Art Diaries: Chilean Wildlife

Today I decided to do some quick and loose sketches of Chilean wildlife from my trip. Sketching in watercolour is great fun: it loosens up the wrists and allows you to create a quick impression of what it is your painting.

There were several amazing wildlife spots that we stumbled upon. Of course, if you know anything about South America, you’ll know its biodiversity is…well, diverse. And Chile is no exception. As you travel from North to South, the climate and even the season changes, so it’s no wonder there’s such variety. Who knew you could have guanacos, parrots and penguins all in one country?

Imperial, watercolours

The first sketch is from Punta Arenas (mentioned in my previous post). Upon arrival in this truly charming place, we had a re-fueling breakfast, having got perhaps only one hours’ sleep in 24, then decided to wander around the very chilly town. Punta Arenas surprisingly turned out to be the best place for souvenirs, and we came across a wonderful shop (I forgot the name) and found some really unique Southern items, not your usual kitsch souvenirs at all.

After that, it was time to watch England get mowed down by Croatia. I really thought, with the slimmest of hope, that football really was coming home. But no, instead the only thing coming home was me in 12 days time. It’s amazing that even on the wrong side of the world and the wrong hemisphere, you can still be calmed by the same creature comforts of a good meal and a beer.

Anyway, back to the sketch. We headed to the coast, and there it was! The gargantuan Pacific Ocean stretched out ahead of us in all its blue-grey glory. The beach looked as thought the weather had not been kind to it, but today the sea was calm. Off in the distance on a jetty, I got my first glimpse of wild seabirds in Chile. There were black cormorants resting with their heads curled under their wings, fat seagulls and…something that looked like a penguin? I hoped beyond hope, even though it wasn’t their breeding season so the resident penguins were far out to sea. Investigating when I got some, I discovered it was in fact an imperial cormorant.

I haven’t included guanacos in my sketches, even though I started painting one in the Torres del Paine. Too obvious. No, though the guanacos were amazing to see when they photo-bombed us on arrival at the park, or chased our car along the side of the road, it was the birds I was most fascinated in.

Chilean finches, tough little birds

The second night of our stay in the park we left our cosy lodge to discover that the surrounding walkway and lawn had been taken over by all manner of birds. The quaintly named cowbird, which looks more like a fat crow than a cow, a strange rail type bird with a long curved bill, and countless sierra finches that were hopping around in the grass. What surprised me most was how little these birds were bothered by our presence. I’ve found such small birds in Malta and Europe to be extremely skittish and nervous, but these guys weren’t going anywhere. One little fellow, an austral thrush, was feeling particularly brave and sat on the fence chirping at us, not quite willing to give up his claim to the territory.

In my next post, I’ll introduce you to the city’s resident animals: its dogs.

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Variations on a Grey

Hi there, it’s still sweltering over here in sunny Malta, so getting stuck in to painting frosty scenes and tiny icebergs feels a big ironic. I’ll talk about life in Santiago in my next post, but first I had to share with you the first of my Patagonia-inspired paintings. I’m planning a little series of oils, capturing the different nuances of light and colour that this wonderful place is so famous for.

Patagonia Painting

As an artist used to painting in pretty bold and varied colours, this painting was definitely tough. But I choose to take on the toughest first. I limited my palette down to just 5 colours: titanium white, ultramarine blue, Van Dyke brown, Naples yellow and a touch of paynes grey. In fact, I used more brushes than colours on this painting.

It was important to get the balance of tones right, to restrict them enough to create mood, but not too bold as to loose the impact of the fog. It really was this grey and un-saturated, I could hardly believe my eyes. I could see why they called it the Grey Lake.

Patagonia Painting

I very much enjoyed painting the foreground textures and creating depth here, with the intention of drawing the viewer’s eye forward and off the edge of the painting.

Patagonia Painting

Then, a few blobs of paint painted very carefully to create some distance icebergs.

Next up, I’ll be exploring Patagonia’s changing weather and that gorgeous glacial blue. Stay tuned!

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Plein Air Painting in Patagonia

It almost happened without me noticing. All of a sudden I felt a searing hot pain in my fingers. No longer absorbed in what I was doing, I noticed how numb my hands were. That’s what happens when you remove your gloves for plein air painting at -2 degrees Celsius. It’s cold, and it hurts.

It was intense, but it was definitely the most amazing painting and travel experience of my life so far. A honeymoon, an adventure story and a journey of discovery all rolled into one.

Witnessing the first fog-shrouded day in the heart of the Torres Del Paine National Park in Patagonia, I didn’t fully know what to expect. To say that this trip was inspiring is an understatement, as I’m still trying to process it all and to learn what I can learn from it.

What struck me most about this place was the colour. How muted, and how bold it can be. How quickly it can change.

Painting from a photo is one thing, but painting there and then when you’re absolutely freezing and the wet paint is actually forming ice crystals, is a huge challenge. The range of hues is simply magnificent, even when everything is muted by mist. The colours of the grasses, the bark and the sky are still there, but they’re wrapped in the most beautiful blankets of greys. It’s still, calming, yet slightly haunting. It’s impossible to see the sun, impossible to tell the time or to track the movement of either.

