Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Here most of the neck has been worked on but I still have to finish some of the finer details therein. I have also laid in the under layers of black for the plumage - this will be finished off when the paint has dried. I think at this point, I'll go to work on the background. Doing so will totally eliminate what is there now and I should better be able to bring into focus the head of the bird. I'll finish up by adding the final details to the Cassowary such as the fine hairs and feather barbs etc.

Friday, September 2, 2016


Normally I would paint in the background first but decided with this painting to complete the whole bird portrait first. It would mean painting around the image later on but it seemed to be relatively straightforward. I do like the warm yellowish overall tone already there but have to paint over the underlying image so will probably put in something more subdued - which I hope will better bring out the bird's colors.
After adding the pale greyish tones of the head, it was fun then to use a brighter blue for the chin and neck. The 'horn' was completed with greys, browns and a little black then I used some of this leftover paint to create texture and wrinkles around the head, working wet-into-wet to blend everything in. The area of the hind neck has more detail so will probably take a little longer to finish - I don't want to rush this area as it's a bit complicated.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Finding myself in a somewhat impatient but creative mood, I decide that I just had to do a detailed bird portrait in oil. Picking up this previously worked board (since nothing else was available in that size), I rotated it 90 degrees and began drawing in pencil the shape and details of the Cassowary right over the top of the older work. When happy with the drawing, began laying on some paint. I used a somewhat stiff brush and very thin paint doing the eye first (as usual) then the beak and the 'horn (or shield - whatever it's called!). It was most enjoyable adding the textures and the wrinkled skin around the eye - I let it dry overnight and added another thin coat of brown on the eye the next day. Okay so far so good - next more of the same!

Thursday, August 18, 2016


A few months ago we noticed that a Raptor show was coming to one of our local parks here in Maryland so on that weekend we went over to see what was happening. Very well attended, we had to park some way away then walk to where all the action was. There were about 6 or 7 falconers there giving talks or showing birds. Some sat on bow perches in a roped-off area, others were in boxes to be brought as necessary. I managed many photos and some of my watercolor sketches are below.

This Aplomado Falcon was lovely to look at and draw. She was flown a few times and was incredibly lithe in the air. Quick, long-winged and very agile swooping about the sky - wonderful to watch!

This Yellow-headed Vulture was another interesting bird and is just like our Turkey Vulture but is yellow on the head instead of being red. There were a number of owls too including Great-horned, Screech, Long-eared, European Eagle Owl and the star of the show - a beautiful well-marked female Snowy Owl. Hawks included Red-tailed and Harris Hawk plus there were plenty of others too. Inside in a soft-lined box was another surprise - 2 European Eagle Owl chicks! Incredibly cute and occasionally giving 'screesh' begging calls. It was too crowded in there to do any sketches so I did the above drawing at home in my studio later on. It was certainly a morning well spent and I now have plenty of sketches and photos to draw from for future work.

Eagle Owl Chick, graphite on Arches paper, 7" x 11". Red Boat sketchbook studies, 8" x 11" (approx).

Thursday, August 4, 2016


Here is the signed White Tiger woodblock print from the first run. The image size is approx 5" x 6.5" (12cm x 17cm). Paper size is 6" x 8" (15cm x 20cm). The black and grey tones were printed using Speedball water-based inks, the blue using Cerulean Blue watercolor from Windsor and Newton. Paper is Kozo printing paper - a bit thin but acceptable. Please contact me if you want one of these prints.

This pic shows the just completed print run. I keep the slightly damp prints in this plastic folder as it helps stop them from drying out during printing. After the printing process is completed, I dry the prints sandwiched between sheets of mat board which absorbs most of the remaining moisture. Then they are stacked under a heavy book for a few days after which they are nice and flat.

Some of the prints laid out here before signing showing consistency through the print run. I'm sure that as I do more of these, my printing will get better with fewer mistakes - fortunately there were only a few rejects and I managed 15 clean prints ready for sale.

Incidentally, if you are purchasing woodblock prints, how can you tell if they are original or just a mechanically produced print? Best way is to turn the print over and view the back. It should look like the back of my print shown above. Notice how the pigment has been forced into the fibers of the paper - this is due to the pressure of the baren during the printing process. This effect will be less if thicker paper is used but you should still be able to see pigment from the back. Also in oblique light, there should be a slight impression in the paper from the rubbing pressure against the blocks. Most reputable online dealers will show an image of the back of the print along with the front.

