Red Earth Colours

Earth colours are appearing in my paintings. What I mean is red earth colours. Not the loamy dark browns of the northern hemisphere.

I am drawn to the sight of red earth. It’s a throwback to a childhood in Southern Africa. The familiar rich red colour of the earth always makes me feel at home.  On the way from the airport when we arrived here, we passed an extensive road construction project and there, heaped up on the side of the road, was a pile or rich dark red soil. It was almost as if this part of the world was inviting me to add a new dimension to my work.

Even though I love the sight of rich red earth colours, these are not colours I generally put into my landscapes. Usually, it’s blues, greens, yellows and just sometimes, some pink/lavender tones. colours that are all very refined and safe.  They are very northern-hemisphere, cool-light colours. So does this imply that your surroundings influence the colours you use in your paintings? It certainly could be part of the reason, I suspect.

At art college, my sister was advised to wear neutral colours.  The theory was that the colours you wear have a tendency to creep into your palette. That may be true. I wear a lot of blue and lo and behold, there it is in my paintings.  An old friend commented on one of my Facebook posts that Australia is doing interesting things to my work, and then the conversation continued to the point of speculating about whether the English light would change that when I get back into my studio. That remains to be seen but I hope it doesn’t.

Earth colours in my paintings

Earth colours - rainbow beachThere is a different quality to the light here, and to the landscape. It’s bigger, and it’s redder. To my eye, the earth colours seem to come to the fore more here.  That could be because I am more attuned to them because of my childhood. But whatever the reason, they are there and I am relishing the bold brashness of them.  I have painted a couple of dozen small paintings for Running With Brushes while I have been here. They have the advantage of being small and portable. I can work out my thinking for larger paintings by creating a smaller version. I’ll pick the ones I like best and work them up to bigger paintings when I am back in my studio.

At first, the earth colours were appearing in a more figurative form in the paintings. But gradually, as I have spent more time here, the reds have just had to be put down on paper.

The paint colours

Fortunately, my palette has a glorious Pyrrol Scarlet pan, and I squeezed a juicy blob of Transparent Pyrrol Orange into one of the extra pans. (The orange is one of my all time favourites. Depending on how intensely you use it, it can range from being almost red to a delicate orange. I recommend it.) Of course, there have been washes of beautiful quinacridone gold, sepia and burnt sienna. But the reds and oranges are the ones that pop.Earth colours - pandanus tree Perhaps my choice of palette was starting to change before I got here and being away from my studio has only made me realise it. But it definitely feels as if there’s a shift away from playing safe.

In my last week here, I’ve sketched a red pandanus tree. What next? I’m not sure, but I am looking forward to splashing some earth colours around on bigger pieces when I get back into my studio.  If you want to see more of my little plein air Australia paintings, they’re on my Instagram feed. Let me know what you think. Do you like the funky reds?

If you enjoyed this blog post and you’d like to support it, please do share it with someone you think might like it. Thank you for reading. Your support means a lot. If you’d like to read more of my arty ramblings, you could subscribe to my blog by email, or on an RSS feed. Or sign up for my (approximately) monthly newsletter. You can always unsubscribe if you decide it doesn’t enhance your inbox.

 

Five ways of using Pinterest to enhance your art practice

Should you be using Pinterest as a serious tool for your art practice? If you don’t already do so, here are a few ideas you may like.
Five ways of using pinterest for your art practice
For years I was aware of Pinterest but just didn’t get it. The people I knew who were Pinteresters were in the midst of planning weddings and finding it hugely useful. They were curating boards for every aspect of the event. I thought it was just another planning tool so I dismissed it.

Planning is one of Pinterest’s applications, but it isn’t the only one, or in fact the most valuable. Pinterest is a huge visual search engine.  And unlike Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, your pins don’t just disappear into the ether. Pinterest boards have much greater lifespan.  As with all digital tools, the trick is to work out how to make it work for you.

Here are a few ideas for artists using Pinterest

  • Spread your reach

    This is probably the most obvious. Sharing your work makes you more visible. Discoverability is key. If people don’t know about your work, they won’t be buying your art.  I have had commissions and sales from people finding my pins.

