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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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

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.

Blogging Renaissance

Spring . An excerpt from a watercolour by Vandy Massey

There’s a blogging renaissance in progress it seems. Apparently, blogging is the new social media.

Since I last wrote in earnest I’ve explored some mixed media work, as well as a few oils. I’m still a watercolour evangelist, but there are new shoots emerging in my images.
A blogging renaissance - Spring. An excerpt from a watercolour by Vandy Massey

For those of you who are still subscribed to my feed even though my writing flow has been a drought rather than a reasonable thought stream – thank you for sticking with me.

The blogging spring has sprung, and I have a few ideas I want to start sharing again.

Orchard Art on Belle Île

I’m back from my trip and have just completed some another piece of  Belle Île Orchard art.

When we arrived on Belle Île the first thing that struck me was the glorious sunset. The following morning, I noticed the field across the road that was filled with meadow flowers. This is where the material came from when we started painting flowers from a French field. They were quite literally picked from the field a few minutes before we sat down to paint.

Orchard Art
Belle Île Orchard (watercolour 48 x 38 cm)

There were other subjects to paint during the week, some of which I will come back to. We saw sea, rocks, lighthouses, fabulously coloured houses and so much more. But the Belle Île Orchard art subject matter really captivated me. The field with it’s flowers seemed to epitomise the name of the place, and as the sunflowers and cosmos blossoms waved gently under the island sun, they seemed to invite more painting time. So I conceded and painted more flowers – just for now. The rest will come later.

Belle Ile Orchard Art

There’s a fascinating juxtaposition in this painting between the loose randomness of the meadow full of flowers, and the tidy, conforming lines of the Brittany house just behind the hedge. Even more so, when you consider the straight upright of the flag pole in the garden. The fruit trees in the orchard march neatly down the field in obediently productive lines.

Amongst all of this tidiness and order, the wild flowers display a delightful touch of nature’s rebellion against the order of the man-made world – creating their very own Belle Île Orchard art, at least during the summer months.

I now have a head full of other images that need to be painted so I’m off to the studio for a short evening painting session.  I may come out for supper.

 

Painting Flowers from a French Field

Painting flowers is always harder than it seems. It’s all too easy to make them stiff and un-natural looking.

Despite the fact that we see flowers all over the place, on a daily basis, it’s often quite difficult to capture the essence of a particular flower – the shape, the tone, the angle of the stem. It all adds up to making the general impression.

So why am I painting flowers from a French field?

About a year ago my friend, Olivia Quintin called to tell me about a painting week she was organising on Belle Ile. I would have jumped at the chance to paint on the island, and when she told me that the other tutor was to be Fabio Cembranelli, I was completely hooked. Fabio’s atmospheric painting style is one I have admired for some time, and Olivia paints with stunningly vibrant colour mixes. Fantastic combination of tutors and some dedicated painting time on a beautiful island. What could be better?

Painting Flowers
Flowers from a French Field (watercolour – 40 x 30cm)

This is the result of my second day of working with Fabio and I couldn’t be happier with the result. I’ve loved doing this painting and have now been spurred on to do more like it.

Painting Flowers from a French Field

The field opposite our little complex of chalets is a mass of wild flowers. There are sunflowers, wild crysanthemums, pink cosmos, white cosmos and cornflowers. Painting flowers is almost unavoidable when you have that much fantastic material on the doorstep. Here’s one bunch that provided inspiration for the artists who wanted to spend time painting flowers.

Flowers from a French Field originals

Fabio’s approach to painting flowers is not to slavishly follow the bouquet in front of him. Instead he uses the shapes and colours as inspiration, but takes artistic licence on the composition and in adding new flowers to bring in colours and form to enhance the original image.

Plein Air painting with Olivia tomorrow. What surprises will that bring?

Painting darks – mushroom frills and shadows

Yesterday was a day for considering painting darks. There was one last tomato and a bag of glorious big field mushrooms in the kitchen when I was looking for my subject yesterday.  The mushrooms caught my eye.

There’s a lovely tonal contrast between the dark underside frills and the creamy top of a field mushroom that just invites the artist’s brush so I decided that painting darks was going to be the day 3 project.

I couldn’t leave the poor lonely tomato out of the frame so I added it just for fun. Next time I might go for a purely mushroom composition, because in hindsight, I’m not sure the tomato adds anything particularly fabulous to the image – and it’s not really in sync with the painting darks theme. You may also notice that I lost interest when I was painting the tomato vine. It seemed unimportant to my purpose – the painting darks thing.

painting darks
The Last Tomato (watercolour 14 x 9 cm)

Painting Darks

Despite its title, this painting really is all about the insides of the mushrooms (which, tasted fantastic when we ate them for supper, by the way).

Raw umber was the main colour for shaping and detailing the smooth edges of the mushroom. I deliberately chose two with quite different edge shapes so that I could work on capturing the juicy roundness of the fat specimen on the right, as well as the slightly tattered frill on the other.

Burnt Umber was my dark of choice. I added some lovely rich blues to emphasise the deep shadows under the upper lip of the mushroom, and some lovely perylene maroon in the nearer part of the frill to provide some warmth.

I was hampered for colour as I was just using a little box of paint blocks rather than my normal range of colours. So while I’m not under any illusions that this is a masterpiece, it’s achieved it’s purpose: I had a good play with painting darks.

The last tomato - painting darks

 

Painting Autumn Apples in watercolour

I was painting autumn apples on day 2 of the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge.

Following the discipline of practicing active observation in a form of listening with my eyes,  my attention kept coming back to a basket of autumn apples in the garden. They were originally put there waiting to be eaten, but to my mind that were really waiting for me to start painting autumn apples.

The rich reds and crisp yellows were a dream colour combination and I set myself the challenge of capturing the diverse range of reds (in particular) that I could see in the fruit.

Painting Autumn apples  (watercolour 14 x 9 cm)
Autumn apple basket (watercolour 14 x 9 cm)

Painting Autumn apples

This painting is as much about tonal values as it is about colour. Given the dominance of reds in the subject, its critical to get the tonal values right. Without that, the painting is flat and lifeless. My initial focus was on the bright yellow of the apple furthest to the back of the basket.

By luck (although I would love to say that I had the foresight to arrange them that way) the darkest piece of fruit was in right next to it which gave me a natural focal point. But, the yellow apple is too close to the centre of the page for my liking. Lightening the green around the stalk of the darker piece of fruit in the process of painting autumn apples shifted that point of interest enough to the left to give me comfort in the composition.

I started this with water soluble pencils to mark out the basket and the basic positions of the apples. A few of the marks are still visible from the pencils. I find it less easy to get the intensity of colour with them, so I went on to painting autumn apples with pure watercolour once I had got my basic positions right.

Here’s a photograph of the actual basket of apples where you can see the colours that inspired this little exercise in painting autumn apples.
Painting Autumn apples

Painting colour – listening with your eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painting Colours – Day 1:

Painting colour - Silver birch bark sketch
Silver birch bark sketch

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

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

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

Tim Minion, Sketching Companion

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

Tim Minion looking plump and smug
Timinion looking plump and smug

Tim Minion is now my sketching companion.

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

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

Tim Minion spills his guts
Timinion spills his guts

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

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

Sketchbooks
Recent sketches

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

Sketch. Green chair conversation
Green chair conversation

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

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