Following the flow

Following the flow: Sometimes, life leads us to unexpected places; to people who influence our thinking; to events that inspire our creativity. We can either focus on the restrictions imposed by the rest of our lives, or we can try to take the opportunity that we’re being offered. I believe in grabbing the opportunity with enthusiasm; in going with the flow

In 2017 we took a long trip. We did a house swap with a couple from Mission Beach, in Queensland, Australia. I was thrilled about the opportunity to spend time in two of my favourite environments: beaches and rainforests. I love walking along a deserted beach, and I have always been at home in amongst trees.  Mission Beach is a special place in that it has both in one place.

Washed Ashore - a slice of my beach reflection abstract. Following the flow.
Washed Ashore – a slice of my beach reflection abstract

The trip seemed like a good opportunity to paint a new series. Specifically, I decided to paint individual pieces that would end up as a digital sketchbook of the trip once they had all gone to new owners. So I took a supply of paper and paints along with me and the project got started.

Following the Flow: Mission Beach Community Arts

Then I discovered the Mission Beach Community Arts centre. We noticed the gallery as we were driving past and I went in to explore. I didn’t realise that they also run workshops until I looked on their Facebook page.  There was a post that made me sit up: a two day workshop by Australian artist, Glenda Charles. The subject: Abstracting the Landscape. Some workshops are just meant to be done. So, following the flow, I  signed up, went shopping for even more art supplies, and got painting!

I don’t find abstract painting  to be the easy option some people seem to think it is. It required much more thought and planning than painting what is in front of you in a figurative style.  The appeal of this workshop was the chance to dive into something I’ve always found very difficult.

Following the Flow. Rainforest Cloudburst was painted in the workshop with Glenda Charles
Rainforest Cloudburst was painted in the 2017 worth Glenda Charles. in this one I focused on my fascination with the forest. I particularly love the marks made by raindrops. They could never be replicated.

Working with Glenda was fantastic. Everything about the workshops pushed my boundaries, and prepared me for being more adventurous with my work. I am still not what I would call an abstract artist, but my work often gets into the semi-abstract space.

We’re back in Australia this year. This time we’re on the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane. A few weeks before we left home I realised that this is Glenda’s home ground. Eventually I got around to contacting her to say I was going to be in the area and would love to see any exhibitions she has going over the next couple of months.

She replied almost immediately with an invitation to her studio. She also mentioned that she is running a workshop on Spirituality in Art next Saturday. Some workshops are just meant to be done. So, once again, I am following the flow.

(I’ll post about the workshop next week).

Abstract Watercolours: part 2

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.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.12 Friday morning shopping

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.

2016.02.13 e-Luminate Abstract watercolours

















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.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.14 Fading Glory

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.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.15 beginnings

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.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.16 life landscape

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.

Handmade watercolours: testing and painting

Handmade watercolours made – now the fun of using them begins.

Until I’ve tested the paints for consistency and lightfastness, I’m not using them in any painting that’s for sale. I have to be able to guarantee the quality of my materials and while the handmade watercolours are really interesting, they’re not yet tried and tested.

In the meantime, I’m getting to know them by painting a series of greeting cards which are being sent off to family and friends.

Handmade watercolours
Greeting card – daffodil bank
Handmade watercolours
Greeting card – Read earth, blue sky
Handmade watercolours
Greeting card – dawn trio

Testing handmade watercolours

Here’s my testing process so far:

Handmade watercolours

Naturally, I’m creating swatches in my colour journal. The details will be added as I get confirmation of the characteristics of each paint.

Handmade watercolours

I also wanted to see how the paint reacted in different papers.  As I mixed them, I tried each one on three sheets of watercolour papers of various weights and textures. They reacted well on all of them. Now I’m checking specifically for colour fastness – which will take time.

To do that, I’ve painted a stripe of each of my 13 handmade watercolours on two different papers. One is a 300lb watercolour paper, and the other a mixed media paper.

Handmade watercolours
That should read Paint test – Jan 2016!

Each sheet has now been sliced down the middle. Half of each sheet has been placed in a brown envelope and placed between large books on my bookshelf to block out as much light as possible. The other half of each sheet has been placed on a south facing windowsill where it is exposed to moderate sunshine. Next January, I’ll compare the sheet halves and see how well the sunlight exposed paint has fared.

