As I start to explore the use of a wider range of mediums for my art, I am more and more aware of the abundance of exciting materials there are available for artists these days. I have just scratched the surface.
The use of graphite with watercolour creates some wonderful textures. For this purpose, graphite comes not only in pencil format which is what we immediately think of as the format for this material. It also comes in big blocks, powder and in a water soluble pan. When used on a textured paper like this, the graphite slightly resists the watercolour producing some wonderful patterns.
When I painted this menacing sky using graphite with a small amount of turquoise watercolour, I chose a bit of bling in the form of an iridescent green paint to lighten the tone. Even in darkness, there is still abundance and lightness if we create it.
Layering watercolour (glazing) is a great way to add depth to a painting. But it needs to be done with confidence and careful consideration. If you use the wrong colours, the end result is flat. If your brushstrokes are not delicate enough, you risk muddying the painting.
There’s a particular bench at Wandlebury Country Park that provides a wonderful view all the way to the horizon. You just need to know where to look between the rows of tall trees. Last October, in the midst of autumns most incandescent glow, I spent a day painting up on the rise at Wandlebury. Between the trees the fields create a patchwork of textures and colours, framed by the ragged curtain of branches on either side.
Layering watercolour: the stages
The light was changing quickly so I used a series of mid tone washes to block out the different levels of the view. A three-colour scumbly wash over the tree areas produced a basic sense of the branch sections without adding any definition or much tonal value (left hand tree).
My next step in layering watercolour was to add wash of clear water on the right hand tree and then drop in the same three colours in greater intensity, allowing them to blend and granulate. I used this to start defining branch shapes and areas of the tree that would be in shadow.
The fields are the area of interest in the painting so they are painted with more definition. Layering watercolour here helps you to create some clearly texturing in the middle ground fields and in the foreground hedge.
The final step was to add a glaze to the left hand tree. Once the painting was well dried, I used a sword brush tip to added branches in the trees. I decided to knock back the colour at the far end of the tree as it receded. You can see the final painting in the first picture of the post.
Through the Gap. (See first image in the post). An autumn landscape painted from an underpainting done plein air at Wandlebury Park.
Open Studio Rainforest Reef! Its all about to happen. I’m heading home with a collection of watercolours and a few experimental abstract acrylics in my suitcase.
I’ve had the most amazing two months of new places, new experiences and new paintings. We’ve travelled through Bangkok, Siem Reap in Cambodia, Sydney, Queensland (Mission Beach and Airlie Beach), Melbourne and finally Singapore. I am sitting beside the swimming pool in the heat on the 6th floor of our hotel in Singapore as I write. This evening we board our flight back home and I am simultaneously sad that my trip is at an end, and pleased to be going home. I can’t wait to see my sons and sleep in my own bed. I am itching to get back into my studio and get started preparing for next weekend’s open studio.
Open Studio Rainforest Reef: What will be on the walls
One of the best aspects of watercolour is their portability. Paintings dry fast and you don’t need a lot of kit (although I must admit I brought along far more than I needed).
Before I left, I planned to paint a series of 20 x 20 watercolours for an open studio. Paper was cut to size, frames were sourced and set up ready to be ordered for my return. I wasn’t sure how many paintings I would manage to do so I couldn’t pre-order.
Once I got to Queensland, I was entranced by the rainforest most of all. I’ve always loved trees. Ever since I was able to climb my first tree I have enjoyed their sheer scale, their majesty and their individuality. So, right now, there are more rainforest paintings than reef paintings – although I do have a lot more ideas for reef paintings that will no doubt emerge in time.
My surprise discover on this trip was the fabulous art centre at Mission Beach. Where I was able to join a workshop on Abstracting the Landscape with Australian artist, Glenda Charles. The weekend was inspiring, terrifying and energising. I will have the two works I completed on that weekend available for Open Studio visitors to see. If you can’t make it to the Open Studio, I will be posting more about each of those two paintings when I have had time to scan all my work.
Thank you for following my creative journey. I really appreciate the fact that you’re still reading after all this time. If you know anyone else who might enjoy my ramblings, please feel free to share this blog. I would be very grateful.
