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Brushing up!

A selection of brushes for general use

Tools of the trade … in order to create something artistic it is necessary* to have a few brushes.

* necessary but not essential … how paint gets onto a surface is not critical. Think about those cave paintings from aeons ago, or acrylic pouring techniques.

The funny thing is that when I began painting it was with just a few brushes, building up slowly as saw other brushes I might want to try out till I had spent a lot of money on what I thought I needed before finally sticking to just a few favourites that I feel comfortable with.

For my watercolour work, I have about 40 brushes including 2 decorating brushes (1 1/2″ and 2″), a toothbrush (for splattering, and a couple of ladies’ makeup brushes. I have a lot more brushes for oil and acrylic work.

Brushes for fine detail

For specialist work, I have a set of sable brushes are for painting fine detail. The sizes are 3, 1, 2/0, 3/0 and 5/0 – the “/0” denoting sizes smaller than 1 where 2/0 is 00, 3/0 is 000 etc. where more 000s implies a smaller brush. I use these only when doing special projects using my best watercolour paints and papers.

Brushes that get used most

My favourite brushes, the ones I use most, are a synthetic angle shader which is great for controlled painting into square areas, a small (3/0) squirrel mop brush which holds water nicely (though too small for doing large washes) and a small round (1) that I use for detail work in loose paintings. I use these in conjunction with any of the larger brushes for landscapes or with a 10 round brush for bird and flower paintings.

Getting decent brushes is a bit difficult for me unless I pay excessive delivery costs on mail-order items since there are not many fine art painters or stores where I live. My shopping list includes a couple of larger mop brushes and not much else other than paints and paper.

There is a lot to be said for getting good natural hair brushes eg sable, but I have been disappointed with one “pro” level sable brush while being very pleased with several synthetic brushes. It pays to go in person to a decent art store to try and buy what suits the artist.

Happy painting!


Painting journal

A painting / drawing journal is important to ensure one can practice and experiment daily. Apart from being fun and practical it is also a great way to record ideas for planning a painting

I admit that finding time to do something every day, particularly on busy days, is difficult but even a one-minute sketch is good practice.

The canal sketch above took less than ten minutes. It was done to remind me of a painting that I intend to do this month.

The entry below is part of a double-page spread (my journal is 28 cm c 21 cm so double page is 42 cm) and was made to plan the lighting for a landscape painting.

This took less than 5 minutes but will save valuable time when I paint the landscape.

Rough treatment

I had seen a couple of artists scrubbing the paper they were painting on and was horrified. How could they do this? However, always keen to experiment, I decided to have a go myself.

Having started work on the painting of a shoebill (Balaeniceps rex), or Shoebill Stork, I decided that I wasn’t happy with the way it was going. So on a whim I started the hard treatment.

The first try was in the reeds at the front of the bird that were not of the value I wanted. So I grabbed a damp brush, rubbed hard, then scrubbed with tissue paper. The watercolour paper (Hahnemuhle) took it well! So I then tried the same treatment, a bit harder in parts, on the body of the Shoebill and in the background.

I even tried repeating the process in the same part, expecting the paper surface to suffer, but no issues even after repainting.

The only area where I had problems was a patch where I had used an eraser. Although used lightly the eraser seemed to damage the surface of the paper.

I am still not happy with the painting but will probably do some more scrubbing and adjusting to see if I can rescue it.

Watercolour paper

Wooden house with boat, a waterway near Belem, Para, Brazil

I accidentally used a sheet of my drawing paper to paint a couple of pictures. The picture above shows how the paint was absorbed quickly in the area of the background acai palm trees.

The paint was drying very quickly – almost as it hit the paper – since the atmosphere where I paint is hot and dry.

It is possible to soak the paper to maintain a damp surface but that then creates other problems.

I made a similar error of paper choice when sketching a hawk.

Alan Skyrme Gallery on Facebook

Spot the differences!

Spot the differences-2

ARA Uruguay moored as a museum ship in Puerto Madera, Buenos Aires, built in 1874 in England (Birkenhead).

One of the necessities of capturing stock images is to re-visit a site and update the image. This example is of pure coincidence – I didn’t go to Buenos Aires to recapture images but somehow managed to take a picture from almost exactly the same spot – nine years apart. At least it shows that I have consistency in my photography.

The left hand image was captured in 2005 and the one on the right was taken in 2014.

Despite the economic situation in Argentina the authorities have gone to lengths to paint the sailing ship and the old cranes in Puerto Madera. In the background there has also been some significant residential development in the form of sky rise luxury apartment blocks.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city – rich in history – though still in need of investment in some parts.


Gold Nugget


On the last day of March I found a colourful caterpillar on the wall of my garden and took it into my house to take photos. I have a vivarium and placed it on a leaf where it sat and began placing fine threads of silk near its head. I recognised this behaviour from a similar event at a different house at the end of 2004.

The next day I found that the caterpillar had removed its skin and had attached its new chrysalis form to the leaf. At this point the chrysalis was a pinkish colour and lay horizontal on the leaf.

Within a day the chrysalis had turned gold in colour – bright and metallic. I then cut the leaf before gluing it to a stick that I had suspended within the vivarium. This enabled the chrysalis to hang in a natural state until it was ready for the final stage of its metamorphosis.

On the 6th of April I returned from work at lunchtime to find that I had unfortunately missed the “birth” of the butterfly! It had emerged, had spread and dried its wings and was ready to fly. I took a couple of photographs before releasing the insect into a patch of wild vegetation next to the house. I believe the butterfly was a Mexican Fritillary. We seem to have a few species of similar-looking fritillaries in the area – I have counted a minimum of 12 different types of butterfly in just 4 square metres of the vegetation next to my house, including Swallow-tailed species.

In 2004 (and again in 2005) several caterpillars of Opsiphanes invirea, Owl butterfly, had marched up to my front door. I placed them in the vivarium and was able to do some time-lapse photography to capture the caterpillars suspending themselves to the roof of the glass tank, emerging in chrysalis form, and later as butterflies. Fascinating.