Following the discipline of practicing active observation in a form of listening with my eyes, my attention kept coming back to a basket of autumn apples in the garden. They were originally put there waiting to be eaten, but to my mind that were really waiting for me to start painting autumn apples.
The rich reds and crisp yellows were a dream colour combination and I set myself the challenge of capturing the diverse range of reds (in particular) that I could see in the fruit.
Painting Autumn apples
This painting is as much about tonal values as it is about colour. Given the dominance of reds in the subject, its critical to get the tonal values right. Without that, the painting is flat and lifeless. My initial focus was on the bright yellow of the apple furthest to the back of the basket.
By luck (although I would love to say that I had the foresight to arrange them that way) the darkest piece of fruit was in right next to it which gave me a natural focal point. But, the yellow apple is too close to the centre of the page for my liking. Lightening the green around the stalk of the darker piece of fruit in the process of painting autumn apples shifted that point of interest enough to the left to give me comfort in the composition.
I started this with water soluble pencils to mark out the basket and the basic positions of the apples. A few of the marks are still visible from the pencils. I find it less easy to get the intensity of colour with them, so I went on to painting autumn apples with pure watercolour once I had got my basic positions right.
Here’s a photograph of the actual basket of apples where you can see the colours that inspired this little exercise in painting autumn apples.
It may seem completely obvious to talk about painting colour. After all how could you painting without painting colour? But bear with me. Hopefully this will make sense by the end of this post.
Monday marked Day 1 of the current 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge. I’ve done a couple of these in the past and found them to be both demanding, and hugely valuable at the same time. They create a structure and a focus for painting time, and in the past have also provided a boost to the Running With Brushes collection.
I had actually decided that I wasn’t going to take part again this time, mainly because I’m pushed for time (as always). But I signed up nevertheless thinking that I could just dip in from time to time during the month and post what I could.
But then last weekend we spent time with some very warm and wise friends. It was a grounding couple of days in which we walked, talked, ate, wandered through beautiful gardens and along windswept beaches. We talked about family, history, books and life in general. We talked about the value of slowing down the pace of life and paying really focussing on the here and the now.
Listening – and I mean really listening, with full attention – is something we know is a huge gift. Not many of us are very good at it. We’re distracted by the noise of daily life.
So I got thinking about 30 Paintings in 30 Days and I will take part. Rather than post a fully formed painting every day, I am using this challenge as an opportunity to ‘listen with my eyes’. This is a marvellous opportunity to practice active looking and recording what I see. I’ll write more about my thinking on this theme as the challenge progresses, and as patterns in my perceptions emerge.
Painting Colours – Day 1:
On a walk through the woods I came across three fully grown Silver Birch trees that have been downed – probably by some huge storm: the roots are exposed and at least one of them is now growing horizontally. Tree shrapnel is scattered across the meadow and I found this wonderful strip of bark with it’s lovely textures and colours. It made me want to spend some time focused on painting colour as I see it in the bark.
Here’s the beautiful piece of bark with all is delicate colour variations. tree bark clearly isn’t just brown or grey. There are shades of green, blue and reds in this piece of nature’s art – inviting you to have a go at painting colour.
From time to time I find it a struggle to get into the flow of painting – that’s when I know I’m going through a painting style transition.
At the moment I have 4 paintings on easels around the studio – and they’re all frustratingly stuck. One is just not exciting – it needs something to bring it to life. One was too dull – it’s been washed back and will be redone in different media. One is experimental – I’m learning a new technique and its not quite working yet. And the the fourth one wasn’t working tonally, but it’s beginning to get there now. They will come together – I just have to remember to exercise patience.
Another knotty little question I’ve been wrestling with recently is whether to keep on blogging. If you add the writing time to the time it takes to maintain an online portfolio or two, and the Running With Brushes website – it adds up to quite a few evenings of laptop use. The sacrifice is painting time.
It’s actually the process of my painting style transition that has made me recognise that one of the benefits of blogging is recording those changes. My blog is a journal of my painting. It’s a great way of capturing my thoughts and the progress I make as I go through my experiments and develop new ideas.
My current painting style transition
I’ve no idea what will come out of the other side, but the little painting of my almost empty tubes of paints – some of my favourite colours – is the first sign of new elements of bold colour and semi abstract style that’s emerging.
