Abstract Watercolours: part 2

Last week I committed to sharing both the good and the less so good on my journey towards abstract watercolours – and so I am doing just that. Which means there are pieces of work on this website now that I wouldn’t normally be sharing.

Given the purpose of the project: to break down my creative block and (as always) to learn I’ve made a couple of adjustments to my process. I’m working with only three brushes for the moment: a flat brush, a dagger brush and a sword brush. These may change in time, but for the moment, I’m keeping things simple and using this as an opportunity to master these brushes.

Secondly, I’m limiting the time spent on each painting, as far as possible, to 15 minutes. This stops me from overthinking a piece of work, and its probably the only way I could manage anything close to a daily painting, no matter how small.

Is it working? I’ve certainly produced little abstract watercolours with a wide range of styles, subjects and moods. Its getting me back into the painting groove again and making me experiment more again. The process is definitely loosening up my painting.

This Batch of Abstract Watercolours:

There’s a question about where the line is between abstract and representational artworks. For me, the line is fairly close to representational. I don’t have a problem with images that are reminiscent of real things – a semi-abstract is still an abstract if it evokes a feeling, or expresses the characteristics of a situation.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.12 Friday morning shopping

On Friday I had the frustrating experience of having to run some errands. I discovered that Friday morning is a bad time to be anywhere near the shops. There’s a sense of frantic business and at the same time, people randomly wandering and getting in the way. It felt a bit like an obstacle course.

2016.02.13 e-Luminate Abstract watercolours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is not my favourite work of the week. I recently got hold of a new luminescent ink which I wanted to try out. Our visit to e-Luminate Cambridge seemed to be an ideal subject for the inks. Working fast meant far too little control using materials and tools I’m not accustomed to, and the results were messing and not inspiring at all. It did make me start working on controlling inks for future works.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.14 Fading Glory

We had a bunch of tulips on the kitchen table. The pod-like shapes of the blossoms called me. I also started working on paper I’ve not tried before: Fabriano HP.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.15 beginnings

My favourite of this bunch was inspired by the snowdrops I notices on my walk through the churchyard. They are delicate and chaotic. Pristine and tangled. Hopeful and transient.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.16 life landscape

A streak of darkness entered our day on Tuesday when we were forced to contemplate the possibility of losing Horatio who has been ill for a week. Remarkably, he’s still hanging in and somedays bring possibilities of a healthier future for our very special feline.

The trail of abstract watercolours will continue.

Watercolour Marks Project

I got stuck. My painting wasn’t going anywhere special – so I started a watercolour marks project. I’ve been wanting to develop a more abstract approach to my painting for some time. After being away from my studio for almost 4 weeks in December and early January, my mojo didn’t come strolling back when I picked up my brushes as I expected it to. It was well and truly on holiday with no intention of coming back.

So I patiently pottered in the studio whenever I had time. I mixed paint from pure pigment and started trying it out on a set of cards. I tidied. I bought a few new books for inspiration and information. Finally, I gave up waiting for the painting motivation to reappear spontaneously and decided to get stuck in to a project making watercolour marks.

And yes, before you say it – that is pretty much a description of watercolour painting. The distinction is the difference between playing (experimenting) and taking a more focused approach to creating a completed painting.

I was having a conversation with Noel Gray on Monday. He mentioned in passing that he’d just squashed his dinosaur. (Not your average business conversation!). What he meant was that he had squashed his origami dinosaur and would have to repair it.  And there we had the start of my watercolour marks project. I had a mental image that had to be captured.

I decided to take a journey towards abstraction. I define abstract paintings as those which are paintings ‘about’ the subject rather than paintings ‘of’ the subject. That could mean capturing a quality, an essence, a thought which is sparked by the subject.

