Wednesday 31 December 2014

'Knitting Circle' WIP

What better way is there to see in the New Year than chatting with friends over a nice cup of tea and some knitting needles?
The first day of painting.

Friday 12 December 2014

'Air Mail'

Still catching up with my art back log. Here's another painting for you:
Air Mail
Watercolour / Gouache
24 x 31cm
Again these two characters feature in 'A Quarter Past One On Platform Ten' in the top left swooping under the arched station roof. I'd like to think there are different birds used to deliver post depending on the destination, maybe seagulls for the coast, an albatross for long over sea journeys (especially in the North) and an owl for night dispatch. Ravens and crows are without doubt the early morning delivery fleet.

Monday 8 December 2014

'Catching Butterflies'

I now realise I have a back log of artwork to post! Firstly I had better tie up the lose end from my previous WIP post. Here is the, now complete, painting called 'Catching Butterflies'

Catching Butterflies
Watercolour & Gouache
24 x 31cm
I used three distinct techniques to paint this whimsical image of a stoat chasing butterflies. The first was to work wet in wet to build up the soft trees in the background, I had to be very careful not to encroach on the hat and net. The second technique was to use masking fluid with a toothbrush to speckle the field with lots of wild flowers and seeds, that way I could easily work up the greens without worrying about losing the bright flowers. The third technique was glaze very thin applications of paint over the shadows on the stoat so even in darker areas there would still be a nice interplay of cold blues and warm greens.

Friday 21 November 2014

Cheese Delivery

Cheese Delivery
Watercolour / Gouache
24 x 31cm

My latest painting, 'Cheese Delivery,' was challenge to paint because I decided to use a very restricted range of colours or, as James Gurney would say, a narrow colour gamut. My influence behind colour mixing was 'Saying Grace' by Norman Rockwell. I leant heavily on yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber and sepia throughout the whole process and only went to ultramarine, prussian blue and cadmium reds halfway through and even then they were always mixed with a brown.

Hopefully the whimsical story of the smelly cheese being delivered by an otter, with a peg on his nose, has come across in the finished painting. Nevertheless I had a lot of fun painting the crazed mice, especially the two young mice raiding the new cheese delivery.

By the way, Stenson (shop name) and Hartley (delivery van) are two surnames that feature in my family.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

My Art Turned Into Cross Stitch

Paine Free Crafts are converting a selection of my artwork in cross stitch charts and kits! The first image, 'Autumn Scribe' is up for sale. Click here to visit
Those owls are being stitched up good and proper!

Monday 10 November 2014

Massive Fantastic Interview

I have recently given a 10 question interview, courtesy of Eric Millen, for his superb blog 'Massive Fantastic. You can read it here.

Make sure to have a browse through the archives, there is an especially good interview with James Gurney where Mr Gurney turns the tables on Eric and asks about the fate of his old brushes, Eric had previously traded new brushes for James' used ones!

Tuesday 7 October 2014

'Catching Butterflies' Work In Progress

A shot of what is on my drawing at the moment.
He's going to need a bigger net

Tuesday 30 September 2014

A Quarter Past One On Platform Ten Pt .3

For the first part of this post click here, and for the second part click here.

Finally I was up and running with my brushes (not literally, although I do have wheels on my studio chair so the option is there if needed).
Under-paintings and then some.
As is my wont, I began with an under-painting. However, just to be difficult, I began with payne's grey for the station and engine and then moved onto sepia for the characters. This was to re-enforce the difference between the cool station colours and the warmly coloured characters.

After that initial stage, it was a case of blocking in colours to work out the types of clothing. Every now and then I had to grab new reference (thank goodness for Downton Abbey screenshots) but mostly I had a reasonably clear idea of costumes beforehand.
A series of WIP shots taken over a period of 10 days
You'll notice in the 'works in progress' photos I tended to concentrate on the foreground characters more than the background. Traditional thinking would be to do this the opposite way, but I found it easier to focus on the main elements first before I lost enthusiasm with the painting and ended up slacking on my quality control. There's nothing worse than a fantastic scene with a poorly painted character sticking out like a sore thumb. Also there were so many elements that really I'm not sure it mattered where I began so long as I eventually finished it.

Speaking of which here is the final painting.
A Quarter Past One On Platform Ten
Watercolour & Gouache
50 x 92
3 weeks work in total and my biggest watercolour painting of this series so far.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

A Quarter Past One On Platform Ten Pt .2

For the first part of this post click here.

