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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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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The Art Of Waiting

Cosmic Nature
‘Cosmic Nature’ has been sent out across the airwaves. Still waiting to hear back.

Unless you’re exceptionally lucky, you have to rely on other people to get your art out there.

What I mean by this is that you can’t fly solo. You can’t just lock yourself up in your studio, paint all day and hope it will sell. You have to rely on a wide scope of people if you truly want to be successful, and this can be one of the trickier aspects of art.

Whether it’s sending out a press release, submitting a project proposal, requesting an exhibition space, seeking a guest blogging or promotion opportunity, rejection is everywhere. For every hundred emails/phone calls/gallery visits made, you’ll be lucky if you get a handful of interest. And if you’re working exclusively by email, 9 times out of 10 you won’t even get an email acknowledgement, never mind a refusal.

And while this can definitely be disheartening, it shouldn’t make you quit. In the last year I’ve lost count of the number of magazines, online galleries, physical galleries etc I’ve contacted, to little avail.

It doesn’t mean your art isn’t good.

It’s about breaking through the noise.

Einstein was slow in school, expelled and was told he’d never amount to anything.

Stephen King’s novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times before it was taken up by a publisher.

There are so many examples of people who became successes, and I wonder just how much of that is down to their initial failures.

If a failure can do anything, it can make you stronger.

Cosmic Nature Paintings

The photos in this blog are from perhaps my most shared series of works, Cosmic Nature. I love writing about it, painting about it, talking about it. Now I’m just waiting for someone else to want to do the same.

Figure out what’s not working. Maybe re-write your sales pitch with a completely different tone. Be cheeky, be funny. If you don’t feel particularly confident, fake it. Take a stab at things from a different direction. Look to other sources away from the often tight-lipped and austere world of galleries and agents. Go local. Go green. Go international.

Know that the art system is full of red tape, big shots and quite frankly, bullshit. But if you can cut through the noise, you’ll find your place in the system.

Sometimes, you won’t get your name on the wall, unless your name’s on the wall.

More about Cosmic Nature:

Painting The Night Sky
Cosmic Thoughts – Starlight
Cosmic Thoughts – Existence
Cosmic Thoughts – Light
Cosmic Thoughts – Expression
Cosmic Thoughts – Awe
Betelgeuse and a Bee
The Expanding Universe of Art


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.

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Why I Love Watercolours

If I had to choose to only ever paint in one medium again, I’d find myself torn between my two loves, oils and watercolours. It’s a pretty 50/50 split in the works that I do, and both mediums have their advantages and disadvantages. Both are notoriously tricky to master, as well.

I think for me, oil paints will always be my first love. No other medium quite gives me the same vibrance and language of colour that I’ve learned from oils. Oils tend to be fairly forgiving of mistakes, too. But what’s wonderful about watercolours is their diversity. A few household items have enabled me, like many watercolourists, to create a far wider array of textures, styles and moods than what could be done with brushes. I’d like to share some of my favourites, along with a few thoughts, in this blog post.

  1. Salt

Creating an interesting texture over a large area can be tricky using watercolours. Building layer upon layer might result in a bit of a muddy, uniform colour that could be a bit boring. Salt is a super easy way to instantly jazz up a background, and can create an interesting texture that can resemble anything from stormy sky to coral or water. When you take your pinch of salt to the paint makes a difference: very wet paint will give you more dramatic, feathery shapes. Let your paint dry a little, and the salt has less moisture to pick up, resulting in more defined, smaller marks.

Watercolour painting with salt
In this example the paint is slightly wetter than damp, and the salt crystals are still absorbing the paint. Wait till perfectly dry then gently rub the salt free with a soft tissue.


Watercolour painting salt
The effect when dry and the salt removed. There are areas of paper that had more water, so the marks vary from very fluffy to quite sharp.


2. Running Washes

It’s all about gravity. Wet your paper thoroughly, create some paint strokes, and then tip your paper in whichever direction you want to create a soft and dynamic wash. Here I tipped my paper up and down so that the paint ran in both directions, and strengthened some colour areas before repeating. The addition of the sketchy lines enhances the feel of this piece.

Watercolour washes painting

3. Soft Blends

The key to this technique is good quality paper that’s not too smooth (it will show up all and any imperfections) and not too rough, and wetting your paper thoroughly without leaving pools. I love creating soft backgrounds and seeing what different colour combinations will do.

Paradise Bird Watercolour
Works equally well for details, such as feathers.

Paradise Birds Watercolour


4. Pooling Paint & A Spray Bottle

A technique I’ve so far used only once or twice for my Cosmic Nature paintings. This technique involves wetting specific shapes, and then grabbing a fair dollop of rich watercolour, dropping it onto the water and letting them blend. I love using this method for creating cosmic backgrounds, and allows a certain element of control, whilst generally it seems to provide much brighter, bolder colour.

I enhanced the painting below with using a spray bottle, gently spraying in certain directions to ‘push’ the paint beyond its original wet outline. The only issue I see here is that there was a bit too much water so I got more of a pool than a spreading spray that I wanted. But for next time!

Cat Abstract Watercolour


So there you have it, some of my favourite watercolour moments. There are several new techniques I’m keen to try involving some new household mediums and hopefully some new themes too, so stay tuned

What are your favourite mediums and techniques?
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! 🙂

Painting the Night Sky

It might be mid winter, but in Malta, we’re pretty lucky with our long hours or sunlight, mild winters and relatively steady climate. What this island is unfortunately not very good for is stargazing, as there’s far too much light pollution – apart from in a few hard-to-get-to places – to see anything more than Polaris and the moon.

So perhaps it’s strange that I decided to paint the night sky. I’ll admit, sadly none of my paintings are painted from subjects I’ve been able to see or paint myself, but there’s a wealth of source material to use.

The challenge with painting the night sky, particularly in watercolours, is getting the right amount of depth and contrast, not easy! But after 2 years of painting the subject, I’ve come up with a few tips for painting a successful night sky scene.

Observe the sky as much as you can during the day particularly if, like me, you have nothing to look at during the night. Watch shifting clouds, changing light, how the sky transforms from powder blue to that deep, deep enveloping blue.


Take plenty of photos (again, in my case, I’m restricted to daylight/sunset/sunrise) as you’ll be surprised just how many colours there are that you don’t immediately see. Again, these observations will be useful for later night scenes.


Don’t use black paint. The only time I use black paint for a cosmic painting or a night sky is when I prepare a black acrylic base, upon which I’ll then paint my oils. Black looks to flat, and too dull. By all means, mix a touch of black into your deepest blues and create a ‘vignette’ edge to the piece, which will help create a greater sense of depth as well as draw the eye in.


Use many cool and deep tones, and warm colours. There are so many different moods you can create!


Use salt, for some really interesting ‘cloudy’ textures!

Unfortunately, the next time I’m feeling inspired, I won’t be able to look at more than a few little twinkling white dots from my roof, however, if I stop to think about it, those tiny twinkling balls are endlessly complex, fascinating, and inspiring all by themselves.

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Cosmic Thoughts – Expression

No matter what medium you use to paint cosmic scenes – be it oils or watercolours in my case – they are full of inimitable expressiveness. Van Gogh painted his mythical night sky, Starry Night, using oils so thick it made the painting feel tactile. It’s as if Van Gogh was inviting you to touch that bright moon in a way you can’t in life. In watercolours, I find, the night sky feels more fluid. As if you can swim in the unreachable depths of space. As if the night sky is a free-flowing seascape. I don’t know what to choose, so I keep alternating between the two. Happily, may I add.

Swan Nebula Galaxy Watercolour Painting
Swan Nebula, Watercolours

You can learn more about my cosmic nature paintings here.