Sisters in France

It doesn’t happen very often, so time with my South African family is very precious. This year I’ve had a week with my mother when we discovered the history of Bury St Edmunds and went over to Sutton Hoo. And now I have a week in France with my sister, my niece and nephew, and the rest of my family. We certainly fill the house.

What a brilliant week we’ve had. I’ve written before about my sister’s amazing way with drawing and design. She’s the one in the family with all the art knowledge. So it’s wonderful to be able to spend time with her in Europe where we are surrounded by art history. I learn so much every time.

We’ve explored the Art Nouveau trail in Nancy and been enthralled by the magnificence of the Renaissance cathedral at Reims (where we made the surprise discovery of a set of glorious Marc Chagall stained glass windows).
Yesterday, we decided to have a chilled day at the house. Lori and I got the paintbrushes out and painted up a storm. Well, to be accurate, she painted at an astounding pace, producing a wonderful collection of pieces for Running With Brushes.

I was struck (yet again) by the different styles of our painting. Lori’s strength is capturing the character of a people and animals. I’ve watched in amazement as she drew three pairs of eyes which, with only the irises coloured, were absolutely indisputably the eyes of her three children. This was just a holiday sketch.

These two paintings of animals have her characteristic style, in which she captures the mood and personality of the subject so well. I think I have confessed before that I am still too daunted by the prospect of painting people to try portraits, or figure painting. The same has always applied to animals. It’s really a ‘living thing’ barrier.

LBA009 Waiting for the Pack
Waiting for the Pack by Lori Bentley
LBA011 Prickles
Prickles by Lori Bentley

But this time I took a leap and managed to knock out a little frog. I’m fairly proud of this effort, particularly as I probably wouldn’t have attempted it without the backup of Lori sitting across the table from me.

RWB0031 Waiting for Lunch
Waiting for lunch

And then I reverted to painting things that don’t move again. 🙂 Somehow they feel so much safer. They’re certainly less complicated.

RWB0032 Juicy

But watch this space – you may find a lizard next time….

PS: Lori has just set up a Facebook Page for her designs and illustrations. It will be well worth following.

Looks easy. Really isn’t.

This video of Slawa Prischedko demonstrating in watercolour reveals truly relaxed mastery of the medium.

What did I notice: Big brushes. Limited palette. Confident brushwork. And the painting is left slightly undefined in places to create space for the viewer to bring their own interpretation to the image.

Looks easy. Really isn’t!

If you like what you see, here’s the Slawa Prischedko Painting page on Facebook.

Two Gardens: Monet’s Garden in pictures

I can’t imagine there are many people in Europe who’ve not heard of Monet’s garden at Giverny. In fact, I can’t imagine there are many garden lovers or art lovers in the world who don’t know about his house and garden.  In the 17 years I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve heard many.many accolades for the garden and can’t recall one person who has felt disappointed in the visit.

We decided to take advantage of the morning of our drive back from Paris and swing past Giverny to visit the garden. Opening time is 9.30 am. We arrived at 9.45 am and were pleased to see many free spaces in the car park. Even so, when we got to the entrance the queue was already pretty daunting.

Expect to queue if you're not an early bird at Giverny
Expect to queue if you’re not an early bird at Giverny

It wasn’t quite as bad as it looks – we only had to wait for 20 minutes to get into the garden. Once inside, it was clear that it was well worth the wait – the garden in June is truly breathtaking. The density of the planting, the intensity of the blossoms, and the colour combinations in the planting plan, all come together to create an unforgettable visit.

Giverny’s gardeners have found some wonderful plants, producing displays of spectacular colours, sizes and scents.

Monet's rose in full bloom
Monet’s rose in full bloom
Perfection in a poppy
Perfection in a poppy
Cornflower blue
Cornflower blue
Gigantic red poppies
Gigantic red poppies

The famous lily pond, across the road, wasn’t at all serene – it was alive with very raucous residents who made their presence obvious.

Lily pond resident
Lily pond resident

Wandering back under the road, we headed for the famous pink house.

