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Garden Fairies and Friends : British Bird Art

Whimsical watercolour paintings of birds...

Watercolour ink illustration of a garden bluetit.

Birds are a common sight in the wildlife garden - bluetits are frequently seen around the bird-feeders, especially when they are filled with energy-rich peanuts (as bluetits enjoy eating peanuts a great deal).

The bluetits spread joy as they flutter about between the trees...they can make quite a racket when two or three get together and join in the game.

They have strong personalities for such little birds - and think nothing of swooping down to grab a nut or seed that someone else has set their mind on!

Such whimsical watercolour illustrations, as this watercolour and ink painting, are an imaginative extension to the observations and studies needed for realistic, traditional wildlife watercolours.  They also dip into to Nature's mysterious world from a human perspective; it's very difficult to watch a bird in the garden and not imagine what it might get up to in its private world…

Crocus Flower in Watercolour and Ink

Art Blog Calendar : Crocus Flower.

Another botanical study in watercolour, with ink added - this crocus was wide awake! It was another one found that was found trampled in the garden - no doubt something to do with the wildlife and pets who charge around outside. As it was so fully open, it wasn't going to last very long once broken, and so painting had to be done fairly swiftly.

This illustration was painted on smooth Bristol board paper, which is not such good paper for applying watercolour washes but is good for neat edges (if a paintbrush with a sharp point/edge is used). It is super paper for ink!

The Winsor and Newton paint was applied dry using as little water as possible, to help prevent the paper from buckling. 

Very smooth watercolour art paper can be stretched prior to painting to help prevent it from buckling - but on those days when the artist just wants to paint (as is often the case...but,especially with the time constraints of a fading flower), then the quickest w…

Crocus Bud in Watercolour and Ink

Botanical Study of a snowdrop in watercolour - garden painting calendar : February.

The crocuses are starting to make an appearance - randomly peeping through the grass around garden - they have naturalised and bring little buds of colour to an otherwise earthy, green outdoor space.

This little botanical painting of a single crocus, just starting to come out of its bud, focused attention on the silvery stem and undersides of the petals, which often go unnoticed against the more vivid colours of the flower.

It was painted on bristol board paper using Winsor and Newton paints and ink - it was quite lightweight paper, so wasn't the most suitable art paper for a watercolour painting, as it didn't allow for any mistakes and very little water could be applied before the paper buckled.

But then, this paper was the first one out of the drawer - it was only selected to quickly capture the little flower that had been broken and wouldn't last long before wilting into a soft heap.


Gardening in February

The kitchen garden in February!

There is still a good chance of rain, wind, sleet, snow and ice this month! Go easy in the garden, with a few gentle garden tasks on brighter days, to ease back into the outdoor life!

A kitchen garden does need a little attention and planning, now and then, though. Even a virtually neglected vegetable garden will produce some home-grown edible greens, a few tomatoes and a handful of other simple fruit and vegetables for harvesting over spring, summer and autumn - with a little help.

There are many options from the gardening calendar to keep the gardener busy! February can be a wonderful mix of ideas and light work (or heavy labour) – with an abundance of garden jobs to be found on any garden calendar.

To get started, this month, here are a few jobs for the kitchen garden that can be done on an as-and-when basis during February.

Prepare the soil.
Edible vegetables will be as good as the soil they grow in!

Get the potatoes ready.
Whether or not you chit you…

Wildlife Garden in January

The wildlife garden in January.

It’s hard to imagine the discomfort experienced by wildlife and birds trying to survive on what’s left over in the garden after a long, hot summer, followed by a long, cold winter.

Even with the good fortune of fairly mild weather – there may not be much food around for hungry mouths. With nesting season only a couple of months away, now is a good time to feed high-energy, fatty foods for birds to help them last the cold season and build their strength for Spring. Other animals that come out of hiding on milder days, looking for an energy boost to help them survive the cold nights, would benefit from a few morsels left out. Many urban and semi-rural gardens are homes to hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, birds, squirrels plus a host of smaller mammals and mini-beasts.

