Artwork in India (12) – Himachal Pradesh

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, india, collage, airmail, pen and wash, watercolour, landscape, travel blog, travel illustration, river, mountains, rocks, watercolor, sketchbook

Himachal Pradesh was on my wishlist from February but the weather was just too cold to make the trip pleasurable until spring finally arrived halfway through April. 

I kept seeing gorgeous photos on Instagram and eventually booked two sets of accommodation in the Tirthan Valley. It was still damp and rainy when we arrived but we had a wood burner and electric blankets in our room to turn the chill into cosy.

To reach Himachal Pradesh from West Bengal we took a taxi from Siliguri to Bagdogra, flew to Delhi then on to Chandigarh (both steaming hot), then hired a car and driver to drop us in the Tirthan Valley.

Flights from Delhi to Kullu Manali (Himachal Pradesh’s airport)  are extremely expensive and unreliable due to the weather conditions, and while night buses from Delhi to Kullu are cheap, they take about 10 hours and don’t have proper sleeper berths (just reclining seats).

So that’s why we opted for the car and driver; door to door convenience, comfort and a reasonable price. Salman the driver loved the trip too, it was his first visit to Tirthan and he was mightily impressed by the phenomenal landscape.

A landscape which I found impossible to capture well in watercolour. I made one attempt which ended in frustration so I covered the mess with a collage and did a simple sketch on top. Life is too short to labour over landscapes when you can simply admire them.

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, himalayas, mountains, india, travel photography, wanderlust, travel blog, springtime

Still with an eye on the weather in desirable destinations like Manali and Mcleodganj (the Dalai Lama’s base in India) at higher altitudes we decided to stay put in the Banjar region until we had to return to Delhi and then to London. Comfort won out over curiosity; a sign of age perhaps.

Himachal Pradesh is a fantastic place to finish my trip. The weather is gentle as are our generous hosts here in the Tirthan Valley. 

I also found this epic book in our guesthouse and was immediately hooked.

India had been a profoundly wonderful and confusing experience, there were many points when I felt like I’d had enough but then something amazing would happen and I’d bounce back. 

Arundhati Roy, perhaps as only an Indian woman can, weaves a beautiful tale entwining the tragic, seemingly eternal (and universally human) threads of sexism, racism, classism, religion, corruption, exploitation and violence in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. The book is mostly set in Kashmir and Delhi but encompasses the whole of India.

“They aren’t very good at other people’s pain. But then who is? … What we have on our hands is a species problem. None of us is exempt.”

A sad but funny and fascinating read and a great Indian history lesson.

Europe will undoubtedly seem pale after India but I will be happy to dress and express myself as I wish again without worrying that I’m offending anyone.

That’s a huge luxury, as is white privilege – being born in a relatively rich, secular and democratic country.

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, himalayan foothills, kullu, india, springtime, countryside, flowers, mountains, cactus, slate roof

Himachal Pradesh is so beautiful in the springtime and the people of the Tirthan Valley are so warm, kind and hospitable. We climbed up a really big hill today; up a dirt track, stone steps, through flowery meadows full of butterflies, we passed a waterfall, a few slate roofed cottages and a tiny school. Near the top a dog started barking at us quite enthusiastically; his lovely family gave us a glass of cold cordial and invited us in to see the temple in their new wooden house. We had very few words in common but they worked.

bidi, beedi, leaf cigarette, indian cigarette, bundi, rajasthan, india, travel illustration, illustration, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, collage, packaging

Little sketchbook homage to the humble bidi (or beedi) a cheap but tasty Indian smoke. Basically it’s a leaf rolled around a tiny bit of tobacco, secured with a string. There was a bidi factory in Bundi, a beautiful town in Rajasthan that I visited in January. The bidies in the image above are painted, the rest is a collage of beautiful bidi packaging.

Herman@ de Tod@s

Arte Vejer recently staged a group exhibition of artworks made by local artists inspired by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca who was murdered 80 years ago on the orders of Franco the fascist dictator.

Lorca was born on the 5th June (the same day as me) in 1898 (several years before me) in a small town close to Granada. That’s why I chose the pomegranate as the theme for my collage; granada means pomegranate in Spanish and the ancient town was renamed after the fruit during the Moorish period.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

The pomegranate is also a symbol of abundance and fertility which aptly describes Lorca’s imagination, passion and creative genius; he was a  prolific writer, considered to be one of Spain’s most important poets and published his first book at the age of 21.

The first stage of the process (above) was to blacken the background (paper on cardboard) and outline the pomegranate seeds with layers of charcoal.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

Lorca moved to Madrid in 1919 and devoted himself entirely to his art which was infused with the flamenco culture of his native Andalusia. He was a contemporary of Buñuel and Dalí who introduced him to surrealism. Lorca and Dalí had a particularly intimate relationship involving ‘love, passion and respect‘ but it is rumoured that Dalí’s aversion to physical contact and his repressed sexuality led him to reject Lorca’s advances.