Monet's house fronted with colourful geranium beds
Monet’s house fronted with colourful geranium beds

Once inside, the real wonder is the density of paintings on the walls by Monet himself, by Manet, by Renoir, by Cezanne. These were all artists of the same era who left their distinct marks on the art world. To see their work grouped together, not in a gallery, but in the home of one of their contemporaries, is an experience that feels very personal. You almost feel that Monet could be sitting in his bright yellow kitchen, sharing a cuppa (or perhaps un cafe) with his talented friends. His extensive collection of Japanese artwork fills the walls of two or three rooms too. I gathered from my sister (who studied these things, so is rather like my personal art encyclopedia), tells me that Japanese paintings were seen as quite revolutionary in their composition. Previously, western artists had ensured that all the key figures in a painting were fully depicted within the painting. Japanese works were far more like a current day snapshop with people and articles appearing to be entering or exiting the painting, with only part of their form in view.  (Did I get that right, Sis?) His love of Japanese form extends into the lily garden where his Japanese bridges at either end of the water provide access, look out points, and painting subjects.

View from Monet's bedroom
View from Monet’s bedroom

If you were Monet, and opened your bedroom shutters every morning to see this view (without the tourists, of course), wouldn’t you just want to grab a brush and start painting?

Apple for the Teacher

Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places at times.

It’s almost three weeks since I picked up a paint brush and I’ve been wrestling with painter’s block for the last few days. I find it very difficult to paint when I am travelling. This is a barrier I know I need to tackle. For many reasons, I find my studio a far more productive place to work. In some respects it’s just the practical aspects of having all my tools and materials at hand immediately. There’s the familiar chair, the light exactly where I want it to be, and none of the time pressure associated with painting outdoors with shifting light and unexpected audiences.

I suspect there’s also the fact that my studio is filled with images that inspire me. There are fragments of paintings that worked well, art magazines, reference books, landscape photography books, and notes pinned up all over the walls. There’s very little blank wall space at all.

Even so, it takes time for me to work out exactly what I want to paint, and the tighter the deadline for works to be completed, the longer it seems to take to come up with a subject that inspires. That said, some of my best paintings have been completed the night before an exhibition – stressful though that is.


Watercolour painting - Red apple for the teacher
Red apple for the teacher

Last week, I was fortunate to have the benefit of a dedicated tutoring session from an expert in the investment world. He very kindly spent almost two hours explaining concepts I wanted to understand, drawing graphs to make the mechanics clear and translating the unfamiliar terminology. At the end of the session a lighthearted comment about providing an ‘apple for the teacher’ was made, and for some reason that phrase stuck in my mind. So when I needed to find a subject to get my brushes back to work, red apples came to mind.  

I felt very rusty at first – does anyone else get that feeling when getting back to painting after a while? By the time I finished the sketch I was raring to go again, and would happily have spent many more hours in the studio.

Next week, we’re driving the support car for Chris and Helen’s London to Paris bicycle ride in aid of Mind. We leave on Tuesday evening and I expect I will post a few snippets of news as we progress. I may even manage to paint something along the way.


Abstracting the Landscape

I knew today was going to make my brain hurt – and I was thoroughly looking forward to it.

 Geoff Pimlott stretched us in all sorts of ways in the SEAW‘s workshop on Abstracting the Landscape. I’ve taken part in my fair share of workshops over the last couple of years and they typically start with a demonstration done by the tutor, after which everyone gets to feel thoroughly inadequate as they try to master the techniques just demonstrated. By the end of the day, the ‘Aha’ moments have happened and the new techniques are on the way to being learned enough to practice to proficiency level at home.

It was clear this one was going to be different when Geoff walked in with just two completed paintings, two wall charts, and three books in his arms.  Once we got going, it became obvious why he chooses to work this way: Abstracting is about the thinking process.

Geoff emphasised how important it is to understand the history and the background to the development of abstract painting in the last century.  We looked at the extremes of abstract work from John Nash whose work is quite representational, who uses extensive planning of the image and the harmony of his palette in his abstraction, to Bridget Riley, renowned for her use of repetition and colour patterns.

Two other artists Geoff recommended  we research were Sir Matthew Smith, and Ivon Hitchens. We were told about Artcyclopedia: a marvellous resource for those interesting in exploring the history and background a little more. The website stores details of paintings from 8000 artists, searchable by name, style of painting, location and many other criteria. I’ve always found that searching for the artist on Google and then just using the Images tab is quite useful, but Artcyclopedia gives an added level of search sophistication.