Gardens close to specific wildlife habitats, such as woodland, might be visited by other wildlife, like deer, if the garden is accessible. All garden wildlife needs water to drink – keeping bowls…

Snowdrop in Watercolour and Ink

Watercolour Snowdrop : Art for January

This is a quick study of a snowdrop in watercolour - a fun way to get to know the plant in preparation of gathering information for a watercolour and ink botanical flower painting.

It was painted on hot-pressed watercolour paper using Winsor and Newton paints.

Quickly done, the detailed study of the snowdrop was a useful way to start understanding the form of this pretty January flower. Having taken a close look at the flower, this watercolour painting could then be turned into a more playful flower painting - the ink was added for fun.

...And so was the bottle, which was one of a collection of old bottles collected on riverside and countryside rambles, many years ago. The snowdrop was only the length of a small mobile phone - so that bottle is tiny but seemed perfect for holding this little specimen.

Overall, this was a simple watercolour and ink sketch of the snowdrop. It was painted last year and it has been a long wait for another snowdrop t…

Gardening in January

Kitchen garden blog : simple tasks for January.

Make the most of the kitchen garden – even in January!

The winter season’s inclement weather can be uninviting to even the most ardent garden enthusiast.

Plans to go outside and tackle the soggy or solid soil might fizzle out within a few weeks of the New Year. Disappointment may set in as enthusiasm to get gardening is thwarted by frozen grounds and icy fingers. January might be seen as a wasted month in the gardening calendar.

Yet isn’t necessary to be out in the garden every day, or even every week. There are many ways to remain engaged in the kitchen garden and help it to get growing, without having to brace the elements or battle against an over-ambitious ‘to-do’ list.

Armchair gardening

The January Garden can be harnessed positively, even from indoors(!) – make the most of it as a time to: read through gardening books to broaden knowledge and gather new ideas, plan what to grow, and sketch up garden design plans.

Fair-weather gardening


Wildlife Art : Orangutan Painted in Pastel

Wildlife Art
Understanding the world through art : wildlife art.

So many layers went into this painting. It took six months, on and off.

The more this painting progressed, the greater the affinity I felt towards this species, as well as our own.

When I looked deeply into the orangutan's gentle, intelligent eyes, my concerns for their future extended to that of our own.

The orangutan is a species under serious threat of extinction over the next decade or so. Its rain forest habitat is being destroyed.

What hope is there for humankind who, despite having the power to protect, destroys entire species such as the orangutan - which, in recent studies, shares 97% of its DNA with humans.

'A troubled view', for humanity too - when destruction extends to our cousins.

Little Black Rabbit

Every garden should have its little black rabbit  - but they do come with a touch of mischief every bright bunny should.


 Now who is this knocking  At Cottontails door? Tap tappit! Tap tappit! She's heard it before.

And when she peeps out there is nobody there,  But a present of carrots  put down on the stair.

HARK! I hear it again!  Tap, tap tappit!  Tap tappit!  Why - I really believe it's a little black rabbit!
(Beatrix Potter)

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Pet Paintings and Poetry

Pangur Ban - the writer's cat.

This is the very first stage of a pet portrait painting of a cat in watercolour (from a while ago).

The basic image has been drawn onto watercolour paper to define key areas with an initial wash.

The cat has an ethereal look at the moment - but she will be black when finished!

In the meantime, though, this work in progress painting reminded me of one of my favourite 'cat' poems...written by an Irish monk during the ninth century, in which the work of a scholar and his pet cat are compared.

Pangur Ban

I and Pangur Ban, my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will;
He, too, plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry thing to see
At our task how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
Into the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought se…

Wildlife Sketching and Drawing of a Fox

Wildlife sketching and drawing.
There are many views on foxes - and rightly so, for there are many individual situations and perspectives to consider; here's one.

Wildlife in the Garden: 'Blossom' - by name and nature.
Sketching can extend an understanding of a subject, long after the encounter with wildlife has passed, or an observation has expired.

This quick, rough ink sketch reveals a connectivity between wildlife and human viewer (are we bridged by thoughts beyond the physical appearance?).

