Medieval Village Sketch from Umbria

This little medieval village sketch was started while I was on holiday in Umbria.  Standing at the window of our room, this was the view down the valley. I made a quick pen sketch before we left.

It always seemed really quiet and almost uninhabited, and we wondered what went on in Borgo di Santa Giuliana. It seems, although the village has been restored, it only has one resident at present. What a great pity to have such a beautiful place and no-one to enjoy it. Sadly, it does seem to reflect a lot of what is happening in Italy at the moment. The economy is still struggling and if you look around, you can see the signs.

Having done only a pen sketch on site, I thought it would come to life more if I used a bit of colour. So this weekend, I used a few water soluble graphite pencils on the medieval village sketch.

Medieval village sketch
Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Sketch with water soluble graphite activated

Just for interest, here’s the sketch before the graphite pencil was activated. Although the colours aren’t particularly vibrant, I do like these pencils.

Medieval village sketch
Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Sketch with water soluble graphite

Borgo di Santa Giuliana – Medieval Village Sketch

Here’s an English translation (although perhaps not a perfect one) of the text found on the website link to Borgo di Santa Giuliana:

The first news about the ancient village of Santa Giuliana back to the year 1362. In 1411, Captain Paolo Orsini, an ally of Braccio da Montone Fortinbras, attacked the castle in the north of Perugia, and Santa Giuliana was besieged. The reaction of the inhabitants, however, was so resolute and effective that the attackers had to leave.  The commander, Orsini, was seriously injured. After many years of neglect, the whole complex has been completely restored, respecting the original structure. It is a beautiful example of a small medieval village. Inside the castle is a little church, built in 1558, dedicated to St. Anthony.  At about 1 km you will find a tower, an ancient outpost of defence, and the church dedicated to Santa Giuliana.

I’ve been doing some planning for a few more complete paintings of this village. More to come. I’ll try not to bore you with too many of them.

Society of East Anglian Watercolourists

East Anglian Watercolourists

The art event in my August calendar is the summer exhibition of the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in blogging mode.  July was a busy month with more than a few highlights:

We went off to Umbria for the annual Jazz Festival in Perugia. My head is filled with images of musicians, great buildings, and fantastic unspoiled scenery. There’s loads of painting subject material in that part of the world. Once I’ve sorted through my photos, I’ll have enough for a series. I’ve not managed to get back into the studio since I got back, but I will be picking up my brushes again soon.

I took part in Cambridge Open Studios for the first time this year. Our home was open to visitors on the first and last weekends of the month. Over the course of these two weekends I had 83 visitors, most of whom hadn’t seen my work before. I’ve taken part in Saffron Walden Open Studios for the past two years, which was a good way to get into the Open Studios groove. Being located half way between Saffron Walden and Cambridge presents some challenges for visitors at either of these events: we are in the outer regions from either direction.

The Society of East Anglian Watercolourists Summer Exhibition

This is the next event I’ll be taking part in. I’ll have six paintings on show at this event next week. Unfortunately, I’m not likely to be able to attend the preview evening, as I’m due to have a little operation two days beforehand.  Marc is (yet again) being wonderfully supportive and will deliver my paintings for me so that I can take part.

If you’re in the area and would like to attend the preview of this event, please let me know. The standard of work from these East Anglian Watercolourists is extremely high and it’s always a good exhibition.

 

 

Fred Ted and the military medals

Fred Ted's military medals
Fred Ted (watercolour)

Hayley Oats sent me a photo of Fred Ted and her grandfather’s military medals as part of the Everyday Treasures series.

Here’s Hayley’s story about Fred Ted and the Military Medals:

When I was asked by Vandy to provide something that should could paint that meant a lot to me, think what you would save in a fire,  was the description. Well I had a tough time.  I am the family historian for want of a better description, (although I think most of the family would say hoarder!)  as well as a wedding photographer…… so anyway after my initial reaction of photos and family history I sat and thought about it more.

Here’s my precious item.

