Old Challenges

I studied Art in the 1970s and gained a Fine Art’s Degree followed by a Post Graduate Certificate in Education with Distinction in 1978.  Then I taught Fine Art at a Secondary School for three years and have been running my food outlet for the last 24years.  You could say that studying towards a career is a challenge in itself and to actually get a job at the end is also an achievement.  I prefer to be self employed now, at least it’s an excuse to keep an eye on the other half!

When my youngest started school, I set myself some challenges.  If you don’t set yourself goals, life would be pretty boring.  I caught that discus bug of all things, and it’s intensity was so great that my nickname Tatty became Ratty too.  For the next five years, I became oblivious to the world, I was seeing and breathing discus, even in my sleep.  My aim was to churn out a huge fish to fit snugly onto a plate so that I could cook it and feed it to my nagging husband.  The task is easier said than done.  When I grew a discus fry (baby) to a real beauty and it goes on to raise the next generation, that feeling of satisfaction is indescribable unless you have done it yourself.


Here is one of my females with fry, I bred her in 1995.  The tiny black specks feeding on her are her babies and she was the same size once.  Just amazing! Her batches were small due to an infection but they got bigger with time.

Sadly, I had to give up my discus fish keeping to care for my mother who had cancer.  She died in 1997.

For the next three years, I was gaining new skills in interior design.  What a way to practise these on a brand new house!  I wallpapered the whole house.  The first experimental room was the downstairs lavatory, yes small enough, didn’t want to frighten myself off!  I had stretched the paper too tight on the corners so it became the most rounded room in the house and the children have been warned not to go near the corners!  Of course, the last of the 80 rolls I used are on areas of full public view – hallway and lounge.  I did not want to embarrass myself!  Any papered walls seen on this site are my doing, the computer rooms and there is that bright orange paper behind the en suite cabinet, I still can’t forget the price – £30 per roll.  I have to treat myself now and again, since I am saving on the labour costs and anyway I wanted something to glow in the dark!

I also had a go at curtain making and saved myself a fortune. Here is an example of a set of curtains and I will show a bit of my wallpapering, I spent ages cutting half that border out – 23 metres!



This is the lounge, you see I have improved my wallpapering. I have made both set of curtains and even put the curtain rails up myself

lace_landing lace_bathroom

Here are some lace curtains that I have designed and made for the landing and the bathroom.

When I had finished interior designing my house.  I saw the fun the children were having with their Personal Computers.  Mummy wants one!  In October 2001, I told my son to build me one with his leftover parts and a Pentium 300 was born.  I now operate an AMD Athlon 2000XP, and feel great to have gone up in the world, so it brings me another desire, to learn how to type.

What a great way to learn the keyboard, to write a book on my life with the discus fish.

Previously, I did have a go writing a short story about my life with the discus fish.  Please accept my apologise on the poor grammar, my best excuse is that I am foreign after all!  BUT having said that, I came to Britain when I was 8 years old, could not speak, read or write a word of English and in 3 years I passed my 11-plus to go to the Grammar School, my brain must have been bigger then!  Was that young clever girl really me?  Happy reading………..


The till is rolling again at Chan’s Takeaway.  The Chinese lady is ready to rob; she is not ashamed to admit that she is Dick Turpin – minus the mask. She is not ashamed to use her cute dimples to hypnotise her foe and then make her kill. They have been her trade mark all through her forty years of life. These gifts from god, they are her wealth and fortune. So she had to take heed of their value even though their full potential have not been realised yet. But, at times their hypnotic effect did not work and she nearly ended up slaving away in the paddy fields of China.

Feet up, at last.  She managed, only just managed to usher the last drunkard out of her shop. He wanted to take her as well as the food. It proves that their hypnotic powers even take hold of the least sober of the human race. She eyes her beauties all over and could kick herself for her misfortune today. Because tonight, her pets are in for a disappointment. She cannot offer them their usual treat of white worms. They could have had the whole of the Takeaway menu but white worms are definitely out tonight. Here is a woman who has handled the meat cleaver since she was twelve years old. She can skin, take the fat and gristle off a beef heart in ten minutes flat. And she cannot give them even one single worm! Why? Earlier on, she went into the garden to get some soil to top her up worm container. Yes, you’ve guessed, she had shoved in cat excrement instead. So tonight, the little mites cannot be tamed, they could have had some cat if she had got hold of it earlier – with the meat cleaver.