Of course technique is always critical to the success of a painting. The process of painting: the layering of colour, the use of shape, and repetition in the composition are all important. But given that the possibilities are almost infinite when you’re working on an abstract, it’s the thinking that is critical to success.  Decisions need to be taken about so many aspects. The artist must ask themselves:

– what am trying to emphasise about this landscape?

– am I going to interpret the landscape, or simply paint my reaction to it?

– just how representational do I want to be? How far can I push this?

– what colours does this painting need to make it really pop?

…. and so it goes.

As a gallop through my painting process today, I’m sharing the stops along my journey, (good and bad).

We started with a sketch, or painting we’d done before that lent itself to abstracting. We were looking for good rythme, shapes and ideas in our preparatory work.

Retreat Watercolour landscape painting.
Retreat (watercolour 21 x 21 cm)

We started out by thinking about what we wanted to say about the landscape in our ultimate paintings, and continued on to creating colour studies in preparation for the main event after lunch, which we already knew would need to be presented to the group (no pressure then).

I wish I had photographs of the work done by other members. Every one had their own approach. The use of colour was diverse. Some people used a range of geometric shapes to create their composition, interpreting the landscape through their composition. Others were more organic and it was all about the colour – a way of working that is particularly suitable when the abstraction is a response to the landscape, instead of an interpretation. That distinction was one I’d not thought about before. There is a vast difference between a painting which seeks to interpret the landscape, and one that is responding to the landscape. The former is a more intellectual process, the latter, much more emotional.

Geoff pointed out that, at heart every painting is an abstract. It is a two dimensional representation of the image which uses a range of techniques to create the illusion of three dimensions. So, if we strip out the illusion of three dimensions and actually try to flatten out the image, we are able to focus on other aspects we might want the viewer to see in the image.

Abstracting watercolour landscape colour study 1
Abstracting colour study 1

Stripping the image right back to it’s basic shapes – perhaps a little too minimal, but I do like the palette.

Abstracting watercolour landscape colour study 1
Abstracting 2

Looking for a moodier sky and adding in some detail. I rather like the rhythm of the fence posts, but combined with the greens it made this study a bit too representational.

Abstracting watercolour landscape colour study 1
Abstracting 3

Still too ‘green’ but adding a bit more complexity to the shapes to bring in the distant hills just visible in the original painting

Abstracting watercolour landscape colour study 4
Abstracting 4

This palette appealed. The addition of red seemed to bring a better energy to the painting.

So now, to dive in to the final painting:

Abstracting the Landscape (watercolour 28 x 38 cm)
Abstracting the Landscape (watercolour 28 x 38 cm)

I reverted to my usual love of extreme colour and texture. My abstraction process is definitely a response to the image. It’s a journey that starts and then finds it’s own way to some extent, each step directed and informed by what has just happened on the paper. That’s what I love about watercolour. Every painting has it’s own little surprises in store.

If I were to do this painting again I might not add in the grass abstractions in the foreground – they feel a bit over-representational in relation to the rest of the painting, but overall, I love the process. Expect a few more abstract paintings in future.

Geoff left us with the reminder that we had all started on a journey to abstraction that would, if we worked at it, help us to see the world a little differently, and as a result, to painting it differently. Artists get to choose just how far they take a paintings before stopping. Sometimes we get that bit wrong and it’s too late to pull back, but even if we do go to far, it’s only a piece of paper – and we’ve learned so much along the way.

Despite the fact that my brain feels stretched in so many directions with the new ideas that keep swimming around in my skull, I found the process and the end results both visually exciting and thought provoking.

Just for those who’d like to see the original and abstract juxtaposed – here they are again without the steps in between:

Retreat Watercolour landscape painting.
Retreat (watercolour 21 x 21 cm)


Abstracting the Landscape (watercolour 28 x 38 cm)
Abstracting the Landscape (watercolour 28 x 38 cm)

The evolution of the Shoe Collection

Weapons of Mass Attraction - red shoes
Weapons of Mass Attraction

High heeled shoes have been a girl’s best friend ever since they were first invented.

We love them. Men love them. There’s something very special about them.

