Cheese fest

Today, for the first time, I took my iPad out to try digital urban sketching. It was a nice day and the annual cheese festival was on in the park in town so I found a bench and sketched away. It was good but a few differences to note compared to regular sketching:

In the sun the screen can be difficult to see – sometimes this was just colours not looking right but sometimes I couldn’t see much at all

The iPad is *heavy*. I did think about this when I decided to buy the large version and it is too heavy to hold out and sketch for a long time but I don’t regret getting the bigger version in the slightest.

The ability to undo and redo layers and endlessly tweak means that I took far longer over this one sketch than I usually would any regular pencil and watercolour urban sketch.

I’ll have another go sometime but I’m secretly glad that the paper is not being put out of business just yet :)


I saw a photo from @archpng on twitter of Ait Benhaddou (an impressive fortified city (or ksar) made up of many kasbahs, earthen buildings made from mud and straw) earlier this week and thought it would be great to draw. It seemed perfect for this week’s colour collective of auburn so I gave it a go, also having another trial with the new cotton paper sheets – they still seem pretty good.

I started with lots of watercolour and water – Indian red, a mix of yellows and perylene maroon. I tipped the paper and let it run down. When it was just a bit damp I put it in a large book with a heavy box on top to flatten as it dried (though it didn’t really buckle much at all anyway). This worked really well!

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I turned the page 180 degrees so it went light at the top to dark at the bottom then started drawing the landscape with a dip pen and watered down sepia acrylic ink. It took a while to get the best dilution of ink – too watery and the ink bled across the page horribly.20181102_auburn_lanscape_wip (4)20181102_auburn_lanscape_wip (5)

I used a brush with the dilute ink to add shadow areas and made the top part simpler with large flat shapes20181102_auburn_lanscape_wip (1)

and finally went over some details with neat sepia and white ink only in the centre of interest.


South Lake

A cold but sunny autumn morning drawing with the Reading Urban Sketchers group around South Lake to the East of Reading. The group then moved into the pub for drinks, food and a warmer place to sketch but I headed home as I think I’m coming down with a cold. This is watercolour and fountain pen on tinted rough paper. It’s very difficult to get a good match to the colours from a scan when there’s no white to help colour correct. So the featured image is, I think, the closest to the true colours but below are some other tweaks to the hue, some details and a photo half way through. The colours of the actual sketch sit somewhere between all the versions here.



washed away

Trying to sketch in the pouring rain is difficult but gives some interesting, if transient, effects.

This was on the sketchcrawl in London I mentioned yesterday. Here I was trying to sketch one of the sculptures on the walk the line sculpture trail in Greenwich – half a boat called a slice of life. There were some great effects with the fude fountain pen and the rain but after a few minutes it had all washed away again. When we got to the lighthouse at the other side of the river it had all but completely gone. so I sketched the same structure from far away on top of the old sketch, with the O2 to the left. The paper was still quite damp and very soft and delicate but I managed to get something down that stayed long enough to be scanned.

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cheese feast


This weekend Forbury Gardens in the centre of Reading is being taken over by blue collar street food and filled with much lovely food, drink, music and decoration. There are around 15 stalls all serving delicious sounding food with the common theme of cheese, savoury and sweet, a couple of ice cream vans and a bar. There is also music and deck chairs and hay bales.



The weather has been glorious here the last few days so we headed down on Thursday evening to sample some of the food on offer. Between us we tried a pulled jack fruit vege burger with double halloumi, rosemary fries, some noodles, halloumi fries and ice cream. There was a pizza van with three wood fired pizza ovens set up on the grass so we might have to return to sample those too…

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crop 3


Marseille: waterside and hillside

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I thought I’d been to Marseille before but I didn’t recognise it once we got there so I’ve no idea where it is I’ve been! Here I did a quick sketch of the waterfront.



Not to everyone’s taste but I loved this rusty, brutalist fountain at a crossroads of one of the back streets.

