Category Archives: Travel Sketches

Thinking Ink at Downham Market

watercolour and ink painting of morston creek
The End of the Day, Morston Creek. Ink and watercolour on Arches 140lb rough paper. 15ins x 11ins.

Ink is a very useful weapon in the watercolourist’s armoury, and I really enjoy using it. Not in every painting certainly, but it can add a dramatic note to an atmospheric work.

On Tuesday evening I was at Downham Market Art Circle, where I met many old friends, some of whom have been coming to my classes and demonstrations for more years than I, or they, might care to remember!

winter tree and field painting
Lots of Showers Likely. Ink and watercolour on Arches 140lb rough paper. 15ins x 11ins.

This was my fifth visit to the Art Circle so I wanted to show them something different from the usual run-of-the-mill traditional watercolour. I decided to use Indian ink applied directly to the paper with a small brush, and when that was dry I painted over it with some simple watercolour washes. Although it may sound daunting, I don’t do any preliminary pencil drawing with this technique and just go straight in with the brush loaded with ink. I find that once a few brush marks are made the drawing usually proceeds okay and it looks and feels fresher than working to a pencil guide.

The watercolour washes are applied with a large brush and I keep to a very limited palette, so as not to compete with the ink. In the Morston Creek boat painting I used Maimeri Berlin Blue, Burnt Sienna and Dragon’s Blood. For my second painting of the winter tree I changed to Raw Sienna, Carbon Black and a little Ultramarine Blue Light. Carbon Black (or Lamp Black) may seem a strange choice, but it harmonises very well with Raw Sienna and makes lovely grey clouds when well diluted with water.

These techniques are great fun to try and lift you out of the normal rut of traditional watercolour. Why not give them a go!

Travelling paintings

Margaret and I have been travelling around over the last couple of weeks, first over to the Norfolk Broads and then more recently down to Wiltshire. But, in between those trips, I have still been busy with teaching groups and one-to-one. The life of a working artist!

painting of norfolk cottage in the style of edward seago
Norfolk Cottage near the Sea. After Edward Seago. Watercolour on Arches 140lb rough paper 22ins x 15ins.
pen and wash painting of Pulteney bridge and weir bath
Pulteney bridge and weir, Bath. Pen and wash on Langton rough paper, 12ins x 9ins.

I would like to share a couple of recent paintings with you. Both painted en plein air, but in quite different ways. The view of a Norfolk cottage near the sea was painted at Ludham on the Broads, actually in the garden of Edward Seago’s old house, the Dutch House. The garden was open as part of Ludham Open Gardens, and a group of artists, including myself, were invited to paint in the village as part of the event. As you can imagine, it was quite a privilege to paint in the very spot where Seago’s own easel might have once stood! To make this watercolour I had to imagine a scene, as the only view actually available was of the house and garden. I used a large hake brush to work very quickly, hopefully emulating a little bit of Seago’s own loose technique. The composition is based very much on paintings of his that I’ve seen over the years. A bit of fun anyway and my thanks to Jane Seymour who currently owns the Dutch House for allowing me to paint in such a great location.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we are currently down in Wiltshire for a break – a change of scene. Today we went into Bath for a look round this historic city. It was very warm and busy with visitors, but we managed to find a bench in the shade along the bank of the Avon. From there I had an excellent view of Pulteney bridge and weir, so I soon pulled out my sketchbook. Travelling light, I’d only taken pen and wash equipment to Bath, but that’s the perfect medium for a subject like this. It took quite a bit of careful pen work to get the bridge and surrounding buildings established, and I tried hard not to put in too much but to simplify. A few washes completed the painting, applied with a medium size flat brush, yes only one brush, using my Daler-Rowney watercolour box. Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow were the colours used. A very enjoyable hour or so!

The Stages of a Pen and Wash

Pen drawing of Cley windmill
The initial pen drawing
The first stage of watercolour painting
A few simple washes go on, with a big brush
pen and wash painting of Cley-next-the-sea windmill, norfolk
The finished painting of Cley mill, Norfolk

I’ve been working on pen and wash as a medium with one of my students. It’s a lovely way of using watercolour and is ideal for outdoor sketching.