I quickly realised it was almost impossible to capture the values accurately, partly due to freezing paint, partly due to the fact I was standing and had nowhere to sit and mix colours – and indeed not the resistance from frostbite to do so. I didn’t realise quite how many shades of yellow-grey, green-grey, brown-grey and blue-grey were in front of me. As a result the painted sketch turned out to be too green, too vivid.

As if the violent compression of the value range wasn’t enough, I found it next to impossible to judge the hues much of the time.

Plein air painting in Patagonia was a failure, but the challenge made it no less enjoyable. Thankfully, I had a heated lodge with a stunning view in which to paint the landscape just close enough, but without losing any fingers. But still, the speed of the changing light and the dancing of the fog and clouds, even on the most spectacular sunny day, was near to impossible to capture.

In this instance I’m glad to be able to turn to my trusty digital camera, where time really has been stood still, so that I can paint that perfect scene and really explore these wonderful new colours.

I’ll be getting out the oil paints soon!


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Art Diaries: A Trip To Rome

So, that’s one of my most challenging paintings completed. Surprisingly enough, I loved every minute of it. Even the bits I hated, where things seemed like they were going wrong. But the vision was clear, and that was motivation enough to stick it through till the end. Overall, I’m very happy with the results. I can see a few minor adjustments I may or may not make (once a painting has been signed off, I very rarely touch it again).

I realised a couple of important things along this particular painting journey. It was a perfect mix of reference photo (photos we took during our trip to Rome a couple of years ago) and imagination, and it just seemed to fit so perfectly.

I realised too that I didn’t enjoy or appreciate my trip to Rome as much as I could have done, or should have done. It was a trip taken with a heavy heart, for many reasons. This painting was my tribute to a wonderful trip, that could have been so much more wonderful. As a Rome-sceptic before I left, I now carry Rome in my heart, and I won’t be satisfied until I return.

Who knows? Maybe the starlings will be there next time too.

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How One Painting Helped Me Grow As An Artist

I never really paid too much attention to my growth as an artist. I was more interested in individual paintings, or ideas, but if there’s one thing my most recent painting has taught me, it’s to embrace the whole experience of growth and development.

When you’re constantly trying to make each new painting the best one yet, you might in fact be missing out on the bigger picture.

If you search too hard for ideas, they will forever elude you. Epiphanies and muses are for lazy artists, but sometimes you’ll find that a painting really does just wander into your head, almost fully formed, and when this happened to me, I was compelled to grab it. As soon as the idea was there, I sat down to begin creating it.

And it wasn’t the painting process that helped me grow this time. It was the process of formulating and creating a project. From planning to choosing colours to figuring out what I wanted to say and why: this latest painting became more than just a painting. It became as experience. Just as with a good bottle of wine you want to savour it, or have that last delicious bite a little slower. That’s what this painting became.

Another hurdle I overcame with this piece was not getting trapped. Usually, there will be a point in every painting, probably after the blocking in stage and somewhere before the details, where I get trapped. I get stuck on a colour, or a texture, or an area that just doesn’t look right. But now I’ve realised that it won’t look right, but I can make it better.

Several times during this painting I made a few quite big corrections, as you can see below.

I re-painted the sky to give it a little more vibrancy and to get rid of the distracting horizontal lines.

I realised that I’d got some angles and spacing wrong, so again, I picked up my brush and started sketching over in paint where I needed to fix. And then I fixed it. I didn’t get frustrated, I didn’t lose my confidence, I just got on with it, and got over the awkward, teenage stage of the painting.

Overcoming doubt is the biggest lesson of learned from this painting. Whether it was an external self-confidence I had before I started painting, or a boost because of the painting, I’m not sure. But I’ve learned to overcome the doubt and love the process of working, re-working and getting things just right.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the right to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂


The Artist’s Holiday Survival Guide

As much as we might wish, not all holidays we venture on can be the idyllic, tourist-free, art safari holidays we dream of in our heads. Fortunately, it’s really not that difficult to indulge in a little bit of what you love, no matter where you are, or how many sombreros might have followed you out of the airport.

Here are my top tips for being a travelling artist, and at the end of this blog I’ll be adding a list of the supplies I carry with me.

Tell your other half

Maybe not applicable if you’re single, or if your confident enough to holiday alone, but if you want to have some time to sketch, paint or just think, you’d better let your other half know beforehand. In fact, if you’re travelling with a group, best you speak up early before you get dragged to every museum, cafe and metro stop within 50 miles and have not time to even take a toilet break.

Go to museums, galleries, etc

So, I’m not saying don’t go to any museums, in fact, they’re a must. Whether it’s a glorious art gallery like the Reina Sofia or Prado in Madrid, or just a local little gallery, or a museum of whatever takes your fancy. Make time for inspiration.


Take notes

Scraps of paper, notebooks and a decent pen and pencil. Don’t get caught unawares trying to scribble the next Odyssey onto a soggy bar napkin with your eyeliner.

