Razor Fish (xyrichtys novacula) in Menorca

I am in Menorca.

Man with cigarette mending net Mahon     © James Forshall

We are staying with an old friend on the other side of the harbour and yesterday when the others went off to an organ recital I went to the fish market to sketch some of the local fish.  The market is surrounded by a windowed cloister where the merchants have their stands selling squid, octopus, spider crab, tuna, bass, bream and the friture of the mediterranean, small rascla, gallina, cerrano, cerrano imperiale, salmonetes, and Jureles.

Rao, Razor Fish, Lolitos          © James Forshall

A small orange fish with black and yellow eyes, a small mouth and blue stripes down the side of his face caught my eye. The local bye laws only permit him to be fished for a week a year, from the first of September. Fishing outside this period incurs a fine of 150 euros. When threatened he dives down and buries himself in the sand.

Two women consult notebook at fish counter© James Forshall


Fish in weighing scale, large finger points down at fish eye

Fish scales              © James Forshall


I had never seen this fish before and had to ask the fishmonger to write down his name, Rao, Lolitos or in English Razor fish, though I hazard the name Razor fish is the local name Rao anglicised by the English sailors who were stationed here after the island came into British hands falling the treaty of Utrecht (1713).


_DSF2358 Catherine Forshall Mahon © James Forshall     © James Forshall

We went down to the harbour,  where some men, their equipment moved around in liberated supermarket trolleys,  were mending nets and where I did some sketching and then lay on one of the  pontoons between the boats, dozing in the sun.

Coil of rope, Catherine Forshall sketching                             © James Forshall


Rao, Lolitos, Razor fish, small orange fish sketched by Catherine Forshall Lolitos, Rao, Razor fish sketch                          ©  James Forshall

hands mending net, Mahon                 ©  James ForshallConcertina note book sketches of Rao, Razor Fish, Lolitos, Rougets, on terrace ballustrade, Mahon, MenorcaFish sketches      ©  James Forshall

I will use these sketches for some large scale paintings when I return to Britain.



Painting Sardines in France

Catherine Forshall painting in her studio in France

Painting Mackerel in my studio in France.  The weather here has been very mixed. That may explain the very green view, but it’s cooler which is nice. I notice that the young children who visit us find the cooler weather easier, and even the locals are beginning to enjoy it.

Three water studies by Catherine Forshall

Studies of water

Wooden objects in Catherine Forshall's Studio

Sketches of mackerel by Catherine Forshall

Sketches of mackerel.


All photographs © James Forshall  http://www.jamesforshallphotography.com


Herring Triptych. Painting the silver darlings.

I’ve been asked to paint three panels (canvases) for a collector who has a house in Cornwall.

Herring Triptych monochrome C dmFor over a thousand years herrings were one of the protein staples of Europe. Stocks are probably diminished. At Clovelly in Devon, where records go back 400 years there were 100 herring boats in 1794. Now there are only two able to earn a proper living, fishing in a sustainable way, with drift nets and lines.

Go to the Marine Conservation Good Fish guide  http://www.fishonline.org/fish-advice  . This easy to follow guide will tell you which fish are currently plentiful. The list changes with the seasons but at the moment herring get the green light.

Photography © James Forshall

The Red Cliffs of Budleigh Salterton: sketching seaweed

On Saturday we went to the Beach at Budleigh Salterton.

Woman, waves, gulls, shingle, beach

The sea was a pinky mauve from the earth washed down by the river Otter.   I wanted to find seaweed to sketch for a large canvas that I am about to start. I thought that with the recent storms there might be much washed up, but I only found a little Oar weed and Egg wrack on the upper shore, the Oar weed, a burnt sienna/sepia colour.  William Harvey  , an Irish naturalist, an inspiring draughtsman, produced 3 beautifully illustrated volumes of seaweed illustrations, in which these two are shown. Curiously he died not far away in Torquay in 1866.

Oar Weed Pebbles

I’ve always been attracted to the red earth of the cliffs above the beach at Budleigh. I found a clump of red earth that had fallen and took it home to use as a pigment for the background of the sea weed sketches. I used to do this when we first moved to France, nearly 30 years ago. There I did a series of landscapes using the pigment from the rusty orange earth above the Lot Valley, near Lherm, the same pigment that was used in parts of the cave paintings at Cougnac 25,000 years ago.  The medium was spit and animal fat. I use something out of a tube.

Red Cliff, seagull, sky

Red Cliff, cliff erosion, Budleigh Salterton

Fishing gear, bouys, beach,

Hands, seaweed, Oar Weed, shingle beach

Boat on Beach Budleigh Salterton

Oyster Creels, white washed wall, beach

Silhouetted figures above Beach Budleigh Salterton

sketching, oarweed, handsSketching Oar weed

Earth pigment rubbed into page of sketch book

Rubbing in the pigment for the background

Sketching, Egg wrack, seaweed, red earth pigment

Sketching Egg wrack

Photography © James Forshall  www.jamesforshallphotography.com

The Common Otter Shell (Lutraria lutraria)

I’ve been drawing otter shells.

_DSC1321 d

When it is finished the painting is going up to the Oliver Contemporary Gallery in London and will show seashells at low tide.

_DSC1337 d                                                                   Photographs by James Forshall

Apparently the biolgist who first listed them misplelt their name, adding an ‘r’ to the latin stem for silt, turning it into the stem for otter.  These ones are worn by  the sea and the sand, and have lost their glossy olive varnish. There is a hole in the side, which might easily have been made by the tip of a seagull’s beak.


I love mussels, the blue of the outer shell,  as dark as a night without stars, and then the inside shading from inky blue to pearl grey, and the surprise of the golden body, as plump as your thumb and the colour of saffron.


I love painting mussels. I love eating them too.  I’m preparing a large painting of mussels.  The ones I’m sketching came from Gibson’s Plaice in Exter, and he gets them from Exmouth Mussels, a sustainable musselery.  I sketched them and then we ate them. Yes I know. That’s a ruthless way for an artist to treat her models. James says that it’s lucky I don’t paint nudes.


003Photography by www.jamesforshallphotography.com

My sketch book is made by Sollas Bookbinding at www.sollasbooks.com on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.  I think the covers designed by Sollas reflect much of that beautiful and romantic island.


‘A Journey Through Summer 2013’ at the Oliver Contemporary


Equinox Tide 160 cms x 80 cms acrylic on canvas

Until the end of September, there is a selection of my paintings at the Oliver Contemporary in a mixed show, ‘ A Journey Through Summer 2013’ .  There are also paintings by Simeon Stafford, Catharine Armitage, Matthew Batt, Mary Ford, Kate Boxer, Ingrid Wilkins and others.

Oliver Contemporary, 17 Bellevue Road, Wandsworth Road, London SW17 7EG.

Telephone 0208 767 8822

Opening Hours Tuesday – Saturday  11 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.

Gwenver Beach


Gwenver Beach is just to the north east of Sennen Cove.  On a clear day you can see the Scilly Isles.


On the day we went the sun shone all day. I took my sketch book and was rewarded by finding Sea Thrift growing along the fringe of the beach.


It is also known as Ladies Cushions, Heugh Daisy, and Cliff Clover.


The Sea Thrift plant was on one side of the old brass thrupenny bit minted between 1937 and 1952.






And I also found Sea Holly growing, though not yet in flower.

Photographs   www.jamesforshallphotography.com all rights reserved