Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Black-crowned Night Herons are sometimes seen in the reserve, usually at dusk when I hear their calls coming down from the evening sky. Here though, the bird is at its roost sight in broad daylight a few miles away on an island on Lake Whetstone. There is an active Great Blue heronery there and night herons can be sometimes seen along with Green-backed Herons. I did this watercolor study in my sketchbook, the size is about 9" x 5".

Monday, December 30, 2019


I found this burl growing on the thin branches of a tree in the reserve, interestingly there were a few other slightly smaller ones on the same tree. Usually I only see much larger ones around the bases of larger trees near the roots etc, or on the side of the trunk. Anyway, I liked the sculptured shapes of these and also the subtle textures.

This illustration was done on thin sketchbook paper which is not really suited to watercolor but I like to experiment from time to time. It was a bit more difficult to paint this one but came out okay. The start of the illustration is shown above. Thin accurate pencil lines followed by washes to capture the effect of light and shadow. More darker washes follow with the smaller details at the end. Size is about 7" x 9".

Sunday, December 29, 2019


On Chung Chau Island (about a 20 min ferry ride from Central, Hong Kong), I sat and watched the tide slowly spill over rocks near a deeper channel just off shore. The slowly rising water turned some places into rock pools, totally submerging others. There seemed to be a kind of timelessness to it - the way the scene changed so slowly, had been doing so for eons. In this painting, I tried to capture something of what I saw and felt that day - perhaps more studies will be necessary before I get close. Size is about 4.5" x 5", oil on canvas.

Friday, December 27, 2019


After returning from Japan, we had a few days left in Hong Kong so visited some of our favorite places. The closest temple to where we were staying in Tuen Mun was the Ching Chung Koon Taoist Temple. Set amongst high-rises to the South and off a busy street, it is like entering another world. There are so many different things to see there including mini Chinese-style gardens, ponds, bonsai, statues and of course, wonderfully decorated temple buildings. This study of a stone lion (one of a pair) was opposite the well-known Dragon Gate statue situated between the two larger temples. This study differs from the ones I did in Japan as I had started a new sketchbook when in Hong Kong so the surface and rate of absorption of the paper took a little getting used to. I finished the study back in the flat. Size is about 5" x 7".

Driving to Shek O on Hong Kong Island, we spent some time on the beach and in the village where I found many subjects to paint. It was incredibly hot though - 38 C (100 F) so kept out of the sun as much as we could. A recent typhoon had washed out the bridge linking to the headland so weren't able to walk up to the pagoda. The sunbather study above is about 5" x 12".

The last one was completed as a quick exercise in trying to do smaller studies within a set time limit. The size is about 5" x 5" but I think I may do a larger version or something similar.

Thursday, December 19, 2019


Back in Tokyo the next day, I finally got the chance to meet up with the intrepid Dave Bull at his woodblock print shop Mokuhankan in the Asakusa district. What a wonderful guy! I have been watching his webisodes for many years so feel that I know him quite well by now. And after e-mailing back and forth it was great to see him in person. Wonderful collection of woodblock prints in his shop too of which most were created by him and his staff. We talked a bit about his latest print and I thanked him for single-handedly revitalizing the woodblock industry in Japan which had been in decline before he moved to Tokyo from Canada quite a number of years ago. An amazing feat really - such a down to earth kind of a person and very humble too - really impressed with this guy! We were planning a return visit to his shop the next day but the approach of Typhoon Hagibis had us scrambling for an early exit. We luckily managed to get an earlier flight back to Hong Kong as our original flight was on the very day the typhoon was to hit Japan. So, although slightly shorter than expected, our Japan visit was truly amazing and really we couldn't have asked for more! The small shrine shown above was found near Dave's shop in Asakusa and couldn't resist a final sketchbook study of it.


On a day-tour from Tokyo, we visited the area around Mount Fuji and was awarded spectacular views of this iconic mountain from many different angles. Later in the day, an amazing mushroom cloud formed around the top and this is what I painted here. Truly a spectacular day and beautiful scenery all round.


In Kamakura were a few kimono-clad ladies, one of which was wearing a particularly boldly-patterned kimono which I decided to try and capture in my sketchbook. I chose a view from behind so as to maximize the fabric pattern. Also taking note of the red under-lying garment and the hair-do. I'm quite happy with this one and am sure will do larger versions of it when I get the chance.

