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One persons attempt to become a good artist painting in watercolour, experiences along the way and discussion of all things connected with it.

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  • 01/19/14--09:19: The Tufted Coquette (2)
  • I was so disgusted with my first effort that I've done another today. Still less than 100% happy with it but it is an improvement and gets me painting again.

    The initial drawing using a Pentel 07 2B mechanical pencil and using the modified contour method of Charles Reid.

    Similar colours and three brushes. The Isabey 6228 Kolinsky nos 4 and 8 plus the retractable 6.

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    Yesterday was the second week of this 10 week course. The weather was better, we were in the schoolroom and both the heating and electricity were working. Compared to last week it was a large plus.

    First a word about the tutor, Saied Dai, who I have `Googled' since last week. It seems ridiculous that I hadn't done so before but for some reason I'd omitted to do so  Saied was born in Persia (now Iran) and came to England at the age of 6 in 1958.That makes him 61 but he looks considerably younger. He trained for seven years at The Royal Academy of  Arts in London and is an elected member of The Royal Society of Portrait Artists and the New English Art Club. A real heavyweight without a doubt, winner of many awards and holder of numerous exhibitions both in the UK and abroad. If you would like to delve further his website is

    This is the `view' of the schoolroom, taken at the end of the session. The raised platform in the centre, framed by easels, was where the model posed.  We were in a circular pattern and my position was roughly in front of Pat, who is the figure on the left. Therefore all the artists had a different angle, some frontal, some rear and some side angles.  

    Saied talked at length initially about what he wanted us to do and how we should approach the subject. He said that the model was not to be just copied. Every mark you make should be there for a reason - not just a copy and we should adopt a constructional approach. Don't waste marks and make sure you spend time looking at the model. He mentioned quality of observation and visual intelligence. Use your imagination to see interconnections and patterns. Most people see superficially. Avoid techniques that are  hollow and meaningless - this was a dire warning! The model was not to be drawn as a standalone object but interconnected with the background, using all the objects to right and left and back to front to gauge distances and angles. There was more but........ We were also told to start off by first drawing the platform and putting it at the bottom of the page because the object was to fill the space but not run off the page.
     Measuring, which he said he could teach us in a day, was not the be all and end all and other factors had to be considered. During breaks he asked us to look at all the other paintings 

    A2 Sketchpad - 2B pencil We were told to draw lightly, especially at first.

    Initially the model struck up a standing pose as on the right. This including a break took up the first two hours. The final hour she was posed on the left sitting on a stool. We had to integrate this pose into the drawing. This was tough and posed several problems, highlighting errors in my initial drawing.

    To say this was a tough session is an understatement. At no time did I feel l had made a terrible mistake and wished to be somewhere else, but it was very hard. He didn't say a lot to me until near the end - why I'm not sure - but I came in for criticism as doing things (at least that's what I think he meant) in an amateurish way and the words `gesture drawing' were used.  Pat got some flak and so did many of the others, most of whom had been coming to his courses for two to three years. The other newcomer was also finding things very hard. Phew!

    Having pondered yesterday over the last few hours there are several questions I need to resolve. What exactly am I doing wrong? I have a fair idea but am not completely clear. Looking at the other artists, many with considerable experience of his courses, the drawings do look different, and not just because of the different positions around the model. Hopefully things will become clearer over the next few weeks but as Pat said to me - and I concur - we are already looking at things in a different way.

    As a final comment I should add, if I have given that impression, Saied is not a monster. He doesn't take prisoners and is very forthright but has a nice manner, doesn't shout or hector. So far at least!

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    I've missed a couple of recent sessions due to the virus that's been hounding me. However this Thursday I made it and the subject was `A Winter Scene' - quite broad based. There was a good attendance with twenty one present, in fact it has been over twenty every week this year which is much better.

     I did the preliminary drawing the day before after deciding I didn't care for the large panoramas, mostly masses of trees, that appeared when I  researched the subject on Google images. I suppose I copped out a little when I settled on birds in a winter setting - still the title allows considerable leeway. I found two such photographs and combined them with elements from each.

    This is my normal position and as you can see we are back to normality!

    Jan Weeks

    Kathy Wilkins

    Jo McKenna - this is an ink study

    Pauline Vowles

    Yvonne Harry - apologies for this very poor reproduction. It was on the floor so difficult to photograph. I'm sure a much better photo will appear on Yvonne's watercolourflorals blog. Yvonne used various textural techniques which I'm sure she will elaborate on her blog.

    I've not shown mine on here, other than in the group scene, because it involves my `new' 24 paint palette so I'm doing a separate piece. 

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  • 01/25/14--00:22: Blue Jays
  • This is the painting I did in response to the AVA subject `A Winter Scene'. It enabled me to kill two birds (no pun intended) with one stone. I looked up birds in winter and came up with two photos of Blue Jays, a bird I'd previously been unaware of as they certainly aren't a UK species. I decided to combine the two as this seemed feasible with shared similarities. 

    This was my setup with one of the photos used for the right hand part of the painting.

    Blue Jays in Winter - 18" x 12" Fabriano Artistico Extra White 140lb (300gsm) Not.

    The most difficult party was depicting the snow and this could certainly be better. I added some Galeria Acrylic White at the end but it hasn't made that much difference.

    I completed the drawing the day before the AVA session to give me more time on the day. I realise one of my many faults is rushing into things. This was with a Pentel mechanical pencil 07 2B. I did so using Ward's version of Charles Reid's modified contour drawing method. I first painted the left hand bird starting with the head. I painted this as carefully and slowly as I'm capable. I then did something similar with the right hand bird then moved down the bodies, although I also included parts of the surrounding areas so as not to isolate them too much. I didn't want the birds to look like cutouts.

    Colours used were blues and violets on the birds, Cerulean, Cyan Blue, Turquoise, Ultramarine Violet and Moonglow. Ivory Black also featured around the eyes and in places on the wings. Background colours included Sap Green, Green-Gold and Quinacridone Rust. Other colours included Phalo Green mixed with Perylene Maroon, heavily diluted. The branches are mainly Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and Cerulean with touches of Burnt Umber.

