Category Archives: art and related

the VW T1 Campervan, bus, variations on a split screen theme

I started a painting project last week, part of a project to make me more comfortable sketching things and making it easier to paint, called, rather unofficially, the vw campervan project. I have a sketch book and most days, I set aside half an hour to do a picture of a VW Campervan. I favour the T1 for some reason.

If you asked me what my favourite car was, I probably would never have answered VW Campervan. All my driving life I have driven Fiestas, for example.

But on the other hand I own one biscuit box and one moneybox and several keyrings which are basically T1s and while I don’t get the whole thing with the Beetles, I have to say somewhere buried under me is a liking for the T1. I think it’s a lifestyle thing with the whole VW campervan thing – they are closely aligned with an element of the surfing lifestyle.

So anyway, I decided to have a go at a campervan, and this was the first one.

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

This wa the first one. I have cheerfully called it Rust bucket because well, let’s face it, a rust bucket is what it is. The T1 is both easy and hard to paint at the same time. You can get a flattened impression of the camper quite easily and that V at the front along with the split screen is iconic. Most of the time though I get the impression that if I painted it as a Tube train, most people would get the impression I was painting Tube trains. The thought does occasionally occur to me. The few people who get to see these things on my Facebook, twitter or instagram feed have rather liked this one.

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

and later on this afternoon, I will be painting it for the third time following a family request. I don’t quite know why it appealed to people so much but apparently the cyclist…don’t you know?

Anyway, I do, as it happens, have a sketching blog which I am going to do something about using more often once I figure out a low hassle way of getting decent pictures of the vans onto flickr.

The thing is, the T1 especially, and the T2 (no split screen, no V) are rounded, shapely vans. My hope is that when I get to the end of the project in about 6 months time, that the vans I draw will be significantly less boxy.

In the meantime, I’m struggling to identify iconic cars from any later than about the 1980s.

Rainy Saturday

It’s been raining.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. My garden, such as it is, could do with it.


And I have been painting. Some lucky family members are going to get postcards in the future – dependent on when I have stamps sorted out.

Way back in the early days of my search for suitable paper, I picked up a set of watercolour postcards. I’ve played and failed with them over time. I wasn’t very good at painting, by which I mean, noticeably worse than I am now. But there were half a dozen postcards left and the only thing anyone gets in the post lately seems to be bills. Postcards were once a thing. Now it’s email and pinterest pins, and FaceBook posts.

What you see above is pretty much my painting painting kit (I have pencils as well, let’s not go there). The paintbox on the left, my mother bought for me. The one on the right I bought yesterday as a spill over. It came with 12 half pans of colour to, out of which I took 7 which I don’t use much, put in five commonly used colours as spares, and added a couple of new colours which I didn’t have a lot of success in mixing. The half pans are a mix of Cotman student half pans and two or three Winsor & Newton Artist Grade colour. I can’t get the Cotman half pans loose in Dublin (so far) and while I’m well aware that the W&N are technically “better”, I really can’t send too much money in their direction right now. But the blank spaces are for other colours I may feel the need to get in the future.

I like the little boxes because they are small and tidy – compared to my camera equipment, for example. I have looked at some of the enamel (otherwise known as “expensive” boxes) and while I strongly believe in getting the best tools you can go for, the truth is, I got into this whole thing not because I had visions of producing great art, but because the urban sketching movement appealed to me, the whole idea, I suppose not so much of location painting, because sometimes I just don’t have time and there’s a camera on my phone which I use to take snaps of things I may want to revisit with a sketchbook later, but recording the environment around me because it changes. Dublin has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Not doing the paintings on location, however, means that to some extent, a lot of my stuff can’t go on the urban sketcher feeds yet. However, for those days when I do hunker down and do some painting on location anywhere, I don’t want to be schlepping a whole art studio around. All that gear, excluding paper, fits into a pencil case.


The pictures aside, this is basically my art journal kit minus the paper. Two small paintboxes, a pencil, a fineliner, an eraser and a waterbrush. I have a set of actual brushes too, but one of the things that is handy about the waterbrush is that if I keep it filled, one thing I don’t need is a bottle of water. I had a vision of this all fitting into my handbag, which it did until I added the second paintbox (it doesn’t really matter that it doesn’t now because what also didn’t really fit was any thing like paper). I use Caran d’Ache water brushes, or that size in particular, because I like using them, they seem to survive longer than my Derwent ones and they behave better as well. I have one Pentel one as well. Like a lot of things in Ireland, the supply of some art materials can be difficult and the easiest water brushes to get now are Derwent ones; Easons had some yesterday and the Art and Hobby stores stock them as well. It was in an AnH store I got the Pentel one; it’s the only one I’ve ever seen here and therefore I’m somewhat sparing in my use of it. Kennedys have recently started stocking the Caran d’Ache ones so if you are in Dublin at least, that’s an option.