The Watercolour Marks Project

My intention is to paint a postcard-sized abstract every day. They will all be very different from each other because I will be pushing my boundaries. Some won’t be particularly good, but I will be brave and share them anyway because this is a journey and there will be wrong turns along the way. So here we go:

watercolour marks. Squashed Dinosaur

I had to start with a painting about a squashed dinosaur. I tried to capture a sense of ‘Squashedness’.

watercolour marks. Restless

Day 2 was a restless day. There was calm beneath, but my mind was leaping all over the place with new ideas. I blame the watercolour marks project.

watercolour marks. History

On day 3, I had a conversation about history and the way unforeseen events can change our direction. Events overtake intention.

watercolour marks. Recurrence

Day 4 was about recurrence. The cat ended back at the vet (Horatio is an expensive pet right now) with a recurrence of his urethra problem. It was time to paint recurrence, and end the week with the thought that there would be a recurrence of abstract paintings in the coming weeks.

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 Plans and Explorations

This week has been one of watercolour plans and some explorations.

Watercolour plan 1 : Open Studios

Watercolour plan 1: The start of the week brought paperwork for Open Studios – and the requirement to make some commitments to painting fresh work and exhibiting. I’ve decided to do both Saffron Walden Open studios at the end of April and beginning of May, and Cambridge Open Studios in July. More on these closer to the time.

Watercolour plan 2 :  Artfinder

Watercolour plan 2: I took a decision to do a blitz sale on Artfinder to make space for new works in preparation for these exhibitions. This has proved quite successful so far and 5 paintings went over the past few days. It’s often quite difficult to see a painting go – we become attached to them somehow. But I’m excited about developing new lines of work this year and this will spur me on to get my brushes going.

Watercolour Exploration 1: Wash a Week Challenge

This week’s post explores Daniel Smith’s Lunar Blue. Here’s a little abstract treescape painting I did using only this colour. This will go up on the Running With Brushes site when I have time to post it there. (Life is overtaking me a bit at the moment.)

Watercolour exploration - wash a week entry
Wash a week – Week 4 – Lunar Blue

Following Last weeks Wash a Week post on Quinacridone Gold and Quinacridone Violet, I was asked how similar the gold is to Indian Yellow. I happen to have a tube of Indian Yellow I hadn’t yet tried. Perfect excuse to have a go so here’s the little colour swatch I did to see the difference. Separately, they do look quite similar because they are both strong colours. Put them together and you can see the difference.
Watercolour week yellow and gold comparison

Watercolour Exploration 2: Abstracts

On Friday evening I went to the monthly meeting of the Saffron Walden Art Society to see a demonstration of Abstract painting by local artist Joyce Crabb. I’m increasingly interested in Abstract art, and I think probably lean towards semi-abstract myself in some of my looser work. I’m not sure I’ll get comfortable with pure abstract work – at least not for some while, if ever. But I will be experimenting a bit more on the fringes I suspect.

Watercolour Plans 3: Tidying up the studio

I’m a book junkie (and a colour junkie as I’ve said before). I have a fair collection of art books and magazines in my studio. When I set up the space for my painting I insisted on having a corner with a sofa and table, as well as a bookshelf, so that I could sit quietly and enjoy dipping into this exciting reference material and inspiration.

Watercolour plan - tidy the studio

 

A year or so ago, I did a workshop in oil painting with Stephen Higton and decided to start doing a bit of work in other mediums, so I bought a large easel, amongst other things. Its fabulous to have it, but in a small studio, it was always a bit in the way. No matter which way I positioned it, the bookshelf was obscured and it became a mission to reach it.  Result: books not read, or books and magazines stacked all over the sofa and any other free surface so I could get to them.

This weekend I had a brainwave about repositioning things and got stuck in to moving furniture before I got started on painting. The result:

Watercolour plan - after the tidy
Space to read!

Lest We Forget – Commemorating the start of WW1

Today’s post should have been written yesterday, the day when we were all saying, “Lest We Forget”.  But it didn’t happen because I was down at the Tower of London.

Yesterday was a poignant day for many people. Commemorating the start of WW1 one hundred years ago is a significant occasion for those who value human life. It’s slightly depressing that we (the human race) haven’t learned to do this peace thing a lot better by now.

I decided to do something positive to mark the day. I haven’t had time to work on my Running With Brushes contributions for some time, so over the weekend I painted a few.