Her eyes often shifted between a fixed stare and a vacant gaze. She seemed to both fear and seek a little kindness each time she trotted up the garden to greet me (or perhaps she was after the food). The small vixen spent almost every hour of her last few months by the back door. She became a familiar face to the household pets who protected her by chasing away a couple of large dog foxes who often tried to steal her food. The cats worked together to provide a safe space for the vi…

Squirrel Painted in Stages in Pastels

Traditional wildlife painting with pastels.

A few notes on an instinctual approach to painting wildlife - where regret and doubt are managed through review and change, as part of the natural process of getting it right.

First, I set out and sketched the planned painting. That was just to get it moving - once I start using the pastels I don't necessarily keep to the original sketch, as paintings often seem to take on a life of their own at some point.

Next, I added a little general colour, here and there, to get a feel for the work ahead and an idea of the squirrel's form. Chalky, soft pastels shift each time they are blended, so they can continue to be mixed on the paper until the colour is right.

Then, some time was spent securing the main features, such as the eye and ear. Once I was happy with them, I filled out some of the squirrel's form overall - to anchor the body on the page.

The tail and face were the main areas I wanted to make to stand out from the painting. The…

Cat Portraits : Getting the Eyes Right

Pet Portraits.
How to achieve a realistic painting of a cat using watercolour.
Get the eyes right and the picture will follow; as the metaphor goes - the eyes are the windows to the soul.
We can judge an individual by looking into his or her eyes and can find a connection with a pet dog, cat or horse, and even wildlife, in a split second.
A viewer can also engage with a person or animal depicted in a painting; whether the piece of art or pet portrait is highly detailed and realistic or more loosely painted in an impressionistic style. If the eyes are believable - the viewer is more able to connect with a painting, to empathise and/or gain understanding.
An idea, moment or thought can be captured in the eyes of an animal, bird or human with careful use of brushes, pastels, ink and/or graphite/colour pencils.

Saving the best for last. Many portrait and wildlife artists prefer to leave painting or drawing the eyes until the very last moment – as if, by magic, adding the eyes will suddenly …

Creative Sketching

Sketching as a shared creative process.
Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” (Leonardo Da Vinci)

Both are a matter of lines - and it can be a fine line between poetry and art.

Here's a quick sketch of a shell, with a little colour - plus the last verse of a poem that was written, off the cuff, as a result of the sketch, about the art of sketching and the expression of writing. Their value goes beyond the paper record as a means of capturing the essence of life.


General Benefits of Sketching.
There are many benefits to be gained from sketching - more than just trying to get the pencil lines in the right places; if it were merely that, there would be (and often is) a great deal of disappointment associated with keeping a 'sketchbook'!

I cannot rest, I must draw, however poor the result, and when I have a bad time come over me it is a stronger desire than ever." (Beatrix Potter)

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The joy of sketching.

Fortunately, it is not necessarily the quality of the end-result that makes it worthwhile!

It can be quite therapeutic - perhaps a daily treat - to spend a few moments engrossed in a subject.

The end results of quick sketches can, by their nature, be rough - but they can also naturally record a variety of aspects on a subject that might otherwise be overlooked when the focus is on what needs to be done rather than just doing it.

When to sketch.

Sketching might become an enjoyable 'start' to the day or even…

Wildlife Art on Twitter

Watercolour Bird Painting : Green Parakeet

Bird watercolour paintings.
Painting animals and birds in detail can be intensive work due to the amount of focus required to, first, 'see' the detail and, then, 'capture' it, in the required medium. A short break from such work can be a useful way to restore energy and bring focus back to the right level of detail.

Different art styles - detailed to loose watercolours.
This loose watercolour painting of a green parakeet was done a couple of years ago following some traditional, detailed wildlife art. Alternating art styles can provide a rest from looking at wildlife in such a focused way whilst continuing with art and developing new ideas.

Unfortunately, this parakeet didn't return the following year for further studies...

...but the other morning, when the sky was grey and all other colours were muted into a motionless blank canvas - a parakeet visited the garden and perched in an apple tree for about an hour! There are mixed feelings about parakeets, a n…

Pet Portrait Boston Terrier in Pastel

Pastel Pet Portrait of a Boston Terrier.

