Day 7 House renovation near Stokka Lake

    There are 2 Stokka lakes here in Stavanger, they are both next to each other, one is big and one is small. Usually, when I take Tanzie the labradoodle for a stroll we go around ‘Big’ Stokka (some of it and occasionally the whole 9km around it). Both are beautiful so today we walked all of the way around ‘little’ Stokka, the reason for this was a house that always catches my eye is on the route. It’s not far from our house and I could just head directly there but thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and combine the dog walk with the sketch trip! Oh and guess what?!….. it didn’t rain!

I wanted to park myself where I could sit and work comfortably and Tanzie could amuse herself but found nowhere quite right for the job so I went further back into a wooded area and sat on a stone wall, perfect…. however,  therein lies the problem…the trees obscured my view a little too much and dominated the composition. I need to either learn to work in standing (difficult while holding a dog on a lead and a ton of kit – but a handy skill nonetheless) or use a seat or stool type of arrangement (logistical pain in the butt, no pun intended, – lugging a chair around) or…. go sketch in places that are equipped with chairs such as cafes, transport… you get the idea.

So, into the line drawing and it went smoothly, I used a HB pencil and had little need for the putty rubber, I thought I was observing more and attempted to get the lines of perspective more accurate than my usual scribbles. Once the pencil drawing is good the rest seems like relaxing fun to be honest, it’s like the hard bit is done – which is a win win for me because I like the drawing part. I also found my reluctance to leave things like cars out was not really present, I’m realising they are necessary to add life to the sketch. There were no people about and this would have been even better but maybe they’d have wanted me to clear off

I found myself at a funny junction here and made a decision not to add any colour and keep this simply as a line drawing, sketching doesn’t actually require a wash of colour or does it? So I decided to get some shading in but like a fool just got carried away and didn’t really concern myself with the source and direction of light and this was quite a serious error that this sketch never quite recovered from. Even when I ‘u-turned’ on my colour decision 🙁 I wasn’t to fussed really because it is all part of the process, I added colour and was okay with this although I should make colour swatches because I never try hard enough to get colours right, then when they appear wrong I add more and more pigment and the whole thing gets muddy and this one is no exception!

So, it’s the end of my first week of this, it has been harder work than I thought but it’s not just about the sketching, the technical side of things – taking photos, editing them, uploading to the blog site, putting them into posts and writing posts seem to take yonks. I’m glad I’m doing this, my brain is in sketch mode now and I like that, it’s a nice place to be in. My goals are three things from here. Colour mixing, light values and perspective…. oh and perhaps not to quit!


I might sketch in oil colour sometime soon and look into using pens only. Also, limiting my kit for different days – how about taking three acrylic markers out, working without pencil (watercolour only)….. using gouache or pastel…..lots of things are popping up in my head… that’s not a bad thing either!

Day 6, the flowers arrived but they were a bit late….



Well, this post nearly never made it and I have my wife to thank for giving me the push I needed to get a sketch done and posted. Because it was Saturday we’d spent the day together shopping and relaxing and it was around eight in the evening when I said “It looks like I’ll have to miss my blog out today”…. to which she said “get out there and do it” and she was quite right.

Really there were a few factors leading to this that I can’t ignore and need to share. The commitment of this blog seems to occupy me and almost take over everything else and I wanted to make nice sketches not tick boxes. Harsh I know, but I may need to bin this negativity and remember my goal. To gradually shift my behaviour so it’s natural for me to carry sketching stuff and to sketch as regularly as I can. I’ve been making excuses like – it’s raining! Today I felt I didn’t want to abandon my wife because she has been at work all week and it’s wrong and selfish to disappear painting over the weekend. I’d made a cunning plan to double post and just make some excuse…. Thankfully she saw through this and made me see it was ok

With that encouragement I went into the kitchen, Jo had suggested flowers – which I naturally baulked at! I love looking at them but I can honestly say painting and drawing flowers is really, really not my thing, but…. guess what… it was peeing down outside…. it was dark and windy…. the flowers were kinda pretty….nice colours….. and Tanzie the Labradoodle had accompanied me to the kitchen and flaked out by my feet at the kitchen table. I couldn’t let her down nor could I let down my wife, myself or anyone kind enough to read this little blog!