There’s an emerging digital watercolour sketchbook of my current trip. I love travelling and try to go somewhere every year – it inspires my painting. Right now I’m a long way from home, travelling in Queensland, Australia exploring Rainforests and Reefs.
We came via Bangkok and Siem Reap in Cambodia because there were things to be seen along the way. Travel is such a cornerstone of my painting, I decided to make the most of it on this trip and create a digital journal along the way. Rather than keeping a daily sketchbook, I’ve painted an A5 sketch each day. Each one is then photographed it so I have a record and finally, left it in a public place for someone to find and keep.
So far I’ve painted 43 and I hope to make it a total of 60 before I get home. Each image gets put on Instagram and in a Facebook album with the tag #ArtAustTrailAsia.
This is my digital sketchbook.
So far the watercolour sketches have been well received. I mainly leave the paintings without telling anyone, and let them be discovered later. Often I’ve been on a walk, leaving the painting on a table at the beginning of the trail. Its always gone by the time I get back. A few people have left messages on Facebook or Instagram to say they’ve got a painting and to let me know where the painting landed up.
The last few days I’ve been painting on a sailing boat with 22 other passengers. By the last day people were watching the emerging watercolour and asking if they could have the next painting. This was very good for my plein air painting. I’m normally too self conscious to paint in public and hate being watched as I work. But this trip has helped enormously and I’ve become much more relaxed about painting when other people are around me. What’s helped you paint in public? It can be a daunting prospect.
And a Watercolour Sketchbook to take home
They haven’t all been given away. There will be paintings coming home with me too. I have put down a few pieces in my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, and have started a series of 20 x 20 watercolours which will be available for sale when I get back home. There will be some bigger works too. I am loving painting the rainforests and the reefs of Australia so much that I’ll be holding an Open Studio weekend in July when I get back home. If you’re in the Cambridge area and would like to come along, sign up for my newsletter in the box on the right hand side of my blog for information about dates and times. News of my Rainforest and Reef Open Studio will be coming soon. Watch this space (or my newsletter)
And now for some non watercolour sketchbook news:
I’m thrilled to have had two paintings accepted for the Babylon Arts Summer Open Exhibition. Rhododendrons in the Garden and Alliums in the Garden will be on show at the Babylon Gallery in Ely. The exhibition runs from July 29th to August 28th and will feature the work of 40 artists. The gallery is a lovely venue right on the river bank and its well worth a day out of boat watching, art viewing and some good places to eat lunch.
Just over a year ago I was honoured to be offered (and accept) the role of Chair of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists. The society has for many years benefitted in various ways from links with the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. It’s been an exciting year of working with a committee of extremely talented artists to bring in some new initiatives for the society’s 70 members. In the context of my art life this is what has been keeping me busy. I have two years left of my term so expect blogging to be sporadic.
One other piece of Society of East Anglian Watercolourists news: The annual Selected Exhibition which is due to take place from 30 August to 17 September this year is now open for submissions from non-members. If you’re an East Anglian Watercolourists – consider submitting some work for our exhibition. More information on this at www.seaw.co.uk
This is my third year of holding an Open Studio. Joining over 300 other Cambridge Open Studios artists is a highlight of my year. I love all of it – the planning, the build up and most of all, meeting interesting people who come for a browse.
This year, to celebrate my 2016 Open Studio I’ve decided to do a giveaway
The winner of the draw will receive this limited edition signed and numbered giclee print of Poppies in the Sunlight. This print comes mounted and ready to put into a 12 x 16 inch frame.
There are plenty of opportunities to get your name in the draw (see below):
The draw will take place at 6pm on Sunday 24th July.
Your name goes in the draw every time you do one of the following:
Visit my Open Studio and put your name in the box. I will be open from 11am to 6pm on the 16th, 17th, 23rd and 24th July.
Follow me on Instagram and pop a comment into the post with about this draw on my feed.
That’s 6 opportunities to get your name in the draw. You could have 6 chances of winning this print.
(About this painting: Every year a few of my works seem to be the zeitgeist pieces of the year. This is one for 2016. It was painted last summer and was then used as the poster image for the Spring Exhibition of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists Spring Exhibition. The original painting was the first painting to sell at the exhibition. For me this painting represent exuberence and zest for life: a joyful painting)
What’s on show at my Open Studio 2016
This year I have
90 of my Running With Brushes paintings on display.