  • Subject Research

    This is where Pinterest’s hidden boards are really useful. When I was working on a commission of a painting of a snowboarder, it was really important to make sure the body position was accurate. Making a collection of copyright-free photographs on a temporary board I was able to ensure my energetic subject was speeding downhill in the right pose. The board was only visible to me and a one click delete when I knew I was done with it meant it isn’t still there when it’s no longer relevant. A word of warning – when using reference pictures in this way, make sure you don’t copy. Use your pins to check details, but always produce your own artistic interpretation.  I use multiple images and take information from all of them.

  • Market research

    Do you want to find out what your ideal customer is interested in? Following some Pinterest users who are interested in your subject matter gives you a good idea of the other things they like. Does this provide ideas for more subject matter, or perhaps for places you could reach your target market?

  • Using Pinterest to hone your style

    Louise Fletcher recently sent out an email newsletter in which one of her suggestions really resonated for me. She suggested looking on Pinterest for work you like, and then working out just what it is that you like about it. This is something I’ve found hugely helpful for a while now. Becoming more aware about what you like will help you critique and curate your own work. Now that Pinterest has added the facilities to put sections on your boards you can build collections of collections. Putting artwork on a board gives me the ability to see different examples of work by artists I find inspiring. I can work out which aspects of their work I like and ask myself what that means to my own work.  It could be a colour I really enjoy, the artist’s use of media or the elements of mark-making. I’ve used this board to start thinking about which direction my work is moving in and to be braver about working outside of my comfort zone.  (Important note: When pinning someone else’s work, don’t forget to check that the pin gives them credit and links back to a site that gives them credit.)

  • Make connections through collaboration

    Take part in group boards or invite other people to pin on your group boards. Collaborating with other artists builds great connections and increases your visibility. Set up a board for your art society, or for fellow artists taking part in a challenge. I was hugely excited when I got my first invitation to pin on a collaborative board. It was a great boost to my Pinterest kudos to have someone consider my work to be of a high enough quality to be included on their board. It may take a while before you get an invitation, but keep on pinning and invite others to pin on group boards you set up. Choose your fellow pinners carefully.

Do you use Pinterest in any other ways? Do let me know in a comment below.

(Footnote: Louise Fletcher and Alice Sheridan produce a weekly podcast called Art Juice that is well worth following. They have become my regular studio companions.)

If you enjoyed this blog post, please subscribe to my blog or sign up for my monthly newsletter. And please do share it with someone you think might like it.

Painting Style Transition

Painting style transition
Almost empty (small watercolour)

From time to time I find it a struggle to get into the flow of painting – that’s when I know I’m going through a painting style transition.

At the moment I have 4 paintings on easels around the studio – and they’re all frustratingly stuck. One is just not exciting – it needs something to bring it to life. One was too dull – it’s been washed back and will be redone in different media. One is experimental – I’m learning a new technique and its not quite working yet. And the the fourth one wasn’t working tonally, but it’s beginning to get there now. They will come together – I just have to remember to exercise patience.

Another knotty little question I’ve been wrestling with recently is whether to keep on blogging. If you add the writing time to the time it takes to maintain an online portfolio or two, and the Running With Brushes website – it adds up to quite a few evenings of laptop use. The sacrifice is painting time.

It’s actually the process of my painting style transition that has made me recognise that one of the benefits of blogging is recording those changes. My blog is a journal of my painting. It’s a great way of capturing my thoughts and the progress I make as I go through my experiments and develop new ideas.

My current painting style transition

I’ve no idea what will come out of the other side, but the little painting of my almost empty tubes of paints – some of my favourite colours – is the first sign of new elements of bold colour and semi abstract style that’s emerging.

I’ve always been a bit of a colour junkie. Now it’s just getting bolder and looser. It will be interesting to see where it takes me.

Triad Tree Paintings: Two Techniques

I decided to run another of my little comparison experiments with these triad tree paintings. Only there turned out to be two lessons it in.

Summer Triad Tree Paintings
Summer Triad Tree

I’ve been in the studio more than usual this week – which is a bonus. I had a small operation to remove a benign growth in my neck last Wednesday. Having to be at home, and resting, has meant I’ve had a bit more time to go and potter quietly in my own special den. (I do love being in the studio. It smells of paint, and is filled with colour and books and all sorts of wonderful food for the senses)

Triad Tree Painting
Autumn Triad Tree

Using the same paper, and the same three primaries (Perylene maroon, Aureolin yellow and Winsor blue), I just changed my technique slightly when working on these two triad tree paintings.