As usual, her husband known as the Jap because she reckons that his eyes are more slant than hers let her play with her toys. I mean, who wants to stand in the way of a discus lover! Unless one has divorce on ones mind, they would make an excellent excuse. As long as she allows him a brand new Volvo everyone three years, he will not go off with another woman. But it makes you wonder how on earth did she get the bug in the first place?

Well, fish keeping began twelve years ago when number one son, a fussy eater, refused solid food. So while watching the goldfish swimming around in a bowl, the morsels were rammed down with no trouble. Even now, nearly a teenager, skinny as a rake, he is still a fusspot, not much as an advert for his mums takeaway. It was only last week that she took him to a Clark shoe shop. And did you know that the assistant was appalled. She couldn’t find a pair of shoes to fit! They were the skinniest ankles that she has ever seen.

The discus bug took hold two years ago and nearly all her senses too. A friend invited her in to view his prized fish and they were worth three hundred and fifty pounds! Wow! He has had them for fourteen months and they were going to be his breadwinners. The bigger of the two was about three inches and it had a huge cloudy eye that was dangling from its socket. The smaller one came up to peck at some live tubifex worms. Its enormous eyes stared at her. They were even bigger than her dimples! The tails and fins on both fish were rotting away; even their pectoral fins were disappearing. He said he only changed the water every three months.

Shocked and disgusted with her friends’ effort or the lack of it, she went home with a dream. Unlike her lazy friend, she felt she had more to offer to this sensitive species. So she set out to achieve an ultimate dream, a challenge so challenging that it has earned her a new nickname ‘Tatty’ How did she become a discus loony?

Well to have the honour of becoming one, you must possess or read every available literature on the subject.  You must visit as many discus outlets as possible to see how the professionals do it.  You must invest in some good and reliable water purification equipment as water quality is the basis of many problems.  Unlike Tatty’ once her giant trickle box ended up in the tank instead of on top.  You must provide a variety of nutritious food.  If you want to achieve the growth rate of one inch per month, you must be willing to sacrifice your dainty set up of plants and gravel.  Most of all, you must have an understanding partner and children otherwise you will end up living in the garage or shed and of course, have plenty of money to spend.

Tatty’s discus fish live or suffer most likely from:

  1. The smell of Chinese cooking – curries, barbecue spare ribs, soy sauce etc – the full Monty.
  2. Sudden appearances of sweaty socks when the children do somersaults on the settee.
  3. Thunderous noises coming from the potato peeler, everyday.
  4. Late night Chinese programmes on satellite TV and they are in a foreign lingo too.
  5. The hypnotic powers of her dimples, they make them forget their troubles, like no white worm treats.
  6. Her Chinese cuisine, their favourite, they honestly love her food preparations.

She selects the most tender heart, fresh, straight from the slaughterhouse.  She uses a meat mincing machine to vary the size of lumps, to fit different size mouths.  She adds essential vitamins and spirulina, plus the best part of her Sunday dinner, a chunk of steak, 100% lean.  Yes, what is good enough for her is good enough for her pets.  They eat what she eats.  It is not the case of ‘eat where the Chinese eat’ here, but ‘eat what the Chinese eat.’  The mixture is bonded together with egg yolk, put in polythene bags, flattened, as though vacuum packed with the excess air driven out for easy thawing and then straight into the freezer to kill off harmful bacteria.

From experience, she found that liquidized beef heart blended too quickly with aquarium water.  Her discus fish were not getting the full nutritional value of each serving.   They were in fact really getting watered down food.  And grating is such a messy job.  The beauty of her food preparation is the pure convenience of it all.  So, at the moment, the meat mincer is her fortune, not her dimples.  She is hoping that this magical mixture will help her and lead the way… Her ultimate challenge is to raise a discus as big as a plate, and then she might batter it, cook it and feed it to her nagging Jap.  Any offers anyone?  She is after a dozen of young discus from big parental stock.

Now, where is that blooming cat?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading that story because it gives you an idea what’s in my book.


