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.
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!
My backpack contained my water bottle, a packet of biscuits in case of emergency hunger, and my sketching kit.
For the artists amongst my readers, the colours: (All Daniel Smith) Quinacridone Gold, Transparent Pyrrol Orange, Sharow Violet, Undersea Green.
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.
How 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
This is my Day 2 painting of Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days. I spent some of today looking through those old paintings which weren’t complete and putting the finishing touches to them. This painting reminds me of the shanty towns outside Johannesburg where electricity is a major issue.
The shanty towns are notorious for hijacking their power by illegally tapping into the grid. Obviously this is a cost to all the utility company’s paying customers, but aside from that, there’s a deeper social cost to shanty towns. Without proper infrastructure, the residents are at risk from bad wiring, pollution and crime.
Education is the solution to the world’s poverty. Until we create opportunities for the poorest communities to build businesses and progress, the shanty town problem isn’t going away.
The pylons standing tall above the home-made shacks dominate the landscape. Their untidy structures contrast with the sort of slick modern equipment found in the developed parts of the country, and the smoky air leaves an orange haze suspended in a thick blanket.
New Year is a perfect opportunity to review the past year and think about how to make the most of 2014.
Wow – that was a busy year. It was a transformational year for my painting too. Firsts for me in 2013 were:
Out of the studio:
– First major joint exhibition. This took place in March when I shared an exhibition with Mark Judson and Denise Shearing. It was a great experience: the planning, the setup and the sales. It was a massive confidence builder as it resulted in commissions which have taken me all the way through to Christmas.
– Started Running With Brushes in July. 25 other artists have joined the project and we have now sold 142 paintings, raising over £2100 for Care for Casualties in the process. 312 paintings have been completed for the project to date.
– Held my first Open Studio event as part of the Saffron Walden Open Studios weekend.
– Made my first online sales this year.
Painting: – Tried my hand at mixed media and working in acrylics on a 2 day workshop with the marvellous Georgia Mansur (expertly organised by Mita Higton) – 77 Running With Brushes paintings – great for brush mileage – Explored new subjects and managed my first portrait and figure painting.
– Took part in Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days – more brush mileage and a great way to build up my Running With Brushes works.
Things that didn’t work so well:
– I spent a lot of time travelling to take paintings to exhibitions that just didn’t work for me. Some because they were too busy, and some because they were badly organised.
– Although I took my paints and paper with me while I was on work trips, I still find it difficult to get into painting mode when I’m away from my studio.
Here are some of my most popular paintings of 2013:
2014 – The Plan
Out of the Studio:
– I’m planning to be more selective about the exhibitions I take part in during 2014. The time I spend in preparing for an exhibition is painting time lost and I’ve decided it must be worthwhile to warrant that sacrifice. So for 2014, I will only take part in selection exhibitions if I can submit my work online, or it is a local exhibition. I’ll be cutting out those that I’ve tried in past years and that haven’t worked for me for 2 years.
– As other bloggers will know, writing a blog takes a huge amount of time. It’s been wonderful having new readers commenting this year, and I will continue to blog. I enjoy experimenting with paint and the posts about my experiments seem to be some of the most useful. I’m considering a new series on What’s in my Studio which will go through the tools, materials and references I use. I hope this will prove a useful subject for other artists.
– In addition to Saffron Walden Open Studios, I’ve signed up for Cambridge Open Studios this year. That will give people one weekend at the end of April/beginning of May, and two weekends in July to visit my studio. Last year, I loved meeting people who wanted to talk about painting and were interested in my work. More of that in this coming year.
– Lots of exhibition visits, particularly at the Mall Galleries where there are many exhibitions of works from artist I admire and who inspire me to keep on painting and stretching myself.
– Expand my online sales which got off to a good start in 2013.
Painting: – Continuing my pursuit of brush mileage to improve my painting skills, I am taking part in Leslie’s January 30 Paintings in 30 Days series. I pre-painted my first share which was actually posted online a couple of days ago. But as it’s a gift for someone whose birthday is today, it was done a couple of days ago so I’ve counted it as day 1.
– I’ve spent some of today organising my studio, and resolved to spend more time doing paint exercises and recording the results of my pigment studies.
– There is a pile of magazines and books in my studio which I have read superficially. 2014 will be the year to go through them in more detail and spend time making notes and working on ideas and tips I gather from them.
– More time spent on challenging subjects. Portraits, animals and figure work will be on the agenda.
– Texture, texture, texture – it’s thrilling and I love it when the texture transforms a painting.
– I have a fabulous week of Plein Air painting in France with Olivia Quintin and Fabio Cembranelli planned for September. I’m challenging myself to get comfortable painting outside the studio.
– Doing three open studio weekends means I must paint enough new work to make it an interesting and worthwhile experience for visitors. Setting deadlines for myself is a great way to make me paint, paint, paint.
I’ve written (probably quite often) about my block when it comes to painting people. It extends to just about all living things but I did manage to start breaking it down during the past year by painting a few animals. There was the frog, the lizard, and finally a rooster.
Then I was asked to painting a portrait via Running With Brushes for someone who wanted it as a Christmas gift for their partner. She knew portraits weren’t my forte, but was brave enough to let me have a go anyway. I had a couple of attempts but eventually got to a painting that captured the little girl’s likeness. It was a real breakthrough moment for me and it has made me want to do more.
Emboldened by my ability to paint an actual face, I went on and painted a whole person!
I really wanted to capture the dynamic energy of the sport in this painting. The approach I took with painting a figure was a little different to my usual way of working. As a general rule, we’re told to think about our work as just being blocks of colour. That way, once you’ve got the main masses of colour right in terms of their tonal values, you know you’ve got the most important element right. In this case, I felt it was important to get the structure of the body right. I needed to visualise the angles of the arms and particularly, the legs, before I could start laying down the colour.
This one is a gift for someone who loves to ski. I really hope he think’s I’ve captured the essence of the sport. Now that I’ve broken the barrier, who knows what till come next? I quite like the challenge of capturing movement so that may be my theme for a while.
In our house, when we the boys were young, we had early wake up calls every Christmas morning so that present unwrapping could start as soon as possible. These days, we have the luxury of a late start and an even later lunch since the present sessions can be done at a less urgent pace now. But for those who still have an early start on Christmas morning, here’s the Advent give away cockerel who is bound to crow at daybreak.
Advent Day Artist Day 24
Today’s advent artist is Marc Massey. Marc’s photographs have always provided great reference material. He’s going to be running photography workshops at The Old School Studio in the new year. On top of all that, Marc does all the mounting of the Running With Brushes paintings and my paintings. We’ve passed the 300 painting mark and every single one of them has been mounted and packaged by Marc.
Today’s advent give away painting is one that had to be painted at some stage in the series. The classic Christmas wreath on the front door is a welcome for friends and family. With only one more day until the Christmas turkey gets cooked, we’re all getting ready for the knock on the front door.
Advent Artist Day 23:
Australian watercolour artist, Anita Bentley is today’s advent artist. Her paintings capture the colour and clarity of light of Australia. Anita also has a Facebook page where she shares her art.
Not turned into jelly yet, but when they are, the meal will be delicious. The glorious colour and translucence of red currants makes them great subjects for watercolour. This is the Advent 22 give away.
Advent Artist Day 22:
Today’s Advent artist is Cambridge ceramicist, Katharina Klug. Her work is characterised by beautifully simple form and colour. She shares images and thoughts about her work on her Facebook page.
There’s a fascinating interview with Katharina here: