Reading festival happened this weekend. You can hear it a little from my house, probably from most of the city :)

I didn’t think much about it as I headed into town on Saturday to find something to draw but it soon became clear there would be nowhere to sit or even stand without getting in the way of the crowds. Crowds of young people looking glittery and cold – buying armfuls of blankets and Nandos.

Heading out the other side of the city centre I thought it would get quieter but it turns out that’s where the parking area is for the festival so it was just as packed. A lot of walking and some sandwiches later I ended up in Caversham Court Gardens and, although the other side of the river directly opposite was packed with people, stalls and music, the gardens were peaceful with just odd bits of music drifting across. I chose to draw the corner of this lovely garden frame with some stunning flowers and cute little paper and pipe-cleaner butterflies.




At the end of July I joined the Reading Sketchers urban sketching group on the terrace of The White Building in reading to draw the roof tops of Reading in the glorious sun. I think the building is a new office building and it was really great of them to let us go up to the roof on a Sunday morning. Their roof terrace was a fantastic place and I could have stayed for the rest of the day to sketch the skyline from all angles. We had to move on after an hour though to sketch at another location so keep your eyes peeled for another sketching post about there later this week.

The view I chose had some wonderful angles and a brilliant red green growing roof:201807_readingsketchers (1)201807_readingsketchers (2)201807_readingsketchers (4)201807_readingsketchers (5)201807_roofofwhitebuilding_detail



Yesterday I went on a sketchcrawl around the Abbey Quarter of the city with the Reading Sketchers as part of the city’s Open for Art week. This was the only event I managed to attend as it was incredibly hot outside! We’re in our third week of scorching heat with no end in sight and nothing in this country is set up for that – I’m melting :/

I’m very happy I made it to this though as I wouldn’t have found out about the Reading Sketchers otherwise – they’ve been going for about a year and meet once a month. They’ve applied to become an official chapter of the Urban Sketchers.

We spent ~40 minutes in each of three locations:





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view from above


some fun from Bucharest today. Above is the 6th floor view from my hotel – a busy cross section. The large advertising banners covered many windows and left us wondering if the people in those offices or flats could actually see out. I hope they somehow are compensated for that. If nothing else they will need to spend more on electricity since the daylight is gone.

umbrella street!

A very nice restaurant

it was very old and very huge!





A quick rooftop line and wash watercolour to start the weekend.

A little review of the sketchbook I used for this. It is a Seawhite of Brighton 140gsm sketchbook. I’ve got a few of them in different sizes and colours. I’ve been using them for a while and they are my number one cheap sketchbook for watercolour. An A5 20 sheet book cost me £1.25. The paper holds up really well under several washes of watercolour. Far better than many much more expensive sketchbooks I’ve tried, even those that claim to be for wet media. My Moleskine watercolour sketchbooks remain my favourite but they are 25% cotton and 10 times the price. The seawhite books are definitely my second choice from all the others I’ve tried.

About this painting:

  • Materials: platinum carbon fountain pen with carbon black waterproof ink, W&N watercolours (cerulean blue, magenta, yellow ochre, turquoise, ultramarine), a size 10 round brush
  • Paper: A5 seawhite of Brighton sketch pad 140gsm
  • Process: Drawn from a photo found online. The whole thing took around 25 mins.

Lion Gate, Mycenae


I discovered an awesome three colour combo while sketching in Greece. Cerulean blue + permanent magenta + yellow ochre (all Windsor & Newton brand). It creates some lovely shifting stone-like hues as demonstrated here in a quick sketch of the Lion Gate at Mycenae (scale provided by the little figure of a tour guide sitting on the left). The heads of the Lions are missing and were probably separate pieces made of wood, ivory or gold.

Behind the Lion Gate are the series of small stone walls that once formed the ancient settlement here and down the road is a gigantic honeycomb tomb. This is said to be of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and star player in the famous Helen of Troy incident. After all his wars and triumphs the story goes that when he returned to Mycenae after the Trojan war his wife had taken a new lover. She killed Agamemnon by pushing him down the stairs.

