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 RunningWithBrushes.com
Dark Pleasure from RunningWithBrushes.com
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.

Watercolour Flower Painting: Anemone Pair

watercolour flower painting: Anemone Pair (watercolour 10 x 15 cm) Artist: Vandy Massey
Anemone Pair (watercolour 10 x 15 cm)

Another watercolour flower painting with a slightly different treatment in the finishing off. I love the lush greenness of the background. I have anemones in my garden which is packed full of plants. This has the same sort of feeling as those flowerbeds which are just jammed with blossoms and leaves as my Japanese anemones come into bloom.

This painting is Day 9 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days, and it’s also available on the Running with Brushes website.

Another post about Watercolour Flower Painting:

Day 7: Qualifying Time

Qualifying time. (watercolour 51 x 35 cm) Artist: Vandy massey
Qualifying time. (watercolour 51 x 35 cm)

One of the challenges I have set myself for this year is to experiment (and hopefully have some successes) with painting more dynamic images. Paintings have the ability to create wonderful atmosphere. I started on this path by painting landscapes which had a sense of great scale and stillness.

Now it’s time to work on capturing a sense of speed. I started this theme by painting a skier in motion which I finished just before the end of the year. Race cars are my second speed subject and I have a few other paintings in the queue which will have a similar energy.

This is the 7th painting in the 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge.

Day 6: Budding

Budding (watercolour 10 x 15 cm) Artist: Vandy Massey
Budding (watercolour 10 x 15 cm)

I took the opportunity in the last 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge, to paint a load of small paintings for Running With Brushes. This time I’m doing a mix of small paintings for the project, and some larger ones. I need to be sure that I have fresh work available for my Open Studios sessions in April and July so I’m getting a head start on that now, and the challenge is a great way to get started.

This week I have three small paintings for Running With Brushes. I’ve pre-painted a couple because I’m back to doing my midweek London trips again as from Tuesday which means no painting for at least 3 days a week. So here’s one of the small ones. It’s called Budding and it will be available to buy in support of Care for Casualties.

Day 5: Sunshine on the Field

In the past month I’ve come across two professional artists who unrepentantly paint a wide variety of subjects, mediums and styles. This discovery was music to my ears. I love the exploration of the new: new ideas, new materials, new subject matter, new styles of painting.

Sunshine on the Field (watercolour 16 x 35 cm) Artist: Vandy Massey
Sunshine on the Field (watercolour 16 x 35 cm)

Recently I’ve noticed some of my paintings have more than one style of painting within the same work. This one is an example of that. The background of this painting is quite tightly painted with hard edges on the sunlit trees on the horizon across the field, and the lines of their shadows on the field clearly marked. As we get closer to the foreground, the paint gets looser and looser, ending in the loose red poppies in the foreground.  There was a danger that this painting would end up with two conflicting focal points.  But the splashes of red poppies that progress across the field solve that potential problem. They lead the viewer’s on a journey through the field to the dark shadows under the trees, and then back down to the foreground to revel in the luscious paint of the red poppy blooms.

This is painting 5 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days.

Two Gardens: Monet’s Garden in pictures

I can’t imagine there are many people in Europe who’ve not heard of Monet’s garden at Giverny. In fact, I can’t imagine there are many garden lovers or art lovers in the world who don’t know about his house and garden.  In the 17 years I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve heard many.many accolades for the garden and can’t recall one person who has felt disappointed in the visit.

We decided to take advantage of the morning of our drive back from Paris and swing past Giverny to visit the garden. Opening time is 9.30 am. We arrived at 9.45 am and were pleased to see many free spaces in the car park. Even so, when we got to the entrance the queue was already pretty daunting.

Expect to queue if you're not an early bird at Giverny
Expect to queue if you’re not an early bird at Giverny

It wasn’t quite as bad as it looks – we only had to wait for 20 minutes to get into the garden. Once inside, it was clear that it was well worth the wait – the garden in June is truly breathtaking. The density of the planting, the intensity of the blossoms, and the colour combinations in the planting plan, all come together to create an unforgettable visit.

Giverny’s gardeners have found some wonderful plants, producing displays of spectacular colours, sizes and scents.

Monet's rose in full bloom
Monet’s rose in full bloom
Perfection in a poppy
Perfection in a poppy
Cornflower blue
Cornflower blue
Gigantic red poppies
Gigantic red poppies

The famous lily pond, across the road, wasn’t at all serene – it was alive with very raucous residents who made their presence obvious.