The National Honey Show

The National Honey Show - 'the UK's premier honey show with international classes, lecture convention and workshops.'

'New this year: a display of wildlife and bee art by Claire Murthy Art Illustrations with mini demos and hands on activites for small groups of children (and big children). Visit Stand 54 for more information.'

SBBOT Wildlife and Bird Art Auction

Charity Art Auction

Online bidding ended on October 25th. The auction continued the next day at 7.30pm at St Mary's Church in Sandwich - it raised a fantastic £4000 !

Watercolour Painting of a Hen

Watercolour painting of a hen.
This watercolour painting of a chicken uses a splash of watercolour paint here and there to capture the lively spirit of a hen. Hens can be found in many places from farmyards to gardens and schools, even allotments and retirement homes!
Hens in the farmyard.
The traditional farmyard scene, with its colourful farm animals and birds, has been a popular subject in art for centuries. Whatever type of farm, a few chickens can usually be found strutting around the yard, barn or close to the farmhouse. 'Down on the farm' sketchbook studies, drawings and paintings of hens and cockerels in different styles and mediums can be used as reference material for farmyard compositions, such as the traditional hens in the barn popular art as depicted in watercolour and oil pastoral countryside scenes by 19th and 20th century fine artists.
Hens in schools.
Many schools take on the commitment of caring for small farmyard animals: they may keep hens, some keep pigs, a…

Botanical Watercolours for Wildlife : Ivy

Botanical leaf in watercolour : ivy.
Painting leaves can be a hurdle, not least because they can seem like a fairly dull subject to paint compared with the centre of focus in a wildlife painting – the beautiful wild animal or bird! Leaves may be added simply to finish a wildlife watercolour painting but without the same enthusiasm in the rest of the wildlife composition, the leaves may turn out to be a disappointment to the overall painting and even let the whole work of art down to render it a wasted effort.

Botanical watercolours for realistic wildlife paintings.
A botanical watercolour artist seeks to capture the tiny details that give leaves their individuality but if that isn’t your cup of tea, there are other ways to make sure the leaves are painted to as good a standard as possible. For a wildlife artist, knowing that the leaves form part of the natural world of shelter and food for the wildlife that lives in it can entirely change the approach to painting leaves; they are integ…

Watercolours from the Garden : Woodlouse and Ivy

Watercolour painting of a woodlouse.
Now is the season for spotting ivy carpeting the woodland or garden floors and wrapping itself around trees reaching down to the ends of their branches. Ivy is the Halloween plant, especially covered in frost, dew or spiders' webs, and autumn is the time to see it flowering and budding in time to offer its black berries to the birds over winter.

Painting British wildlife from the garden includes the mini-beasts (such as woodlice) that often go unnoticed as they scuttle beneath the leaves on the ground, scamper over moss-covered stones and burrow into decaying old logs. Bugs, beetles and other insects are particularly fond of rooting around old garden logs covered in ivy, such as those in a wild patch at the end of the garden.

This watercolour started off as a detailed painting of an ivy leaf - a well-known garden, hedgerow and woodland habitat for a large variety of insects - but didn't seem complete without the inclusion of this little bea…

British Wildlife Watercolours

British Wildlife Watercolours.
Watercolours to learn more about wildlife and nature.
It's easy to spot butterflies in the garden but not as easy to know what type of butterfly it is that was spotted.

Once the British summer weather starts cooling and the butterflies gradually fade along with the season's warmth, a return to the nature journals and sketchbooks from the warmer days can provide fresh insight for drawing, painting and writing about the wildlife in and around the garden, local woods, fields and other green spaces. More information about nature can be gained through studying, researching and reading books and wildlife magazines, online wildlife blogs and other notes by wildlife nature writers and illustrators. Viewing specimens and looking at paintings can also be very useful for detail observations.

This Meadow Brown butterfly might have been wrongly identified as a Gatekeeper butterfly. The latter is also known as the Hedge Brown and was once referred to as the …

Rose Hips Heart

Rose hips from the kitchen garden.
The native wild rose of the hedgerow is known by many names, most notably the dog rose (Rosa canina). Once autumn arrives, the orange and red hues of rose hips become more noticeable as the last rose petals drop and their leaves fade.

