This time of restrained activity has the potential of positivity and good working practice. But as always that requires self diciplin. It is so easy to be diverted on a mild windless day by the garden . There are so many enjoyable tasks to do out there. That is not to say I don’t thoroughly appreciate and enjoy working in the studio… I love being in there, drawing painting, preparing – but the affair is complicated. It needs my full attention, it is demanding and rewarding, frustrating and anxious – whereas the garden is much less complicated and an easier friend.
This could be a time to turn a difficult situation into time positive.
Time to practice things we say we wish to improve… But never find the time.
Maybe sketching using different materials. The same view or objects over and over. Observing more and translating it differently – being led by the varying qualities of the medium. Wet or dry, sharp detail or soft suggestion, full colour, black and white or monochrome.
Practicing takes the pressure off. But another good practice is to revisit past works. To see if they resonate or rekindle a dialogue. If not, edit out any good bits and disguard the rest. I find lighting a bonfire with them works for me.
A drawing and painting class. The last in the studio before lock down…
We started with drawings. Working toward a good composition that could be translated into watercolour painting.
The drawings were really engaging and most people worked on them longer than I expected. Starting with a linear composition and adding three tones of shading. Looking for areas of close subtle tones and also counterchange. Light against dark to dark against light drama and contrast.
It was a really enjoyable lesson. The most difficult part, translating the sketches to the watercolour paper was achieved well in most cases.
The progress through the last few week was quite visible. Still maintaining good flat and graduated washes. Wet in wet. All that, as well as more complex subjects and composition. They did well. (And had a good time.)
Watercolour terms such as Wet in wet, wax resist, transparent, Opaque or body colour, make the language that is specific to its subject – and can sound pretentious and rather inpenetrable. But like all language that is specific – it is actualy pure and discriptive and really essential to describe the activity, if you have the interest.
Over the last two weeks we have covered these basic watercolour techniques and this week we pulled them together with the help of some cheerfully coloured tulips.
Good practice, lots of clean water. Fresh unfussy colours.
All three classes this week responded well to the brief.
My challenge is to maintain and even raise the level next week.
Classes have started again at Mill Farm studio. A new year and a fresh look at familiar techniques.
Graduated washes. , I believe to be one of the hardest watercour techniques. The need to control the ratio of paint to water, while using the right sized brush for the scale of aplication. Keeping an effortless look to the work while carefully reacting to what is happening.
Some colour pigments flow more evenly. Lighter toned colours are easier to graduate than dark, some colours stain and are unforgiving of any error. But no blood is spilt, only dirty water.
We practiced painting flat washes and then adding water to the pool of colour to lighten the tone. The lightest colours can be so delicious. But a fear of being wishy washy, too pale: or even insipid, often leads to them being lost to a desire for bold, bright and eye catching.
By layering the palest of tones it is possible to build up to richer colours and greater detail. Starting with washes that underpin and unify the picture, the image can be developed and detailed while remaining connected, cohesive and convincing.
Walking in the landscape most every day. Watching for the small changes that signal the next season. A few Aconites have pushed through a debris of leaves and snowdrops show a slit of white at the spear head of the stem.
Sketching outside is where I feel most connected. To the landscape, nature, to the elements of weather and most importantly to the drawing. I went out on Sunday to Breamar ( and beyond) with painting buddy Sarah. It was cool – but we found a couple of spots to sit out and draw the hills and river valley.
We always had the intention to visit the Fife Arms and it was a wonderful place to warm up, restoring body and soul. It is tartan, gothic Scottish, ancient and modern. Brimming with stuffed birds and antlers. And Picasso, Freud and Louise holding court.
The food was fab and worth every penny. A destination to lift the spirits.
The dates for the workshop 10th – 13th February. Just under a month away so I am preparing in spite of the possibility that it will not run.
I have perfected the recipe for jelly plates so a couple of people can work on those at any time. The premis for the workshop being ‘press free’, though of course there will be presses available. I learnt my mono print techniques before I owned a press and want to show how much can be achieved without using a print workshop or purchasing expensive equipment.
Any means of transferring marks from one surface to another is monoprint – the different surfaces dictate the paints or inks that can be used and the quality of the detail that can be achieved. Printing using hand pressure or wooden spoon. A car or a load of people. The boundaries are only imposed by our imagination and our own ambition.
Low sun, short days, a contemplative mood, resting or waiting for something. In a creative tunnel with no light shining. Patient. Making Sketches and working without inspiration. It is a fallow time, it happens after a rich creative seam is mined and comes to an end. It feels like depression but is really a nessesary winter with the belief of spring to follow.
I have a number of ways to kick start, but being too needy can be inhibiting.
Watercolour sketched out.
West Dean is having the roof fixed. The flint walls peek out from benieth massive scaffolding structure and layers of tarpaulins.
Once inside the building there is very little difference – a few areas blocked off. ( health and safety) but it is business as usual. A slight inconvenience in that the back door was out of action, so we had to walk right round the building to get to the orangery, (healthy activity) . And there is no access to the internal courtyard for fresh air with a coffee at break time.
No one on my beginner watercolour course complained and they were, men and women, a really charming group of people.
We worked through the basic techniques of watercolour. First evening, with a gentle introduction to glazes.
I did a demo of Stretching paper and everyone then did their own. It went well with just a couple of cockled capers. Paper has such strength – bending boards and ripping the tape willy nilly as it drys.
The practice of flat washes, graduated washes, lifting off, wet in wet, wax resist and dry brush, all on one page. With layering, lifting off and some salt intervention.
Colour theory, more mixing of colours and painting.
To cap it all we had half an hour outside sketching in the winter sunshine. A thoroughly productive and enjoyable time. Only one painter was lost in the rough sea of watercolour – this time.
I have often heard people tell of how they have overworked a painting. Ruined a piece by not knowing when to stop. It is something I have considered and feel it is a false premis. Certainly from my experience.
When I am engaged with a painting, the process feels like a conversation – a dialogue that continues until there is nothing more to say. It is resolved. And if it carries on and on, it is usually because there is a problem with composition, proportions or somefhing other unsolvable. It is not a painting that is ruined or ends through overworking, it actually never was any good. Though in my memory it may have seemed better. It could not have been right.
This painting needed serious attention and additions. And the dialogue still continues. I was completely distracted from my class by it – which is a mixture of pleasure and annoyance. It is the best of feelings to be locked into a piece of work – so utterly absorbing.