Mixing media

Landscape watercolour painting - Mist Clearing
Mist clearing (watercolour 40cm x 28cm)

So often, it strikes me that there is a parallel between my current painting and something else I’m working on at the time.

For a while I’ve been thinking about the various online profiles we have and been aware that it’s all too easy for social media to give a skewed perception of who we are and what we do.  LinkedIn provides a reasonably comprehensive view of my working life, while Facebook and this website focus mainly on my painting. If you read any one of the three, you’ll get a very specific picture of who I am and what I do – but it’s only a think slice of the whole.

Last week I set up an About.Me page to pull all aspects into one single page. It took a few attempts to get the balance right between all aspects, and a good number of runs at getting the text right. I’ve written before about how difficult I find it to write about myself, and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it a challenge. I got some extremely helpful feedback from friends along the way which helped enormously to refine my thinking about balance and tone for the content.  In time I’ll probably add some information about my work life to this website so the balance follows through here, but my blogging on this site will still be about sharing my painting.

On which subject – I’ve been thinking about doing some work in mixed media, something I’ve only touched upon once or twice in the past. I find the variety of marks created by different media can give a painting a different type of depth and interest so today, I had a go using watercolour, gouache and gesso in a painting.  If I were to start over from scratch I would probably tweak the composition in one or two ways, but overall, I quite like the atmosphere of this painting and I’ll keep on using multimedia in future. Maybe not for every painting, but certainly for a fair few.

Watercolour Reflections: Translucence and Flow

Bushveld watercolour reflections
Bushveld Reflections

Bushveld: watercolour reflections in three colours is one of my recent paintings.

When I first tried my hand at painting, my tutor, Mark said he thought my forté would be big bright abstracts in oils. I’ve not tried oils yet – that’s on my list for some time in the future.  I spent a lot of time trying to paint precise representations of what I saw in front of me. I didn’t really have a particular style – still don’t really.

But something is beginning to emerge and its proving Mark’s point to some degree – they are bright and they are verging on the abstract – the difference is that they’re just modest in size and they’re watercolours. I’m finding that the more I do these, the more I like them. I love the atmosphere they create for me – this first one makes me think of Africa.

Then there’s a touch of Scotland in the next one:

Morning Stillness

And I see a summer sunset in France in the last one:

Molten Gold

Extreme landscapes are clearly my thing at the moment.

Update on Watercolour Reflections (May 2014)

I’m revisiting my old blog posts to update them. It’s interesting to see how my work has changed over the years.  All of these paintings are now in new homes. Bushveld reflections and Morning Stillness were sold as you see them in this blog. Molten Gold was cropped and became two paintings which went together as a pair to their new owners.

Watercolour is a wonderful medium for painting landscapes – and particularly for ones that feature water.  As they do in two of the paintings in this post, watercolour reflections benefit from the translucence and flow of the medium.

One thing has remained constant in the past few years:  my love of big, bright landscapes.


The Power of Vulnerability

No wonder Brené Brown’s TEDx talk about vulnerability is so popular. It’s a fantastically powerful talk, about an important and misunderstood subject.

Organising a TEDx event can become all-consuming. I’ve been immersed in the process for our first TEDxGranta event due to take place in December. Some days it feels a little overwhelming and I have found myself wondering why I jumped in the deep end on this project. But the up-side is that I’ve watched a lot more TED talks in the process.

And just when I was having one of those ‘why did I think this was a good idea?’ moments, I found Brené Brown’s entertaining talk about vulnerability.  She talks about the benefits of taking emotional risks, and the down-sides of constantly avoiding them.

Vulnerability is OK

Over the past few years I’ve had times when I’ve heard bad news about friends who are having health scares. In some instances, everything pans out and life goes back to normal. But in some very sad cases, there is a real long term, sometimes terminal, illness. It’s at that point that the people involved invariably start to focus on time with the people they love, and time doing things they love, or things they want to do in the limited time they have left.

None of us knows when we might be on the receiving end of this sort of bad news – or how close to home the impact will be.  We spend so much time chasing our tails just keeping up with our fast paced life, and in the process, being ‘strong’, that we lose sight of the important things in life in the process.

This talk is a great highlighter of the price of trying to be invulnerable. A useful reminder that when we live a risk-free life, it’s likely to be a less joyful existence as well. Invulnerability is really an illusion. And a bit of vulnerability is OK at times.

