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How do I get started with watercolours?

🎨 Are you new to painting and don’t know where to start?
🎨 Are you wanting to try a new medium?
🎨 Are you interested in learning a new style?
Have you answered yes to any of these questions? Then this may be the post for you….read on and see if it helps. 🤓

First of all you will obviously need some equipment, and until you know whether you are going to like painting detailed watercolour, you may not want to splash out lots and lots of your hard earned cash! Above I’ve put together an overview of a basic kit which should get you started.
1. Winsor and Newton Student Cotman Pans
2. Masking Fluid
3. Pipette
4. Lamp black tube paint
5. Old brushes and a ruling pen for applying masking fluid
6. Mechanical pencil
7. Cotman Winsor & Newton Brush Series 111 (Size 00)
8. Rosemary & Co Series 93, size 1
9. Winsor and Newton Size 5 or 6 Acrylic brush for mixing
10. Opaque white tube paint
11. Putty rubber
12. Ceramic palette
This page on my website may help you too: Materials I use

So, you’ve got your basic kit and now you would like to start painting. I would suggest you start by watching some of my tips and tricks videos on YouTube or Patreon. You need to become familiar with the watercolour medium; get used to mixing your paints, build your confidence with how much water to add and work out which brushes work for you. Explore the different ways in which you can use your brushes. Have fun, play with your paints and really get to know them. Find out how your different colours behave – are they opaque, transparent or semi-transparent. What depth of colour can you achieve by layering your paint/glazing? Practice painting thin lines and detailed shapes.

Working on applying washes and painting just an outline and then filling it in, is a really good starter project. These projects give you colour mixing practice, they help build your confidence on applying washes but then you are challenged to paint a detailed outline with a very small brush. This really builds your brush control and will be very good preparation for painting future more detailed projects. I have a couple available on Patreon based on silhouettes, but you can easily make up your own versions of these – have fun and enjoy the process. Make your little projects into cards, bookmarks or little framed pictures, I am sure your friends and family would be pleased to receive them.

When you feel ready to move on to something a little more challenging – I would suggest starting with the robin tutorial. This is a completely free tutorial on Patreon – the video takes you step by step through every stage of painting this little chirpy chappy! I talk as I paint so you see every stage, I try not to use jargon and I explain everything I am doing. You will learn how to work wet in wet, to apply washes, how to layer your paint and achieve fine detail. I even take you through painting the wood and using watercolour white.
Alternatively this lesson is available as a DVD or a download. Or, should you prefer reading how to do something, check out the PDF version of the tutorial instead.

The most important thing is to make sure you have a good block of time to sit, relax and enjoy the painting process, preferably undisturbed for a good hour or two. Before I went professional a few years ago I used to try and paint for two or three hours a week, it helped me switch off from the normal humdrum of life. I worked on maintenance for many years so a means of relaxing after a physical week was important.
Always take your time and never rush a painting, you know I always say put the kettle on or take a few minutes away every hour. This way you will come back with fresh eyes and spot things which may need adjusting. Sitting close to a painting and working on detail does sometimes prevent you from seeing the full picture. Other than that have fun and ‘smile’, I even sing to myself………….preferably not on camera!
Your next challenge will of course be choosing what to work on next…..well that is another story altogether.
Paul 🤓   

Taking my own photos

I’ve always really wanted to take my own photographs of wildlife to use for reference photos for my paintings. Unfortunately I’m rather constrained by time and, as I would have limited opportunities to use it, I cannot presently justify the cost of a good camera with a decent zoom lens! I need extra hours in the day then I could choose to be a photographer and a painter. 😉 Occasionally however, I do get the time and this is what I do and how I built up to this way of taking photos…..

Whilst there are of course some fantastic photographers who allow me to use their amazing photographs for my paintings, being able to take your own photo and create a painting from it is just a really nice thing to do.
So for a sum of £250 (a few years ago) I decided to buy myself a bridge camera. I went for a Fuji FinePix HS20 EXR with a cracking little zoom. OK, on an overcast and dull day it simply won’t compare to a professional camera, but it does take some cracking close ups and I just choose a nice day for taking my wildlife photos! 📸

So what else do I need to be able to do this? A tripod and a portable bird hide! Well a tripod wasn’t a problem and not too expensive but the bird hide! Well, let’s just say a purpose made popup bird hide was sooo expensive, so what else can I use? Well……..here goes…..

Now we have the ideal kit and I have my first bird hide set up in the garden! I know you are thinking ‘that’s a clothes drying rack and an old bedspread!’ Well, yes it is, but beggars can’t be choosers! I simply set up the clothes rack in the garden, opened it up, draped the old cover over the top and cut a few camera holes into it. I even had cushions 🤣 I sat behind with my camera and tripod and got some really nice photos of our garden birds!

