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.

Garden sketching in France

Garden sketching - hollyhock flowerWhat do garden sketching in France and Facebook have in common? I’ll tell you.

I’m ambivalent about Facebook for the most part. I know many people are annoyed by the adverts, but I kinda accept that as part of getting a free service. The thing that does wind me up is when the gnomes who build the Facebook engine take it upon themselves to decide what I should or should not see of my friends’ news, and indeed which of the people who have signed up to see my page actually get any of the feeds.

However, overall I think it’s a pretty amazing resource if used well. I find it invaluable for keeping track of my family and friends across the world. It’s also a powerful collaboration platform for artists. I’ve met so many wonderfully talented people who share their knowledge and insights online with great generosity.

It was a photograph of a beautiful stoneware pot that became the catalyst for our trip which led to some garden sketching in France.

Mark Judson posted a photograph of this stunning stoneware pot just out of the kiln. I’m a sucker for gorgeous ceramics.  Just a tiny bit impulsively, I bought it there and then – and then had to work out how to collect it from the centre of France.
Stoneware pot by Mark Judson

We love rural France. We really don’t need much of an excuse to hop across the channel, so with a bit of a nudge from Facebook, off we went to collect my newly acquired treasure. Since Chenevaux was where I first started painting in earnest, I can never visit without getting out my brushes.

Caroline’s garden is in glorious bloom and there was plenty of sketching inspiration all around us.  The 86 rose plants make the garden a wonderfully fragrant place to relax. This is not a formal manicured collection of flowerbeds. Rather, it’s a celebration of nature with mixed borders that combine self-sown and carefully placed plants that complement each other perfectly.

Garden sketching - hollyhock flower
Garden sketching – hollyhock flowerAnd a little more delicate

Garden Sketching subjects:

A single red Hollyhock flower caught my eye. I love the depth of the colour and the fat blousy shape of the petals as they cluster up the tall stem.

And scrambling over the gravel in the driveway, and under the rosebushes, delicate blue Nigella flowers echo the blue of the sky.

Garden sketching - Nigella Flower
Garden sketching – Nigella Flower

Sometimes there’s as much satisfaction in sketching tiny elements as there is in painting a complex composition. It all helps to hone observation skills and master shape and tone.

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.

Brushes & mark-making tools – Behind the Scenes

Expertise comes with time and a lot of practice. One of the aspects of painting that distinguishes an artist is their particular style of mark-making. For most artists this is one element of their work that develops over a period of working with different materials, and a range of tools.

Over the short years I’ve been painting, I’ve managed to accumulate a slightly embarrassing collection of brushes. I’m less addicted to buying new brushes than I am to to acquiring new tubes of colour – but only just. And I’ve recently discovered a couple of new mark-making tools that are quite unusual. But first I’ll show you the traditional tools I have in my studio.

Brushes and tools in my studio:

Watercolour is my favourite medium at this stage. I’m still enthralled by the surprises this medium brings.  I’ve been working mainly in watercolours so it accounts for the bulk of my tools for it. Every artist has a favourite blush. My favourite brush has changed over time. For a long time a size 10 kolinsky sable round brush was my go-to tool. Since then I’ve tried some great synthetic brushes which have good points and are quite robust and hold a good point. I’ve recently discovered a sable filbert which is fast moving into my small group of ‘most favoured’ brushes. My all time ‘can’t live without it’ brush is a size zero rigger. It’s just perfect for adding those last little details.

Watercolour brushes
Watercolour brushes

Other watercolour tools include old credit cards, toothbrushes, sponges (not visible in this painting) bamboo sticks, eye droppers and ballpoint pen outer sleeves. There are probably a few others in this photo, but those are the ones I use most often.

Last year I had a dabble with mixed media and acrylic paint. As you can see from the state of my collection of brushes for acrylics, I’ve not done very much of with them. This is a limitation of time rather than anything else. I’ve managed to prepare some canvasses so ‘watch this space’. The brushes are at the ready.

Acrylic Brushes
Acrylic Brushes

I’ve done a little more with oils, but still consider myself a rank beginner in this medium. As with acrylics, my main limitation here is time. But these brushes have been used once or twice and will be again.

Oil Brushes
Oil Brushes

My two main suppliers of brushes are Rosemary’s brushes and for the acrylic brushes, Escoda.

I’m always up for a experimenting with watercolour. On my recent trip to South Africa, I was looking for some hand and body lotion and wandered into Rain. While I was browsing I noticed these two items: which looked ideal for a bit of watercolour application. So I bought them both.

Alternative painting tools - Sponge and Porcupine Quills
Loofah and Porcupine Quills

Here’s what happens when you play with the loofah. The red in the middle of the page was paint applied to the loofah which was then rolled across the paper. The blue and green marks were made by dragging the loofah across the paper using quite wet paint, and the quin gold was applied very thickly and then dragged. I can see all sorts of interesting marks in this. Sadly, when I unpacked back in the UK I discovered that the loofah had been left behind somewhere on my travels. But now that I’ve tried it, I’ll be looking out for a new one.

