Trying out mixed media

I experimented some more with mixed media yesterday and came up with this small sketchy watercolour of another scene from Cromford village where my painting holiday is happening in less than three weeks time.  I took the photo in June when there were lots of wild flowers in full bloom.  The walk down to the village from the hotel was a delight with all sorts of wild and cultivated flowers, escapees from local gardens, along the side of the path through the cottages and their allotments.

I saw this scene with the sun coming through the gap in the wall and saw the potential for a watercolour.

My mixed media sketch
My Photo reference
You can see that I’ve “romanticised” the view a bit, and changed the lighting to put emphasis on the light coming through the gap.  I’ve used inks and pastels which are new to me, but which have been lying about in the studio for ages so I thought why not have a go.
Here are the different stages. I started with an all over wash as usual but I had masked out the tops of the walls and some flowers, and also used some oil pastel as a masking medium for saving the flowers at the front of the wall.  
Stage 1
Then I painted the wall, vaguely following the under drawing, with acrylic ink, and spreading it with a brush and water.
Stage 2
Then more work with watercolour, inks and a pen made out of a piece of bamboo cane from the garden.
Stage 3

Finished Sketch
As is often the case in my work, I almost prefer the next to last stage to the finished.  What do you think?

Suddenly it’s all go…

Last year’s pen and wash sketch of an old characterful building
 in lovely Cromford

I was in the studio bright and early this morning.  Suddenly there’s lots to do and think about.  I’ve been lulled into a sense of time stretching out endlessly as it used to feel in the school holidays as a child.

There’s my residential course in Derbyshire coming up soon in September. This is the second course I’ve run this year with the help of daughter Sophie. She’s providing relaxing yoga and massage to complement my art instruction and coming all the way from Seattle where she lives to do it!

We had a great time in June with 12 artists joining us and some gorgeous weather and I can’t wait for the next one.  Three days of a relaxing hotel stay, delicious meals provided and nothing to think about but our art.

There were dog roses in full bloom outside the studio.  A quick sketch in watercolour.
So that’s coming up in three weeks.  But before then I’m going to be doing some DVDs of my painting techniques which I’ll make available on line.  Several people have asked if I’ve done any DVDs and the answer is no, until now.
If anyone who reads this blog has any ideas as to what they would like me to demonstrate, well I’m open to suggestions.  Backgrounds, negative painting, painting white flowers?
Yesterday I was trying out some mixed media work, using inks, oil pastels and other texture media.  Had a splashy time!

Mixed media study of another Cromford scene.

Clematis… final stages.

Here’s the final painting of the clematis subject.

Miss Bateman Clematis final painting
I painted the flowers by looking carefully at the reference and seeing where the darker tones were within the petals.  I wet the whole petal and stroked in a mix of cobalt blue and a touch of alizarin crimson and a touch of the green mix on the palette.  
I removed the masking on the centres and painted the stamens with a pale yellow and then stroked in alizarin crimson on the ends to make the distinctive centres.
When the flowers were painted I had to adjust the tones considerably among the leaves around the flowers.  I laid the dark mix over the leaves etc. that were underneath to make them recede even more and put in some very dark paint up against the petals to make the flowers pop out.
I quite enjoyed the challenge with the emphasis on the “quite”.  I think my reservations before painting the subject were correct and that in itself is good learning.  The subject was too flat and needed some sunshine in it.  But onwards and upwards…what next I wonder?  

Clematis…first stages

So I took a deep breath and started on the clematis.

Here’s my palette with colours mixed for the first wash.

