Quick journal sketches

Detail from my Hummingbird project journal.

No painting this week! OK, so I don’t have paper on which to paint but that is no excuse! In fact I have been involved in other admin stuff so didn’t even do any acrylic painting, but that also is not an excuse. It’s probably the pandemic getting me demotivated.

That said, I have started a couple of projects in my journals. One is to paint some marine life to put into a book, no rush but I now have a deadline set for August completion. The other is a personal project which involves documenting details (eg eye, feet, feathers etc) of Hummingbirds and Tanagers to create a reference for when I paint these beautiful birds. Whenever I can get hold of large sheets of watercolour paper I intend to do large-scale portraits of a couple of species and to see how these develop.

Something of interest that came out of my research of hummingbirds, in particular the Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, is that there are five sub-species of this particular bird. I have seen two sub-species but the one that occurs where I live, and which is a daily visitor to my garden feeder, is Eupetomena macroura simoni. It is a slightly bluer version of species.

There are two things I usually do before painting any bird: get as many reference photos as possible (the majority being ones I have taken), and get as much information as I can research about the bird so I can incorporate a bit of its character into the painting. At least that’s the idea, and probably easier to do in larger scale paintings.

I have spent a bit of “coffee break” time doing quick sketches in my journal that may be converted to projects in the future. I am still thinking about whether to have these done as watercolour landscapes or in acrylics. No rush.

Some of these were watercolour sketches while a couple were pencil only.

All of these were taken from photographs from my last visit to Venice, a city I know very well as my mother used to live close by. The first two are of San Giorgio di Maggiore (a favourite subject of mine), the third, fifth and last are of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, and the fourth is of the Rialto Bridge.

I find that doing these sketches helps me to think about the treatment of the subject and to identify the details that should or should not be included in a landscape.I have to admit that I always have difficulty with the facade of the basilica of San Giorgio as it is marble that is white in bright sunlight, or creamy at other times.

Not a great week for me but maybe later in the month things will improve.

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Keeping a journal is important for a number of reasons:

  • practicing technique and experimentation
  • trying new paints and paint combinations
  • preparing compositions before committing a layout for a final work
  • quick plein air sketching and, importantly,
  • recording details of a subject to be painted eg the feet of a bird

I have a few journals but from experience I find that there is a false economy in buying cheaper types of journal. Not that I have much choice where I live. Stocks of journals tend to be seasonal with availability timed to coincide with the start of the school year, and then really only Student grade – a tag that encompasses qualities ranging from ordinary office paper to really good quality watercolour paper.

I am not saying that the journals I use are all rubbish, all are great for pencil, graphite, charcoal, acrylic or gouache but not so great for watercolour work. It probably has something to do with the weight of the paper and the fact that they are mostly cellulose based rather than cotton.

While, in some journals, I have been able to produce paintings that can be scanned for sale as prints, like the Robin above, I have yet to find paper that is fit for purpose in doing quality paintings in watercolour.

This was an experiment in imitation of a painting by Karl Martens though without the use of salt.

For this reason I would prefer to pay twice or even three times as much for a journal with higher quality paper. The issue being that it is hard to find, though I could import some via Amazon.com. I have a couple of Canson student grade journals that will keep me going for a while. At least I know what will and will not work in them.

As I have run out of paper for painting I can work on some projects in the journals till I have to commit my wallet to re-stocking. The last watercolours that I painted are on the Latest page.

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South African Hornbills

Last week was an uncreative one in which I did not paint, just catching up on admin stuff which included a tidy up of my Saatchi Online collection. While this painting lethargy was due mainly to lack of paper on which to paint I was also unmotivated to do anything on canvas. Good to have a break every time once in a while.

In the previous week, however, I completed a set of four Hornbill pantings, each on A3 paper.

These hornbills were painted from reference pictures I had taken on trips to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. In total I have seen about 150 bird species in the park – plenty of material for future painting projects.

