Painting Paxos Watercolours

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.

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.

Istanbul Watercolours – influences remain

Last weekends colours and images have stayed with me and are reflected in more Istanbul watercolours this week (at least influenced by something from Istanbul if not a painting of Istanbul itself.

The sights, smells and sounds of the city are more than memorable. The streets are filled wit vendors – of hot roast chestnuts and freshly squeezed juices (orange, grapefruit and pomegranate). Seagulls by the thousand shriek incessantly as they follow the ferries, looking for offerings from commuters. Beautiful sunsets across the water, silhouetting the towers and minarets of the mosques and the museums. And then there’s the intense (almost to the point of sensory overload) sights and sounds of the markets, the historic buildings, and the interiors of the palace.

Istanbul Watercolours – Colour

Luminous Turquoise features in Istanbul watercolours

Blue is the dominant colour of the wall decorations. Ancient turquoise tiles, beautifully hand painted adorn vast areas of wall space in the Topkai Palace, the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya.  I had the urge to paint in Turquoise this week. Lori always says that the colours you wear influence the colours you paint. This may be because you see them all the time while you’re wearing them. It’s certainly true that turquoise tones and teals are my favourite colours. I wear them a lot and they often feature in my paintings. Watching the Ray is part of my Wash a Week Challenge for this week, and will be making an appearance on Running With Brushes very soon.

Istanbul watercolour skyline

The sunsets over the Bosphorus are wonderful. Clouds waft across orange and pink skies revealing the many towers and minarets across the city silhouetted elegantly  in windows of colour. A little sketch in my colour journal captures the image and will always remind me of a ferry ride across the water, looking back towards the old city at sunset.

Artfinder news

I’ve continued gradually sorting through paintings and refreshing my Artfinder portfolio. It has been sorely neglected and I find there are many paintings on my walls which haven’t yet found themselves onto the Artfinder page. The update will continue over the next few weeks.

Two paintings went up this week – both abstracts:

VMW050 Outeniqua Mountain Mist - blog

Outeniqua Mountain Mist was painted from the platform of a treehouse as I looked out over the mountain range in the distance.

VMW073 - Rain and Spray blogRain and Spray is exactly what it says on the can – a study of water in various states. Specifically, water in motion as rain and as ocean spray.

 

Istanbul Art – Echoes of the Ottoman Empire

This has been a weekend of Istanbul Art for me. I love travelling and these days, new places are quite often also a source of new visual inspiration. This was absolutely the case with Istanbul.

This is a city with so many facets. To start with, it spans two continents. We are staying in Eastern Europe, and last night, popped across the river to have supper – in Asia. I love the idea that this city has one half in Europe and the other in Asia.  And the two sections couldn’t be more different in feel. The European side houses the old city and features the historic buildings we all know about. The Asian side is buzzy and modern and features rows of contemporary pavement restaurants and English language schools. Both side are fun – in a very different way.

My Istanbul Art

We’ve had so many places to see in only a few days so my own art has consisted of a few sketches. There will be more when I get home though. My head is filled with image and ideas.

Istanbul Art - Grand Bazaar
The alleyways of the Grand Bazaar are festooned with bags, clothes and many-coloured wares of all varieties

The Grand Bazaar is worth a visit – but expect to be constantly asked to come and look at goods. Every shop seems to employ someone to stand at the door and entice customers in – and they can be quite persistent. Its not so surprising when you realise that there are around 5000 (Yes, five thousand. That’s not a typo) shops in the bazaar and many of them sell the same sort of goods.  The shops are sometimes no more than stalls, but every one is crammed with wares. This covered market dates back to 1461 and the vaulted ceilings are all painted with complex ancient patterns in yellow, green, blue and red.

Istanbul Art - Blue Mosque
Rough sketch of the blue mosque domes seen from the steps of Ayasofia

The Blue Mosque and the Ayasofia are both on everyone’s ‘must see when visiting Istanbul’ lists. And now that I’ve seen them, I can understand why.  We saw both on one day and my preferred one of the two was the Ayasofia, simply because it has such a fascinating and complex history which shows in the building.  In a busy day, I sat on the steps for 10 minutes after visiting these two impressive buildings, and tried to capture the imposing feel of the Blue Mosque in my sketchbook.

