The subject for this sketchbook is my Watercolour painting of an old fishing boat in Irvine Harbour.

This steel hulled rusting boat had lots of character and strong colours but it was the small red crane on the deck that particularly caught my eye. The crane can be seen in the background of this photograph. 

I like when a painting gives me the opportunity to tell a story about the working boats and their fishing communities.

I use pastel in my sketchbooks as they allow me to work quickly and capture vibrant colours.  I use a mixture of both soft and hard pastels, whatever type is at hand.   Pastels are versatile in all weathers. I use Sennelier Oil Pastels and Windsor and Newton Watercolours. 

For my sketchbooks I use Eco Seawhite Sketchbooks for watercolour sketching and Robertsons Heavy Cartridge Sketchbook for oil pastels. They are both good quality papers that age well and are ideal for long term archiving. I tend to carry various sizes of sketchbooks to suit the Plein Air conditions.


Here you can see separate pastel and watercolour studies from my sketchbooks.  They show the dark undertones then strong bright reds and yellows. The colours are primarily Alazarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Prussian Blue, Cobalt Violet, Sap Green, Cobalt Turquoise Deep, Cadmium Red Light, Warm White and Lemon Yellow. I sketch very quickly getting down as much detail as possible, you really have to use your eye.

In the studio I rarely look at photographs of the subject matter and instead work from sketches.  I prefer to do sketches and paintings plein air and be spontaneous and instinctive as the colour and light is changing all the time. The watercolour sketches tend to be more detailed with the colours more true to the finished work .

For this paining I used  handmade Fabriano Artistico, 300 grams 140 lb hot pressed paper.  I like the smoother surface and the way the paint flows and mixes together on it.  I always soak several sheets  with clean tap water then stretch the paper on a plywood stretcher with gummed tape. leaving them overnight to be fully dry before starting to paint. This also prevents the paper from buckling when wet. A good tip after stretching and soaking the paper  is to pour a small drop on to the centre to let it spread out and get absorbed slowly.

Choosing and arranging colours, brushes and the layout of the mediums starts off looking neat and organised on the table but as I paint very fast wet on wet it becomes messy and chaotic which is the effect I am trying to create on paper. Choosing the colours is instinctive but the mediums are carefully thought out.  They are usually gum Arabic, granulation fluid, impasto gel and even a hairdryer which can be fun moving the wet paint around. The paint I am most familiar with is Winsor & Newton artist watercolour paint but I also use Old Holland, Daniel Smith and Wallace Seymour.

Gum Arabic is used sparingly mixed in with the water and paint for luminosity the granulation fluid is poured on and splashed around randomly to create loosenes and soft edges while the impasto gel is used for creating texture.

Once the painting is completed and dry an exciting, although sometimes difficult, process is placing the mounting board on the finished work.  This is the time to decide which overlapping parts of the painting need to be left out before the painting is sent off to be framed.  

The finished watercolour painting – The Red Crane.