Challenging yourself

Challenging yourself – or at least your pre-conceived ideas about yourself is an interesting exercise. I’m sure that in the main, it is self-fulfilling. In the words of Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right”.  But once in a while, you’re surprised and delighted to find that you were wrong.

Last October I took a leap and challenged the idea I’d harboured all my life: the one that said I have no artistic ability.  I immersed myself in drawing and painting for 4 days at Chenevaux and that was it – I was hooked. Mark’s teaching style was perfect – he knew exactly how much structure and theory to give me, and how much freedom to explore. The result was a mini portfolio of 4 paintings and a sketch book which I was determined to get into my miniscule Ryan Air luggage allowance, even if I had to leave my shoes behind.

My first finished picture. It wasn't framed when it went into my Ryan Air allowance

My first reaction was to want to be able to do it all Right Now! I am impatient and demanding of myself by nature and I expected every blank piece of paper to become a finished painting. When I reached a point where I felt I needed an outside perspective, Jo Tunmer persuaded me to start putting photos of my paintings on Facebook. What a scary moment that was! But also, as it turned out, a fantastic piece of advice and a wonderful motivation to paint more. I love the fact that people seem enjoy looking at my work.

Lori Bentley in FranceMy fabulously talented sister who was always ‘the artistic one’ in the family, has been a really valuable sounding board. (I was ‘the numbers one’).

Challenging yourself – the next steps:

It felt hugely presumptuous to think that I could paint something worth putting on exhibition. And yet that seemed a good milestone to aim for. So, aim for it I did. And early in October I had a series of my painting in a local exhibition for the first time.  My first year of painting has been a massive eye-opener in so many ways. Finding out that painting can be learned (even by someone who has always been ‘the numbers one’), watching and waiting for a style to emerge (still waiting..), and in many cases looking at a finished work and finding it difficult to believe that I did that (even though I was there at the time 🙂 ).

So the question now is: what will you to to start challenging yourself?

A break for your brain

I came across this un-blog a while ago and bookmarked it because its such a cool idea.

We spend our lives rushing around trying to achieve more and more, in a chaotic environment which seems to get busier and louder every day.  Watching the one minute video clips in this blog seems to just slow everything down for a little while – great for a quick battery recharge.  I found if I just switch off and focus on the video, I can almost smell the cool, crisp early morning air, or, depending which video is on for the day, the sea spray.

Like having a holiday in a minute.

Have a look at today’s video:

Your 5-a-Day

Mindapples is a project looking for support – and its one that you might find fantastically useful.

Andy Gibson, whose brainchild this is, decided that if 5-a-day could help keep us physically healthy, then its logical to assume a different 5-a-day would help with mental health.  Its like going to the gym but for your mind. (Actually, going to the gym is good for your mind. Exercise is definitely one of those things that’s a ‘must’ on the list).

Andy is trying to get 1000 responses to the short survey and he’s almost there. Worth adding your 5-a-day to the list.


Picture credit: Berkley Breathed

Effort vs Knowledge

Thank you Jacci for this great story about the impact of effort vs knowledge. Its not new, but the message is powerful:

Effort vs Knowledge - how does this apply to art pricing?Ever heard the story of the giant ship engine that failed? The ship’s owner tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure how to fix the engine. Then they brought in an old man who has been fixing ships since he was a youngster. He carried a large bag of tools with him. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.

Two of the ship’s owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do.

After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer.

He gently tapped something.

Instantly, the engine lurched into life. The engine was fixed! A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.

So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.”

The man sent a bill that read:


Tapping with a hammer – $ 2.00
Knowing where to tap – $9,998.00

Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort in your life makes all the difference.

So too with artwork – its the value of  effort vs knowledge

We’ve all heard comment about a piece of art: ‘My toddler could do that.’ (or something similar). The reality is that a toddler hasn’t spent years working on a creative skill. A toddler hasn’t had the insight, the inspiration and the perseverance to create a finished piece of art.  So often artists undervalue their own work – and I have been guilty of this myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that artists overprice their work. There is a sweet spot at which every painting will sell. Knowing where to find that particular price band is difficult and can be quite daunting for an artist. But make no mistake, the ratio isn’t quite as extreme as the case in the above story, but the skill of the artist is certainly worth more than many multiple of the material costs.  Its the sum of the artist’s effort AND more importantly, their knowledge.

If you’re an artist, don’t undervalue your work.

If you’re an art buyer, this is a gentle reminder that the price of the painting also encompasses a portion of all the hours and materials the artist has invested in work that led up to this piece of their inner world that will be hanging in your house from now on.