I’ve just completed Pathways – a landscape I was commissioned to paint during  Cambridge Open Studios in July. In discussing what the clients wanted, I put together a painting plan.  The painting should be in the blue/green colours, have no buildings, include an interesting sky, and a pathway – or two.

Pathways by Vandy Massey

Pathway. Watercolour 49 x 39 cm

Elements in Pathways

This painting takes the viewer for a gentle walk with countryside features along the way.

Hogweed and Grasses in Pathway by Vandy Massey

Hogweed and grasses

Heading over the brow of the hill, a patch of hogweed waves in the breeze. Look carefully at the stems below, and you may find a spiderweb suspended between two stalks.

Wild Grasses in Pathway by Vandy Massey

Wild grasses

Look through the long grasses to the fields below.  Grass seed heads blow. Spores dance in the breeze. As you progress along the route, terraced hillsides and fields of golden crops appear. Hedges and pathways criss-cross the land. Tree copses and woodlands fringe the farmlands laid out neatly in the distance.

Horizon in Pathway by Vandy Massey

The lake and the pathway on the horizon. Purple hills in the distance.

Until finally, the lake appears. Trees on the bank are reflected in the still water.  Wander further to the right and over the rise next to the trees on the horizon. There are hills beyond, and more fields to explore.

Painting Fresh Flowers with Olivia Quintin

We ended summer with a celebration – painting fresh flowers with Olivia Quintin for two days.

A full house of 14 artists came to spend the weekend painting fresh flowers. They came from the local area, from 2 hours drive away south of London, and some even flew in from Holland. From my experience of painting in Belle Île with Olivia, I’d say she attracts wonderfully diverse groups of artist – all of whom have one common factor: the desire to paint with Olivia.

Feedback from the workshop was overwhelmingly good with most of the artists wanting to come back and paint with Olivia again next year.
(Yes – we are planning another workshop for 2016)

Olivia’s preparation for the workshop was impressive. She came ready with exercises designed to allow artists to paint the same subject at each stage, but at a level that suited their own experience.

The day before the workshop we loaded up with flowers. The weather was cool so they were kept fresh outside in the shade until they were ready. Our garden was even more blossom-filled than usual for a couple of days.

ready for Painting Fresh Flowers

Fresh flowers ready for painting

At each stage, Olivia demonstrated the particular watercolour technique she wanted her students to master.

Olivia demonstrates

Olivia demonstrates

It didn’t take long before everyone was completely enthralled and happily practicing new skills.

totally absorbed in painting fresh flowers

Hard at work – totally absorbed in painting fresh flowers

Painting Fresh Flowers – A few demonstrations and results

Olivia's Roses

Olivia’s Roses

painting fresh flowers in a glass

Olivia Quintin’s demonstration flowers in a glass

And a couple of my little exercises:

Freshly Picked by Vandy Massey

Freshly Picked

Cosmos in a Glass by Vandy Massey

Cosmos in a Glass

Olivia brought her glorious watercolour earrings along with her, much to the delight of those with pierced ears, and some who got in a bit of early Christmas shopping. Olivia’s earrings and other watercolour jewellery are sold in her Etsy shop and it was brilliant to be able to see them in the flesh, succumb to the temptation and buy a few pairs.

Olivia's Earrings

Olivia’s Earrings

Our two days of painting fresh flowers went past in a flash. My Facebook feed is showing images of flower paintings being done by some of the attendees – so the flower painting continues beyond the workshop. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see some more of my workshop paintings posted there, and more to come.

Watercolour journal – exploring colour

Over Open Studios weekends last month, my sketchbooks and watercolour journal got as much attention as my paintings. I found myself discussing the method I use to get to know watercolour pigments. I use a system I picked up from the blog of the fabulous Jane Blundell. She is well worth following if you want to get a better understanding of watercolour palettes.

The artists who visited were asking about the colour swatches in the watercolour journal, and many of them commented on their knowledge that they should be doing more of the back to basics.  Visitors who described themselves as non-artists paid more attention to the little sketches I do in the watercolour journal to keep myself entertained while I explore different pigments.  Today I decided to share my journal so far on Youtube.

A flip through my Watercolour Journal

This weekend I played with the idea of painting three different flowers in different styles, with the intention of capturing a different character in each. (You may notice them in the video)

Watercolour Journal - Elegant Magnolia

The delicate colour of magnolia flowers always makes them look refined and elegant.

Watercolour Journal - Flirty Fuschia

Fuschias seem to dance and flirt with their fluffed out petals. They look like little ballerinas sometimes.

