Inktober 2: A Study in Water Soluble Indian Ink

“Red Squirrel at the Water’s Edge”

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I am planning a colour illustration of a red squirrel, so I thought I would do a few studies first, to get to know the creature a wee bit better. This study was created entirely with Winsor & Newton’s Liquid Indian Ink, which (as I mentioned in my last post) is a suspension of traditional Chinese stick ink in water, so it has lots of texture and a tendency to granulate at the slightest provocation – which I like very much, though did not really exploit to any extent in this drawing.

I used the Arches Aquarelle cold pressed 140lb paper again, but on a smaller block, just 7″ by 10″. This paper is suprisingly yellow compared with a typical white piece of paper (as you can see in the final scan above), and it blends very well with the warm tone of this black ink. The study was drawn entirely with brushes, as I prefer to work that way when using ink. I have recently started using very lightweight (and cheap!) aluminium palettes for working with inks, and this has proved most successful. I reserve my ceramic palettes for watercolour paints, and the plastic palettes I used to use with ink never really came clean.

As I don’t happen to have a pet red squirrel who would be willing to pose motionless for several hours, I had to work from a photograph of course. This is never entirely satisfactory, but it’s more or less inevitable when drawing wildlife. The study got off to a fairly bold start, but there were lots of errors in proportion and form:

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It doesn’t look too bad if you only glance quickly (except for the missing legs!) but there’s quite a lot wrong. At this stage the unfortunate creature looks rather more like a chipmunk with a bushy tail than a red squirrel. Luckily this robust paper withstands almost anything, so it was possible to make plenty of corrections. For general reworking I use a combination of washing out with a clean paintbrush, lifting with a piece of moistened magic sponge (you can see small pieces to the right of the drawing in these photos), and, when absolutely necessary, scraping back with a scalpel blade.

I completed the legs and feet, using a scalpel blade to correct the toe nails where they were not sufficiently well defined by the actual drawing, and did some more work on the face, ears, and general structure of the squirrel’s body. Eventually, after a great deal more reworking each time I made a mistake, I achieved something resembling the representation of the squirrel in the source photograph. It still wasn’t quite right though:

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When I stood back I could plenty of errors, and so continued to fiddle with it for a while, until it got to the point where it was time to stop. The final result is shown (unaltered, straight off the scan) at the top of this blog post.

Although I would love to have such a light and accurate touch that I could convey an animal like this with just a few elegant strokes, one of the advantages of working into the drawing – and then reworking time and again – is that the layering process does build up an impression of depth and structure which a lighter, more elegant drawing would lack. This only succeeds if the paper has plenty of texture itself and is strong enough to withstand the treatment, of course… You can get some idea of the process and result in the detail below, where you can see stroked overlaid on strokes overlaid on strokes, and some of the granularity of the ink. Genuine Indian (or Chinese) ink, with its substantial body and texture, is ideal for achieving this kind of effect, whereas a lighter weight, dye-based ink would be no use.

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The final result is fairly dark, and may need brightening up a wee bit if it’s going to be used for reproductions on greetings cards, etc., but personally I like the naturally rich tones of this ink, and it’s a pleasure to work with – and an entirely different experience from working with the coloured inks discussed in my last blog post, although admittedly the result is much less colourful 😀

Work in Progress: A Watercolour Painting of the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse has recently started stocking some of my landscape greetings cards in addition to my wildlife cards, so I thought it only right that they should have at least one image of the lighthouse among their collection of my cards.

I began work on this new painting in mid-August. This subject involves an iconic building which needs to be recognisable and which will require some detailed drawing, so I started by sketching the outline of the lighthouse buildings and rocks very lightly, and then masked out that area completely with masking fluid before I started painting, because it was essential to keep that part of the paper clean. The apparent texture in the rocks area of the masking is an illusion. Everything that appears to be a light golden brown colour is entirely covered with masking fluid which has dried:

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As I wanted some texture and grain in the paper for the painting of the sea and sky, I used Arches cold pressed (NOT) paper for this painting, although I would normally use a smoother hot pressed paper when making images which involved drawing as well as painting. This will undoubtedly make the final drawing a wee bit more difficult, but the surfaces of the buildings are themselves textured and not smooth, so in that respect it fits well enough with the subject.

Once the masking fluid was dry I painted a fine line to mark the horizon, and then painted in the sky very quickly, wet-in-wet, leaving some areas more or less white. Rather than mask out the sea, I simply placed a thick layer of folded blotting paper across the lower part of the painting, aligning it carefully with the horizon line, to ensure that any wet paint from the fluid painting in the sky did not spill over into the sea. Where too much colour bled into the areas of sky close to the horizon, I simply lifted the paint off quickly with a clean, damp brush, to create the effect of the rain falling in sheets on the Hebridean islands which lie obscured on the horizon. This effect of rain falling in moving sheets across the horizon is something we see quite often in this area:

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It’s not a good idea to leave masking fluid on watercolour paper for longer than is absolutely necessary (in fact it’s better to avoid it altogether whenever possible), as it does compromise the surface structure of the paper to some extent when removed. In this case, however, I will mainly be using watercolour pencils to draw in the lighthouse buildings, so it was less important to maintain the surface of the paper in its original state than it would be for painting.

As soon as the painting in the sky was completely dry I started on the sea, with the masking fluid still in place. The sea is always complex and impossible to paint, full of colours seen through other colours: an ever-changing pattern of shifting hues, tones and of course positions. All that anyone can do in a still image is to create their impression of the sea, which can never come anywhere close to the reality.

I started the sea with a layer of rough underpainting, emphasizing the deep turquoise colours which accompany dark rain clouds in certain conditions:

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When that layer was dry, I worked in more detail on the surface of the sea, using small brushes with a range of mixed blues, and tidying up the light area in the distance, which is so often perceived just short of the horizon. Once the paint was dry I used a scalpel to gently scratch back the tips of the cresting waves, which were in that state known to meteorologists as sea state 4 or 5, with many white caps all over, and removed the masking fluid from the lower part of the picture, leaving the lighthouse and rocks as a clean white “silhouette”, ready to be completed in the final stages of the work…

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You can find out more about the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse on their own web site, or follow them on the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and Visitor Centre Facebook page.

[The colours of the sky look different in the different photos, but actually they are exactly the same throughout all the stages. It’s simply that ambient light conditions in my studio changed between the times at which I took the various photos.]

Watercolour Painting: A Blue Day in May

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I’m afraid it has been a wee while since I posted anything on this blog – I’ve been so busy making new work and attending markets etc. during the busy summer tourist season.

But here at last is the completed watercolour studio sketch “A Blue Day in May” showing a view of the Small Isles (Muck in the centre, Eigg on the right, and Rum on the left) as seen from the rocks at Ardnamurchan lighthouse on a very blue day this May. In the far distance, just right of centre, you can see a misty outline of the peaks of the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye. My last blog post showed this work in progress

This is a modestly sized studio sketch made using my own reference photos and memory, painted in Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours on grainy Arches Aquarelle cold pressed 140lb (300gsm) paper. It has a very restricted colour palette limited mainly to blues, to reflect the nature of the day and the experience I remember: Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Blue Dark, French Ultramarine, the tiniest touch of Cerulean Blue, and a small amount of Indanthrene Blue in the sea, with a little Paynes Grey and a touch of Scarlet Lake for mixing shades and greys, plus a wee bit of Neutral Tint in the islands. I don’t much like using the strong, synthetic Indanthrene Blue, but the more natural blues did not quite have the strength or tint required for some of the darks.

We only see a few days like this each year on the west coast of Scotland, but it is one of the many different moods which characterize this remarkable area of sea and sky and rugged landscapes.

This image has already proved popular in reproduction, and is now available on landscape format greetings cards and in a range of sizes of giclée prints which I make myself (framed and unframed) in my Folksy shop.

 

Work in Progress: “A Blue Day in May” Studio Watercolour Sketch

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Out at the lighthouse on Saturday afternoon everything was blue except for the clouds: blue sky, blue sea and blue islands. The view from this most westerly point on the British mainland is expansive; the weather was fine but rather hazy, and at times white or even grey clouds blocked the sun, but the scene remained strikingly blue though the hues shifted as the clouds passed by. As the wind was too cold to remain on the rocks long enough to make a proper sketch, I took a set of photos to work from and started that evening on a studio sketch, while the scene was fresh in my memory. Stage 2 of the work is above, stage 1 (still wet and so slightly buckled) is below. This painting needs to remain light and airy, so another couple of short sessions should be all that’s needed to finish the sea and add the islands on the horizon. (The top and right-hand borders are handy for testing but will be cropped from the final painting.) Although this paper has its merits, the grain does not run in an appropriate way for the artist to be able to exploit the texture for the sea in the way I would like. Possibly I should have turned the block through 90 degrees before I started, but it’s too late to think of that now 😀

Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours on Arches Aquarelle cold pressed 140lb (300gsm) paper, in a very limited colour palette using Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Blue Dark and French Ultramarine, with a little Paynes Grey and a touch of Scarlet Lake for mixing shades of blue and greys. These are mainly non-staining and more or less granulating colours, and although these “traditional” blues can’t really be beaten for purity and quality of colour, they are a wee bit tricky to handle. Winsor and Newton seem to be putting too much gum arabic in their cobalt blues, at least in the tubes, which makes them even harder to control; it may be time to try a different brand with a slightly different formula…

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