So onwards and upwards… I used my regular sketch kit for this one and did my line drawing in pencil, this time really quickly and looking for a feel rather than precise position of petals, stems, leaves and the like. I must admit in the back of my mind I just wanted to get it done and was always on the verge of quitting this one. In my mind I just repeatedly thought I don’t do flowers, I don’t do flowers. As it went on though I found it was enjoyable and a great excuse to use such lovely reds and magentas without desaturating them with colours on the opposite side of the colour wheel. Not saying I got that right, the yellow kitchen lighting was not perfect for the job but hey, a bit of it was impatience on my part.

As is my regular design, I went over the most appropriate pencil lines in ink, again using the Rotring 0.2mm Tikky pen. I’m really bonding with this one and should look at wider line widths perhaps? I really like the work some artists produce with flexible nibbed fountain pens but I have no clue which one would suit my needs most and Jacksons, my favourite art supply shop don’t really shed much light here either. In a great little book called Archisketcher, they are mentioned very positively and show great variety in line widths so I definitely feel the attraction. As usual I am wittering on so I’ll show my ink drawing here….

Still not really feeling it and thinking ‘here’s one for the hall of shame’ I carried on, whatever happened I knew I’d learn something from it and I’m not scared to get it wrong…. but it’s lovely if you get it right….right? Time to mix some colour then! I started on the foliage and thought it could really bog me down going for individual leaves and stuff so I used a variety of shades and spaced them out then did a similar thing with the flower heads themselves.








I started to feel a lot more enthusiasm here because I quite liked the colour and the ‘sketchiness’ of it. I heard Jo coming towards the kitchen and thought ‘hide it’ but too late. When Jo saw it she approved! Let’s be clear here… Jo is my biggest critic… she will NEVER tell me she likes my stuff if she doesn’t! I’ve heard her say to me once ‘that painting does nothing for me’!! She had a point though…. So, with that little endorsement I continued along the home straight by adding some darks to try and add depth and bring out the light values. I’m really happy I didn’t take the day off – lesson learned. John.




Day 5, let’s be positive about this rain then!

All kinds of weather interests and attracts me, it’s the same for the seasons! Different colours and light mean we are spoilt for choice. Rain however does present some problems, it means logistically I might need to carry a form of shelter, the rain can wet your palette or worse still it can ruin your work. Setting up cameras and hoping big splats don’t land on the lenses is a concern too… but…. aren’t I being a little negative here? I shall make the best of it, right now I have no plan for day fives sketch when it comes to the subject but I am tempted to sketch the people who walk past my house, not from photos but quickly from life in the short opportunity I have before they disappear out of view?

It’s a little different to how I expected this to turn out, I’d thought it would be all cool buildings and landscapes and I’m not ruling that out but it’s crazy not to do this! I like people so why not sketch them??

Okay…I’m on it……


Well that was the plan! I did stand in the rain and made several sketches using various drawing tools (pencils, pens and conte crayons) although not many people passed by due to the rain I imagine.

Nearly every person was on a bike and the average time they were exposed to me was around seven or eight seconds.


There were a handful of joggers and they took around fifteen seconds to pass through and only one person walking (dressed in full jogging gear but walking along with an umberella?)

I sketched what I could, but realised that as the subjects passed from one side to another I had front views through to side views and then rear view so this was quite a touchy. As the rain splatted on my sketchbook and my back started to ache from standing I went indoors (with a cup of tea) and sat next to the window and did a bit more. When I was waiting for subjects I sketched my dog and even conte crayoned the view up the lake.

Before you judge harshly not one of these sketches took more than one minute to do. I am guilty of taking a long time over a sketch and while my results are not much to write home about I think they are a good exercise and probably something I should be doing more of.

Day four, more cloud, more rain, no car….. what am I going to do?

Today was wet and windy and I was without the car, I also thought by working indoors I could develop my way of working so I decided on a nice scene from Sunday taken in the lovely harbour at Stavangar.