  1. 1kg of beef heart stripped off fat and cartilage
  2. 400 grams of very lean beef steak (not interlaced with shiny gristle) or cod, good as a binder
  3. 1 tablespoon of paprika, contains an orange pigment capsanthin used in food colouring
  4. 1 tablespoon of spirulina powder or 12 (500mg) crushed tablets, for good health all round
  5. 10 grams tropical fish flakes, to supplement the vitamins
  6. 4 raw egg yolks as a binder


1. Take a fresh heart, a thawed out frozen one would have lost some of the goodness and refreezing a once frozen heart can be harmful to the fish.


and strip off all fat on outer skin and cartilage inside the heart, especially the shiny layer covering the inner walls which is like gristle. Dice the heart up to look like the above on the presentation tray. Put heart through a mincing machine, which butchers used for mincing steak. My advice is buy and clean the heart and steak yourself and ask the butcher to mince it for you. It would most likely to be the last mince of the day as cleaning the machine is tedious and time consuming, I don’t think his customers would like heart mixed with their mince steak! My machine is a small catering one and I use this size gauge. Heart is pushed through the holes via the rotating blades.


Mincing the heart
Mincing the heart

Mincing the steak as well, see, hardly any fat on both!
Mincing the steak as well, see, hardly any fat on both!

Both meats are fed through twice to reduce the size of morsels, and sometimes pushed through three times if I was feeding small fish.

This is all the ingredients put together in a container, please make sure that pure raw egg yolk is added as a substance in raw egg white inhibits the absorption of biotin.  Biotin is involved in the metabolism and energy release from nutrients.  Most of the nutritional value is in the yolk.


Mix thoroughly with a fork and it will look like this

To make a very firm mass where the steak and yolk help to create a bread dough mix, the whole lot needs to be put through a processor at high speed for two minutes. Spoon in half first and it will end up looking like this.

processor mixture3

Put a third of this into a clear polythene bag for easy viewing of unwanted trapped air, which could be forced out with a palette knife or a ruler.  The measurement of ‘carpet’ (almost as though vacuumed packed) is approximately 22cm by 16cms by 6mm thick,  Put a score down the middle so it can be folded for easy storage.  Folded piece is app.11cms by 16cms by 12mm thick.

cake1 cake2

Here is the folded portion

And finally 6 concentrated portions neatly packed for the freezer
And finally 6 concentrated portions neatly packed for the freezer

I hope I have made a good job explaining how to make Tatty’s beef  heart recipe, concocted, in her view to produce plate size discus.    Have fun, you discus lovers.

I love challenges, the harder the better because it keeps the mind active and kills brain cells too, of course.  My husband says with the way I am going; I should put my head in a microwave oven instead!  I have just written a book called Curiosity killed the Cat – Well Almost.  It is about pursuing a hobby in this case, discus fishkeeping (a discus is a disc shaped tropical fish of the Chiclidae family which originates from the tributaries of the Amazon).  My aim was to grow one as big as a plate and feed it to the nagging hubby and I did not realise how hard that task was!.  I am having a go at illustrating this book (My Art Gallery 3) if it does not get published, at least that damned book has already come out off my head, has yours?

It seems a long time ago since I gave up the discus fish keeping hobby so it is really a case of re-tracing my steps and cross examining my success, relative to this hobby.  I began with my discus food mix which I feed to my community fish.  I even sold the excess to a customer whose kribs are breeding like mad for the first time.  I started to breed white worms, four dozen cultures and sold them to a fish outlet.  In the past I was a supplier of such cultures producing some 200tubs.  Recently, I only learnt the secret of my success by examining my home made food for them and the medium that I used for cultivation with the help of the internet.


Here is one of my white worm cultures, only half of the worms are visible, the other half have disappeared. They are highly light sensitive and don’t like to be disturbed.These masses of worms are looking for food, you can harvest some clean worms using tweezers and feed to your fish.




This is my WHITE WORMS ARTICLE, a page out of my book.

