Travel blog: Panama Canal

early morning we wake to find ourselves waiting in Gatun Lake. Passengers on shore excursions are gone by 8.30 and will rejoin the ship on the Pacific side. It’s a sparkly day, clear skies and tropical colours. Canadian made tugs shepherd us to and from the locks. Red channel markers lead the way …

Our large ships just fits the lock. There is a windsock and “mules” on the rails, guide us through: see yellow bumpers. Buildings painted blue and white. Now owned by Chinese, I last passed through under American ownership.

Random UK drawings

Travel journals can record historic places, overnight stays and driving routes; they can also hold memories of personal significance, instantly recalling quiet moments.

My cousin once lived in a house/trailer in a beautifully designed park setting called West Moors. Owned by the original farmers who developed their land, it was a friendly, well tended place and this was the view from her front windows. In time, the place was sold and the new owner dropped new places into every available spot. Luckily, by then my cousin was going blind so could not see the new surrounding. I remember this sketch with pleasure.
quirky details are often caught by my pen … a cottage with enormous chimneys, the way an arch is formed is formed from selected large stones, the walls filled with smaller pebbles
Red brick detail creating a simple harmonious design with pebble walls, thatch roof with straw birds sculpted in, and simple scallop shapes in wood providing simple detail. And not forgetting the Celtic magic of slow growing and long lasting yew trees.

Cotswolds … Uk journal continued

Travelling back to England, we are in the magical colours of the Cotswolds, with their golden ochre stone building.

Walking, pub lunches and reading history books – buildings well photographed by others so I was otherwise entertained here

Best web page for an overview of this area is

In Wales UK

In Wales LLan means place so often features in names like Llanthony, layered with history in thr Black Mountains of Wales. I heard Romans for three reasons: wild dogs, women and grain (exporting 700 tons per annum)

I remember the depressing dark slag heaps in Wales, especially on rainy days like this.
Now slag heaps are overgrown with green grass.
It rained steadily all day but we walked anyway
Our hotel was once the Bishop’s residence –we slept in a room in the tower.

travel: Montreal to Vancouver

At the time, I thought of these small books as a short step up from mere doodles. After several years, I realise they contain the essence of place and have value to me. So here’s more sharing.

travel trivia first page: collage place: weather departure/arrival type of plane + seat

Reminder of long gone Canadian Airlines and airport user fee

we stayed in a friend’s apartment in Verdun and I was interested the neighbourhood

UK sketchbook: people

showery day in London UK

What tweaks my interest? Idle doodles in my book reveal simple lines quickly capture people interacting with each other. No digital gadgets so constantly enthralling these days. Today I sat on a bus watching two girls using their phones to check their make-up, comb their hair and look at pictures (of themselves?) – so self absorbed that a simple comment from one elicited no more than a quick cursory glance and a grunt from the other.

quick 2 minute line drawings cement a memory
of sitting on bus

Protea Painting Hung

It’s been several days of studio chores: final small touches to paintings, varnishing, hardware and naming the pieces.

“Do the names come to you as you paint?” “Sometimes,” I reply – but other times I need to think;. giving the show a co-hesive quality and maintaining the fun, particularly with my Feather series.

Thanks to help from good friends, the pieces are now hung and initial reaction has been positive. Postings on this blog should now become weekly updates on studio life. Spring is quietly stirring so I turn to Flora.

Protea: Final steps

The painting is finished. I’ve adjusted the smaller flowers, added some dots to the pin-cushions and tweaked other details. I’ve struggled with its name eventually opting for simplicity: Kew Proteas as it was there that I was inspired to do this. Now it can go to the exhibition which I’ll be installing on Thursday February 28th at Van Dusen botanical gardens in Vancouver BC. It’ll be coated with a layer of clear acrylic, then after two days, allowing for thorough drying, it will get a final coat of removable varnish with a UV filter, to allow for cleaning later in its life. (I must remove all traces if I decide to work on it again). Varnish feels so final – but we have had a fulfilling journey together. It’s snowing here today so I’ve photographed this in my studio, – that makes the top appear darker.

