Painting a Mill Wheel and The Brecon Beacons

I’ve just had a weekend of wonderful contrasts: I’ve painted the Brecon Beacons from the top of Pen y Fan at 5.30am, and  I’ve spent a quiet hour painting a mill wheel in the garden of the idyllic restored mill we were staying in. Wales has treated us to continuous rain every time we have visited. For the first time, this weekend the weather was absolutely perfect.

Hiking Pen y Fan in June 2018
Pen y Fan – June 2018. Zero visibility.

I love big landscapes. They are what started me painting in the first place. So given the fact that the weather was so good, we decided to be intrepid and hike up Pen y Fan to watch the sunrise. It wasn’t the hike that was daunting – rather the 3.00am alarms that got us out of bed to get there and walk to the top in time to see the first glimpse of the sun.  You never know what you’ll find when you get to the top. There can be clear views at the bottom while the top is enveloped in cloud. This was what we discovered on our first ascent in June last year.

This time was different though. The moon was full so we could easily walk up with no torches to light our way. And then, when we reached the top – the view was just breathtaking!

Pen y Fan – April 2019. A view from the top of the world.

My backpack contained my water bottle, a packet of biscuits in case of emergency hunger, and my sketching kit.

Capturing the colours of Brecon Beacon sunrise in watercolour in my sketchbook
Capturing the colours of Brecon Beacon sunrise in my sketchbook. Its impossible to recreate the beauty of nature, but this was as close as I could get.

For the artists amongst my readers, the colours: (All Daniel Smith) Quinacridone Gold, Transparent Pyrrol Orange, Sharow Violet, Undersea Green.

Watercolour painting the view from Pen y Fan at sunrise
As the sky lightened the features of the landscape became clearer.

If it hadn’t been so cold I would have sketched for longer, but by this stage, my fingers were numb with the cold. Time to stop.

Subject for Painting a mill wheel - Park Stile Mill, Kington, HerefordshireHow often do we complain that we have the urge to paint, but can’t settle on a subject that inspired us enough? I’ve started looking for things in my immediate surroundings for some inspiration.

Painting a mill wheel
Capturing the shadows and the patina of age on the old mill wheel

With the Brecon sunrise safely in my sketchbook to be developed in the studio at a a future date, I looked for something new to paint.

Right there in the garden was the subject I was looking for – the old mill wheel. So I ended up painting a mill wheel. I did a few small paintings – one of which is pictured here. The rest are in progress.

It is wonderful to go and seek out grand inspirational views which will become part of your memory bank of images to draw on. But equally, there painting subjects in our environment almost all the time. It just takes practice to see them.  Sometimes we don’t notice them until we stop and take a good look around us.

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.

Cascade Watercolour, power and energy

vandymassey.com Cascade Watercolour
Cascade: Watercolour and acrylic medium 28 x 38 cm

Viewed from the bottom of the waterfall, the water is the star in this painting. Water is increasingly a feature in my work. I love its dynamic nature and its many facets: in this painting, the power and energy of the falling water as it crashes onto the rocks.

I treated sections of the painting differently to achieve the effects of energy in the water, and solidity in the rock face. The under-wash of acrylic medium in blocky shapes of the rocks was allowed to dry and treated as an adapted support for the image. Conversely, the acrylic medium was included at the wet stage for the cascading watercolour waterfall. This allowed the mediums to mingle and interact on the paper with breaks showing the rock face behind the cascade.

The Cascade watercolour has been added to my Artfinder page.

Cascade watercolour

Paper: 640gsm Arches
Medium: watercolour with some acrylic medium.

 

 

Dragons Breathing Fire in the Sky

Dragons breathing fire
Drakensberg Fire (watercolour)

African sunsets are often stunningly vibrant with orange, pink and red streaks across the sky. In the Drakensberg (Dragon’s Mountains) the sunset could almost be the Dragons breathing fire.

Now that I’m back home I’ve gone back into the studio. The first day was spent doing a major spring clean and sort out. All an absolute pleasure as the studio had been painted while I was away and the walls are now beautiful bright white instead of the pale blue they were before. (Thank you to Marc, Peter and Chris for doing all the clearing out, painting and putting back of the furniture and equipment for me. No small task and I am very grateful to them all.)

So now I can get out my brushes again I’m drawn to capture the atmosphere of some of the glorious places we’ve just visited. One of my favourite places was the Drakensberg. From Montusi Mountain Lodge you get a wonderful view of these Dragon’s peaks.  Every evening we sat watching entranced as the sun slid behind the peaks, painting the sky in luminous colours as it went. It was a high point of each day.

The Dragons Mountains

I love the fact that the Drakensberg have more than one name. The commonly known ‘English’ version is in fact taken from the Afrikaans name, Dragons Mountains. The Zulu name for these mountains is just as descriptive: uKhahlamba (Barrier of Spears). The mountain range stretches over 1000 km along the length of South Africa from the Eastern Cape into the northern most province of Limpopo.

Dragon's sunset
Drakensberg Sunset (small watercolour)

This smaller version of the scene was done for Running With Brushes. Both reflect the incredible, almost unbelievable, colours of the Drakensberg evening skies.

The captivating beauty of this part of the world will draw us back, so we will be back.

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.

 

Tuscan Doors With Character

Tuscan Doors (watercolour 15 x 21 cm)
Tuscan Doors (watercolour 15 x 21 cm)

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.

Restaurant interior sketch
Da Alighiero – bottles and old trunks sketched while waiting for lunch

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.

Lest We Forget – Commemorating the start of WW1

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.

RWB0104 Fields of Green
Fields of Green (Watercolour 21 x 15 cm)

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 4th August 2014. Lest We forget
Tower of London 4th August 2014. Lest We forget

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.

The Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red exhibition, by

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.

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.