Thursday, November 28, 2019


Leaving Hokkaido (and our nephew and his wife who had to return to Hong Kong), we took a local flight to Tokyo and then on to our spectacular hotel in the main business district of Shinjuku. The Tokyo train system is a bit overwhelming and took a bit of getting used to. Thankfully our niece Emma and her husband Jack met us in Tokyo and took over as tour guides. They were very helpful in generally getting us around and we went on a few trips outside Tokyo on most days. The first was to the Southern town of Kamakura, somewhere I had always wanted to go due to Yabusame (Japanese archery from horseback). There was so much to see there and is a popular tourist site. The main temple in the town was outstanding (with views overlooking the sea) but I managed only a few studies as there were so many other places to visit. This view is of a temple roof facing south towards the coast, again, size is 5" x 7".


At lake Utonai looking right and into the sun, I saw how the lakeside foliage was back-lit and the way that the sun reflected off the water created a wonderful effect that I couldn't resist trying to paint. This smaller study will be the basis for a larger painting that I'm working on at the moment. It too will have geese in flight with hopefully the same lighting effects as this one. I did this watercolor a little larger that the others. Lakeside study, Lake Utonai, 6" x 9".

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


As mentioned earlier, Lake Utonai was a wonderful place to visit and I certainly didn't run out of things to paint. Here the view is looking across the lake to reed beds nestling below the tree line. A few geese while away their time near the far bank. I'm planning a larger version of this scene with geese in flight heading down to the far end of the lake.


Nearby the Hokkaido Shrine were a number of mature trees, some of which were ringed with ropes and paper motifs. My study of one such a tree had a younger oak growing amongst the roots of a tall tree and I wanted to show the differences between the young sapling and the older oak.

Thursday, October 31, 2019


These temple lamps surround the Hokkaido Shrine in Maruyama Park, Sapparo. We stayed only one night in Sapparo but found the city interesting and diverse. The Hokkaido Shrine was spectacular and I could have spent days there working on paintings.


In this study, I zoomed in on the swan since it was so close and did a head study. The marking on the beak are unique to each bird and can be used to identify individuals. Like most of these studies, this one is also 5" x 7".

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Travelling South by train, we spent a day on the shores of Lake Utonai which supports a wealth of birds. After an amazing lunch of tempura and sashimi over rice in the visitor center cafeteria, we headed towards the lake shore. Whooper swans were the first to be spotted and so tame that one could approach them closely. There were also many geese on the lake, both Bean and Greater White-fronted along with various duck and a single Mute Swan. An Eastern Marsh Harrier made a brief appearance but soon drifted away. There were hiking paths around most of the lakeside which also went through some decent woodland where we found a few other birds including thrushes and warblers etc. All in all, a very enjoyable place to visit - must be fantastic in Winter.
I finished this watercolor study of a Whooper swan seen resting on the lake shore in our hotel room that evening - size is about 5" x 7".


Still within the grounds of the hotel, I saw this back-lit evergreen tree and tried to capture the effect of the sunlit leaves against the shadowed background. This one was done on day 2 and throughout the trip, I tried to finish a watercolor study every day. It was early fall in Hokkaido and some of the trees had wonderful colors. In Tomaro, we were surrounded by open fields and mountains so a perfect spot for an artist really. We took many photographs and saw some amazing sights!


We just returned from a wonderful trip to Japan (with a stay-over in Hong Kong). After getting over jet-lag for a few days, we flew to Hokkaido with our nephew Eric and his wife Carmen who (along with Carmen's sister) kindly organised this part of our Japan trip. We first stayed in Tomaro for a few days and I managed to complete a few paintings there. The study above was done just outside our hotel and I tried to capture the morning light flooding across the scene. Beech Trees At Tomaro is in watercolor - size is 7" x 5".

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Grey squirrels are common around here and there is even a black version! I enjoy watching their capering about but they can be a nuisance as I found out when one chewed apart and completely destroyed my attic vent trying to get into the roof! This graphite study on paper is about 5" x 8".


I saw this bracket fungi on one of the decaying trees over in the reserve. In the sunlight, it looked interesting so I decided to do a sketchbook study of it. This rather large specimen looked a lot larger the next time I went by and had changed its shape too. Maybe another study later? Watercolor, 12" x 8".

