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Blue Hare

Why is it that often, the hardest part about painting is deciding what to paint, then running out of excuses or reasons to not get started? Why do I suddenly experience an irresistable urge to dust the furniture when I know a painting is waiting impatiently to be born?

Today I wanted to do something colourful, original and yet familiar. So, enter the Blue Hare!

This is an expressive painting verging on the abstract from the point of view of colour, as you would never see such intense colours in real nature. But the living Blue Hare does have a hint of blue, purple and gold in his coat, and if you allow yourself to break free from the photograph you can create something which is in some way lifelike, but full of your personality and spirit too.

I used Caribbean Blue, Quinacridone Gold, Indigo, Orange and Black for this painting, all from Old Holland. Of course you can use whatever colours you like, and Pthalo Blue is a good substitute for Caribbean Blue.

My tools were a round brush size 7 and 11 or thereabouts, a Staedtler watercolour pencil in black and a fineliner.

I stretched the paper first to avoid cockling, a process I explain here.

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Blue Dragonfly and Wet in Wet Background

I want to give credit to Old Holland for producing this lovely blue colour which I’ve used to great effect in the background of this painting. It’s Caribbean Blue and is available from their suppliers which you can find if you go to their website at https://www.oldholland.com/watercolours/

The splashing of paint onto a watery stretched canvas is a great way to get a marbled type of background, on to which a transluscent wing like that of a dragonfly sits perfectly.

In order to make this work you do need to stretch your paper, but that’s not difficult and just takes a few minutes, and an hour or two of waiting while it dries. Take a look at my video on the subject here Don’t on any account try to hasten things with a hairdryer, as it will almost certainly pull the paper out of the tape glue, but you can put it in the sun or near a radiator to keep it warm and therefore drying.

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Little Girl with Flower

I was asked to paint a little girl by a client and this painting is the result of a few weeks of thinking and planning the composition and the sketch. It’s now available for you to follow along to as a tutorial on YouTube if you want to have a go.

This painting doesn’t require any special equipment, but I would suggest the following colours for your version.

Winsor and Newton Artists Quality tube paint (now called “Professional”) and a large white plate to use as a palette, or a plastic or china palette like the ones below.

I also recommend a synthetic squirrel brush by Princeton and 140lb watercolour paper by Canson. Please use the links below to explore Amazon and support my channel!

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Hummingbird and Hibiscus

Always a favourite, the hummingbird makes his appearance today in a new coat of many colours! An imagination of a hummingbird, enjoying his favourite treat, the nectar from the hibiscus flower!

Many of you will be living in parts of the world where these lovely flowers grow in abundance, and when I lived in the Caribbean they were a daily pleasure. Now, in the depths of darkest Brittany we don’t have them at all, but the memory lingers on.

Join me in this video as we let rip with watercolour and see what the paint can do! Loose in style but with enough structure to be faithful to the real bird, watching this painting will help you with water control, brushwork, choosing colours and much more.

Click here or on the picture below to go straight to the shop to browse prints.

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Starting to Paint in Oils

There’s no need to be intimidated at the thought of oils. Forget about all those square metres of painted linen canvas hanging in the art galleries and museums around the world. Who would have thought how BIG some of those paintings are! On the other hand, the Mona Lisa is diminutive yet arguably the most famous painting in the world measuring only 50 x 70 cm.

I enjoy producing little oils and to tell the truth the small ones are the ones that sell most easily.

Here’s a 6 x 6 inch oil on canvas which I painted in one session, using one brush. Little sketches like this are easy to do and make a strong statement on your wall or as a gift.

Watch out for tutorials on this topic soon.

Meanwhile, here is a set of links to the equipment you need to start oil painting on a small scale. See my previous blog for recommendations of beginners oil sets.

In addition to this you will need some lint free cloths for wiping brushes, and a palette to mix paint on (a plastic picnic type plate would do at a pinch). I use a sheet of safety glass on top of a white surface. Or you can buy paper palettes which you can use on a tray and throw the paper away when you’re done.

Now you have everything you need, so let’s get started!

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Starting Painting in Oil

There is a lot of off-putting stuff talked about painting in oil, but you rarely hear about the pleasures it can bring!