Fred the big teddy bear is very special to me, he was given to me the day I was born by my grandfather, affectionately known as Big Poppa.  He was always the one who sat quietly in the corner of the kitchen whilst my grandma cooked and had a house full of people. The place was never empty, people popping in and out. If he wasn’t in the kitchen chair he was in his workshop with a car in bits to be mended or turning wood and making beautiful wooden, bowls, vases, fruit the list goes on. He was very creative. As a child I don’t remember him talking much, although I am assured he did, he was always there, just quietly observing. It was only when my grandma sadly passed away that I really started to have conversations with him and it was not long after that I got a job working with the Royal Engineers (Explosive Ordnance Regiment) that we started to learn about his time in the Second World War.

He started out in the Royal Artillery but was at some point yet to be defined, was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the precursor to the SAS, for his explosives experience.  Up until this point we don’t think he had talked to anyone about his WWII experiences, and he was always a little guarded about the level of detail he would give, he said, “ I signed the official Secrets Act and some things should stay that way”  What we do know is that he was involved in Dieppe Raid of 1942 which was such a disaster, but that he made it into France to complete his mission, where the rest of his team were killed. He was also seriously injured: both his ankles were broken.  He told me he remembers leaning over a 5 bar gate, and then being carried on someone’s shoulders, but not really much else.  It appears he was found and carried back to safety by two , to this day unknown, Canadian soldiers. He recuperated in a military hospital in Kent.

We have many little anecdotes like this one:  After one SOE mission he asked the medical officer how he could relax and he said he should get blind drunk and everything would be fine!

After his time in Dieppe he was taken off active overseas service and became a military lorry driver in the UK.  Once the war was over he was discharged and had a successful career back at home in Yorkshire working for British Coal. In later years he was given a military pension because his hearing had been so damaged by his time in the Royal Artillery.

We hadn’t really heard any of these stories until I started my job with the Royal Engineers. Sadly, he died a short while after I started working there and so it makes those precious moments extra special. The military medals are his, they don’t look like many for a man whose service was so varied, (this is just a short highlight) but medals weren’t awarded to those in the SOE, as it was Clandestine operations they couldn’t give medals for things that didn’t ‘technically’ happen.

So Fred and the military medals, remind me of how precious it is to spend time with my family talking about our adventures so the stories can live on.  Fred and the medals, and this fabulous painting will one day pass to my nephew so he can carry on knowing the stories.

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.

In the Bag – Painting a leather handbag

In the Bag (leather handbag watercolour 37 x 27)

When I asked my sister, Lori for a Precious Artifacts story, she presented me with a photograph of her leather handbag

The original photograph of the leather handbag

Here’s the story of Lori’s precious leather bag:

I have always been a fan of Carrol Boyes functional art. I own quite a few of her pieces. When I discovered she had expanded her range to include leather goods I was thrilled.

I am not a person who owns handbags to match every outfit. I have a good black Coach leather handbag which has been in use for about 15 years now, but I didn’t have a good quality brown leather handbag. I lusted after this one. The leather is soft and it has the Carrol Boyes trademark pewter details, but it was quite expensive so I added it to my “maybe someday” list.

Then I unexpectedly landed a commission to do the illustrations for a children’s book. I had not done any serious drawing for many years and the job terrified and excited me at the same time. Having completed the job to the author’s satisfaction, and having been paid, I decided to spend part of the money on the handbag. A useful, constant reminder that being terrified and leaping through that fear brings rewards, both tangible and intangible.

How do you paint a brown leather handbag and make it interesting? With a monochrome subject there is a danger of a boring painting.

My approach to painting Lori’s leather handbag

I started with blue underpainting to get my tonal values in the right places. The exciting aspect of painting this was capturing the folds and shadows, and the rich colours.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 1
Blue underwash defines tonal values

I had used masking fluid to save the white paper for all the metal fasteners. Fortunately I was using 640lb Arches smooth so the fact that the masking fluid stayed on for many days was OK. This isn’t something I would advocate, but this painting took a while. I had my fingers firmly crossed as I peeled off the latex at the end. Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber started the process of adding the brown tones over the blue underwash.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 2
Masking fluid keeps metallic fasteners clear as the browns start to go on

I found I could only go so far with the depth of colour using only those two browns, despite the tonal underwash, and this is where things started to get interesting. What other colours can you see in a brown leather bag?

leather handbag watercolour WIP 3
Deepening the colour section by section

Adding purple and blue really brought out the richness of the colours. The contrast made the burnished reds in the brown sections come out much more strongly. I found that painting with my fingers gave me a much smoother texture for the leather.

leather handbag watercolour WIP 4
To get a rich burnished effect, the last stage of the browns were painted with my fingers.

