sketching into the darkness

It gets dark early these days. Really, really early. I’m not sure it ever gets get light. Maybe just for 5 minutes at about 11:45. And only then if it’s not cloudy. Which it always is.

Anyway, this makes it very difficult to draw and paint anything interesting because nothing outside is visible out of working hours. This is what I’ve been doing instead:

copying a John Singer Sargent watercolour sketch. I’m not really one for copying others but it does put you some way towards their mindset. I think he uses more opaque colours than me.


a tea->milk->honey tutorial by Marc Taro Holmes. Again, I think he’s mixing more opaque paint in their than I am. need to investigate




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!



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:




sceptical chandeliers

manchester main stage

This weekend I went to QED, a sceptic conference in Manchester – I learnt some awesome maths based life hacks, went to a climate change comedy show, a street epistemology workshop and saw many great lectures on astrophysics, ocean science, historical quack medical ‘cures’ and myths around GMOs, food, obesity and fad diets.

This drawing was from the opening session and covered the intricacies of forensics, successes and injustices. It was a really great weekend with many talks and sessions in parallel so always something of interest. There was also a Tardis and dalek in the corner.




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.

Green Iguana


About this painting:

  • Materials: platinum carbon fountain pen with carbon black waterproof ink, W&N watercolours (gold green, cerulean blue, magenta, yellow ochre, turquoise, ultramarine), white gouache for the highlights & a size 10 round brush
  • Paper: A4 Moleskine watercolour pad
  • Process: steps shown above. Drawn from a photo found online. The whole thing took around 2.5 hours.

Trinity Buoy Wharf


Last year I went on the Draw the Line sculpture trail sketch crawl with The Big Draw and saw some great bits of out of the way London. This year it was called Lines of London, the route was reversed and the first stop was Trinity Buoy Wharf. Lots of really great stuff to draw here. Last year I drew the panorama view from the top of the lighthouse. Since the weather was good this time I sat outside and drew the lighthouse with the retro Fatboy’s Diner out the front.

linesoflondon (7)

Our cobalt teal totes filled with sketch supplies we then set out for Greenwich. The next sketches were all quite speedy with quick stops at the O2 then fun on the cable cars.




And finally a drawing of the slice of reality sculpture by Richard Wilson. A cross section of a ship set up to be used as studio space. You can read more about the sculptures in my Draw the Line post from last year.




pub lunch


A final relaxing pub lunch before our holiday finished. I sat inside in the shade but next to a huge plate window looking into the garden. I had a good view of the outdoor tables and umbrellas so did this sketch while waiting for the food.

These people did not know each other. They did not even sit together. Each person was drawn individually before their group moved on and a new group sat down. I managed to pick the highest turnover table!

Greece round up

A final post on Greece and a round up of all the rest of the sketches and exciting places:

Changeable skies

A stormy morning (made myself quite travel sick trying to paint this on the coach – bleh!)


Acropolis and Parthenon

An afternoon at the beach


old buildings and graffiti

An old church in the heart of the shopping streets


A quick stop at the Corinth Canal


and finally back home to Heathrow!


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.


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.

nafplio 1

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

Kalabaka & Meteora

I had planned on posting sketches daily as I travelled around Greece. However, the WordPress app was not up to the job. Even when I had a good internet connection the app just wouldn’t upload images. Very frustrating and I gave up after the first few days. The bright side though is that I can now scan in my sketches rather than just posting photos. I can also try to give some more detailed info about the places I visited.

Our first stop was the town of Kalabaka and visits to two monasteries perched on top of the surrounding Meteora Hills.

The town was ok, nothing special and fairly touristy but a pleasant place and surrounded by the Meteora Hills which were great to sketch. Everywhere in Greece seemed to have great views.

We then visited two of the six Meteora monasteries which were perched on top of huge pillars of rock. The idea being that they would be closer to God.


Building them and living in them was quite a challenge though – goods and people moving up and down on a system of ropes and pulleys. We were told that the monk’s belief in God’s plan for each person meant that they only replaced old, frayed ropes when they actually snapped – if God decides it’s your time to go then who are you to fight against his will with health and safety inspections…. Thankfully we had (many many) stairs to get up there instead.


Once at the top the views were stunning and the monasteries themselves very interesting with an ornate church, various relics, skulls of the monks who devoted their lives there (I guess there would be nowhere they could be buried on top of the rocks) and museums full of religious artefacts, ancient texts and priest’s robes.

