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

Retrospective-reflection:  Although I liked the idea of the unusual picture with the snow, maybe I should have chosen something a bit more dramatic. I still think the mountains look a little flat and I could have painted these better. Looking at this next to the photograph however, I do like the way I have exaggerated the rise of the mountains and the town below and I think I painted the foreground rocks to good effect.


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!

Retrospective reflection: I am actually pleased with this! I think the blue outside works well as a complement to the warm, sandy tones inside and I can see some roughness to the brushstrokes that work well with to describe the stonework.  I am pleased with the light and dark tones but feel maybe I could have described the building outside a little better, perhaps it could have benefited from being a little less bold.

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.

Retrospective- reflection: This is not a subject I would feel inspired to paint again, however, I feel it has a nice loose feeling to it and good colours;  but not, I feel, one of my best efforts.

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

Retrospective reflection: I don’t like the sky. The original sky on the sketch was better but then I was painting from life and that’s how it was that evening. I think the trees and the light on the fields is good and putting the moon in was a good touch and adds to the overall picture. As I said if I had  had longer in this area I might have found a more unusual view than this classic Glastonbury tor view. However, it brings back memories of a very enjoyable couple of hours lost in plein aire painting. When I am back again I will try and look for a more unusual or unexpected view of the tor to work on.

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

Retrospective-reflection: This is not as good as I remembered! I can however see my influences and how it has worked out.  I think it does have a feeling a menace about it. There is perhaps something about the castle which does not feel right but I think the dark foreground works well. I still like my idea….

Research: Expressive landscapes

I begin by looking at Salvadore Dali. There is a lot of information on this website: . (image from here)metamorphosis-of-narcissus

‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus is Dali’s interpretation of the Greek myth of Narcissus. Narcissus was a youth of great beauty who loved only himself and broke the hearts of many lovers. The gods punished him by letting him see his own reflection in a pool. He fell in love with it, but discovered he could not embrace it and died of frustration. Relenting, the gods immortalised him as the narcissus (daffodil) flower. For this picture Dali used a meticulous technique which he described as ‘hand-painted colour photography’ to depict with hallucinatory effect the transformation of Narcissus, kneeling in the pool, into the hand holding the egg and flower. Narcissus as he was before his transformation is seen posing in the background. The play with ‘double images’ sprang from Dali’s fascination with hallucination and delusion.’

I have seen Dali’s work in many galleries over the years but never found myself drawn to his work for some reason. This is so brilliant though, having just spent some time really looking at it, how the hand echoes so the well the kneeling figure. I also like the idea that there is a poem to read whilst contemplating this painting, and also that by staring for some time at the kneeling figure it also becomes the hand holding the egg from which springs the flower. I am fascinated as I also like staring at objects until they change into something else. I have found you can do this to yourself in a mirror also.

I found the poem here:

Max Ernst:  ”Creativity is that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition. ”
– Max Ernst.

I shall endeavor to achieve this!

I found lots about Ernst’s history and work here:


‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony’, 1945. This was painted for a film made of the book by Flaubert, which was also panted by Dali, but they chose Ernst’s version to use in the film. The is the Dali one: source:

They are both pretty amazing. I think I would have chosen Ernst’s as well. It has more menace to it with all of those strange, nightmarish creatures twisted within it, I find it more disturbing. The colours also add to this. The Dali’s in contrast is more light and open looking, with dramatic perspective.

Giorgio de Chirico: There is a lot of information in this NY times review:

also here:

image source:


Looking at de Chrico’s work, he uses long shadows and an almost simplistic style. The bananas also seem to occur a lot. The perspective here is very disturbing, it does not look correct; the two small figures seem to be going up a hill but it does not recede in the correct way although the building next to it does. The clock and the train in the distance all add to the theme of departure. (I also like his ‘Red tower’ and may use it to inspire my next piece of work.)


Graham Sutherland: Black Landscape 1939-40 by Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980

This Welsh scene reflects the artist’s anxiety at the threat of war; it was painted during the ‘phoney war’ between 1939 and 1940. Both the title and the ominous twilight effect suggest imminent violence.’ It is also interesting to read that Sutherland was influenced by the pastoral visions of William Blake, as I can almost see a dragon hatching out of an egg. I note the limited pallette which adds to the uneasiness of this work.

Paul Nash: I have looked at the work of Nash previously. p04d4h3l

‘Landscape from a dream’ source:

‘When the war came, suddenly the sky was upon us all like a huge hawk hovering, threatening,” he wrote, poetically. “Everyone was searching the sky, waiting for some terror to fall.’

Here in this dream landscape, the hawk is watching himself and the world is being reflected back to him, with a dangerous red sky with portent of things to come. To the left it is perhaps a window through which we see the sea and the beauty of the coastline.


German Expressionist :Emil Nolde: 

Twilight, 1916
Oil on Canvas – 73 x 100 cm
Basel, Kunstmuseum


I love the simplicity of this and the colours together, and the yellow of the twilight reflecting back at the bottom in the water. This balances the composition well. There is a real feeling of depth and perspective, with the receding river onto the horizon line, and the distance blue of the hills.  ‘Nolde’s fondness for Germany and his homeland are well known.  The painter however was always in a particular situation, his northern region of Schleswig-Holstein having been given to Denmark at the Treaty of Versailles. Thus, born German, Nolde acquired Danish nationality while remaining in his “homeland” and defending its identity against the Danish authorities, despite his wife having been born Danish. This region and its inhabitants continually inspired him : portraits of peasants and glorious landscapes, such as the Twilight  recall this rooting in the land.’

Symbolist movement: Gustave Moreau:  


I have chosen this painting, which I am now thinking I not from his symbolist period…however, it is a wonderful sunset(?) and I love his use of colour in this and the texture of the sky which reflects and works with the earth as well.  I imagine the paint has been put on quite thickly giving an impasto effect, something I would like to try although I am not sure how well it works with acrylics.

Leon Bakst: information on the artist here

‘Leon Bakst was attracted to oriental style; and motifs from ancient Greece and Egypt became signatures in his paintings and theoretical work. The Benua circle also introduced him to symbolism and Art Nouveau. Bakst influenced and developed Art Nouveau style by bringing in a curvy line, as well as bright colours, oriental prints, and flowing drapes.’

He designed costumes and backdrops for the Russian ballet, like this one below, source: tumblr_midpbv3SbE1qekd4ho1_1280

It is exquisitely beautiful; I note how the tall trees frame the sides and the blue of the recumbent person in the foreground is also shown in a tree behind, which balances it out. It definitely has an oriental feel to it in the style with which it is painted.

I had not thought of Gustav Klimt as a landscape painter….I found a lot of information here:

gustav klimt forest i

I love this dense forest with only small glimpses of the sky showing through, and the knotty, spotty trees with their dry stick branches above. He has used this speckled technique for the forest floor also. I have some forests of pine trees nearby and this has given me an idea of painting a landscape that is perhaps more enclosed and mysterious…

Frida Khalo. I am a big admirer of Khalo’s work and I feel she is already an influence on me. I have a beautiful book, published by Bullfinch (Frida Khalo) and I found this landscape,  full of symbolism, within. ‘My Dress Hangs There’, 1933, pokes fun perhaps at America, with the toilet and the golf trophy. The cross on the church seems to be a dollar sign and there seems to be a graph on the hall steps and has Mae West set the theatre on fire? And Frida is in the centre, her Mexican dress proudly displayed. Wonderful.20170618_165023