stories and illustration

January by the Tweed

Winter Tree

Winter Tree and Flying Ducks

Ignoring bruised ribs from a fall on the pavement, last week I walked out into the frosty countryside, down by the Tweed, up the lane and along back through the small wood.  All kinds of birds about, fieldfares making their curious chirring clatter of a noise in the beech wood, I think an alarm call.  Walking by the river I came up quiet close to these two swans, who were much engaged in feeding. (Yesterday I saw a black swan, flying along the river, something I haven’t seen for years).

Swans on the Tweed

Swans on the Tweed

 Swans on the Tweed ii

Swans on the Tweed ii

The light on this frosty day was delicate, and the snow seemed to mitigate the glare/darkness  that the camera produces in winter when it is pointed towards the sun.

Winter Cloud

Winter Cloud



Plants in Winter

Plants in Winter

Shades of Violet

Shades of  Blue-Violet

Snowfall the last few days, grey light. Need to get back to the studio, back to birds feeding outside the window, music, new ideas, work.

January 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

Winter Sky

6 sunset vi

After packing off paintings for an exhibition, I put on my boots and went out  into air becoming more wintery each day. Walked out alongside the Hirsel course, where the small path will become impassable in a few years because of the new holly trees planted there, which might scratch out the eyes, like a bad spirit from a folk tale. Never met a soul walking up there. Just before reaching the communications mast on the edge of the woods, I looked out over the fields towards the hills and the sunset, and took these photographs, before walking back on the actual golf course.  Among the leaves were many forsaken golf balls.  Is there some mystique about this? Anyway, I collected a dozen or so and put them in a little pile, then set off back home.

January 19, 2013 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

Exhibition: Different Hares, Different Horses

Snow at last in Coldstream, as has been forecast for days. Feeling happy that the paintings have been put up in the Gallery (all of them, and apparently they look OK); now feeling peaceful. I will be ready for new work, after asperging the studio (which needs it).

For the pictures, I changed these hares against a dark red background:

two hares

by scumbling the background with gold, and working somewhat on the bodies of the hare.  Maybe the dark red was more striking but there was so much red in my pictures I wanted something softer, The pictures all look much darker, as they have been photographed on a pre-snow day, but this one is anyway cooler in tone. I could always put back a bit of the red, as acrylics are so forgiving.  I was putting mirror plates on one of the pictures, and could see a dove from an earlier picture showing through quite clearly outlined, from a painting I had painted over. It is not so much that I am short of canvases, as that there are certain pictures I don’t want to live with any more.  Anyway,this is the softer picture of hares boxing:

e hares boxing

This next hare changed quite a bit:hare, red sun,gold field

I used acrylic craft paint for the moon, pearl with pearlising medium, and like the effect. The original image looked a bit rough, so I worked, again, on the body of the hare. This, I feel, has more life in it,and the pink is richer:

e hare III

This hare:running hare

was just tightened up a tad, and I changed the colour of the grasses breaking up its body.  I think there could have been more grasses silhouetted against the body, it would have made a more unusual image but maybe that will be a different picture.  All these hare paintings are tiny, I have always had a taste for the miniature, although with a long landscape format I feel easy working on a larger scale:e hare II

This hare stayed more or less the same.

As did these two small musicians and the hare in the foreground.  The hare is in marshy land, it must have strayed from its natural habitat (playing musical hares?):exhibition flute-player and fiddler