The gear I used was the same as yesterday, the Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, HB pen, Rotring tikky 0.2mm waterproof black ink pen, Schminke watercolour box and a size ten Kolinski sable, round sketching brush.  so I got to work by sketching in some basic shapes with the pencil, some realignment was needed and the putty rubber was put to use.

Then came the easy and therapeutic part…. going over my important lines in ink…

After a little bit of colour….

Then a bit more and I was…well…done!!

Overall I enjoyed this and can definitely feel a style or perhaps a ‘comfort zone’ coming on. I’m sketching in pencil, going over it in pen then laying washes. There’s no real attempt to capture accurate lights and darks yet and wow… it’s taking me ages! I’m considering some very quick sketch exercises to encourage speed and prioritisation of line choice. That’s one for another day perhaps.

In addition I’m tackling some subjects that perhaps I’d usually chicken out of, like boats and people, but they’re essential to add life and stop the scene looking like a ghost town. Watercolour isn’t the easiest medium to correct mistakes with but that is helping with discipline and using lines is a bit of a safety net. Going a bit minimalist with lines may well be worthy of some experimentation as I have seen some lovely effects that don’t involve pen and ink under the washes.

Something that is starting to interest me is the potential to use conté crayons, they’re a sort of pastel and it would really cut down on the equipment I’m carrying. Next Friday Jo and I head off to England then Croatia, back to England and then returning to Norway near the end of the month. Hmmmm…. so you could say four days of the next fortnight or so will be in airports and on planes….is watercolour a practical option? I’m thinking no and will have to consider an alternative set of gear to take with me!


Day 3! The sun is shining but it’s been a bit of a disaster 😳


If I ever need our car, I usually drop my wife to her work, do my thing then collect her at the end of her day. It’s a plan that works well, plus here in Norway having two cars is discouraged, having one car is tolerated….just! But it’s too hilly to ride my solid steel framed old Dutch bike (which otherwise would be perfect)… I miss my lightweight mountain bike – it’s sitting in my shed back in England, probably buried under 10 kilos of dust and cobwebs…. crying shame! 

Anyway, I’m rambling on (easily done), so back to me in a car…. the route to my wife’s work takes me past a place I’ve always felt drawn to, it’s not a pristine or glamorous collection of distinguished buildings but an untidy collection of junk, little boats and a shack on a small jetty near a bridge in a place called Hjarlsford (need to check my spelling) Stavanger, Norway. My wife (she’s called Jo) and I nearly always make a comment about it and it was her idea to stop by and paint there, I tend to agree with her. So, for day four that’s what I did…..but did it go to plan? In a word… nah! But that’s the way it goes, the idea that everything painted is a masterpiece that must be framed and viewed by the public is not quite accurate (in my case at least)!

The weather was bright and sunny and the sun was casting lovely shadows making plenty of light and dark contrasts. I did my pencil sketch using an HB regular pencil from the little pen & pencil tin that lives in the bottom of my ‘way over the top’ sketch kit bag (Size matters – I’m working on it)….

I wasn’t over enthusiastic about my pencil sketch but had a feeling adding the sketching pen over it may give it a bit of character, I’m still not convinced. I was working in the drivers seat of the car by the way, protected in my cocoon from anyone from the shack coming over and talking to me then spotting how crap I am…. also…. it started to dawn on me that I needed to pee….. this is disaster….. I can count on one hand the amount of public lavatories I’ve seen in my five months in Norway, so I soldiered on and got a layer of watercolour on. I used the same Schminke paint as yesterday and realised there are one or two colours I haven’t really put through their paces…Delft Blue being the main one. I used it for the sea and it is so strong a tint I was bowled over! But it kinda ruined the sketch. It’s a great colour and I can see why Schminke add it to the colours in this set (I did bin their white and perylene green for caput mortuum and cadmium green dark – a colour combo I liked the idea of). I guess it was at that point I gave up in my head, it all looked wrong and I couldn’t really imagine it being salvaged 🙁 

Anyway, I continued to tweak the sketch a bit more but my efforts felt doomed, I’d mentally written it off a long while ago. I did like the scene so much though! I took my usual reference for later photos (as is my newly forming habit), and was at least pleased I didn’t overload myself with tech stuff today although I’m still  concerned that I’m carrying the kitchen sink around with me. The set up of working from the car has promise but it is a small car and I was a bit cramped, also worried about spilling colour on the fabric seats. Maybe I’m making excuses here too… people are going to have to see me working and I’ll have to tune out nerves and thoughts of any negative comments. So….with the sting of failure in my head I drove home for a nice cup of loose leaf breakfast tea, a cuddle with Tanzie the labradoodle and of course…. a quick pee!!