The final stage was putting in the gold colours for the metal fasteners, the stitching details, and adding in the background. I wanted an earthy feel to this painting. Lori loves natural things – good quality leather, natural fibres, being in the bushveld. I also wanted the bag to feel rich and filled with value because of its significance to her. And above all – not just flat brown.

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.

Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014

Saffron Walden Open Studios

For the second year, I’ll be taking part in Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014.

I will be opening my studio at 19 Church Close, Whittlesford CB22 4NY for the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. And there will be cake in the garden in aid of Care for Casualties. It’s a bit early for our garden to be in full bloom and I’d love you to visit us if you are around that weekend. (If you’re a garden fan and would prefer to visit later in the summer, I will be taking part in the first and last weekends of Cambridge Open Studios in July as well.)

Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014

The studio and garden will be open from 11am to 6pm on both weekends. I will be exhibiting a range of watercolour paintings, both framed and unframed. In addition to my full size works, my Running With Brushes paintings will be available to view. And for those who are interested in limited edition fine art prints, there will be an opportunity to view some of the range, and order prints for delivery within a week.
The Saffron Walden Arts Trust is a charitable organisation which coordinates, encourages and promotes artistic enterprises of all kinds in the Saffron Walden area. The trust provides practical support to local artists and performers to help them display their talents, with initiatives such as music festivals and craft fairs as well as open studio events.

The open studio events provide visitors with the opportunity to see the work of local artists by visiting their studios. Visitors can talk to the artists about their methods, influences and approaches to their art. I was only open for one of the two Open Studios weekends last year. Even so, I met some wonderful art lovers and had some great conversations. I am looking forward to the Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014 weekends this summer.

Oscilloscope: All The Fun Is Inside

Oscilloscope (watercolour and acrylic ink). Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
All The Fun Is Inside (watercolour and acrylic ink 21 x 13 cm)

I wasn’t expecting an oscilloscope.

The beauty of my Precious Artifacts series is that I never know quite what I’m going to get. It’s always a surprise when someone sends me their photograph and story. That’s all part of the fun, and the challenge.

Noel was the second person to come back to me with his Artifact for painting. An avid blogger and science enthusiast, Noel chose to blog about his subject. Here’s  the link to the post with photos of his 1970’s oscilloscope. When I first saw the post, I had a few thoughts:

– What??? Help???? How???

And then:
– Which one should I choose for the painting?
– How am I going to make this painting interesting?
– How do I deal with the complexity of all those wires?

Then I thought about Noel’s oscilloscope accompanying story. In his words:

“I love anything to do with science, I have since I was old enough to know what it was. First it was maths, and I ran out of maths books at school. They had to buy a new one for me and my mate. They cut it up and gave us different pages each, a few at a time – so they only needed to buy one book. Weird, perhaps they didn’t reckon on using it too often after we left.

A chemistry set arrived when I was nine – test-tubes of potassium permanganate and various other lovely chemicals, a meths fuelled burner and an asbestos mat. It is a wonder I survived long enough to be able to discover physics at thirteen.

Electronics, in particular fascinated me – this was the time of discrete components, and indeed valves were still around. I built an oscilloscope from a kit – surviving several 240 volt shocks in the process. (I still have the ‘scope, complete with two pentode valves, though the greater sense of self-preservation that comes with age prevents me from firing it up again!)

I have now dusted off the old ‘scope. Still totally fascinated by it, even after forty odd years.”

I realised that Noel’s fascination with science is all about working out the different elements. Then in how they work together and what they do in combination. It’s all about what’s inside:

So that’s what the painting had to reflect. The outside is a conservative, plain black box with the buttons all lined up in neat lines. If you just look at the outside, it all looks quite boring. To see the really good stuff – you have to look inside. That’s where the oscilloscope magic happens!

Creative Commons License
All The Fun Is Inside by Vandy Massey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.