Jump start your watercolour

I should start by saying I would not teach as I know I cannot teach. A teacher is a very special person who loves to share to what they can do and enthuse a whole new generations of people/children,like my friend and tutor, Beryl Kerwick. ¬†She is a an amazing teacher and truly inspiring. She was not teaching this class, don’t think she teaches now unfortunately.


So I attended the above class over the weekend and it was described as a short course for beginners and for people who want to refresh their skills. ¬†It was disappointing but then I should have expected that when the word ‘beginner’ is used in the description. It was a good class for people who had absolutely no knowledge about watercolour. The tutor was fine but not that inspiring. ¬†She very softly spoken which was meant she was barely heard over the rampant air conditioning the art school has installed. Every time it came on, there was very large BANG, as what appeared to be an inflatable tube was filled with rushing air.

We began by doing a colour wheel and then copying a drawing of a cat, the tutor provided. She then demonstrated how to paint in the cat.  Here is my very poor imitation.

watercolour exercise no1

watercolour exercise no1

I decided to add vague background and some sort of ground for it to sit on.

We were then given several small photos of a blue Jay  in a plastic pouch as obviously they are used as a regular teaching aid. The image was about 2.5 inches by 3


Blue Jay

I have never attempted a bird in my life but that would be poor excuse for my feeble attempt. I wish I had taken out the paper from the plastic pouch  as the light glaring onto it was hurting my eyes.  Again she did a small demonstration of how to do the background. My poor attempt.

watercolour exercise no2

watercolour exercise no2

Finally she provided 3 little still life set-ups with fake flowers (well the one before me had fake flowers).  With this exercise, I had no excuse as we were left completely to own devices for this exercise as by this time, she had given up demonstrating and was going around giving advice to the group as they painted or working on a painting of her own.


my still life setup. I was the only one at this table.

I was too close to the set up, so I was going a little cross eyed doing this but that is no excuse for poor painting. However, it was the one I enjoyed doing the most as I wasn’t restricted to copying another image. I suppose I could have gone mad with the bird but she seemed quite insistent on getting the blue, black and white definitions correctly. With the still life we were giving free rein.


I was actually looking down on the arrangement so the red board in the background seemed to be above the flowers There are bits I like about it, so I wasn’t too unhappy when I left for the day.


Like the day before I was late to the class as I missed a turn on my journey there which resulted in a big detour and then the car park at the school was full (parking is always terrible as there is so little of it). Anyway by the time I came in, the tutor had handed out a sheet with the outline of leaf and we were to practise wet on wet painting.


instruction leaflet

This was pleasant little exercise and I tried out 4 different leaves on the expensive Arches cold press 300 lb watercolour 14in x 20 in(36cm x 51 cm) block she had recommended we use for this class. The day before I used ¬†Cotman’s gummed water colour pad 140lbs ¬†10 x 7 inches (25.4 x17.8 cm) which I had bought to sketch with but brought to the class just in case.


wet in wet exercise

The last exercise was again provided by a worksheet , either a landscape ¬†from an instructional book or a really bad photo of a bay in Mexico. ¬†I chose the instructional landscape ¬†as I was going to use the larger format paper and a poor photo which measure about 2 x 3 inches wouldn’t have worked. Maybe if I had some link to the image I could mange it as I have worked from 4 x 6 photos of landscapes I have taken before, where memories have managed to fill in the gaps.


image was from a work book by Budd Biggs

My version of this image


My painting of the above exercise

So basically the class was a dud, I am not even sure that a beginner watercolourist would have gain much from it but it definitely shouldn’t be advertise for anyone other than beginners. However, it was great to be just painting again with a group and that is probably why I subject myself every so often to these classes but I must stop.

Now I need to go and clear out that studio so I can use it again. I have been ‘tidying up’ since my return from France but all I have manage to do is move some stuff around and make piles of related stuff. I am getting no where with it as its a stalling tactic. The weather is starting get better with lows in the 70’s most of the am, so I really don’t have any excuses other than myself. ¬†Also need to find a good use for the expensive watercolour block I have just purchased. ūüôā

time for a quick sketch


Notes:9/16/2015 time 4.20pm No network connection About 87c Time for a quick sketch before I get burnt.

