Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Art Idea - painting without brushes

It's the time of year when umbellifers are appearing along footpaths and verges across the country. They are the carrot family, they include angelica, hogweed, wild carrot, wild parsnip, hemlock, cow parsley and many more. I love them. Have a look at these links:

I've been enjoying their emergence and thought I'd share a related art idea. The painting below is made using black paper, brown paint, white paint, the edge of a piece of card, a finger, the end of a stick:

Think of a painting and we assume brushes are involved but **no paintbrushes were harmed in the making of this painting.

Try you own brushless painting, and it needn't be of a wild carrot:

I used:
- a piece of white paper
- a stick
- assorted pieces of card and corrugated cardboard (all old packaging)
- Oren's paints (don't tell). Use whatever paint you wish, experiment with different types.

First marks - light green paint applied using the long edge of a piece of card.

Darker green and a finely comb-cut piece of card.

Golden yellow and a not-finely-comb-cut piece of card (old cracker box).

Red paint and finger!

More yellow paint and stick.

Corrugated card and blue. (going for a pond effect)

Ta-da! Watery pond with wildflowers.

Decided to try a bit of pencil.

Quite like the pencil but now I want some warmth in the background - yellow smeared on thinly using not-comb-cut piece of card (old cracker box).

Sun-dappled watery wildscape, no paintbrushes used :)

Which non-brushy tools work for you?

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Leo du Feu - New YouTube Channel! - film - sketching from your window

Usually I take a sketchbook wherever I go. As we're all going a lot less just now let's try sketching from our windows at home.

I've set up a YouTube Channel. In this first upload I I show pencils and pens (expensive artist drawing pens and cheap biros) on paper. Use any materials you want though. The back or inside of envelopes and the inside of food packets are a good supply of free stuff to draw on.
The artists I mention are Winifred Nicholson and Sylvia Wishart. Look at their window paintings. My Art Ideas! - Window Views blog post shows their work and mine and others and has various ideas to try. The book I recommend is Alwyn Crawshaw's Learn To Sketch in the Collins Learn To Paint series. Readily available secondhand on Abebooks. 

Monday, 11 May 2020

wildlife garden - swift nest boxes

Swifts are back over and in our town the past few days. Flying low along our street as they do every year. I suspect they used to nest in a nearby tall old school building. It was renovated a few years ago and sadly I suspect the cavities they'd have used for nesting are now sealed, I didn't get my request for swift boxes to the Council on time. 

This weekend we put up two new boxes on our house - https://shopping.rspb.org.uk/garden-bird-nest-boxes/rspb-swift-nest-box.html
Swifts need our help, more and more under-eave nest sites are lost each year to renovations and demolitions. New-builds rarely allow space. Consider putting up a few boxes, bought online (loads of models available) or made at home using online templates. Take care if you put boxes up yourself rather than asking a roofer to do it. Third paragraph here links to a really good ladder safety article -
May seem obvious and common sense but I found it made me act more safely than I otherwise would have known how.
And if you're having building work done use it as a brilliant opportunity to help nature by including some built-in boxes (not just swifts but martins, swallows, house sparrows, starlings, jackdaws, bats... Take your pick! Try them all!) 
Keep asking your local Council and housing developers to include swift (and other) boxes in their developments. You could greatly help an incredible don't-touch-land-for-a-year species. Let's make sure our grandchildren are still able to delight at the return of swifts when they reach our age.
Our other swift box is this rather lovely combined double nest & bat box - https://www.schwegler-natur.de/portfolio_1408366639/mauersegler-fledermaushaus-1mf/?lang=enReally heavy, installed by a stonemason.
Fingers crossed they find us this year.

Tons of swift resources online. A few here:

- swiftcam! (baby swifts soon!!!) - https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/swifts-in-the-tower-0

Monday, 4 May 2020

Art Idea - an artwork on a found background

Hens in the Den
Samantha Cheevers, 
Mixed Media and Collage, 18x23cm  

Samantha was the winner of the Art in Healthcare prize at the Royal Scottish Academy New Contemporaries exhibition 2019. 
Six works are in the Art in Healthcare Collection - https://www.artinhealthcare.org.uk/collection-results.php?artist=2021  

I love this piece by Samantha Cheevers. Looking closely I can see the top half is something like a piece of old embossed wallpaper. The bottom section is painted then glued on top of the wallpaper.

