stories and illustration

Picture for a Story: The Midnight Hare



This is a watercolour painting of the Midnight Hare and a boy flying over the Borderlands.  It is an illustration for a text I have written about a brown hare, a boy, and the Midnight Hare. The Midnight Hare is a psychopomp, a charismatic intermediary between two worlds.  In the painting I am trying out a new technique which does not involve much use of pen and ink, because the sepia pens I have been using for a long time are no longer available; and besides, I feel like experimenting, since I have no deadline, unless I set one for myself.

In illustration many different media can obviously be used in the same painting, but I want to get an overall technique that uses line without the usual pen outline  In this painting I have got nearer the feeling of which I want than in any of the previous work I have done for this story.  I think I need to plan out paintings more carefully; then paradoxically, it will be easier to be spontaneous. I want to keep the colour clear and unmuddied by overwork, and have a good structure, even in the softened elements of the landscape.

For the background I will use the Borders landscape, including pictures taken from the air. The Hare flies with the boy to a place very like, but not exactly similar to, the Alnwick Garden, which is not far away from here.  It is not going to be a book set completely in the night, there will be daylight and fields in it as well, which of course will be taken from the landscape around me. I have photographs taken on my walks this year, and they will give me details to work from, so there will be poppies, and wheat, and the river, as well as the boy, the brown hare, and the Midnight Hare.

July 17, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Hares and Fields 1

The hares and the wheatfields haunt me from the summer.  The hares up on the edge of the wheatfields disppeared soon as I glimpsed them, unless I was far off looking through the field glasses.  They are large, lanky, and have dark backs which I haven’t painted in on the boxing hares.  These paintings are tiny. Perhaps it is because I have become so used to working on the small rectangle of the picture books. The flute-player is the little spirit who disappeared from a larger painting, which still has two hares in it but didn’t want any people. I like living creatures in a painting but it needn’t be a person. Today I took some old paintings into Kelso to be framed for exhibition, they were from the Twenty-Six Rabbits books that Orchard Books published some years ago, and the details in those  old illustrations is surprising.  They used to take me three weeks to complete each double page spread.  We only had one table at the time, and I was always trying to avoid getting remnants of spagehetti sauce on the pictures, or stopping the cat walking over the top of them with small muddy paws.  The composition is of the Twenty Six Rabbits books is basically pattern, with action and character. I had a picture of the boy who loved a hare looking at the hare fleeing, and I was going to take it to be framed, but for some reason I wasn’t ready to show it; partly because the treatment is very loose, and there are elements to the figure that I did not feel happy about – but I also had a protective feeling towards the drawing, I want to hang on to it for the moment.  Maybe because it is for an as yet unpublished book, or is a very personal painting at the moment.  I am getting framed instead a smaller drawing, of the boy running after the hare, about which I had less of a personal feeling, but I like the energy.

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment


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