Macaroni penguins


Although I don’t normally do commissions, I have been commissioned to paint macaroni penguins for a corporate client as part of their art program. This is the composition sketch (only 13cm x 18cm) that was sent to them for approval. It was also useful for me to test out the idea and to see if the composition, colour and light work. I will now use it as the template for the studio painting. Watch this space to see the painting develop from scratch!

The final painting is to be completed on a fine grain Italian linen canvas, 28 inches x 40 inches.

Stage 1


I have coloured the primed canvas a mid-tone of pinky-red. Tiny patches of this colour will show through the finished painting and, I hope, will enhance the blue-green values of the painting by offering a colour contrast. This will not be immediately obvious to the eye but will have a subtle effect nonetheless. I have roughed in the structure and basic composition in thin oil paint. This will dry very quickly and tomorrow I will be able to add some thin colour.

Stage 2


I’ve added some local colour in very thin paint to get more of a feel of how the painting looks. I’ve also started adding some structure to the rocks, using reference photos taken from various locations (mainly South Georgia) to give me an idea of how these sorts of rocks are constructed. The actual forms I am developing are entirely made up but are informed by the reference I have gathered and are influenced by the movement I want to convey in the picture.

Stage 3


Having started by filling in the dark areas of rock I’m now adding highlights in various shades of blue-grey to indicate the wetness of the rocks, which reflect blue from the sky.

Stage 4


That’s the whole painting roughed in, apart from the penguins, which I’ll add after I’ve painted the background wave.

Stage 5


Having painted in the strip of sea behind the wave I’ve started working up the wave itself. After spending many hours watching waves coming in to the shore I have a good understanding of how they are structured and why they look the way they do. The wave I am painting is ‘made up’ but based on this underlying knowledge.

Stage 6


I’m working my way along the wave, building up the form. The exact nature of it is made up from my knowledge and observations of how breaking waves appear and why.

Stage 7


I’ve completed the breaking wave and am now painting in the water in front of it.

Stage 8


I’m gradually working my way down through the foreground sea. This area is in shadow from an unseen cliff to the left. I wanted the foreground to be darker to contrast with and add impact to the sunlit breaking wave behind.

Stage 9


Having finished the sea I’ve started sketching in the penguins, working out where they should go and playing around with different poses and attitudes. When this is done I’ll paint the rocks to a finished stage, working around the birds.

Stage 10


The rocks are now finished so the last stage is to work up the birds. The right-hand penguin is partly done but the first three are finished.

Finished painting


That’s it! This painting will be ‘un-veiled’ in its new home at the offices of a company in London next month.

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Floating Reed Stems

Stage 1

This will be an oil painting. Having stained the board with a light wash of burnt sienna I have roughly drawn in the basic composition in thin paint diluted with turps. This dries very quickly so I can then start painting over the top the next day.

I’ve already started putting in the dark spaces of clear water between the criss-cross pattern of floating reed stems at the bottom of the picture. This helps both to establish the darkest tones of the painting and to roughly map out the patterns of dead reeds.

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The Moultings

Stage 1

This is the first stage of a new oil painting of elephant seals and king penguins at Diaz cove on the south shore of South Georgia. They are all undergoing moult – the seals are shedding old fur and the penguins, many of them immature birds, are picking out the last vestiges of their old plumage.

Size: 28″ x 40″
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Elephants and Kings

Stage 1

This is the first stage of a new oil painting – king penguins and elephant seals sitting out a sand storm on the beach. I’ve drawn in the figures in thin oil paint. I use paint rather than pencil or charcoal because it’s easy to wipe out without making a mess.

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Nordenskjold Glacier

Starting the painting

This is the starting point of a new painting – a large oil on canvas (1.5m x 1.3m) of a glacier-front in Cumberland Bay East, in the general area of the harbour of Grytviken. There will be a couple of king penguins swimming in the foreground.

I stained the canvas some days ago to give me a light mid-tone background and, with that now dry, I have begun the painting by marking in the ‘horizon’, i.e. the bottom of the glacier where it meets the sea.

Stage 2

I’ve blocked in the basic areas of the scene in very diluted, thin oil paint using a decorating brush and a large, flat hog’s hair brush. This is basically a tonal underpainting; it gives me the basic format of the picture in a very short space of time. I can see whether or not I like the horizon position, which could be changed quickly and easily at this point if I wanted.

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Wandering Albatross

Just in the last half an hour I have started blocking in the composition. I painted a small acrylic rough version (to the right of the easel in this view) as a template because this picture is a distillation of a number of different experiences, including the very sobering one of sailing through the centre of a hurricane during the small hours of the morning!

This oil painting will, if everything goes according to plan, be auctioned to raise funds for the RSPB’s ‘Save the Albatross’ campaign.

Early stage

In thin oil paint I’m roughing in the wave forms and playing around with the position of the albatross.

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Gentoo and Bergy Bits


Stage 1

This is the first stage of a painting from my trip to South Georgia. A gentoo penguin waddling up the beach amongst the ice flotsam which has been washed ashore from a glacier. This will be an oil painting measuring 24″ x 30″.

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Barnacle Geese

Stage 1

This will be an acrylic painting of part of a flock of barnacle geese coming in to land in a field on the Inner Hebridean island of Islay. On a tinted background I have started to rough in a few bird shapes and have indicated where certain horizontal elements of the background will be positioned.

I always draw directly with the paint – it is so much quicker and freer and it allows one to rapidly block in areas of tone. It is also easier to wipe off than it is to rub out pencil lines.

Stage 2

The geese are taken from sketches made on Islay and from watching slowed down video footage which enabled me to really see what was going on with those wings! I’m starting to get more of a feel for how the painting might look at this very early stage.

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Black-headed Gull

Stage 1

This is the start of a large oil, 34″ square, of a black-headed gull on the expanse of rippled sand between Lindisfarne and the Northumberland mainland at low tide. To get to this stage took only a couple of days. Having roughly marked out where the sand ripples were to go I filled in the water inbetween, giving an indication of clouds reflected in the water at the top. All this has been done in thinned down paint. I’ve also started roughing in the gull.
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Stage 1

This will be an oil painting 48″ x 24″ and on day one I have roughed out the composition in thin oil paint. I will let this dry for a few days before working on it again.

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