New Beginnings

This blog became private in autumn 2014 as I struggled with the OCA Painting 1 course. Eventually in September 2015, I decided to give up the OCA course. Behind this decision was the sense that there were already too many deadlines at work and, not living in Britain, I felt very disconnected with the OCA community. I also found it difficult to acquire practical skills without some direct tuition and felt the need to be a part of a “real” artistic community, with whom I could communicate regularly face-to-face to exchange ideas and for mutual support.  There was an insistent feeling that all of the fun and spontaneity that I had initially experienced through drawing, and which had led to my interest in the OCA course, had disappeared and I wanted to recover it through drawing, printing, painting… without an assignment at the end!

Now I have begun to have fun again, I have decided to resurrect the blog – to share ideas, explore artistic process (many aspects, one process) and to enjoy being part of an online community as well as part of one in “real life”, too!  I will record my process and outcome when time permits.

The 150+ posts that I made during the almost four and a half years I was studying with the OCA will remain – they are a part of my artistic development – warts and all!

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Rock faces

I have never studied geology formally but I have been prompted to learn by living on the edge of a former volcanic region in which there are so many interesting rock formations. While quarrying in the local area has indisputably changed the landscape, it has also exposed rocks that otherwise would not have been visible and which have provided information about our geological history. I love the heft of rocks, their sense of power, that they diminish everything else; that despite their size, they move and continue to move at an imperceptible rate. This helps to emphasise our human insignificance in the overall scale of things and creates a sense of perspective.

Their strong three-dimensional structures ought to make them relatively easy subjects to draw and yet they are far from easy to represent convincingly on the page – at least, that it my experience. This becomes easier in low light when strong shadows appear on sections of rock but in the middle of a summer’s day when the sun is almost overhead, or on an overcast day when shadows are lost in diffuse light, they can be very challenging subjects.

Rock faces lend themselves to abstraction but I would also like to capture their strong lines in a more representational way. During the summer, I visited three quarries in the area with my sketchbook.

The Stenzelberg in the Siebengebirge is latite and quarz; feldspar and hornblende crystals can be found embedded in the rock. This quarry was in use until the 1930s. It is a particularly interesting structure on account of the „Umläufer“, large stacks of inferior quality and very hard rock, which the quarry workers worked around. This has left an unusual rock structure to wander up and around. There are good views from the top. In the sketch, I wanted to capture the colour and textural differences in the rock face. This was the first time I had attempted to capture a rock face up close and I found it tricky to follow one crack or slab as it joined multiple others. This is not an accurate sketch but when I look back at it it does convey my feelings about sitting in front of this structure that has been standing for millions of years although this rock face has been exposed much more recently.

This sketch focuses on the relationships between fault lines in a small section of the rock.

One of my favourite quarries lies over a hill east of Bad Münstereifel, south west of Bonn, just below the village of Eschweiler. I like this quarry because of the way in which, as one walks over the brow of the hill, the red rock of this quarry suddenly appears directly ahead and slightly below eye level. As one wanders down the hill, and approaches the quarry, it looms larger and next at eye level until one is standing below it looking up, every crevice clearly visible. I love this experience of approaching this rock from different distances, levels and angles. Here it is when first seen – a wide gash in the landscape.

Here is a section from closer to:

It is difficult to capture a sense of three-dimensional structure in diffuse light. I tried squinting to identify the areas out of direct light and then drew these as areas of tone, leaving everything else around as white space.

Finally, for now, I visited the Rockeskyller Kopf near Gerolstein. This is the best preserved former volcano in the Eifel. It is a wonderful structure. The rock strata are a joy – beautiful, clearly defined layers, which I have yet to clearly depict. I will be going back. This first sketch is in a quarry around the west side of the hill. The tree lies strewn across the entrance.

The second sketch was made from above the main quarry area – this is the section that would have been inside the volcano. This was a quick sketch – I intend to go back and make some more careful studies.