One of the things I have blogged about in some detail is the regrets I have about not keeping a travel art journal when I was travelling over the last 20 years. So when I sat down this evening, to the sound track of a fog horn (seriously), I sat down to paint places I have been. I’ve been to all three locations above. Two lighthouses, one in Ireland, and one in almost a direct line due south, in Spain. For people who know me, the lighthouses are probably not surprising. The other one is Sydney Opera House, and that’s round 4 of its sails in my life. They are getting better all the time. I do have the journal set aside to start revisiting places I have been and now I am starting to draw these places.


Another sketchbook tested and another sketchbook found wanting to my needs.

Note to self, so far, if I don’t want to pony up for the paying for the label lark that is Moleskine, some sort of reliable journal needs to be found.

Rare regrets

I told a man I used to work with a long time ago that I tried, as far as possible, not to have regrets about the decisions I made; that I tried to understand at the time why I made decisions I did. This doesn’t prevent regret of course, but it does provide understanding.

One of the things I did over the last 9 months was start drawing and sketching. I’m not entirely sure what enticed me to do it, apart from realising that a couple of my coloured pencils were watercolour pencils and that possibly, it might be within my scope to produce paintings without having some of the problems that I have painting. Drawing with pencils is somewhat easier to me. And I’d emphasise the “somewhat” there.

I’ve always taken photographs, and if you look to the right, you’ll see a selection of photographs I’ve taken over the last, I suppose, 10 years or so. One of the things I noticed over time is I was spending more time in system administration, taking photos off cameras, processing them, printing them, selecting them for print, for upload and a lot less time actually out taking photographs. Over time, I found that demoralising and started taking fewer and fewer photographs with my large photographic equipment.

Along the journey of looking at painting and watercolours – which you wind up doing if you’re interested in watercolour pencils because there tends not to be much useful about watercolour pencils – I came across travel journals. Beautifully illustrated watercolour travel journals which capture the essence of place; very often with a commentary. I’ve kept a personal journal for more than 20 years now and here and there, I’d have liked to be able to put drawings into them. I just never felt able to. I was never good at art, to be honest. I’ve written pieces about that before so I won’t go off on too much of a tangent on that front. Only that, I learned at a very early age that art was a talent and either you have it or you don’t. I’ve learned that this is a lie. In much the same way as either you’re good at maths, or you’re not, or you’re good at languages or you’re not. Somewhere along the line, art fell into the box of things I wasn’t good at. It’s not, I suppose, that it didn’t come easy to me, only that it didn’t really come easily to my teachers either. In truth, I should have known this is a lie. Most things depend more on effort than innate ability. Innate ability takes you nowhere if you don’t nurture it.

The problem for me, at this point in my life, is that I truly regret this. I’m not sure how to deal with it because in certain respects, it’s very easy to make a decision not to do something if, as a child, it’s been made clear to you that this is not where your talents lie. My talents actually lay everywhere else so no doubt, no one found it surprising that I wasn’t great at something and fortunately, that something wasn’t important.

At this point, I’d like to list all the places I’ve been.

  • Ireland
  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • England – Sheffield/Manchester/London
  • France – Brittany and Provence/Paris
  • Spain – Barcelona/Tarifa/
  • Germany
  • Brazil
  • Western Sahara
  • Australia Queensland/Sydney
  • US – New York
  • Italy – Venice/Como/Rome/Milan
  • Germany – Munich/Frankfurt/Hanover/Berlin/Alpen areas
  • Belgium – Brussels/Ypres
  • Portugal
  • Netherlands
  • Austria

Some people have been to a lot of other places too but I don’t think that’s a bad haul. And I have photographs from a lot of them. The thing is, the way I take photographs is different, now, to the way I draw. In an ideal world – and I never made a decision not to do it for the simple reason that it never even occurred to me it was possible – I would have a library of journals, not unlike the written journals I have, with pictures from these places. I was in Berlin in 1992, for example. That’s a very short time after the wall came down. I haven’t been back since and don’t even ask me where the photographs of that trip are.

I could colour my life with the regret of missing out on drawing what the Sahara desert looks like. Or missing the opportunity to draw Sydney Harbour Bridge (although I did actually climb it at the time). Or I could move forward with doing it in the future. I have an art journal here beside me; the first one, and it has been under production since end February I think. It’s coming to a close as I’ve almost filled it. I have another one of a similar size, although different paper, lined up.


This is an example of some sketches following a trip to Clonmacnoise, for example. I clearly have a lot to learn about what I am doing in terms of laying out these things, best tools and stuff. I haven’t really settled down on the best paper yet (this is an ongoing issue, sorry. I’ll shut up about it). And photographing them effectively.

But the point is, they open doors to a memory in an entirely different way to the way photographs do. So yes, I’m sorry I don’t have a collection of these from the last 20 years of travelling, to such an extent that I will probably put together a Memories of Travelling Journal based on whatever photographs I can find of these places. It’s cheating in a way. When I paint that coloured building in Nice, it won’t have been when I was there.