RWB0104 Fields of Green
Fields of Green (Watercolour 21 x 15 cm)

This one, Fields of Green, is particularly appropriate. It reminds me of the reason for the sacrifice made by all those men and women so many years ago. The right to live in peace in a country of our choice seems such a simple thing. And yet, without those soldiers who fought for it, we would not have it.

For those few of my readers who might not know about Running With Brushes, this is a project to paint 1000 small watercolours, and sell them to raise funds for Care for Casualties. Care For Casualties supports the families of members of Rifles Regiment who have been killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, over 350 paintings have been created, 162 paintings have been sold, and as a result, almost £3200 has been received by the charity.

Tower of London 4th August 2014. Lest We forget
Tower of London 4th August 2014. Lest We forget

Tower of London: Lest We Forget

We also took a trip down to The Tower of London to have a look at this powerful and poignant art installation.

The Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red exhibition, by

Artist Paul Cummins created Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red to represent the lives of every British and Colonial death during the conflict.  The poppies will be planted continuously until 11th November when there will be 888,246 of them in the moat around the Tower.

The poppies can be purchased by members of the public to raise funds for 5 military charities. I’ve just ordered mine.

I’ve been playing with creating video clips with my phone. This one is slightly wobbly but gives a slightly better idea of the scope of the poppy field in the moat at The Tower.

My Secret Project: a Sneak Preview

I’ve been working on a secret project for a little while. It’s still a secret so I’m not going to tell you everything about it yet. But I just couldn’t wait to share the paintings I’ve been doing for it – so here’s a little sneak preview.

Secret Narnia Project - Abstract version
Abstract version

As usual, my method has been to think about the project for some months. While I do that, vague images start to crystalise in my mind. These are the first two sketches for the project. I think there will be more. In fact I’m sure there will be more paintings before my secret project is done – I have a few images in my head already.

One red tree
Secret Narnia Project – One Red Tree

There have been a few criteria to this project.

In the first place, it has to be predominantly, if not exclusively, deep red and grey/silver. Black might be an option as an extra colour or an alternative within the design.

The paintings need to have a feel of winter, but not be literal. This is an exercise in abstraction within a theme.

It has to appeal to a special person in my family. At the moment, the initial deliberations are in progress and some decisions will be forthcoming soon.

Next steps in my Secret Project:

– More paintings

– Finding a supplier who will screen print a small run of fabric

– You’ll have to wait to find out the rest….

I know which of these two I prefer – I’d love to hear what you think.

Inspiration Board on my Studio Wall

My studio wall inspiration board holds some images I treasure.

When I first started using a dedicated space for my painting, I would hang completed framed works on the walls. This was partly to enjoy them, but also because I needed somewhere to store them. The studio seemed an ideal place. Gradually, my studio walls were transformed. The paintings disappeared and we’re replaced by notes, colour samples, experiment results, ideas, and reference pictures. I take this as a great sign of my development as an artist. My studio gradually became a proper working studio rather than a mini gallery. From time to time I rearranged the boards until I found a set up that works best for me.

There are three sections to my studio walls – each one works completely differently to the rest, and each deserves a post all to itself. There’s the planning section, the experimenting section, and the inspiration board. The inspiration board holds pictures of people who inspire and motivate me – as well as pictures by people who inspire and motivate me.

Studio Wall Inspiration Board
Inspiration Board

Here’s what’s on my inspiration board:

At the top of the inspiration board are photographs of my sons. One of the reader, Christopher snapped when he was persuaded to put down his book for a moment while we were on holiday. One of me having an intense conversation over supper with the son who always had (and still has) opinions, Nicholas (then about 2 years old). And one of the two of them together when they were little.

There’s a photograph of me with my sister, Lori – who raises my creativity level on a regular basis.

In between the photographs of my family is a print of a blue door. This was done by a local artist I’ve admired for many years. Jan Smail will be exhibiting at Cambridge Open Studios this year on two of the same weekends as my open studio. I am thrilled that we’ll be taking part in the same open studios programme. A little further down on the left, below the cherry card, there is another one of Jan’s images used as the invitation to her last exhibition.