Developing a „forest shorthand“

Drawing a German landscape – at least inland – almost always includes trees, often lots of them together. For some time, I have been trying to develop a way to do this in a semi-abstract style to depict trees recognisably and in a more interesting way, while integrating them into my own style. During a recent holiday with more than its fair share of rainy days, I used a cheap A5 pad of watercolour paper and some old Cotman‘s watercolours to explore this idea. Here are some of the results of this exercise. I scanned the work in and the spring green, in particular, has not come out well. However, this was an exercise and not intended as finished work. As such, it conveys an idea. There are several here that I could develop further and integrate into on-site sketches which include stands of trees.

I was inspired to begin this process by a painting that I had seen somewhere – the information about it I no longer recall but the image remains. Because I am not sure how original my own work is in relation to this painting – visual plagiarism also exists as a concept! – I will not publish this. Suffice it to say that it provided a starting point for my own work, which I imagine is what a lot of art does for perhaps everyone who ever picks up a pencil or paintbrush.

This is original and rather abstract – indian ink was used on a wet ground. I am fond at the moment of Rohring and Klingner’s Antiktusche in payne’s grey. However, this was sepia. Lines were then etched into the surface using a wooden skewer.

This looks like a lot of elongated pitchforks. It was inspired by the branch structure of poplar trees, which emerge hook-like from the trunk.

I like to combine watercolour with line work and some empty space. I want to create a skeletal foreground while taking the eye back onto the density of the forest.

This reminds me of a path through bamboos. It would benefit from more colour contrast. The original includes ochre and has more variety than shows up here.

This is hazy – only a suggestion of tree outlines. This would work when the trees are intended to be in the background.

This was an attempt to increase the abstraction. The background consists of random brush marks in dilute, transparent paint. I used the edge of a piece of plastic to create the suggestion of branches in the wet paint. The indian red watercolour is opaque which brings the trunks further forward – the wood remains translucent and relatively airy. Quite like this effect – not sure about the indian red, though. Will explore this further.

This time, I stayed with the semi-abstract approach and drew tree and trunk outlines onto a transparent ground of greens and lemon yellow. I used a darker blue-green mix with a dry brush to create a sense of contrast.

To escape the greens, I used a pale, translucent ochre wash and created elongated shapes from it using a darker wash. As an idea it could be developed and integrated into a larger image. It does not really work on its own. Creating more obvious shapes through utilizing negative space more deliberately could be tried.

This was created using a printing technique with acrylic paint. This technique is essentially decalcomanie. The paint was left over from something else. I applied paint roughly to some torn paper shapes and then printed the shapes onto the watercolour paper. Applying light pressure to the paper shapes for a few seconds and then lifting the paper off carefully produced random colour and texture. I then drew around them with a fineliner to create tree shapes and added an outline for some contrast. Not sure that I would integrate this technique into a drawing, certainly not while drawing en plein air. However, the technique is fun to use and the outcome always unpredictable – which is part of the fun. .

Lastly, After deciding to invest in some grown-up watercolours (Daniel Smith), finally, I understand what all the fuss is about. The paint is wonderful – the colours flow into each each to create the most marvellous colours – it seems to be very difficult to make mud! – and some of them granulate beautifully. I am sold! The tree trunks here were painted with indanthrene blue and dilute quinacridone gold. The marks on the tree trunks were created variously with salt and clingfilm (saranwrap). Am exploring further…

Kirn (an der Nahe), Easter 2017

I spent 10 days in the Easter holidays in Kirn, a small town in Rheinland Pfalz, lying beside the Nahe. Kirn used to have large brewing and leather industries; one brewery and one or two small leather workshops remain. Some other industry has come to the town to replace that lost but most people now seek employment outside the town and commute daily to Mainz and other towns. The town is situated on the edge of the Hunsrück and so is also cultivating “Wandern Tourismus” (walking tourism). The countryside around is especially attractive to anyone with an interest in geology and castles. The town itself is quiet; an attractive wide stream runs through part of it and empties into the Nahe. The industries of earlier times were situated close to this stream and it would then have been heavily polluted with dyes. Today the quiet tree-lined streets above and either side of this stream are probably the most sought-after streets in which to live in the town. I spent most of my time walking and stopped occasionally to sketch. Here are the sketches:

This shows a part of the town drawn from above on the path coming down from the Oberhausener Dolomiten, a ridge of impressive rocks above Kirn. On the other side of town are large sandstone cliffs. I used a new Japanese fineliner (Kuretake) for this which I had expected to be permanent so I avoided colour in the foreground and it is darker than I would have wished. It is, however, a lovely drawing pen and can produce a varied tonal wash.