I’ve always been a bit of a colour junkie. Now it’s just getting bolder and looser. It will be interesting to see where it takes me.
I decided to run another of my little comparison experiments with these triad tree paintings. Only there turned out to be two lessons it in.
I’ve been in the studio more than usual this week – which is a bonus. I had a small operation to remove a benign growth in my neck last Wednesday. Having to be at home, and resting, has meant I’ve had a bit more time to go and potter quietly in my own special den. (I do love being in the studio. It smells of paint, and is filled with colour and books and all sorts of wonderful food for the senses)
Using the same paper, and the same three primaries (Perylene maroon, Aureolin yellow and Winsor blue), I just changed my technique slightly when working on these two triad tree paintings.
For the Autumn Triad Tree, I sprayed the paper before laying on the paint. Not very much. Just enough to give the pigment some movement to when it hit the paper.
For the Summer Triad Tree, I left the paper completely dry. The colours stayed broadly where they had been placed, just mixing gently with those directly adjacent to them.
So, just changing that one small variable gave each of these paintings a very different feel. The Summer tree is more alive and vibrant, and the autumn tree is fading softly into dormancy.
The Triad Tree Paintings
Here’s where you can see the paintings on the Running With Brushes website:
I mentioned two different lessons. The second one came when my husband looked at the paintings. Aside from the outlines of the trees, he could not see the difference. I may have mentioned it before – he’s red/green colour blind. Basically, the changes in the way the colours mingled were not apparently to him. He can see the tonal differences, and the outline, but the colours don’t stand out for him, so the difference in technique is completely wasted on him.
The Long Shadows watercolour is another one of my small paintings. You’ll be seeing a few of those on my blog in the next week or so. But that’s mainly because I’ve been neglecting them for some months.
The overall goal of painting 1000 small watercolours as part of the Running With Brushes project had a great start – we reached 360 paintings in the first year. This has only been possible with the help of all the wonderful Running With Brushes artists.
However, in the lead up to taking part in Cambridge Open Studios, my painting time was dedicated to creating more works for the exhibition. Now, after two weeks of breathing space, I’ve started on small works again. I’ve got a few bigger ones on the easel as well, but I’m enjoying doing some quicker pieces in the meantime.
Long shadows watercolour
All my life, I’ve loved trees. As a child I was constantly climbing them, invariably going as high as I could get. There’s a majesty and a timelessness about large trees. Very old trees have a particular charm (and I may be painting some of those in the near future too). I’ve now got a collection of tree photographs to inspire me.
Most summers we spend some time travelling in Europe. More often than not, we go to France for a few short breaks each year. Recently we’ve been to Italy as well.. In both countries, I’ve noticed the structure and order of particular tree formations. I’ve been drawn to the long lines of Cyprus trees, standing tall across the countryside. They look like sentinels standing to attention along roads and long driveways.
In this Long Shadows watercolour, early evening light forms long elegant reflections of the line of tall trees. And at the same time, the long shadows spread across the land offset the soft golden glow on the fields.
I’ve been working through photographs of a range of Tuscan doors. They were taken one afternoon on our holiday in that part of the world last month. (These Tuscan Doors are from the Running With Brushes website)
We went off on an excursion to see the hilltop towns of central Italy, many of which have a link to the work of the artist Piero Della Francesca who famously painted the pregnant madonna.
Starting in Umbria and meandering over into Tuscanny, the drive is beautiful. It invites a slow ramble up and down some winding roads which traverse the hills and valleys between Medieval towns with magnificent walls.
For me, the most interesting aspects of these towns are the old bits. The narrow roads within the old city walls. That’s where all the character-filled bits of buildings can be found. And somehow, the Tuscan doors seem to be a great feature of the buildings. I’ve seen similarly interesting doors in other parts of Southern Europe, but this part of the world seemed to strike me as having a deliciously wide variety from which to choose.
Our Tuscan Doors route
(or the official version – the Piero Della Francesca Route)
One of the reasons for this route is that Piero Della Francesca, unlike many of the best known painters of the time, does not have his works in many of the major museums. Instead, he chose to stay close to his roots and his works have remained in the part of Italy that he loved.