After working out a basic, almost abstract, composition for the passengers and laying that on top of the station rough, it was time to work on each character individually. I had the intention of re-using characters from previous paintings and also introducing some that would then feature in their own personal painting. However I had no definite ideas so as usual I just started to draw in the hope something satisfactory would appear.
The full pencil rough
I'd better make clear that in order to produce the final pencil rough I printed out the initial rough at a larger size and then transferred that image onto a fresh piece of cartridge. I knew it would be a lot of work but you can't create a large painting like this on dodgy foundations (that's a favourite saying in my house).

Once I had the characters fleshed out I then put the image into Photoshop and had a play with the tonal values.
Photoshopped (is that a word?) tonal study
With the tonal study I tried to expand the tonal range on the characters and reduce the levels on the train in the hope the characters would be brought forward. This was all well and good until I realised I needed to darken the background roof to accentuate the light train in front. So now my tonal order was (front to back) dark/light medium/medium. I wasn't too confident in making the difference between all three of these tones clear in the final painting but decided (as you will see) to use a blurring effect on the roof to make sure it receded and a light glaze of white gouache on the train to bring the characters forward.
Tonal Study Detail: The badger, signing an autograph, happens to be the famous opera singer Madame Albani from a previous painting. In the background you can see an otter soldier holding his child - a reference to William Powell Frith.
Who knew the fox was a black market salesman. You might recognise the hedgehog too.
I sent this rough to my client, Olivier Souille, and he asked me to revise the bottom left section (see below)
Detail of the section in need of revision.
Olivier thought it looked clunky (my word, not his) and I agreed with his observation. I think I was so desperate to add the barrel, box, bench etc that I lost interest with the characters and how they interacted with whole image.

Before I heard from Olivier I had already sized up and transferred to rough onto stretched watercolour paper so I had to rework the area on a piece of tracing paper until I was happy and only then could it be added to the final pencil drawing.
Final Pencil Detail On Watercolour Paper: You can see I removed the bench and station paraphernalia and added more porter mice, a stoat and two young foxes. (Sorry about the poor picture quality, from here on the rest of the shots were taken with a camera phone )
The final pencil drawing ready to be painted

Detail: That little chap is awestruck.

Monday 1 September 2014

A Quarter Past One On Platform Ten Pt .1

The past two weeks I have been working on the centrepiece to an upcoming exhibition of mine. In fact I'm still working on the painting, however I'm now sufficiently far enough into the painting process to show you how I arrived at the initial idea for 'A Quarter Past One On Platform Ten'.

First off - I knew I wanted to do a BIG painting but what should be the subject? It had to contain lots of characters (some which I've taken from previous paintings) and it must have depth both in terms of physical space and of narrative. My aim with the BIG painting was to develop the world in which my characters inhabited and also to spawn knew ideas for forthcoming paintings.

Gradually the idea to tackle a railway station scene, with lots of action on the platform and a great big steam engine in the background, came to me. A major influence on my choice was 'The Railway Station' by William Powell Frith which featured on the front cover of a British History book I had seen at school (I think). Frith's characters are lined up as if waiting for a school assembly photograph to be taken and the steam engine is in the far distance so when I started to thumbnail ideas I deliberately started with the engine first to bring it forward and then introduce random sqiuggles for characters afterwards in the hope the train and it's travellers would have equal importance.
Somewhere in these childlike scrawls is a reasoned composition waiting to be realised
You can see I circled the thumbnail I thought was balancing characters vs steam engine best. Some of the failed attempts either cut the steam engine in half or took over most of the scene leaving very little space for a platform that was to be teeming with life.
First rough (take two)
Because I knew the perspective of the roof and train was going to be very challenging I decided to create a rough which left the platform empty. This enabled me to erase mistakes easily without removing a meticulously drawn fox paw (insert your own obscure animal anatomy here). It also made sure the train's perspective lines joined up correctly when the characters appeared in the foreground blocking parts of the engine behind. The image above is the second attempt at the rough drawing, the first version was too side on and lacked any depth.

You might recognise the station as St Pancras in London. I visited a friend in the big smoke as part of my 'reference gathering trip'. I've got some good shots of old pubs too, ahem. I also visited Didcot Railway Centre which was a gold mine of not just trains but old luggage, station furniture, signs and trolleys.
I don't know how Bugs Bunny appeared in this sketch (far right - don't judge me).

Once I was happy with the train and station, the roof had to be re-drawn more times than I would like to admit, I then pulled out some tracing paper, laid it on top of the rough and started to develop some characters.

