Spirituality and the art process

Spirituality and the art process – what does that mean to you?
When Glenda Charles sent me her workshop list with this topic, I was intrigued but didn’t really know what to expect.  Her workshop description included this text:

“I find out everything about myself in that moment of making”.
The musician, Nils Frahm said this about the process of making music and so it can be said about all art practice.

The title and description intrigued me. I had no idea what to expect. So I really needed to suspend any expectations before I went along. The ability to deal with uncertainty is enormously valuable to any artist. We need to embrace the unknown; to start each artistic project with the knowledge that it will probably change along the way. It will change, and in fact, probably surprise you at the same time.  For me, that’s part of the thrill of painting. Perhaps that’s because it’s part of the process of finding out more about ourselves.

I have always known that the creative process is in large part, about self-discovery.  And it’s not something that can be rushed.  It isn’t a flash of insight with every painting. Rather it’s a slow process, a bit like peeling an onion. Each layer gets you closer to the core. Removing a layer can be uncomfortable. And every time you you it, you feel more vulnerable for a while. It takes a degree of courage to open up and trust the process.

Spirituality and the art process – the workshop

Glenda is warm, joyful and down to earth. She makes this sort of leap of faith feel safe.  The process involved meditation, mark making and then a process of using some of those emotion-led marks we had generated as the starting point for an abstract painting.

Partly because of the constraint of travel-friendly paper sizes, I worked on two smaller pieces which were painted together side by side.  In itself, this was an interesting exercise I’ve not tried before.

As you can see, the results were images that are way off my normal style of work. I’ve been reflecting on them for a week now and I see some exciting possibilities that make me want to explore greater freedom in my mark making, and a more abstract collection of work.

Spirituality and the art process - Palette rightI have also changed my view of the palette I used. I think it may be too strident in its intense saturation and I rather like these versions where I used a warm filter to change the colours to a slightly more sophisticated version.  What do you think?

Spirituality and the art process -Palette left

These aren’t exactly where I would want them to be yet. They invite further work, but the process has been enlightening and I will continue to work on these two. I think this is an evolution – of the paintings and of my art development.

My take aways

The value of Spirituality and the art process was something I experienced during the workshop, but only processed consciously a few days later. Meditation at the beginning of the day was really useful as a way of quietening the analytical part of my brain. I often complain that I can spend almost a full day pottering in the studio before I even pick up a brush. It takes me that long to change my thinking style from analytical to creative.

The analytical part of my brain is usually dominant and it speaks very loudly. Although I still didn’t find it easy to tune into the intuitive process of painting, it was there and I can see what with practice, it could begin to calm the analytical thinking faster than it does these days.

Following the flow

Following the flow: Sometimes, life leads us to unexpected places; to people who influence our thinking; to events that inspire our creativity. We can either focus on the restrictions imposed by the rest of our lives, or we can try to take the opportunity that we’re being offered. I believe in grabbing the opportunity with enthusiasm; in going with the flow

In 2017 we took a long trip. We did a house swap with a couple from Mission Beach, in Queensland, Australia. I was thrilled about the opportunity to spend time in two of my favourite environments: beaches and rainforests. I love walking along a deserted beach, and I have always been at home in amongst trees.  Mission Beach is a special place in that it has both in one place.

Washed Ashore - a slice of my beach reflection abstract. Following the flow.
Washed Ashore – a slice of my beach reflection abstract

The trip seemed like a good opportunity to paint a new series. Specifically, I decided to paint individual pieces that would end up as a digital sketchbook of the trip once they had all gone to new owners. So I took a supply of paper and paints along with me and the project got started.

Following the Flow: Mission Beach Community Arts

Then I discovered the Mission Beach Community Arts centre. We noticed the gallery as we were driving past and I went in to explore. I didn’t realise that they also run workshops until I looked on their Facebook page.  There was a post that made me sit up: a two day workshop by Australian artist, Glenda Charles. The subject: Abstracting the Landscape. Some workshops are just meant to be done. So, following the flow, I  signed up, went shopping for even more art supplies, and got painting!

I don’t find abstract painting  to be the easy option some people seem to think it is. It required much more thought and planning than painting what is in front of you in a figurative style.  The appeal of this workshop was the chance to dive into something I’ve always found very difficult.

