Thursday, 22 September 2011

More watercolours, and a trip to look forward to

While I'm quite particular when it comes to the quality of my paper and paints, I'm usually rather careless when it comes to brushes. I usually use quite cheap brushes for my acrylic paintings, often actually just pastry brushes from supermarket. They tend to loose their hairs quite frequently, which you then have to pick off your canvas, but apart from that they work perfectly, and I like their rough texture. Also, if you have a tendecy of not beeing overcareful with cleaning your brushes, like me, you won't feel too guilty about throwing them away once the hairs are sticking together too badly.

While this works very well with acrylics, watercolours are a different matter. I've always wanted a real 'squirrel hair brush' (made of tail hairs of Russian and Canadian squirrels). They're very fine brushes for watercolour, but also not cheap, and I've just never been into watercolours enough to justify spending the money on one of them. So on those few occasions I did use my watercolours, I usually just used a cheap synthetic brush. But a few months ago, in Strassbourg, I finally bought a squirrel hair brush (they seem to cost much less nowadays than 10+ years ago).

And I LOVE it. My, it's such a difference! It soaks up masses of water, and it's just so perfect for painting. And when you clean it, and shake it to get rid of excess water, it just so beautifully falls back into it's perfectly pointed shape. Always.

 I like to try out and get to know all the colours in my new watercolour box, mixing them together and putting them on paper in various ways. Watercolours behave quite differently than acrylics in various ways. My box contains 24 half pans of colours, so there are lots of possibilities. Although actually, buying a box ready filled with colours might not necessarily be the best idea. What you might want to do is to just buy an empty metal box (or plastic, but I think the metal ones are just so much nicer), and fill them with individually bought pans of the colours you prefer. I only bought this box because it was a special offer, but it might not be my last one... :)

I started a little painting on Sunday before last. I was just having fun trying out some techniques, such as scattering salt on to the wet paint. Exploring all the different techniques in watercolour painting is really quite exciting, as they are very different to acrylic ones. The orangey/red shapes are supposed to be tulips, like the tulip field I'd painted a few weeks ago with PanPastels.

Well, I've mentioned two incidents that inspired and encouraged me to take up watercolours again in an earlier post. But there was a third one. Back in spring, in Vienna, I was walking back from the National Library when a book in the window of a book shop caught my eye. It was about cityscapes painted in watercolour, and I liked the modern style of the painting on the cover. I went inside to have a closer look at the book, and saw that there was an exhibition of the works of the artist on the upper floor. I liked the paintings a lot. That, really, was the kind of style I wanted to do with watercolours, not the traditional flowers. I didn't buy the book there, but back home, I looked up the artist on the internet, and saw that he offered a number of workshops. This was just what I wanted to do! I decided to leave it till after my sumer holiday though, and then it took me another two months until I finally signed up for a workshop, as I was worried that my watercolour skills weren't quite good enough yet. But two weeks ago, I did it. And so, later this year, I'llpback my box of watercolours, my brushes and papers into my suitcase and take the train to Salzburg (always wanted to go there!), and I'm sooo looking forward to it. And in the meantime, I'll be very very busy practising sketching, drawing and watercolour painting (and buying some more supplies :) ).

Monday, 19 September 2011

What's in your paintbox?

With acrylics, which come in pots, bottles or tubes, it's easy to know exactly which colour's inside. With watercolours, it can be more difficult. That is if you're using the pans and want to know the exact names of your colour. With the higher quality paints, the names of the colours is usually found not only on the wrapping, but also printed on the side of the pan. But of course once you've put them all into your box, you can't see them anymore. So in order to know what's in your paintbox, you'll have to make a list of them. And if you're a painter, and like things to be visual and colourful, rather than having a dull list, the obvious thing is to just paint your paintbox and label all the colours.

Et voilà, your own handy little reference sheet with all your colours in your paintbox.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Watercolours revisited. It's a long story...

I started my hobby painting career almost twenty years ago, with a watercolour class. I was in my early twenties, the teacher and the other ladies in the class were in their sixties. We did "traditional", rather faded looking watercolours of mostly flowers. I learnt the basic techniques but although the teacher and other ladies were all very lovely, I just wasn't really inspired.

The next class I went to after that was an acrylics class. It was at an artists studio. He was a good 20 year youngers than the lovely ladies. I adored his style, his ideas, his creativity, his teaching style, I loved the bold colours and textures of acrylic paint. We didn't do any flower paintings. I've been going there ever since.