    I used three brushes. They were the two Isabey retractables sizes 4 and 6 - much smaller but longer and slimmer than most others of these sizes. The other brush was the Rosemary retractable travel brush Size 10 Kolinsky sable. This is another nice brush that I've had for a while.

    I finished quite pleased with this painting although comment from fellow artists was muted!

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  • 01/27/14--02:19: New Palette
  • As I've already indicated the `Blue Jays' study (see separate piece) stemmed from the AVA weekly subject  `Winter Scene'. I'm hooked on birds so combined the two. It also coincided with my revised palette of 24 paints utilising the new insert I asked Craig Young to make. 

    Top Row: Hansa Yellow Medium (Daniel Smith PY97), Indian Yellow (Rowney PY153), Perylene Maroon (Graham PY179), Quinacridone Rose (Graham PR19).

    Second Row: Permanent Carmine (W & N PR N/A), Quinacridone Coral (Daniel Smith PR209), Ultramarine Blue (Rowney PB29), Cerulean Blue (Graham PB35).

    Third Row: Cobalt Blue Deep (Rowney PB72), Cyan Blue (Maimeri PB15:3), Cobalt Teal Blue (Daniel Smith PG50), Turquoise (Lukas PB16).

    Fourth Row: Ultramarine Violet (Rowney or Graham PV15), Raw Sienna, (Winsor & Newton ), Raw Umber (Rowney PBr7), Translucent Brown (Schminke Pbr41).

    Fifth Row: Burnt Umber (Rowney Pbr7), Quinacridone Gold (Daniel Smith PO49), Qinacridone Rust (Graham PO48), Translucent Orange (Schminke PO71).

    Sixth Row: Viridian (Rowney PG17), Phalo Green Yellow Shade (Maimeri PG36), Moonglow (Daniel Smith), Gold Ochre (Winsor & Newton PY43)

    There is nothing scientific about the above selection. Limited palette enthusiasts will hold their hands up in horror and wonder about some of the selections.  It is a combination of `must have' colours and those I just
     happen to like. As far as makes are concerned I choose  many of the colours on price as long as the quality is acceptable. Some of the above may well be replaced by other makes. Other colours are chosen because I just happen to love them, Cobalt Teal Blue, Translucent Orange, Translucent Brown and Moonglow are examples.  I'm trying Translucent Brown as a replacement for Burnt Sienna. The Daniel Smith choices are because they do such great colours although very pricey. Although I've listed Cerulean Blue under Graham I actually prefer the Windsor & Newton version. I think there are several alternatives to some of the above. I intend to make up a secondary palette of twelve colours including Green-Gold, Sap Green, Green Apatite, Quinacridone Fuschia, maybe Indigo and Permanent Magenta. Madness? No just me indulging myself. Different colours for different subjects. 

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    The third session of this course took place yesterday. It was another shocking day weatherwise - very wet - so I wasn't in a great mood when I arrived, having walked the last two hundred yards in the rain. To cap it all I forgot my umbrella!

    To my surprise Pat was missing at the Park and Ride but on arriving she was already there having caught the earlier bus, not by intention just a mistake. We were early with few others yet arrived and spoke to Saied grumbling about the weather. With a smile on his face he said he hoped he hadn't contributed to our gloom.

    After a while most of the others turned up totalling eleven women and two men. As usual  men were well in the minority as is mostly the case at workshops I've attended. Saied began by talking for about twenty minutes. He started with a question; `What is the difference between a dead scene and a living scene?' There was a dead silence for a while and bear in mind, apart from the three newcomers, all others had attended previous courses, some more than once. There were one or two attempts to answer - not very enlightening - and I have to say it wasn't entirely clear to me what he was getting at.  He further talked about the art of simplicity which he said was more difficult than complexity. Overall the theme seemed to be the stripping out of superfluous items and seeing what really mattered. When you begin the drawing he talked about stepping stones into the drawing and the right procedures at the start.  It was quite a complex exposition and he stressed several times that what he was asking us to do was very difficult. Some of the points;

    What is important and what Is redundant?

    A high degree of selection.

    Minimum of means.

    Sit and look.

    Subject and object not the same thing.

    When in trouble look for negative shapes.

    Solving conundrums.

    This week we had a male model. He was on the same raised platform but the easels at the four corners were removed so it was less cluttered. The model was posed in the lying down position shown in the drawing. Saied stressed that he knew what he  was asking us to do was difficult - he said this several times - a bit of psychology I think - and repeated his previous instructions to integrate the model with the background, using the various lines and angles to get proportions correct. He also stressed the importance of ensuring the scene was kept within the boundaries of the paper by careful measuring but also said measuring was not the  be all and end all. Take an open view and don't begin in a predetermined way.

    The raised platform was first drawn and then moving upwards and sideways from the back to the ceiling using measuring tools - principally a pencil held vertically and horizontally.  I am still having problems with this and was uneasy with my work so far. After that the model was posed. Frankly the opening one and a half hours was not good. I reached an impasse and sat staring at the paper wondering how on earth I was going to draw and fit in the model. I should say that most work extremely slowly - Saied stresses to look first, study things carefully, avoid rushing in and work slowly. The fact that I didn't have much on the paper was not a lot different from most the others. Being used to completing a watercolour in less than two hours this very slow approach is foreign to me and takes some getting used to.

    By the time we came to the break I was in something of a stew. I think it equivalent to writers block and painters block. I frankly didn't know where to go and what to do next. Pat, who was sat close to me, saw my mood and apparently spoke to Saied, who when we recommenced sat by me and talked about how to tackle the various problems. My temporary black cloud lifted and I started to get some marks on the paper. From then on the second half of the session went much better - at least as far as I was concerned - and I started drawing the model fitting him in to the space and checking all the time. Saied came and looked at my progress and made some comments about my drawing suggesting changes. The word gesture was used and I overheard him saying something similar to the lady next to me, who had been on previous courses. She later told me is was very difficult initially when you started this course. I noticed at this session that Saied  frequently said he knew what he was asking was difficult to very difficult but would be of great benefit if we could grasp it and put it into practice.