Another article about my handmade paint project can be read on the Wash a Week Challenge website

Watercolour journal – exploring colour

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)

Watercolour Journal - Elegant Magnolia

The delicate colour of magnolia flowers always makes them look refined and elegant.

Watercolour Journal - Flirty Fuschia

Fuschias seem to dance and flirt with their fluffed out petals. They look like little ballerinas sometimes.

Watercolour Journal - WIld Poppies

And the poppy – we love its freedom, its bold colours and its wild ways.

Creative images of artwork

Not much studio time this week, partly because I’ve been spending time on making creative images in a new way.

Inspired by a newsletter from the fabulous marketing department at Artfinder, I took some detailed photographs of a recent mixed media painting of Borgo di Santa Giuliana.

Creative images 1The painting itself has an element of expressionism to it, not least in the alternative colours used to convey the wonderful warm light in the Italian hills. So it seemed a fitting one to choose to play with perspective using my phone camera.

Creative images 1I am particularly pleased with the emphasis this perspective gives to the wonderful old walls of the buildings in this medieval settlement. The textures in this painting stand out really well when its photographed at an oblique angle. It’s not something I would have considered doing before, but now I have done it, I really love the way this sort of creative image gives the viewer a really close look at the painting’s detail.

Creative images 1Even the relatively un-textured hillsides in this painting come to life more when viewed really close up. And the light effect shining through the gap in the hills becomes even more apparent too.

Now that I’ve started to explore the idea of making more creative images of my artwork, I’ll start thinking about showing them differently in future.

More creative images

In other news, I’ve been experimenting with a new bit of kit over the weekend. It was high time our office printer was replaced. We’ve been operating with one small printer/scanner/copier for years now and it’s getting long in the tooth.

PrinterSo when our new whizzy A2 printer with an accompanying high resolution scanner arrived, I couldn’t resist playing a bit. This is the result of my working my way through an entire sample pack of fine art paper: Artist proofs all over the place. The scanner works a charm too – great colour resolution and wonderful detail.

I’ve now found the paper I really like, have ordered two pack (different sizes) and will be able to do my own giclée prints from here on.

This has been a real creative image week for me – and for once, it was not my brush doing the work, but technology.

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

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.

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.

Repeat patterns

I’ve had a really busy couple of weeks with visiting family members from South Africa, who are here for the big event of the year – Nic’s Sandhurst Commissioning.

In the lead up to their arrival and the event itself, I was focused almost entirely on everyone else. Making sure everyone was in the right place, at the right time, with everything they needed, and that they were all comfortable. It was only after the event when I could relax that I realised that in so many ways, I had dropped into a repeat pattern of behaviour. As the eldest child, I was always the one who was told I had to be responsible for my younger siblings and friends when no adult was around. Those early messages really stick in the brain, and so often they are unconscious repeated for decades.

When I paused to think about it, I realised that the patterns were extending into the types of conversations I was having with family members, the places we visit, and the food we like to eat. If you really think about it, we’re stuck in repeats all the time. Some of them are worth stepping out of – and it’s when I recognise those that I get into my experimenting and boundary pushing phases.

But there are some patterns that are really cool. And the more I looked, the more I saw. Here are a few of the visual repeat patterns from my week.

Red stripes and red jackets
Red stripes and red jackets

The red stripes and perfectly aligned shoulders in the Sandhurst parade were so impressive. Seeing 600 cadets marching onto the parade ground was a visual thrill – the rhythm of boots and the patterns of uniforms moving in perfect synchonisation created a proper pageant.

Patterns on Nic's sword
Patterns on Nic’s sword
More patterns on Nic's sword
More patterns on Nic’s sword

Nic’s ceremonial sword has beautiful patterns engraved on the the blade. It’s a real work of art.

Cable: a repeat pattern with an occasional twist
Cable: a repeat pattern with an occasional twist

The cable in my latest jumper (which I hope will be finished this week because it’s been going on for far too long now!) is far less of a work of art. The repeat pattern of the cable has a nice little extra twist every so often.

I’m now thinking about how patterns manifest themselves in my paintings.