In complete contrast to all other media, such as watercolour, acrylic and pastels, oil is a sensuous medium with body and soul and a life of its own.

Let me explain by drawing a few comparisons.

Watercolour is immediate, direct and expressive if painted loosely. But if painted tightly it is demanding, stressful and prone to failure which cannot be redeemed without that watercolour turning into a multi-media extravaganza.

Acrylic is correctable, powerfully colourful and direct, and mistakes can be corrected almost infinitely. But if you put your brush down in a hurry and forget to come back you will need another one as they cannot be restored. I don’t know how many palettes and brushes I have ruined. Plus do you really want to wash liquid plastic down the drain?

Pastels are soft in colour, texture and use. But they readily crumble in your hands, dust off the paper unless fixed, and can disintegrate in the wrong level of humidity.

Oil is a completely different kettle of fish. It lets you play with it, it has texture, it stays where you put it, it makes lovely colours, it is a pleasure to squeeze on to a palette and mix.

It dries slowly, can be corrected, removed, painted over, scratched into, thinned or thickened, and even be sped up or slowed down in drying by adding mediums.

If you don’t like using turpentine, not even the odorless form, then you can buy water mixable oils, which are very close to the original oil mixable ones.

You can paint oil on any support, from paper, card, board, hardboard, wood, glass, ceramic and canvas. You just need to put a layer of gesso on first and away you go.

You don’t need dozens of brushes, and you don’t need to change your brush every time you change colour. You can wipe the brush mostly clean with a cloth and then pick up your next colour. Just use turps to clean your brush once in a while. You can manage with a couple of brights or flats or filberts and a couple of rounds in different sizes. Plus, oil brushes are much cheaper than watercolour ones.

Here in brief are the steps you need to know for doing an oil painting.

  1. Prepare your support with a coat of gesso if necessary. Shop bought canvases are ready to use.
  2. Sketch your subject on your support using a round brush and weak paint (I always use acrylic very dilute as it dries quickly) OR you can use charcoal but you must dust it off before you start painting.
  3. You work from dark to light, so first block in the main shapes of the painting in dark tones. In a landscape for example, block in the trees, sky, land and any buildings.
  4. Start to refine the painting using your lighter tones.
  5. You can work on your painting for as long as you like, taking weeks over completing it if you use a retardant to slow drying. But even if you don’t use that, you’ll have days to work on it before it starts to dry.
  6. Once finished, let it dry. You can still make changes or additions even when dry.
  7. Finally, spray with light coat of varnish and hang.

Have a go! It’s a very forgiving medium.

Claude Monet, Self Portrait In His Atelier, 1884

Here is a Winsor and Newton starter set and a less expensive Arteza set, both of which would be great for getting into oils.

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Forget-me-nots

Another pretty blue flower which blooms in profusion here all around our house and along the roadsides is the Forget-me-not. Although the flowers are tiny and unassuming, I thought they would make a pretty painting, using watercolour pencils for the flowers, and paint for the leaves. This is the first time I’ve tried a technique quite like this, and I must say it was very relaxing, and I was able to enter into the process with less anxiety than I feel when I do pure watercolour. The pencils are very laid back, undemanding critters and I’m definitely an overnight fan! Here’s the painting. Wouldn’t something like that make a nice little greetings card?

Here is the set of watercolour pencils that I’m using. Our set is about 30 years old, but is still in perfect condition. The case is wonderful and worth investing in. It opens up to display all the colours in order, keeping everything perfectly organised. What a great gift it would make for any artist!

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Shakespeare’s Flowers

“I’ll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack the flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose, nor the azured hare-bell, like thy veins.”
– Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene 2

I decided on a whim today to paint a sprig of bluebells. They must be flowering in England, I thought. One of the things I miss in France is the bluebell woods of England, which contain 50% of the world’s bluebells, unbelievably! We don’t really have them in France!

So I painted this little bluebell painting, complete with a buzzy little bee.

I’ve been looking on Amazon for inexpensive paper to recommend for beginners to use which won’t give disappointing results and have found a few for you to look at.