The first stage is to get out a waterproof ink pen, such as an Edding 1800, and sketch out the subject. You can put in as much or as little detail as you wish, but the drawing must be tolerably accurate, in other words nothing must actually look wrong! With a subject like this one, the iconic Norfolk landmark of Cley-next-the-sea Windmill, that takes a bit of care and patient working.

Once you are happy with the sketch it’s time to put some simple watercolour washes on. I use a limited palette of colours and try and apply them freely with quite big brushes. For this painting I used a 3/4 inch flat brush, a Daler-Rowney Sapphire (a sable and synthetic mix) and a number 8 round brush from the same Sapphire series. I’ve always found these to be excellent brushes at a reasonable price, but there are plenty of other good ones from the major manufacturers, such as Pro Arte series 101.

Using a biggish flat brush as much as possible stops most of the dreaded fiddling, and it’s surprising how accurate you can be using just the corner of the brush. The colours I used were French Ultramarine Blue, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Light Red. Oh, and a tiny touch of Scarlet Lake for the tail-sail which has distinctive red flashes on its sails.

I try to leave bits of white paper here and there to give some life and sparkle to the painting and work everything very simply, relying on the pen drawing to hold it all together. Why not have a go, you will find it a quick and easy way of capturing quite detailed scenes.

A Tasmanian Odyssey

As I write this post we have already left Tasmania behind and are up in Sydney on the final leg of our Australia trip. As so often happens when I’m travelling, the amount of painting that I actually manage is very modest. the time fills up with actually going from place to place, and simply looking at things rather than painting them.

Painting of Cape Bruny Tasmania
Cape Bruny, Tasmania. Watercolour on Arches 140lb rough, size A3.

However, while of the beautiful island of Tasmania I did manage to get my painting gear out on one occasion, because I just couldn’t resist this scene of Cape Bruny, at the southern tip of Bruny Island. The weather was very British, that is wild, windy and threatening rain, but the Cape provided a dramatic scene from a viewpoint on the long winding gravel road that leads to the lighthouse and a small museum.

There have been many other scenes that have made me think “I must paint that, but I haven’t got time now”. Thankfully, the digital camera can act as a notepad until more time is available. And that may well not be until we are back in good old Blighty.

New Year paintings from Down Under

Happy New Year to you all. I hope it will be a good on for all artists and art lovers. Particularly I hope it will be a healthy year, as if you don’t have good health then life becomes much more difficult, as we are finding with Margaret’s broken ankle. But, she’s hopping around and has been for a few rides in the wheelchair, so we’re on the right track. The plaster should come off in early February.

Meanwhile, at the coalface of art, I have not managed to find much time to paint, but I have managed a little. Here are two new paintings both done using my travelling watercolour kit that I squeezed into the already bulging suitcase.

The Lighthouse at Split point, Great Ocean Road
The Lighthouse at Split Point, Great Ocean Road. Watercolour on Arches 140lb rough paper 20ins x 14ins.

The first painting was done after a visit to Split Point lighthouse, on the coast of Victoria near the start of the Great Ocean Road. We were touring round of few of the villages that dot that part of the coast, all with very British names such as Torquay and Anglesea. We stopped at the lighthouse, which makes an imposing view, and I might have hauled out the easel there and then. Except, the car park was jammed with cars and there were several million flies ready as eager onlookers. So, a few quick photos, and the painting was done later on at my “Ocean Grove studio” where we were staying as guests of our good Aussie friend Merridy.

Maryborough Back Yard
The Back Yard at Maryborough, Victoria. Watercolour on Arches 140lb rough paper 20ins x 14ins.