– Start in Sansepolcro has a beautiful walled centre. Park just outside the walls and amble along to the Museo Civico to see The Resurrection
– Monterchi is where the pregnant Madonna can be seen. I didn’t think much of the museum dedicated to this painting. The staff were lackadaisical and not particularly interested in visitors, and the museum is small – leaving the visitor thinking, “Is that it?” However, as part of the drive, this is a glorious part of the route.
– We missed seeing Rimini and Arezzo where I believe there are some spectacular works, but that was because we stopped for lunch in glorious:
– Anghiari. I was utterly charmed by this town. We visited the little Da Alighiero restaurant for a lunch which ultimately lasted almost 3 hours. Husband and wife team Gianni and Sylvia pull of that perfect combination of fantastic food and great hospitality. On the way back up the hill, we took photographs of the town’s Tuscan doors. Every one seemed to entice us to stay a little longer and explore this wonderful town.
Whether you’re interested in Piero Della Francesca, medieval towns, great old architectural features, or just plain fantastic places to do long lunches, this route through Tuscanny is hard to beat.
Today’s post should have been written yesterday, the day when we were all saying, “Lest We Forget”. But it didn’t happen because I was down at the Tower of London.
Yesterday was a poignant day for many people. Commemorating the start of WW1 one hundred years ago is a significant occasion for those who value human life. It’s slightly depressing that we (the human race) haven’t learned to do this peace thing a lot better by now.
I decided to do something positive to mark the day. I haven’t had time to work on my Running With Brushes contributions for some time, so over the weekend I painted a few.
This one, Fields of Green, is particularly appropriate. It reminds me of the reason for the sacrifice made by all those men and women so many years ago. The right to live in peace in a country of our choice seems such a simple thing. And yet, without those soldiers who fought for it, we would not have it.
For those few of my readers who might not know about Running With Brushes, this is a project to paint 1000 small watercolours, and sell them to raise funds for Care for Casualties. Care For Casualties supports the families of members of Rifles Regiment who have been killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, over 350 paintings have been created, 162 paintings have been sold, and as a result, almost £3200 has been received by the charity.
Tower of London: Lest We Forget
We also took a trip down to The Tower of London to have a look at this powerful and poignant art installation.
Artist Paul Cummins created Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red to represent the lives of every British and Colonial death during the conflict. The poppies will be planted continuously until 11th November when there will be 888,246 of them in the moat around the Tower.
The poppies can be purchased by members of the public to raise funds for 5 military charities. I’ve just ordered mine.
I’ve been playing with creating video clips with my phone. This one is slightly wobbly but gives a slightly better idea of the scope of the poppy field in the moat at The Tower.
This little medieval village sketch was started while I was on holiday in Umbria. Standing at the window of our room, this was the view down the valley. I made a quick pen sketch before we left.
It always seemed really quiet and almost uninhabited, and we wondered what went on in Borgo di Santa Giuliana. It seems, although the village has been restored, it only has one resident at present. What a great pity to have such a beautiful place and no-one to enjoy it. Sadly, it does seem to reflect a lot of what is happening in Italy at the moment. The economy is still struggling and if you look around, you can see the signs.
Having done only a pen sketch on site, I thought it would come to life more if I used a bit of colour. So this weekend, I used a few water soluble graphite pencils on the medieval village sketch.
Just for interest, here’s the sketch before the graphite pencil was activated. Although the colours aren’t particularly vibrant, I do like these pencils.
Borgo diSanta Giuliana – Medieval Village Sketch
Here’s an English translation (although perhaps not a perfect one) of the text found on the website link to Borgo di Santa Giuliana:
The first news about the ancient village of Santa Giuliana back to the year 1362. In 1411, Captain Paolo Orsini, an ally of Braccio da Montone Fortinbras, attacked the castle in the north of Perugia, and Santa Giuliana was besieged. The reaction of the inhabitants, however, was so resolute and effective that the attackers had to leave. The commander, Orsini, was seriously injured. After many years of neglect, the whole complex has been completely restored, respecting the original structure. It is a beautiful example of a small medieval village. Inside the castle is a little church, built in 1558, dedicated to St. Anthony. At about 1 km you will find a tower, an ancient outpost of defence, and the church dedicated to Santa Giuliana.
