Sunday, December 13, 2015


This portrait took a lot longer to finish than I thought and I feel that there is still perhaps more to do to it. I'll put it aside for a while then take a look at it later on with fresh eyes. Size is 10" x 14", watercolor on TH Saunders paper.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Leaving the skin and hair for awhile, I concentrated on completing the grey top. The sleeves are slightly see-thru so I first laid down a few orangeish washes as a base then when dry, painted the details such as the folds in the material etc over the top, all the while being careful not to go too dark or allow these areas to get muddy - easy enough to do! More darker grey washes followed then the slight pattern of the top was added afterwards. I had to keep standing back and looking at the painting from a distance to make sure that there was a uniformity of tone but also at the same time I kept adding some slightly darker tones to create depth within the fabric. When I was happy that the blouse was almost complete, I turned my attention to the hair adding more washes to deepen and enrich this area. I also started to define the neck and the slight shadow on her right shoulder but even at this point, I can see there is still quite a lot to do.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Here I have spent time working mostly on the hair trying to get a good depth of tone without going too dark. The shine on the hair was an interesting challenge to try and capture - it's not quite finished yet. I'm keeping the washes light at this time and will slowly darken them as I work my way through. Light washes have been also added to the face and shoulders trying to capture the correct form, and quite a lot of time spent working on the eyes too as this is a very important part of a portrait to get right - they are still not quite as I want them but overall I'm happy with the painting so far. My camera is making the skin tones look a bit blotchy here but in reality they are a lot smoother.


Here is the start of a new portrait of my lovely niece Lisa. I had been wanting to do a painting of her for some time so after a few drawings were completed, I took the plunge and started on a watercolor. Using my usual painting method, I started with a careful drawing on stretched watercolor paper then laid in some background washes - mostly neutral tint and raw umber. Letting that dry, I put in some of the darkest areas (her eyes) and a few washes for the hair. Immediately afterwards I noticed a few defects in the paper so will have to carefully work around them so as to maintain a smooth effect on the hair and skin - much work ahead!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


I'm slowly catching up posting some of the work that has been recently finished here in the studio and further afield. Going back to my recent South African trip, the ostrich is a bird quite often seen when driving through some of the less settled areas but these aren't truly wild birds, rather ones that have escaped from ostrich farms. When we visited Qwantani (see earlier blog) we saw quite a few of them and one morning 3 were on the grounds feeding around the chalets (one male and two females). When I stepped out for a closer look, all three headed in my direction and two ended up standing on the stoep itself! Not exactly wild birds then - obviously used to hand-outs from visitors. At first I was a bit wary as the males can be dangerous during the breeding season. But they only seemed to be interested in food so I managed some incredible close-ups with my digital camera and later drew this male as I had seen it the day before walking through the veld. Close up they are very impressive birds and have wonderfully long eyelashes! The males wing feathers are white while the tail is a warm reddish-grey - the females an overall greyish-brown. An amazing bird with very powerful legs and feet too! One of these days I'll probably do an African landscape with ostrich striding through just as I saw them. Ostrich study above - graphite on paper (sketchbook), 7" x 9".

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Sorry about the large painting in the last pic, It was covered with glass and I didn't realize that the window behind me was reflecting so strongly and washing out the image.
Amongst the artists, I seem to have most paintings in the exhibition - 9, and this is because I was working from two properties. Reflecting on the experience, I am happy and proud to be part of this exhibition and it seems quite a worthwhile effort on the part of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy group. I hope this exhibition continues to call attention to some of the threats that the Chesapeake area faces here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.


Here as promised is the String of Pearls Exhibition currently showing at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center, 114 S. Washington St, Easton, MD, USA. I'll split the show into two blog posts as there are quite a few paintings.

Monday, November 23, 2015


The String of Pearls exhibition is currently running at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center , 114 South Washington Street, Easton Maryland until the end of the year. The show is to help bring attention to the threats the Chesapeake Bay faces and how landowners can help. Artists are pared to different properties and visit each site to observe and to paint. I was fortunate to have two properties to work from so within the limited time I had, a few small plein air studies were done on site then larger paintings were finished in the studio.
Cold Reflection, oil on canvas, 8" x 10" (above).

Some of the views from the properties were magnificent, here I am looking downriver towards the bridge we crossed when driving there. We were blessed with great weather on both occasions and that always makes plein air painting so much easier.
Sundown, oil on canvas, 7" x 9".

The view here is from the lower fields looking East up towards the farmhouse and storage barn.
A New Dawn, oil on canvas, 15" x 20".

