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.
Testing handmade watercolours
Here’s my testing process so far:
Naturally, I’m creating swatches in my colour journal. The details will be added as I get confirmation of the characteristics of each paint.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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 byDoug 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 Marklewin 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.
Expertise comes with time and a lot of practice. One of the aspects of painting that distinguishes an artist is their particular style of mark-making. For most artists this is one element of their work that develops over a period of working with different materials, and a range of tools.
Over the short years I’ve been painting, I’ve managed to accumulate a slightly embarrassing collection of brushes. I’m less addicted to buying new brushes than I am to to acquiring new tubes of colour – but only just. And I’ve recently discovered a couple of new mark-making tools that are quite unusual. But first I’ll show you the traditional tools I have in my studio.
Brushes and tools in my studio:
Watercolour is my favourite medium at this stage. I’m still enthralled by the surprises this medium brings. I’ve been working mainly in watercolours so it accounts for the bulk of my tools for it. Every artist has a favourite blush. My favourite brush has changed over time. For a long time a size 10 kolinsky sable round brush was my go-to tool. Since then I’ve tried some great synthetic brushes which have good points and are quite robust and hold a good point. I’ve recently discovered a sable filbert which is fast moving into my small group of ‘most favoured’ brushes. My all time ‘can’t live without it’ brush is a size zero rigger. It’s just perfect for adding those last little details.
Other watercolour tools include old credit cards, toothbrushes, sponges (not visible in this painting) bamboo sticks, eye droppers and ballpoint pen outer sleeves. There are probably a few others in this photo, but those are the ones I use most often.
Last year I had a dabble with mixed media and acrylic paint. As you can see from the state of my collection of brushes for acrylics, I’ve not done very much of with them. This is a limitation of time rather than anything else. I’ve managed to prepare some canvasses so ‘watch this space’. The brushes are at the ready.
I’ve done a little more with oils, but still consider myself a rank beginner in this medium. As with acrylics, my main limitation here is time. But these brushes have been used once or twice and will be again.
I’m always up for a experimenting with watercolour. On my recent trip to South Africa, I was looking for some hand and body lotion and wandered into Rain. While I was browsing I noticed these two items: which looked ideal for a bit of watercolour application. So I bought them both.
Here’s what happens when you play with the loofah. The red in the middle of the page was paint applied to the loofah which was then rolled across the paper. The blue and green marks were made by dragging the loofah across the paper using quite wet paint, and the quin gold was applied very thickly and then dragged. I can see all sorts of interesting marks in this. Sadly, when I unpacked back in the UK I discovered that the loofah had been left behind somewhere on my travels. But now that I’ve tried it, I’ll be looking out for a new one.
The porcupine quills are interesting. They have very, very sharp points so you have to be quite careful using them. The other (white) end has a little bend in it – each one slightly different. Although the beautiful sharp points are great for sratching out and making very fine lines, it’s the other end that is the most interesting to work with.
I’m enjoying this new tool. My next post will be a painting I did using the quills as one of my main mark-making tools.
In this Artist Studio Behind The Scenes post I’ll show you my palettes. I’m a bit of a kit junky so my art materials and equipment spend can get a bit out of hand. I have four different types of palette and I use them all a little differently.
This was my first palette. It was great for a beginner as I could get all the colours I needed onto one palette. Although I still use it in my studio, I am gradually moving towards using palettes with bigger reservoirs for the paints. The mixing areas on this palette are great though, and it’s fabulous for when I fly anywhere with my painting kit. Its flat, light and can be popped into a plastic back and laid at the bottom of my suitcase. This is the one that will be travelling with me later this week.
I bought this palette after seeing it in use at a Jean Haines workshop. This is Jean’s preferred palette and it’s great for mixing up big pools of colour. Jean’s painting style is dynamic and quick so that really works for her. I love this palette, but the limited number of colour reservoirs mean that I can’t use it as a permanent one-and-only palette (because I am also a colour fanatic).
These two little palettes were given to me as a gift by someone who worked for our company a couple of years ago. They are also great for travelling – lightweight and small, and they stack very neatly. I use them in a very specific way. The one on the left I use for mixing up a colour I don’t particularly want as part of my permanent palette when I’m working on a specific painting. And the one on the right is my gouache palette. You can see the little dot of white gouache in the centre. I don’t want to risk tainting the transparency of my colours by putting gouache into one of my watercolour palettes so this one is great for the small bits I use from time to time.
This is my newest palette. I saw this type of palette for the first time when I was on Georgia Mansur‘s workshop. She uses a similar one for her long life acrylics. Then the fabulous Mita Higton lent me hers to try out and I was hooked. This palette has mixing trays galore so you can go nuts on mixing colours. It also has reservoirs for 21 colours and best of all, it has a sealed lid so the paints stay wet. All the parts are removable so it’s really easy to clean when you feel the urge to un-dirty your palette. The down-side? It’s just too heavy to take on an airplane unless you leave some of your clothes behind.