I’ve been doing some planning for a few more complete paintings of this village. More to come. I’ll try not to bore you with too many of them.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in blogging mode. July was a busy month with more than a few highlights:
We went off to Umbria for the annual Jazz Festival in Perugia. My head is filled with images of musicians, great buildings, and fantastic unspoiled scenery. There’s loads of painting subject material in that part of the world. Once I’ve sorted through my photos, I’ll have enough for a series. I’ve not managed to get back into the studio since I got back, but I will be picking up my brushes again soon.
I took part in Cambridge Open Studios for the first time this year. Our home was open to visitors on the first and last weekends of the month. Over the course of these two weekends I had 83 visitors, most of whom hadn’t seen my work before. I’ve taken part in Saffron Walden Open Studios for the past two years, which was a good way to get into the Open Studios groove. Being located half way between Saffron Walden and Cambridge presents some challenges for visitors at either of these events: we are in the outer regions from either direction.
The Society of East Anglian Watercolourists Summer Exhibition
This is the next event I’ll be taking part in. I’ll have six paintings on show at this event next week. Unfortunately, I’m not likely to be able to attend the preview evening, as I’m due to have a little operation two days beforehand. Marc is (yet again) being wonderfully supportive and will deliver my paintings for me so that I can take part.
If you’re in the area and would like to attend the preview of this event, please let me know. The standard of work from these East Anglian Watercolourists is extremely high and it’s always a good exhibition.
Hayley Oats sent me a photo of Fred Ted and her grandfather’s military medals as part of the Everyday Treasures series.
Here’s Hayley’s story about Fred Ted and the Military Medals:
When I was asked by Vandy to provide something that should could paint that meant a lot to me, think what you would save in a fire, was the description. Well I had a tough time. I am the family historian for want of a better description, (although I think most of the family would say hoarder!) as well as a wedding photographer…… so anyway after my initial reaction of photos and family history I sat and thought about it more.
Here’s my precious item.
Fred the big teddy bear is very special to me, he was given to me the day I was born by my grandfather, affectionately known as Big Poppa. He was always the one who sat quietly in the corner of the kitchen whilst my grandma cooked and had a house full of people. The place was never empty, people popping in and out. If he wasn’t in the kitchen chair he was in his workshop with a car in bits to be mended or turning wood and making beautiful wooden, bowls, vases, fruit the list goes on. He was very creative. As a child I don’t remember him talking much, although I am assured he did, he was always there, just quietly observing. It was only when my grandma sadly passed away that I really started to have conversations with him and it was not long after that I got a job working with the Royal Engineers (Explosive Ordnance Regiment) that we started to learn about his time in the Second World War.
He started out in the Royal Artillery but was at some point yet to be defined, was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the precursor to the SAS, for his explosives experience. Up until this point we don’t think he had talked to anyone about his WWII experiences, and he was always a little guarded about the level of detail he would give, he said, “ I signed the official Secrets Act and some things should stay that way” What we do know is that he was involved in Dieppe Raid of 1942 which was such a disaster, but that he made it into France to complete his mission, where the rest of his team were killed. He was also seriously injured: both his ankles were broken. He told me he remembers leaning over a 5 bar gate, and then being carried on someone’s shoulders, but not really much else. It appears he was found and carried back to safety by two , to this day unknown, Canadian soldiers. He recuperated in a military hospital in Kent.
We have many little anecdotes like this one: After one SOE mission he asked the medical officer how he could relax and he said he should get blind drunk and everything would be fine!
After his time in Dieppe he was taken off active overseas service and became a military lorry driver in the UK. Once the war was over he was discharged and had a successful career back at home in Yorkshire working for British Coal. In later years he was given a military pension because his hearing had been so damaged by his time in the Royal Artillery.
We hadn’t really heard any of these stories until I started my job with the Royal Engineers. Sadly, he died a short while after I started working there and so it makes those precious moments extra special. The military medals are his, they don’t look like many for a man whose service was so varied, (this is just a short highlight) but medals weren’t awarded to those in the SOE, as it was Clandestine operations they couldn’t give medals for things that didn’t ‘technically’ happen.
So Fred and the military medals, remind me of how precious it is to spend time with my family talking about our adventures so the stories can live on. Fred and the medals, and this fabulous painting will one day pass to my nephew so he can carry on knowing the stories.