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.

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.

Handmade watercolours: testing and painting

Handmade watercolours made – now the fun of using them begins.

Until I’ve tested the paints for consistency and lightfastness, I’m not using them in any painting that’s for sale. I have to be able to guarantee the quality of my materials and while the handmade watercolours are really interesting, they’re not yet tried and tested.

In the meantime, I’m getting to know them by painting a series of greeting cards which are being sent off to family and friends.

Handmade watercolours
Greeting card – daffodil bank
Handmade watercolours
Greeting card – Read earth, blue sky
Handmade watercolours
Greeting card – dawn trio

Testing handmade watercolours

Here’s my testing process so far:

Handmade watercolours

Naturally, I’m creating swatches in my colour journal. The details will be added as I get confirmation of the characteristics of each paint.

Handmade watercolours

I also wanted to see how the paint reacted in different papers.  As I mixed them, I tried each one on three sheets of watercolour papers of various weights and textures. They reacted well on all of them. Now I’m checking specifically for colour fastness – which will take time.

To do that, I’ve painted a stripe of each of my 13 handmade watercolours on two different papers. One is a 300lb watercolour paper, and the other a mixed media paper.

Handmade watercolours
That should read Paint test – Jan 2016!

Each sheet has now been sliced down the middle. Half of each sheet has been placed in a brown envelope and placed between large books on my bookshelf to block out as much light as possible. The other half of each sheet has been placed on a south facing windowsill where it is exposed to moderate sunshine. Next January, I’ll compare the sheet halves and see how well the sunlight exposed paint has fared.

Another article about my handmade paint project can be read on the Wash a Week Challenge website

Making Watercolour Paint

When I started painting, I never would have imagined I would be tempted into making watercolour paint. But somehow, this is where I find myself now. And its been both fascinating and fun. Making Watercolour Paint Pigment Display

It all started with a visit to an art shop in Venice where the delicious display of pigments in the window tempted me inside.

Making Watercolour Paint Pigment Jars

where the delights of making watercolour paint became apparently. Look at all those gorgeous colours lined up in shiny glass jars!

Making Watercolour Paint Pigments

I had to have a go at making watercolour paint, starting with a festival in blues and then added 7 other colours to increase my Venetian palette.  Unfortunately, these bags of loveliness don’t come with instructions. I had to start by researching a method and recipe.

Recipe for making watercolour paint.

Start by making a base for the pigment.

  • 1 part gum arabic
  • 3 parts warm water (I used very hot water as its easier to dissolve the gum arabic)
  • 1 part glycerine
  • 1 part honey (optional)

Then mix in pigment to the base in a 1:1 ratio.

In the first phase, its important to make sure the gum arabic is fully dissolved. In the second phase, mix until the paint is smooth. It takes longer than you think.

Making Watercolour Paint mixed

Once mixed, the pigments stay wet for much longer than the commercial tube paints. I presume this may be partly because of the glycerine and honey additions. The effect of this is to make the paint slow to dry on the paper.

I’m still getting to know these paints. I’ll be testing them next and will write about my results. For one thing, lightfastness on any of these is an unknown. I can’t use them in any paintings for sale until I know how they react over time.

Making Watercolour Paint Pin jars

I started with a small batch of each colour – and still have a (very small) jar full of each colour I bought. This is years of supply at the rate I paint.

It may not be necessary to go all the way to Italy to have a go at making your own paint. There is an art shop in London which supplies pigments, resins and gums. I’ve not been there before, but it looks as if its worth a visit.

A word of warning: I was careful to wash my hands thoroughly after making each batch of paint – its a messy business. Strictly speaking, I probably should also have used a dust mask as I don’t know the toxicity level of any of these pigments. I will be getting a good quality mask for future paint mixing and I would suggest it for anyone wanting to try making their own paint.

Painting Fresh Flowers with Olivia Quintin

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

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

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

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

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

ready for Painting Fresh Flowers
Fresh flowers ready for painting

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

Olivia demonstrates
Olivia demonstrates

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

totally absorbed in painting fresh flowers
Hard at work – totally absorbed in painting fresh flowers

Painting Fresh Flowers – A few demonstrations and results

Olivia's Roses
Olivia’s Roses
painting fresh flowers in a glass
Olivia Quintin’s demonstration flowers in a glass

And a couple of my little exercises:

Freshly Picked by Vandy Massey
Freshly Picked
Cosmos in a Glass by Vandy Massey
Cosmos in a Glass

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

Olivia's Earrings
Olivia’s Earrings

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

Watercolour journal – exploring colour

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

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

A flip through my Watercolour Journal

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

Watercolour Journal - Elegant Magnolia

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

Watercolour Journal - Flirty Fuschia

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

Watercolour Journal - WIld Poppies

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

Creative images of artwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

More creative images

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

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

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

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

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 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!