I painted the seeds and persistent calyx (the bit at the top of the fruit) with acrylic.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

In 1929 Lorca left Spain to spend a year in New York where he was inspired by the African-American spirituals he heard in Harlem, his favourite part of the city.

Next I collaged a map of the world over the background (above), this represents the international reach of Lorca’s work and art in general as well as his time abroad. I then painted over it with acrylic.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

The text is an extract from one of Lorca’s last interviews.

Here’s the full quote in Spanish:

“Yo soy español integral y me sería imposible vivir fuera de mis límites geográficos; pero odio al que es español por ser español nada más, yo soy hermano de todos y execro al hombre que se sacrifica por una idea nacionalista, abstracta, por el sólo hecho de que ama a su patria con una venda en los ojos. El chino bueno está más cerca de mí que el español malo. Canto a España y la siento hasta la médula, pero antes que esto soy hombre del mundo y hermano de todos. Desde luego no creo en la frontera política.”

And translated into English

“I am Spanish through and through and it would be impossible for me to live outside my geographic boundaries; but I hate those Spanish people who are merely Spanish and nothing more, I am brother to all and abhor the man who sacrifices himself to an abstract nationalist idea purely because he blindly loves his homeland. I feel closer to the good Chinese man than the bad Spanish man. I sing to Spain and feel her in my marrow, but before that I am a man of the world and brother of all. Of course I don’t believe in political borders.”

The quote really sang to me when I came across it; it seems particularly apposite in these times of Brexit and Trump when ugly nationalism and bigotry are on the rise again. 

I cut the letters for the text from magazines and stuck them down in the style of an old fashioned ransom note (above) as a reference to the fact that Lorca was abducted before being killed by a falangist firing squad.

I added ‘A’s to the ‘O’s of ‘hermano’ and ‘todos’ to explicitly make the words gender neutral which also happily turned those letters into anarchist symbols.

Next I painted electrical cables emerging from the calyx of the pomegranate (below) to turn it into a fairy light. I made this piece just before Christmas so it was seasonally apt (although I am a huge fan of the year round fairy light) and it also suggests that the earth is but a bauble hanging in the vastness of the universe and that we humans take our opinions about our piffling differences far too seriously.

The final stage of the process (below) was to paint crackle glaze over the whole of the image before applying bitumen, gold paint and glitter as stains.

lorca, tribute, homage, granada, pomegranate, mixed media, collage, map, charcoal, acrylic paint, crackle glaze, betun stain, fairy light, arte vejer

Lorca was staying at his family’s country home just outside Granada when the civil war started in 1936. About a month before his incarceration and murder on August 19th Lorca had a disturbing dream in which he was being menaced by a group of grieving women waving black crucifixes.

Archaeologists are still searching for the exact burial site of Lorca’s body. 

Light Hearted


About a week after my Dad had a mild heart attack in the spring of 2014 he had an angiogram to find out which of his coronary arteries might need stents to open them up and improve the blood flow to his heart muscle.  He asked the cardiologist if the stents would stop his supraventricular tachycardia – also known as SVT, a sudden acceleration of the heart rate which usually resolves without treatment and causes no harm.


The cardiologist replied “No, this is plumbing and that’s wiring”.

When my Dad told me the story this picture sprang to my mind, almost fully formed.

I started by researching related images and sticking them in my sketchbook and then set about making some sketches.


The power switch and plug represent the sinoatrial node, or pacemaker, which is the area of heart tissue that generates the electrical impulses which cause the heart to beat. My Mum has had a pacemaker fitted so this part also refers to her.

The fairy lights are a celebratory representation of the electrical impulses which drive the heart, they are also inspired by the ring of flowers or thorns which typically adorn a sacred heart and by the nostlgia for the childhood Christmas times when my Dad would take the lights down from the loft, untangle them and replace the dud bulbs ready for my Mum and me to decorate the tree.

Once I was happy with the basic layout I enlarged the rough drawing,


traced it onto my working surface and began to collage.

I used sheet music for the lungs/wings because music, lungs and wings all need air to work properly.

The map which forms the background for the heart and blood vessels is of the Brecon Beacons, my Dad used to lead trekking holidays there for apprentices of the engineering company where he worked as a training instructor. He told me that he’d had a clear out of his old maps and I said “I’ll have them!” but he’d already taken them to the charity shop so I went straight there and bought them back.

Once the lungs/wings were collaged I added charcoal outlines and stuck on the map pieces.


