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.
I’m so pleased I painted the scented wisteria on the back wall when I did. Two weeks later and the blossoms are almost gone. The scent still lingers in the air. It’s forecast to be dry this weekend. I will be hanging out in the studio some of tomorrow so I can indulge my senses as much as possible before these beauties disappear.
Some people find the heady perfume of wisteria a bit overwhelming, and if it lasted for more than a couple of short weeks, I might agree. While I am bowled over by my scented wisteria while it’s in bloom. It really is one of my favourite times of year – it can become an invasive beast. One a wisteria really gets going, it can lift roof tiles with ease wreaking havoc to buildings as it scrambles along. The solution is to prune it back to well below the roof level every July and December. However, in my view, that’s the only downside to having a wisteria – or two.
It seems there are two kinds of wisteria – the Chinese and the Japanese. Both are members of the pea family, which accounts for the similarity between the shape of their individual blossoms and those of sweetpeas. So how do you tell the difference between the two?
Scented Wisteria – Japanese or Chinese?
The Chinese version has blooms of six to nine inches long. It also has more abundant clusters of blooms.
The Japanese version has 20 inch long blooms, and the colour variations can include pink. (whereas the Chinese is only white, violet and blue).
Most interestingly, the vines of the wisterias spiral in opposite directions: clockwise for the Chinese variety and anti-clockwise for the version from Japan. I can tell you now that my wisteria is Chinese.
I’ve never been a massive fan of purple asparagus – or any asparagus for that matter. There’s something in the pungence of it’s flavour that doesn’t appeal to me.
Yesterday I changed my opinion of this vegetable – but not about it’s taste. Asparagus season has begun and at the entrance to the fruit and vegetable department in the supermarket, a high pile of purple asparagus entices customers to buy. Unlike me, Marc is extremely partial to this glorious grass. It’s one of his favourite treats. He succumbed to the enticements and popped a bunch of purple asparagus in the basket. That’s when I noticed the wonderful colours on the stems and decided they had to be painted. The fabulous combination of green and purple tones, added to the delicate shapes of the tips and the markings up each stem were just a dream for a watercolour.
Stealing the Purple Asparagus
Before Marc could cook his supper this evening – I stole it. I whipped it out of the fridge and into the studio while the afternoon light was still strong enough and had a fabulously interesting subject to paint.
I was particularly fascinated by the variability in the tips – every one slightly different. Some had a little tilt at the end, some were almost rounded: fun to paint but also, quite intricate. Getting the balance of softness and detail right was a challenge.
As I write this post, Marc is just about to sit down with a plate of juicy, steaming hot asparagus. The theft of his purple asparagus was only temporary. He got it back in time for supper and he even quite likes the painting. Good thing, given that he’ll be packaging it for Running With Brushes this week. (I suspect, he secretly quite liked the idea that he’s about to eat a bunch of asparagus that’s been immortalised in paint.)
This little landscape painting is a significant milestone for me. It is my 100th painting for Running With Brushes. Yes! That feels like a big mountain – and I climbed it.
This landscape painting is a painting of two journeys.
It is a milestone on the way to the 1000 paintings goal, and there’s a journey in the painting itself as well. The gap in the fence creates a space for the viewer to step though, leaving the every-day grassy field to walk through the mist and up the pathway that leads over the hill – to who knows where.
I love putting pathways to somewhere unknown in my paintings, just to provide little glimpses of the possibilities that lie beyond. That’s the beauty of landscape painting.
These watercolour landscapes were conceived two years ago on a road trip to the Umbria Jazz Festival. We drove across France and through Switzerland on our way down. One overnight stop was in a ski resort which was open for summer activities. High in the mountains we came across a lake – with the most spectacular blue water I have ever seen.
Getting to the lake from the village involved a steep walk through down through the thick forest. For much of the walk you can look down on the lake from a distance, watching sail boats and pedal boats and people relaxing around the water.
Being high in the alps, the beaches that surround the water aren’t traditional white sand. They’re dark grey – almost like volcanic sand.
Watercolour Landscapes available at Running With Brushes
Another small watercolour for Running With Brushes (I will post some larger pictures soon, I promise. I’m just heading for a milestone and then I’ll take a break from these for a while).
In this painting, I wanted to capture the feeling of being high up on a clifftop next to a copse of trees, looking down on a deserted beach. In my first draft of this painting, there were trees on both sides framing the beach below, creating a window the viewer was looking through. But that composition just didn’t really work – it was too symmetrical (and a little boring). For me this version evokes a sense of warmth with the red and yellow flowers in the foreground meadow and peace contributed by the deserted beach below.
The challenges of painting a small watercolour:
– There’s a tendency to try and cram too much information into a painting – one key message is enough.
– I sometimes have to remind myself that ‘simple is good’ so that I don’t overcomplicate a painting
– Detail isn’t always required. The eye interprets innuendo very well.