Day 16 did I run out of time or did I just get grumpy?



Let me explain the bizarre title…. yep! I totally got grumpy- please don’t judge me 😗… nah, go on then…. so after our breakfast we decided to sit at the beach and I thought the view was great, out came the sketching kit and away I went. I’m loving boats at the moment and plan to spend more time on them. They always put me off because they are quite intricate, stick out like a sore thumb if you get them wrong, wonky masts can make them ready for the bin, but they will add life to any scen and often create a valid reason to use a juicy saturated colour you perhaps would leave desiccating away in your paint tin (course you wouldn’t!)

I decided against using Rotring pens and left it at pencil, I used a double landscape view in the Moleskine Watercolour sketchbook and added a base layer from the delightful Schminke Horadam tin. I keep meaning to do a separate post justifying my love for this tin, maybe after the 30 day challenge. I put quite a bit of time into this one because I wanted to leave lots of white spaces for the big umbrellas scattered all over the site – the smartypants among us will call this ‘negative painting’ or something like that, anyway, that’s what happened.

So, I let it dry and started going into the next layer, the beach was filling up but I remained unmolested although i could sense the passers by behind me slowing down and commenting in Italian or Spanish. Then came the ‘what is personal space’ family… Bless him but from all the remaining beach chairs available this guy chose to sit next to me, I mean one foot away, I could have coped but as he was getting his beach chair sorted he was knocking into me repeatedly and had no concept that he was doing so… after this he settled and i thought all would be well…no, out came the fattest cigarette imaginable, it stank and I could taste it because it was only a foot away from me and then his wife lit up a long skinny one…. so I muttered a bit, packed up my stuff and convinced jo it was time to leave. I got grumpy didn’t I! I need to tolerate my situation a bit more! Now I’m writing this back in England and looking at the sketch (which I quite like) and thinking why didn’t you finish it John, you massive muppet?! 

I have this reference photo but it’s not great, I’ve got an amazing lumix camera, a wonderful birthday present from Jo especially for this but just got lazy and whipped out the iPhone to take quite an underwhelming photo… lesson learned!

Underwhelming/ What do you think? I suppose I can come back to this at some point despite it looking dull as dishwater.

Even my initial wash without the boats and buildings feels a lot more eye catching to me.

I look at this little sketch though and there’s something quite nice about it being unfinished, this is sketching, sometimes rain stops play, light changes, you run out of time, the clinical, civilized and controlled environment of the studio or kitchen table aren’t present and we heal with what’s in front of us. When it doesn’t go to plan, we pack up, move on and start on a fresh page, and I for one love that feeling!

Day 17 August 15th. Slovinj Croatia

It’s a beautiful sunny morning and Jo and I were exploring the little island we are staying on here on Croatia. We sat on some (quite sharp and uncomfortable) rocks and the view was lovely. Before I even thought about it my sketchbook had jumped out and away I went.

I did a very very basic sketch in pencil and added only a handful of waterproof ink lines with my Rotring Tikky 0.2mm pen. I laid a wash of ultramarine blue and a touch of Naples yeallow over the whole page with the exception of a side wall on the little building on the right. I mixed some very pale greens with my Prussian blue and lemon yellow, or a little yellow ochre. Got some depth by using Caput  mortuum and some shadow around the shoreline was suggested with neutral tint. 

We got a phone call telling us the rest of the family had arrived at the resort so we let this one dry and made our way off to see them. Later I peeked into the bag to see how it looked and decided not to do any more, it was fresh and delicate and the family members who saw it liked it… it would seem overkill to layer it up and it seems to do the trick as a sketch, I enjoyed doing it, love its simplicity and it probably took less than fifteen minutes to complete 🙂

Day 14 sketching on the train

In yesterdays post you may have read that we had spent a long time on the train and the sketch for day 14 started to evolve in my mind. Being on the train is quite a confined space, I am not sure how people react to being sketched and I didn’t want to get busted doing this so I picked on a poor chap who had absolutely no idea this was happening.

