Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Taking Risks with Sketching Nature in Watercolour in Wales

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.”   
~ Aristotle

On my recent trip to Wales I found myself in the Elan Valley gazing at a beautiful sight that I wanted to capture in watercolour in my travel journal.  

The goal with this sketch was to achieve freedom, looseness and expression using watercolour, water brushes and ordinary antiqued notebook paper.  I do not use my cheap water brushes very often so I was not expecting too much from this painting session. 

Fifteen minutes later I surprised myself.  The pigment and water flowed freely in the right places.  The page was flooded to achieve this level of fluidity and movement and the paper coped really well considering the huge puddles of water.  The strong wind helped to push the pigment along further.  The whole session was quite exhilarating and I was quite thrilled with the effects and the painting session.  The thrill was knowing how risky the process was under these conditions.  Risk taking is definitely part of the excitement with watercolour. 

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On this holiday I was studying groups of trees and the interesting shapes they create in numbers.  This trip I stuffed my travel  journal with all sorts of different papers to explore how they behaved. 

Interestingly I watched a programme about Auguste Rodin, the sculptor, the other week and his watercolour sketching habits.  Once on a trip he ran out of paper and went to the nearest butcher to ask for the wrapping paper they used.  If he could use thin paper and still produce expressively wonderful sketches, then who am I to quibble with him about what paper he should have used because I read it once in a watercolour teaching book.  Of course when I am guiding my learners I advise them to use nothing lighter than 300 gsm (140 lb) watercolour paper. When we eventually know what we are doing with watercolour, we can then use what we like to fit the purpose. 

Each different paper type brings with it different characteristics and risks.  The sketch above is a practice piece I did back at the holiday cottage on 80 gsm inkjet printer paper.  I was quite surprised what I achieved with it. 

This is the second study of the same trees on ordinary antiqued notebook paper.  Both papers have different absorption levels so create different effects.  Both painted with my Escoda 8 sable brush and the same Windsor and Newton artist quality pigments.  Both are fine as sketches in my travel journal.   

Who knows, maybe these were the types of explorations that Rodin was comparing when he did his sketches on unconventional papers too.  Part of the excitement of watercolour, or any medium for that matter, is watching how they behave on different surfaces.  

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Sharing the Joys and Knowledge of Expressive Watercolour

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”  ~ Margaret Fuller

Perhaps the biggest joy for me recently has been sharing my watercolour knowledge with someone who thought she would never be able to draw or paint.  For 41 years my friend has been telling me she cannot draw or paint.  For 41 years I have been gently telling her she could if she wanted to.  Last week with a bit more encouragement I convinced her to just relax and have some fun with my watercolours with no pressure. She was finally open and ready to the idea of her being able to draw and paint with a little bit of guidance.

I was really chuffed that she made a fabulous start and most importantly that she really enjoyed the experience.  I was delighted that we ended our first session at the local art shop to buy her a set of her own watercolours, brushes and paper.  Already we have had another full day session studying technique and lots of colour theory.  She has been practising on her own too and is really excited about continuing to play with colour.  All that was missing for her was a little bit of knowledge in how to start this wondrous journey of self-discovery and playing with colour.  

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As her guider, I am very conscious of not wanting to dampen down her natural creative instincts.  Even at such an early stage with artistic development, individuality is present and needs to be nurtured and not suppressed.  For this reason, I am taking the approach to work with her strengths and weakness as they occur.  I allow her to make independent decisions about subject, composition, colour and lots more from the start. In effect she is in the driving seat of how our sessions develop.  I am there just to guide with technique and theory.   

Of course these are one-to-one sessions which can easily be tailored to suit her needs and abilities.  My aim from the start is to develop independence with watercolour as quickly as possible and not to develop a copy of me as a painter.   For this reason I have chosen not to use learning tools like step by steps.  We will be working from life as much as possible so she will develop the confidence to be herself as a creative from very early on.    

For me it is quite an exciting challenge to see how far we get and also to see which direction we are going to go in.  Nothing is mapped out and we are just going with the flow.  How many times have I said that before on this blog?  “Just going with the flow.”  As a painter she is going to be very different to me because her skills and tastes are totally different to mine. I want to encourage that difference and not smother it from existence with my own ideas and abilities with watercolour.  It will be interesting for me to see how she views the world in artistic terms and how she will eventually express those on paper with her own watercolours.

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No doubt I will show my version of some of what we do together in future if I think it is interesting enough.  For now I am going to wish everyone looking in a lovely summer.  I have a few projects planned for myself that are not art dedicated so I will be taking a break from blogging for a little while.  

