A Baby at the Studio

Baby at the studio

Sleeping or no, I can still paint.

I have found that taking my baby to the art studio is working quite well and I am able to do some painting with her there.

She can sleep, or stay in the basket playing with toys, or sit on my hip carrier as I paint. I can even work at the table on smaller icons as I nurse her. (Thank you nursing pillow!)

I can’t do portrait work but the icons are so tightly designed that it is easy enough to work in short bursts.

(I am trying to make the most of this time – I think when she is crawling it will be rather different…but sorting our house out is also taking up a lot of time)

Having the baby has also focused my mind so I have to use the time I do get to best effect, and this also is good for my art practice. She has also inspired ideas for work and as she grows I want her to see that adults can continue do art and its not just for children. At this tender age she seems to enjoy looking at the paintings too. Interesting patterns.

I hope this encourages other artists with babies or thinking of babies to realise that It Will Be OK.

The shed, in its Swedish undercoat.

Making Swedish Paint

Swedish paint is the paint used in Sweden to protect traditional wooden houses. It’s an emulsion made with linseed oil and uses rye flour to make it strong and to create the emulsion.

We are making a small Print Room or workshop in the garden so I thought I would make Swedish paint and test the claim that it will protect the building for 10-15 years.

The recipe I used is from the excellent Earth Pigments website http://www.earthpigments.com/oil/traditional-swedish-oil-paint-for-exteriors.cfm

As you will see I adapted it somewhat.

Here is how I got on.

1. Gathering the ingredients. The recipe gives huge quantities in American measures so I adapted it to the European style and a manageable quantity – to make 5 litres of paint.

  • about 5L boiling water
  • 200g rye flour
  • 200g zinc sulphate
  • 800g pigment of your choice – I used La Tienda white, also some Societe des Ocres white and a little yellow ochre. You can prepare a pigment paste the night before (see below).
  • about 400ml linseed oil. The recipe suggests boiled oil but I used Raw because that is what I had.
  • I also added Thermalmix insulating paint additive as this is the easiest way to add some insulation to this wooden shed. Its one bottle per 5L of paint.


  • Zinc sulphate is labelled hazardous (it acts as a paint preservative to stop the paint being eaten so its optional if you dont want Chemicals in your paint)
  • Pigments and the Thermalmix paint additive are both dusty so you should be careful and use a dust mask and a ventilated area when handling these ingredients. Also the rye flour – although mine is very rough and grainy, it should really be fine ground flour.
200g rye flour for swedish paint recipe

Ingredients: 200g rye flour

Zinc sulphate and white pigment

Ingredients: 200g Zinc sulphate and 800g pigment

Linseed oil and the insulating paint additive ready to go into the can

400ml Linseed oil and a bottle of insulating paint additive (one bottle for 5L paint)

2. Put the 5 litres of hot water into a huge pan and boil, then sieve in the rye flour and stir or whisk regularly, while simmering for 15 minutes. This cooks up the flour.

Stir while cooking for 15 minutes

Stir while cooking for 15 minutes

3. Add the pigment. The best way to prevent lumps is to mix up the pigment in a separate container (the paint can will be fine) with a small amount of water to make a thickish paste. You can mix and blend this more easily, and then add it to the boiling pan. The La Tienda pigments suggest you make this paste the night before to slake the pigment properly.

Yellow ochre pigment

Yellow ochre pigment mixing in with white pigment paste

4. Oops! When I tipped the pigment paste into the hot water the whole lot boiled over, creating a monstrous mess. So I recommend you add it slowly and carefully, and take the mix off the heat first!

Swedish paint recipe - boiling over

Oops! It boiled over making a horrible mess

It took about an hour to clean up and I lost some pigment. But the cooker hasn’t looked so fresh in ages!

Once it was cleaned up it was then cooked for another 15 minutes, stirring to get a nice smooth creamy liquid.

5. I mixed the paint additive with the linseed oil to make a paste. The paint additive claims to reduce heat loss by about 20% – we’ve used it all around the house and I am convinced it does work! It did affect the colour of the finished paint a bit, giving a slight greyish tint to the white colour.

I mixed in Thermalite insulating paint additive

I mixed in Thermalite insulating paint additive with the linseed oil

6. The cooked mix is then cooled a bit and added slowly, bit by bit, to the linseed oil. Lots of mixing is needed to make the emulsion. Once its made it doesnt separate out, just a light stir is needed to get the paint ready to use each time.

Cooked pigment mix is added slowly to the oil in the can and mixed to make the emulsion

Cooked pigment mix (on the right) added slowly to the oil in the can (on the left) and mixed thoroughly to make the emulsion

7. Apply to shed! This paint can covered the inside of the building and three of the outsides. The paint was quite thin, so its suitable as an undercoat, I will make another batch in a stronger colour to finish the job with a second coat. The finish is very matt and a bit textured, this is largely down to my rough grain rye flour and also the Thermalmix additive.