The following day, the people I was staying with drove me to the Schmidtburg, north of Kirn and I spent a couple of hours there drawing before walking back. The sketches that follow are slightly abbreviated versions of the originals because they cover a double-page spread and my scanner doesn‘t….. When my current watercolour sketchbook is finished, I may invest in an A4 so that everything appears on one page. It looks OK in the sketchbook but doesn’t always reproduce well.

I took a trip one sunny afternoon to the delightful town of Meisenheim. I spent most of the time wandering through the narrow streets and admiring the many half-timbered buildings. Meisenheim lies beside the Glans river; I spent a while drawing the landscape around the weir.

This sketch led to a holiday mini-project. In Germany, particularly, drawing the landscape almost always means including trees, often lots of them densely packed together. As I was drawing in Miesenheim It occurred to me that I needed to find some convincing shorthand ways of drawing trees which are interesting in themselves and not only a green mass, which my trees tend to be. This will be the subject of another post.

Another day, I visited Schloss Daun, which is a large castle outside Kirn, now used for seminars and so on. The grounds can be visited most of the time. This sketch was made from the courtyard outside the castle. The village of Daun lies partly below the castle so I caught a few rooftops. The problem of drawing a forest here was solved by relegating it to the background as a pale wash.

Creative Lettering Workshop

I have just completed a month’s kourse (sic) on Creative Lettering at Sketchbook Skool taught by Andrea Joseph.  It was enormous fun and I learned a lot of new skills, which I can now develop further through practice. Here is some of my work from the kourse. 

Fitting words into complex shapes. I used the nutrients found in apples and pears to create the form of the fruit. The words near the base of the pear need to follow a deeper curve to better indicate the contours of the fruit. 

Using stationary tools as stencils to create a word. Were I to repeat this exercise, I would  find a way to write a lower case “e” for better rhythm. 

Using different fonts to create a text.  I was surprised how quickly I got the “feel” of a font. The quotation is from an article by Jeannette Winterson entitled “Books, the Universe and Everything” published in a now defunct journal ” Books and Company” (Summer 2000).

Fitting a word / words into a template. This was an initial attempt at using a ballpoint for hatching. I intend to work on this…


Visual puns…



Lettering with highlighters and fluorescent pens.  I also used a metallic liner and black glitter.

We tried our hand at graffiti. There are probably hundreds of graffiti fonts out there.  I was not a fan of graffiti before the course but am much more appreciative of the skills involved now.  I just wish graffiti writers would confine their skills to legitimate surfaces…

We played around with letter stencils, which can be manipulated to create more individual lettering. I will look for some larger letter stencils to explore this further. 

We looked at some different ways to create outlines. Using a self-coloured outline creates a very clean line, as the black lettering below shows. 


We tried out some different ways to create embellishments on our lettering including twirls and lines. 

We used continuous writing to create an illustration.  Were I to draw this again, I would draw the spaghetti a little more fluidy / “loopily”.

And we used continuous / one line writing to create a text. 

I also had a page in my sketchbook on which I had used up some old paint and I used this for a ground for continuous writing.  This was my first attempt and the letters were not of a consistent size at first.  The quotations come from Eliot’s Four Quartets which I was re-reading at the time. 

