Abundance – Watercolour and Graphite

As I start to explore the use of a wider range of mediums for my art, I am more and more aware of the abundance of exciting materials there are available for artists these days. I have just scratched the surface.

Abundance. Watercolour and Graphite. 150 x 100mm Artist: Vandy Massey
Abundance. Watercolour and Graphite. 150 x 100mm

The use of graphite with watercolour creates some wonderful textures. For this purpose, graphite comes not only in pencil format which is what we immediately think of as the format for this material. It also comes in big blocks, powder and in a water soluble pan. When used on a textured paper like this, the graphite slightly resists the watercolour producing some wonderful patterns.

When I painted this menacing sky using graphite with a small amount of turquoise watercolour, I chose a bit of bling in the form of an iridescent green paint to lighten the tone. Even in darkness, there is still abundance and lightness if we create it.

Autumn Landscape: Layering watercolour

Layering watercolour (glazing) is a great way to add depth to a painting. But it needs to be done with confidence and careful consideration. If you use the wrong colours, the end result is flat. If your brushstrokes are not delicate enough, you risk muddying the painting.

Through the Gap. Watercolour by Vandy Massey
Through the Gap. Watercolour by Vandy Massey

There’s a particular bench at Wandlebury Country Park  that provides a wonderful view all the way to the horizon. You just need to know where to look between the rows of tall trees.  Last October, in the midst of autumns most incandescent glow, I spent a day painting up on the rise at Wandlebury. Between the trees the fields create a patchwork of textures and colours, framed by the ragged curtain of branches on either side.

Layering watercolour: the stages

The light was changing quickly so I used a series of mid tone washes to block out the different levels of the view. A three-colour scumbly wash over the tree areas produced a basic sense of the branch sections without adding any definition or much tonal value (left hand tree).

My next step in layering watercolour was to add wash of clear water on the right hand tree and then drop in the same three colours in greater intensity, allowing them to blend and granulate. I used this to start defining branch shapes and areas of the tree that would be in shadow.

Layering Watercolour 1 Work in progress by Vandy Massey

The fields are the area of interest in the painting so they are painted with more definition. Layering watercolour here helps you to create some clearly texturing in the middle ground fields and in the foreground hedge.

Layering Watercolour 2 - Work in progress by Vandy Massey

The final step was to add a glaze to the left hand tree. Once the painting was well dried,  I used a sword brush tip to added branches in the trees. I decided to knock back the colour at the far end of the tree as it receded. You can see the final painting in the first picture of the post.

Through the Gap. (See first image in the post). An autumn landscape painted from an underpainting done plein air at Wandlebury Park.

Pathways

I’ve just completed Pathways – a landscape I was commissioned to paint during  Cambridge Open Studios in July. In discussing what the clients wanted, I put together a painting plan.  The painting should be in the blue/green colours, have no buildings, include an interesting sky, and a pathway – or two.

Pathways by Vandy Massey
Pathway. Watercolour 49 x 39 cm

Elements in Pathways

This painting takes the viewer for a gentle walk with countryside features along the way.

Hogweed and Grasses in Pathway by Vandy Massey
Hogweed and grasses

Heading over the brow of the hill, a patch of hogweed waves in the breeze. Look carefully at the stems below, and you may find a spiderweb suspended between two stalks.

Wild Grasses in Pathway by Vandy Massey
Wild grasses

Look through the long grasses to the fields below.  Grass seed heads blow. Spores dance in the breeze. As you progress along the route, terraced hillsides and fields of golden crops appear. Hedges and pathways criss-cross the land. Tree copses and woodlands fringe the farmlands laid out neatly in the distance.

Horizon in Pathway by Vandy Massey
The lake and the pathway on the horizon. Purple hills in the distance.

Until finally, the lake appears. Trees on the bank are reflected in the still water.  Wander further to the right and over the rise next to the trees on the horizon. There are hills beyond, and more fields to explore.

Triad Tree Paintings: Two Techniques

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.

Summer Triad Tree Paintings
Summer Triad Tree

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)

Triad Tree Painting
Autumn Triad Tree

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:

– Summer Triad Tree

Autumn Triad Tree

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.

Long Shadows Watercolour – Evening Light

Long Shadows watercolour
Long Shadows (watercolour 21 x 25 cm)

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.

 

Tim Minion, Sketching Companion

Meet Tim Minion. He arrived unexpectedly. On the way to a fancy dress ball last week, we stopped to pick up pirate costume accessories. Tim was hanging out near the tills and I fell head over heels for him. At the time I acquired him, I had no real clue about exactly what use I would have for him. But within a few days, he’s become indispensable.

Tim Minion looking plump and smug
Timinion looking plump and smug

Tim Minion is now my sketching companion.