More about Istanbul art in a future post.

Wash a Week Challenge – Back to the Quinacridones

This is Week 5 of the Wash a Week Challenge and I’m exploring Quinacridone Purple and along with a different type of sponge for painting.

Enchanted forest watercolour on www.runningwithbrushes.com

Watercolour Journal & 2015 Wash Challenge

I’ve fallen in love with my watercolour journal and I’d like to introduce you to it.

Two years ago I was given a wonderful bound book of heavy weight Arches watercolour paper. It was so beautiful that it took a month before I could pluck up the courage to put brush to paper. And even after I had made my virgin mark on page one, I was still so worried about messing it up, that I was afraid to paint in it.

Now the Wash a Week Challenge is well and truly up and running (I’ve just published my second post) and I think I’ve found its purpose in life. My beautifully bound book as become my watercolour journal.

Inside my watercolour journal:

Watercolour journal red page
Reds and pinks – transparent and opaque

In no particular order, each week in the Wash a Week Challenge, I will be exploring colours I find useful or exciting, or those I want to learn about.  And from time to time, I will share the journal’s progress. If you want to see snippets of the journal’s contents, you’ll see how it’s being used in my week by week posts.

Watercolour journal blue page
Phtalo Blue – two manufacturers

Pages combine specific colour studies and references, with little sketches.

Watercolour journal yellow page
Exploring daffodils on a yellow page

And in some instances, just an opportunity to observe and record shapes, colours and tonal values.

QuinacridonesIn other news this week – I found watercolour treasure in my local art supply shop this week. I’ll be covering the Quinacridone family of colours. I’ve always loved Quinacridone Gold and when I discovered the Daniel Smith range of watercolours in the shop, the opportunity to fill up my palette with most of the rest of the range was just too much to resist.  Exploring them all is bound to be good fun.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading down to London for my first work meetings of the year. Perfect opportunity for a meeting with Doug Shaw at The Mall Galleries where the Artists and Illustrators Artist of the Year show is on starting tomorrow.

 

Painting colour – listening with your eyes

It may seem completely obvious to talk about painting colour. After all how could you painting without painting colour? But bear with me. Hopefully this will make sense by the end of this post.

Monday marked Day 1 of the current 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge.  I’ve done a couple of these in the past and found them to be both demanding, and hugely valuable at the same time. They create a structure and a focus for painting time, and in the past have also provided a boost to the Running With Brushes collection.

I had actually decided that I wasn’t going to take part again this time, mainly because I’m pushed for time (as always). But I signed up nevertheless thinking that I could just dip in from time to time during the month and post what I could.

But then last weekend we spent time with some very warm and wise friends. It was a grounding couple of days in which we walked, talked, ate, wandered through beautiful gardens and along windswept beaches. We talked about family, history, books and life in general. We talked about the value of slowing down the pace of life and paying really focussing on the here and the now.

Listening – and I mean really listening, with full attention – is something we know is a huge gift. Not many of us are very good at it. We’re distracted by the noise of daily life.

So I got thinking about 30 Paintings in 30 Days and I will take part. Rather than post a fully formed painting every day, I am using this challenge as an opportunity to ‘listen with my eyes’. This is a marvellous opportunity to practice active looking and recording what I see. I’ll write more about my thinking on this theme as the challenge progresses, and as patterns in my perceptions emerge.

Painting Colours – Day 1:

Painting colour - Silver birch bark sketch
Silver birch bark sketch

On a walk through the woods I came across three fully grown Silver Birch trees that have been downed – probably by some huge storm: the roots are exposed and at least one of them is now growing horizontally.  Tree shrapnel is scattered across the meadow and I found this wonderful strip of bark with it’s lovely textures and colours. It made me want to spend some time focused on painting colour as I see it in the bark.

Painting colour of this foraged Silver birch bark strip
Foraged – Silver birch bark strip

Here’s the beautiful piece of bark with all is delicate colour variations. tree bark clearly isn’t just brown or grey. There are shades of green, blue and reds in this piece of nature’s art  – inviting you to have a go at painting colour.