I really enjoyed walking around exploring and discovering different corners of each property, here the view is across the fish pond towards a shady area with mature trees - a warm late-summer day.
Deer Stand, oil on canvas, 9" x 12". SOLD.

I found many such views like this and could have painted there for days.
Edge of the Wood, oil on canvas, 5" x 7". SOLD.

Looking into the water was mesmerizing - the sun, the ripples and my thoughts drifted, I felt totally at peace.
Sun Reflections, oil on canvas, 9" x 7".
I'll try and post the whole exhibition online as I am not sure that the public can otherwise access the show.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I have been extremely busy preparing paintings for an exhibition in Easton, Maryland. More details about that show later but for now I just wanted to post this recently completed painting in which I wanted to capture the beginning of a new day along the Eastern Shore. Size is 16" x 20", oil on canvas.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Whenever it is misty outside, I take the opportunity to explore the surrounding landscape as often times, what was usually a walk through the woods becomes something completely different. I came upon this scene not far from home in a part of the reserve that we don't usually visit. I was surprised to see this hill and the descending area on the right fading through the fog. A small study followed which has helped cement a few ideas in mind for a much larger work of a quiet and misty scene down by the lake which also had the same amazing atmosphere. This painting is an oil on board, size is 5" x 7".

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I saw this scene not far from my home and worked from direct observation - the painting has become one of M's favorites. I wanted very subdued colors with rich tones and feel I did get close to my goal. This small work sat around in the studio for some time and actually only needed a little attention to the foreground and some subtle modulations of tone around the buildings to complete it. I'm really glad I did this one though as the farm and surrounding trees are now all gone due to development. I have been somewhat lucky to have been able to get to a lot of farms in our surrounding areas to do studies and take photos of them before they too were taken down. The finished painting for me represents a changing world - one in which I am not always happy to see progress.
This painting has proved very difficult to photograph though so might have to go back and re-do this one. Size is 8" x 10" (20cm x 26cm), oil on canvas.

Friday, October 16, 2015


Driving around the mostly dry and rocky terrain, most time was spent bird watching but I was also looking out for areas that could use in my landscape paintings. Stunning is the word that came to mind again and again as we moved deeper into the mountains. More birds were found including a key species for the area - Bearded Vulture! This was one of the birds we were most desperate to see so thanks to Paul for spotting it and to Steve for the photos.

We were a little surprised not to see more African animals but the birds more than made up for it. Along with Cape Vulture spotted above the ridge was a soaring Lanner Falcon which I later did a painting of.

Relaxing back at the Chalet, time was spent mostly birding from the porch and it was surprising how many birds we saw!

Later a short walk along the shore turned up an African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene) along with other birds - including quite a few annoyingly unfamiliar cisticolas!!! Well we can hope for better luck next time! All in all, an amazing trip at Qwantani.
This concludes my African adventure for the moment although I may come back to my SA visit later on (as I finish more paintings) - for now it is on to new things!
Lanner Falcon painting above, watercolor on Arches paper, 7" x 11". Bearded Vulture, Buff-streaked Chat and Cape Weaver photos by Steve Pearse.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


It is barely light as I ease myself out of the door of our chalet and step into the cool dawn. Red-winged and Pied Starlings call from the tree outside and I hear the chatter of weaver finches nearby. Walking down to the headland overlooking the water, canaries sing in the trees as I pass and across the dam, distant calls of Hadeda Ibis.

High up, cirrus clouds glow in the morning sun, a faint pink etched against the blue - the sun has yet to crest the hill to the East. Fiscal Shrikes are already active and in the reedbeds, Long-tailed Wydowbirds (the males still in Winter plumage) flutter to and fro. The air is full of bird calls and as I gaze across the distant landscape, a lone Blesbok lopes away. Up on the ridge nearby, I spot 3 Ostrich - two males and a female - they would soon join us below! A cool breeze called for a jacket this morning but as the sun rises, it soon warms up. By now I have reached the hillside overlooking the water and the view is magnificent. A White-breasted Cormorant flies along the shoreline heading for deeper water and close in are hundreds of Red-knobbed Coots. The surrounding landscape is simply stunning - more so when coloured by the rays of the sun as it crests the ridge. I am already planning paintings in my mind and am almost overwhelmed by choice. Yet another spectacular morning in Africa.

Painting above - Wattled Crane, watercolor on Arches paper, 12" x 9" (30cm x 23cm). Notes above from my Qwantani diary. Photos: (1) Looking across Sterkfontein Dam, (2) Pied Starling and (3) Red-winged Starling (both these species along with Black-eyed BulBuls, weavers etc were hoping to join me for breakfast).