He faithfully transports my sketchbooks, coloured pencils, pens, and brushes. It’s quite amazing how much he can carry without getting bent out of shape.

There’s something quite liberating about having a Minion as a sketching companion. Tim Minion stops me from taking my sketching too seriously. There’s a temptation to strive for perfection in every piece of work. As a general rule, constantly aiming for excellence is a good thing. But with sketching, that’s almost guaranteed to negate the primary purpose of the exercise.

Tim Minion spills his guts
Timinion spills his guts

Once you’ve dug into Tim Minion’s insides to haul out sketch book and pens, it’s very difficult to be anything but playful. That state of playfulness immediately creates a looser piece of work. Capturing some of the essence of the subject in a few minutes is the goal. Working fast and being relaxed about the results are key factors for success.

Having all my sketching kit in one place (even if it is the innards of a Minion) means I can produce a quick image when taking a break. Often sketching time happens when I’m just sitting on a park bench, or a patch of grass under a tree. In that respect, its also great practice for plein air painting.

Sketchbooks
Recent sketches

These little images were the results of Tim’s portering labours last week in France. Done over two short sessions, this is more sketching than I generally do in a month. I’m really pleased with the output. Long may this last – hopefully having a Minion will keep the work flowing.

Sketch. Green chair conversation
Green chair conversation

One more sketch from last week provides a perfect example of the value of my sketchbook. The Tuilleries Gardens are full of lovely ponds and statues, with ducks, pigeons and finches strutting and waddling around, and people sitting in green metal chairs chatting, dozing, reading, eating, and relaxing in their own way. A cluster of five empty chairs caught my eye. They were grouped very close together in a way that made it look as if the chairs were themselves having a friendly conversation. This little sketch isn’t by any means even close to a finished work. It never will be. But it will remind me of the day, the idea I had when I saw the chairs, and the interaction between a group of inanimate items that made them seem almost human.

I’m going to enjoy Tim Minion’s company as we sketch our way through my travels.

My Secret Project: a Sneak Preview

I’ve been working on a secret project for a little while. It’s still a secret so I’m not going to tell you everything about it yet. But I just couldn’t wait to share the paintings I’ve been doing for it – so here’s a little sneak preview.

Secret Narnia Project - Abstract version
Abstract version

As usual, my method has been to think about the project for some months. While I do that, vague images start to crystalise in my mind. These are the first two sketches for the project. I think there will be more. In fact I’m sure there will be more paintings before my secret project is done – I have a few images in my head already.

One red tree
Secret Narnia Project – One Red Tree

There have been a few criteria to this project.

In the first place, it has to be predominantly, if not exclusively, deep red and grey/silver. Black might be an option as an extra colour or an alternative within the design.

The paintings need to have a feel of winter, but not be literal. This is an exercise in abstraction within a theme.

It has to appeal to a special person in my family. At the moment, the initial deliberations are in progress and some decisions will be forthcoming soon.

Next steps in my Secret Project:

– More paintings

– Finding a supplier who will screen print a small run of fabric

– You’ll have to wait to find out the rest….

I know which of these two I prefer – I’d love to hear what you think.

South West Rocks inspires Spray on the Rocks

Spray on the Rocks (watercolour inspired by South West Rocks)
Spray on the Rocks (watercolour 27 x 39cm)

South West Rocks was the first stop on our road trip up the east coast of Australia a few years ago. We had to drive up the coast from Sydney to Byron Bay within 24 hours of doing the long haul flight from England. The plan was to do the 12 hour drive to meet up with Nic who was coming down the coast from Cairns. South West Rocks was roughly half way along the drive so chose this small coastal town as our overnight rest stop.

South West Rocks is situated at the mouth of the Macleay river and the estuary is a haven for waterbirds.  The colours were crisp and clear on this perfect day we spent there.

Rocks in South West Rocks

Whenever I’ve looked through my Marc’s photographs this image of the rocks near the beach have captivated me. I love the rich colours and striations. There’s aren’t too many places where you can stand below the trees and see them at this angle at the top of the rise. This outcrop was only about three metres high, but looks a fair amount higher.

South West Rocks painting inspiration

Spray on the Rocks uses the colours of the stones in South West Rocks. The combination of the clear blue sky, and the red tones in the rock race give the painting a feeling of summer heat. The waterfall is artistic licence – and is included to create a cool contrast to the warm areas of the painting. The misty foreground allows the viewer to see the rockface through the spray bringing the cooler feeling of the water closer to the forefront of the painting.

The South West Rocks have formed a cliff face in the painting, increasing the height so give a greater sense of distance to the trees at the top of the escarpment.

The original Spray on the Rocks painting will be on show at Saffron Walden Open Studios and a limited edition of fine art prints are available.

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.