Friday, 17 June 2016

Watercolour cornflowers straight from the garden.

There is more than one way to be creative with colour, and one of my very favourite pastimes is looking after (and looking AT!) my garden. I am lucky that it is surrounded by mature trees, giving home to a multitude of birds from Magpies to Wrens and Stonechats. This is the view from my kitchen window this morning, June 2016. The garden is an abundance of greens and is a joy to behold. 

Julne 2016

But when I moved here, the main flower bed was dominated by two enormous Leyandii trees and an overgrown Rhododendron. Two men with lots of elbow grease and axes got rid of those, leaving me with a blank canvas of earth to play with. This photo below was taken in July 2012, four years ago. 
July 2012
As you can see, the ground was covered in ivy and bramble, with a lot of little tree stumps too. After I had dug and cleared those, I had a tonne of manure delivered, to give it all a nutritious treat, then the planting began. 
June 2015
By last year, the garden was a sea of Floxgloves, most of which were taller than me (and I'm 5 Foot 8!). One of the joys of gardening is the way that gardeners share their over-enthusiastic plants.  The Foxgloves were given to me by my friend Liz, so of course I think of her when I see them. In the back of the border are Buddlea and Himalayan Honeysuckle adonated by Glynis and dotted about are geraniums and more, given to me by Joanna. As well as this, I have taken cuttings of many of my own plants when I have moved house, so they become memories which go back a very long way. Many of the plants still growing now are the same ones in photographs of my children, taken in other gardens I have had. The white irises were mature in my garden in East Sussex when I moved there in 1991.. 

My son Christie in the garden in Sussex 1999

In the photo above you can see the Irises at the top left behind Christie's head in 1999 (and Christie is now 22!) and below here they are outside my window today, still going strong.
June 2016

Another plant which moves easily is the cornflower, and if there are enough to cut, I give them to my students to paint. They are lovely in watercolour, with a small amount of drawing on the leaves and straight-to-paint with the blue-purple petals. 

The exercise this time was in getting the right variety and contrast in the colour of the leaves - the back of the leaf is greyish green, and the front is a warm yellow-green. With just two hours to work, the students so really well to get so much done. 

Cornflower watercolour by Barbara, Student

Cornflower watercolour by Pat, student

Upcoming workshops - location drawing in Belfast, Portrait Drawing, Watercolour landscapes and oils. For info please email

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Watercolour Painting on Location (bliss) and birthday treats!

When the sun shines in Ireland, there is nowhere more beautiful. Luckily for us, last week my class and I decided that we would visit Mount Stewart, a large estate on the shores of the Ards Peninsula (one of my favourite places on earth), to do some watercolour painting. 

Students settled in on the lawns. 

Loction drawing and painting is good fun, though everyone was very tentative when they started today. I could tell this, because as soon as we arrived, 'someone' said they needed coffee... (a sure sign of great fear about what is to come). I did a head count, and only four were interested, so I did a demonstration painting with the promise of coffee immediately afterwards. This seemed to settle their nerves rightly enough.

There are, it is true, several factors which can make the idea of painting on location seem daunting. It feels different to not have a ceiling above us, and the lack of table is a challenge too. We stomped about while I discussed the various things to look for when choosing a subject, then stood to do my demonstration painting. I kept it simple, and produced a sketch in about 20 minutes. One of the best things about giving a demonstration is to show students what it is to be RELAXED. If we are tense, are drawing will look tense also.

Students getting ready...

The wisest amongst us chose a shady spot
The gardens are full of structure, provided by the main house as well as arbours, trimmed hedges and mature trees. we had plenty of choice.
Neill found a bench for some comfort, and Gavin was happy on the steps.

The first set of artwork, from the morning 
My demo sketches showing different possible approaches (unfinished)

I was about to add colour to this sketch when I was interrupted, for drinks!

Surprise treats!!!
Just as we were finishing up before lunch, Mark began rounding us up, shouting 'Party time!' To my absolute surprise, he and Sara had brought Prosecco and cake, to celebrate my birthday! Drinks on the lawn.. Perfect!
My afternoon watercolour, in progress 
Finished watercolour, straight to paint. Julie Douglas.  
Mark, leaving in STYLE in his fantastic  home made car!

This was just the lovliest day imaginable. Everyone enjoyed painting outside, and we look forward to doing it again soon.

Next up - oil painting workshop, portrait drawing, watercolour and coloured pencil workshops. For info email

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Spring is in the air.. (in the pink!)

It is my great pleasure to collect flowers from my garden to give my students to paint.  I choose subjects according to colour, form, textures, scale and variety on a week to week basis as opposed to 'flowers' or 'portraits', so this basket of Camelia flowers fit the bill nicely for a restricted watercolour painting, with no drawing at all. 

Basket of flowers straight from the garden

While the camelia was the main event, I decided it would be good to warm up with something simpler, with less complicated shapes to get the brushes flowing and relieve any potential anxiety amongst students. 
So we started with a stem of Forest Flame, which has similar colours. Students were then restricted to using only Lemon Yellow, as a base colour, and Alizarin Crimson and Permanent Rose. 

By student, Brigid

Brigid's lovely camelia 

The most important thing to remember when going straight to paint is to resist the temptation to use the brush as if it were a pencil to provide an 'outline'.  The great advantage of NOT drawing an outline in pencil is that we are looking at the entire shape from the offset, as a mass. A line won't do this but a blob of paint pushed over the surface quickly provides the shape we need. 

Trevor starting his Forest Flame 'warm up'
It is a very relaxing way to work and uses watercolour at its best.


Some students (above) added a background towards the end. 

By student Sara C

By student Jessica

Studying hard!

Trevor's Camelia

Upcoming workshops: oil painting, portrait drawing and children's art!
For information email