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

Watercolour sketch cards

I’m playing catch up with my little watercolour sketch cards this week. I ran out of time to write a post last week for a number of reasons, but mainly because I am organising an exciting Running With Brushes exhibition.

I have the support of nine other fabulous artists in Cambridge who will be exhibiting with me – not to mention the 30 other artists who have so generously donated works to Running With Brushes. The website is up, the artists are ready and now we start with spreading the word. So if you’re in the Cambridge area and you fancy a grand night out with live music, a fantastic art exhibition, the chance to meet some exceptional artists, and to take home one of the gorgeous little Running With Brushes watercolours – please consider buying a ticket and spreading the word.  (Early warning – you may hear a bit more about this event from me as the event unfolds)

So now you know why I didn’t post last week, here’s a selection of the watercolour sketch collection that came off my brushes.

Watercolour Sketch list
2016.02.23 - Nightingale Song

Nightingale song inspired this sketch. On one of my London work days I heard my first nightingale. Sound waves in the dusk came to mind.

2016.02.21 - Order from Chaos

Creating order from chaos. I’m going through an exercise of organising my palettes. I’ll blog about this some time in the future – I’ve started working through my paints to find the single pigment transparent colours. More on this later.

2016.02.20 - Crane Flower

The strelizia in the office produced a single flower/. I loved the dramatic shapes of the spikey petals. They called for a layered abstract.

2016.02.19 Switzerland 2

Sitting in the Zurich airport I thought about what defines Switzerland. The essence of the Switzerland I saw last week was many shades of grey, blue skies, mountain peaks and a splash of red.

2016.02.18 - Take Off 2

Taking off – I challenged myself to paint one of these on the plane. This was painted at 38000 feet above the earth.

2016.02.17 - Curves and shadows 2

Energy pods. Shiny gold cones of wake-up boost. They’re not very politically correct these days.

Back to the studio now for a bigger piece.

Watercolour Marks Project

I got stuck. My painting wasn’t going anywhere special – so I started a watercolour marks project. I’ve been wanting to develop a more abstract approach to my painting for some time. After being away from my studio for almost 4 weeks in December and early January, my mojo didn’t come strolling back when I picked up my brushes as I expected it to. It was well and truly on holiday with no intention of coming back.

So I patiently pottered in the studio whenever I had time. I mixed paint from pure pigment and started trying it out on a set of cards. I tidied. I bought a few new books for inspiration and information. Finally, I gave up waiting for the painting motivation to reappear spontaneously and decided to get stuck in to a project making watercolour marks.

And yes, before you say it – that is pretty much a description of watercolour painting. The distinction is the difference between playing (experimenting) and taking a more focused approach to creating a completed painting.

I was having a conversation with Noel Gray on Monday. He mentioned in passing that he’d just squashed his dinosaur. (Not your average business conversation!). What he meant was that he had squashed his origami dinosaur and would have to repair it.  And there we had the start of my watercolour marks project. I had a mental image that had to be captured.

I decided to take a journey towards abstraction. I define abstract paintings as those which are paintings ‘about’ the subject rather than paintings ‘of’ the subject. That could mean capturing a quality, an essence, a thought which is sparked by the subject.

The Watercolour Marks Project

My intention is to paint a postcard-sized abstract every day. They will all be very different from each other because I will be pushing my boundaries. Some won’t be particularly good, but I will be brave and share them anyway because this is a journey and there will be wrong turns along the way. So here we go:

watercolour marks. Squashed Dinosaur

I had to start with a painting about a squashed dinosaur. I tried to capture a sense of ‘Squashedness’.

watercolour marks. Restless

Day 2 was a restless day. There was calm beneath, but my mind was leaping all over the place with new ideas. I blame the watercolour marks project.

watercolour marks. History

On day 3, I had a conversation about history and the way unforeseen events can change our direction. Events overtake intention.

watercolour marks. Recurrence

Day 4 was about recurrence. The cat ended back at the vet (Horatio is an expensive pet right now) with a recurrence of his urethra problem. It was time to paint recurrence, and end the week with the thought that there would be a recurrence of abstract paintings in the coming weeks.

