Red Earth Colours

Earth colours are appearing in my paintings. What I mean is red earth colours. Not the loamy dark browns of the northern hemisphere.

I am drawn to the sight of red earth. It’s a throwback to a childhood in Southern Africa. The familiar rich red colour of the earth always makes me feel at home.  On the way from the airport when we arrived here, we passed an extensive road construction project and there, heaped up on the side of the road, was a pile or rich dark red soil. It was almost as if this part of the world was inviting me to add a new dimension to my work.

Even though I love the sight of rich red earth colours, these are not colours I generally put into my landscapes. Usually, it’s blues, greens, yellows and just sometimes, some pink/lavender tones. colours that are all very refined and safe.  They are very northern-hemisphere, cool-light colours. So does this imply that your surroundings influence the colours you use in your paintings? It certainly could be part of the reason, I suspect.

At art college, my sister was advised to wear neutral colours.  The theory was that the colours you wear have a tendency to creep into your palette. That may be true. I wear a lot of blue and lo and behold, there it is in my paintings.  An old friend commented on one of my Facebook posts that Australia is doing interesting things to my work, and then the conversation continued to the point of speculating about whether the English light would change that when I get back into my studio. That remains to be seen but I hope it doesn’t.

Earth colours in my paintings

Earth colours - rainbow beachThere is a different quality to the light here, and to the landscape. It’s bigger, and it’s redder. To my eye, the earth colours seem to come to the fore more here.  That could be because I am more attuned to them because of my childhood. But whatever the reason, they are there and I am relishing the bold brashness of them.  I have painted a couple of dozen small paintings for Running With Brushes while I have been here. They have the advantage of being small and portable. I can work out my thinking for larger paintings by creating a smaller version. I’ll pick the ones I like best and work them up to bigger paintings when I am back in my studio.

At first, the earth colours were appearing in a more figurative form in the paintings. But gradually, as I have spent more time here, the reds have just had to be put down on paper.

The paint colours

Fortunately, my palette has a glorious Pyrrol Scarlet pan, and I squeezed a juicy blob of Transparent Pyrrol Orange into one of the extra pans. (The orange is one of my all time favourites. Depending on how intensely you use it, it can range from being almost red to a delicate orange. I recommend it.) Of course, there have been washes of beautiful quinacridone gold, sepia and burnt sienna. But the reds and oranges are the ones that pop.Earth colours - pandanus tree Perhaps my choice of palette was starting to change before I got here and being away from my studio has only made me realise it. But it definitely feels as if there’s a shift away from playing safe.

In my last week here, I’ve sketched a red pandanus tree. What next? I’m not sure, but I am looking forward to splashing some earth colours around on bigger pieces when I get back into my studio.  If you want to see more of my little plein air Australia paintings, they’re on my Instagram feed. Let me know what you think. Do you like the funky reds?

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Talking about abstract art

How do you respond when someone looks at a piece of abstract art and says, ‘But what is it?’ Or ‘What’s it meant to be?’ Or even, ‘I don’t understand it’?  I’m sure we’ve all been there.

Talking about Abstract art 2

I had this conversation last week after having a second day of working with Glenda Charles. I’m really enjoying creating more abstract art. I  am allowing the creative process to make its own direction and pace as I continue to explore images from my environment.

Talking about Abstract art

When I showed my, normally very supportive, husband what I had been working on, he responded with the ‘I don’t understand it.’ version above.  I spent a day or two thinking about how to talk to him about abstract art in a way that would help him relate to it.

Wikipedia’s explanation is that uses a visual language of shape, form, colour and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. I didn’t think that would entirely help him. While it is clearly correct, its also obvious and doesn’t really speak about the emotional aspects.

Explaining abstract art

He has always loved music. That was the connection I needed. I explained that I see figurative art as being like music with lyrics. The lyrics make it clear what the song is about. You can tell what the composer was thinking when they created the piece. However, quite often, with instrumental work, the same is not the case. Instrumental music, either classical or contemporary is like abstract art to my mind. If it’s well written, you can tell what the composer was feeling and what they want the audience to feel. But the exact story behind the music is only fully known by the composer.

