Thornham Harbour and Pen-y-Ghent

Yes, they don’t really go together, being at opposite ends of the country, but yet, in painting, terms, there are similarities. As I’ve written before, one of the themes that constantly recurs in my paintings is that of big skies and wide open spaces. Here you see two recent works that both embody that theme.

Thornham Harbour Norfolk at high tide sunset
Last Light at Thornham Harbour. Watercolour 15ins x 22ins.

Thornham Harbour is just a few miles from my studio and I often paint views of it. Here I decided to focus on the incredible high tides that come into the harbour from time to time, often in the evening. The water in the creek just keeps on rising, flowing silently over the road until the famous Coal Barn is surrounded, like a stony island in shimmering sea.

Pen-y_ghent view from Pennine Way
Pen-y-Ghent from the Pennine Way. Watercolour 15ins x 22ins.

Further north, the Yorkshire peak of Pen-y-Ghent also stands like an island in a sea or greens and browns. It’s quite a few years now since I walked the Pennine Way, but I still like to revisit those scenes in paint. This view is taken from one of my photos that I took while walking the Way, between Horton-in-Ribbledale and Hawes.

Painting the Eiger

Well, not literally, but a painting of the Eiger anyway! This was a simple study that I did with one of my students who comes to the studio for one to one tuition. She had painted a mountain view in oils and I thought it would be nice to tackle a similar subject in watercolour. I had a photo of a Swiss train running on a line beneath the huge bulk of the Eiger, so we used that as a reference but left the train out and substituted a skier, or maybe someone snowshoeing, anyway a distant figure. This can be a great way of showing scale in a simple landscape painting, with the mountains towering above.

watercolour painting of the Eiger, Switzerland
Demonstration study of Swiss mountains. Watercolour 11ins x 15ins.

The painting itself is actually deceptively simple, there are several stages to it, building up texture and tone on the mountains and the foreground. The main colour used is Prussian Blue, which is very transparent, allowing previously painted features to show through the washes. As someone once said, it’s like painting with coloured sheets of glass. The blue was modified in some of the washes to make various greys, adding a little Burnt Sienna and Quinacridone Red to the Prussian Blue.

Probably the trickiest part of the painting was the first wash, the sky. To get a completely even wash requires several things. Plenty of watery paint, a large brush (I used a 1 inch flat sable and synthetic brush by Pro Arte) and practice. I turned the paper upside down and painted downwards from the top of the mountains to the top of the paper. A shallow angle on the board makes the paint run smoothly, we hope! Load the brush well, use the minimum of brush strokes and as soon as you reach the top of the paper, leave it alone! Take up any water that collects on the edge of the paper, using a damp brush or kitchen paper. Make sure the wash is completely dry before moving the board otherwise any wet paint will run back into the drying area and create a mark.

Simple but quite effective. This painting was on a quarter imperial sheet of Waterford  300gsm  NOT paper and using good quality paper like this certainly makes the job easier. Using the best quality materials won’t paint the picture for you, but it does help!

New Paintings June 2018

I just thought I’d add a little gallery of paintings that I’ve made over the past few months.  Eventually these will make their way on to my main website, but in the meantime I hope you will enjoy looking at them here.

If you are interested in any particular work, please use the details on my Contact page to get in touch. Some of these paintings have already been sold, but I am always happy to paint something not the same but similar. I also sometimes have A4 sized prints available.

On the Ocean Waves

Well not quite on the waves, but painting them anyway! A couple of days ago I was at Castor and Ailsworth Society of Art, not far from Peterborough. It was an evening demonstration and I was looking for a slightly different type of subject to my usual landscape as I’d been to several Peterborough societies before and didn’t want to repeat myself.

Charcoal sketch of a Thames sailing barge
My charcoal planning sketch on A2 cartridge paper.

As luck would have it, I’d recently been asked to do a watercolour of a Thames barge, as a gift for some friends, so I thought that this might be an interesting subject to demonstrate. I began by planning the painting, using my favourite method of a large charcoal sketch. My photo that I was using as reference was just a close-up of one barge, so I added a couple of others in the distance to give the composition more balance and to add interest. The sky in the reference photo was also clear blue and as you can see, I changed that too!

Thames sailing barge watercolour painting
The watercolour demonstration painting. 15ins x 22ins on Waterford 140lb NOT paper.

After the sketch was completed I then had to try and retain the composition and the tonal values in my watercolour painting. I used a very limited palette of colours, with Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and a touch of Raw Sienna. It can be a little tricky trying to paint and talk at the same time, and I might have liked to bring the dark clouds even lower, but overall I was pleased with the painting.

