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.

Open Studio Give Away

This is my third year of holding an Open Studio. Joining over 300 other Cambridge Open Studios artists is a highlight of my year.  I love all of it – the planning, the build up and most of all, meeting interesting people who come for a browse.

This year, to celebrate my 2016 Open Studio I’ve decided to do a giveaway

The winner of the draw will receive this limited edition signed and numbered giclee print of Poppies in the Sunlight.  This print comes mounted and ready to put into a 12 x 16 inch frame.

There are plenty of opportunities to get your name in the draw (see below):

Win Poppies in the Sunlight at my 2016 Open Studio

The draw will take place at 6pm on Sunday 24th July.

Your name goes in the draw every time you do one of the following:

  • Visit my Open Studio and put your name in the box. I will be open from 11am to 6pm on the 16th, 17th, 23rd and 24th July.
  • Sign up for my email newsletter. (I only do 3 or 4 newsletters a year).
  • Like my Facebook page
  • Share the Facebook post at the top of my page (you will need make sure the privacy setting on the post is ‘public’ so that I can see the share and add your name to the draw)
  • Sign up to receive my blog by email
  • Follow me on Instagram and pop a comment into the post with about this draw on my feed.

That’s 6 opportunities to get your name in the draw. You could have 6 chances of winning this print.

(About this painting: Every year a few of my works seem to be the zeitgeist pieces of the year. This is one for 2016. It was painted last summer and was then used as the poster image for the Spring Exhibition of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists Spring Exhibition. The original painting was the first painting to sell at the exhibition. For me this painting represent exuberence and zest for life: a joyful painting)

What’s on show at my Open Studio 2016

This year I have

  • 90 of my Running With Brushes paintings on display.
  • A number of  new watercolours, some of which stem from my South African travels, and some from a recent trip to the island of Paxos.
  • I’ve invested in a top quality scanner and giclee printer so this year will also be showing a range of signed limited edition prints mounted and ready to be framed for the wall.
  • Seven new greeting cards designs join the collection of evergreen favourites.

I am aware that time is precious and I so value the effort people make to come and see my open studio. My working studio, untidy as it is when I paint, will be open for visitors to look around and I’ll be there to answer any questions and chat about my inspiration and my approach to painting.

And if the weather is kind to us, we’ll even be able to have our tea and cake in the garden. The next two weekends are looking to be fabulous!

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

Painting Fresh Flowers with Olivia Quintin

We ended summer with a celebration – painting fresh flowers with Olivia Quintin for two days.

A full house of 14 artists came to spend the weekend painting fresh flowers. They came from the local area, from 2 hours drive away south of London, and some even flew in from Holland. From my experience of painting in Belle Île with Olivia, I’d say she attracts wonderfully diverse groups of artist – all of whom have one common factor: the desire to paint with Olivia.

Feedback from the workshop was overwhelmingly good with most of the artists wanting to come back and paint with Olivia again next year.
(Yes – we are planning another workshop for 2016)

Olivia’s preparation for the workshop was impressive. She came ready with exercises designed to allow artists to paint the same subject at each stage, but at a level that suited their own experience.

The day before the workshop we loaded up with flowers. The weather was cool so they were kept fresh outside in the shade until they were ready. Our garden was even more blossom-filled than usual for a couple of days.

ready for Painting Fresh Flowers
Fresh flowers ready for painting

At each stage, Olivia demonstrated the particular watercolour technique she wanted her students to master.

Olivia demonstrates
Olivia demonstrates

It didn’t take long before everyone was completely enthralled and happily practicing new skills.

totally absorbed in painting fresh flowers
Hard at work – totally absorbed in painting fresh flowers

Painting Fresh Flowers – A few demonstrations and results

Olivia's Roses
Olivia’s Roses
painting fresh flowers in a glass
Olivia Quintin’s demonstration flowers in a glass

And a couple of my little exercises:

Freshly Picked by Vandy Massey
Freshly Picked
Cosmos in a Glass by Vandy Massey
Cosmos in a Glass

Olivia brought her glorious watercolour earrings along with her, much to the delight of those with pierced ears, and some who got in a bit of early Christmas shopping. Olivia’s earrings and other watercolour jewellery are sold in her Etsy shop and it was brilliant to be able to see them in the flesh, succumb to the temptation and buy a few pairs.

