Working with a photograph: ‘When the snow came’

I found this digital photograph, actually taken by my husband, that he took out on a walk when I was away.  It is remarkable because it had actually snowed (and I missed it!) and it was clearly visible on the mountains beyond Jimena. I think it fulfills the criteria for this exercise, with the mountains in the distance and the castle rising in the foreground. The challenge will be the create the snow in a believable way on that mountain…


I want the snow to stand out in a bright and clear way. Maybe if I try a textured sky in very pale pink and blue, then use white with a background of black mixed with blue on the mountain, this might jump out as cold snow against the sky.

The next hill has some interesting movement in it with the rise and fall so I will want to look at the patterns created here. This needs to be pale with some blue-ness for the aerial perspective to work.

Then the foreground with the castle – I want to show up the houses below more and make the castle stand out maybe in similar colour to the house roofs. the rising rocks and trees will be in warmer greens and earthy neutrals. I don’t want to change the composition too much; I like it as it is.

Overall, I want a loose, textured finish with lots of patterns in the brushmarks.

(Music: ‘Flower of the mountain’ Kate Bush. (Strangely, this was running through my head while painting and I looked up the lyrics – ‘And Gibraltar as a girl where I was a flower of the mountain yes When I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used
Or shall I wear red, yes, And how he kissed me under the Moorish wall
And I thought well, as well him as another’. Had no idea it was about here!)  – Just found out it is actually from the end of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’)

I wish this was my colour study 🙂 but it’s Turner’s: ‘Dolbadarn Castle: Colour Study’


Dolbadarn Castle: Colour Study 1798-9 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Taking inspiration from this colour study. I love the loose brush work and the pinkness in the sky, followed by the white and blue-grey of the mountains and the earth colours of the castle and the foreground. And the little pop of red…not sure what it is but it works so well.

Below: Castle sketch, linear study of the patterns, snow effects and colour study.


I still wasn’t happy about the snow mountain, so tried again with a bluer sky against black and white, which seemed better.  But I am not sure. 20170727_180853


So far….


I will look with fresh eyes tomorrow to see what else is needed.

Next day. I need to do a tonal study, even though there is no obvious shadows. The hills are too flat looking. The sky is not right and I think needs to be paler.

I looked carefully and worked out where the sun would be and did a fast tonal charcoal sketch. 20170729_124848

So I worked at the painting again. By now I am only referring to my sketches and not the photograph. The lighter sky looks better. I added some darker tones to both mountains. I am happier with it now although I feel perhaps I have not quite fallen in to the loose, bold style of painting that I envisaged, however it is not precise. It is certainly not a copy of the photograph.  I exaggerated the rise of the castle and increased the view of the houses. The mountains are more exaggerated. I felt this made for a better, more exciting picture. By the way, the red on the castle is the girl being kissed by the Moorish wall…and a nod to the Turner.

When the snow came

Squaring up (or tangled in rectangles…)

This work blog I guess has to be honest, so I will say I am not good at this sort of thing. My mind just closes up when I have to work out sizes and be I knew I was not going to do well with this. However, I had a go. I got the squares wrong, of course, which I realised after I started drawing, so I painted over it all and then started again. They are more rectangles than squares but I figured if proportionately correct this shouldn’t matter. Got it right this time. Scaled up by times 3 🙂 By the time I had drawn it out for the second time I had overcome my frustration and I was feeling quite pleased with myself….I can now understand the advantages to this method. By the way, I used a poly pocket to draw over the photo so as not to ruin it.  20170722_163144_Richtone(HDR)

My photograph is one of my own from when we lived in Portugal, long time ago, and it is a twisted stone staircase in the Convent of Christ, Tomar.  I thought as it is a complicated thing then the scaling up should make it work. I want to make the painting a little freer, not photographic, and to emphasise the shadows  and show lots of colours in  the sandy stone. 20170722_163138_Richtone(HDR)

I did the painting today in about 3 hours, I think. My initial impression is that it is quite effective and colourful and I think I have captured well the light coming in through the window. I  brightened up the colors outside; the sky was just white on the photo so I made it blue- er. I made the stone richer and warmer. I can unfortunately still see some of the pencil marks on the canvas but they are not that visible really, only that I know they are they.  A2 canvas.

Staircase at The Convent of Christ, Tomar,  Portugal.