Margaret and I were warmly welcomed at Castor and we really enjoyed our evening in this charming village. Hopefully we’ll see everyone again at some point in the future. Happy painting!

Pen and Wash in Suffolk

pen and wash of old Norfolk barn
Old Barn near Ringstead – pen and wash. 15ins x 22ins on Waterford 140lb NOT paper.

Just before Easter I was at Clare in Suffolk for a pen and wash demonstration evening. I’ve been to Clare Art Club before but not for a long time. A very friendly group, it was good to be back!

I always enjoy the challenge of demonstrating in pen and wash. It’s a little tricky because the medium works best at a fairly small size, whereas art clun demonstration pieces are usually quite large, so that people can properly see them. I did this painting on a half-imperial sheet of Waterford NOT surface paper with a weight of 140lb or 300gsm. When I’m outside sketching in pen and wash I usually have a spiral-bound Bockingford sketchbook, about A4 in size.

ink sketch of old Norfolk barn
The pen drawing

I chose a scene of an old Norfolk barn, not too far from my Dersingham studio. I sketched it in ink, using an Edding 1800 series pen, with an 0.7 tip. You can see the ink sketch here, although this one I did earlier in the day in my studio. You can’t have too much practice!

Sketching the subject occupied me until the coffee break, after which I got busy with my paints. I used a simple palette of French Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, and Cadmium Yellow Pale. For the roof of the barn I used a mixture of Brown Madder with a tiny touch of Ultramarine, as I wanted it to contrast with the rest of the barn. All these paints were Winsor and Newton artists quality. I used a 3/4 inch flat brush for muck of the work, only dropping down to a number 8 round for some of the more detailed areas. If in doubt, use the biggest brush you feel comfortable with, it keeps your work feeling fresh and free.

Total working time was about half an hour or so with the pen and the same with the painting. Pen and wash should be a quick, lively medium. A very enjoyable evening and a big thank you to Clare Art Club for making Margaret and myself so welcome. See you again in the future!

Stephen Martyn demonstrating pen and wash
A view of the back of my head! The demonstration painting is on the easel, with a projection screen behind me.


New Painting of Cley Mill

Is there anywhere in Norfolk more painted than Cley Mill? Maybe not, although Burnham Overy Mill must run it a close second. However, apart from a few pen and wash demonstrations, it’s years since I last made a painting of this iconic landmark.

The opportunity to remedy that came last week, when I visited Spalding Art and Crafts Society for a watercolour demonstration evening. I wanted to choose a subject which would show the beauty of a simple watercolour, painted in a very limited palette of colours, and Cley Windmill fitted the bill perfectly. I kept the composition simple but made sure that the mill and buildings made a good statement against the sky. Don’t be afraid to use strong tonal contrasts in a subject like this, from white to almost black.

My palette of colours was simple in the extreme. Just two, one blue and one red. I used French Ultramarine for my blue and Brown Madder for my red, but a similar effect could be obtained by using Cobalt Blue and either Light Red or Burnt Sienna. But I like Brown Madder as it makes nice, slightly purple, darks when mixed with Ultramarine, and it can be varied from pale pink to reddish-brown by using more or less water with it.

The Spalding group were lovely people to paint for and it was a very enjoyable evening. When I got home, well after a few days actually, I looked again at the painting and decided the tower of the mill needed a little more fine tuning as it was looking a bit lop-sided. Often, it’s only when looking at a painting with fresh eyes that I can spot something that just needs a small adjustment. For that reason, I’m never in too much of a hurry to sign and frame a work, but prefer to look at it for a few days. However, there is a danger in this – fiddling! Only do what you feel to be essential, then put the brushes down.

I was pleased with the finished painting and will be showing it in the West Norfolk Artists Association spring exhibition, which is coming up soon. Thornham Village Hall, from Friday until Monday of the Easter holiday. 10am – 5pm on each of the four days. Do try and call in, if you’re in the area!

Watercolour painting of winter sunset at Cley-next-the-sea windmill.
Winter Sunset, Cley Mill. Watercolour 20ins x 13ins.

My Painting goes to a New Home

watercolour painting of thornham
Past Times Remembered – Thornham. Watercolour 15ins x 22ins. Now in the collection of Ms Pauline McSherry.

Just over a week ago I took part in the Dersingham Art Trail, where fourteen village artists opened their studios to the public. Margaret and I enjoyed welcoming over fifty visitors during the weekend, one being our good friend Pauline McSherry, who just couldn’t resist adding to her collection of my paintings. Thank you Pauline!

