Better late…

Better late than never, here’s a very Happy New Year to all the lovely fellow bloggers around the world! May your blogs be ever fresh and fulfilling to make.

The last six weeks or so have been a very busy time (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this), hence the lack of blogging from me – I’ve only managed to squeeze in a handful of little pictures, but here’s one I rustled up after Christmas in a rare quiet moment.

Christmas arrangement watercolour

I’m always struggling with greens, and so I thought I’d try to create them from scratch this time using the colour grid I made in the Autumn as reference. It definitely helped when choosing which blues and yellows to mix. I couldn’t quite decide how to attack the foliage shapes (which were bay and holly from the garden) and so there’s a variety of approaches here, some more successful than others. I think this experiment will be useful in the future.

Once I had the foliage in, my problems moved to the reds; part of the joy of the arrangment was the contrast between the shiny reds of the ribbon, pot and candle, and the very dark greens of the leaves. When it came to it, I couldn’t decide how to mix the darkest and mid-toned areas of red ribbon and pot, and consequently ended up muddying what should have been quite a vibrant area of the picture. Almost all the lovely fresh bright reds disappeared. But  heigh ho, these things happen when you’re learning (which is all the time).

In case you’re wondering, the yellow areas next to the candle are gold-sprayed pine cones. Enough said.

On the plus side, I do like the shadow on this picture – it came without any bother at all!

Off Day

I know everyone gets off days (don’t they?). They aren’t as enjoyable as days off. It seems to me that off days occur mostly when you’ve just done a piece that you’re really pleased with, or one which represents a leap forward of some kind.

Today felt like an off day for me. I wanted to make a picture, the Japanese anemones are doing their stuff beautifully in the garden… but it just didn’t happen as I hoped. Every stroke and splot felt rather poorly executed and ill judged. Maybe part of the problem was thatJapanese anemones watercolour I wasn’t observing closely enough.

Here are some words of advice I think I need to hear:

It’s ok to be loose, but it’s definitely not ok just not to bother having a really good look at what you’re painting. Because by the time you realise you’ve been sloppy, it’s too late and you’ll have the devil of a time correcting your picture.

If you put the pink on when the background is still wet, you’re just asking for trouble, and you may have to lift it out, which will leave bare patches in your background. So be patient!

Also, if you’re wearing a fluffy jumper, beware that it can catch on the bottom of your picture and smear the paint around – watercolourists don’t usually use jumpers to achieve paint effects, probably for good reason.

So, what can I say? I’ve sharpened up this watercolour sketch a bit using my fineliner, but I’m still not overjoyed. But as with all pictures, there’s something I can find to like – today it’s the top right hand corner with its crunchy edge. Onwards and upwards!

Plum Lines

Red plum blossom watercolourIt’s been a while since I posted…life has been full. This little watercolour sketch is an oldie, from about two years ago.

There is a beautiful red plum tree in our front garden, which in springtime produces masses of pink blossom. This single sprig, in a small tea vessel, and placed on a shiny gold lacquer tray, seemed to me rather Japanese-ish, which was the vibe I was going for.

If I was painting this today, I would try to do a couple of things differently – one being that I might change some of the colours to a more harmonious selection (maybe I’d make the gold more orangey and then maybe put some hints of that orange into the foliage and flowers), and two being that I’d try harder to get the perspective right on the tray.

However, looking back on this one, I’m still pleased with the way that the shadow and reflection worked out, and the blossoms too. Sometimes, looking back can be interesting and informative…

Shaking it Up

I’ve had this picture rattling round in my head for some days now in one form or another, but it’s only today, after a trip to town and an investment in a brown paper sketchbook, that I decided how to tackle it.

Poppy shakers inkThe poppy shakers are so sculptural that they beg to be drawn. I wasn’t sure at first whether I should be painting them in watercolour, drawing them with charcoal, or sketching them in ink… or something else entirely. Part of the issue was deciding what to do with where the stems finish – the stalks are so long, and I was worried that the picture would come out too tall and thin to be pleasing to the eye. However, once I’d decided to take a more illustrative approach and to work the stems into the inner border, things started to crystallise. The decision to use ink and a chinagraph pencil followed on fairly naturally – I was looking for a slightly ‘Arts & Crafts’ feel. Taking the foliage outside the border was then an easy decision.

Happily, the finished article has turned out more or less like the picture in my head – always a nice feeling. The border isn’t quite as wiggly as it appears here, I think the camera lens is distorting somewhat (that’s my excuse anyway). I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself having another go at the seedheads in different medium sometime. I’m not sure what else I’ll be using the brown paper sketchbook for, but I’m sure I’ll find something…

Keeping it Simple

Only time for a small coloured pencil drawing in the black sketchbook today. Sometimes it’s quite a relief to do a little study, no great strain involved, just enjoying going through familiar motions. I picked this Oxeye daisy and brought it inside to draw, safely out of the showers. I won’t do that again, as its fragrance wasn’t very pleasant…all the more reason to sketch quickly!

Oxeye daisy coloured pencilI enjoyed introducing the blues and purples into the petals to help with the depth, whilst trying not to be too fussy over the details.

Another page filled…


Back to roses again today – they are in full swing in the garden so it would seem a shame to ignore them. The bush that produced this flower is a particularly beautiful example. Its blooms vary from yellow to deep pinky reds; I’ve no idea what it’s called as it’s one we inherited when we moved to this house.

