Thursday, March 31, 2016

MHBD's Fake Journal

We're getting close to the official start date of International Fake Journal Month!

And I'm probably running out of steam already. But let's see if I can stick at it for the full month - no cheating, no bowing out. I have too many ideas flowing through my head, like clouds (literally). And let's try and refocus on my art goals for this - so far, I've managed to stick to my limited tools rule (a self-imposed rule). Maybe that's the only goal I'll need. Maybe next year, I'll just paint clouds, or the sea, or faces, or trees, or Timber, or Willow. See, see, it's happening already, my mind is going in all sorts of directions.

So, deep breath, one goal: journal every day (almost) in the same sketchbook (Strathmore Sketchbook 300 series, 9"x12" (that's about 23cmx30cm for you and me), using only 2 pens (PITT artist sepia fine, Pentel brush pen) and my basic set of gouaches. That's it. I can choose any subject I like as long as I stick to this goal.

Does that qualify as a SMART goal, I wonder? It's a long time since I went on corporate training courses, so let me dig up what this acronym stands for:

  • Specific: yes, I think it's specific, see paragraph above
  • Measurable: I can count the pages at the end
  • Attainable: it's not over-ambitious, and yes, I think I can do this without spending more than half an hour every day
  • Relevant: well, it's about drawing every day and developing my skills, so yes, I guess it's relevant
  • Time-bound: one month

There you go, my manager would be proud of me!

And remember, the story is secondary - according to Roz Stendhal anyway, who created this whole IFJM idea. I don't have much of a story, but I'm very fond of my character, Odile, already!

Anyways, here is the link to today's fake journal!

And the colour patch of the day. I particularly like the 5 colours on the left

Dark Skies - Abstract - work in progress

I am someone who can't help jumping around - media, subject matter, style - I can't decide whether I want to draw, or paint watercolours, acrylics, use gouache, pencils, fountain pens, brush pens, bring sketchbooks on urban sketching trips, draw portraits, paint abstract, do monoprints, art journals, self portraits, ...

So it's strange how I can also develop the same idea over a long period of time: sunflowers, roses, dark skies, to name just a few of the more recent ones.

This is where this painting in progress comes in - I felt I wasn't done yet with my dark skies. But I wanted to explore something abstract in watercolours.  But of course, now I'm stuck. I really don't know where to go with this. When I start a painting, I don't see in my mind's eye how it's going to look when it's finished. It's only when I put paint on paper that the idea develops. Which makes sense to me : there is no point in having all these wonderful ideas in my head if I don't have the skill or knowhow to translate them to paint. 

So what I'm going to need to do now is use Photoshop and try out a few options for lampposts (or trees, or something else). 
But I want to hold onto the abstract feel.  
I could also crop it into a square shape and make it more abstract, less landscape. All ideas welcome!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


There were daffodils for sale in the shops in mid-February, and they are still going strong now! Too late in the season to paint them now, probably. But I do love their shapes and the feeling of joy they bring to my heart.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

MHBD's Fake Journal

Link to the full journal page.

Portrait done in gouache, from photograph, with no preliminary drawing. In hindsight, I should have done an oval and horizontal line with eyes and vertical line for nose and mouth. It would have helped achieve a better likeness. But I really like how the shadows and highlights worked out. And it was so much fun sculpting a face out of a pink blob!

M50 & M1 sketches

A few sketches while a passenger driving up on the M50 and M1. I love doing these kinds of sketches. No time and no pressure! I've only ever developed one such sketch into a full watercolour painting, but it's one of my favourites. Plus it passes the time in the car.

Monday, March 28, 2016

MHBD's Fake Journal - Still in the prologue!

Click on this link for the full story

And for those of you who don't want to click, here are the yummy colours of the day:

And another attempt at painting soda bread, this time in red watersoluble ink and watercolour:

With lampposts

I painted the lampposts using my new technique, and I'm happy to report that I didn't ruin either of my paintings!

In this one, I decided to reduce the number of lampposts, as it's a relatively small painting (about A4). I think it's my most successful sky. 

This one is about double the size, so I painted all the posts. I also darkened some of he bushes and added a few shadows on the grass. I love the sky in this one - although it probably is not very realistic. 

Am I ready to move on to something else? Not quite yet, I'm afraid.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

After the Quake

I finished reading After the Quake a couple of months ago. Beautifully crafted short stories set in Japan after the Kobe earthquake. Stories not necessarily directly related to the earthquake. Stories about loneliness, fitting in, fear, hatred, and some stories plainly and simply weird. In my opinion, this is not quite Murakami at his best - for me that would be 1Q84. But still, stories that take you in and spit you out when you least expect it.

MHBD's Fake Journal

Here is the link to today's Fake Journal.

And for those of you not interested in the text, but only the pictures (although I would encourage you to read the text too):

Saturday, March 26, 2016

MHBD's Fake Blog

Still at the prologue!

And here is the drawing I was planning to include, but the version I did for the Fake Journal did not work out at all. Lesson? Measure Measure Measure!

