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.

 

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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Five by Five: Old friends and roses

Sally's Posy (Watercolour 20.5cm x 20.5cm)
Sally’s Posy (Watercolour 20.5cm x 20.5cm)

It’s only day three and I’m already regretting the impulse to find five things each day. It becomes progressively harder to find new things without becoming repetitive. So, here goes again:

– Long walks in the countryside. I don’t get to do that as often as I would like, but there’s nothing nicer than a good long walk in a park or the countryside. Being in the midst of trees and living things gives me the time and space to breathe deeply.

– Someone buying one of my paintings. There is nothing quite like the thrill of having someone love my work enough to buy it. I get a huge sense of satisfaction when that happens.

– My parents coming over on holiday. This August my parents are coming out from South Africa to visit us for a week. It’s been many years since they made the long journey and I am so looking forward to treating them by taking them to visits to some of the nearby places we love.

– Old friends. I consider myself enormously fortunate to have as many old friends as I do. People who share high school experiences with me, people who knew my sons when they were very small, people who shared their passions with me. I value their friendship so very much.

– Roses. Through the summer, there are almost always a few blossoms in a vase on my desk when I get back from my weekly trip to London. They’ve been picked from our garden that morning and put on the desk specially for me. I am very lucky.

This painting is for Sally, the friend who shared her passion for gardening, and taught me to love it too. Roses are a particular favourite of hers, and she always has beautiful white iceberg roses in her garden.

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Rain in the park

Rain in the park (small watercolour)
Rain in the park (small watercolour)

Sometimes working in a very limited palette really makes a painting. On the ‘less is more’ rule, it allows the viewer to use their imagination more.  This one may say things to me that it doesn’t say to you. I was tempted to go into detail, but I’ll resist the urge and leave you to see in it whatever you will.

I will just say that one of my favourite bits of this painting is the gorgeous blue granulation in the bottom right third of the picture. I just love it when the paint comes to life like that.

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Collections

It was Samuel Johnson who said, “The two offices of memory are collection and distribution.”

Pick Me! (watercolour - 66 x 18cm)
Pick Me! (watercolour – 66 x 18cm)

When selecting paintings for exhibition, or working out how best to group them online, it always makes sense to consider how the viewer will perceive them.  As part of my job, I have spent many years reading extensively on the subject of how we think, what makes us tick, how we see the world. The brain is a marvellous machine. Amongst other things, without us even being aware of it, our brains make logical sense of everything we see. We’re hard wired to look for the connections between things. Ever wondered why when someone says the word, ‘table’ we can’t possibly not have a fleeting thought of the word ‘chair’. It’s that connection thing. We group and associate what we see and what we hear. It’s one of the ways we make sense of the world.

The flip side is that, when we are presented with a number of items which are not logically grouped, our brains find it quite uncomfortable and we find ourselves thinking hard about what the connection is between the images. Unfortunately, when we’re doing that, we’re not thinking about enjoying what we see – we’re actually working quite hard in the background to solve a puzzle.

If you can create a collection, based on a common theme (subject, colour, style), the viewer’s brain can relax and focus on the painting in front of them. I’ve now got a small collection of shoe paintings – and commissions for more.  By grouping the shoe paintings together on one wall at exhibition (or on one page online), visitors could see a theme and start to think about how they liked it, and further, whether they would want to own one.

And as Samuel Johnson pointed out, as a general rule, collections are more memorable than single images.  Have you got any collections in your body of work? If so, what’s the common theme?

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Trees in Japan – A rescue

Trees in Japan (watercolour 380 x 480)
Trees in Japan 1 (watercolour WIP)
Trees in Japan 1 (watercolour WIP)

When I came back from Japan I had three very similar paintings in progress. One of them, Facing East,  is completed and has a serene feeling of vast space. This is the second one which stalled half way because of my pre-Christmas workload. I’ve come back to it once or twice since and added a bit of texture but wasn’t at all happy with it. It felt unbalanced and rather boring.

I keep a mirror in my studio as it can be a really useful way of getting a fresh look at a painting that’s stuck, or of checking one to see if it’s really done. Looking at this one in the mirror, I could see just how unbalanced the tonal values were, and how unrelenting the foreground.

Being in a fairly rash mood – and also being a little bit tired of working on this painting, I just let rip on it. (Apologies for the quality of the photos. I was working with my iPhone so the photos are a bit ‘quick and dirty’)

Trees in Japan 2 (watercolour WIP)
Trees in Japan 2 (watercolour WIP)

First I needed a dark in the sky to provide some balance. So I rewet the sky, dropped a big dark splodge of Indigo into the top right corner and tilted the paper 90 degrees to let the pigment fan out naturally.

Finally I got going with some bleach, water and a toothbrush. Splatters flew, and after a few sessions of flinging paint and chemicals around (all carefully directed I hasten to add) – I ended up with something I think is quite interesting.

Trees in Japan (watercolour 380 x 480)
Trees in Japan (watercolour 380 x 480)

At least it’s not boring.

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Red red rose

Velvet (small watercolour)
Red red rose (small watercolour)
Red red rose (small watercolour)

I have lots of new works waiting to be started and a couple in progress. I’ve also only really been able to snatch a few hours in the studio since Christmas so they’re not really coming on very fast. Just as I was about to get stuck in to some of the new work, I realised that a gorgeous bouquet of red roses on my desk was at the perfect stage for painting. All of the blooms are fully open and just gorgeous. They had to be painted.

This was the first painting in which I was trying to capture the velvety texture of the petals. I quite like the idea of trying a few different styles of painting from a single subject. Great learning in that, I think.

There may be more paintings of roses before I’m done.

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