I know I’ve been quiet – but that’s partly because I’ve been painting Paxos watercolours.
At the end of February, I stepped into the shoes of Tony White who had persuaded me to take on the role of Chair of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists. As figurative shoes go, Tony’s are high-quality premium brand – he’s a hard act to follow, but also a huge support. The experienced committee put on a great Spring Exhibition and once it was set up, I flitted off on a sore-needed holiday to Paxos. The marvellous Catherine Hopkins – whose online posts about her knitting, spinning, weaving, dying, sewing, (and so much more) are an inspiration – persuaded me that this was an island that had to be visited, and that we should go off painting Paxos watercolours together.
Painting Paxos Watercolours
I break out in a sweat every time I even think about creating art in a public place. I signed up for the Urban Sketching group in Cambridge. But no. It didn’t help. Every month something more important would come up and I would shamefacedly look at the posts on Facebook, knowing that I could have been along too.
This holiday was an opportunity to crash through this barrier. I bought an Urban Sketcher book and packed my paint and sketchbooks. See what happened:
The Paxos sketchbook
Its a start. And I actually enjoyed it – despite being really slow. The idea of doing a 10 minute sketch, or even more extreme – a 3 minute sketch – is laughable at the moment. But watch this space. Now I’ve started, I’ve got ideas bouncing off the inside of my head in all directions.
But I didn’t just use my sketchbook. I came back with a few paintings for my Open Studios and a collection for Running With Brushes too.
The Paxos paintings
It’s World Watercolour Month in July. And I have Open Studios on the 16th, 17th, 23rd and 24th of July. Feels like an incentive to keep on watercolour sketching.
This year, the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists will be making some changes to the members’ Spring exhibition.
About the Spring Exhibition:
Timed to fit in with the Bury Festival, the 2016 show will be staged in the beautiful Bury St Edmunds Farmers Club, where visitors will be able to treat themselves to lunch or an afternoon tea. A selection of paintings from the exhibition will also be available on the society’s website.
Last week I committed to sharing both the good and the less so good on my journey towards abstract watercolours – and so I am doing just that. Which means there are pieces of work on this website now that I wouldn’t normally be sharing.
Given the purpose of the project: to break down my creative block and (as always) to learn I’ve made a couple of adjustments to my process. I’m working with only three brushes for the moment: a flat brush, a dagger brush and a sword brush. These may change in time, but for the moment, I’m keeping things simple and using this as an opportunity to master these brushes.
Secondly, I’m limiting the time spent on each painting, as far as possible, to 15 minutes. This stops me from overthinking a piece of work, and its probably the only way I could manage anything close to a daily painting, no matter how small.
Is it working? I’ve certainly produced little abstract watercolours with a wide range of styles, subjects and moods. Its getting me back into the painting groove again and making me experiment more again. The process is definitely loosening up my painting.
This Batch of Abstract Watercolours:
There’s a question about where the line is between abstract and representational artworks. For me, the line is fairly close to representational. I don’t have a problem with images that are reminiscent of real things – a semi-abstract is still an abstract if it evokes a feeling, or expresses the characteristics of a situation.
On Friday I had the frustrating experience of having to run some errands. I discovered that Friday morning is a bad time to be anywhere near the shops. There’s a sense of frantic business and at the same time, people randomly wandering and getting in the way. It felt a bit like an obstacle course.
This is not my favourite work of the week. I recently got hold of a new luminescent ink which I wanted to try out. Our visit to e-Luminate Cambridge seemed to be an ideal subject for the inks. Working fast meant far too little control using materials and tools I’m not accustomed to, and the results were messing and not inspiring at all. It did make me start working on controlling inks for future works.
We had a bunch of tulips on the kitchen table. The pod-like shapes of the blossoms called me. I also started working on paper I’ve not tried before: Fabriano HP.
My favourite of this bunch was inspired by the snowdrops I notices on my walk through the churchyard. They are delicate and chaotic. Pristine and tangled. Hopeful and transient.
A streak of darkness entered our day on Tuesday when we were forced to contemplate the possibility of losing Horatio who has been ill for a week. Remarkably, he’s still hanging in and somedays bring possibilities of a healthier future for our very special feline.
The trail of abstract watercolours will continue.
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:
I had to start with a painting about a squashed dinosaur. I tried to capture a sense of ‘Squashedness’.
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.
On day 3, I had a conversation about history and the way unforeseen events can change our direction. Events overtake intention.
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.
It all started with a visit to an art shop in Venice where the delicious display of pigments in the window tempted me inside.
where the delights of making watercolour paint became apparently. Look at all those gorgeous colours lined up in shiny glass jars!
I had to have a go at making watercolour paint, starting with a festival in blues and then added 7 other colours to increase my Venetian palette. Unfortunately, these bags of loveliness don’t come with instructions. I had to start by researching a method and recipe.
Recipe for making watercolour paint.
Start by making a base for the pigment.
- 1 part gum arabic
- 3 parts warm water (I used very hot water as its easier to dissolve the gum arabic)
- 1 part glycerine
- 1 part honey (optional)
Then mix in pigment to the base in a 1:1 ratio.
