Storing watercolour paints: a studio hack

If you’ve been painting for any length of time, you may have accumulated a collection of tubes of paint and storing watercolour paints becomes an issue.

We all know that, in theory we only need a dozen colours. We know it, but those darned colours are so seductive. I don’t know a single artist who can resist the lure of an art materials shop. And there are a number I’ve been gifted by people who have decided not to paint any more, or didn’t like a particular colour. It all adds up to a lot of tubes.

A couple of months ago, at a workshop, I realised I was running low on a couple of my favourite colours. Sadly, I didn’t make a note of just which ones. When I next had a chance to go to the art shop, I dashed into the studio to check.  I rummaged through my plastic tub of paints to find the tubes that had been squeezed down to a stub. Only once I got back did I realise that in my haste, I had missed one of those I use the most.  I’ve tried various methods of storing watercolour paints. Most recently I’ve used three plastic trays: one each for transparent, semi-transparent and opaque tubes.  I lean towards the transparent colours so it helps to have them sorted.

Storing watercolour paints: my new solution
All laid out. You can see which colours I use the most.

My new solution to storing watercolour paints

I’ve seen various versions of branded pre-made boards with clips or the home-made nails in walls or boards.  My problem was that I didn’t really want to be putting nails in my studio wall.  I wanted something affordable and flexible. I was starting to think it would need to be screws in an MDF board.

While I was debating this, I saw a great post on the Making a Mark page about an artist who was using an Ikea board with clip-in trays to store his materials and I realised this could solve my paint problem too. I just needed a few amendments. So, board acquired, I looked for some appropriate hooks. The Ikea ones that go with the board come at £2 for 5 which doesn’t sound like much until you realise that to hang as many as I needed would cost almost £50. Added to the £18 for the largest of the three Ikea boards, that seemed a bit steep in terms of overall cost for this application.  They’re also quite long so they use up more board space than I wanted.

So, I scoured the web and eventually found packs of stainless steel hooks on a shop fitting website. The size is perfect and they cost me a mere £10 for the number I needed. Bulldog clips applied and paints sorted –  I can now see exactly which colours I have duplicated, which I use the most, and which are like those holiday outfits hanging in the wardrobe: seemed like a good idea at the time, but didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Storing watercolour paints by transparency factor.

The geek in me still wanted a way of easily sorting the tubes by transparency factor. I came up with an easy visual code: yellow dot for transparent, green dot for semi-transparent and blue dot for opaque. With the tubes sorted in a colour range, I can now easily pick the colour I want and know the transparency without having to check. Now I just need a solution for granulating and staining factors.

Studio Stories

I’m painting in Australia at the moment and I’ll be putting together a newsletter with some stories from my travels. Here’s my last newsletter if you fancy a read. Please share the love by sharing the link if you know someone who might like to follow my studio stories

In the Studio with the Royal Watercolour Society

This is a retrospective post about my visit to In The Studio, the exhibition by members of the Royal Watercolour Society at Bankside Gallery.  If you didn’t get to see it, many of the works that were in the exhibition are still available on the RWS website.

I am always interested in the processes that go into creating works of art. Every artist has their own particular way of working so the possibilities are infinite. In this exhibition, the paintings on the walls are interspersed with photographs of the artist in their studio and snippets of information about the way they work in the studio. A series of videos showing RWS members working in their studios to give visitors more of the ‘behind the scenes’ view of the show.

Paintings by John Crossley VPRWS, Janet Golphin RWS, Anne Marlow RWS and Jill Leman PRWS
Paintings by John Crossley VPRWS, Janet Golphin RWS, Anne Marlow RWS and Jill Leman PRWS

Including the information about the artist in their studio is a format that gives the viewer more insight into the artist as a person.

I took a few picture of works that appealed to me (having first gained permission to take photographs).

In the Studio – some of my favourites

Its always difficult to get a good photograph  without reflections when paintings are behind glass. I apologise for the quality of some of these.