Mostly these days, I take reference pictures on my phone, unless I’ve time to sit down and sketch for a little while, in which case I’ll generally work off the sketch. Of course, 10 years ago, it would have been sketch or nothing.

I work in technology at the moment. I’ve a lot of opinions on that, not least the fact that nearly everyone I know who works in technology has a hobby that is about as artisan as they think they can get away with. Be it coffee, be it craft beer, be it wood turning, be it collecting old toys. I suspect that there is some deep rooted desire to do things a little less virtually. My guess is part of the painting came from how technologically driven photography became over time. I think that’s why I started looking at drawing.

I’ve learned a lot about art over the last 4 or 5 months; mostly that it offers serious options across the board in terms of techniques and tools. I always had a relatively narrow view of art, again, I suppose, linked to early schooling issues with paints. I now see that there are things I can do with coloured pencils which might never have occurred to me, things I can do with graphite pencils, and pens which never occurred to me. In a way, it’s a fabulous new world, full of opportunity.

Mind you, when I am dead, someone is going to have to decide what to do with these things.



Coloured pencils

One of the things which has astonished me lately is that there are people out there making youtube videos showing you how to use Crayola coloured pencils to make eyeliner.

Anyway, this is by way of an aside. I bought a couple of sets of coloured pencils in the last couple of months and now I am going to rabbit on about my endeavours to be mildly artistic.

If you’ve read my previous lyrical waxing on pencils, you’ll know that I have a focus on watercolour pencils. However, I didn’t get any more watercolour pencils (this was a mistake as I should have bought two sets of Museum aquarelles but that’s by way of an aside) but focused on water resistant pencils this time. The first set I got were a dozen set of Faber Castell Polychromos, and the second was an 18 set box of Pablos by Caran D’Ache.

Much of my late night youtube crawling features coloured pencils and reviews of same. I got the dozen Polychromos for two reasons: 1) I’ve seen some stunning dry pencil art and 2) a box of 12 was not expensive, not compared to a box of 24 or 48 anyway. If you’re not going to go any further…no point in outlaying a lot of money. My strong belief is if you are going to do something, you should get the best tools you can possibly afford, hence my decision to skip the Crayolas for now.

I like the Polychromos pencils. They are nice to work with and really, the primary disadvantage with them, as is also the case with the corresponding Albrecht Durer box of 12 watercolour pencils is the lack of colours you get. Blending the dry pencils is harder than blending the watercolours and so, there’s more flexibility with the watercolours (plus I’ve extended the available colours with a few additional purchases). This tends to limit what I do with them. The other minor issue is that they are round pencils.

I could write a long essay on pencils, and talk about how round mechanical pencils are okay but round wooden pencils are not. Suffice to say all my watercolour pencils are hexagonal and they are more comfortable in my hands. It isn’t a deal breaker, but…

Anyway. When I was drooling in Schleiper a few weeks ago, I spent some time on my knees in front of boxes of Caran D’Ache pencils and trying to decide what I should best do. I eventually decided to best buy a box of 18 CdA Pablo coloured pencils. Mainly I did that because whatever they had in the way of Luminance pencils were outside my “I can justify this to myself” price range.

(and likewise the Museum Aquarelles).

The Pablos are beautiful pencils, and because they have a slightly wider range and are hexagonal, I’m more inclined to reach for them than I am for the Polychromos.

Leaving aside the openstock pencils I have bought, one of the interesting things is that the colours in the Pablo and the Supracolor II boxes line up exactly, as do the colours in the Polychromos and Albrecht Durer boxes. I think this is a good thing. I’ve augmented both the Supracolor and Albrecht Durer sets with some individual pencils from the openstock options which I can get here so I have some more flexibility. I’m not currently happy with how these are stored and if I’m deeply honest with myself, I probably should have gritted my teeth and bought a full colour set from one or other range.

Theoretically, as a photographer, I really shouldn’t be seeing art as expensive. But I have a shopping list of pencil stuff that I’d like and that’s not going to come cheap. There are things I’d just like to have.

  • 120 box set Supracolor II
  • 80 box set Museum Aquarelle
  • 120 box set Luminance
  • 120 box set Pablo
  • 120 box set Polychromos
  • 120 box Albrecht Durer.

There is probably around 1500E worth of pencil sets there.

Which is, of course, far less than I spent on camera gear in the day.

That aside, I probably need to look at prioritising and if I do cough up serious money for full colour sets of pencils any time soon it will probably be the Supracolor II tin set and the Pablo set. These will cover me for everything that’s not covered by my graphite collections.

In the meantime, I have an art journal under way which is mainly watercolour pencils and fineliner with one or two graphite sketches. mostly these are done after the fact, based on reference photographs or reference sketches from my handbag sketch book. I’ve found that sketching makes airplane journeys go faster for example.