Watercolour Journal - WIld Poppies

And the poppy – we love its freedom, its bold colours and its wild ways.

Cascade Watercolour, power and energy Cascade Watercolour

Cascade: Watercolour and acrylic medium 28 x 38 cm

Viewed from the bottom of the waterfall, the water is the star in this painting. Water is increasingly a feature in my work. I love its dynamic nature and its many facets: in this painting, the power and energy of the falling water as it crashes onto the rocks.

I treated sections of the painting differently to achieve the effects of energy in the water, and solidity in the rock face. The under-wash of acrylic medium in blocky shapes of the rocks was allowed to dry and treated as an adapted support for the image. Conversely, the acrylic medium was included at the wet stage for the cascading watercolour waterfall. This allowed the mediums to mingle and interact on the paper with breaks showing the rock face behind the cascade.

The Cascade watercolour has been added to my Artfinder page.

Cascade watercolour

Paper: 640gsm Arches
Medium: watercolour with some acrylic medium.



Cambridge Open Studios and the Art Safari

There’s a bit of a buzz in the house at the moment. We’re getting ready for Cambridge Open Studios in a fortnight.

I had the pleasure of going to see the studios of two other artists yesterday, both are experienced artists and have strong styles. They have very different styles of Open Studios and I was impressed by them both for different reasons. Jo Tunmer and Claire Marie Wood inspired me in different ways which was fabulous when faced with a weekend of framing, and organising to get ready.  And it was lovely to have a chance to visit a couple of other studios. So often its not possible if your studio is open on the same weekends.

After a couple of days of working on the preparations, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re making progress. The framing is done:

Cambridge Open Studios preparation

All framed up and waiting for hanging

My Running With Brushes will be on display providing some exposure for the project. I wish I could display the whole collection, but even without being able to show the works of other artists, it should raise awareness.

Cambridge Open Studios display

My Running With Brushes paintings on display

Cambridge Open Studios in Whittlesford

We’re having an Art Safari in the village to make Whittlesford a good destination for Cambridge Open Studios visitors. With 4 artists works on display within a 5 minute walk, visitors will have plenty to see.  It’s taken a bit of organising – firstly to make sure we could all be open on the same days, then to arrange our preview evening for the same time and date. Finally, we got the marvellous Lori Bentley to design our map which will be available at all studios and has gone out in 400 guidebooks around the area.

Between the four artists taking part, many mediums will be on display: watercolour, pastel, oil, acrylic and collage. The range is rich and the colours vibrant.

Art safari social media

If you’re in the area, pop in for a coffee and say hello.

Painted Paper for Painted Wolves

African Wild Dogs, otherwise known as Painted Wolves are endangered.  They are small sociable canines, native to Sub-Saharan Africa.  Their habitat is being destroyed and there are now fewer than 6000 Painted Wolves living in the wild.

Jeremy Borg, CEO of South African wine brand, Painted Wolf Wines is on a mission. Today he started an epic journey on two wheels from Cornwall to Scotland. Along the way there will be wine tasting events and an art auction. Jeremy’s progress can be followed on the Painted Wolf Facebook page.

The Amphitheatre - printed donated for Painted Wolves

Jeremy’s Top Dog Trek will raise finds for the conservation charity, Tusk in three ways: Donations, Jeremy’s ride sponsorship, and an amazing online Art Auction which opened at noon today and will continue for the duration of Jeremy’s ride. Bidding will close on 30th June. I’m very proud to be one of a group of artists who have donated works to this Art Auction.

The two artworks I have donated were painted this year in the Drakensberg. Each one is a hand-detailed giclée print. The original painting in watercolour is reproduced as a limited edition of 25 prints. Then each one has additional watercolour and ink detail, making it a unique piece of art.

How the Painted Wolves Art Auction Works

Bidding for a piece of artwork is easy. A simple online form must be completed to register. Thereafter, simply place your bid in a comment on the artwork page. Come back from time to time and check the current bid because the highest bidder on 30th June will be the owner of the piece of art.

The AmphitheDrakenberg Dusk donated for Painted WolvesThe Painted Wolves auction art works include original watercolours, acrylics, hand detailed giclee prints, photographs and sculptures. The first 3 bids were received within 5 minutes of the auction opening and artworks will be on display at a number of events along the route.

If you’d like to have a look at all the artwork, you could look at the auction website (where bids can be made), or download the full catalogue pdf.