My first shoe painting was a little sketch of the back of a single stiletto shoe on a mini card. That first little sketch has evolved into a series of paintings of shoes with attitude.

That little sketch evolved into the she collection: Girls’ Best Friends, at twice life size, seemed to have a personality all of their own. They couldn’t be ignored. Other shoe personalities started to join the group. Cinderella and Debutant are fairy tale shoes. They are a young woman’s dream shoes – impossible to walk in, but oh, so so flirty and girly. But whereas Cinderella is still a bit unsophisticated and naive, debutant is confident and assured: she’s ready to take on the world.

Blue Louboutin shoes reference for watercolour paintings
My Best Friends

Pick me and Little Show Off came to life when I thought about the purpose of the red soles on my reference shoe photograph. They really do say, Hello world. Look at me!”

The last two of my red shoe series are Weapons of Mass Attraction and Weapons of Mass Distraction. There’a one more painting in the pipeline and once that’s done, the shoe series will be done for now.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this series is the reactions it evokes. I’ve always wanted to capture a mood or an idea in my paintings. I want them to make people think, or feel something different as a result of seeing them. Reactions to the shoe paintings have included phrases like, ‘sexy’, ‘powerful’, ‘confident’, ‘she’s not wearing them, so where is she?’

For me, they represent the enigma that is womanhood. The shoes have gentle curves and sharp lines, just like women who are flexible and at the same time, focused. When seen from behind, they represent women taking the lead and knowing where they are going. They most certainly are powerful and sexy – just like the women who would wear them. For me they are a celebration of the best aspects of femininity.

If you want to see the whole collection together, take a look at the Shoe Collection gallery.

New Toys – Daniel Smith paints

Daniel Smith watercolour paints. New tubes arrived this week
New paints to play with

I’ve been reading reviews of Daniel Smith paints for about a year now and the temptation to try some has been increasing. A couple of weeks ago I needed to get a few replacement tubes of paint for colours that were running low so I chose the Daniel Smith version to give them a try and threw in a couple of new colours I fancy just for fun. And true to what I’ve read, they are vibrant and juicy. I couldn’t resist grabbing a few more this week and there they were waiting for me when I got into the studio today, along with a new hake from Rosemary and Co. When I put a photo on Facebook and tweeted about the new colours I got some questions back from fellow artists so quickly painted up a few swatches to share here.

Cobalt Violet watercolour paints from Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton
Cobalt Violet

I’ve recently discovered the joys of Cobalt Violet. It’s a colour favoured by Roger Jones. We were splashing it around liberally with blues and yellows to make interesting greens in our workshop with him. I have still got some of the Winsor and Newton paint so painted a swatch of each for comparison. Cobalt Violet is a granulating colour with excellent light fastness ratings in both ranges.  The difference in the two is that Winsor and Newton rate this colour as semi-transparent, while Daniel Smith’s version is transparent.  I did find the Daniel Smith to be the more transparent of the two and I can see why this is an excellent colour for glazing. Daniel Smith’s website has a good amount of information the paints and video clips to show some of their colours in action. Here’s the video clip on their Cobalt Violet.

Daniel Smith Watercolours - Green Gold
Daniel Smith Watercolours – Green Gold

Green Gold is a colour I didn’t have before but having seen it used to beautiful effect by Ann Blockley, it’s been on my ‘I really want one’ list for some time.  Both swatches in this photograph are the Daniel Smith paint just painted with different pigment to water ratios.  These days I pay close attention to the light fastness of the paints I use as I want my paintings to stand the test of time. Green Gold also has a high light fastness rating,  (and it is transparent, and it doesn’t granulate).

Daniel Smith Watercolours - Perylene Green
Daniel Smith Watercolours – Perylene Green

Another new colour for my palette (I could be a colour junkie, you know. Just can’t resist them).  Perylene Green is a wonderful dark grey green. It’s so dark is almost looks black until you add the extra water and then the glorious semi-transparent green floats across the page.  I have generally tended to mix my greens on the paper rather then using greens from the tube – but I think these two have to be exceptions.  Once again, good light fastness and no granulation. in this colour. Here is the Ken Bromley video clip of Perylene Green in action.