You may be able to see that the centre block of paint reservoirs is slightly raised. That’s because underneath it is a piece of flat household sponge cut to fit that space. The sponge is damp and has a dose of disinfectant on it. It doesn’t make contact with any of the paint, but once sealed, it’s presence is enough to stop the moisture inside the sealed palette from causing problems with the paint.
Artist Studio Behind the Scenes – What’s in a Name?
I’ve changed the post series name from ‘What’s in my Studio’ to ‘Artist Studio Behind the Scenes’ because I want this to be a series written to give ideas to other artist as well as insights to people who don’t paint, but are interested in finding out a bit more about the process.
So what’s the favourite palette is in your artist studio?
When I published the first What’s In My Artists Studio post last Friday, Judy Barends mentioned in a comment that she was also putting her partly completed painting in folders. Great idea. So I’ve followed Judy’s advice and divided my paintings into five categories – all in folders – four of which you can see in this photograph. The fifth is a Work In Progress folder for paintings that are almost done, but need to rest while I think about their progress. These sometimes stick around for a long time before the inspiration strikes and I know exactly how I want to finish them.
One of the things I do with my scrap paper when the spirit moves me, is just play with the paints. Laying down water and various intensities of colour, and then adding a second colour a bit further down the page. With a clean wet brush, just lightly join the two , leave the paper at a fairly steep angle and watch what the pigments do. There’s a lot to learn from these little aimless exercises, and the best part of it is that sometimes you get some glorious results which are beautiful in their own right.
Although this isn’t a completed painting, I think the wash on this little pigment play is so lovely, I’m nominating it to be my Day 10 painting for 30 paintings in 30 days.
Other posts in the What’s in my Artists Studio series:
– What’s in my Artists Studio: Incomplete paintings – now all neatly arranged in folders. Now when I need scrap for colour testing, or a wash to start a new painting, I know exactly where to look.
Next post in the series: What’s in my Artists Studio: Palettes
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.
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.
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.
New Year is a perfect opportunity to review the past year and think about how to make the most of 2014.
Wow – that was a busy year. It was a transformational year for my painting too. Firsts for me in 2013 were:
Out of the studio:
– First major joint exhibition. This took place in March when I shared an exhibition with Mark Judson and Denise Shearing. It was a great experience: the planning, the setup and the sales. It was a massive confidence builder as it resulted in commissions which have taken me all the way through to Christmas.
– Started Running With Brushes in July. 25 other artists have joined the project and we have now sold 142 paintings, raising over £2100 for Care for Casualties in the process. 312 paintings have been completed for the project to date.
– Held my first Open Studio event as part of the Saffron Walden Open Studios weekend.
– Made my first online sales this year.
Painting: – Tried my hand at mixed media and working in acrylics on a 2 day workshop with the marvellous Georgia Mansur (expertly organised by Mita Higton) – 77 Running With Brushes paintings – great for brush mileage – Explored new subjects and managed my first portrait and figure painting.
– Took part in Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days – more brush mileage and a great way to build up my Running With Brushes works.
Things that didn’t work so well:
– I spent a lot of time travelling to take paintings to exhibitions that just didn’t work for me. Some because they were too busy, and some because they were badly organised.
– Although I took my paints and paper with me while I was on work trips, I still find it difficult to get into painting mode when I’m away from my studio.
Here are some of my most popular paintings of 2013:
Spray (watercolour 24 x 19 inches)
Winter Hedgerow (watercolour 6 x 4 inch)
Twiggy Star (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)
White Light, Blue City (39 x 58 cm. mixed media)
Cat Napping (watercolour 6 x 4 inches)
Just Peachy (watercolour 6 x 4 inches)
Flat Lizard (6 x 4 inch)
Tired Now (Watercolour almost complete)
Red apple for the teacher
2014 – The Plan
Out of the Studio:
– I’m planning to be more selective about the exhibitions I take part in during 2014. The time I spend in preparing for an exhibition is painting time lost and I’ve decided it must be worthwhile to warrant that sacrifice. So for 2014, I will only take part in selection exhibitions if I can submit my work online, or it is a local exhibition. I’ll be cutting out those that I’ve tried in past years and that haven’t worked for me for 2 years.
– As other bloggers will know, writing a blog takes a huge amount of time. It’s been wonderful having new readers commenting this year, and I will continue to blog. I enjoy experimenting with paint and the posts about my experiments seem to be some of the most useful. I’m considering a new series on What’s in my Studio which will go through the tools, materials and references I use. I hope this will prove a useful subject for other artists.
– In addition to Saffron Walden Open Studios, I’ve signed up for Cambridge Open Studios this year. That will give people one weekend at the end of April/beginning of May, and two weekends in July to visit my studio. Last year, I loved meeting people who wanted to talk about painting and were interested in my work. More of that in this coming year.
– Lots of exhibition visits, particularly at the Mall Galleries where there are many exhibitions of works from artist I admire and who inspire me to keep on painting and stretching myself.
– Expand my online sales which got off to a good start in 2013.
Painting: – Continuing my pursuit of brush mileage to improve my painting skills, I am taking part in Leslie’s January 30 Paintings in 30 Days series. I pre-painted my first share which was actually posted online a couple of days ago. But as it’s a gift for someone whose birthday is today, it was done a couple of days ago so I’ve counted it as day 1.
