Giant sparrows

I know I’ve been quiet, but I have just had three articles published in The Leisure Painter, and I’ve been running workshops etc. So sorry!

I thought I would share a step by step, as I haven’t done one for a while. A short time ago, i painted a small canvas with a pair of sparrows. I liked the idea of adding rich gold to a humble garden bird we all take for granted. It then occured to me that painting HUGE sparrows, with rich gold would be twice as good.

First I prepared a 90x90cm box canvas, using a mix of one part moulding paste to two parts gesso. This is as good as any of the far more expensive ‘semi absorbent grounds’ you can buy. It does take three coats.

Using Indian ink, I started painting at the eye and moved outwards, just using the ink as you would normally paint in watercolour. I used a permanent marker for graphical lines. You need to suit the size of your mark to the size of the canvas so most of my lines were pretty big, but I used a normal pigment liner for a few finer marks.



I added in the second bird, making sure they blended. You can see I used a lot of salt to make lovely textuaral marks.


Having let it all dry thoroughly, I used some burnt Sienna, Mars Violet, quin gold and sepia to add colour. I really tried to avoid ‘colouring in’ – I want the ink and the watercolour to add up to more than the sum of the parts. Try and stand back from your work to see it with fresh eyes and stand it up if you are working flat.


Now is the scary bit. Gold leaf looks better on a coloured background. Traditionally red oxide was used, here I used the Indian ink. It looks horrible at this point and you ask yourself if you have ruined it. Hold your nerve.


Next, using gold size, the gold leaf (sadly imitation) is applied. I will do a more detailed post about my way of applying the leaf. I am no expert, but it does what I want. Again standing back helps you see what is really there and not what you assume is there…


A tiny addition of ink to make certain lines stronger and add a few blots and it is finished. Now it’s time to lacquer it (three coats) and add a string and backing.


I was chuffed, as I felt I’d kept the sponteneity of the original, while scaling up the impact. What do you think?

Posted in animal portraits, Art, canvas, how to, step by step, Techniques, Uncategorized, Watercolour | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Paintings from Umbria

Just a selection of paintings from my weekend in Umbria with the lovely Sara and David

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A week in Italy

How lucky was I? I got to spend a week in gorgeous Umbria, teaching watercolour to a group of motivated and lovely students. During the week we painted flowers, concentrating on the power of negative painting and fauna, looking at ink and wash, wet in wet, texturing techniques and so on.

We went out sketching special Umbrian cows, saw honey buzzards and wild boar and tried to hide from the incredibly hot sun.

It must have gone well, as Arte Umbria have kindly invited me back next year. So if you like the look of what we did, the date is 4-11 July 2018 (go to

And here’s the week in pictures (I’ll post some paintings shortly):

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Too long…

Quite where time has gone, I have no idea! Sorry for the silence. For quick updates, please like my Facebook page ( or Instagram/Twitter @lizintheshed. But tHe most exciting thing recently is that the first of my articles has appeared in The Leisure Painter – two more to come:


Yes, that’s my chicken on the cover! I have also spent a week teaching in Italy with Arte Umbria and have been asked backed (4-11 July 2018). And of course, I’ve been painting and experimenting.

…so, welcome back to the blog and I will try harder!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Figures in watercolour landscapes

For those of you of a certain age (and brought up in the UK), you will remember the song about Lowry ‘match stick men’. Well you have to hum it while you read this post, but instead of match stick, you need to sing ‘He painted carrot men and carrot cats and dogs….’ If you are reading this from anywhere else in the world you may think I have lost the plot; sorry have a look here:   .

I decided we would cover figures in landscape in our class yesterday, afterall they help tell a story, can add movement, they create a mood and can provide focus. Yet people are worried about putting them in – they think they will look childish or ‘not right’. As with many things, the less you think you are painting a specific object and only worry about shape, pattern and tone, the better they will turn out. Small figures in a landscape are basically carrots (a vertical stripe, wider at the top and narrower at the bottom) with a dot on top. A big of shadow can anchor them to the ground. On the left is a basic carrot, on the right we have carrot with a bit of garnish:

people6         people4

But don’t include them as an afterthought or they are likely to be stiff and lifeless. You are going to have the best results if you have figures that just walk, stand still, stoop or have conversation with each other. You may find doing them from your imagination far more spontaneous than trying to copy an exact pose – trust yourself!