The scientific name is enchytraeus albidus but the common name is white worms and there are many species, all are good for fish.  They are one of the safe forms of live food that one can cultivate for the fish.  For the discus, they are used as a good conditioner to pep them up for breeding and other beneficial effects like encouraging them to eat after a bout of illness. They form part of a varied diet for my discus and I like to give them these as the last feed of the day since most will be eaten.  Some say that feeding these often can cause obesity in fish because of their fatty content but in my experience, you would require a large daily output of these worms to be able to cause that.

The colour of the worms is milky white and each has a mouth at one end and an anus at the other.  Maximum growth would be 25mm and their diameter may vary between 0.7mm and 1.5mm. White worms are hermaphroditic egg layers; they copulate by pairing head to tail, to exchange sperm cells and lay eggs in transparent cocoons.  A young adult can  produce cocoons each containing up to 10eggs and this could increase threefold as it matures whereas an old worm’s output drops to 2-3 eggs. The eggs hatch in 12days and the worms will start to reproduce from about three weeks onwards.  You only need a few to start a colony.

The medium that I use for culturing white worms was really discovered by chance.  When I first began growing my own worms, I thought that they would thrive in any kind of soil and of course the nearest source was the back garden.   I did not realise that I had added cat excrement, needless to say that not only this pong the house out but the worms did not like it either.


However, the tubs that escaped the unwelcome ingredient did pretty well, when they were placed without lids, in the cellar, which was cool, quiet, very dark and damp with good ventilation. So the atmosphere was right, with temperature being in the 50s Fahrenheit, but there was something about our local soil that the worms liked. And that something was clay; yes our local soil was dark and had a lot of clay content. I used only the top soil because it was easier to obtain since the moles brought it up to the surface. I measured the Ph of this soil and it remained neutral as with my tap water after it had been left standing for a few days. I only filled the tubs with 4inches of it, when dry it was loose but when it got damp, it was sticky. The worms also found it hard to manoeuvre because of this heaviness.

You will begin to wonder why I have chosen a clayey loam.  Why not use ordinary, peat free compost since white worms prefer to breed in a medium on the alkaline side.  Well the answer is simpler than you think, certain compost contain lawn sand, ammonium sulphate which worms detest, because gardeners use it to keep them and their nuisance casts at bay.  Even organic compost which is made up of mostly bark material is not as good as my usual medium.  I find that my local soil is the best, and my worms love it even though they cannot wriggle about much.  So what are the properties of a clay soil medium that help white worms to breed?

Clay is non-porous so there is water retention between the clay particles.  Nitrates moves along with the water in the soil and since this water cannot move freely in the pores spaces, a group of bacteria called facultative anaerobes- substitute nitrates build up due the lack of oxygen.  When this bacteria use nitrates as a substitute for oxygen for respiration, they convert nitrates to nitrogen gas through a process called denitrification.  Nitrogen gas makes up four fifths of our atmosphere; it is a vital ingredient for survival.  All living things on earth required nitrogen for metabolism, growth and reproduction.  So my flourishing worms are getting plenty of nitrogen, like breaths of fresh air but what about their food, what is the best food to feed?

Again, the feed was discovered by chance.  I knew that worms loved porridge or bread crumbs, so why not combined the two?  Near the sell by date pasteurised milk was used, it was a waste to swill away and sugar was added because it would be how I, personally would like it.  And one day I did not have quite enough porridge oats to make the mixture up into a thick creamy paste so I added some bread flour to thicken it.  The whole recipe was simmered slowly over a stove for smoothness and not micro waved which gave a coarse texture.  White worms like to digest stale food scraps so as the milk curdled, the porridge appealed to them.  I butter this paste onto some thin corrugated plastic, which is part of the some cake or sandwich container, sprinkle a bit of loose soil over any visible worm, place this in the centre and leave at least an inch of visible soil around for the culture to breathe. My worms like soft, moist food and not some quick digestive biscuit nor some stale dried bread.  The latter, no matter how dried, still went mouldy if left uneaten for a few days.  I feed on a weekly basis and remove any old food.

tub2 tub3

Yes I treat my worms with some respect because after all, they are living things that will benefit me with rewards beyond words.

