Self Portrait with a New Haircut

‘Self Portrait with a New Haircut’
quarter imperial – arches rough 300gms
© The Artist.

Pulling faces again…

I caught it for an instant whilst painting this portrait. That look of surprise & vanity & curiosity that follows after ahaircut, when you peer cautiously into the mirror to see weither the hair cut is a catastrophe or not.But then I lost it, as I got more involved with satring into a mirror whilst trying to paint. Hence that ‘look’ that pervades all self portraits. The look of an artist at work, partly concentrating, partly pulling a face.

BTW, yes i am grumpy 😉 especially in the mornings….



Figs II

‘Figs II’
32 x 24 cm.
Watercolour. Lana 220 GMS
© The Artist.


I forgot to mention the garlic in the previous recipe.

Fry some garlic along in the duck’s breast. When the meat is done (rosy… sometimes I add a splash of raspberry vinager which then turns this recipe into a kind of sugary/salty complementarity….. but beware of things getting too complicated. Tastes from the frying pan are better pronounced crisply & cleanly. If you want to stew it all together, go for a long, slow cook in a casserole, or a marinade), lift the garlic out along with the meat.

Then flash fry the figs & finish off with a flambee in Armagnac. Figs caramelise well; garlic doesn’t. As in cooking, as in art: you’ve got to get to know the tolerances of your ingredients.

It is so very, very easy to overdo something.


32 x 28 cm. Watercolour, Lana 220 GMS
© The Artist.
Figs from the garden.Thinking about how to cook them. Vegetarian resolve goes to pot. The South West is the land of THE DUCK.

Here’s how I’d do them:

Slow fry the duck’s breast in a frying pan, Cook till rosy red but still bleeding. Keep the fat on as this is what you will make the gravy from. Ducks fat spits alot when hot, so watch out ! Take the meat out & stand on carving board. Add figs,turn up the heat & flash fry. Let them caramelise somewhat . Salt, pepper & a twissle of Armagnac (more grapey than Cognac). Burn off alcohol & add some boullion to liquify. Cut the meat in a fan-tail of slices, then pour over the gravy & figs. Serve on a bed of lettuce & toast ,preferrably high gluttenso as to go with ‘stick’ in the fig juice. A glass of high tannin Bergerac red will clean the palette.

‘FIGS’ 1994

‘Figs’ 1994
41 x 28 cm. Chalk.
© The Artist.
Click on image to enlarge (& see without the blur).

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More comparisons with early work, from the portfolio that was moved out from under the bed. Is old work better left behind, left to the spiders? These comparisons always provoke feelings of unease & disapointment in me. Have I really only come such a little distance, when I wanted to move mountains?

Sunflowers III

‘Sunflowers III’
24 x 32 cm.
Watercolour. Lana 220GMS
© The Artist.
Click on image to enlarge (& see without the blur).

Sunflowers – the Last of The Stragglers

‘Last of The Stragglers’
50 x 41 cm
watercolour. Arches 180 GMS.
© The Artist.
I’ve been watching a field of late flowering sunflowers. Normally all the sunflowers are harvested by the end of July, and then afterwards, sometimes there might be a random second flowering of the self-sown seeds scatttered here or there. I call this type of sunflower a ‘straggler’. These stragglers are more like a rudbeckia than the comtempory agricultural sunflower (which may well have cause Vincent a problem or two if he were to try & fit ‘Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase’ such in the National Gallery, London…). They have a much smaller head of seeds, their petals are more beserk & wind blown and best of all are their long, star-fish like sepals. Yes the sepals of these stragglers are really something. What’s more, they do not have one large flower head but several smaller ones, gourmands that grow on sub-branches from the central stem.
Anyway, this year, with the cold rainy July & August, the sunflowers have been rotten. My farmer-friend had to plough a whole field back in the beginning of June, because of the wet spring, which brought on massive attack of slugs who ate the seeds.

I rounded up these stragglers on a late, wet day in september, the brave last trumpets of summer. How could I not have a soft spot for them, me who went to live in the land of the sunflowers?