There are 8 hornbills in South Africa but these four are the only ones that I have seen:

Southern Ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri), Yellow-billed Hornbill (Tockus leucomelas), Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus) and African Grey Hornbill (Tockus nasutus). The other four Hornbills are not found, as far as I know, in the Kruger National Park.


Administration is not my favourite aspect of the creative process but it is an essential one.

I try to paint something every day, sometimes several subjects if I can have a productive and uninterrupted run, so on average I produce a painting per day. Smaller watercolours are quicker to do but I find larger sized paintings more satisfying. Acrylics take more preparation (preparing the support, deciding on subject matter and colours) and painting therefore takes longer. I do at least one acrylic painting per month.

Each painting I produce has a Certificate of Authenticity that I print off. I try to avoid a backlog by completing these after each painting is finished.

In addition to the fun side I need to keep track of what I have painted, how I will sell it, who has bought the painting, to take photographs of paintings (of a quality that can be printed), to upload images to sites, and for sold paintings there is the work of packing and despatch etc. And then there is the need to keep track of media and support stocks that take me a day to go out and buy when stock get too low. Like now!

As a photographer I enjoy the process of taking photos of paintings but it is a time-consuming job involving lighting, tripods, colour matching and ensuring the camera and painting are accurately aligned. The digital images then need to be uploaded to my database and edited before being used. In addition to photos of my paintings I have a total of 300,000 photos that are on my database. Lightroom is a great database manager and offers the basics of editing but I also use Photoshop (especially for my fine art photo work) and a couple of other bits of software (mainly free) eg for doing illustrations. So the software also needs to be kept up to date too.

My database is spread across a number of external hard-drives (about 10 Tb in total) that need to be backed up (another 10 Tb). I really I would have a single drive and a back-up drive (feasible now as these are readily available and relatively inexpensive) but I try to reduce the need by going through my database on a regular basis to cull any images that are not usable as stock for sale or as reference material. Time!

Keeping a website also takes effort. I used to have over 20 domains but started a rationalisation process that took me to just 3 – but at the moment all three are off-line as I try to drive down the cost of maintenance. I used to write my own code – which also took up time.

To simplify my life I’ve produced a digital bullet journal that, now that I have set it up on One Note, is easy to maintain. I find One Note (free from Microsoft) ideal for recording my painting stock and sales etc – everything in One Note books that are available on all my devices. A great time saver. I also use Microsoft To Do to remind me of important things that need attention.

And lets not forget blog and social media maintenance. I allocate time to ensure I publish this Gallery blog every Friday. It’s is the only blog that has been regular. I used to publish blogs on Consulting and on Nutrition but both are in process of being turned off. I manage a couple of other blogs for a client but those take very little of my time.

My instagram account gets a daily upload though I occasionally miss a day or two if I have to focus on other activities.

Correspondence also takes time. I used to have several email addresses, all visible from one app, but I have brought that down to just two – that I intended to separate for personal and business correspondence. Unfortunately the dividing line between the two sides of my life are very fuzzy.

It is all time consuming but all part of the business.

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I am not paid for advertising products. If I like them I will recommend them.

Out of Stock!

Rocky outcrop, Kruger National Park, South Africa

There is only one art supplier near where I live. On my last visit to the shop a couple of months ago I was disappointed by the lack of quality paper in stock. I managed to get some watercolour and acrylic paints but gave up on the paper. There are only two stationery shops in the city though they tend to sell student grade supplies, when in stock, and had little to offer. I bought enough reasonably good paper to keep me going for a while.

My supply is now down to one sheet, reserved for a commissioned landscape painting of a family home in UK. I do have canvases and acrylic paints in hand to support some other projects.

So, in the absence of watercolour paper, I tried my hand at soft pastels last week. Not for me, though I do like charcoal drawing. This week I tried oil pastels. While I am not really keen on oil pastels I did have some limited success 18 months ago so I shall do more every once in a while. I shall stick to watercolour and acrylic paints until I am out of stock …. which looks like may be soon.