Wake up early

Sunrise is usually beautiful abroad, not just because sunrise is gorgeous anyway but because most tourists are still asleep (except my husband). Get out at the crack of dawn and have your half hour of tranquility before the world wakes up and you can’t move for socks and sandals.

Discover unique places

When I visited Rome a couple of years ago, of course I enjoyed the Colosseum (queues) and the Vatican (queues) and the Forum (not so many queues), but the place we really enjoyed was an old part of town across the river called the Trastevere, full of vintage shops, an old market, tiny bookshops and leather goods stores. This place was busy, yet quiet at the same time, and was fairly free from the usual rabble. A good place to discover some unique souvenirs and to really get into the local scene. One of my other favourite places has to be the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, Spain. For all its crowds, one feels at home with the locals, eating while standing, enjoying the architecture and planning the next escape.


Go to green spaces

I’m quite a lazy traveller. I enjoy nothing more than sitting in a cafeteria at the edge of a square with a drink and a slice of cake watching the world go by. This is even better if you can do it in a green area, a park, a little garden, perhaps even just by a fountain so you can enjoy the sound of rushing water. Don’t forget your sketchbook and camera though.


Take the right tools

There’s nothing worse than finally setting down to work on a sketch, drawing or painting abroad to realise you don’t have the right colour, you’ve forgotten an eraser or you simply don’t have everything you need. While Google Maps might help you locate the nearest art supply shop, you might not find your familiar brands and products, and by the time you’ve bought them, it’s time to move on and your moment of creativity might be lost. Don’t underestimate being prepared.

Pack well

Following up from the point above, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for your trip, baggage wise. It’s usually wise to travel light, and don’t forget what can and can’t go in your hand luggage! Below you’ll find my list of supplies that accompany me on my travels.

Travelling Art Supplies List

  • Sketching pencils – don’t make the mistake of carrying just one.
  • Writing pen – for those amazing, wonderful ideas or simply to take some notes or keep a journal
  • Books that inspire – whether it’s an artist’s bio, a good novel or a book of art marketing, whatever works for you
  • Watercolour paints – I carry a travel-sized set of pan watercolours, as carrying half a dozen tubes takes up a lot more space and can get messy
  • Selection of paintbrushes – again, I recommend carrying more than you think you’ll need
  • Kitchen roll or tissue paper – for wiping, blotting, cleaning brushes
  • Art pad – my preference is a sketchbook type pad or watercolour paper, no bigger than A4 size
  • Plastic water bottle – to carry paint water
  • Another water bottle – for the thirsty artist
  • A diary or journal – you can either write a full-on diary of your travels, or just take notes whenever inspiration hits
  • A camera – I personally have a Canon PowerShot which takes stunning daytime shots and is small and portable without the need for a massive camera bag or expensive travel insurance
  • A stylish or artsy tote bag – to carry all your supplies in



What’s on your travelling list? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the right to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Art Diaries: Abstract Isn’t Enough

So, when I sat down to paint a couple of days ago, I knew I wasn’t going to have a plan for it. I’ve been touching on abstraction a lot recently, perhaps because I’m looking for a new direction, or perhaps because I’m just a bit stuck. And when I go down the path of abstract art, it always inevitably leads me to Georgia O’Keeffe. I find her intimate flower paintings and her fluid forms to be hypnotic: I love the choice of colour that she uses, the way a shape can transform from one thing into another. Her work is deeply feminine, yet if you know anything about the artist herself, she wasn’t your typical 1950s housewife, and she certainly didn’t live for a man. I guess I enjoy that contradiction, as I see a little of that in myself. A strong, reasonably determined woman, yet one that is still deeply rooted by her emotions and her feminine identity.

So I had a scroll through some of Georgia’s paintings, then turned to looking at the macro details of some flowers: any flowers, the species aren’t important. I barely know a thing about plants and flowers, but does it mean I don’t love them dearly?

I set to work, I guess not so subconsciously I was thinking about my health. I’ve tried to paint it a la Georgia O’Keeffe before, keeping to a few simple lines and forms, and focusing on what colour can say. This time I wanted the colours to be more subdued. I thought about green, then changed my mind. A flowering stalk became the neck of the womb, and a flower, an ovary. Why is it that flowers and reproductive organs look so similar? Both fragile, I suppose.

Watercolour Art

But what I realised was that I was painting. Just painting. I wasn’t thinking, I wasn’t really doing anything to deliberate. I’d place a wash of colour here, then there, placing my brush where it felt right and trying to create softness.

While painting is deeply therapeutic, it’s not the same as art. My little dauby watercolours of pelvises, abstract forms and upturned flowers might not be bad paintings, but somehow, they don’t quite feel like me. How is it that the Kakapo says more about me than my own corrupted uterus? Which do I understand better? That answer I think is clear.

I think the answer is also clear, that I’m not truly painting what I want to. I’m painting what I think I want, or perhaps, what I think I should want.

Abstract isn’t enough for me.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the right to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