I must say that this nitrogen enriched medium was definitely the best out of many other types of compost that I have tried and I tend to get a big output.  As far as the lack of manoeuvre was concerned, why stir and scatter your worms all over the place?  Anyway they did not like to be disturbed.  If a sort of well or crater was made in the centre and the starter worms were deposited here and fed here, you would be able to collect many balls of worms with tweezers, clean worms, free from soil matter.  My worms liked to breed on the surface near the feed.

The culturing medium would become moist with time, from the worm’s waste and absorption of moisture from the food and the damp atmosphere in my cellar, I found this most favourable because they came up to feed more.  If the soil gets too dry, you could spray the medium with water to dampen it a little, only a little as too wet a culture would give off an earthy smell and the worms would not breed.  Letting the soil to ‘rot’ or ‘sweat’ slowly, is best in my opinion.  A new culture will take up to six weeks to get established and a thriving colony gives off a sort of sweet mint/ menthol aroma.  You would soon know what a dead culture smells like!   Harvest on a fortnightly basis, try not to disturb them, give the worms plenty of time to feed and breed.  Harvest quickly because they are highly light sensitive and will disappear within seconds, half of the worms have already burrowed under by the time I took this photo.

tub4 tub5

When you feed these to the fish, if the worms are of various sizes with very tiny ones amongst them, the culture is established and the worms are breeding successfully.  Big worms mean that you were only fattening them up and will eventually deplete your supply.

After a few harvests, you would need to start new cultures from these balls because existing worms would have used up much of the trace elements in the soil and it becomes too acidic.  You would need to scoop out a spoonful of tiny young worms from the mass to start new cultures. Always scoop with some soil attached like the plant roots in a pot, otherwise the worms will feel lost and take longer to get established.



I stress young worms here, as big worms get weak and may be beyond their reproductive stage.  Fill an opaque container with four inches of meadow soil and place this tiny mass of worms and soil mix into the crater made at the centre. Don’t forget to sprinkle a little of dry loose soil over the top of these worms and allow them to wriggle to the porridge, as they would adhere to the feed with the direct contact.  You could top up the dug out hollow in the established culture with more dry loose meadow soil like topping up a fish tank after a water change.  This method could sustain a few more harvests.  One could only supplement these trace elements by renewing our worm compost, unlike plants where a fertiliser could be added.

This is my WHITE WORMS STORY adapted from the above article, another page out of my book

‘Once upon a time, there was a worm called Wrigglo but because his carer was Chinese, she pronounced him Ligglo.  His place of origin was a warm shed, his master had died and his wife hadn’t the faintest idea what to do.  He was shoved inside a margarine tub which made its way to a small D I Y shop in Bury owned by Fred.

Then one day, an oriental named Tatty became keen to cultivate some white worm cultures, it was her latest challenge, besides trying to grow a discus as big as a plate.  She came to the shop to buy all Fred’s available cultures, so Ligglo was joined by at least four generations of his immediate family, though his great grandparents have got beyond reproducing and they just got fat instead!

So now Ligglo was enjoying his new, quiet surroundings, a very dark cool cellar with good ventilation.  His home was a blue mayonnaise tub filled with the sweetest smelling soil he had ever come across.  It was as though he was enveloped in a soft padded coat, all the time.  He was comfortable when he stretched his bristles in any direction.  The air was never stuffy but fresh and the food was forever appetising.  He ate sweetened creamed porridge that was slightly stale too, for breakfast, dinner, tea and supper, and he could eat it till kingdom come because he loved it so much.

All that eating made him very, very big.  He had lots of eggs growing inside and felt a great urge to expel them, which he did while he was eating his breakfast.  It was not surprising what all that sweet and sour porridge did to his system first thing in the morning, a great desire to empty his bowels!

Out came all these tiny eggs which became oval and then elongated.  Minute openings appeared at one end and instantly start to snap up that delicious porridge on the surface.  So it was a vicious circle, indeed. When all his grandchildren gathered in a mass to feed, some kind of metal clamp stooped down and took them away.  He never saw them again.  Now Ligglo, witnessing such a dilemma would never come up to feed when the sun shone.  He had turned to Ramadan for comfort and ate only at sundown instead.  This he did for the rest of his life and when he died, he got caught up in the clamped mass.  A blue turquoise discus fish called Lawrence sucked Ligglo into his mouth and instantly spat him out in disgust.  The tough old worm, whose skin became so leathery was eventually siphoned out and flushed down the drain.’

