Saturday, 26 July 2014


This is a view of the Needles, the western extremity of the Isle of Wight with it's chalk stacks marked by a red lighthouse, a tricky place to sail because of the strong currents flowing with the tides.
Every weekend in summer while we were living in England we went down to the boat, to sail if there was enough wind but otherwise we just lazed on deck and watched the world go by in Portsmouth harbour while we listened to the cricket, sketched and had lovely long lunches under our homemade bimini. ( a converted sheet that we stretched over the boom to give some shade)
Our favourite destination was Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, a good 4 hour's sail to the west down the Solent. Once there we picked up a buoy outside the harbour which cost about £12 a night at that time.  If we wanted to go ashore there was a ferry or we could pump up our own dinghy for the short distance.  When we found someone trying to steal our dinghy one day we decided that it would be better to use the ferry at a couple of pounds each way than risk the loss!  While on shore we loved to walk along the old railway line to the south of the island to Freshwater Bay where I drew this sketch as we had a tasty lunch washed down with some of the local real ale.
The view from the boat was lovely, as you can see there is an old church in the village and the remains of a castle dating from the time of Henry VIII as well as several good pubs and restaurants that serve excellent food so the place is always buzzing.  The ferry from Lymington comes in several times a day full of visitors by car or on foot.
Yarmouth was a very popular place in summer and the harbour used to fill up very quickly on a Saturday so we never bothered to try to find space in there, preferring the tranquillity of the open sea.  That wasn't always the case, if the weather was a bit windy or some unsociable motorboats came too close and we were rocked about! 
We have also visited Yarmouth in the autumn and I well remember one November weekend when we were inside the harbour wall with the whole place to ourselves, using our old paraffin lamp to save on the batteries because the sun set so early,  playing scrabble to keep ourselves amused.
One of our favourite walks was over Tennyson Down on the top of the cliffs leading to the Needles.  We took the open topped bus to the end of the line and then walked back to Yarmouth, stopping for lunch in a pub somewhere along the way.
We used Yarmouth as a starting point when we crossed the Channel to go to France or to the West Country for our holidays.  We timed our departures for the early morning when the tide was turning so we had a good push to the west.  The currents can run at 6 knots in the Needles channel so you would be standing still with the motor going at full speed if you left at the wrong time with the tide against you!
I painted this picture on the last weekend we spent here before setting off for our new life in France.  We chose our new home at Perros because it has a yacht harbour and we had spent most of our sailing holidays here over the years. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014


As we're very busy at the moment building our new garden sheds I haven't got a lot of time for drawing so I thought I'd show you where I started to draw on a regular basis.  In 1992 we bought a sailing boat and moored it in Portsmouth harbour.  She was called Chardonnay of Solent and we owned her for19 years before selling her to a family from Wales.  We received a postcard from them this week with the news that they had sailed her to the Azores after a major refit.  We are absolutely thrilled that she has been used for her original purpose, i.e. crossing oceans, something we dreamed of but never got round to doing.
From March to November we spent every possible weekend on board as well as all our holidays.  Our mooring was on a buoy in an area called Porchester Lake and we were taken there on a water ferry run by the moorings company.  We had about a dozen other neighbours in our group which had views all round which I enjoyed sketching as we relaxed after a weekend's sailing.  This one is looking towards the east and the naval port with some of the big ships moored alongside.  We could also see the cross channel ferries as they came and went from their harbour just to the left of this view.
Looking south you see the harbour entrance with all it's old buildings as well as the historic dockyard where the Victory and the Warrior are moored with the remains of the Mary Rose in a specially constructed building. 
At the time I had not done a lot of sketching and being on the boat was a wonderful opportunity as I had plenty of time to practise. So many people say to me that they can't draw but really you only have to pick up a pen or pencil and have a go.  As you can see I really wasn't very good then but I have persevered and worked hard to be able to do what I do today.
We used to go down to the boat on a Friday evening straight from work, I took my sailing clothes and changed in the public loos in the car park and Bob brought the food and drink as he worked from home.  Depending on the tide we would set off straight away or wait till the morning to go west to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight or other popular places on the Solent. 
This is a drawing I did very early one morning when the water was a calm milky blue with only one little boat rowing out to catch some fish.  Pretty soon the harbour comes alive with motor boats, charter yachts, ferries and racing dinghies all trying to use the same patch of water.  It's important to know the 'rules of the road' and rights of way as well as to follow the channel markings as there are many shallow parts where the inexperienced can get caught aground for several hours!
This red port hand marker post was next to our bouy and used by the cormorant to roost while he dried his wings. I used to love sitting just watching the seabirds as they fished during the day and at night they would all gather on the water and chatter as they drifted up and down with the tides.
Looking north from the boat we could see the ruins of Porchester Castle, originally built by the Romans, with the white chalk cliffs behind.  I sketched it many times, trying to improve my technique over the years.  We kept the boat in Portsmouth harbour for 10 years till we moved to France and had many exciting adventures on her.  She was a wonderful refuge from our busy working lives where we could get away from the phone and the boss!
In part 2 I'll start to tell you about some of the wonderful places Chardonnay took us to.