This post is long enough already so I'll go through some important characters in my next post and for now I will leave you with the image of the animals on tracing paper and the station brought together (like ebony and ivory) in Photoshop.
Together in perfect harmony.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

'Good Evening M'lady'

Good Evening M'lady
Watercolour / Gouache
24 x 31cm

I had lots of fun bringing my rag and bone badger and lamplighter weasel characters together for this painting. There is no doubt that I have benefited re-using two characters in a new painting, the turn around was slightly quicker than normal because most of the colour decisions had already been made in previous paintings and the overall atmosphere is lifted straight from 'Rag & Bone'. You could say half of the image had already been painted before I even picked up my brushes.

I wonder if the lamplighter managed to catch the eye of the flower seller in the end?

Monday 7 July 2014

'Lounging About' Work In Progress

A good day's painting, the under-painting done and basic blocking in well under way.
Dappled light is always a challenge

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Good Evening M'lady WIP

I'm currently working on this painting called 'Good Evening M'lady'. A couple of likely lads trying their best to catch the flower seller's eye.
Is she stifling a smile?
You may recognise the weasel from this and the badger from 'Rag And Bone' below:
He could do with a bath.
I down tools tomorrow because I'm shooting to London to get some much needed reference photos and to meet up with an old friend who really needs to update his twitter.

Wednesday 25 June 2014


Watercolour / Gouache
24 x 31cm
I can honestly say this is the first time I've painted a badger singing at the opera. No matter how serious I make her expression I still can't help but laugh at her absurd appearance (don't tell her I said that).

In terms of technique I did the usual sepia under-painting then masked everything except the backdrop using tape and cellophane in order to pull out some big brushes and work wet in wet with blues, violets and blacks. (See previous post).

After the damage was done I removed the cellophane and got to work laying in the colours on everything that was left blank, being careful to suggest a warm up-light and blue in the shadows. When I had taken the watercolour as dark as it would go, white and yellow ochre gouache came into play on the extreme highlights (metal specular highlights, skirt, claws, fur etc.) and then gently glazed around the footlights to suggest mist creeping across the stage.

Monday 23 June 2014

'A Maths Lesson'

I've recently finished two paintings, the first being 'A Maths Lesson'.
A Maths Lesson
Watercolour / Gouache
24 x 31cm 
This particular scene was requested by Olivier, my fantastic client at Galerie Daniel Maghen. Mostly I conjure up the scenes and stories I want to depict in paint but every now and then Olivier has a great suggestion which I can then develop.

Initially I began with the teacher at the front of the class and all the pupils paying attention without any funny business going on. However as I progressed with my rough sketch I suddenly found that the young mole was passing a love note to the bunny next to him. Once those two characters had been fully realised another bunny decided to make himself known by appearing on the edge of the painting in order to observe the progress of the love note. Has the note been passed on from bunny to bunny via the little mole or is that a look of jealousy the male bunny is shooting at the mole? You decide.

Incidentally I have since been informed that this class must be in detention. Apparently school finishes at 3.00pm these days. I remember the good old days of being stuck inside until 3.30 before even thinking of finishing for the day.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Valkyrie WIP

As promised, here is another work in progress but, hang on, it's a different painting.
It's been a long time since I've used inks
Working up the badger valkyrie
I had fun with the background working wet-in-wet with watercolour and a black acrylic ink. You might be able to see I masked the badger with cellophane and magic tape so the strong cobalt blue would not contaminate the main character. I'm attempting some dramatic lighting on this painting and hoping to add shimmering stars and a smoke machine. There's still a long way to go and as they say - 'it's not over until the fat badger sings'.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

'A Maths Lesson' Progress

Here's a back dated progress shot of 'A Maths Lesson'. I'm putting the finishing touches to it this morning.
More WIPs to follow!

Monday 16 June 2014

Paintings In The Pipeline

A Maths Lesson
Good Evening M'Lady
Lounging About
Two of them are up and running. Stay tuned...

Monday 9 June 2014

Momo & The Totobrats

The front cover
Momo & The Totobrats written by Wendy Hesketh and illustrated by me is now available to purchase through amazon. This is the first children's book I have illustrated and therefore it's been a steep learning curve.

Momo (the main character) is a very spoiled little boy who is given everything he wants by his doting parents and grandmother, but they forget to teach him any manners. Momo pushes people around, jumps in front of queues and snatches other people's things. He has no friends. When he meets the Totobrats, he learns a lot about himself.

This book is good for teaching young children manners. It is especially useful for teaching children who have special educational needs, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Parents of all children, but especially those with ADHD, will also find it useful as a way to discuss and encourage positive behaviours.
Some of the interior pages
The style of artwork is very different to the paintings I have been posting more recently here on the blog and that is because I worked on Momo & The Totobrats two years ago. Way before I had a firm hold on my style of artwork and what I was going to do with it. I'm glad I decided to pursue a traditional watercolour wash with coloured pencil technique for the book's 28 illustrations otherwise I might still be working on the book now!

