Waiting for the Storm – Private Commission

s4w-pencil-sk2The story of ‘Jennie and Lucy Waiting for the Storm’ original painting by Nicola Rowsell

I met Andy while we were part of our local ukulele club. Half way through the session I would stop making terrible noises with my uke (singing and twanging) and draw instead. I happened to have ‘caught’ Andy in one of my sketches and this connection led to these new paintings.

Andy’s wife, Jane had specifically asked him to commission my work for her birthday. I was touched that Jane had looked at my website, loved my work and wanted the commission to be my interpretation of their daughters. I think this is what art does, communicates a level of understanding between the artist and the viewer, even if they haven’t met. If someone ‘gets’ an artists work, there is a connection through that work and the artist ‘gets’ that person too. It’s a really nice feeling.

I used photographic references provided by Andy. I asked that he try to catch the girls when they were just being. He used their holiday as an opportunity to take reference shots. Andy’s pictures were candid, quiet, ideal snaps of sisterly moments under a parental gaze.

Through warm up sketches I was able to get a feel for their quirks and characteristics like the way they stood, their wind blown, play messed up hair. I could feel the narrative between them as sisters, between themselves and their parents and between themselves and the environment. A sense of life and of sisters is what I wanted to communicate in my final piece.

I warmed up by making loads of sketches. I sketched children by Googling images before using Andy’s photos. I use a good enough but not expensive paper at this stage as I get through quite a lot. Most of the sketches end up on the floor while I work. When the sketches had a fluidity, I looked through them for signs of ‘living’ characters.

Then I used my light table. I can’t express how much I love my light table. It’s an old drawing/cutting/light table and has two light settings so I usually keep it on the low setting so I can’t see much of the original sketch. I am able to build characters by moving the original sketch and playing with the top drawing. I continue to draw intuitively, often turning off the light as I get to a point where the drawing underneath is redundant. When I have characters that feel real to me I put away all reference material and tidy up.

I sent Andy and Jane three sketched compositions that I liked and they encouraged me to continue as I was. Given this freedom I answered my own questions regarding colour and mood.

I stretched my paper to lots of boards. It is important for me not to have the debilitating scary white paper thing going on. Although my paper is expensive and stretching is time consuming, I stretch as many sheets as possible so I can approach each sheet like I would my sketchbook pages. Rather like making pancakes, the first few are a flop and are fed to the dog before they start working out.

In total, I made two finished gouache paintings for Andy and Jane to choose from. The mood in each painting is different, one dark the other light. They chose both, which was a wonderful surprise.

‘Jennie and Lucy Waiting for the Storm’ and ‘Jennie and Lucy, Explorers’

I cropped out parts of the flopped paintings. Flopped works are by no means futile works, they help me make decisions about what works, what fails and when I’ve finished.

When I have finished, I leave the paintings on their boards for at least one week before carefully removing the tape. Then the framing- I cut mounts and back boards for each piece and hinged the paintings to the mount back boards using Japanese paper hinges and starch paste. I made the frames, I cut colour free glass and fitted the pictures together. I met the deadline, Andy and Jane were pleased. Jane has kindly permitted me to publish her email to me.

Hello Nicola

I wanted to let you know that I really love the paintings that you did – it’s the best present I could have had.

Although I love the one of “Waiting for the Storm’ because of how you have captured the light in the picture and that feeling of serenity from the coast, I also really love the ‘Explorers’ painting for the energy and the fun it has. Somehow you have got the essence of Jennie and Lucy in the paintings and if you meet them, I think you will feel you already know them!

Thank you so much for these beautiful paintings, your work is beautiul and I hope that we can come over to see your studio this year.

Very best regards,










A selection of sketchbook pages made in Cyprus

I’ve just enjoyed a relaxing break in Cyprus with my family.

This is how I saw the view from our apartment in Polis.

Hay, orange groves, palms, mountains, a purple haze and violet clouds.

Bats and Swallows.




Mike, who is from Vietnam, was busy all day.

I sketched him very early in the morning, watering the gardens and

cleaning the pool.

He always wore this quirky hat.




I have always vowed that I would never sit at a table,

painting, with a cat on my lap and a cup of coffee.

And there I was, painting with a cup of coffee and a cat on my lap.

It was nice.

Wild cats and kittens hide in the flower beds.

They hunt and devour lizards, huge bugs, cicada, snakes and ants.









Pebbles collected from (and returned to) Polis beach.








Polis beach.

Turtle nests.

Egg cases.

An eccentric 74 year old lady, Anna Maria from Austria, sleeping in her tent on the beach, backpacking solo.




Lobster people. Aloe Vera.

Banana plants, lemons, melons, pomegranates.

Honey, yoghurt, baclava.

Herb gardens. cacti, olive groves.

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