Monday 19 December 2016

More bird paintings and photos

It has been a quiet time on the artistic side for the last few months, but I have been doing something!

Here, for example, is  magnificent Short Eared Owl photographed  on the Steart Marshes reserve in Somerset, UK. These birds are regular winter visitors here and never fail to excite.

They seem to be able to cover huge distances with just a few beats of their wings. So even a large reserve like Steart is easily covered. This means of course that you don't know where to stand and wait for them, they could be anywhere. And when they do appear they do not hang about for long.

Also photographed at Steart was this flying Curlew above. A much under-rated bird in my opinion. Their numbers are apparently declining which adds urgency to collecting good records of them. Their spine-tingling call is the very spirit of the levels and marshes.

Another common bird routinely ignored by photographers and bird watchers is the Mute Swan, above. They however remain resolutely magnificent, even if no one pays them much attention. I do though. I love to get flight and action shots of these huge birds. This one is just coming in to land and is running off its extra speed. One myth about Swans is that they can "break a man's arm with just one flap of their wing". Hmmm? Really? I saw a television clip of one threatening a wildlife reserve worker, hissing, wings out, head forward - the works. That would have been enough to have me backing off fast, but he just reached out and took it by the wing and pulled it off to one side to direct its agression in another direction. The Swan continued to hiss, but lost interest in the man. That's what I'll do next time I meet an agressive one!

Here is a brilliant clip about two Swans that got tangled up and swam over to ask humans for help - unbelievable. Untangling two Swans

Although the Somerset reserves have been quiet for some time, persistence eventually pays off as when this Kingfisher landed nearby and posed for a photo. Who could tire of these?

 Likewise, the reserves are rightly famous for their Great Egrets. Here is a nice shot of one taken at #RSPB #Hamwall.

 And another shot of one with a small Pike. It swallowed it in next to no time!

 A very elusive bird that I have trouble getting in contact with is the Marsh Harrier, caught up with this one though as it made a close fly past.

Finally, just a quick catch-up on some recent oil paintings. Here is a little (5x7") painting of a Barn Owl on a wall.

And this is another one (8x10") on a post on the Somerset levels.

Not sure if I posted this Great Spotted Woodpecker before but, if so, here it is again!

So, with apologies for the long rest from Blogging, you can see that I am still alive and active. Pondering new daring departures in image creation, but no break through yet.

Meanwhile you can see my stuff at and see the paintings for sale at



Friday 19 August 2016

Painting the Bonny Brown Hare!

This is the story of the creation of a recent wildlife painting. Everywhere I go I see paintings, sculptures and photos of Hares - it seems that people love them. As I have some of my own nice Hare photos it suddenly felt like time to create a painting! This is what it ended up looking like.


The process of its development will be familiar to regular readers of my Blog by now, but every painting is different so the story is ever fresh! It starts off with transferring a sketch across to the canvas-board. In the photograph below I have also started to block in the background. In this case it is the background to the background! The surrounding grasses present a multi-layered texture which I am going to have to build up in stages.

Below the background has progressed and I have started to block in some of the tonal masses. At the same time I am trying to mix something like the right colours. I am working in acrylics and this will be the under-painting to be finished in oils. The tint of the green background jumps about a bit in this series of photos. This is a problem with getting the tonal balance right in the photos, it actually is the same green from photo to photo!

 What you cannot see so far is that I am starting on this painting in my local U3A Art Group session. Here we all are, hard at work.

I only have two hours in this session so I push things as far as I can. It is a good discipline and there is a good work ethic in the group. Here the facial details start to appear. In my opinion it is always the eye and the mouth that carry the painting and gives it impact so I spend time on this.

 I don't know if you have heard of the U3A? It stands for University of the Third Age. It is an international movement in which retired people come together to form groups to pursue activities that interest them. The group facilitators, or teachers, are drawn from the membership itself. They are not paid, they voluntarily bring their particular expertise to share with the group. As you can imagine, there is a lot of expertise out there amongst retired people. Consequently there is a very wide range of groups, especially in the big cities. Try Googling "U3A" to find your local branch. It is amazing and hardly anyone has heard of it!

This is as far as I could get in the group session and will serve as the underpainting. I have been having problems with the facial expression. The earlier stages I showed you above had the muzzle a bit too long - too horse-like! In these last two I have compacted it a bit, but will have to look at it again when I get it home.