Good quality paper needn’t cost a fortune, but is essential if you are going to be happy with your results. A cold press cellulose paper from any of these manufacturers should be ideal. If you have any questions about your choice don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below! Happy Hunting!

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Mixing Greens and Painting Leaves

It’s often recommended these days to use Sap Green and Olive Green to paint leaves and trees, which is very different from the way I was taught a hundred years ago. The tradition in watercolour in the second half of the 20th century was to never use green straight from a tube, and my paintings do reflect this principle and always have done.

Yes, there is a place for Sap Green and Olive Green, but not straight from the tube! Applied to paper neat from the tube these colours are uniformly uninteresting and don’t add anything to a real watercolour. Instead, if you must use up that tube of Sap Green, add something to each stroke you use it for. A dab of Quinacridone Gold will work wonders, as will a dash of Indigo or even powerful Pthalo Blue.

Myself if I’m doing a watercolour which includes an area of foliage I pick two blues and two yellows and use them to mix up all my greens.

Here is an example of that technique in action.

I chose Ultramarine Blue, Pthalo Blue (Caribbean Blue) and Quinacridone Gold and Lemon Yellow. That gives me a warm blue (ultra) and a cool blue (pthalo) and a warm yellow (quin gold) and a cool yellow (lemon)

You will always get the purest mixes when you mix warm with warm (reddish tint) or cool with cool (blueish tint) but if you mix across the warmth, cool with warm, you will get a mix with a greyish undertone.

Here are some of the greens I talk about in the video which discusses the issue of mixing blue and yellow!

You can see here what I mixed to try to make a more interesting version of Sap Green.

And here I’m making an approximation to Olive Green which I feel is more vibrant than the tube colour.

So having made some loose mixes on my large butchers tray palette, I am ready to paint some leaves.

Watch the YouTube video to see how to do this. You are best off using a large round brush to create leaves which have a variety of colours and tones in them. I used a size 14 round nylon brush. Of course, sable or a sable mix would be better in some ways as it would hold more paint, but if you are constantly changing the colours in your leaves, as you should be, a good quality nylon one will be more than adequate. Just avoid using too small a brush.

So to paint these leaves you need to make a loose mix of one yellow and one blue, and a touch of one of the other colours in your palette. Use a moderate amount of water – don’t make the paint too wishy washy as it will dry a lot lighter than it appears when wet.

Using a large round pick up a generous amount of the loose mix, and start to paint on your sheet of student’s watercolour paper. For practice, don’t use expensive Arches paper or anything similar, it’s wasteful. Use student quality watercolour, 90lb or heavier, such as this one. Please don’t use cartridge paper or copier paper as the mixes will simply not work and you will become depressed and frustrated!

The way you use your brush is as important as the colour mixing. As you load the brush with paint, shape the business end of the brush by twisting and turning it on the palette to bring the hairs into a pointed shape. Keep a light touch on the brush, hold it well back from the ferrule and spin it between your thumb and forefinger as you paint.

Avoid the currently trendy Chinese or Japanese fist grip where the brush sits in the gap between your thumb and the base of your forefinger. This gives you next to no control of the brush, will probably give you shoulder pain and looks very ugly. While this grip might be a good one for Chinese calligraphy or Japanese ink painting, that is an art to itself and not helpful for our style.

Touch the point of the brush to the paper first, then press down to paint the wider part of the leaf, then lift off with a twist of the wrist or fingers to bring the brush back to a pointed shape.

You can see me doing this on the video on YouTube – in fact in all the videos on my YouTube channel.

Change the angle of the brush to the paper for each individual leaf to give variety to your foliage. Sometimes it should be more upright, sometimes leaning forwards or backwards. Don’t give in to the urge to make meaningless dabs and dots when you are painting leaves, but keep your number of strokes to an absolute minimum. Make every stroke count!

With your loaded brush you can practice many leaf shapes before you need to reload. Your skill with this method will improve with practice and you will develop your own techniques to achieve what you like.