The rest of the day was a strange affair, I got on with my chores, walked the dog, had lunch but at the back of my mind was always this ‘crap sketch, crap sketch, crap sketch’ mantra. The feeling that I’d vowed to post it anyway and that it would turn anyone (is there anyone) reading it right off continuing. In order to restore my confidence I decided to put some practice of sketching people in front of me. I used some reference photos of people I took on Sunday especially for this purpose and minimalistically sketched them out using a mechanical pencil. I needed to correct one or two things, usually heads being too big for the bodies. Then I added the colour. Some changes were made because, apart from the lady in green, everyone was wearing blue so I added a purple tee shirt in there. Okay so it’s not quite what I’d planned to do, it was done in the safety of my house on the dining room table but it can’t do any harm to practise surely and hey… no crime committed! So here it is…. I have also vowed to look at the reference photo for the botched sketch earlier, get my shapes and coulors right and post it on here at a later point…. a rainy day perhaps….and there are no shortages of those here in Stavanger! Well…. until tomorrow – John 

Day 2: stormy weather again

Quite often, as I lay half awake first thing in the morning, my mind wanders over the things I expect the new day will bring. This morning as I heard rain pelting down and thunder rumbling it dawned on me that I had set myself this challenge to sketch every day and that, given the dramatic weather outside, today was going to be…. let’s see…. interesting?!      

Perhaps you noticed this is being written a day late? Honest, I did do my sketch challenge but getting the tech side of things sorted is time consuming and although I could have rushed it last night, it would have been pretty crappy because I was done. Now it is around five thirty in the morning and I can’t sleep so I have made myself a cup of Irish breakfast loose leaf tea and I’m all set to play catch up.

This is probably the best time to do this if truth be told? I’m rested, the house is still and quiet, the dog is gently snoozing on her little bed by the window while next door my wife is curled up cozily before the alarm goes off. Yesterday was a funny day, I think logistics got to me, my equipment wasn’t quite right on day one so I got a bigger bag and packed everything but the kitchen sink, this is not how I expected things to go. Tanzie, my one year old labradoodle was not interested in going out in the rain (despite sprinting out into the lake or sea at the drop of a hat) and protested at the appearance of her lead by playing hide and seek. When we got to the spot I’d planned to paint from a strange, socially awkward chap rocked up, ignored me and kinda sat right next to me and took his clothes off – I assumed it was to have a swim but I’d abandoned plan A and was scurrying off before I could find out, shame really because I rather liked the composition. 

So, after a consolatory “you’ve just wasted an hour” cup of tea I decided to leave Tanzie to ponder out of the window and I headed down the slope from the rear of the house to sit on the bench there and sketch the view up where I’d come from. I could see the dog watching my every move thoroughly disapproving of my decision to cut her out from this activity (no-win situation) hmmm… needs must I suppose.

As mentioned yesterday I had chosen the Moleskine sketchbook, I like the heavier, rougher paper and just feel really comfortable using it right now. It seemed sensible to use two pages of the opened book and sketch out the tree line, so I set up my Lumix camera on a mini tripod behind me, set it to be controlled via smartphone and was happy with the tech stuff at that point. The photos were ok but a lot of fiddly time consuming stuff considering the value of the results. I think it is necessary to do this although the essence of what I’m doing really is to whip out a sketchbook and get an image down very quickly and without a fussy setting up procedure.

