Ice play

This post is going to be more pictures than words. A few weeks ago we were mid-heatwave and the paint was drying on my paper as it came off the tip of the brush (or so it seemed). Painting in my studio one Sunday, with the doors flung wide to capture even the faintest whiff of air movement, I needed a long cold drink to cool me down. The ice in my glass sparked an idea and I dropped into experimental mode. (WARNING: This is going to be a very geeky post)

Taking two different papers (don’t I always?) I tried incorporating chips of ice with paint by:

  • dropping ice into wet paint already on the paper
  • placing chips of ice onto paint that had already dried
  • putting ice onto the paper and spattering different colours.
Watercolour and Ice experiment on Arches NOT paper
Ice and watercolour experiment on Arches NOT paper
Ice and watercolour experiment on Arches HP paper.
Ice and watercolour experiment on Arches HP paper.


The following weekend when I went back into the studio I had a look at the results. I thought I would probably get some very predictable outcomes – after all the two elements were in fact just watercolour: pigment and water. But changing the state of one element did produce some interesting effects.

Ice dropped into wet paint - on Arches HP
Ice dropped into wet paint – on Arches HP paper


Ice dropped into wet paint - on Arches NOT
Ice dropped into wet paint – on Arches NOT paper

Not entirely surprisingly, by far the least interesting result came form placing ice on dry paint.

Ice placed on dry paint - on Arches HP
Ice placed on dry paint – on Arches HP paper


Ice placed on dry paint - on Arches NOT paper
Ice placed on dry paint – on Arches NOT paper

The ice does seem to lift a very small amount of pigment off the dried paint and creates a shadowy ghost of it’s melted shape.

Finally the splatterings:

Blue and yellow paint splattered over an ice chip on Arches HP paper
Blue and yellow paint splattered over an ice chip on Arches HP paper

I rather like the little ‘rock shadow’ effect created by splattering at an angle so a section of the paper stays unmarked. I assumed when I did it that, as the ice melted, that gap would fill in. The fact that it didn’t just blend in was the surprise.

Blue and yellow paint splattered over an ice chip on Arches NOT paper
Blue and yellow paint splattered over an ice chip on Arches NOT paper

If you haven’t given up reading all this geekery by now, I am impressed by your perseverance. The sheets of results will go up on my studio painting ideas pinboard for possible inspiration one day in the future. I hope you’ve found my experiment at least marginally useful (even if it’s just a reminder not to waste time playing with ice instead doing proper painting. ūüôā )

All the results are unpredictable to an extent – you can’t control where the water goes when the ice melts, or the pace at which it melts. And it requires great patience – using the trusty hairdryer won’t deliver the same results. You need to wait until the ice melts and the results are completely dry before you can do anything more on the paper.¬†But I rather like some of these effects and I may well consider using them in abstract works in future. Was it massively useful? Probably not. But at¬†least, it stopped me thinking about how damned hot it was!

Georgia’s workshop – Day 2, structured painting

There was even more information to absorb on the second day of our workshop weekend with Georgia Mansur. Her sample sheets of watercolour samples are mesmerising and fascinating and make me want to rush around my kitchen grabbing rinse aid and bleach so I can play with new effects.

Watercolour samples. Georgia Mansur
One of Georgia’s glorious watercolour sample sheets

After looking at these, we moved on to talking about gels and pastes, and once again Georgia has a brilliant set of examples to illustrate their textures and provide inspiration for their use. Georgia send out course notes and preparation work before we arrived. Even so, I found I was writing copious notes on all the additional ideas she shared.  She really is phenomenally generous with her knowledge.

Georgia Mansur elaborates on different gels and their uses
Georgia elaborates on different gels and their uses

As a follow up to our initial loosening up painting on Day 1, we were ready to paint a more structured painting on the second day. ¬†Although much of what we learned was practical, technique-oriented work, perhaps the most valuable part of the weekend for me was the opportunity to reflect on the less tangible elements of painting. In that department, here’s what resonated most for me?

– Creativity is problem solving. Thinking about it in these terms really works for me. It’s part of what I love about the challenge of painting.
– Boundaries are liberating. Learn to see creative uses for every day items.
– Suspend judgement. Stop the negative self-talk from blocking your creativity.
– Allow time and space for the right brain to join in the playing.
– The time when you feel most frustrated may well be the time just before a breakthrough: persevere.
– Creativity involves all your senses. Pay attention to everything around you (I’ve always called this living consciously). So often we forget to do that as life overtakes our free time.

I’ve got so much wonderful material to work through and absorb. If the aim of a workshop is to push you to the next level with your painting, Georgia’s sessions do that, in spades!

Back in the studio, I’ve put the finishing touches to Meadow Flowers, and found a fabulous box in which to store my collection of treasure for use in future paintings.

Meadow Flowers (Mixed Media 40cm x 50cm)
Meadow Flowers (Mixed Media 40cm x 50cm)

I’ll put a photo of my Day 2 painting in tomorrow’s post.

Finally, a use for my elephant dung paper

I’ve just finished day one of Georgia Mansur‘s Seductive Surfaces workshop and my brain is buzzing! Georgia has so much knowledge to share and so many techniques to teach, I found myself making a list of new materials to buy, and my head so full of new ideas I don’t know where to start.

I intended to take lots of photographs, but I’m afraid I was so busy having fun with new materials that I kept forgetting to take pictures. So there are a few, but perhaps not as many as there could have been.