Changing of the guard


Two ceremonial guards stand watch outside the parliament building in Athens. Each pair stands for an hour and they exchange places after 30 minutes. On Sundays at 11am the roads are closed to traffic and a procession and marching band make their way to the parliament building for a grand changing of the guard ceremony.

We went to watch this spectacle and found a place to watch from the paved island in the middle of the busy, three lane road. police were there to redirect traffic and pedestrians – spectators were not allowed on the pavement directly outside the building as the procession would be marching here. We were fairly early so I sat on the curb and sketched the building while we waited for the procession to arrive.

As soon as the band had marched past there was a stampede as all the people gathered on this side of the road rushed across to try and get the best view from right outside the building. Sunglasses and other belongings were dropped and kicked and crushed under the weight and speed of people. I stayed where I was as I wasn’t really sure what was happening at first. I was happy to just finish my sketch as the band played on.


Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens


The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens was built in 1842 from the marble of 72 demolished churches.

When visiting the various ancient sites around Greece we were repeatedly told by our guides that we had to imagine the pediments and statues not in plain white marble but bright and striking colour plus gratuitous amounts of gold.

This sounded awful and tacky.

But then I wandered past the modern Cathedral in the heart of Athens and it had all this painted and gold detail and it looked wonderful. So I think I changed my mind and can now imagine a more tasteful, colourful Parthenon :)

The other similarity is the ceiling of the arches here at the entrance painted night blue and dotted with stars. This was apparently also how the entrance gate/buildings on the Acropolis would have been painted so that when people pass under this star filled sky they feel as though they cross a meaningful boundary, leaving the world of men and entering a place of the gods.

Taplow Court

Today I sketched Taplow Court during one of its few open days over the summer. The house and gardens are beautiful and the weather perfect for watercolours (not too windy but warm enough to dry fairly quickly!). The few hours I spent there were not enough to sketch even a tiny part of what I would have liked and I never made it inside for a tour. I shall have to go back next time :)

I began with this enchanting turret on the main house. It’s amazing the details you only notice when you start drawing something. In this case it was the different shapes of tile on each section of the roof!

Taplow Court tower

Taplow Court tower

I then moved around the back of the house and was attracted to another turret :) I sketched this very quickly because I didn’t want to sit in the full sun too long, I was feeling in a Quentin Blake style mood, and I wanted to make sure I had time for a sketch of something other than a turret :)

Taplow Court tower 2

Taplow Court tower 2

finally I sketched this giant urn while feeling in a more John Singer Sargent mood. The scan has not come out great here and the granulating patterns in the dark blues and browns are sadly all but lost. You’ll need to add a little imagination.

Taplow Court urn

Taplow Court urn

Merton college

merton final low res


I was asked to paint an image of Merton college, Oxford as a commission for a friend. This alley view is looking down a route from the quad to the lodge. This view appealed to me because it is semi-private but still recognisable to someone who has spent time there. A passing place rather than a destination with a unique juxtaposition of chapel roof, turret, bridge and the meeting or crossing point of many buildings. Artistically, I like this scene for its layering, perspective and shadows. Hopefully the composition draws the viewer in to wonder what is just around the corner.

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Bankside Lofts

Yesterday was my birthday and I spent it painting in and around the Tate Modern with the London Urban Sketchers. No watercolour was allowed inside the building so I braved the cold to paint this striking yellow building, which I later learned is Bankside Lofts apartments. At the throw down, I saw that many other people were also drawn to this bright and sunny tower.

I was wearing:

  • a long sleeved shirt
  • a thin jumper
  • a sweatshirt
  • a quilted gilet
  • an overcoat
  • a woolly hat
  • a big woollen scarf
  • tights + trousers

For the most part this kept me not too cold but my fingertips were still exposed and so they quickly became cold, then red, then numb. Luckily, I managed to pretty much finish and then it was time to head inside for the lunchtime meetup.