Tuscan Doors With Character

Tuscan Doors (watercolour 15 x 21 cm)
Tuscan Doors (watercolour 15 x 21 cm)

I’ve been working through photographs of a range of Tuscan doors. They were taken one afternoon on our holiday in that part of the world last month. (These Tuscan Doors are from the Running With Brushes website)

We went off on an excursion to see the hilltop towns of central Italy, many of which have a link to the work of the artist Piero Della Francesca who famously painted the pregnant madonna.

Starting in Umbria and meandering over into Tuscanny, the drive is beautiful. It invites a slow ramble up and down some winding roads which traverse the hills and valleys between Medieval towns with magnificent walls.

For me, the most interesting aspects of these towns are the old bits. The narrow roads within the old city walls. That’s where all the character-filled bits of buildings can be found. And somehow, the Tuscan doors seem to be a great feature of the buildings. I’ve seen similarly interesting doors in other parts of Southern Europe, but this part of the world seemed to strike me as having a deliciously wide variety from which to choose.

Our Tuscan Doors route
(or the official version – the Piero Della Francesca Route)

One of the reasons for this route is that Piero Della Francesca, unlike many of the best known painters of the time, does not have his works in many of the major museums.  Instead, he chose to stay close to his roots and his works have remained in the part of Italy that he loved.

– Start in Sansepolcro  has a beautiful walled centre. Park just outside the walls and amble along to the Museo Civico to see The Resurrection
– Monterchi is where the pregnant Madonna can be seen. I didn’t think much of the museum dedicated to this painting. The staff were lackadaisical and not particularly interested in visitors, and the museum is small – leaving the visitor thinking, “Is that it?”  However, as part of the drive, this is a glorious part of the route.
– We missed seeing Rimini and Arezzo where I believe there are some spectacular works, but that was because we stopped for lunch in glorious:
Anghiari. I was utterly charmed by this town. We visited the little Da Alighiero restaurant for a lunch which ultimately lasted almost 3 hours. Husband and wife team Gianni and Sylvia pull of that perfect combination of fantastic food and great hospitality. On the way back up the hill, we took photographs of the town’s Tuscan doors. Every one seemed to entice us to stay a little longer and explore this wonderful town.

Restaurant interior sketch
Da Alighiero – bottles and old trunks sketched while waiting for lunch

Whether you’re interested in Piero Della Francesca, medieval towns, great old architectural features, or just plain fantastic places to do long lunches, this route through Tuscanny is hard to beat.

Medieval Village Sketch from Umbria

This little medieval village sketch was started while I was on holiday in Umbria.  Standing at the window of our room, this was the view down the valley. I made a quick pen sketch before we left.

It always seemed really quiet and almost uninhabited, and we wondered what went on in Borgo di Santa Giuliana. It seems, although the village has been restored, it only has one resident at present. What a great pity to have such a beautiful place and no-one to enjoy it. Sadly, it does seem to reflect a lot of what is happening in Italy at the moment. The economy is still struggling and if you look around, you can see the signs.

Having done only a pen sketch on site, I thought it would come to life more if I used a bit of colour. So this weekend, I used a few water soluble graphite pencils on the medieval village sketch.

Medieval village sketch
Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Sketch with water soluble graphite activated

Just for interest, here’s the sketch before the graphite pencil was activated. Although the colours aren’t particularly vibrant, I do like these pencils.

Medieval village sketch
Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Sketch with water soluble graphite

Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Medieval Village Sketch

Here’s an English translation (although perhaps not a perfect one) of the text found on the website link to Borgo di Santa Giuliana:

The first news about the ancient village of Santa Giuliana back to the year 1362. In 1411, Captain Paolo Orsini, an ally of Braccio da Montone Fortinbras, attacked the castle in the north of Perugia, and Santa Giuliana was besieged. The reaction of the inhabitants, however, was so resolute and effective that the attackers had to leave.  The commander, Orsini, was seriously injured. After many years of neglect, the whole complex has been completely restored, respecting the original structure. It is a beautiful example of a small medieval village. Inside the castle is a little church, built in 1558, dedicated to St. Anthony.  At about 1 km you will find a tower, an ancient outpost of defence, and the church dedicated to Santa Giuliana.