For the Autumn Triad Tree, I sprayed the paper before laying on the paint. Not very much. Just enough to give the pigment some movement to when it hit the paper.

For the Summer Triad Tree, I left the paper completely dry.  The colours stayed broadly where they had been placed, just mixing gently with those directly adjacent to them.

So, just changing that one small variable gave each of these paintings a very different feel. The Summer tree is more alive and vibrant, and the autumn tree is fading softly into dormancy.

The Triad Tree Paintings

Here’s where you can see the paintings on the Running With Brushes website:

– Summer Triad Tree

Autumn Triad Tree

I mentioned two different lessons. The second one came when my husband looked at the paintings. Aside from the outlines of the trees, he could not see the difference.  I may have mentioned it before – he’s red/green colour blind. Basically, the changes in the way the colours mingled were not apparently to him. He can see the tonal differences, and the outline, but the colours don’t stand out for him, so the difference in technique is completely wasted on him.

Long Shadows Watercolour – Evening Light

Long Shadows watercolour
Long Shadows (watercolour 21 x 25 cm)

The Long Shadows watercolour is another one of my small paintings. You’ll be seeing a few of those on my blog in the next week or so. But that’s mainly because I’ve been neglecting them for some months.

The overall goal of painting 1000 small watercolours as part of the Running With Brushes project had a great start – we reached 360 paintings in the first year. This has only been possible with the help of all the wonderful Running With Brushes artists.

However, in the lead up to taking part in Cambridge Open Studios, my painting time was dedicated to creating more works for the exhibition. Now, after two weeks of breathing space, I’ve started on small works again. I’ve got a few bigger ones on the easel as well, but I’m enjoying doing some quicker pieces in the meantime.

Long shadows watercolour

All my life, I’ve loved trees. As a child I was constantly climbing them, invariably going as high as I could get. There’s a majesty and a timelessness about large trees. Very old trees have a particular charm (and I may be painting some of those in the near future too). I’ve now got a collection of tree photographs to inspire me.

Most summers we spend some time travelling in Europe. More often than not,  we go to France for a few short breaks each year. Recently we’ve been to Italy as well.. In both countries, I’ve noticed the structure and order of particular tree  formations. I’ve been drawn to the long lines of Cyprus trees, standing tall across the countryside. They look like sentinels standing to attention along roads and long driveways.

In this Long Shadows watercolour, early evening light forms long elegant reflections of the line of tall trees. And at the same time, the long shadows spread across the land offset the soft golden glow on the fields.

 

Tuscan Doors With Character

Tuscan Doors (watercolour 15 x 21 cm)
Tuscan Doors (watercolour 15 x 21 cm)

I’ve been working through photographs of a range of Tuscan doors. They were taken one afternoon on our holiday in that part of the world last month. (These Tuscan Doors are from the Running With Brushes website)

We went off on an excursion to see the hilltop towns of central Italy, many of which have a link to the work of the artist Piero Della Francesca who famously painted the pregnant madonna.

Starting in Umbria and meandering over into Tuscanny, the drive is beautiful. It invites a slow ramble up and down some winding roads which traverse the hills and valleys between Medieval towns with magnificent walls.

For me, the most interesting aspects of these towns are the old bits. The narrow roads within the old city walls. That’s where all the character-filled bits of buildings can be found. And somehow, the Tuscan doors seem to be a great feature of the buildings. I’ve seen similarly interesting doors in other parts of Southern Europe, but this part of the world seemed to strike me as having a deliciously wide variety from which to choose.

Our Tuscan Doors route
(or the official version – the Piero Della Francesca Route)

One of the reasons for this route is that Piero Della Francesca, unlike many of the best known painters of the time, does not have his works in many of the major museums.  Instead, he chose to stay close to his roots and his works have remained in the part of Italy that he loved.

– Start in Sansepolcro  has a beautiful walled centre. Park just outside the walls and amble along to the Museo Civico to see The Resurrection
– Monterchi is where the pregnant Madonna can be seen. I didn’t think much of the museum dedicated to this painting. The staff were lackadaisical and not particularly interested in visitors, and the museum is small – leaving the visitor thinking, “Is that it?”  However, as part of the drive, this is a glorious part of the route.
– We missed seeing Rimini and Arezzo where I believe there are some spectacular works, but that was because we stopped for lunch in glorious:
Anghiari. I was utterly charmed by this town. We visited the little Da Alighiero restaurant for a lunch which ultimately lasted almost 3 hours. Husband and wife team Gianni and Sylvia pull of that perfect combination of fantastic food and great hospitality. On the way back up the hill, we took photographs of the town’s Tuscan doors. Every one seemed to entice us to stay a little longer and explore this wonderful town.