OK, here it is at home now (below), that is my little bottle of Linseed Oil on the right and you can just see the bottom of my bedroom curtains top left! That's how I know where we are. I work in oils now to refine colours and textures. The chest fur is coming out a bit warmer in tone than the face. I have used a greenish tint in the darker features of the face and I now have to pull the colour harmony together a bit by adding some warmer touches. It is important to stand back and assess the overall impression I am creating rather than just concentrate on details.

 So, it is shaping up nicely now. I have not put any oils on the green background yet but now it is time to attempt that grass. It gives me the shivers as there is no real way back if it all goes wrong now. Just be bold!

 It didn't go as badly as I had feared, so now I spend more time solidifying the Hare and pulling it all together. You can see how the face has become more solid and the fur texture appears in the stage shown below. There's my Linseed Oil again!

Some further refinements all round just about finish it. I spend just a little more time on the eye details then try to make myself leave it alone. Stop fiddling, just leave it alone!

 And here is the final work posing in its posh frame. 

 And just a little detail from the face area. You can click on any of the above photos to enlarge them somewhat, but the photo below brings you in really close.

 So that's it for this one. Please visit my website at and you can see all my paintings for sale at Perhaps you would like to buy one?


Wednesday 22 June 2016

More bird oil painting


Here is the finished painting. I thought I had better come clean up front so that you can decide if you want to read on. If so, here is the story of how it was painted.

I started the same way as usual, transferring a sketch outline across from one of my photos.
I use the squares method as you can see.

The next step was to block in some of the darker colours in acrylics. I have developed the habit of using acrylics to create a fairly developed under painting before proceeding to oils. I find I can relax and work out any technical problems as I go along. Any errors can be easily over-painted as the paint dries so quickly - too quickly for a finished work in my assessment, but fine at this stage.

I am already encouraged about the way this is going. I can see the serene sort of end product that I am aiming for. It is quite common in my experience for the painting itself to tell me how it wants to be. Sounds crazy I know, but that's how it feels! So let's try mixing the most obvious colour and see how that looks.

Beginning to look like a painting already. Actually, and seriously, I am not sure why I don't simply stop here. From now on I am at risk of losing the freshness which is evident here. Anyway, suppressing my doubts, I refine it a bit more, still using acrylics.

This is as far as I am going in acrylic. The head is shaping up nicely, but I sense that the body is going to be a problem. There is nothing very distinctive about the plumage and I am not sure how I am going to tackle it. You can see in the picture above that the pencilled grid is still showing through the blue background. I have decided that I do not like this particular shade of blue - again, a good reason to try things out in acrylic first. 

Now I suffer my usual panic attack. I have to move to the final painting in oils now and I am fearful that it is all going to go wrong. So, what do I do? I have a fiddle with another painting that I have lying around. It was an experimental approach to painting a Long Tailed Tit. It didn't really work, but maybe that was because I didn't take it far enough. Actually, that was the opinion of Liz Shewan, an artist who was exhibiting at Lyme Regis at the time, when I showed it to her on my Facebook page. ( ) Thanks Liz, it is great talking to other artists. So this is what I ended up with.

Anyway, back to the Great Crested Grebe. I squeeze out some oils and start experimenting further with the background.

I have used two blues above, French Ultramarine and Phthalo, and added a little Yellow Ochre to the foreground mix to try to pull it forward a bit. I have blended it heavily with a fan brush and you can see that I have slightly over-painted the bird in the process.

So the obvious next job was to try to re-establish the colour patterns on the bird. I have made a start above and I continue below. I have painted the eye and refined the facial pattern a little. Still dreading that body! Carry on and try not to look!

Below I try out some suggestive patterning on the body, it had to come sometime.

Then I brush the patterning out again! I also try to paint some of the water features, a little bow wave and a faint wake.

Finally I settle for a few bolder colour strokes and add a few colour highlights to the water. These actually existed in the original photo and were reflections of the nearby reed bed.

And that is about as good as it's going to get on this one. Hopefully I have achieved something of the serenity I was aiming for without getting too fussy and tight. It is still on my easel and I may have a look at it again this evening in case anything jumps out as being awry.