Eugen Chisnicean’s Watercolour Workshop

Eugen Chisnicean’s first UK watercolour workshop took place on the weekend after Easter. Attending artists had three days of fantastic attention from a very patient and accomplished teacher.

All of the artists on the workshop were experienced watercolourists, and all were pushed (willingly) out of their comfort zones at some point during this watercolour workshop. We all realised how easy it is to get stuck in the ‘easy’ groove of doing what comes comfortably. Sometimes its really valuable to examine our methods of working to see whether we are still true to the rigour of theory and principle.

watercolour workshop - painting on The Lawn in Whittlesford

Eugen Chisnicean – preparation for plein air painting.

The weather wasn’t perfect for a plein air watercolour workshop session, but we braved the breeze and dodged the rainclouds to spend the first afternoon painting on The Lawn.

There’s always a level of discomfort at the idea of people coming over to watch what you’re doing. Every one of us acknowledged that we know we should do more plein air painting. Somehow doing it as a workshop group made it feel a bit easier than going it alone. It was also fascinating to see how a view we wouldn’t normally see as a painting can provide inspiration for a solid composition.


“…has dispelled some of my trepidation at working ‘plein-air’. It was also useful to attempt subjects I wouldn’t normally consider.”

watercolour workshop with Eugen Chisnicean. Demonstration painting

Demonstration painting by Eugen Chisnicean. Whittlesford Lawn

Eugen Chisnicean’s UK Watercolour Workshop – reactions

Rather than writing more about the workshop myself, I’ll share some of the words emailed to me by the artists who attended:

“I loved watching a master at work. He was very generous with his tips & already I find I am going through the check list before starting a painting.”

Palette envy. I definitely want one like this.

Palette envy. I definitely want one like this.

“Eugen’s workshop was great fun. I particularly liked the mix of theory and practice, and the way Eugen combined them in his demonstrations. The tasks he set us were challenging – but that’s as it should be – and ensured that we didn’t remain too embedded in our cosy comfort zones. As a result I already feel that I have a much better understanding of what I’m trying to achieve, and am looking forward to seeing the benefits in my future work.”

Preparation is key. A reminder to put in the ground work before going to work on the final piece.

Preparation is key. Eugen reminds us to put in the ground work before going to work on the final piece.

And a last few words:

The three days that I was there, I can not pretend that I was not struggling. I could not understand why I was finding it so difficult, as I am usually quietly confident in how I haphazardly paint in watercolour.

Each evening, I would get back home and was eagerly questioned by my family on how I was getting on with the painting course.I could only reply, that I had never experienced so many difficulties in putting my pencil and brush to paper!

The answer was simple really. I was not just attending an art workshop, I was attending a MASTERCLASS art workshop!

I so appreciated the time he gave to us, showing us simple ways that would improve our watercolour techniques (and his patience when I could not get it!) and the demonstrations were truely amazing! How he transformed an ordinary landscape scene outside the memorial hall into a masterpiece…. was outstanding!

I learnt so much and not just that, Eugen in his quiet manner taught me not to be afraid of my own weaknesses(I have been so afraid of the easel, but now I have finally bought one, which I am surprisingly, using all the time! )

A true Master ,Eugen, Thank you so much for all your help”.

As for me: my brain was stretched by three days of intensive working with Eugen. And hosting the workshop meant I had a wonderful opportunity to go on an exhibition visiting day to London with Eugen. We stopped in at The Mall Galleries to see the RI Watercolour exhibition, went to the National Gallery to look at some works of the masters, and finally, had the enormous pleasure of discovering by chance that the National Portrait Gallery had an exhibition of Sargent’s portraits (the highlight of the day).

And I managed a painting I felt quietly pleased with in the course of the workshop. Onward and upward. Loads still to learn and loving the process.

VMW092 - Summer Day in France blog

Dragons Breathing Fire in the Sky

Dragons breathing fire

Drakensberg Fire (watercolour)

African sunsets are often stunningly vibrant with orange, pink and red streaks across the sky. In the Drakensberg (Dragon’s Mountains) the sunset could almost be the Dragons breathing fire.

Now that I’m back home I’ve gone back into the studio. The first day was spent doing a major spring clean and sort out. All an absolute pleasure as the studio had been painted while I was away and the walls are now beautiful bright white instead of the pale blue they were before. (Thank you to Marc, Peter and Chris for doing all the clearing out, painting and putting back of the furniture and equipment for me. No small task and I am very grateful to them all.)