I thought that this exercise was not something that  would ever chose to do again, but I have now revised my opinion and for something like this which is a complex structure it was quite a good idea!

Painting from a working drawing: ‘Stash’

I looked around my home to find somewhere new that I had not drawn or painted before that would grab my interest (not as easy as it seems…) anyway, I decided that my husband’s (OK, they are mine too…) stash of spirit bottles on the bottom shelf of a cabinet might be an interesting subject. It will give me a dark, wood grain background and some different colours with the bottles  and labels, and also some shadows and reflections of light off of the glass.

My working drawings will be A4 landscape. The light source is mainly from the right, through the door window although there is also light from the study, where I will be sitting and coming from the left slightly from the kitchen.

Linear drawing, using pencil: 20170715_123905

Tonal, using ink:


Colour, using acrylics:  20170719_182604_Richtone(HDR)


I think it needs to be more balanced; I will make it more symmetrical with the two wooden pillars bisecting equally. I am pleased with the colours though and feel this is the study that will prove most useful.

I worked quickly and loosely and tried not to be too precise. On A2 plus size canvas on frame.Stash

Did my sketches provide enough information? More or less, yes. The colour one was the most useful and the linear sketch initially to mark out the areas and fit the bottles on the shelf. The tonal was not so good; maybe I rushed it a bit, but also I think I got the tones and highlights in the colour study, so it was sufficient.

Did being away from the subject give me more freedom to develop my painting style? Yes, absolutely. I felt very free  and also used my memory a lot. I felt I was allowed to be inaccurate and bolder. The work has a blurriness to it which I think works quite well. I had to wash over the floor tiles to ensure that they were not too sharp focus to match the rest of the work.

What is my opinion of the finished painting?  I like it. I didn’t think I would, but I do. I started off not feeling too inspired by the exercise but when I came to the actual painting I got lost in the moment. It is indeed the shelf with the bottles but not quite in focus, not quite the reality. It was a good exercise.

Research: Cathy Lomax

‘Look at how she uses layers of wash, thin – thick paint, a variety of brushwork to
build up her painting and what is she conveying in her works.’

I founds Lomax’s blog (that I am now following) which in itself was quite interesting and contains a lot of her work and the reasoning behind it


Method Madness2_reflected

I can immediately see why I was asked to look at Lomax’s work. This piece, ‘Method Madness Green Mirror (detail), 2013, oil on paper & board, mirror, hinges, 30x60cm’, reminds me very much of some of my selfie work in paynes grey. I note her very loose and fluid brushwork and the minimal pallette. ‘The Method Madness series investigates method acting and the way its exponents draw upon real experience to create a performance. The figure in the paintings is inspired by Vivien Leigh’s depiction of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Leigh unlike the rest of the cast was not a method actor. Her immersive performance in the film is said to have led to a decline in her mental health leading to a series of bipolar episodes.’  She has used very pleasing, sparing brush work and has left some areas blank. The look in the eyes is intense and almost glazed. Art reflecting real life?

Lomax also did a series of paintings of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses without her in them, although they are moulded to her invisible body. Entitled ‘I’m a girl not a ghoul’, in response to Monroe being told she looked like a ghost as she kept herself so pale and liked to wear white a lot. Also, I can understand from this the importance of a title and thought behind the work, without this knowledge it would not have the same impact. I love the way the dresses mould to the body, which is absent. I realise I need to look more at the idea/meaning behind my work, as this then brings a painting to life. I am interested in one idea sparking a whole series of work reflecting this.

‘It seems ironic the most enduring American film star – Marilyn Monroe – has little association with the healthy idea of American tan and is instead all about whiteness. In a series of work from 2012 called I’m a Girl not a Ghoul, I looked at how her personality was consumed by this whiteness.’ source:

Girl not a Ghoul



This is Monroe again, I have read some of the biographies and she did indeed realise the need to keep her body looking good, her ‘instrument’. In fact, I remember a photo of her out running long before it was fashionable. I like how she contrasts the whiteness of the Monroe works with a black background. She seems to glow.

I was inspired to try this myself. I  posed in a jersey wrap dress and tried a quick sketch but decided it would be hard to  paint in this  position, so I got my man to take some  pictures and I worked from one of those. A3 acrylic  paper. I used only payne’s grey and white and slowly drew it in and then built up the deeper layers. I had the idea of my dress heading off to have a good time without me, now that I don’t go out so much!