Well, well, well, did you all think that I was getting rather serious after the Worms Article, NO, I am still the same nut inside that shell!

My new goal is to try to get this book published.  If it is rejected, I will self publish it and give it to my friends as a Christmas present.  What a present, indeed?  Written, illustrated and published by Tatty!

Could you believe it?  I designed and produced this web site using Microsoft FrontPage.  My son has neatly edited it for me so I am dead chuffed with myself particularly when computing is my weakness.  BUT, he says presentation is boring and he will improve on it and he has done so on 16th August 2003.  I am still pleased with what I have done, gaining those extra brain cells in computing so I am going to congratulate myself in my Lancashire accent:

“Eh by gum Lass, you’ve duuna great job ere.””Yes, Lass, you’ve duuna great job ere too.”

That’s me congratulating myself again because I am so pleased with myself. My book, at last I have bound it, it’s a hardback and took me 5 hours to make it presentable, well almost because I need to invest in a quality guillotine! The project took two years, nearly changed me into a Chinese zombie, insomnia is definitely not a good way of enhancing my facial tones! Now to see it materialised, the fruit of my labour, I feel on top of the world!

book title

Here are the six illustrations, I will add more with time.

b1 b2
b3 b4
b5 b6

I want to say if you set your mind on something, go for it, with your true commitment and dedication, you will achieve your goal.  My customers are always asking me when do I find the time to do all these things? The answer is easy, don’t idle in bed and try not to watch too much television especially the Soaps. I hardly watch any, only half an hour in the mornings to catch up with current affairs and that’s only to make sure my son has set off to school. When I get fed up with illustrating, I will try to find a publisher and go from there.  I will share any news with you of course.

March 2004: The weather has been poor for painting because there is hardly any daylight in the mornings. I would like to show you my studio, it’s the conservatory filled with my mess with at least 100 primed boards and canvases. On the easel is my next piece, stained because I never work in oils on a white background. As you can see I am, or the Chan’s household rather, are surrounded with money plants, 32 huge ones to date, our good excuse – if one spends money too fast, better grow some……LOL


April 2004, it’s time to sow some ‘Shark’s Fin’ Marrow seeds. These are classified as a vegetable and we use the young tender marrows in a stir fry or old ones in soup. A friend gave us four plants last year and my inexperienced husband did not nip any excess buds off so the first lot disintegrated! With the second fruiting, I trimmed them and we had some marrows but two of the plants sort of went limp and eventually died. My husband blamed the fumes from the lawnmower! It was only later that he guiltily owned up, the man had got up in the middle of the night and pissed on them! To this day, I am still trying to convince him that we are not back in China!


Doesn’t he look well for a 53year old? Hardly any grey hair and still has thirty healthy teeth apart from one filling.

This lucky marrow escaped his lethal weapon and he is NOT urinating on this years crop! I am hoping to grow them football size and Mr Chan, PLEASE USE THE LAVATORY! By command of her indoors.



After two weeks, these young plants are coming on great because I am using another organic fertilizer – horse manure. Yes, Mr Chan, please keep using the lavatory unless you want to become an eunuch!

3nd August: Mr Chan has thread the trailing vines through the fence where there is plenty of sunshine because it is south facing here. The crazy man is coxing them to go on the top of the shed roof! What a way to decorate this building for Christmas since picked melons can be stored for a few months. To this day, I still do not understand him but you have to allow a man his ‘toys’ otherwise, he might go off with another woman!


In July, many blooms came out, all these turned out to be females but without the pollen from the male flower, they all disintegrated. This is what a male bloom looks like, the female has a bulb.

malebloom femalebloom

With the dismal weather, the bees were scarce so Mr Chan became King Bee.
Yes, I sacrificed one of my paint brushes so that he could have some fun.
Look at this everyone? Eh, Mr Chan, no pissing on it now!



This is one of the many marrow that Mr Chan touched or squeezed with his hands. It is rotting and he must have killed over a dozen! First, I had to tell him to use the lavatory, and then I had to teach him how to become King Bee because he was cross pollinating the female blooms only until I found some males for him. Oh my goodness! Now I have to teach him not to play with them.