The Husband's Secret

I finished reading The Husband's Secret a couple of weeks ago. I don't read as many books as I used to. Social media distractions are to blame, I'd say. But once I started this book, I could not put it down. It's the story of perfect lives shattered by a dark secret from the past. What would you do if you found a letter your husband wrote that says "do not open until I've died"? Would you be able to resist? What would go through your head? Would you talk to him about it? Would you even hesitate for one moment? What would you do with the knowledge of what that letter says? And what would you do if your husband and your cousin, who is also your best friend, told you that they are in love, that they haven't had sex yet, and that they'd like to live in the house with you and your child? And what would you do if you thought .... ?

That's it, I'll say no more. My lips are sealed.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Lough Bray Lower - Photographs

A few shots from our outing in the Dublin Mountains last week. Who would think we have such beauty and wilderness only 20 minutes away from home? The fact that the sun was shining was pure bonus. The greyness never lifted in our area that day.

Urban Dictionary: mhbd

Urban Dictionary: mhbd:

"MHBD: An acronym, usually concocted with the sole purpose of confusing somebody. doesn't actually stand for anything."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Straight lines in watercolour

I'm working on the final details of my two dark skies watercolours. I've been experimenting with how to paint the lampposts which are part of the landscape. In my previous attempts, I actually drew them with a waterproof marker. But this time, my plan is to paint them with a fine brush, so they are better integrated in the overall look. After a few freehand failures, I found a tip in Artists and Illustrators magazine on how to hold a ruler so that you can paint a straight line without smudging watercolour over the paper. The trick is to hold the ruler steadily with one hand, but to hold it at about a 45-degree angle, and to lean the metal part of the brush against the ruler. I found that drawing from the bottom up worked better for me. Very important is to do a few trials on a paper similar to that of the painting - no point in trying it out on smooth paper if the painting is on rough paper.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Next Episode from MHBD's Fake Journal

Click here for the full story.

Or just enjoy the colour scheme!

Lough Bray Lower - sketches

So, our little trip up the Dublin mountains last Friday was really a happy sunny interlude in what was a pretty grey week. While himself was flying a drone (footage available soon!), I had plenty of time to sketch. In those situations, I like to do a few quick sketches, with the idea that I might develop those into a painting at some stage. It's also a great excuse for not being too good! I'm not very patient when it comes to drawing. Some day, I will learn to slow down. Or just accept that this is my style.

We didn't do the walk, but might do it next time.

But I think these two are not bad. Top one drawn with a Sakura Pigma Micron (03 I think) and the bottom one with my Pentel Brush Pen (lovely for quickly applying darks). And I'm also quite happy with the one  I used for my Fake Journal.

All in all, a productive long-weekend!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dublin Sketchers - St Enda's Park, Pearse Museum

My second outing with Dublin Sketchers.

Despite a busy day, I managed to make it out to St Enda's Park for an hour on this beautiful sunny afternoon. I didn't really settle to much in terms of drawing, but I enjoyed being out in the fresh air, with families milling around, children playing amongst the trees, and fellow sketchers out and about.

This time, I did stay for the meet-up at 4pm, and I really enjoyed the chat with everybody who was there. We looked through each other's sketchbooks (heeeeee - I wasn't ready for that, and felt a bit self-conscious when someone started going through my two sketchbooks, but then everybody was so nice that I relaxed into it). And it was lovely to discuss pens and papers with fellow sketching nerds!

Pentel Brush Pen in no-brand sketchbook (lovely smooth paper)

Daffodils - yes, there are still plenty of daffodils in full bloom!
Watercolour in Fabriano sketchbook.
Lesson learned: kneeling down on the grass and watercolour sketching don't mix very well

No Fake Journal today!


Cup and saucer is harder to draw than mug.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Dark Skies - another work in progress

Another watercolour from the same scene. I am very happy with the sky in this one. I might darken some of the grass, and add the path on the left. Plus the lampposts, of course. Same colours as the previous one. This one is about twice the size of the previous painting. Nearly A3, not quite. I could paint the same spot over and over and never get tired of it, I have to say. Still so much to learn. 

Next Episode from MHBD's Fake Journal

Click here for the next instalment of MHBD's Fake Journal.

Or if you don't want to click, here are a few elements from it that you might like:

Pentel Brush Pen sketch - Lough Bray Lower, near Glencree in the Dublin Mountains

The colours from Lough Bray Lower - Winsor & Newton Designer Gouaches.
Amazing the mixes you can get from the most basic set (1 red, 1 yellow, 1 blue, 1 green, white, black)

St Patrick's Day Cheers

No alcohol for me - spinach, banana, apple and lime, water, and a quick whizz in the smoothie maker

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy Birthday Willow

Dark Skies - work in progress

I used the same colours for the grass - cobalt blue and aureolin yellow, but I changed the colour scheme for the sky quite a bit: raw sienna, ultramarine, cerulean, indigo. And for the tree line, well, a mix of everything, with some transparent orange and red madder too.