Make your own:
Have a look around the house or garden for something of an interesting colour or texture. A newspaper, Easter egg foil, a piece of tree bark (found already fallen, not peeled from a trunk).

You've found your background!

Now find a drawing / painting / collage / photo you've already made, or make a new one. 

Cut it out:

And stick on top of your found background:

pencil & watercolour on palette background

acrylic rocks on marbled background

acrylic rocks on paper place-mat background

pencil & watercolour coot on marbled background

acrylic trees on foil background

acrylic trees on paper place-mat background

acrylic rocks on basking shark!
(from Scottish Wildlife Trust magazine)

Monday, 27 April 2020

Art Idea! - window views

sketching the cherry tree
pencil & watercolour

We're all at home rather a lot just now so what about having a go at creating something based on views from your windows?

1 -
You could do a sketch, a quick watercolour, a detailed acrylic, a lovely rich smelling oil (open that window), a collage, a mosaic, a cross stitch, a photo, a poem, a sculpture... What else?

2 -
You could make one artwork a day, chart the progressing season, or one quick one every hour from waking up until going to bed.

3 -
You could make a mini sketchbook or folder containing an artwork each for every window in your house, including the one in the toilet and that little one above the door that you really can't see anything but sky out of.

4 -
You could draw all the birds you can spot from a window (and please share the results with me!), or every tree, or every person that walks past.

5 -
You could get a large sheet of paper or the inside of a cereal box and paint onto it every red thing that you see from the window in the space of a morning. Or blue. Or a #KeyWorker rainbow of drawn 'things from the window', one thing of each colour - ROYGBIV.

6 -
You could draw the clouds as they pass your window, then try the same using paint - which do you find easier? Which do you enjoy more? They may not be the same

7 -
You could draw the clouds again - turning them into creatures and faces, or castles in the sky (brilliant film from Studio Ghibli).

8 -
Paint the things on your windowsill, not just the view beyond it. (See the paintings of Winifred Nicholson and Sylvia Wishart further down this blog post.)

So many artists have made great use of the views from their windows. Have a look at some of my favourites below. As well as the ideas above you could also:

9 -
Recreate one of your window views in the style of one of the artists below.

Searching for "window" in the Art in Healthcare Collection brings up these six and more:

Bold, bright, patterns and textures:

At A Window
David Michie
Oil Painting
115.5 x 115.5 cm

Lovely thick thick paint, thickly spread. This would work with oil and with acrylic. Try using a palette knife:

The Other Side
Mardi Barrie
Oil Painting
47 x 63 cm

Super-detailed. This might take you until the end of lockdown!:

April 1997
Barbara Balmer
Acrylic and Gouache
115 x 124.5 cm

Photos are allowed too of course:

Looking Through the Venus/Jupiter Conjuction Window
Patricia McCormack
73 x 53 cm

Lovely lively fresh sketchy piece, no concerns about making it perfect:

Blairlogie Chapel, Window and Leaves
Marjorie I Campbell
Drawing & Watercolour
59 x 46 cm

Look at this great collage, including marbled mountain views, marbled vase, marbled bowl:

Green Tea and Fuji-San
Elspeth Lamb
Mixed Media and Collage
64 x 80 cm


Winifred Nicholson
Probably my favourite of all window painters. She painted vase after vase of picked flowers on windowsills. The paint is thick and chunky yet the paintings are delicate and so beautiful. Her colours... she uses bright bold colour but doesn't overdo it. 

Look at this first one, Easter Monday, gorgeous:

Easter Monday (c. 1950)
Winifred Nicholson
© The Trustees of the Estate of Winifred Nicholson

and here, the brushmarks, the thick globby paint (now cracking with age up in the sky):

Window-Sill, Lugano
Winifred Nicholson

And this! No detail, only blues whites and grey-browns. I want to be daydreaming at that window:

View through a Window with Blue Curtains and a Chair
Winifred Nicholson
Walker Art Gallery

Island in browns and silvery greys. Vase and plants in matching shades:

Flodigarry Island, Skye (1949)
Winifred Nicholson
© Trustees of Winifred Nicholson, Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge

Art doesn't have to be detailed:

Winifred Nicholson


Kate Downie
Top contemporary artist and extremely nice generous person. Based in Scotland and exhibits often in Edinburgh. Kate isn't scared to use unconventional materials, nor to mix them all together. Inspiring. 