In the first phase, its important to make sure the gum arabic is fully dissolved. In the second phase, mix until the paint is smooth. It takes longer than you think.
Once mixed, the pigments stay wet for much longer than the commercial tube paints. I presume this may be partly because of the glycerine and honey additions. The effect of this is to make the paint slow to dry on the paper.
I’m still getting to know these paints. I’ll be testing them next and will write about my results. For one thing, lightfastness on any of these is an unknown. I can’t use them in any paintings for sale until I know how they react over time.
I started with a small batch of each colour – and still have a (very small) jar full of each colour I bought. This is years of supply at the rate I paint.
It may not be necessary to go all the way to Italy to have a go at making your own paint. There is an art shop in London which supplies pigments, resins and gums. I’ve not been there before, but it looks as if its worth a visit.
A word of warning: I was careful to wash my hands thoroughly after making each batch of paint – its a messy business. Strictly speaking, I probably should also have used a dust mask as I don’t know the toxicity level of any of these pigments. I will be getting a good quality mask for future paint mixing and I would suggest it for anyone wanting to try making their own paint.
The annual SEAW selected exhibition started on Monday 5th October with a preview and prize giving event. 182 paintings were delivered to the Wymondham Art Centre on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning by 38 hopeful artists. By Monday afternoon, judges Olwen Jones RWS, Julia Sorrell RI and Ann Roberts of WAC had selected 82 paintings for the exhibition and the hanging committee was hard at work putting them on display.
SEAW Selected Exhibition – 2015 Prize winners
The judges awarded six prizes from these paintings:
Mary, by John Glover was awarded the RWS Presidents Award and cup, and will be hung at the RWS Open Exhibition at the Bankside Gallery in 2016.
Other prizes were awarded to Tony White, Ruth McCabe, Alan Noyes, Gilly Marklew (who was one of my first watercolour tutors) and finally, to my painting, The Amphitheatre. I was over the moon to have received this endorsement. Its a first for me and I’m deeply honoured to have my painting hung on the same wall as such a talented and experienced group of watercolourists.
The Exhibition is on until October 18th.
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)
The delicate colour of magnolia flowers always makes them look refined and elegant.
Fuschias seem to dance and flirt with their fluffed out petals. They look like little ballerinas sometimes.
And the poppy – we love its freedom, its bold colours and its wild ways.
There’s a bit of a buzz in the house at the moment. We’re getting ready for Cambridge Open Studios in a fortnight.
I had the pleasure of going to see the studios of two other artists yesterday, both are experienced artists and have strong styles. They have very different styles of Open Studios and I was impressed by them both for different reasons. Jo Tunmer and Claire Marie Wood inspired me in different ways which was fabulous when faced with a weekend of framing, and organising to get ready. And it was lovely to have a chance to visit a couple of other studios. So often its not possible if your studio is open on the same weekends.
After a couple of days of working on the preparations, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re making progress. The framing is done:
My Running With Brushes will be on display providing some exposure for the project. I wish I could display the whole collection, but even without being able to show the works of other artists, it should raise awareness.
Cambridge Open Studios in Whittlesford
We’re having an Art Safari in the village to make Whittlesford a good destination for Cambridge Open Studios visitors. With 4 artists works on display within a 5 minute walk, visitors will have plenty to see. It’s taken a bit of organising – firstly to make sure we could all be open on the same days, then to arrange our preview evening for the same time and date. Finally, we got the marvellous Lori Bentley to design our map which will be available at all studios and has gone out in 400 guidebooks around the area.
Between the four artists taking part, many mediums will be on display: watercolour, pastel, oil, acrylic and collage. The range is rich and the colours vibrant.
If you’re in the area, pop in for a coffee and say hello.
For the past three weeks I’ve been painting South Africa. I’ve managed to get my brushes out a few times on this trip – each time the result has been very different.
Every on of my South African journeys invariably involves Cape Town for work, and Johannesburg to visit my family. Both of those are special times for me: Cape Town because it is a stunningly beautiful city and I get to catch up with people whose company I really enjoy. Johannesburg because it’s where I grew up and there are loved ones there who I will always miss. Every chance I get to see them is special.
We feel privileged to be able to introduce UK friends to this beautiful country from time to time. This year, Hayley and Simon joined us in a meander through the Drakensberg and the Natal Midlands so the men in the party indulge their fascination with military history and take a Battlefield Tour (Anglo Boer War).
Our Drakensberg time was spent at the wonderful Montusi Mountain Lodge. We had four days of being utterly spoiled with wonderful food, fantastic scenery and staff who could not have been more friendly. Every single person at Montusi went out of their way to make our time there very special. We hiked, we ate, we laughed, we rode and we fell in love with the place. With two photographers in the group, I’ve got more than enough reference photos to ensure there will be more paintings of the Drakensberg from our Montusi days.
Painting South Africa: The Drakensberg
Anyone who has seen my mountain paintings will know that I am drawn to the majesty of towering peaks and the scale of big landscapes. The Drakensberg is a place I can just feed my visual senses with images and ideas for painting.
We’ve moved on to our final stop on this trip: Glen Ormond in the Midlands. On our first evening here it was clear that this week would hold as many great surprises as every leg of this trip has already delivered.