Olivia's Earrings
Olivia’s Earrings

Our two days of painting fresh flowers went past in a flash. My Facebook feed is showing images of flower paintings being done by some of the attendees – so the flower painting continues beyond the workshop. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see some more of my workshop paintings posted there, and more to come.

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.

Quinacridone watercolours

My Daniels Smith quinacridone watercolours came out to play this weekend. Last weekend I explored the differences and synergies between Quinacridone Gold and Quinacridone Deep Gold. You can see my findings in the Wash a Week challenge.
Quinacridone Watercolours - Gold, Deep Gold and Violet

The nectarines on the kitchen table seemed an ideal subject for the colours I was working with for the blog. Once opened, the smooth, juicy, translucent flesh contrasted temptingly with the many folds and hard edges of the stone in the centre.

Quinacridone Watercolours blending on the paper

The perennial challenge for watercolourists is resisting the urge to be too fussy. There’s always the temptation to add one more brushstroke, embellish with a bit more detail, change an edge or a shape.

In this painting, I aimed to avoid this challenge by completing the whole painting with one flat brush. Painting a rounded shape with smooth edges using a flat brush makes it very difficult – almost impossible to get too detailed.

Using quick, energetic brushstrokes, my aim was to simply capture the essence of the fruit. My focus was specifically on the smooth quality of the flesh, and the area of rosy colouring where the hard stone emerges from the body of the fruit.

The combination of the transparent, single pigment quinacridone watercolours, and resisting the urge to fiddle with the paint once it’s been laid down on the paper, leaves the colours clear and translucent in the painting.

I’ll be sharing more quinacridone colours in future Wash a Week posts.

In other news, I’m starting the planning process for my 2015 exhibitions and Open Studios. There are a few visits to London exhibitions and a watercolour festival for inspiration. And I’ll be creating the opportunity for UK watercolour artists to attend workshops with two exceptional artists from Moldova and France. More news on these later.

Wearable watercolours – the secret revealed

Wearable watercolours were the subject of my June post about a secret project I was working on.  Six months in the making, the final reveal happened on Christmas Day.

As with many such ideas, there were a few iterations along the way. The project started with a conversation about Christopher’s wedding. We were playing with the idea of creating a design and printing the fabric for the usher’s waistcoats or cravats. A friend, Cong, owns Textiler a business that does the printing part of it, and I was going to paint the image.

Ultimately, the decision about wedding outfits for the ushers was that a plain colour would be more appropriate. But by then, the project had grown and Christmas gifts were being planned.

Preparing for wearable watercolours

Four paintings were done to suit their particular recipients

Ross
Citadels, forests, mountains and misty lakes for the Lord of the Rings enthusiast (with his Elvish name incorporated into the design).
Harriet

Quill pens to make her words fly for the budding journalist and already-successful blogger

Gemma

Soaring flocks of birds reflect a love of exotic animals and the drive to fly high for the veterinary student in the family.

LoriThe wild abandonment of paint at speed for the artist who can’t resist the excitement of spontaneous little painterly masterpieces within the world inside a watercolour painting. Her favourite colour is indigo so it featured loudly in this celebration of paint.

The final results

On Christmas morning, every painting was accompanied by its lengths of fabric, all of which were as vibrant the originals. Now the next challenge begins. Four people have to decide what to make of their wearable watercolours. A waistcoat will almost definitely be in the future for one of them. A dress and a summer jacket have been under consideration for two of the others. I can’t wait to see the final results.
Wearable watercolours - paintings and fabrics

Wearable watercolours

Orchard Art on Belle Île

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

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

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

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

Belle Ile Orchard Art

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

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

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

 

Painting Flowers from a French Field

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

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

So why am I painting flowers from a French field?

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

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

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

Painting Flowers from a French Field

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

Flowers from a French Field originals

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

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

Painting darks – mushroom frills and shadows

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

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

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

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

Painting Darks

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

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

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

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

The last tomato - painting darks