Advent Challenge 2013

Watercolour painting. Little Red Boat (watercolour 12 x 17)
Little Red Boat (watercolour 12 x 17)

Studio time this weekend was spent finishing the clear out I started last week, and preparing for the local Christmas Fair next weekend. We’ll be joining the Old School Studio team with the Running With Brushes collection and some of my small watercolours. The results of the weekend’s studio time were quite satisfying – three small watercolours mounted and ready to take to the exhibition next weekend and a couple of Running With Brushes paintings completed (something I haven’t done for a while).

Last year I started my own personal Advent challenge at the beginning of December. I aimed to do a new painting every day and post it on my blog. That was a pretty tall order given my usual workload, and at Christmas it was probably even less likely to be completed. That said, I did manage to do more than half the 24 days.  It was a good discipline and a lot of fun to do.

Over the past year I’ve had a few conversations with people about the idea of sharing the pages and images of other artist’s work on social media. By this I mean sharing with full credit and the intention of introducing that artist to your friends and followers. I think art is to be shared. If I enjoy someone’s work, I love sharing it with people who follow my blog or social media posts. So this is my Advent Challenge for 2013:

From 1st December to 24th December I will publish a blog post about the page of an artist I follow.  That’s 24 artists to be discovered via my blog during advent. And that’s my challenge to my readers. Join in and share the websites and Facebook pages of some of the people whose artwork you admire. Christmas is a time for sharing so lets spread a bit of that sharing spirit around the art community and show our appreciation of the work of some of the artists we admire. If you want to take part (and I really hope you do), here’s what to do:

– Add your name and URL to the Inlinkz link at the bottom of this page – that’s sharing your blog as a start. You don’t have to post every day – just as often as you can.

– You don’t have to be an artist yourself to join in – and you can share the webpages of any creative people (artists, crafters, photographers…)

– Every day from 1st December, once you’ve published your blog post, add a link to your post to the Inlinkz link on that day’s post on my blog. It’s really easy, and you’ll be getting more visits to your website at the same time as doing something good for another artist.

– A few thoughts on your posts: You don’t have to post a photograph done by the artist whose page you are sharing – you’re welcome to write a post about your work as usual, and add the introduction in as an extra paragraph on your post with the heading, Advent Challenge. Or you can simply publish a post about the artist whose website you want to share.  We’re all busy in December so my suggestion would be to just keep it short and simple. Let us know the name of the artist, their website (with a link) and why you love their work or their website. Two of three sentences is all it takes.  I’ve already got the first few of mine lined up.

I’m really looking forward to discovering some fabulous new artist in the next couple of weeks. Hope you decide to join in, and let your fellow artists know. The more shares, the more merrier.

(I’ll be posting two links each day – one for the artist I’m sharing on my blog and one for the Running With Brushes artist I’ll be featuring on the RWB blog)

Blue Doors on my Walls

Blue Morrocan doors on my walls.
Blue Morrocan doors on my walls.

The more I paint, the more I need to think about it.  I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me.

The way I see it, it’s a bit like driving a car. When you start, you’re brain is frantically trying to keep up with everything it needs to do: clutch in, change into gear (OMG, which gear???), foot on accelerator pedal (which one is that? Oh yes, the right hand one.) Hold the steering wheel steady, ease forward, look left, look right. Brake! Brake!. Damn! Stalled. Start over.  When you start the process, you really need the instructor sitting next to you to tell you where to go because you’re just too damn busy working out what your hands, feet, eyes and ears are meant to be doing. Only once those become automatic can you stop thinking about it consciously, and focus on the journey itself.

Fortunately, the consequences of having an accident with paint are usually just putting a sheet of paper in the bin. After a fair number of those painting-related incidents, I started thinking more and more about where I was going with a painting, rather than what colour was on the brush and how much water to include. It also allowed me to become much more experimental with materials and techniques (which I think will be life-long learning because there is almost no limit).

So, back to my first point: these days when I embark on a new painting, I do a lot more thinking about what’s really in the image, why I find it interesting, and what I think will make it interesting to the viewer.

The Cox and Kings Moroccan art competition has got me going down that pathway and I thought I might share some of the process on my blog. So if you’re still with me after my rambling about learning to drive, you’ll see I have pictures of blue doors on my walls. My thinking process isn’t just a quick ponder over a cup of tea.  I’ve printed out the reference photograph on various levels of contrast, as well as in black and white. This gives me references to look at while I think about it. They will also be my guides when it gets to the point of deciding on colour and tone.

Since I’ve never been to Morocco (or in fact to anywhere in the North Africa, aside from Cairo airport), to get a deeper sense of the place, I can only draw on web research and talking to people who have been there. One of the reasons I chose this photograph (aside from my love of the colour) is the fact that it seemed quintessentially Morocco to me. I want the painting to capture something that tells the viewer it couldn’t be anywhere else on the planet.

From the friends and family who have been there I get the message that for them, Morocco represents warm people, relaxed environment, great street food. I’ve heard of fantastic hospitality and wonderful home meals where women went to the market to carefully select the ingredients and then cooked all day. A sense of age and a really lived-in city with old walls that show the marks of many hand prints, hard knocks and repairs over the years. How do I capture all of that in my painting? That’s the big question.

So my first stage is to read, and talk, and think about Morocco and in particular about the blue homes of Chefchaouen to decide what story my painting will tell about the place and it’s people.

One thing I do know is that in the process, more than a few blue doors will probably be painted. If you’re a Running With Brushes follower – expect to see a few there soon.

An while I do so, I will have blue doors on my walls.

If you’ve become intrigued and want to see what the other artists who are taking part in this competition are doing, here are the links to their blogs:

Morocco – a new challenge

As always, when a new challenge comes along I jump at the opportunity. This time, it came in the form of an invitation from travel agent, Cox and Kings to take part in their Morocco Tours art competition along with four other artists. I’ve never been to Morocco, but my son Chris and his fiance, Helen were there a few years ago and they loved it. This seemed like a great way of stretching myself and at the same time, finding out a bit more about Morocco.

Each artist has been sent a series of photographs of Morocco and has to select one to work from. I’ve always loved travelling. New places are very exciting to explore. I love the process of discovering the food, the atmosphere, the buildings, the people – it’s all fascinating.  Many of my paintings are of places – usually not literal, more an attempt to capture the atmosphere and the space. I’ve chosen this photograph of the blue walls of Chefchaouen (pronounced Shef-sha-wan, just in case you’re wondering). Yes, it’s blue again. I know, I know. I am drawn to blue tones. I love the sense of calm and depth they create.

We’re accustomed to walls being natural tones – white, brown, sand. The fact that the walls in Chefchaouen are blue piqued my curiosity so I set off to find out why they’re all that colour.

Blue walls of Chefchaouen
Blue walls of Chefchaouen

Situated in the Rif mountains in the North West, this ancient fortress town was founded in 1471. The town has had a history of influx of Spanish and Jewish settlers, and it’s from the Jewish residents that the blue walls originate. I discovered that the Jewish refugees started the blue paint tradition in the 1930s. It’s not unusual to paint the lower half of walls with indigo in parts of Spain, as a way of keeping cool and repelling insects.  In Morocco, where the blue tones cover the walls inside and out, it is believed that the tradition has a more spiritual origin. In ancient times, a blue dye made from shellfish was used to colour strands in prayer shawls and mats. This was supposed to aid meditation and spiritual contemplation. In the late 1940s, many of the Jewish residents left the city to live in Israel, but the blue walls have remained as a reminder of their presence and influence. Chefchaouen has a reputation as a place to go for shopping and it’s laid back mood (probably all that glorious blue)

Morocco swatch
Morocco swatch

So now that I’ve become fascinated by Chefchaouen’s charms, I have some decisions to make. Which aspect do I want to convey in my painting? What medium to use? Should I stick with my watercolours, or be brave and add in some other materials?

And finally, which blues should I use? I’ve made a start by painting a colour swatch with all the blues in my palette. Time to look at colour and tone. I’m looking forward to meeting this new challenge. I hope I can do it justice.

Peachy Layers

Just Peachy (watercolour 6 x 4 inches)
Just Peachy (watercolour 6 x 4 inches)

Running With Brushes has been a great way of getting me painting regularly. Sometimes it takes a while to think of a good subject (despite the fact that I now have a long list of ideas pasted up on my studio wall).

When I get a request for a specific subject, it makes this part of the process a lot easier. And it’s great to know that someone really wants a Running WIth Brushes painting before it even gets painted.  Just Peachy was a request I was very happy to fulfill. Painting a specific subject more than once is a good way of trying a new composition, or new texture on that subject.

The original painting this was based on was, Juicy, painted in August. A change in composition gave me the opportunity to paint the fruit on a slightly larger scale. Using transparent colours and layers enabled me to get the smooth transition of yellow to warm red, and the velvety texture of the peach skin. It wasn’t a quick process: the layers needed to be carefully built up, leaving each successive layer to dry in between. But the results are quite effective, and I’m pleased I’ve had the nudge to revisit this subject once again.

Forest Floor (26 of 30)

Forest Floor (watercolour 6 x 4 inch)
Forest Floor (watercolour 6 x 4 inch)

Number 26 of 30 paintings in 30 days is Forest Floor. The density and variety of plant life on the forest floor is astonishing, especially when you consider how little sunlight filters down that far. So even though they’re in deep share, a wide variety of plants thrive down at the foot of the giant trees in the ancient forests of the world.

Forest Floor is available on Running With Brushes.

In a marvellous marathon painting session today, I finished the last four paintings to make my 30 paintings in 30 days, but I’ll save them to post tomorrow.



