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.


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

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

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


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

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


Painting Autumn Apples in watercolour

I was painting autumn apples on day 2 of the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge.

Following the discipline of practicing active observation in a form of listening with my eyes,  my attention kept coming back to a basket of autumn apples in the garden. They were originally put there waiting to be eaten, but to my mind that were really waiting for me to start painting autumn apples.

The rich reds and crisp yellows were a dream colour combination and I set myself the challenge of capturing the diverse range of reds (in particular) that I could see in the fruit.

Painting Autumn apples  (watercolour 14 x 9 cm)
Autumn apple basket (watercolour 14 x 9 cm)

Painting Autumn apples

This painting is as much about tonal values as it is about colour. Given the dominance of reds in the subject, its critical to get the tonal values right. Without that, the painting is flat and lifeless. My initial focus was on the bright yellow of the apple furthest to the back of the basket.

By luck (although I would love to say that I had the foresight to arrange them that way) the darkest piece of fruit was in right next to it which gave me a natural focal point. But, the yellow apple is too close to the centre of the page for my liking. Lightening the green around the stalk of the darker piece of fruit in the process of painting autumn apples shifted that point of interest enough to the left to give me comfort in the composition.

I started this with water soluble pencils to mark out the basket and the basic positions of the apples. A few of the marks are still visible from the pencils. I find it less easy to get the intensity of colour with them, so I went on to painting autumn apples with pure watercolour once I had got my basic positions right.

Here’s a photograph of the actual basket of apples where you can see the colours that inspired this little exercise in painting autumn apples.
Painting Autumn apples

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.

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.

My Secret Project: a Sneak Preview

I’ve been working on a secret project for a little while. It’s still a secret so I’m not going to tell you everything about it yet. But I just couldn’t wait to share the paintings I’ve been doing for it – so here’s a little sneak preview.

Secret Narnia Project - Abstract version
Abstract version

As usual, my method has been to think about the project for some months. While I do that, vague images start to crystalise in my mind. These are the first two sketches for the project. I think there will be more. In fact I’m sure there will be more paintings before my secret project is done – I have a few images in my head already.

One red tree
Secret Narnia Project – One Red Tree

There have been a few criteria to this project.

In the first place, it has to be predominantly, if not exclusively, deep red and grey/silver. Black might be an option as an extra colour or an alternative within the design.

The paintings need to have a feel of winter, but not be literal. This is an exercise in abstraction within a theme.

It has to appeal to a special person in my family. At the moment, the initial deliberations are in progress and some decisions will be forthcoming soon.

Next steps in my Secret Project:

– More paintings

– Finding a supplier who will screen print a small run of fabric

– You’ll have to wait to find out the rest….

I know which of these two I prefer – I’d love to hear what you think.

Fuchsia watercolour sketch

A quick fuchsia watercolour sketch felt like a satisfying outcome of this evening’s studio time.

The past month has been a combination of intense, structured painting time – some in watercolour and some in oils, and no painting time at all as I travel and work away from the studio. Today, in a brief spell at home, I had a chance to spend a precious bit of time in the studio. As I walked through the garden, just coming into it’s best month for blossoms, I noticed the fuchsia’s starting to bud.

Fuchsia watercolour sketch
Fuchsia Sketch

I was reminded of a series of flower photos taken by Marc, which focussed on some gloriously fat blousy blooms. These may need to be captured in a fully worked fuchsia watercolour one of these days. But in the meantime, this fuchsia watercolour sketch is sufficient.

About the Fuchsia Watercolour

The petals of this particular flower are dense and tightly packed, like the underskirts of a sumptuously outfitted society lady dressed up for the ball. These flowers have a lovely old- fashioned feminine feel. They seem to dance and flirt as their petals open up.

Using HP paper enabled me to capture the delicate melding of colours, in the layers of petals. This was a quick, 20 minute work, not looking for perfection in any way. I like the sense of movement in this. The lost and found edges, and the sense of there being so many petals, the flower is ready to burst into a purple and pink floral explosion.

Right now, I have a half-completed oil painting on my easel and an Open Studio weekend fast approaching.  There are three weeks to go before I have visitors coming to see my watercolours. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a wonderful weekend with the fabulous Olivia Quintin and Alain Fortier.  I sense a productive period of art work coming up.


Soap Bubble Painting – Less is More

And so to my next post about watercolours and soap bubble painting. If you missed the first post, you can read it here. 

I’ve used lots of photographs for these posts so they do come out a little longer than usual – but hopefully they show the progress and results better than I could describe them in words.

A google search revealed another interesting post about soap bubble paintings by Lemon Zest – but using a different technique. This is one I have heard of, but haven’t yet tried. I sort of made up my method as I went along. I’m sure it’s not unique, and it takes longer than the one I discovered on Lemon Zest’s page.

For the next stage, I thought I would try using smaller amounts of the soap foam so that the paper was less wet. Unlike in the first tests, in these most of the paper stayed dry. I prefer the results of this test. The effects seem clearer and I think there’s the potential for more control.

I used two different paper – both NOT, but one was much smoother than the other: offcuts of Langton and Hahnemuhle.

But, for those who are interested,  the results of part 2 of my soap bubble painting are detailed below.