Thinking Time

Having re-adjusted the composition, done research into protea flowers and learned their proper names, I move the almost completed painting somewhere I can see it as part of my daily life: on a phone call, or coffee break – or simply looking at it in a different light*. Now brushes are put away, palette cleaned and I resist any temptation to do anything to it for several days. It’s all too easy to lose freshness by over-working a piece at this stage. I go to work on a smaller painting. *In my student day, I found looking at it in a mirror gave me a good critical perspective for finding flaws.

proteas: as you can see, there are small bits that will need work it’s important to keep it fresh

Moving Along

adjusting the drawing – proteas are like a hand (wrist to wrist)/holding the middle – this has started to sprawl: well nested but warped

Once a painting is born there’s no way to rush it; I paint consistently, addressing problems, maintaining the rhythm. Music helps me start every session. Thinking time is my investment; especially as I underpaint in contrasting colours, meanwhile tweaking the drawing. Though I start with a clear idea, once it’s on the canvas, parts needs adjusting … and changes will continue to happen right up to the end. I rough in the underpainting, creating a chaos that challenges me to continue. Sometimes I’ve given up by now if it’s not coming alive. This painting has passed the test and I am building layers towards a finished result, covering the cannvas in colours add a subtle vibrancy.

emerging from chaos

starting a 48″x36″ canvas


-apologies. This post was taken down to edit errors and is simply re-posted- I’m fine with paint … not computers – Jo

drying protea leaves and a messy table as colours begin

 studio notes

Watching paint dry has me working on two or three canvases … after several months of tweaking, changes and more changes, I can say “finished” to a piece started a year ago, and varnish it to send it to my next exhibition. Now I’m gazing at shadows thrown by protea leaves, which are twisting as they dry. The protea painting is off to a strong start as it takes on a new life, already diverging from my original concept. I liken it to writing, the when characters take on a life of their own.

I hate styrofoam (see photo) but free range eggs occasionally arrive it, purposely re-cycled … it makes a great paint holder, easy to pop into a plastic bag (another hate!) – I mix on glass palette; the mini one pictured above (I have three). I try to keep my palette clean as I work but occasionally one dries “dirty”. Hand sanitiser cleans dried acrylics like magic, then that palette is well washed and put away for several days.

background grass detail for proteas


starting a canvas

upcomng exhibition

Feather & Flora- March 1st – April 10th 2019

Van Dusen Botanical Gardens, 5251 Oak St. Vancouver BC

With the date for a new exhibition set, I am gathering the pieces I want to feature along with my medieval and earlier birds, most of which are small images (8”x10” – 10”x14”.  By medieval, I mean to my pieces, inspired by my research in museums and libraries.

A new piece requires moving it from rumination to reality. This piece started last September, when I visited Kew Gardens and again was fascinated by proteas. Intense study often means looking, then drawing then painting. Between initial looking and eventual painting, some pieces lose their passion and may never become a final painting.

I know it will happen when the piece takes on a life of its own, immediately morphing into something other than initially imagined.

This blog will take you through the process ….. though perhaps earlier than the posts go up, it will be at the same pace.

Travel Blog: Bananas

Fascinating day learning how bananas grow.

When travelling the westcoast of South America with my father, I watched bananas being loaded onto our cargo ship and heard stories about workers being bitten by nasty spiders or other hazardous insects. Now bananas are grown in perforated plastic bags, keeping insects out. Each tree shows the life span:Dead old tree on right, new adult in centre, teenaged tree on left. Each new shoot produces one bunch up to 3 feet long. A flower grows into an early bunch. See below:

As the flower petals die off, the baby bananas are revealed and curl around the inner stem.

travel journal

Costa Maya. My sketchbook seduced me with its smooth white pages, colour and size … but too much water warped the pages. Regardless, here are the drawings as they capture the jewel colours and the wonderful light following two dull cloudy days.

And that’s what journaling is really all about.

Costa Maya is a small tourist region in the municipality of Othón P. Blanco in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, with the Caribbean Sea to its east. We stayed on board, relaxing in the quiet of the ship.

travel journals: cruising

Although I am not drawn to cruising, as a teenager in South America, I often travelled, with my father, on cargo ships as he was a Lloyd’s surveyor. So when a friend asked me to go on a short cruise, I was happy to help someone who really wanted to see the Panama Canal.

We sailed from Galveston, Texas and I couldn’t resist sketching the oil rig as it was my first time seeing one up close. (Our cabin was on the opposite of the ship from the dock)

Lacock Abbey, Wilts UK

Lacock Abbey in the village of Lacock, Wiltshire, England, was founded in 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, as a nunnery of the Augustinian order. It has fine medieval cloisters, sacristy, chapter house and monastic rooms of the Abbey, which have survived. Today the property is owned by the National Trust and open to the public. Website:

Stable yard @ Lacock Abbey, showing brewery on right

This drive was in October, when the hedgerows were being trimmed. Driving through leafy tunnels where the shimmering light created a pointilism effect among the darkly silhouetted branches. There was twittering birdsong whenever we stopped.