I then applied a wash of acryilc paint and more charcoal outlines and shading


All the plumbing and electrical components were made in the same way:

I drew them onto thick paper,

applied a wash of acrylic paint and reinforced the outlines and shading with charcoal,


cut them out,


and stuck them on.


The electrical flex and glow from the fairy lights are painted with acrylic.


Working  with collage, drawn collage, acrlyic paint and charcoal in this way was really fun and liberating.

Details: 36 x 41 cm, mixed media comprising collage, painted collage, acrylic paint and charcoal on paper and card.

7 Days

7 Days‘ is the title of the fifth and final assignment I completed for my illustration course with the OCA (Open College of the Arts)

The series of 7 patterns (1 for each day of the title) was inspired by a summer boating holiday on the Canal du Midi in the south of France, and also by the wonderful woodblock designs for wallpaper and fabric of Marthe Armitage, the dramatic wallpapers featured in Sherlock the TV series and the films August:Osage County and American Hustle.

The title page shows the location:

digital collage, map of France, canal du midi

I chose 7 themes from the trip and made a motif for each, which I then multiplied to make a pattern:

Day of the 2CV

2CV, digital collage, pattern, car, illustrationDay of the Locks

Canal du Midi, lock, canal boat, digital collage, pattern

Day of the Sunflower

Sunflowers, digital collage, pattern

Day of the Plane Tree

Plane tree, digital collage, illustration, pattern

Day of Patisserie

Patisserie, cake, digital collage, illustration

Day of the Dragonfly

dragonflies, dragonfly, digital collage, pattern, illustration

Day of the Grapevine

grapevine, vinyard, grapevines, digital collage, illustration

 My ultimate aim is to reproduce some if not all of these patterns on wallpaper, fabric and other surfaces.

The method was pretty much the same for each pattern; here’s an outline:

  1. Research photos and sketches made on the spot
  2. Preliminary sketches from the initial research images
  3. Pencil or pen drawing from the sketches
  4. Drawing scanned to Photoshop where the line work was cleaned (by adjusting brightness/contrast, duplicating with the layer blend mode set to multiply and using the eraser tool) and cut out
  5. Colours and textures added in Photoshop layers using scanned handmade collages and marbling, bought papers, flat and graduated digital Photoshop colours and textured colours in Corel Painter12
  6. Duplication of the coloured single unit
  7. Adding a background of flat digital colour or scanned paper
  8. Adding texture to the background

For those who are interested in seeing  the production method for each image in more detail I’ve added them below:

Title page

For the background I made a map of Europe by tracing the outline in pencil onto squared paper


which I then scanned to Photoshop and inverted

I then collaged the map in Photoshop layers with some bought paper

and marbling I had made using oil paints

and a French flag which I found through an internet search

I distorted the map with the free transform tool and applied my inverted outline of a plane tree and grapevine pattern (methods below), adjusting the layer blending modes, tone, saturation, curves and levels in Photoshop.

I printed the text ‘7 Days a journey in patterns’ from Photoshop , traced it in pencil and scanned the tracing back into Photoshop where I coloured / inverted it

I wanted to show the location of the Canal du Midi, so next I made a collage of another map of France I found through an internet search, applying torn fragments from a French road atlas

working over it in water soluble green crayon and a wash of acrylic paint

before applying a crackle glaze and white acrylic paint to highlight the cracks and scanning it into Photoshop

I traced the outline of the canal in Corel Painter layers from this map I found on the internet and applied it to my cropped collaged map in Photoshop, adjusting the tone and saturation, adding text to mark Toulouse and Sete (the towns at either end of the canal), and creating a border using the brush tool and a scan of aged paper in layers.

I had a practice run at labeling France on a print out my map of Europe (to which I’d applied a crackle glaze and white acrylic paint) with collage and biro

I cut out the collaged label of the lower left version in Photoshop and applied it over my background, including a smaller duplication of the ‘flagged’ France and a smaller duplication with reduced opacity of the Canal du Midi map over the larger ‘flagged’ France map

Finally, in Photoshop, I adjusted the tone and saturation of the background to improve the contrast, added and coloured a boat from the locks pattern (see below) labelled the Canal du Midi on the larger map insert and added an inverted outline of the 2CV drawing (see below).