Well, this has been quite a journey and one that I am very glad to have taken. I have learn so much and am eager to try more - I have quite a few ideas for larger woodblock prints but need to source some decent wood first. In the meantime my next posts will focus on some of the other things I have been working on.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


This took far longer than I had expected but after many experiments printing on different papers etc, I was able to do a complete print run. So far this is an open edition as I may use the image to do cards etc.  I did make quite a few mistakes along the way but I learnt a lot. So far I am happy with the design and carving of the blocks but realize I have quite a way to go with the printing process. I am getting better though and I know that things will be easier with the next print.

This image shows my first impression using block 1, and printing pale grey as the first color. The print shown here is a bit blotchy and this is due to two factors - the wood that I used for the block and also the paper which was Japanese Kozo printing paper - nice but a bit thin really. The wood blocks had quite an open grain so some lines appeared and also it was a bit soft for proper woodblock printing. When taking each impression, some of the pigment that was around the areas of the carved shapes bled into the printed areas causing yet more blotching which was very annoying. Using better wood should stop all these problems. Fortunately for me, quite a lot of this first layer will be overprinting with the next grey and eventually the black so I wasn't too worried.

Here is the print after receiving the second color - a medium grey. This one went on a bit better but still had more texture than I would have liked. I printed each edition on dry paper which is not quite the correct way but as I am still learning, I wanted to keep each step as simple as possible. After completing each color stage, the prints were laid out to dry off slightly then stacked under some heavy books - this minimized any wrinkling. One other problem was that I initially printed the first two colors of 20 prints on the wrong side of the paper so these all had to be scrapped! Thankfully I was only half way before I realized!
When it came time to print the black, I had more problems. The main one was getting the ink to the right consistency. Since I am using the Japanese method of printing, the color is not rolled onto the block as in other methods but rather brushed on using a special brush so it has to be thinned. Dark colors can be a problem even for experienced printers and I ended up having to print the black twice. Still, not the end of the world and when I was happy with the strength of the black, I did the blue of the eyes using cerulean blue then set the prints aside to dry. Next I will sign and title the prints then enjoy the results of my very first woodblock print.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Onto the third block now. This one will take the longest to carve as the lightest grey is in most areas of the print and underlies the other two colors. I start in the upper left slowly working my way down the block taking care not to loosen any of the more delicate pieces of carved wood.

More carving this time on the right side. I'm mostly using an Exacto knife with a fine sharp blade to do the shaping of each area, then a thin v-gouge to remove the wood around the carved areas. Larger areas are taken out with a wider c-gouge and a flat chisel.

Here the block is mostly completed - it has taken quite some time to get to this point. Mainly because I am new to woodblock carving and also because I am taking care not to break off any of the small carved shapes of the somewhat delicate wood.

Knowing that I could lose some of the carved areas when printing, I decide to carefully add thin superglue to most of the smaller shapes on the block reinforcing the glue of the plywood. I pour out a blob of glue then using a thin piece of wire, add glue around the base of each carved shape. This of course takes ages but I am at last satisfied that the wood won't come off of the block later on when I start the print run.

And here is the block with the image washed off and the wood dried. As you can see, there is a lot of detail on this one - trust me to choose such an intricate image for my first woodblock print!

And here is the 4th block in the series. This one was the simplest as it will only be used for printing the blue of the eyes.

Finally I'm finished with all the carving! It really has taken some time but here are the four blocks shown together. So far I'm happy with how things have gone. Next onto to some test printing!

Monday, June 20, 2016


Onto the second block now. Here I am working on removing the wood around the areas that will remain the darker of the two greys. Since I will be using transparent color for the printing, I can safely overprint these areas without creating any problems which would be much more difficult if I was to use opaque oil-based ink. I carefully note which area has to remain on the block then as before, cut around then remove the excess wood with various gouges etc. It's slow work but hopefully I will be able to make many prints from the finished blocks.

This pic shows the completed dark grey block with the registration marks in the lower right and left. Next I'll take the block to the sink and carefully wash off the remaining paper image that was glued on before I started.

