Viv often chooses to make watercolour studies ‘on the spot’ because
images can be created quite quickly and can catch much of the atmosphere
and colour of a fleeting moment. These watercolour studies are often
used to inform studio work, which might include oil and acrylic paintings
or larger watercolours.
Viv’s large watercolours usually develop ideas and themes that
draw from experiences and stories related to a particular place. An
example of this is the watercolour of the ‘Merry Maidens’,
a stone circle with a story. A group of maidens were forbidden to dance
on the sabbath but formed a circle and were turned to stone when they
danced. Viv did a pencil drawing in a large sketch book on the spot
and then worked on several images that linked the story with the stone
circle as you see it today. For example, there is an etching and also
an acrylic painting.
Etching Merry Maidens
Watercolour is quite a demanding medium to use because of the interplay
with water and the transparency of the paint. As its name suggests,
watercolour is soluble in water and the pigments are suspended in
gum Arabic and commercially available in small tubes or pans (small
blocks). People often think it is an easy medium because the use
of water, speed of drying and easily portable paints makes it seem
attractive. It is, however, one of the most difficult media to master.
Viv uses high quality artists colours, sable brushes and 100% cotton
fibre acid-free and chlorine-free paper to help to keep the paintings
bright, as most of the light in a watercolour comes from the paper.
The texture and finish of the paper also affects it’s absorbency
and the way it behaves in different degrees of humidity. High quality
colours, paper and brushes enable better control in handling the
paint and give the best light fastness possible for the life of the
Study for Ancient Stones
Study for Floating Island
Study for Bay Rocks
As these examples show, watercolour can be used to make quick sketches
but also to develop quite complex ideas.
Oil paint is Paul’s favourite medium. He was introduced to it by
his art teacher at school, at the age of 13, and it is still his first
choice. Oil paint is basically pigment mixed with linseed oil and dryers
and is commercially available in tubes, but, as with watercolour, you
can buy the pigments and mix your own if you wish. Oil paint is very
versatile and can be used thinned down in glazes, spread thickly with
brushes or palette knives or in thick swirls straight from the tube as
Van Gogh often did. As oil paint is relatively slow drying you can work
wet in wet for several days and if all goes wrong wipe off the offending
patch with a rag and rework it or start again. This freedom is great
for Paul because when he does larger studio works he usually does not
have a clear idea of how the finished paintings will look. Paintings
are for him a voyage of discovery, often going through radical change
as they develop. He values the versatility of the medium and its ability
to mix colours accurately but also achieve strong or subtle colour combinations.
Study for Red Rock
Paul often uses oil paint for ‘on the spot’ observed studies,
as in the study for ‘Study for Red Rock’, because he can
catch the range of colours more accurately than in other media, although
oil is not the most convenient medium to carry around. We might also
mention that wet oil paintings can get everywhere on their journey back
to the studio! Sometimes these ‘on the spot’ studies translate
into a larger and more complex studio painting in oils, as in ‘Red
Rock’. Studio work allows you to explore and develop ideas and
themes, whereas ‘on the spot’ studies are more about catching
the moment and the colours observed. Studio painting is usually more
We paint oils on stretched canvas, working on a fairly heavy primed
linen weave or a strong cotton canvas. We also sometimes use
canvas glued onto hardboard to make small easily portable boards for
Paul’s usual palette includes titanium white, yellow ochre, raw
sienna, burnt sienna, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, alizarin, viridian
green, ultramarine blue and ceruleum blue. He sometimes uses additional
colours for particular purposes but mixes a wide range of colours from
this basic palette.
Acrylic paints come in different grades, but we use artists colours which
are made from the same pigments as artists oil colours but are mixed
with an acrylic medium instead of oil. It is sometimes an advantage
that these paints dry much more quickly than oils, but that can also
be a hazard that needs to be managed.
Viv often chooses acrylic paints because she usually begins to lay
out a painting by marking particular points, junctions and focal areas.
The speed of drying allows her to work over this to build the image
fairly quickly. She used to find that acrylics sometimes failed to
have the depth and richness of colour that oil paints have, but with
modern acrylic paint there is very little difference in the final appearance.
We usually paint on linen or cotton canvas, primed with acrylic primer.