Research photo taken in France, I also referred to a photo I found on the internet

Pen drawing

Scanned to Photoshop, line work cleaned and cut out

Coloured in Photoshop

2CV, car, digital collage, illustration

Curves adjusted, image duplicated and scanned paper added in Photoshop layers for background texture

2CV, pattern, car, digital collage, illustration 2CV, car, pattern, digital collage, illustration

Tone adjusted to achieve different coloured versions


3 sketches made on site to show how the canal boats go ‘up and down hill’ via the lock system

1 of many, many photos I took of the boat in a lock

A series of sketches I made to work out how to show how boats move up and down stream through the lock mechanism in ‘3D’

I traced the final sketch, made a pen drawing and scanned it to Photoshop in 2 parts

The line work is cleaned, duplicated, aligned and cut out in Photoshop

Outline duplicated in Photoshop layers on a scanned paper background with stripes added with the brush tool

Canal locks, digital collage, illustration

Collage and colour applied to the line work in Photoshop layers: leaves with the collaged map of France (see above); water with the brush tool; locks with the photo of concrete shown below

Locks, canal, canal du midi, lock diagram, digital collage, illustration

Finally the single unit is duplicated and stripes of scanned blue paper are added in Photoshop layers. I also added a final outline layer over the top to improve definition. The repeated unit is reminiscent of the form of Tibetan thangka art


Research photos taken on the spot

Rough sketches for possible pattern layouts, I wanted to show the sunflowers rotating, as if towards the sun

Pencil drawings


Drawings scanned to Photoshop, line work cleaned, trimmed and cut out


Pattern trials made by duplicating layers in Photoshop

Sunflowers coloured in Photoshop layers: yellow centres and green parts collaged with different tonal versions of the France collage map (see above); petals with flat and graduated digital colour

Collaged sunflowers duplicated to form single unit of repeat

Single unit duplicated and flipped vertically


Colour and pattern trials


I finally settled on a blue background, to represent the summer sky, adding texture to it via a scanned canvas

Plane Tree

Planted between 1681-1810, plane trees line long lengths of the Canal du Midi and are dying because of a fungus but I decided not to portray the dying trees in favour of ‘aesthetic delectation’.

Sketch made on site


1 of many research photos taken on site, I also referred to this Natural History Museum photo


Rough sketches to work out a single repeating unit

Pen drawing of the single unit

Single unit duplicated in Photoshop layers

Pattern line work inverted

Yellow tonal version of my collaged map of France added as a background to the inverted cut out line work. It overpowered the pattern which lacks definition

I redrew the single unit in pencil, adding more detail

Drawing scanned to Photoshop, line work cleaned and cut out


Collaged in Photoshop layers with my France collage map

Line work inverted and tone of collage adjusted, I love these autumnal shades but my pattern needed to be summery green

Layer effects applied to inverted line work

The version I decided to repeat

Pattern variations


Research photos

Pen drawings made from photos

Drawings scanned to Photoshop, line work cut out, inverted, duplicated and coloured in Photoshop and Corel Painter12

Coloured cakes duplicated to make a pattern

cakes, patisserie, digital collage, illustration

 Inverted line work introduced to background to add depth, subtle granular texture added

cakes, patisserie, digital collage, illustration

Closer crop


Research photo

Partial pen drawing

Drawing scanned to Photoshop, cleaned, part duplicated and flipped horizontally

Playing with tone and saturation settings

Line work inverted

Playing with tone and saturation settings for the inverted version

Inverted line work multiplied

Line work on a scanned paper background


A4 crop


Research photos

Preliminary sketches from photos

Pen drawing

Scanned and duplicated

The single unit was collaged in Photoshop layers with the following material:

marbling I made with oil paints

scanned to Photoshop and tone/saturation adjusted for the grapes

my collaged France map for the vine leaves

textured paper for the ground

textured paper for the vine trunks

The duplicated collage

A closer crop





This collage is made from objects found on the beach where I live along with scraps of paper, leather and ribbon.

It is on show (and for sale) at La Casa del Arco until September 10th 2013

Rosas Amarillas para Adrián

…or ‘Yellow Roses for Adrián’



This painting was commissioned as a gift for the flamenco dancer Adrián Brenes (

It’s a pen and watercolour piece with collaged elements (also pen and watercolour on paper) which overlap the mount.

When I saw Adrián dance, as well as being struck by the passion and power of his performance, I was fascinated by his footwear (he’s a very dapper chap). So I chose the boots to represent Adrián, the yellow roses signify friendship, they are set on a window sill which is draped by curtains, suggesting a stage and you can see Adrián’s home town of Conil de la Frontera in the background. The text ‘tiriti tran tran tran….’ is a flamenco refrain.

Mixed media collage on reclaimed wood

These collages are made with found wood, bottle caps, ribbon, string, feathers and paper scraps

012Map,-cap-and-feather Pray-for-Surf Tryptic1


The ‘Pray for Surf’ image is available as a postcard



Wonder, Free Space Gallery, Kentish Town Health Centre, art exhibitionFree Space Gallery

Kentish Town Health Centre, 2 Bartholomew Road, London, NW5 2BX
May 2011

See photos of the exhibition here

Curator Melissa Hardwick

Click here to read Melissa´s post about the exhibition

Click here for more information about the Free Space Gallery