    Looking at each others drawings at the end of the session. We were asked to do this several times previously.

    After nearly two and a half hours many were still working on the initial pose. It had been planned that three poses would be utilized but in view of the time taken this was abandoned and only a second quick pose was adopted. We were asked to superimpose this over the other but I slightly misunderstood what he meant. Nevertheless I continued and managed (by my standards) to complete the second drawing, integrating it with the first pose. We then finished as it was already 5 pm - amazing how quickly three hours passes - and it was well dones all round!  As I've suggested there was a subtle change in Saied's approach this time. A stick and carrot approach (?) while stressing he knew how difficult it was to achieve what he was asking?

    A2 Sketchpad - Actually this only takes up the lower half of the paper. I've auto adjusted the drawing so the pencil marks are more visible but the one below is more real.

    This is how it actually looks  

    I've made this a very warts and all report with nothing concealed, an approach designed to allow readers to understand what it is actually like and not hide the difficulties I (and others) are having. The three newcomers are all struggling to some degree and having looked at all the work some others still have difficulties. I'm beginning to understand Saied's strategy I think. It is certainly a challenge but I'm up for it. 

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  • 02/01/14--00:25: Cakes and Sweets
  • This was the subject at Avon Valley Artists last Thursday. Another decent attendance with 17 present. Several, including me, had done some preparatory work. In my case the work involved the drawing and then careful application of masking fluid. This took some time which is why I did it prior to the session. Why masking fluid? The fruit on the cheescake had a complicated lot of highlights and the chocolates also needed some fancy work.

    Jan Weeks


    Jo McKenna


    Chocolates and Cheesecake 18" x 12" Fabriano Artistico Extra White 140lb (300gsm) Not.

     Just out of interest the fruit is a combination of Perylene Maroon (Graham PR179). Quinacridone Coral (Daniel Smith PR209) and a little Burnt Umber to further darken the red. This is a combination I've not used before but am pleased with the result. Peter Ward

    I apologize to the artist and viewers for the paintings above where I haven't noted the name.

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  • 02/02/14--02:09: The European Crested Tit
  • This is the latest subject, no actually another has just been posted the Grey Heron, for the `Paint Colorful Birds For Fun' community on Facebook.

    12" x 9" Paper (?)

    It struck me I was painting many of the birds on too large a sheet of paper so this one is smaller. As can be seen it allowed my preference for colourful subjects to flourish. After a careful contour drawing I used Pebeo Drawing Gum (masking fluid) on the head, mainly on the area above the eyes. There is also a little in the wing area, in every case just fine lines - no large areas, as well as  the tree trunk. This was applied with a ruling pen, which I find very useful for this type of work.  I know a  number of artists urge caution about the use of masking fluid but it is very useful as long as it isn't overdone.

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  • 02/04/14--00:27: Geronimo!
  • Geronimo was the famous or infamous Chiricahua Apache leader who terrorized the South-West of America and large tracts of Northern Mexico during the mid to late period of the 19th century. His band were (officially) the last hostiles to surrender in 1881. Immediately following the surrender they and their families were bundled on a train and exiled to Florida. Eventually he was rehabilitated and lived out the last stages of his life as something of a celebrity. This study was painted from a photograph taken during the latter period. Some Apaches allied with Geronimo never surrendered and took refuge in the wild and largely uninhabited Sierra Madre mountains of Northern Mexico. There were reports of incidents as late as the 1920s and I suppose it is possible remnants still remain to this day. 

    My setup with guide photo 

     Contour drawing graphite mechanical Pentel pencil 07 2B 

    I first made a careful contour drawing ensuring everything, eyes, nose, mouth were in the right place and to scale. The two things that struck me about this photo were the hard, piercing eyes and the steel trap of a mouth, although less daunting than in his hostile days. 

    Geronimo - Waterford 16" x 12" High White Not 140lbs (300gsm) 

    I first painted the eyes, then the nose followed by the mouth. In order to get the skin colour fairly dark I used Translucent Brown (Scminke PBr41) as the main component instead of Cadmium Red. Cadmium Red also featured as a secondary colour with very small amounts of Raw Sienna.To darken I used Cobalt Blue Deep.(Rowney PB72). When painting the face I didn't stop at the boundaries but continued into the hair. I tried to harmonize the whole avoiding cutouts and painted mostly wet in wet. The hat colours are Ultramarine Blue,  Translucent Brown and Raw Umber, again mainly wet in wet. Overall I avoided too `pretty' an approach and adopted the `be slightly crude' advice of Charles Reid. I'm happy with the result.

    Brushes were the usual Isabeys and the Da Vinci Artissimo 44.

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    "the very best and most expensive watercolour brushes are made from the winter tail hairs of Mustela Sibirica, called in the art world a Kolinsky, but sometimes referred to as a Siberian Mountain Weasel - although there seem to be a lot in China, seen often in Beijing, where it is called a `Yellow Rat Weasel'. I believe `rat' is in the name because it kills rats, and traffic will sometimes stop in Beijing to let one across the street because of this propensity........brushes are also made from Martes zibellica, called a marten, and from `Kazan Blue Squirrel' (and a few other Russian squirrels) which I have not been able to identify.....The problem I want to address, to put it bluntly is that there is a lot of cheating and obfuscation going on in the brush market mostly around kolinsky brushes which, as I have said, are very expensive - running in the hundreds of dollars...."

    As the weasel family is quite large, and not all confined to China and Russia, Canada and Korea for example are another source of tail hair, then it seems likely other similar species are involved but presumably expert brushmakers can determine what is genuine and what isn't. Can they? Does it matter if the species are very close? If marketed as genuine Kolinsky the answer is yes.

    The above but one paragraph is an extract of an e-mail published on Wetcancas from the collections manager of the mammal department of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, so I have assumed, he knows what he is talking about.

