Sunday, May 31, 2009

Links to artists taking part in the sketching Skies from Observation Project

Dawn at Sennen Cove, coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook, Vivien Blackburn

Quick sketch of the sun burning through the dawn clouds in coloured pencil in a moleskine sketchbook. The colours used are on the left hand page.

As promised - Links to the participants in my skies challenge. The challenge was to paint skies at different times and in different weathers - from observation not photographs.

No particular order here, just added as they arrived :>)

There is some lovely work so do take a look

and Katherine Tyrrell gave me these links:

Links to my skies:
and there are loads more of course as it's one of my interests :>)

It's not too late to add your links - if you'd like to add your post to this list I'll update it - just leave your link in the comments on this post :>)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

details of sketches below

Reducing the file size for the internet has the problem of tightening work up - these are details of the sketches below to show the loose scribbly marks that makes them.

The mine buildings are made of local rock so blend with the environment, though the shapes are stark and man made.

The Crowns at Botallack, sketches of the ruins of old tin mines on the cliffs in Cornwall, and blue blue seas

Sketch of The Crowns, Botallack, Cornwall, engine houses of the old tin mines, and a blue blue sea. Moleskine sketchbook. Coloured pencil. Vivien Blackburn

Around St Just and along the coast are dozens of ruins of old tin mines. These sketches are of the mine at Botallack. Nearby is a mining museum at Geevor, where you can see how the mining was done, how the tin was separated from the ore along with arsenic and other elements and you can go down a short section of mine and learn about working conditions and life expectancy, which was 28.

Spoil was burnt in kilns and other elements extracted, including arsenic which settled on the inside of the chimneys. This was scraped off and bagged for sale by young children. The whole area around the mine was polluted by the mining and is only now recovering.

Note the 2 engine houses low down on the cliff face in the distance in both sketches - and imagine walking down a slippery, narrow path in a gale to get to work there (steep drop to one side and steep rise up on the other) - then go deep underground, sometimes by ladders, and then walk 2 miles under the sea to get to the working face. Some tunnels were only 6 feet below the sea floor and miners could hear the boulders above rolling and grating during a storm.

The Crowns, Botallack, Cornwall, engine houses of the old tin mines, and a blue blue sea. Moleskine sketchbook. Coloured pencil. Vivien Blackburn

In the mining museum were some beautiful crystals and colourful stones including amethyst. I bought a necklace of a heart made from some beautiful turquoise coloured stone with veins of other colour running through - the colour of the sea :>)

Tina you have to get to Cornwall soon!

I'm glad I live now, aren't you?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sketches of Dawn : Skies and Sea

Apricot Sky at Dawn, Calm Morning, oil, approx 9 ins across, Vivien Blackburn

Dawns are more subtle than sunsets but can be utterly beautiful.

I always mean to get up and get out to paint dawn landscapes/seascapes but only occasionally manage it, usually on holiday. Staying in Sennen Cove, right on the sea front, meant that I could sketch the dawn before the rest of the family woke up - cup of tea by my side, quiet, just sketching happily :>)

View out of the side window, Dawn, watercolour/mixed media. 10ins wide approx. Vivien Blackburn

Dawn at Sennen Cove, Calm sea with gentle swell. Coloured pencil in 'large' Moleskine sketchbook. Vivien Blackburn

Dawn at Sennen Cove, Quiet still morning, apricot blush on the horizon, Pearly colours. Coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook. Vivien Blackburn

These were all done on quiet still mornings when the sea was calm.

For paintings and sketches of wilder days check out the links below - click on images to be take to the relevant post.

Monday, May 25, 2009

skies from observation - challenge update

Cornish sunset, oils, Vivien Blackburn

The skies from observation project

If you are taking part or would like to take part in this - you have until 30th May - I'm going to list the links to the participants then.

Do have a go!

All the people taking part feel they've got a lot out of it. There's nothing like observation to hone your skills :>)

No work from photographs - all work to be done from 'life'

Link to the original challenge post

The above image is a quick sunset study in oils in a Canson watercolour sketchbook.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The beach at the foot of the Cot Valley, Pentire, Cornwall, painting in oils,

The foot of the Cot Valley as the stream joins the sea. Oil painting, approx 15ins. Vivien Blackburn

I think this beach is called Porth Nanven, it's at the foot of the Cot Valley. The valley is a steep V shape, with a very narrow road leading down it, above a small stream that tumbles steeply downhill over rocks and joins the sea at this tiny, perfect little beach.

This is somewhere I want to revisit to paint more.

