Watercolour of the mother of mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Abundance – Watercolour and Graphite

As I start to explore the use of a wider range of mediums for my art, I am more and more aware of the abundance of exciting materials there are available for artists these days. I have just scratched the surface.

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

The use of graphite with watercolour creates some wonderful textures. For this purpose, graphite comes not only in pencil format which is what we immediately think of as the format for this material. It also comes in big blocks, powder and in a water soluble pan. When used on a textured paper like this, the graphite slightly resists the watercolour producing some wonderful patterns.

When I painted this menacing sky using graphite with a small amount of turquoise watercolour, I chose a bit of bling in the form of an iridescent green paint to lighten the tone. Even in darkness, there is still abundance and lightness if we create it.

Autumn Landscape: Layering watercolour

Layering watercolour (glazing) is a great way to add depth to a painting. But it needs to be done with confidence and careful consideration. If you use the wrong colours, the end result is flat. If your brushstrokes are not delicate enough, you risk muddying the painting.

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

There’s a particular bench at Wandlebury Country Park  that provides a wonderful view all the way to the horizon. You just need to know where to look between the rows of tall trees.  Last October, in the midst of autumns most incandescent glow, I spent a day painting up on the rise at Wandlebury. Between the trees the fields create a patchwork of textures and colours, framed by the ragged curtain of branches on either side.

Layering watercolour: the stages

The light was changing quickly so I used a series of mid tone washes to block out the different levels of the view. A three-colour scumbly wash over the tree areas produced a basic sense of the branch sections without adding any definition or much tonal value (left hand tree).

My next step in layering watercolour was to add wash of clear water on the right hand tree and then drop in the same three colours in greater intensity, allowing them to blend and granulate. I used this to start defining branch shapes and areas of the tree that would be in shadow.

Layering Watercolour 1 Work in progress by Vandy Massey

The fields are the area of interest in the painting so they are painted with more definition. Layering watercolour here helps you to create some clearly texturing in the middle ground fields and in the foreground hedge.

Layering Watercolour 2 - Work in progress by Vandy Massey

The final step was to add a glaze to the left hand tree. Once the painting was well dried,  I used a sword brush tip to added branches in the trees. I decided to knock back the colour at the far end of the tree as it receded. You can see the final painting in the first picture of the post.

Through the Gap. (See first image in the post). An autumn landscape painted from an underpainting done plein air at Wandlebury Park.

Watercolour Sketchbook in Digital Form for my ArtAusTrailasia Project

There’s an emerging digital watercolour sketchbook of my current trip. I love travelling and try to go somewhere every year – it inspires my painting. Right now I’m a long way from home, travelling in Queensland, Australia exploring Rainforests and Reefs.

Watercolour - Rainforest in the Rain
Rainforest in the Rain. Watercolour 20 x 20cm

We came via Bangkok and Siem Reap in Cambodia because there were things to be seen along the way. Travel is such a cornerstone of my painting, I decided to make the most of it on this trip and create a digital journal along the way. Rather than keeping a daily sketchbook, I’ve painted an A5 sketch each day. Each one is then photographed it so I have a record and finally, left it in a public place for someone to find and keep.

So far I’ve painted 43 and I hope to make it a total of 60 before I get home. Each image gets put on Instagram and in a Facebook album with the tag #ArtAustTrailAsia.

Digital Watercolour SketchbookThis is my digital sketchbook.

So far the watercolour sketches have been well received. I mainly leave the paintings without telling anyone, and let them be discovered later. Often I’ve been on a walk, leaving the painting on a table at the beginning of the trail. Its always gone by the time I get back. A few people have left messages on Facebook or Instagram to say they’ve got a painting and to let me know where the painting landed up.

The last few days I’ve been painting on a sailing boat with 22 other passengers. By the last day people were watching the emerging watercolour and asking if they could have the next painting. This was very good for my plein air painting. I’m normally too self conscious to paint in public and hate being watched as I work. But this trip has helped enormously and I’ve become much more relaxed about painting when other people are around me. What’s helped you paint in public? It can be a daunting prospect.

And a Watercolour Sketchbook to take home

They haven’t all been  given away. There will be paintings coming home with me too.  I have put down a few pieces in my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, and have started a series of 20 x 20 watercolours which will be available for sale when I get back home. There will be some bigger works too. I am loving painting the rainforests and the reefs of Australia so much that I’ll be holding an Open Studio weekend in July when I get back home. If you’re in the Cambridge area and would like to come along, sign up for my newsletter in the box on the right hand side of my blog for information about dates and times. News of my Rainforest and Reef Open Studio will be coming soon. Watch this space (or my newsletter)

And now for some non watercolour sketchbook news:

I’m thrilled to have had two paintings accepted for the Babylon Arts Summer Open Exhibition. Rhododendrons in the Garden and Alliums in the Garden will be on show at the Babylon Gallery in Ely. The exhibition runs from July 29th to August 28th and will feature the work of 40 artists. The gallery is a lovely venue right on the river bank and its well worth a day out of boat watching, art viewing and some good places to eat lunch.

 

Just over a year ago I was honoured to be offered (and accept) the role of Chair of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists. The society has for many years benefitted in various ways from links with the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.  It’s been an exciting year of working with a committee of extremely talented artists to bring in some new initiatives for the society’s 70 members. In the context of my art life this is what has been keeping me busy. I have two years left of my term so expect blogging to be sporadic.

Watercolour painting exhibition www.SEAW.co.uk Call for Entries 2017

One other piece of Society of East Anglian Watercolourists news: The annual Selected Exhibition which is due to take place from 30 August to 17 September this year is now open for submissions from non-members. If you’re an East Anglian Watercolourists – consider submitting some work for our exhibition. More information on this at www.seaw.co.uk

Pathways

I’ve just completed Pathways – a landscape I was commissioned to paint during  Cambridge Open Studios in July. In discussing what the clients wanted, I put together a painting plan.  The painting should be in the blue/green colours, have no buildings, include an interesting sky, and a pathway – or two.