Without me
‘Without me’

(I am now working on a parallel project to continue my ‘selfies’ project by painting my dresses with my body absent from them.)

More work Lomax below, same source:





Researching the ‘golden mean’

My own feelings on this are that this is how nature is, how things are formed….and what we are attracted to is in our nature…therefore artists with an eye for what ‘works’ or looks good, balanced, pleasing, … would instinctively use this rule without thinking about it, measuring it out or anything as contrived as that. And rules are there to be broken anyway….. 😉

image below, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa illustrating the rule: source:


There is lots of information and a good explantion here:

‘Rule of thirds’ in Landscape painting:

The horizon is usually best a third of the way up or down a landscape painting. Key features also work best a third of the way across from each side.

I tried this on my last painting. (I am not too good on the paint app…) but, roughly:

I think the moon is in the right place! and the top of the mound. I could have made the field in front larger and moved the hedge up to the next line…

Glastonbury tor with moon 2.jpg

So, I cropped the bottom and tried again:Glastonbury tor with moon 3.jpg

This brings the second hedge up to the line, the top of the mound is correct and the moon also. And yet, if I am honest, I prefer it as it was…. although maybe this is because my memory of that view is there and the exercise was to describe what was there;  but it was an interesting exercise.

Painting a landscape outside: A July evening (Glastonbury Tor and moon)

I had to go to the Uk for a bit of an emergency, but thought while I was here that I could try the `plein aire` exercise, and describe the Somerset countryside as a change from the Andalucian one.  I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time, but I went for an early evening walk with my sketchbook. I had in mind a classic view of the tor from a place called Bushey Coombe, but when I got there the trees were  all much higher than I remembered (yes, they had grown…) and I couldn’t actually see the tor… so I walked on until I got to a field at the foothills of the tor. An artist friend of mine had told me when working outside to be ware of the three Ws…weather, wasps and weirdos.  In Glastonbury I could have sat there in a pink tutu and fairy wings and no one would have taken any notice of me.

I sat away from the small path and indeed nobody bothered me, apart from the occasional dog. At one point I actually screamed when one very large one bounded over. I tend to go off into my own world when drawing or painting and so was not aware of what was happening around me. I felt I had found the picture I was looking for. I noted  light and dark areas and the evening light, which was lovely and golden, and the direction of everything; the sky seemed to be vertical at an angle from left to right, the mound itself had lines running around it and the fields lines across diagonally. I did a pencil sketch and a line sketch and  I took a couple of photos with my phone, and I noticed also the moon, not quite full and it had risen and was right next to the tower, which I thought would be an interesting thing to add into the composition. Most of the clouds were in fact, I think, from aircraft vapours.

So the next afternoon I did a small A4 colour study and worked out which acrylics to take with me; they were borrowed from my mother (also an artist) so I needed to be familiar with them.  sketchI had bought a canvas A2 in size and on a wooden frame. I have done a lot of work on these frames and I will need to work out how to get them off when I send my work for assessment, so this will be a trial for that as I will need to remove the canvas to take it back to  Spain in my suitcase.  (This I managed to do successfully and rolled it to go into my suitcase with no damage).

I persuaded my husband to come and sit with me ( he had not been well so this was very good of him! 🙂 ) to warn me if dogs were approaching. It is hard to relax if you think a large dog is going to jump onto you. It was an even more beautiful evening and the light was incredible. The sky was clearer. I had worked out how to paint it, starting with the sky and then the mound, the fields and finally the trees and bushes in front. I started painting at 6.45 . The moon rose about 7.30 and I painted it on as it reached to the side of the tower. pretty much finished by 8.30. Not so many dogs but tonight lots of small black flies which decided to land and stick to the paint. These I flicked off or used my nails to extract…The light kept getting even more golden and I was adding in lots of yellows. The only changes I made the next day were to make the moon rounder, and to slightly straighten the tower, and to yellow down a white mark that was too dominant at the front. The rest is all as it was at the time, my immediate response to what was in front of me. It was thoroughly enjoyable; a beautiful evening filled with light aircraft, hot air balloons and bunnies bouncing in the fields. 20170705_19331720170705_203431

I think the painting works; however the sky the first night was perhaps more interesting with the stripes of cloud across the sky;  but I wanted to paint truly what was in front of me and this I think I did fairly successfully. Ideally, yes, I would have done more prep  but in this case I did not have time. I felt I was working in quite a loose, fluid way but I am surprised in fact how ‘neat’ it has turned out…I would have been happy for it to look sketchier.