– I’ve spent some of today organising my studio, and resolved to spend more time doing paint exercises and recording the results of my pigment studies.
– There is a pile of magazines and books in my studio which I have read superficially. 2014 will be the year to go through them in more detail and spend time making notes and working on ideas and tips I gather from them.
– More time spent on challenging subjects. Portraits, animals and figure work will be on the agenda.
– Texture, texture, texture – it’s thrilling and I love it when the texture transforms a painting.
– I have a fabulous week of Plein Air painting in France with Olivia Quintin and Fabio Cembranelli planned for September. I’m challenging myself to get comfortable painting outside the studio.
– Doing three open studio weekends means I must paint enough new work to make it an interesting and worthwhile experience for visitors. Setting deadlines for myself is a great way to make me paint, paint, paint.
So often, it strikes me that there is a parallel between my current painting and something else I’m working on at the time.
For a while I’ve been thinking about the various online profiles we have and been aware that it’s all too easy for social media to give a skewed perception of who we are and what we do. LinkedIn provides a reasonably comprehensive view of my working life, while Facebook and this website focus mainly on my painting. If you read any one of the three, you’ll get a very specific picture of who I am and what I do – but it’s only a think slice of the whole.
Last week I set up an About.Me page to pull all aspects into one single page. It took a few attempts to get the balance right between all aspects, and a good number of runs at getting the text right. I’ve written before about how difficult I find it to write about myself, and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it a challenge. I got some extremely helpful feedback from friends along the way which helped enormously to refine my thinking about balance and tone for the content. In time I’ll probably add some information about my work life to this website so the balance follows through here, but my blogging on this site will still be about sharing my painting.
On which subject – I’ve been thinking about doing some work in mixed media, something I’ve only touched upon once or twice in the past. I find the variety of marks created by different media can give a painting a different type of depth and interest so today, I had a go using watercolour, gouache and gesso in a painting. If I were to start over from scratch I would probably tweak the composition in one or two ways, but overall, I quite like the atmosphere of this painting and I’ll keep on using multimedia in future. Maybe not for every painting, but certainly for a fair few.
The success of an exhibition is partly due to the advertising and marketing. Naturally, the purpose is to get as many people to see the exhibition as possible. But in addition that, it’s also worth considering who you want to be in that group. Ideally, you want to be targeting people who are interested in original art, and likely to:
a) buy original art
b) spread the word about work they like (word of mouth can be the most powerful marketing of all)
c) provide you with valuable feedback on the work.
Here are a few ideas you may want to consider:
Develop a mailing list
These are people who know your work and would like to be invited to a preview event.
When you mail them the news of your exhibition, ask them to forward the news to others they think will be interested, or bring friends along to the event. People sometimes need to be reminded that they are welcome to do that (and in fact that you actively encourage it – it’s a good way to build your mailing list).
Keep track of who has accepted so that you can cater adequately at the preview event, and also so you can;
Send a reminder email out 2 days before the event. Include map and parking information in this one, as well as any other last-minute information
Expect at least 10% to drop out at the last minute. Stuff happens in people’s lives.
Put out a press release about the exhibition and send it to the local press (newspapers magazines and online)
Include a photograph of a painting that has great impact. The more attention-grabbing, the better. We included Girls’ Best Friends on the event poster and that resulted in it being used by a number of publications to illustrate their piece about the event.
Compile a spreadsheet to track the publication names, contact person and email addresses of all your local media. This will make it easier to get in touch with them for future events.
Think about the demographic of the readership of the magazine, particularly in light of the audience you would like to attract. If a publication has a high proportion of readers who are interested in the arts, it is more likely to publish a piece about an art exhibition. Double bonus: better chance of publication, and the opportunity to reach a higher number of the people you want to attract.
Be mindful of deadlines. In particular, printed publications often have quite long lead in times for publications. It’s worth finding out what they are. We left it a bit too late for some of ours and missed out completely on getting into a few key publications.
Look out for local ‘what’s on’ websites and e-bulletins
Get in touch with them to get a listing in at the right time. For the weekly editions, a couple of weeks run up to the event should be sufficient.
Put up posters in the local vicinity if you are allowed to do so by councils
If you can’t get them onto pavements or public spaces, ask a few people who live close to the venue if they would mind having a temporary sign on their gate or fence. This may only work in villages. It certainly worked in ours.
On the exhibition days, make sure the signage is good
People will give up and go away if they can’t quickly and easily work out where you are.
It is also a good way of attracting serendipitous visitors. People who have a bit of time to spare and see your signs may well want to pop in for a browse.
Set up a Facebook Event and invite the Facebook friends who are based in the area where your exhibition will be held.
Tweet your event when you announce it.
Post news on Facebook and Twitter as your plans develop and things get done.
Post news about event publicity. The publications get additional exposure so they love it too.
Partner with local businesses where you can.
Think about what public holidays are taking place during your exhibition time and see if you can take advantage of them some way.
What other ways have you advertised your event? Please share them in the comments.
The more people get into the habit of buying original art, the more they will buy original art in the future.