There are many uses of rose hips – not least they make for a beneficial natural food in the wildlife garden for birds, squirrels, deer, rabbits and mice. Even horses and ponies will contentedly munch on rose hips that grow around their fields.

Benefits of rose hips. But humans can make use of the benefits from rose hips too - all sorts of home remedies and herbal cures are believed possible, including bringing health to the heart.

Roses and rose hips are as much loved too for their beauty - so a rose hip heart sums up this favourite garden flower.
A handful of rose hips were gathered with the intention of making rose hip syrup to ward off winter colds but their striking colour and pleasing smooth shapes invited a few…

Wildlife Watercolours and Coloured Pencils

Wildlife Watercolours.
This watercolour painting of a snow leopard was an experiment which started out as a sketch based on some old photographs as reference material. Those old blurred photos might come in useful one day!

The wildlife reference photos lacked the detail required for a more realistic wildlife drawing but came in useful for a pencil sketch and watercolour composition.

Drawings of two snow leopards were done first and a scrubland background of milder alpine terrain was added. Watercolours were used to bring colour to the painting but didn't work out as planned as the scenery appeared too warm for a snow leopard, even during summer.

Artist's choice of paper.
As Arches watercolour hot pressed 300g is a tough paper, the green and brown watercolour background could be entirely scraped out with a craft knife, as could some of the colour from the snow leopard itself.

The distant rocky background was then painted, using watercolours, to replace the drier earth and shrub…

Watercolour Illustration of a Bat

Wildlife watercolour illustration of a bat.

This British wildlife watercolour painting of a brown, long-eared bat was painted a couple of years ago and was inspired by forthcoming Halloween art activities.

The bat was quickly painted in a loose watercolour style and was a fun way to experiment with watercolours without the time required for a more detailed painting. An unexpected visit by a bat this morning just before sunrise, in the garden, was a timely reminder of Halloween and reminded me of this little bat watercolour.

The art of watercolour painting can include elements of fantasy and easily lends itself to children's book illustrations.

Read more about British bats in the wildlife garden blog.

Bats in the Garden

Bats can be attracted to a wildlife garden.

Bats are nocturnal and associated with the night. 
A few years ago, a bat flew across the garden. It was twilight, when the September sky was still warm and the evening's silhouettes were starting to take shape. It took a while to recognise it as a bat - it was too fast to be a moth, too small to be a bird and too late in the year to be a May bug. There wasn't any other wildlife that seemed to fit the fleeting image of this nimble creature.

With no other explanation - it must have been a bat. Further attempts to spot another one over the remaining summer evenings were unfruitful. Although the local woods are home to bats, perhaps the bat in the garden was just passing by.

Bats in Kent.
Bats inhabit the local woods in this area of Kent, on the border of Surrey and London; there are several bat boxes strategically placed high up in trees at the nearby woods but there is something so wild and intangible about bats that it can be fee…

Starting a Kitchen Garden

First Steps to an Edible Garden. 
Check what is already growing!

Edible fruit, vegetables, nuts and flowers can sometimes be found already growing in a garden and knowing what is available to take back to the kitchen, before lifting the garden fork or spade, is a good place to start.

Rather than reinvent the wheel and dig unnecessarily - my manageable edible garden is going to have to grow and manage itself, to a certain extent.

Edible Nut Trees. 
Large hazel trees (locally known as cobnut trees) have been growing in the garden for several years but, more recently, new trees have appeared, some of which now bear fruit - or rather nuts.

Although this garden is semi-rural, with native Kentish cobnuts growing naturally in the local woods nearby, hazelnut trees (including Kent cobs and filberts) can be grown without much effort in almost any garden. They can reach quite a size (20ft x 15ft) but can be pruned to keep them small and manageable.

This small nut tree is one of three hazelnuts i…

Wildlife Drawing Classes

Wildlife Drawing Classes
Wildlife art classes in drawing wildlife.
There is more to be gained from drawing British wildlife than drawing and sketching alone – with wildlife art classes, there can be enjoyment in discovering about some of Britain’s favourite animals and birds in the company of other artists and nature enthusiasts, through drawing wildlife classes which bring together like-minded individuals in a pleasant setting.