Lily pond resident
Lily pond resident

Wandering back under the road, we headed for the famous pink house.

Monet's house fronted with colourful geranium beds
Monet’s house fronted with colourful geranium beds

Once inside, the real wonder is the density of paintings on the walls by Monet himself, by Manet, by Renoir, by Cezanne. These were all artists of the same era who left their distinct marks on the art world. To see their work grouped together, not in a gallery, but in the home of one of their contemporaries, is an experience that feels very personal. You almost feel that Monet could be sitting in his bright yellow kitchen, sharing a cuppa (or perhaps un cafe) with his talented friends. His extensive collection of Japanese artwork fills the walls of two or three rooms too. I gathered from my sister (who studied these things, so is rather like my personal art encyclopedia), tells me that Japanese paintings were seen as quite revolutionary in their composition. Previously, western artists had ensured that all the key figures in a painting were fully depicted within the painting. Japanese works were far more like a current day snapshop with people and articles appearing to be entering or exiting the painting, with only part of their form in view.  (Did I get that right, Sis?) His love of Japanese form extends into the lily garden where his Japanese bridges at either end of the water provide access, look out points, and painting subjects.

View from Monet's bedroom
View from Monet’s bedroom

If you were Monet, and opened your bedroom shutters every morning to see this view (without the tourists, of course), wouldn’t you just want to grab a brush and start painting?

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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Looking back

Old poppy (watercolour card)
Old poppy (watercolour card)
Old poppy (watercolour card)

This evening while I was flipped through the photos on my laptop, I came across this tiny stylised poppy image I painted over 2 years ago. The original was a very quick sketch on a small card. I was interested in the placement of the image on the paper using all the white space above the bloom.

I am attracted to the simplicity of the image, but I’m slightly disappointed about the way I signed the card because it detracts from the image – I’d have done that differently now.

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Making your mark

Paper petals (watercolour detail)

Shirley Trevenna talks about how important it is to develop your own distinctive marks. It’s what distinguishes your work from every other artist. What makes your work unique? What is it about your work that conveys your distinct ideas?

Paper petals (watercolour detail)
Paper petals (watercolour detail)

It takes a while to develop a style. Sometimes it has felt as if this aspect of my work would never emerge. But in time, every artist develops something of a style – even if it’s not a conscious one. If you paint enough, your way of laying pigment on paper will start to become apparent.

I prefer to think about my mark-making style. To make it something I experiment with and develop. Every time something happens on the paper that thrills me, I think about how it happened, and whether I want to incorporate that aspect in my work in future.

One of the methods I’ve found quite useful is to tackle a subject using a number of different palettes, styles and papers. Invariably one will stand out from the others, or something will make me do something different. In this instance, I’ve chosen a glorious photograph of poppies taken in our garden. I’ve used sections of the photo in many different paintings. This time, I worked on Arches smooth and added a few layers of glaze. The final details have been added with the point of a sharpened stick, used to drag the dark background into the poppy petals to emphasise the papery texture of the petals.

I love the freedom and slight randomness of the pigment marks on the paper, combined with the little granulations and the meandering stick marks. They all combine to give this painting an organic feeling – each poppy is a little different, and each has its own character. Will do more of this.

Here’s a photograph of the full painting:

Paper petals (watercolour 29 x 19)
Paper petals (watercolour 29 x 19)

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Further exploration of smooth paper.

Having discovered a new love of Arches smooth paper, I’m working on controlling the pigments on this paper by viewing old paintings that didn’t work and reworking parts of them. Poppies are a subject I’ve worked on a number of times, often from reference photographs of blooms in our garden. This evening I started reworking an old version that had been painted far too timidly on Arches smooth. I’m much more comfortable with letting the pigments go to work on their own now that I have a better idea of how to deal with the smooth paper.

Oriental Poppies (watercolour WIP - dry)
Oriental Poppies (watercolour WIP – dry)

What I didn’t anticipate is how the colours in the shadows would blend and merge into a much lighter mid-toned green when they dried. I know that watercolours get lighter as they dry, and that pigments continue to merge for some time after they’ve been laid on the paper. But this was a dramatic difference.

Oriental Poppies (watercolour WIP - wet)
Oriental Poppies (watercolour WIP – wet)

So much so that I think I’m going to need to add a layer of glaze to the painting to get these lovely rich dark tones back. They do make the petals sing.

All part of the learning process.

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