Restaurant interior sketch
Da Alighiero – bottles and old trunks sketched while waiting for lunch

Whether you’re interested in Piero Della Francesca, medieval towns, great old architectural features, or just plain fantastic places to do long lunches, this route through Tuscanny is hard to beat.

Lest We Forget – Commemorating the start of WW1

Today’s post should have been written yesterday, the day when we were all saying, “Lest We Forget”.  But it didn’t happen because I was down at the Tower of London.

Yesterday was a poignant day for many people. Commemorating the start of WW1 one hundred years ago is a significant occasion for those who value human life. It’s slightly depressing that we (the human race) haven’t learned to do this peace thing a lot better by now.

I decided to do something positive to mark the day. I haven’t had time to work on my Running With Brushes contributions for some time, so over the weekend I painted a few.

RWB0104 Fields of Green
Fields of Green (Watercolour 21 x 15 cm)

This one, Fields of Green, is particularly appropriate. It reminds me of the reason for the sacrifice made by all those men and women so many years ago. The right to live in peace in a country of our choice seems such a simple thing. And yet, without those soldiers who fought for it, we would not have it.

For those few of my readers who might not know about Running With Brushes, this is a project to paint 1000 small watercolours, and sell them to raise funds for Care for Casualties. Care For Casualties supports the families of members of Rifles Regiment who have been killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, over 350 paintings have been created, 162 paintings have been sold, and as a result, almost £3200 has been received by the charity.

Tower of London 4th August 2014. Lest We forget
Tower of London 4th August 2014. Lest We forget

Tower of London: Lest We Forget

We also took a trip down to The Tower of London to have a look at this powerful and poignant art installation.

The Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red exhibition, by

Artist Paul Cummins created Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red to represent the lives of every British and Colonial death during the conflict.  The poppies will be planted continuously until 11th November when there will be 888,246 of them in the moat around the Tower.

The poppies can be purchased by members of the public to raise funds for 5 military charities. I’ve just ordered mine.

I’ve been playing with creating video clips with my phone. This one is slightly wobbly but gives a slightly better idea of the scope of the poppy field in the moat at The Tower.

Medieval Village Sketch from Umbria

This little medieval village sketch was started while I was on holiday in Umbria.  Standing at the window of our room, this was the view down the valley. I made a quick pen sketch before we left.

It always seemed really quiet and almost uninhabited, and we wondered what went on in Borgo di Santa Giuliana. It seems, although the village has been restored, it only has one resident at present. What a great pity to have such a beautiful place and no-one to enjoy it. Sadly, it does seem to reflect a lot of what is happening in Italy at the moment. The economy is still struggling and if you look around, you can see the signs.

Having done only a pen sketch on site, I thought it would come to life more if I used a bit of colour. So this weekend, I used a few water soluble graphite pencils on the medieval village sketch.

Medieval village sketch
Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Sketch with water soluble graphite activated

Just for interest, here’s the sketch before the graphite pencil was activated. Although the colours aren’t particularly vibrant, I do like these pencils.

Medieval village sketch
Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Sketch with water soluble graphite

Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Medieval Village Sketch

Here’s an English translation (although perhaps not a perfect one) of the text found on the website link to Borgo di Santa Giuliana:

The first news about the ancient village of Santa Giuliana back to the year 1362. In 1411, Captain Paolo Orsini, an ally of Braccio da Montone Fortinbras, attacked the castle in the north of Perugia, and Santa Giuliana was besieged. The reaction of the inhabitants, however, was so resolute and effective that the attackers had to leave.  The commander, Orsini, was seriously injured. After many years of neglect, the whole complex has been completely restored, respecting the original structure. It is a beautiful example of a small medieval village. Inside the castle is a little church, built in 1558, dedicated to St. Anthony.  At about 1 km you will find a tower, an ancient outpost of defence, and the church dedicated to Santa Giuliana.

I’ve been doing some planning for a few more complete paintings of this village. More to come. I’ll try not to bore you with too many of them.

