Painting South Africa – Part 1

For the past three weeks I’ve been painting South Africa.  I’ve managed to get my brushes out a few times on this trip – each time the result has been very different.

Every on of my South African journeys invariably involves Cape Town for work, and Johannesburg to visit my family. Both of those are special times for me: Cape Town because it is a stunningly beautiful city and I get to catch up with people whose company I really enjoy. Johannesburg because it’s where I grew up and there are loved ones there who I will always miss. Every chance I get to see them is special.

Painting South Africa - spray and sea
The crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean inspired my small study of spray and sea

We feel privileged to be able to introduce UK friends to this beautiful country from time to time. This year, Hayley and Simon joined us in a meander through the Drakensberg and the Natal Midlands so the men in the party indulge their fascination with military history and take a Battlefield Tour (Anglo Boer War).

Our Drakensberg time was spent at the wonderful Montusi Mountain Lodge. We had four days of being utterly spoiled with wonderful food, fantastic scenery and staff who could not have been more friendly. Every single person at Montusi went out of their way to make our time there very special. We hiked, we ate, we laughed, we rode and we fell in love with the place. With two photographers in the group, I’ve got more than enough reference photos to ensure there will be more paintings of the Drakensberg from our Montusi days.

Painting South Africa: The Drakensberg

Painting South Africa - grasslands
On our hikes I noticed the wonderful display of colours in the grasses and particularly their seed heads .

Anyone who has seen my mountain paintings will know that I am drawn to the majesty of towering peaks and the scale of big landscapes. The Drakensberg is a place I can just feed my visual senses with images and ideas for painting.

Painting South Africa - The amphitheatre
I was enthralled by the scale, the majesty and the mystery of the section of the Drakensberg known as The Amphitheatre

We’ve moved on to our final stop on this trip: Glen Ormond in the Midlands. On our first evening here it was clear that this week would hold as many great surprises as every leg of this trip has already delivered.

Hilltop Khayas Watercolour

Hilltop Khayas in watercolour
Hilltop Khayas (watercolour 24 x 28 cm)

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.

Hilltop Khaya reference photo
The view from the deck

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.

Note: Creative Commons License
Hilltop Khayas by Vandy Massey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Landscape Layers – Heat and Dust.

Layered Landscape (watercolour 17 x 13cm)
Layered Landscape (watercolour 17 x 13cm)

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 Studios coming soon so I’ll be in the studio a fair amount of time over the next few weekends.

Poetry Challenge – Imaginary Garden with Real Toads

Poetry Challenge
Waiting for Lunch – watercolour on www.RunningWithBrushes

It’s been a week now since my paintings were the subject of a poetry challenge on the website, Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

I was intrigued by the website name of this community of 20 poets until I realised that the members of the group are referred to as the toads (although I’m still not entirely sure why).

Being selected as a muse for the group was a strangely humbling experience. The poetry challenge was live for one week.  I’m thrilled and honoured to have been invited. There really wasn’t anything for me to do. Group representative, Mary Grace Guevara really did it all. From making contact to ask whether I was up for having my images used as inspiration, to getting the post done and keeping me in the loop, she was the epitome of efficiency.

Over the course of the week I dipped in from time to time to read emerging works. I’m conscious that my images evoke words beyond the capabilities of my imagination. And I am grateful to the toads for their creativity and wordcraft.

The entries in the poetry challenge are listed at the bottom of their website.

I’ve also added them here under the paintings selected by each particular poet.

Doug's Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)
Doug’s Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)


VMW045 Sky Study Pink
Sky Study Pink
What lies beneath
What lies beneath
Sunshine on the Field
Sunshine on the Field
Suzie's Shoes
Suzie’s Shoes
Facing East (watercolour painting)
Facing East (watercolour – 46 x 51cm)
Crossroads (Watercolour 27.5 x 26 cm) Artist: Vandy Massey
Crossroads (Watercolour 27.5 x 26 cm)


Dark Pleasure from
Dark Pleasure from
Dappled light on water (watercolour)
Dappled light on water (watercolour)

I’m beyond thrilled that so many poems have been written about my paintings. Thank you to the Real Toads for adding a new dimension to my work with their poetry challenge.

the imaginary garden with real toads
Click this little guy to go to their website.

Mountain Mist in the Outeniquas

Outenqua Mountain Mist (watercolour 25 x 11 cm)
Outenqua Mountain Mist (watercolour 25 x 11 cm)

When I’m travelling, I find it very difficult to paint. Somehow the comfort of my studio is conducive to creativity. While I love the mind-expanding aspects of travel: the views, the sounds, the new experiences – these often only emerge in my paintings when I’m back home.