The shed, with its Swedish undercoat

The shed, with its Swedish undercoat

8. Cleanup

Cleanup always needs to be factored in to the time and energy of this type of thing. (Especially when you have pots boiling over). Brushes and pots can be washed with soapy water. Always wash your brushes in cold water to avoid melting the bristle glue and damaging the brush.

‘A Riot of Flowers’ – Mural Painting in Normandy

Over the course of four days, a collaboration for a mural painting for a bathroom in a 17th century Manoir, developed from the brief: ‘I picture a Riot of Flowers’. Working with Isabella Palin, the main bathroom was given some extra life.

This is how it was done.

1. A blank wall is presented. A discussion about what is expected throws up the phrase ‘a riot of flowers’ and time is spent in the room getting a feeling for the space.

a blank wall

A blank wall

2. A mood board is created – Pinterest comes in very handy at this stage! Ideas are thrown around.

3. Colour notes are collected using paint charts and paint samples. A group of compatible colours are chosen.


Preparing a colour palette.

A local paint merchant was very good in making up small pots of colour-matched samples – we selected the circled colours as the core palette.

4. Studies of flora around the garden and surrounding areas are made.

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5. Designs are created and mocked up in cut out shapes. These are attached to the wall with masking tape and moved about until the positions are agreed to be satisfactory.


6. Once the composition is agreed, a light chalk is used to mark in the main positions. Cutouts are rubbed in the back with chalk dust and used as transfers to mark the design onto the wall. Designs for smaller elements are made on paper and transferred in the same way by drawing over them onto the wall, the chalk on the back leaving the marks for painting in.

7. Paint!

painting a mural

Keep going until its done!

Finished work

We can go back and add more details later but its finished enough for now.

mural detail

Silver skipper butterfly

A Happy Ending

I never feel happy with the work I do, but this message was reassuring:

Every time we go into the bathroom we are awestruck! The wall is so beautiful, cannot imagine how we lived with it all bare before… The final touches, the little butterfly and the rosebuds are delicious. A huge thank you – it couldn’t be more successful.

A Felt Feeling


Felt Camera Case

Handmade and dyed Felt Camera Case


Sometimes I make things out of sheep’s wool.

This is a camera case. I like making organic things to go with technology. It helps me feel calmer.It softens the bland, cold, hard remoteness of things.

It is not always appreciated when I have smelly sheep’s fleece hanging everywhere but then it it the most amazing material. The felt is tough, but also soft. It moulds to shape and changes with time.

This case is dyed with nettles and buddleia flowers then stitched with embroidery thread.

How to Make an Artist’s Painting Palette

Today I made a palette. It is for a film being made about a vodka factory in Ukraine,  and therefore destined to start life as a prop, but if it survives the experience it will become a useful smaller palette about the place, and I will love it very much.

Makita Jigsaw

Makita Jigsaw a fabulous tool

FIRST get out your Jigsaw. My one is a fabulous gift from my brother a couple of years ago when everyone had some spare cash. I ought to make more use of it but seem to always be doing 500 things and not using it. Anyway, today – I Did.

NEXT get a nice piece of thin wood, I used a fairly cheapo one made of veneer but you might get a better one. My one is not a very smooth surface and it might splinter a bit, so its a Rough Palette.

THEN draw the palette shape onto it with a pen or pencil. I found a shape in an old book ‘The Portrait Painter’s Handbook’ but you can get one on the interweb.

THEN set up your wood on a workbench – use some kind of clamp – and cut out your shapes with your lovely jigsaw. When you make the thumb hole, you need to get the saw running then slowly touch it onto the wood in the middle of the hole area; the saw should break into the wood but it might make a bit of mess so avoid the edges of the hole shape at this stage. Once its in you can cut out the hole.

AFTER the shapes are cut you need to sand down the edges and the surface if needed too.




paint the whole thing with shellac varnish. You clean shellac brushes with methylated spirits. Shellac is amazing stuff made from crushed beetles wings. It creates a thin waterproof seal on a surface so its incredibly useful. It dries really fast and a high quality one is quite clear.

Clean shellac off with meths

Clean shellac off with meths

The Finished Palette

A Home Made Palette in Action

NOW you have a lovely palette, a bit funny looking perhaps, but still useful and more fun than going to a shop. I can’t really say its cheaper though – they only cost about ten quid in the shops so unless you already have a jigsaw, some wood, a worktable and some shellac, its probably not worth the bother.

The film is ‘How To Re-Establish A Vodka Empire’ – find out more here.  I hope this is the beginning of an illustrious film career for this Palette and I expect to see an Oscar for Best Prop before long.