Watercolour journal – exploring colour

Over Open Studios weekends last month, my sketchbooks and watercolour journal got as much attention as my paintings. I found myself discussing the method I use to get to know watercolour pigments. I use a system I picked up from the blog of the fabulous Jane Blundell. She is well worth following if you want to get a better understanding of watercolour palettes.

The artists who visited were asking about the colour swatches in the watercolour journal, and many of them commented on their knowledge that they should be doing more of the back to basics.  Visitors who described themselves as non-artists paid more attention to the little sketches I do in the watercolour journal to keep myself entertained while I explore different pigments.  Today I decided to share my journal so far on Youtube.

A flip through my Watercolour Journal

This weekend I played with the idea of painting three different flowers in different styles, with the intention of capturing a different character in each. (You may notice them in the video)

Watercolour Journal - Elegant Magnolia

The delicate colour of magnolia flowers always makes them look refined and elegant.

Watercolour Journal - Flirty Fuschia

Fuschias seem to dance and flirt with their fluffed out petals. They look like little ballerinas sometimes.

Watercolour Journal - WIld Poppies

And the poppy – we love its freedom, its bold colours and its wild ways.

Istanbul Art – Echoes of the Ottoman Empire

This has been a weekend of Istanbul Art for me. I love travelling and these days, new places are quite often also a source of new visual inspiration. This was absolutely the case with Istanbul.

This is a city with so many facets. To start with, it spans two continents. We are staying in Eastern Europe, and last night, popped across the river to have supper – in Asia. I love the idea that this city has one half in Europe and the other in Asia.  And the two sections couldn’t be more different in feel. The European side houses the old city and features the historic buildings we all know about. The Asian side is buzzy and modern and features rows of contemporary pavement restaurants and English language schools. Both side are fun – in a very different way.

My Istanbul Art

We’ve had so many places to see in only a few days so my own art has consisted of a few sketches. There will be more when I get home though. My head is filled with image and ideas.

Istanbul Art - Grand Bazaar
The alleyways of the Grand Bazaar are festooned with bags, clothes and many-coloured wares of all varieties

The Grand Bazaar is worth a visit – but expect to be constantly asked to come and look at goods. Every shop seems to employ someone to stand at the door and entice customers in – and they can be quite persistent. Its not so surprising when you realise that there are around 5000 (Yes, five thousand. That’s not a typo) shops in the bazaar and many of them sell the same sort of goods.  The shops are sometimes no more than stalls, but every one is crammed with wares. This covered market dates back to 1461 and the vaulted ceilings are all painted with complex ancient patterns in yellow, green, blue and red.

Istanbul Art - Blue Mosque
Rough sketch of the blue mosque domes seen from the steps of Ayasofia

The Blue Mosque and the Ayasofia are both on everyone’s ‘must see when visiting Istanbul’ lists. And now that I’ve seen them, I can understand why.  We saw both on one day and my preferred one of the two was the Ayasofia, simply because it has such a fascinating and complex history which shows in the building.  In a busy day, I sat on the steps for 10 minutes after visiting these two impressive buildings, and tried to capture the imposing feel of the Blue Mosque in my sketchbook.

More about Istanbul art in a future post.

Wash a Week Challenge – Back to the Quinacridones

This is Week 5 of the Wash a Week Challenge and I’m exploring Quinacridone Purple and along with a different type of sponge for painting.

Enchanted forest watercolour on www.runningwithbrushes.com

Watercolour Plans and Explorations

This week has been one of watercolour plans and some explorations.

Watercolour plan 1 : Open Studios

Watercolour plan 1: The start of the week brought paperwork for Open Studios – and the requirement to make some commitments to painting fresh work and exhibiting. I’ve decided to do both Saffron Walden Open studios at the end of April and beginning of May, and Cambridge Open Studios in July. More on these closer to the time.