Time:  4.47 A very broad interpretation. Curious effect to standing next to water, makes me seasick with the motion

My usual inertia hid me after my morning training run and before I knew it I had wasted a complete day. So I decided that despite the heat and humidity, I would go to Pflugerville Lake when I went shopping. I actually did my shopping before I drew as I popped into Walmart to get a new acto knife as I hadn’t put my normal one back into the bag.

There is no shade at the Lake and very few benches so I ended up on a fishing pier. I had brought along my watercolour pad but didn’t feel comfortable balancing a palette on the top of the pier fencing. So I used my aqua pencils but began by doing a light drawing in pencil and I ended up using a fine tipped pen to finish with a few details.

It was  weird experience drawing on the pier which is over the water. After about 10 mins, I was feeling a bit dizzy. At first I thought it was the heat as it was very hot with the sun reflecting off  the water (I had sweat dripping down my face). Then it dawned on me, it was actually the effect of the water motion at the corner of my eyes. I was actually feeling a bit seasick!  I wish I had remembered my hat as it was very difficult to make out the scene due to the strong light from the water and sky. In the end I decided it was best in the short time I had available (I had groceries in a hot car ) just to aim for a quick impression.  Overall I was OK with the result.

In an effort to get rid of my dislike of watercolour, I have signed up for a boot camp at the local art school, The Comptemporary Austin Art School.  I looked up the instructor and although her work is not really to my taste, she looks very proficient  in watercolours. With the coming cooler weather (please October be cool), I am hoping to become more adept in watercolours.

Finally, as I opened the box of aqua pencils, guess what I saw? That’s right the elusive acto knife. Now I have 2 in my bad so no more blunt pencils!

Before you leave, check everything is in the bag


Notes:9/15/2015 12.24pm 82f feels like 88f 27c feels like 31c cloudy with a slight breeze 10/15 mph SE

Ventured out of Pflugerville to place called New Sweden where there is a classic Lutheran church. Used my phone to navigate as I always get lost on the country roads. Once I got there I was in 2 minds about actually drawing but Heck!  I am here so I should do something.

1.25pm 86f feels like 90f  30c feels like 32c

Time to finish. Must remember knife to sharpen pencils – not easy working with blunt pencils.

Almost didn’t go out today as I for some reason I never remember the way to this place with is about a 15 min drive if I get it right. Unfortunately I did not get it right on the way back (I was going to Round Rock which is the next city up from Pflugerville). As it didn’t say left or right on the phone I guessed right and after that I went around in an ever decreasing spiral on the country roads in Travis/Williamson county, only to end up about 1/4 mile from where I started and then it decided that country roads were the best way forward. I never did get to Round Rock, as once I found myself at Hutto ( another town north of Pflugerville) I decided to cut my loses and eat lunch in Pflugerville. However, it did show me some interesting landscape spots if I can ever find my way back!

As you can see the temperatures really haven’t moderated yet. We had a brief 2 days of cooler temperatures over the weekend and from the looks of the forecast, not much is going to change in the next week. Sigh ūüė¶ So if my sketches are infrequent it because I am in a funk about the weather.

A small break due to heat!


This is was only effort this week and I was not happy with it. I tried watercolours again and failed miserably again. It was under the bridge at Swenson Farm Blvd and it was hot. I took a separate small sheet of watercolour paper ¬†(about 4×6 inches) ¬†I managed to lead against the ¬†low wall of a bridge support ¬†and used my stool to balance the watercolour palette plus water.

My notes: Time 11.24  am #22 90f feels like 96f 32c feels like 35c

Under the bridge at Swenson Farm Blvd – only cool spot.

12.25pm  91 feels like 98f  32c feels like 36c 

Yet another failure with watercolour.  Need a bigger sketchbook. Think I will keep this one for drawing and used a bigger pad next time РLunchtime!