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I also managed a very quick sketch of the landscape (including the word MARSEILLE in big white letters on the hillside!) from the boat before we sailed away.

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colour collective – sugar plum

Each week on twitter Colour Collective posts a colour swatch and invites people to post an artwork using that colour the following Friday evening. I always mean to do it and I always forget until I see the tweets pour in and be re-tweeted over the weekend.

This week was the first time I remembered! This is based on an old old little sketch that was more orange / brown than sugar plum but I love this colour for the sky!

revolution square


This Revolution Square in Bucharest, Romania. The spike on the right is the “memorial of rebirth” but our tour guide called it “the potato”. She didn’t say very much more about what it was supposed to represent so I looked it up online afterwards – this only gave me the additional name of “olive on a toothpick”. It was erected to remember the people that died during the uprising against communist rule in 1989. The flags on the building on the left mark the balcony of the final speech of Nicolae Ceaușescu as the revolution began.

The red mark you can see on the underside of the potato is graffiti. Our tour guide said that it made the monument look as though it is bleeding and everyone agreed it was an improvement so it was left there. The internet says it’s just too inaccessible to clean. I choose to believe our tour guide – It’s very effective and looks as though it could have been there intentionally all along.



The photo above is the Palace of the Parliament. It is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon and was built by Ceaușescu in 1983. Although second by floor area it wins at being the heaviest and most expensive administrative building in the world.

The rest of Bucharest was equally filled with an interesting variety of architecture:




Happy little brush strokes


I persisted with the digital drawing for the last week but it’s been so frustrating without me being able to pinpoint exactly why.

I don’t always get what I want as a result from real life painting so it can’t be the unsatisfactory results. In fact, I can sometimes get some nice things from my digital efforts.

It’s more convenient because you just need the tablet and then when you’re done it’s there, no scanning or processing needed.

The actual process of drawing *should* be easier on the tablet because I can undo and erase any time. But it just isn’t. it’s clumsy and uncomfortable. Maybe this is what it was like to learn to draw with a pencil in the first place and I just can’t remember. drawing digitally feels like a chore and I realised that the only reason I draw at all is because the act itself brings me joy.

I feel like one of those people who refuse to read ebooks and have to lug around a lump of paper for their principles. This is really odd for me and the only situation where I can think I prefer the old fashioned way of doing things but I’m going to have to stick to pencils and brushes because that’s the only way making art makes me happy.

After having said I sometimes get good results from digital drawing today that was not happening! see below my first attempt at this scene drawn digitally and the coloured pencil and watercolour version I resorted to in frustration side by side.


We had a quick stop in Nafplio for lunch on a drive across the country. Briefly the capital of Greece this was a large town and there was so much I would have liked to draw here! but we had only an hour and food was calling so just time for this one – the view from the waterside cafe. I could have spent another 20 minutes on this one, adding shadows and details but had to run back to the coach.

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nafplio 2



delphi town low res

Delphi was my favourite of all the places we visited in Greece.

The theory goes that when people noticed goats behaving oddly after visiting a particular place on Mount Parnassus they went to investigate. Some people who went to the particular spot saw visions, had fits and spoke in riddles. Clearly this was a holy place where the gods would commune with man. Temples and statues and monuments were built here. Rich men and leaders would consult the oracle for advice on important decisions. The oracle was a priestess appointed to be the mouth piece of the god Apollo. She would sit on a tripod throne, breathe in the sweet vapours coming from cracks in the rock, sending her into a trance, and then have visions and give cryptic predictions of the future.


It is now thought that this area of Greece was on a tectonic boundary and hydrocarbon gasses released from below the crust would give these women seizures and hallucinations. The ambiguous way in which their rantings were formalised by the other priests meant that their predictions could never really be proved wrong (you just didn’t look past the words to the dual/deeper meaning) and allowed this practice to be successful for almost a century. Until Romans brought Christianity and labelled all this as Pagan hogwash.