Last month I was away for four weeks.  The first two and the final one were working weeks, but I took the opportunity for some down time in the third week. For those who might be interested in my work life: I started my trip in Cape Town where I was working as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at tech incubator 88mph. A fantastically stimulating week where I worked alongside Nic Haralambous, founder of the fabulous Nic Socks. Nic and I spent our time with seven startups – helping them refine their business models and fine tune the creation of their fledgeling businesses. Just another type of creativity at work.

In week three I spent a couple of days up in the foothills of the Outeniqua mountains near Knysna in the Cape. The view of the mountains was stunning. They changed every day depending on the weather. In fact, they changed many times a day as the light changed. (Early warning: expect more paintings of mountains)

Outenique Mountains clothed in cloud
Outenique Mountains clothed in cloud

Painting Mountain Mist

On the only grey day of the week I finally spent some time with my brushes and paints. Not satisfied with painting with traditional tools, I decided to use my newly acquired porcupine quills.  I laid down the initial wet wash in three colours. Then, using the slightly bent end of the quill, I added the detail of lines and trees along the mountain ridges. (I quickly learned to watch out for the sharp end.  I can now see just how good they are as a defence mechanism.)

Overall, I was pleased with the softness of this painting. I love the way the mountain mist draws you in to explore layer after layer of the folds in the land as it progresses into the distance.

Fine Art Prints – Rhine Trees in the Mist.

Rhine Trees in the Mist (watercolour 28 x 28 cm) Fine Art Prints
Rhine Trees in the Mist

I’m taking a new leap into Fine Art Prints.

A couple of months ago I was accepted for an ArtFinder portfolio.  ArtFinder has proved an extremely productive route to selling my work. The team there do a wonderful job of marketing and promoting the artists. They really earn their commission.

Now, for the first time, I’ve taken the decision to create limited edition fine art prints. The runs will be limited to only 25 and each will be signed and numbered.  Rhine Trees in the Mist is a 50 x 50cm giclee print. I was initially concerned about the quality of the printing – but when I saw the first one, I was thrilled.

Ever since I was a child I’ve loved trees. I was never happier than when climbing to the highest branches where I could see for miles. I love a sense of scale and the possibilities in a distant view. In this painting, a sense of mystery is  added by the mistiness of the soft background. The texture in the dips between the forested ridges create tendrils of mist rising up through the branches. This painting has a feel of the Bavarian forests about it which inspired the title.

More limited edition fine art prints will be coming in the next couple of months.

Rhine Trees in the Mist is available in the following formats:

Original painting – Sold

Limited Edition Giclee Prints on ArtFinder

Greetings cards on Red Bubble and Fine Art America 

I’m currently sitting in the airport in Johannesburg waiting to board my flight home. I’ve been away from home for four weeks on a working trip (and managed to see my parents and siblings along the way, which was a lovely bonus). Now it’s time to go home. I have exhibitions to start preparing for, and a family who might want to know that I’m still around. Tomorrow I will walk into my studio again for the first time in quite a while.  I am looking forward to getting my brushes back home.

La Belle France

La Belle France (watercolour and acrylic ink 28 x 38cm)
La Belle France (watercolour and acrylic ink 28 x 38cm)

Having seen my Africa paintings, friends Hayley and Simon asked me to paint La Belle France for Hayley’s parents who now live in the idyllic French countryside.

This is France shining brightly with all her life-giving rivers, centres of energy where the population is greatest, and luminous tentacles of influence spreading outwards from her borders.

The precursors to La Belle France are:

African Energy

African Rhythm


Two of these can be seen on the Paintings in the Wild page. Both of them stayed close to home having ended up in private collections within 20km from where they were created.


Watercolour landscape: Verdant Peaks

Watercolour Landscape: Verdant Peak (watercolour 15 x 10 cm)
Verdant Peak (watercolour 15 x 10 cm)

This morning a photographer was standing in my studio taking photographs while I painted the first brushstrokes of a watercolour landscape for Running With Brushes.

I’m not accustomed to painting while someone watches. It’s possibly one of the things that puts me off plein air painting (just one, mind you. There are more). But this morning we needed some photographs for an article about Running With Brushes for the Cambridge News. So I laid down a quick wash using a brighter blue than I normally would for a sky, and some green gold. I chose those colours because they would have impact and visibility for camera.

This evening I went back and completed the landscape which, led by the colours I started with, turned into a lush rainforest filled gorge at the foot of a mountain range.  Now I’m really just itching to see the article when it comes off the presses.

Other watercolour landscape paintings

Deep Roots – and abstract landscape

Flow – acryllic landscape

Ravine – small abstract watercolour landscape



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