32 x 24 cm

Early Watercolours circa 1986

‘Trees in the Fog, (England)’
watercolour & gouache, circa 1986
bockingford, 45 x 33cm
© The Artist.
Foggy morning outside this morning. We’ve recently been moving things about ‘chez-nous’ in the endlessly on-going restoration work on our old, leaky house. bucketing it in through th estudio roof. About three insches floding teh other day.
And so had to pull out from the spider’s lair under a double bed, a few beaten up , dusty portfolios….
which contains some of my beginnings as a painter…
The little that remains from the numerous shake-downs, great bonfires, binning sessions, house-moves, changes of studio, changes of direction, self-estimation, doubts, always the doubts, the reaffirmations of faith, the poverty, & , yes, even the occassional sales.
What is left?
And why keep it?
Looking back some twenty years…. well, us watercolourists can say with meaning ‘it’s all water under the bridge’ 😉

my first ‘wet on wet’ watercolour

The above was one of my first ‘wet on wet’.
why bother blog it? Don’t know really. it’s not very good. I mean I’ve seen a lot students do better than I first time round, their first go.
Wet on Wet always solicites great surprises when the beginner is unfamiliar with the sensation of water spreading out on the paper & the colours actually fusing before one’s very eyes, as if by magic. It is a wonderful feeling. The old watercolour recipe of coloured air, of light & water & fog mixing together. Something of the spontaneous, of the moment. Plein-air, of course. In Hampshire, on home ground.

‘Trees in the Lot (France)’
watercolour, circa 1986
bockingford, 25 x 18 cm
© The Artist.
Click on image to enlarge (& see without the blur).

 i learnt something from Norman Adams, the ex Keeper of the Royal Academy School

This is another watercolour from my beginnings at art school at The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (1982-1987). Though I received no formal training as a watercolourist, nothing as structured & well-presented as I try to teach on my painting holidays in france , I was very lucky to have learnt from Norman Adams, the ex Keeper of the Royal Academy School. In no sense was the education formal, but I found his presence inspirational (even if it was something to rebel against). He was an elder artist, in the last & in his case spectular flowering of his creativity, whose work I admired ( & still do). Norman believed that art was a matter of vision (& not technique).

He was very much in the English tradition of Neo-Romantic painters, whose lineage can be traced back to William Blake. ‘A Sense of Place’, where The Image comes not uniquely from work ‘en plein-air’ but from an appreciation of the meaning of the place. Vision, if you like. Poetry & not too many details. Norman was into angels & sunflowers & above all, colour. He also took holidays in the south of France, walked with Vincent at St Rémy & like many northerners, marvelled at the heat & light of the south. During the same period, I used to pass summer holidays in my mother’s house in the Lot. Responding to a new landscape & discovering a new medium, watercolour. I still love both watercolour & landscape very much.

And I still feel that painting is as much about vision as it is about ‘technique’

Thanks Norman. Thanks Vincent. Thanks William.

Norman Adams, RA
© The Artist’s Estate

‘Avec Vincent (Les Baux des Provence)’
Quater Imperial, 28 X 38 cm, Arches Rough
© The Artist

Albas, point de vue surplombant Le Lot

‘Albas 1’

‘Albas 2’
‘ Albas 3’
28 x 38 cm. Quarter ‘imperial’ sheet Arches rough 300 gms.
© The Artist.
Click on image to enlarge (& see without the blur).

Looking down over a meander in a river

Sunny evening point from a rock outcrop overlooking a meander in the river Lot, the next large east-west river southwards from the river Dordogne.

Painting demands a certain type of concentration. And plein-air painting still yet another type of concentration. The french word ‘éveil’ comes to mind, which translated means awakening or wakefulness or alertness. Painting does require alot of concentration… and wakefulness. Yet at the highest state ( I hope I’ve not yet reached it, as I adhere to the principal of the necessity of ‘over-reaching’, of always pushing further for quality) of éveil, it feels more like dreaming, than being totally awake. When I talk to other watercolourists, they too report a feeling of ‘it all sort of coming together’ in a state of ‘éveil’. It’s only after the painting session that I realise just how tired I get after painting & day dreaming!

The Hudson River School of Painting

I was out surfing “The Hudson River School of Painting” & stumbled across these jpegs, which I can’t yet attribute, so whoops, copyright. I post them here not because the red idian with the umbrella on the rocky outcrop was probably off on a day dream éveil but because they are wonderful images of meanders.