The locations of temples and other ancient monuments is often based on having a good vantage or trade routes or connections to local towns. These means that they are often covered by later settlements and when discovered they are in the midst of modern towns and cities. Not Delphi. This is an out of the way place and most of the way up a mountain. It would have been difficult to build here and a pilgrimage to visit. This means that, although there is a small town down the road from the site, the site itself is isolated and surrounded by insanely beautiful views of the mountains and all the way down to the sea.  From a distance the site looks like a slash in the side of the mountain, as if it was born from within. In a way I suppose it was.

I decided to paint postcards of this view to send back home. Three versions of the same scene, looking down the mountain.

delphi postcard 5

delphi postcard 1

delphi postcard 3

palm trees


I managed to squeeze in a sketch of the hotel garden today at lunchtime. Simplified building in the background in favour of the many wonderful trees.

It’s quite windy as we’re surrounded by sea on three sides and while it’s only about 15 degrees it’s a world away from the UK weather just now so it was wonderful to be able to soak up the sun for half an hour.

The Shard

This is a view from the Tate Modern towards The Shard in London. After the cold experience of the morning I found a bench and a window on the 2nd floor of the Tate to draw this view but then I wanted to add watercolour so had to head outside. Luckily I managed to find a spot in the sun so didn’t freeze as badly as before. The coloured pencils I used for the initial drawing are nothing special – just a mix of various bog standard brands I’ve acquired over the years. The interesting thing though is that only some of them are water soluble so when I added the watercolour layer some lines dissolved while others remained sharp. I did no planning as to which would soften as I was just choosing them based on colour but if I ever work this way again then that will be something to put more thought into – maybe the soluble ones in the background and regular for the foreground.


Barmouth Beach

Today I saw some windswept paintings of Barmouth beach over at the Brushes with Watercolour blog and was reminded of when I visited in June. I looked back through my posts to find the sketch I did on that same (but sunny!) beach and couldn’t track it down. I think there a few paintings from my Wales holiday that I never got around to posting. Here is the first as we move into less sunny days.


Portmeirion panorama

portmeirion panorama

A long landscape-sized plein air of Portmeirion gardens. I’m particularly pleased with the shadows on the buildings in the top left – the sun came out for about 20 seconds and I quickly slapped some paint on! It was very cold and rainy as I painted this and that led to it taking a loooong time to dry so there was more time sitting around shivering than actually painting but still an enjoyable experience.




portmeirion panorama

portmeirion panorama detail

Today is day 15 of 31 of world watercolour month – half way through!



holiday_house_May14This week I am on holiday in (fingers crossed!) sunny Wales. I’ll be busy drawing and painting as much as possible but probably won’t have chance to blog until I get back. So, I decided to line up a few posts of art from my old blog. This is the first and was done from a holiday snap someone posted on facebook. I remember the paper being pretty rubbish for watercolour (sucked the paint in instantly and furred the edges) so this was the only painting I did in that book.

As this is posted I will be driving west with hopes of just as sunny skies :)

Draw the Line

draw the line panorama

Yesterday I went on a sketch crawl around London’s Greenwich peninsula, organised by The Big Draw. We started at the Now Gallery opposite the millennium dome and then sketched our way along The Line sculpture trail. We took the cable car across the river and then visited London’s only lighthouse and home to Longplayer – a 1000 year art project. Continue reading “Draw the Line”

St Pancras USk

Today I joined the London urban sketchers to paint in and around St Pancras international and Kings Cross. It was an exhausting, frantic, freezingly productive, fun-filled day. Here are my sketches in the order they were drawn:

Clock tower of the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. I was sat right under the tower producing an odd perspective that I couldn’t quite capture. I also froze my fingers off! I really like the colours though.

st pancras watercolour sketch 1

Tea in the station. I had to warm myself up after the first sketch attempt :) Continue reading “St Pancras USk”