I used a 6B pencil, putty rubber and the grey toned Hahnemuhle sketchbook, pretty minimalistic. I don’t intend to add colour after this because I haven’t tested how well the book handles wet media, perhaps that’s a good reason why I should? Anyway, the train got pretty full and the chap was quite a wriggler – his left arm was in a brilliant position and I tried to rough sketch it out but then he moved! Then he sat right back in the chair and most of his face disappeared from view, to pass the time until he reappeared I worked on (probably unnecessary) train artifacts but he didn’t re-emerge so the subject matter is more about the train carriage than the person, this doesn’t quite match the goal I’d set. I also hadn’t got the guts to sketch the young woman who had sat diagonally opposite me, she would have been great but I felt a bit cheeky I suppose and it may have made her uncomfortable.

What I will say about this is initially I was self-aware about being seen to sketch in public but then I totally forgot about everyone and everything around me and got ‘in the zone’ and that was a really cool feeling. My wife took a photo of me working which I’ll include for your amusement.



Day 13 This sh@t just got real!!

Today has been spectacularly busy, after a month away our house and garden needed some serious work plus we needed grocery shopping a few presents for family and of course our new ‘great-niece’ Francesca – and this afternoon we have been invited to our friends for a party(thank you Paula and Felicity) so with an hour to go I sat down to draw the buildings outside our house and it started to rain… until we got back there had been a heatwave here, can you believe it? Can you also believe that yours truly didn’t actually pack any watercolour paint for this trip??? Groan… so I cannot physically produce a painting today because of time constraints and lack of materials…. but… my intentions are to either draw something this evening although I could be a little tipsy or do loads of sketching tomorrow to make up for it…. dammit I might even do both!!!

Well, a couple of days have gone by and it’s time to catch up on the events of day 13. Evidence of the few lines I drew in an attempt to sketch before rain forced my retreat is provided on this post – I’d started on the grey toned Hahnemuhle sketchbook and was looking forward to completing it but we know how that turned out. we spent that evening with friends we haven’t seen for a while so no more sketching was done. I had taken a reference photo of the scene I had meant to sketch out and had a cunning plan.

Jo and I had arranged to go and see our new Grand-niece Francesca, in Plymouth and this involved a total of seven or eight hours on the train from Reading, so I carried enough gear with me to sketch on the train but with no paint. My routine was to sketching from the reference photo on my ipad using a 6B pencil in the Moleskine watercolour sketchbook. Some putty rubber corrections were needed to correct perspective errors and the train movement and vibrations gave me some shaky lines that needed fixing.

After this I used the trusty Rotring Tikky black waterproof ink pen 0.4mm and was very happy with it. The photo has lots of tonal value shown and I left these out of the sketch (I had considered using pen and perhaps this would be good experience) my intention is to revisit the sketch with watercolour when I can get my hands on some paint….which shouldn’t be too long now. I will add the finished photo on to this post when it’s done ✅ 



Day 12: Bitter Sweet

Today Jo and I are heading home to Silchester in Hampshire (UK) and also a week in Croatia (thunderstorms predicted 🙁 can you believe it?) I’m really looking forward to it. The sad thing is I have just dropped my sidekick Tanzie the labradoodle off at the kennels. The look of desperation on her face has made me feel sick and evil and I think I need a large whiskey now. the consolation (apart from a lovely couple of weeks with my wife) will be her ‘Tigger-like’ craziness when I collect her. The kennels, by the way is a great place, really clean and staffed by people who look like they care plus lots of other happy dogs and open spaces to run around and play….. okay John….now breathe!

As for artwork, my mind is a bit numb right now but I promise I will do something and upload it although that mat be tomorrow as we won’t get to the UK until quite late tonight. John

Me again, so my little feet haven’t touched the ground in 24 hours but I did manage to make a sketch of a chap working on his laptop in the airport terminal at Stavanger.  Because I was unsure if I could take paint stuff through security at the airport I only grabbed a sketchbook and couple of pencils ✏️… the sketchbook was toned grey Hahnemühle and I worked with a 6b pencil, rotring tikky 0.4mm black drawing pen and a Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth 5mm pencil with white lead

Day 11 Stokka Lakeside


A cloudy and rainy morning here in Stavanger, Norway. I’m flying back to the UK with Jo tomorrow and every time I look at Tanzie the Labradoodle I feel guilty. So we practice our new trick which is for me to sing ‘everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting’ which makes Tanzie have a playfight with me, then I gave her a repulsive smelling pigs ear, she loves those and took her for a swim. I packed my Sketch bag. The bag is the big one but I’ve thinned out the contents a little and it is much lighter, when I go on holiday it’ll be perfect to fit the camera, phone, wallet, drink and sun cream (fingers crossed) inside, so that’s cool!

At Tanzies swimming spot I saw a little idea for a composition, I’ve been here before and pretended to sketch for photos used on this blog (shhh…don’t tell anyone) and I’ve always liked it here. So, I got out the Moleskine watercolour sketchbook and a pencil (think it was HB) and sketched in some basic lines, again, no ink over the top.

I mixed some ultramarine, cadmium red and yellow ochre with a tiny dab of alizarin crimson and worked down on the sky, making the wash more yellow ochre near the distant trees. I kept some areas light to indicate distant buildings later on and used viridian with alternating hints of yellow ochres or cadmium yellow deep for the foliage, keeping it wet into wet I dropped the sky mix with a touch of viridian in for the water, saturating the colour in the foreground.

Then I threw Tanzies stick in the lake a few times for her to fetch and let the first wash dry. After that I sat on my comfy rock and added more colour, working on the tones and shadows of the centre boulder (you can’t miss it). And tried to indicate some of the smaller stones on the shore. I also included more pigment for the rest of the foliage and distant shoreline

I had meant to keep an area for a fallen tree light but got carried away. I let the painting dry and played some more fetch, when I returned I added depth or shape to the stone with ultramarine blue, crimson alizarin, a touch of burnt sienna plus greens I’d previously mixed for the moss on the boulder. I lifted out some paint for the fallen tree and light surface on top of the boulder, put in a cheeky shadow for the fallen tree and indicated rocks a bit more. I covered over the top and right of the sketch and flicked a fully loaded brush to make dots for effect, I did this in several colours for variety and to make the shoreside a little more believable. I enjoyed this sketch, the dog played and explored happily by herself and wasn’t a distraction, I sketched happily standing then sat on a rock to paint. I’ve weeded my gear down and it’s a manageable weight now and I’m taking on things I liked but would normally leave out. I’m using the Cotman box, I like it although the colours are grainy. I’m also getting through the blues and yellows, not enough to replace them but it shows I’m doing some work now. Okay, here’s the finished sketch.


Tomorrow we go back to England so I’ll probably sketch people in the airport or on the plane and hope not to embarrass Jo, I hope I can organise the tech stuff to upload it, I’d hate to disappoint any loyal followers. John

Day 10… Rain! I didn’t see that coming 😳


This morning I woke up very early, my wife Jo couldn’t contain herself after hearing about the birth of our lovely little grand-niece. The photo she showed me was beautiful, congratulations Alexa and Richard 🙂

After hearing wonderful news like this it was futile to even think I could go back to sleep so I got up and obviously aimed for the kettle and checked in on Tanzie. I could tell she was disgusted with me being awake so early so I left her snoozing away and looked outside at the beautiful morning, it was just after dawn and the lake was still, the amazing colours perfectly reflecting on the waters surface. Instinctively I grabbed my sketching stuff. That’s something I’m very happy about…. ‘instinctively’… that’s a great way to be and maybe ten days of my blogging these daily sketching efforts has changed my thinking a bit?

I let my previous couple of days experience fall by the wayside because I definitely didn’t ‘travel light’ instead I grabbed my massive sketch bag, a larger pad than usual and a steaming hot cuppa. When I popped outside I arranged some stools for my stuff and myself and settled down. The sketchbook I used was bought in Switzerland a few months back, its called aquarello and is A5, it’s quite lightweight and did buckle a little when wet but not too bad for my purposes. I was back to my Schminke watercolour tin and have to say it felt a lot better to use than the Cotman, the colours were finer and came off the pan and onto the brush effortlessly. I didn’t use the squeeze brush instead I chose the size 10 kolinsky sable round sketching brush and later on the same brush in a size 4 for fine details.