Colours mingled in preparation for  the first wash.
I had aureolin and raw sienna  for my yellows, winsor blue and quinacridone gold to mix the greens, permanent rose, alizarin crimson and indian yellow for the wall in the background and a dark mix of alizarin, blue and some yellow for the stamens and dark areas.  I had a grey mixed with cobalt blue and some alizarin.
First wash
For the background I had to drop colours in for the wall as well as dropping in yellows and greens for the leafy areas.  I had to think ahead and drop in greens where I knew I was going to bring out more leaves in the background which I hadn’t actually drawn.  So a lot to think about but as the paper was wet I had quite a long time to decide where to drop in colours.  The flowers were left without colour apart from some shadows dropped in.  Colour drifted into the petals from the surrounding wash but this gives a more authentic look I think.
I let this dry when I thought I’d gone far enough.  
Stage 2  Flowers and leaves brought out with darker washes.
Then I started bringing out the flowers and leaves with darker washes.  I used greens or the wall mix, sometimes wetting the paper first and dropping in various mixes in order to keep the illusion of things happening behind.  In the photo for stage 2 you can see that dropping in the first wash wet in wet has left interesting colours and tones among the leaves.  This helps with the illusion of light falling on the different elements in the painting.
Stage 3 More leaves brought out from the background wash with negative painting
I made sure the painting was dry before going in again between the leaves and flowers and bringing out more leaf shapes.  At the edges of the painting, I kept the shapes very vague by dropping in thick dark colour into a wet surface.  At the same time I was painting some of the leaf surfaces and also dropping colours into the stalks.  The next job was to start painting the background flowers.  More tomorrow.

New painting…ready to start…I’ll just go and make a cup of tea first…

I made this drawing of a clematis growing against a wall a few days ago and I’ve been dithering ever since.  Sometimes a subject just doesn’t inspire and then I think of all sorts of things to do before starting.  I’ve even been doing housework this morning so things must be bad!

Anyway, I’ve worked out my colours which are unusual this time.  The reds of the wall and the stamens and stalks are complementary to the green leaves.  There is no sunshine in my reference photo and perhaps that is why I’m not raring to go as sunshine and shadows really inspire.  But there is contrast and I like the way I can make the painting have depth by making the leaves stand out against each other.

I liked doing the drawing too.  I do start with a detailed drawing, but the first thing I do is ignore the lines when I put in the first wash when I drop colours in quite randomly but with a cunning underlying plan! .  The lines only really become significant when I start outlining the flowers and leaves in order to get the depth and 3D effect I’m looking for.  So the drawing doesn’t inhibit spontaneity at first but acts as a guide later on in the painting.

I’ve masked out the stamens but not the flowers as I will take care to not drop too much colour over them in the first wash.  I will wet the whole of the paper as some colour in the white flowers is desirable for a natural effect.  So here goes…

To feel inspired, not diminished…the "copying" debate continued…

Iceland Poppies by Ann Mortimer

Sometimes I catch myself wondering why I write a blog.  Because the truth is that I am uneasy talking about myself.  It doesn’t come naturally to me.
And that is why in this blog and my watercolour techniques sister blog ( ) I am mostly either sharing and explaining watercolour techniques or putting out information about events and workshops.

However there is nothing I like better than a touch of philosophising about  art today!  Not that I want to get on my soap box or anything…!

Reading peoples’ views about the subject of “copying” has left me asking a lot of questions.

Such as…what should be our motivation as artists and aspiring artists?  How do we weave our way through the complicated maze of ideas and influences these days without disappearing down hidden trap doors or inadvertently tripping over hidden hurdles?

In my reading of people’s comments on facebook and on blogs I am struck by how some artists seem to be tying themselves in knots trying to fit into a mould that isn’t comfortable for them.
Take the subject of “looseness” for instance.  It appears to be compulsory at the moment to be “loose” in style and people feel they are failing if they don’t stay loose and free to an extreme and sometimes counter productive extent with their watercolours. (ie. you can’t even tell what they are trying to depict!)
I am the first to joke with my classes telling them to be “loose women” (because women they usually are) and to try not to be too perfect in their painting, but we have to remember to be true to ourselves as well.

It seems to me that you have to follow your heart in this.  When looking for inspiration, perhaps it’s better not to follow a fashion such as “looseness” but to look to real things,  the things we can see around us and which move and excite us.  A group of people sitting at a cafe table casting shadows on the pavement, a red rose zinging out against a green background, a line of  colourful washing blowing in the breeze, an intensely dark leafy shadow falling across a country road, the pattern made by a network of stalks and buds against a blue sky.
It’s not being kind to ourselves to try to impress. Much better to allow ourselves to feel what these things make us want to say and have the confidence to say it.  Let us be inspired and not diminished.