Pathways by Vandy Massey
Pathway. Watercolour 49 x 39 cm

Elements in Pathways

This painting takes the viewer for a gentle walk with countryside features along the way.

Hogweed and Grasses in Pathway by Vandy Massey
Hogweed and grasses

Heading over the brow of the hill, a patch of hogweed waves in the breeze. Look carefully at the stems below, and you may find a spiderweb suspended between two stalks.

Wild Grasses in Pathway by Vandy Massey
Wild grasses

Look through the long grasses to the fields below.  Grass seed heads blow. Spores dance in the breeze. As you progress along the route, terraced hillsides and fields of golden crops appear. Hedges and pathways criss-cross the land. Tree copses and woodlands fringe the farmlands laid out neatly in the distance.

Horizon in Pathway by Vandy Massey
The lake and the pathway on the horizon. Purple hills in the distance.

Until finally, the lake appears. Trees on the bank are reflected in the still water.  Wander further to the right and over the rise next to the trees on the horizon. There are hills beyond, and more fields to explore.

Cascade Watercolour, power and energy

vandymassey.com Cascade Watercolour
Cascade: Watercolour and acrylic medium 28 x 38 cm

Viewed from the bottom of the waterfall, the water is the star in this painting. Water is increasingly a feature in my work. I love its dynamic nature and its many facets: in this painting, the power and energy of the falling water as it crashes onto the rocks.

I treated sections of the painting differently to achieve the effects of energy in the water, and solidity in the rock face. The under-wash of acrylic medium in blocky shapes of the rocks was allowed to dry and treated as an adapted support for the image. Conversely, the acrylic medium was included at the wet stage for the cascading watercolour waterfall. This allowed the mediums to mingle and interact on the paper with breaks showing the rock face behind the cascade.

The Cascade watercolour has been added to my Artfinder page.

Cascade watercolour

Paper: 640gsm Arches
Medium: watercolour with some acrylic medium.

 

 

Dragons Breathing Fire in the Sky

Dragons breathing fire
Drakensberg Fire (watercolour)

African sunsets are often stunningly vibrant with orange, pink and red streaks across the sky. In the Drakensberg (Dragon’s Mountains) the sunset could almost be the Dragons breathing fire.

Now that I’m back home I’ve gone back into the studio. The first day was spent doing a major spring clean and sort out. All an absolute pleasure as the studio had been painted while I was away and the walls are now beautiful bright white instead of the pale blue they were before. (Thank you to Marc, Peter and Chris for doing all the clearing out, painting and putting back of the furniture and equipment for me. No small task and I am very grateful to them all.)

So now I can get out my brushes again I’m drawn to capture the atmosphere of some of the glorious places we’ve just visited. One of my favourite places was the Drakensberg. From Montusi Mountain Lodge you get a wonderful view of these Dragon’s peaks.  Every evening we sat watching entranced as the sun slid behind the peaks, painting the sky in luminous colours as it went. It was a high point of each day.

The Dragons Mountains

I love the fact that the Drakensberg have more than one name. The commonly known ‘English’ version is in fact taken from the Afrikaans name, Dragons Mountains. The Zulu name for these mountains is just as descriptive: uKhahlamba (Barrier of Spears). The mountain range stretches over 1000 km along the length of South Africa from the Eastern Cape into the northern most province of Limpopo.

Dragon's sunset
Drakensberg Sunset (small watercolour)

This smaller version of the scene was done for Running With Brushes. Both reflect the incredible, almost unbelievable, colours of the Drakensberg evening skies.

The captivating beauty of this part of the world will draw us back, so we will be back.

Painting South Africa – Part 1

For the past three weeks I’ve been painting South Africa.  I’ve managed to get my brushes out a few times on this trip – each time the result has been very different.

Every on of my South African journeys invariably involves Cape Town for work, and Johannesburg to visit my family. Both of those are special times for me: Cape Town because it is a stunningly beautiful city and I get to catch up with people whose company I really enjoy. Johannesburg because it’s where I grew up and there are loved ones there who I will always miss. Every chance I get to see them is special.

Painting South Africa - spray and sea
The crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean inspired my small study of spray and sea

We feel privileged to be able to introduce UK friends to this beautiful country from time to time. This year, Hayley and Simon joined us in a meander through the Drakensberg and the Natal Midlands so the men in the party indulge their fascination with military history and take a Battlefield Tour (Anglo Boer War).

Our Drakensberg time was spent at the wonderful Montusi Mountain Lodge. We had four days of being utterly spoiled with wonderful food, fantastic scenery and staff who could not have been more friendly. Every single person at Montusi went out of their way to make our time there very special. We hiked, we ate, we laughed, we rode and we fell in love with the place. With two photographers in the group, I’ve got more than enough reference photos to ensure there will be more paintings of the Drakensberg from our Montusi days.

Painting South Africa: The Drakensberg

Painting South Africa - grasslands
On our hikes I noticed the wonderful display of colours in the grasses and particularly their seed heads .

Anyone who has seen my mountain paintings will know that I am drawn to the majesty of towering peaks and the scale of big landscapes. The Drakensberg is a place I can just feed my visual senses with images and ideas for painting.

Painting South Africa - The amphitheatre
I was enthralled by the scale, the majesty and the mystery of the section of the Drakensberg known as The Amphitheatre

We’ve moved on to our final stop on this trip: Glen Ormond in the Midlands. On our first evening here it was clear that this week would hold as many great surprises as every leg of this trip has already delivered.

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.