Sunday, 17 July 2016

“Pushing and Shoving” with Rose Petals in Watercolour

This week my explorations with flower petals continued.  I was aiming for subtlety in tone, delicacy, fragility and that ephemeral thing that flowers are all about. 

Of all the watercolour techniques I know the one I call “pushing and shoving” is perhaps the most difficult process to achieve especially when delicacy is the objective.  It very much relies on timing, patience and strong will power to hold back until the right moment to go in and add more pigment.  Learning to read the changing stages of water drying on the paper is vital.  Too early in adding too weak a pigment strength creates nothing more than a flood of similar toned wash.  The key with this is to build tone in the right places, at the right time, with the right strength of pigment.  Patience is definitely a virtue with this technique.    

Compositionally I was aiming for an abstract of delicate layered washes.  The white of the paper is the first layer of tone.  Sorry photos are not the best but they are adequate enough to get the idea.  

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Opinions about my watercolours are always interesting to hear.  Though after all these years I have learnt to take all of them with a pinch of salt.  I remember a few years ago an elderly gentleman who thought he knew a thing or three about art advised me not to leave white paper areas in my watercolour paintings.  I questioned him further about his comment, only to learn that he was basing his opinion on his collection of oil paintings that he had collected over the years.  At that point I politely said to him:  “Yes I will remember that in future.”   In my head I was thinking: “Yes I will remember in future that this guy has no idea what art is all about and he still regards himself as an art critic.”   I have found that everyone is an art critic in this crazy world.  The most amusing and memorable ones are the ones who have no idea what they are talking about.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Inspiration for Flower Petal Studies in Watercolour

Inspiration is a strange and wonderful thing and I never know when it is going to hit me next.  An idea for a new subject to study popped into my head whilst attending a friend’s son’s wedding a few weeks ago.  Then life got busy and the idea was put on the back burner.      

This weekend the petal idea sprang to mind once again when I attended another close friend’s wedding that was held in the grounds of a public rose garden.  The roses were blossoming in spectacular abundance and in all sorts of colours.   Both weddings had pretty flower petals as confetti and that is where the idea for studying petals came from. 

Petals seem to be the theme for the summer of 2016 for me.  During my recent trip to Madeira petals were dropping at my feet and covering the streets.  So now, I find I really cannot ignore what life is trying to say to me and petals have become the current subject of study.     


Late last night I started with a very quick, loose “mood study” of rose petals.  This was a different approach to my last floral painting that was all about strength and vibrancy within flowers. With this new concept, I look forward to exploring fragility, delicacy and lightness with flower petals.      

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Bird of Paradise Flowers in Watercolour

“At the end of your brush is the tip of your soul.”  
~ Andrew Hamilton 

This week I decided to tackle the bird of paradise flower once again.  To make things more interesting I challenged myself to move away from the photographic composition I was working from.  I used my photo just as a reference.      

Bird of Paradise Flowers
Watercolour with a touch of gouache

Having seen these flowers growing in large clumps in Madeira recently, I knew there was nothing soft, gentle or wispy about them. These plants exude substance, strength and structure which meant in my mind a painting of them needed to reflect their fundamental characteristics.   

Having sorted out the direction of the painting, I then proceeded to figure out how I could inject more of myself into this painting that was obviously going to rely heavily on structure.  It did not take me long to realise that my natural style with watercolour would kick in to sort out that problem. At that point I stopped thinking and just got on with painting.  Sometimes it is best not to think too much and just allow instinct to take over.   

Of course it takes years and years of practice to become a truly instinctive painter.  Even now, after all these years, I know I still have lots to learn.  My artistic path will never be content with just being able to draw or paint for the sake of producing a simple painting.  It will always be motivated to learn and explore more. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Different Approaches with my Watercolours and Urban Sketches from Madeira

The sketches from my holiday in Madeira show some of the different artistic approaches I take with tackling subjects in the moment of experience.    All were drawn or painted from life and each had different objectives with the creative process.  


Exotic flowers and banana plants grow everywhere in Madeira. These flowers and bananas were lovely personal touches left for us in our holiday apartment.  They made interesting watercolour subjects.  


Both these pen and wash urban sketches were tackled from my holiday balcony.  The first was just a simple sketch done with no particular concept in mind.  With the second I was playing with the idea of simple block colour with no texture, form or shading and creating a simpler illustrative approach. 


Whilst hubby was watching the England v Wales football match on large screen in the centre of Funchal, I was sitting on a monument step watching and sketching the spectators.  Hubby is the third one along from the right.    

