Tag: Golden Retriever

Sunshine and Smiles

After the downbeat tone of the first post of 2017, I’m a bit shame-faced to be bringing you good news, sunshine and smiles! But, since the country seems to have been thrust back into murky cloud and fog, maybe a bit of brightness will be welcome.

First of all, a finished painting! I found this watercolour commission a bit daunting at first. The subject was the site of a proposal – a romantic pondside setting. There are few things as restful or romantic as sitting by the side of a pond, but they don’t often communicate as well in paint. Ponds don’t have the scale and reflective properties of deep lakes, nor the power and majesty of the sea, nor the animation of a river. In addition, I was I trying to capture the significance of a spot where two good friends had decided to spend their life together…

To begin with, my plan was to try and capture the moment itself – on bended knee etc. But the reference photos and my preliminary sketches persuaded me this wouldn’t work – it was transparent to me that I was drawing a re-enactment. If I remember my own engagement, I’m sure an onlooker would have seen intense emotion and excitement written all over my body language – you can’t recreate that. My initial reference photos also seemed too explanatory, with the sun coming in from behind and creating a very pleasing, but uninteresting photo. I asked for more reference photos and received an apologetic reply with some pictures taken at sunrise, with the sun blinding the camera and obscuring much detail.

But so often, in life as well as art, it is what you can’t see clearly which is captivating, not that which is laid out. From that point, the whole project came alive for me. The real focus of the scene are the benches, where the proposal took place. Despite the fact that they are in the centre of the composition, with a gleaming path leading towards them, I love that fact that they are all but obscured – both in shade and with sunlight streaming in front of them. The title ‘Into the Sun’, extends this metaphor a bit. When you commit to marriage it is quite like walking into the sun – there is so much ahead that you cannot see and yet it’s a beautiful and exciting sensation.

More prosaically, I had forgotten how challenging watercolour can be – it requires such decisive action and yet whatever actions you make are all but impossible to undo. I used masking fluid to protect the benches, bulrushes and tufts of grass on the bank to the left, but removed it too early in the course of the painting. I managed to recover these crisp highlights by scraping out with a blade, but it had me worried for a while! The question of balancing light was also tricky. Since the overall impression is so clearly of light, I was nervous, at first, of painting in the darks. However, perversely, the more depth I added, the lighter the painting became, because the contrast of the glaring sun became more pronounced. The bank in shadow was so much fun, because it responded to layers and layers of subtle colours – infused in, blotted out – to capture the prismatic light over subtle shadow.

I can’t wait to deliver it to its new home.

In other, very unexpected news, I opened an email from the international art competition, Renoartio, at the weekend to find this ‘Bonnie Smile’ at the top of it:

You could probably hear my squeal in neighbouring houses. Only the day before, my husband and I had been looking at the high calibre of entries for the December open art competition, and were doubtfully hoping that I would improve upon my position of 18th place in the November competition. To come top was completely beyond my expectations. You can see what impressive and varied artworks are submitted to Renoartio here, https://www.renoartio.com/past-winners/, and I’m chuffed that ‘Bonnie Smile’ will soon be among them. Of course, it’s a huge confidence boost for me and my art, but I think it also shows that no one can resist a golden retriever smile!


The done thing would be to begin this first post of 2017 by sending out my best wishes for a very Happy New Year. But as far as I can tell the zeitgeist does not seem to hold very positive expectations for 2017: the ongoing desperate situation in Syria, the terrifying prospect of a Trump presidency, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and ongoing concerns of terrorism, climate change… the list goes on. Nor do I feel very inclined to buck that trend. In the closing months of 2016 I went through a significant relapse, and December was the first month of the year where I was unable to paint at all.

Surely, then, I have little reason to post and even less so if my only business is to depress you all even further about the prospects for the coming year! Well, I do have a painting to share with you, which I began back in June last year and was destined to be a present for my close family (parents and brother). My plan had been to return to it in November and December, but since this was not possible, I decided to give the painting in its unfinished state, with the understanding that I may requisition it if at some point I’m able to finish it. Now that the cat dog is out of the bag (sorry…) it seems an opportune moment to share this painting, when we are all in need of a bit of sun and a bit of canine therapy.


I have been meaning to paint our dog, Sukha, for literally years. With my brother being a wildlife photographer (and, when the wildlife won’t cooperate, a golden retriever photographer!), I have had no shortage of wonderful visual material. But as soon as I saw the photo from which I have painted this, it was as if I could already see the painting materialising in my mind. This is something of a danger because potential paintings always take a much more idealised form in the mind than they could ever live up to on canvas! However, I love the light in this scene: warm, dappled, evening light – the luminous light you get on the banks of a river on a summer evening where the light is being reflected from the water below as well as from the sky above. For those of us that know Sukha well, it is also very characteristic of that moment during a walk where she will hover expectantly by the river – mournfully and expectantly eyeballing you in the hopes of eliciting a stone’s throw.

Unusually for me, I simply enjoyed painting this one, and felt it was flowing well, when I decided to pause and turn to finishing my commission to paint another lovely golden, Bonnie. As with the wren painting ‘Tipping Point’ about a year earlier, what I hoped would be a temporary pause turned into a six-month hiatus. High hopes can be cruelly disappointing. I even read recently the maxim that ‘happiness = reality minus expectations’. So, rather than argue with the general sense of gloom as the year commences, perhaps the best thing I can do is simply to wish that 2017 exceeds expectations for us all!

