Friday 28 February 2014

Poppy Field : Dancing in the Wind

Atmospheric poppy field coming to life in watercolour.
"Dancing in the Wind" 

I am sharing this blog post for the artist who showed me a delightful poppy field image last week and asked me know how to paint it. We had spent time in my workshop looking at ways to tell a story via exciting washes. I had demonstrated how I would go about painting this scene.  I must confess when I leave a workshop and look at my demonstrations pieces later on, I often love bringing them to life further without looking at any resource photographs. Sometimes when we observe ,especially from photographs, we see far too much detail. Making it very hard to keep the freshness or spontaniety in  finished results.

So for the artist who asked the question. I have kept my background greenery very soft as I don't wish to detract from the importance of the poppies in the foreground. The poppies get smaller as they fade into the distance. One poppy at the front will steal the show by being the star of this painting.

My Chinese mentor was on my mind whilst I worked this piece a little further. They told me, years ago, to imagine if a subject could move or not when painting it. Poppies are so delicate in the wild and seem to dance with the wind. So that is what I am aiming to depict. Flowers dancing with the wind and there is my title.

" Dancing in the Wind"

I will add a little detail to the foreground poppy then begin a huge new piece making the whole story up which will be far more fun. 

Artist Tip of the Day; Try not to continually restrict yourself to painting on small pieces of paper as these often restrict your brush movement and sense of freedom when working.  Be brave and go BIG!

Thursday 27 February 2014

Spring Chorus : Saunders Waterford Paper

 Large first wash for spring flowers, with detail gradually being added to bring the composition to life.

I am finding it so hard to leave my studio today. I have completed some  gorgeous pieces for my new book and for my solo exhibition in April. To close the day I worked further on this vibrant wash of  spring colour. I initially used favourite shades all over the paper to create a foundation for a seasonal floral painting. When the first wash was completely dry I started  adding definition in favourite sections, to bring hints of flowers to life.

I leave my studio each day with a favourite piece on my easel, to look forward to working on the next day. This piece pleases me so much, as the artist, that I dread leaving it or even finsihing it. As it is so wonderful to work on. But it is the end of the day. A time when further touches could kill the spontaneity in this exciting painting.

Here is a close up section of a favourite section , already full of drama  and life.

Section close up of my painting of spring flowers

Watercolour Paper : Watercolour Washes.

 Two glorious watercolour washes on my easel to depict Spring, detail will be added next to find the flowers in each piece. Please note, these are only placed on my easel for photography purposes. They were created while the paper lay flat.

 I have been asked so many questions about the watercolour paper that I am using so  thought I would take time out to share here. Firstly there are many watercolour papers available ranging from student quality to the more expensive paper surfaces that professional artists opt for. I can really understand the new beginner trying to cut costs and  practise on cheaper brands but the problem is this  can often lead to you believing you can't paint or giving up trying altogether. Cheap paper buckles when dry. During the painting process,  puddles can form rather than pigments flowing beautifully across the surface as you work.

Watercolour is a magical medium.  Pigments interact during the drying process which can lead you to some incredible patterns and effects. Good results are best achieved on the most suitable watercolour paper. I use smooth surface paper for floral work and I find Bockingford 140lbs perfect for this, where I would be leaving a lot of the paper surface white. However when I work on larger paintings  or know when I am going to be covering the paper with heavier applications of water I increase my paper weight.  This is where I would move to Saunders Waterford 200lb and possibly a rough surface to gain more texture in my results.

Gorgeous flowing watercolour wash where colour has flowed across the paper surface beautifully. Pigments have interacted to create patterns during the natural drying process and whilst I haven't deliberately painted daffodils yet the subject is  appearing by thoughtful application of colour and brush marks.

Without going into heavy theory I highly recommend you buy the best paper that you can afford. I have used Saunders Waterford 200lbs for the washes in this blog post, to capture the feeling of Spring. I am influenced by the stunning variety of daffodils in my garden. I have used W&N Cadmium Yellow , Winsor Violet and Cerulean Blue . The  daffodil centres are in Cadmium Orange which is quite a bold colour to work with but it sits well and creates dramatic watermarks when left to dry alone. Please note: I never use a hair dryer as although this technique speeds up the drying time it also kills  patterns that form during a natural drying time.

A daffodil appearing in the wash, Cadmium Yellow, Winsor Violet and Cadmium Orange. 
All by Winsor & Newton

On one of my workshops last week I gave one of the artists a piece of my paper. They couldn't believe the difference in their results.  I also gave them some of my colours which they described on their blog. You can see their work  and read what they thought  on the day via this link

Give yourselves the best chance possible for creating great paintings by starting with the right materials.  I will share more on my blog but for now here is a wonderful web site that tells you how  paper is made and all about its surfaces. 

