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)
The delicate colour of magnolia flowers always makes them look refined and elegant.
Fuschias seem to dance and flirt with their fluffed out petals. They look like little ballerinas sometimes.
And the poppy – we love its freedom, its bold colours and its wild ways.
There’s a bit of a buzz in the house at the moment. We’re getting ready for Cambridge Open Studios in a fortnight.
I had the pleasure of going to see the studios of two other artists yesterday, both are experienced artists and have strong styles. They have very different styles of Open Studios and I was impressed by them both for different reasons. Jo Tunmer and Claire Marie Wood inspired me in different ways which was fabulous when faced with a weekend of framing, and organising to get ready. And it was lovely to have a chance to visit a couple of other studios. So often its not possible if your studio is open on the same weekends.
After a couple of days of working on the preparations, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re making progress. The framing is done:
My Running With Brushes will be on display providing some exposure for the project. I wish I could display the whole collection, but even without being able to show the works of other artists, it should raise awareness.
Cambridge Open Studios in Whittlesford
We’re having an Art Safari in the village to make Whittlesford a good destination for Cambridge Open Studios visitors. With 4 artists works on display within a 5 minute walk, visitors will have plenty to see. It’s taken a bit of organising – firstly to make sure we could all be open on the same days, then to arrange our preview evening for the same time and date. Finally, we got the marvellous Lori Bentley to design our map which will be available at all studios and has gone out in 400 guidebooks around the area.
Between the four artists taking part, many mediums will be on display: watercolour, pastel, oil, acrylic and collage. The range is rich and the colours vibrant.
If you’re in the area, pop in for a coffee and say hello.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been working on a secret project for a little while. It’s still a secret so I’m not going to tell you everything about it yet. But I just couldn’t wait to share the paintings I’ve been doing for it – so here’s a little sneak preview.
As usual, my method has been to think about the project for some months. While I do that, vague images start to crystalise in my mind. These are the first two sketches for the project. I think there will be more. In fact I’m sure there will be more paintings before my secret project is done – I have a few images in my head already.
There have been a few criteria to this project.
In the first place, it has to be predominantly, if not exclusively, deep red and grey/silver. Black might be an option as an extra colour or an alternative within the design.
The paintings need to have a feel of winter, but not be literal. This is an exercise in abstraction within a theme.
It has to appeal to a special person in my family. At the moment, the initial deliberations are in progress and some decisions will be forthcoming soon.
Next steps in my Secret Project:
– More paintings
– Finding a supplier who will screen print a small run of fabric
– You’ll have to wait to find out the rest….
I know which of these two I prefer – I’d love to hear what you think.
This Hilltop Khayas watercolour was painted while I was on a few days holiday. I was staying in a treehouse in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains in the Western Cape.
After two weeks of working in Cape Town, a couple of days off were called for and it seemed a very good idea to go somewhere well and truly off the beaten track. The main attraction was the fact that mobile phones could be switched off and internet connection was non-existent. We very seldom unplug. These days being constantly connected is almost the norm. A few days in a remote treehouse presented an irresistible opportunity.
Did it live up to expectations? It was without compare. Bird life was abundant. They surrounded the treehouse. They people-watched from the nearby trees. And the daring ones even made a dash onto the deck to check out the visitors. This was the view from the deck. The Outeniqua Mountains in the distance, and the little settlement up on the hilltop.
There were overcast times when the mountains almost disappeared into the mist, and then the sun would come out and then the brushes came out too – and the Hilltop Khayas watercolour had to be painted.
If you look at the lefthand side of this photograph, you can see the line of the tree-filled gorge. The rust patches of bare rock show where the land drops dramatically away and the trees have no foothold. The contours of the land had to be incorporated into this painting.
The real challenge of this painting was dealing with the relentless greens. Painting this in realistic colours would have resulted in a boring image. Instead, I selected the landscape featured I found the most interesting – and painted them in an African palette of rusty reds, cool golden greens and deep darks for the shadows beneath the trees. The Hilltop Khayas watercolour epitomises rural African life: not a lot of material wealth, but true riches in the beauty of the unspoiled surroundings.
Hilltop Khayas watercolour
The original of this painting will be on show at my open studios in April and May. I am also making a limited edition of 25 fine art prints available for sale.
For the second year, I’ll be taking part in Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014.
I will be opening my studio at 19 Church Close, Whittlesford CB22 4NY for the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. And there will be cake in the garden in aid of Care for Casualties. It’s a bit early for our garden to be in full bloom and I’d love you to visit us if you are around that weekend. (If you’re a garden fan and would prefer to visit later in the summer, I will be taking part in the first and last weekends of Cambridge Open Studios in July as well.)
Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014
The studio and garden will be open from 11am to 6pm on both weekends. I will be exhibiting a range of watercolour paintings, both framed and unframed. In addition to my full size works, my Running With Brushes paintings will be available to view. And for those who are interested in limited edition fine art prints, there will be an opportunity to view some of the range, and order prints for delivery within a week.
The Saffron Walden Arts Trust is a charitable organisation which coordinates, encourages and promotes artistic enterprises of all kinds in the Saffron Walden area. The trust provides practical support to local artists and performers to help them display their talents, with initiatives such as music festivals and craft fairs as well as open studio events.
The open studio events provide visitors with the opportunity to see the work of local artists by visiting their studios. Visitors can talk to the artists about their methods, influences and approaches to their art. I was only open for one of the two Open Studios weekends last year. Even so, I met some wonderful art lovers and had some great conversations. I am looking forward to the Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014 weekends this summer.
The beauty of my Precious Artifacts series is that I never know quite what I’m going to get. It’s always a surprise when someone sends me their photograph and story. That’s all part of the fun, and the challenge.
Noel was the second person to come back to me with his Artifact for painting. An avid blogger and science enthusiast, Noel chose to blog about his subject. Here’s the link to the post with photos of his 1970’s oscilloscope. When I first saw the post, I had a few thoughts:
– What??? Help???? How???
– Which one should I choose for the painting?
– How am I going to make this painting interesting?
– How do I deal with the complexity of all those wires?
Then I thought about Noel’s oscilloscope accompanying story. In his words:
“I love anything to do with science, I have since I was old enough to know what it was. First it was maths, and I ran out of maths books at school. They had to buy a new one for me and my mate. They cut it up and gave us different pages each, a few at a time – so they only needed to buy one book. Weird, perhaps they didn’t reckon on using it too often after we left.
A chemistry set arrived when I was nine – test-tubes of potassium permanganate and various other lovely chemicals, a meths fuelled burner and an asbestos mat. It is a wonder I survived long enough to be able to discover physics at thirteen.
Electronics, in particular fascinated me – this was the time of discrete components, and indeed valves were still around. I built an oscilloscope from a kit – surviving several 240 volt shocks in the process. (I still have the ‘scope, complete with two pentode valves, though the greater sense of self-preservation that comes with age prevents me from firing it up again!)
I have now dusted off the old ‘scope. Still totally fascinated by it, even after forty odd years.”
I realised that Noel’s fascination with science is all about working out the different elements. Then in how they work together and what they do in combination. It’s all about what’s inside:
So that’s what the painting had to reflect. The outside is a conservative, plain black box with the buttons all lined up in neat lines. If you just look at the outside, it all looks quite boring. To see the really good stuff – you have to look inside. That’s where the oscilloscope magic happens!
I’ve spent some time this week on a range of daffodil studies.
At last Friday’s meeting of the Saffron Walden Art Society, John Tookey talked about the benefits of sketching. Despite saying that drawing is not a particular strength of his, he managed to make it all look very easy. His demonstration results were impressive. Using pencil, marker pen, watercolour, and oil pastels, his landscape sketches very quickly displayed a remarkable range of tones and textures. I know that it’s not really that easy. But his point was well made: Sketching regularly hones your ability to observe and ultimately improves your painting.
I spend a lot of time experimenting – but not really on sketching. My experimenting is generally all about the colour and the texture rather than capturing the form. So with this in mind, I will start working on my sketching. There’s a sketch pad and pencils in my bag. Now I just need time.