Kitten Heels with Fairy Lights by Gertie Young RWS
Kitten Heels with Fairy Lights by Gertie Young RWS

There’s no surprise in my loving this one at first sight: playful, colourful and…. shoes!


Red Facade No 2 by Rika Newcombe ARWS. In the Studio exhibition
Red Facade No 2 by Rika Newcombe ARWS

I had already seen this on social media. When I was standing in front of it, I was struck by the detail and delicacy of the marks on the paper. There’s a wonderful elegance about each little abstract section. No wonder it was a gallery staff pick.


Dried Grasses with Delphiniums in the Studio with Violet Shadows by Sophie Knight RWS
Dried Grasses with Delphiniums in the Studio with Violet Shadows by
Sophie Knight RWS

This is one of three large works by Sophie Knight. Her work is always atmospheric and dynamic.


Somewhere over Siberia by Liz Butler RWS
Somewhere over Siberia by Liz Butler RWS

Three aerial views by Liz Butler appealed to the traveller in me. They are views that you might see when flying over a dramatic landscape.


Links to other works I didn’t get good enough photographs of, and some that are pictured above:

Liz Butler RWS – Somewhere over Siberia (pictured above)

Liz Butler RWS – Cloncurry District, Australia

Sue Howells RWS – Glow of Day Fading Away

Richard Pikesley RWS – Axe, Summer Evening

Neil Pittaway RWS – Dusk Evening Light on the Glacier du Bonibassey, France

Gertie Young RWS – Kitten Heels with Fairy Lights

This exhibition felt different to some of the others I’ve seen at Bankside. It was lighter and made the artists seem more approachable. I’m going to be visiting Bankside Gallery more often.

Painting a Mill Wheel and The Brecon Beacons

I’ve just had a weekend of wonderful contrasts: I’ve painted the Brecon Beacons from the top of Pen y Fan at 5.30am, and  I’ve spent a quiet hour painting a mill wheel in the garden of the idyllic restored mill we were staying in. Wales has treated us to continuous rain every time we have visited. For the first time, this weekend the weather was absolutely perfect.

Hiking Pen y Fan in June 2018
Pen y Fan – June 2018. Zero visibility.

I love big landscapes. They are what started me painting in the first place. So given the fact that the weather was so good, we decided to be intrepid and hike up Pen y Fan to watch the sunrise. It wasn’t the hike that was daunting – rather the 3.00am alarms that got us out of bed to get there and walk to the top in time to see the first glimpse of the sun.  You never know what you’ll find when you get to the top. There can be clear views at the bottom while the top is enveloped in cloud. This was what we discovered on our first ascent in June last year.

This time was different though. The moon was full so we could easily walk up with no torches to light our way. And then, when we reached the top – the view was just breathtaking!

Pen y Fan – April 2019. A view from the top of the world.

My backpack contained my water bottle, a packet of biscuits in case of emergency hunger, and my sketching kit.

Capturing the colours of Brecon Beacon sunrise in watercolour in my sketchbook
Capturing the colours of Brecon Beacon sunrise in my sketchbook. Its impossible to recreate the beauty of nature, but this was as close as I could get.

For the artists amongst my readers, the colours: (All Daniel Smith) Quinacridone Gold, Transparent Pyrrol Orange, Sharow Violet, Undersea Green.

Watercolour painting the view from Pen y Fan at sunrise
As the sky lightened the features of the landscape became clearer.

If it hadn’t been so cold I would have sketched for longer, but by this stage, my fingers were numb with the cold. Time to stop.

Subject for Painting a mill wheel - Park Stile Mill, Kington, HerefordshireHow often do we complain that we have the urge to paint, but can’t settle on a subject that inspired us enough? I’ve started looking for things in my immediate surroundings for some inspiration.

Painting a mill wheel
Capturing the shadows and the patina of age on the old mill wheel

With the Brecon sunrise safely in my sketchbook to be developed in the studio at a a future date, I looked for something new to paint.