Is it a cheesy cliché to paint THE VIEW?

Always a nagging feeling inside me, that hasn’t gone away, that it’s too cliché… but , on the other hand…. neither has my desire to paint these amazing views & meanders. They move me deeply.

far from the world of plein-air watercolours but belonging in spirit with the red indians & the Hudson River painters, is my old cheese ‘Le Cingle de Tremolat’

Journées Européennes du Patrimoine 2007

Last weekend was the ‘European Days of Heritage’. It’s a wonderful chance to see some of the sites that aren’t always open to public or just not very well known.

Visiting out-of-the-way ‘manoirs’ & ‘chartreuses’ always surprises me. Not just the amount of restoration & rebuilding that has gone on in the Dordogne these last twenty years but also, more quietly & lesser well-known, just how many charming gardens have been sculpted, imagined & manicured. The above garden is an innovative version of a ‘potager classique’ (like the famous Chateau de Villandry) but with a hydralic feature like a feature from the Alhambra. The owner explained to me that sound of gurgling water made the exprience of gardening on a south facing slope more ‘agréable’.

I did a watercolour of the very french formal facade & formally laid-out gardens. But it wasn’t finished, felt like a rush-job & well, why expect very single watercolour to come together successfully first-take, alla prima?

Watercolour; 38 x 28 cm. Arches hot pressed, 300gms
1 hr 15 mins.

‘Le Pigeonnier’

28 x 38 cm. Watercolour – arches rough 300GMS
© The Artist.

Lovely sun drenched high pressure these last two weeks. Clear as a bell. The invisibility, for want of a better word, of the high scintillating light inspires a palette of transparent pigments – cobalt, helio turquoise, winsor lemon, raw sienna – then tweeked it with some cadmium yellow deep on the focal point of ….yes, the street lamp, which looks suspicious like those pesky railings to my cautious eye.

All the usual problems with colour reproduction, even with my new Cannon eos 400 (this was shoot using the landscape colour filter, which was a mistake, as it bumps up the saturation & contrast).

28 x 38cm. Watercolour. Arches Rough 300gms
© The Artist.

A Painting Demonstration

This was a demonstration painting from last week’s painting course in the Chateau de Lanquais.
I’ve frequently commented on the importance of demonstrations. If you want to learn to paint, go see a demo from someone who knows how to paint. Worth a thousand words or a million bulletin points. Their knowledge is in their hands & their gestes. You see just how the another artist goes about making a painting (which is of course just what a teacher as well also gets to do whilst watching his students paint!), how the painting unfolds, and even better, you are also in front of the subject matter ‘sur le vif’ .A book can never give you this.

“I don’t do railings”

There’s a funny story that goes along with the above demo piece. One of the group chirped out “bet you’ve painted that doorway a few times already”, which was true, for I had already painted as a demo once beforehand.

There’s the problem of those pesky railings in front of the entrance on the balcony… not only incredibly fiddly but all upright & regular, with a lot of drawing but also with the added problem of them being light railings in front of a dark door. light over dark. Tiger territory. And when asked by a student about the railings, I spontaneously blurted out “I don’t do railings”, which caused much laughter. Important point however… you don’t have to put in everything you see. There’s some editorial scope for exclusion as well. At least, to identify the areas with which you feel there’s gonna be scope for making a error. Try not to mistakes in public (advice to a blogger).

Doing a demo at lanquais (please don’t note the bald patch)

So, below, there’s the demo piece.

“You’ll be lucky!”

From quite a few years back. 2002. In this one, I did exclude the railings. Cut them off. Whipped them out.

This time, there was a remark from an ex-architect “You’ll be lucky!” – who saw me painting it straight in with the brush, without any underdrawing. I don’t know if I was but what did happen was that I reverted from a transparent palette of cobalt blue & raw sienna such as used in the above, to a heavily opaque palette of cadmium yellow & a blue shade of iron red. Even the ‘watercolour sin’ of using acrylic. Covering up one’s mistakes? Making your mistakes in public? To do railings or not do railings…. (note the fade-out on the railings that go down the stairs in the first demo piece. Compromise & suggestion is possible, n’est pas?).

‘Portail, Donjon Sarlardais, XIV ème, Chateau de Lanquais’
© the artist