In the meantime, although they’re a little more down my experimental path, this week I did a series of daffodil studies in different styles. I’m sure there will be more to come of this subject. I’ve got lots more images to work from and a nice collection of blossoms appearing in my garden. There’s certainly more than enough material to keep me painting daffodil studies at least as long as the sunny little flowers are in bloom. Hopefully, by the time the daffodils have faded I will be better able to capture the essence of the flower on paper.
Daffodil studies at various stages of development:
Done in pure watercolour. Timed to exactly three minutes. This one turned out to be semi abstract, but somehow quite appealing
The frills on the trumpet are much more obvious on a variety that has a darker trumpet. The complexity of the frill is one of the most fascinating visual aspects of this flower.
After the watercolour ground had dried ( a full 24 hours later) another layer of watercolour was applied. This is not my favourite of the studies – if feels a bit dense to me – but every one of these has been worth the time.
The watercolour sketch at the top of the page (Shy Daff) is one that was done using a reference photograph of a blossom taken in our garden. I found the angle of the stem really interesting because it’s so extreme and yet the flower is still pristine. The unusual perspective made it an ideal addition to my daffodil studies. Shy Daff is my favourite because it is simple, elegant, and doesn’t really need anything more to work all on it’s own.
Old friends, like the Mastercard advert, are priceless. I am lucky enough to have a group of friends who have been an important part of my life for more than two thirds of my lifetime so far.
We shared boarding school experiences together in small town South Africa. Our school was an all-girl English medium school in the predominantly Afrikaans University town of Potchefstroom. We went through exam stress, broke school rules, got homesick together, and more. We all had a propensity for challenging the status quo: one of the characteristics that bonded us.
After graduating from school, we continued to meet up for lunches and social events. In time, two of us left South Africa to live in other countries which meant our lunches became far less frequent and far more precious.
Every time I go back to South Africa, we make sure to meet up. Last month I managed to gate crash a birthday dinner for one of them. Her surprise made the evening together all the more brilliant. Thinking about our friendship after I got back home, I wanted to paint the way I visualise it, so I’ve done a small watercolour for each of the three wonderful women I count as some of my oldest friends.
Since we left school we’ve gone though even more together – through illness, job losses, births, loss of parents, broken hearts and brilliant joys. We’ve supported each other, influenced each other (for good, in the main) laughed together and cried together. I am proud to count these three as my old friends. I know that above all else, we will continue to challenge each other and support each other.
The three of my old friends at last month’s dinner:
Suzie – the birthday girl. Always expanding her knowledge. Intrepid traveller. Outrageously funny. Wonderfully warm.
Jen – Daring and adventurous. Just about to embark on a new and exciting venture. Indomitable, unsquashable and generous.
Charkie – Determined, warm, astute. Businesswoman of note. Collaborator in birthday party surprises.
There’s a specific colour that represents each one of my old friends – I’m sure they will work out which one is which.
This is the latest painting to come out of the studio: a little watercolour called Layered Landscape.
After what felt like months of grey skies and rain we finally have blue skies again. Yes, I know, England has a reputation for being grey and wet but it really isn’t as bad as it has been this winter.
I find myself looking up into the sky quite a lot these days – just enjoying the blue. I’ve noticed recently the layering of different cloud types. I’m fascinated by the three dimensional element of them as they stack up. When I had the impulse to paint a landscape in orange, blue and purple, the sky just had to featured layered clouds. This is a sky with cumulus clouds high up and altostratus clouds lower down. (For anyone interested in clouds, the Cloud Appreciation Society has a great gallery of images).
Layered landscape elements
The layering in this landscape doesn’t only occur in the clouds. The distant hills are layered, one behind the other. There’s a layer of trees and scrubby brush in the foreground through which the gentle undulations of the landscape can be seen. This is a dry land – the leaves are sparse on the trees, the branches are dry and twiggy through lack of water. Even the shadows of the trees are short under the relentless sun. The heat of this burnt land is reflected and amplified in the layer of red dust hanging in the air.
Even in a simple landscape painted with only three colours, there’s depth and complexity in the layers.
I’ve got some new themes for paintings buzzing around in my head right now – and two of the Precious Artifact series are in progress right now. I’ve got the first of my Open Studioscoming soon so I’ll be in the studio a fair amount of time over the next few weekends.