Odd One Out (25 of 30)

Odd One Out (watercolour 4 x 6 inches)
Odd One Out (watercolour 4 x 6 inches)

A blousy cherry stands out in a pile of plumbs. A fruity summer bonanza with a glorious traffic light of taste. I loved the contrast of warm reds against the cool purples and pinky colours of the plumbs. Temperature variation in a painting provides a variation that makes the cherry just jump out of the painting.

This is number 25 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days, and is available on the Running With Brushes website.

Off Belle Ile (24 of 30)

Watercolour painting. Off Belle Ile (RWB0058). Artist: Vandy Massey
Off Belle Ile (RWB0058). Artist: Vandy Massey

A sailing holiday in the Bay of Biscay a couple of years ago took us island hopping from Hoedic to Belle Ile and back to the mainland. Sitting in the boat while we sailed gently between marinas, I noticed the depth of colour of the sea. Before then I had never appreciated the dark blue of deep water when you’re close to it – or in our case, sailing across it.

This solitary light house in miid channel contrasted starkly with the deep blue of the surrounding water. It kinda had to be painted. When I first painted it, I tried to capture the variation in choppiness of the water as it receded into the distance. Painting sea water well is notoriously difficult and that part of the painting had to go.

This is the 24th of 30 Paintings in 30 Days – even thought it’s being published on the final day of the month.

Off Belle Ile is available on the Running With Brushes website.




Dawn Blush (21 of 30)

Dawn Blush (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)
Dawn Blush (watercolour 4 x 6 inch)

My 21st painting of 30, done on Day 28. Tomorrow is my last painting day for September as I have a business trip on Monday. We’ll see whether I manage to catch up enough tomorrow – I have a few paintings half completed on my easel so it’s still a possibility.

Sometimes, time pressure becomes a catalyst for working differently. In this case, I started looking around my studio for early washes which would provide inspiration or a base for a painting. My 100 Wash Challenge days got me into the habit of doing washes and leaving them unfinished for a future painting session.  Although I don’t do that as often as I did when I was doing the challenge, I still have a reasonable collection. They’re a great way of kick starting a painting session, and creating them is a lovely ending to a painting day. There’s the pleasure of watching a simple layer of watercolours develop on the paper, and the tantalising sense of possibility in the wash waiting to become a painting.

Here’s the collection of Day 27 paintings on Leslie’s website. Dawn Blush will be available on Running With Brushes..

Bouquet (Day 13 of 30) #PaintSeptember

Bouquet (watercolour 20 x 15cm)
Bouquet (watercolour 20 x 15cm)

Monday was my birthday and I was very lucky to receive a pile of beautiful watercolour paper as a gift. When I say watercolour paper, I mean paper of much higher quality than I have painted on before. This was Arches 640gsm – and I got a pack each of all three textures.

If you’ve never painted on 640gsm paper, please do yourself a favour and buy some – even just one sheet. The only problem I had was that it felt so luxurious I was almost too afraid to apply my brush.  But, in my usual fashion, I took the leap and painted part of a bouquet I had been given. Purple lysanthum: one of my favourite flowers with their enticing spiral buds which open into elegant cup-shaped blossoms, brilliant yellow gazanias providing a shout of brightness in the mix, and white roses for a classic touch. It needed to be painted.

This wasn’t my usual painting style. In some respects I wanted to test the paper’s robustness, so I worked it quite hard. There’s a layer of watercolour, then partly covered with a gesso glaze, and finally another later of watercolour over some of the gesso’d sections. And the paper took it all beautifully, as I would expect from material of this quality. There was no cockling, no buckling. It was a real treat.

I’m travelling for the next 10 days so I can’t get into my studio and have just a sketch book and some small postcard size pieces of 300gsm paper with me. But I know that the next weekend I get into the studio at home, I’ve got a real treat in store for me. I’ll be able to paint on Rolls Royce quality paper.



Funky Fish (Day 11 of 30)

Funky Fish (watercolour 6 x 4 inch)
Funky Fish (watercolour 6 x 4 inch)

So there’s another great connected world story about this painting.  My friend Karin Panaino Petersen (in South Africa) tagged me in a comment on a photo on Facebook. Her comment said: ” Would make such a nice painting. Vandy Massey?” The photo was taken by her friend Jacques (In the USA).

When I looked at the photo I thought: “Great suggestion.” (Karin has a good eye). And chose that as my subject for the evening’s painting. (This being Day 11 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days).

A couple of hours later I posted this in a comment to Karin: “It was fun Do you know the photographer/Fisherman? I’d love to use this painting on RWB but need to ask permission”

Then Karin posted the photo on Jacques page. In less than a day Jacques and I were Facebook friends and he was asking if he could buy the painting.

It went up on Running With Brushes , he bought it, and he is now the happy owner of Funky Fishes (the photo and the painting) and as soon as it’s mounted it will be in the mail and on it’s way to North Carolina.

I really, really love living in a connected world. 🙂

(And thank you Karin Panaino Petersen for making it all happen).