We both carry and use small sketchbooks on a regular basis. They
are a form of visual memory and are used to record ideas, make observations,
notes even shopping lists and are an important tool to help keep
our visual inquiry processes active and available. A small sketchbook
can be carried everywhere with you and can therefore both encourage
use and become an eclectic record of ones observations, thoughts
We find it interesting to look at the sketches and observed studies
of artists throughout history, from cave painting through the Renaissance
to the present day as there is so much in common with how we observe
and note immediate reactions to the world around us. The differences
in styles through the ages show much more in the studio work that artists
complete than in their initial sketches.
Viv has recently begun to keep a source book as a resource of ideas for a body of work around one particular project, subject or set of ideas. This is different from a sketchbook that might reflect things that have caught her attention on a day to day basis, because a source book is a place to collect the ideas together that might contribute to developing a body of work. For example, in developing the Blossom project, an initial source book was made very quickly, within a week, but followed by one that continued the thinking but was continually added to as the project developed over most of a year. She has several other source books that will become essential source books for other main project areas, for example, Ancient Stones and Shorelines.
Pages from the Blossom source book
We use larger sketchbooks or separate sheets of cartridge paper to
make longer and more detailed drawings that are usually careful observations ‘on
the spot’. These often inform development of paintings or may
be translated into etchings, dry points or relief prints.
We both use a wide variety of drawing media which are sometimes
determined by choice and sometimes by what we have available at the
time. Paul’s favourite is a 2b to 4b graphite stick which is
hard enough to give a black fine line, soft enough to do soft rangy
lines and does not have to be sharpened too often. Viv prefers 4b
to 6b for their broad expressive range. We both use fine roller ball
pens which are ideal for drawing in galleries, on trains etc., and
we like using ink with glass pens (but this can be really messy!).
We sometimes use coloured pencils to catch colour notes quickly.
Oil Pastel study of Stones
As an alternative to oil paint Paul often uses Sennelier oil pastels
for working outside. They are soft and versatile and come in very
strong colours so allow for the speedy creation of bold images. Their
only drawback is that they get all over your hands and you tend to
end up with an immoveable green stain under your finger nails!
Many artists make prints by hand, enjoying the visual possibilities
of printmaking and also the potential to make small editions. We
use a number of different printmaking techniques, particularly etching,
drypoint and relief printing, each of which has its particular characteristics.
These are not reproductions, which are mechanical copies of an artwork.
Artists who are also printmakers conceive and develop an image as
a print because the medium enables the idea to be expressed in that
particular way. Sometimes an idea that is developed into an etching
or a relief print might also be developed as a painting – but
these images have very different characteristics and each is suited
to its medium.
Etching is a traditional process which until very recently was unchanged
since Rembrandt did it in the 1600’s. The artist first coats
a copper or steel plate with a wax resist. He or she then draws their
required image through the wax with a sharp point to expose the metal.
The back of the plate is sealed with varnish and the whole plate
submerged into a vat of strong acid such as Nitric. The acid bites
the exposed lines on the plate and the longer the plate is in the
acid the deeper the lines will be bitten and the darker the grooves
will print. To get lines of different thickness or density fine lines
are stopped out with vanish early in the biting process. The plate
is finally taken from the acid bath and thoroughly cleaned. Ink is
then dabbed into the bitten lines on the plate and the surface of
the plate wiped clear with scrim, newsprint and the palm of your
hand. Finally the plate is placed on the etching press bed, a sheet
of damp paper is positioned on it, felt blankets placed on that then
the plate is passed through the press under great pressure and the
image is both transferred and embossed onto the paper and a print
Viv learnt to etch at college in the 1960s and revived her interest
in it in the 1980s. She uses mainly copper plate but sometimes zinc
and still uses nitric acid although she’s now much more aware
of the health risks in some of the traditional etching techniques
and has replaced some of the traditional materials with safer products.
A copper plate may make as many as 200 prints before it wears but
the actual inking, cleaning and embossing process takes place for
every print – they are all individually hand made and vary
slightly in the process.
Viv mostly uses copper sulphate now to bite zinc plate – not only is the bath a beautiful colour but it is much safer to use and makes a clean, sharp bite.