The day kicked off with a discussion about creativity. Georgia shared her tips for loosening up and building creativity. The tone was set for the day, allowing everyone to create our first abstract paintings without judgement. So often, we are our own greatest critics. We beat ourselves up when we don’t think we have done well enough. Today was about suspending all that negative self-talk and just playing with new materials.

A tiny selection of Georgia's texture samples.
A tiny selection of Georgia’s texture samples.

Georgia comes well prepared with plenty of examples and samples for everyone to look at. Given how much information she has to share, these form a fantastic resource. Samples of different watercolour and acrylic paint effects were in constant demand during the day as we all wanted more and more ideas.

The start of Georgia's demonstration. Work instinctively with interesting materials
The start of Georgia’s demonstration. Work instinctively with interesting materials

The real work started with a rummage through Georgia’s treasure trove of paper, twine, lace, fabric, pictures and much, much more. Her demonstration started with a period of intuitive composition with a selection of texture-creating materials. Once the composition feels ready, the individual items get stuck down with gesso and the painting is left to dry. Things to remember: non-porous materials won’t hold paint as well (or at all, if they’re not coated with gesso), and organic materials must be completely sealed to ensure they remain intact over time (and to stop your painting being attached by insects). On an impulse I added the contents to one of a teabag to my painting, so this was valuable knowledge.

elephant poo paper.
Yes, it is elephant poo paper.

In a moment of curiosity, I bought some sheets of elephant dung paper in South Africa last year. I wanted to try it for watercolour painting. As you can see from the photo above, it wasn’t a successful experiment. The paper is just too soft and absorbent. There’s not enough structure to hold the pigment well enough so I wrote it off to experience and left the paper in a drawer, thinking I wouldn’t ever find a use for it. I had a flash of inspiration when I was collecting the materials for this workshop and fished it out of the drawer to bring along. It’s got a great texture for this sort of work: at last I have a use for it.

Seductive surfaces workshop - stage one
Seductive surfaces workshop – stage one

At the end of stage one (composition and gesso application) my painting included fabric, fruit bags, rafia, tea leaves, leather shapes, plastic bag, (and indeed, a smattering of elephant poo!)

After lunch, once all the gesso was thoroughly dried, we started applying colour washes with acrylic paints, and watercolour pencils.

Seductive surfaces workshop - abstract painting work in progress
Seductive surfaces workshop – abstract work in progress

There’s more work to be done – detail to be added and textures to be emphasised. That’s tomorrow’s job.

We’re also due to work on a new more structured painting tomorrow and I’m looking forward to trying out some of the textured ¬†gels and pastes.

What lies beneath

I’ve neglected my blogging for over a week now and I felt I should post a painting and an explanation.

There is a reason underlying my silence online. (Well, actually two reasons, but one in particular that is hoovering up my painting time).

We’ve been away on a wonderful five day break to visit friends in Madeira. The weather was glorious, the scenery breathtaking. Swimming in the deep clear water of the Atlantic Ocean was invigorating. The people were warm and friendly. What more could we ask for (aside from some painting time which I just didn’t have because we were kept so busy).

What lies beneath
What lies beneath

The other reason for my blogging silence is a grand new project I am working on. I am now building the new website and should be ready to reveal my project in the next week some time. It isn’t a replacement for this website and blog, but will be a complementary site. This painting will feature in one of the blog posts. All will be revealed soon.

In the meantime, I’m off to do an exciting workshop with Georgia Mansur this weekend. My bags are packed. My art materials are loaded up and I’ll be off in an hour.

Can’t wait to get messy with paints.

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)

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.

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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Five by Five: cat’s eyes

Cat's eyes in green and blue (watercolour sketch)
Cat’s eyes (watercolour sketch)

The end of a wonderful long weekend, and the end of my self-imposed Five by Five challenge. It’s been a great exercise. Firstly, it made me focus on painting every day, and on blogging every day, and it got me thinking about the things that make me smile.

My last five are:

– Horatio. I’ve posted photos of Horatio before and he has his own special category in the blog. Admittedly there are only two photographs of him so far, and neither could be painted because they would just look wierd. So, I did a little watercolour sketch of cat’s eyes to represent Horatio. He is on my list of subjects to paint and clearly (judging by this little sketch), I need more practice painting cats before I can do him justice.

– My job. I often bemoan the fact that I don’t have more time to paint. But that shouldn’t be taken as that meaning I want to spend less time on my work. (Rather that I just wish there were more hours in the day, or that I was more organised with the hours I do have). I love the work I do and wouldn’t change it for anything. My company works with great clients. We love dealing with every one of them. And on top of that, we’ve recently added investment research to the work that we do which is fantastically interesting.

– Knitting. I spent almost all of Monday sorting out thousands of balls of knitting yarn. No, that doesn’t mean I have a stash of yarn that counts into the thousands. Instead we’re closing down an online knitting yarn business we’ve had for the past two years. Perhaps once that has all been sorted out and put to bed properly, I’ll have time to get my needles out again. It can be a great way to relax.

– Aquilegias. They self-seed in our garden and come up again in early summer. They always bring the rest of the flowers following along behind them. This year I want a carpet full of aquilegias

– My sister who is was my first artistic inspiration and who can be relied on to always give me an honest answer to even the most difficult of questions. I would feel lost without her in my world.

Thank you for taking this five day journey with me. I hope it wasn’t too tedious. Tomorrow morning it’s back to work and the usual routine again. Hope you have time to paint something fabulous this week.

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