    The Kola Peninsula in Siberia. Is this the only place where genuine Kolinsky sable hair was once  obtained? Are any weasels of the right species still living or are they extinct? I have read that they are `endangered' or alternatively (see above) running about the streets in Beijing! Who or what to believe? According to the excellent blog Channeling Winslow Homer Mustela Siberica has long been trapped to extinction in Siberia and other species of weasels - similar in many ways - are used instead. It would seem therefore that the use of `Kolinsky' is largely a misnomer. A bit like Cheddar cheese.

    Most sources say the finest hair is from the male animal and should be harvested at a particular time of the year - the Siberian Winter is normally quoted. However Wikpedia says that `most brushes have a mix of about 60/40 male-to female hair'.

    Another piece says:

    `Manufacturers obtain the hair for their brushes from hair dealers, who, in turn, get hair in a rough state (pelts, tails, etc) through the fur industry. The hair dealers `dress' (de-grease- clean etc) the hair,  grade it, and bundle it by size and weight. A brushmaker is then offered the different grades and mixtures. If he is not careful, however, he may unknowingly receive summer coat instead of winter coat, or other hair mixed in with the Kolinsky hair.'

    I could go on and on as there is a mass of information to delve into but where do you end? The final buyer, ie us artists, haven't a clue as to whether we are getting the genuine article or not. All reputable brushmakers claim that they use `the very finest' hair and so they may or indeed think that is what has been supplied.

    Rosemary of Rosemary & Co says:

     `like most things the better the ingredients and raw materials the finer the end result. Beware of the less expensive so called `sable brushes. many contain little or no genuine sable at all regardless of what it says on the handle. Others may contain sable hair which hasn't been `dressed' properly or indeed sorted by length.'

    What to make of all this? My response is a great deal of scepticism since we all know that all is not what it seems and even well-known companies cannot be 100% relied upon. I'm not suggesting they deliberately mislead, but when we see what is and has happened in other spheres why should the art world be any different?

    Now to the brushes. I can only comment on my own limited experience but perhaps point you in the right direction when making choices. There are many brushmakers and the ones I know most about are European. I know little or nothing about those in America, Asia or elsewhere. If any readers would like to share their experiences I'd be delighted to add them to this piece.

    Winsor & Newton Series 7

    Where do we start? To my mind Winsor & Newton series 7, which are the most expensive sables of the lot. Winsor & Newton are no longer the famous British company of old, having been sold first to a Swedish Company and then most recently to a German one. They've even moved manufacture of the artists watercolours to France. Are the old traditions being maintained? The ether has been thick with innuendo and rumour about W & N for sometime, the general drift being that standards have slipped and quality is not what it was. This applies to brushes and paints. Some of this may well be misinformation spread by jealous rivals but it does make you wonder when you look at the way the company has been hawked around. Frankly the prices of series 7 are ridiculous and I wouldn't contemplate buying them when such excellent brushes are available at much lower prices. See what Rosemary says in her catalogue in the questions and answers section.

    The above illustration comes from the excellent website of Dakota Brushes I cannot recommend this website highly enough for the mass of useful information. Detailed statistics on all the makes above with brushhead diameter and length given for every size so that you can easily see which - at least in volume of hair - are the best buys. Highly informative and a good source of brushes in North America.

    Let us first of all look at sizing. The above are all size 8 but as you can see there is considerable variation. Winsor & Newton claim their series 7 are up to two sizes larger than most other makes but in the above comparison the one that stands out is Da Vinci, while Escoda who are being heavily promoted by a number of high profile artists, is easily the smallest but comparable to Isabey. Naturally price comparisons have also to be made in association with actual size. In that respect Escoda don't fare too badly.

    The above are three Da Vinci series. It appears the numbering may vary in different markets.

    This is from the excellent website of  Luxartis run by the wife (I believe) of the artist Jake Winkle. They claim the brushes are longer and slimmer than most other makes. I purchased a No.8 which is yet to be christened but examination of it didn't seem to validate their claim. 

    From top to bottom: SAA Kolinsky 10 (made I'm told by Raphael), Da Vinci Maestro 10 series 10, SAA Size 8, Escoda 1212 Size 10, Da Vinci Maestro 8, Luxartis 10.

    As you can see there is considerable variation in the actual  size of the brush head. Raphael look pretty good and so does Da Vinci. Since I did this I obtained some Isabey brushes and like them a lot. They are on the small side size wise but long and slim. 

    Rosemary offers a wide range of sable brushes, listed as either Kolinsky or red sable. She maintains she uses the best quality hair, as all the leading makers do, and her comprehensive range is well worth investigating. This includes some nice travel brushes. I have had a number of her brushes over the years. The most popular sable range is Series 33 and many good artists swear by them. I purchased a sable mop some time ago and regretted it ever since. It was under the previous ABS label but as the Rosemary range is identical (with additions) to the ABS one then I imagine the current mops are similar. Why don't I like it? It certainly doesn't point well and is useful only as a wash brush. You can get good wash brushes for a lot less than £50. I think the one I bought was too large for my purposes.  I have found that brushes  from ABS and Rosemary can vary. Some are splendid but others have been less satisfactory. I have heard claims that `they don't point well' from some artists I've met but others love them. You can't really compare Series 33 with the top of the range Da Vinci, Raphael and Isabey, all of which are much more expensive. Rosemary does a top of the range Series 22 which is comparable, certainly in price. With a superb catalogue, enormous range and excellent worldwide service, Rosemary brushes are well worth considering.

    Raphael, who are French as are Isabey, make a wide range of `Kolinsky' sables. They have several types of round with different characteristics. The best source I know is Great Art, whose website gives full details of the range. My SAA brushes remain pristine as does a Raphael Series 8404 size 8 so I have yet to us them. Gilles Durand, a fine French professional artist who I met on several Charles Reid workshops said they lost their point after about six months. The brushes look good to me  but prices are  steep.