A number of new watercolours, some of which stem from my South African travels, and some from a recent trip to the island of Paxos.
I’ve invested in a top quality scanner and giclee printer so this year will also be showing a range of signed limited edition prints mounted and ready to be framed for the wall.
Seven new greeting cards designs join the collection of evergreen favourites.
I am aware that time is precious and I so value the effort people make to come and see my open studio. My working studio, untidy as it is when I paint, will be open for visitors to look around and I’ll be there to answer any questions and chat about my inspiration and my approach to painting.
And if the weather is kind to us, we’ll even be able to have our tea and cake in the garden. The next two weekends are looking to be fabulous!
I know I’ve been quiet – but that’s partly because I’ve been painting Paxos watercolours.
At the end of February, I stepped into the shoes of Tony White who had persuaded me to take on the role of Chair of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists. As figurative shoes go, Tony’s are high-quality premium brand – he’s a hard act to follow, but also a huge support. The experienced committee put on a great Spring Exhibition and once it was set up, I flitted off on a sore-needed holiday to Paxos. The marvellous Catherine Hopkins – whose online posts about her knitting, spinning, weaving, dying, sewing, (and so much more) are an inspiration – persuaded me that this was an island that had to be visited, and that we should go off painting Paxos watercolours together.
Painting Paxos Watercolours
I break out in a sweat every time I even think about creating art in a public place. I signed up for the Urban Sketching group in Cambridge. But no. It didn’t help. Every month something more important would come up and I would shamefacedly look at the posts on Facebook, knowing that I could have been along too.
This holiday was an opportunity to crash through this barrier. I bought an Urban Sketcher book and packed my paint and sketchbooks. See what happened:
The Paxos sketchbook
Its a start. And I actually enjoyed it – despite being really slow. The idea of doing a 10 minute sketch, or even more extreme – a 3 minute sketch – is laughable at the moment. But watch this space. Now I’ve started, I’ve got ideas bouncing off the inside of my head in all directions.
But I didn’t just use my sketchbook. I came back with a few paintings for my Open Studios and a collection for Running With Brushes too.
The Paxos paintings
It’s World Watercolour Month in July. And I have Open Studios on the 16th, 17th, 23rd and 24th of July. Feels like an incentive to keep on watercolour sketching.
Timed to fit in with the Bury Festival, the 2016 show will be staged in the beautiful Bury St Edmunds Farmers Club, where visitors will be able to treat themselves to lunch or an afternoon tea. A selection of paintings from the exhibition will also be available on the society’s website.
I’m playing catch up with my little watercolour sketch cards this week. I ran out of time to write a post last week for a number of reasons, but mainly because I am organising an exciting Running With Brushes exhibition.
I have the support of nine other fabulous artists in Cambridge who will be exhibiting with me – not to mention the 30 other artists who have so generously donated works to Running With Brushes. The website is up, the artists are ready and now we start with spreading the word. So if you’re in the Cambridge area and you fancy a grand night out with live music, a fantastic art exhibition, the chance to meet some exceptional artists, and to take home one of the gorgeous little Running With Brushes watercolours – please consider buying a ticket and spreading the word. (Early warning – you may hear a bit more about this event from me as the event unfolds)
So now you know why I didn’t post last week, here’s a selection of the watercolour sketch collection that came off my brushes.
Watercolour Sketch list
Nightingale song inspired this sketch. On one of my London work days I heard my first nightingale. Sound waves in the dusk came to mind.
Creating order from chaos. I’m going through an exercise of organising my palettes. I’ll blog about this some time in the future – I’ve started working through my paints to find the single pigment transparent colours. More on this later.
The strelizia in the office produced a single flower/. I loved the dramatic shapes of the spikey petals. They called for a layered abstract.
Sitting in the Zurich airport I thought about what defines Switzerland. The essence of the Switzerland I saw last week was many shades of grey, blue skies, mountain peaks and a splash of red.
Taking off – I challenged myself to paint one of these on the plane. This was painted at 38000 feet above the earth.
Energy pods. Shiny gold cones of wake-up boost. They’re not very politically correct these days.