To the right is a very simple line drawing of a cat which was sent to me by Jenny Torrance, an artist whose tax accounts I did when I lived in South Africa. Jenny was one of my favourite clients and I opted to take payment in the form of paintings every year. We have possibly one of the largest collections of Torrance watercolours outside of Jenny’s own house.

The red and yellow card was done by Doug Shaw. Doug is doing amazing work to bring art into the business world (and I don’t mean just on the walls). Doug runs a workshop for senior business people called The Art of Leadership where he gets them stuck into creating works of art from the outset.

There are two cards from Maggie Latham on this board. When we finished the 100 Wash Challenge blog, Maggie sent every one of us a card with one of her paintings on it. Mine is a precious piece of inspiration, and it’s on the right side of my inspiration board about half way down. The other Maggie Latham original is the little blue one just below Jan’s door print.

The big juicy cherry was a postcard I picked up at an art fair many years ago. I love the shine, the shape, and the elegance of it. I don’t know the artist, but I’ve always loved that simple cherry image.

There are two stained glass window images on postcards. These were bought at Cambridge Open Studios one very rainy Sunday afternoon in July a few years ago. I love the idea that they are fragments of something larger. That makes me want to see the whole and it keeps me coming back to them.

The painting of the fuschia on the bottom left of the board was done by one of my early watercolour tutors, Gilly Marklew in one of my lessons with her. I will never forget sitting spellbound watching as that glorious blossom emerged from Gilly’s brush onto the paper.

In the middle is Georgia Mansur’s business card which is a work of art in its own right as it’s an image of one of her paintings. I did a workshop with Georgia when she visited Suffolk last summer and she was an all round inspiration.

There are photographs of flowers and doors interspersed between the other images on this board. These were all taken by my husband, Marc. We’ve finally managed to persuade him to set up a website so other people can see his photographs. I have been very lucky to have them as references and inspirations all along.

At the very bottom on the right hand side is a newspaper article about my marvellous maternal grandmother, Stella. She lived to the ripe age of 99 and a half. She packed and moved countless times during her life as my grandfather’s job had him working in a new location every couple of years. She lived in Turkey, England, South Africa and (then) Rhodesia. And wherever she was, she always made the house look calm and beautiful. A music teacher by training, she was a creative spirit in many ways. In her case, creativity manifested itself in her gardening, her home and her baking. And she was known to pick up a paintbrush from time to time as well.

It’s only when I write about the items on my inspiration board that I fully realise how rich my it really is. These are not my only influences, but they are all very precious ones. I just wish I had a bigger board.

Poetry Challenge – Imaginary Garden with Real Toads

Poetry Challenge
Waiting for Lunch – watercolour on www.RunningWithBrushes

It’s been a week now since my paintings were the subject of a poetry challenge on the website, Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

I was intrigued by the website name of this community of 20 poets until I realised that the members of the group are referred to as the toads (although I’m still not entirely sure why).

Being selected as a muse for the group was a strangely humbling experience. The poetry challenge was live for one week.  I’m thrilled and honoured to have been invited. There really wasn’t anything for me to do. Group representative, Mary Grace Guevara really did it all. From making contact to ask whether I was up for having my images used as inspiration, to getting the post done and keeping me in the loop, she was the epitome of efficiency.

Over the course of the week I dipped in from time to time to read emerging works. I’m conscious that my images evoke words beyond the capabilities of my imagination. And I am grateful to the toads for their creativity and wordcraft.

The entries in the poetry challenge are listed at the bottom of their website.

I’ve also added them here under the paintings selected by each particular poet.

Doug's Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)
Doug’s Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)

 

VMW045 Sky Study Pink
Sky Study Pink
What lies beneath
What lies beneath
Sunshine on the Field
Sunshine on the Field
Suzie's Shoes
Suzie’s Shoes
Facing East (watercolour painting)
Facing East (watercolour – 46 x 51cm)
Crossroads (Watercolour 27.5 x 26 cm) Artist: Vandy Massey
Crossroads (Watercolour 27.5 x 26 cm)

 

Dark Pleasure from RunningWithBrushes.com
Dark Pleasure from RunningWithBrushes.com
Dappled light on water (watercolour)
Dappled light on water (watercolour)

I’m beyond thrilled that so many poems have been written about my paintings. Thank you to the Real Toads for adding a new dimension to my work with their poetry challenge.

the imaginary garden with real toads
Click this little guy to go to their website.