I love how this painting has worked out so far (afraid to jinx it by saying that!)

I still have to do the lampposts. I'm exploring a different technique for these. This painting is about A4 in size, but I'm planning to go big again. 

Next Episode from MHBD's Fake Journal

Click here for the next instalment of MHBD's Fake Journal.

Or if you don't want to click, here are a couple of close-ups (for the day that's in it - when did we last have a sunny St Patrick's Day, by the way?):

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Next episode from MHBD's Fake Journal

Click here for the next instalment of MHBD's Fake Journal

Ongoing Abstract project

I've been working on this painting for months. It's really become part of the furniture in my art room. Which is not good, as I've stopped noticing it. I should really turn it against the wall for a week or two, then maybe have another look at it.

Maybe I should start something else. I'm not sure it's abstract enough for my liking.

What I have to do first is apply a layer of matte medium all over it, as some parts are shiny, some matte, which means it doesn't reflect light homogeneously. And it is difficult to photograph.

And before I do that, I'll have to do another sky glaze, as you can still see the outline of the sun. Which I hadn't noticed until now.

Here is where I am with it now (size about 60x80cm):

And in reverse order, the steps that led to it:

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


It's so long since I've seen some of these that I can't remember what they were about. Let's have a go!

  • The Hours: This is the one where Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf. Also with Julianne Moore. OK. Quite sad and serious. All about connections.
  • Chef: I have no memory whatsoever about this one. Well, now that I've read the Wikipedia summary, it's vaguely coming back to me. But no lasting impression.
  • The Lunchbox: Indian movie - you've heard about tiffins, these lunchboxes that Indian housewives prepare and that are collected and delivered to their husbands in the office at lunchtime. Well in this movie, a box goes to the wrong man. A beautiful story.
  • Two days, One night: Marion Cotillard plays a woman who has lost her job and is trying to convince her colleagues to take a pay cut so she can have her job back. She's a great actress, but the rest of the cast was quite amateurish, I thought. Set somewhere in Northern France near the Belgian border.
  • The one I love: really clever story about love and betrayal. A couple is going through couple's therapy and the therapist sends them for a luxury retreat in a remote estate. All smoke and mirrors. Or is it? Loved Elisabeth Moss in it, who was the young copywriter in Mad men.
  • Tracks: Well, I thought this movie was called Steps, but I was wrong. This is the true story of a young woman crossing the Australian desert with camels. That was quite good actually.
  • Begin Again: Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. A complicated story about the music industry. Not very good from what I remember
  • Dogtooth: A weird Greek movie about a strange family - the parents keep their three young adult children ignorant of the world outside. Fascinating, but really really weird.
  • A Separation: an Iranian movie about a couple. The wife wants to leave the country with their daughter, but the husband wants to stay to look after his elderly father. The wife leaves him and goes to stay with her parents. In the meantime, the husband brings in a woman to look after his father while he is at work. An interesting view into a country we know little about.
  • Margin Call: Basically this is a movie telling us how greed and young mathematicians caused the financial crash. Great movie.
  • Life of Crime: Jennifer Aniston is a rich wife, and is abducted by a small gang. The only problem is that her husband doesn't really care about her. Dark humour. Loved it.
  • Kajaki, the true story: war movie set in Afghanistan. A true story about soldiers becoming trapped in an old minefield. I could not watch some bits, but it was really good!

Bigger dark skies

We're not at the end of the line yet. Far from it, I sense.

Some people might call it an obsession. For me, it's simply that I'm trying to paint the best sky that I can. And I cannot stop until I reach that point.

This instalment is not it. I was distracted when I started painting the sky. Actually, I was chatting to my fellow painters, Rosanna and Margaret. And my painting did not forgive me this moment of inattention. Watercolours don't forgive. They demand that you give them all your attention, all that you've learned over the years, all your patience, all your preparation (paper has to be stretched, paints need to be ready, in the right quantity, at the right consistency), all your love. If they feel neglected, it will be pay-back time.

When that happens, I like to finish the painting anyway. It has to fulfil its destiny. And I have to learn from it. Sometimes, it's even an opportunity to experiment with techniques I would not risk on a painting that's going well.

Opinions are divided on this one: Some love its bold colours, its striking movement. I don't. I love the way the ultramarine paint granulated. I love the lampposts. But that sky is not what I saw.

Lessons learned:

  1. Pay attention, don't chat and paint
  2. Painting big presents bigger challenges - this painting was done on my largest watercolour block, roughly A3, i.e. double the size I normally paint on
  3. That transparent orange may be OK for stormy skies in exotic parts of the world. But raw sienna suits an Irish sky better
  4. When a wet-in-wet sky doesn't work out, don't try to fix it. No amount of lifting paint will make it right. Although, I could have lifted the whole sky and tried again - good paper can take a lot of abuse.
  5. Keep trying until it's right
  6. Also an option. Don't be afraid to crop the painting. Sometimes all they need is a different point of view. Like this maybe?: