‘window sills’ and – !@#$ – two tiny people;
  • I used a Rosemary #2 brush exclusively today and I’m more convinced than ever that a much smaller brush was used for the details.

Yesterday’s is plainly much more vibrant than today’s and it was interesting to move to more ‘watery’ washes to compensate. To give my brushstrokes a bit more ‘direction’, I’ll go for a separate pencil drawing to create imagined details in the mid-ground and try out a rougher paper. Fascinating!



DS Watercolour paint in Moleskine Folio Watercolour sketchbook, 15.75x15cm.

I’m carefully adopting a traditional studio approach to watercolour before going outdoors. That involves deciding on tube paint, the texture of the washes, the order of work, which colours were mixed on the palette and which mixed on paper and being very strict about assessing drying times.

I’m going through all my books for simple watercolour sketches I can copy, more to compare brushstrokes and strengths of washes than matching them colour-for-colour.

Copying means I can get into the artist’s head seeing how they used what technique to what effect. The current subject appeals because it very plainly uses ‘watery’, ‘juicy’ and ‘pasty’ washes in combination. A variety of mark-making is evident, as is materiality: backruns and colours mixing on the paper, the “superpowers” of watercolour.

Today’s is a copy of Derelict Farmhouse, in Albany Wiseman’s The Artist’s Sketchbook (London, David & Charles, 2002, p.95).

Behind the white paper mount around my drawing are my colour notes and order of work: 1. pencil lay-in (little more than a dozen lines); 2. Sky: what looked like a juicy wash on wet paper in cerulean (and actually descends right through to foreground on the left and down the building on the right); 3. Building first layer, with water added for watery wash towards foreground; 4. Background hills: juicy wash in Sap Green and more watery wash in foreground with addition of yellow; 5. Dark highlights (Van Dyck Brown) moving to more watery for building shadow; 6. Scarlet highlight with additional more watery dashes to its left.


  • tonally darker than the original, which is a natural consequence of preferring ‘juicy’ washes over ‘watery’ ones;
  • I suspect the paper wasn’t pre-wetted at all for the sky, for example – try a ‘juicy’ wash on dry paper (and if still too strong, go for my routine ‘watery’ wash);
  • go even bigger: published it was 10x10cm, but I suspect from the smallest brushstrokes that the original was probably twice the published size, not 75% in today’s – either that change to a much smaller brush for all the brushed lines;.
  • .using ‘juicy’ washes virtually eliminated all pencil marks – try again with my more routine ‘watery’ washes.


On a personal note, I love the summer break for experimenting. Yes, there is the ‘shock of the new’ but it’s great to play before going back into the studio proper to tackle the year’s body of work.



Venezia Sketchook 9×6″; Fabriano Accademia 200gsm; Faber-Castell artist pen; DS watercolour paints; W&N gouache, Prismacolor coloured pencils.

  • to add the feet, or not add the feet;
  •  watercolour over pen dulls the black (but the scale is too small to show the colour effects of overlapping translucent feathers);
  • laying down watercolour then over-painting with gouache for stronger darks;
  • realistic pattern, or suggestion of pattern;
  • conceding to bird enthusiasts: differentiating between different feather types in the wings – rather like the ‘secret code’ of defining boney landmarks in figure drawing (whether they are actually visible or not);
  • watercolour and gutters (!);
  • format size – need to work larger and more freely (ready to upgrade to an 8×11″ Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media journal – ostensibly for gouache (and extras), while Moleskine Folio Watercolour works for watercolour proper);
  • since I’m not American, there is an enjoyable (cultural) ‘distance’ between me and the subject – an entirely different proposition if it was an Australian bird;
  • the splendid ‘artificiality’ of bird portraits made many times bigger than life-size;
  • absolutely no intention of mirroring reality – nature photography does that: no, my bird portraits are self-portraits of the artist.


Today I started on a Montezuma Quail in gouache and watercolour, with an eye to pattern.

Why am I posting an unfinished work? Apart from noting that a sketchbook rarely contains anything ‘finished’, I wanted to articulate for myself some of the narrative behind the work.

There are several creative threads coming together here:

  • Liz Steel’s SketchingNow Watercolur 2018 is currently emphasising colour mixing, which is making its presence felt in the background – I’m colour mixing elswhere, attempting to replicate an Arthur Streeton A4 landscape watercolour entitled Hawkesbury Valley (but that’s another story), hut here sticking to the ‘safety’ of plain colour – DS Potters Pink (left) and DS Monte Amiata Natural Ochre (right). I’ll combine watercolour backgrounds with gouache figures, though someone like Ros Stendhal might go for a background in markers;
  • Liz Steel’s course is founded on a deep understanding of paint consistency, since she’s a believer not in uniform flat washes of colour but in the materiality of watercolour by showcasing its unique qualities – colours mixing on the paper, granulation, backruns, etc. A lot of my favourite watercolourists (Tho. Gurtin, Gerard Michel, the late Florian Afflerbach use just watercolour washes, devoid of watercolour’s more mercurial properties, so this is testing my limits, though Paul Hogarth, another of my favourites, conveys whimsy through colour mixing on the page and backruns;
  • while there are superficial similarities between gouache and watercolour (paint texture, the addition of water, etc.),  I’m interested in the way gouache can both show and hide brushstroke, how water can turn it from “juicy” to “watery” and how layering can affect hard and soft edges;
  • while I normal run away from excessive pattern for its own sake, I’ve not long returned from Vienna where the 20th-century greats rebelled by exploiting pattern and the issue of pattern has been raised in https://scratchyas.com/2018/01/27/the-creative-plan-patterns/. As well The Guardian online publishes amazing nature photography on a weekly basis, inspiring in terms of how pattern occurs in nature – something that obviously inspires Roz Stendhal;
  • Roz Stendhal at https://rozstendahl.com does bird portraits, which have the appearance often of self-portraits and because she draws animals from life, they have a certain looseness, a development on more formal realistic copying (I think I’ll start with formal studies and loosen up over time);
  • I’m immediately feeling constrained by working 9×6″ – working larger seems more comfortable, but I want to gradually work down from Liz Steel’s Rosemary & Co. #6 brush – the Pigeon this week was done with an unruly #4, while today I’m working #2,3,4 (okay with #6 necessary for the background washes);
  • the issues of figure-and-ground are always prominent – whether they be the recent Blue Ginger stems or here, working with the bird ‘portraits’; Roz spends a lot of time and energy on backgrounds;
  • next week, I’ll be giving a talk on hand-made sketchbooks, so working on Fabriano Accademia 200gsm paper in a variety of media will assist. I’m surprised how well this Venezia Sketchbook 9×6″ is handling gouache – I notice the paper wants to curl a bit more with the watercolour backgrounds, but it’s still manageable and can definitely be worked on both sides of the page;
  • Australia Day means an annual dash to catch both the White Rabbit Gallery show Ritual Spirit before it closes (my regular ‘trip’ to China, with all the usual tropes of porcelain, incense, fire, bronze, contemporary Chinese artists crossing over into oil paint) as well as the Combined Art Societies, Art of Sydney show at Darling Harbour, replete with watercolours, animal portraits and a tiny minority of urban/built environment painting (even a drypoint print this year!). In this regard, there’s a link to Proko discussing why beginner artists’ work all looks the same, though his is in a figurative context.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREVenezia Sketchbook (Fabriano Accademia 200gsm), 7×5″. Pilot G-TEC-4 pen, Daniel Smith watercolours, Mitsubishi pencil 7B.

The initial pen drawing was correct and formal, on a foundation of a diagonal top left corner to bottom right corner and two contrary diagonals at the one-third positions.

I then added watercolour with a much smaller synthetic brush than normal, though still too big in terms of starting from a point.

I then added a soft 7B pencil.

I can’t convey how much I hate the finished result and, in fact, how much the  developing looseness in approach over this week to the subject matter horrifies me, as seen in this collage. I feel the more I spend time with the subject, the more it escapes me. I had the same feeling about the egg series last week. I suspect the unrelenting heat of summer is getting to me!

collage LOW RES




Drawn today from life in the middle of the day, when the leaves are transparent with sunshine and there are cast shadows, inspired by the ink-and-wash style of Peter Woolley, UK watercolourist.

Paper. I used a different wet media paper today: Art Spectrum Medium 210gsm (133x190mm block) mainly to get an idea of how Daniel Smith watercolour paints react to different papers. It’s slightly rougher than Fabriano Accademia 200gsm and Woolley appears to use paper in his ink and wash work with some visible ‘tooth’.

Penwork. The initial penwork wasn’t as slow and deliberate as Woolley’s; today’s was a Schwan Stabilo point 188 (I must get back to using a Pilot G-TEC-C4, a former favourite). I prefer yesterday’s post-paint penwork – there being no need to outline every contour, just reinforce the main (hard edge) ones.

Paint. There are endless compromises when sketching from life and mine here is using unmixed paint, straight from the tube: Daniel Smith Cobalt Turquoise (a cool “green”, which is quite blue on paper), Sap Green (warm green and dries to very much lighter on paper). For the lightest and sunniest of the leaves, I introduced Cadmium Yellow and Quinacridone Rose for the flower buds. The general cast of these colours is very 1940s and probably better suited to Australian natives, compared to this Brazilian native Blue Ginger.  I could continue with Daniel Smith tube colours, or I could spend a lot of time mixing greens in advance; or, I could adopt the Michael Carver palette which has no greens at all in it.

I was more careful today about not swamping the vivid purples of the flower buds; I think I can only capture the green spikes in the buds with a light green gouache.

Tomorrow, I think I need to return to pencil, to tighten up the detail. Watercolour is essentially useless without incredibly sound drawing as its foundation.



Eschewed the easy road of pencil drawing for something more adventurous: Daniel Smith watercolours over pencil lay-in and Schwan Stabilo point 188 overlay, on Fabriano Accademia 200gsm, 9×6″ Venezia Sketchbook.

I’m working to the edge of the paper without working within a pencilled-in frame or temporary paper mount. For the larger areas, the Rosemary #2 brush works well, but drawing in such a small format as this really requires a smaller brush as well.

I’ll aim for purer tube colour next time – ideally, just two colours as I worked last week (last week – Payne’s Gray and Yellow); this week, Purple and Green(s). I’ll also aim not to overwork: twice I had a lovely effect which I painted out.

Post-painting contour helped and I’ll keep doing that until my brushwork improves to such an extent that it becomes superfluous.

Twenty minutes to paint, another twenty minutes to draw before adding the penwork.

An alternative would be to use different papers with the same materials.