Is it good instrumental music? There are experts who can pronounce judgement on that. But for the average listener, it’s more subjective. You either like the music or you don’t. The rhythms and harmonies appeal to you, or they don’t. If find yourself listening to a piece of instrumental music more than once, that’s rather like seeing a piece of abstract art that draws you back for another look.

He got it. Now we can have some conversations in which we are talking about abstract art.

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Watercolour of the mother of mountains

Watercolour of the mother of mountains This little watercolour of the mother of mountains was inspired by two sunset visits to points overlooking the Glasshouse Mountains. The sky ranges from purple through all the pinks to coral colours and the forested area around the mountains creates a darker bed from which the peaks emerge.

The last light warms the west-facing side of mount Beerwah, the mother of mountains. As the sun goes down, it creates a glow on her flank. There’s an Aboriginal legend about the Glasshouse Mountains.

The Legend of the Glasshouse Mountains – inspiration for the watercolour of the mother of mountains

“Now Tibrogargan was the father of all the tribes and Beerwah was his wife, and they had many children.

Coonowrin, the eldest; the twins, Tunbubudla; Miketeebumulgrai; Elimbah whose shoulders were bent because she carried many cares; the little one called Round because she was so fat and small; and the one called Wild Horse since he always strayed away from the others to paddle out to sea. (Ngungun, Beerburrum and Coochin do not seem to be mentioned in the legend).

One day when Tibrogargan was gazing out to sea, he perceived a great rising of the waters. He knew then that there was to be a very great flood and he became worried for Beerwah, who had borne him many children and was again pregnant and would not be able to reach the safety of the mountains in the west without assistance.

So he called to his eldest son, Coonowrin, and told him of the flood which was coming and said, “Take your mother, Beerwah, to the safety of the mountains while I gather your brothers and sisters who are at play and I will bring them along.”

When Tibrogargan looked back to see how Coonowrin was tending to his mother he was dismayed to see him running off alone. Now this was a spiritless thing for Coonowrin to do, and as he had shown himself to be a coward he was to be despised.

Tibrogargan became very angry and he picked up his nulla nulla and chased Coonowrin and cracked him over the head with a mighty blow with such force that it dislocated Coonowrin’s neck, and he has never been able to straighten it since.

By and by, the floods subsided and, when the plains dried out the family was able to return to the place where they lived before. Then, when the other children saw Coonowrin they teased him and called “How did you get your wry neck – How did you get your wry neck?” and this made Coonowrin feel ashamed.

So Coonowrin went to Tibrogargan and asked for forgiveness, but the law of the tribe would not permit this. And he wept, for his son had disgraced him. Now the shame of this was very great and Tibrogargan’s tears were many and, as they trickled down they formed a stream which wended its way to the sea.

So Coonowrin went then to his mother, Beerwah, but she also cried, and her tears became a stream and flowed away to the sea. One by one, he went to his brothers and sisters, but they all cried at their brother’s shame.

Then Tibrogargan called to Coonowrin and asked why he had deserted his mother and Coonowrin replied, “She is the biggest of us all and should be able to take care of herself.” But Coonowrin did not know that his mother was again with child, which was the reason for her grossness. Then Tibrogargan put his son behind him and vowed he would never look at him again.

Even to this day Tibrogargan gazes far, far out to sea and never looks at Coonowrin. Coonowrin hangs his head in shame and cries, and his tears run off to the sea, and his mother, Beerwah, is still pregnant, for, you see, it takes many years to give birth to a mountain.”

Credit to Coolrunning.com for this version of the legend.