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Hot Off The Press...

A proof of my first (to be) published children's book is here!
It's called Momo & The Totobrats, written by the wonderful Wendy Hesketh and illustrated by yours truly.


Tuesday 27 May 2014

Feast - Finished Watercolour Painting!

'Feast' was a BIG job. Some of you may already have seen the previously posted progress shots but I thought for this post I would collate everything so you can see the whole development from pencil to finished artwork.

First off I produced this detailed sketch which I extrapolated from a series of thumbnails. I'd like to show the thumbnails too but I have a habit of using them for scrap and they tend to disappear in the recycling bin well before I remember I'll possibly need them again. The sketch below is the largest drawing I have produced for the series so far and believe me, it had to be. There was a lot of erasing, re-positioning and general jiggery-pokery involved before I had a composition I liked. I always find a table-based scene particularly hard because, well, there's a table in it! They get in the way of the action, are often much wider than you think and not very exciting to draw. To counteract these issues I raised the eye-level to suggest the viewer is stood behind the mouse and hare looking down on the raucous feast (Rockwell never struggled).
A lot of the characters are taken from my previous paintings and some of them like the hares and squirrel are bound to make there own solo debut in future paintings. Also note the three distinctive social cliques formed by the guests - top left - the greedy bunch, top right - the liquid diners, and bottom - the polite company.

After the sketch was completed and approved by my wonderful client, Olivier, I moved into Photoshop to produce a small tonal study. I knew in advance how the scene should work, dark background, light middle ground and a slightly silhouetted foreground badger, but I thought it prudent to develop the study considering the amount of time I would spend painting especially if I were to make mistakes and find myself re-working the final image.
Tonal study completed and on to stretched watercolour paper. I traced down an enlarged print out and got to work on a light sepia under-painting (predictable I know). Then added local colours and started to build up and refine from there until I finally added gouache on the whiskers and highlights.
I deliberately chose a scene that contained objects and characters I had painted before so, armed with reference, I could confidently render every aspect. The next large painting might be more challenging but as this was my first I played it safe. Oh and I've always wished to depict a feast after reading so many wonderful foody descriptions in the Redwall books by Brian Jacques.
Watercolour & Gouache
50 x 40cm 

Tuesday 20 May 2014

'Feast' Work In Progress

Here are a couple of shots taken on my phone as I'm working on my latest painting.

I'm now slowly making my way anti clockwise around the painting by concentrating on each character in turn. Once I've done the badger then I will take a look at the table and then the background. After that it's a case of pushing the values.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

The Scribe

Some of you may already have spotted this painting on my drawing board in a previous post. This was a very simple painting to create because I have already done something very similar for my wife, a painting called 'Autumn Scribe'. The real difference in this is the backdrop which is lifted straight from Lacock Abbey cloisters (home of the Harry Potter films and others).

The Scribe
Watercolour / Gouache
24 x 31cm 

Above is a detail of the window (I know it's most of the painting) just before I started to really pile on the pale yellow gouache. I was going after sunlight illuminating the dust in the old archive and I really think it worked.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Cloth Road Arts Week 2014 3-11 May

If you happen to be in the area please come and say hello during the Cloth Road Arts Week. My studio will be open from 11am - 6pm every day except Tuesday 6th. You will find originals, prints and things I forgot I had until now.

Monday 28 April 2014

What's On My Drawing Board?


One finished painting and another well on it's way to completion. Don't worry the painting on the right is protected by cellophane.

If cloth road visitors to my studio next week ask me nicely I might allow them a sneaky peak at the finished artwork.

Thursday 17 April 2014


Watercolour / Gouache
24 x 31cm
Another painting I finished recently for your viewing pleasure (hopefully).

Thursday 10 April 2014

Pied Piper

 Pied Piper
Watercolour / Gouache
24 x 31cm

Here's 'Pied Piper' finished, he seems to be playing a jaunty little number to go with his outlandish get-up.

Again this was another challenge for me, to date I have never completed a satisfactory medieval street. I can only guess the multiple storeys each one overlapping the one below is the main architectural detail I tend to struggle depicting. However reference is key and I managed to use a few old illustrations for guidance and a photograph of St John's alley in Devizes which I took years ago.

Lots of gouache went into the chickens to help define their features and bring the wing forward on the front hen. I was also pleased with the shadow being cast over the brood of chickens in the middle-ground which contrasts nicely with the birds farther back in bright sunlight (but also a lighter tonal range to suggest atmospheric perspective).

Thursday 20 March 2014