No photography in the museum but no one objects to pencil and paper so I spent some time sketching one of the many ornate crosses on display. Generally these were about the size of your hand or smaller – religious scenes carved into wood and then decorated with gold and silver and gem stones. Some were crazily over the top and had magnifying glasses nearby so you could study the details.

meteora cross

burning the midnight oil

oil burner

I’m working this bank holiday Monday because it’s crazy busy at the moment and I’m off on a little holiday soon. I’d like to leave things in a good situation so that I can relax and forget all about work while I’m away. This little oil burner sits on the windowsill next to my desk releasing cinnamon smelling goodness throughout the day.

About this sketch:

  • Materials: 0.5mm HB pencil, watercolours & size 10 round brush
  • Paper: cheap A3 150gsm sketchpad paper
  • Process: I was actually pleasantly surprised by this paper – it took watercolour rather well. Sucked it up almost instantly and there could be no lifting out or manipulation but it handled several layers with ease – not much buckling and the surface texture kept in good condition. The whole thing took around 35 minutes with a 10 minute twitter break to let the first pass dry. ~5 mins drawing, ~15mins painting. Larger than I normally work.

Ascott House

Ascott house low res

This weekend I visited Ascott House, a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire. The highlight of inside the house was a large turner painting but the gardens were the main attraction. We visited at a perfect time for the cherry blossom and tulips. I painted a little watercolour of the fountain in the house courtyard.

ascott house (7)

The ring around the mound here is a moat with petals thick like snow falling all around

ascott house (8)

And this is a sundial made of hedges. The inner hedges form roman numerals of the clock and the outer hedges spell out “light and shade in turn. love always”. Then either side there were heart shaped hedges filled with flowers

ascott house (4)ascott house (5)ascott house (6)Ascott house low res

five minute flamingo


I’ve been catching up with watching The Big Painting Challenge on BBC iplayer and it made me so happy when they all painted flamingos! I realised I hadn’t sketched anything for a few weeks (flu + car accident + house decorating + crazy work schedule) and not sketched a flamingo for maybe over a year. So Here is a quick one. I love the range of colours you see in a flamingo’s feathers – orange and pink and red and purple :)


Last week I was in Malta for work but I did manage to squeeze in a few sketches. We were also very kindly given tours of both Mdina and Valletta with various museums being opened in the evening especially for us. We were very well looked after.


The Corinthia hotel, from across the bay as we explored the area when we first arrived and then a sketch in the garden at lunchtime the next day:


An outdoor theatre, built inside the ruin of an old temple and designed by Renzo Piano:


The saluting battery midday cannon in upper Barracca gardens in Valletta. After watching this I then started a sketch in the gardens but had to scribble and leave as they were closing – only open for the firing!


wooden balconies were a feature seen on many of the buildings in Valletta:


I finished with a sketch in St George’s square while eating an ice-cream. The square was surrounded by benches and wonderful little orange trees – a lady sat behind me was contemplating picking and eating one.


Other interesting things I saw in Valletta were a man walking a cat on a lead and a policewoman patrolling on a Segway.

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.

at the airport


Here is the obligatory sketch of a plane while waiting around in departures. My flight was bang on time and my seat the first called so I had to leave this slightly unfinished – I would have liked to have added shadows and some of the buildings and trucks in the background.

A bonus 10 points for anyone who can name the airline from the colours and logo without looking it up :)

The Turbine Hall

After letting The Shard watercolour dry I headed back inside the Tate Modern and had time for one more quick sketch. I sat in the darkness of the Turbine Hall looking up towards the slope and out. This was a wonderful scene, full of shadows and contrasts and muted reflections. Because I was sitting in darkness though I couldn’t really see the page or what I was drawing so there was lots of repeated scribbling in what I took to be the generally correct area. Then I packed up and moved out from under the overhang to see what I’d created – atmospheric!


All the urban sketchers then gathered, compared their work and posed for a few group photos. There were lots and lots of us there – possibly some people wanted to start or restart a creative hobby with it being the new year but also I think the great location will have attracted more people than usual. It’s always been a good turnout whenever I’ve been but this was maybe double the number of people since the last time I went. There are maybe 50 sketchbooks here and I know quite a few people didn’t put their’s down. Great stuff!


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.


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.