Spirituality and the art process

Spirituality and the art process – what does that mean to you?
When Glenda Charles sent me her workshop list with this topic, I was intrigued but didn’t really know what to expect.  Her workshop description included this text:

“I find out everything about myself in that moment of making”.
The musician, Nils Frahm said this about the process of making music and so it can be said about all art practice.

The title and description intrigued me. I had no idea what to expect. So I really needed to suspend any expectations before I went along. The ability to deal with uncertainty is enormously valuable to any artist. We need to embrace the unknown; to start each artistic project with the knowledge that it will probably change along the way. It will change, and in fact, probably surprise you at the same time.  For me, that’s part of the thrill of painting. Perhaps that’s because it’s part of the process of finding out more about ourselves.

I have always known that the creative process is in large part, about self-discovery.  And it’s not something that can be rushed.  It isn’t a flash of insight with every painting. Rather it’s a slow process, a bit like peeling an onion. Each layer gets you closer to the core. Removing a layer can be uncomfortable. And every time you you it, you feel more vulnerable for a while. It takes a degree of courage to open up and trust the process.

Spirituality and the art process – the workshop

Glenda is warm, joyful and down to earth. She makes this sort of leap of faith feel safe.  The process involved meditation, mark making and then a process of using some of those emotion-led marks we had generated as the starting point for an abstract painting.

Partly because of the constraint of travel-friendly paper sizes, I worked on two smaller pieces which were painted together side by side.  In itself, this was an interesting exercise I’ve not tried before.

As you can see, the results were images that are way off my normal style of work. I’ve been reflecting on them for a week now and I see some exciting possibilities that make me want to explore greater freedom in my mark making, and a more abstract collection of work.

Spirituality and the art process - Palette rightI have also changed my view of the palette I used. I think it may be too strident in its intense saturation and I rather like these versions where I used a warm filter to change the colours to a slightly more sophisticated version.  What do you think?

Spirituality and the art process -Palette left

These aren’t exactly where I would want them to be yet. They invite further work, but the process has been enlightening and I will continue to work on these two. I think this is an evolution – of the paintings and of my art development.

My take aways

The value of Spirituality and the art process was something I experienced during the workshop, but only processed consciously a few days later. Meditation at the beginning of the day was really useful as a way of quietening the analytical part of my brain. I often complain that I can spend almost a full day pottering in the studio before I even pick up a brush. It takes me that long to change my thinking style from analytical to creative.

The analytical part of my brain is usually dominant and it speaks very loudly. Although I still didn’t find it easy to tune into the intuitive process of painting, it was there and I can see what with practice, it could begin to calm the analytical thinking faster than it does these days.

Following the flow

Following the flow: Sometimes, life leads us to unexpected places; to people who influence our thinking; to events that inspire our creativity. We can either focus on the restrictions imposed by the rest of our lives, or we can try to take the opportunity that we’re being offered. I believe in grabbing the opportunity with enthusiasm; in going with the flow

In 2017 we took a long trip. We did a house swap with a couple from Mission Beach, in Queensland, Australia. I was thrilled about the opportunity to spend time in two of my favourite environments: beaches and rainforests. I love walking along a deserted beach, and I have always been at home in amongst trees.  Mission Beach is a special place in that it has both in one place.

Washed Ashore - a slice of my beach reflection abstract. Following the flow.
Washed Ashore – a slice of my beach reflection abstract

The trip seemed like a good opportunity to paint a new series. Specifically, I decided to paint individual pieces that would end up as a digital sketchbook of the trip once they had all gone to new owners. So I took a supply of paper and paints along with me and the project got started.

Following the Flow: Mission Beach Community Arts

Then I discovered the Mission Beach Community Arts centre. We noticed the gallery as we were driving past and I went in to explore. I didn’t realise that they also run workshops until I looked on their Facebook page.  There was a post that made me sit up: a two day workshop by Australian artist, Glenda Charles. The subject: Abstracting the Landscape. Some workshops are just meant to be done. So, following the flow, I  signed up, went shopping for even more art supplies, and got painting!