The Mark II featured seating, more head room, some waterproof trousers, some pegs and even a bit of ‘carpet’!!

But then came the Mark III. Made with a garden cane framework and a bespoke cover made by Jo on the sewing machine, it featured various window slots, which were covered, when not in use, with net curtaining!! The whole thing was easier to set up, taller and very nice to sit inside, I even made a little table for my cup of coffee and biscuit!

Now the final bird hide is actually bought, are you ready for this, are you sure………..it’s a portaloo tent! Yes, it really is! This is tall and ideal to fit a chair and tripod inside and it’s even in a camouflage material! Unlike purpose made bird hides, this retails at a lot less and folds up into a small, lightweight bag.

You had better not be giggling to yourself, but remember it works and it goes to show you don’t need much to be able to take some nice photos of your garden birds. Just using you mobile phone through a tent hole (moving your hand very slowly) will get some nice photos too.

So if you take photos of birds or wildlife, do you have a homemade hide you can tuck yourself inside?

Until my next blog, bye for now,
Paul 🤓

Tubes v Pans?

As many of you will know I use mostly half pan blocks of paint. These are almost always Winsor & Newton and both student and professional quality. The latter have particularly good pigmentation, light fastness, transparency and colour! As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for” – and in this case it is true.

Watercolour pan paints are made up from concentrated pigment and do last quite some time. Bearing in mind that I paint virtually every day, some of my pans are still the same blocks of paint from over a year ago! They become like old friends, you become really familiar with how the pigment works and its hard to tear yourself away from that familiar place and go with a different colour altogether!

What I particularly like about half pans is that you can really control your small washes of colour. You are able to fine tune the mix; each takes up very little room in your palette, so there is always space to try again with more or less water or a different combination of colours. Limiting the amount of paint in your mix will also ensure that when you come to painting you are not going to overload your brush with a well half full of colour.
Half pans are great for my detailed art, I have complete control of the colour and the loading of my brush before I even head to the paper!

Alongside my pan paints I also have plenty of tube paints, these are from a wider range of manufacturers; Winsor & Newton, SAA, Sennelier  and Daler Rowney.
You do have to be careful with tube paints when you first open them, they can sometimes have a mind of their own! The tubes are obviously full and opening a new one can result in a long fountain of colour! Once you have used your tube a couple of times there should no longer be a fountain but you may still get that slow run of paint coming out of the top. Lightly squeezing the sides of the tube will sometimes encourage the paint to sink back inside where it belongs. 🤓

Tube paints are certainly ideal for large areas where you need to be able to work quickly and have a good amount of paint mixed ready to go – a background or a large area of fur. For my backgrounds I tend to use no more than four colours, sometime three for a mottled background. I find using lots of colours can start to look a little muddy – but try yourself and see how you get on. Be careful though, using tubes can also be a way to easily waste a lot of paint. Try not to overdo your mixes and end up with way too much paint in your wells.

You will find that some manufacturers will give their popular colours their own name. Watch out for names like Intense Blue and Phthalo Blue, you may think you are buying two different shades of blue but they are actually the same colour! Like me, you will find your favourites and even if you can’t remember their name you will know how they work on your paper and how they mix with your other colours. But, it is really important to try out new colours and new brands – you never know when you will come across one that becomes your ‘new favourite’! 🤓

Do remember that all watercolour paints can be re-wet once the palette has dried up, even a few months later! Just add a drop of water and carry on using your paint; so if you have over squeezed a tube, don’t worry you can save it for another day!
It is worth noting here, that when your paints have tried in your palette it is a really good time to look at them and see the different tones that can be created with the one colour. The pooled area at the bottom of the well, shows the depth of colour you would be able to achieve with lots and lots of layers, where as the thinner layer of paint at the top replicates less layers on your paper. (This doesn’t work so well in plastic palettes and your palette also needs to be white! 😉)

Do you have half pans or tubes, or do you have both and if so what make do you prefer to use?

Until next time, keep those brushes wet (especially if you have dried up paint to use 😉.

Paul 🤓

Marsh Tit and Willow Tit

Back in 2013 I wrote my first ever PDF tutorial, little did I know then what it would all lead to and how many more I would write and publish! The tutorial was for this Marsh Tit painting, it was written at a time when I incorporated some white acrylic into my paintings in order to create the white highlights I needed. I tended to use it like watercolour paint, thinning it down and varying the thickness depending on the effect I wanted to achieve. I no longer use white acrylic or gouache in my paintings, preferring to stick with just watercolours. The PDF could indeed be used with just opaque watercolour white instead, and this would work equally as well if the consistency is controlled and used to your advantage.