These are the lucky ones that have escaped Mr Chan’s Liquid Gold and his Squeeze of Death!




This is the last melon, left so that it ripens fully. When the leaves go yellow and brown, it is time to pick it and retrieve the seeds from inside the melon. The seeds would have gone blackish and I would air and dry them for next year. This year, we are lucky to have about 40 melons out of 72 plants. Now, I need to make a new list of commands for Mr Chan, and the most important one learnt from this summer:

I was thoroughly enjoying myself giving some Art lessons on a MSN site.  It was a challenge in a way since I miss teaching.

I thought of including one of the lessons, so here it is my step by step guide of how I went about painting The Stalking Lioness.

1.  I stain my canvas blue because blue is the complimentary colour of my overall colour = orange

So what are complimentary colours?  Draw the colour wheel; the three primary colours are red,  yellow and blue.

IMG_7291 copy

Mix two primary colours will give you a secondary colour: red and yellow = orange, yellow and blue = green, blue and red = purple

If you draw lines to connect direct opposites, it will give you pairs as follows: red/green, blue/orange and yellow/purple.  Grey is to brown.  These are complimentary pairs of colours.

The pairs will ‘compliment each other, for example, as in a sunset where the blue and orange are quite subtle – pastel shades etc.

BUT if the pair was put together boldly/strongly they hurt your eyes because they vibrate against each other as seen in many optical illusions.

So why have I stained my canvas blue?  Answer is when I paint, bits of this blue are not covered so it vibrates against the orange making the effect of my finished piece more ‘striking’ more ‘vibrant’  The tiny blue specks can only been viewed closely but your eyes fuse them together from a distance, rather like a form of pointillism.


2. After collecting your material – images to work from, make a template in same proportion as your canvas, this one is in cm = 1inch on canvas.
3. Place this template over your subject and move it about to get the desired composition. Remember that the composition is very important because I am painting in oils here and I cannot chop my canvas up as one can with a drawing where the mounting board can correct afterwards.


1. This composition is wrong because the subject is stalking and she is looking ahead.


2.  Correct.  Place the template where the subject has room to breathe.  I have seen portraits where the face is ‘suffocated’

This is the feeling that I want to capture, I love the camouflaging effect and this is the pose that I want to depict – that stalking look, that ready to pounce stare……

camouflage sketch1

I have just spent an hour quickly covering the whole canvas; from here I can see the mistakes which I will correct as I paint in detail.

Mistakes so far – the far eye is a bit too high and I do not want that bright sunlight effect.  I like the lioness to be camouflaged amongst the long grasses.

It is very hard to see one’s own mistakes when one is so absorbed in working on a piece.  One good advice is to hold work up to a mirror and view its reflection or load it onto the monitor screen, the mistakes become more obvious.

I love painting eyes; I think the eyes make a portrait.  Here are some close up of eyes, to show you all the subtle shades and the tremendous amount of mixing – my style.  These are in oils which is my favourite medium at the moment.



Well my own eyes are now half opened.  What do you mean by that?  I mean my skills in perception are semi-developed.  That is what I mean when I am copying I am enhancing my perceptive skills.  Are you really looking at those eyes that you are copying?  Are you really looking at WHAT you are interpreting?

During my two years of solid practising, they were to learn about techniques.  I can already see subtle colours and know about basic drawing skills, e.g. How to turn a circle into a sphere.  I remembered devoting weeks to perfecting the ellipse – circles in perspective like bottle tops and bottoms etc.  I think my amateur still life studies in the 1970s are awful, too overworked.


I think anyone can become an artist with a little help in the right direction, you put in the effort, it just requires some discipline in seeking that bit extra and of course you need PATIENCE.

Right back to my lioness.  I have been searching for more images to gain my desired atmosphere – the lighting – what time of day do I want to portray?  Not forgetting my love of painting her eyes.


I prefer the centre image because it appears teatime-ish.  I love challenges now, direct copying has become too easy – a mindless activity.