Also practise using the very tip of the big brush to create lines, which will be branches and stems. But at all costs avoid drawing the leaf in outline with your brush and then filling it in. Even if you are painting a wide leaf that you can’t complete in one or two strokes, don’t outline and colour in. Use a couple more strokes adjacent to the first one to achieve the size you want.

Veins can be scratched in using a sharp implement such as a feather quill, the corner of a credit card cut up, a sharp stick or a dip pen. Just scratch lightly into the damp paint to get a dark line which will represent a vein. If you wait a bit longer, the scratch will create a lighter line.

Practice makes perfect! Spend a few hours enjoying making beautiful leaves – spring greens, autumn golds, variegated plant leaves, just play for a while and enjoy. More on this subject coming soon, meanwhile don’t forget the video to accompany this post and also join our Facebook group Learn to Paint Watercolour.

Happy Painting!

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Line and Wash

I often use line in my watercolour paintings, in the form of calligraphic marks towards the end, which I feel help bring the work to life. But recently I’ve rediscovered an interest in the actual process of line and wash, using either pen and ink or watercolour pencil and wash. In the effort to get out of the rut of always doing the same kind of work I’m going to add this to my must do list along with painting watercolour on canvas. And of course, I can always combine the two, as I did in the hare painting I recently did.

Here’s a Dragonfly composition, consisting of a pencil sketch, inked over lightly with a Staedtler waterproof pen and then brought to life with line and wash in waterproof ink by Jax, colour burnt sienna. I used burnt sienna watercolour paint for the spattering. I also did a bit of line emphasis using the Staedtler watercolour pencil.

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Excitement in the Studio!

Yesterday I tried out something completely new and I realised how easy it is to become stuck in a rut when it comes to painting!

I came across by chance on Facebook a group which was set up for people who paint in watercolour on CANVAS!

I was amazed to think that you could do such a thing. Wasn’t a primed canvas a slippery customer, not at all receptive to water and watercolour paint?

YES – of course it is. But if you first treat the canvas with Daniel Smith’s watercolour ground you obtain a surface which is very receptive to watercolour paint – in fact, it is absolutely its best friend!

I tried it out on one of my favourite subjects, the Hare. Here is my very first watercolour on canvas. I highly recommend you give it a go. It’s SUCH fun!

My second work was this Poppy painting. I was pleased with this too – the intensity of the colours is far greater than when you paint on paper, and the paint can be moved around and removed or put back on just like oils.

You can also use watercolour pencils or ink on this surface, which lends it to fantastic mixed media opportunities.

Give it a try! You won’t regret it!

Here’s my video on YouTube showing the full process.

The resources I used for this painting were the following:

1 stretched canvas.

Daniel Smith Watercolour Ground

Flat 3/4 inch brush

Staedtler Aquarelle Pencil

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to see more tutorials and examples of working with watercolours on canvas as I explore this exciting technique further!

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Close up with a Chaffinch

I was working on a YouTube video yesterday when suddenly there was a thud on the French door window next to my desk.

I looked up, and to my dismay and despite the bird cutouts on the window to help prevent this, I realised that a small bird had mistakenly flown into the glass and was lying stunned on the ground.

We picked up the bird and cradled it to keep it warm while it regained consciousness.

After about ten minutes it was able to perch on a finger and start to take interest in its surroundings again.

This was the closest I’ve ever been to a live chaffinch and I couldn’t resist taking a few photos which I will use as reference material for my next chaffinch painting!

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One Swallow doesn’t make a Spring…

But it’s a good start! I thought we spotted one solitary swallow last week, but today there is definitely a newly arrived pair in the barn where they nest every year, above the chickens in their old converted stable. where the farm horses used to live in days gone by.

Imagine how it must feel to those swallows to make that immense journey from North Africa, across the Mediterranean, up through Spain, through the whole of France, to land up here in our barn on the furthest edge of Brittany in the middle of nowhere, and to whizz through the door and say “whew, we made it! – and the barn is still standing!”

Which is more than I can say for many of the barns around here, which are sadly falling apart, neglected more than ever now the Brits are fleeing back across the Channel in the post Brexit rush for safety in the homeland. The average French farmer does not give much thought to the “vieilles pierres” (old stones) that the Brits adore to restore. So rural Brittany crumbles around us, while the village cares more for its football facilities, its village hall and its traffic calming features than for their stony heritage.

