One Brush Roses in Watercolour

I had to get creative to paint my roses in watercolour today.

Roses in Watercolour: Three Queens (15 x 10cm)
Three Queens (watercolour 15 x 10cm)

Pack light watercolour kit.

I’m taking a couple of days to get off the daily treadmill and chill out at a spa for the weekend. It’s a chance to read, rest, do some stretching sessions, and be pampered. It also meant packing really light.

One brush and Daniel Smith's Georgia Mansur palette
All a girl needs to paint: One brush and the Georgia Mansur palette

I had planned to pre-paint my couple of entries for this weekend, but I was just too busy so I had to make a plan: a few sheets of pre-cut paper, one brush and the Georgia Mansur palette from Daniel Smith.  Georgia very kindly sent me a sample sheet for her palette before I went on her workshop last year. It has some wonderful juicy colours. I’ve experimented with it before, so this would be a great way to work with her palette again, and pack light at the same time.

Roses in Watercolour

Having worked out the ‘how’, the next point was the usual question: “What to paint?”

When in doubt, I trawl through the photographs on my laptop for inspiration.  I have some glorious flower photographs taken in our garden by Marc. Valentine’s Day is round the corner, so I thought I should paint a few roses in watercolour for sale on Running with Brushes.

I’ll get back to the fishing flies collection again soon.

New Year, Fresh Ideas: 2014 Art Plan

New Year is a perfect opportunity to review the past year and think about how to make the most of 2014.

2013 Review

Wow – that was a busy year. It was a transformational year for my painting too. Firsts for me in 2013 were:

Out of the studio:
– First major joint exhibition. This took place in March when I shared an exhibition with Mark Judson and Denise Shearing. It was a great experience: the planning, the setup and the sales. It was a massive confidence builder as it resulted in commissions which have taken me all the way through to Christmas.
– Started Running With Brushes in July. 25 other artists have joined the project and we have now sold 142 paintings, raising over £2100 for Care for Casualties in the process. 312 paintings have been completed for the project to date.
– Held my first Open Studio event as part of the Saffron Walden Open Studios weekend.
– Made my first online sales this year.

– Tried my hand at mixed media and working in acrylics on a 2 day workshop with the marvellous Georgia Mansur (expertly organised by Mita Higton)
– 77 Running With Brushes paintings – great for brush mileage
– Explored new subjects and managed my first portrait and figure painting.
– Took part in Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days – more brush mileage and a great way to build up my Running With Brushes works.

Things that didn’t work so well:
– I spent a lot of time travelling to take paintings to exhibitions that just didn’t work for me. Some because they were too busy, and some because they were badly organised.
– Although I took my paints and paper with me while I was on work trips, I still find it difficult to get into painting mode when I’m away from my studio.

Here are some of my most popular paintings of 2013:

2014 – The Plan

Out of the Studio:
– I’m planning to be more selective about the exhibitions I take part in during 2014. The time I spend in preparing for an exhibition is painting time lost and I’ve decided it must be worthwhile to warrant that sacrifice. So for 2014, I will only take part in selection exhibitions if I can submit my work online, or it is a local exhibition. I’ll be cutting out those that I’ve tried in past years and that haven’t worked for me for 2 years.
– As other bloggers will know, writing a blog takes a huge amount of time. It’s been wonderful having new readers commenting this year, and I will continue to blog. I enjoy experimenting with paint and the posts about my experiments seem to be some of the most useful. I’m considering a new series on What’s in my Studio which will go through the tools, materials and references I use. I hope this will prove a useful subject for other artists.
– In addition to Saffron Walden Open Studios, I’ve signed up for Cambridge Open Studios this year. That will give people one weekend at the end of April/beginning of May, and two weekends in July to visit my studio. Last year, I loved meeting people who wanted to talk about painting and were interested in my work. More of that in this coming year.
– Lots of exhibition visits, particularly at the Mall Galleries where there are many exhibitions of works from artist I admire and who inspire me to keep on painting and stretching myself.
– Expand my online sales which got off to a good start in 2013.

– Continuing my pursuit of brush mileage to improve my painting skills, I am taking part in Leslie’s January 30 Paintings in 30 Days series. I pre-painted my first share which was actually posted online a couple of days ago. But as it’s a gift for someone whose birthday is today, it was done a couple of days ago so I’ve counted it as day 1.
– I’ve spent some of today organising my studio, and resolved to spend more time doing paint exercises and recording the results of my pigment studies.
– There is a pile of magazines and books in my studio which I have read superficially. 2014 will be the year to go through them in more detail and spend time making notes and working on ideas and tips I gather from them.
– More time spent on challenging subjects. Portraits, animals and figure work will be on the agenda.
– Texture, texture, texture – it’s thrilling and I love it when the texture transforms a painting.
– I have a fabulous week of Plein Air painting in France with Olivia Quintin and Fabio Cembranelli planned for September. I’m challenging myself to get comfortable painting outside the studio.
– Doing three open studio weekends means I must paint enough new work to make it an interesting and worthwhile experience for visitors. Setting deadlines for myself is a great way to make me paint, paint, paint.

Happy New Year everyone, and Happy Painting.

Figures and Faces

Pink Roses in her Hair (watercolour 4 x 6 inches) Artist: Vandy Massey
Pink Roses in her Hair (watercolour 4 x 6 inches)

I’ve written (probably quite often) about my block when it comes to painting people. It extends to just about all living things but I did manage to start breaking it down during the past year by painting a few animals. There was the frog, the lizard, and finally a rooster.

Then I was asked to painting a portrait via Running With Brushes for someone who wanted it as a Christmas gift for their partner. She knew portraits weren’t my forte, but was brave enough to let me have a go anyway. I had a couple of attempts but eventually got to a painting that captured the little girl’s likeness. It was a real breakthrough moment for me and it has made me want to do more.

Emboldened by my ability to paint an actual face, I went on and painted a whole person!

Spray (watercolour 24 x 19 inches) Artist: Vandy Massey
Spray (watercolour 24 x 19 inches)

I really wanted to capture the dynamic energy of the sport in this painting. The approach I took with painting a figure was a little different to my usual way of working. As a general rule, we’re told to think about our work as just being blocks of colour. That way, once you’ve got the main masses of colour right in terms of their tonal values, you know you’ve got the most important element right. In this case, I felt it was important to get the structure of the body right. I needed to visualise the angles of the arms and particularly, the legs, before I could start laying down the colour.

This one is a gift for someone who loves to ski. I really hope he think’s I’ve captured the essence of the sport. Now that I’ve broken the barrier, who knows what till come next? I quite like the challenge of capturing movement so that may be my theme for a while.

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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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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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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