(At this point I’ll mention the picture at the top of this blog.  I remember painting this years ago and feeling uplifted by the process.  I came out of the studio smiling.)

It seems to me that you have to keep techniques uppermost in your mind.  It is the techniques which will provide the anchor to keep us fixed on the path to originality and honesty in our work.  We should look to exploring  techniques to help us express what we want to say, not the work of others.  This is what one of my favourite contemporary artists Ann Blockley has been doing over the last year or two with amazing results.  She had said that she was looking for new challenges and she used experimental watercolour textures to carry herself forward.

Another way forward if we are stuck in a rut and looking for inspiration is to set ourselves challenges.
I noticed one artist on facebook had set herself the task of painting with red.  Great idea!  Setting constraints such as only using two colours or using a palette knife or stick to paint with can simplify the brief, concentrate the mind and therefore lead to exciting and original art.

I’d like to quote another watercolour artist, New Zealander Nancy Titchborne to end with.  She says in her introduction to her book that despite being lauded as a wonderful artist, she suffers from an “ongoing personal angst” which means that she is never entirely pleased with whatever painting she has just completed.
I love this self revelation and honesty in an artist!  The final sentence in her intro. reads, “As with so many things in life it is the anticipation, planning and doing that can be more satisfying than the actual completion”
“And don’t forget” she says”be immediately suspicious of any artist who tells you how good they are”.

With that thought in mind, Happy Painting everyone!

The "copying" Debate…

I came across a post about “copying” on my facebook timeline in response to a recent post in an artist’s blog.

I generally try to keep away from controversial topics, preferring to offer tips and techniques or straightforward information in my blog.

However I do feel strongly about this subject.

I think to use the word “copying” is inadvisable.

It seems to me that there is one indisputable fact and that is that we are ALL influenced more or less by artists who have come before us.

Those artists might be the old masters from centuries ago from Leonardo to Claude Lorraine to Monet to Lowry; or they might be the contemporary, living artists whose work is very familiar to us through contemporary media such as Warhol or David Hockney, or they might be the active teaching artists whose work we follow and from whom we learn from day to day from the books, magazines and dvds that they produce or contribute to.

And all this is so much more accessible now with the availability of endless images on line with a click of the mouse.  Where people 100 years ago would have to make a long journey to the city to visit a gallery to see paintings by their preferred artist, now we can google those images in a matter of seconds.

If we are passionate about art and painting we deliberately immerse ourselves every day in a bath of art.  We are hungry for inspiration and ideas and we are always on the lookout for images that please and give us a sense of wonder and make us think, Oh I wonder if I could do that?

And the images that please us the most are going to be the ones that we try to emulate.  But I would say that we are not “copying” but admiring and wondering at the beauty of what we see and wanting to make it our own and master it because we love it so much.

Students of painting in the past would be encouraged to sit at their easel in front of an old master and literally copy it in order to learn.
Now our sensitivities do not allow these blatant methods…well at least not in art colleges.

But hold on…now we have the Step by Step Books!

I myself have had two step by step books published by Search Press where I painted watercolours and someone took photos of me doing it.

Am I surprised that “copies” of those paintings are proudly displayed?  Of course I’m not!  I’m delighted!  That is the whole point of the books.  If they appear on line then of course they should be credited to the artist to avoid confusion and it’s always better to display original work on line.  But nowadays it’s the name of the game that we are all encouraged to have a go.

When I paint my watercolours, I know that I am benefiting from all I learned from every single book I read voraciously and every single artist I admired in the process of learning.  But those watercolours came from my hand and through my personality even though the techniques and methods were garnered over years and years of study.

I think that to say that someone is “copying” my style would be an example of extreme hubris.  Because I know that my style is simply a conglomeration of everything that has passed in front of my eyes and made me gasp with delight.  I warmly thank every artist that I have ever admired for inspiring me.