As a side note, I started to keep track of completed paintings a couple of years ago after I being introduced to Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) reference numbers. When I thought about it I wondered why I hadn’t thought of this way of keeping track of my paintings (and fine art photographs) sooner – perhaps because I simply kept track of the subjects by name. I now employ SKUs to record my finished paintings, which is helpful when I have multiple works of a similar subject eg Robins. Also, as I do not date my paintings (some artists do), I have the date of completion of each painting recorded in the SKU register which helps when I prepare certificates of authenticity. I use Microsoft OneNote to keep my records so they are available on multiple devices even when I travel. OneNote is free but incredibly powerful as a tool.

While in the stationery shop I bought some Canson journals. The paper, good enough to paint on, is 140 gm/m2 so it tends to buckle when I do a wash. The painting at the head of this post shown obvious signs of buckling, pooling of water and the consequent blooming, but it was only a quick sketch.

The Robin, below, was painted in the same journal so the painting technique needs to be controlled (as much as one can) to get decent results.

European Robin

When I get an opportunity I shall buy better quality journals. In the meantime I use the ones I have to prepare a book project that includes marine creatures.

Common prawn

Next week will see me painting in acrylics on canvas, hopefully keeping me going until I can replenish my stock of paper. I may try Amazon.com but am worried that delivery may take too long.

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Not for me!

Northern Raven (Corvus corax). Charcoal and soft pastels. I photographed the bird in Mexico in 2012.

As an artist I like to experiment in making marks with as many media as I can. It is therapeutic and inspiring but also, at times, frustrating.

I new I was going to have a busy week with admin as well as painting but it all came to a head yesterday when I felt there was no point in trying to bite off more than I could chew. I really need to focus on one project at a time and forget everything else.

So I decided to fix my hours, make a list (I like the idea of a bullet journal but find that they can take up time rather than save it … a story for another day!) but I do use One Note, Things and Microsoft To Do to keep track of stuff. At the end of the day, instead of watching repeats on Netflix, I dug out my charcoals and soft pastels to put on paper something I had been wanting to do. Result: not what I wanted and a reminder that this charcoal and soft pastels are far too messy for me. Some people love them, but I shall forget soft pastels in future. I will do some charcoal drawings every once in a while as some subjects come out well.

I had recently done a couple of charcoal drawings (this year in fact so hopefully out of my system at leats for a while).

The first was a nude study that was a follow up to a project of nude line drawings and ink washes. Below are the line and wash versions of a nude drawing together with the charcoal version.

Charcoal on A3 paper

I also drew a portrait (using of photo of Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead). I was on a flight, quite a few years ago, to Sao Paulo with Motörhead – Lemmy and were immediately in front of me in the queue for immigration. Great band, sad that Lemmy no longer with us.

Lemmy – charcoal on A3 paper

The issue for me in using media such as soft pastels, and, to a lesser extent, charcoal is the dust that is created. It is difficult to remove the fine dust without marking the paper and it makes a mess of one’s eraser. I used an acrylic spray to fix the drawings, though professional pastel artists.

I may do some more charcoal drawing in the near future but have decided to forget soft pastels.

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Shoot Candids


Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

One thing I do not have a shortage of is inspiration for subjects. The general subject matter ie birds, is not in short supply though my reference photos can be a restriction at times.

Having been lucky enough to travel a lot in my life, and having a keen interest in nature and birds, I have amassed a huge collection of photos from around the world. Also, I have lived close to forests of various kinds so have been able to spend time searching for flora and fauna to add to my collection.

The first thing I do before starting to paint at the beginning of the week is to look through my bird images in Lightroom, software that I find invaluable for managing the 200,000 digital photos I have in my database. About 15,000 of these are bird photos though I have to stress that the quality of some photos is not at all great but serve only for me to use as reference. Lightroom also allows me to make adjustments to images to improve lighting or sharpness.