    Da Vince, a favourite and recommendation to his students for many years from Charles Reid, make excellent brushes. So far I've only used the Artissimo 44 Kolinsky mop Size 2. This is roughly equivalent to a 14 in the normal type. I like it a lot but recently the hair became detached from the brush head! the whole head just popped out! Fortunately I was able to  put it back in again but this is not good for a brush costing £50 or so. 

    Escoda the Catalonian company are making a stir with a high profile marketing campaign using some very well-known workshop artists. Escoda are a good company and well worth considering. Some of these artists go over the top with their claims that Escoda are `the best in the World'. Good certainly but best in the World?  I doubt some of the others would concede that and neither do I, although I do think they are excellent brushes.

    This is only a snapshot of what is available. Pro Arte, better known for synthetics, make an expensive Kolinsky range. Both Winsor & Newton and Daler Rowney have other sables, some classed as `less expensive'. I have heard good reports of the Israeli Rekab brushes and so on. Art suppliers have their own label Sable or Kolinsky brushes and more seem to be appearing.  It is bewildering and also confused by variable reports from different artists.

    I asked my good friends Michael Carney and John Softly on their views. Mick prefers Da Vinci and Raphael but was not impressed with the Windor & Newton series 7. He has had mixed experiences with Rosemary brushes, rather similar to me it would seem. John is cynical about `Kolinsky' and believes most if not all so-called Kolinsky brushes are not genuine. After my research so am I, although it seems there are several species of weasel that are very similar.

    ABS (now Rosemary) Eskdale, 8, 10, 12, & 14 plus W & N Series 7, 3,4 & 7

    John has 38 in total, I must be close to that figure (!), a mixture of ABS, Eskdale,  Roymak, Escoda, Series 7 and ABS. I don't know Roymak, but some of them date back 15 years or more and still point well. For an extensive amount of information on brushes as experienced by members try Wetcanvas, then Watercolor, then The Learning Zone and search for `Brush reviews'. This is particularly applicable to the experiences of American members. You can find out much more if you are interested by `googling' around.

    Now to pricing. Taking Jacksons as a fairly reasonable guide the following prices are current, all size 8. Escoda 1212 £13.20p, Raphael 8404 £22.50p, W & N Series 7 £105, Isabey £29.25p, Jacksons Tajmir (made by Escoda) £11.00p, Jacksons Kolinsky £14.60p, Da Vinci Maestro  10 £26.50p, Da Vinci Maestro 35 £30.30p. Rosemary Series 33 £12.75p and Series 22 £29.95p. Once past size 8 prices leap into the stratosphere. The dearest Series 7 is a 10 at £151.00p! Da Vinci Maestro Series 10 go to a huge Size 50 (who would want such a thing?) at an incredible £1024.00p. Escoda make an 18 at £115.60p, Raphael; a 16 at £113.00p and Isabey a 14 at £101.20p. Rosemary makes a size 24 in series 33 at £450.00p and a series 22 in size 20 at £517.50p. Eyes watering  and head spinning yet? 

    As you can see there is quite a variation from the ridiculous £105 of W & N - how they get away with it I just don't know - to the £11.00 of Jacksons own brand. As I've highlighted earlier size is only a rough guide as brands vary since there is no recognized industry standard so this is also a factor in deciding what to buy.

    The final question. Do you need to buy sable brushes, whether they are called Kolinsky, red sable or just plain sable  to produce good paintings. The answer is NO and if you read what some of the fine artists I've featured use you will see this is so. Okay I'm a brush freak but that's just me.  

    I think I'll end it there. 

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    Monday was the fourth session of this course. We arrived to discover that the model had cried off at short notice due to illness, so a subject planned for a later session was substituted. This was portrait drawing and Saied first gave a 20 minute explanation of what was involved and what we should look for. Saied talked about asymmetry - looking for similarity - seeing dissimilarity in what appears similar. He talked about the primary axes and secondary axes, also accents and focus. This was not all and the history of art came into it and much else. During this time he wrote on a whiteboard and also did a drawing of the head illustrating the points he was making. I forgot my camera but took some photos on my new phone but - to date - haven't discovered how to transfer them to my computer!  One of the main points he made is that people draw what they think they are looking at without actually seeing what is really there. To be brutally honest some of this stuff was above my head although I got the main drift of what he is trying to communicate. I don't think I'm alone in this even though the majority of the others have been to him previously.

    We were then told to draw in pairs, facing each other. Pat and I faced each other and started to draw. He said that it was better to remove glasses, where worn, but after I tried this I had to put them back on. The basic idea was to draw the other person  moving the head as little as possible, just moving the eyes. This is incredibly difficult, especially if  - like me - you wear varifocals.  Pat was struggling to draw me and I her, but she complained in a good natured way - well slightly irritated - that I was making it difficult by moving my head! I think we all had problems and the eraser came into play as often as the pencil. This whole process lasted over an hour and we both struggled to get a decent likeness. My initial attempt, while a decent drawing, did not much look like her, amongst other faults I made her look much too severe. Once again we were told to look at the other paintings from time to time. I don't know if anyone remembers a comic many years ago with a character called Dan Dare. The villain was called the Mekon and had a bulbous head. That was what I initially looked like. Pat was not keen on my interpretation of her either! However after constantly erasing and restarting I managed a final drawing that looked okay, although not a great likeness as she still looked far too severe.  This was partly to do with the restrictions we worked under as we couldn't really take measurements or anything like that. Saied said my final version was better and that he could recognize her- just. 

    !st Drawing

    After a break Saied asked us to pick someone else and draw them quickly in 20 minutes, basically chancing our arm. The lady opposite me kept moving her head up and down, back and forth,  like a yo yo but I concentrated on her eyes and hair and managed the following.

    2nd Drawing

    Actually this isn't a bad likeness, not 100% by any means but recognizable. Saied said if she laughed at the drawing it was okay and she certainly laughed.

    By this time less than half an hour remained and the lady I had just drawn had to depart - not because of my drawing I was assured. As I was left with no partner it was suggested I pick someone out and do a quick sketch. I selected a lady about 10 feet away and off I went. 