 Enjoy !

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Spring, Glorious Spring! Daffodils in Watercolour

Loving how these daffodils are emerging on my easel.

The sun is shining and a morning walk around my garden has been a highlight of my day. Daffodils, snowdrop,crocus and primroses are all in flower. Even the cherry blossom and witchhazel are coming into bloom so the variety of colour I see daily is incredible. Adding further temptation for my brushes and palette choices to capture a sense of life in my new collection of watercolours.

I always feel energised in sunshine.  If we had it every day then  it wouldn't be so magical to look forward to. Just like our art because the paintings that don't turn out as you imagine they would, make the ones that  do even more fantastic.

After such a great week of workshops last week it is wonderful to be back in my studio and  enjoying quiet creative time. Right now I am putting all the yellow shades on my palette a good work out. adding instant sunshine to my results.

 I love Spring!


Monday 24 February 2014

Tiger Feet : Kitten in Watercolour( Bockingford Watercolour Paper 140lbs )

Kitten coming to life in watercolour
Bockingford watercolour paper 140lbs.

The botanical artist in me is coming out as I work on a kitten painting at the end of each painting session. I'm getting hooked on adding fine detail  for whiskers and eyes. After yesterdays success with the now popular little grey kitten painting, I couldn't resist returning to the subject today but making myself opt for different fur colouring. Artists who attended my workshops last week will remember my words when I say "Always trying something new". Which is beneficial for both our  imagination and for stretching our artistic skills.

I started this piece by finding the eyes first on a blank piece of paper, making neat outlines with my rigger brush. These shapes I quickly flooded with colour to form the eyes as my starting points. These I can then easily work away from  to form the kittens face. Next I literally dropped colour into damp spaces where I wanted the fur to appear. As I worked downwards from the face ,I adored finding the little " tiger feet"  formed by wet on wet techniques.

"Tiger feet" formed by watermarks and the wet in wet technique.

Out tof interest , I never use masking fluid so the whites of the kitten eyes are purely there from my working around the white space of the paper.

I have used Bockingford Watercolour paper 140lbs for painting this kitten and it has been fantastic. The paper surface allows the pigmentst to flow readily and interact with water, making my subject come alive readily. This is a super quality product and well worth working on for subjects against a white background, as  seen in the top image.

This painting is almost complete but I want to add a little more definition.

I am having a purrfectly wonderful time painting these adorable subjects, what next tomorrow?
I  wonder!


Sunday 23 February 2014

Unwinding with Watercolour

Kitten on my easel, created from left over mixed pigment.

Quite often at the end of the day there is a variety of pigment left in the centre well of my palette. I hate wasting this and tend to use it as a challenge to create a painting. I look forward to this part of the day immensely, as I seem to produce some wonderful "surprise" paintings. Purely by relaxing and having fun to unwind. This afternoon this soft, fluffy kitten started to emerge. I feel a few more brushstrokes will take this to a completed painting. I may adjust the ears. I feel that the area under the chin needs a little definition and a few watermarks on the chest area could bring this to life further. Although I will admit, now this is on my computer screen I quite like it as it is!

 I have had a fabulous full week of workshops  I have met the most amazing people and loved every single day of teaching. I feel so fortnate to be in this amazing career as every day sees something completely new.  However, I now need to complete my collection for my Spring Solo exhibition. I have some beautiful new watercolours in this new body of work and I have loved the gallery owners reaction to their seeing the images that I have already forwarded for press releases.

I will share more details  soon. For now I need to close my studio and leave it in preparation for an exciting days painting tomorrow.


Friday 14 February 2014

Choosing Watercolour Paper : Saunders Waterford Paper

Saunders Waterford paper 200lbs

I have received so many quesions about the watercolour paper that I use and felt the easiest way to answer them would be by blog posts. Many new artists find choosing watercolour paper realy confusing as there are so many varieties available. Firstly and most importnatly I have to  make it clear , using cheap paper that isn't suited to watercolour as a medium is not worth your time, effort or money. These can lead to soul destroying experiences and even make you feel as though you can't paint. When all along it isn't you thats' at fault, its' your paper.

