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

Making Watercolour Paint

When I started painting, I never would have imagined I would be tempted into making watercolour paint. But somehow, this is where I find myself now. And its been both fascinating and fun. Making Watercolour Paint Pigment Display

It all started with a visit to an art shop in Venice where the delicious display of pigments in the window tempted me inside.

Making Watercolour Paint Pigment Jars

where the delights of making watercolour paint became apparently. Look at all those gorgeous colours lined up in shiny glass jars!

Making Watercolour Paint Pigments

I had to have a go at making watercolour paint, starting with a festival in blues and then added 7 other colours to increase my Venetian palette.  Unfortunately, these bags of loveliness don’t come with instructions. I had to start by researching a method and recipe.

Recipe for making watercolour paint.

Start by making a base for the pigment.

  • 1 part gum arabic
  • 3 parts warm water (I used very hot water as its easier to dissolve the gum arabic)
  • 1 part glycerine
  • 1 part honey (optional)

Then mix in pigment to the base in a 1:1 ratio.

In the first phase, its important to make sure the gum arabic is fully dissolved. In the second phase, mix until the paint is smooth. It takes longer than you think.

Making Watercolour Paint mixed

Once mixed, the pigments stay wet for much longer than the commercial tube paints. I presume this may be partly because of the glycerine and honey additions. The effect of this is to make the paint slow to dry on the paper.

I’m still getting to know these paints. I’ll be testing them next and will write about my results. For one thing, lightfastness on any of these is an unknown. I can’t use them in any paintings for sale until I know how they react over time.

Making Watercolour Paint Pin jars

I started with a small batch of each colour – and still have a (very small) jar full of each colour I bought. This is years of supply at the rate I paint.

It may not be necessary to go all the way to Italy to have a go at making your own paint. There is an art shop in London which supplies pigments, resins and gums. I’ve not been there before, but it looks as if its worth a visit.

A word of warning: I was careful to wash my hands thoroughly after making each batch of paint – its a messy business. Strictly speaking, I probably should also have used a dust mask as I don’t know the toxicity level of any of these pigments. I will be getting a good quality mask for future paint mixing and I would suggest it for anyone wanting to try making their own paint.

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.

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.

 

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.

Sketchbooks
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.

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.

 

Fractals and Fissures (29 of 30)

RWB0063 Fractals and Fissures

My experimental journey continued into painting 29 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days. It started with a trial of acrylic inks which created wonderful fractals when water was applied. Once that was properly dried, I added a layer of phtalo turquoise watercolour and let it emphasise the textures in the painting.  The orange ink had a sort of molten lava look about it, which inspired the theme of fissures running down through layers of rock.

Only one more to go. Here’s the second last one on RWB.

 

 

Ravine (28 of 30)

RWB0062 Ravine

A couple of days ago I was running out of inspiration for my daily paintings when Sharon Whitley suggested I paint one of my blue mountain scenes. The abstract ravine in the foreground just appeared as I was painting the foreground. Some days the right thing seems to be to just let the painting emerge on the paper. On those days, painting becomes even more of an adventure than usual.

And this is another one for Running With Brushes

 

Dawn Blush (21 of 30)

Dawn Blush (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)
Dawn Blush (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)

My 21st painting of 30, done on Day 28. Tomorrow is my last painting day for September as I have a business trip on Monday. We’ll see whether I manage to catch up enough tomorrow – I have a few paintings half completed on my easel so it’s still a possibility.

Sometimes, time pressure becomes a catalyst for working differently. In this case, I started looking around my studio for early washes which would provide inspiration or a base for a painting. My 100 Wash Challenge days got me into the habit of doing washes and leaving them unfinished for a future painting session.  Although I don’t do that as often as I did when I was doing the challenge, I still have a reasonable collection. They’re a great way of kick starting a painting session, and creating them is a lovely ending to a painting day. There’s the pleasure of watching a simple layer of watercolours develop on the paper, and the tantalising sense of possibility in the wash waiting to become a painting.

Here’s the collection of Day 27 paintings on Leslie’s website. Dawn Blush will be available on Running With Brushes..