However, nature still thrives, and our barn welcomes the swallows back. So today I have painted a quick watercolour of two swallows enjoying the view from the telephone wires outside our house.

This painting is an experiment in working on top of an already completed sky, and I plan to use this technique again when painting birds, as it does give an airy feel to the composition.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial – and for a little more inspiration, here is a little selection of swallow paintings I’ve done over the years. They are all watercolours and the originals have been sold, but prints are available from my shop on this site. Go here to see more of my prints.

Each year the swallows in our barn return to the nest they constructed so carefully many years ago to raise their broods. The nest is built from mud, spit and leaves and twigs, and doubtless lined with scraps of fleece from our sheep and feathers from our chickens which are close by!

They lay eggs not long after arriving back, and soon are busy feeding their babies. In a good year they might raise three broods of chicks, and it is great fun seeing them learn to fly as they wheel around the ‘basse cour’ behind our house.

Painting swallows is a very popular subject, and you can choose to paint them stationary on a telephone wire, or in flight, as you prefer. A composition of several birds wheeling and swooping in the sky is very pleasing, but so is the sight of them perching briefly in family groups on wires to groom and preen themselves in their characteristic way.

You won’t need many colours for your swallow painting, unless you choose to do an abstract painting with imagination running riot. Basicallly a very dark blue or even black is your main colour. I usually use either Paynes Grey or Indigo, with touches of Pthalo Blue or Winsor Blue. For the warm rosy colour under the chin I would use from preference Potter’s Pink, but if you don’t have that colour you can use dilute Indian Red, English Red or mix a touch of Ultramarine with Permanent Rose or Opera Pink to get that pinkish colour.

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Who’s a Cockney Sparrow then?

Sparrows are an underrated bird! Cheeky, brave, vocal and everywhere, they deserve to be painted more often! We must have a hundred visiting our bird table each day and they nest in the holly and the ivy all around our place.

If you want to have a go at painting these cute birds, here’s the video of the tutorial:

I used a very limited palette for this painting, and you will probably have the colours I used – Black or Paynes Grey, Burnt Sienna, Sap Green, Lemon Yellow are all in most paint boxes. However, you may not have two of my favourites – Potters Pink and Quinacridone Gold – click on the links to go to Amazon to purchase.

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Monet Inspired Poppy Field Watercolour with Spatter!

Some days you just don’t know what to paint! Here’s a tip – think of your favourite artist and use one of their paintings as inspiration!

Monet’s poppy fields are a constant source of delight!


The other day I did a couple of practice skies before recording a video on painting skies You can see that video here.

One of them reminded me of this Monet painting, so I decided to use it for the background to a Poppy Painting.

Here is the video which is on YouTube showing the process of copying this painting by Monet, which is an oil, in watercolor.

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The brusho brigade

The line between fine art and craft has long been a fuzzy one which continues to be blurred. The addition of salt and granulating mediums to watercolour paintings has been a borderline tactic which personally I mostly resist, preferring to get my effects through more traditional methods. The same can be said in my view for the use of Brusho, although I haven’t tried it myself. But a technique that I enjoy using is the watercolour pencil, black, powerful and linear, it can lift a painting out of the doldrums.

Here’s a tutorial for a beautiful dragonfly, made dramatic by touches of Staedtler Karat Aquarell black watercolour pencil

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Wet in Wet Advent Candle

This is a quick true wet-in-wet painting of a candle.

What is Wet-in-Wet painting? When I studied anthroposophical (Waldorf) art when I was training to become a Waldorf School (Steiner School) teacher, we spent a lot of time painting wet in wet. It is the first painting method that is taught to children when they begin to learn to paint in a traditional Waldorf School in Germany, where the educational method of Rudolf Steiner originated and is still very influential.

This method of painting involves soaking the whole piece of paper with water first. Then, the painting is done directly on to wet paper using a limited palette of six colours – a cool blue, yellow and red, and a warm blue, yellow and red. There is no touching up with a second layer when the paint is dry, and no rewetting.