There is a little more viridian in the sea than is showing in this photograph. I haven't quite managed to adjust the colour to show it enough.

click the image to see 3 other studies in oil on our Watermarks site.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sennen Cove, Wave Studies, drawings in coloured pencil in a moleskine sketchbook

Windy Day, Sennen Cove, coloured pencil in moleskine sketchbook, Vivien Blackburn

This was a study in (to borrow Tina's phrase) wave mechanics.

Waves roll in and break at certain points due to rocks/depth of water etc so it's possible to watch subsequent waves in repeat patterns and begin to analyse -

  • the movement, how they break - in a steady line across the bay? or breaking in several places with the lines of surf meeting up with a splash of spray?

  • The spacing of the waves and perspective (waves further out smaller? this will depend on the steepness of the beach and the weather)

  • direction of travel - this can be surprising as they can angle unexpectedly across the beach, crossing waves from another direction

  • how rocks or sand affect the movement and spray

  • the way that foam is formed and the patterns it makes

  • the colours of the underside of the waves

  • light and shadow of waves

  • the darkness of water over rocks or deep water

  • the translucency of water over pale sand

  • changes in waves with the tide as it ebbs and flows

  • how the horizon looks - are parts of it unclear with colours merging with the sky? or is it sharply delineated?

  • Are the colours of the sky reflected in the waves (at sunset/dawn for instance where the tips of the waves can be orange)

  • Surf along far cliffs and the wave movement creating it

  • The shallow wavelets at the edge and the colours of the wet sand - catching the feel of VERY shallow translucent water

Unless you sketch and observe this, working from a photo will give you less than 1% of the information you really need to understand what is happening, such as the sheer power of waves or the subtle or dramatic colour changes that a camera doesn't see as well as the human eye.

(This sketch was done when the colours were pearly and pale so you will need to enlarge it to see it a little better).

previous posts on waves

Have you done any wave studies?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

morning sketch, rain clearing, Sennen Cove, Cornwall, moleskine and coloured pencil

Drizzly grey morning, Sennen Cove. Coloured pencil in moleskine sketchbook. Vivien Blackburn

Another early morning sketch, this one in the moleskine sketchbook in coloured pencil. A grey morning with rain clearing - it turned out to be a nice day after this bad start.

Even on a 'grey' day there are lovely soft colours in the sea (not shown terribly well here - I find cp sketches quite hard to scan or photograph :>(

The lifeboat spent most of the week anchored in the bay as they were building a new slipway and the water was fairly calm. When the winds and waves got stronger, later in the week, it was moved, presumably to a more sheltered harbour. (That's supposed to be the lifeboat in the middle)

When I was young and lived on the north coast of Cornwall, all the fishing fleet used to move round to the south coast when bad gales were predicted and shelter in the harbours there away from the wild seas.

In one 120mph gale a huge aeroplane was cartwheeled across the airfield and totally written off and roofs were blown off a garage block and sailed over a 3 storey building to crash near our house.

Challenge update

I'm extending the sky challenge to the end of the month - then I'll do a post with links to all of you who have taken part :>) join now! several people already have signed up and done some work.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cornish hedgerows - full of wild flowers

In spring Cornwall and its hedgerows are full of wild flowers. I didn't get to take as many photos of them as I would have liked but here are a few.

The ancient hedges have stone walls under the earth, bushes and flowers and were designed to keep livestock from escaping. Travelling off the beaten track, down narrow lanes, the flowers brush each side of the car. If you meet another car someone needs to reverse to a passing place - or if you are unlucky like me you meet a massive tanker and have to reverse half a mile because the passing places aren't big enough to cope!

May is a great time to go before it fills up with tourists and of course you are less likely to meet anyone head on in the narrow lanes to the beautiful little bays off the main routes.

I put a slide show of photos of Sennen Cove and its waves in changing weather over on Watermarks - take a look.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sennen Cove, Cornwall, Dawn, coloured pencil sketch in Moleskine sketchbook

Sennen Cove, Dawn. Coloured pencil sketch in 'large' moleskine. Vivien Blackburn

Dawn, the sea is calm with a gentle swell rolling in, no surf this morning and the tide is high. A pale amber glow of sunrise silhouetting the cliffs. Colours are soft and muted, no drama.

The cove at dawn sketched in polychromos coloured pencils (plus a few odds of others) in the 'large' moleskine sketchbook - they do a really nice larger one now but I'm not sure if the paper is the same. Does anyone know? I really like the surface with cp's.