Right there in the garden was the subject I was looking for – the old mill wheel. So I ended up painting a mill wheel. I did a few small paintings – one of which is pictured here. The rest are in progress.

It is wonderful to go and seek out grand inspirational views which will become part of your memory bank of images to draw on. But equally, there painting subjects in our environment almost all the time. It just takes practice to see them.  Sometimes we don’t notice them until we stop and take a good look around us.

Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours Exhibition – some highlights

The opening day of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 207th Exhibition took place on 3rd April 2019. The exhibition is on at The Mall Galleries until 18th April 2019. This is my must-see exhibition every year. It is a showcase of the breadth and depth of this medium; a display of many styles of work, all in watercolour or water-soluble mediums.  I managed another visit this week on my way to some meetings in London and found it just as inspiring the second time around.

If you can’t get to the exhibition, the RI’s 207th Exhibition catalogue is online on their website.

Some Highlights

Some of the paintings I was drawn to were the simplest ones. It’s a real challenge to do simplicity this well. It takes exceptional expertise.

The outstanding works by Lillias August RI were all worth mentioning and one in particular was acknowledged with two awards: Empty Nests was the recipient of The Escoda Barcelona Award as well as The Megan Fitzoliver Brush Award.  I didn’t manage to get photographs of Lillias’ paintings, although they can be seen here on her Facebook page.


Harbour Church, LIttle Kitty and All Girls Together. Paintings by Rosa Sepple PRI.
Harbour Church, LIttle Kitty and All Girls Together. Paintings by Rosa Sepple PRI.

RI President, Rosa Sepple’s collection were a particular highlight. Her painting, Harbour Choice was the centre piece of the main gallery. It is a large painting with a real presence that draws the viewer in. I saw one visitor standing alone in front of it for ages gesturing at various features in the painting with his catalogue, while he ran a very personal commentary to himself.  He was completely absorbed in the painting.

Some collections

Chris Forsey RI exhibited a collection of works showing rugged coastal views of North West Cornwall.


Shirley Trevena never fails to captivate with her vibrant colours and shifted perspective of the world. Always different, always beautifully individual.


Guillemots, Sea Beet and Tree Mallow (Top), Wild Swimmers, Liquid Gold I, and Liquid Gold II by Deborah Walker RI RSMA
Guillemots, Sea Beet and Tree Mallow (Top), Wild Swimmers, Liquid Gold I, and Liquid Gold II by Deborah Walker RI RSMA

I had to wonder whether the magnificent monolith in Deborah Walker’s painting was the one of the stacks at the Green Bridge on the Pembrokeshire coast. It reminded me so much of standing there in the wind sketching the birds last June.


David Poxon RI incorporates texture and light to give old equipment a new lease of life.


Although I didn’t get photographs of his work, another artist whose work never disappoints is David Parfitt RI. His collection in the main gallery show his mastery of light in the landscape.

And two slightly quirky ones

Run by Louise Rowe
Run by Louise Rowe

Dynamic and different, and with a real sense of a love of running.

And finally the smallest painting in the exhibition: only the size of a postcard – including the frame.

Self-Portrait by Desk Light by Suzon Lagarde
Self-Portrait by Desk Light by Suzon Lagarde

It is difficult to get good photographs of the works on the walls – my photographs don’t do many of them justice. And this is just a small selection of the exceptional work on the walls in this exhibition. If you can get to London before next Wednesday, I highly recommend a visit to The Mall Galleries

The 207th Exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours is on daily from 10am to 5pm.

Spring exhibition in Long Melford

The Society of East Anglian Watercolourists’ Spring exhibition in Long Melford is my second exhibition of this year. This is stacking up to be a busy year for my art.  The exhibition will be open to the public from 18th to 28th April. It’s a 10 day window of opportunity to go and immerse yourself in some of the best watercolours in East Anglia.