And finally the block ready for printing. Since there are more areas in the print that will be dark grey, this block took a bit longer to do compared to the first one. Still, things seems to be going along okay, the real test of course will come during the printing process. Then I'll be better able to compare sample prints to each other and see if I need to do any modifications with the registration etc.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


After deciding to attempt a woodblock print from scratch, I took a look in my garage through the wood pile and found the remnants of a sheet of plywood that I had used to make a cabinet. The surface looked quite smooth so I cut the sheet into four 7" x 9" pieces on my table saw. These were given a little sanding around the edges to clean up any rough spots then the top surface was lightly sanded with fine sandpaper and dusted off.

I scanned my original image of the tiger into my computer then resized it to about 5" x 7". This was printed out onto 4 sheets of white tissue paper that I had taped to regular printing paper sheets. I should have used Japanese Gampi tissue paper to print onto as it is much stronger but didn't have any so the domestic tissue had to do. This was then pasted face down onto one of the plywood blocks. I tried to get is as square as I could but wasn't too worried as I would cut the registration marks according to the print and not to the edge of the block. I didn't have the proper tools so had to make do with a x-acto knife and a few linocut carving tools that M gave me.

Not really knowing what I was doing, I proceeded with cutting the two registration (kento) marks on the lower right and bottom left, then began cutting away all of the wood around the areas that I wanted to print black. This took quite a long time as although the image looks quite simple, there was a lot of detail that I wanted to capture in the print.

Slowly getting there! The plywood was quite soft so it came off quite easily, the problem was making clean cuts so as not to flake off any of the wood that had to remain on the block. I used a gouge to remove the wood in some of the larger areas but had to be very careful not to slip and make any mistakes.

Finally all the carving was finished for this block. I left a ridge of wood that extended up somewhat between the eyes as this would support the sheet of paper when it came time to print. This would stop the sheet bowing down and picking up any stray ink from the block and ruining the print.

Next I took the finished block to the sink and gently washed off the tissue paper using a toothbrush. I was careful not to scrub too hard as the glue used on plywood sheets is very thin and doesn't hold the layers together that well. I didn't want any of my carved areas to come off.

I inked up the block then made a few test prints on ordinary copy paper - not bad so far. The wood held the water-based ink well and with enough rubbing, it transferred to the paper quite well. I know that the printing process will get better as I practice and using better paper when printing will also help. Most of what I have learnt about woodblock carving has been from the incredible David Bull. See much more on his multi-faceted website - www.woodblock.com. Next onto carving one of the color blocks.

Monday, May 30, 2016


I have been interested in woodblock prints for many years and still very much enjoy the ones in my collection that I purchased some time ago. So after doing a lot of research and practicing on a few scrap pieces of wood, I decided to try and create a woodblock print from scratch. The close up of a white tiger shown above is the result. There should be a bit more variation in the greys but I'm still not quite up to speed with the printing aspect so will have to experiment a bit more until I am able to complete a full print run. This one was the best of the few that I did but it is only on cheap photocopy paper so should get better results on proper printing paper. I'll document the whole process in the next post. Size is 5" x 6.5".

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Spring brings it's surprises and early one morning I went down to the lake to find a pair of Double-crested Cormorants there. They had obviously spent the night at the lake so I quickly set up and began sketching and painting through my telescope. The bird that I concentrated on was sitting on a slightly submerged branch and with the mist gently floating over the surface of the water, was an irresistible subject. The morning sun added a wonderful element to the scene and I whiled away the time working in my sketchbook. After a few studies were completed, I began the painting seen here. Most of the painting was finished in the studio where I was able to more easily control the multiple washes of color on the paper. Size is 15" x 11", watercolor on Saunders paper.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


An older painting that I'm thinking of doing a larger version of. The scene is at my local lake over in the reserve just as the sun goes down. I was captured by the orangeish evening light and the reflections in the water contrasting with the darker tones of the landscape. I find much enjoyment in trying to capture a quiet restful mood in scenes such as this. Size is 9" x 12", oil on canvas. Private collection.