Monday, September 16, 2019


Canada Geese hatched this year are growing up now and are in their adult plumage - although not looking anywhere near as smart and clean-cut as their elders. At this stage of their life, they seem a little unsure of themselves but are tamer than their older relatives so make excellent models as I can usually approach them quite closely so long as I sit quietly and don't move about too much. This watercolor study is about 5" x 8".


Our visit to Italy a few months ago was incredible - especially for a landscape painter like me. The land is so full of history and subjects for paintings were to be had at every turn! I could have spent a lifetime there painting. We toured all the major cities including Rome and Venice. Heading South was the most wonderful experience where we stayed near the bay of Naples and visited Capri for a few days. Weather was perfect in the South, a bit of rain and clouds in the North. I did some painting and sketching when I got the chance but most work will be completed home here in my studio (once I clear my backlog of unfinished work). This small study in oils is 7" x 5".


I did this small study of Lantau Peak on a hazy day from Ngong Ping - the site of the great Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. The idea was to capture the impressive height and majestic feel of the mountain which is a difficult and tiring climb, but with spectacular views from the top. I'm hoping to do a larger painting of this subject when I can but I still have so many other paintings to finish off first! This study done in oil on canvas, 5" x 7".

Friday, August 30, 2019


One of the towns we stayed in while touring around Portugal was Porto. Really a nice town especially the area down by the river - so many painting opportunities. I managed a quick study of some old doors seen below the church close to the water. Would have liked to have done more but there was so much to see and we were only there for a few days. Hopefully a longer trip will happen in the future. This study in oils on canvas, 7" X 5".

Friday, August 9, 2019


Quite a bit of work was needed to finish this one. I darkened the shadowed area of the rocks along with the water - both in the foreground foamy bit and in the sea beyond. I also worked on the distant cliff a little and finished with washes to the landscape above. I largely fudged this area as I didn't want to include the houses. After that was dry, it was a case of slowly going over each section of the painting, touching up here and there and adding a few final details. This watercolor was painted on Arches paper, size is 22" x 15".

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Starting on the background above the cliffs, I put down a number of washes keeping it light and slightly diffuse. I also added a few washes of cobalt blue plus cerulean for the sea. This was darkened and grayed a bit for the foreground shadow. I then laid on a number of different colors to the rocks trying to capture their unique tones. The shadowed area was mostly completed in sepia. There was a lot of back and forth trying to find a balance between the sunlit section and the shadowed part. Next I'll do more fine-tuning then let the painting sit for awhile to see if it needs any more work.

Monday, July 15, 2019


After doing the smaller oil study shown in the last post, I decided to do a larger painting of the same scene looking down from Sagres Fort. The composition here is slightly different from the earlier study as I wanted to move in slightly to feature more of the rocks. After lightly drawing in the composition using an HB pencil, I started in the background area with grayish washes to indicate the shadows on the distant rock faces. I also lightly washed in the sand at the base of the rocks. Moving closer in, the foreground rocks got a pale reddish-brown wash all over then when that was dry, I started adding in the shadows using sepia. It all looks a bit rough at the moment as I am still establishing some of the base tones, but most of this will be covered up with further layers of watercolor.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


This view down across the sea is from inside the fort at Sagres. I liked the way the shadow of the cliff face cut across the rocks and sea. The distant beach and landscape fading into the distance was also an important element in the composition. This small study was done in preparation for a larger watercolor painting that will follow shortly.
View From Sagres Fort, oil on canvas, 7" x 5".

Thursday, July 4, 2019


Near to where we were staying was the Ria Formosa wildlife sanctuary full of walking trails, beautiful vistas, birds and the sea. We squeezed in as many visits as possible being so easily accessible. I did quite a few paintings from the area, this small study is on the Western edge of the reserve where we saw so many White Storks. Weather was perfect on all the days we went - blue skies and incredible sunsets. Could live there quite happily!
Path through the Reserve, oil on canvas, 5" x 7".