Society of East Anglian Watercolourists

East Anglian Watercolourists

The art event in my August calendar is the summer exhibition of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in blogging mode.  July was a busy month with more than a few highlights:

We went off to Umbria for the annual Jazz Festival in Perugia. My head is filled with images of musicians, great buildings, and fantastic unspoiled scenery. There’s loads of painting subject material in that part of the world. Once I’ve sorted through my photos, I’ll have enough for a series. I’ve not managed to get back into the studio since I got back, but I will be picking up my brushes again soon.

I took part in Cambridge Open Studios for the first time this year. Our home was open to visitors on the first and last weekends of the month. Over the course of these two weekends I had 83 visitors, most of whom hadn’t seen my work before. I’ve taken part in Saffron Walden Open Studios for the past two years, which was a good way to get into the Open Studios groove. Being located half way between Saffron Walden and Cambridge presents some challenges for visitors at either of these events: we are in the outer regions from either direction.

The Society of East Anglian Watercolourists Summer Exhibition

This is the next event I’ll be taking part in. I’ll have six paintings on show at this event next week. Unfortunately, I’m not likely to be able to attend the preview evening, as I’m due to have a little operation two days beforehand.  Marc is (yet again) being wonderfully supportive and will deliver my paintings for me so that I can take part.

If you’re in the area and would like to attend the preview of this event, please let me know. The standard of work from these East Anglian Watercolourists is extremely high and it’s always a good exhibition.

 

 

Fred Ted and the military medals

Fred Ted's military medals
Fred Ted (watercolour)

Hayley Oats sent me a photo of Fred Ted and her grandfather’s military medals as part of the Everyday Treasures series.

Here’s Hayley’s story about Fred Ted and the Military Medals:

When I was asked by Vandy to provide something that should could paint that meant a lot to me, think what you would save in a fire,  was the description. Well I had a tough time.  I am the family historian for want of a better description, (although I think most of the family would say hoarder!)  as well as a wedding photographer…… so anyway after my initial reaction of photos and family history I sat and thought about it more.

Here’s my precious item.

Fred the big teddy bear is very special to me, he was given to me the day I was born by my grandfather, affectionately known as Big Poppa.  He was always the one who sat quietly in the corner of the kitchen whilst my grandma cooked and had a house full of people. The place was never empty, people popping in and out. If he wasn’t in the kitchen chair he was in his workshop with a car in bits to be mended or turning wood and making beautiful wooden, bowls, vases, fruit the list goes on. He was very creative. As a child I don’t remember him talking much, although I am assured he did, he was always there, just quietly observing. It was only when my grandma sadly passed away that I really started to have conversations with him and it was not long after that I got a job working with the Royal Engineers (Explosive Ordnance Regiment) that we started to learn about his time in the Second World War.

He started out in the Royal Artillery but was at some point yet to be defined, was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the precursor to the SAS, for his explosives experience.  Up until this point we don’t think he had talked to anyone about his WWII experiences, and he was always a little guarded about the level of detail he would give, he said, “ I signed the official Secrets Act and some things should stay that way”  What we do know is that he was involved in Dieppe Raid of 1942 which was such a disaster, but that he made it into France to complete his mission, where the rest of his team were killed. He was also seriously injured: both his ankles were broken.  He told me he remembers leaning over a 5 bar gate, and then being carried on someone’s shoulders, but not really much else.  It appears he was found and carried back to safety by two , to this day unknown, Canadian soldiers. He recuperated in a military hospital in Kent.

We have many little anecdotes like this one:  After one SOE mission he asked the medical officer how he could relax and he said he should get blind drunk and everything would be fine!

After his time in Dieppe he was taken off active overseas service and became a military lorry driver in the UK.  Once the war was over he was discharged and had a successful career back at home in Yorkshire working for British Coal. In later years he was given a military pension because his hearing had been so damaged by his time in the Royal Artillery.

We hadn’t really heard any of these stories until I started my job with the Royal Engineers. Sadly, he died a short while after I started working there and so it makes those precious moments extra special. The military medals are his, they don’t look like many for a man whose service was so varied, (this is just a short highlight) but medals weren’t awarded to those in the SOE, as it was Clandestine operations they couldn’t give medals for things that didn’t ‘technically’ happen.

So Fred and the military medals, remind me of how precious it is to spend time with my family talking about our adventures so the stories can live on.  Fred and the medals, and this fabulous painting will one day pass to my nephew so he can carry on knowing the stories.