Some basic sketching in pencil left the way open for me to add a wash of colour. I sprayed water onto the whole paper then mixed some cerulean blue and delft blue for the sky, some areas had a mix of germainium red and quinacridone gold to show the last part of the dawn red colour filtering out of the sky. I used the same cerulean and delft blues for the water and added yellows and quinacridone gold for the foliage, a higher ratio of blues in the far background to suggest the distance. The paper was starting to buckle and it seemed a long time befor it started to dry.

Then, totally unexpectedly large drops of rain spattered onto me and I grabbed the sketchbook and covered it before any damage was done.

I waited a short while to see if the rain would die down, it did however, the paper was not quite dry enough for the next layer but I went ahead, it didn’t go badly wrong and I got some suggestion of reflection from the midline trees onto the lake surface. Then put darker pigments into the work. More Delft blue went into the background hillside and then some cadmium green dark and caput mortuum for the foreground. Deeper shadows were indicated with a mix of burnt sienna and french ultramarine.

Then I used a loaded brush tapped abruptly on its ferrule to spatter fine drops of a more saturated mix into the foreground. A few tiny drops accidentally made their way onto the sky and lake, I managed to lift them out with a damp tissue but it only partially worked. 

So, not quite the ‘purist’ type of work I wanted to do – as in it was done in the comfort of my garden with all the equipment I needed parked up around me and close to hand and the possibility of getting out of the rain quickly when need arose. But… I am quite pleased with this scene, I’ve painted the scene before because it is the view from my back window but this was very much a sketch completed in around thirty minutes. I’m feeling quite confident, I liked the paper despite it buckling a little. Perhaps I could consider using a larger paper, I know I’ve commented on this before…. food for thought eh? John.



Day 9 Let’s try that again shall we?

Yesterday was a nice days sketching for me, if you read my blog you’d see I liked the minimal gear I used and the way it lent itself to speedy work while giving me the ability to work on my feet. Today I thought I’d do a similar thing and aim for a place I was at last week before a strange person sat next to me and took his clothes off but ignored me in every other possible way…. the crazy, crazy little weirdo! Well I took with me the very same gear as yesterday, mechanical pencil 0.7mm, Squeezable water brush, Cotman watercolour box (with teeny brush I wish I’d thought to use yesterday as it was in the box all along) and this fab little watercolour pad – it measures only 8 x 10.5 cm and fits into any pocket with ease. This little book is so good I’m wondering what the next size up is and if it is as easy to pocket as the one I have? I’d also decided that Tanzie the labradoodle shouldn’t miss out on the fun, but as yesterdayI found it was tricky controlling her while she explored at the same time as trying to paint I needed a solution… so I plumbed for an idea Jo and I have used in the past when we were on walks and wanted to rest but with both hands free to take photos, eat and drink and that kind of thing. Simple really, it’s some climbing gear I already have, a sling and a karabiner that clips onto her retractible lead handle and around any fixed object such as a tree trunk, rock or my waist…It worked a treat before and this was the case today. So, as I eluded to earlier, the weather was lovely and sunny, I wasn’t sure it would hold (but it did) and I left the house a little overdressed but the sketching kit neatly tucked away in the pocket of my hoodie. Once I was in position I sat down and considered my painting options and decided on where to paint then laid out my kit on the pontoon I was sitting on (there was no need to stand today) so I was really comfortable and ready to go. I did the briefest of pencil sketches, so brief it didn’t seem worth photographing…so I forgot. Left out the ink pen work over the top. Then I laid on some very light paint to mark out the main shapes that made up the sketch, all this was happening very quickly, in fact it probably took only half an hour from start to finish. I don’t know why but I worked a little differently today and more or less worked from the bottom up which I imagine pure watercolourists would put a contract on me for, I kinda got away with it, I used a bit of phthalocyanine blue and alizarin crimson for the sky and water. .Then I added yellow ochre, burnt sienna  and cadmium yellow in different combinations to that mix to obtain a variety of greens. I felt quite satisfied with the sketch at this point and let it dry ready for more pigment. The sun did its thing very quickly so the rest was just mixing stronger colours in a wider variety and trying to get a continuous wash of varied colour along the middle section then adding depth to the buildings at the ridgeline. As luck would have it I spotted the tiny brush that came with the Cotman box and this allowed me to add some small dabs of dark intermittently and darken the roof of the house on the right. I was aware there was little indication of light and shadow, I did try this on the roof of the house on the left but it doesn’t really jump off the page. Still I’m ok with the finished results here and can see the challenges I have still to work on. I really like the quick set up my limited kit is giving me, it is removing options and reducing the dithering on what to use, it just keeps it all very simple and that is what it is meant to be like… or how I mean it to be like..