Rose pastelI plumped for pastels today, as I’ve been doing so much watercolour recently I fancied a change. This picture was done on mountboard, almost entirely using the Conte hard pastel set I have, The one exception was a light flesh Reeves soft pastel which I used for some of the highlights on the petals. The foliage gave me a lot of trouble. I felt I just couldn’t get the greens I needed with the colours I had available to me.

I might try these roses again another time this summer, if I can catch them before they all finish, either using watercolour pens or paints. We’ll see.

I think that by the time Christmas arrives I’ll have quite a wish list of supplementary art materials. Must remember to add green shades of pastel to it!

English Rose

I’ve been pussyfooting around painting these English roses for some time (about 3 years, if I’m honest!). The blooms with their heart-shaped petals cascade down the front of our shed, mixed in with an old blowsy climbing rose. Oh, I’ve photographed them, but never knuckled down to getting them on paper. I had a suspicion that even one flower would be a massive challenge. Why is it that plants are just so hard? You’d think that since there seem to be no mechanics (straight lines, right angles, etc)  involved they would be a doddle. Hmm.

English rose watercolourI did this one outside, in just under an hour. The sun was shining and the watercolours dried really quicky – too quickly in some places. I started with the background, then worked forwards onto the flowers and finally the leaves. At 50 minutes I was still very unhappy with it. I decided to risk all with my fineliner, and I’m pleased I did as it really helped to sort out the foliage and give it some definition. There are still areas that I’m not thrilled about, but overall, it’s not so bad. Please don’t take my fineliner away!

Struggles with Freesias

Freesias watercolourI really like Freesias. But this picture really was full of issues. I was trying to get the paint to be a little freer than I normally allow, and I had an idea for a graduated wash background. It all went a bit pear-shaped.

The flowers aren’t so bad in themselves; in places the purple petal edges are really nice, although I think overall the flowers don’t have enough contrast. I had trouble deciding what colour the darks in the yellow flowers were, and I still think they look rather flat, as do the purple ones too.

It was when I came to put the wash on that everything got really difficult. I’d mixed up some Payne’s Grey with Winsor Green, hoping to suggest dark foliage behind. But I used the wrong brush to apply it – being lazy, I used the large round brush I’d painted the flowers with, rather than swapping to a mop. The paint didn’t go on evenly, and when I tried to correct the grading I ended up with the bleeds and runs, and a big, unsightly blotch of darker paint towards the bottom edge. Curses! In the end I decided not to fiddle with the paint any further. Another one to put down to experience (I’m getting quite a lot of those!).

June Larch

This is not supposed to be a plant or flower blog, but there is just so much inspiration in the garden at the moment, I can’t resist!

Today’s endeavour was a larch branch. The tree in our garden has flowered and is producing the most beautiful purply-red new cones, which are sprinkled amongst last year’s mature ones. The fronds dangle down in a curtain of shape and colour. This was something of a ‘last chance’ to paint, as it won’t be long before these red cones dry out and become brown for autumn.

Larch watercolourI was aiming for a Japanese woodblock print vibe with this picture, hence the open space at the top right, and busy left hand corner. I don’t think that I achieved this, partly because I didn’t manage to get the simplicity of definition and contrast which a print would have had, and because choosing to leave the background white has had an impact. However, that said, I’m nevertheless quite pleased with the way it’s turned out, as I was initially rather intimidated by the amount of detail I could see when I sat down beside the tree to paint.

Today I did begin with a pencil sketch, editing out some of the mass of branches to help with composition. I added the branch colours first, then worked on the greens and brown cones. The bright pinks came last (I was very worried about those). Having looked at the painting for a little while, I decided it needed more definition than I’d achieved wtih the paint, so I put in more structural detail with my fineliner. I’m glad I did, as it sharpened everything up considerably.

Herb Posy

A couple of days ago I picked this tiny posy of chive flowers and oregano for the kitchen table. The little vase used to hold a reed diffuser; when the scent vanished I knew the bottle would come in useful for something eventually (the story of my life). I’d noticed the chive flowers start to bloom a week or two ago, their contrast against their blue/grey stems and leaves is perfect, although I think they look delightful with the oregano green too. I can’t explain why it’s only today, when the flowers are starting to go to seed, that I’ve got round to doing the sketch. Perhaps it’s because I knew I’d miss them for another year if I didn’t get on with it…

Chives watercolourHaving sketched out the outlines in pencil, I approached with watercolours, hoping to make the background more vibrant than usual. I sort of succeeded – it isn’t awash with my beloved Payne’s Grey, for once. The flowers and foliage were next, then finally the water and glass. Once the flowers were dry I decided that there wasn’t enough contrast there, so I dropped in some more purple into dots of water laid on top. I think this has given the flowers a bit more depth, although to some extent this is at the expense of the freedom and luminosity of the colours.

A note about borders: in my last few watercolour sketches I’ve decided to frame the pictures by adding a small white-space border (about 1-1.5cms) when I start. I draw this freehand using the sketchbook edge as a guide. Sometimes I like to use a large block of colour as background: running paint right up to the edge meant that occasionally I would mark the next page. The border eliminates this problem, helps me compose the picture, and also means that, when I leaf through my sketchbooks later, the pictures have a ready-made frame – and we all know how a frame helps a picture!

I’m learning a bit more every day…