I have adapted this method of painting to use it in parts of many of my larger works, and it’s an essential part of many of my bird paintings, especially in the backgrounds.

This little painting is a demonstration of use of wet in wet principles, first on the top part of the candle, with the flame and sky, and then for the leaves in the little garland below the candle.

You might find it useful to incorporate this technique into your own larger paintings.

Materials:

  • I used a piece of 8 x 10 inches rough watercolour paper, 140lb. Any brand would do, and it could be just cold pressed if you don’t have any rough. You might need to experiment until you find the paper you like to use for this technique, as watercolour papers vary in their absorbency.
  • The colours I used were Indigo, Winsor Violet, Ultramarine Blue, Transparent Yellow, Quinacridone Gold, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Olive Green and Sap Green, all by Winsor and Newton. This is the same as the limited palette mentioned above, with the addition of a cool green and a warm green to make the painting easier to do quickly. They aren’t essential though. I also used a little bit of white Winsor and Newton Designer’s Gouache (opaque white watercolour paint).
  • I used a large round synthetic brush size 14 and a smaller one size 8, but the exact sizes aren’t important.
  • I used a long haired brush (a rigger) to flick the white paint.

Method:

  • You can download the sketch for free or else draw your preliminary sketch freehand using a light pencil and only indicating the main outlines.
  • With clean water, wet the top part of the painting around the candle, leaving a large halo around where the flame will be.
  • Roughly introduce the Indigo, Violet and Ultramarine (or your choice of background colours) and allow them to bleed into the water-laden paper. Avoid the candle halo area. Don’t overwork the strokes. Keep one side darker than the other.
  • Paint the candle flame and tease the watery background into the flame area and just let it mingle. Then following the video lift out the excess colour to shape the flame.
  • Wet the candle and then paint with a wash of Alizarin Crimson.
  • Wet the lower part of the painting, and start to indicate the pine needles and the holly leaves. Use a variety of shades of green, always mixed from your limited palette listed above. Add the berries using Cadmium Red or similar.
  • Lift out any excess colour again in the flame area and touch up as necessary.
  • Allow to dry.

Enjoy your painting!

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Painting a Crow

This is a realistic painting of a handsome black Crow.

How do we paint the colour black?

I remember reading somewhere many years ago that there was no such thing as the colour black, just the absence of colour where all light had been absorbed. For that reason, black would “contain” all colours, and modern painters were warned not to use Lamp Black or Ivory Black in their paintings as they were dull and lifeless tube colours. Paynes Grey became more acceptable, as it is a blend of Black and Indigo Blue.

Although this Crow appears to be black, he is better portrayed if other colours are included in his plumage. So, my Crow was painted with four colours, namely Paynes Grey, Indigo Blue, Winsor Violet and Olive Green. By mixing those together you can achieve a richer black than you get if you just use black from a tube.

I painted the bird in many layers, starting by wetting the paper with a thin layer of water and gradually building up wet in wet. Then, after allowing the painting to dry, I worked on more glazes of colour until the desired intensity of blackness was reached.

The painting is finished off by lifting out some light areas in the tail, the beak and the eye.

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Materials

Paper

Most of my work is done on 140lb watercolour paper, of various brands such as Hahnemuhle, Fabriano, Arches, Saunders, Canson, Bockingford… you can see I am international in my paper choices! It will therefore vary in texture and colour slightly, but never in quality as I only use the best. I was lucky enough to inherit recently a large quantity of quality paper from an artist friend who died, and this is one of the things that has focused me into developing my shop.

Paints

As far as paint itself goes, I have a basic Winsor and Newton palette, containing all the standard colours, and for many years I painted with the traditional English limited palette: Ultramarine Blue, Winsor Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose, Naples Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber and Paynes Grey. With these colours you can mix practically every colour you will ever need, but about 20 years ago I met an Australian artist, Hugh Brading, who introduced me to synthetic transparent colours, which transformed my art. I began using Quinacridone Gold, Aussie Green Gold, Dioxazine Purple, Transparent Yellow … and I am constantly looking out now for new pigments to enhance what I do. But I still rely on the old traditional palette as the backbone of my work.