Friday, September 25, 2015


After relaxing for a few days, we decided to drive to Qwantani resort and managed to get booking online. This would give us a few days out of Johannesburg and also a chance to gather reference for my paintings, and to do some serious birdwatching. There were many wonderful scenes on the way down and I saw the rocks shown in the painting above on the way into the park (8"x 10", oil on canvas). What interested me so much was the interplay of evening light and shadow against the cooler blue of the sky so I knew I would have to do a study of it.

This watercolor painting above was done in my sketchbook and is typical in the area as being one of the many such landscape features we passed on the way down - I'll probably do an oil study of this scene later on. Never having driven this way before, I found this part of SA fascinating and began to see more mountains as we approached the Drakensburg. I could see that this type of scene would be one that I would return to often in my SA paintings.

Along with the spectacular landscape were many birds. Apart from the more usual roadside birds, we also saw a large flock of Long-tailed Widowbirds. At first I had no idea what they were as in Winter, the males resemble the females so it took us a while on the side of the road to figure that one out. Driving on a little further, we were very excited when we came across a party of Ground Woodpeckers (Steve Pearse photo above). They are endemic to Southern Africa and were very happy to add them to our rapidly-growing bird list. Next, a new dawn in the Drakensburg!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


In the previous post I mentioned looking out over the lake as the sun rose in the African sky. Later in the morning, birds dropped down to the exposed rocks near the middle of the lake to bathe and to drink. The balcony was an excellent spot to just sit and see what turned up - before I took this photo, Blacksmith Lapwings had been busy at the waters edge feeding and preening. When they took off, the Indian Myna's arrived followed by the Moorhen. The two Cattle Egrets had been there for some time and were later joined by another. Hawking insects over the lake were Lesser-striped and White-throated Swallows along with a few Rock Martins. Weavers were busy at the lakeside reeds and an early male Stonechat was joined by a female just below where I was sitting.

There were plenty of other birds around at that time of the morning - mostly common winter species but as it was warming up to an early Spring, many were nest building. Later walking around the estate, we found the nest of a White-bellied Sunbird - the male singing nearby. The female once stuck her head out before retreating again. Stonechats (male pictured above) were seen most mornings feeding in the garden and amongst the dried grasses and rocky areas to the right of the house.

I did the painting above as another example of the South African landscape - just a typical scene one would come across driving around the highveld in Winter. I'm not trying at this point to do anything too adventurous as I'm still feeling my way in so to speak and I don't expect to be able to come close to what I feel about what I am seeing around me. 'Near Harrismith' is an oil on canvas, size 5" x 9" (13cm x 23cm).

Friday, September 11, 2015


Our visit back to South Africa was to be a family event and while I was not looking forward to the more than 15 hour flight, it passed quicker than I had hoped. We arrived in Johannesburg just as the sun was setting over the African landscape. Surprisingly it felt like coming home as I haven't set foot in Africa for over 20 years! As they say, "Africa gets into your blood", and for me that certainly is true. We were to be staying with my brother in his large and quite wonderful home overlooking a lake, so early the next morning I woke before dawn and walked downstairs to the second floor balcony so that I could watch the sun come up.

 The winter sky was almost clear of cloud so this, the first African dawn for a long time, was to be a very special one. In the photos above, the sun has yet to rise over the horizon but the colours were amazing!. The first photo shows where Hadeda and Sacred Ibis were roosting in the large Gum trees just to the right of the house along with about 35 Helmeted Guineafowl. It was wonderful watching them leave the roost and take off in different directions for the day - spectacular against the colours of the dawn. If you look closely on the right you can see a few Hadeda Ibis in flight - their loud calls adding to the mood. This day was to be the start of a very special trip back the the country I once called home.

Later driving around I noticed that not much had changed except that most of the roads were in better condition, although there were certainly more people than I remembered. The area around Johannesburg is mostly grassland with the occasional rocky outcrop (kopie) and one of the things that I had always found interesting was coming across small stands of trees - sometimes appearing in the middle of nowhere - which added a distinct character to the landscape. Usually these plantings were of Eucalyptus trees and the sight of them were something that had always epitomized South Africa for me. So it was this feeling that prompted me to paint the small canvas shown above. I had the idea to set the scene in the early morning with some cloud cover as added atmosphere and tried to capture something of the essence of South Africa in this study. With the dried grasses and lonesome trees, I felt very satisfied upon completing it. 'Roadside Trees' is in oil, size 8" x 10" (20cm x 26cm) .