This is a close up of a Still Life with Oranges painted in 1977.  It is big 36ins by 25ins and done on a white background.  I am still surprised that every object sits in perspective (does not float) Now to make a point of my new pieces using the complimentary colour as base colour, you will take note of the difference.  I will use the Leopard as an example because I know that this piece is not bad.  When I say my Art are just exercises I mean it.  If they turn out good I am pleased but if they turn out extremely good then I know my skills in perception and in painting (handling my palette – oils here) are developing well.

I want to show you the representation – quite dull isn’t it?  Next I did a crayon drawing – still dull.  Now take a look at the painting – see the difference?  It ‘glows’ because of the blue base shining through.  I don’t copy 100% on my animal paintings because I like to change the background a little – in my view to improve the composition.



Now what do you mean by learning the palette? I mean learn about this colour business – from the painting you can see the ‘stunning, striking, vibrant’ effect, < this by just staining your base in the complimentary colour. You have got to learn how to make bits sit in perspective by using colour. Why did the oranges – such a bright colour is orange, not jump out of the picture? How did I make the eyes of this leopard sit in their sockets?

detail_of_leopard_eyes leoeyes2

Well you have to really look hard at what you are interpreting for a start!  At what angle is the eye?  Have I got the shape right?  Where is the light coming from?  How do you make them sit in their sockets?  It is back to knowing the basics I am afraid – to do with light and shade – shadows etc, know about form – spheres, cylinders etc. The eye is a ball = sphere.

I am proud to say that I have painted a good pair of eyes on the first leopard.  The second is terrible because the eyeball is not round enough.  Can you see what I mean?  To become critical, you need to put the practise in and learn as you go.  I am using these as examples because you need to treat other objects/subjects with same criticism.  The use of the complimentary colour technique, it is also another example which I have success with and want to share it with you.

This is part of learning the basics skills of drawing, but how can one teach you if you have your eyes shut!  You refuse to develop your perceptive skills because you are set in your ways!  A trained eye sees mistakes, does not see it as a style but see the artists’ lack of confidence.  But I don’t want to show the experienced my lack of confidence!  So ask yourself how developed are your perceptive skills?  You should be questioning every inch of that picture, be highly critical of your work at all time.

Yes, are you really looking and seeing?  Place an object on the window sill, look at it in the morning, afternoon, evening, on a rainy day, sunny day or when it is snowing………do you see the changes in shades?  Now try to paint the object in two or more of the different lightings.  You should see some difference; that’s why some landscapes are so damn good.  Well that exercise is easy, now imagine if the object is white sitting on a white window sill, it’s one way to learn about subtle colour/shade mixing.  You are learning to see and learning your palette, yes, painting a still life can be VERY BORING but you are educating yourself visually.

Back to my lioness, I painted a little yesterday – mainly correcting, in executing one of my works, I spend most of the time correcting the mistakes.  That is the best about using oils; you can go over the cover the mistakes.

sketch2 sketch3

When I sold my leopard drawing, the lady said that she loved the pose because he looked like, ‘he wanted a cuddle’ Well that is my CUTE SERIES.  My latest series on STALKING is to make the viewer wonder what the animal is preying on.  I wish I was rich, go on a safari holiday and take all the poses that I want so that I don’t have to rely on brochures and books.

Progress so far, still correcting, am slowly getting that aggressive stare.  Note that I am shading some dark areas with mostly purple because I like the tones taking off on her body.  As I continue to correct, I will now paint in detail, comparing the texture of the fur on her ears, nose, body and then there is the golden grasses to think about too, being critical in general.

sketch4 sketch5

Another couple of hours later, I am struggling to paint the whiskers because the surface is so wet. I like the tones that I was working on before so I enhanced them by mixing the complimentary colours for shading – to give off that vibrant effect. Here it is so far………

sketch6 sketch7

I can see tons of mistakes now, the dark bits are too sharp – edgy, I need to blend the tones more and she appears to be blind in one eye!

hideandseek_idea the_pose


The painting is near completion now, I have used the wooden tip of my paint brush to scratch, to give some kind of texture – the fur on her body. Now, I just need to correct some mistakes – the grass seeds are like ears of wheat!

First there is the idea of a lioness hiding amongst the grasses, then the desired pose but with wrong atmosphere and finally what I have managed to paint. I hope that gives you an idea how I go about producing one of these animal paintings. Please go to my Gallery 2 to see finished painting.