Zinc plate biting in copper sulphate bath
For drypoint you draw directly onto a copper or zinc plate with
a steel or diamond point to create a groove and slight burr that
holds the ink. This is punishing on the drawing hand but the effects
are very immediate. The plate is then printed in the same way as
an etching but you only get 10 to 20 prints off the plate as the
grooves are not as deep as with the acid bite and the burr is gradually
squashed under the huge pressures of the press. Again, each print
is slightly different and sometimes the later ones in an edition
can be a little paler.
Suk, Luxor Dry Point
Sky, sea and sand Dry Point
Many people are familiar with relief printing from making lino prints
at school. Artists still use lino for relief printing, but also use
a variety of other materials with a similar texture. A printing block
is made by cutting into the flat surface with tools like woodcutting
tools and sometimes by using other materials to change the texture
of the original flat surface. The print is made by rolling ink onto
the block – this means that the inked surface is only that
left as the highest level of the block – and then a sheet of
paper is placed on the block (or the block is placed face down on
the paper) and pressure is applied to transfer the ink onto the surface
of the paper.
Relief prints can be much more complicated. To print in more than
one colour requires several blocks that have to be carefully keyed
to work together, or the more hazardous approach of making several
stages of the print from the one block, gradually reducing the area
of the surface that prints.
Viv has made several lino prints recently,
using high quality inks and paper, and usually using a wooden spoon
to apply pressure to make the print rather than using a press. She
likes to feel the development of the image and sometimes to modify
the pressure applied. She also sometimes applies hand colouring to
areas of a print. Viv uses Japanese plywood to make woodcuts, but also uses vinyl and rubber when she needs the block to be more flexible.
Sometimes the printing surface is built up like a collage, using cardboard,
metals fabrics and other materials. This approach can add texture to
the image and enables inks to be applied to more areas of the relief.
This is printed like a relief print and is called a collagraph.
Poppy Hill Print (collagraph)
Viv first made screenprints in the 1960s when the inks and cleaning fluids were rather dangerous and nasty to use. Now we use water-soluble inks and cleaning fluids, so it is a much more pleasant process. In screenprinting you make a stencil and push the ink through with a squeegee to make a print. The stencil is supported on a fine mesh screen which used to be made of silk (and the process was called silkscreen). Although prints can be made using a simple table-mounted frame, it is easier to use a vacuum bed that holds the paper firmly in place while the print is made. Viv belongs to Inkspot Press which is an open access workshop well equipped for screenprinting.
Screenprint on a vacuum bed
(image from Stefan Hoffman's collaborative project)
We both make sculpture sometimes. We usually make a small maquette
to work out an idea before making a larger version. The sculpture
illustrated is in plaster – the figure and the cockerel are
Viv’s and the flying horse is Paul’s. These maquettes
were built up directly in plaster. The head was modelled in clay
and cast into plaster and is one of Paul’s Beethoven series.
Viv has been using fragments of prints to build up larger work that often includes collage, drawing and painting and so is more rightly called mixed media. Traditionally the size of prints is limited by the size of a press, so use of prints to build up collaged work allows the development of pieces of any size and shape. Also, different types of printmaking allow print to be made on different media, for example, paper, canvas and wood. Viv has used mixed media techniques extensively in her Flower Power and Blossom series.
Flower Power Cluster (collaged screenprint on canvas with some added painting)
Vignettes (collaged relief print on paper, relief print on MDF board and paint)
Although most of our work is based on direct experience and studies
from observation, we have both studied history of art and have particular
favourites who have influenced our own work. We travel frequently,
both to find new inspiration and to visit exhibitions and art collections
all over the world. We have both been artist/educators for many years,
working with adult learners to develop creative practice in their different
Our own creative practice draws from this wide range of knowledge
and experience. A painting usually starts with an idea, often something
noticed as interesting or unusual. We will often make a number of
studies and maybe do some research to find out more. There is usually
a period of reflection before we start to paint – and we may
make more studies at this stage.
Once we’ve started on larger paintings there is typically a period
of intense work that may be followed, once again, by a long period
of reflection and sometimes many revisions until the image has developed.
We try to capture an idea, a feeling, the energy of the original idea – to
say something about what we’ve seen and experienced rather than
illustrating only how it looked.
We occasionally run workshops in our own studio space, either
tutoring these ourselves or with our guest tutors.
We also work with individuals to support them to develop their creative
If you would like further information, please contact
us to ask for details.