This article was originally published in Artist Magazine, September 2005.

My surroundings provide a wealth of potential for me, wherever I am, and sometimes the sheer volume of images seems overwhelming. Of course I cannot paint everything I see and the process of filtering images is something that every painter must go through. It is not the content itself; a group of trees, the view from the hill or columns and arches, but rather the dramatic narrative that I can imagine, particularly when this is combined with a fall of light, a juxtaposition of angles or a special combination of tone and intensity of colour. If the imagined narrative has a sense of mood and mystery, then I will single that image out. Whatever I am doing, connected with painting or not, I am collecting those images that have some or all of the elements I want. I am lucky to live on Dartmoor, which enjoys an inspiring quality of light and beautiful landscape, but I feel it is most important to experience as many influences as possible. Travel, exhibitions, photographs, books and reproductions or even the web, offer an extraordinary source for inspiration and assistance in reaching out for subjects or new picture series.

Light changes, images move and our emotions don't stay the same. I may not be in a position to make any form of record at the time of discovery so I have many pictures in my head that I have never started! At the very least I may rush back with my camera but ideally I will make a line drawing and if possible a colour rough using watercolour pencils. If the image continues to intrigue me I will visit again, taking many photographs. In my studio I pin up the images and if the narrative and mood develops for me (what is behind that wall? Who has been here before me?) and I am still taken with the light, tone and colour, then I am making a final choice whether I am entirely conscious of the fact or not! At this stage I may visit yet again when the light conditions are similar to my first viewing. If this is to be a studio painting I will gather more supporting material - fall of shadow, shape, form and more precise colour notation. In an ideal world I will paint on site, but even then will go through the stages of more detailed drawing and colour recording before starting the final picture.

What most of us do is to seek to capture the essentials that drove our first inspiration. Watercolour was my first choice of a medium to match my need to reproduce the excitement of that first impact. It was direct and retained the translucent quality of light allowing one to layer colour and thus achieve intensity of shadow. Moving to acrylic was not an overnight decision and I have sought to retain the disciplines of watercolour in that move. Acrylic is flexible and direct. It can be thinned so that watercolour technique may be employed and the translucent quality maintained but it does not move at all when it is dry. It cannot be sponged off, like watercolour, so what always remains is the true colour. Currently I employ a fairly limited palette - raw sienna, burnt sienna and ultramarine. I may additionally use cobalt and prussian blue, naphthol crimson, hooker's and sap green and occasionally the cadmiums for very selective purposes. The acrylics I use are Cryla from Daler Rowney. One watercolour discipline I have maintained religiously, in the studio and the field, is to stretch good quality paper over different sizes of board to suit, for all final work. All the work illustrated here is on Bockingford 140lb (300gsm) Not surface, which is very strong and will stand quite a bit of wear and tear. My palettes are white enamel plates and dishes, the kind once found in camping shops. I can get a big quantity of wash in these, I always mix more than I need so I feel relaxed about tipping it on and sloshing it about, not worrying about it running out. I use a couple of Pro Arte squirrel brushes that I have had for as long as I can remember for most of the washes. One is large and the other extra large. Using these stops me fiddling and they produce marvelous, intuitive washes. They are still going strong after much hard use. My other brushes are a Pro Arte Prolene 101, size 14, and Winsor & Newton Cotman 111, nos. 5, 6, 7 & 8. They are made of a synthetic material and bounce back beautifully. As they are relatively inexpensive I am not scared to knock them about a bit. I have one small Winsor & Newton Designers' Sable, series 3A, size 3, which I use if I want a fine line. Mostly these brushes give me the looser approach I need. Watercolour pencils have become increasingly useful to me. Up to now I have used them for colour recording on site, but their flexibility has become more and more apparent. My favourites are Derwent and Caran d'Ache.

My first action is to make a strong drawing on the stretched paper. There is a real excitement in making the first marks on the prepared surface. This sets the picture in my head and gives me the confidence to enjoy layering the washes without worrying what goes where! I use a soft pencil to scale up and position the image. I follow this by drawing with a Conte a Paris sepia pastel pencil. Tightness is a risk here and drawing should be accurate but loose; sufficient definition without too much elaboration - the pastel helps to achieve this. Kitchen roll or white cotton rag at the ready I now apply the first wash overall - raw sienna is a favourite - blotting off lighter areas harder or softer to suit. I now apply as many as 20 to 30 layers of different, but very thin, colour - all transparent - aiming to still see through to the first wash even in the dark shadow tones. On each succeeding layer I miss out or blot areas and gradually the definition begins to appear. For the last of the washes the areas covered will be smaller to delineate more and more detail. It is important to let each layer dry completely even if I have to wait several hours. To fill this time I usually have several paintings on the go at any time (a hairdryer will speed things up but be careful of running wash). To paint on site or in the studio is always the question that nags. Can I reproduce that initial spark inside? Will I have made enough notes to help me to get the image on to the paper? There is no real answer but we are all subject to practical difficulties and my methods have to be scaled down for on site work. At some point through most paintings I will experience a crisis of confidence. I can be convinced that the work has gone irretrievably wrong! My method helps me here because having to wait for a wash to dry gives breathing space and allows me to walk away. Coming back I can have an entirely fresh and different view of progress - a whole new view - and on close looking a clear way forward may become apparent. One fix is to lay down a simple overall wash using one of the base colours. This can often pull the image together and save the day. Try to resist the strong temptation to fiddle when confidence is at the low ebb. This will remove the freshness from the work.

Of course, when a painting is revisited it may quickly become apparent that actually it is finished. Does it do what I set out to achieve? Is it true to my original idea? I know that this problem is as old as painting itself and biographies describe works stacked in the studio and re-visited over many years. For me less is better, and if I can sense the essence of my initial inspiration even to a limited degree then I will stop. I may come back but only with a touch of colour or a very small area of wash to improve depth.

In common with others I work hard to reconcile my influences and the restrictions imposed by my ability to translate the ideas that come from them. I love the paintings of Howard Hodgkin and his outstanding portrayal of depth and use of colour. To make the best of his influence in my own work I seek to distil the elements that most inspire - a particular contrast, a quality of light or form - and work to bring that emotional effect into my painting. We all struggle with our materials and go through the process of learning to use them. I am continually amazed by the way David Hockney changes media and by his appetite for new methods - as well as his outstanding line! My new work with watercolour pencils may come to something, but as yet I have not mastered their potential. Now I find I am overlaying colours and crosshatching, in a similar way to my acrylic method of layering washes for finished works. Their colours are immediately vibrant and I find that I can work more loosely and quickly. If an area becomes too tight the pencil can be loosened with water and blotted off allowing me to draw over the top.

What each of us sees is unique and our job is to get that unique view over. What helps me is to keep looking at everything and then observe more closely. Too much analysis is not always helpful but you can never give enough time to looking.