Sunday, 13 July 2014


At this time of the year the town of Perros is full of tourists and the hydrangeas everywhere are blooming to give them a visual treat.  The colours are fabulous ranging from all the blues to shades of red and purple. They gradually fade and some change completely to pale green or the lightest of blues.
I have a couple of lacecaps in the garden as well as some of the more common mopheads.  Somehow the lacecaps are more interesting to draw with their pretty star shaped flowers in the centre. I'm still working in sketchbook no 25 with the mi-tientes paper and using my beloved Museum watercolour pencils dry. The first layer I do after the pen drawing is the white to indicate all the light areas.  I've found that is the only way to get the lighter colours to stand out on this tinted paper.
Then I start with the blue crayon but still leaving some of the white exposed. A bit of green reminds me where the leaf is hiding under the flowers.
Next colour to go on is the periwinkle blue, a light mauve shade, and a bit of a darker blue too to make the flower centres pop.
I complete the leaves with a variety of green shades and add another one to balance the composition. Then a final touch up on the flowers and a border done in all the colours I used for the flowers and my sketch is finished. 
I posted this step by step on Artists Journal Workshop Facebook group page this week and was overwhelmed by the response. I received nearly 200 likes and about 50 comments, mainly I think because I invited feedback as to whether I should have added the border or not.  The consensus was that it was better with the border but I redrew the flower without just to see the difference which is the picture at the top of the blog.  It's now mounted on a pretty mauve card ready for my mother-in -law's birthday.
Then I thought , why not do another one on plain white paper?  I had to pick another flower, this time a bluer version so I can show you the difference in method. 
Unfortunately I uploaded the pictures in the wrong order so the first one comes last but I'm sure you can see the way it works.  On white paper I start with the darkest parts and build up to the light colours, a bit like watercolour painting.
I used Polychromos pencils for the drawing as they are lovely and smooth on this Bristol paper. The picture is finished with a Derwent blender pencil which is a bit like mixing paint colours, it blends them together on the paper. 
 I do hope you have enjoyed my insight into the way I work and would love to hear what you think, is the picture better with, or without the border?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


For my birthday this year Justine sent me a book of paintings by Carl Larson, a Swedish artist who painted his home and family in watercolours.  I've always loved his work and I recommend you look him up to see what I mean. He and his wife had at least 8 children and were both artists.  Karin was a gifted weaver and decorated her home with tapestries and wall paintings and I think you might recognise some of her influence in the style made famous by Ikea.
I remembered that I had drawn my home a couple of years ago and looked out the old sketchbooks to scan the images.  Our home is in a modern Breton style with a low sloping roof at the back of the house that reaches almost to the ground giving us lovely low windows through which to view the garden. Of course there's the problem of the curtains but I solved it with a pole and rings sewn to the back to hold them against the wall.
I love this triangular window on to the terrace which has a sail cut down that attaches with suckers as a curtain for when we go away.
At the other end of the lounge is the dining area with a fantastic large picture window looking over the front garden.  That orchid seems to appear everywhere!
Upstairs all the rooms have sloping roofs and I have to be careful not to get out of bed too quickly for fear of banging my head!
This is an old painting I did soon after moving in when we were planning the garden and you can see the low roof quite clearly.  I love my French home for it's light and space, the whole of the living area is open plan from the kitchen to the lounge so I'm never isolated when I'm cooking as I was in all our English homes. It also means I can sit at the dining table with my art projects while Bob watches the rugby etc and enjoy the atmosphere without having to sit and watch it all!

Friday, 4 July 2014


This summer has been fabulous so far with sunshine almost every day since the beginning of June.  We've been making the most of it as now we are working hard building our new garden sheds.  This sketch was drawn early one evening when the low sun caught the beautiful white trunks of the silver birches opposite my kitchen window.
This is another view from our terrace where I sat on my sun lounger while Bob watched the football.  The sun was casting long shadows across the rather yellow grass and leaving the ivy bank in the background in deep shade.
This is the west facing side of the house with my wonderful array of scented geraniums. 
 A few years ago I took a few sprigs from our friend HervĂ©'s garden and planted it in this rather dry spot next to the house.  I have obviously found the perfect spot as the plants have flourished and spread so much so that now I'm going to give some back to HervĂ©! He pulled all of his plants out because he got fed up with the maintenance but now Luba, his wife, wants some to put in a wall garden next to their terrace.
The flowers are a magnet for bees, butterflies and this hummingbird hawkmoth which came to feed for a while.
Another hungry visitor was this seagull who could smell our barbecue from far up in the sky.  He swooped down and walked up and down expectantly but had to leave disappointed as we don't want to encourage them to come into the garden.
I decided it was time to draw the old garden shed before we demolish it when the new ones are finished.  It is 11 years old and we are quite surprised it's still standing, the floor on one side has collapsed and we dare not move too many things inside for fear of the whole lot falling over!