After Monday I really not could face the heat (and sense of failure) and decided it would do me good to take a break for a week, This week I plan to take the car out to the Hill country and explore more of the landscape. We have had a little break for the heat for the last couple of days and it looks like the 100f/38c temps will be history for the rest of this year. Unfortunately it will still be about 95f/ 32c for another few week before the fall temperatures arrive but at least the cooler weather is coming.

So this week I have spend semi reorganising my art room. This is a regular event as (1) I am not that tidy (2) I have a lot of stuff and (3) it allows me to reconsider what I am doing.  Amongst the stuff I have is most of my old art work, which includes my CSE,  O level work and the drawings I did at Camberwell School of art Saturday morning classes. It is good to look at this work as it reminds me that I can draw and the principal of Camberwell was particularly complementary of my drawings.

Then I have my art therapy drawings. In 1992 I began to study Art therapy as post grad subject. As part of the course we had to participate in art therapy sessions with other students. It was a very productive 2 yrs for me in drawings and I would love to recapture that level of spontaneity which was sparked by key words, some of which I recorded on the back of the drawings.  At first I found it difficult to let go but as the sessions when on the more visceral the experience became. My dreams in particular were very vivid in the last year.

It had a profound effect on my relationship with my mother. At first I wasn’t sure it was a good effect as it eventually led to break of 2 yrs and only repaired once we moved to the US. In the end though I had much more honest,loving and to be truthful,¬†more grown up relationship¬†with my Mother . I was also more able to deal with the emotions these memories brought up and relate them to my current life, rather than let them fester in the past. From that I gained more understanding of why my relationship with my mother was different from my sisters and just because they hadn’t experience or reacted to it in the same way, didn’t negate the memory, it was just my memory not theirs. Quite understandably my sisters and I have sometimes butted heads about this, in fact just this summer as it happens. Listening to my own kids, I get the sense of the differences a child within a family can have, often relating to the position they are within that group. Most of the time they have a communal memory but every so often a memory resurfaces that is unique to that child. Anyway before I get myself into trouble I had better finished.


still plodding away

When I was kid, the headteacher at my primary school, described me to my mum as a plodder. Not a flattering term but probably quite accurate.


Notes:Sketch #19 9/02/2015 2.36pm 88f felt like 90f  31c feels like 32c Pflugerville lake beach area  Nice breeze in the air 10 mph. Intended to sketch somewhere else but I missed the exit on the free-way. Then I decided I would to go to the trail at the Travis County sport fields . It is being rebuilt and redesigned!  So last resort here. Sun is strong despite lots of clouds and reflecting off the water- too strong really  to give any real tonal difference to features.  So here goes 2.42 pm

Slight break before I even got started – chap came up for some shade- now 3.07 – 3.37 Sigh:(

So that sketching session didn’t really go so well. The guy just sat and chatted for 30 mins before taking himself off to cool down in the water. He makes an appearance in my sketch ūüôā ¬†Then just after that a family arrived with cool boxes and chairs, sitting on the small wall beside the bench where I was seated. It was very obvious they wanted me to leave without actually saying anything. So I made a quick exit and sure enough before I was even 10 yds from the bench, they were already sitting there. Don’t blame them as there are only 2 covered shaded areas on the small beach. There is no shade elsewhere at the lake as its basically a man made reservoir ¬†which has lots of immature trees dotted around. In 10 yrs it might be better.


Notes: – quick sketch before going to sleep. 9/4/2015 #20

12.15pm – my scratching is obviously messing with Gordon’s sleep as he is restless, so time to stop.

So I didn’t sketch on 3rd as I had a really good night sleep and it put me in the mood to do some actual housework (a very rare event) ¬†Then just as I was thinking I might go out, my daughter rang to ask if I could pick up my grand-daughter from daycare as she was running late. ¬†Much prefer playing with my grand-daughter than sketching, she brings me so much fun in my life.