I don’t find abstract painting  to be the easy option some people seem to think it is. It required much more thought and planning than painting what is in front of you in a figurative style.  The appeal of this workshop was the chance to dive into something I’ve always found very difficult.

Following the Flow. Rainforest Cloudburst was painted in the workshop with Glenda Charles
Rainforest Cloudburst was painted in the 2017 worth Glenda Charles. in this one I focused on my fascination with the forest. I particularly love the marks made by raindrops. They could never be replicated.

Working with Glenda was fantastic. Everything about the workshops pushed my boundaries, and prepared me for being more adventurous with my work. I am still not what I would call an abstract artist, but my work often gets into the semi-abstract space.

We’re back in Australia this year. This time we’re on the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane. A few weeks before we left home I realised that this is Glenda’s home ground. Eventually I got around to contacting her to say I was going to be in the area and would love to see any exhibitions she has going over the next couple of months.

She replied almost immediately with an invitation to her studio. She also mentioned that she is running a workshop on Spirituality in Art next Saturday. Some workshops are just meant to be done. So, once again, I am following the flow.

(I’ll post about the workshop next week).

100 Day Project – how to make the most of it

My 100 Day Project started on 2nd April. For obvious reasons I thought 1st April wouldn’t be a great starting day. We’ve all seen 7 day challenges, ’30 days of [whatever]’ challenges, and now the 100 day project. Anything above 21 days is designed to build a creative habit.

How to join in: Choose a theme, make time to create something every day, and post an image to Instagram with the #100dayproject hashtag

There’s a temptation to think we’re going to miss a day or two so we shouldn’t even start. But anything that helps build a creative habit is helpful. The 100 day website suggests only 5 minutes a day is spent working on your chosen project.

Drawing for 5 minutes a day may achieve something, but I find painting takes longer. One of the biggest barriers to painting is the blank sheet of paper at the outset.  And that’s part of why the 100 days is so effective for me.   Just like that thought that if we can’t do every one of the 100 days, we shouldn’t take part – I have a block about getting started on a painting if I don’t have a few hours available to paint. So one of the things the project does is get me working on something in my studio or with my paints even if I only have a short time available. Daily practice is key. Try to use this time as an incentive to do just a small amount every day.

100 day project hashtags

Vandy Massey's Instagram #100daysofstudiostoriesThe 100 day project is a great way to share a series of Studio Stories giving followers some insight into the steps that go into producing a painting. If you’re an artist, consider joining in the 100 day series. If you’re an art lover, there may be some new discoveries to be made by following the #100dayproject hashtag on Instagram.

Why does the project really work for me? It is a great motivator. An encouragement for me to get something done every day if possible. There’s an extra focus when the artwork is part of a project. I had to think about a theme: focused without being monotonous. Discovery:  It’s a great way of finding other artists who are also working on developing their practice. Promotion: Its also an excellent way of being discovered by people who love art and follow art Instagram accounts.

I’ve created a new hashtag for my posts for this project. If you want to see how I’m getting on with my project, use the Instagram hashtag: #100daysofstudiostories.

On a different note:  I’m planning to do a monthly newsletter with a round up of  the blog posts I think will be most useful as well as anything else in the art world I come across. If you’d prefer to read a monthly newsletter instead of a weekly blog post, why not sign up for my newsletter.  The signup form is the teal box on the right hand side of the page. And the unsubscribe button is right there too if you change your mind later.

Daniel Smith Half Pan Set – my thoughts

Once I discovered tube watercolours, I really battled with using pan paints – but the Daniel Smith Watercolour half pan set has changed my mind.

I was thrilled to receive a set from Premium Art Brands a couple of months ago. The Daniel Smith watercolour half pan set come in three different colour combinations. When I saw that I had received the blues set I did a little happy dance. I’ve always loved blues and they appear in just about every one of my paintings.