Glastonbury tor with moon


Creating mood and atmosphere: ‘The Foretelling’

I have already painted the castle here in Jimena at night. The castle holds many mysteries and Jimena de la Frontera  itself attracts a lot of people who have problems, and a few people have chosen to end their lives up there. I also know ashes have been scattered from there. So, with all this in mind, I would like to create  a picture of the castle with a feeling of death hanging over it. A moody, menacing sky. I can use some of the work I did previously of the castle, although I am thinking a sunset (which is behind the castle) using lots of reds which I have noted from research can add a feeling of menace. It could be quite surreal; the Griffin Vultures here clean up the dead (animals…they are not Parsi) so I could use them almost like angels of death above the castle. I am also remembering the books of Carlos Castenada that I used to love (Long time ago…) but the premise was that ultimately we return to the eagle (unless you are a warrior shaman of course :-)) So the symbol of the eagle, like the vulture,  coming for you at the end of your life, to crush you in its beak and take your life experiences, is in my mind.

‘I am already given to the power that rules my fate.

And I cling to nothing, so I will have nothing to defend.

I have no thoughts, so I will see.

I fear nothing, so I will remember myself.

Detached and at ease,

I will dart past the Eagle to be free.’

Soundtrack: ‘My death’ , David Bowie

I did some charcoal sketches of the vultures from my own photos, but they weren’t quite right for what I need. image3 (17)I have some pictures I have taken over the years but never caught one descending down, so I have used this image below: image from:



I am taking inspiration from de Chirico’s ‘The red tower’, the threatening menace he somehow invokes with the long shadows and the dark foreground, the half seen statue of the rider on a horse. I will keep  the foreground darker, as it will be when the sun sets behind the castle and there should be some reds in the sky.  source: think the bird itself should be more cloud like, not quite one thing or the other, and should be a source of light as if the moon is behind it perhaps, as in my sketch it is too bold and the perspective doesn’t work well. I am thinking of William Blake and they way he saw fantastical creatures in the clouds. I particularly like the colours and the style used by Blake in his ‘Red dragon and the woman clothed with the sun’ source:

image2 (66)

Charcoal study, A3 sketch pad, composition.

image1 (98).JPG

Colour study in acrylics A4 sketch sheets.

I am now back from a 2 week break to the UK and so I need to get into this project again. At the exhibition ‘Beyond the Great Wave’ I was inspired by Hokusai’s dragon over mount Fuji- source:

….and it made me think of my little project. I think the dragon looks so large, as he has caught it with the scale of the mountain; if he had painted it too large it would not have been believable. I really liked this painting.


I decided that I would try and put a dragon over the castle just to see what it would look like and also because my head is still full of Hokusai…. I painted out the background as before but on A3 acrylic paper and then I found a closer image of the dragon and tried to copy this onto my painting. 20170612_145934

It is not so dramatic as the vulture and rather delicate; I used a pen to get the edges of the dragon sharp. It was a good exercise which I enjoyed but I will go back to my original plan and also I will work on an A2 plus sized canvas board. The two styles don’t mix so well, not a good idea to swop halfway through…..I think I got distracted 😉

So, I have finally painted ‘The Foretelling’ , using a 60 x 50 canvas framed, which I think is the largest I have used as yet image1 (100)on this course. I found working some of the time with a sponge to apply the paint worked quite well for the sky. It was difficult to decide how realistic to make the vulture, I also wanted it to be surreal apparition in the sky, really a vision in the clouds. Did this work? Actually, not too bad. I think the red tower and dark foreground give it a menacing feeling, as in the de Chirico. This (small, above left) is before I re did the vulture head, as I suddenly thought it looked too much like a pigeon…I not the effect I was looking for! I did another fast sketch and then painted it in again and I also added some more light to the sky – it is much better, much more vulture-like now.

It was hard to get my mind back to this project after taking a break in  the middle but it was unavoidable but still, something to consider in the future. I came back with my head full of Hokusai and it was hard to return to where I was mentally before.  But I will return and give my thoughts on this after a few weeks.

The foretelling finished