Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Just Keep Swimming

With Christmas behind us and 2016 drawing to a close, it's a good time to loosen my belt, sit down at the computer and review my creative journey of late. And that's how I see it – a journey – because by looking at other people's work, using different subjects and keeping an open mind, my artwork is evolving and changing (hopefully for the better). That's why I've given this post the title, 'Just keep swimming'.  It's a phrase used by the eponymous blue tang in the Disney film 'Finding Dory', voiced by Ellen Degeneres. Dory has qualities that I think are helpful in being an artist (and life!), namely, to persevere despite set backs, and to keep moving forward. Ellen says these are qualities that she aspires to and she's done okay!

So what changes have I made these past months? Well, on reading that one day Lucian Freud decided to paint standing up, I thought I'd do the same. After all, he was one of our greatest ever painters and probably had some good reasons for making this decision. I think one of the benefits is that it gives you a better perspective and I think my brushstrokes are stronger. So no more sitting down on the job.

Another quite big change that I've made is to use palette knives. This came about after looking at work by Oliver Akers Douglas. He paints large oil paintings outside in the Wiltshire countryside. He says he likes the speed at which he can mix colours using the palette knife, sometimes even on the canvas itself. I'm impressed with his bold compositions and the way he captures the drama of our skies.  You can see his work here The very nature of using the palette knife means you have to use loads more paint and this gives a much more impasto effect. I like this side effect as I love the feel of laying on the paint thickly. The first painting I tried this out on was of Crantock Beach in Cornwall, and when I posted the image on Facebook I received some good feedback so I've decided to explore this further.

Crantock beach I, 2016 (using palette knife)

 Compare this with a recent landscape I did using brushes only and I think using the palette knife gives a stronger painting. Hard to tell without seeing the pictures in the flesh, though, I appreciate that.

Lulworth, Dorset 2016 (using brushes)
I supported my daughter's school Christmas fair by donating a seagull painting to the silent auction. It was this one below. But I miss it already so I'm painting another one, only this one will be done using the palette knife.

Cornish seagull

I was recently asked to paint a portrait of a dog for a friend. I've always really enjoyed painting animals so welcomed the opportunity. Here is the finished painting of Monty below. Next I will have to paint our own dog, Phoebe. She looks much more like a poodle now she's had her puppy fur cut off.

Monty, 2016
Finally, if, like me, you are interested in the work of Lucian Freud then check out this link The page provides visitors with Freud's biography, over 50 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Freud exhibition listings.

So, until my next blog, just keep swimming. Or I suppose I should really say, just keep painting.


Sunday, 17 April 2016

How now brown cow

Ever since I painted some cows in Beaminster, Dorset, I have been itching to do another, so when a friend gave me a photo of a field of brown and white cows (the breed is Hereford I think, but I'm no expert) I couldn't resist the urge any longer. Here follows the process of painting that picture. Out of a field showing five cows I opted to close in on one pair – a cow and her calf. It also seems quite apt since we are now in the midst of spring, with life burgeoning in the countryside once more!

So here is how the painting went:

And the final version:

Brown cow and calf (30x40cm) by Karen Davies
Still on the subject of animals, but a bit closer to home, last week we introduced a puppy into our home. Phoebe, a nine week old poodle, has caused quite a stir with her sheer cuteness, and much to my relief, is sleeping through the night already. Many years ago, a friend commissioned a portrait of her toy poodle, Pouchi. I never imagined that one day I would own a poodle myself one day, and when she has grown a bit I am sure I will paint her picture too. We previously owned two rescue dogs, Charlie and Pebbles, who were great subject material for many paintings. Beloved pets often turn out to be inspiration for their artist owners – Lucian Freud and his whippets and David Hockney and his dachshunds, spring to mind. In fact, there is even a book of paintings and drawings just of Hockney's dogs, titled David Hockney's Dog Days. It's on my wish list of art books, that's for sure.

Here's the newest member of the household, Phoebe:

And here is the portrait of Pouchi the toy poodle:

I look forward to Phoebe dragging me out for some walks in the lovely Cookham countryside.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

A clear view

This is my third oil painting using a series of great photos of one seagull in St Ives, Cornwall, which were taken by a friend of mine who also happens to be a talented photographer. Below is the photo I based the painting on:

Photograph  by Lindsay Fitzpatrick

This time I was so keen to get on with the picture that I forgot to take a photo of the work to record its progress. That's why there is no sketch of the image in charcoal and the first stage we see already has quite a lot of the canvas covered. 

Canvas size is 23 x 30 cm

You can see how green the sea looks near the shore in the photo and it becomes darker blue towards the horizon. The colours I used for the sky are cerulean blue and flake white, and for the sea: Windsor emerald, phthalo turquoise and French ultramarine. In previous paintings of this scene I added some clouds, but this time I resisted the temptation; I think the pure round white head of the gull intersecting with the cloudless blue sky works well.

'Seagull looking out to sea'

This time I struggled with the bird's feathers and I still wasn't happy with the picture.

More work done to the tail feathers and sea

I deepened the shadow for the seagull and carried on working on the feathers until I felt I was going round in circles with them. Something was still jarring with the picture and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. But then, while writing this blog, I realised what the problem was. You see, it became obvious to me when comparing these pics with the original photo at the top that I have made the seagull's legs too short. Right at the start I got the scale of the body and head too big to comfortably fit the feet on the canvas. If I knew it was going to throw the painting off so much I would have started again. Lesson learned, I hope! So it is useful for me to blog about a painting. Not only does it hopefully inform or interest others, it can help me analyse where a painting might have gone awry.

Final version of 'Seagull looking out to sea' by Karen Davies

Oh well, I think the answer is to get myself a copy of 'Drawing Birds' (published with the RSPB in 1986 and revised in collaboration with Bill Oddie in 2004). This book was produced by the brilliant wildlife artist John Busby, who died aged 87 in June 2015. He was passionate about painting birds and was also an inspirational teacher. He was able to capture the essence of a bird's movement in just a few strokes of pencil and watercolour wash in the field and develop the rest of the painting back in the studio. See for yourself using this link:  I couldn't even capture a seagull standing still, so I have much to learn from the master!

Other arty news is that a new gallery dedicated to a French artist Irene Laksine has opened in the high street in Cookham. Her work seems to be mostly flamboyant, colourful abstracts and looks very interesting. I must check it out, although I think her silk scarves prints are a bit beyond my pocket!  C'est la vie.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Counting sheep

Happy Christmas, dear reader! A friend commissioned me to paint a landscape for her partner. It was  a Christmas present so I can only hope that it was well received – after all, art is subjective so it might not be to his taste at all. My brief was to use the photo (below) of somewhere in the Cotswolds, supplied by my friend, as a basis for the painting. Then, as Martin Gayford puts it in his introduction to A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney (2011), I set about doing what all artists attempt to do 'make the world around us seem more complex, interesting and enigmatic than it usually appears'.

My first thought was that the sheep looked rather lonely, so I sourced another one to give it some company. In the end I used one of the sheep in the foreground of a painting I admire very much, titled 'Strayed Sheep' by William Holman Hunt (1852). The posture of the animal added a bit of drama to the piece - in the original painting it is perched on a cliff edge, but for this painting I inserted a tree trunk in the bottom right hand corner of the canvas. I also decided to accentuate the undulations of the hills in the background.

Adding an extra sheep in bottom right
After blocking in the colours and main forms I set about adding more detail and layers paint. You may feel as though this is a bit like spot the difference, but the following pictures show the gradual development of the painting.

Adding branches and defining fields in the background

I added clouds to help the branches stand out more

More colour was added to the river and fields in the distance

More emphasis is given to the shadows made by the sheep

And here is the end result:

Sheep in the Cotswold (2015) (20" x 16") oil on canvas by Karen Davies

My next painting is of a couple of my chickens in the snow last winter, so I'll be back to show you how that turns out, and hopefully many more in 2016.


Gayford M (2011) A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney. Thames & Hudson, London.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Water, water everywhere...

Yes, there certainly is a lot of water here in Cookham and it's not advisable to drink it, because I am of course referring to flood water. Little did I know when I wrote my last blog about the flooding in the locality that it would happen again, and much worse this time. It has been the wettest winter for more than 100 years, according to the Met Office, and the Army was called in to defend the country from this 'unprecedented natural disaster'. Extraordinary times or perhaps not so if these weather patterns keep recurring.

The new waterways created by the swollen Thames kept the birds happy and I've seen plenty of seagulls. However none as well fed as the one in the painting I am blogging about. That's because it's from a photo of a seagull in Cornwall and it looks as though it has got away with a few tourists' fish 'n chips. I find them pretty scary actually. The painting is the second one I've done from a series of photos taken by my friend Lindsay FitzPatrick.

Here follows some pics showing how the painting progressed:

Seagull Mark II 

'Seagull Mark II' by Karen Davies
30cm x 30cm oil on canvas
For my next painting I plan to raid the fruit bowl to do a still life: I fancy painting something tangible rather resorting to photos for a change. In the meantime, let us hope for a dry spell.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

New Year, New Studio


Towards the end of 2013 things got rather hectic, owing to the upheaval of a house move. Relocating to nearby Cookham meant that I couldn't paint for a while, but I have managed to clear a space in a workshop behind the garage, which I am calling my studio. As you can see in the photo, it is not the most comfortable of spaces, but it has light and (some) heat, plus I have the guinea pigs, Comet and Rocket, for company.

The studio
The 'work in progress' for this eponymous blog is on the easel in the photo. Yes, it's another crab – the third painting I've done of this subject – but I don't have the other two in my possession anymore and I miss them and wanted another one. This latest one is painted on board, not canvas, and is just 19.5cm x 30cm:

Crab and shrimp II (oil on board) by Karen Davies

Many more people will have heard of Cookham now, because the village flooded last week and it even made the front page of The Times on Friday. An ariel shot showed the gardens of properties along the Thames and the surrounding fields submerged in river water. It's awful for the homeowners who have been affected, but the bird life are probably enjoying it. This is how the moor leading up to the high street looked this afternoon. The road connecting the other part of the village is still impassable.

Floods at Cookham moor, 2014

All this has come about because of the increasingly extreme weather patterns this country now experiences. Apparently, one month's worth of rain fell over the Maidenhead area in just one week. I wonder what Stanley Spencer would have made of his beloved Cookham being submerged. Pretty shocked, I suppose, but I reckon he'd be out there working away at his easel.

As it is my first blog for a while, and the first of 2014, I am offering a FREE giclee print of 'Three Mackerel on a Plate' to the first person to email me, via my website, to express his or her interest in it. I will print the winner's name in my next blog. The unframed print is 30cm x 25cm plus border, and is signed. It looks like this:

Three Mackerel on a Plate

Until next time, good-bye and good luck.


Monday, 27 May 2013

Hive of industry

From the title of this post you might think that I've been busy painting, but no, I haven't been particularly prolific. I'm really referring to the bees that nest in the roof space of my shed/studio every spring/summer. Each year I think they won't be back, and then around May it is rather disconcerting to hear them buzzing away just inches away above my head, just the other side of the tongue-and-groove pine panels. 

Their presence used to put me on edge so much that I found it difficult to concentrate on painting, and I didn't dare play any music in case the vibrations sent them into attack mode – or they're not fond of the Pet Shop Boys. But some research on the matter allayed my worst fears, because apparently they won't attack unless they think their nest is in real danger – and I don't plan on opening the loft hatch and prodding it with a stick. Anyway, as the bee population is under threat I am glad to offer a home to one swarm; it's the least I can do. 

Right, I've waxed on about bees for long enough; this is supposed to be a painting blog. Someone saw the 'Cows in Dorset' greeting card and commissioned a smaller version of the painting. I don't normally paint the same painting again, but I enjoyed painting the first one so much that I was only too pleased to create another version. So here it is, pretty similar to the original, and smaller. And the recipient seemed happy with the result, which is always a relief.

Cows in Dorset, Mark II. April 2013
Oil on board (25x40cm)
Copyright Karen Davies

Next, my then colleague (she has now retired), Lindsay FitzPatrick, showed my some fantastic close-up shots of a seagull she had taken while on holiday in Cornwall. She gave me a selection of them and suggested they'd make a good painting, so I gave it a go. Here's the work as it progressed.

charcoal sketch
block in main colours of sea and harbour
Start adding in more detail with smaller brush 
Seagull in Cornwall, May 2013
Oil on board. (30x20cm)

So, thank you Lindsay for giving me the photo: I won't show the photo because a) it's not mine to publish and b) you'll see that the painting doesn't do it justice. Ha!

What else is new in my studio? Well, I thought a new palette would inspire me, so after years of using disposable palette pads, I treated myself to a transparent perspex one. Here I am putting it to use for the first time:

My new see-through palette

Yes, I know, I could easily have gone into hand modelling. 

It was lovely to witness the splendid old magnolia tree that Stanley Spencer once painted at the Odney Club in Cookham, Berkshire. This beautiful property and grounds are owned by John Lewis and they open up the gardens once a year to the public. They also have a sculpture trail there too, with a wide range of pieces for sale. It's well worth a visit. And here is a picture of the magnolia tree:

Magnolia tree at Odney Club, Cookham.
Finally, good luck to everyone taking part in Art on the Street in Maidenhead on Saturday, 8th June. This event just gets bigger and bigger every year.