Category Archives: Paint

Bubbles II by Nancy Farmer

Verdigris Dive

Painting “Bubbles II” – and some step-by-step photos

(yes, it could have a better title, but I already had a ‘Bubbles I’ and this kind of stuck…)

Diver in watercolour, gold leaf, and coper corrosion, by Nancy Farmer

I’ve been a long time getting round to showing you this picture properly. I finished it just before I broke my wrist in February, and at that point all playing with vinegar and copper leaf ceased – one day I’ll get back to more of this, I think it has some potential.

The main reason I never showed anyone was that it was difficult to photograph clearly so you can see what it really looks like, and I could never get round to organizing this series of pictures, but if you’ve bought anything from me recently you will have seen this painting on my ‘thank you’ postcards, and one or two people have asked about what it is, and whether I have prints – so yes, you can also buy prints in my Etsy shop here.

I love a chemistry demonstration…

If you hang copper over vinegar fumes you get a green corrosion product which forms on the copper – it’s called Verdigris. It’s been used as an artist’s pigment for centuries, though it’s fallen out of use as it’s not very stable and it’s a bit poisonous. Nothing on the scale of proper poisonous artists’ pigments – nothing like cinnabar, vermilion, orpiment, realgar and so on (lovely reds and yellows but oxides of mercury and arsenic respectively). You could still try this at home… but be sensible, don’t eat your resulting artwork!

The green patina on weathered bronze statues is often referred to as ‘verdigris’. It isn’t: unless it rains vinegar locally, it’s a mix of other oxides, sulphates and sulphites (it’s been a long time since that degree in metals conservation, so don’t ask me exactly what!), but it’s the same kind of chemical reaction. Verdigris is copper acetate – the product of copper and acetic acid (vinegar).

Gold leaf won’t react with (almost) anything, but imitation gold leaf is mostly copper. Brand new and freshly applied, gold leaf and imitation gold leaf look very similar indeed, but hang them (or put the picture face-down) over vinegar and something lovely happens. For the sake of accuracy – I am pretty sure not all the colours that you see in the corroded copper are verdigris – there’s a dark brown first, which looks like copper oxide, a bright blue at the end that looks very much like copper sulphate. The chemistry is probably quite messy and complicated… but the only added ingredient is vinegar, and a bit of warmth (the photo of the picture upside down was one I did last summer, in the greenhouse when it was warm – this painting actually perched on the warm Rayburn for two days and stank the kitchen out instead, but I don’t have a photo of that).

And the results – you can see for yourself. Experience has shown that you also have to use a spray-on varnish – the delicate surface is highly water-soluble and also reacts with the air to form different copper salts, and can loose some of its fabulous colours.  Varnishing seems to stabilize it, at least, a test run I did a couple of years ago seems to be pretty stable.

The figure of the swimmer was painted in watercolour, after the vinegar and before the varnish.
The finished painting is hard to photograph because the gold is still shiny and so it looks different from every angle. Putting the picture on a scanner picks up the details of the painting, but omits to show the glory of the shiny gold leaf, so I’ve shown both scan, and photograph from a couple of angles (above and penultimate image), which hopefully gives you a good idea of the painting, in changeable lighting.

And that’s it, I hope you enjoy my little album of step-by-step photos:


“Hiatus” – painting in watercolour by Nancy Farmer

A painting I finished last week, but started… quite a long time ago, back in February, when the world was different…

noun: hiatus; plural noun: hiatuses
A pause or break in continuity in a sequence or activity.

The title occurred to me when someone said that a then unfinished painting had a story and I should leave it as it was. It had a story because 15 minutes after putting down my paintbrush, I was walking back along a slippery muddy path, holding my very obviously broken wrist with the other hand.

That was not a nice reason to finish work on a painting. It waited, patiently, with its face to the wall while I determinedly didn’t look at it for nearly six months. This week I finished it and here it is.

The title fits perfectly with a swimmer pausing to let the world go past, but the painting also encapsulates a pause in my artistic life. Between the start and finish of this painting was a time I’d not like to repeat, but it is still a time in which I learnt things that I won’t forget, not least the importance of knowing a very good physiotherapist. (Thank you Ivor Field!)

Prints are available in my Etsy shop should anyone be interested:

This photo album is the story of this painting – complete with X-rays!

'Floating' - painting in watercolour with gold leaf detail

New painting: “Floating”

'Floating' - painting in watercolour with gold leaf detail

‘Floating’ – painting in watercolour with gold leaf detail

I managed to finish an actual bigish painting (20.5 x 14.5 inches), which is a rarity at the moment. This is ‘Floating’ in watercolour with touches of gold leaf. Currently unsold and prints available in my Etsy Shop.
I thought you might like to see some step-by-step photos, so I’ve posted some below…

But first, some close-up details of the painting:

And the step-by-step photos – the colours aren’t consistent (notice the  changes in colour of the brown tape around the edge… which did not in fact change colour…), unfortunately my camera tries to correct the colour depending on what it sees, and there’s also different colour light depending on the time of day, but I hope it will give you a bit of an idea of the processes that went into creating this painting.

Mini Swimmers

I painted a few more of my occasional ‘Mini Swimmers’ lately, here is a selection of them. Several of these have sold but some are still available under Paintings in the shop. The diving ones were especially quick to sell and I’ve had requests for more, so I will paint more when get the time. If you’d like to be amongst the first to know another time, click on the link in the website menu to add yourself to the emailing list.

Mini Swimmers 2019 –  in watercolour and gold leaf, all 4 inches square:

Teeny Weeny Swimmers

I am painting teeny weeny swimmers!
These are more 4 inch square ‘Mini Swimmers’. The mini swimmers all started when Glastonbury Galleries put on an ‘Anonymous Art’ show two years ago, where they asked lots of artists to create 4 inch square artworks, and sold them all framed the same size and unsigned. I did paintings in watercolour and gold leaf. These ones are not the actual paintings I’m putting in this year’s exhibition, I’ve done something slightly different… though you will all probably guess which mine are in any case I expect.
These paintings will be for sale in the end, but there is a lot of work to do before they are finished…. I know you like a bit of work in progress.
Oh, and I even have a few paintings of chaps as well, but not many as the un-wetsuited ones I know mostly swim at Clevedon and that’s rubbish for underwater photography!

Winter Sun - watercolour and metal leaf by Nancy Farmer

Winter Sun

As the lake temperature plummets, it seems appropriate that I am adding this painting to the blog. This is one I finished a couple of months ago, back when a brisk swim in 3 degrees was a distant thing, but this is Row Clarke getting out of Clevedon Marine Lake last January, and it was indeed that cold, but gloriously sunny.

Everything that is not water is painted in watercolour (ironically) in a mix of pigments that looks like black but in fact is a transparent magenta, yellow and blue, which is more interesting for being not quite black and having subtle shades in it, and nicer to paint with. And all the water is done in a mix of aluminium, gold and palladium leaf. The first photo is taken with very flat lighting that shows the painting at its best overall, but a couple of images below this are snaps I took in different lighting, which show the effect of the metal leaf and the way the picture changes when half of it is metallic and half not.

Winter Sun - watercolour and metal leaf by Nancy Farmer

Winter Sun – Row emerging from Clevedon Marine Lake – watercolour and metal leaf by Nancy Farmer

Water done in metal leaf

Water done in metal leaf

Metal leaf - same picture, different lighting

Metal leaf – same picture, different lighting

source photo for Winter Sun

source photo for Winter Sun

Wednesday Swimmers

The Wednesday Swimmers

The finished painting.

The finished painting.

This is Sally, Wendy and Cecily (left to right), who often swim on a Wednesday morning at Vobster. I particularly like swimming with them when I get a chance: there is much mucking about, diving, somersaulting, comedy renditions of synchro swimming. Occasionally there is swimming too. It’s all very good material for art: Sally takes fabulous photos, I take snaps by the simple method of pointing the camera in the general direction of the subject while repeatedly pressing the shutter for as long as I can hold my breath, but they are exactly what I need for paintings afterwards.

This is watercolour with gold and palladium leaf, quite big: about 19 x 22 inches. I took photos of the work in progress and posted them as I did each stage on my facebook profile, a slightly unnerving experience as at the start I had a large number of comments that said ‘leave it as it is’ …no pressure not to mess it up then! Here is the full sequence.

I have prints of this painting in my Etsy shop:, and at time of writing this painting is also for sale, though I’ve also earmarked it for an exhibition in Clevedon in October (more on that later…).

The photos

The photos



Pencil outlines and underpainting in Prussian blue

Pencil outlines and underpainting in Prussian blue

...Prussian Blue....

…Prussian Blue….

...more Prussian Blue...

…more Prussian Blue… know what colour this is by now!

…you know what colour this is by now!

Lots of thin layers of very translucent yellow with a hint of red/magenta

Lots of thin layers of very translucent yellow with a hint of red/magenta

A little more colour, and the highlights put back in

A little more colour, and the highlights put back in by lifting off a little of the colour wash where light catches the skin and for the sunbeams through the water.

The finished painting.

The finished painting. This is a scan and a more faithful representation of the colours than the previous photos.

Detail of tiny fragments of gold leaf

Detail of tiny fragments of gold leaf





Finally, gold and palladium leaf fragments, lots of them.

The metal leaf fragments, catching the light.

Lisa - swimmer painting in watercolour by Nancy Farmer - detail


Painting in watercolour, with bubbles in palladium and aluminium leaf. Another painting from a photo in the incomparable waters of Vobster Quay.

Lisa - swimmer painting in watercolour by Nancy Farmer

Lisa – swimmer painting in watercolour by Nancy Farmer

This painting is for sale at the time of posting this, and there will be prints available shortly.


The Angel of Grasmere

The Angel of Grasmere

The Angel of Grasmere

The Angel of Grasmere

This painting was from a photo I took of my friend Jackie in Grasmere in Cumbria, late last summer. Unlike the blue water of Vobster, where I’ve taken many many underwater photos, Grasmere has peaty brown-coloured water, but it was still quite clear, so that the sunlight that filtered through was golden, and the reflection of Jackie’s arms on the underside of the water spread out like two huge wings.

The painting is in watercolour on paper, with a lot of gold leaf on the ‘wings’. It’s about 29 x 12 inches and at the time of writing this it’s currently still available for sale.
I also have prints in my Etsy shop:


I usually swim with Lucy at Clevedon Marine Lake. A fantastic and free facility but the lake is topped up by the muddy brackish waters of the Bristol Channel on the highest of tides, and if you can see as far as your feet through the water it is a remarkable and rare event.

Lucy asked me to paint a painting of her swimming, so we went off to Vobster with my camera, and I took lots of snaps and this painting is the result. We were just about lucky with the weather – the sun deigned to shine between the November clouds for a few minutes, but the water is lovely and clear anyway, so it’s always good for photos.

This is painted in watercolour with fragments of aluminium leaf for the bubbles.

Lucy at Vobster

Lucy at Vobster

Close-up detail of painting