Quinacridone Gold
Quinacridone Gold

One of my all time favourite colours is Quinacridone Gold. Transparent and granulating, this paint has a fantastic tonal range from deep gold with a slightly orange tint, to delicate yellow when the water ratio is increased. My colour swatches are of the Winsor & Newton and the Daniel Smith versions. Both are beautiful and I’d be very happy to use either. The Daniel Smith seems to have a more orange tint, but, as it came out of a fresh tube, unlike the Winsor & Newton paint which has been on my palette for a while, I can’t guarantee that the freshness of the paint is not a contributing factor to the different. The Daniel Smith video clip is here

And finally, my little indulgence. Texture in watercolour is so seductive. It draws you into the paintings and grabs your attention. I just love it when the paint creates runs and rivulets down the page. I just had to try Lunar Blue (Semi-transparent, wonderful granulation).

What wonderful shadowy textures. This paint has lunar black granules in a Pthalo Blue base so you get the sublime combination of radiant blue and rich black speckle. The Daniel Smith Lunar Blue video clip shows much darker tones of the paint. I suspect I was just a bit light on pigment in my little test swatches

Daniel Smith Watercolours - Lunar Blue
Daniel Smith Watercolours – Lunar Blue

And when you use it to overpaint a light wash of indigo for the background colour like I did on this little postcard – just look what happens:

Vincent's Gang - Watercolour postcard
Vincent’s Gang – Watercolour (postcard size)

Very juicy colours.

Deep roots

Deep roots (watercolour sketch)
Deep roots (watercolour sketch)

The RI exhibition’s theme for this year’s exhibition is Trees and Landscapes. The society chose this theme to cast a light on the plight of the UK’s shrinking woodlands and tree species under threat.

I had some studio time late last night and sat down to play with colour to get my painting  mojo starting flow before the weekend’s painting time. This little abstract emerged while I was thinking about trees. Somehow the concept of deep roots appeared on the page.  I’ll be putting this on the wall to remind me to explore the idea further later.

So many ideas – so few hours in every day.

On a different subject, yesterday David suggested he introduce me to Catherine de Ryck who is one of the organisers of the International Watercolour Biennial in Belgium. Unfortunately, time ran out and I had to leave to catch my train back to Cambridge. By coincidence I came across Catherine on Facebook today and we connected.  I had one of those big smile moment when she said in her comment, “I already know your blog”.  [Waves to Catherine]

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Exhibition Review – the RI at The Mall Galleries


With David Poxon at the RI exhibition, Mall Galleries
With David Poxon at the RI exhibition, Mall Galleries

A year after we met online via blog and Facebook, I finally got to say hello in person to David Poxon. David very kindly sent me an invitation to the preview of the exhibition.

This show is really inspiring. The standard of work seems to me to be higher than in previous years and there are some memorable pieces on show from members and aspiring members:

Shirley Trevenna has a number of paintings on exhibit.  Her unmistakeable markmaking and colour use make her works attention-grabbing from across the room. There’s something about Shirley’s relaxed style which seems to infect people looking at them.  Standing in front of a group of four of them, I found myself drawn into a discussion with a gentleman standing next to me who turned to me and asked, “So which one is your favourite.” We differed in our favourite of the group, but agreed that they were all exceptional. I was quietly smug to see that the one I had pointed out was in fact the catalogue illustration choice of Shirley’s paintings.

I was pleased to see two sketches by George Butler in the exhibition. I discovered George’s website some time ago. This young artist has the ability to capture the essence of a place and his sketches from conflict areas in the world are remarkable. Have a look at his series on the Syrian conflict if you want to get a real feel for the place.

Ann Blockley is one of a few artists under consideration for membership this year. As usual, her Foxgloves and teasels have wonderful depth and texture. Ann is another artists whose style is unmistakable.

David’s four paintings (two of which can be seen – just- in this photograph) won the Windsor & Newton award for the group of paintings by a member which are judged to be the most outstanding contribution to the exhibition.

Inevitably, there were some paintings on show that just didn’t do it for me. Some were too stiff, and a few just made me wonder what the artist was thinking. But I prefer to highlight the works I found inspiring. Those I really enjoyed seeing. Naturally, these are a just a few of the many artists whose exceptional works will be on show at The Mall Galleries.

This exhibition is on until April 18th and is a must-see if you can get to London in the next 2 weeks.

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