There were lots of waiting times which I filled with sketching opportunities.  My favourite of these was the streetlamp sketch.  Whilst waiting for a minibus tour early one morning, my eye was caught by the flash of red given off by the geraniums hanging from a streetlamp pole.  Geraniums always remind me of Mediterranean summers spent in Italy as a child.  I tried to accentuate the flowers with the co-ordinating coloured text. I was not too bothered about shape and form.  I just wanted a quick sketch that captured the feeling and colour of the moment.  Sometimes all that is necessary in some circumstances is just a simple expressive mark or two.  


I have not included all my Madeira sketches as that would get quite boring especially as I have pages of coffee cup sketches.  Having looked back at my sketches I was surprised to see how many times we stopped for a coffee break in a week.

Now it is time to review my photographs of Madeira and to see what I want to paint back in my little studio using a completely different approach yet again. 


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Ready for Some Summer Watercolour Sketching in Madeira

This week I have been getting my sketching gear ready to take with me to Madeira.  A Portuguese island surrounded by nothing but lots and lots of water.  That little bit of information tells me that I will need lots and lots of blue pigment.    

As I have no idea what I will encounter on my travels I have decided to take a selection of papers and my favourite mediums of watercolour, pen and graphite.  My stool is staying at home this time which will restrict where I can sketch with my watercolours. 

The last time I used my stool was for my sketch trip to the British Museum.  (A few posts down. Link here )  I remember the lady door attendant jokingly said to me: “Make sure you don’t bat anyone on the head with your stool.”  We both laughed.  It was actually quite nice to encounter someone in that job with a sense of humour.  Ironically, later I did bat someone on the head with my stool and that was ‘me’.  I did it when I swung my bag onto my shoulder.  My stool sticks out of my bag a little and it tapped my head as I swung my bag.  I had never tapped my head in that way before with my stool.  I thought of the lady attendant at that point and had a little chuckle to myself.

Landscapes and people are the subjects I want to try to concentrate on during this trip. I recently ordered Sketching People by Lynne Chapman.  It talks about a number of my favourite urban sketching artists and how they sketch people with their different styles.  I have only quickly scanned through the book as I have been saving it to read on my trip.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Out and About Sketching in May

I think sketching season has well and truly arrived judging by what I have been up to the past couple of weeks.     

I had a quick bit of watercolour fun one sunny afternoon in my garden.  A4 Loose Leaf Floral Sketchbook.  Sorry bad photo taken with my iphone which never compares well to photos taken with my camera.

Sitting waiting for hubby in a hospital waiting room.  Between us we spend lots of time waiting these days.  I took my Sketching 365 book by Katherine Tyrrell for a quick read. Every time I pick up that book I learn something new about sketching.  A6 Travel Sketchbook. 

A visit to the British Museum in London was exciting.  Sketching in amongst hoards of people on a very busy Saturday needs nerves of steel.  Luckily I am not that bothered where I sketch and who sees me do it these days.  Now I just have to convince my two sketching buddies that sketching in cafes is not that bad compared to how busy the British Museum was.  A5 Travel Sketchbook

Books always fascinate me either to draw or to paint.  These are in the British Museum Library.  I had to shorten the shelf to get it to fit on my paper. A5 Travel Sketchbook.    

Just as a reminder; my books sketched in watercolour in 2011.  None of the colours and shadows were true to life and they were all from my imagination.   

Monday, 9 May 2016

Urban Sketching with Watercolour in the Dedham Vale Area

This week the weather warmed up tremendously that it was at last time to get my urban sketching gear out. Once again I wanted to reduce the amount of stuff I carry around with me on sketching days.  I decided to use an old small box that used to be my son’s school watercolour tin.  Generally the colours I use are the same few.  I love colour but I love familiarity with the colours I choose more.

Me at St Mary’s Church, East Bergholt
This is the spot I chose for the first sketch of the day.    

I did a quick observational watercolour sketch to warm up the flow.  I had forgotten my eraser so the marks I added had to be the ones I wanted.   I am never too bothered about accuracy as what I do is very impressionistic.  I am a painter who paints what I feel rather than what I see.  So where I place the lines really does not matter so long as they make a bit of sense.  I know full well if I painted this scene again tomorrow at exactly the same time of day, I would take a completely different approach because my frame of mind would be in a completely different place.  

This colour sketch is my favourite of the day.  Not necessarily because of what I produced but because of the zone that this tree helped me enter.  The zone where:  life is great and I find myself at one with the subject and the medium.  The colour and light were the first things that attracted my eye.   