The poster for this exhibition is a beautiful work of art in itself. It was designed by Lori Bentley and the background image was painted by SEAW member, Gilly Marklew.  Scroll down to see which paintings I’ll be showing.SEAW spring exhibition in Long Melford

My submissions for the spring exhibition in Long Melford:

My changing style is reflected in the variation of these paintings. Normally, I would curate a more cohesive collection. But for this time, it’s just an honest reflection of pieces that speak to me now.   None of these have been on exhibition before so its a first outing for them all.

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.

1000 watercolours for charity – an update

For those who have been reading my blog for some time, the term Running With Brushes may be familiar.  The ambitious project was to paint 1000 watercolours, all of which sell for £15 plus p&p – all for Care for Casualties.

I had two goals:

  1. To raise at least £10,000 for the charity.
  2. To get some serious brush miles under my belt.

Win-win.  I have been touched by the number of other artists who have joined in, and the people from all over the world who have ordered paintings from the Running With Brushes website.

Clearly, 1000 watercolours were not going to be painted quickly. If I had thought about the scale of it, I might not have started. But we’re still going and we have made good progress. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved so far.

I thought it was time for an update. I’ve posted about some of the paintings from time to time, but I haven’t blogged much for the past couple of years so the posts are probably a bit dated.

 

1000 watercolours – the numbers so far:

We have created 693 paintings so far. I am coming up on my personal 250th pretty soon – I think that may be cause for a little celebration. Of those 693, over half have sold. 362, to be precise. And that has meant a total of £6437 has been donated to Care for Casualties.  With just over 300 paintings to go, I am making a push to get the project done – it may still take some time, but expect to see more small watercolours on my Facebook and Instagram feeds.

And a huge Thank You to all the artists who have joined me on this ride and to Marc who has matted and packaged every painting so far. And of course, a massive shout out to everyone who has bought a Running With Brushes painting. Please keep on supporting this project – your support has kept it going.

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.

Open Studio: Rainforest and Reef

Open Studio Rainforest Reef! Its all about to happen. I’m heading home with a collection of watercolours and a few experimental abstract acrylics in my suitcase.

Open Studio Rainforest Reef

I’ve had the most amazing two months of new places, new experiences and new paintings. We’ve travelled through Bangkok, Siem Reap in Cambodia, Sydney, Queensland (Mission Beach and Airlie Beach), Melbourne and finally Singapore. I am sitting beside the swimming pool in the heat on the 6th floor of our hotel in Singapore as I write. This evening we board our flight back home and I am simultaneously sad that my trip is at an end, and pleased to be going home. I can’t wait to see my sons and sleep in my own bed. I am itching to get back into my studio and get started preparing for next weekend’s open studio.

Open Studio Rainforest Reef: What will be on the walls

One of the best aspects of watercolour is their portability. Paintings dry fast and you don’t need a lot of kit (although I must admit I brought along far more than I needed).

Before I left, I planned to paint a series of 20 x 20 watercolours for an open studio. Paper was cut to size, frames were sourced and set up ready to be ordered for my return. I wasn’t sure how many paintings I would manage to do so I couldn’t pre-order.

Once I got to Queensland, I was entranced by the rainforest most of all. I’ve always loved trees. Ever since I was able to climb my first tree I have enjoyed their sheer scale, their majesty and their individuality. So, right now, there are more rainforest paintings than reef paintings – although I do have a lot more ideas for reef paintings that will no doubt emerge in time.

My surprise discover on this trip was the fabulous art centre at Mission Beach. Where I was able to join a workshop on Abstracting the Landscape with Australian artist, Glenda Charles. The weekend was inspiring, terrifying and energising.  I will have the two works I completed on that weekend available for Open Studio visitors to see. If you can’t make it to the Open Studio, I will be posting more about each of those two paintings when I have had time to scan all my work.

Thank you for following my creative journey. I really appreciate the fact that you’re still reading after all this time. If you know anyone else who might enjoy my ramblings, please feel free to share this blog.  I would be very grateful.

More back in the UK.