White Light, Blue City

Over the past two weeks I have been on an exhilarating exploration of Morocco in preparation for my submission for the Cox and Kings Morocco Art Competition: White Light, Blue City.

My journey started with selecting the photograph which would be the subject of my paintings. Competition organiser Katie invited participants to interpret their photographs as they wish. The challenge for me was that, while I find the blue city of Chefchaouen fascinating, the reference for my subject was basically almost entirely blue.

Not having visited Morocco before, I spent some time on research. I searched the web and looked at dozens and dozens of photographs of the streets, the doorways and the stairways of the city. I questioned people who have travelled to Morocco about what it feels like to be in the city. I experimented with the spices of Morocco to get the smells, colours and textures of the markets. (And yes, there is Turmeric and Paprika in the final paintings – I’m sure you can work out where)

Blue City

I found the city so enticing that I wanted to share more than just it’s blueness in my painting: to extend an invitation to wander up the stairways and alleyways, through the bustle and the spicy aromas of the marketplace, up towards the bright white Moroccan sunlight, to the cool oases behind the blue doors.

White Light, Blue City (39 x 58 cm. mixed media)
White Light, Blue City (39 x 58 cm. mixed media)

Thank you to Cox and Kings for the opportunity to take part in this fantastic challenge. It has been such fun.

If you want to have a look at the paintings done by the other participants, they’ll be blogging their submissions on their site: Jenny Keal, Concetta Perôt, Kim Dellow and Alan Reed. I hope they have all enjoyed painting Morocco as much as I have.


Morocco – a new challenge

As always, when a new challenge comes along I jump at the opportunity. This time, it came in the form of an invitation from travel agent, Cox and Kings to take part in their Morocco Tours art competition along with four other artists. I’ve never been to Morocco, but my son Chris and his fiance, Helen were there a few years ago and they loved it. This seemed like a great way of stretching myself and at the same time, finding out a bit more about Morocco.

Each artist has been sent a series of photographs of Morocco and has to select one to work from. I’ve always loved travelling. New places are very exciting to explore. I love the process of discovering the food, the atmosphere, the buildings, the people – it’s all fascinating.  Many of my paintings are of places – usually not literal, more an attempt to capture the atmosphere and the space. I’ve chosen this photograph of the blue walls of Chefchaouen (pronounced Shef-sha-wan, just in case you’re wondering). Yes, it’s blue again. I know, I know. I am drawn to blue tones. I love the sense of calm and depth they create.

We’re accustomed to walls being natural tones – white, brown, sand. The fact that the walls in Chefchaouen are blue piqued my curiosity so I set off to find out why they’re all that colour.

Blue walls of Chefchaouen
Blue walls of Chefchaouen

Situated in the Rif mountains in the North West, this ancient fortress town was founded in 1471. The town has had a history of influx of Spanish and Jewish settlers, and it’s from the Jewish residents that the blue walls originate. I discovered that the Jewish refugees started the blue paint tradition in the 1930s. It’s not unusual to paint the lower half of walls with indigo in parts of Spain, as a way of keeping cool and repelling insects.  In Morocco, where the blue tones cover the walls inside and out, it is believed that the tradition has a more spiritual origin. In ancient times, a blue dye made from shellfish was used to colour strands in prayer shawls and mats. This was supposed to aid meditation and spiritual contemplation. In the late 1940s, many of the Jewish residents left the city to live in Israel, but the blue walls have remained as a reminder of their presence and influence. Chefchaouen has a reputation as a place to go for shopping and it’s laid back mood (probably all that glorious blue)

Morocco swatch
Morocco swatch

So now that I’ve become fascinated by Chefchaouen’s charms, I have some decisions to make. Which aspect do I want to convey in my painting? What medium to use? Should I stick with my watercolours, or be brave and add in some other materials?

And finally, which blues should I use? I’ve made a start by painting a colour swatch with all the blues in my palette. Time to look at colour and tone. I’m looking forward to meeting this new challenge. I hope I can do it justice.