Steyning Arts Trail – what else is coming to Sakala!

I did some more unwrapping today. This piece was part of the batch I unwrapped a couple of days ago but which had somehow wangled a trip out in the van and made a bid for freedom!

It’s the very divvil to photograph because it’s under glass so you get the whole kitchen in there as well and that really is NOT in the painting. Part paint, part collage, this is acrylics on paper mounted and framed. Definitely best seen in person! Red frame though …

Approx 26″ x 19″ mounted and framed.

Steyning Arts is never too posh for cats! This is based on a photo of one of mine.

Acrylics on canvas. 14″ x 18″

I found this remarkable woman during a search for faces when, as part of the course, I was required to make a portrait and I was heartily sick of painting my own face. The photo was black and white and uncredited.

Acrylics on canvas. 14″ x 18″.

There’s a long tradition of men painting naked women, sometimes in the company of clothed men. Degas didn’t do that so much but he did hang out backstage around young girls – the Petit Rats as they were called – and painted very many of them. This painting is based on (‘after’, as they say) his ‘Woman on a Balcony’. She is quite haughty and may have been a person of importance, unlikely to strip off for an artist. My young woman though is giving the artist the side-eye, I doubt he’d risk any unpainterly moves.

A painting within a painting; acrylics on canvas. 14″ x 18″.

Next – the box with the smaller stuff in it!

Strayfisharts at Sakala, Steyning Art Trail August 28th – 30th and September 4th – 5th. Sakala is also normally open every day.

‘Watch Cat’

When your new soft pastels arrive you have to take them out for a spin. I chose a photo of two of my cats just outside the studio where one was sitting in a box and the other lurking in the foliage further back. I used an A1 sheet of cartridge prepped with white primer for a bit of tooth.

The pastels turned out to be harder and slightly grittier than I’d hoped but nevertheless, do a job. It gave me a good basis for understanding the shapes and colours that make up these cats , but the best bit I think is Cat Two’s eyes because they are absolutely him – a total cartoon of a lad!

I hadn’t quite intended to follow this up but translating from pastel sketch to painting felt like a legitimate challenge. This is acrylics on primed cartridge, first iteration.

The next iteration includes highlights to Cat One and some hints of foliage. A disadvantage of painting at this scale on cartridge pinned in place only by large clips at the corners is that it buckles and becomes impossible to photograph without ripples of reflected light. Bang it under a massive scanner and it would be much improved in that regard but perhaps not so much in the revelation of unhelpful detail!

Best bits? Cat One’s coat and Cat Two’s eyes. Less cartoon now, more realistic glint.

This is the third iteration with the beginnings of defined foliage which could then be knocked back with a dark wash.

This sequence shows the effect of different light levels. Same time of day, changed angles and LED lighting.

Last set of images, this time in daylight and with some too-shiny crops.


So, enough of the buckling paper, this is all about 14″ x 18″ pre-stretched canvas. Base is a layer of transparent primer and a light wash of dilute burnt sienna; and suddenly there’s a kind of Italian feel to it

The drawing is in willow charcoal, the paint acrylics. With the colours blocked in, I outlined the shapes of the ‘blocks’ of cat and the lines of her markings to get an idea of tonal composition.

And this is where that led. The palette is quite limited; Burnt sienna, Payne’s grey, Titanium white, and Naples yellow – all very dilute and soft. At this point I was becoming fond of the background and reluctant to proceed with the whole dark and heavy foliage thing but had no real idea of where else to go.

So I emphasised the cat’s highlights.

Then this happened. The light patches are actual light from the windows falling onto the back of the canvas. A friend suggested quantum cat – neither inside nor outside the windows which were neither there not not there!

Quantum mechanics aside, serendipity is also an artist’s friend and this gave me a new imagined framework – cat looking out of windows, high up somewhere. The lines and shading are made from willow charcoal, coaxed into tight lines with a wet brush but allowed to leak and blend round the edges.

What to do with those windows though. Where are they? What do they look out onto? At the top, I tried blocking in some colour which I spent another half hour trying to reduce. At the bottom, I drew in some loose shapes that could be buildings or trees and then dissolved the charcoal with a wet brush to make the lines less prominent.

This took several deep breaths because I like the dilute wash, but the insides of windows are rarely as bright and light as the windows themselves so that had to be adjusted. Again, very dilute Payne’s grey and now a touch of Hooker’s green which gives that bottom left a bit of a Chinese look I think. At least it bears some similarity to parts of a poster I have which a friend brought back from China in the 1970s.

The windows needed some definition then and, with an eye on keeping the image simple (I could very easily get out a palette knife and start slicing thick goo into it if not restrained), I added another couple of charcoal lines to each and a straight brush stroke of dilute Payne’s grey to make the final image.

So here it is, Watch Cat, keeping watch high up somewhere in a fantasy Sino-Italianate tower and looking out over an indeterminate landscape. Ta da!


Impossible to resist a video, but what’s the story?

Made in Filmora10 by Wondershare.

Original image with filters via Paintshop Pro.

Puddle owls

Made by dropping puddles of water onto gesso-prepped canvas board, then dripping smaller puddles of ink into the water, then carefully dabbing and siphoning the excess from the puddles, adding some biro and some conte, and trying to keep the cat off it while I get a photo!


Probably that branch is going to break so let’s hope the big guys already fledged! Cards coming soon.

Follow that painting: Day One

I don’t do portraits and I’ve only ever done one self portrait, handily fudged by the size of the phone in front of my face. But the OCA course is about to demand I take another crack at it so I thought I’d get a head (ha!) start. I mean, all that learning-by-osmosis from Sky’s Portrait Artist of the Year has to have had some effect, right? Here we go then:


Step one – pick a suitable selfie. Ok, that’s Step two; step one is getting something decent in the first place. Then, to get a feel for the larger shapes, trace those shapes with pencil on tracing paper.

Then the big step, assault the canvas. This is prepped with acrylic gesso and the medium is gouache. All I’ve done there is put on some broad sweep colour undercoat patches and hinted at the shapes from the tracing. Gouache dries quite quickly, although this is dilute, so it’s possible to come back to it quite quickly.


Here I’ve put on some more layers of colour; again no detail just big sweeps and blocking in. There are the beginnings of skin tone, the shades in the hands and face, a hint of the glasses (and don’t I wish I wasn’t wearing those!), and some stripes on the Tee top.


Now it’s gone a bit weird – unless I really do look like that! It should improve with attention to my ear, the slightly odd upper lip area, and that nose. But it could all go so very wrong (more wrong, even) at any moment. That will be tomorrow’s trauma but meanwhile, here are some sheep.


Next day: never be afraid to get rid of something that’s not working, the old masters painted over things all the time. Bye bye Weird Face.