70’s Mexican Church


I love the architecture of churches, especially modern churches. Whatever the specific denomination or the decade it was built you can somehow always tell it is a church even though materials and styles can vary wildly. Yes, ok, there are often crosses dotted around the place but not always and it’s still true even if they were removed – there’s just something unique about the proportions and ratios of height to width and window to wall.

This church was a short walk from my hotel in Mexico City when I visited last year. While I sat across the road in a tiny park sketching the bulky, imposing structure a local resident told me that it was built in the 70’s and that they thought it was ugly and couldn’t understand why I would want to draw it :)

At the end of our trip we managed to visit the very impressive Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral and I guess I can see why someone would call this church ugly in comparison but I still like it.

sketch roundup: outdoor painting

Here are a few sketches done in the open air, in the spur of the moment and (for the majority) in uncomfortable positions; balancing paint and paper and shielding from the wind and rain. I’ve since learnt of the phenomenon of “urban sketching” and these were done very much in that spirit. Even if a few are very far from urban scenes. Ok, so the nude lady wasn’t in the open air but she was in a cold drafty room and what looked like quite an uncomfortable position…





Somewhere Mediterranean

So this is my first proper attempt with the Promarkers. I made a little chart with all the colours I have so I would know what I was picking up and searched for an image with strong sunlight and shadows. I’m still thinking too literally with the colours I think. Maybe for the next picture I’ll pick 4 or 5 colours first then select a scene and just try to make it work.

Manchester Northern Quarter

On my last day in Manchester a few of us met up and sketched in the Northern Quarter. I decided on this scene because of some whimsical sculpture and moulding on a building but in the end I didn’t even draw those in. I started by drawing a few quick squares in pencil to mark vaguely where the main buildings were. I then moved on to watercolour before drawing the scene on top in ink. I would maybe have liked a few more line colours but I only had blue and black to hand.

government house

government house roof tops

Today’s watercolour is brought to you from the mossy rooftops of Portmeirion in Wales. This is Government house, where we stayed for the week. There were seven of us staying here and from the outside it looked like several houses stuck together with a clock tower on the end. I painted this from sitting as far up the external steps of the tower as I could get. There were two doors going in but sadly they were locked and our keys didn’t work. Some naughty tourists and a wedding photographer ignored the signs and went bounding about up here too through the week, even though this was supposed to be our private balcony and looked directly into our bedroom – good job I had PJs on!

This is day 6/31 of world watercolour month

polling station

polling day.jpg

This morning I voted in the EU referendum. The last few days leading up to this have made me a bit sad – I think we’re all used to politicians publically deriding each other but their attitude of self righteousness and ridicule seems to have seeped into the general population. People who I thought were level headed and fair minded have taken to insulting others who are voting differently to them. Not debating the topics, not questioning the motives of the politicians but simply insulting the normal people who are voting the other way. Laughing at them. Calling them stupid. I’ve seen this from both sides and all sorts of people and it makes me feel sad and a bit angry. I think it’s fine if you want to announce to the world which way you’re voting and it’s ok to debate the issues, but what I’ve been seeing are just childish personal attacks and sweeping generalisations. My cowardly solution was to delete my facebook app for (at least) a few weeks and cheer myself up with a bit of sketching.

My polling station was a grand looking red brick school down the road and I decided to do a quick sketch before I left. I battled with rain, spiders, ants and curious voters. I’m still feeling itchy now.

Carved stone doorway

Carved stone doorway watercolour step by step

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carved stone doorway watercolour (4)

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When I did this painting I didn’t have any white ink as I do now and so the highlights were achieved by cutting out the top layer of paper with a scalpel. I should remember this technique because you can achieve very clean highlights with crisp, precise edges.

To see more of my paintings check out my watercolour gallery page.