Watercolour Exhibition – My Favourite of the Year

All Our Days by David Poxon (pure watercolour). Part of the RI watercolour exhibition
All Our Days by David Poxon RI (pure watercolour)

One of the highlights of the art year for me is the exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours at The Mall Galleries. This year, the watercolour exhibition runs from Wednesday 2nd April to Saturday 19th April.

Clearly you can’t expect every painting in every watercolour exhibition to be a Wow for you. It’s all subjective, after all.  But I have found that this particular exhibition invariably has many works on show that inspire me.  I make sure that I go to exhibitions of works in other mediums from time to time, but for now, this medium remains my passion.  -So my favourite watercolour exhibition is still on my ‘treat myself’ list for the year.  I think it’s a combination of the light, the translucence, and the immediacy of the pigment on paper that entice me.

Some of my favourite artists will be showing in the watercolour exhibition.

Look out for works by:

Mat Barber Kennedy
Anne Blockley
David Poxon
Shirley Trevenna
Naomi Tydeman

These are just a small handful of the talented artists whose work will be available to view.

David Poxon (who received the Winsor and Newton RI Award at last year’s exhibition) very kindly sent me the a photograph of his painting “All our Days” which will be in the exhibition. He said of it, “Found this subject in an old Quaker chapel in the Scilly Isles, the life possessions of someone who had just passed, puts it all into perspective I thought!”

I first saw this painting on Facebook and was blown away by it. The light streaming down onto the box of possessions makes the point that the contents was precious to someone.

(In a small irony, I am currently in South Africa and have been spending much of this week helping my parents. They are starting to sort through and give away old books and collected items that have been accumulated over many years  of living in the same house. I am reminded just how difficult we find it to let go of possessions that represent a life time of memories).

What’s in my Studio? – Incomplete Paintings

For some time I’ve been thinking it might be useful to create a series of posts about the things in my studio that I find useful, and include a few tips along the way. The beginning of a fresh year seems a good day to sort out my studio, clear out the items I no longer need, and re-use some of the rest.

One thing I learned during my 100 Wash Challenge days, which was reiterated in a workshop with Jean Haines, was to keep a collection of washes waiting to be worked on. Over the years I’ve built up a fair collection, some of which have been around for a while.

Inspiration or innovation
Inspiration or innovation

Having a collection like this can be useful. If I’m blocked or lacking inspiration, looking through the collection can be a great way of getting started again. In some cases, looking at a wash with fresh eyes after a while away from it reveals something in the paint that strongly suggests a subject and a painting will emerge. This method is the antithesis of the planned painting. Instead, I view it as a fantastic way of unlocking creativity. Looking at a wash and asking myself, “what could I do with this?” generates some fresh ideas for paintings.

And then there are times when its helpful just to do a wash without intending to paint a complete picture. This is a good way of keeping up your stock of first washes. On January 1st I spent a couple of hours in my studio sorting, tidying and getting my ideas in shape for the coming year. This was my collection of washes and as some of them have been around for a while, it was time to do a rigorous clear out so I could make space to refresh the collection.

Sorting through the possibilities
Sorting through the possibilities

Here are the methods I will use to deal with these. They have been divided into groups with the following chritreia

– Have potential and have been put aside to be worked on directly
– Washed back to see if a fainter image could provide an underwash – some are successful some are not
– Lend themselves to being worked on in new media to create a mixed media painting
– Can be cut into smaller paintings and completed for Running With Brushes
– Viewed with fresh eyes, this work can’t be redeemed. In this case, I use the back of the paper to test colour intensity or combinations while I’m working on another painting. Nothing is wasted.

And now I have space for more new washes.

I hope you found this useful. The next What’s in my Studio post will be published in a week’s time.