I’ve been doing some planning for a few more complete paintings of this village. More to come. I’ll try not to bore you with too many of them.

Tim Minion, Sketching Companion

Meet Tim Minion. He arrived unexpectedly. On the way to a fancy dress ball last week, we stopped to pick up pirate costume accessories. Tim was hanging out near the tills and I fell head over heels for him. At the time I acquired him, I had no real clue about exactly what use I would have for him. But within a few days, he’s become indispensable.

Tim Minion looking plump and smug
Timinion looking plump and smug

Tim Minion is now my sketching companion.

He faithfully transports my sketchbooks, coloured pencils, pens, and brushes. It’s quite amazing how much he can carry without getting bent out of shape.

There’s something quite liberating about having a Minion as a sketching companion. Tim Minion stops me from taking my sketching too seriously. There’s a temptation to strive for perfection in every piece of work. As a general rule, constantly aiming for excellence is a good thing. But with sketching, that’s almost guaranteed to negate the primary purpose of the exercise.

Tim Minion spills his guts
Timinion spills his guts

Once you’ve dug into Tim Minion’s insides to haul out sketch book and pens, it’s very difficult to be anything but playful. That state of playfulness immediately creates a looser piece of work. Capturing some of the essence of the subject in a few minutes is the goal. Working fast and being relaxed about the results are key factors for success.

Having all my sketching kit in one place (even if it is the innards of a Minion) means I can produce a quick image when taking a break. Often sketching time happens when I’m just sitting on a park bench, or a patch of grass under a tree. In that respect, its also great practice for plein air painting.

Sketchbooks
Recent sketches

These little images were the results of Tim’s portering labours last week in France. Done over two short sessions, this is more sketching than I generally do in a month. I’m really pleased with the output. Long may this last – hopefully having a Minion will keep the work flowing.

Sketch. Green chair conversation
Green chair conversation

One more sketch from last week provides a perfect example of the value of my sketchbook. The Tuilleries Gardens are full of lovely ponds and statues, with ducks, pigeons and finches strutting and waddling around, and people sitting in green metal chairs chatting, dozing, reading, eating, and relaxing in their own way. A cluster of five empty chairs caught my eye. They were grouped very close together in a way that made it look as if the chairs were themselves having a friendly conversation. This little sketch isn’t by any means even close to a finished work. It never will be. But it will remind me of the day, the idea I had when I saw the chairs, and the interaction between a group of inanimate items that made them seem almost human.

I’m going to enjoy Tim Minion’s company as we sketch our way through my travels.

White Light, Blue City

Over the past two weeks I have been on an exhilarating exploration of Morocco in preparation for my submission for the Cox and Kings Morocco Art Competition: White Light, Blue City.

My journey started with selecting the photograph which would be the subject of my paintings. Competition organiser Katie invited participants to interpret their photographs as they wish. The challenge for me was that, while I find the blue city of Chefchaouen fascinating, the reference for my subject was basically almost entirely blue.

Not having visited Morocco before, I spent some time on research. I searched the web and looked at dozens and dozens of photographs of the streets, the doorways and the stairways of the city. I questioned people who have travelled to Morocco about what it feels like to be in the city. I experimented with the spices of Morocco to get the smells, colours and textures of the markets. (And yes, there is Turmeric and Paprika in the final paintings – I’m sure you can work out where)

Blue City

I found the city so enticing that I wanted to share more than just it’s blueness in my painting: to extend an invitation to wander up the stairways and alleyways, through the bustle and the spicy aromas of the marketplace, up towards the bright white Moroccan sunlight, to the cool oases behind the blue doors.

White Light, Blue City (39 x 58 cm. mixed media)
White Light, Blue City (39 x 58 cm. mixed media)

Thank you to Cox and Kings for the opportunity to take part in this fantastic challenge. It has been such fun.

If you want to have a look at the paintings done by the other participants, they’ll be blogging their submissions on their site: Jenny Keal, Concetta Perôt, Kim Dellow and Alan Reed. I hope they have all enjoyed painting Morocco as much as I have.