Am Poppelsdorfer Weiher

School has begun again already! However, Wednesday was beautiful and after a day indoors it was good to get out in the sun. I joined a group of sketchers on the bank of the Poppelsdorfer Weiher (pond) in Bonn, by the bridge.  There were at least a dozen sketchers plus lots of students and families enjoying the evening sun on the grass in front of the Schloss.  While drawing, a woman walked over the bridge with a giant bunch of balloons – I quickly scribbled her into the drawing with a pencil and then developed the figure with ink.  A group of students were playing football just behind us when suddenly we heard a loud  “Entschuldigung!” as their ball came flying through our group of sketchers. Luckily for us it didn’t hit anyone; unluckily for them it went rolling down the bank and into the water!  A couple of young men stared morosely at the ball for a while and then went away. Ten minutes later they were back in their swimming trunks!  With more onlookers on the bridge, they had quite an audience and much laughter and applause as they retrieved their ball.  (Not sure why it took two of them but one went into the water from each side – maybe they thought that one might have to rescue the other one!). I wish that I had tried to sketch them!  These incidental events are one of the joys of sketching outdoors. 


A5 Hahnemühle sketchbook, Pilot G-TEC C4 (0.4 mm) fineliner, HB pencil. 

Ruine Montfort

This old ruin is in the middle of nowhere.  The nearest public transport is a good 5 km away so I had to plan a hike between distant busstops that would take me past this old castle.  It was a gorgeous day – clear blue sky and around 25 degrees C – a perfect walking day with a sunhat.  On the way there, when just a few hundred metres away, the road was suddenly closed  for forestry work, I had to reroute through the forest and find another way.  I got lost in the forest which added another hour and 3-4 km to the walk. All the way there, more than two hours’ walking,  I did not meet another soul although I could hear the foresters at a distance.  I ate my sandwiches in the ruined castle and then looked around. It has been made safe for visitors and has marvellous views of the surrounding countryside. A new spiral staircase took me up to the ramparts from where I drew the first drawing, which gives an idea of the layout.  Near the top right hand corner of this drawing is where I sat to draw the next one. 

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The local stone is sandstone, red and grey types. Some of the stone is covered with the most brilliant yellow lichen – I saw this elsewhere in the area but cannot recall coming across such extensive yellow lichen anywhere else. In bright sunlight, it was a joyous sight. While I was drawing, I could smell smoke – someone nearby was having an illegal barbecue just below the walls out of sight…

The Altenbaumburg in Altenbamberg

On an overcast and humid day, I persuaded myself that I needed exercise and I walked from Bad Münster am Stein to Altenberg, the nearest village on the Alsenz river, a tributary of the Nahe.  I walked through forest most of the way and then along a road up the steepest part of the hill (only 3-4 km altogether). The Altenbaumburg is a ruin although a part of the castle has been maintained and serves as a restaurant.  There are good 180+ degree views of the village Altenbamberg, below, and of the surrounding countryside. The ruin is overgrown (living up to its name which literally means “old tree castle”) but there are paths up, down and through it and some steps. Lots of kids running around – plenty to investigate. I ate my sandwiches in a grassy corner while looking at these steps:

There is a bridge that connects the castle, which is on its own “mound”, with the neighbouring forest.  From the other side of the bridge, I drew the next view.  I have overdone the foliage, which was as varied as the drawing suggests but I need to work on my mark-making-for-foliage skills.  I worked in a hurry because the weather forecast had predicted rain and possibly a storm and it certainly looked that way but, in the end, the weather remained dull and sultry – sticky headache weather. 

There is another castle ruin on the next hill, according to the map, and so I looked for this.  It turned out to be even more overgrown than the Altenbaumburg and, although I found some steps leading up above the foundations, they seemed to lead into brambles which may well have extended over the entire surface and I decided to leave well alone.  There was nothing interesting to see from the path just beneath. The view from the top of the hill included a good one of the hourly train, which I had just missed so when I arrived down below, I decided to draw a view of the village and wait for the next one rather than walking back in the balmy heat.  

Churches in central Rheinland-Pfalz often have towers somewhere between a straight spire and the Zwiebeltürme (“onion towers”) found in Bayern.  I just found space for the tower of the catholic church of St. Maria Gebürt & St. Mauritius.  The protestant church is almost next door but out of range of the drawing.  A drawing containing both would have been good because they are such different architectural styles but I am not sure that there would be a safe place to sit /stand to do this. The small circular structure on the right-hand side is an old wine press, a commonly-seen object in this wine-growing region.