 Soap bubble painting in pictures:

On Langton paper.

I didn’t tape the paper because I was just experimenting. Once the soap bubbles wet the paper, it started to buckle and the soap bubble painting started to get a life of its own.  Sliding down the sides of the paper it left a stain where it travelled. I put a glass jar on the corner to hold it down slightly and stop the soap moving as much.

watercolour soap bubbles 8
Just let it slide

Paper and soap bubble painting dried the next morning left beautiful ethereal marks.

Soap bubble painting
Let it slide – 24 hours later

On Hahnemuhle paper

This paper, while not a HP paper, is somewhat less textured than the Langton paper.

watercolour soap bubbles 6
Less is more – just a small patch on  dry paper

I decided to move the soap bubble painting by blowing on it to open it up a bit. I found the soap was almost too easy to move this way – it shifted very quickly in response to very little activity.

watercolour soap bubbles 7
Blown soap bubbles – making it move

I really loved this effect and now have loads of ideas for how to use this – unpredictable as it is.

Soap bubble painting
Blown soap bubbles – 24 hours later

And here’s one of my favourite bits of the delicious soap bubble painting.

Soap bubble painting
The details can be ethereal and really beautiful

There’s a third stage of this for those of you who aren’t completely bored with my soap and watercolour games, but I’ll give you all a break for now and post the rest another day.

Watercolour Soap Bubbles – experimenting again

Sunday seemed like a good day to make some watercolour soap bubbles.

Having got back into the painting groove a bit with a few wisteria paintings and an asparagus or two, I wasn’t feeling particularly blocked. But I did say that I would blog about a few ways to break creative blocks so this was a good excuse to play. And play I most certainly did.

First I whipped up some foam using baby shampoo. (I will try dishwashing liquid at some stage in the future to see if those watercolour soap bubbles behave any differently). Then I prepared my paints and an eye dropper. I assumed I would have to work fairly fast.

Watercolour Soap Bubbles Results

As always I want to compare results so I wet one piece of paper and left another dry. Applying the soap bubbles is messy, and can be a little tricky. And definitely, more than a little bit random.

watercolour soap bubbles
Watercolour Soap Bubbles on wet paper
Watercolour Soap Bubbles on wet paper
Watercolour Soap Bubbles on wet paper

I wondered whether the wet paper would make the soap bubbles stay for longer – but in fact, there was very little difference. I got impatient with the bubbles on dry paper and tried a gently hairdryer to see if I could speed things up. Mistake.

Watercolour soap bubbles
Watercolour soap bubbles – Don’t use a hairdryer!

The bubbles just disintegrated instantly and the effects just blurred into a pretty bland texturing. I guess it was a bit obvious.

The watercolour soap bubbles on wet paper took ages to dry – I had to leave it overnight. That required extreme patience – I was itching to see the results.

Patience paid off – when I went back 24 hours later having left the paper to dry completely, the effects were revealed.

watercolour soap bubbles - patience pays
Patience pays off

There’s no doubt that the results are more than a little unpredictable (and quite beautiful in parts) – but with practice, I think this could reveal more interesting textures.  I used the back of a discarded painting for this, and chose colours that I wouldn’t always combine in these proportions – where the watercolour soap bubbles gradually contracted, the pigments has become very dense, and has bonded with some of the soap residue. There’s a balance to be attained in the amount of soap to water ratio, and further the pigment to bubbles ratio. But even so, there are some wonderful details to be discovered in here.

watercolour soap bubbles
Lacy details

There were a few other watercolour soap bubbles experiments – but more of these in another post.

Wisteria Watercolour and a Creative Block Solution

Wisteria Watercolour
Wisteria Against the Garden Wall

I’ve been taking photographs of my garden as the spring blossoms appear and it was playing in the back of my mind that I should paint a wisteria watercolour.

But, I’ve not painted for almost three weeks because of holding open studios. I don’t like to be in the process of painting when I have people visit the studio.  There’s always the problem of being in mid-flow and needing to stop and talk to visitors. I’m really happy for people to come and see my work space, including works that may be in progress, but I find it too difficult to get into the flow of things and so painting isn’t an option for me.

Wisteria watercolour and releasing the creative block

I do find that if I’ve not painted for a while, I need to do something to loosen up before I get started. This can be a problem because I get stuck on what to paint to get me going. I’ve got a list of subjects I want to paint some time in the future, but these inevitable require some preparation – research and reference photographs at a minimum. That’s not a loosening up process – in fact it’s almost the opposite.

So I started with some music I’d been listening to in the morning, and decided to use this loosening up as a exercise in painting a picture with only one brush.

The music was Freshly Ground (great studio music). The brush was a size 12 sable filbert which holds ample water, and has a nice sharp edge. And I chose the subject by simply looking out of my studio window and painting what I could see. Somehow the block disappeared quite easily as I painted my wisteria watercolour.

I love wisteria. The scent is wonderful – although sadly, very short lived. The blossoms are a wonderful colour, and drape elegantly along the wall as they intertwine with other creepers. These flowers evoke early summer so strongly for me. They represent lazy weekend afternoons in the garden and the promise of months of sunshine and warm weather.