Monday, April 18, 2016


This bird was present at Mai Po Nature Reserve in Hong Kong where I was able to study it for awhile and do a number of studies. It was in a party of  6 or 7 other stilts hanging about on the mud of Deep Bay waiting for the rising tide. The view of this birds was into the sun and it had a wonderful halo of white around the head and neck - this was something that I wanted to capture in my painting. Starting as always with a careful drawing, I then laid in the background colors wet into wet then concentrated on finishing the water and the muddy bank. The bird was rendered mostly in shades of soft grey. In Winter, stilts have a beautiful elephant-grey hindneck which turns to black as Summer approaches. I used a greenish black for the back and wings. The improbably long legs were a deep red. This study like so many others is a way of exploring birds in their environment and also as a means to further determine artistic possibilities in the future. The watercolor is 7.5" x 11" (19cm x 28cm).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I did some more work to this painting so decided to re-post it here. Didn't really add too much to it, a little work done to the water and also a bit to the bird - mostly to the wing and underbelly. The finished painting is closer to what I had in mind when I first started work on this piece so I think I'll leave it as it is now.
I have a special affinity for the Spotted Redshank. There seems, to my eye at least, to be a wonderful balance between the size of the head and the body which has more of an elegant shape than other tringa waders - although the Greenshank also shares some of this elegance. I also very much enjoy the plumage which ranges from the greyish bird seen above (in winter) to very mottled in-between birds, and during breeding a beautiful dark almost black plumage with paler markings on the back and tertials - from which presumably it gets its name. Size of this watercolor is 10" x 7" (25cm x 18cm).

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Avocets are such graceful birds, truly elegant with their slim shape and the way they slice their bills through the water when feeding. This bird though had one leg tucked up and its feathers slightly fluffed out for although the sun was shining, a cold wind was blowing across the mudflats. I remember the way the warmer reflection on the underparts contrasted with the cooler blue of the water and wanted to recreate this in my painting. Starting again in the background, I worked on the mud trying to create patterns but also keep the handling light at the same time. There was quite a bit of back and forth before I was happy. Then the bird was slowly worked on building up the tones and slightly warmer colours of the underside until I was happy with how it looked.
The individual in my painting had some brownish markings on its back so was probably a female or a juv moulting into adult plumage. This is perhaps a simple painting but holds special significance for me as it takes me right back to my time in the reserve and the wonderful spectacle of the masses of birds there. This watercolor is 7.5 " x 11" (19cm x 28cm).


The Mai Po Nature Reserve in the north of Hong Kong on the border with China is a very important wintering place for many rare and endangered birds and is a place that I love to visit. There are 3 main hides that can be accessed via the boardwalk and all look out over the mudflats of Deep Bay. The rising tide brings many birds close to the hides and this becomes the perfect opportunity to study ducks, waders and gull at close quarters. For me it is the chance to observe, to draw and to paint birds that I would not be able to do otherwise.
Although I prefer to paint directly from the subject, this is not always possible but starting from a brief sketch in my sketchbook, a painting can later be recreated in the studio. My initial drawing of this bird was transferred to a small piece of watercolor paper then added to as necessary. A poor and distant photo helped with some of the details but for the main shape I referred to my sketches. When I was happy with the overall shape of the bird, a wash of blue was added to the background followed with some darker areas while the paper was still damp. I then loosely indicated some of the markings of the avocet then let the paper dry.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