Watercolour painting - Sponge Marks
Loofah Marks

The porcupine quills are interesting. They have very, very sharp points so you have to be quite careful using them. The other (white) end has a little bend in it – each one slightly different. Although the beautiful sharp points are great for sratching out and making very fine lines, it’s the other end that is the most interesting to work with.

Watercolour painting - Quill Marks
Quill Marks

I’m enjoying this new tool. My next post will be a painting I did using the quills as one of my main mark-making tools.

Precious Artifacts Paintings : Doug’s Watch

Artifacts paintings: Doug's Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)
Doug’s Watch (watercolour 10 x 10 cm)

When I put out an email to a few friends about the Precious Artifacts paintings series, Doug Shaw was the first to respond.

Doug chose a photo of a watch which had belonged to his father and then had a history of being unknown, discovered, then lost.  Doug has a great blog. I’ve followed his writing for some time and he always hits the mark on people and connections.

Read the story of the Doug’s Lost and Found watch in his words – he says it so much better than I can. Clue: The place name on the watch face is significant.

Precious Artifacts Paintings

If you’d like to be part of this, please email me a photograph of your Precious Artifact and a snippet about why you love it.

Japanese Mugs in Watercolour

Japanese Mugs in watercolour
Japanese Mugs  (watercolour 12.5 cm x 12.5 cm)

This pair of Japanese mugs mark the beginning of another painting series. I took this photograph for Tracey Fletcher King’s Cuppa With Friends project.

That action sparked two watercolour ideas:

– Firstly I decided to have a go at painting them myself,

– and secondly it spawned the idea for my new Precious Artifacts collection.

I have emailed a few friends (and may ask them to nominate a few other) asking them to send me a photograph of one item that is precious to them (not a person or a place – an item) along with a very short description of why they love the item. I really want to know the story behind the image. I will then paint that item (almost certainly in watercolour) and it will go into the collection. The style of painting may vary as will the size. All of these factors will be guided by the photograph and the item itself.

So if you’d like to join in, please feel free to email me a photograph of your item and it’s story. I’ve got a few to do already.

Now I need to give you the story of the mugs in the watercolour.

These mugs were bought for me on a trip to Japan. I saw them and fell in love with just about everything about them. They have no handle – just a dent for the thumb which you can see on the right hand side of the blue mug. Each one is a slightly different shape and they feel fantastic to hold.  There are iridescent coloured squares placed under the clear glaze so that they wrap around the mug, and there’s a wonderful black granulation effect from oxidisation during the firing process.

I am absolutely mad about the aesthetics of these mugs. The Asian melding of utility and style works perfectly. And they remind me of one of the best journeys I’ve ever taken. Everything about that trip was just right.

The next Perfect Artifacts watercolour will be done very soon. I’ve got two items in the pipeline.

 

Watercolour painting: Hogweed and Daisies

watercolour painting.  Hogweed and Daisies
Hogweed and Daisies (watercolour)

This loose watercolour painting was a wonderfully liberating loose exploration of colour.  Once the composition was planned and sketched in, the palette was selected for it’s vibrance.

The foreground provides a lush fresh green canvas for the summer hogweed heads and daisies. Then the viewer is led up the footpaths into the blue  distance to the farm buildings on the hill above. And beyond the farm banks of trees fade off into the distance.

Watercolour painting – the things I love

– Paint textures. Look at how the pigments have created wonderful shapes and grassy textures in the foreground of this painting.

– Soft focus – the blues in the farm buildings, combined with their imprecise edges give a sense of hazy distance

– Tonal values – the pathways that lead the eye up to the farm buildings take the viewer on a journey into the heart of the scene.

 

Landscape Painting: Misty Forest Walk

Landscape painting. Misty Forest Walk (watercolour 10 x 15)
Misty Forest Walk (watercolour 10 x 15)

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.

 

Watercolour Sky Study – Pink

Watercolour Sky Study: Pink (watercolour 13 x 17 cm)
Sky Study: Pink (watercolour 13 x 17 cm)

The second of my watercolour sky studies. I was aiming for a very different mood in this painting. The sky study in blue has a more brooding stormy atmosphere. This painting still has storm clouds, but the pink in the sky and the more vibrant colours in the landscape element give it a warmer, less threatening feel. I’ve included more of the land element in this work which also slightly diminishes the scale of the overall image.

To compare the watercolour sky studies:

Here is the link to the study in blue.

I’d love to hear what mood you think each captures for you.

Watercolour Landscapes: Alpine Lake

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.

Watercolour landscapes. Alpine Lake (watercolour 10 x 15 cm)
Alpine Lake (watercolour 10 x 15 cm)

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.

Watercolour landscapes. Ice Blue Water (watercolour 10 x 15)
Ice Blue Water (watercolour 10 x 15)

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

– Alpine Lake

– Ice Blue Water

– Waiting for the Cows to Come Home