You can see all my paintings for sale at , just click on the "Oil Paintings" gallery.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Frog Painting

OK, so I am going to give an honest account of my experience of trying to paint a frog. This is not one of those normal art demos where the artist seems to start with so much skill that, no matter how carefully they explain it, you cannot really see yourself doing it. This is how it actually feels to be a relative beginner in oil painting. Maybe someone will identify with it. The starting point is this photo of a frog that I took some while back.

I like it because of the frog's characterful face. I also thought it might be easier than birds, it hasn't got feathers after all! 

So I start off the same way as usual. I lay a grid of squares over the photo and transfer it across to the slightly larger squared grid that I have drawn on my canvas.

Here it is. Not looking too bad so far!

Then what I do is not really part of the painting process and would not figure in most art demo blogs. What I do is walk about the house looking for things that need doing. The idea here is that I really do not want to start on the painting so I look for excuses not to. Maybe I am the only person who does this, I don't know. The reason is that I am scared. The weather is looking fine, maybe I could go out somewhere for a few hours.

The sketch is looking so good that I am pretty sure that I am going to spoil it once I start laying on colours. I really feel that I do not know what I am doing. More accurately perhaps, I look into the immediate future of the painting and see nothing but uncertainty and potential failure, my failure.

Anyway, after several days and having run out of reasonable excuses, plus it's raining, I make a start.

I lay in a dark green background. Seems safe enough, but already I do not like it. Never mind, ignore it, I can change it later perhaps. Then I try to mix some of the brownish colours on the frog and block in some of the darker shapes. Actually quite enjoying it for the moment!

At this stage I am using acrylic paint. My aim is to build up an under-painting that I can then finish in oils. I feel quite safe with this as I know I am not producing the finished work yet. The paint dries quickly and I can easily overpaint it if I make a mistake. One slight problem that you can probably spot from the photo above is that I am steadily obliterating the pencil grid that I drew to guide me. So if major restructuring is required it will have to be done by eye. This acutally turns out to be a real problem a bit later as I attempt to reproduce some of the markings on the frog's face. For the moment though let me just work on the reflection. It is curiously blue looking. I also manage to make some drawing mistakes here that I never quite manage to eliminate from the painting. Ho Hum!

Because I feel safer working on the acrylic under-painting, I decide to continue and add more detail. Actually, it is necessary as I am finding the facial markings and, in particular, the structure of the eyes, rather difficult to understand. Who knew that frogs were so complicated?

Still trying to get the face and eyes sorted out (below) and feeling a bit embarrassed that I am putting so much effort into this stage of the work. Never mind, nobody is watching and no one will ever know. Besides, I feel the need to get this sorted out, even if it is just by trial and error.

After a few hours inconclusive work I begin to wonder if adding some water weeds will take the viewers' eyes off the rather inscrutable face. So I tentatively put some in.

OK, that is about as far as I feel I can go in acrylics. Time now for the final oil painting. Of course this provokes another severe bout of prevarication. It seems like it will be for real now, so I look for other urgent tasks, even non-urgent tasks, to distract me. It is amazing how much there is to do!

About a week later I finally squeeze some oil paints out and start trying to mix some of those subtle colours. My first job is to replace the background with a more lively looking green. Again, backgrounds are a safe starting point. Then it is just a matter of working progressively through the under-painting and refining shapes and colours with the oils. In the process I do away with the water weeds, but perhaps that was a mistake. Not sure. I get so absorbed in the oil painting that I forget to take any more photos as the work progresses. It takes most of the day.

Finally, I stand back and try to appraise the result. It is no good to keep interfering with it in the hope of making it right by a magic accident of brushwork. You have to blow the whistle and accept it for what it is. Here is the final image below. It is just 8 x 10" on canvas-covered board. A portrait of a frog.

I do not often feel really happy with my finished works at the moment. Naively perhaps, I look forward to a time when I will. This was my hope at least until my son, who is a proper artist, told me that the difficulties never go away!

Perhaps the best philosophy is just to keep trying and not get too hung up if things do not go well. Years ago the teacher at an art class I attended used to say "That is probably about enough work on one painting" and would then suggest starting the next. Good idea, it will probably be a fox next.