Friday, June 28, 2019


We loved Portugal so much the first time we visited that we had to go back a second time. Staying in the same resort at Quinta de Lago on the Algarve, we happily re-visited some of the places we had been the year before and also discovered many new ones. This view is at Sagres on the extreme Western tip of Portugal looking down the coast away from the fort - I loved this view across the bay to the headland beyond! The coastline was spectacular all along the Algarve with many cliffs, wonderful rock formations and white sandy beaches. Weather was great, warm with only a few days of light rain. I did a number of paintings and sketches over the two weeks we visited along with collecting heaps of references.
View from Sagres, oil on canvas, 5" x 7".

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


I recently found a Black Snake over in the reserve, it was sunning itself on the rocks of a broken down wall that were once outbuildings next to the old white farmhouse. Only the foundations remain now but this is a favored place of mine to visit where I can usually sit quietly for awhile and observe the comings and goings of wildlife. Since this snake was quite tame, I was able to do a few pencil studies in my sketchbook along with some photos. I did the watercolor study shown here when I got back in the studio. Black Snakes can range from tame to aggressive, some I have been able to gently stroke - others react violently to any touching and attempt to bite. We once had a particularly tame individual that lived under our front porch, I named him Ding Dong - for reasons I won't go into here. He lived happily for awhile probably feeding on mice etc - he once tried for one of my goldfish in the pond but I was having none of that! Then one day he strayed and was caught up by the community mowing machine and that was the end of him. RIP Ding Dong.

Friday, May 31, 2019


My watercolor painting of an old window found while I lived in Hong Kong has been accepted into the Baltimore Watercolor Society's 2019 Mid-Atlantic Exhibition. The annual show runs through June into July at The Blackrock Center For The Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown, Maryland 20874. Reception and awards presentation is on Sunday June 23rd, from 2:00 to 4:00. Hope to see you there!
Mid-day Sun II, watercolor on Arches paper, 30" x 22" (76cm x 56cm).

Thursday, May 2, 2019


One of the earliest flowers to open in the nearby woods is the skunk cabbage. Appearing even when there is still snow or ice on the ground, the spathe pushes through the frozen soil by generating some of its own heat. The appearance is somewhat alien-like and always fascinated me when I first saw them. Inside is the round spadix holding tiny flowers - these are pollinated by early flying insects. Soon afterwards, the yellowish-green shoot appears to the side which contains the leafy part of the plant.

Here in the second illustration, we can clearly see inside the spathe and also the flower clumps sitting on the spadix. Here the plant is a little further along with the shoot growing slowly until the leaves start to open the the flower fades away. Deep-rooted, the plant reproduces by producing small pea-sized seeds. While not really edible, the plant does have medicinal purposes and the Native Americans utilized the dried leaves for various purposes.

Monday, April 15, 2019


Working mostly on the back feather of the bird, I shape and sculpt the form using washes of Sepia. The sides get a bit more work too and I extend the subtle darker feather fringing on the breast upwards slightly. The water gets a bit darker and also a few places here and there amongst the rocks. I plan to keep the foreground detail subdued so that most of the focus is on the middle distance. I'll take some time away from this painting and come back to it later to see if there is anything else I want to do but for now, I'm calling it finished. Watercolor on Bockingford paper, size is 22" x 15" (56cm x 38cm).

Friday, April 12, 2019


With most of the rocks complete, I turn my attention to the bird. Starting with the head, I darken the neck and work on the eye and bill - I find that if these areas are working out as expected, the rest of the bird seems to follow. There are some delicate feathers on the breast and flank that need careful painting, taking the time to keep the feather fringes lighter. Looking at Canada's in the field recently, I noticed that they are quite grey on the belly and the lightest area on the breast is just as it meets the darker part of the neck. I'm not sure that I will paint this bird as dark as the ones I saw though - as I mentioned earlier, I want to keep the feeling of bright sunlight dancing around the scene. To finish up the session, I add the brown base colors for the wing and darken the primary feathers.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


I have been ignoring the bird for the moment and concentrating on the rocks and water. These areas have been slowly built up trying all the while to keep everything light and textured. The rocks have mostly been painted with a base color first then using a dry-brush technique, the form of each rock is shaped and darkened as necessary. I'll still need to do more before being totally happy with them but things are moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Using a combination of warm and cool colors, I slowly begin building up shapes and textures of the rocks keeping everything light and airy. Some of the ripples on the water are added along with the first washes on the head and neck of the bird. The darkest parts are the legs which are mostly in shade under the bird (the goose is standing on a submerged rock so the feet aren't visible) so I add them at this time - good to have the darkest darks in at this point so as to have something to compare tones against. Thus far, the painting is working how I wanted it to maintaining a good sense of light and shadow without getting too detailed.