Drawing animals and birds from life is an excellent way to engage with the natural world around us. An understanding of wildlife anatomy, behaviour and environment, through observations and sketches, can help build the skills and knowledge necessary for more detailed graphite or coloured pencil drawings of British wildlife and birds.

Drawing class subjects include the familiar favourites such as: foxes, squirrels, hedgehogs, mice, deer and birds, plus some of the more elusive characters from the British countryside – badgers, otters, wildcats, newts, hawks and…

Wildlife Garden Frog

A Frog-Friendly British Wildlife Garden.
A wildish sort of wildlife garden will evolve naturally and successfully attract wildlife including birds, butterflies, bees and bugs - but a little garden pampering might help develop it further into an intentional space for wildlife, making it more aesthetically pleasing at the same time as increasing numbers of local woodland and countryside animals and birds visiting the garden.

Wildlife Homes
Wild, unmanaged garden spaces aren’t necessarily invasive blots on the gardener's landscape but some creatively inspired bug huts, butterfly houses, bird boxes and frog shelters can be a delightful addition – extending the fun and character of a natural wildlife patch.
In addition to the variety of British wildlife animals, birds, butterflies, bugs and bees that visit the garden – frogs, toads and newts aren't usually very far off.

Despite the garden lacking a pond – a chain of ponds in nearby gardens provide water habitats to attract such wi…

Wildlife Garden : Create a Small Wildlife Garden

Create a Wildlife Garden. Easy Wildlife Gardening. Wildlife gardening can involve as much or as little effort as the gardener allows.

Low-Maintenance Wildlife Garden. It can take weeks digging vegetable beds, months planning fruit and vegetable garden spaces and years generally labouring in the garden - out there at dawn and back out again at dusk, plus devoting any spare time in-between; creating a wildlife garden (or a kitchen garden, for that matter) can be a challenge.
Simple Gardening. The plans are (being a decade wiser) for a small wildlife garden (and a small kitchen garden), involving less gardening-effort - making adjustments to improve and nurture the natural environment and garden rather than going for a complete overhaul, as in the past – when the garden resembled an allotment.
Effective Gardening. A wildlife garden that fits in with the demands and pace other work and commitments – but one which attracts a host of benefits for the garden inhabitants: safe places to live, …

Kitchen Garden Blog : Lavender Flowers

Plans for getting the kitchen garden growing again. Through a lack of general garden maintenance, something wonderful was emerging...

Much of the garden had become a natural wildlife habitat, attracting foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, squirrels, toads, newts, frogs, slow worms, birds, butterflies, bees and bugs.
As the garden lingered in its state of in-betweens - seemingly lifeless and lacking energy - weeds had grown up around fruit trees and wildflowers replaced the garden blooms; even a couple of leeks appeared amidst the wild grasses and a few determined nasturtium draped themselves over a broken flowerpot or other small structure left lying around the garden. The garden was thriving as a wild, wildlife garden!

A kitchen garden and a wildlife garden.
With thoughts on developing the wildlife garden further, it seemed there was no room for a kitchen garden, no matter how small – and so the garden was dedicated to wildness and wildlife.

One plant from the old kitchen garden, that stood …

Watercolours of British Wildlife - Whimsical Red Squirrel

Watercolour Paintings of British Wildlife : Red Squirrel.

This watercolour painting of one of the most loved of our native British wildlife woodland animals, the red squirrel, was painted immediately following a very detailed and realistic wildlife painting. 
Painting the detail.
A change is as good as a rest, so it goes, and it was a joy to apply watercolour so freely, having been so precise for many hours, painting intricate details to create a realistic British wildlife watercolour traditional painting.
This was one of the first whimsical watercolours from a couple of years ago; after the more detailed work, it seemed trivial to paint such light-hearted wildlife – but it soon became a natural extension of the detailed work, alternating between the two extremes of artistic style, each informing the other.

In the Lake District, many years ago, the smallest red squirrel climbed down from an oak tree and paused briefly to look at me, from a few feet away. 
His tail then twitched as he …