More to follow :>)

Other paintings of Sennen Cove can be seen here:

Morning, rain clearing

Morning Bay

Rocks and Waves

View of the bay

Misty Morning, Sennen Cove

tiny canvasses - you can also see them on Etsy

graphite sketch of waves and harbour wall

Sennen on a windy day (oil painting)

or searching on Cornwall shows work on other beaches and Lanyons Quoit

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Windy Day, Sennen Cove, oil painting plein air, using Griffin Alkyd quick drying oil paints

A windy day at Sennen Cove, surf coming over the harbour wall
Oil paint, size about 14 ins, Vivien Blackburn

High tide on a windy day with huge swells sweeping in and crashing onto the reef of rocks offshore and over the harbour wall. At the front a confused lacy pattern of foam.

This was done last week in Cornwall, in Griffin Alkyds. I love these for working on quick plein airs as they dry overnight. Thinner applications of paint are dry within hours but they give enough time for pushing and pulling colour and marks, unlike acrylics.

This speed of drying means glazes can be applied the following day where required instead of a long wait.

Griffin Alkyds are proper oils and are used in the same way as any other oils. They are NOT water soluble and are NOT acrylics as some people imagine. Alkyd resin is a drier mixed with the paint to speed and even up drying times and I find this very useful.

These were painted on Friday and were perfectly dry to pack up on Saturday :>) even with a little impasto in the white surf.

They come in a wide range of colours and I only occasionally mix a touch of an artists oil with them, for the most part the colours are quite sufficient.

They are maybe a little more fluid than some high quality artists oils but this suits the way I work. I only use a little impasto, most paint is relatively thinly applied, scratched into, overlaid and colour mixed on the canvas to get subtle changes. I dislike overly textured lumpy-porridge-like surfaces that are there for no real reason! It can be used for impasto very successfully where needed and I've sometimes purposely mixed sand into it when working on the beach.

Usually I take a small bottle of turps with me but this holiday I decided to skip turps altogether and simply use Liquin for thinning the paint where necessary. It worked really well and I would do this again.

For cleaning up - brushes and me - I use baby oil and rags. It works brilliantly and smells good - unlike turps or white spirit. It's environmentally more friendly as well.

I worked on a cryla pad (I usually do when working plein air with oils) - a sort of canvas like surface, not too textured, that's primed and suitable for oils or acrylics. The fact that it's 'only' paper is very freeing. The pad I was using was 20x16 ins - a really nice size, not cramping like some smaller ones. I don't know if they've stopped making them - does anyone know? because I can't find an online link and I haven't needed to buy one for a while. There are similar ones by other makers if you search on paper for acrylic paints.

I used a couple of nylon brushes and a painting knife. I only occasionally use hogs hair brushes as I prefer the touch of nylon bristles with oils, firm but flexible.

The weather varied from a millpond calm bay, sheltered from the east wind to this wild day :>), amber dawn skies, spectacular sunsets - lovely lovely changes :>)

This is one of 3 I did that morning - you can see all 3 here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stormy seas, Sennen Cove - graphite and moleskine

Stormy Seas, Sennen Cove, Graphite in moleskine sketchbook, Vivien Blackburn

I'm back from a week at beautiful Sennen Cove with the family - 4 generations of us.

I was determined to make some time to paint/sketch :>)

We were staying right on the seafront and this was the view from our bedroom window yesterday. Huge waves rolling in and crashing on the rocky reef offshore and over the harbour wall - a wall of mist/rain meaning that the horizon was lost. Luckily it cleared up and turned into a lovely day, though still windy and wild.

Waves repeat patterns of movement so it's crucial to watch, observe, see how they move, where they crash together, the changes of direction across the bay ....

My little Jakar battery operated eraser is great for drawing back into areas of tone, pushing and pulling the shapes and tones and form until it hopefully does something like what I wanted :>)

So .... about that sky challenge .... a few people have posted results and I'll be doing a post with all the links in soon. I'll give people more time though - a week or two?

When I've photographed/scanned them, I'll post my Cornish skies - and seas :>)

Have you got a sky link for me to add to the challenge summary?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Skies - details Vivien Blackburn
click to see larger image

I'm going to be offline for a week so I thought I'd leave you with a challenge for anyone wanting to take part,

Look at the skies where you are and do a series of studies from life - different times of day, different weather. Really look at the colours. They don't have to be plein air - they could be simply out of the same window, looking at the changes.

Then leave links to your blog posts on skies in the comments section.

I hope some people feel like joining in :>) and look forward to seeing the results when I'm back online.