Yesterday, I had the opposite of the day before, a poor night sleep. ¬†Despite that, I did my 5k training but it left me cranky all day and not in the mood to do anything that involved going out into the heat again. Even at 9 am it was hot and humid and by the pm the heat index was nearly a 100f. ¬†I fully intended to sketch indoors but only felt like to doing it as I was going to bed. I love how my bedroom is full of interesting shapes and shadows when we put on our reading lights. So after I had read for 30 mins, I finished off the day with 30 mins of sketching. Unfortunately it didn’t help me get off to sleep.


Notes: 9.00am 9/05/2015 #21 Nice strong breeze, cloudy .  77f feels like 77f  25c feels like 25c Down by the soccer fields at Swenson Farm under canopy with table.

9.50 am sometimes you have to admit things are not going right and admit defeat!  started in watercolour (useless) and end with the aqua pencils.  The paper is not robust enough for that and started to disintergrate. Must remember to bring watercolour paper next time as I might have been able to resolve it with the pencils if I had stronger paper. 

temp 27c feels like 27c  82f feels like 82f  Still cloudy.

So this morning wasn’t so great but hey, not everything is going to work out. ¬†I really don’t like watercolours. Its weird because most beginner painters start off in water colour before they move on to acrylics or oils, In fact most people seem to think acrylics are really difficult to use whereas I love acrylics, always have done. Such a versatile medium. I will get over my phobia about watercolour in the course of time, I am determine of that.

For the ¬†last few months I have just used ¬†my scanner to scan my sketches, I have discovered it better to use the Photoshop elements 11 program I have to scan the images. ¬†Give a much truer colour of my sketch book. ¬†Now I am going to insert glassine paper inbetween the sheets of my sketch book as I have noticed that the pencil is rubbing off on to the opposite page. I don’t really like using fixative so I am going to try the glassine paper I have.

Shade under a bridge

sketch 18

Notes: 1st September 4.00pm about 95f

Totally unprepared today, forgot my glasses & phone. Standing under a bridge for shade so very quick drawing.

Yep pretty difficult to do without my glasses. wasn’t striving for accurity (accurateness) but feel. Loss it at the end

About 30 mins Рtemp 91f  feels like 95f

I did this on my way to the supermarket today. I had another bad night sleep so struggled to keep going today. Managed to get for my run in the morning as I need to train for the 5K I have entered on Nov 1. I was originally going to sketch this morning but my youngest daughter was home and talking to her seemed like a much better idea than going out again.

But it was nagging at me all day so I decided to do a quick session before shopping.¬†Originally when I set out I was going to do a small watercolour and searched out my tiny Windsor and Newton pocket palette that I have had since college. I am not fond of watercolour as I tend to end up with ‘mud’ as I have difficulty controlling the medium. ¬†I thought with the limited 12 colour palette I had a better chance of controlling it that the big one I inherited from my Mum (30 blocks).

I walked along the Bohls loop part of the trail through Pflugerville and eventually decided on a shady spot under the bridge that takes the FM1825 road over the trail. ¬†It was then I realised I left my glasses and phone in the car which was parked about¬†¬Ĺ mile away. I decided to just get on with it as I could see the view OK, just not the paper I was drawing on too well. As I was standing with no available place to set my watercolour palette anywhere I decided to use a pen. The first pen was too scratchy ( Pilot Precise v5 ¬†extra fine) and I changed to just a standard biro pen.

I often view a scene with one eye close as I have a lazy eye but I usually put my glasses on to draw as I really cannot see the paper that well without my bio-focals these days. As I was drawing today all I could really see was a blur which if I really concentrated I could see but then it would blur again and often doubled as my eyes struggled to focus. In the end I decided to just draw with one eye closed most of the time. As I stood, I could feel the sweat dripping down my face, not pleasant.

As I said in my notes, in the end I lost my concentration and it really was too hot to be standing still for too long. Fortunately the weather is starting to moderate as autumn approaches although no doubt the mid 90’s will prevail for another month. By October we should start seeing the 80’s again which mean high 60’s/low 70’s for the morning. Really looking forward to¬†the¬†cooler weather!

Maybe I will make a stab at watercolour tomorrow.