Watercolour plan 2 :  Artfinder

Watercolour plan 2: I took a decision to do a blitz sale on Artfinder to make space for new works in preparation for these exhibitions. This has proved quite successful so far and 5 paintings went over the past few days. It’s often quite difficult to see a painting go – we become attached to them somehow. But I’m excited about developing new lines of work this year and this will spur me on to get my brushes going.

Watercolour Exploration 1: Wash a Week Challenge

This week’s post explores Daniel Smith’s Lunar Blue. Here’s a little abstract treescape painting I did using only this colour. This will go up on the Running With Brushes site when I have time to post it there. (Life is overtaking me a bit at the moment.)

Watercolour exploration - wash a week entry
Wash a week – Week 4 – Lunar Blue

Following Last weeks Wash a Week post on Quinacridone Gold and Quinacridone Violet, I was asked how similar the gold is to Indian Yellow. I happen to have a tube of Indian Yellow I hadn’t yet tried. Perfect excuse to have a go so here’s the little colour swatch I did to see the difference. Separately, they do look quite similar because they are both strong colours. Put them together and you can see the difference.
Watercolour week yellow and gold comparison

Watercolour Exploration 2: Abstracts

On Friday evening I went to the monthly meeting of the Saffron Walden Art Society to see a demonstration of Abstract painting by local artist Joyce Crabb. I’m increasingly interested in Abstract art, and I think probably lean towards semi-abstract myself in some of my looser work. I’m not sure I’ll get comfortable with pure abstract work – at least not for some while, if ever. But I will be experimenting a bit more on the fringes I suspect.

Watercolour Plans 3: Tidying up the studio

I’m a book junkie (and a colour junkie as I’ve said before). I have a fair collection of art books and magazines in my studio. When I set up the space for my painting I insisted on having a corner with a sofa and table, as well as a bookshelf, so that I could sit quietly and enjoy dipping into this exciting reference material and inspiration.

Watercolour plan - tidy the studio

 

A year or so ago, I did a workshop in oil painting with Stephen Higton and decided to start doing a bit of work in other mediums, so I bought a large easel, amongst other things. Its fabulous to have it, but in a small studio, it was always a bit in the way. No matter which way I positioned it, the bookshelf was obscured and it became a mission to reach it.  Result: books not read, or books and magazines stacked all over the sofa and any other free surface so I could get to them.

This weekend I had a brainwave about repositioning things and got stuck in to moving furniture before I got started on painting. The result:

Watercolour plan - after the tidy
Space to read!

Watercolour Journal & 2015 Wash Challenge

I’ve fallen in love with my watercolour journal and I’d like to introduce you to it.

Two years ago I was given a wonderful bound book of heavy weight Arches watercolour paper. It was so beautiful that it took a month before I could pluck up the courage to put brush to paper. And even after I had made my virgin mark on page one, I was still so worried about messing it up, that I was afraid to paint in it.

Now the Wash a Week Challenge is well and truly up and running (I’ve just published my second post) and I think I’ve found its purpose in life. My beautifully bound book as become my watercolour journal.

Inside my watercolour journal:

Watercolour journal red page
Reds and pinks – transparent and opaque

In no particular order, each week in the Wash a Week Challenge, I will be exploring colours I find useful or exciting, or those I want to learn about.  And from time to time, I will share the journal’s progress. If you want to see snippets of the journal’s contents, you’ll see how it’s being used in my week by week posts.

Watercolour journal blue page
Phtalo Blue – two manufacturers

Pages combine specific colour studies and references, with little sketches.

Watercolour journal yellow page
Exploring daffodils on a yellow page

And in some instances, just an opportunity to observe and record shapes, colours and tonal values.

QuinacridonesIn other news this week – I found watercolour treasure in my local art supply shop this week. I’ll be covering the Quinacridone family of colours. I’ve always loved Quinacridone Gold and when I discovered the Daniel Smith range of watercolours in the shop, the opportunity to fill up my palette with most of the rest of the range was just too much to resist.  Exploring them all is bound to be good fun.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading down to London for my first work meetings of the year. Perfect opportunity for a meeting with Doug Shaw at The Mall Galleries where the Artists and Illustrators Artist of the Year show is on starting tomorrow.

 

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

 

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.