So now I can get out my brushes again I’m drawn to capture the atmosphere of some of the glorious places we’ve just visited. One of my favourite places was the Drakensberg. From Montusi Mountain Lodge you get a wonderful view of these Dragon’s peaks.  Every evening we sat watching entranced as the sun slid behind the peaks, painting the sky in luminous colours as it went. It was a high point of each day.

The Dragons Mountains

I love the fact that the Drakensberg have more than one name. The commonly known ‘English’ version is in fact taken from the Afrikaans name, Dragons Mountains. The Zulu name for these mountains is just as descriptive: uKhahlamba (Barrier of Spears). The mountain range stretches over 1000 km along the length of South Africa from the Eastern Cape into the northern most province of Limpopo.

Dragon's sunset

Drakensberg Sunset (small watercolour)

This smaller version of the scene was done for Running With Brushes. Both reflect the incredible, almost unbelievable, colours of the Drakensberg evening skies.

The captivating beauty of this part of the world will draw us back, so we will be back.

Painting South Africa – Part 1

For the past three weeks I’ve been painting South Africa.  I’ve managed to get my brushes out a few times on this trip – each time the result has been very different.

Every on of my South African journeys invariably involves Cape Town for work, and Johannesburg to visit my family. Both of those are special times for me: Cape Town because it is a stunningly beautiful city and I get to catch up with people whose company I really enjoy. Johannesburg because it’s where I grew up and there are loved ones there who I will always miss. Every chance I get to see them is special.

Painting South Africa - spray and sea

The crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean inspired my small study of spray and sea

We feel privileged to be able to introduce UK friends to this beautiful country from time to time. This year, Hayley and Simon joined us in a meander through the Drakensberg and the Natal Midlands so the men in the party indulge their fascination with military history and take a Battlefield Tour (Anglo Boer War).

Our Drakensberg time was spent at the wonderful Montusi Mountain Lodge. We had four days of being utterly spoiled with wonderful food, fantastic scenery and staff who could not have been more friendly. Every single person at Montusi went out of their way to make our time there very special. We hiked, we ate, we laughed, we rode and we fell in love with the place. With two photographers in the group, I’ve got more than enough reference photos to ensure there will be more paintings of the Drakensberg from our Montusi days.

Painting South Africa: The Drakensberg

Painting South Africa - grasslands

On our hikes I noticed the wonderful display of colours in the grasses and particularly their seed heads .

Anyone who has seen my mountain paintings will know that I am drawn to the majesty of towering peaks and the scale of big landscapes. The Drakensberg is a place I can just feed my visual senses with images and ideas for painting.

Painting South Africa - The amphitheatre

I was enthralled by the scale, the majesty and the mystery of the section of the Drakensberg known as The Amphitheatre

We’ve moved on to our final stop on this trip: Glen Ormond in the Midlands. On our first evening here it was clear that this week would hold as many great surprises as every leg of this trip has already delivered.

Creative images of artwork

Not much studio time this week, partly because I’ve been spending time on making creative images in a new way.

Inspired by a newsletter from the fabulous marketing department at Artfinder, I took some detailed photographs of a recent mixed media painting of Borgo di Santa Giuliana.

Creative images 1The painting itself has an element of expressionism to it, not least in the alternative colours used to convey the wonderful warm light in the Italian hills. So it seemed a fitting one to choose to play with perspective using my phone camera.

Creative images 1I am particularly pleased with the emphasis this perspective gives to the wonderful old walls of the buildings in this medieval settlement. The textures in this painting stand out really well when its photographed at an oblique angle. It’s not something I would have considered doing before, but now I have done it, I really love the way this sort of creative image gives the viewer a really close look at the painting’s detail.

Creative images 1Even the relatively un-textured hillsides in this painting come to life more when viewed really close up. And the light effect shining through the gap in the hills becomes even more apparent too.

Now that I’ve started to explore the idea of making more creative images of my artwork, I’ll start thinking about showing them differently in future.

More creative images

In other news, I’ve been experimenting with a new bit of kit over the weekend. It was high time our office printer was replaced. We’ve been operating with one small printer/scanner/copier for years now and it’s getting long in the tooth.

PrinterSo when our new whizzy A2 printer with an accompanying high resolution scanner arrived, I couldn’t resist playing a bit. This is the result of my working my way through an entire sample pack of fine art paper: Artist proofs all over the place. The scanner works a charm too – great colour resolution and wonderful detail.

I’ve now found the paper I really like, have ordered two pack (different sizes) and will be able to do my own giclée prints from here on.

This has been a real creative image week for me – and for once, it was not my brush doing the work, but technology.