I was planning to use this set on my travels in February, but an accident stopped me painting for about a month and I’m just getting my painting mojo back now. Playing with my new half pan set was a nice way to get back into the swing of watercolours. This weekend I put my Daniel Smith half pan set to the test in earnest. I spent half a day in my studio painting small watercolours for charity.  I’ll be posting the results to my Instagram account this week.

Why the Daniel Smith half pan set has changed my view.

The key is in the fact that they are hand poured which basically means they’re tube paint in pans. That means all the gorgeous juicy paint consistency and intensity of tube colour. I also love the option of being able to select my own colour palette. In the past I have made a hack using little plastic pill boxes and a pencil case. It worked, but it was bigger than I wanted, pretty messy, and fiddly to use. The Daniel Smith set feels like everything I was trying to achieve with my pencil case hack, but better and in a very well conceived design.

Daniel Smith Watercolour half pan set blues. Painting on sketchbook paper by Vandy Massey
Daniel Smith Watercolour half pan set blues – I was so keen to get started I forgot to take a photo before it got messy

This is how the pan set arrives – with six lovely colours in the centre and nine spaces for your own selection of tube paints.

So what colours did I choose?

You can see the original six blues in the middle: Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, Cerulean and Lunar Blue in the top row of blues. Then Indigo, Sodalite Genuine and Payne’s Blue Gray in the row below.  My additions from bottom left moving up and to the right are: Undersea Green, Shadow Violet, Burnt Umber, Quinacridone Gold, Aureolin, Sepia, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Transparent Pyrrole Orange and Quinacridone Coral.  I’ve just put a small amount in some of these as I may adjust this set slightly once I’ve used it for a while. Once I am sure this range will work, I’ll be filling those pans!

My colour swatch for the Daniel Smith half pan set
My colour swatch for the Daniel Smith half pan set

Another aspect I like is the size. Expect to see these colours in my sketchbooks and small paintings from now on.  Here’s my new ‘grab it and go’ watercolour kit:

My new watercolour travel kit: Daniel Smith half pan set, moleskine A6 watercolour sketch book, travel brush and small water spray bottle.
My new watercolour travel kit: Daniel Smith half pan set, moleskine A6 watercolour sketch book, travel brush and small water spray bottle.

To summarise my thoughts on the Daniel Smith half pan set:

Pros

  • Colour choice. I just love being able to use my own colours
  • Size – perfect for pockets
  • Paints – creamy and easy to activate
  • Pan size – bigger than most others so you can give your tubes a generous squeeze when you’re filling your pans.

Cons

  • Its hard to find many down sides, but I wonder if an extra 3 pans would make it even more useful while still keeping the size down? It would still be no bigger than my A6 moleskine.

This post is not a sponsored blog for Daniel Smith watercolour or Premium Art Brands. This is just my personal view of the Daniel Smith watercolour half pan set.

Abundance – Watercolour and Graphite

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.

Abundance. Watercolour and Graphite. 150 x 100mm Artist: Vandy Massey
Abundance. Watercolour and Graphite. 150 x 100mm

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.

Autumn Landscape: Layering watercolour

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.

Through the Gap. Watercolour by Vandy Massey
Through the Gap. Watercolour by Vandy Massey

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.

Layering Watercolour 1 Work in progress by Vandy Massey

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.

Layering Watercolour 2 - Work in progress by Vandy Massey

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.

Watercolour sketch cards

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
2016.02.23 - Nightingale Song

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.

2016.02.21 - Order from Chaos

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.

2016.02.20 - Crane Flower

The strelizia in the office produced a single flower/. I loved the dramatic shapes of the spikey petals. They called for a layered abstract.

2016.02.19 Switzerland 2

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.

2016.02.18 - Take Off 2

Taking off – I challenged myself to paint one of these on the plane. This was painted at 38000 feet above the earth.

2016.02.17 - Curves and shadows 2

Energy pods. Shiny gold cones of wake-up boost. They’re not very politically correct these days.

Back to the studio now for a bigger piece.