Following the Flow. Rainforest Cloudburst was painted in the workshop with Glenda Charles
Rainforest Cloudburst was painted in the 2017 worth Glenda Charles. in this one I focused on my fascination with the forest. I particularly love the marks made by raindrops. They could never be replicated.

Working with Glenda was fantastic. Everything about the workshops pushed my boundaries, and prepared me for being more adventurous with my work. I am still not what I would call an abstract artist, but my work often gets into the semi-abstract space.

We’re back in Australia this year. This time we’re on the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane. A few weeks before we left home I realised that this is Glenda’s home ground. Eventually I got around to contacting her to say I was going to be in the area and would love to see any exhibitions she has going over the next couple of months.

She replied almost immediately with an invitation to her studio. She also mentioned that she is running a workshop on Spirituality in Art next Saturday. Some workshops are just meant to be done. So, once again, I am following the flow.

(I’ll post about the workshop next week).

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.

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.

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.

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

Spring Exhibition: East Anglian Watercolourists

This year, the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists will be making some changes to the members’ Spring exhibition.

About the Spring Exhibition:

Timed to fit in with the Bury Festival, the 2016 show will be staged in the beautiful Bury St Edmunds Farmers Club, where visitors will be able to treat themselves to lunch or an afternoon tea. A selection of paintings from the exhibition will also be available on the society’s website.

Society of East Anglian Watercolourists Spring Exhibition

Abstract Watercolours: part 2

Last week I committed to sharing both the good and the less so good on my journey towards abstract watercolours – and so I am doing just that. Which means there are pieces of work on this website now that I wouldn’t normally be sharing.

Given the purpose of the project: to break down my creative block and (as always) to learn I’ve made a couple of adjustments to my process. I’m working with only three brushes for the moment: a flat brush, a dagger brush and a sword brush. These may change in time, but for the moment, I’m keeping things simple and using this as an opportunity to master these brushes.

Secondly, I’m limiting the time spent on each painting, as far as possible, to 15 minutes. This stops me from overthinking a piece of work, and its probably the only way I could manage anything close to a daily painting, no matter how small.

Is it working? I’ve certainly produced little abstract watercolours with a wide range of styles, subjects and moods. Its getting me back into the painting groove again and making me experiment more again. The process is definitely loosening up my painting.

This Batch of Abstract Watercolours:

There’s a question about where the line is between abstract and representational artworks. For me, the line is fairly close to representational. I don’t have a problem with images that are reminiscent of real things – a semi-abstract is still an abstract if it evokes a feeling, or expresses the characteristics of a situation.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.12 Friday morning shopping

On Friday I had the frustrating experience of having to run some errands. I discovered that Friday morning is a bad time to be anywhere near the shops. There’s a sense of frantic business and at the same time, people randomly wandering and getting in the way. It felt a bit like an obstacle course.

2016.02.13 e-Luminate Abstract watercolours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is not my favourite work of the week. I recently got hold of a new luminescent ink which I wanted to try out. Our visit to e-Luminate Cambridge seemed to be an ideal subject for the inks. Working fast meant far too little control using materials and tools I’m not accustomed to, and the results were messing and not inspiring at all. It did make me start working on controlling inks for future works.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.14 Fading Glory

We had a bunch of tulips on the kitchen table. The pod-like shapes of the blossoms called me. I also started working on paper I’ve not tried before: Fabriano HP.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.15 beginnings

My favourite of this bunch was inspired by the snowdrops I notices on my walk through the churchyard. They are delicate and chaotic. Pristine and tangled. Hopeful and transient.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.16 life landscape

A streak of darkness entered our day on Tuesday when we were forced to contemplate the possibility of losing Horatio who has been ill for a week. Remarkably, he’s still hanging in and somedays bring possibilities of a healthier future for our very special feline.

The trail of abstract watercolours will continue.

Handmade watercolours: testing and painting

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

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

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

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

Testing handmade watercolours

Here’s my testing process so far:

Handmade watercolours

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

Handmade watercolours

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

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

Handmade watercolours
That should read Paint test – Jan 2016!

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

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

Making Watercolour Paint

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

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

Making Watercolour Paint Pigment Jars

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

Making Watercolour Paint Pigments

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

Recipe for making watercolour paint.

Start by making a base for the pigment.

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

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

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

Making Watercolour Paint mixed

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

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

Making Watercolour Paint Pin jars

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

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

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