Cheap thin paper buckles when water is applied. It often doesn't give you the fabulous watercolour effects that occur when pigment dries because colour can spuddle on cheap paper surfaces. Rather than interact forming the gorgeous patterns that make painting in watercolour really addictive. I love watching colour flow over the surface of watercolour paper. I also adore the effects that occur during  drying stages. I should point out at this stage that I always let my work dry naturally. I never use a hair dryer to speed up the creative process as I believe this destroys the natural magic of watercolour pigment interaction.

So lets' start with looking at watercolour papers available. Today, I am going to look at St Cuthbert Mills range  because they are experts at creating top quality products for artists. They produce several fabulous papers but I have been looking at the Saunders Waterford 200lb series, Rough Surface whilst working on a series of animals.

What I loved most about this paper is that  my colour washes flow easily over the whole surface. No matter ho wlarge the paper is. My brush glides readily from corner to corner and when I have finished applying colour no puddles are visible. The various pigments can interact freely , during the drying period the emerging effects are stunning.

Looking at two close ups of my new "cat" painting I can observe how beautifully my results are. Clean, fresh colour  is lietrally singing on paper when allowed to merge with water to create the watercolour effects that I love so much.

 Close up of a cats eye in the early stages of my new wtaercolour collection. Notice the  gorgeous watermark between the Opera Rose, Translucent Orange and pure water. This watermark will form the fur marking of the cat I am currently painting.

Another interesting quality of this particular paper is that it allows me to lift colour gently as I have in the above eye, to remove a soft area of colour to add light. Cheap papers do not allow you to do this. They can tear, or  the paper surface can be ruined in a way that is obvious when your work is later framed. Imagine spending hours on a beautiful painting which you then have to throw away at a later stage because the paper has buckled, or the surface has been damaged during the painting process. It can really take the enjoyment out of painting, so using good quality products is vital.

Another close up of the same painting. Notice how the Translucent Orange is sitting happily on the dry paper but merging softly with the turquoise layer underneath it.

The fact is, if you want to enjoy  painting , no matter what level of artist you are. You really do need to use the correct materials. Unfortunately whilst there are many student quality papers on the maket they just don't give you the most amazing experience of working in watercolour as using gorgeous good paper can.

I would definitely recommend trying Saunders Waterford watercolour paper. If like me you use more water then try the 200lbs. Out of interest I use rough surfaces when working on animals as I gain a terrific effect for fur with them, rather than smooth paper surfaces which I use for painting florals with silky petals or labradors with shiny coats.

Whatever you do, don't waste your time on paper that will buckle, allow colour to puddle or tear easily.

Have fun experimenting with different papers, use the best you can afford and look out for bargains from art suppliers as they ofen have special offers. Try teaming up with your Art Society or artist friends and buy paper in bulk too to share. Thats' a great way to save money!


Thursday 13 February 2014

Knowing When To Stop : Watercolour

 Spring Posy almost complete

 " Jean, I never know when to stop!" is a common phrase I hear all the time on my watercolour workshops. The first of which this year start next week in Hampshire. These sessions have been fully booked since last year and I cannot wait for the first to arrive next Tuesday. But back to the "knowing when to stop" point.

There is a fine line between stopping too soon in a loose painting. Without adding enough definition a subject  in loose work can sometimes be almost unrecognisable. But by adding far too much detail the exciting "aimed for" looseness can be completely lost. What I aim for is that magical in between area. Where viewers know what my subject is whilst my painting leaves enough mystery for their imagination. But each piece should never be overworked. When creating I often find there is a point of no return where I have a choice as to work further or put my brushes down. The above painting is a wonderful example. It could have been deemed "finished" a few brushstrokes ago but I am loving working on it. So every day I add tiny brushmarks of detail to bring favourite sections into play, as my more "important" sections. These fine touches of detail make the softer less perfectly painted flowers fade into the background which is exactly what I want. There is a trick to knowing when to add detail and when to leave a painting alone. Honestly, I would love to say it is easy, but this is knowledge that only comes in time and with practise. However you will find your own instinct will guide you as to when to stop. And yes, you possibly will ruin a few paintings  on your art journey , as ALL artists have, by overworking.  Artists learn far more from discarded paintings than the ones that are successful. The main point is to keep painting, enjoying creating and laughing when things go wrong rather than giving up. Please bear in mind, every single art "genius" was a beginner once!

My artists tip of the day is to always stop long before you think your painting is finished. Leave your work overnight at a stage where you can think further brushstrokes might enhance it . In the morning with fresh eyes you may feel your painting is fine as it is. Never race to finish a painting, instead enjoy the journey. Learning from each brushstroke and each addition of colour. One more thing. Have the courage to believe your work is finished if you think it is, even when others may tell you to add more. Remember your art is yours and yours alone!