Monday, August 31, 2015


Not sure if I posted a pic of this painting, I completed it awhile ago and for once I was happy with the finished painting. It took many layers of watercolor to get to this point but I felt that all the work was worth it in the end. It was fantastic to work on a painting with the real bird right there in front of me. These large owls are one of my favorites and I do plan on completing more studies of them someday. In the meantime I have been very busy with other work which I'll get to in my next post.
Eagle Owl, watercolor on Arches paper, 7.5" x 11". SOLD.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Working slowly on the back and wing, I completed that section then moved around here and there darkening some areas and adding more details as needed. I tidied up the eye a little then added the finest shading to some of the markings and also along the breast as I wanted to define that line a bit more. At this time, I'm still not sure what pose the bird will be in when it comes time to do a watercolor study but have just finished another light drawing on watercolor paper of the bird in a slightly different pose than this one so that will most likely be it. I have certainly enjoyed making studies of this most impressive Buteo - I'm sure they won't be the last. Finished drawing is on Arches paper, size 15" x 11" (38cm x 28cm).


Here I am well into the details of the back and wing, trying all the while to capture the rather intricate plumage and feather structure. Since this study will only be in black and white, I am more concerned about the tonal values as they have to read correctly across the image. Another pass over the top of the head brought up some of the markings there. Next I'll add the final part of the wing and a few smaller details here and there.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Here I'm working on finishing the head, neck and upper breast. I'm getting closer to completing those areas by adding some finer markings and also doing a little more shading around the eye and lores. The beak has been worked over again and I'm trying to create depth by shading under the throat and on the front of the breast. It's coming along but taking much longer that I had hoped - each stage has been one day of work! Next I'll work more on the back and hope to complete the head.


I had earlier enjoyed painting a study of an adult Ferruginous Hawk so much that I was inspired to do something more with this wonderfully-marked raptor. I completed the first study just over a year ago but this time wasn't sure which pose to use for the new painting. As is usually the case with my watercolors, I do a few studies beforehand trying to get more of a feel for the subject. So starting on Arches paper, I did a basic outline using a 2B pencil. There wasn't a lot of sizing on the paper (perhaps it was a very old sheet) so the graphite didn't go on as smoothly as I had hoped. This caused me to take a slightly more careful approach trying all the while to be as accurate as possible and to get as much of the character of the bird into the work. As always, I started detailing the head first and then concentrated on finishing the eye which is always the most important part for me. I then moved onto the beak and a few of the markings around the lores.


Finally turning my attention to the water, I worked slowly and carefully trying all the while to get movement into the falling water. I didn't want the effect you get when you photograph moving water using a high shutter speed as that effect essentially freezes the movement, so I blended many of the brushstrokes and kept edges soft. A final darkening of some of the rocks here and there completed the painting. I'm glad that I did this smaller study as it has pointed to a slightly different direction for the larger painting to come. I should mention that I saw this scene at Great Falls, Maryland where the Potomac river drops quite a lot in a short amount of time producing a wonderful spectacle - a favorite place of mine to go and paint.

Monday, August 10, 2015


Apart from a slight touch up here and there, the rocks are complete! As with the area on the right side, I worked from top to bottom using a slightly darker (and cooler) mix as I went down. Getting the right balance was tough though as there is still the tumbling water to do. This is sure to influence the painting in one way or another but I'm confident this will show me which direction to take the final painting so am holding off doing anything else until the water is finished. Initially this image attracted me with it's abstract feel - the lighter area of the falling water surrounded by the darks of the rocks, so I kept this concept in my mind as I worked - now after getting this far, I simply like the painting for what it is.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Here more rocks have been added on the right side and I have started working on the water. That part is a bit rough at the moment as I just wanted to get it in! I used less Yellow Ochre in the rocks as I moved down to the bottom of the canvas so they appear ever so slightly cooler in color temperature and also a bit darker. So far I was happy that I was getting some depth in the work. I must say that I really enjoyed painting all the different shapes and tones etc - sometimes I think that I could be happy just painting rocks and skies!


The start of a new painting - first on a small canvas I drew in the details with a HB pencil. Usually I use a fine brush and thinned raw umber but used graphite this time for convenience. Once I was happy with the shape of the rocks etc, I started in the top left working right on top of the graphite without sealing it first. Not a problem in this case as the rocks were to be relatively dark so the graphite was absorbed into the paint. I used a few basic colours and tried to keep the painting relatively loose working quickly and laying in the paint wet into wet. Darker areas were Raw Umber straight out of the tube. Next more rocks!!