Here you see the watercolour hanging in its new home. As Pauline herself so kindly said “thank you for the pleasure your painting gives. Money well spent!”

Exhibition Coming Up

The West Norfolk Artists Association are holding a week long exhibition in the Fermoy Gallery, King’s Lynn Arts Centre, King St, King’s Lynn. It opens with a Private View between 12noon and 2pm this coming Saturday 4th November and continues every day until Saturday 11th. Opening hours 10am – 4pm each day.
Watercolour painting of the Wash from Ringstead
The Wash from Green Bank, Ringstead. Watercolour 22ins x 15ins.

There are about 80 works on show, one of which is my painting of The Wash from Green Bank, Ringstead, which you can see here. You will be very welcome at the Private View or any other time during the run of the exhibition. Margaret and I will be at the PV and will also be on duty during the afternoon of Sunday 5th, from 1pm until 4. Do pop in if you’re in the area.

If you’re not sure where the gallery is located, it is behind the Guildhall in King Street. There is a large archway which you can walk through into a courtyard and the gallery is right down the courtyard on the right, just before the Riverside Rooms restaurant. There will be some West Norfolk Artists Association signs about.
Look forward to seeing you if you can make it, but if not, don’t forget the Dersingham Art Trail on the weekend of 25th and 26th November. Fourteen artists are taking part, at nine locations, and my own studio will be open.

Wide Open Spaces

Watercolour painting of pink footed geese flying over fields
Geese over the Fields, Dersingham. Watercolour 15ins x 22ins.

Those of you who know my work will know that I love those wide open spaces in the landscape. The beach, the fields, and of course the sky! Here are a couple of recent watercolour paintings that certainly have that theme. These, and more, will be on show in my studio for the Dersingham Art Trail event on the weekend of 25th and 26th November. Not only my own studio but eight others will be open around the village. You can find details and a map of studios on the Trail website

Watercolour painting of the sky and beach near Hunstanton cliffs
Alone with the Sky, Hunstanton. Watercolour 11ins x 15ins.

A visit to Horncastle

It’s been a couple of years or more since I last visited Horncastle Art Group, but I had the pleasure of returning there on Friday 7th July. When I last visited the group I demonstrated a couple of paintings in the style of Edward Seago, but this time my brief was pen and wash.

Pen and wash is a medium that is always a pleasure to work in and is particularly suited to scenes that have buildings, boats and generally things going on. I chose for my demonstration a view of Burnham Overy Staithe, up on the North Norfolk coast.

Pen and wash painting of Burnham Overy Staithe
Burnham Overy Staithe – pen and wash. Approximately 19ins x 12ins on Waterford 140lb NOT paper.

At Burnham Overy there is a large building right down by the water, which was obviously a store of some sort in the days when Burnham Overy was a working port. Nowadays it’s mainly used for recreational sailing and the building houses one or two small shops, although their occupancy seems to be rather erratic. Still, it’s a splendid looking structure, particularly with the other buildings of the village in the background and some boats drawn up on the foreshore.

I drew the scene out using one of my permanent ink pens, such as Edding or Faber-Castell. I like to use one with a fairly large nib, about 0.7 but this is purely personal preference. Even an 0.7 fibre nib is actually quite small, so the drawing took about 45 minutes, because in the early stages it’s important to get the size and proportions looking right. When doing the drawing I go straight in with the pen with no preliminary pencil work at all, but that does take a bit of practice before you gain the confidence to do that.

Once I’d done as much pen work as I felt necessary, and had a refreshing cup of coffee, I applied some simple watercolour washes, trying to keep things nice and free to contrast with the fairly tight drawing of the main building. The colours I used were all MaimeriBlu watercolours, and I selected one blue, Ultramarine Light, two reds, Burnt Sienna and Venetian Red, and two yellows, Raw Sienna and Primary Yellow. It didn’t take long to apply the washes, using a number 8 round sable-synthetic brush for the buildings and boats and a couple of fairly large squirrel hair wash brushes for the foreground and sky. When working in pen and wash I often leave the sky until the end of the painting, particularly if I’m working outside on location. Why, because if you paint the sky in first you will have a large area of the painting wet, which can make working awkward. No hairdryers out in the field, although I suppose you could have a gas powered one!

The group asked plenty of interesting questions and it was a real pleasure to visit them again, with Margaret and me feeling very welcomed. Thank you Horncastle, see you again in the future I hope.