The final sketch of the day is completely different in mood to my sunny tree.  It was late afternoon so the light and atmosphere were not as blazingly bright as earlier.  The spot that caught my eye first was the yellow rape fields in the background.  The path is imaginary as I did not want a big expanse of uninteresting green in the foreground. 

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Sitting here now writing this post reminds me of a blog I passed through a few weeks ago.  Someone was going to start painting with watercolours and she was saying she was given good advice as a beginner to “completely avoid greens”.  I did not bother leaving a comment.  Sometimes you just have to let the world go about its own business.  Though I do question why anyone would want to limit their choices of colour when mother nature seems to be doing a wonderful job with her choices.  

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I really enjoyed my day in the Dedham Vale area.  Three sketches in one day is lots for me these days.  Health and the frame of mind I am in because of it, are always an issue.  Both impact greatly on the frequency with which I want to paint.  I am actually doing really well right now and I am quite content just taking life as it comes.  I do not have the desire to lock myself in a room to paint day after day. Though to be honest I never had that desire in the first place.  I still regard myself as being passionate about my art but life is for living and to be enjoyed.   For me that means getting out into the world so that I have a reason to want to paint when I allow myself to.  I am quite content to take the time to just smell the roses when I encounter them now, rather than rushing to get my brushes out to paint them each and every time I encounter them. Life is a matter of getting the balance right, long before time runs out.  

Sunday, 24 April 2016

A Trip to London and Meeting the Artists at Bankside Gallery

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; 
for there is in London all that life can afford.”

~  Samuel Johnson

Yesterday’s diary entry was about yet another trip to London.  The main reason was to pop into the Bankside Gallery to “Meet The Artists”.  Bankside is home to the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.  It is situated near the Tate Modern Gallery.  I always forget how far down Southbank this Gallery is when walking from Westminster.  A Saturday is probably not a good day to choose to visit as the paths are normally swamped with people and the pace is very slow. 

I did not really know what to expect from the event at Bankside.  The artists had set up their materials and sketchbooks on tables.  I quickly dove in and started asking questions.  I find looking inside artists’ sketchbooks really interesting.  They show the building blocks of ideas and give a glimpse into the creating process.

Jewel Tower Sketch - Art Journal 

Starting the day with a walk through St James Park towards Westminster from Green Park underground station, the first stop of the day was Jewel Tower.  It is situated directly opposite the Houses of Parliament.  As members of English Heritage we were able to get in free.  I am not that sure that we would have bothered visiting if we were not members.  The small building is tucked away and gets over-shadowed by the other impressive buildings surrounding it.  The quick visit of 20 minutes was pleasant enough.  That was plenty of time to climb the circular stone staircase up to the second floor and to learn that this is where the imperial weights system was developed. 

By fluke we managed catch Big Ben chiming at twelve.  The Houses of Parliament hold special memories for me as a few years ago one of my friends had her twenty-five wedding anniversary in one of the function rooms there.  Apparently British citizens can apply to their local MP for permission to use the function rooms.  If I remember rightly it was not that expensive considering the historical pedigree of the building.

At the end of the day, whilst walking towards Liverpool Street Station, we spotted St Mary Le Bow Church.  Being born within the sound of Bow Bells means that I am a true London Cockney and I felt compelled to take a closer look inside.  Strange thing is I have never bothered to visit this famous church before.  

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Aubergines in Watercolour and a Background Paper in Mixed Media

Goodness it is April already and time is definitely flying past.  No matter as I am making sure I am having some arty fun along the way.    

Aubergines in watercolour, an art journaling spot.

Aubergines were the topic of conversation last week when I had them for lunch at a lovely pub called The Chequers.  To be precise I had mellanzane parmigiana.  An Italian recipe that is like a lasagna but the layers are created with aubergines rather than pasta.  It ends up being a very low carbohydrate meal.  I only mention this as the friend I was with was on a low carb diet and she had not heard of this recipe before.  She tried some and was impressed.  I have had many versions of this in my time, both homemade and restaurant made, this one was a particularly good one. 

I thought I would have a go at painting aubergines with my watercolours as my journaling entry.  They were not a subject I had tackled before.  From the start I knew the biggest problem was going to be the dark glossy nothingness that an aubergine has in painting terms.  I over came this by exaggerating tone and blending.  

Background paper in mixed media

How I assemble together all the different elements for this spread is perhaps a story for another day.  Today I am just going to explain how I produced the background paper design using mixed media. 