With great trepidation I submitted the article to Leisure Painter magazine, and was absolutely thrilled when they published it in their magazine. All my life I had wanted to become a ‘published’ artist and be recognised for my work. This felt like a really big step in the right direction and I set about writing a further tutorial……

At the time of writing the PDF, I was taking a lot of my own reference photos. Jo and I were visiting bird hides and I had taken to baiting a suitable spot with food and then waiting for whatever came in. As you can see, the photo I took had the marsh tit with a seed in its beak, which I substituted for a tasty caterpillar in the painting. artistic licence!

In the process of taking my own reference photos I inadvertently captured a photo of a ringed Goldfinch. With a few more hours spent in the garden, I eventually had enough photos for us to work out the entire number on the ring. The bird had been ringed in Devon and we were put in contact with the ringer who we have remained friends with ever since and this is where we get on to the bit about Willow Tits which I know you have been waiting for! 😉

Yesterday we joined our friend to help with a National Willow Tit survey. The species is sadly the second fastest declining species in the UK after Turtle Doves. Visually they look almost exactly the same as a Marsh Tit – but their call is significantly different and the surveying was based on controlled playback of their various sounds in a designated area or tetrad as it is known. We had a full day of surveying, and now know the sounds a Willow Tit may make rather well!! We have at least one more day of surveying to undertake in a few weeks time, this will ensure we hopefully haven’t missed anything.

Yesterday we observed 3 birds that could have been our target species, but given the habitat it was felt they were probably Marsh Tit. Unfortunately with no call made, we cannot be certain. However, Willow Tit favour damp young woodland and we were surveying in pretty mature woodlands. These may well have held populations in the past, but they are unlikely to still be present and that is what the experts believe the problem is. Surveys like this help to provide vital data and statistics which can then impact on environmental projects and habitat management plans in the future. With a bit of help, hopefully this little bird can be brought back from the brink in this country.

Woodland Nest Boxes

As a bit of background, Jo and I are registered nest recorders with the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), for two years now we have monitored nests in and around the village where we live. With kind permission of the land owner we have been able to site 50 boxes in a local woodland. These have attracted Blue Tit, Great Tit, Marsh Tit and Nuthatch. Throughout the breeding season we monitor the contents of the boxes and collate the information – whether a nest has been built, how many eggs are laid, by which species and how many young successfully fledge. The data we collect is used on a national level to analyse trends in breeding performance, which in turn help the BTO to identify species that may be declining or indeed doing well. www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nrs.

This year we have decided to add a few extra boxes towards the top end of the woods. These were mostly sparrow terrace boxes which we had previously sited at a nearby farm and had limited success with. Whilst we’ve monitored sparrow terraces elsewhere, the ones at the farm just got dusty and cobwebby – nothing was interested in them! Too many much more enticing natural holes for the birds to nest in. Indeed the terraces we have monitored we are pretty certain were only ever used by one pair, they used different sections throughout the season, depending on whether broods failed or fledged. So I cut down these old boxes and made the 3 section terraces into 3 detached properties! With the breeding season fast approaching and a beautiful sunny day forecast we decided to get them up on the trees ready for the coming year. As it turns out, very appropriate timing as it is National Nest Box week here in the UK. https://www.bto.org/about-birds/nnbw

The woods are quiet, and our boxes discreetly sited away from paths so we have not placed them too high on trees; we are not aware of any disturbance to the birds and the slightly lower height makes it much easier for us to check what is happening in them. They are a miscellaneous selection, made to a fairly basic pattern, but adapted and altered slightly depending on the wood I have available and what I am working with! As we need to check the contents, we have hinged the roof section with a piece of rubber cut from a wellie boot!

In addition to the regular boxes we also have 3 boxes which we hope may attract Treecreeper. This species is definitely in the woods as we have heard their calls, but they are notoriously difficult to encourage into a box. Various studies have been conducted with people trialling different designs, but success has been patchy and a little inconclusive. We have 2 designs which we are trying, a wedge shaped box which has an open back (my own design!) and an oblong shaped box. Both have their entrance hole on the side near the trunk. Treecreepers only climb upwards, so need to be able to climb up and into the box whilst scurrying up the trunk. I will let you know how we get on and whether we get anything in these boxes at all!

Finally we sited a couple of bat boxes. Bats are a species that we know very little about, but we have found them roosting in our bird boxes so they are around in the woods. We were kindly given two different bat boxes, so have popped them into the woods in the hope that they may also be used. It will be difficult to tell as the boxes don’t open and the entrance holes are very small, may need to use my little endoscope attached to my phone if we want to see if they are being successfully used.

I hope you have also managed to get out and enjoy the spring sunshine, in between a painting or two! Spring is definitely well under way with lots of bird song and drifts of beautiful snowdrops. Should you have read this far, do leave a comment and let me know whether you have any bird boxes, whether they have been successful and which species you have managed to give a home to.
Until the next time – Paul 🤓