Canada Geese often gather by lakes edges to rest and to preen. I noticed this bird at the nearby lake and wanted to do a portrait of it. The idea was to contrast the softness of the bird against the hard and textured rocks, all set against a watery background. The bird was in full sun so there was a lot of light bouncing around, I also wanted to capture this light effect in my painting. I decided I would have to approach this work slightly differently than how I usually do insofar as how I worked on each element of the painting. Working all over the paper without focusing on any one part would be the best way forward, then hopefully bring it all together at the end. As with all my larger watercolor paintings, I started with a detailed drawing of the complete scene. Next I'll be adding some basic washes of color.

Sunday, March 31, 2019


A small watercolor of an evening scene in the nearby reserve. We often walk along this way and in late summer, the grasses take on a wonderful tawny shade that seems to match the coloring of white-tailed deer perfectly. My highest count of a few years ago was 31 - mostly adult females but also a few young bucks. The population has declined lately - probably due to population control. But still, they are a welcome sight when encountered especially on snowy days when they are more easily seen and have no place to hide. I can sometimes approach them carefully then so long as I move slowly and keep my eyes lowered. If I stand still long enough, they will approach me instead, trying to make sense of my shape I suppose. I haven't really been able to draw them when they are so close as they see me reaching for my sketchbook and are gone - much of my work has to be done looking through my telescope from a fair distance.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


I managed a few sketches and paintings of the Buffleheads that were also present on the lake along with the Ring-necked ducks shown earlier. Most of the birds shown here are in full sun showing off the iridescence on the heads of the males. The females in comparison, are quite drab but retain their own 'cute' character. Quite difficult to capture in between dives and being quite small, the birds were active and full of motion most of the time.

A few more sketches of males with their striking head pattern. This is easily seen from afar and the white triangular head-patch seems to glow with intensity. This was the first time I have drawn and painted these ducks and am looking forward to doing more. All studies shown here done in my sketchbook.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


These ducks were painted in overcast conditions - it is amazing how much the bright iridescence of their plumage faded when out of the direct sun. Most of the males were diving to feed and just before they dived, they compressed their plumage, then relaxed it when coming back to the surface. Waterdrops just rolled off as their feathers are highly waterproof. After a period of feeding, they rested tucking their bills under the back feathers.

Keeping alert at all times was also a priority and there was always one duck keeping a watchful eye. They quickly became used to my presence as I was keeping a low profile, sitting still most of the time but they quickly became alert when a larger bird flew overhead - even if it was just a crow.

After preening vigorously, a further period of resting followed then more diving for food. Their schedule didn't change much at all during the day and since it was still cold, there was not a lot of courtship going on. All in all, a quiet but productive day down at the lake.

A few more sketches to finish off. Also present were a handfull of Buffleheads - I'll publish those studies in my next post.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


At the upper lake in the nearby reserve, Ring-necked ducks can be seen almost all winter. When the lakes freeze over (which usually only lasts a few days or so) they go elsewhere - probably to a much larger lake a few miles away where there is always open water. I think the draw of this lake is that there always seems to be waterweed on the bottom so attracts diving ducks such as these. We also get mergansers and these 'sawbills' feed on the fish although I have no idea how well these lakes are stocked. But I decided to concentrate on the ring-necks this time.

Through my scope, the iridescence on the head is more obvious and can be seen at its fullest when the sun shines directly on the bird. In shade or cloudy conditions, this feature is not so apparent but can still be seen. I sat with the sun almost directly behind me so as to make the most of the iridescence - it seemed that the head showed mostly bluish purple with perhaps a little green on the crown. The 'ring' around its neck is barely seen even in good light and is a slightly more reddish brown. There were males and females present but I only concentrated on the males trying to get a good 'jizz' in between dives (where the tail is usually on the surface of the water). When resting, the tail sticks slightly upwards.

The sketches shown here are how my color studies usually start off and if I think I have a good enough likeness, I can start adding some watercolor washes etc. It usually takes a few goes to get more familiar with the shapes and character of each bird before I start to feel comfortable drawing them. As always, more practice is the key. All the above work done in my sketchbook - watercolor and graphite.