It's not that I haven't tried painting with watercolours again since that first class. When I bought my first box of water colours, I asked the shop assistant where the black and white paints were. She looked at me with such an expression of  shock on her face as if I'd just confessed a murder to her. "You don't use white paint with watercolour", she resolutely and accusingly told me. "If you want white, you just leave out the areas. And you never, ever use black in watercolour".  I left the shop humbled and embarrased - although not convinved. But without any black or white paint.

When we did watercolours in the painting class once or twice, my teacher always told me that I needed to use much more water. Watercolour paintings should be transparent, not as bold as mine. So I came to associate watercolours with traditional, antiquated, colourless, boring. A little bit at least. Admittedly, I was also a bit afraid of watercolours. It seemed that you always had to get it right, that there was no chance of correcting mistakes. To me, it appeared to be such a difficult technique that if you weren't a highly accomplished watercolour artist already, you better just left it alone altogether. And I gladly turned to my beloved and forgiving acrylics.

So I hardly ever got out the watercolour paints - and it certainly wasn't because of a lack of supply. The little travelling box on the left (complete with dark blue velvety pouch) must date back to the times of my first attempts. The big box at the back is my latest acquistion. A large tin box with good artist's quality paints, which I bought in London this summer. It was one of those 70% off special offers. I simply couldn't resist.

When, at the beginning of the year, I decided to take my (rather neglected) painting hobby much more seriously again, and to really get into the habit of painting, sketching and drawing regularly, I also got interested again in exploring other paint mediums, and the watercolours began to call out to me again, softly but persistently.

In May, I visited Vienna, and I went to the wonderful Kunst Haus Wien, a museum designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser to exhibit his work. I have admired his unique style for a long time, but had never actually seen an origianl painting. And I had never realised how much he had painted with watercolours. I had never associated his bold, colourful works with this medium.

When I went on my summer holiday to London not long after, I was very pleased to see that there was an exhibition at Tate Britain about - Watercolour. I really liked the idea of an exhibition not about an artist, an artistic movement, a certain period or style, but about a specific paint medium. I thought it was rather clever. And I really enjoyed the exhibition; learning about the history and development of watercolours, the different styles, techniques, and most of all its versatility. I was also very pleased to see that white and especially black paints were frequently used, as well as bold colours :).

Certainly, these two incidents weren't pure coincidences? Now I really had to give watercolours another try. I bought a couple of books on watercolour techniques (not that I don't already have the one or other), got some (more) supplies, and have made some timid attempts at getting to know that medium (again).

I'm still struggling a bit. I find it hard to achieve a light and airy and transluscent style, without using too much paint (on purpose, this time), and to try and find my style with this medium. But I won't give up. I'm determined to practise and get more accomplished, just as with my sketching and drawing.

And I'll never ever listen to anyone trying to tell me that you can't use certain colours with certain paint mediums again. You can use whatever you want, however you want. And if I want to use white and black in my watercolour paintings (or even a white gel pen, like I did in the above portrait), I will. And that's it. If no one had dared to break conventions and try something new, art history would be a very short chapter today. And we would never have had such innovative artists as for example Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A little secret garden of my own

Preparations. I had something in mind, with lots of texture. The result turned out completely different than what I had in mind. But there's still lots of texture.

Adding texture, and layers and layers of colour. Again it's the greens that dominate. One of my favourite colours, and a very favourite painting colour at the moment.

Inspired by Andrew Marvell's poem The Garden, the texture and greens began to turn into a little garden of my own.

Adding lines of the second stanza of the poem, which I liked especially:

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men.
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.

You can find the full text of the poem here.

I love texture and colour. My "garden" isn't so obvious, it's an abstract garden, but it's all there, the textures of the grass and flowers, the greens of the grass and foliage, the reds, pinks, blues and whites of the flowers, and eve nsome golden sun beames shining through the leaves.

My own secret little garden, all overgrown, full of flowers, and with lots of shadowy corner and sunny places.

I found it really difficult to process the images. It looks all a bit messy and somewhat yellowy here, but it does actually look a lot better in reality. I'm really quite of my little secret garden.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Cathy, it's me, Heathcliff...