Spring paintings on my easel, almost finished ,just missing a few definition details.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Magic Faces : Portraits in Watercolour

Expressive Face appearing from a simple first wash in watercolour

I fell in love with painting portraits when I lived in Dubai. Not only because I was surrounded continually by wonderfully characteristic Arabian faces with stunning facial features; but also because I trained under a fantastic Indian artist who taught me how to work in oil. I loved learning about skin tones and how to place features correctly.  My work at this time was highly detailed to the point of perfection. But something was missing from my results. I quickly discovered it was the lack of a feeling of "life". I seemed to be addicted to painting from photographs, copying exactly what I saw, step by step, with each new brushstroke.  My work was predictable and so wooden. Over time the better my work became the less I liked it. I felt as though I was falling onto a path followed by a million artists before me and even worse, my pleasure in painting potraits gradually disappeared.  That is, until I started working without a preliminary sketch.  All of a sudden the practise of sketching and painting perfectly aided the new direction I was heading in and my passion for painting faces grew again, with each painting.

In time I developed a personal technique where I would choose the colouring for my subject and with a few brushstrokes, along with very careful application of water,  truly expressive faces started to appear. Many with an atmospheric sense of mystery. I was so happy at this time in my career, when I first started  working on a series of these faces. I used to teach Watercolour courses at the Dubai International Arts Centre which at that time was on the beachfront. It was a beautiful art centre where many artists shared their love of the arts, willingly giving their techniques in so many classes. I had been successfully selling scenes of dancing ladies, landscapes and many paintings of camels in local galleries. When I fell in love with creating these faces I was told by galleries and fellow artists alike that faces as a subject "wouldn't sell". But I have never been an artist that paints for financial reasons so I didn't listen.  I always have, and I always will paint what I enjoy so that each of my creations is fresh and  full of the passion I feel when I hold a brush.

As my technique developed I started painting these faces with red wine, coffee, left over tea.  Absolutely anything that mixed with water  became my new way of working. I was addicted! Eventually these faces became not only popular but highly collectable. To the point where galleries were phoning me and sking if I had any more. In every exhibition these faces were sought after and always sold first.

Over time I moved  from Dubai to Hong Kong, France, Belgium and eventually back to UK. My magical faces took a back seat while I became distracted with so many other subjects in each of these different countries. But today, like an old friend calling to me, I felt the urge to return to my beloved mystery faces and the above image is my first creation this year, in my technique. This possibly needs a little definition to make this a completed painting. But if you study the painting at this stage everything is already there and such an expression is present. It holds mystery without working on this futher. Mystery that could disappear if I add detail.

I often tell artists on my workshops to stop when they can see what the subject is and that is exactly what I am going to do with this piece. It made me feel wonderful when I painted it, as it brought back so many happy memories. So to work further on this would lose that feeling of connected emotion. But I will be starting another portrait straight away.

There is a moral to this blog post. Had I listened to everyone telling me that faces were a waste of time to paint because they wouldn't sell, I would never have  learned so much as an artist. Or grown in my technique or art journey. And by  staying strong and sticking to my own way of working I found success  by accident. My advise is always paint what you enjoy, only listen to advise from others if it suits you and remember, others aren't always right!


Friday 7 February 2014

Glorious Colour : Foxgloves 2014

Foxgloves from a new painting for an upcoming exhibition

Goodness, how I can get carried away with colour! I loved the depth of my snowdrop painting from yesterday and couldn't help wondering how dark I could work on a composition of foxgloves. They grow in a woodland section of our cottage garden. I remembered one particular flower from last year that was so heavily laden with individual bells, all on one gigantic stem. It appeared to be leaning forward  with the other foxgloves standing tall behind it , in the background.  I can remember placing a tube of Opera Rose next to the real flower in daylight and it seemed to match the colour perfectly . This morning I have experimented taking the  surrounding area as dark as I dare without losing the impact of the gorgeous , pink flower in front.   I am gaining a sunshine effect in the background from the addition of Cadmium Yellow as a wash. In between the flower stems and underneath,my main flower stem  I am using an almost neat application of Perylene Green to give depth to this  composition.

Dark against light is a wonderful combination for adding drama to a watercolour, especially when working with such vibrant shades as Opera Rose. I now need to define a few indidviual bell shapes and add the well recognised dots of the foxglove markings and then this piece will be complete. I'm so enthusiastic that I want to start working on a new painting immediately because this creation has been so delicious as an experiment. With vibrant colour combinations.

I feel as though I am leaping ahead to Summer which is no bad thing!