I started with the yellow paper shown in the photo.  I glued white tissue paper on top and then lightly painted a thin green acrylic wash onto the tissue paper.  The photo does not show very well the texture created and the yellow of the original paper still showing through.  I then stamped on abstract squares in orange using recycled plastic packaging.  I drew around the squares using an old multi-coloured gel pen that was my son’s years ago.  This gave structure and more depth to the design.  On top of all that I added areas of punchinella circles using white gesso.

At the same time, I was creating the white journaling spot.  This time I used the green ink pad to add the circles which I had used on the edging on the aubergine watercolour.     

There are one or two more elements that I have in mind for this spread but for now this is where I am going to leave it for today.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Altered Art Journal: A Peek at a Mixed Media Crocus

When I feel uninspired by my watercolours I take a wander upstairs to my studio to have a play with my mixed media.  I use a book I bought in a charity shop as my Altered Art Journal.  Funnily enough it is a copy of “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  The title seemed an apt play on words for what I wanted to use it for.  I love the book and the film, so I knew I would enjoy using this as my inspiration mixed media art journal. 

Ready to use gessoed pages.  

The purple and lilac areas are watercolour.  The rest was created using acrylic wash.  

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A couple of weeks ago I had a go at re-creating the crocus using rough cold press watercolour paper.  I found out that was not a good idea at all.  I gessoed over the crocus ready for another day and another project to be added on top. 

A few years ago I bought some vintage music sheets and today I decided to mix it up with some modern day ephemera and some wacky ideas to create a loose leaf art journal page.  Collage, acrylic paint, sharpie pen and ink blocks were the main mixed media ingredients together with a large dose of fun and plenty of relaxed art therapy.     

Monday, 14 March 2016

Elephant in Water Based Mixed Media

Having painted elephants many times before in watercolour, I felt it was time to explore the subject using a different approach.  

"Elephant"  Sold
Mixed Media: acrylic and watercolour on hot press paper.

“Elephant” is a mixed media painting created using acrylic and watercolour pigments. The background and foreground were the most interesting to paint as I embellished these with copper, silver and gold acrylic pigments that created a lovely soft lustre effect in some blended areas. 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Urban Sketching English Churches in Watercolour and My Favourite Inspiring Watercolour Architecture Book

Flicking through my urban sketching journal today I came across my pen and wash sketch of a visit to the quaint St Andrew’s Church in Greensted this summer.  A little church that purports to be the oldest wooden church in the world.  It was a very interesting visit with me managing to fit in a little bit of time to sit in the English sunshine and sketch whilst husband went to explore the interior.           

As I tackled this subject far too quickly on site, I felt I wanted to re-visit the subject using just pencil, line and tone when I got home and had more time. 

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I thought I would share a glimpse into one of my most prized watercolour books as the subject of the book ties in nicely with English churches. 

The Church Triumphant, English Churches in Watercolour by Bob Moody.  I found this book by chance on Amazon.  It was a second hand cheap give away.  When I received it I was astounded at the quality of the book-binding and the calibre of the watercolours published within it.    

Bob Moody is an American artist who was set a challenge to paint the English churches in watercolour in one trip.  He had already done a similar challenge in Alabama which is the same size as England.  He managed that challenge in just one month.  What he did not realise is that there are over 1,000 churches in England and some access to them is via narrow, single track, rural lanes with high hedgerows either side, making the trip extremely slow going.  Lots of my holidays have been spent on these rural lanes, stuck behind cows, sheep and tractors.  So I fully understand the dilemmas of attempting such a trip in England.  His challenge eventually lasted from Summer 2002 to Spring 2003 and he managed to paint 93 exterior and interior watercolours.  All are published within this beautiful book together with an entertaining description of the trip and some history about the churches. 

All original sketches remain in the private collection of the artist, Bob Moody.  Hearing that fact is actually quite refreshing for me, as I do not always want to let go of some of my own artwork either.  So I can fully understand why this artist is still holding onto his sketched memories of the English churches he visited. 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Watercolour Brushes I Occasionally Use

During a quiz evening I attended the other day a question came up about filbert nuts.  That made me remember my Filbert watercolour brush.  I then figured out that the brush is named after the shape of the nut.  It might take a while but the light bulb does actually switch on in my head sometimes.  I have no idea how but my team won the quiz and we each won a bag of chocolates which were munched  with gusto.  

Today I thought I would share some of the brushes I use very occasionally.   Filbert brush at the top, flat square brush in the middle and my hake brush which I have had for years.  I use these brushes when I want to add a vast amount of water onto the paper.  My style has developed into a more delicate and controlled process from the early days that I do not use these high water retaining brushes that often now.