Being still very determined, I took again some time to sit down with my sketchbook on Sunday to draw a little bit. I'm really enjoying it, even though again my version is not really an exact copy of the model in the magazine. But I'm learning to lower my own expectations, and give myself time. And, even though it might not resemble the original exactly, it does at least look like a male face. And for the moment, that's quite good enough for me.

This guy actually makes me smile, each time I look at the sketch. It's how I would imagine a modern version of Heathcliff to look like. But maybe that's just an excuse to post that wonderful video of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's version of 'Wuthering Heights'. If you ever get the chance to see them live in concert, do! They're absolutely fabulous! And their version of 'Wuthering Heights' is just so much better than the original :).

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Sketchbook cover picture, at last

Painting my "forest" sketch last Saturday made so happy, that I decided to paint another little forest on my sketchbook cover, which had still been all bare so far. Sketchbook covers really can't be left bare, I think, but sometimes, it takes a while until the right design/picture emerges.

I love looking through my old sketchbooks. Some of the things in there, I've quite forgotten I ever did over the years. Others, I remember very well. There are sketches for paintings I did, or not, techniques, colour samples, and more. The cover of each book also tells the story of my styles and tastes at the time I started it.

Now I just have to fill it :)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Kunst ist schön

I found a little paper bag with a bunch of art post cards inside, which I had bought at a book shop in Vienna back in spring. The quote on the bag by the ingenious Bavarian comedian Karl Valentin just made me smile.

Art is beautiful, but takes a lot of work.

So true. But it's very rewarding work :)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Back to basics

I've always wanted to draw more, learn it properly, being able to sit down with a little sketchbook somewhere, during a walk, in a city café, and quickly capture the landscape, the scene, a face on paper. I've made several attempts over the past years to learn it and get into the habit, but I always gave up very quickly, too quickyl, impatiently, and turned to my paints again.

This afternoon, I sat down with my sketchbook, took a fashion magazine, put on some music (my favourite Al Bowlly cd - I've got a passion for the 1920/30s :) ), and just started drawing, without thinking too much. There's still much to improve, quite a few mistakes, wrong proportions, etc., but all in all, it is a lot better than I expected it would be. And most important, it's a start. And this time, I'm determined. I won't give up, but make time for it, and practise, practise, practise :)

I think, next time I'll try to draw Al Bowlly ;)

Friday, 2 September 2011

"Waldspaziergang" - a sketch

It all starts with a white canvas.

I've been wanting to paint a new picture for the living room for ages, but somehow never got round to it. Either I had no idea what to do, or to many ideas. But now, a concrete idea was slowly beginning to take shape in my mind. And so I bought a new stretched canvas, 60x80cm.

I knew I wanted it to be green. I like texture, I like shapes, especially round shapes, and I like walks in the woods. I wanted to get this feeling of walking through a wood, a forest, the tranquility, the silence, the soothing colours and sounds of the surrounding, on to the canvas, and into my living room, but in a somewhat more abstract way.

But before the work on the canvas begins, I make a little sketch into my sketchbook, to see if the idea, the picture, I have in my mind works on paper/canvas.

1. First a coat of gesso.

2. Then the background. I love doing backgrounds. Layer after layer, building up the colours and texture.

3. Sketching in the shapes.

4. Filling in the shapes.

5. Adding some black borders around the shapes with a coal pencil. I tried out two different methods to see which effect will work better.

6. I fetched a book about colour, and their effects and meanings and took some notes about green that appealed to me.

life, hope, spring, youth, health, fresh, herb, confidence, assurance, soothing, reassuring, rest, recovery, pleasant, comfort, security, tolerance, endurance.

It was my day off today, and I spent most of it sketching and painting. I totally enjoyed it. Green makes me happy, and so does painting with green colours. The only negative bit is that my study, which has to function as studio as well, really is too small, too crowded, the desk is too small, and it's too dark as well. But one day, hopefully, I'll have a proper studio, light and airy, and with enough space for all my stuff, and a big desk just for sketching and painting.

I added some white at the end, to lighten it up and give some more definition.

I'm not quite sure yet which way I'm going to do the shapes, making whole circles with all the trees, like on the right side, or putting them one behind the other, like on the left side. I'll see when I'll get there. Probably a mixture of the two. And some more texture to the shapes. And I'll see what else comes up in the process, when I start my stroll through the forest on my canvas.

Well, the canvas is ready, I've alraedy put a light coat of gesso on to give it a bit of texture. But there's no rush. I'll take my time building it all up.