I like the composition of the interesting houses on the ridge looking up from my bench, the house on the left a modern contrast to the more traditional one on the right. I got some lines down quickly enough, needed only minor perspective line alterations (not saying I got it right but I used the pencil against life then transposed to paper as best I could without looking and feeling like a pretentious knob). As seems to be my present method I went over the pencil drawing in waterproof ink, I used a 0.2mm Rotring Tikki pen, I really like this one, the flow is nice however when the wash went down over it I began to wonder if it was actually waterproof because it looked like it was going to spread into the wet but it calmed down, I guess the ink just wasn’t dry before I wet the pages.

While this was happening I was getting quite a few “hellos” from people passing by. I really don’t mind this, in fact it was very pleasant and a welcome change to the more day to day ‘stranger denial’ local people have a tendency to have although, I believe it is a form of politeness here in Norway. So, using a Rosemary, size 10 round kolinsky sable sketching brush (the only one I used outside – I had far, far too many with me) the first wash on the sky went down, after it dried I was amazed at how much lighter it became (one to bear in mind for the future) but the foreground was more pleasing. The sky was a mix of magenta and ultramarine while the foreground greens and earth tones made up of pure yellow, quinacridone gold, geranium red, may green, cadmium green and caput mortuum as well as the sky wash. These were from my (much heavier, due to the porcelain insert) Schminke paint box. I love this box, the paints seem so much easier to work with and I have the colours laid out as I prefer.

Here are the colours carried in the box:

  1. Pure Yellow
  2. Quinacridone gold hue
  3. Geranium red
  4. Perylene red
  5. Purple magenta
  6. Delft blue
  7. French Ultramarine
  8. Cerulean blue hue
  9. May green
  10. Cobalt green dark
  11. Neutral tint
  12. Caput mortuum


The porcelain insert allows six other colours from tubes to be added so I have burnt sienna, cadmium orange, cobalt turquoise, cadmium green light, lemon yellow and cinerous blue. Most of these are made by Sennelier, they are nice but take a long time to dry in the pan and run out of it the paint box is not stored flat – tricky if it’s in a bag! I’m starting to feel drawn to the Schminke Horadam range. Ruling out othe manufacturers is a little misguided and I have a few Windsor & Newton tubes knocking about.

The weight and size of the box are not really light enough to make it ‘slip into your pocket and forget its there’ kinda transportable though, so I will have to address that or man up and use the W & N Cotman box (definitely got sound qualities going for it). Before I could get going on the buildings, large splats of rain started to hit me and then my sketchbook and I could see disaster looming. My gear was hurriedly packed away, an iPhone reference photo hastily snapped and I headed back up the slope to a very happy labradoodle.

After letting the painting dry I decided I’d have to do the best I could to complete it or get it presentable as a sketch before I could blog about it. Although the spirit of this blog is about giving a ‘warts and all’ view of sketching so it only seemed fair not to completely finish it… plus I had to get some food organised






Important dates!


Hello everyone, so the first day of my new 30 day sketching challenge will be July 30th 2018 and the last day will be August 28th. This is exciting because it will involve me sketching and blogging from here in Norway, some from Hampshire in England and then more from a family holiday in Croatia. I am sure I will have to include some sketches made while travelling.

Continue reading “Important dates!”

Countdown to the 30 day challenge..

Well, the site isn’t totally right and I’ve been having some mini-nightmare scenarios but I think it’s time to just start this challenge…. I am going to plan the 30 day schedule today and post the actual start date later on this evening…. fingers crossed!!

Do I really need my desktop computer for this???


If I’m on holiday and without my desktop computer  can I still blog?

The short answer is yes!!!! When I checked my calendar I had a horrible thought- I go to England and then Croatia in August for a week a piece and this means if I can only blog via the iMac I’ll have to wait until late August or early September to start my thirty day challenge.

This took the wind out of my sails because I was starting to make a big build up in my mind over this whole thing 😳….. so I decided to experiment and won’t bore you with the details but….. I took the photos of me trying to operate my posh new camara remotely from my phone! I’ve uploaded them remotely from the camera to my phone and put them into this blog on my phone!!!! I’m so pleased!! So if I get it to work outside as I’d need it to on location then I’m virtually ready to go and I can stop my pathetic procrastinating and do it!!

Right I’m gonna celebrate with a cup of English black tea ☕