Thursday 6 February 2014

On The Dark Side : Snowdrops 2014

Snowdrops on my easel

I have had a very productive day in my studio. I have several paintings on the go including Spring florals, a gorgeous cat and my beloved roosters. All heading for a Spring solo exhibition this year. I leap from subject to subject throughout the day as my creative mood takes me. My main goal is to enjoy every single brushstroke and I also love variety.  I am experimenting on new ideas for my next book and have a stunning watercolour of snowdrops evolving on my eaasel, as seen in the above image.

I've been reading quite a few emails from artists who are achieving "mud" in their results. I know that on a workshop last year we all laughed when I attempted to show how to avoid creating mud by attempting to do just that as pat of my demonstration. Unfortunately each time I tried to create muddy watercolours my colours simply sang all the more. Hence the laughter in the room at the time.  Maybe the sceret is to aim at making dull muddy effects and then they won't happen!

I was reminded of this memorable session when I looked at some snowdrops in my garden this week. They are hidden from view and seem to have pushed their way through some fallen twigs on the ground. This area of earth could be a brilliant section to practise aiming for dull muddy effects which will ensure the white of the snowdrops in my painting sing beautifully ; highlighted by the dull carpet of uninteresting woodland underneath them. To gain a more realistic colour combination I placed my half finished painting on my wooden easel and literally painted the lower half of the paper in dull brown shades matching the wood I could see. This  earthy section, I covered with cling wrap whilst the wash was still damp. Initially I worked around white negative shapes of the snowdrops and gradually built up the surrounding background with layers achieving depth of colour using violet and turquoise. There is a terrific splash of Cadium Yellow as an underwash colour in the middle section on the right that acted as warmth under the final blue layer addition.

I am really excited at how dark this painting is. How dramatic and how effective for an attractive snow scene. As always, a section within my painting makes a fabulous composition when cropped. Which means I have a choice as to work further on the background or use this crop as the finished piece.

Cropped section. A painting within a painting.

But I am enjoying myself far too much to stop!


Wednesday 5 February 2014

Montpelier Gallery Spring Exhibition 2014

"Scents of Spring"

I have a collection of watercolours in the Montpelier Gallery Spring Show. My range  of subjects in the Spring exhibition include daffodils, narcissi, horse racing, a portrait study and parrots!

The  show opens on February 21st and early viewing is advisable.

Full details can be found via this link

Softly Glowing Daffodils :2014

Daffodils softly coming to life in a pair of Spring watercolours
Works in Progress 2014

The weather is truly awful at present. The sky has been constantly grey and the wind has been howling outside my studio window. On days like these I immediately opt for working in Cadmium Yellow to bring instant sunshine and warmth into my studio and art world. I have several Spring exhibitions coming up so I am loving working on my new watercolour collections. And the first daffodils of the year are bravely facing the elements in my garden. I am fascinated in how the stems bow in the wind yet do not break. Theses flowers  add such a blast of colour to an otherwise dull season and are a  delight to wtach as they first appear every year. They make me feel good to see them and to paint them in glorious yellow shades.

Which reminds me. My feature and art competition in the Artist Magazine in April is going to shine a light on working in yellow shades so please look out for it. There are also wonderful prizes . More news and a link in a later blog post!


Monday 3 February 2014

Snowdrop Heaven 2014

Snowdrops softly coming to life in a new watercolour

The snowdrops are out in our garden so I couldn't resist painting them. I sold many snowdrop paintings in galleries last year and they quickly became one of my best selling subjects . I haven't even one of my own snowdrop paintings hanging in our cottage so this afternoon I delighted in creating the first of this years snowdrop paintings.

We have various areas in our garden where the snowdrops bloom. Some of the little white flowers are out in the open often seen in sunlight. But my eye was drawn to a beautiful clump hidden at the base of a fir tree. These are sheltered from the light and very much in shadow. In fact I almost missed them when I passed by which gave me the idea for this painting. I will have one  " star" in the foreground and the other flowers will be the "backing group" behind it, less important but without them the star wouldn't shine so well!

The colours I have used so far are Winsor Violet, Cerulean Blue and for the green I have used heavily a diluted Perylene Green. I will possibly add warmth in sections with a layer of Cadmium Yellow at a later stage, as a final wash over my finished painting. This is a technique I often use and it will be explained in a feature I have written for the Artist magazine which will be available in April 2014. There is also a fabulous competition with my feature so please keep an eye out for it, and enter to win great prizes!

I must  admit I am using Winsor Violet so much at the moment. It is perfect for my Spring collection. It is definitely a shade to keep on your palette.