I may need to look at the squeeze pen situation, they are hard to produce clean water from unless I carried some fresh clean stuff in a container and that means not travelling so lightly but if I use a non-squeeze brush I snuggle to wet it. The squeezy brush just seemed to produce liquid that was a dirty green and this seems to suck back into the reservoir of the brush…. not sure of the solution just jet but I’ll think about how to sort this while going as lightweight as I can. I also find the Cotman colours a little tricky to pick up on the brush and a bit granulated, but it still works nicely. Okay, hope you are as enthusiastic as me, see you tomorrow – John

Day 8 Outside with minimal sketching equipment….and it felt good!

Guess what? Yes, you got it… it’s raining! Again! But that did not deter me from getting stuck in to day eight! Today I thought I’d experiment with the absolute minimum equipment I could carry in a pocket! It proved really interesting and a very worthy little experiment. Today’s equipment included a tiny watercolour sketchbook made by hahnemuhle measuring only 8×10.5 cm so it slotted easily into my pocket, the surface was rough and I like that texture plus the lovely little book was glued on all for sides so it didn’t buckle when it was wet! I carried a 0.7mm mechanical pencil with built in rubber (I didn’t use it), a water brush (a round one, the equivalent of, say, size 4) and my small W&N Cotman watercolour box.  

After persuading Tanzie the labradoodle to step outside in the rain with me, we very quickly got to the place I wanted to paint. My objective was to hold everything in my hands or pockets and work standing up. I did, in fact I was calf deep in water with my wellies on and Tanzie splashing about. It was easy really, well I mean ‘manageable’ but I had to hold the dog lead and she was tugging me around as she explored, should have tied her off really but there wasn’t a suitable place and it’s not legal to allow dogs off the lead here…annoyingly. 

Like a doofuss I didn’t take a reference photo of the scene I was painting, it was overcast and the water was still across the lake, the reflections were beautiful and the colours really rich, it looks like Autumn is starting because there were some ochres and siennas out there (not quite in my scene though).. The rain was holding off and with real enthusiasm I made a start.

One thing I felt I should attempt was to use only a couple of pencil lines to mark out the composition and no ink drawing over the top. So this didn’t take a long time and the sketchbook was really tiny.  Working in standing was not too bad at all and I decided to lay a wash down. 

So….using my little Cotman box I mixed some colour but the water in the water brush had some blue and sienna in it, the brush mush have been stored dirty. This was a happy accident because the sky colour was pretty close to what I needed, I was working quickly but the damp air seemed to keep my paper wet. When I eventually got more layers down and colours right, the composition was pleasant and the atmosphere partly captured…..little raindrops began to hit the page.

There wasn’t much gear to pack up before we evacuated and the sketchbook was no bother to hold upside down while I me and Tanzie carried on walking. It took absolutely ages to dry, in fact I gave up and closed the book and put it in my back pocket. When I opened the book again I was disappointed to see the rain splats had messed it up again and the cover of the book had smudged the sketch where it had remained wet.

As we were passing the original position on our way home I decided to salvage the sketch and thought it went reasonably well, in fact I find it quite pleasant. I had wished I’d bought a smaller brush to make some suggestion of buildings and windows in the distance. There’s a lot to be said by just carrying one brush but when I got home I did put some very small marks in to suggest this.

Overall I really enjoyed this way of working, the minimal use of equipment made it logistically easy to execute a sketch, the process was fast and manageable in a standing position. As well as that, and I know there’s a long way to go but I found the finished result quite satisfying – I didn’t quite stop before it got muddy but needed to add colour to fix the damage the rain caused. Lots learnt from this exercise and It’s the best I’ve felt after completing my sketch. John 🙂