The bird above that I painted today is a Spotted Towhee. I saw it while visiting Vancouver and saw it moving around a bush with lots of twigs but few leaves. I took about 10 photos before moving on on my walk around Stanley Park. It was my first sighting of this species, as well as of Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, White-crowned Sparrow and a few others.

I painted seven birds this week – I try to do one per day but also paint other subjects with priority given to requests / commissioned pieces.

One colour I use a lot is Payne’s Gray though had exhausted my small supply of it last month. So I made some using a mix of Sepia and Ultramarine Blue. The mix worked well. I use it in place of black, adding tints of blue, purple or brown in some birds and to create strong shades with a hint of green in the rare landscapes that I paint. I find it indispensable.

Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)

Cocoi Heron (Ardea cocoi)

Above are two of the other birds I painted this week. Both of these big birds were seen and photographed in the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil.

Next week will see me painting more birds but also a few landscapes (mainly Brazilian beach scenes) including a commissioned Sussex house portrait.

On the admin side I need to create a new website as I had to shut down my last one that was too expensive for my to maintain. C’est la vie.

A busy week ahead.

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Bluebells and bumble bee +

Common Bluebell with bumble bee

Another week of interruptions, one of the hazards of working at home. That said, I managed to complete at least one painting per day but, knowing I would not escape distractions, I decided to steer away from bird paintings for most of the time. I managed to complete two though they didn’t come out exactly as I wanted … watercolour painting is like that anyway.

As we are approaching Spring I was reminded of Spring flowers, which led me to consider a set of British Spring flowers. I did the bluebells first and then Scarlet Pimpernel – both of which grew in my garden when I lived in Sussex.

The Bluebells that I painted are the wild ones (Hyacinthoides non-script) rather than the cultivated Spanish variety (Hyacinthoides hispanica) that many people plant. The wild ones can be distinguished by their bowed heads whereas the spanish stems are erect. Our garden used to be a field with a mix of sycamore, mountain ash and oak trees that provided ample shade.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) is generally regarded as a weed but they are such small plants with tiny bright red flowers that I usually left then to grow. Keener gardeners would pull them out but I even liked to see dandelion that provided colour – what else is a garden for?

Scarlet Pimpernel (flowers are about 1/2 cm diameter)

I have more wild flowers to paint, probably at the weekend, though I do have a project in progress that I would like to finish as soon as possible.

It’s Friday so let’s see!

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Buying art

Over the years I have produced a number of fine art photographic prints, many having won or been nominated for prizes in international photo competitions.

In support of these prints, mainly limited to a print run of just 5, I published a small book Collecting Fine Art Photographic Prints. Although only a small book it is, even though I say so myself, a useful guide on what how to create and maintain a collection of fine art photographic prints.

The guide applies equally to watercolour art, hence I mention it here.

What it covers:

  • what and how to buy
  • care and maintenance
  • framing
  • pricing

Incidentally, I have been asked why an art seller would want a buy-back policy. I have one. The main reason is that it shows buyers that the seller is serious about the quality of their work and has confidence that it is marketable. The subsidiary reason is that if I sell an art-work and, if the buyer wants to exercise the buy-back, I will buy it back at the original selling price and can sell it at current market value ie I will make money via such a policy.

My watercolour and acrylic paintings are sold on the same basis.

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Feel free to buy the book!!!



Rufous-collared or Andean Sparrow (Zonotrichia rubella)

This week has been a busy one for me, paying bills, completing a project consisting of 37 drawings in three styles but including an additional drawing on A3 paper in charcoal, painting a commissioned portrait of a house, and the one above.

The subject is a Rufous-collared Sparrow, also known as the Andean Sparrow (Zonotrichia rubella). In Brazil, where it can be found throughout the country (though I have not sen any in the Northeast), it is known as the Tico-tico – probably after its call.

The watercolour painting is on A3 size paper.

I had run out of paper supplies at the New Year but have since been able to buy enough to keep me going for a few weeks. I still have to do the set of Toucan paintings that was planned. However, as i also bought some acrylic paints I may do another bird portrait in acrylics.

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