I’m back from my trip and have just completed some another piece of Belle Île Orchard art.
When we arrived on Belle Île the first thing that struck me was the glorious sunset. The following morning, I noticed the field across the road that was filled with meadow flowers. This is where the material came from when we started painting flowers from a French field. They were quite literally picked from the field a few minutes before we sat down to paint.
There were other subjects to paint during the week, some of which I will come back to. We saw sea, rocks, lighthouses, fabulously coloured houses and so much more. But the Belle Île Orchard art subject matter really captivated me. The field with it’s flowers seemed to epitomise the name of the place, and as the sunflowers and cosmos blossoms waved gently under the island sun, they seemed to invite more painting time. So I conceded and painted more flowers – just for now. The rest will come later.
Belle Ile Orchard Art
There’s a fascinating juxtaposition in this painting between the loose randomness of the meadow full of flowers, and the tidy, conforming lines of the Brittany house just behind the hedge. Even more so, when you consider the straight upright of the flag pole in the garden. The fruit trees in the orchard march neatly down the field in obediently productive lines.
Amongst all of this tidiness and order, the wild flowers display a delightful touch of nature’s rebellion against the order of the man-made world – creating their very own Belle Île Orchard art, at least during the summer months.
I now have a head full of other images that need to be painted so I’m off to the studio for a short evening painting session. I may come out for supper.
Painting flowers is always harder than it seems. It’s all too easy to make them stiff and un-natural looking.
Despite the fact that we see flowers all over the place, on a daily basis, it’s often quite difficult to capture the essence of a particular flower – the shape, the tone, the angle of the stem. It all adds up to making the general impression.
So why am I painting flowers from a French field?
About a year ago my friend, Olivia Quintin called to tell me about a painting week she was organising on Belle Ile. I would have jumped at the chance to paint on the island, and when she told me that the other tutor was to be Fabio Cembranelli, I was completely hooked. Fabio’s atmospheric painting style is one I have admired for some time, and Olivia paints with stunningly vibrant colour mixes. Fantastic combination of tutors and some dedicated painting time on a beautiful island. What could be better?
This is the result of my second day of working with Fabio and I couldn’t be happier with the result. I’ve loved doing this painting and have now been spurred on to do more like it.
Painting Flowers from a French Field
The field opposite our little complex of chalets is a mass of wild flowers. There are sunflowers, wild crysanthemums, pink cosmos, white cosmos and cornflowers. Painting flowers is almost unavoidable when you have that much fantastic material on the doorstep. Here’s one bunch that provided inspiration for the artists who wanted to spend time painting flowers.
Fabio’s approach to painting flowers is not to slavishly follow the bouquet in front of him. Instead he uses the shapes and colours as inspiration, but takes artistic licence on the composition and in adding new flowers to bring in colours and form to enhance the original image.
Plein Air painting with Olivia tomorrow. What surprises will that bring?
Yesterday was a day for considering painting darks. There was one last tomato and a bag of glorious big field mushrooms in the kitchen when I was looking for my subject yesterday. The mushrooms caught my eye.
There’s a lovely tonal contrast between the dark underside frills and the creamy top of a field mushroom that just invites the artist’s brush so I decided that painting darks was going to be the day 3 project.
I couldn’t leave the poor lonely tomato out of the frame so I added it just for fun. Next time I might go for a purely mushroom composition, because in hindsight, I’m not sure the tomato adds anything particularly fabulous to the image – and it’s not really in sync with the painting darks theme. You may also notice that I lost interest when I was painting the tomato vine. It seemed unimportant to my purpose – the painting darks thing.
Despite its title, this painting really is all about the insides of the mushrooms (which, tasted fantastic when we ate them for supper, by the way).
Raw umber was the main colour for shaping and detailing the smooth edges of the mushroom. I deliberately chose two with quite different edge shapes so that I could work on capturing the juicy roundness of the fat specimen on the right, as well as the slightly tattered frill on the other.
Burnt Umber was my dark of choice. I added some lovely rich blues to emphasise the deep shadows under the upper lip of the mushroom, and some lovely perylene maroon in the nearer part of the frill to provide some warmth.
I was hampered for colour as I was just using a little box of paint blocks rather than my normal range of colours. So while I’m not under any illusions that this is a masterpiece, it’s achieved it’s purpose: I had a good play with painting darks.
Following the discipline of practicing active observation in a form of listening with my eyes, my attention kept coming back to a basket of autumn apples in the garden. They were originally put there waiting to be eaten, but to my mind that were really waiting for me to start painting autumn apples.
The rich reds and crisp yellows were a dream colour combination and I set myself the challenge of capturing the diverse range of reds (in particular) that I could see in the fruit.
Painting Autumn apples
This painting is as much about tonal values as it is about colour. Given the dominance of reds in the subject, its critical to get the tonal values right. Without that, the painting is flat and lifeless. My initial focus was on the bright yellow of the apple furthest to the back of the basket.
By luck (although I would love to say that I had the foresight to arrange them that way) the darkest piece of fruit was in right next to it which gave me a natural focal point. But, the yellow apple is too close to the centre of the page for my liking. Lightening the green around the stalk of the darker piece of fruit in the process of painting autumn apples shifted that point of interest enough to the left to give me comfort in the composition.
I started this with water soluble pencils to mark out the basket and the basic positions of the apples. A few of the marks are still visible from the pencils. I find it less easy to get the intensity of colour with them, so I went on to painting autumn apples with pure watercolour once I had got my basic positions right.
Here’s a photograph of the actual basket of apples where you can see the colours that inspired this little exercise in painting autumn apples.
It may seem completely obvious to talk about painting colour. After all how could you painting without painting colour? But bear with me. Hopefully this will make sense by the end of this post.
Monday marked Day 1 of the current 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge. I’ve done a couple of these in the past and found them to be both demanding, and hugely valuable at the same time. They create a structure and a focus for painting time, and in the past have also provided a boost to the Running With Brushes collection.
I had actually decided that I wasn’t going to take part again this time, mainly because I’m pushed for time (as always). But I signed up nevertheless thinking that I could just dip in from time to time during the month and post what I could.
But then last weekend we spent time with some very warm and wise friends. It was a grounding couple of days in which we walked, talked, ate, wandered through beautiful gardens and along windswept beaches. We talked about family, history, books and life in general. We talked about the value of slowing down the pace of life and paying really focussing on the here and the now.
Listening – and I mean really listening, with full attention – is something we know is a huge gift. Not many of us are very good at it. We’re distracted by the noise of daily life.
So I got thinking about 30 Paintings in 30 Days and I will take part. Rather than post a fully formed painting every day, I am using this challenge as an opportunity to ‘listen with my eyes’. This is a marvellous opportunity to practice active looking and recording what I see. I’ll write more about my thinking on this theme as the challenge progresses, and as patterns in my perceptions emerge.
Painting Colours – Day 1:
On a walk through the woods I came across three fully grown Silver Birch trees that have been downed – probably by some huge storm: the roots are exposed and at least one of them is now growing horizontally. Tree shrapnel is scattered across the meadow and I found this wonderful strip of bark with it’s lovely textures and colours. It made me want to spend some time focused on painting colour as I see it in the bark.
Here’s the beautiful piece of bark with all is delicate colour variations. tree bark clearly isn’t just brown or grey. There are shades of green, blue and reds in this piece of nature’s art – inviting you to have a go at painting colour.
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.