    3rd Drawing 

    This is not a bad likeness, when I showed it to her she also laughed. She was actually drawing someone opposite her at the time..

    When Saied inspected our work from time to time the main criticism was that we were not always `drawing' but making random marks and gestures. At the end it was well dones all round so we proceed to next week which is  the half-way mark, then there is a weeks break. At the end we again looked at all the work. While some are good there is certainly not a huge gap - if at all - between Pat and I and some of the others, about a dozen all told, despite some having been here before. This is no cause for satisfaction or complacency but neither is it a cause for despair. 

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    The subject last Thursday was `Animals'. There was a good attendance with over twenty members present. As I had a hearing aid `MOT' at 9.45am I thought I might be quite late but in the event made it by just after 10.00am, although all the others were already into their paintings.

    I did the preliminary drawing of a Jaguar the previous day to save time so was able to start painting almost immediately. This is a fairly popular subject and indeed is one of my favourites together with birds.

    Yvonne Harry in foreground.

    This is Yvonnes painting of zebras.

    Jan Weeks

    The two above are both pastels this one Helen Newman, not sure about the other.

    Cath Wilkins

    By clicking on the photos you can see an enlargement of them

    This was an enjoyable session and next week's subject is `Interiors'.

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  • 02/09/14--04:54: Jaguar
  • Normally I'd post this in the previous AVA post but as It has created quite a lot of interest, both at the meeting and subsequently when I posted on Facebook, decided to cover it separately in slightly more detail.

    As setup at the session. You can see the guide photo on the left.

    Roughly half-way through - the danger point where things can go badly wrong.

    I decided to try and do something a little more adventurous in subject matter  but consequently difficult. I made a careful contour drawing at home the previous day as I thought I might arrive rather later than actually occurred, due to the hearing aid appointment. Actually I also made another  drawing of a snow leopard. but more on that later.

    Studying the drawing and photograph I started with the eye on the right hand side because I thought this would be the difference between success and failure. Get the eyes right and the first real hurdle is overcome. I proceeded to paint the area around the eye, initially with Quinacridone Gold (Daniel Smith PO49), Quinacridone Rust (Graham PO48), Raw Sienna (Pbr7) up to and including the ear. There is Ivory Black around the eye. I added the black spots, Maimeri Ivory Black, more or less as I was going along after most parts were dry. There was some wet in wet but  only a little. I then painted the nose area before proceeding to the left hand side, which was mostly in shade. I did the eye first with the small yellow areas around it then proceeded to paint the shadow with various mixtures of Ultramarine and Burnt Umber plus some Ivory Black. I was careful to try and avoid a `Paynes Grey effect' - where the greys can be really dead and flat looking. I added some more blue and Burnt Umber later wet into wet. I also added similar mixes on the right hand side adjacent to the head. I  added the black spots as I went along but can't remember the exact sequence.

    16" x 12" Saunders Waterford High White 140lb (300gsm) not

    I should add I used Pebeo Drawing Gum, carefully applied in thin lines with a ruling pen, for the whiskers at the time I completed the drawing and the day after the AVA session a few touches of Galeria Acrylic White. Both the Pebeo and the Galeria need careful handling, get them on your clothes and lookout! Brushes were my Rosemary travel Kolinsky brushes sizes 6 and 10 with the Isabey size 6 for the fine work. There are elements in this painting I've never attempted before and I'm pleased with the result. I should add though that yesterday I started painting the snow leopard, made a complete mess and scrapped it. I shall attempt another today. 

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  • 02/12/14--08:09: Drawing from Life - Week 5
  • Last Monday was the 5th session of this ten-week course. I was in two minds whether to post it as the week 4 post seems to have gone down like a lead balloon, with no comments and not that many reads. I was very dissatisfied with my drawings this week but warts and all!! Still I will press on.

    This week the subject was a clothed female model. Very colourful too!

    This is the setup so that you are looking upward. This was the view I had.

    Saied on the left arranges things with the model.

    I was given permission to take photographs as the model was clothed and she didn't object.  Pat and I arrived separately as she again got the early bus by mistake. When we went into the school room few others had arrived. After exchanging greeting with Saied he smiled and said I had initially looked like trouble but turned out to be a sweetie, while Pat, who looked like a sweetie, had been trouble.  Enigmatic?

     We started off with Saied talking for about 25 minutes. He talked about the architecture of drapery, including a dissertation on the different type of folds  and that we should draw the structure underneath the figure not just the outlines. There was more - 7 different type of folds - internal drawing etc. despite the figure being clothed we should still look for angles and negative shapes linking everything up in a cohesive manner.
     There was much more as he talked about drawing through art history, and how certain periods approached the subject. Look hard at first, draw slowly and check, check, check. All most interesting but difficult for simple souls like me to take in all of it.

    1st Drawing - 30 minutes All drawings on A2 sketch paper

    This was my first drawing - the model took up different poses throughout - which had to be done in 30 minutes. The problem Pat and I have is that we just don't know what to expect at each session and it takes a while to get into it. Sometimes it takes the whole three hours! I started off badly by not starting the drawing high enough on the paper, after being cautioned about this and being told to be careful and ensure we got the whole figure on the paper in scale. As you can see rather than try to cram it in I went off the paper. My first mistake.

    2nd Drawing - 20 minutes

    This second drawing was allowed 20 minutes and  I was unable to complete it. I might add another mistake was using a graphite pencil rather than the 2B I'd used previously. Saied doesn't like heavy lines and the dark graphite doesn't help in this respect.

    3rd - about an hour.

    With two duff drawings I wasn't too happy and determined to do better. It was not to be. I hadn't received a visit from Saied up to now and had been hearing him being quite severe on a number of the others - all much more experienced. I think the sparring is over and the serious stuff is now happening. Eventually he got to me and I was castigated for doing everything wrong - typical amateur mistakes. Amateur in this context is a sort of insult. Not drawing but gesturing. Angles and construction wrong etc etc. Upper half too small compared to the lower half. When he passed on to the lady next to me - who has previous experience with him - she suffered even worse. As usual we were told to take some time to look at the others drawings. Most informative but apart from three or four of the 12 people present ours were not noticeably worse. 