A Bonnie Smile

It’s been a grim week, and arguably, little to smile about. Whichever way you voted last , I think the unfolding of political chaos, economic instability, the loss of the usual friendliness of tone in European politics and the really worrying increase in racist incidents, have not added up to a very positive week. If you were on the side of remain, this week has probably been much worse than that – I have friends that really feel they have lost a part of their identity and others that have more logistical fears about what happens now.

However, I have some cheer to bring to the table! Indeed, when I have been at the lowest points in my illness there has been no surer pick-me-up than a golden retriever’s smile:

Bonnie finished

In real life, it is my family’s dog, Sukha who provides that obliviously cheering zest for life. However, the smiling face above is that of Bonnie and was commissioned by her owner way back in 2015. You may remember that I got 80% there with the portrait in January this year:

Bonnie First Painting

And with such a promising start, I was terrified of returning to finish off the painting until I had a good run of health (by which I mean more than two consecutive days) so that I could be back in the ‘zone’ before diving back in. I always find this stage of painting the most stressful – so much time has already been invested and I’m already attached to as many aspects of the painting as there are parts I want to change. Looking at the stage I reached above, you may be thinking there wasn’t far to go. But, in fact, there was a huge amount of detail in the ears and around the muzzle that needed attention, and more challengingly, having painting it in artificial light during the dark days of winter, the colours needed much more depth and vibrancy. We are used to be able to change the ‘saturation’ of a picture with great ease on a computer, but I can tell you that such alteration stroke by stroke, shade by shade, is much more challenging in oil paint! I hope, if you compare both images, you will see the difference! All I can say is that I’m immensely pleased and relieved, and very much looking forward to delivering it.

And, indeed, if you are a fan of this Bonnie Smile then my local framers and gallery in Northallerton – Coastal Fine Arts and Framing – will soon be stocking prints of that and a wide range of my images as prints and originals. In addition, though these are both paintings I completed much earlier this year, I wanted to let you know that both Candy Crush and Tipping Point are now available as giclée cards. Some pictures translate more easily into reproduction than others and both of these paintings proved tricky to capture, both in their precise details and true colours. However, I now have really lovely reproductions, as both cards and prints – see below a lovely example of a framed Candy Crush print.


I hope to have Pied Beauty and Bonnie Smile products in stock soon too. In the meantime, I’m now turning my attention to a triptych of views of St Mary’s Battersea, inspired by William Blake: ‘without contraries there is no progression’. I have a very cute new portrait in the offing, not to mention a couple of floral works planned, inspired both by my new garden and our forthcoming wedding…

I’m hoping for a busy summer, and amidst the doom and gloom of politics and economics I hope we can all take refuge in beautiful art, beautiful nature and a Bonnie Smile 🙂


Tipping point: out with the old and in with new

It is a delight to be beginning the new year with a post that actually contains artwork! Since boxing day, I have had a whole two weeks between treatment cycles, which has allowed my body to catch up and enabled me to do three half-days of painting. As I near the end of my second week, I can feel my body slowing down again and needing the treatment to recommence, but it has been satisfying to achieve something while I have had a window of opportunity.

First, I took the chance to start a commission which I have been longing to begin for about a year: a painting of a beautiful golden retriever who I met a few years ago. She has a sunny temperament that reminds me of my family’s golden retriever, and so it has been a joy to spend a few days staring into her emerging grin:


The bits of the painting which I was slightly nervous about – the foreshortened muzzle and jowls for instance – actually came off quite smoothly, while the ears proved much more difficult than I was expecting! It was also fun to paint the shadowed left side of her face. The way our eyes work is to detect contrast, and so we see light colours in shade as lighter than they actually are. This is a challenge for a painter. If you just follow a photograph, you don’t capture the way that the eye interprets light colours in shade, but if you paint what you think you see, you won’t end up with any shadow at all. I love the way the bottom of her left ear catches the light.

Bonnie First Painting

Here you can see that I have finished the first layer of paint. I am unsure about the background – I will need to discuss this with the patron. The ‘real’ background is of autumnal leaves which is beautiful, but I have grown attached to the clean brightness of the plain background has I have been painting. There is something, too, about leaving the raw canvas, which brings the central subject into a great plane of reality. We will see. For now, I need to leave it for a few weeks to dry before looking at it afresh, balancing colours, and adding final details.

This finishing process, however, is exactly what I chose to do with my final day of painting this week. You may remember last year that I nearly finished a painting called ‘Tipping Point’, of a wren poised on the end of a twig. Having spent too much time with it, I became frustrated and planned to leave it for a few weeks, which has turned into many months. It was a great relief to finish it today:

Painting of a wren

The branch was by far the most difficult part of the painting – a tricky grainy surface, catching fine points of light and shadow, as well as larger nooks, knots and crevices. In my last post, a reader kindly suggested that I show photos of my work with other objects for a sense of scale, so below is a close up the wren with the end of a pencil for comparison. In the painting it’s probably about the same size as the real thing!
Tipping point Scale

Perhaps it’s not so bad to have finished it in the New Year, as the painting is about the moment before one dives into the new. And anyway, the pale blue background surely heralds approaching spring rather than the dull, rainy winter we’ve been having. To begin the new year, I’m about to order my new range of petite giclée cards, which will be in the same size and blank format as my homemade cards, but this time printed professionally with the highest quality inks. This little wren will arrive at the forefront of the new stock! As such, I’m afraid I have to mention that other herald of the changing year – the new year sale. My old stock of cards are all on sale to make way for the new arrivals: a third off every pack. There are only a few designs left, so if you are interested, pop into my card shop.

I hope your new year has also started promisingly. I wish all my readers health, happiness and opportunity in 2016.