Merridy also has a house in central Victoria, near the town of Maryborough,and that’s where we are now. A very different place to Ocean Grove, with the emphasis on farming, vineyards, and the country life. The house in in 20 acres of paddocks and woodland, so I wandered out late one afternoon and found this typical Australian back yard view, with rather arid soil, eucalyptus gumtrees and a few bits of fencepost and old corrugated iron scattered around. I did the painting on the spot, using an old shed for shade as the temperature was pushing 35 degrees Centigrad. Phew! Even hotter today, over 40 but thankfully some rain has come and it’s cooled off. I had intended to paint another different scene today but suddenly realised, I’m out of paper! Next stop the art shop.

Paint out Australia

Further to my last post, we have now made it down to Ocean Grove, on the coast south-west of Melbourne. Here we have a good friend, Merridy, and are staying at her house on Dare Street. The house has a great view out over the Bass Strait and it also has a lovely deck area which I managed to commandeer for a few hours painting.

Studio on the deck at Dare Street
Painting in progress, on the studio deck at Dare Street. Berwon Head can just be seen in the far distance.

So, here you can see the “studio” with a painting on my super lightweight travelling easel. The easel is assembled from a camera tripod on to which I have fitted a piece of thin plywood. To do this I used a tripod adaptor which I bought before leaving the UK, from Ken Bromley Art Supplies. The adaptor fits in the head of the tripod just as a camera would do, and screws to a small piece of fairly thick wood which is then glued to the plywood. Very light in weight and quite sturdy.

The painting on the easel is a view from our “home” out towards a local landmark, Berwon Head. There was a terrific sunset over the Head the other evening and I knew I would have to paint it. The next morning I set up the easel where I had a good view and managed to recreate the sunset from my visual memory. Well it may not be exactly like it, but it’s close enough! The tricky part of the painting was the foreground, as I wanted to give an impression of the trees that lie between us and the sea, without doing anything detailed. Hopefully I managed to achieve that, by a combination of painting round negative shapes, and scraping out damp paint with a small, blunt, knife that I carry for that purpose.

The colours used were French Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Scarlet Lake and just a touch of Raw Sienna in the sky. I hope you enjoy it and I will bring you more from the down under studio soon!

Painting of Sunset over Berwon Head
Sunset at Berwon Head, Ocean Grove, Victoria, Australia. 20ins x 14ins on Arches 140lb rough paper.

On the Great Wall of China

Margaret and I have been travelling in China over the past ten days, after she expressed a wish to “walk on the Great Wall of China on my birthday!” Her birthday was on the 25th April, so on the 24th we found ourselves aboard a British Airways flight to Beijing, with our boots, cameras and sketchbooks with us.

The Great Wall is around 5,000 kms. long, but actually most of the sections that are still intact are within a couple of hundred kilometres of the Chinese capital. There are quite a few myths about the Wall, one being that you can see it from space. You can’t, apparently, but that doesn’t stop it being one of the wonders of the world, built with sweat of millions of labourers over hundreds of years.

Over the course of our visit we walked on several sections of the Wall. Some were completely original, and often not much more that a pile of stones dotted with the ruins of watchtowers. Others had been totally restored, or maybe even over-restored, and looked a bit shiny and new. The best section we visited was probably at Jinshaling, where there has been some rebuilding but there’s still a lot of original stonework preserved.

Sketch of Great Wall of China 1
Nine watchtowers on the Great Wall of China. This section is between Jinshaling and Simatai. Ink on cartridge paper, A5 size.

Sketch of Great Wall watchtowers
Two of the watchtowers near Jinshaling. Ink on cartridge paper, A5 size.

Stephen Martyn sketching
With the sketchbook on my knees as the Wall snakes into the distance. A blue sky day near Jinshaling.

When you climb the steep path to the Wall for the first time it is a breathtaking sight. The stone pathway is wide enough for five horsemen to ride abreast, and it winds it’s way into the distance, peppered with huge fortified watchtowers every few hundred yards. At Jinshaling it is very hilly, so the wall plunges and soars over the landscape like a huge stone roller-coaster. There are many, many steps to climb when you walk the Wall, it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. You must have good knees!

As is often the case on trips abroad, I didn’t find much free time for sketching, but I did manage a couple of quick ink drawings in my little A5 sketchbook. I will use them, together with photographs, as a reference for some larger works in the the next few days. Hopefully one or two of those will feature in my solo exhibition coming up in June. See the previous post for full details.

It was a great trip, and all the arrangements were very well handed by the trekking company Explore and their local leader Bobby Yang. However, after ten days of Chinese food for breakfast lunch and dinner, and the delights of some of the rather rustic hotels, we were quite glad to fly home!

Travels down South

Usually the autumn finds me hard at work teaching groups of watercolour students. Indeed, I have been doing that, but not on a regular weekly basis as before. Early this year I made the decision to retire from teaching weekly groups, to allow more time for painting, walking and travel. These days I tutor more occasional groups, usually here at the studio.

With a bit of free time available, Margaret and I decided to head down to South Africa in early November, for three weeks of game watching and walking. A great country and I hope that the recent passing of Nelson Mandella will not cause any difficulties there. We were certainly made very welcome by people of all different races, during our stay in Kwazulu Natal.

sketch of the Drakensberg mountains, South Africa
View of the Drakensberg Mountains, near Cathedral Peak. Edding pen on A5 cartridge paper sketchbook.

If you’re expecting to see paintings of the rhino, elephant and giraffe that we saw, you’ll have to be patient as they are still in my head, not on the paper. I took a lot of photographs though. There was certainly plenty of wildlife to be seen, although no lion or leopard regrettably. There was no opportunity to sketch on the game drives, as we were in a group, but when we got to the Drakensberg Mountains, I managed to do a few quick sketches in ink. Here’s one, and you can see why the Drakensbergs are so called – the Dragon’s Mountains, with peaks like sharp teeth. Some great walking, but steep, phew!

California dreaming

I had intended to post some entries on my blog while we were travelling in California, but pressures of time – so little time, so much to see – and a few wi-fi wobbles mean that it’s only now that I’m back home in Norfolk that I can post a couple of the sketches that I did out there.

Ideally, you need one holiday to explore a destination and then another one to go back and paint it. But, who has the time and resources to do that? So, I only got a few quick sketches done while we were away, and you can see two of them here. On the spot pen and wash on a 12ins x 9ins pad of Langton rough surface paper.

Half Dome Yosemite Valley
Half Dome from Olmsted Point, Tioga Road, Yosemite. Pen and wash, 12ins x 9ins
Mist Falls, King's Canyon
Mist Falls, King’s Canyon, California. Pen and wash 12ins x 9ins

Both the sketches were done in California’s amazing National Parks. Yosemite Valley has a huge wow factor with it’s gigantic stone monoliths. Half Dome is just that, like a pebble that’s been split in two. Except that it’s not a pebble, the top is nearly 5,000 feet above the floor of the valley. Awesome, as our American cousins would say. In King’s Canyon park the main feature is the King’s River, which was still a raging torrent at the Mist Falls depicted here. Also awesome and very dangerous – a hiker was swept over a few days before we were there.

I’ll probably do some Yosemite paintings before too long, it will be good to be back out in the studio. But it was a great trip!

Sketching in Turkey

We’ve been away for the past couple of weeks, hiking part of the Lycian Way, which is a long-distance footpath along the south coast of Turkey. Very hot, even at this time of the year!

I always take a sketchbook and pens with me on these trips, although often there isn’t much opportunity to stop and sketch. We were walking in a group, organised by Ramblers Worldwide Holidays, and with twenty people chatting away it can be difficult for the artist to find a bit of peace and quiet.

Doorway at Kayakoy
A doorway in the ruined village of Kayakoy, Turkey. Ink on A5 cartridge paper.

However, the Lycian Way trip was not just walking, there were opportunities to see several historic sites. Roman, Greek and Lycian stonemasons have all left their mark on this landscape. We visited a ruined village, Kayakoy, not far from Fethiye, and while others in the party scrambled over the ruins, I managed to sit down and do this ink sketch in my A5 cartridge paper book.