    I tried - probably too hard - to remedy the faults he'd pointed out but it was an uphill battle. Eventually it came to an end and his  smiling comment was that the face looked like a red indian or a maori. I've actually reduced that effect with an eraser. Is your hair standing on end.? It may be difficult to understand but - despite the severity of his analytical deconstruction of our work - he actually doesn't come across in a nasty or destructive manner. He seems to say look this is awful but I know you can do better.  We were told by another of the students that everyone goes through it. The other newcomer, him and I the only males, said he ended up feeling bruised at each session. This post may seem rather rough and ready but I'm trying to convey what it is actually like. 

    We parted amiably enough. There is now a two week break before battle resumes. I have been pondering the lessons so far and will endeavour to do better at week 6. 

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    I mentioned in the Jaguar piece that I'd also drawn a Snow Leopard but then made a mess of the painting, so scrapped it at an early stage. My usual reaction to disaster is to go straight back in so the following day I started again.

    The drawing - my usual mechanical 07 2B pencil

    Stage 1 completed I painted the rest the following day.

    Snow Leopard - 16" x 12" Waterford High White 140lb (300g) not

    I was moderately pleased after finishing this, although I think the Jaguar painting is superior. I keep looking at it and think it is missing something. I suspect I know what it is and to do with the background. I used several colours and my usual brushes.

    My next painting is another Amerindian, in this case a Chippewa warrior circa 1869. His Indian name is a lengthy and complicated one but apparently a loose translation is `Evening Sun'. What attracted me to it oddly enough was the large fur cap he wore and even shaggier fur coat. Amidst all this his face is quite small. Normally I concentrate on the face and fill most of the paper with it.

    16" x 12" Fabriano Artistico Extra White 140lb (300gsm) not

    While I'm again quite pleased with this painting one error is that I've made the feather too large relative to the remainder. You can see this quite clearly in the guide photograph.  I used Translucent Brown (Schminke Pbr41) with a little Raw Sienna as the skin colour darkened with either Cerulean or Cobalt Blue. Three brushes were involved, the Rosemary Kolinsky travel brushes sizes 6 and 10, and the Isabey travel brush size 6. The Isabey, while long is much smaller in diameter than the Rosemary 6. It is good for the detail, especially the eyes. About 2 hours max. 

    16" x 12" Great Art Centenaire 140lb (300gsm) not

    This was my submission for the AVA subject `Interiors' last Thursday. It is on the back of a discarded painting as is the Amerindian. Once again I forgot my camera so cannot cover my fellow artists work. Colours are mostly blues plus Ultramarine Violet, Quinacridone Coral, Perylene Maroon, Raw Sienna and touches of a few others. It is simple and modest  but I quite like it as the subject is one I wouldn't paint by choice.   

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  • 02/21/14--09:39: Tropical Fruit
  • This was the subject at Thursday's AVA session. Attendance was on the light side with only thirteen present, possibly due to grandparenting duties as it was half-term.. Below are a number of the members shown at work.

    Pauline Vowles

    Pat Walker

    Yvonne Harry

    Robert Heal

    Yvonne Harry

    Pat Walker

    Peter Ward

    I wasn't too happy with this. I actually played around with an ipad app called  Waterlogue. This converts photographs into watercolour images. There are about ten variations. I showed this to both Pat and  Pauline who were both impressed with the possibilities. Yvonne's first impression was negative in that she thought it was copying a painting, which is prohibited. Actually it isn't as these are computer generated images and not paintings. You can then paint the subject and having seen the generated images it perhaps suggests ways of tackling the subject. I think the possibilities are there but it needs much experimentation and is no panacea. The resulting painting is overworked and I don't think the Centenaire paper helped, especially as it was on the back - technically the wrong side - of a reject painting.

    The paintings put up at the end of the session. A colourful selection. 

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  • 02/24/14--03:01: Sofia Helin
  • Sofia Helin is the star of the Nordic drama/thriller `The Bridge'. The two series have been a dramatic hit on TV's BBC4 and a third one is planned. It is one of the several Foreign subtitled dramas shown in recent years on BBC4, including Wallander, Inspector Montalbano, The Killing, Borgen and two rather dark French series Spiral and Branque. Not sure if I've got the last named correct. I've enjoyed them all and they make a welcome change from the way special effects, especially in films,  have overwhelmed dialogue and storylines in many English speaking productions. 

    The amazing thing is that she looks completely different from her damaged character Saga Noren; which illustrates what a brilliant actress she is. I was inspired to do this from  a cover photo on the Guardian Weekend magazine for which thanks.

    Sofia Helin - 16" x 12" Waterford High White 140lb (300gsm) not

    I first made a careful drawing - as careful as I'm able - using my favourite Pentel mechanical pencil 07 2B. I began by painting the eyes followed by the nose and mouth. Colours were Cadmium Red Pale (Rowney), Cadmium Yellow Pale (Lukas I think) with a very little Cerulean. Her complexion is extremely light and the photograph doesn't lend itself to pronounced shading. Another problem was the hair, which is almost white-blond in places. I was taken by the overall colours, particularly the red cap but her eyes - to me - are the key feature so I concentrated on those. 

    Colours for the hair were Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and Quinacridone Gold (Daniel Smith PO49). There is a little Burnt Umber in places. The hat is Quinacridone Coral (Daniel Smith PR209) a fabulous colour.The blue in her top is Ultramarine.

    Brushes were all Isabey, travel brushes 4 & 6 and Kolinsky sables 4, 6, and 8.

    I'm quite pleased with this one. The likeness, while not perfect, is pretty close.

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  • 02/28/14--02:19: Machinery and Transport
  • This was the subject at Avon Valley Artists last Thursday numbers down a little at fourteen.

    Thin on the ground

    Yvonne Harry . 

    Yvonne was not too happy with this but I think it very interesting with it's abstract feel..

    Pat Walker.

     Pat feels she is benefitting from Saied Dai's tuition at Bath Artists Studios.

    Jo McKenna.

     Not actually watercolour but ink - I think she said Parker's.

    Pauline Vowles.

     Another vintage car.

    Brenda Parsons

    Jan Weeks.

     Unfinished. This is for her husband dedicated to his love of photography.,

    Peter Ward.

    Another Pacific Island derelict - a WW2 Mitchell bomber.I think I've overdone things in an attempt to portray the rust streaked fuselage. A good example where `less is more' would have been appropriate.

    Overall it was a good session with an excellent selection of paintings. The next subject is rivers and lakes.

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  • 03/02/14--05:37: More Paintings
  • Not mine I might add (I wish) but a selection of those I've gathered, like and admire. Some of the artists I know others not. What continues to surprise me is the wonderful number of asian, eastern and far eastern artists , many virtually unknown in the West. There are flourishing watercolour communities in countries like Turkey and they don't seem to be recognized outside their own areas. They are getting increasing recognition  now through Facebook. 

    Gerard Hendriks - The wonderful Gerard, bird and animal painter (and other subjects) par excellence and a charming  and generous man. He's coming to the UK in 2015.

    Zhou Tianya - another of these fabulous Chinese artists.

    Two from Bev Jozwiak. Terrific artist, really nice lady.

    Steven Scott Young - a wonderful people painter.

    Brent Funderbunk - Amazing name but superb artist

    Fernando Pena - a very well-known artist. How is this for a minimalist painting.
    Andy Evanson

    ??? Dont' know who this is unfortunately but love it. I've been advised this is Janine Galizia - a very well known French artist.

    Burhan Ozer  from Turkey - Brilliant.

    Charles Reid - something a little different from Charles

    Aleksandr Zybin- a Russian artist

    Bijay Biswaal - an excellent Indian artist - one of many 

    Mahmoud Sandarian - another brilliant artist.

    Something different from Yuko Nagayama from Japan. usually she paints still lifes including flowers. 

    I hope I have all the names right. This is a selection of different styles and different subjects but they are well worth studying because there is a lot to be learned from them. More to come.

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    My travails at Baths Artists Studios in the first  five sessions were as nothing compared to the most recent ones. I was tempted to consign this report to the dustbin, but will instead don sackcloth and ashes and try and explain all. Basically Week six was a disaster. We were presented with a lovely nude black model who was posed against a backcloth of drapes and cushions. However the purpose was `tone' from black to white using - I think - eight steps in between. and I've yet to really understand what I was supposed to do. Was the model the main item or the drapes and cushions? We were first told to darken the paper using charcoal or other mediums like Conte. I had some charcoal but this was my first mistake, so we have a black model on a black background. The idea was to use an eraser to lighten areas, in some instances back to white. The model and the background are connected and you mustn't draw one or the other in isolation. I failed to grasp the essence of the thing and after a visit from Saied, who said I wasn't doing it right, I eventually gave up and sat out the final 45 mins. If you've heard of writers block then I certainly suffered with artists block. Block in large areas of tone and draw negative shapes when in trouble. That was the advice but I'm afraid I couldn't separate the model from the background. The others all worked away and Pat, ever the optimist, kept going and said it all became clear at the end. Unfortunately I'd had enough before then. At the end I went back in and looked at the other drawings, which we are constantly exhorted to do. This doesn't help one bit as they were all different and for the life of me I can't see what is supposed to be good and what isn't.

    As you may imagine I left in a very frustrated mood and for a time questioned the whole point of my being there, as I was not clicking at all and was starting to question everything I'd done in the years prior to this course. However I determined to try again and went to the next session which was week seven  We had the usual talk prior to drawing with the History of Art, the interpretation of drawing through various phases of it and an explanation of what he wanted us to do. This was again to do with tone, shadow and light. He talked about art and artists and basically said very few artists attained real  artistry, most didn't and that included professionals. I'm not going into any more detail as it is too long and complicated. To sum up he sets the bar very high and not many of us can aspire to be a Rembrandt or Leonardo.

    A new nude female model was the subject but again the background featured as you are supposed to tie her to it. She did two different poses but one problem is that after she has a rest the pose is never exactly the same and this can throw you , especially when he comes along and starts dissecting what you've drawn. Pat made the same comment. He did make some rather pointed remarks about whether people wanted to learn or not because if they didn't he was wasting his, and they there, time.  In the first pose she was standing facing away. Saied did not come near me during this period and as was I trying to concentrate so much I was oblivious of what he was saying to some of the others. Pat said most were going through the rack as usual. 

    This is the result of my endeavours, not very successful but at least I finished it or rather stopped when we were told to do so. I should add he stopped me using my normal mechanical 07 2B pencil as he said it produces too thin a line. I changed to a Castell 2B standard pencil, using charcoal for the shading.

    Below is my second effort which at one stage I was quite pleased with  but again he said I was drawing objects and the proportions were incorrect and should be more carefully drawn. Funnily enough he says measuring shouldn't be assumed to be the be all or end all. You should check all the time to ensure proportions relate to one another and get the spacing correct. I basically get what he was saying but as he doesn't demonstrate you have to absorb everything from the verbal instructions. He also said my line drawing was wrong in that I need to vary the pressure more and he talked about me pushing instead of pulling - or was it the other way around? 

     Unfinished - It looked better before I started shading.

    I don't know what readers will make of this as I realise it doesn't reflect all that well on me, and I wouldn't wish to imply the fault is the teachers because he has been doing this for many years and has a high reputation amongst people who know what they are talking about. Is is a case of being `in the wrong place at the wrong time'?

    In any event there are three sessions to go and as we tend to arrive early I intend to ask him to clarify certain things where I am not all at clear what I am supposed to be doing. Bit late in the day with only three to go but.....I think I'll leave it at that and you can draw your own conclusions. 

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