During dim sum with friends at Sai Kung, Hong Kong, a small party of Tree Sparrows were hanging around the lunch table. At first I "accidentally" dropped a few sesame seeds on the floor and in a quick rush, 4 or 5 sparrows grabbed them. After that more crumbs made their way onto the floor and soon the sparrows grew a little bolder. At first they were right under our feet but then began perching higher up on one of the chairs and also on the fencing between the eating area and the beach. This is where I drew and painted the individual seen above. I noticed how dark they were as soon as I saw them. Compared to other Tree Sparrows in Hong Kong, the pale areas around the face should be white and the breast a slightly warm grey whereas on these birds, they were much darker. On some birds, their plumage looked very oily and I came to believe that this (and their darker plumage) was from their diet. We often saw them on the cart that carried the used dishes and they were into what ever was left over from previous meals, including the small dishes of sauce that always accompanies many of the dishes served during dim sum. Mostly these sauces are soy based but there is also "ketsup" - similar to soy but with a sharper more vinegary taste - probably like HB sauce. Anyway, my point is that all of these sauces are very dark and much like shrimps give flamingos their feather coloring, I felt that this was darkening the plumage of this small party of Tree Sparrows. This painting was done in watercolor on Canson paper, size 7" x 5" (18cm x12cm). I titled it "Passer montanus soysauceus". Private collection.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Finally the completed painting. Most of the time spent during this stage was on some of the finer details that brought it all together. The tire that had been nailed to the bow of the boat was finished off along with some of the shadows here and there. A few washes of ultramarine on the water deepened the tone appreciably, I followed up by adding some ripples. Then it was on to the area to the left of the boat making some of the reflections darker and to finish off, I used a stiff moist flat brush to remove some of the yellow paint on the awning to represent the rope that ran from bow to stern. This is probably one of the brightest paintings I have done in watercolor and it only came to me later on when I had the piece sitting in a frame that the work combined the three primary colors - red, yellow and blue! Now that this one is finished, I have an added incentive to look at the first one in the series and hopefully get that one completed too. The size is 7.5" x 11" (19cm x 28cm), watercolor on TH Saunders paper.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Time spent working on the water is slowly bring this painting to completion. For the most part, the reflections are finished but the area between the boat and the darker reflection on the left will need darkening. I have also worked a bit on the awning completing the shadows and most of the creases etc. I still have to darken the upper right and should get that area completed next. Almost there now, just a few details left.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Things are proceeding slowly at this point although I am happy with the way the water is turning out. I feel that the upper right is still a bit too light in value but a few washes of thin blue later on should take care of this. The areas of white in the water on the left hand side are reflections from the larger junk behind the sampan and help to add interest to this section. I plan on washing in some quite dark tones around them next. I have darkened the boat a little and also worked on the reflections at the same time, also some of the smaller details are coming along. The value in this photo is closer to how it actually looked at the time - the earlier pics were a bit dark.


At this point I am trying to cover the whole painting with at least one wash of color - hopefully making it easier for me to judge the tones on and around the boat itself. So far all seems to be going to plan. I used a thin wash of ultramarine blue for the water but there will be quite a few more washes to come as I want the color to be graduated from front to back. Some of the reflections are getting there at this stage but I still need to make them darker and to clarify some of the details.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Here I have started on the first few washes of color. At this point, I'm not thinking too much about how it will look when the painting is finished, rather just working along and adding some of the darker tones to better judge all the other tones against. I think even at this stage, you can see that a sampan is starting to emerge from the paper. I lazily thought of using white gouache for the ropes and other lines etc, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. So I carefully painted around all the white shapes that you see. Even at this point, I was pleased with the design and composition - quite a change from my struggles with the earlier painting!


Whilst in Hong Kong and in between hospital visits etc, there was plenty of time available to paint and since the hotel room had a nice desk near the window, I was able to work quite happily. Initially I was working on a painting of a waterfall that wasn't working out so I turned the paper over and started a new drawing for something I had seen a few days earlier. As is usual with my underdrawings, I kept it light and drew the reflections in the water in a somewhat simplistic manner.
The subject here relates back to a project that I had started a few years ago which I called "The Covered Boat Series". The idea happened like this: while walking along the Hong Kong Island harbor front, I came across the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter which held a number of different-sized boats - from smaller sampans to larger junks and fishing boats. It seemed that at the time most of these boats weren't being used and instead were 'wrapped' for want of a better word, in canvas and sheets of colored plastic - mostly I think to keep out the rain. Some of the boats were used as storage with all kinds of junk and wood piled up inside. Anyway, for me they were something completely unexpected and aroused my interest from an artistic point of view. The first painting in the series didn't get that far as I made a mess of the water so it remains in no mans land. Hopefully now that this smaller painting that I started here is finished, I'll be able to take another look at the older one and be able to save it from the scrap pile.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Having been away from the studio for almost 3 months, I am now back home and able to start blogging again. Due to a family emergency, we had to leave unexpectedly and took up residence in Hong Kong where M could look after her ailing dad. When I was not visiting the hospital, I mostly painted and completed around 20 paintings so have a lot to show you. This small study above was done after a boat trip around the Eastern waters of Hong Kong where there are a lot of amazing islands and interesting rock formations. Here the scene is from one of those islands looking into the sun at the distant landscape. I tried to capture the feeling of the sunlight on the water (which doesn't come across that well in the photograph) along with the rocky shoreline. I love places like this and have spent many hours exploring the small bays and beaches of Hong Kong. This watercolor is 5" x 7.5" (13cm x 19cm).