All my paintings to date may be found at

Friday 20 May 2016

Painting a Fox in Oils


This Blog post tells the story of how I painted a Fox in oils. The starting point was one of my own photos

My main interest has been wildlife and particularly bird photography. You can see the sort of thing I have been doing at 

In the process of chasing dramatic photos I have gradually become more and more interested in the beauty of the final image. This is quite distinct from my interest in the birds and animals themselves. This idea of beauty has grown with me and some time ago I started to try to express some of my images in painted form. This was the subject of a previous blog.

I thought it might be interesting to record the process I am currently using by showing you the development of a single painting from start to finish. This is how it went.

The first step is to get the basic image on to the canvas, in this case it is a canvas-covered board 8 x 10" in size. To do that I draw a grid of squares over the original photo.

I then draw a similar grid of squares, but a bit larger, on the blank canvas. This is a well-known method of transcribing images across from one medium to another. All you have to do is draw the contents of each square on the photo on to the corresponding square on the canvas. I am only trying to get the outline at this stage. The next photo shows how the canvas looked after I have done a bit more work on the developing image, but you can see the square grid clearly enough.

You can see that I have just started to block in some of the darkest shapes from the photo. This is done by eye of course, but the grid is a great help in getting things in about the right place! You will also notice that even at this early stage I have developed the eyes, nose and mouth to a much greater degree. I instinctively felt that these would be the key to producing an arresting image.

I continue trying to block in the main colour masses to build up the image. It is important to note that I am working in Acrylic paint at this point. This dries quickly and allows me to adjust things by over-painting if necessary. It will also provide a really good, stable base for the oil painting to follow. 

I am very uncertain about background colour. I lay in a darkish neutral  colour just to see what it looks like. Not very attractive I conclude, but still do not know which way to go on this for the moment.

OK, so have you noticed the glaring error that I made? Look at the Fox's forehead. It is far too shallow when compared with the original photo. I have missed out a whole row of squares above its eyes when transcribing the original image across to the canvas - twit! I kick myself for not having noticed the ridiculously wrong facial proportions.

I then have to try to find the original square grid. It has been quite heavily over-painted already but I manage to spot some of it and am able to reinstate it over the painting - you can see it below. This allows me to re-visit the original photo and reconstruct the upper part of the head in the correct proportions this time.This correction has also much improved the composition by moving the ear tips closer to the top of the canvas. It was this too-large gap  at the top of the painting that I originally noticed and finally alerted me to the error I had made. This is the beauty of creating an acrylic underpainting where all these things can be resolved before committing to the final oils.

Below is the image at a slightly later stage, with the photo alongside for comparison. At least the head is the right shape now. I have also changed the background colour to an aquamarine sort of blue to complement the yellows and oranges in the face. I am working in oil paint now gradually refining the facial structure and reproducing the patterns of colouration in the original. I am not too slavish about this, I want the effect rather than an exact copy of the original.

From there of course it is not a huge leap to the final image, below. I have tried to give the effect of fur by sparsely over-brushing lighter colours on top of dark to give the layered effect found in real fur. It is quite difficult, especially when brushing into still-wet oil paint. It is all about communicating texture. Keeping the initial oil layers thin helps, otherwise over-brushing with the next colour picks up too much of the underlying layer.

The trouble with me is that, even when a painting is finished, I cannot resist coming back to it and fiddling. One day of course I will have a disaster, but so far I have managed to confine myself to delicate refinements. See if you can spot the difference between the image above and the "final" (I promise) version below. 

The colours look a bit brighter in this photo of the painting, but they are actually unchanged, it is just the camera. What has changed very slightly is the shape of the tip of the nose. I have also lowered the bottom rim of the eyes slightly. This exposes marginally more of the actual eye and gives the animal a more engaging stare. I have only changed things by a few hairs' breadth, but there is a difference in the overall feel of the painting. It is very subtle at this stage. Finally I brushed in a little more shadow on the left side of its muzzle as you look at it. Better stop there!

When I started oil painting I was unsure about how I wanted to re-interpret my original photos. At first I thought I needed to decide on a style to try to achieve. I never did quite make this conscious decision, but in practice the paintings differ from the photo just due to the nature and limitations of the new medium. I am sure a style will develop as I do more and more.

 If you are interested to see my other paintings, you will find them at my website here