A lot of Kate's work is based on transport and like me she is a sketcher-from-trains:

train window, Edinburgh to Oban
Kate Downie
ink, paint,

A lovely scribbly yet detailed studio view in ink. Notice the big old radiator in the foreground. The contrast of light versus dark makes black and white artworks often very impressive:

Three Seasons Window
Kate Downie

And look at this! Approaching the Queensferry Crossing, view from car window:

A90 (Throat)
Kate Downie
oil on birch panel
84 x 92cm


Sylvia Wishart
Seascapes... landscapes... dreamscapes. Painted from the artist's windows in her cottage in Rackwick Bay on the island of Hoy, Orkney. I love all little objects from around her house (and her imagination / memory?), sitting on the windowsill or a table or reflected in the glass. I love the happenings outside the windows - animals, boats, weather. Were they there at the time she made the painting or did she add them in from past spottings, or did she conjure them from her head?

I really love that ship-in-a-bottle:

Reflections I
Sylvia Wishart
© the Estate of Sylvia Wishart
from the Pier Arts Centre Collection

As you can see, the same window view, some of the same objects. I spy a fruit bowl reflected in the window. And look at that flock gliding in on the right:

Hoy Sound
Sylvia Wishart
oil and mixed media on paper
© the Estate of Sylvia Wishart
from the Pier Arts Centre Collection


And me
I really love window views in art. Here are some of my own:

Perhaps start with quick scribbly sketches in pencil:

watercolour workshops on board the St. Magdelene, Union Canal, Linlithgow

Do another pencil sketch then add a bit of watercolour:

sketching the cherry tree
pencil & watercolour

Now try painting with no drawing allowed - be brave, dive straight in. Limiting the amount of time you're allowed to spend on it can really help when you're make a no-draw painting. Try 15 or 20 or 30 minutes. This one probably took me about 20 minutes:

tree & room

And this one probably only 10-15 minutes. You can see I wasn't allowing myself to be bothered about getting it right (after all, there's no such thing in art!), about lines being straight or being parallel, about colours overlapping in the wrong places:


Those two were really quick acrylics. This Isle of May piece is a watercolour, still no-drawing-first but I gave myself a lot longer, probably a couple of hours (lots of that time would be spend looking, thinking, watching birds, drinking from my flask, finishing all my snacks): 

Isle of May, April 2016 (bathhouse & foghorn)

This is my set-up as I painted it:

painting in the bathhouse, Isle of May

Another Isle of May window, this time in the foghorn and using drawing pen and watercolour:

Isle of May South Horn, 4th June
watercolour & pen

And another from the foghorn, watercolour, with its less see-through cousin gouache used for the lighter parts on the window frame and windowsill:

sheltering in South Horn, Isle of May

I do also love detail. Once you've done your free-er sketchier stuff as above you could go for some much longer-to-create pieces. These next two small paintings will have been made over several weeks. 

When I'm working on detailed pieces like this I try to work on several different ones at the same time, and not do it every day nor for a full day because it can end up being pretty bad for the:

(add your own)

But pretty good for getting through the audiobooks and BBC Radio on iPlayer.

an island interior

Jura interior

And of course, window views don't have to include the window. This painting was great fun to make. Painted in a couple of days from our upstairs window. Working on a larger scale and not making the details over-detailed. The whole thing was painted on top of an undercoat of golden yellow, helping to take away the coldness of all that blue:

Burntisland rooftops

10 -
Lastly, if you have any sketches or photos from past train / bus / ferry trips:

on the Glasgow - Stranraer line

Try digging them out and painting from them:

near Girvan, a view to the hillsacrylic

Here's hoping we'll all be off on exciting train journeys with sketchbooks again soon.

Best wishes,