You need to relate the size of the figure to its surroundings eg doors, windows. You can dress them up, but generally clothing needs to be brighter than other area of the painting. You need to vary the size, shape, position and tone – try to avoid repetition.

Avoid rendering features unless you are doing an illustration or portrait.

Give or take the head to body proportion is 1:7 or 8. We tend to make heads too big as they are so important to us. Shoulders are about 3 heads width across. people7

The above is from (with thanks):

As people get further away, if the viewer is at eye level, their heads are roughly at the same level but they obviously get smaller. The secret is that their feet vary (move up) far more, while the head stays roughly on the same level. Have a look at this photo:


Hands and feet are bigger than we imagine, but if you paint feet correctly they can look too big. A shadow anchors the person and if the feet disappear into the shadows under each figure it is a good compromise.

If possible, group your figures and let them merge into each other wet in wet, but trap light in between them. You do not need features, but can indicate which way they are moving or looking by where you place a darker portion to indicate hair.

people1             people5

The closer the figure is to you, the darker the colour, whereas a distant figure will be more subdued or greyed. This is important because you do not want the tiny figures to overtake the painting. By painting different length legs, it will look like the figure is moving. In this case make sure the shadow does not connect with the lifted leg.

It’s worth doing loads of them so you have them as reference next time you need a person or two (and look how the first one looks like a sign for the bathroom, while they start to get more life as I go along and get more ‘carrotty’).


Demonstrations and more info:



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Eyes again – watercolour workshop

Thought you might like to see some of the work from a session I ran yesterday on eyes.


I love how if there are 16 people in a room doing exactly the same session, you get 16 different outcomes!

Didn’t they do well? You can see re about our weekly class at

Posted in animal portraits, Art, how to, step by step, Techniques, Uncategorized, Watercolour | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eye, eye! Eyes in watercolour

So, shall I get the awful puns out of the way now? Yes, the eyes have it. I am keeping an eye on you etc etc

Seriously, watercolour is a lovely medium for capturing human or animal eyes. Its transparnecy really lends a sparkle and if there is an eye in your painting, you know it will be the focus of attention.


Getting them right is down to careful observation and a little thought about their shape and how they sit in the skull.

If you can see both eyes, consider making them subtly different, with one slightly more dominant so that we, as the viewer, knows where to look first. Consider placement of the dominant eye on the third line….

BUT – the temptation will be to make the eyes too important in a painting or too large. They may end up looking like caricatures or cartoons if you do so. Again careful observation is the key.


These are often very simple. Retain the highlight as the brightest part and continue the colour of the eye into the surrounding feathers to help bed them in. Look carefully at shape and position (if it is a predator they will be at the front of the skull for binocular vision and if a prey, at the side to spot the predator coming). Look carefully at eyelids and edges; there is often a bright edge to the eye which indicates the wetness of the sphere. Some eyes, such as owls are more complex and should be handled like a mammal’s eye (see below).


These are usually more complex with visible iris, pupil, white, lids and lashes. Again careful observation is the key to shape and colour.


The highlight is going to be the lightest part – but look again, even the highlight might have variation and can tell a whole story. Often it is blue over the pupil and white over the iris. Remember the pupil is a hole. Try and mix a dark from colours used elsewhere in the painting to make it harmonious and interesting. Build in stages: iris retaining the highlight, outside/lids, shadow, bleeding the eye colour into the surrounding fur/feathers, finally the pupil (which will stop it looking like a zombie!).

Cat’s eyes look like marbles, so be careful with transparency and white edges. Pupils can be oval, horizontal, round etc – look, look, look! The white, if it shows, is often not white at all – and is darker than the highlight. It will show the shadow of the brow etc. Younger animals tend to have bigger eyes in comparison to their overall size – it’s why we find them adorable!



Top is a tawny owl without a bright highlight, as their eyes are deep set and below is a cat….


I came across this post on human eyes. It is so comprehensive I certainly can’t better it:I



Posted in Art, how to, step by step, Techniques, Uncategorized, Watercolour | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments