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Miss Emily; a portrait of Emily Dickinson

I recently read Nuala O’Connor’s intriguing book about the American poet Emily Dickinson, which was given to me by a close friend. The novel blends fact and fiction creating a meticulously detailed description of 19th century Amherst.




The story line follows a fictitious young Irish girl who sets out across the Atlantic and gains employment as the (real) Dickinson family’s maid. The plot interweaves the lives and relationship between Ada, the maid, and Emily, poet and daughter of the family. Although the action in the story also concerns the lives of men, I particularly enjoyed this book for the way it focused on the inner thoughts of the two main female characters and the narrative alternates between the perspectives of the two women.


“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Emily Dickinson


Emily Dickinson. Daguerreotype. Ca. 1847.


Dickinson was one of the first subjects I chose when I began making a series of historical women’s portraits. Above is a daguerreotype of Emily and below is the portrait I made based on it (watercolour & collaged ball point drawing).


Emily Dickinson


I love this quote from Emily’s niece about her aunt:  ‘She was not daily bread, she was stardust.’, The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. She was indeed a  remarkable woman.

Here is a link to the book, if you would like to find out more:     

Miss Emily  by Nuala O’Connor

Watercolour demonstration at Hobbycraft

I have been demonstrating with watercolour today at my local Hobbycraft store in Cheltenham.

IMG_20131207_124633The photo above is of the demo table set up with a display of my work. I took a mixture of things along, hoping that there would be something to appeal to everyone. My intention was to inspire people to see the versatility that can be achieved with watercolour.


The two sunsets at the front of the photo are the paintings I was working on, along with the iris painting in the centre by the colour chart. Many thanks to all the friendly people who stopped by to say hello!   I’ll post the finished work as soon as it’s completed……..


Garden watercolour warm-up sketch

The UK has waited so long for the spring to arrive & now it has it’s almost time for summer. I wait every year for these magnificent irises to open, checking their progress every day. Now they’re open & displaying their splendour in the sunlight!

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There are two types of bearded iris in the garden, but these blue ones are always the first to flower.

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Here is my work station set up. I now just have to avoid getting grass clippings mixed in with the paints – not a good effect!

Irises 052I first used a water soluble fine liner to mark out my drawing – trying to keep the marks loose & fluid. A little oil pastel resist was added for the stamens. Then I began to soften the lines of the drawing using plain water & very dilute paint.

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Finally, I got to my favourite part – the soft, overblown flowers themselves. I just feel that watercolour is so sympathetic to this subject – the way the colours run & bleed into one another perfectly reflecting the soft blousiness of the blooms.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like:

Iris & transience

Summer Poppies

Plants on the balcony

Edge of the Cotswolds

Japanese Woodblock

One of the things that I love about attending workshops is not only learning something new, but also the experience of being a student. In my working life I am always the tutor & it is so refreshing….& yes, liberating to arrive & not be concerned about the organisation & running of  the class. I love the excitement & slight apprehension of learning something completely new.

I recently attended a two day workshop held at the Gloucestershire Print Co-operative, Stroud. It was an introduction to Japanese woodblock printmaking taught by the lovely  Laura Boswell. I knew very little about this printmaking process, but have admired Laura’s work for some time now.

The complete image is first drawn out & then broken down into the separate blocks that will be cut. This is then transferred to the plyboard & the area not required is cut away using traditional Japanese tools.

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My image was made of 4 blocks that would be printed one over the other to create the final design.

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I became totally absorbed in the cutting process &, after 3 hours cutting in class, even took my blocks home to finish off that evening (a further hour & a half!)

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I was anxious that my blocks should be ready for me to commence printing at the outset of the second day. I was very surprised to discover that the Japanese woodblock method does not use conventional ink. The ink is made using watercolour paint & rice paste meaning that rather than having to buy commercial pre-formulated inks, the artist can easily mix ‘ink’ in any colour they wish to use!

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I am extremely excited to have found a process that combines my twin passions of printing & watercolour so perfectly!

Here are two of the proofs I produced in the workshop……

printworkshop 021printworkshop 022 & now on to the serious business of printing on good paper! Bliss!

French Sunshine & Pears

I have been lucky enough to be in Cannes in the south of France for the past week or so & it has been wonderful to escape the current freezing conditions in the UK. It was only when I began to physically relax in the relative warmth that I noticed how much my body had been tensed up, bracing itself against the extreme British chill. The French have all been complaining about the unseasonable weather, but for us Brits, it is so wonderful to go outside without a coat & one morning we even had breakfast out on the balcony!

CannesPhone 043My intention was to produce one small, quick drawing or watercolour sketch each morning before breakfast. I love the lines of this chair, the curves & reflection of light in the edge of the table.

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I really enjoy drawing using ball pen & it is a medium that is almost always readily available.

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I chose to draw the pears using one continuous line. This is a great technique & I love the effect that is achieved. It also enables you to spend more time looking at the subject & less looking at the drawing you are making.  This means that the brain has more information & a greater understanding of the composition before the hand transfers the marks to the paper.

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I then began to add colour, trying to depict the gold & russet of the pears. I loved they way the colours merged on the paper, creating new colours where the washes overlapped.

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Here is the finished sketch & over all, I was quite pleased with the effect – not a bad effort for before breakfast!

Isadora Duncan – completed

Here is the finished portrait of Isadora Duncan.


The dress is made of recycled tissue- I think it came from a shoe box. I’m not quite happy with this portrait, so I’ll probably take what I learned from this one & have another go at it. Something very strange happened with this picture, a couple of people commented that it looks like my mother when she was young. Now that this has been pointed out to me, I can see the resemblance, but wasn’t aware when I was making it………

You can read the first two posts about how I made this portrait by clicking here & here.

Other portraits in the series can be viewed by clicking here.

Edge of the Cotswolds

From the window of my studio, I can just see the first ridge of the Cotswold hills on the horizon. Here is a video of me trying to capture the beauty of the morning skyline:

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After the watercolour I used Derwent Inktense blocks to draw back in & add some texture to the landscape.


P.S. This is the first time I’ve added a soundtrack onto a video. The music is ‘Punchbag’ by The Bees (apparently they make this music in a garden shed in Brighton!) The full version is here.

Also, if you’re interested to look at the Inktense blocks, you can see them here.

Isadora in progress

I have now begun a larger version of the provisional sketch I made last week. I’m enthusiastic about the qualities that using recycled paper can bring to a piece. As the portraits I make are based on early photographs that are now fairly ancient & weathered paper & card  themselves, this use of paper that has a previous life feels like a perfect match.

This is the first stage of this piece. I now need to leave it in a place in the studio where I will see it when I am not expecting it. I find that this process of allowing work in progress to catch me unawares helps me to see work objectively & decide what needs to happen next. I find that this is a really helpful technique, particularly if I feel I am losing my way with a particular piece.

Have you tried this technique? I’d also be very interested to hear of any others that work for you.

You can read about how I started this portrait by clicking here & view the finished painting here.

Buddha and red wine

I have recently returned from a week in the south of France. I was struck by the intensity of the light there, compared to February in the UK.

I was interested to depict the different aspects of this composition; the wine glass on the table, the light bulb and other reflections seen on the table’s surface and the wrought iron base seen through the glass table top. It reminded me of ‘Three Worlds’by Max Escher.
I was also drawn to the curves of the table and chair back, and they way the shapes echoed each other.

The painting above was made relatively quickly, as I was drawn to the idea of just creating something and not overthinking it. I am quite pleased with the composition, but wasn’t sure if it had enough variation & needed some stronger colour. However, I now think that the subtlety of the colours suits the subject, creating a feeling of calm.

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