The little rider was changed by adding details. If he had been larger I could have done more with the face. Maybe, also, the horse would look good with embroidered reins. I don’t know why he is Spanish.  I was going to paint windmills in the background, but thought in such a small, and essentially decorative,  picture it could easily get too complex; and besides I like the outline of the horse against the red:little rider and catThis next rider changed considerably, the original sky became very pink, and I have temporarily taken against red suns, so all hale the pearlised medium.rider on the common

exhibition travelling home

There is still something I like in the looser early stages of a painting, especially when they are reproduced (even)smaller, as in this blog. But I am so used to a high finish of detail in illustrations, I find it difficult to leave well along.  Also, there is something attractive in a surface when it has been more worked on. Maybe it makes me feel safer, I don’t know. When I embark on a series of drawings, then perhaps a looser surface will appear. I think what does look good in reproductions is patches of the background showing through, which disappears when the work is more finished. During the process of painting, the sky in the original painting became more and more pinkly garish, and I much prefer it toned down as it is. But I still haven’t a clue about painting skies, even though I have been fascinated by them (which is really a changing “it”) over these last few months.

Also, I need to study the structure of animals and people, the bones, the muscles, the gestures.

Whilst painting,  I found myself thinking of the common at Chailey, where I used to walk with my grandfather when very young. These almost abstract paintings, as well as the horse above, are about that place. The first is called Common Ground: Small Water:commonground small water

And this is Common Ground: The Burnings:

common ground, the burnings2

That’s all for today. Off through the light snow,  ostensibly to clean the studio, but probably to watch through the small window the birds coming for the seed I have put out. Good to be living in the Scottish Borders, even if we do get snowed in once more (though I don’t think so, this year). Saw daffodils spikes and snowdrops and leaves on the trees showing, hope that there is no hard frost to damage these early shoots.

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pictures for an Exhibition

Last night I packed up some paintings for exhibition at The Berwick Watchtower, and today they were delivered to the Gallery. Earlier on in 2012 I took some pictures of earlier stages of these paintings, as I thought it would interest me to compare them.

High Bank August was a painting based just that, a bank along the Lees that was full of flowers. The preliminary painting was thus:


I don’t think it was ever this bright, it was just photographed on a sunny day which bleached it out.  The base was very dark, which was distressed with an overcolour, then  some rough grasses were painted on top.  I wanted to stencil grasses, but this was hopeless as an idea. I also wanted to stencil the lettering, but this also was hopeless (both trials just produced blodges). The finished picture was like this:


I didn’t want to paint flowers at all, but I wanted this feeling of a bank of plants and flowers intertwined, so I painted the names of the actual flowers that were growing on the bank, and their latin names, which I put in for two reasons.  One is, I think they are beautiful; and also I wanted to vary the lettering to make it more dense. I painted some butterflies.  I started off with more brilliant butterflies but they looked wrong, so there are these delicate brown butterflies, which were more or less the only butterflies I saw last year,which was almost denuded of them until very late in the summer. I remember buddleias covered with butterflies, alas not last year. I wanted High Bank August to have that layered feeling that a bank has, one layer over another.  The butterflies were the top layer.


This was a painting that was an evocation of the wheatfields above Lennel village where I liked to walk in the summer.


This painting is called Hare Country. Again this looks darker, but it was photographed on a very dull day (I photograph my paintings outside, with the paintings lying on the ground and me standing over them, trying to avoid to much distortion – I haven’t a clue really, it is all trial and error). If I was designing this picture again I would break up the curves more; however, this year I will have the time to study composition. One gets used to the shape of a page for illustration, plus text, in which the decorative element is important.  The  physical shape of the book itself provides a kind of structure. Studying composition should be beneficial, even if what is learned is then put into the background. Painting by formula can be dull.  Also I have a problem with the tedium of horizon lines, and perspective. I tried to paint a decent sky in this picture but it immediately upset the balance, so I just left it the usual blue.


This painting had at the outset two hares, one in the foreground, and one running (just visible in pencil).  The hares totally disappeared, and a strange person with a dog got inserted instead:


I was really unsure about this painting, and was in a bit of a strop about it (the washing-up suffered), but then my husband caught sight of it in the studio (when I wasn’t there) and immediately guessed that it was the painting that I was in a strop about, and said he found the imagery intriguing, so I did some more work on it and put it in the 38 paintings and illustrations that I delivered to the Gallery.  Probably not all the paintings I have done will be exhibited, so I wonder whether this one will make it on to the walls. It is called “The Fool in the Field”.


The boy is one of the lads who had horses on the common land in Sunderland, and rode them bareback. Most of the horses were piebald, so  changed the horse:


I worked on the horse after I had had it up on the wall, as I thought the black and white was very flat. I cut a sketchy painting by Munnings out of the paper, as I liked the way he had painted the horses, and I did use this a tad to make the horse have more substance.


This girl with a bird is the least worked on painting I submitted. At the end I just painted in the goldfinch and left it.  At the beginning she was holding some kind of broken string, but this has almost disappeared in the final painting (some of it dissolved when I put varnish on, but that suited me – I had experimented with putting it in with neocolour, which I knew wouldn’t take varnish – it kind of melts, which effect I didn’t mind as it gave a small pool of blue against the distressed blue of the background:


The darkness of tone is mainly to do with the photography. However I noticed that all my pictures have a fairly sombre tone, even if they are quite richly coloured. I am gong to experiment with painting against a lighter background. Also I am going to tackle painting skies, using glazing medium, which obviously work better when there is light underneath from the white of the canvas.  It is surprising that, even when the background colour seems to be completely covered over, a dark base does deepen everything.

I used satin varnish for most of the paintings, although I used glossed for some, and left one or two unvarnished.  I was really pleased to getto get hold of the satin varnish in Details in Newcastle, but in the event I quite like the gloss, as against the darkness it makes the painted surface look kind of precious.

However, I have always liked working against a dark background. There used to be some Fabriano Ingres paper that came in books, it had wonderful colours, and I would use gouache with this. I did several covers for books using this method. However, the covers were never really true to the originals as the base colour changed the overlaid colours too much, so a purple or a red would dominate. Sage green was better.

Of course with computers an overlay is more satisfactory in the sense of the background colour not bleeding through.  I was given a graphics tablet for Christmas, which I should have fun working on – a whole new world. My illustrations will never be basically computer generated, as I just don’t think this would suit my style at all.  But every new medium throws up possibilities, as I am sure this will do – and I should have fun in the meantime.

January 13, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year’s Day

Paid no attention to New Year as an event, heard a few fireworks in the distance at midnight, but for me Christmas is the celebration; though on the razz in Edinburgh at Hogmanay must be an experience.  However, New Year is a good time to make some vague decisions, and mine this year is to make a point of going out and drawing from life, alternating this with the camera, which I have grown fond of, as it makes me look at things, rather than walking in a dworm. I never really looked at the skies until I went out with a camera. How strange. And I never used a camera except to take details of scenes for illustration. So painting, and having a digital camera, are new delights.

The pictures for exhibition are nearly ready, but on New Year’s Day and on January 2nd I went out in the afternoon, away from The Tardis, to walk by the Tweed. I have tried to take pictures of somthing other than trees silhouetted against the sun.  The camera does very much change things when one points it at the sun, this dramatic darkness set off by the flaring light is alluring and dramatic, but it is not the true light of January afternoon. The  trees and foliage looked foxy red in the light of the declining sun, against the blue of the sky.


Why I am attracted to shadows, reflections, shifting light, translucence, mirrors.

Spent the day today fastening mirror plates to pictures, that aren’t quite finished, and will need to be varnished later in the week, except those that have a a top scribble of oil pastel. My work is narrative, still full of musicians and children, but over the past year, which is the first time I have had time and space and sponduliks sufficient to just work away on doing paintings, new ideas and new methods are creeping in, and I look forward to exploring them this year.  But I think I have forgotten how to draw, if I ever knew how, so that is the project for the future. I will encourage myself by trying to put a couple of drawings a month on the website. Things are changing in the work, but this has to just happen while in the process, there is no point in having an idea of one’s own importance and trying to live up to this.

January 5, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 6 Comments


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